Monday, June 6, 2016

Does Your Association Put Up Signs?

I attended a workshop a week or so ago, and during the networking dinner I got into a conversation with some fellow participants about what I always thought was an apocryphal story.

Maybe you've heard it, too? The college, or the hospital, or the public plaza that intentionally puts no paved sidewalks in until after the people utilizing the facility indicate with their actual foot traffic where the sidewalks are supposed to go. It avoids situations like the one in the photo that accompanies this blog post, where the sidewalks don't match the foot traffic, resulting in unused sidewalks and dirt paths through what are supposed to be grassy areas.

Apocryphal or not, it's a great story, illustrating the importance of designing for how users intend to use your product (whatever it is), and not for a set of aesthetics separate from the user experience. Knowing I wanted to write a blog post about it, I went to the friendly Internet and found, much to my delight, the photo accompanying this post. It's one of dozens like it that I found, but this one has something special. It has a sign. The sidewalk owner, evidently frustrated that people obviously prefer the shorter distance through the grassy area, has put up a sign.


And that got me thinking. What kind of association do you work for? The kind that puts up signs? The kind that gets frustrated when its members don't use the perfectly good sidewalks that have been created for them. Hey! Where are you going? The sidewalk is over here! Or the kind that sees the opportunities present in the behavior of its members. That puts sidewalks where the members want them, not where the association staff people think they need to go.

All of us, I know, would probably say the latter. We like to think that we're all responsive to the needs of our members. But, are you sure? Who designed your website? Who picks speakers for your Annual Conference? Who are the articles in your newsletter written for?

In all of these areas, please, stop putting up signs. Like the people creating the foot traffic in the photo, your members don't read them anyway.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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