Recently I have spent a lot of time downloading and checking out iPad games to think about gamification UX approaches. One of the favorites is No Zombies Allowed by Booyah, Inc., which has a brilliant UI twist that I want to find a way to use on a future project.
Forget that boring loading notification, 10%… 20%… 30%… blah.
This game switches in messages that make waiting for the game to load entertaining and funny, giving the user a positive experience before they have even played the game.
So although there may not be a client project for which I can use munching brains, or rising from graves, still a fun twist on how to engage the user while they wait.
It’s been an extraordinarily busy year around here, and as we celebrated our company holiday dinner on Tuesday night, we marveled at just how much we’d done in our collaborations with clients.
New brand strategies! New visual systems! New identifiers! New communications vehicles! New digital strategies! New websites! New applications!
At the time, we knew we had a lot on our plates, but looking back, we’re kind of amazed. Not that we have time to look back for long, mind you, because 2013 is shaping up to be even more busy… and rewarding.
One particular project makes us want to toot our own horn a bit, mind you… but mostly because the project is all about finding time to toot our own horn.
We’ve had the classic problem known as the “cobbler’s kids dilemma”: we were so busy making sure our clients were building and developing compelling communications that we weren’t spending much time revisiting our own shingle on the web. Every time we’d try and revisit our digital presence, we’d get started… and then shelve it for a new engagement, or a ramp-up period with one of our existing partners.
Or at least that’s what we did… until now.
Our brand new website, freshly launched this week.
We’re pretty happy we cobbled some new kicks for ourselves… and we hope you enjoy it, too.
And if you need brand strategy, messaging, print or digital design, content strategy, digital strategy, social media strategy, a new website… well, take a look, and feel free to get in touch.
We’d love to work with you.
In it, I described how the Japanese martial art of Judo—characterized by the principle of turning an opponent’s attack back against them—can be applied by marketers to help flip negative perceptions into positive (and memorable!) brand stories. The classic Volkswagen “Lemon” campaign is a prime example.
After writing the post, one thing became apparent. Brand judo by big brands is rare. It takes a lot of courage for a brand to step out in the open, face its flaws head on, and then work to bend those flaws into a favorable story.
Late last week, a video from Microsoft quickly made the rounds through our digital media team. The video, entitled “Do you know this guy?” depicts a young guy at a computer registering his hate for Internet Explorer every way possible: commenting on tech site reviews, posting on Facebook, tweeting, etc. But after a series of rapid-fire exchanges with Microsoft’s social media accounts (hitting back with new features / capabilities), the guy begins to change his tune.
In the end he tweets:
The screen then reads:
The video is part of a larger campaign called The Browser You Love to Hate.
Pretty bold. What big brand product has been beaten up more than Internet Exploder? It’s the veritable punching bag of the browser world. (Rightly so.)
But rather than continuing to fight IE’s negative perceptions, Microsoft has chosen to embrace them—and now owns them. And while it certainly won’t turn IE’s critics around overnight—there’s more than a few in this building—it did make us all laugh.
Which is to say that by making light of itself, and accepting our attacks in a positive way, Microsoft may have softened us up a bit…
Not a bad strategy in a fight.
Digital prototyping can be great for publishing to the web for review, but sometimes it makes sense to start with a paper and pencil, or a whiteboard. Building a wireframe for a mobile-first project on a whiteboard makes the available real estate seem massive, so we came up with a more realistic place to begin: the “iPhone 10″ paper prototype.
When printed on an 11 x 17 page, the phone width matches the “real world” dimension of the iPhone, but offers enough height to sketch for the scroll. We found that starting this way helps us to distill the information that is most important to users, and effectively establish the hierarchy of content.
You’re welcome to download the template for your own use.
eBay officially launched their new logo on their website today after announcing the upcoming a few weeks ago… and thus far, the reviews are distinctly lukewarm for the iconic Internet brand’s new look:
On the left is eBay’s old mark, with the new take on the right.
Logo refinement is nothing new for companies both big and small. Brands from JC Penney to Starbucks have taken a run at their classic look over the last few months, with mixed results and reviews.
But what if the desire to refresh your identity and project a new image results in something less compelling and recognizable?
What if the new look doesn’t pack the same punch as the old one?
I asked a few members of the Sametz team what they thought. Some of their comments:
“It is a modern take on the old logo, but the new design looks generic to me. In particular, it lacks the energy and excitement of the active marketplace.”
“I really feel they took all the fun out. The brand used to have some personality, but no more… ”
“It looks bland.”
“I’m not sure if they achieved their purpose. I’m guessing they wanted something to reflect the brand they are now: a contemporary marketplace that’s much more than just the place you go to buy Star Wars memorabilia or Beanie Babies. But what’s the benefit of making the brand that much more sterile?”
And one other (more positive) note:
“I like the actual website presenting the new logo!”
If you’re keeping track, that’s four thumbs down, and one thumb up for a good launch strategy.
What do you think of the new eBay logo? Does it make you more or less interested in their brand? If you use eBay, will this evolution change your experience at all?
I was talking to a client recently about requirements for a website. They’re a small, mission-driven organization seeking to engage and develop their community.
We talked initially about a basic news feed, a place for photos and stories, and descriptions of opportunities for involvement.
Limited resources (both financial and human.) Basic requirements. Simple project. Pretty straightforward.
I’m definitely not singling this client out, because what happened next happens all the time:
And that’s when it came out. Out of nowhere, I responded:
Compelling websites and cool interactive functionality surround us when we spend time online. It all looks so easy and intuitive. And when your organization is lagging behind the web curve—or lacking a real presence entirely—there’s going to be a hunger to go big. However, as anyone who’s ever worked on a web project knows, the real work begins once the site is launched. And over-reaching can result in biting off much more than you can chew.
Over-reaching with features and functions can end up costing more time and money than you’re prepared to invest. When a web project begins, the process is anchored by an underlying sense of project scope and, ideally, a baseline sense of the required features and functions. Once those features / functions are refined and solidified, additions will almost certainly impact the project bottom line—either in terms of schedule and / or cost.
There’s a ripple effect that results from even the (seemingly) simplest of changes. Adjustments to features / functions require adjustments to prototypes which require adjustments to design, front-end html / theming and CMS development. Refinements to functionality are perfectly normal during testing and prototyping, but adding features—beyond a certain point—can be a dangerous, slippery slope.
Of perhaps even greater concern is the potential for over-spending to create a website you can’t maintain on your own. Dynamic content strategies sound great, but they require significant writing and editorial talent to feed and curate. Large imagery carousels certainly look cool, but they require photography and graphic design chops to produce imagery that meets quality standards (sub-par carousel graphics can quickly undermine an otherwise beautiful website). User commenting / interaction (usually) requires moderation, Twitter integrations require someone to Tweet, custom page-types / CMS configurations require increased in-house technical capabilities to manage the site going forward… and so on.
Our job as consultants is to collaborate with clients to specify website requirements that meet goals, address real user needs, and provide the most bang for the client’s buck. Ranking desired features and functions in terms of how well they meet those criteria, along with how complicated they are to implement, can help rationalize the process. If a particular feature ranks low on the goals / user needs scale, and high on the complexity scale, move it off the table. Exercises of this nature help focus website specifications on real needs, not on one’s hunger for (perceived) “cool.”
In advance of these exercises, just like when shopping, it’s important to plan ahead.
Know your appetite
Before embarking on a web project, be sure you have a keen sense of your in-house writing, editorial, design, and technology capabilities. Given your assessment, how much ongoing website management can your team realistically stomach? Unless you plan on adding additional resources, this set of capabilities (along with timeline and budget of course!) provides the initial framework within which you can begin outlining desired features and functions.
Avoid “blue sky” wish list sessions. Always set some real criteria first.
Know who’s coming to dinner
Websites should never be defined solely by you (or your consultant) in a conference room. While proper discovery and testing phases will certainly involve real-life users, it’s important to come into the project with a basic set of user needs to help guide your thinking.
What are the questions people answering your phones hear all the time? Do you have volunteers? What do they hear? Are there particular online services your constituencies are asking for? Understanding what visitors think, feel, and (should) do when they arrive at your website is an important part of developing a user-focused presence. Your consultants can help, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing a little homework to help you get properly triangulated ahead of time.
Simply put, the intersection of user needs and your organizational goals / resources / capabilities should frame your website’s functionality.
And know you can always shop again, later…
Finally, know there’s always room to grow.
Unfortunately, there remains a pervasive sense that once websites are launched, that’s that… the site is done. Not true. This isn’t your annual report going off to the printer.
Be comfortable with the notion of walking before you run. When they are properly defined and developed, websites are scalable. Functionality can be added. If you’re feeling woefully out of date and starving for a new website, focus on getting caught up before charging blindly into the future.
Maintaining a modern website takes work—more work than you might think. Your goal should be to operate within your means, and scale your website and capabilities in tandem.
In the end, a little planning can go along way towards getting your organization in the right mindset for a web project. Knowing your capabilities and remaining focused on real goals and user needs will make for a more efficient process, and a more effective end result.
Your organization, and your dinner guests, will thank you.
Ok. Starving. Off to Foodies…
Categories: Digital Media
This post was originally published at the Protoshare Community blog. Protoshare has been an invaluable tool in helping ensure the websites we develop truly meet our clients’ needs and expectations. Brandon is excited to serve as a member of Protoshare’s Product Advisory Board.
We’ve all been there.
You’ve considered all the requirements, spent quality time with your whiteboard, consulted with your colleagues, even muttered to yourself while walking the dog. It’s time to conquer a particularly thorny area of a client’s new website. You develop a prototype, and over the following days, weeks, and months, you poke it, prod it, tear it down, and build it back up… only to very closely resemble the prototype you developed in the first place!
When working with clients on complicated areas of a new website—whether it a be a multifaceted product table for a financial services company or an index of programs and departments for a major university—we start by developing an initial approach the client can take around the block a few times. And more often than not, we end up right where we started.
It may sound like a waste of time, but it isn’t. This process enables the client to “try on” different permutations of their site–and exploring what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does.
Critical to a successful website project is ensuring the process remain collaborative, interactive, and efficient. ProtoShare, as a cloud-based prototyping tool, allows clients to experience their prototype at a high-enough fidelity to draw real conclusions: “reviewer mode” allows clients (and test users) to initiate conversations about particular elements of the prototype, and the “multiple design” feature makes it easy to archive previous iterations. Ending where you started is just a click away.
In the end, this process gives my clients what they need to move ahead with confidence. And with a tool like ProtoShare, people like us can remain efficient (and calm!) as we circle the solution with our clients.
Categories: Digital Media
There are two places on earth where I am at my most confident and content: the first is in front of a keyboard (I’m a writer), and the second? In the kitchen (I’m an amateur, but capable cook.)
And the kitchen is where I go when I want to unwind from a long day, when I can indulge my love of unique flavors and create things that nourish my family.
I come from a long line of pretty good cooks, and as such, have utensils in my drawer that belonged to my great grandmother, and recipes pieced together after watching my mother’s flying hands dust a counter with flour to ready it for a lump of dough, or crush cloves of garlic with the side of her knife.
Outside of our little biscuit dynasty, however, my biggest hero of the apron-clad set is Julia Child.
Her lemony roast chicken is my family’s go-to on winter nights, and her fluffy chocolate mousse remains the pinnacle of my culinary achievements. If she says a certain tool is the right one for the job, that’s the tool I’ll use. If she says I can do it, I’m willing to sharpen my knife and give it a go.
When she passed away, I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears — and then immediately went to find her list of ingredients for Coq au Vin.
One of the things I loved most about her was her generosity: of spirit, of time, and of what she possessed. When she donated her home and office to her alma mater, Smith College, and her kitchen, walls and all, to the Smithsonian when she moved to a retirement community in California, it was clear how little she did for money and fame, and how much she did out of her deep love of learning, creating, and teaching.
There was no Julia Child line of gadgets or dishes or pots and pans, a la Martha Stewart or Mario Batali, nor was she a commercial spokesperson, a la Bobby Flay or Tom Colicchio. In fact, she eschewed all those possibilities (and profits) in favor of remaining purely focused on the art of cookery… and representative of no other brand but her own. She believed that these types of endorsements would strain her credibility with her fans, and that was something worth far more to her than a check.
That’s why BHS Home Appliances, the makers of Thermador ovens, in collaboration with California advertising firm, DGWB, has drawn the ire of the Julia Child Foundation by using her image in an ad series. Without permission.
While they insist that no commercial relationship between Thermador and Julia is expressly indicated, their response is disingenuous at best: why make the choice to use her image unless it benefits you in some way? BHS claims they’re simply referencing Julia’s use of Thermador ovens — but given the cultural weight of her brand, there’s no way to get around an implied endorsement. Or at least that’s what the Child Foundation hopes to prove in court. Since DGWB didn’t even attempt to secure rights to her image until after the ad went live, their chances seem solid… even as BHS is counter-suing.
For me, the entire debacle comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of Julia’s brand.
DGWB and BHS see Julia Child as a famous and beloved culinary figure with fans who take her word as law in the kitchen — and as such, the perfect person to represent their product. If Julia used it, her fans will want to use it. Simple, right?
Au contraire: for Julia’s fans, her steadfast refusal to do product endorsements or commercial partnerships is her brand.
Yes, she sold books. Yes, she was on television. But we love Julia because, though her career supplied her with a very comfortable living, her avoidance of quick-buck opportunities confirmed for us that she wasn’t in it for the money. She simply had a passion for cooking great food, and empowering us to do the same for ourselves. When someone loves something as much as Julia loved her kitchen, that enthusiasm is infectious… and that’s why we care.
Celebrity endorsements come in a variety of flavors, from name recognition to specific product endorsements to master-branded product partnerships.
Kids on the blacktop pony up for Nike Air Jordans hoping to be just like Mike — as though the secret to his success lay in the composition of his soles.
Teenage girls struggling with impossibly teenage skin buy Guthy-Renker’s Pro Activ because Justin Bieber and Katy Perry hold up bottles of cleanser next to their smooth skin in afterschool ads — whether or not that’s what cleared their skin, or whether their skin was ever anything but clear.
Martha Stewart promises us a taste of her lifestyle through her almost ubiquitous range of household products, from mixing bowls to bed linens — though the sheets that dress her own bed are likely a bit more pricey.
But one thing differentiates these spots from DGWB’s ads for Thermador: all these public figures choose to use their faces and careers to shill products, according to terms they’ve agreed to before any camera arrives on the scene. They choose to lend the attributes and strength of their brand to a company, in exchange for a significant fee.
In Julia’s case, one of the most fundamental attributes of her brand was that it wasn’t for sale. And while that ostensibly made her (unpaid) use of their product seem like an irresistible opportunity to BHS, it also made a sincere endorsement impossible. And sketchy.
Which is why I hope the next dish on the Child Foundation’s menu is… wait for it… Lobster Therm(a)dor.