Jared Spool’s talk at this years Event Apart conference, “It’s a Great Time To Be a UX Designer”, was both inspiring and reassuring. Here are the main takeaways he highlighted, while telling us a few great stories at the same time.
Many design approaches imitate rather than innovate — it is safer, cheaper, and takes a great deal less time. It is the innovation, however, that offers the higher reward. Jared defines innovation as filling in the gaps between a great user experience and a frustrating or unacceptable one, always focusing on the room for improvement: “Innovation is not adding new inventions. Innovation is adding new value.”
To illustrate this point, he told us a story about sick children who need to have MRI scans — and how scary the process can be, both for the kids and the parents. Showing a very stark clinical picture of a very intimidating machine, he then shifted gears. For the creator of this machine, it was unacceptable that 80% of children required sedation to complete a scan. It was time to fill in the gap between the great experience and the unacceptable one.
So imagine, Jared said, that if instead of a hospital gown, the child is given a pirate costume complete with a hat, and if they’re asked if they can help find some mermaids. The child is told about a pirate ship, and that they must follow the plank at all times to stay out of the water… all as they enter a room with Pina Colada-scented aromatherapy. The lights dim, the scan starts, mermaids begin dancing into the child’s view, and the child holds very, very still, so as to not scare them away.
What was once an 80% sedation rate dropped to less than 0.1% with this strategy. Although the story wasn’t about a website, this example shows the mindset: to always look for the room for improvement.
Jared then went on to talk about Experience Designers: a rapidly growing field as companies large and small realize the importance of engaging the user right away, and hopefully giving them something both unexpected and great. He believes that great generalists exist in this field, despite the challenges that come with needing to understand so many different areas to be able to be truly great at what they do. He clicked through a slide adding one area at a time to this list:
… and the list goes on. But the most important of all, according to the research that Jared and his team completed? Storytelling.
The ultimate takeaway advice after we watched this daunting list grow was to just keep learning.
Pick something you don’t do well from this list and train yourself. Practice your new skill, deconstruct as many designs as you can, seek out feedback, and teach others — because you always learn when you teach something.
I’m definitely planning to put down the mouse and pick up a pencil soon, and already looking forward to attending this conference again next year.
If there’s any brand that’s weathered the winds of change, it’s Star Trek. The brand has over 40 years of equity, an extremely successful endorsement scheme, and the Prime Directive—a platform for creating meaning—baked right into its core product. Should we all be so lucky!
Star Trek: Into Darkness, however, dilutes the brand almost beyond recognition. More specifically, the mosaic created by Zoe Saldana talking about a “kick-ass Uhura”, excessive lens flares, the reintroduction of molecular biologist Carol Marcus as a half-naked, blonde bombshell, and a one man weapon of mass destruction have positioned the film to communicate different values than we’ve come to know and expect.
But what happened? And what are the steps to ensure that dilution doesn’t happen to your brand?
Star Trek is a TV show with universal, yet highly personal, values and a stylized aesthetic that has been adapted for the big screen. It’s positioned neither as farce, nor sitcom, nor video game, nor comic book. At heart, it’s actually about a highly evolved state of futuristic camp—epitomized by over the top uniforms, language patterns, ritualistic gestures (watch the video—you won’t regret it), and moral codes worn like a badge of honor. It’s so bad, it’s good!
Moreover, Star Trek’s value system, summed up in the Prime Directive, is an elected humanist philosophy that serves to differentiate Star Trek from its competitors. This philosophy is not a genetic obstacle for mutant outsiders to overcome or a fictitious, metaphysical power harnessed by little green creatures.
The Prime Directive is, instead, attainable for every life form. It’s embraced by curious, yet respectful characters like you and me, and its effects ripple through space, time, and galaxies beyond our ken. It’s small—human—personal—possible. And that differentiates Star Trek from other mega-brands.
In each of its diverse incarnations—from action figures to ComicCon, Kirk to Picard to Janeway—the Star Trek brand has a singular meaning within the larger scope of its genre.
The stylized technical jargon is one of my favorite expressions of this meaning, and there was nary a Tachyon field or shield harmonic in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Can I get some modulation up in here!?
To gauge how far off-brand Star Trek: Into Darkness actually goes, I’ve compiled a quick side-by-side comparison of brand attributes for Star Trek the brand, the action/sci-fi genre in which it competes, and Star Trek: Into Darkness:
|Star Trek (Series)||Action/Sci-Fi (Genre)||Star Trek: Into Darkness|
|Confident||Arrogant, cocky||Arrogant, cocky|
|Nimble, responsive||Slick, reactionary||Slick, reactionary|
|Universal||Cultural, national||Cultural, national|
|Personal||Heroic, archetypical||Heroic, archetypical|
|Local, small||Eschatological, huge||Eschatological, huge|
There’s only one on-brand attribute. One. Thank god it’s an attribute central to Spock and Kirk’s life-long bromance! If Spock suddenly became righteous instead of unrelentingly ethical, what would become of Star Trek?!
JJ Abrams is known for producing shows that are strongly positioned as Action/Sci-Fi, but he’s also proven himself capable of creating a unique culture and language around Lost. In abandoning nearly all of Star Trek’s brand attributes, JJ Abrams flew the Enterprise into a big ol’ rift in the time-space continuum: It is is neither true to itself, nor differentiated as it once was within its category.
Star Trek: Into Darkness clearly signals that there’s change afoot within the Star Trek brand, and there are certainly implications for becoming less differentiated.
Right now the Star Trek brand is huge; the core community of diehards is huge; the pop culture obsession with nerds is huge; and the potential for revenue generation is freaking huge. There are people who will buy-in just because it’s huge—right now.
These are the trappings of tactical achievement, but not an ethos that impacts people’s lives.
Conversely, as I discussed earlier in the context of the Prime Directive, smallness has meaning within the Star Trek brand, because it sets the stage for simple actions and connections that affect every life form from here to the delta quadrant.
And that’s something worth caring about.
As Star Trek grows—and competition with the likes of Star Wars (now a part of Disney), Marvel, et. al.—continues to evolve, it has become apparent that Star Trek may dilute hallmarks of the brand in favor of alignment with action/sci-fi as a genre.
The strategy may produce a product that is more recognizable and more profitable, but at what cost?
Star Trek has a strategic choice to make: Will it evolve into an aspirational brand that competes amidst the noise of a highly undifferentiated action/sci-fi genre? Or will the brand reverse the tide and reinforce equity in what was their differentiated, highly meaningful niche?
What would you do?
Growing a brand takes commitment and a hard look at how strategies come together to create meaning out of a mosaic.
Your own brand may not be iconic, but the possibility of dilution still exists if you don’t have a clear idea of who you are and where you’re going. If there’s an identity change or a noisier market to contend with in the future the possibility of dilution is even more risky.
Thus, Star Trek’s strategic choice is also your own: Will you evolve the meaning of your brand to accommodate buy-in from a wider, more aspirational market? Or will you work to reinforce equity in a niche position with strategies that generate impact and meaning.
These are the voyages of your brand, and ultimately, it’s about strategizing to create a mosaic that supports and carefully manages your unique value proposition (Tribbles?) boldly into the future.
Now, lay in a course, number one, and make it so.
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