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.)
The kitchen is where I go when I want to unwind from a long day — a place where I can indulge my love of unique flavors and textures, 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 from watching my mother’s flying hands dust a counter with flour to ready it for a lump of dough. I use these tools and this knowledge almost daily.
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 for 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 credibility 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.
Human nature makes us want to help someone find what they’re looking for. Have you ever asked a tourist with a map if they need directions, or a small child tearing through multiple drawers what they are searching for?
In a similar way, user observation testing provides us with a valuable way to help define user experience on a computer or mobile device. Simply defined, it is the process of asking members of your target audience to complete specific tasks while you look on. But here’s the tricky part: you can’t help them find their way.
While you may have been staring at the wireframe or prototype for weeks — and know the navigation like the back of your hand — you can’t suggest they keep scrolling, or that they should look in the footer, or, “Can’t you see it? It’s right there!”
The results you see when you stand back and observe will often surprise you, and ultimately ensure that the most important people guide the final functionality of what you’re creating: the users.
When you’re in the process of defining a project schedule, time should be set aside specifically for user observation testing. Whether you’re an information architect, user experience designer, or interactive producer, it’s unlikely you’ll think of everything. Even if personas are used to define the target audience, it’s impossible to actually think like 4 or 5 unique people.
Further, when working on a website redesign, we must also factor in the preconceived notions of functionality that users may be bringing with them from the previous version of the site. There are many guidelines to follow when conducting testing, but overall, one rule matters most: test early, and test often. No matter how it happens, whether formally or informally, testing one person is always better than testing none.
The key to effective user testing is setting the stage to help your participants feel at ease. Users who feel comfortable are more likely to spend an amount of time similar to what that they would normally allot to completing a task. If participants are nervous, they may rush through the site, clicking around too quickly to properly read the navigation. Or, conversely, participants may be hesitant to say that they are unable to complete a task for fear of disappointing.
Suggestions for setting the stage of a productive user observation session:
If you do make the choice to factor in testing to the overall schedule, be sure to keep three things in mind: test early, test often, and watch quietly.
There is always a lot to learn in any new position, and having recently joined the Sametz Blackstone digital team, I was excited by the prospect of learning how to use a new wireframing and prototyping tool called Protoshare. I’ve used a number of tools to do similar things before–all of which are useful for various reasons—including Omnigraffle, Illustrator, Fireworks, Axure, and even PowerPoint.
Interactive wireframes are an important tool for conveying the proposed functionality of a website. It is, however, always important to set the stage when first showing a wireframe to a client: they are not meant to represent design, but rather to highlight the information architecture of, and the journey that a user might take through the site.
Does it answer the important questions from a user perspective? Where am I? Where can I go? How can I get there? How do I get back? When partnered with a functional specification and representative page type designs, everyone involved can develop a clear understanding of look and feel, user experience, and development considerations.
Protoshare is a web-based tool that has a GUI approach, with objects organized according to a very intuitive component palette. The inspector allows for a good amount of object customization, including animation, visibility logic, appearance, position, size and specification details. Global elements can be created using masters and templates, and design elements can be imported and managed through the assets library. When planning state functionality, there is a quick review mode that allows you to easily test the wireframe before it goes live. To share, files can easily be exported and published to the web. Reviewers can post feedback directly onto the UI, and emails can be set to alert the creator of new comments or questions.
Another feature I like in Protoshare is the ability to have multiple page designs within a single project. This means that alternate approaches can be easily produced or different designs altogether, perhaps a tablet or mobile approach to facilitate a responsive build. Overall I highly recommend Protoshare. The learning curve is minimal, and functionality is just enough to help cut down on time needed to wireframe.
Most importantly, it encourages an early and ongoing dialogue between strategists, designers, developers and stakeholders, allowing everyone to take part in guiding the direction of the project.
People who start, or work actively for nonprofits tend to have one major thing in common: they want to do some “good”.
That “good” could be anything from rescuing neglected dogs, to helping older people find a safe place for their final years, to digging wells in Malawi, to bringing children to museums, to funding cancer research… but the sentiment is similar at the core. You wouldn’t work to make a difference unless you thought a difference could be made… and not just a difference, but an improvement. That conviction is key to making your investment make sense.
The hardest thing to learn about our convictions, however, is that not everyone shares them — not for the same cause, not for the same reason, not for the same result, and often not enough to do anything about it. And when your heart is deeply invested, it can feel almost offensive when someone else doesn’t see the value.
But it’s not necessarily that they’re being cold or callous.
They’re just not invested in your “good”.
This is where things start to fall apart for many nonprofits:
The assumption that your “good” is, or should be the same good that matters to others.
The assumption that telling the story should do all the work of engaging.
The assumption that the ask should be irresistible because the cause is irresistible.
The assumption that everyone else should care.
Our backgrounds, cultures, priorities, and passions create a unique map in our minds and hearts. What resonates with us has a long journey to get all the way to our emotional core, through biases, beliefs, and sometimes, fear: the fear that we’re investing in the wrong thing, or that what seems compelling right now won’t always matter. Which is why the notion of “good” often fails to go the distance.
The most unsuccessful nonprofits are just as convinced as the successful ones that they’re pursuing an important vision. They dream of solving problems, of helping, of changing things, of moving forward.. all beneficial results. But unlike organizations that make an impact, they assume their passion should guarantee support.
Certainly, there will be donors and supporters who see a light in your eye… and they will invest in that glimmer.
The vast majority, however, need something more.
And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if it seems like the existence of a problem should be enough reason to care about the solution, it’s impossible to solve all the problems we see. We have to prioritize where we put our energy, or we’ll never move the needle on anything worthwhile. And those choices often come down to a sense of connection to what an organization does.
Which is why you need to learn about your constituents before you can reach them.
Is there something you do that overlaps with something they already care about?
Can you tell a story they recognize themselves in, or perhaps someone they love?
Is there a simple, practical way they can help — help they might not know you need?
Is there a difficulty they experienced that you’re working to prevent?
Is there an aspect of who you are that isn’t immediately obvious, but would radically change the way they saw you?
How might your brand halo add more shine to theirs?
And how are all of your different audiences actually perceiving your brand, period?
From our perspective, the brand you’re communicating is actually a Mosaic Brand: there are parts of it you can control, and other parts you can only influence. Ultimately, you want to control as many tiles in your Mosaic Brand as possible, in order to influence the tiles you don’t control… thus creating a Mosaic Brand that makes an impression, and one that provides multiple opportunities for connection… which brings us back to “ways in.”
There’s a lot of resistance to this “ways in” approach among some of the most dedicated people who work for causes, because they see it as an inferior point of connection to altruism. You should want to help. You should see the value intrinsically. You should know it matters. You should take my word for it.
You have to invest deeply to do the job well. And being “all in”? It changes your filters.
But hanging on to the value of your “good” — over the possibilities inherent in developing a whole range of “goods” — won’t advance your mission. And if you’re not advancing your mission, are you really doing the most… good?
Your value isn’t one-note. Your constituents aren’t one-note. Your possibilities aren’t one-note. So why is your call to action?
Maybe it’s time to learn a new tune.
Lessons learned from the client perspective—our friends at Chorus America share lessons learned during a major website project.
In the fall of 2010, we were lucky enough to be selected by Chorus America—the national service organization for choruses, choral leaders, and singers—to collaborate with them on a complete overhaul of their website. For non-profit membership organizations, websites are crucial. Not only must they communicate value, drive earned and contributed revenue, and market programs and services—they’re also often a primary means of delivering programs and services to the field. We’ve had plenty of experience over the years collaborating with non-profit cultural groups and membership organizations (including Chorus America’s peer in the orchestra world, the League of American Orchestras), and felt confident we were an excellent fit for the project.
We learned many things over the ensuing year, but what really sticks out is how excellent a fit the client was for this project. The team at Chorus America was prepared, hands-on, and ready to roll from the get-go. They understood that a project of this stature requires engagement at the highest levels of their organization, and that they would be partners in crafting the strategy and vision for the new site. Perhaps most importantly, they dug in and took ownership of their content.
Fast forward to earlier this year and the launch of the new Chorus America website. We’re certainly proud of the strategy, information architecture, design, and development work that ultimately led to their new website—one that places Chorus America’s value front and center, and dynamically connects individuals in the field with the information they need to do their jobs, further their careers, and advance their organizations.
But so much of the credit must go to the team at Chorus America, and we encourage anyone considering a major website project to read their story: Once Upon a Website (How Building a Website Can Transform an Organization) shares lessons learned from Chorus America’s point of view. It’s an excellent, honest piece.
Fit matters. And success always takes two.
Who would have imagined a graffiti artist, accustomed to using a spray can as his medium of choice, would be converted to a digital media developer, staring down code all day to create custom Drupal themes?
Not me, that’s for sure! Which is why I occasionally need to bring myself back to my urban roots, just to keep my creative juices flowing.
Before I learned how to <?php echo ‘write a bunch of code’; ?>, I was heavily involved in the Boston graffiti art movement in the late 90’s. Typically, you’d find me daily sketching letters in my Cannon hard cover black book, devising color schemes, and putting my fingers through a strenuous workout with a Krylon spray can, comparable to a Shaolin monk’s two finger push-up drill.
Recently, I was invited to participate in creating a graffiti mural for Tightly Laced Kicks, an event that features some of the rarest sneakers from local Boston residents.
Our theme was simple: we wanted to convey the feeling of the days when we painted a mural and there were no fancy panoramic camera features or costly photo editing software to record our productions. All we had were one-time use Kodak disposable cameras, tape, and an Exacto knife for manual cropping of our polished pictures, straight from the CVS image-processing area.
To achieve the look we were going for, we had to paint our pieces as if they were slightly unaligned and taped together (re-creating our portfolio presentations). Outlining a piece cleanly without this effect is hard enough, but creating the displacement effect on our pieces became the largest challenge… aside from the windy conditions, smashed rocky surfaces, and improvising our color schemes on the fly.
Upon completion, the mural turned out to be another rewarding accomplishment. Enjoy the pictures below to see the process of the production.
For quite some time I’ve been creating graphic designs and paintings on parallel tracks. My love for painting is actually what got me into studying graphic design (or visual communication) in the first place. When I started out at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach, Germany, my intent was to focus on painting. However, I soon realized that I had nothing in common with my fellow students, or with my professor in the fine arts department. During the first year of my studies, a course in Typography was mandatory and I fell in love with the subject matter. So, I ultimately majored in Typography and Illustration.
More than a decade ago, I decided to pursue painting again. Though graphic design and painting are somewhat related, there is a major difference, as a friend of mine once pointed out. She said: “In your design work, you are answering questions, while in your art work, you are posing the question.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. The designs I am developing are rooted in business goals—they need to function as a solution and speak to a wide range of audiences. A painting, on the other hand, does not need to “function” and the immediate audience is more limited—initially myself, for that matter. Unlike the process of design, which is very collaborative, the process of painting is more isolated—in that regard, the two aren’t related at all.
So what happens when a painter, who is also a graphic designer, needs to design “promotional materials” for his own work? Well, it can be a challenge. The graphic designer in me wanted to come up with a ‘cool’ design and the painter in me said: “Hey, wait a minute, the design can’t overshadow the paintings. They need room to breathe… they need to be the focal point.” So after a few debates between me, myself, and I, clean, simple, and functional designs emerged. From the first postcard, to the website, to a business card and exhibit booklets, the same questions arose: how could I best showcase the work, and still convey the information necessary to communicate what it’s for and what it’s all about?
The most recent product in a series of communications for my own artwork is the booklet for an upcoming solo exhibition at Regis College. Hot off the Puritan Press, I’m holding the first samples in my hand, and I dare to say… the painter is happy with the work the designer delivered.