Photo of the Microsoft Nerd Center courtesy of ethomsen on Flickr
It seems fitting that my first Podcamp would also culminate in my first blog post, ever!
This has been an exciting year for me to experience exposure to social media in ways I had never dreamed possible. A couple of weeks ago, I found out about Podcamp Boston, and when the opportunity to attend came up, I knew it was something I had to experience.
As the event approached, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect — and was maybe even a little nervous. Upon arrival, I settled in and was reassured and inspired by the opening words from Chris Penn and Chris Brogan. After being encouraged by them to collectively overcome our shyness, I started talking with other campers. I quickly discovered I was in the company of some really fantastic people doing very interesting things.
Then came the hard decisions. How would I choose which sessions to attend?
It was like being a kid in a candy store. Each session on the schedule was so interesting. Adding to the difficulty of my decision was resisting the temptation to go to one or both of the sessions held by my colleague, Tamsen, just to see her presentation skills in action. I decided to choose sessions where I knew I would find answers to my own personal questions about skills and techniques. That knowledge base would no doubt empower me as I begin to find my own voice.
These are the sessions I attended:
The flexibility of the UnConference format was quite appealing. Time spent outside of sessions was every bit a part of the experience as attending the sessions.
I left with my head full and so many takeaways, I can’t begin to count them.
My key takeaways so far (as I am still digesting all of the wonderful information and others continue to emerge) are:
Not only was I fed, but with the proceeds being donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the extra lunch food going to the Pine Street Inn, others were fed as well.
It was a great weekend. I’m looking forward to the next one!
On Monday, I attended the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network / Associated Grant Makers annual conference, the theme of which was Nonprofit Innovation: Doing things differently—Doing different things. Obviously, there was a lot of great content on offer throughout the day, but I only got to sample a slice. Here are some highlights from my experience:
A friend and one-time client of Sametz Blackstone, The Reverend Doctor Gloria Hammond White, and her husband Reverend Doctor Ray Hammond, were given lifetime achievement awards. We worked with Dr Hammond White to develop communications for one of her projects, My Sister’s Keeper, some time ago. These two offer superhuman examples of effecting amazing change in communities with serious problems.
The keynote was given by Heather Gowdy, with La Piana Consulting. She talked about five forces of change nonprofits are feeling subject to–ideas that she and her colleagues discerned from recent research. These are:
Demographic shifts: changes in the demographics of our communities (and world) should be reflected in the makeup of organizations, because of the widely varying ways which people of different ages are relating to one another, to opportunities and challenges, to work, and to technology. Two implications are giving young people a seat at the table, and “two-way mentoring” for cross-generational improvement.
Technological advances: New tools for creating, communicating, and managing information, for fundraising, and for operating organizations are proving difficult to keep up with.
Working via networks: This idea was a low rumbler. The implication is that more will get done through dynamic collaborations than through traditional organizational entities. Two soundbites from this section were “working wikily” and “branding issues over overganizations.” She also said, “User generated content is a reality”—that it’s not a question of whether to use it, but how…
(The point about networks and community participated raised big questions for me. Not all open collaborations produce the best results. It made very unclear what the role of the Organization might be in the future. And just when we were getting used to Peter Drucker’s ideas! Also, the agility required to achieve the collaborations she predicts might undermine an organization’s mission; after a few opportunistic changes, are you the same organization you were at the outset? Is that OK? What’s the core mission? One implication is that communications are the organization—hey, when you have a hammer…)
Civic engagement and volunteerism: Apparently, more people want to get involved, have greater impact, and get more satisfaction from it all. New technologies and management structures will have to make the best use of this emerging resource.
Blurring of sector boundaries: Government, Business, and Nonprofits are each acting like one other in certain ways… and getting into each other’s traditional “business.” One consequence of the blurred boundaries is “nonprofits [will look like] undercapitalized competitors in a blended economy.”
I also attended a session entitled “Intentional Stewardship: Moving from best practices to next practices,” led by Julia Emlen, a consultant on stewardship. It was very interactive, and many people shared their wisdom. Here are some of the high points from that meeting (partly rearranged and editorialized):
When asked how to choose from the dizzying array of communication options, brandable giveaways, etc, Julia asked, “Do you have a phone?” Not a fan of branded junk. You? Calling your donor and saying thanks is often just right. Use the branded mug as a gift to leave after a visit or lunch date.
Good stewardship has three dimensions:
She suggested changing your goal from “creating a culture of philanthropy” to creating a culture of stewardship—because you can control only your own activities, and not the attitude or behavior of others.
Overall, the conference was helpful, and the feeling was generally one of anxious readiness, with a little uncertainty. I look forward to interpreting some of these ideas back here at the ranch!
Josef Albers and his students. North Carolina State Archives.
Designers are often asked to describe the why and how of color: Why did we choose these colors? How do they contribute to a solution?
Dwell Magazine’s three-part video series The Full Spectrum articulates, through seemingly disparate worlds of abstract artist Josef Albers and modern furniture design at Herman Miller, that the “right” color is achieved by a combination of intense exploration, disciplined practice, and a level of intuition. (The middle segment about a clothing retail shop is unremarkable.)
Josef Albers, well-known for his concentric squares paintings, compared himself to a chef trying new recipes. The squares were “a platter to serve color” that allowed him to explore how colors affect one another, how they influence depth perception, and how they relate to their environment. Albers methodically recorded his “recipes” or color experiments with great detail on the reverse of his canvases. Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director of the Albers Foundation, says that Albers believed that a mechanical, scientific approach could lead [to] poetry and spiritualism.
Creative consultant Susan Lyons describes product color development at Herman Miller as an iterative process where you don’t know the end result. The designer’s job is to figure out what the material wants to be in regards to color application. That end result is even less predictable because furniture is destined for homes and offices where the surroundings and quality of light can’t be fully anticipated. Lyons eschews color forecasting. “It’s like throwing a dart at a dartboard; it’s too disconnected from the product.” To achieve what Charles and Ray Eames coined “the-way-it-should-be-ness” Herman Miller designers adhere to the principle of color practice rather than theory.
Designers rely at least partially on intuition to select a color palette, but it’s hard to justify that you just know when a color is right. This is where exploration and practice give weight to otherwise vague conjecture.
Whether print or digital, development of a color palette requires research of the subject and the audience, knowledge of how colors interact, how they act in various environments, what meanings they represent, and then testing and proving. And testing and proving again. Failures and successes should be documented. Of course all of this must (usually) be condensed into a ridiculously tight timeframe.
But the effort is what will give the ultimate design longevity and flexibility in many environments, like an Albers painting or a Herman Miller chair.
Last week, the first spot in our client Direxion’s inaugural TV campaign aired on Bloomberg TV. This being Direxion’s small-screen debut, we are all pretty excited, and once again, exceedingly proud of our collaboration. Here’s the (short!) story…
Our goal was to promote Direxion’s brand of leveraged ETFs, Direxion Shares, to an expanded audience with a campaign focused on their ever-evolving ETF lineup across several categories.
To advance brand awareness in the leveraged ETF space, Direxion Shares must—first and foremost—cut through the din of the modern broker/trader office. With phones ringing, conversations over cubicle walls, and flat-screen TVs glued to financial networks, our audience’s attention is certainly divided. We know we need to be bold.
Once we have their attention, we have another challenge: balancing the promotion of a particular category of ETFs while also making it clear it’s but one of several categories available.
And we have to meet these objectives with 30 seconds of motion graphics, concise copy, music, and no voice-over (compliance language would have eaten up too much time).
We outlined a templated approach to the campaign in order achieve our objectives in a timely, cost-effective manner. Each spot will employ a consistent intro and outro, strongly branded with the Direxion Shares logo, its signature colors, and a clean and crisp visual environment. The more dynamic “middle” content was then developed around three simple benefit messages (Power, Agility, Opportunity) that will be used for each ad in the series—tilted only slightly to underscore the particular category being promoted.
With this approach in mind, we went to work on the first spot: International Equities. The process included storyboards, conceptual artwork, test animations, complete drafts, audio selection, audio editing, compliance approval, and final file preparation for TV specifications and standards.
Early feedback on the first ad is positive, we’re nearly set to go on the second spot (Fixed Income), and the third (Sectors) is in the conceptual artwork phase. Taken together, this television campaign stands to be another compelling “tile” in Direxion’s brand mosaic—one built on the partnership, education, and innovation that Direxion brings to the market and realized through communications across media that succeed in their tactical objective while also building the Direxion brand.
We recently had a chance to grab the new Internet Explorer 9 beta on our lone Windows box here at the office. Outside of it completely wiping away Internet Explorer 8 (which we weren’t too pleased about from a testing standpoint!), the update brings about some fresh positives from a GUI (Graphical User Interface) perspective. It seems that Microsoft is following the same paradigm shift that informed Vista to Windows 7, that less is more.
The first thing we noticed was how much of the screen was absolutely dominated by the site content. They’ve reduced the amount of “browser clutter” considerably, merging the navigation bar and tabs onto a single line and compressing all tools and favorites to a series of unobtrusive buttons in the top right corner. If you prefer your favorites or tools on traditional bars, you can revert the display by right clicking to the right of the tabs area and specifying which bars you’d like to show. This design is a bit jarring at first, but we quickly figured out where all necessary bits and pieces were for a complete browsing experience.
Likewise, the notification bar has been modified considerably. In previous versions, this feature would appear beneath the tabs to inform users of important status or security issues. Your most likely interaction with it occurred when installing web software (probably lots of “ActiveX Control” warnings). Now the bar is much larger and at the bottom of the screen. It appears in a manner similar to an AJAX interaction, subtly fading in when necessary and disappearing in a similarly smooth manner once the notification has been addressed. While it’s not a massive change, it contributes to a much more immersive web experience that seems in line with the “get out of my way” philosophy of the GUI.
We also noticed the addition of “pinning”. You can now take sites and pin them directly to your explorer bar in Windows 7. Windows will then use the site’s favicon to create what effectively feels the same as a desktop application button for immediate, 1-click browsing.
While this isn’t exactly creatively groundbreaking, the integration of web-favorites with traditionally offline mechanics is intriguing for a few reasons. First, it’s indicative of a larger technology trend that’s chipping away at the barrier between online and offline applications and features. As our infrastructure becomes more and more wired, software is operating more and more under the assumption that internet access will be constant. The result has been desktop software interacting with the internet to create considerably more dynamic experiences. Second, it represents the potential for future bridges between IE and Windows 7. Frankly, there’s no longer too much of a reason for Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer to be separate entities in the first place. We may soon find browsing the internet and browsing our own computers strikingly seamless.
I wanted to keep this post focused primarily on the user experience, but as a developer I’d be remiss not to mention that we’re a bit unexcited about the asterisk that seems to follow html5 and css3 support. At the very least, though, we’ll be able to get some nice rounded corners working on the browser. In the end, that’s enough of an improvement over previous iterations of IE to keep us happy.
If you’re a Windows user and you’re tired of stuff forcing its way between you and your web content, I’d suggest upgrading to the beta. As a bit of a GUI minimalist myself, I certainly will be on my desktop at home.
Categories: Digital Media
Jeff designed the series of conferences to:
…provide a platform for the worldwide Twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business…
The format is fast and furious—most solo talks are only 10 minutes (though “featured” ones were 15) and panels a brief 15 – 20—a pace meant to “provide a platform for as many people as possible to share their thoughts and engage in conversation with the attending delegates.”
The result? Well, Jeff puts it best: “This is a people conference, not a tech conference.”
In other words, this is not a conference to learn the nuts and bolts of Twitter and other “real-time web” platforms, but rather, it’s an opportunity to hear case study after case study of how people are actually using the platforms to effect change for themselves, their organizations, their causes, and in some cases, the world.
Our favorites included:
At the very low price tag of $100-$140 (and some events, like the upcoming one in Detroit are free), it’s an incredible value for a day tailor-made for sparking new ideas and new collaborations. (Not to mention a chance to see Amanda Palmer sing the Sesame Street theme song!)
We look forward to more #140Conf events, and hope to see some of you there!
A professional pastime of mine is noticing taglines. These poor cursed phrases, usually appearing in italics under an organization’s name and logo, are expected to achieve so much with so little. Only names are expected to pack more emotional and intellectual punch, and neither should be expected to carry the day.
Yet we expect them to do just that. It’s an especially tough job in one of our practice areas, nonprofit life science research organizations. They’re often primarily scientific enterprises (as opposed to fundraising instruments that in turn make grants to or investments in other organizations), so explaining what they do and why you should care in three to six words—that people can recognize and pronounce—is no cakewalk. Add to that the natural allergy science-minded people have to hyperbolic language breezily promising “cures,” and you have a conundrum.
But when it works, it really makes a difference in engaging people, and making the case for support. Sometimes, the tagline explains an otherwise mysterious name. Others help to distinguish one organization’s approach from those of many similar organizations. The best do both, and add a simple, elegant emotional appeal. I’ve collected a few here from organizations around the country, some better known than others. (I’ve left out clients, because I’d obviously be biased. Also, I’m not making a comment on these causes’ or organizations’ value, just their messaging.)
Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay (Berkeley, California)
Life is a journey we know by heart
This nice line adds emotional impact to the descriptive organization name. It reflects the terrible blow of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s, and it takes a positive, hopeful look at the process patients and their families have to experience.
Angelman Syndrome Foundation (Aurora, Illinois)
I may not speak, but I have much to say
AS is a developmental disorder that affects patients for their entire lives. The tagline for ASF helps to describe the problem, and packs a serious emotional case for caring.
Autism Speaks (New York and Los Angeles)
It’s time to listen
In this case, the logo, name, and tagline come together extremely well from a communication design perspective. They evoke the challenge of autism—connecting with those with the disorder, especially children, and underscoring the importance of communication among all parties involved. (A similar organization, Autism Research Institute, has the tagline, “Autism is Treatable”—a bold assertion and call to action in the face of a frustrating disease. They skip the art and cut right to the chase.)
City of Hope (Duarte, California)
Where the power of knowledge saves lives
This research hospital is well known regionally for its combination of high quality research and excellent patient care (“translational” capability that is out of most research organizations’ reach).
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (Bethesda, Maryland)
Adding tomorrows every day
Research organizations that promise “a cure is just around the corner” often disappoint. CFF’s tagline emphasize that despite the hard work still ahead, we still can improve lives for patients today.
Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (Hollywood, Florida)
The Best Hope for a Cure
“Hope” is too often an impotent wish; DRI turns it back at themselves with “best,” giving the entire phrase more purpose, basically saying, “if there’s a cure, we’ll find it.”
Salk Institute (La Jolla, California)
Where cures begin
The paths from a discovery to a treatment are long, winding, and often dead-ends. Many donors are reluctant to invest in basic research, since they may never see results in their lifetime. The Salk’s tagline reminds us that “cures” don’t appear without hard work and fundamental research. I think it’s also a nod to the founder’s actual accomplishments treating polio.
I’m sure I’m forgetting and overlooking great tags. Have you come across a name / tagline combination that you think works well? Please share it!
The Internet recently blew up with a rapid spread of link sharing surrounding the video/site thewildernessdowntown.com for a song off of Arcade Fire’s latest album “Suburbs.”
Why did this music video garner so much attention? Because it puts you inside the future of the Web, showing off every trick in the HTML 5 book.
Arcade Fire are not new to using the Web to build hype around their albums. During their last release, “Neon Bible,” they slowly trickled out cryptic links on a site with weird videos and seemingly dead end links. This Neon Bible site was a very interesting one, but music listeners are now using more mobile Web-based devices to listen to music. And the difference between their new site and their old? These fans using iPhones and Droids can go to the new site and view it in its full glory. If they go to the Neon Bible site? Nothing.
The future of Flash is definitely uncertain. What “The Wilderness Downtown” shows us is that you can doing amazingly interactive things on the web with HTML 5 that were before only possible with the use of Flash. As with many things web-based, the only thing holding up this advancement is the ongoing “browser war.” And I believe Google wanted to show us that Chrome is King with this experiment because, while working well on other WebKit-based browsers (Safari and most mobile phones), the video definitely runs the smoothest on Chrome.
As unique as The Wilderness Downtown is, it’s fascinating that the song and video experience almost become secondary to the actual making of this project. Google, Arcade Fire, and HTML 5 provided us with an exciting experiment and a good look at the possibilities new technologies will bring to us.
Also makes for quite a nice advertisement for them all, don’t you think?