All Posts Tagged ‘Design


★ #8 Keep Pointing to the Possible

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TITLE: Keep Pointing To The Possible

TOPIC: You can’t have leadership without connection. This week we discuss how to align people to shared goals, big or small, we talk about historical examples of explorers who were mapping new territory and leading the way to a new future. We talk about the golden age of technological capability (right now) and the difference between designing an object and designing a process. On todays journey we touch on the value and price of trust, the power of uniting people behind your ideas and how to truly lead in the connection economy.


★ #6 You're Not Designing for Yourself

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TOPIC: When to know you need feedback. Trying to solve a new problem? Looking to improve your business but don’t know how? How do you know what you ought to be doing? What information do you need in order to make your decisions better? Feedback is critical to increase your ability to make the right decision, to avoid wasting time, attention and effort and to maximise your efforts in bringing your ideas to life. This week we tackle feedback, when to give it, when to look for it and how you can use feedback productively.

This weeks show is brought to you by The Experience Workshop. The Experience workshop builds outstanding experiences that your customers love, talk about more often and buy more often. Come to and take your products and services to the next level.

3 Tips to improve your Feedback

  1. It’s important to be asking the right questions. If you’re asking the wrong questions you can lost sight of the goal, get wrong or distracting feedback and waste more time. Think carefully about the information you actually need to make better decisions.

  2. It’s important to distance yourself emotionally from feedback you get. Even negative feedback or criticism can provide useful information, providing you’re asking the right questions. If you can distance your emotions from the feedback, it can become a positive productive force and help you make your product, service or idea better.

  3. It’s important to remember empathy when looking for feedback. You should always be looking for opportunities to learn and sometimes the best way is to humbly ask the stupid or obvious questions. Try to understand your audience, user or customer. The better your empathy skills are, the better you will be at understanding their needs or hopes – and therefore much more able to create the products or services they desire.

Lean Analytics
Steve Blank – Get out of the building
The Lean Startup movement
Eric Ries


The Myth of Apple Minimalism

Cliff Kuang, on the minimalist Apple design, over at;

Not only do HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung make boring black boxes, but every single black box they make seems to have no relationship with the others. As Apple has proved, that’s a massive missed opportunity. Each one of Apple’s gadgets quietly sells the others, every single day you have it. When you buy an iPhone, you’re buying into the Apple design language, and the little details you come to appreciate are details you know you’ll find in all their other products–from the laser-etched buttons to the stunningly beautiful screws to the dead-simple UI layout. When you finally decide to buy another Apple gadget–say, an iPad or a MacBook Air–you’ve already been primed to love it.

Apple have been pulling this one off for decades now. Nobody seems to have taken them seriously until now, but again the focus is all wrong. Samsung and HP may be able to ape the design of Apple products, but they’re missing something serious under the hood. A quality experience all round. Beyond the hardware, including the packaging, the day to day seamlessness of the software, the tight-knit app and iTunes ecosystem — these are not all accidents. And to boot, they took years, literally years, to come into being. A look at Apple today doesn’t reveal the countless effort, iteration and foresight it took to get from A to B.

It would extremely hard to pull that off without a minimalist design language. The wilder your detailing and form-factor are, the harder they are to translate to totally different products. Not so with a minimalist palette–in that case, simply lifting a few, select details such as an aluminum case or a particular rounded corner, is enough to suggest a strong, familial relationship.

I really think the key idea that Cliff misses is that Apple has great design taste, but more importantly they work constantly to create the best end user experience possible. This misguided argument crops up from time to time, and I have three main problems with it;

  • It assumes that design style equates success in the marketplace, which we’ve seen proven wrong in the 90’s and again today with Apple competitors who prefer to copy the design style of Apple.
  • It ignores the notion that the real value to the user, comes from the many complementary elements of the ecosystem (the iPod was complemented by iTunes, the iPad is complemented by the iOS app store), not one element in isolation, due to the overall improvement in user experience, and it ignores the notion that the real value to the user, comes from the many complementary elements of the ecosystem (the iPod was complemented by iTunes, the iPad is complemented by the iOS app store), not one element in isolation, due to the overall improvement in user experience, and
  • It forgets the over the complete vertical integration Apple has created, passing off the minimal design style as the key innovation rather than the whole ecosystem and value chain. It’s like praising Carl Sagan for his penmanship, rather than the quality of his ideas.

The goodwill that a company can build with a remarkably designed product can disappear overnight, if its successors don’t live up to expectations. Over time, and with greater and greater successes, the inherent risk that you carry with a redesign only grows.

It’s remarkable how easy these claims are to make, that Apple is just one bad product away from impending doom. The iPhone 4S was a remarkable flop, in the eyes of the tech press. Last quarter Apple reported a record breaking revenue of $46M, and a profit of $13M. This is on the back of the iPhone, which sold in the order of 37M units. Sold, not shipped. The tech press was full of praise and wonder at the success of such a company, even moreso given that they’d essentially written them off due to the incredible flop that was the 4S. Ridiculous.

Brands are only as good as their last redesign….It’s no surprise that Apple’s own designs have grown more conservative over time.

Apple is a business. A highly successful one. Their profit margin on the iPhone 4S is in the order of 50%, according to reasonable estimates. For Apple to iterate the design of the iPhone, in order to please the tech press, they could do a few things;

      1. redesign the whole enclosure
      2. make the screen bigger
      3. Make the system more ‘open’ i.e. open to theft, grift or unwelcome behaviour.

For Apple to make any changes to the physical design of the iPhone, affects everything & they’d need to have damn good reason to do so. Changes to the product design have consequences on their overheads, their ability to ship immediately, the lead/lag time for scaling the new operation, and so on. Changes of that nature really do need to have solid grounds. If anything, I’d be more inclined to buy the argument that Apple isn’t getting more conservative, rather they’re getting better at focussing their efforts in R&D, and are reaping remarkable rewards for it. Keep in mind this is the company that almost went bankrupt in the late 90’s. With Steve at the helm, Apple is nothing if not a company with a long view, and plenty of focus. They take a stance on the design and experience qualities of their products, and not an ounce of it hinges on minimalism.


★ Stay curious

If you’re a designer (heck even if you’re not a designer), stop everything and read this article by Mike Monteiro, over at net magazine. It’s what Jason Santa Maria describes as a rallying call for designers to take wake up and take 2012 by storm. It does have the sheen of a new years resolution list, but honestly it does ring true for me outside of holiday reality distortion time.

Take a look for yourself

6. Stay curious

Don’t be the designer who gets proficient and then stops. It’s easy to make a steady living doing that one thing you’re really good at. Until something comes along and obliterates it. Aim higher. Remember those guys who were really good at Debabelizer? (Ask your parents.) Don’t spend your career satisfied with doing things you’re good at – try to do things you’re not good at. You’ll eventually be good at more things, and you’ll know what you honestly suck at. And you’ll have a longer career.

There’s a ton of great shit coming down the pike this year, including stuff that’s gonna surprise us. Not to mention the stuff we’re still getting used to from last year. The future’s not only fun, it’s messy. Welcome it with open arms.

The future’s not only fun, it’s messy.


★ So far, I'm impressed with MailChimp

Why do email clients have such prehistoric web browsers? The web browser which comes built into my iPad RSS reading app (MobileRSS) is so much more fully featured than the majority of email clients. It’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t advocate that rich email clients should contain all the functionality of web browsers (and indeed, some email clients essentially sit within web browsers), but it does seem quite backward.

The reason I mention this is that I’ve been playing with MailChimp over the last two days, working out how to concoct and distribute nice looking email. A simple aim, no doubt, but one worth chasing. It turns out, that the above problem requires a considerate designer to think very carefully about which web technologies they’re prepared to forgo in search of the right email experience. MailChimp is not every man’s answer, but for me it seems to work.

I couldn’t give two hoots about learning old school HTML techniques and the right way to nest tables. The tool needs to suit the purpose, so email is perhaps a bad medium to choose, but choose it we have and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a little thing like email beat me! MailChimp understands your pain right from the start, and gives you some simple and good tools to get started. It helps you pick from a bunch of stock standard templates, and gives you guides to make things a little bit more you. I found that once I had a good idea of what I wanted to change, the limitations of the baked tools and the flexibility of the online template editing, I could quickly and easily build the email experience I wanted. Great stuff.

I’m only halfway through the experience, I’ve basically only learnt some of the capabilities of the tool. The really hard part is working out how to use these to achieve the result I’m after – and you know what – sending an email to a bunch of people is not my end game! The big questions come hard and fast, and you need to have answers. Questions like:

Who is your target audience?
What do you assume they care about, and how will this email relate to that?
what do you want someone to do with this email? Call you? Email back? Visit a website?
How soon do you want to have a response? Immediately, or after a period?
What impression do you want to leave on them?

These questions help define the basic structure of an email, which in my world is as follows;

1. Teaser, preview or trigger used to get someone to open the email. This is actually quite complex as it combines your header, your address, your name, their name and the entire email history they share with you or your organization. Any previous contact with them will influence the likelihood of this email actually being read.

2. The introduction, which can be used to remind the person about you, how you have been in contact before and the purpose of the email. The person should know the purpose of the email within seconds of opening it. Brevity is your friend, but of course be polite.

3. The body, where you flesh out the details of your problem/challenge/solution/opportunity and how it relates to them. It’s important here to keep in mind not only the smarts you may be bringing to the conversation, but how it relates to them. Don’t make someone wade through paragraphs to find the bit they can respond to.

4. A call to action, which places the responsibility of return on the recipient of the reader. This can take the form of a reminder, a question, a link or any other visual item, but it’s main purpose is to remind them that they either can, should or could take one specific action as a consequence of reading this email. Keep the options limited, and make the call to action specific. They can decide if they want to defer or differ from the instructions given, the point here is to give them a specific task which they can do.

5. The farewell, which should tie together all of the above.

Easy, right? Give someone a task to do, and let them decide if the want to do it. I don’t mean project management style task giving, I mean more like – click this button, or call this person. Simple, concrete and precise tasks. That way you can tell if it works or not, and they can decide in specific if they’ll respond to you. Vagueness and ambiguity are to be avoided.

So there it is. I’ve been playing with MailChimp, and I think it’s cool. Will let you know how we get on with the emailing, let me know if you have any tips or other suggestions for influencing email behavior.


★ Make a decision

This got me thinking today, and I must say I couldn’t agree more. The key to this is making a decision.

Look at your market, make some reasonable guesses, and be honest with yourself about what you’re gaining versus what you lose. Make a decision.

Just please, don’t sit and agonise over it – or before you know it, the new version has become old, and you’re back where you started. Tick tock.

Any business (new or incumbent) approaching a changing market has to be prepared to try, experiment, prototype and iterate its offering. Unless you’re prepared to try and fail, you can’t begin to try doing things differently and disrupting others. Failing to fail, can lead to you being disrupted yourself, by others who are prepared to learn from failure.

The simplest definition I can come up with for design, is a rational set of decisions relating to material, arrangement or operation, intending to resolve the needs of a particular problem. The better you define the problem, the more equipped you are to solve it.

Be conscious of your decisions, the reasons for taking them, and the impact they will have. Learn, iterate and grow should be the mantra of our immediate future.


★ Google barred

Things do change quickly! I actually don’t mind the black navigation bar on the google sites, it had a bit of a welcome unifying effect on their products. I don’t mind the new google bar, but I do wonder how much this a) deals with the new touch based paradigm we’re learning, or b) will frustrate me by introducing one or two more clicks for specific menu items.

I liked having access to the main products in one spot. I hate navigating multi-click menus.

I do agree with MG, regarding the likelihood that the google navigation will eventually creep up into the browser controls themselves, but I do wonder if that will make them easier or harder to find/use? The google search has been a part of the browser as far back as I can remember (showing my age here), so that precedent has been set. It will certainly be one way for google to differentiate their browser even further, it even seems more like a step towards an OS based experience than a browser based experience.