On collaboration and constraint

January 15th, 2016 Comments off

I once worked with this designer on a project, and it was clear to me I was never going to work with her again. She was almost completely unwilling to alter anything she had designed. She did the design, then all that remained to do was justify and defend what she’d done.

I love having input into design and I will not present something to a client that I’m not happy with. So the designer has to satisfy me, then I’ll deal with the client. Here’s the reason: I do not trust the client’s judgement in this area.

On one project, a designer/developer showed me three designs. Two of them I liked; one I was not keen on. Neither was the designer, I found out later. But I showed all three to the client. Guess which one he chose? Do not ever present something that you would not want in your portfolio.

I had the chance recently to turn the Media Tonic site responsive, i.e. make it look presentable on mobiles etc. And we made some design changes along the way.

I worked with designer Martin Firth, who is an excellent collaborator. What I mean by that is, I imagined a result and briefed him, then he came back with something better than what I imagined, then I suggested a change and we iterated until the end result was better than either of us expected.

 
Media Tonic screenshot

 

What I love about the Media Tonic site is the measured use of colour. Just because you have access to 16,777,216 colours does not mean you should use most of them. Colour is jealous of other colour. Colour respects black and white; loves constraint.

Go collaborate. Be constrained.

Marketing: one phrase at a time

January 15th, 2016 Comments off

It’s exciting to make a difference to a client’s marketing but it’s just damn great when that client has a world-shaking product.

Cognilab brings the latest in cognitive science to educational training for kids.

For me, the nice thing about working with new businesses is the ability to impact core messaging. So rather than “a unique combination of applied behavior analysis, precision teaching, direct instruction, curriculum-based measurement, and relational frame theory”, we’re now saying “produces one to two years’ learning growth in 40-50 hours of instruction”. I have a special hatred of the word ‘unique’.

We’ve been able to move from fairly dense, scientific discourse to a small number of meaningful and easy to understand points. We put it in a visual context that does not overwhelm. It’s about chunking down a complex product offering into digestible amounts. How you do that is put yourself in the shoes of the people who’d benefit from the service. And pretend they have limited time and attention. What matters most to them? Give me one phrase.

If you have kids who are ambitious for a particular career and don’t yet have school results lining up consistent with that, you should go to the seminar Cognilab are running next week: the inventors of the program are briefly in Perth.

I worked with Martin Firth from Embersketch; he is smart and accommodating. Highly recommended.

Cognilab screenshot

The stoning of Tony Abbott

September 16th, 2015 Comments off

Tony Abbott's face with mosaic tile effect

 

Apparently the job of prime minister is easy, but it’s done by worthless people. That’s the message from educated and intelligent adults on Twitter, delivered with sneer or abuse. We’ve witnessed a vicious public send-off for someone the country elected only two years ago; a modern stoning. I’m not giving examples; if you were watching, you know it.

Australians seem unable to acknowledge the commitment or contribution of anyone they disagree with. Meanwhile, on the losing side of Liberal politics, invective for the successful challenger. I’m still waiting for the tweet: I acknowledge Tony Abbott’s extraordinary commitment, now let’s empower the new guy.

Abbott’s final speech as prime minister was authentic and positive. It contained one negative comment which was the focus of almost all reporting. He dared to criticise the media, describing commentary as “mostly sour, bitter, character assassination”. It is an accurate description and it points to a fundamental weakness in Australian culture. We cannot listen powerfully to people who say things we disagree with. And all we are left with is our own righteous opinion.

A piece in The Conversation ended; ‘The perilous state of Australian political culture… might be cause for concern – but sometimes, you’ve just got to laugh.’ I haven’t read any constructive articles on how to address this weakness in political stability. All I’ve seen is people putting the boot in and disguising it as humour.

The great virtue of Malcolm Turnbull, we are told, is exceptional communication skills. Let’s hope they are better than the population’s.

Original image: MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy)

Turning great customer service into average

August 26th, 2015 Comments off

DHL delivery planes trucks and cars
 
My phone rings at 6.30AM. It’s Louise from DHL, re my complaint about yesterday’s delivery. She wants to confirm we did eventually receive the delivery. I confirm. ‘You’re up early’, she says when she realises she’d failed to check my time zone. ‘I am now’, I reply. I was awake til after 2AM working.

She says the problem occurred because the courier thought the Consulate only had one building, so delivered to that, instead of the one up the road. The correct address was written on the envelope; so was the phone number of the Consulate.

The premium for delivery by 12 noon was $5 Louise says, and offers me a $5 rebate. Total delivery cost was $100.

Let me go back to the pickup. I received a document from DHL and had to get it to Canberra ASAP. Although we had been given wrong information on the phone, the Courier who delivered the document said overnight delivery was actually possible and went out of his way to help. Then I phoned DHL and even though the cash sales office had supposedly closed, the operator tried the office anyway, and a person working back made it happen. Three interactions; all great customer service. When I spoke the next day to advise the delivery problem I made sure they knew those people had been great.

So I was offered $5 back and Louise paused for my reaction. ‘Thanks for that, but this is a silly discount in terms of acknowledging the problem. Your company motto is “fast delivery, no excuses” and there was an impact of the delayed delivery’. Louise offers me a $100 gift voucher and I accept.

This was quite a different experience to being offered a $100 gift voucher up front. I was left with the sense of ‘what can we get away with here’, instead of authentic communication and generosity.

Here’s how it could have gone:

‘Mr Treasure, thanks for trusting DHL with your delivery yesterday but I can confirm that it was not delivered to the correct location and I want to apologise for that on behalf of the company. Did you eventually receive the document?’

– Yes

‘And Mr Treasure I will be offering a full $100 gift voucher refund because we have a “no excuses” policy, but I’m interested to know, if you’ll tell me, what was the impact of the late delivery?

– Well thank you Louise. The impact was that the Consulate did not turn around the document in time. It means that my son and his girlfriend may not receive their marriage documents in time and may have to leave Taiwan unnecessarily. It’s causing a lot of stress and may cost them over a thousand dollars.

‘I’m so sorry we were unable to deliver on our promise. The driver has already been spoken to and I will message him to let him know the consequence. I will also add it to our customer service newsletter so that other drivers hear that story. You’ll have the voucher in a few days; is there anything else you’d like to say to me about what happened?’

– No, I think you’ve covered it off Louise. Can’t undo what happened. Thanks for the voucher; appreciate your taking an interest.

It is not part of DHL’s system, and Louise has not been trained in, getting the impact of the problem in the customer’s world. Building that into their customer service interactions will significantly shift people’s experience of the company, and that’s worth a lot more than the odd $100 gift voucher.

Australian Web Awards

August 20th, 2015 Comments off

australian web awards home page  

I’ve again been responsible for all content on the Australian Web Awards site, as well as working with James Deck’s 1300WebPro on marketing (Twitter, Facebook, Google). A record number of entries this year, though we’re still struggling to get traction in NSW and Queensland. We’ll be doing some direct marketing in those states next year, and have the potential to double the total number of entries.

Events in four or five states as well as the national final adds up to a compelling sponsorship proposition.

The Art of Conversation

July 16th, 2015 Comments off

Poster: the art of conversation - an evening with bret treasure

 

Join me on Saturday, September 5th for an Evening with Bret Treasure. We’ll be discussing mannerisms, mothers, silence, toilets and the future of marriage. Chat with your friends, then hear some ideas and stories. Entertaining, and thought-provoking.

The event is alcohol free. Admission includes pizza and soft drink.

Tables of 4 or 5. – it’s a 7.30PM start; ends at 10PM. Tickets cost $20 +GST.

Consistency

July 4th, 2015 Comments off

SmallCloud website screenshot

 

Green fields sites let you completely synchronise all your visual branding. In this case, we started with a logo, developed an animation that used the logo, then built a web site around the animation.

The site is designed to communicate the simplification that SmallCloud makes available, because technology solutions have the potential to intimidate. Hence the straight-talking language, the simple pastel pallet and the uncomplicated layout.

Every time you introduce a different visual element, you tax the brain. That’s why you keep your visual branding consistent. Familiar visuals reinforce the pathway in the brain you created the last time. If you get it right, you remove every distraction from the message. And if you really get it right, you reinforce the message every time your logo or colour scheme appears.

Thanks to client Garry Bloom for trusting and designer Dan Newson for skillful and efficient execution.

Animating for simplicity

June 18th, 2015 Comments off

Here’s an explainer video I wrote and commissioned. It’s a fairly complex product offering pitched at non-technical small business owners, so we wanted a simple, approachable piece of communication.

By removing every detail that normally distracts, animation focuses the attention. And of course, bright colours, movement, narrative… Good commercial animation takes away what is not essential to the communication. It requires great design skill and a business brain.

I chose an actor for the voice-over rather than a voice-over professional and asked him for a natural, colloquial read. Not perfect, but better authenticity. Polished delivery is not necessarily better delivery; depends on the target market and the intention.

The customer is sometimes right

May 30th, 2015 Comments off

Sample page from Land Assessment site
 

I like that layout, the client said. Can we use it on those other pages? I think it’d work better than what we’ve got. Those links are not prominent enough. Can we put them in bold? There’s really too much content on the home page when you’re looking at it on a phone.

In all of the above, the client’s instincts were good. He’s not a web designer, not even strong on aesthetics, but he knew what he wanted and when he screwed up his face it generally meant he was right. His active contributions got him a better web site than if he’d left it entirely to me. And there were elements that the designer and I wanted that were better than the client’s ideas. Well you’d hope so. The client was gracious enough to take advice on most of those.

It’s the jobs where you constructively collaborate that deliver the most satisfaction. It means knowing when the client is right, and being equipped to persuade/assert when the client is wrong. Each party needs to be prepared to give ground and the rules of engagement need to be well understood. Advanced communication skills are a necessary ingredient in terrific web sites; in this case, a beautifully responsive and uncluttered site for agriculture and environment consultancy, Land Assessment.

Happy client, happy supplier. Worked with designer Dan Newson; he was great.

Logo for a Supplements business

April 2nd, 2015 Comments off

real supplements logo

 

The brief was for an urban, street art style with SHUTUP and KEEP LIFTING attitude.

Conference web site

April 2nd, 2015 No comments

Edge of the Web is the national conference of the Australian Web Industry Association and was held in Perth on March 26 & 27, 2015.

I worked with the students at the Central Institute of Technology in phase one and with Joff Crabtree in phase two. Also had good support from Luke John. I briefed, wireframed and managed, then wrote all the content. Site had good overall accessibility and was responsive, using X Theme on WordPress.

Edge of the Web conference home page

I also briefed, co-designed and wrote content for the conference site in 2013, working with Eduka.

Business coaching

November 18th, 2014 No comments

Currently working with Mark Jackson on a project. He’s an accomplished IT professional with an impressive track record in business-building.

If you’re a medium-sized business looking for strategic input on an IT issue or an IT company looking for business consulting, I’m confident he’d provide excellent value as a business coach.

What every nerd needs

November 11th, 2014 No comments

nerd_manI’m a complete shill for the Landmark Forum. The course blew my socks off. I changed the way I related to my dad, stopped procrastinating, and completely ditched the cynicism I thought was inherent in my personality. Because it’s a process of self-discovery, rather than a process of adding knowledge, what you learn remains with you. I am still impacted by that three-day course 23 years later – I’ve used the stuff in parenting, business, and my private life.

In 2012 it occurred to me that I should do the Communication Courses that Landmark run. It happened all over again. This time an eye-opening access to something I thought I was already good at.

In the web industry, I’m in contact with people who spend a very large amount of time in front of a screen. I deeply respect technical people – that’s why I’m in the industry association – but as communicators they are inclined to be introspective, opinionated and individualistic. Something shifts around this in the Landmark Forum. People develop better listening skills and better communication skills. We could use that.

Through my dad’s involvement in the early days of television I met a number of technical pioneers. Outside of their technical field, with very few exceptions, those people failed to exert an influence on the direction of the industry. Mostly, extroverted sales people stepped into leadership and influence.

One of my hopes for the web industry is that technical people exert more influence on industry and policy. So I recommend the Landmark training because I know first hand that it will make a difference. If we can get past the “thanks, it’s not for me” and the “don’t have time” conversations, the Australian industry will shift up a notch in entrepreneurism and impact. At individual level, there are insights and openings for action. In a world of hype, this training is the real deal.

I’ve set up a Facebook group which puts together those who’ve done the course and those considering it. Please join and ask searching questions. On January 8th I’m hosting an introduction evening. These are stimulating, stand-alone events and do not cost*. Email me if attending.

*The actual course costs $670 and you can book in with $110 deposit.

Note: The views expressed here are my own and not the views of Landmark Worldwide.

Anatomy of an Italian logo

September 26th, 2014 No comments

questo logos

spacer imageThat was what the designer came back with. Essentially, this was the brief:

Questo

Logo and badge/seal/banner for Italian food line

‘Questo’ is the Italian word for ‘this’. It’s planned to use the logo in conjunction with a by-line for each of the product lines, e.g. Questo è lasagne.

We’re looking for a concept that translates that logo into packaging art, i.e. a concept for a badge/seal/banner.

Style
We’re trying to evoke ‘filling and wholesome’. The glyphs should be well-fed!

Colourways
Food and photography visible on the packaging will generally be orange (breadcrumbs), pasta or bolognese sauce coloured and we need the logo to work with these colours.

So how’d you go? Of the six options, bottom right is the correct answer. Legibility is a critical factor in logos and that one wins hands-down. The middle one on the top line was also legible but didn’t send the signal ‘filling food’.

We then moved on to the badge/seal/banner stage.

I asked to see some colour alternatives as the red and white was a bit ‘budget’. This was my mistake, not the designer’s because I didn’t specify ‘premium’ in the brief. I uploaded two product shots that will appear on the packaging to a site that creates colour palettes from photographs and sent the output (some dark greens, dark browns and burgundies) to the designer.

I asked him to mock up “Questo è arancini”, where ‘è arancini’ is on a separate line and here’s how he responded:

questo logo badges

spacer imageI’d caused confusion by saying the client wanted orange as one option and the designer, whose first language is not English, made orange the central theme in all of them. So I apologised and asked to see some of the sombre colour options more aligned with a premium product.

Looking at the various ‘badge’ options, I chose #2 and #4. I requested we make “È ARANCINI” lower case; I wanted to make the foreign words a bit less challenging to read.

With #4 I thought the ribbon looked stiff and artificial. I asked for it to be made more fabric-like in its form. And here’s the conclusion in the winning colour:

questo final logo

spacer imageThe central one would make a GREAT logo for a line of meat pies. It suggests the curve of a pie crust, the words are highly legible and the colour combination really pops. But the right hand version is the winner. Wholesome, filling and definitely premium.

Arrivederci. Dinner time.

Establishment vs bitcoin

August 31st, 2014 4 comments

David_YermackNew York University’s Professor David Yermack spoke this week at the University of Western Australia about Bitcoin.

It’s pretty clear from his talk he’s not a Bitcoin user. It’s also pretty clear he’s loving the attention he’s getting as a result of his recent interest in the subject.

‘I’ve had calls from the Federal Reserve’, he says, like a kid who’s just got an autograph from a sports star. Media attention and spirited debate with young bitcoin enthusiasts obviously compares well to the daily grind of finance lectures.

So sitting there with the bitcoin community listening to Professor Yermack dismiss bitcoin as hyped and risky and going nowhere – there was a certain amount of electricity in the air. Especially when the Professor revealed a poor understanding of Bitcoin architecture and made a swag of factual errors.

So he doesn’t use the product, he doesn’t understand the system and he gets his facts wrong. But he’s becoming a respected source of information on the subject. Don’t the media just love an authority figure? Read Ryan Holiday if you’re in any doubt about that.

Nonetheless, it’s good for the bitcoiners to get a cold bucket of water on bitcoin uptake. The Professor has done some good basic research: daily transactions are not increasing. Bitcoin is going nowhere as a transaction medium. Personally, I don’t think that is going to change in a stable economy like ours. But it may well change in Argentina, for example, and leak out from there.

The Professor says he wakes up every day expecting the Bitcoin price to be zero. Oddly, the price resilience is not empirical evidence that influences his opinion of its viability. But it’s not surprising the Professor finds Bitcoin terrifying. He calculates an average daily variation of 9% – that would frighten the pants off any risk-averse analyst. Here’s the thing: many bitcoiners bought at $5. The price is now $450. They’re okay with price volatility.

The moment at which people get heated is telling. ‘You’re wrong!’, yelled the Professor when a bitcoiner heckled that Bitcoin was a good risk-reduction strategy. The Professor has correlated Bitcoin against major currencies and gold and they’re not correlated at all. Investing in Bitcoin would violate the Efficient Frontier, the Professor said, in a way that made clear that the Efficient Frontier is a truth, not a theory. The Efficient Frontier underpins what’s called Modern Portfolio Theory and it asserts that there is a calculable maximum return for a given level of risk. But research shows that Modern Portfolio Theory did a lousy job of protecting you in 2008. What would have been handy is a financial asset not correlated to financial markets. Bitcoin’s price independence would make it a good diversification strategy, if only it were sufficiently liquid, and it’s certainly not that yet.

The Professor pointed to some seminal issues. The recovered Mt Gox Bitcoins can be traced to individuals. Do the coins get returned to the individuals or should they be returned pro-rata to all who lost money? And if insurance companies can insure bitcoin businesses, doesn’t that mean governments are implicitly standing behind Bitcoin?

There was some amusement at Professor Yermack approvingly quoting Paul Kruger, NOBEL PRIZE WINNER and a bitcoin skeptic. Krugman repeatedly forecast the collapse of the Euro and said (those of us in the web industry recall) that by 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s. I suspect he is as reliable on bitcoin.

Underneath the Professor’s opinions lie a set of powerful assumptions: trust requires authority, the banking system minimises risk, currencies must have the blessing of a nation state. While there are historical and legal explanations for these assumptions, that does not make them valid. It does not mean that we are stuck with them. History will record that Bitcoin’s impact was to challenge in these realms.

Gillard on Purpose, re-imagined

September 14th, 2013 No comments

 

2546730987_d89dcb0654

 

Here it is.

Artwork by Bridie Knight.