an evening with Bret Treasure

July 16th, 2015 Comments off

invitation to an evening with bret treasure

 

Join me on July 31st. I’ll tell quirky stories, talk about memory games and modern superstition, and share an idea about the evolution of conversation.

Make up a table of 3, 4 or 5 – you’ll have time to chat to each other, and you’ll be entertained and challenged. It’s a 7.30PM start; tickets cost $20.

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.

The concession speech, re-imagined

September 10th, 2013 No comments

160px-Kevin_Rudd_(Pic_10) The people have spoken. We lost, decisively.

Thousands of hours, millions of dollars, and mountains of hope and enthusiasm. Not enough. How can you not be disappointed? I certainly am, I am gravely disappointed and I want to reflect on that for a moment.

When I lost the Labor leadership in 2010, I was angry and I felt wronged. I believed completely in my heart I was the right leader for the country so I promised myself I would return to the top job. I honestly, genuinely thought that I was the person the party needed. But I look back on that time now and I see that drive as something self-serving. It was more about me than it was about the party or the country. It’s obvious to everyone around me that my focus on that cost us dearly in unity and public perceptions. Of course I regret that outcome and the damage it did to the Labor brand, to the Labor movement and to the individuals I dragged in to it.

I couldn’t see it at the time but I think we should have stood behind Julia Gillard. She’s a person of great integrity and her commitment to health and education was unflinching. Julia, I am so sorry.

Can’t undo the decision to re-appoint Kevin Rudd. We made the wrong decision and we have to live with the consequences. I have to live with the consequences.

I will not re-contest the leadership. I will see out the full term in the parliament. I will work hard to represent the electors of Griffith. But I will not intrude on the leadership or seek office.

So I declare the election lost. I declare the campaign a failure. I thank you for all your hard work and I challenge you to start afresh. Be disappointed in the result. But only tonight.

The Conservatives will run the country; let’s hope they do a great job.

I am creating a space for you to re-invent the Labor party. Starting from scratch. Starting with your ideas and the principles of collaboration. Job starts tomorrow. Good luck.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer

Mysogyny don’t enter into it

June 27th, 2013 No comments

telegraph
 
I saw the above article lauded on Twitter (click it to read). But I thought it was rubbish. To read it you’d conclude we are a nation of mysogynists and that is why Ms Gillard lost power. The real reasons were bad luck and bad politics.

The incidents the journalist cited are well known (‘dumped in a chaff bag’, ‘Tim’s gay’…). But she represented them as typical – in fact they were the ugly media extremes, collected and compressed. The article heroically concluded that these attitudes led to children throwing sandwiches at Gillard, creating the impression of barrages of flying salami. There were actually two reports of a sandwich being thrown. The PM probably visited 150 schools during her tenure.

‘Opposition MPs appeared at dinners where her “small breasts, big thighs and red box” were literally on the menu’. Dinners? There was one. It was pretty clearly established that the bad taste menu was written by a restauranteur, wasn’t even used at the fundraiser and was done without the knowledge of any Opposition MPs. It was roundly condemned by both sides of politics, though most of the media happily reported most of what was written.

I agree with the author that a number of unconscionable statements were made – but they were rare and highly reported. They were not what brought down the PM. Here’s what went wrong – the causes are in bold.

1. The manner of Rudd’s removal allowed Abbott to invoke (cue music) the faceless men. Abbott kept saying it and the media went hook, line and sinker. Instead of concluding that a change was a sensible decision. Messy transition. Bad politics.

2. The mining tax was a disaster. Lack of consultation, the mining companies’ successful fear campaign, then the embarrassment of not collecting any money. It just made Swan and Gillard look incompetent. If they’d taken it to an election as policy the population would probably have loved it. Bad politics.

3. Carbon tax. Always seems to work great to call your opponent a liar. Gillard gave Abbott a big stick when she said ‘there will be no carbon tax’ and then introduced a price on carbon. A price on carbon and a trading scheme does not equal a carbon tax but Abbott kept saying it and the media kept repeating it. If only she’d hedged a bit. It’s not her style. Bad politics.

4. Failure to solve the boat people issue. Well obvs. Had the Malaysian solution not been knocked out by the High Court Gillard would have scored with the electorate. Mind you, it was an ugly solution. Bad luck. Abbott fear campaign.

5. The Government took advice from Treasury and that advice was poor. The downturn in commodity prices cruelled the planned surplus and that badly damaged the Government’s economic management creds. Labor Party vulnerability exposed. Bad luck.

6. The states fought education & health reforms. The media reported every objection so Gillard couldn’t get any public traction on these important initiatives. The states. The media. Ambitious programs.

7. The Libs went with them on the Disability Insurance Scheme, blunting what should have been a big Labor advantage. Good politics from Abbott; also the right thing to do.

Gillard was a good performer in the Parliament and within her party. But the other side of contemporary politics is how things occur in the media. She didn’t have a handle on it and she clearly didn’t have good advisors in that area. Misogyny had nothing to do with it.

Excuse me – I’m an asshole

June 16th, 2013 No comments

virgin_australia
 
I’ve spent a lot of time on planes lately. I thanked an air hostess for good service during a flight and she stopped and we had a talk about customer service. She shared that hostesses are frequently abused by customers for things clearly outside their control.

Because most people feel the need to bring a suitcase as hand luggage, as well as a duffle coat, a pillow and handbag, overhead storage space quickly fills. One passenger’s hand luggage needed to be stowed five seats behind his, and he rounded on the air hostess. What did he hope to achieve by doing that?

The air hostess told me she had another customer fly into a rage at her when the pilot announced that they’d been put into a holding pattern by air traffic control. Normally she’d just wear it. On this occasion she said ‘I’m terribly sorry sir. I’ve been doing lots of overtime and I’ve nearly saved up enough money for the new runway’. At least this passenger had the good grace to apologise.

Here’s my suggested addition to the passenger flight briefing:

We try really hard to give you a perfect travel experience in a confined space. What we notice is that sometimes, when things don’t go perfectly, some people are generous and understanding of that. We’d just like to thank those people for their enlightened attitudes.

People are very quick to complain about low standards of customer service, but they almost never thank people for good service (e.g. most people exiting an aircraft walk past the cabin crew stony-faced). They almost never write constructive suggestions to management after the fact. When they do complain, they almost always do it to the person at the coal face. Coincidentally, that’s a person who has low status in the organisation and a limited ability to respond. In most contexts, you’d call that bullying.

Thanks to the Virgin Australia crew for repeatedly providing excellent and attentive service.

Photo of Virgin America by Albert Domasin

GovHack

June 15th, 2013 No comments
pia waugh govhack

Pia Waugh, from data.gov.au & GovHack

 
Started by Web Directions and now powered by data.gov.au, GovHack is a push for more sharing and manipulation of the data governments collect. A delicate issue, as many government departments now monetise the sale of their data.

Anyway, the strategy here is to unleash the creative force of developers on a single weekend and then put the apps in the face of government departments. “Here: look what’s possible with your data”.

I helped judge the WA Awards and like most people there, including the government folk, I was knocked out by (a) how much data is already available, (b) the obvious public benefits that will accrue and (c) the potential (in some cases) for commercialisation of the data. Policy wonks will surely be impressed by the results.

Have a look at some of the winning entries.

Strongly encourage web devs, designers and others to get involved next time round.

Observing Startup Weekend

September 8th, 2012 3 comments

startup weekend perth
Startup weekend is on in Perth; first time. Hundred people trying to create a web product in a weekend. Last night I saw 45 x one minute pitches. Then all participants chose their favourite pitches. After some filtering, everyone joined a team and work began, with occasional interference from mentors.

I attended as an observer.

The pitches: simple ideas, simply expressed were most successful in attracting votes. So were those that included ‘I’ve already created three startups; one is turning over a million dollars a month’. Everyone wants to be on a winning team.

Interestingly, the guy with this background reeled in followers based on one business concept but his group soon pivoted; a completely different concept developed. I took this as a sign of effective collaboration though I didn’t witness that first hand.

Another group was problematic. The coders were doing their thing, apparently oblivious to foundational discussions on the other side of the table. One of the devs made two insightful comments that were completely ignored by the team leader. Not only did he miss the value of the suggestions; the non-verbals communicated a lack of respect. I think he mistook a motivated multidisciplinary team for a galley of slaves and I fear it’s going to end badly. Or at least fall short of its potential.

Elsewhere I watched technology get in the way. A white board pulled some of the group towards it. One man left at the table stared at a screen of collaborative software. The others sat unconnected; occupying their own ideas like territory.

Two adjacent groups were almost immediately fluid. Ideas flowed back and forth – everyone got heard and you could see the shape of the business move in real time. At one of these I saw the whole business case dissolve when a researcher found a web site already providing the service they were planning. Time to start over.

And another group: a stubborn attachment to a particular technology that no-one could translate into a distinctive interface or proposition. The frustration palpable; not helped by a mentor who laughed in their faces.

A fascinating view of behavioural dynamics in a pressure-cooker environment. Teams were provided with templates for starting a business (define your target market, what is your unique value proposition etc) but no framework for cooperation was provided. What showed up was the awkwardness of human interaction and the problem of the entrepreneurial ego.

Nonetheless, a great learning experience for all involved – can’t wait to see where they end up on Sunday.

Here’s my ten cents’ worth for future participants:

  • Put your idea out there then give it up.
  • Listen to what other people think. Maybe develop their idea a little before dismissing it.
  • Work as a group until you get the concept clear. Only then split into functional sub-groups.
  • Chuck out the ordinary ideas. It needs to send a shiver up your spine. It needs to make you think, ‘if we get that right, we’ll make a massive difference’.