Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently the talk of the town, so let’s talk about this famous super-team. There are six distinct characters, each with their own well-established franchise, and each with a unique color scheme, personality, and overall “feel.” And most interestingly, each of them has a few lessons to teach us.
Let’s start with…
3 Lessons from Hulk
Keep it Simple
Hulk’s deal is pretty straightforward: he smashes stuff. Sometimes the solution to a complicated problem can be that simple. So, before you pile a ton of bells and whistles onto a project, make sure there isn’t a simpler solution you’re overlooking.
Design can Speak Louder than Words
Hulk is not famous for his communication abilities, yet everything about him tells his story. His massive stature and muscle make it plain what his powers are. His torn clothing lets you know that he transformed from a normal man, and since green has long been the designated color of radioactivity in fiction, his skin tone immediately clues you in to how he did it.
When you need to convey a large amount of information in a short time, is there any way you can do the same?
Despite how Hulk is the one who gets all the attention, Bruce Banner is an even more important member of the team. He’s the one who can listen to reason and cooperate with people. Resist the urge to go wild. If you make a habit of self-control, you’ll become the best asset to any team.
3 Lessons from Iron Man
Be innovative and fearless
Designers often have to play multiple roles and there’s always something new we can learn to take ourselves to the next level. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of what you can do, or of what your work can be. Get to it.
Don’t be Boring
Is Tony Stark rough? Yes. Difficult? Absolutely. A jerk? Admittedly. But you could never accuse him of being boring. In fact, as one of the few self-made superheroes, you could argue that his unwillingness to accept mediocrity is the very source of his powers. Show your fun side from time to time.
Cherish your Online Reputation
Tony is a charismatic philanthropist and he’s always on the news. Grow your influence, build trust, collect testimonials and let your online presence reflect your level of expertise.
3 Lessons from Thor
Thor’s been doing what he does for a few thousand years now. Being a literal god (and having a talent for fighting) has ensured that he’ll remain good at his job indefinitely into the future. Consistency is one of the most crucial UX principles, so keep it in mind even when working on the most extravagant projects.
Tame your Ego
Some clients might want a bigger logo. Feel free to stand up and fight for your beliefs, but don’t let your ego endanger the project. Thor sees humanity as small and petty at first, but the other Avengers eventually succeed in bringing him down to Earth and making him appreciate those who don’t necessarily have the same talents as him.
Play by the Rules
Like it or not, there are certain rules and best practices that have to be obeyed. They will help you save a lot of time and effort and get more loyal customers and friendly colleagues.
3 Lessons from Captain America
Adapt to Changes
The design world is one of constant change, where often, just a few years can make a radical difference in the landscape and what tools are used. Many designers who don’t make an effort to keep up with certain changes can end up feeling like they just woke up from a 70-year cryogenic sleep.
The cap’s a good, reliable man who fights for good, reliable values. Think of how that can be applied in your own life. What do you truly believe in? What additional value can you bring through your work?
Your time will come. Patience is specially required of anyone joining the industry. That rough first year of freelancing can often seem hopeless. You’ll face rejection and the sense that you’ll never get where you want to go. But know that with some determination, everything is possible.
3 Lessons from Black Widow
Use Attractive Visuals
While Black Widow’s look certainly is powerful tool in her arsenal. In design, visual appeal isn’t everything, but it’s definitely an important factor. You have to be careful though and don’t get so caught up in your projects’ raw functionality.
Know What Rules can be Broken
Black Widow is famously pragmatic and almost amoral, formerly having been a villain in some of the comics, but these days, she employs that pragmatism for good. Think about some rules like that in your own field. What are some design conventions that might be better off broken in pursuit of your goal?
Be Agile and Fast
And think several steps ahead. In the lightning-speed world of web design, it’s important to catch up on all the latest tech news and trends, as well as design apps and sites that can easily adapt to change and be modified anytime. Not to mention plain old loading time considerations. Try making your sites as fast and adaptable as possible.
2 Lessons from Hawkeye
Remember that the devil is in the details. High precision in estimations and pixel-perfect product are marks of professionalism. Your clients might not always notice, but this is where one of designer’s superpowers is hidden.
Know your Advantage and Polish it
Clint Barton is neither a wealthy inventor, nor Norse god, nor radiation victim. He built his talent on extreme willpower and practice. What’s your specialty? What are some related fields you can study in order to further leverage what you’re already good at?
3 More from All the Avengers
Tell your story
Storytelling is a powerful and important communication and connection tool. Good stories keep your users engaged, inspired and keen to learn more.
Every Challenge is Different
Every client requires a different approach. This is the most fun of our world. Sometimes, you need new hardware, sometimes – a new attitude.
Never Give Up
This might sound a cliché, but this is a good reminder for any creative professional. The Avengers worked hard and fought through bad times, conflicts, and intense self-doubt. They had to learn how to be decisive under pressure, but there always was one thing that kept them going. An unshakeable belief that this is what they have to do, just because they know it’s good, and that they’ll end up making something worthwhile in the end.
Although a bunch of nicely aligned layers in Photoshop might not equate to saving the world, the drive to constantly create and innovate, just for the sake of it, is heroic in and of itself. So keep fighting the good fight.
Editor’s note: This is written for Hongkiat.com by Lana Lozovaya. Lana is the content strategist and social media manager at PSD2HTML®, the leading PSD to HTML and web development company.
Mastering branding online takes a lot more than a cool logo and catchy slogan. Experts play by a fresh new set of rules.
It’s no longer enough to have a sleek website, social-media presence, and consistent brand aesthetic online. The new rules of branding your business on the Web have a lot less to do with presentation, and a lot more to do with interaction. In order to bring you up to speed, Inc.com has compiled nine of the most innovative and ingenious tips from articles, guides, and interviews in Inc. and Inc.com over the past year. These are the new rules of branding online.
1. Don’t just start the conversation.
Be an integral and evolving part of it. “Social media has one very important perspective to share with brand management—the conversation. Like branding, social media is all about the conversation and building effective relationships. They are perfectly suited to one another,” says Ed Roach, founder of The Brand Experts, a brand management consultancy in West Leamington, Ontario, the author of The Reluctant Salesperson, a free e-book available at http://www.thebrandingexperts.ca. The rules for brand messaging through new media versus traditional channels haven’t changed, but “the game sure got better and more interesting,” says Roach. It’s not enough to have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, you must participate in the conversation by making regular posts and replying to direct messages from your customers. Ron Smith, president and founder of S&A’s Cherokee, a public relations and marketing firm in Cary, North Carolina, agrees, adding that you’ll want to stay on top of what people are saying about you and your brand online. “Monitoring social media is a must for all companies. Social media has shortened the time frame for company responses to complaints or accusations. These days, companies need to acknowledge any issues and control the messaging in a matter of minutes instead of hours or days,” says Smith. Read more.
2. Either keep your personal brand out of it…
So you have 10,000 Twitter followers. Does it matter to your customers? Tim Ferriss, the entrepreneur behind the sports nutritional supplements company BrainQUICKEN and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, told Inc.com contributor John Warrillow: “Unless you’re in one of a handful of businesses like public speaking, I think managing and growing a personal brand can be a huge distraction for company founders. I see all of these entrepreneurs trying to collect Twitter followers, and it reminds me of a matador waving a red flag in front of a bull. In this case, the founders are the bull. The bullfighter moves the flag away, and the bull comes up with nothing but air. Steve Jobs has a personal brand, but it is Apple’s product design that makes it such a valuable company. He isn’t jumping on Foursquare to develop his ‘personal brand.'” Read more.
3. …or dive in and make all the headlines you can.
Appearing in the media as a source of expertise can go a long way toward building your brand, Inc.’s April Joyner reports. To gain press, identify media outlets that are most applicable to your particular areas of expertise and send them targeted pitches. If you want to be a talking head on radio or television, it also helps to give producers a preview of your personality by referring them to video clips on your site. As with print, the Web has also democratized the world of radio. Through venues such as BlogTalkRadio, anyone can host her or his own broadcasts—or find a show on which to appear. After you have honed an area of expertise, you will find that there are plenty of opportunities to take your message on the road. Becoming active in professional organizations and attending conferences offer valuable opportunities for networking. As you become more familiar within a certain field, more and more people will call on you to share your expertise. Making an appearance as a vendor at an event can also offer long-term personal branding benefits. Read more.
4. Don’t favor edge over consistency.
Chris Russo had a healthy business. The only thing holding it back, he thought, was its name. Three years after its launch in 2006, Fantasy Sports Ventures’s revenue was increasing 40 percent to 50 percent a year, a pace that surprised even Russo. But by the fall of 2009, he was uneasy. Despite the heady growth, Russo felt the company’s brand positioning was pigeonholing the business and would soon limit further expansion. “Fantasy Sports Ventures was not a long-term, sustainable, public-facing brand,” Ed O’Hara, of the branding firm SME, says. “It felt more like a holding company and was too heavily weighted on the fantasy side.” O’Hara and Russo tossed around lots of edgy names, like Fanarchy, Fantology, and Gutcheck, but weren’t sure. Rebranding was on the table, but the company didn’t want to alienate its huge readership and large fan base. The solution? When the company acquired another brand, The Big Lead, and was integrating it into the existing portfolio of sites, Russo realized he struck gold. The name was consistent with the sites’ goals, as well as its existing image. Read more.
5. Be persistent in finding and targeting your niche.
Even if you’re entering a flooded marketplace—and online is certainly a very crowded forum—you always have a chance to make your brand and company stand out. People used to think water was all the same; now stores carry half-a-dozen brands or more. “Marketers struggle with differentiation because they give up too soon,” says Derrick Daye, managing partner of The Blake Project. “They think that this can’t be differentiated, it can’t be unique.” Experts say the constantly shifting marketplace creates the need to be creative with your approach. The toothpaste market is one that professionals cite as a constantly changing product selection that requires vigilance on the part of brand managers. Additives like baking soda, breath freshener, or whitening strips are now taken for granted. Read more.
6. Excel at telling your customers “About Us.”
You may not be paying much attention to your About Us page, but visitors to your site are, writes Chana Garcia. And considering that your About Us page is where the world first clicks to learn about your company and the services you offer, it deserves a little more consideration and a lot more respect. Sure, you need to include all the basics. But a few simple tactics can make your About Us page a more exciting read and your company come across as more accessible, says Lorrie Thomas, aka The Marketing Therapist, a marketing strategist, educator, writer, web marketing expert and speaker. Avoid writing a soliloquy (too much text can be a turnoff) and focus on connecting with your site visitors. Thomas asked her employees to write their own bios for her company’s About Us page. Her only mandate was that in addition to providing a snapshot of their professional history, they include personal information, such as hobbies or their favorite activities. Some even set up links to their blogs and personal websites. This might also be a good place to include e-mail addresses for your staff. Readily available contact information shows customers that you want to hear from them and that you have nothing to hide. Read more.
7. Fully integrate social media into your site.
You’ll not only look savvy, but increase your connectivity, and gain traffic to you site from elsewhere. You don’t necessarily need to put out the next viral marketing video or hire an expensive marketing agency (although both would probably help) to achieve a high rate of traffic. All you need is a bit of elbow grease, a few tricks up your sleeve, and a commitment to making your site a quality destination for visitors. Add Facebook Like buttons, have a dynamic blog section, utilize SEO, and build your site heavy with links, for starters. More tips can be found in our guide to “How to Drive More Traffic to Your Website.” Read more.
8. Monitor your brand’s reputation, and be ready to respond.
Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp have become essential components of many companies’ online marketing strategies, but there are countless other sites on which customers rant and rave about their experiences. A question or complaint left unanswered on any of them has the potential to tarnish a company’s brand and scare away prospective customers. That’s why companies like Beachbody are using new tools to monitor what’s been said about them online. The most basic services, like Google Alerts, allow users to select keywords to track and to receive e-mail updates whenever they appear on the Web. Others, like Social Mention and HootSuite, specifically scour profiles on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace for relevant comments. Nate Bagley, a social media expert at Mindshare Technologies, a Salt Lake City company that makes software that helps companies keep track of customer feedback, uses Google Alerts and Social Mention to keep track of references to his company, as well as news on its clients, competitors, and the industry at large. “It’s a good way to gather business intelligence,” he says. Some of these services, including Radian6 and Viralheat, detect whether a post is positive, negative, or neutral, so businesses can easily determine which mentions require the most attention. Those features have allowed companies to maintain greater control of their brands. Read more.
9. Showcase your best work.
In this new environment, a sturdy brand is all about trust and relationships. With that goal in mind, there’s no better way to build both than by posting testimonials or listing big-name clients you’ve partnered with. That will lend your business a good amount of credibility. You might consider incorporating your clients’ logos somewhere on your page as an added visual element. Mentioning awards and recognitions your company received, as well as community service work, green initiatives, and interesting facts, will also make your business more appealing. Additionally, timelines, company history, and major milestones are attention-grabbing.
Why not try these out and see for yourselves. You can always come back for more.
Don’t have hours to spare crafting something beautiful in Photoshop? Sarah James selects tools that won’t cost you a penny…
For all the importance we place on text, it’s an indisputable fact that images are processed in the brain faster than words. Hence the rise and rise of the infographic which, at its best, transforms complex information into graphics that are both easy to grasp and visually appealing. No wonder magazine readers and web visitors love them.
The only problem is, infographics that look like they were simple to make are often anything but. Creating something beautiful and instantly understandable in Photoshop is often beyond the limits that time allows. Which is why it’s occasionally useful to use a quick and dirty infographics tool to speed up the process.
We’ve selected our favourites here. They’re all free, or offer free versions. Let us know which ones you get on best with…
After the success of our post on an infographic résumé, it was only a matter of time before this infographic résumé generator turned up. You can visualise your resume in one click and also take a look at previous examples. Enabling people to express their professional accomplishments in a simple yet compelling personal visualisation, we think this is the start of something big.
Google chart tools are powerful, simple to use, and free. You can choose from a variety of charts and configure an extensive set of options to perfectly match the look and feel of your website. By connecting your data in real time, Google Developers is the perfect infographic generator for your website.
This free web-based infographic tool offers you a dozen free templates to start you off, which are easily customisable.
You get access to a library of things like arrows, shapes and connector lines, and you can customize the text with range of fonts, colours, text styles and sizes. The tool also lets you upload your graphics and position them with one touch.
Piktochart is an infographic and presentation tool enabling you to turn boring data into engaging infographics with just a few clicks. Piktochart’s customizable editor lets you do things like modify colour schemes and fonts, insert pre-loaded graphics and upload basic shapes and images. Its grid lined templates also make it easy to align graphical elements and resize images proportionally. There’s a free version offering three basic themes, while a pro account costs $29 per month or $169 for a year.
Infogr.am is a great free tool which offers access to a wide variety of graphs, charts and maps as well as the ability to upload pictures and videos to create cool infographics.
Customising the data that makes up the infographic takes place in an Excel style spreadsheet and can easily be edited, watching the software automatically change the look of the infographic to perfectly represent your data. When you’re happy with your infographic you can publish it to the Infogram website for all to enjoy and even embed it in to your own website or share it via social media.
Visual.ly is a community platform for data visualization and infographics set up in 2011. It allows you both to create infographics and get them shared on social media. The website is also able to match those commissioning infographics – including brands, companies and agencies – with its community over more than 35,000 designers.
This one’s a bit niche, but if you take a lot of photos with your Android phone it’s worth checking out. InFoto takes the EXIF data attached to your photos and builds nice-looking infographics from it. It’s got a great interface, and the paid-for version (which comes without ads) only costs 99 cents.
Venngage is a great tool for creating and publishing infographics because it’s so simple and easy to use. You can choose from templates, themes, and hundreds of charts and icons as well as uploading your own images and backgrounds, or customize a theme to suit your brand. You can animate them too!
Dipity is a great way to create, share, embed, and collaborate on interactive, visually engaging timelines that integrate video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location, and time stamps. You can join for free but premium plans offer custom branding and backgrounds, analytics, and custom iPhone apps.
SMS Marketing is about to explode (if not already). Are you already taking advantage of sending timely text messages to your customers? Well, if you are just starting out, here are 8 excellent tips that will surely bring in results.
SMS is one of the fastest growing ways to reach out to your customers. Most text messages are read
within just minutes of being sent, because most people carry their mobile phones everywhere, so SMS is a highly effective and personal way to contact your customers. SMS messages are best kept short and sweet, which makes them the perfect format to send quick reminders, coupons and updates.
1. Don’t be childish… Avoid using ‘text lingo’
If you think that sounding like a teenager will make you seem cooler, hipper and more in the know, then you’re sorely mistaken. In fact, most of the people you’re reaching out to aren’t teenyboppers but adults with expendable cash. Unless, of course, your products and services are entirely directed at the high school set, then by all means.
For the rest of us, however, talking like a Wizkid fan doesn’t offer anything to you to gain, but everything to lose.
Sure, text lingo is today’s shorthand and it is quicker to type out. But, as a savvy professional, you have all of the time in the world to create your SMS message. You’re not communicating in real-time with your customers over text and because of that, you don’t need to chat as if you are.
2. Stick to a Single Message
With all of your other promotions running, it seems natural and almost mindless to stick in several different sales into your SMS marketing. Remember that you’re limited to 160 characters, and that, quite frankly, isn’t a lot of space to write.
Keep your focus on one message at a time. Not only are you using every character available to get across what you’re pushing, you’re also not confusing your subscribers with multiple messages.
3. Time Your SMS Correctly
The beauty with text message marketing is that there isn’t much of a delay from when your message is sent and it’s opened by your subscriber. As a rule, text messages are opened faster than emails. Perhaps it’s due to the incredibly personal way of communicating: you’re message is in their pocket or purse.
Look to the time and day that your customers are most active with your SMS.
Though each business is different, in general, most people are more inclined to act on marketing messages later in the afternoon towards evening and often on the weekends.
So, send your messages at the top three days and times and watch your conversions soar.
4. Make it Easy for Customers to Purchase
It’s important that with any marketing strategy – especially, SMS – that cashing in your promotions is quick and painless.
If you make your customers jump through hoops to get their 20% discount, they’ll just as soon turn it down instead of using it.
A note about promotional codes: ensure that they’re easy to remember. For example, SHOE20 is far easier to remember than SHOE4892034, especially if the discount is 20% off their next purchase of shoes.
5. Link to Your Other Promotions
As long as your message remains shorter than the 160-character maximum, you’ll be able to link to your online life. But, don’t over do it because you’ll waste valuable space on the other end.
So, the best thing to do is offer links that are relevant to your promotional message. Further, set up a directed landing page that offers more information regarding your deal as well as additional links to your main website and social media pages.
6. Start Your Message with “Action” Words
Action words are nothing more than verbs, and starting off sentences with verbs makes for more lively prose and cuts to the chase faster. Verbs save precious character space by replacing a whole bunch of unnecessary words. Also, verbs inspire action on the part of the customer.
Consider these action words to start your message with: buy, sell, jump, run, save, spend, purchase, stop.
Whatever action you want your customers to take, start your message with that.
7. Write Short Sentences
By nature, text marketing doesn’t support long and winded descriptions of your promotions, products and services. You only have 160-characters to get in, get out and get it right.
If you tend to write nicely worded sentences, then try breaking them a part.
Short sentences do many things for your text messages. First, they give your subscribers plenty of space to forward your message to their friends and include a personal message of their own. Second, short sentences force you to get to the point quickly and efficiently. Third, writing short sentences actually improves the way you write.
8. Use “Sentence Case”
Writing in sentence case is like not writing in text lingo. They essentially go hand-in-hand. Why?
Typically, with text lingo, CAPITALIZATION comes along for the ride (think “UR”). There is a special place for capitalization in text message marketing, namely to highlight an action like a SALE. But, using capitalization throughout your message is poor form. Its exceedingly hard to read on a small screen.
Incase you are looking for the best platform to send bulk SMS and get results, try; http://adwaysms.com/
Victor Lombardi explains what experience designers can learn from past failures.
This is an edited excerpt from Chapter 1 of Why We Fail, published by Rosenfeld Media. Use the discount code creativebloqto buy the book at a 20 per cent discounthere
“Ultimately, we are deluding ourselves if we think that the products that we design are the ‘things’ that we sell, rather than the individual, social and cultural experience that they engender, and the value and impact that they have. Design that ignores this is not worthy of the name.”
– Bill Buxton, computer scientist, designer, and a pioneer of the human–computer interaction field
Why I failed
The year was 2000 and I was employed at a prestigious digital design agency working with a financial information company to create a new website that would revolutionize the research process for institutional investors, the people who manage investments for large companies and municipalities
“Make it like a Bloomberg Terminal,” is how the client summed it up. My team of designers and programmers winced at his suggestion because we considered the Bloomberg Terminal a powerful but ugly and difficult-to-learn interface design from the dark ages of text-based computers (Figure 1.1). We instead pushed him in the direction of beautiful charts and graphs, software agents that personalized information, and conventional web navigation that would be familiar to his clients.
Our client hadn’t actually done any research with his customers to understand if they would like his ideas. And neither had we. He was leaning on his expertise in managing similar products and we were leaning on our experience having designed similar products, but neither of us had validated these particular ideas with these particular customers. At the time, the methods we had for validating our ideas were not compellingly useful, and perhaps my team and the client implicitly understood this. We made minimal effort to conduct research with the client’s customers, and he denied us access to them.
With each stage of the project the design and technology accumulated more flaws. When the client decided the team was wrong for the job, another team at my agency replaced us. After more missteps the client’s upper management replaced their team. Eventually the whole project was canceled; the client’s company decided to use off-the-shelf software instead, which was never a success with its customers. In the end the project was a failure, all too common in the early days of the web.
The blame game
Ouch. I was a young designer and had never experienced a big failure at work. I felt terrible. No one at our agency wanted to focus on the failures and take time to discuss them, so the team never understood why we failed. Without a good explanation and without something tangible I could do to improve, I sometimes felt depressed and I lost confidence in my skills. Sometimes I became defensive and blamed the ‘dumb client’.
But I saw that things around me were even worse: clients were firing agencies after as little as a month or clients were suing agencies. Some of the mistakes agencies were making were to be expected. The Internet represented a new world of design and technology that changed on a daily basis. Everyone was learning and experimenting; there were no experts.
Since the time of that first early failure, I’ve contributed to or directly managed over 40 internet and software projects, some as a designer and some as a product manager. There have been other failures, and even when I understand why I failed it still takes an emotional toll. In spite of my own failures, you’ll see as you read this book that I’m often a harsh critic of my peers’ work. I don’t criticize because I think leading a design project from start to finish is easy. It’s not. It’s hard work. I criticize the outcomes I see because it’s hard work and because failure is still too common. I want all of us to get it right more often, with less of the emotional toll of failure. I hope by reading this book and applying the lessons learned, avoiding failure will be easier for you and those you work with.
I failed mostly because I didn’t have the right methods to discover which of our ideas would give customers an experience they wanted. Since then, those methods have improved significantly.
Why this stuff is really important
I see the trend of our work going beyond the ubiquitous convenience it is today and becoming a vital part of the infrastructure supporting life in the 21st century. Currently most of our work complements or enhances life; people don’t rely on it as essential yet. An updated status on Facebook, an e-mail to a friend, accessing information on websites… if all this were turned off tomorrow people would feel inconvenienced, but they could find work-arounds for all of it.
But that’s changing rapidly. I now make appointments with my doctor online, and the doctor transmits my prescription for medicine directly to my pharmacist online (Figure 1.2). I pay the doctor, the pharmacist, and the health insurance online. As people become accustomed to this way of working – and as service providers become accustomed to the efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings – the old ways will gradually be discontinued. Increasingly, we will rely on digital products and services for everyday matters of life and death.
We are each the product of our experience. The things we do, the places we go, the people we meet, and the things we use all influence who we are. Over time, as we interact with more and more technology to live our lives, we will spend more of our time looking at screens, and the quality of the design of this technology will have ever greater influence on the quality of our lives.
Why we learn from failure
Instead of studying failures, can’t we just study successes and then repeat whatever led to those successes? Yes, this is a good tactic in very simple situations, such as learning how to tie your shoes. There’s not much to be gained by looking at how many ways it’s possible to tie your shoes incorrectly. If you fail, nothing terrible happens.
Any industry that’s important, complex, and dynamic takes the time to examine failures. Aviation, medicine, and manufacturing are three fields that have taught us an enormous number of lessons by studying failures.
Here’s a good example. During World War II a mathematician in the United States named Abraham Wald worked on the problem of deciding where to add additional armor to B-29 bomber planes to keep them from getting shot down. Looking at planes that had successfully returned from flying missions, he determined statistically where the bullets had hit the planes and plotted the locations, as represented schematically in Figure 1.3.
The initial reaction to this data might be, “We need to add additional armor to the dark areas because that’s where the bullets are hitting the planes.” Wald’s insight was that the planes with bullet holes in the dark areas returned successfully, so perhaps the planes that did not return were shot down because they had bullet holes in the light areas. His recommendation was to add armor to the light areas instead.
As a statistician, Wald would naturally want to make a decision based on a random sample of all planes, but he didn’t have access to the planes that were shot down. He understood the limitation of his sample and adjusted for it. He successfully dodged survivorship bias, the mistake of learning only from the survivors of some process.
Survivorship bias happens all the time. Witness the marketing hype in our industry that, devoid of research, hails every new method and technology as the fix for people’s business or personal needs. It seems easier to research and analyze companies and products that currently exist instead of searching for information on companies and products that have perished. Doing so can lead us to believe that the survivors have some special quality that helps them survive, when it’s possible they were just lucky (Figure 1.4).
The lesson here is very simple: to increase your chances of success and lower your chances of failure, you need to carefully examine cases of both success and failure.
Why experience failure is different
So we know why studying failure is important, but do we really need another book on failed products? Yes we do, because previous books were about design rather than experience.
To help illustrate the difference, I’ll group the many design-related failures into three broad categories:
Engineering failure: The product physically fails to function as designed.
Design failure: The product physically works, but is so badly designed people can’t use it.
Experience failure: The product physically works and people can use it, but using it is an undesirable experience.
For engineering failure, we have great studies of how and why things fail in physical ways, most notably Henry Petroski’s studies of buildings, bridges, and pyramids, as in his book Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design. But studying a bridge that failed is worlds apart from studying a failed website. When people use bridges, they don’t directly interact with them the same way they interact with digital products. For example, a sleeping passenger in a car can pass over a bridge without even knowing it, whereas people actively and directly interact with digital products (Figure 1.5). I’ve never heard of a bridge that was torn down and replaced because people didn’t like it much. But in this age of plentiful digital products, people have enough options to be selective about what they use.
In the second case, design failure, the product physically works but its design makes it too hard to use. We used to call this ‘human error’ but the more common term in the fields of ergonomics and human factors is now ‘design-induced error’, which moves the blame from the people using the product to the people who designed it. Whenever you’re using any kind of computer and feel confused about how to use it correctly, you’re experiencing design-induced error. Many of us are old enough to remember trying in vain to set the digital clock on our VCRs. This is a classic example of a design-induced problem (Figure 1.6).
Having a product break and feeling confused by a design are definitely things people still experience, but interactive digital products are more sophisticated now. They do more than just perform simple functions like recording a TV show at a particular time. They connect us socially, they allow us to shop and conduct business from home, and they smooth a million transactions from navigating a car to finding a book at the library. Mere usability is a low bar for these products to clear; they now aim much higher, engaging our higher-level functions and sometimes even engaging us emotionally.
While the concept of design-induced error is a useful subset of failure I’ll look at in this book, experience failure comprises much more.
In this book I will talk about design – the appearance and behavior of a product – separately from the experience – people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions while using the product. I illustrate this distinction explicitly in Chapter 8 of my book with the case of Nokia’s Symbian S60 mobile phone operating system. The Symbian-based phones had a long list of features and high-performance specifications that sounded great on paper, but the iPhone and Android phones offered a more pleasing experience, despite having far fewer features. With the first iPhone you couldn’t even spell-check your e-mail or customize your ringtone, and yet it sold very well. Consumer electronics have now reached a performance threshold where more features and performance offer diminishing returns unless the design helps people have a good experience.
One observer has called this “the death of the spec”, meaning
the list of specifications is no longer as important as the experience. This phrase was coined as a result of ‘Antennagate’, the controversy over the signal reception of Apple’s iPhone 4 in July 2010. Consumer Reports magazine evaluated the phone and found that holding it a certain way would significantly reduce the signal strength, a potentially fatal flaw for a mobile phone. The magazine, usually content to simply publish ratings and move on, went further and issued several news updates, even calling on Apple to fix the problem (Figure 1.7).
You might assume with all the publicity about a fundamental flaw in the iPhone 4 that sales would plummet. For the fiscal quarter ending September 25, 2010, Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones, which was 91 per cent more iPhones than the same quarter from the previous year. Apparently people who wanted the iPhone 4 decided to buy it against the advice of independent product experts. This massive contrast between the publicity of the defect and the record sales numbers served to highlight the death of the spec of interactive digital products.
Marco Arment, a software developer and technology writer, offered this explanation for the situation: “For [Consumer Reports’] ratings to be useful to my purchase, their priorities and criteria need to approximately match mine. This is easy for most of the products they review: […] an air conditioner that uses less energy for the same cooling is better than a less efficient model. You can assign numbers and scores to factors like these.
“Smartphones have too many subjective criteria, and even the measurable stats don’t always yield a definite answer on what’s better. If you want a huge screen, you’ll get a huge phone, so is a larger screen size a good thing or not? Fast 4G network access kills battery life, so is 4G a good feature for you? These all depend on your priorities.
“A product as complex and multifaceted as a modern smartphone is beyond Consumer Reports’ ability to rate in a way that’s useful to most buyers.”
Subjective is the word that stands out for me here. While the qualities of a design can be objectively described on a list of specifications, the qualities of people’s experience – their thoughts and feelings about a complex, multifaceted product – are subjective.
And that’s one thing about designing digital products these days that is different and, I think, trickier. We just don’t know if they work or not until we evaluate the subjective experience of the people using them. Sure, we can check if the products function correctly and ask independent experts to review them. But the products we’re now making are experiential products, and only the people experiencing them know if they are ultimately successful or not (Figure 1.8).
Why design equals experience
To fully understand the failures cited in my book, I describe both the product design and the outcome of that design – the experience. Ultimately it is in the experience that these products fail, but by presenting both the design and the experience I hope to illuminate the difference and help you completely appreciate the lessons learned.
Even though I’ve been working in the ‘experience design’ industry for years, this design/experience dichotomy hasn’t been easy for me to arrive at. Because we so often use the word ‘experience’ to describe the design, it takes some conceptual backflips to think about a person’s experience apart from the product.
To help you see the difference between design and experience here are two automotive examples. I like taking examples from the automotive world because most people are familiar with cars. Figure 1.9 is a video describing the design of a new concept car. The reporter discusses the styling, the price, and the business issues at the automaker, but not the experience of what it’s like to drive the vehicle. This is only a concept vehicle and the reporter didn’t have access to a working prototype.
Contrast that with the video of an off-road rally car driver taking a passenger for a short ride (Figure 1.10). We don’t know where they are, who they are, or how fast they’re going. We don’t know anything about the design of the car other than the little we can see in the blurry video. But we know the woman in the passenger seat is ecstatic, smiling throughout the entire four-minute ride, laughing and uttering curses as she’s bumped and tossed around. That’s experience.
Here’s a parallel example relevant to software. Figure 1.11 is a video I made highlighting an interesting design aspect of Microsoft Office 2007. It’s all about design and not at all about experience.
Next is a video compilation of disabled people interacting with Drupal websites (Figure 1.12). We can’t tell much about the design of the websites from the video, but we get to see people’s reactions as they use the sites and later reflect on the experience.
This focus on experience isn’t new, but only recently has it started to become more widespread as a concept. The seminal work on experience as an economic force is The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine II and James H Gilmore, first published in 1999. They observed that “companies stage an experience whenever they engage customers, connecting with them in a personal, memorable way.” They argue that experiences are an economic force just like commodities, goods, and services, which can be intentionally produced, consumed, and measured.
One reason for isolating experiences is that they are profitable. For example, Pine and Gilmore show how the profit margin for coffee increases along a value chain. The raw beans to make a cup of coffee (a commodity) cost 1 or 2 cents, but when a manufacturer roasts, grinds, and packages the coffee for sale (a good) the price to a consumer increases to as much as 25 cents. A brewed cup of coffee at a quick service restaurant (a service) can increase the value to between 50 cents and a dollar. Starbucks deliberately aims for a highly engaging experience – by preparing special beverages and serving them in an environment enhanced with interior design, music, and Internet access – and receives $2 to $5 for a cup of coffee.
Compared with commodities, goods, and services, the consumer price index shows that people are paying increasingly more for experiences. Experiences also show a faster rate of growth when contributing to both employment and gross domestic product (GDP).
As competition in various industries increases, companies sometimes try to move up this value chain, turning their commodities, goods, and services into experiences and seeking higher profit margins. For example,
“Glimcher Realty Trust, which owns and manages shopping malls, is experimenting with making them Internet-proof. The company concedes that if shoppers can buy something online, they will. So it is trying to fill one of its malls, in Scottsdale, Ariz., with businesses that do more than sell stuff.
“There are still clothing-only retailers at the mall, Scottsdale Quarter, but more than half of the stores offer dining or some other experience that cannot be easily replicated on the Web. That has glimcher executives taking some unconventional approaches to finding suitable tenants—like testing out laser salons, getting hairstyling lessons, and watching movies in a theater that serves food.
“‘It’s retail Darwinism,’ Mr. Glimcher said.”
Nathan Shedroff’s book Experience Design is the seminal introduction to the design of digital, experiential products. First published in 2001, the touchstone work ranges broadly from interaction design to designing for the senses. Here’s how Shedroff describes the state of the field:
“The design of experiences isn’t any newer than the recognition of experiences. As an approach, though, experience Design is still in its infancy. Simultaneously having no history (since it has, still, only recently been defined), and the longest history (since it is the culmination of many, ancient disciplines), experience Design has become newly recognized and named. However, it is really the combination of many previous disciplines; but never before have these disciplines been so interrelated, nor have the possibilities for integrating them into whole solutions been so great.”
Both The Experience Economy and Experience Design argue that a product or service is designed, sold, and used differently than an experience.
One reason we can turn our attention to our audience’s experience is that we’re less challenged to design technology to satisfy basic functions. Before, we had to work hard to design interfaces that could compensate for performance shortcomings, whereas now we sometimes have more computing speed, communications bandwidth, and storage than we generally require. The experiential threshold is crossed when technology reaches a point of sophistication where product design can engage people’s emotions.
A recent example is the portable music player. In the 1980s portable cassette players like the Walkman let people take their music with them, but the devices themselves didn’t engage their emotions (Figure 1.13).
In the 2000s digital music players transformed that experience by storing people’s entire music collection in their pockets and adding interactive screens, especially touchscreens (Figure 1.14). Suddenly the range of interactions increased dramatically. Sliding a finger on a screen allows an infinite number of input possibilities, and the devices can use graphics and sound to communicate back to the user, becoming so much more than just music players.
This concept of the experiential threshold is gradually permeating the technology media. For example when Microsoft released its Windows Surface tablets in June 2012, Darren Murph at Engadget wrote:
“Microsoft’s playing coy when it comes to both CPU speed and available memory. Not unlike Apple and its iPad, actually. We’re guessing that the company will try to push the user experience instead of focusing on pure specifications, and it’s frankly about time the industry started moving in that direction. Pure hardware attributes only get you so far, and judging by the amount of integration time that went into this project, Microsoft would be doing itself a huge disservice to launch anything even close to not smooth-as-butter.”
Because people relate to experiential products differently, each product fails differently. It might fail because we feel overwhelmed (Google Wave) or underwhelmed (Microsoft Zune). We might feel cheated (Classmates.com) or annoyed (Plaxo). We might feel frustrated (OpenID) or maddened (BMW iDrive). We might become enlightened to a need we didn’t know we had, and then realize that another, different product would actually satisfy this need better (Pownce, Wesabe).
Why you should keep reading
What all the stories in my book have in common is that the products somehow failed to offer their audience a good experience. As a result the product either failed in the marketplace (e.g. Symbian) or the company was forced to change the product to offer a better experience in order to survive in the marketplace (e.g. Plaxo). The stories are sometimes sad, sometimes surprising, and sometimes enraging. But each one taught me something valuable about how to do my work, and I hope they will do the same for you.
I limited the case studies in this book to digital products, in particular software and consumer electronics. All the products examined here tried to innovate in one way or another before failing. There are certainly examples of failed products that attempted to copy others or simply to make incremental improvements over what came previously, but those cases aren’t as interesting or instructive. I also excluded products that failed merely because the creators were incompetent or the lessons are outdated or irrelevant.
My key message in this book is this: experience design is an incredibly young field and we have much to learn about how people experience our products. However, there has been work over the past decades to address the challenges faced in this book, and the lessons others have learned can help us avoid failure.
Words: Victor Lombardi
This is an edited excerpt from Chapter 1 of Why We Fail, published by Rosenfeld Media.