Design Strategy

An Event Apart Boston: One Week Later

Thanks to the kind folks at HB, I was able to attend last week’s An Event Apart in Boston, a conference for people who make web sites.After meeting hundreds of interesting people and listening to dozens of engaging speakers, here are my most important takeaways:

Lack of Control
You may not be in control of the user’s experience,” said Jeffrey Zeldman when kicking off the event. Throughout the week, we learned to design for the worst possible outcome. Even better, we should think responsively – sites must adjust to the user’s experience. Mark Boulton offered solutions with grids, while Ethan Marcotte suggested detailed media queries within CSS.

Content Comes First
Users should be interacting with content, not navigation tools or page structure. In fact, “content precedes design; design without content is decoration,” said Zeldman. We are redefining how we think about layout: content-out instead of canvas-in, said Boulton.

Experience and Users
Have a philosophy – especially one about how to treat people or make an impact, said Whitney Hess. Both your clients and your company should have a strong philosophy and/or design voice. In the mobile world, make things easier for users with customized input forms and remove extraneous page elements while elevating content, said Luke Wroblewski.

Plan for the Long Haul
How can we ensure that our brand lives on ten, twenty, or even fifty years from now? Jeremy Keith recommends text and open formats without restrictive licenses. Additionally, strategy, planning, and culture are all extremely important (Aarron Walter and Jeff Veen were particularly interesting to me from a strategy perspective). Take the time to develop patterns, prototypes, and design personas. Build a strong culture that allows for employees to work at their highest levels, especially in difficult times. And perhaps the most important thing I learned, courtesy of Typekit CEO Jeff Veen: “purpose is timeless.” Understand what problems you to solve, and the best place to do it.

In the end, it was a full two days of information digestion. I’m sure there’s plenty of great information I’ve missed… but what excited me the most were the talks that were more strategical and less technical. An Event Apart Boston gave me more fodder for thinking less like a designer and more like a creative problem solver. Big thanks to Jeffrey Zrldman and Eric Meyer for putting together a diverse cast of characters.

Design Strategy Uncategorized

What’s My Passion?

Minutes ago, I finished Gary Vaynerchuk‘s “Crush It!“, a simple, concise book that demonstrates ways to “cash in on your passion.” First off, it’s a great read and highly recommended (I’ll be starting his new book, “The Thank You Economy” in the coming days).

More importantly, the book lays out several steps to developing your personal online brand and eventually monetizing it. Perhaps the most critical of these steps is identifying your passion and committing to talking about it better than anyone else.

Over the years, I’ve put lots of hard work into several subjects (online), be it wiffleball or design. I also lived most of my life focusing on 3-5 passions, knowing the world is just too big to digest everything. Well, the time has come to potentially reduce that list to 1 passion for this site and my personal brand. The tough part: deciding on that passion. Here are the contenders:

  • Design and Branding (extremely broad and difficult to differentiate myself)
  • Living simply (admiring simple design and strategy, reducing the amount of “stuff” in one’s life)
  • Golf (the sport I will play the most for the rest of my life)
  • Technology (potentially in over my head)

There are other topics where I’m sure I could “crush it,” but this decision is an important one. I may even be forgetting something incredibly obvious – please make recommendations that may or may not appear in the above list.

In the words of LeBron James, what should I do?

Media Technology

Netflix to Offer Netshows

Earlier this week, Netflix made a shocking announcement – they would license a TV show, distributed exclusively to its huge network of subscribers. The show, “House of Cards,” will be executive produced by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey and is based on a 1990s British miniseries of the same name.

There are potential game-changing consequences with this announcement. First, it invites studios and producers to distribute their content solely through digital channels. Other content-providers (iTunes, Hulu, etc.) may offer their customers their own exclusive content.

Secondly, there’s the major questions of advertising and money. How will these shows generate money? Will Fincher, Spacey, and their production companies earn percentages of Netflix subscribers? Perhaps “House of Cards” will have 1-2 title sponsors who’s advertisements will run during the show. Fascinating.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the effect this agreement (and future ones) will have on cable companies. With the advent of content-distribution tools increasing in popularity (Apple TV, Roku, etc.), combined with existing digital content providers (iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.), consumers are moving towards a model where content is consumed selectively. Imagine: rather than paying hundreds of dollars for your monthly cable bill where users receive innumberable channels, customers can pay smaller fees per channel, per event, or per show. We’re already seeing this with Apple’s recent iOS upgrade where Apple TV owners can watch NBA and MLB games without the need of a cable box.

In years past, customers craved as much content as possible for a flat rate (see Comcast, Time Warner, Xfinity, etc.). More and more, the same customers are looking for increased customization and value for their content dollars. Will “House of Cards” continue this trend or serve as an anomaly?

Design Strategy

The Importance of the User Experience

Companies develop brand equity, or how users see a brand based on its name, through various outlets. Advertising, sales, and reputation play a big role.

I would argue the most important builder of brand equity lies in the user experience.

The Netflix user experience makes for many happy customers, both on and offline. Their web site offers a simple, well-designed, and pain-free experience for browsing, organizing, and watching movies. You can watch, browse, add to your queue, and make adjustments to your account. That’s about it. That’s a strong user experience.

On the flip side is The Daily, the world’s first subscription-based daily news source built specifically for Apple’s iPad. During The Daily’s free trial period, millions of users downloaded the app hoping for a revolutionary experience. What they found was more “breaking” than groundbreaking. Painfully slow download times, clunky navigation, and unexpected app failures created a poor user experience. Because of this, The Daily is struggling to fix their user experience to save any hope of success.

When developing strategy, site architecture, or web sites, I always try to think about the user experience. At HB, we recently partnered with OTE Corporation to launch a site that needed to provide clean, visuals and messages to its audiences. By placing focus on the user experience, we hope to engage customers as simply and efficiently as possible.

Books Design Technology

Hitting the Books

As a student, I read because it was an assignment (see: Wuthering Heights). As a young adult, I read becuase it was an adventure (see: Sin City). Now, as a professional, I read becuase it is a necessary part of intellectual and career development.

Trust AgentsLately I’ve made myself famillar with technical books, including A Book Apart’s HTML5 for Web Designers, CSS3 for Web Designers, and Sitepoint’s Create Stunning HTML Email That Just Works. My latest venture will be Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. This is a departure from the technical books I’ve been reading of late.

As I mature as a designer and creative thinker, it’s important to be both a technical master and strong strategist. With Trust Agents, I hope to broaden my knowledge into the non-technical side of creativity. What are you reading?