Business Design Measurement Strategy

Gut versus data – the eternal question

From the HB Blog

I used to be a math geek. When I was a grade school and high school student, I displayed advanced behaviors with regards to numbers and their interrelationships. I nearly attended a technical university in order to continue exploring mathematics.

Funny track for a designer, no?

Today, as someone who designs experiences for other humans, I rely less on my knowledge of numbers and more on my intuition. The ubiquitous head-versus-heart argument has always intrigued me so I recently scoured the web for some additional insight. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

But that means us too, as leaders, need to have the guts to go with our intuition sometimes instead of hiding behind the numbers. Hiding behind the numbers is the easy way, because even if it goes wrong, it’s easy for us to say that with the information we had it seemed pretty clear that that was what we should have tried blah blah blah. What’s harder is making a decision because you feel like it’s the one that needs to be made. Your gut tells you it’s the right one. You won’t have the luxury of hiding behind the numbers if you’re wrong, but at least you’re actually thinking and making decisions instead of doing what the numbers tell you to do. – workplace MOJO

Don’t get me wrong — you need data. You should be gathering all the data you can from the very beginning. But you also need to know that your data is not absolute — it’s incomplete, and you simply don’t have enough of it to base your decisions fully on data. You gather all the inputs you can, but your decision really boils down to both using your head AND trusting your gut. So while there’s no exact formula, when it’s time to make the decision of whether to make a change or stick with your original business plan: gather your data, consider all the advice, and take some time to listen to what your gut has to say. – The Accelerators blog

Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and psychologist, said “gut instinct is basically a form of pattern recognition.” Our brains can process more information on a more sophisticated level than most of us realize. These complex systems — battlefields, financial markets, company cultures and corporate strategies — require a different kind of thinking based on the informed gut. In these situations, you will never collect enough data or be able to weigh every alternative in order to rationalize an analytical decision. However, your subconscious has already amassed sufficient cues to tell your gut how to move forward. All you have to do is listen to it, trust your instincts and make the best decision you can with the limited information available. – Austin Business Journal

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards… you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005

Did you need data to choose your life-partner? How about your alma mater? Was there deep analysis that led you to choose the name of your first-born? Likely, not. But you still can’t tell your board or your leadership team that you need to launch a new service offering, because ‘your gut says so’.” The Reaganesque ‘Trust But Verify’ works for us. Use your guts to lead you to a hypothesis. Use your intuition to decide on how best to verify it. Then, go get the data and build the case to win over your peers and bosses. Sooner or later, the decision-makers will need to trust their guts to make the call. After all, even when the evidence is beyond the shadow of a doubt, the decider needs to take a leap of faith when the time comes to choose.” – Corporater World

In the end, the debate continues, but one strategy remains clear: balance helps with decision-making. Both your gut and the numbers need to play critical roles in both design and business decisions.

Design Strategy

The cyclical life of web design

What I learned at An Event Apart Boston 2014

From Medium

As a web designer, I’ve learned that the practice is young, difficult, ever-changing, and cyclical. “What we’re doing is hard and scary!” says Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic. “We are all perpetually catching up.”

During this year’s An Event Apart Boston, a fantastically-designed gathering of folks who make websites, I recalled my time at Syracuse University in 2003. We read an essay by Jakob Nielsen discussing some of the practical requirements for any website:

  • Legibility
  • Accessibility
  • Simplicity
  • Compatibility
  • Performance

Essentially, Nielsen wrote that web experiences are for humans.

After reading Nielsen’s work, my fellow students discussed web design principles and I recall many of us (myself included) saying things like, “who cares? Let’s make a site that just looks awesome!” Oh, to be young again.

The tenants of websites shared by Nielsen over a decade ago are en vogue yet again in our constant struggle to create useful, meaningful experiences on the web. After listening to AEA’s dozen speakers, I took away a few key messages:

“Web design is an environment for someone else’s expression.” ­– Jeffrey Zeldman

“Sign off on content hierarchy instead of design.” ­– Sarah Parmenter

“Think of responsive web design as a catalyst. It introduces complexity through nuance. We have the tools and skills already.” ­– Dan Mall

“Design to human scale.” ­– Luke Wroblewski

“Our work is not personal but together.” ­– Kristina Halvorson

“Design is the rendering of intent.” ­– Jared Spool

“Think content first, and navigation second.” ­– Jeremy Keith

Many of the observations from the panel of speakers have very little to do with specific design strategies and focus more on the importance of content and user experience. Essentially, it is our job as designers to get out of the way. Nielsen’s observations and suggestions remain true to today’s web design strategies. Zeldman’s words summarize it best:

“A great website makes interaction easy, guides you subtly to your heart’s desire, can be invisible or in your face, and it delights.

Content must lead design. Performance is critical. The user experience must be simple and work across all devices.

And college students should pay attention to intelligent thinkers and practitioners.

Design Self Strategy

Focus is happiness – what I learned from Ikea

Ikea prides itself on “functional home furnishing products,” building a massive business and in-store experience in the United States since 1985. Some of its most successful products include storage systems that organize anything from office supplies to baby clothes into well-designed compartments, buckets, and racks.

But here’s the thing about well-conceived storage: you get the most ROI on your purchase when you need to organize and store many items. As useful as it may be, Ikea storage works at its highest capacity when its products are full or near-full.

Humans are different. We work best when there’s less storage, less clutter, and less stuff. Humans operate better when they focus.

Daddy issues

Since becoming a father less than a year ago, I’ve needed my share of Ikea storage to contain the explosion of toys that litter my living room. More significantly, I’ve certainly struggled with time management and focus.

Focus goes a long way in parenthood, too. Time spent with my daughter – when my responsibilities are solely to love and nurture her – results in her improved motor skills and increased smiles.

Similarly, when I spend time writing or designing at home, my best work is done when my wife is spending her quality time with our daughter. This allows me to concentrate on a single task for maximum output – even for a short period of time. No email, phone calls, or web surfing allowed. And, as delightful as it could be, no parenting interruptions.

Do what you love

Through my struggles with time management, I’ve learned that focus can be applied to big-picture thinking in addition to small, task-oriented activities. Rian van der Merwe, an expert in sociology and technology, explains the value of building a platform statement as a guiding proclamation. My first draft looks like this:

“I build digital experiences using art, design, and simplicity.”

If ever I’m off-track in my thinking or creating, I go back to my platform. It helps get rid of the clutter and doesn’t require any Swedish storage. The platform will change over the years, but the purpose won’t: to guide and focus my work beyond my current challenge, life situation, or job.

Rian sums it up best when he ditches old goals and moves on to new, focused ones:

“Just like we’ve moved on from the idea that the big office is a big deal, we have to let go of the idea that a big enough title is equal to a successful career. Much more important is that we figure out what it is that we want to spend our time and attention on — and then working at our craft to make that our platform.”

Encountering purpose

Now I’ve not only brought more focus into my life, but it’s slowly becoming a purpose – the reason for my life’s work. The platform helps push away the clutter and provide a clear path for success and happiness. From this, I learn to nurture not just my offspring, but my daily work. In Karen McGrane’s uniquely-titled post on A List Apart, she closes with a bit of advice in “Give a crap. Don’t give a f*ck:”

“Care deeply about your personal values and live them fully in this world. Don’t get caught up in worrying about other people’s checklists to tell you what good work means to you.”

In short, I concentrate on my values, goals, and work and what it means to me. I can see how this will result in better work, as well as increased success and happiness.

Just do it

So I’ve scheduled time, have a platform statement, and purpose for my work. How do I actually accomplish something? Now I arrive at commitment and concentration.

Christopher Penn, Vice President of Shift Communications, recently shared his thoughts in “How I get more stuff done:”

“Today, I manage almost exclusively by my calendar. I block off time for each task that needs doing, and during those times, I do those things and nothing else. Client work gets repeating windows as needed, and everything else gets time as needed. The secret is this: during those time periods, one and only one thing gets attention, nothing else.”

The big change here is in the workflow – Penn doesn’t allow his email to guide his day, but his calendar. During key time blocks, Penn’s attention and focus reside with one task which he is able to accomplish through commitment and concentration.

Chris Brogan, CEO & President of Human Business Works, shares a similar example to folks who need to get more done:

“Shutting out the craziness of other people’s lives for a while will empower my own choices. Knowing what matters to me and my day and also to those who I serve is a great first set of instructions to consider.”

The craziness that Brogan speaks of is that daily clutter – nonsensical and empty posts on social media, an unimportant clip on YouTube, or a pesky email clamoring for immediate help.

Get happy

Through understanding, planning, purpose, and commitment, we can all better focus and become more productive – and happier – human beings. By removing the junk from our lives, we don’t require all that Ikea storage – as beautiful as it is – to guide our purpose, values, and goals.

Clear your stuff, book some time, and crush your work. Your smile will thank you.

Content Marketing Culture Media Social Media Strategy

Tweeting a 5K

Five thousand tweets

Today marks my five thousandth tweet sent through Twitter, a social information network that I joined April 16, 2009. In those 1,315 days, I’ve come to value Twitter for far more than a tool for sharing my latest meal.

Direct connections

Twitter allows me to engage directly with some of my favorite authors, creative thinkers, marketers, and entertainers. I can respond to a poll, comment on an author’s latest blog post or book, or even engage in a direct 1-on-1 conversation as follow-up.

As an example, I’ve had the pleasure of reading two of author Gary Vaynerchuk‘s books. Through Twitter, he’s helped me stay motivated and keep on-top of current marketing trends. He even took the time to send a few direct messages my way.

Introduction to new folks

Via other’s retweets, I’ve connected with new folks from my several networks. I know more folks who attended Syracuse University, work in the creative world, or those I’ve met in person and now use as resources.

For instance, I had the pleasure of meeting several creatives at last year’s An Event Apart in Boston. I now get to receive feedback and commentary from these folks who help improve my designs and writing – and use them for design and development help.

Sharing what’s important

Welcoming folks into my circle of followers with similar interests creates great personal value on Twitter. I’ve been able to introduce friends and colleagues not only to my writing and designs, but also popular destinations like fashion blog and video series Put This On, technology and Apple blog Daring Fireball, design features on Fast Company Design, and interesting social apps like Over.

Through these publishers, I’ve expanded my knowledge in many fields while simultaneously sharing with followers what I find most interesting and valuable.

Redefining news

Breaking news now employs Twitter for distribution. When a global event occurs, news organizations can quickly share the story’s headline while awaiting further details. I’m able to keep up on the latest developments without waiting for a full story to be written, edited, and posted.

This is also true of personal news. Exciting announcements can spread quicker than phone calls could ever do. That instant satisfaction of sharing a big day with the world – and receiving words of congratulations – makes Twitter incredibly valuable.

And of my 5,000 tweets, a personal announcement is my favorite. On June 5th, I was able to share the birth of my daughter with the world.

Twitter may simply be a digital tool, but it has brought great value to my life in my first 5,000 tweets. To the next 5,000!

Content Marketing Music Social Media Strategy Technology

What’s new?


From the HB Blog

At last week’s UnPanel at FutureM, the topic of discovery dominated the conversation. In a marketing world with strong social ties, folks shared their thoughts on today’s discovery tools – specifically how people find new music.

Spotify, iTunes, and other music services offer their versions of new music through “related artists” tools. A user might also find “listeners also bought” lists. These form our social “bubbles,” or groups of people with seemingly similar tastes, likes, and lifestyles.

The simple theory: like-minded listeners may also like similar artists, albums, or songs. That’s how we find “new” music. Seems simple enough, right?

Seriously, what is new?

HB’s CEO, Nicolas Boillot, raised an interesting point during the UnPanel discussion:

“How do we reach folks outside the bubble?”

In the world of music sharing, it’s not an easy task. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of music fans who would buy an album… but may never come in contact with the artist through their music service.

So is this considered “new” music? Does the definition require that the first introduction to the music be random and not through a recommendation?

Marketing to the new

Here’s the challenge: You need to market to groups that may be in your target audience but have yet to be reached. So what strategies will help deliver key messages?

  • New language: marketers can try reaching a “new” group through different words or key phrases. One group may like affordability while another like reliability.
  • An inch deep and a mile wide: cast the net wider but with more general tactics. Try promoting a product’s value – not necessarily that it’s up to certain technological standards.
  • Go old school: the delivery mechanism provides alternatives. Just because you’re offering a digital product doesn’t mean the marketing needs to be digital. How about a tried-and-true three-dimensional direct mailer?

To go beyond the bubble – to the true new audiences – we must be willing to try new tactics. The language, style, and delivery mechanism are only a few alternative solutions.

Reaching outside the bubble is possible… it just requires a “new” way of thinking.