Business Design Self

Opening kickoff

Working as a web designer is an amazing job – I’m fortunate to get paid to create art and digital experiences. But as I’m often reminded by Mike Monteiro’s book, “Design is a Job,” there is more to web design than bits and bytes.

A designer’s work starts way before a single pixel gets placed and ends way after the last one is locked in place. You may not take the lead in every, or even any part of the process; throughout your career you’ll work on small teams, big teams, and sometimes alone. But even when you don’t own a particular process, make sure to (respectfully) insert yourself. The more you know, the better your work will be. And don’t wait to be asked.

As Monteiro mentions, much of the work on a web site comes before any research, site maps, UI, or layouts have been created or developed. The groundwork begins in the kickoff meeting, when designers like myself gather intel, discuss and big ideas, and perhaps most importantly, ground rules.

Learning from mistakes

I’ve been a part of two recent web site projects that at some point have gone awry. And independent of the site’s appearance or success, part of my job entails keeping my clients happy. From these recent experiences, I’ve amended my list of important things to share in a kickoff meeting. It’s critical to discuss these items before moving forward – at some point, it could save the project, a client relationship, or even your job.

  1. Bugs. There will be bugs. Things will go wrong. Make sure the client understands that at some point, there will be a mistake that needs attention.
  2. The medium. Web design is fluid, not linear. Alterations must be made on-the-fly and may unexpectedly alter the timeline and project plan.
  3. Testing. Even the smallest tweaks require testing in order to confirm proper performance. If a client is reviewing a page during a certain period of time, they may see something that won’t make the final cut for site launch. Remind them this is bound to happen as testing is constant.
  4. Integration. At some point, all web sites will require an integration or partnership with another tool or plug-in. These integrations can cause unexpected issues and often require troubleshooting. Patience is critical.
  5. Focus. If the client needs time to develop new content or messaging, give them ample time to invest. Similarly, communicate that design and development is time-consuming and works best when the creative team can focus on a specific task.

Accounts or no accounts

At many agencies, direct communication from the designer may stop at the kickoff meeting (or perhaps never happen). But even when a designer doesn’t have direct access to a client, ground rules must be established. It is the responsibility of the designer to communicate to whomever speaks with the client.

Time invested with a client during the crucial kickoff meeting effects the rest of the project and relationship. If you’re a designer, do everything in your power to get a seat at the table. It will make your experience – and more importantly, your client’s experience – comfortable and successful.

Business Culture Media Sports Strategy

Focus and self-questioning: What we can learn from the replacement refs

From the HB Blog.

By now, everything is back to normal for the NFL fan. The full-time refs returned for their first full weekend of the season. No longer will nationwide media outlets waste valuable time with nonsensical referee talk.

Despite some egregious errors by the so-called replacement refs (most notably the game-ending play in Seattle), we can learn a lot from their three weeks of sub-par refereeing – and none of it has to do with financial negotiations or football strategy.

It’s all about looking in the mirror.

The blame game

Following last weekend’s overly criticized calls in the Patriots vs. Ravens andPackers vs. Seahawks games, dozens of players took to the media and Twitter to complain about the outcome of the game. Most notably, Packers offensive lineman TJ Lang tweeted the following (forgive the language):

The New York Daily News compiled many other Packers players who echoed similar sentiment.

Guess what? The referees had no impact on the outcome of the game – only the players on the field.

Taking Responsibility

In times of chaos, a first reaction may be to blame outside factors. The real determining factor is the only thing you can control – yourself. Kudos toPackers coach Mike McCarthy who took the high road after the game and stressed all things the Packers could have done earlier in the game to avoid such an outcome.

“The offense didn’t do our part in the first half. I should have adjusted plans earlier… We were wearing that defense down… We need to move on. It’s important for us to get back and get ready for the Saints.”

Before investing time in determining why external factors may have changed an outcome,  first ask, “what could I have done differently?” You don’t have to be in sports to do this.

Self-questioning in practice

Professional situations often don’t run smoothly. Perhaps a contact is unreachable, or a partner misses a deadline, or a marketing effort falls short of a financial goal.

Guess what? Many of those reasons start with you.

In hindsight, you can always do things differently. I’d argue that you could always do things better. At HB, we make a practice of discussing projects after they’ve launched, mailed, or delivered. Even if it’s informal, a candid talk about past work goes a long way to making future endeavors more successful. Such a talk also makes for happier clients. Some typical questions from our discussions:

  • Did we listen to our client?
  • Did we reference the creative brief and project goals at every step?
  • Did we stop to consider alternate solutions to a problem?
  • How could we have completed our project more efficiently?
  • Did the project succeed? Could it have succeeded at a higher rate?

It helps to ask these questions of your client as well, but the first questions are from us, to us.


The referee problems may have disappeared… but players will always make mistakes on the field and in the marketing arena. Questioning our actions will consistently provide improvements to our own strategies and tactics.

In fact, it’s time for me to question this blog post – how could I have written better?

Business Design Strategy

The Look of Clean-Tech: Differentiating Through Design

From The Agency Post

Gone are the days when images of blue skies and green grass communicated everything that needed to be said. Clean-tech marketing has grown up and requires unique visual branding in order to attract attention in increasingly competitive markets. How can companies and technologies better represent themselves through design?

Invest in creativity

News flash! Logo and visual brand development isn’t cheap. But it’s important to look at the development as an investment, not a cost. The logo sets the tone for your business  – think of it as brand equity. The more you use it, the more equity your brand builds.

And don’t stop at a logo. A visual brand requires much more: deliberate use of typography, photography, colors and graphics. The fundamentals of a brand go a long way in clean-tech marketing as many companies haven’t invested the necessary time, money and energy into building their brand equity.

Embrace simplicity

A logo cannot possibly tell the entire story of your technology, business or brand. Think of all the time and effort you’ve invested just to launch the company! Much like your business, a brand is a living entity. It is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time – the product of a thousand small gestures.

Know that your logo or visual guidelines are only one part of your greater brand story. You want the mark to be simple, easily understood and flexible. The logo must work across the web, print materials and future applications (such as on a product, billboard or clothing). Think about all the places where your brand may show up – a little planning goes a long way towards avoiding nasty discoveries. For example, a multi-colored, complex logo may look great on a poster. But what happens when you place it over a colored background? Make sure the logo remains strong in its many variations (black, white, large, small, one-color, etc.) to avoid any pitfalls.

Aim high

Think of your brand as aspirational. The logo should communicate where the business aspires to be, not necessarily where it is now. When guiding a branding or design firm on its task, talk about your company as you envision it in five years. Are you a developer of wind energy struggling to raise funding and slogging through regulatory processes? Your instructions to your design team must focus on the future, when you might instead describe a sense of cleanliness, simplicity, stability and happiness.

Avoid Common Design Traps

We see many new companies falling into three common traps when using design to differentiate themselves:

Literally abstract:Your logo doesn’t have to communicate what you do. Rather, it can provide a symbolic, visual window into the business and its goals.

ExampleThe Geothermal Genius logo’s flexibility and forward-moving arrow don’t restrict its future to Geothermal solutions. That, combined with a professionally designed site, creates a solid visual brand.

No way cliché: A cloud can’t possibly distinguish you from another brand. Think beyond!

Example: Helix Wind takes an abstract design element to create the sense of moving energy for its logo.

In it to limitA wave alone can’t represent your hydroelectric company, especially when the business grows to offer additional energy solutions.

Example: Namasté Solar’s offerings aren’t limited by some representation of the sun. Instead, the logo’s modern, abstract design speaks volumes about its clean, peaceful brand and its future.

Following such recommendations requires care, focus and oftentimes a significant investment in a talented design team. Such investment can go a long way in the clean-tech world, which is relatively young and unsophisticated when it comes to marketing.

With any investment, the more equity you build at the beginning, the greater the returns in the end. Brand equity is no exception.

Business Design Strategy Technology

Polish or Perish: The Importance of Visual Identity in Clean Tech

This post was written by Nicolas Boillot with contributions from me. From The Agency Post

In the immediate future, the clean-technology landscape will experience a massive and sustained surge of investment during the convergence of:

  • Rising fossil fuel prices
  • Diminishing costs of clean and sustainable technologies
  • Increased clean tech efficiency ratios
  • Uncertain but sustained government incentives over several years
  • Available success metrics from early adopters in business and residential installations

This “harmonic convergence” will echo long into the future. Many believe the surge in clean tech will make the dot-com bubble appear as a mere speck along history’s trajectory. The clean-tech convergence portends a wave of startups; from Boston to Beijing, young engineers are putting to work the latest engineering wizardry to create new capabilities and reimagine existing technologies. Droves of investors are lining up behind them — global investments in clean tech surged 13 percent in 2011 and look to do equal or better in 2012, despite a hobbled global economic climate.

Technology doesn’t win by itself

After 13 years of serving engineering-driven companies at HB, we now understand that many companies with extraordinary technology often ignore their own brand. Brilliant engineers and scientists creating tomorrow’s winning technologies continue to believe that, “If I build it, they will come.”

But they won’t. After working with hundreds of technology companies and seeing some succeed and some fail, we put together seven reasons why a strong brand identity can make all the difference:

  1. Company personality. A visual identity immediately communicates a feeling to audiences that interact with the company. It is easier to remember a company with a distinct look, which serves as an anchor for associated ideas and experience.
  2. A reflection on the corporation. An informal poll of investors and other members of our community concluded that even discriminating audiences make the assumption that companies with an established look are further along than those without a clearly defined visual presence.
  3. Rallying the troops. We think and feel in more than words and schematics. A well-defined identity provides a set of visual cues representing common values and goals.
  4. Authority isn’t the same as credibility. Authority is what entrepreneurs bring to their areas of expertise. Credibility is what others believe they have when they exhibit certain signs. A distinct visual identity ranks high among such confidence-inspiring signs.
  5. Your investors are human. Even technology-savvy investors respond favorably to visual cues.
  6. Bad visuals can kill a great product or service. Just as the beauty of Apple devices entices consumers to pay a premium for what many consider a less-advanced product, poor presentation can have the opposite effect, no matter how good the underlying technology or service.
  7. Differentiation. A professional, modern brand story told through logos, type and consistent graphics can set a company apart from its competitors, creating a feeling of care and craftsmanship necessary to the success of many clean-tech companies.

Beyond visuals

One secret many entrepreneurs don’t realize is that working on the company’s visual identity can raise questions that often get relegated to the back burner. The answers to the following questions can deeply influence future growth:

  • What do we stand for?
  • What does our voice sound like?
  • What is our personality?
  • How do we visually represent the best of what we offer and care about?
  • What problem are we trying to solve?

Answering these questions and others while building a visual identity will help galvanize the team and open new paths for growth. The result will strengthen your brand – and your bottom line.

Business Media Strategy

Renting vs. Owning

From BostInno.

Is the death of ownership upon us?

A recent Fast Company article by Josh Allan Dykstra, “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff,” explores the shift in buying behavior.

Humanity is experiencing an evolution in consciousness. We are starting to think differently about what it means to “own” something. This is why a similar ambivalence towards ownership is emerging in all sorts of areas, from car-buying to music listening to entertainment consumption. Though technology facilitates this evolution and new generations champion it, the big push behind it all is that our thinking is changing.

Dykstra’s point is well-made: both technology and our thinking create a new market for renting.

The future of renting

It’s not only the digital world that’s become rent-heavy. Earlier this year, The Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang asked about the future of renting on Google+:

You for rent: I can rent your HOUSE with AirBnB. I can rent your CAR with GetAround. I can rent your TIME and EXPERTISE with taskrabbit, crowdflower. What else can we rent in the future? What’s left?

The concept of subscriptions has created a culture of niche clubs. A fashion blog offers a monthly subscription for pocket squares (Put This On). A book distributor encourages monthly lending (BookSwim). There are even entire online communities for renting nearly anything (Zilok).

Through changes in consumer behavior and advancements in technology, is the concept of ownership on the verge of extinction? Dykstra argues that consumers are purchasing for reasons beyond the feeling of ownership:

People buy things because of what they can do with them… People buy things because of what they can tell others about it… [and] People buy things because of what having it says about them.

Millennials want access over ownership, streaming over storing, and rentals over buying.

Reacting to consumer behavior

The shift goes beyond millennials – businesses are now turning toward services via rentals or subscriptions.

Adobe recently launched its Creative Cloud service where businesses pay a monthly fee to utilize all of Adobe’s product offerings. Instead of paying for a license, designers, producers and creators can “rent” Adobe’s programs and services for as long as they like.

Adobe’s actions come as part of a much larger trend in services and content consumption.NetflixHulu and Amazon offer streaming movies and television shows that don’t require the purchase of a television or cable box, while companies like Spotify and Rhapsody offer a subscription music service.

Hardware technologies have followed suit – the storage industry blossomed with cloud offerings, removing consumers’ needs for local storage. Movies, music, photos and other documents can be accessed through the cloud and retrieved at anytime. Apple’s iCloud service and Rackspace are some of the most popular.

Without the need for massive hard drives, personal computers increasingly use flash storage as a faster way to access data. The capacities are significantly smaller but the responsiveness of the computer’s operating system greatly benefits.

In short, consumer behavior informs business strategies and decisions.

Renting in B2B

Does the same purchasing theory apply to B2B? It seems to be headed in that direction. At HB, we work with several businesses who offer their services as subscriptions and rentals.  The Meltwater Group provides a social media engagement service sold to corporations and agencies. We want access to data – not the data itself. Shutterstock offers access to an enormous library of photos and videos – none of which we pay for individually. Instead, our monthly subscription serves as our gateway to content.

We see consumer behavior shifting. But it’s the businesses – and how they will change theirselling behavior – that must change in order to survive. How will your business adapt to a culture of renting?