User Experience Will Trump Ubiquitous Content
The balance of power within digital media is shifting again, this time to the experience that envelops the content. In the same way that musicians are now making money again by going on tour and entertaining their fans at real events, online content that is packaged as a social experience will be more in line with consumer web use trends than mass-market online content portals.
From Tech Media Today:
More ads equal more money, right? Wrong. According to the research, the best performers across the network displayed an average of 4.7 ads on the home page. Meanwhile, the lower performers with an average of 9 ads per page saw 50 percent fewer click-thrus. Just as publishers struggle to break through the noise of a crowded ecosystem, so too do advertisers.
Interesting. Read on…
I have a background as both a web and print designer (something I revisit occasionally to remember how much I don’t enjoy it). I have hired them and have managed them. A friend of mine complains about the lack of good designers in San Francisco, and I find the same things in other places.
I have a stack of about 2,000 resumes, and many of them fail at the basics — typography, composition, use of color. It’s even more frustrating, because I depend on good designers to get the results I want and am frequently disappointed in the outcome.
Anyone can open Photoshop, Illustrator or Dreamweaver, but it takes a good designer than can communicate and grow with clients. The reality is the most valuable designers are the one’s that understand the needs of the project first and are creative second.
Words don’t adequately describe what we need to be designed, so designers and lay folk meet in this awkward common ground where the results are not so common.
When a designer meets someone that understands the craft, there is an importance to following instructions that is much higher than working with a normal client. Also, knowing what’s appropriate for a task (a ten hour logo versus a full branding exercise) is something that should be asked. Many clients are looking for the right amount of effort on a task and will pay for it.
So here’s a tip: sit down and draw out what the client or manager wants by sketching it on a piece of paper — even if it means getting a user experience designer involved. Then ask, “How much time should I spend on this? Is this a one hour task? One day task? One year task?”
You’ll be surprised at the clarifications you’ll get.
Learn to Adapt to Other Styles
The vast majority of work on the web is not designing new sites: it’s maintaining existing sites and designs. This means that if you are a designer, you’re going to be picking up the designs of someone who’s the art director or a previous designer on the project.
This is hard.
Unless you have a distinct design style that resonates (Saul Bass and Andy Warhol come to mind), you’re going to work in situations where there’s going to be either an Art Director or Creative Director that’s going to lay down the line before you.
This means that you have to copy other artists work, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You learn how to deconstruct other styles and, in the process, will probably improve your design skills. I think colleges and art institutes spend too much time on teaching students how to develop new designs and should spend more time teaching how to copy current designs to illustrate what makes them effective.
And seriously, do you think your own designs are all that original?
Copyists in the art world get paid well, and there’s a whole career called conservator that involves preserving and restoring artwork in its original form and intent, even if that form is missing. Learn how to replicate other styles. Not only will you learn, but it will keep you employed.
This is the hardest one, because creative folks are creative folks. This is the way I explain it: the NHL stay at home defensemen are slow, lumbering bruisers that work best on their end of the ice, disrupting and doing one thing: stopping the puck. However, when required to score, they don’t get much further than the blue line at the offensive end, because they are always trying to get back.
They also don’t take a lot of initiative — doing only what they know how to do. Designers are the same way.
In big corporate environments, having one skill can work, but when you’re in the real world, clients are going to ask for CSS skills or if you know a bit of Flash or can do some data entry into a content management system.
I don’t think designers have to know everything, but each skill that a designer has over “I can use Photoshop” is another skill to use when billing out to clients.
No matter what someone says, typography is more important than ever on the web. Yet I see portfolio after portfolio where typography is average at best and poor at work. Love for typography goes well beyond knowing the difference between Tahoma and Arial or watching the movie Helvetica. Designers should know how to use type both to communicate and as an interface tool.
Here’s a challenge that will help any designer learn great typography: start with only Arial or Helvetica. Learn how to use contrasting weights and sizes to direct the users eye without using any other type styles.
I Love Typography has a great guide on how to use type on the web. They have the following quote:
First, it's worth noting that Typography is not just about choosing a font, or even distinguishing one typeface from another. In recent experiments, trained monkeys were able to correctly identify Helvetica 90% of the time.
Grids are equally as important on the web as in any medium. The truth is that most designs are closer to mathematical equations than something overly creative and have to use white space and composition to: a) fit in a lot of content, b) be engaging with a call of action and c) look good. Not as easy as it looks.
Designing on a grid helps solve a lot of these issues without a lot of thought, and grids can also be used to establish design styles and visual structures.
There’s nothing worse for a client or a manager to hear than having someone who says, “That’s something I don’t do,” especially when it falls right in the middle of their skill set and when they are junior to other designers and workers in that group.
Data entry. Sure.
Picking up work someone else is doing, but too busy to complete? Sure.
Doing production work to resize 70 logos to the right size? When do you need it?
Web design isn’t all glamour and glitz (how glamourous can a home page be?), and it isn’t all redesigning websites for the clients. Sometimes we have to remember it’s a job. Sometimes you’re just going to be changing the oil, but you’re still getting paid for it.
I’m not going to take credit for this one — this is a great post from Laurie Ruettimann over at Punk Rock HR. It’s one of my favorite blogs of all time because of her common sense. Her comments in a few posts that are classic, and furthermore, I absolutely agree with.
The original post is here. Enjoy.
I like social tools and websites. I started blogging in 2004, I opened my first Twitter account in 2007, and I’ve joined every social networking site on the planet. I even co-founded a social network for HR professionals because I think technology is fun & interesting. I wanted to learn.
Unfortunately, there are days where I want to quit Facebook and go back to my real world.
I don’t mind your Farmville updates or your Mafia Wars invites. I can delete those requests and hide your activity in my feed. What bothers me is the hyper-aggressive use of social media to spew emotion, feelings, and opinion. People who are otherwise sweet & kind will comment on my wall and write the most idiotic, racist, and sexist stuff in defense of an otherwise irrelevant position.
I’m like Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace. I find myself yelling, “Get off my lawn!”
Here are my guidelines for Facebook. Let me know if you have others you would like to add.
I love social tools and value the online connections in my life. I like seeing pictures of your children. I want to hear about your pets and your job. This is important to me and makes my life better.
Very simply, I hope that aggressive users of Facebook will mature, slow down, and chill the heck out.
What you can use Messenger Connect for
Messenger Connect enables three core scenarios for websites and app developers:
- Identity – makes it easy for users to sign in and sign up to your web site using their Windows Live ID
- Social distribution – lets users share the things they do on your website with their friends. Activities appear in Messenger, Hotmail, and across Windows Live properties, and other places Messenger social is displayed (including Windows Phone 7 and the very popular Windows Live Messenger iPhone app)
- Realtime shared experiences – lets users share an experience in real time with their friends
What’s new in Messenger Connect
Many of the components that have evolved into Messenger Connect have been around for several years (Messenger Web Toolkit, Live ID Web Authentication, Delegated Authentication, and the Windows Live Contacts API), but this is the first time we've delivered a suite of standards-based, self-service APIs as a package. To understand how Messenger Connect works, from authorization, to the different interfaces and controls, to the emerging standards/specifications we use (OAuth WRAP, Portable Contacts, ActivityStrea.ms, and OData), check out this post.
From Angus Logan, the Windows Live blog:
We believe that you should be able to choose to take your Windows Live data with you when you travel the web. Messenger Connect allows you to do that by providing a way to sign in to third party web and client applications using your Windows Live ID. Messenger Connect allows you to bring your Windows Live profile and contacts with you; easily share with your friends and enable Windows Live Messenger-based chat within third party applications; and access your photos, calendar, and more.
In order to enable third party applications to â€˜connect' and interact with Windows Live accounts, we needed to design to help to ensure that customers' data is protected and accessed in a manner consistent with customers' expectations and desires, as well as enable great partner experiences.
Owning your data. Interesting concept.
This is for a friend of mine at Yola. Send your resume and portfolio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A strong candidate for this role will match many of these criteria:
Please respond with a resumÃ© and a link to an online portfolio or examples of work.
Must have skills:
It would be useful if you had:
I’m not going to take credit for this one — this is a great post from Laurie Ruettimann over at Punk Rock HR. I’m currently on the prowl for more work (you know, life of the consultant) so that means a lot of back and forth with recruiters. I have my favorites (Mindy Worel, where are you?), have a different opinion of some others. They are a necessary evil, but can be a wonderful asset.
Great recruiters are as interested as finding work for you as you are.
Punk Rock HR is one of my favorite blogs of all time because of her common sense. Her comments are classic and I absolutely agree with.
The original post is here. Enjoy.
I love it when someone sends me an email and asks, "Do you know this recruiter? Is he a good guy?"
Believe it or not, I don't know every HR professional or recruiter. I just know a few – but most of them are good people. (Sure, some of them are chumps but there are scam artists and losers in every industry. Look at sales.)
You need to use your brain — and your smarts — to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Here are some thoughts.
Finally, I think it's important to know where a recruiter is submitting your resume before the resume is sent. You can ask for this specific information – it's not rude.
Remember, a relationship with a recruiter is like any other business arrangement. Do your research, ask thoughtful questions, and operate with integrity. Don't forget that a recruiter is risking his reputation on you, too.
With an abundance of emails bombarding people's inboxes daily, as a permission marketer, how do you differentiate your promotional email from the clutter? Here are a handful of tips that you might find useful to construct your email so that your message gets across clearly when you are promoting a product or service:
Potential customers only take a few seconds to scan the email subject line. If your headline is not interesting enough or if it comes across as a sales pitch that oversells or promises more than can be delivered, there is a chance that the recipient will not click on the email, let alone read it. If your reader has opted-in, the headline should hint at the value your offer provides or offer a solution to address the prospect’s needs.
You want to use a catchy headline, but remember that there is the risk of getting caught in a spam filter and getting your message blocked.
To avoid this risk, try to refrain from using words and phrases like: free, #1, 100% satisfied, call, click, congratulations, get it now, no obligation, offer, save up to, special promotion, or urgent in the subject line.
It is important to emphasize benefits over features. Remember to use active voice over passive voice when describing your benefits. Your customer is always thinking, "How does this benefit me?" Make sure to research your target audience's pain points and address what their needs are. Using five to six bullet points to highlight your solution is useful and makes the offer easier to read.
Remember to be specific about your solution's benefits (within your industry, whether it's entertainment, health, technology, finance, etc.), and don't generalize. Since you are an expert in your field, speak to customers using language and words that they understand. If you are using technical jargon, remember to explain any acronyms, just in case potential clients do not have the same frame of reference that you do.
An alternate approach is to consider any obstacles that clients may have. For example, if you've decided that price may be an issue, you may want to consider that and address any concerns.
The call to action is the most critical part of your marketing email — a single command that tells customers how to proceed.
Depending on where prospects are in the sales cycle, remember to tell customers what YOU want them to do. It may be to sign up for a newsletter or webinar (Sign up to receive a newsletter), request a product tour (Request a demo), or buy a product (Add to cart). In addition, create a sense of urgency if possible, for example, Offer ends this Friday! Also, call to actions must not be complicated. Do not give multiple options. This will just confuse the customer.
A marketer can measure results based on the response to a call to action. If the response to your promotion is low, it may be time to revise your email's offer or tweak your subject line to get a better response rate.
Keep the email short and simple. Avoid adding multiple links to other pages within your website, since this will distract from the main offer and call to action.
A reminder about the obvious:
The signature block is an underutilized area that is easily overlooked, yet a place that can provide added value. You can provide an additional link to your website for branding, including reminders of upcoming promotions and events, or a link to your twitter account. As mentioned, use links in the signature block sparingly.
A small boilerplate about the company can also be used beneath the signature block to give additional contact information, for example, company name (for branding), address, phone number, fax number, email, hours of operation, and website.
Following these 5 easy tips will make your promotional messages easier to read, tell customers how to proceed, and give them information so that they can reach you and your products or services.
A developer I work with owns one in Seattle called the Waterwheel Lounge, and one of my favorites is the local beer bar that I'm the (occasional) Foursquare mayor of, The Church Key. They have an almost ‘Cheers’ like feel to them because the locals show up.
Social networks are like neighborhood bars — people want to feel welcome, like they are part of the neighborhood. This was true during the BBS days (When I was part of Morrison Hotel and Chatline, yo), and it’s true now.
This is how to make your social media site or campaign as successful as a neighborhood bar.
Every bar has a personality.
Some are sports bars (or sports lounges in Vancouver), some are singles bars, some are dance clubs, and some are neighborhood bars. Bar customers have certain expectations. For instance, when I visit the Church Key, I'm expecting conversation. When I visit Grant and Green, I'm expecting really loud music from bands like the Missionary Position.
The Waterwheel Lounge is famous in Seattle for their Karaoke nights. Not my cup of tea (The next bad rendition of “Ring of Fire” I hear might be that singer’s last), but their Karaoke nights are huge.
The same goes for websites that want to have a social networking component: users have certain expectations of what they are going to find there. For example, why would there be a StumbleUpon or Delicious share link on a general content website in the hope that three users click on it? Does a LinkedIn share button belong on ESPN.com?
The feel of the site should reflect that. All sites need to build trust with their users, and the first thing sites can do is design a user experience that reflects the attitude of the site. Screen real estate is precious, but making sure that the real estate is appropriate to the users is important. If users are screaming for features, give them to them.
There is nothing more satisfied than an engaged user.
The second day I walked in there, he called me by my first name, and has done so ever since. Since I was new to the neighborhood (and I don't know too many people in San Francisco), I thought this was coolest thing in the world. To this day, I still don’t know the price of what I pay for, and I always overtip.
There are several other bars in the neighborhood, but none of them are like the Church Key: a comfortable sweater that isn't new, but it feels like your best friend.
Websites are like neighborhood bars; visitors want to feel like they belong. Sites like Facebook, Daily Kos and The Huffington Post have such huge readerships. They are their own social networks that call you by your first name when you visit.
The connect features of the major social sites make it easy for users to sign in (they can use their social media accounts to authenticate), and more importantly they establish reputation for the user to other users. Everyone sees friendly faces, and some sites like Yelp! allow users to establish creative personas that contribute to the editorial direction of user generated content.
Whenever I walk into the Church Key, I look at the huge beer list of exotic beers, glaze over, and ask Benjamin to get me a beer. I describe a taste (I want something that's a porter yet sweet), and he gets a beer that hits close to what I ask for, if not exactly what I order.
Three or four times I didn't even ask for a beer, and found a 90-minute IPA (one of my favorites) sitting at my barstool when I walked in.
Great websites provide context of where users have been, and give them clues where they are going. If a user has read 58 sports stories about the San Francisco Giants, there's a pretty good chance that the user either is a) a San Francisco Giants fan, or b) has Tim Linceum on his fantasy baseball team.
In either case, the website should present more stories about the San Francisco Giants. How many sites do that? (I know, not enough of them. I’ve done the research.)
This is harder than it sounds.
A lot of bars have poorly designed interaction areas — either it’s too loud, or too crowded, or just too uncomfortable. Those are the bars that come and go. Great bars offer a range of places to sit: a bar to sit with the locals, dark corners for late night dates where neither of you want to be seen, places to stand and talk and drink with friends.
Both the Church Key and the Waterwheel Lounge have places where you can find random people to talk to, and places to hide in corners with your friends. But in both situations, they make it easy for story telling and good times.
Great social websites with a social component also make it easy to share stories. Content will be written in a way that’s not only engaging, but encourages conversation. The Huffington Post is a great example — you might not agree with the content, but you can engage in discussion and find a community of your peers (or not so peers).
Bar visitors are fickle. Website visitors, even more so.
They like their places like a comfortable old sweater, but if it gets a bit too worn, they want something new.
No matter how many bars are out there, the great ones give visitors something new every once in a while. The Waterwheel does this by offering great contests every once in a while, and installed this awesome patio deck that I’m going to make a special trip up to Seattle to see. The Church Key rotates their beer list, so what they have one month will change the next month.
Great social websites mix it up every once in a while. They try some new things, like Facebook’s Open Graph. They bring in new writers, different content, more video. They also take away features that aren’t working (like the 85 social networking badges you might see) when it’s obvious users are not using them.
Great bars resonate.
Great bars speak to their customers.
Great bars are real.
For both bars, I’ve had very real conversations with the owners. They didn’t wear flair, they didn’t put on a fake smile — they have real conversations with the customers, bullshitting with them about the weather, or the local sports team, or even running bingo or trivia nights that get customers free drinks. They ask how you’ve been, and involve you in the going’s on at the bar.
They care about the customers, and speak in a voice that’s very real.
They make you feel like you’re part of the family.
Great social media brands do that, through great copy and even better social promotions.
For example, Jet Blue has a wonderful promotion that talked about treating dad to a getaway. Foursquare isn’t too serious, and they make it social where visitors can find other visitors at a location. Great social media sites use comfortable, friendly conversations that feel real.
They talk about what they’ve done right, and what they have done wrong. They speak to you as a person and not like a person impressed by flair. They want to make you part of the family, treat you with respect, and remind you that they like you.
Wow. This is great stuff. This post is a must read:
When done right, gradual engagement communicates the core essence of a service with a few lightweight interactions. If you can make people successful along the way-even better. Will Wright, the creator of the Sims & Spore, has a belief that games should allow people to succeed within the first five seconds. That’s a great philosophy to bring to gradual engagement. In fact, I think if you can use lightweight actions to allow people to accomplish something relevant to the core of your product within their first one or two interactions with your service, that’s gradual engagement at its finest.
Through their user research, Twitter found that while celebrities (and their tweets) were a big reason people came to Twitter, they did not keep them there. Instead, what kept users on Twitter was the things they were passionate about – hobbies, conversations with subject-matter experts, and friends. This was the core essence of the service that a gradual engagement approach needed to deliver.
A welcome break from reality. Not completely safe for work.
Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes Gutenberg.
Shape your user experience career. Please read this before asking for career advice.