Category Archives: Thoughts

We need Hookturn now, more than ever.

Features to be significantly changed. Decommissioning of 360documentaries, Hindsight, Encounter, Into the Music and Poetica… One possible redundancy with the merging of Books and Arts Daily and the Weekend Arts teams… By Design and RN First Bite to be axed.”

The Guardian lists some of the casualties of the ABC funding cuts.

As our government literally decimates the national broadcaster, I’m even more conscious of the need for the ongoing telling of Australian stories in whichever way we can.

We take a lot of pride in where we come from. As Melburnians we’re constitutionally required to be parochial. Once every 18 months or so I travel to New York City and I marvel at its inhabitants’ parochialism. They put us to shame. I’ve travelled to Austin, which has the unique position of being a parochial enclave inside of Texas, itself probably the most parochial place in the world.

I’m speaking about parochialism as a virtue, which opposes my personal economic beliefs for globalisation. But the two concepts can and should co-exist. Read more

Annual Reports and Shareholder Reviews: It’s the End of the Line for the PDF dumping ground.

If we’re going to send people online, let’s do it with respect.

 

A couple of months ago, National Australia Bank sent a letter out to its shareholders advising them of a change to the way the company would now report. Instead of the the traditional Shareholder Review (and optional Annual Report), the company would now mail a much smaller Summary Review, and would direct shareholders to a PDF posted online if they wanted more detailed information.

On the face of it, this seems laudable—we all want to save paper and resources—and in keeping with NAB’s sustainability policies. But there is a real problem here, and that is that NAB is still sending people to a PDF*. In 2014! Read more

Don’t be scared to share.

Last week I went to a meetup about strategy and content in New York. The theme was ‘Show and Tell’ and each attendee was supposed to bring a piece they had worked on to discuss the thought behind its content and design.

Only four of us braved the surprise sub-zero November weather to turn up to a meeting room at EMC’s office and we were probably all a little disappointed to begin with. But soon we realised that with so few of us there we didn’t have to restrict ourselves to three to four minute time limit. Just as well. The things we brought with us demanded more attention and investigation.

A content strategist brought her hybrid strategy/publication schedule template, designed to teach her large accounting firms marketing team that there was more responsibility to creating material than just releasing white papers into the wild.

A self-starting web-designer shared his vanity project to produce online documentaries to capture all sides of a story.

A strategy designer shared an intranet created for one of the world’s largest banks to help employees get all the information they needed about their own employment (payslip records, accrued holiday leave, promotion and training opportunities), and how it was being used by the bank to improve employee retention.

I shared a recent Shareholder Review we created for one of our clients to discuss the narrative concept and how the content was able to exist in different formats online and in print.

We left amazed at the work we were all doing and I realised something really important: as an industry we don’t share enough.

Sure, there are some who share. There are those who stand up at conferences and talk about what they’ve learnt. We see them all the time and too often it’s the same faces over and over again.

Unfortunately, those of us at the coal-face rarely  talk about or show off the work we’re doing unless we’re pitching to new clients.

That’s not enough.

What I saw that night is that there are people who, like us, are trying to solve difficult problems every day. When we work in isolation these seem like really unusual or even unique problems. If we shared these problems more often we might find that we’re not alone.  We might even find someone else’s problem is congruent with ours. Their solutions might have value for our projects.

We can learn from the experiences of other people even when (and perhaps especially when) we work in different fields. Some challenges are universal.
Designers need to learn the value of talking to one another about our work and why it excites us. We should also share our disappointments to show that it’s unreasonable to expect every project to be 100% success.

The luminaries who publish books and tour the talking circuit do some important work, but if they’re the only people we listen to we are going to end up with a homogenised set of solutions. But evolution’s strength is in variety.

Let’s resolve to regularly share our experiences and talk to each other about the problems we face in creating our work. It takes a bit of guts and it can be a daunting task, but we will never improve if the only thing we share is exasperation at tight or mercurial deadlines. The power we have to improve our work is in sharing our problems, methods and results.

How to Magic Yourself Better

We do a show that we release as a podcast about being better designers. It’s called The Nudge. In it we try to cover some of the issues we think designers face and try to find people who can teach ways to improve on that.

But we don’t often talk about the things we’re currently doing as a studio to make us better designers; The things we’re doing to make ourselves work smarter.

Recently we finished two massive projects. One was the ANZ Shareholder Review. We’ll post a full case study about that shortly. The other was the redesign of the way one of Australia’s major sporting bodies presents itself to the world.

These two projects took up every resource we had and then some. Many of us worked without weekends and up to 80 hours a week to complete these jobs on time.

That’s not a brag: It’s an admission. It shouldn’t have happened. We should have been able to work smarter and avoid working harder.

During those two projects we already started looking at what we can do next time to make the work go easier. We knew that the way we were working wasn’t great but we were stuck for the moment. Mid project isn’t a great time to swap between task managers, for example.

But then again, is there ever a great time to do such a thing?

We were using Basecamp for our task management and project related communication. Or I should say, we were kind of using it. Basecamp became a dumping ground for files and messages, tasks that were never completed. It was a graveyard of work we had done, work we had intended to do, and it never gave us an understanding of what was happening right now.

We think this might be where our problem was. Basecamp is an excellent product but it just wasn’t working for the way we do things.

Right now we’re trying two new (to us) products: Slack and Asana.

Slack is a good team communication tool that many of our colleagues and friends had recommended.

Asana is a task management set of apps that gives the opportunity to categorise tasks in a number of ways, nest tasks to be as granular as we like, and offers snapshots on projects and their progress over time.

We’re still in the early days of using these systems and we’ll try to keep you updated on what we discover about them and ourselves.

At the moment, though, it’s also important for us to realise that these systems can’t make people work better but they can offer the opportunity to improve our processes.

Just like buying a new notebook doesn’t make you write that novel and having a new bat doesn’t make you a better cricketer, having new productivity tools isn’t going to magic us into working better. It will take tenacity, discipline and support from each other when things get tough.

We’re lucky as well that we work in a team. Hopefully we can do that better soon too.

Your next project needs a white-hat jerk.

A couple of years ago, a startup called Stamped created an app and service that let you rate anything and everything. Your local doughnut shop? Rate it and tell your friends. Your favourite beach? Rate it and tell your friends. In fact, rate anything you want!

But Stamped never anticipated the prankster, or what I think of as the benignly destructive user. It seems nobody ever asked “what would someone do here if they were just here to screw around?”

To borrow some words from Mike Monteiro, it had never been DickProofed.

If it had, perhaps people wouldn’t have been able to rate “Getting a hand-job during the Muppets Movie” or any of the other things that people who totally weren’t me rated on there.

Maybe it would still be around.

Yesterday, I ambled up to a colleague’s shiny new iPhone 6. I saw that it was charging, and I said “Hey Siri, from now on call me Penis-Face”. Guess what? Siri duly changed his nickname in his contacts and said “Ok, from now on, I’ll call you Penis-Face.” I exploited a ‘feature’ of iOS 8—when an iPhone is connected to power, it constantly listens for the term “Hey Siri”, followed by a command. Then it executes that command.

What I did wasn’t really malicious, but it was a dick move and a childish prank. However the point is that I shouldn’t have been able to do it. Someone on the development team for iOS 8 should have seen that a prank so obvious is something jerks are going to want to do.

This matters. Users like that—the jerks—are out there in their tens of thousands. Millions, even. They’re not exactly attempting to hurt your business or product; they just want to have a good time. That’s your problem when that good time comes at the expense of your new service or product.

As we move toward a model of the world where nearly every business is just a website with some people out the back, we’ve got to keep these jerks in mind and anticipate where they might fool around with your product to have what (to them) are a few childish laughs.

When we at Floate build things for people, I always ask “how could someone screw this up for shits and giggles?” People tend to think I’m joking but I’m deadly serious because if your site, network, or product becomes a playground for a bunch of jerks, it turns off the people whose time and attention you’re really trying to obtain. Almost nobody ever got a promotion doing that.[1]

The internet security world has for years had white-hat hackers—people whose job it is to test code for security flaws. It’s time for designers to adopt the idea. Next time you’re working on a long-term project, appoint a designated white-hat jerk; someone whose job it is to keep thinking about how a person or group with a bit of time on their hands might try to bend and twist your system for a few laughs. This isn’t simply asking someone to be a tedious Devil’s Advocate—it’s ensuring that someone is always thinking “How could someone fool around with this, and what would that mean for our end product?”

If you want to make it next-level, create a Jerk as a user persona, create some stories for them, and work out if your system is ready for them.

You’ll get push-back, but it’s worth it. Nobody wants to be the next Stamped.


  1. Well, Stamped did get acquired by Yahoo for $10 Million. ↩