Why I want to write

To write consistently has been my goal for many years, but I’ve never managed to reach it. This post is, in-part, a way for me to explore why I fail to write, but mainly a promise I’m making, to myself, to write more.

Why I never get round to writing

Failing to find courage to write is really getting to me now. I tentatively dip in, rarely finding consistency, seldom finding the courage to publish anything. But I so badly want this to happen. I really enjoy writing, when I get going. The cause of failure: maybe the reasons that prevent most people from trying something new, taking a chance – the inner voice: You’re shit at writing, your ideas are obvious, your grammar is awful, you’ll look stupid, you have nothing interesting to say.

Maybe the voice is right, I dunno. But fuck it. So what.

But it doesn’t really matter if I’m shit at writing, because I write to improve. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have anything interesting to say, because I write, mainly, for myself.

Why I write

I’ll try and remind myself often about the following reasons why I write:

  • I write for myself.
  • I write to think.
  • I write to learn.
  • I write to explore nascent ideas.
  • I write to understand myself.
  • I write to connect.
  • I write to organise my thinking.
  • I write to get shit out of my head.
  • I write to practice writing.

  • I don’t need anyone to read what I write, though it’d be nice.
  • I don’t need to make money from what I write.
  • I don’t need to impress people with what I write.
  • I don’t need to be right.

Process for the win

The following process is to help me write consistently. It’s a first pass. My goal is to build a cadence to my working week, to create habits that will give me the best chance of succeeding. I’ll refine process as I go along, or start again if it isn’t working. That’s okay.

  1. Dedicate 30 minutes, every weekday, to writing.
  2. Publish something every week
  3. Create a bank of ideas. Always have a notepad or device to hand.
  4. Build writing into my working week
    • Monday Crystallise: Pick an idea and start to crystallise. Write a 50 word summary (This can be revised as I make progress, but it’s there to give initial direction) to capture the essence of what I’d like to say. Make a list of ideas I’d like to communicate.
    • Tuesday Idea Dump: Free writing, don’t think too much etc, just let stuff flow. Surprisingly, great ideas pop out of nowhere. Explore concepts to illustrate the point I’m trying to make, or bring the point to life.
    • Wednesday Write : Join all these ideas into a coherent article
    • Thursday Edit : Revise the structure, make sure it flows
    • Friday Polish and Publish: A second edit looks at improving sentences, grammar revision.

Promise

I promise to give this a good go, see where it goes. My aim is to improve: my ideas, my writing, myself. If build the right habits, stay consistent, and manage to quieten the voice in my head, I reckon I’ll be golden.

  • I promise not to beat myself up
  • I promise not to despise my writing and think I’m an idiot
  • I promise not to be too hard on myself when I make mistakes
  • I promise not to be too hard on myself when I don’t keep to my routine.
  • I promise to let go so I can explore.

And. Go.

Articles on writing I’ve found inspirational

  • http://nicolefenton.com/writing-for-beginners/
  • https://medium.com/the-year-of-the-looking-glass/write-in-2016-938f569b535e
  • https://alistapart.com/article/writing-is-thinking

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. — Steve Jobs

Thoughts on Prototyping

Prototyping is probably the most underutilised component of a User Centered Design (UCD) process. It’s the first thing to be struck off the list when budgets and time are tight. Its value is often difficult to explain and its inclusion is often seen as unnecessary. Overkill. However, when we prototype designs, we always produce a far more effective product and reduce pain points for everyone involved.

First off lets define what a prototype is.

A prototype is a conceptual model, a statement of design intent. A prototype is a low-fi rendering of an idea or a structure. It’s a grey box rendering that you can interact with to get an idea of how something might feel to use.

A prototype is not a working model. This is the common misconception.

The Benefits of prototyping

So what exactly are the benefits of prototyping and how does it help make a better product?

– A great medium in which to communicate design intention and the best stage at which to flesh out design ideas before more subjective matters such as imagery and colour come into play.

– Enables you to test early. Make your mistakes and test assumptions before it gets costly to amend them. We should always enter a project open to the fact that everyone makes mistakes and makes wrong assumptions.

– An actual entity you can click on and interact with is far more tangible than documentation or static graphics. Stakeholders not only make better decisions if they fully understand what’s happening but also make these decisions earlier in the process.

– Makes the design process more transparent and inclusive. Prototyping together with wire-framing gives stakeholders a view into the how and why of design decisions. You can take people on a journey and make them feel they are included in the process. Giving someone a finished visual doesn’t do the same job.

So Why Not?

So maybe the more pertinent question is why shouldn’t we prototype? In a way, not to include this as part of a design process seems counter-intuitive. Making sure you’re building the right thing before you get started seems the obvious thing to do. Planning at the start of a project nearly always saves cost further down the line when mistakes are far more costly to amend.

The flow of a design process is what makes great products and prototyping definitely enhances it.

Further reading

http://boxesandarrows.com/view/integrating
http://www.newfangled.com/newfangleds_iterative_website_prototyping_process
http://www.seattle20.com/blog/Prototyping-Tool-Roundup.aspx

Perceived simplicity

Whilst working on a project for one of our sister agencies an epiphany of sorts smacked me around the chops regarding IA structures and perceived simplicity.

Yeh, what a boring epiphany, but an epiphany none the less.

Maybe there’s no need to have a rational structure. A solid structure perhaps isn’t in fact our primary goal.. Perhaps just getting people to dive in and be engaged through a perceived simplicity is a better goal.

If you’re presented with only one option you’re probably going to take it. The likelihood of interaction is a function of choice.

The ipod classic interface is a great example of this. It’s interface gives you one point access to everything on the machine. Maybe not the most intuitive interface at first, but everyone wants to press that big button and dive in. The rest of the information just flows after that.

Would anyone ever design a web interface with the same interface as an  Ipod? Probably not. But why not? Stick one point navigation at the top of the page and be done with it.

The good old Beeb is the closest I can think of that looks at this type of structure. They’ve got one big button at the top saying “Explore the BBC”. That’s it.

Obscuring primary navigation items goes against all my UX training and experience, but it seems so right.

A structure that doesn’t make immediate sense, or even seem useful, may indeed make more sense.

When a structure gives off the perception of simplicity an increase in the initial interaction is exponential.

Maybe.

Brand as a Destination

I work for an agency who produce digital marketing communications for a major UK brewer. It affords us the opportunity to do some really nice creative work. Which is nice.

But I do wonder how effective these pieces are. By saying effective, I mean effective as providing something of use or amusement to their customer base. Building relationships. Not shouting in peoples faces about brand values.

People use the internet to get information, to socialise and to be entertained. Not to be advertised at. This is not a user goal and never will be. Why would you ever want to visit a brands marketing site? Well… unless they are a brand geek I suppose. Which, admittedly, there are quite a few of.

But anyways… that right buggers up the point I’m trying to make.

As in the real world a brand should not be a destination. They should be supportive and associative rather than the main attraction. The guy who tacks themselves on to cool things to make himself look cool. Cool through association. This isn’t by any means a new idea but something that has been missed in translation from off-line to on-line marketing.

No one really cares about going to visit “what a brand has to say about itself”. This has and never will be the case. GEES, GET OVER YOUR BRAND ALREADY!

Be a corporation that puts it’s customers first and the brand second.

You’re just a self indulgent git and no one wants to be your friend.

A super method to check if brand is communicating in a non selfish manner is to give the brand a personality (Around half way down the page). How would you describe them? Are they selfish. Is everything all about them. Me me me!! They don’t really care about what I need! I would definitely attribute a lot of these negative personality traits to most brands I work on. In fact I want to slap some of them in the face with a large haddock. That’d learn them. That’d learn them good.

You’re a real super guy?

Burger King get this right and I suspect are very effective in digital brand communication whilst garnering a barrel load of email addresses too boot. Subconsciously and irrationally people think Burger King are a nice guy for giving them such entertaining play things and not putting up a “brand barrier”. Most importantly, not putting their brand first.

These sites are great examples of putting the brand second and the customers first;

http://www.petmoustache.com/
http://www.subservientchicken.com/

Though these pieces might not on the surface seem to effect the bottom line for these brands they do an amazing job in building reciprocity and concession. People can’t help but feel they are indebted to Burger King for giving them such wonderful and amusing gifts. Again, not a new technique, but something that’s been lost in translation.

To summarise, we need to guide brands in how to communicate online. They know how to do all this stuff already. It’s nothing new, they just need to apply the same strategies online.

Waterlife

waterlife-big

I just love this site. The most engaging piece I’ve experienced in quite a while. A lovely playful and exploratory navigation down the bottom and just generally a joy to explore and discover the amazing content on offer.

Best soundtrack ever for a website an’ all.

http://waterlife.nfb.ca/

Listening to a Waiter

Great piece on copy writing for the web. Outlines the utilisation of positive communication techniques to influence behaviour.

  • Invocation of a Higher Power (Our chef recommends…)
  • Everyone Else Is Doing It (Everyone who orders the glazed grouper loves it.)
  • The Feel-Good Event of the Year (So, gentlemen… is everything delicious?)

http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/06/03/how-listening-to-a-waiter-can-jack-your-profits-up-33/

Show Me What’s Hot!

activity-menu-FW

I’m very much enjoying non-static menu systems.

The BBC uses this very effectively by showing a best bet – we know you’re probably on this site to look for – menu running along the top and highlighted. I bet this is super effective for the Beeb.

Yahoo food uses a really nice system based on what’s happening on the site at the moment. A what’s hot menu system. This serves as a super effective way for getting people involved with the content even though it may not be what they’re there for in the first place.

Get ’em engaged, then work out how to best to meet their needs after.

Also gives a great way to show the content available on the site and that other people are engaging. The sheep principle. The mere fact that others are doing something is often enough for us to do it as well (slide 44).

Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

harry

Radiohead’s tribute to the late Harry Patch. http://download.waste.uk.com/Store/did.html

Harry’s original interview http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/ram/today1_ww1_20051224.ram

Harry Patch (In Memory Of)
I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn

flash s(h)ites

I have no flash based sites whatsoever in my favourites. Not even one. I checked again, as I though I must have even bookmarked a couple of fancy dan flashers for reference, but nope, all clean.Out of nearly 200 links in my del.icio.us account there’s only a couple and they’re only there because I myself am in the business of making the aforementioned fancy dan flash sites and like to er… seek influence whenever I can.

Are flash sites basically useless as an information tool for users, or at least as a tool to entice repeat users?Are they just one hit wonders, all style and no substance.

Even with the back/forward thing sorted out with excellent swfaddress script it still seems a bit more work to use a flash site than an html based on a regular basis. For the record, I’ve got tons of ajax based tools in my bookmarks.

I’m off to find some decent flash sites to use regularly, just so I don’t put myself out of a job.