Design Icon Steve Jobs

October 6th, 2011

As a designer there is an odd handshake that plays out between the love and loathing of creating something famous. For on the one hand, to be loved is to be admired, awed, inspiring and garners the attention of fellow artists. To be loved means to be copied as in the case of say the Barcelona chair created by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, or to be set apart from time and placed in museums for future generations to treasure.

Barcelona chair

But with that fame comes the loathing of the critics, of being mass consumed and being considered part of the everyday. With fame, your object of creation becomes less of desire and more of objectivity. In each future creation, you and the new work is judged based on your highest previous achievement. Never will A-minus work satisfy the palette of your consumers. Think of all the one-hit wonders, the authors  and artists that have had just one bestseller. Once a cog, never then a flag.

This balance can be controlled. As evidence, see the items that price themselves out of 99.9% of people’s hands. A Breitling or Rolex watch, the Tesla Roadster, or a Tiffany engagement ring. Price control is a sure way to manage your designs level of prestige simply because of its unattainability. You add wanting to your invention. These products build large submarkets of spinoffs and knockoffs for folks wanting the look without the price tag.

iPhone 4Steve

But economics is part of design. As much as the metals and buttons that make your idea a reality, economics makes it possible to create the first prototype and manufacture the first product off the assembly line. Economics, loved or loathed, makes possible both the products we can and can’t afford.

Steve Jobs mastered the art of the handshake that all designers face, to be loved as an object of desire, but also to functionally enlighten the everyday experiences. He made sure to pay close attention to the personal within the product. He succeeded not only in numbers but in engagement. He prized his products enough to price them as functional and inspiring art, and to build designs that were both loved and so much a part of our everyday.

Google Analytics

May 11th, 2011

I have used Google Analytics since well before web 2.0, but only recently did I spend a few hours reviewing their Conversion University course material and pass the Individual Google Analytics Qualification test to receive my Google Analytics certification. The tool is an indispensable part of any web user experience designers workshop and while a certification does not mean you’ve mastered the tool, it does allow you a solid baseline of understanding and reiterate the value of that the tool possesses.

Google Analytics is also less of a single tool than it is a compilation of strategies, trends, analysis, prospectives and possibilities. It is less about being the best at the long jump, and more about being athletic. Being comfortable with the web application is important, but so is being able to apply the data to real working websites, e-commerce sites and other web properties

Prior to even knowing what the proper taxonomy of terms where for GA, I was using event tracking in flash videos to track visitor trends for how far into a section they would watch, was adding page tracking to PDF downloads and logging outbound affiliate links to capture data on where I was sending qualified leads to partnerships. The GA certification process is more about the how-to rather than the why, when, or what this means, as much training is, but it allowed me to reflect on the best tips for successfully mastering Google Analytics.

#1. Profiles, Profiles, Profiles.

If you are only using one profile per website, you’re doing it wrong. I know, seems odd that you would have to have two or more profiles for any website, since the concept would be you’d already have all the data stored, so why couldn’t you just segment and partition what you were interested in seeing. Truth is, segmenting is only one way to slice the data.

The reason to have more than one profile is to keep one unfiltered, raw data set always available to capture all the traffic. Filters, once applied, removed that filtered data from the data set, alleviating the end user from having to always segment, or hiding certain user data from portions of the account users who you may not want having access to ecommerce data for example.

It’s easy to think of profiles are different ways to understand your web traffic. Your marketing website, your web application, your reporting portion of your web app, a forum, shopping cart, subdomains, help center, even an intranet. You can have up to 50 profiles per account, so go nuts. Profiles can then have users, filters and goals attached to them. So profiles could also be setup for your marketing department, customer service team, web managers, and content editors.

With no additional tracking typically required, you can begin setting up new profiles, fitlers, users and goals straight through your GA account.

#2. Regularly Express Your Regular Expressions

RegEx is a like spinach. When you were younger, you hated the sight, smell and taste of it. Now that you’ve grown up a bit, you realize it’s power, flexibility and overall value. Every effort you spending making more time for spinach or regex, the better your life will be. Learn by any means necessary. I’m no master, but these resources have been helpful:

#3. You can’t win if you don’t score a Goal

Setting up goals are easy. Determine what is or isn’t a goal is easy. So why do must sites not have goals? No idea.

Your goals are your objectives. Pages visited. A checkout process or funnel. The amount of time spent on the help center searching for an answer. If they downloaded that PDF, watched that video, clicked that big, shiny neon green button. Whatever it is, set up a goal or goals, this allows you to take actually advantage to the single coolest stat in all of GA. (Keep reading)

#4. The data is in the details

Lovely sparklines ramble across the interface that making trend analysis and Edward Tufte smile. A logical hierarchy from accounts to profiles to users, filters and goals, to profile segments, custom reports and per report filtering, sorting, viewing and saving to your dashboard or exporting for further spreadsheet love. Create annotations on the main timeline to communicate with your team traffic spikes, PR news, site updates and features added. Customizations that follow you like friends, twitter followers or Linus’s blanket from one of your accounts and profiles to the next. They even now have a dashboard builder that allows you to create a quick, personalized overview of your site with just the details and data you want to see.

#5. The $ Index.

Staring into etrade stock trader can feel like falling into the number abyss. Everyone would always prefer one or just a few numbers to be lively indications for they things they are interested in tracking. The stock marketing tries this with the S&P 500, or the 200 day moving averages; baseball with batting averages and a pitcher’s ERA. The more you look at data however, the more the data looks back at you. There will be no end to all the new ways to slice and spread these numbers, and while statisticians are raking in the profits and laughing their number crunching tails off, the UI department is working to tell an effective, time-efficient story with all this data overload.

With Google Analytics, the $ Index is your pot of gold. Sure, page visits, unique visitors, keywords and ecommerce revenue are important numbers, but to understand your website is to understand how each page is helping or hurting your site’s ability to perform and convert.

Background Image Bliss

March 7th, 2011

Design is always better served when it comes with a side of functionality.

Website background images vary from the mundane to the vector-art overreaching to the heavy page loading. It is rare to find one that really works well. Mostly they are used for cool branding and design efforts. Sure they tell a story, but it is usually without much substanance.  The recent redesign of VPS.net. afforded a look into a background image that is both a cool design and functional treatment. The global map highlights are their CDNs (content delivery networks). This PNG allows you to see the map at a better contrast:

Here is how the map is layered into the site:

Nice design. Great visual.

Horizontal Heat Map

March 1st, 2011

Recenty a study at Useit.net released some valuable information about how user’s view your website’s content – Not top to bottom, but left to right.

What was unique about this study was the concept of how user’s might read/see your content in terms of percentages along the horizontal dimension. Above The Fold meet Mr. Left to Right. This eye tracking study is helpful in understanding patterns, but should be used as a guide, not a law. (Some languages read right to left, and some folks don’t believe too heavily in the above the fold.) This chart helps us understand the data:

But how about visualizing what this means for a website?

I’ve created a horizontal heat map to help quickly solve this issue. Much like Google Lab’s Browser Sizes (an excellent tool for web designers) this Horizontal Heat Map can quickly help you visualize the site’s content. By using opacity of varying levels based on the useit.com dataset, we can properly shade each column from left to right in relative opacity to simulate how a user might “see” a website.

Give it a try. See how your site stacks up.

Visualize your site with the Horizontal Heat Map.

5 Genius Advertising and Marketing Moves

September 23rd, 2010

5. Groupon

Let’s start here, with Groupon.com. From obscurity to the front page of Forbes, Groupon poses to become the fastest company to be earn $1 billion. They are already valued at over a billion and have close $500 million in revenue in less than 17 months. Their model is brilliant, and as anyone would explain, its a win-win-win for everyone involved. Yes, businesses must offer exceptional discounts on their products and services, but in exchange, they garner new and unexpected customers, while only paying when they actually make a sale. The consumers benefit for lower prices on items they already purchase, as well as inexpensive introductions to companies and products they may have been interested in buying, all without the hassle, hustle and head spin of most modern marketing. An email arrived each day offering a new and different deal. They just need to decide if they want to buy or not. And finally, Groupon has managed to make out extrodinarily well. They sell other peoples products for them, thus getting a cut of the revenue for acting as the marketing department. They acquire hundreds of thousands of leads for free or extremely cheap because they are offering an unlimited number of products at discounted rates. They even have divided they reach into cities communities to squeeze not just large corporations into the game, but to help small businesses shake the local community for potential customers.

4. Generic food in improved packaging

This one might be debated by some, but my stance is firm. Generic food in grocery stores around the country was (and in some cases, still is) horendous looking. So while some may argue that you are what you eat, package designers will argue your food will taste like the wrappers they came in. Poor product packaging has been the leading cause of lost sales, while other products have risen from bottom shelf dwellers to end-cap displays just because of excellent package designs. There was even the recent Tropicana redesign revolt that prompted the company to revert to it’s original design.

Safeway, for example has done an excellent job in designing their generic food line. I believe this effort is quite profitable. First, the only requirement of the generic food is that their price remain cheaper. Second, if the consumer is unfamiliar with any of the brands, the generic appears on equal playing fields without have spent a dime of advertising. Third, while coupons and sales will occasionally reduce popular brands to lower than generic prices, as long as the generic foods are cheaper, they will be viable alternatives. All the businesses have to determine, is how close they can get to the signature brands prices before their demand drops, an easy calculation given that they are the ones selling all the products. Sure makes it easy to determine price points and which foods should be next in line for a generic offering.

3. Sex in the City

Countless episodes and two movies later, Sex in the City is still selling. And not cheap kids toys like Disney movies or Homer Simpson posters. They created a show that not only offered product placement, it revolved around it. Shoes, dresses, bags, bars, restaurants, even the latest vodkas have been featured endlessly on the show. Most product placements in TV and movies are annoying, awkward and down right obvious, but Sex in the City offered a unique spin on the concept. Overkill? Offend? Nope. Often. They regularly showcased new shoes and dining hot spots that became ubiquitous with the show that the viewers didn’t mind at all, they loved it. From an outsider’s perspective, the show could look just like a giant commercial with four uniquely attractive and distinct female models pitching product after product loosely spun around attracting men and having fun in the city. Classic consumerism in high heels.

2. Radio Hosts as product pitchmen

I never understood while this didn’t happen sooner. Talk radio is apart of the radio sphere. Some listen to radio less and less with the ease of mp3s, but commutes aren’t getting shorter for everyone. Radio DJ’s have long been apart of the rush hour or just the general relaying of news that matters to people with your taste in music. However, only recently have these same voices now been hired by companies to vocalize their wares. I’ve heard Djs hammer on about Five Hour Energy drinks, Subway sandwiches and even Stamps.com. The genius is that to the lazy ear, you only wait for the commercials to flip flop through the channels, and if the voice over the air doesn’t change, you might just listen straight through a block of radio host product pitches. It’s easy enough to get these folks to do a radio commercial, they’re already at a studio regularly, they have the voice for it, obviously, and need little extra incentive besides financial compensation for reading your 30-second ad.

1. Google Adwords

“THE game changing” as quoted recently on CNBC’s “Inside the Mind of Google”, Google Adwords has placed the power of customer acquisition in the hands of anyone with a computer and internet access. Use it to sell your company’s products or services, to run an affiliate network, to evaluated effective landing page designs to determining just the right headlines for a full-scale marketing campaign. Adwords allows the unknown to become a link right alongside the most relevant. Once only high price budgets could play in the space for certain markets, Google has leveled the field to endless keyword combinations, allows users to determine their budgets and bids and they have raked in ridiculous profits while customers learn the ropes of the program, improve the sales funnels and eventually cash in or crumble to the increasing competition. Google makes 98% of their profit from Adwords alone. 98%. This is their only business.

A Drupal, A VPS, a shell access

September 2nd, 2010

Three things I’m loving right now:

  1. Drupal
  2. VPS – specifically VPS.net
  3. SSH – how did I ever live without this tech jargon and shortcut-riddled world?

And a great article tying all 3 together has been super helpful as well written and documented. Thanks Davy! Sweet last name too bro!

Cufon Across the Board

September 1st, 2010


I love typography, so when I found Cufón, I left the five-font web world behind. I’m still an Arial regular, but the online dedication to this, like IE6 may see it’s days numbered. There will also be the standards, but I love seeing the growth of the web font movement.

From Typekit, to Font Spring, to even the love/hate, to serif or not to serif debates that kern out online, the World Wide Web of Type when never be the same. And I’m a fan.

Acutally, not only am I a fan of Cufón, I’m also a user.

Starting from a Sketch

April 23rd, 2010

The new 2010 Aprilia RSV4 is out.

It has made the rounds on the web and motorcycle magazines. It continues to garner great praise for it’s step into the liter bike discussions and rivals the beauty of Italian bikes like the Ducati 1198 and the MV Agusta F4.

But it all started from a sketch.

From the Robbiano Design firm, or more accurately, Sergio Robbiano himself. He helped work on the Ducati 916, perhaps the most accomplished bike in terms of design. He also has to his credit the Bimota DB5 which won an MDA award in 2004.

Sure 3d cad drawings and renderings were done through the process, as was the more traditional clay prototypes, but like Foose of Overhaulin’ fame, it starts with a designer, an empty sketch pad and a few pens.

The final product doesn’t look too bad either.

The Last 4 Weeks

March 8th, 2010

Over the last thirty days I embarked on a culinary cuisine cruise out into the pearly blue waters of veganism. Inspired by Dr. Colin Campbell’s incredible scientific and nutrition twenty-year undertaking called the ‘China Study‘ and the subsequent book on the specifics from collected data and statistically analysis of the rural Chinese diet and that of Americans, I took Dr Campbell up on his offer to “give it a try for thirty days and see what happens.”

My commitment was this. No meat. No dairy.
So, no cheese, no smoked Gouda or fresh Parmesan.
No meat, no pork, no bacon.
No eggs, no milk, no butter.
But would all this equal no fun?

I would not consider myself much of a cook, probably a 3 on a 10-point scale. I can measure, chop, over boil and burn. I can’t blanch, dice well, or even spell sauté without checking the dictionary. However, despite my big, bumbling hands over the open flame or a sharp chef’s knife, I decided to give it the old college try and push myself for these thirty days.

Amazing, unlike the rest of my previous existence, I discovered that despite eating enough calories everyday for the past 29 years of my life, I have very limited knowledge about the things I shove into my mouth, and further still, my stomach, digestive system, blood stream, cell walls, colon, kidneys, liver and heart. I have a father who grew up on an apple orchard and could easily identify different varieties as well as stages of any apple from its size, shape and color, and in one generation I have been removed from the land and relegated to knowing only the colorful logos and package designs of crackers, high-sugar cereals and fruit juices and basically nothing about where my food comes from, what is in it, what pairs well with what, and even so lost as to not even know but a handful of standard fruits and vegetables. Heck, I didn’t even know that cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin and bell peppers were fruits.

So I threw my library card around, grabbed a bunch of cookbooks and started to learn more about my food choices, options and recipes. I chatted with friends, scoured the super markets and health food stores for odd items like mirin, amare, kuzu, brown rice syrup and vegan mayo. I bought vegan chocolate chips, almond, rice, soy and hazelnut milks, vegan cheddar cheese and even drove 25 minutes south of town to get dried lobster mushrooms that I had to reconstitute myself (don’t ask me if I knew what that word meant before, I would have had zero idea).

I have now cooked a Thai stir-fry, soaked cashews overnight to make a vegan cream substitute, roasted pecans, walnuts and pine nuts, found a favorite desert cake that doesn’t use butter, eggs or milk but still rises and is topped with great tasting chocolate chips. I have eaten sea vegetables, had salad for breakfast, chopped more veggies, learned that a mandoline isn’t just a small, sweet-sounding, wooden instrument and even tried to fool a couple of friends into believing that a tasty meatless alternative was chicken. They weren’t too convinced, but they admitted several times how much they liked the pine-nut-and-basil seared Gardein chicken with lobster mushroom beurre blanc braised kale and roasted fingerling potatoes (Thanks Tal!).

Food is designed to be so many things.

It is taste, nutrition, energy, health, community, a social setting, a tradition, a feast, a famine, a late-night craving, a recovery smoothie, a habit and a diet, a problem and a solution, familiar and foreign.

Food is a design in our lives regardless of our attention to it or not. And the consequences of our focus or disregard have clear effects on our futures.

These last thirty days have taught me more about food than the last 10 years. I have understood that I could eat just plants and be completely healthy, energetic and even feel better than my previous omnivore diet. I have learned the environmental cost of eating meat. I have come to understand the crazy level-5 vegan radicals by sharing in their experience, and understand how food can easily become a vice and a health threat if left unchecked and unguarded. I now see health not just as being cancer free or cancerous, but as avoiding diseases of affluence by taking steps that lower and sometimes even almost completely eliminate my risk for certain life threatening conditions such as strokes, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

I have learned that as homo sapien sapiens we have been incredibly designed. However with this design comes an unrivaled dilemma with food.

I still have plenty to learn about design. I have learned, however, that perhaps one of the best ways to explore the uncharted (and even hidden) territories that stand before us are to give it thirty days of discovery, to see what new islands lay just around the corner and to see how your life may find a whole new land just under your feet.

The TV Marketing Oscars and My Commercials Fast

February 7th, 2010

Just hours before the greatest spectacle in modern television marketing, ad agencies and creative genius and marketing professionals have prepared their best, and most expensive works of art to put on show outside of the gridlines of tomorrow’s super bowl. Once heralded as the greatest event in sports, the Super Bowl’s widespread appeal, hype and hysteria have created a marketer’s dream landscape with over 100 million pair of eye balls focused almost more intently on what happens between timeouts than between the gridlines.

After the game, I will take a break from commercials for awhile, in fact, 30 days specifically. Once upon a time in my life I was without a TV much less network cable. Now, haven fallen for HDTV and amassed myself back with the 99.9% of fellow American’s, I have once again been the prey TV marketers so covet.
Marketers are smart and savvy. They know DVR and Tivo exist, so they created relationships with networks to have in-game marketing opportunities, from sponsored trivia questions, instant reply, in-game stats, etc. (I mostly watch sports.) The are aware of our subconscious even when we might not be. They pitch quick eats late at night, cool cars outside of our budgets with the hopes of planting the branding seeds, once, I sat through a commercial break that featured four fast food ads, two from the same chain. These marketers are relentless.

So why not try a new approach? I like trying things, as do my friends. One buddy after reading a compelling book has decided to give veganism a try. Another, inspired by a more zen-like approach to life has created a vision board to visualize the change she would like to see in her life. In college, I even attempted to use the Dvorak keyboard, the most efficient key layout, with the thought of how much time I might be able to save over a lifetime of using that keyboard setup. Recently, I started sleeping with two pillows with the hope that I would have increased air flow during the night which would lead to more restful sleep. (Unfortunately, I was unconscious during most of the trial hours and don’t have much research data to report.)

A phrase I have heard before says, “Do what you always do, get what you’ve always got.”

So why not try a different approach? So I plan to avoid commericals.

Here is how I plan to do it, what I hope to gain, and what I think my biggest obstacles will be.

How I plan to do it:

  1. Watch less TV
  2. Only watch recorded TV – use the tool of the DVR to my advantage
  3. Plan my TV watching ahead of my TV browsing – If I am unable to plan ahead, I will record the program and start watching it 10 minutes later.
  4. Watch more movies
  5. Put up a sign by my TV to remind myself
  6. Watch Hulu.com
  7. Close my eyes and mute the TV ;)

What I hope to gain:

  1. More time engaged in what I want, less in what others want me to want
  2. More active participation in my leisure time
  3. Lower my sub or unconscious cravings seeded into my brain for professional marketers
  4. Greater personal happiness
  5. The power that comes from setting a goal and keeping it
  6. World Peace. (Can’t hurt, right?)

What my biggest obstacles will be:

  1. Out at a friends house, TV on
  2. Effectively communicating to others why I’m doing this
  3. Laziness
  4. Ever watching commercials again

And now a few, er, no words from our sponsors.