Thursday, December 20, 2007

taste, beauty, and design

Computer scientist Paul Graham asks an interesting question, "Instead of treating beauty as an airy abstraction, to be either blathered about or avoided depending on how one feels about airy abstractions, let's try considering it as a practical question: how do you make good stuff?"

I've cut & pasted selected ideas from his essay . If you have time, it's certainly worth reading his original post.

"Once you start to examine the question, it's surprising how much different fields' ideas of beauty have in common. The same principles of good design crop up again and again.

Good design is simple. When you're forced to be simple, you're forced to face the real problem. When you can't deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance.

Good design is timeless. Aiming at timelessness is a way to make yourself find the best answer. Aiming at timelessness is also a way to evade the grip of fashion.

Good design solves the right problem.

Good design is suggestive.

Good design is often slightly funny. Good design may not have to be funny, but it's hard to imagine something that could be called humorless also being good design.

Good design is hard. If you look at the people who've done great work, one thing they all seem to have in common is that they worked very hard. If you're not working hard, you're probably wasting your time.

Good design looks easy. Like great athletes, great designers make it look easy. Mostly this is an illusion. The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eighth rewrite.

Good design uses symmetry.

Good design resembles nature. It's not so much that resembling nature is intrinsically good as that nature has had a long time to work on the problem.

Good design is redesign. It's rare to get things right the first time. Mistakes are natural. Instead of treating them as disasters, make them easy to acknowledge and easy to fix.

Good design can copy. [The greatest masters] just want to get the right answer, and if part of the right answer has already been discovered by someone else, that's no reason not to use it. They're confident enough to take from anyone without feeling that their own vision will be lost in the process.

Good design is often strange.

Good design happens in chunks. Nothing is more powerful than a community of talented people working on related problems.

Good design is often daring.

"Great work usually seems to happen because someone sees something and thinks, I could do better than that."

Excerpts from "Taste for Makers" by Paul Graham February 2002

Thanks to Alyce Brady for suggesting his essay.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Perfect Thing

Steven Levy writes about the iPod design process in Wired Magazine

There is no single "father of the iPod." Development was a multitrack process, with Fadell, now on staff, in charge of the actual workings of the device, Robbin heading the software and interface team, Jonathan Ive doing the industrial design, Rubenstein overseeing the project, and Jobs himself rubbernecking as only he could. ... He would pick up the device and say what he liked and didn't like, and he would fire questions at everyone, pushing hard: "What are you going to do about it?" ...

Sometimes his pronouncements would astound his employees. When one of the designers said that obviously the device should have a power button to turn the unit on and off, he simply said no. And that was it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Seth Godin on Powerpoint

Seth Godin writes:

"Powerpoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer. But it’s not. Countless innovations fail because their champions use PowerPoint the way Microsoft wants them to, instead of the right way.

Communication is the transfer of emotion.

Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited (or sad, or optimistic or whatever else you are.) If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report."

Four Components To A Great Presentation

1) Make yourself cue cards.
Don’t put them on the screen. Put them in your hand. Now, you can use the cue cards you made to make sure you’re saying what you came to say.

2) Make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them.

Create slides that demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you’re saying is true not just accurate.

Talking about pollution in Houston? Instead of giving me four bullet points of EPA data, why not read me the stats but show me a photo of a bunch of dead birds, some smog and even a diseased lung? This is cheating! It’s unfair! It works.

3) Create a written document.
Put in as many footnotes or details as you like. Then, when you start your presentation, tell the audience that you’re going to give them all the details of your presentation after it’s over, and they don’t have to write down everything you say. Remember, the presentation is to make an emotional sale. The document is the proof that helps the intellectuals in your audience accept the idea that you’ve sold them on emotionally.

IMPORTANT: Don’t hand out the written stuff at the beginning! If you do, people will read the memo while you’re talking and ignore you. Instead, your goal is to get them to sit back, trust you and take in the emotional and intellectual points of your presentation.

4) Create a feedback cycle.

If your presentation is for a project approval, hand people a project approval form and get them to approve it, so there’s no ambiguity at all about what you’ve all agreed to.

The reason you give a presentation is to make a sale. So make it. Don’t leave without a “yes,” or at the very least, a commitment to a date or to future deliverables.

Miss Teen USA 2007 - South Carolina

Monday, November 19, 2007

Retailer observation and analysis

For Monday Nov 26th

Play Paco Underhill for a day by observing a retailer. Retailers frequently target a specific group: by gender, age, income, or ethnicity. Choose a store where you wouldn't normally shop: a store catering to a different demographic group. Spend at least 15 minutes in the store. Look for design details: signs, lighting, images, music, noise level, fixtures, space, brands, quantity of products, color choices, materials, styles.

Answer the following questions on your blog.

1. What store did you observe? Who do they market to?

2. Briefly describe the following
a. appearance of store entrance (from outside)
b. sounds (inside the store)
c. how the merchandise is displayed
d. floors
e. signs
f. cashier area

3. What image does this business try to project? Give specific examples of design elements that reflect this image.

4. How did customers interact with various elements of the store's design?

5. What did you find interesting about the design of this store?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Plastic Bottles, 2007

Photo 60x120" by Chris Jordan

"Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes."

thanks to boingboing


For Monday's discussion:

Read The Science of Shopping by Malcolm Gladwell

1. Write a discussion question based on this reading and post it on your blog before 4 pm Sunday.
2. Read the questions posted by your classmates and answer two of them on your own blog.

I strongly encourage you to try using an RSS reader.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For Friday

Part I. Create a paper mock-up of your website for your profession/career. You can make a physical collage of text and images or do it all by computer. (Or, if you're comfortable creating web pages, you can just make one and print a copy.)

Part II.
Answer the following questions on your blog.

1. We discussed how packaging can be used to draw consumers' attention to a product. What other purposes does packaging serve? Give examples.

2. Read "Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean" by Justin Berton
"Germany, Garbage, and the Green Dot: Challenging the Throwaway Society"
What do these articles suggest about packaging design? Give examples of how modifications to current practices could have environmental benefits.

iPod packaged by Microsoft


Monday, November 12, 2007


For Wednesday's class

Read "The Power of The Box - Powerful Packaging Design" by Tuija Seipell


"Isn’t it Iconic?" by Stacey King Gordon

To prepare for our discussion, write answers to the following questions on your blog:
1. To what extent is packaging important in marketing a product? Give an example of how a package influenced your decision to buy (or not buy) something.

2. What other products have iconic packaging?

3. What usability issues exist for packaging? Give examples of particularly good or bad packaging from a usability perspective.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Course Description 2

This course will look at the role of design in the world around us. Our emphasis will be on features, feel and function rather than on the aesthetics of design. We will consider why some designs work well and others work poorly. We will think about how and why things are designed in particular ways. We will look at the economic and environmental implications of design choices.

Successful completion of this course will fulfill the K College requirement for Tier One writing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Course Description 1

Some things just feel right. (Do iPods?) Other things—like unprogrammable VCRs or wristwatches that beep every hour—are frustrating. Which leads to an obvious question, why would anyone design a product to frustrate its users?

Design is more than style or fashion. This seminar explores design from the perspective of economics, business, and the environment. We will look at the features and functions of various products and services including: advertising, packaging, websites, retailing, and urban design. We will investigate how intangible experiences and activities can be designed. Observing and analyzing designs can help us better understand the world.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Design for the other 90%

The Brand Builder blog writes on The Upside-Down pyramid of opportunity: Design for the other 90%

"A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house."

For starters.

That's something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop - specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children - is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere

Monday, June 18, 2007

Speaking as perfomance

Guy Kawasaki writes on Speaking as a Performing Art with advice from Doug Lawrence, a professional singer and speech coach.

Here's his list of topics:
1. Circulate with your audience.
2. Command attention.
3. Snarl.
4. Bite your tongue.
5. Always perform a sound check before you speak.
6. Use your eyes all the time.
7. Move away from center to make your point.
8. Get quiet.
9. “Underline” certain words with a pause or repetition.
10. Take a risk and be vulnerable.
11. Tee it higher.
12. Know when it’s time to go.
13. Use Q and A as an “encore.”
14. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
15. Perform for a hero.

update: More advice from Doug Lawrence:Eight More Ways To Improve Your Presentations

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The value of concrete details

Dan Heath at Made to Stick illustrates the power of specific detail.

In the book, we talk about how vivid details can make ideas more credible. Here’s an example from the annals of advertising, plucked from an article on the copywriter Claude Hopkins:

Back in 1919, Schlitz beer approached Claude Hopkins. Their beer sales were in 15th place. They asked Hopkins if he could help them sell more beer. He agreed to meet with Schlitz and toured the brewery. He was fascinated with what he discovered. He then returned two months later with an ad campaign.

His ads told of the “crystal clear water from a special artesian well”. They told of the one “mother” yeast cell that produced all the yeast for fermenting the beer. It was the result of over “1,500 experiments and produced a very distinct fresh, crisp taste”. He told of how the bottles were “sterilized 12 times to ensure purity, so that nothing would interfere with the clean taste of the beer”.

The Schlitz people hated it. They explained to Hopkins that this would never work. They told him, “All beer is made the same way.” Hopkins calmly assured them that people would be fascinated with the “behind the scenes” look and, that no other beer maker had ever told the story.

After much discussion, Schlitz relented and let the ads roll out. Six months later, Schlitz beer was the Number 1 selling beer in the nation.

Pitching a new idea

Paul Williams at Idea Sandbox reviews Life's a Pitch

"New ideas often make people uncomfortable. Many new projects and ideas need a champion to gain acceptance from others. Being able to pitch ideas is an invaluable business (and life) tool.

Basic Disciplines of a Good Pitch

* Find a calm space to think in [for preparation].
* Remember that people's emotions count for more than logic
[appeal to the heart as well as the head].
* Think through your proposition before you spell it out.
* Articulate it in the simplest way.
* Don't go for an unattainable perfect solution, go for what works.
* Focus on what it means to them, not what it means to you."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Make Internet TV

Make Internet TV has a guide to getting started with video, that includes short online videos that demonstrate the various steps.

Semi-professional videos

Download Squad has a great introduction to making cheap but decent videos:
Produce your own semi-professional videos - Part 1 and
Produce your own semi-professional videos - Part 2

Task One: Setting up your video rig

What you need:
1.Digital still (with video capability) or video camera
2. Tripod or other similar rig
3. A rolling apparatus
4. Duck tape, preferably black
5. A laptop, Audacity and a Microphone

Task Two: Action!
So now you have your camera, securely fastened to the tripod, which is securely duct-taped to the rolling cart (or whatever) which has your laptop and microphone on the back of it. Great, now you're ready to rock, and roll both your cart and roll film. You are ready for action.

Task Three: Pre-production and video conversion
Many times, the video format in which you record will not be compatible with the editing software you have.

Task Four: Editing and effects
To edit my movie I used Windows XP's built-in Windows Movie Maker. Sure it has its glitches and problems, but it is A) free, B) available, and C) quick and dirty.

Task Five: Adding sound loops (optional)
My favorite site for this being Flashkit (registration is free but not required) offers several hundred sound loops, most user-submitted, that are free for non-commercial use.

Task Six: Rendering
This task is simple, but takes time, so don't plan any LAN parties for a while. You'll need all the processing muscle you can get. I would usually use the highest quality setting available to render my videos, and then use a better, non-WMM third-party conversion or compression utility to make a smaller version if needed.

Task Seven: Finishing Touches
Another great idea to help put a glowing touch on your finished video product is to burn it to CD-ROM.
Labeling a CD with a nice gradient or bright graphic on the label always help the customer or other audience feel compelled to pop in your CD-ROM to "see what is on it."

PR Photos

Marketing and Branding gives advice on How to Take a Decent PR Photo

# Try to limit the number of people in the photo to three.

# Solid color clothing works well.

# Plain backgrounds also help to keep the clutter to a minimum. Often the photos are converted to black and white so contrast between the foreground and background is helpful.

# A triangular photo composition is best where the main person is looking at one of the others and is being looked at by the other two.

# If the organization you are trying to promote has a symbol or a logo, make sure that it is seen proximately in the photo.

# Is it possible to show a little action? The best PR photos do not have the subjects looking at the camera, but are actually involved in what they a doing.

Huge images

Homokaasu provides a free online feature called Rasterbater that takes any photo and returns it as a pdf file suitable for printing huge posters from your home printer.

Bad Charts and Graphs

Gary Klass writes on How to Construct Bad Charts and Graphs

"The three fundamental elements of bad graphical display are these: Data Ambiguity, Data Distortion, and Data Distraction."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Easy mistakes worth avoiding

VermontBSD presents a list of common writing errors.

  • They're / There / Their

  • Than / Then

  • Apostrophes (when to use them and w'hen no't to'o)

  • To / Too / Two

  • Affect / Effect

  • "Alot" is not a word

  • By / Buy / Bye

  • Loose / Lose

  • Passed / Past

  • Some spellings are rediculous

  • Plain / Plane

  • To unthaw something is to freeze it. (see "thaw")

  • Wander / Wonder

  • Weather / Whether / Wether

  • Where / Were (vs "wear")

  • Who / Whom

  • Whose / Who's

  • Your / You're

  • Brake / Break

  • Breath / Breathe

  • Compliment / Complement

  • Fair / Fare

  • For / Four / Fore

  • Be well, and do good work.

  • Lead / Led

  • Allowed / Aloud

  • Hole / Whole
  • "

    Thanks to Pogue's Posts

    Ephemeral stores

    Trendwatching writes on Pop-up Retail

    "If new products can come and go, why can't the stores that display them do the same? Well, you guessed it, retail outlets increasingly do. From gallery-like shopping spaces with one-off exhibitions to mobile units bringing innercity-chic to rural areas, TRENDWATCHING.COM has noticed an increase in temporary retail manifestations around the world."

    Tuesday, May 8, 2007

    Press release

    Scott Baradell writes Eight Telltale Signs That Your Press Release Is Bull... These lessons can be applied to many other types of writing.

    "1. Vague claims. Are you a "leading" provider of this, that or the other? So's everybody else."
    Be specific. Provide details. Quantify. Source your data. Where appropriate, include a quote from a third party to verify your claims.

    2. Industry jargon abuse.

    3. Business nonsense talk. Paradigm shift. Scalable. Best of breed. End to end. Mission-critical. World-class. Targeted completion date. Long tail. Crowdsourcing.

    4. Silly superlatives. If what you were announcing were really "revolutionary," you wouldn't need to put out a press release.

    So do yourself a favor and keep your press releases straightforward in structure, clear in language, and supported by facts."

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007

    PowerPoint defense writes In Defense of PowerPointism

    "Microsoft’s PowerPoint is frequently blamed for the poor quality of many presentations and for a supposedly- disastrous state of communication in both the private and the public spheres. Public speakers are lambasted for their wooden stage presence, crippled by their over-reliance on projected slide shows and meaningless bullet-points. The slides themselves, too, are often rife with design crimes ranging from clip-art diarrhea to impenetrable verbosity."

    But, they ask, is it the technology?

    "I wonder if the majority of the world’s crappy presentations wouldn’t be just as bad, or even a hell of a lot worse, if the presenter didn’t have the slides to use as a crutch."

    They finish with these tips:

    "Slim down. If you are a good speaker, yes, consider dramatically limiting your use of slides to help you remember what you want to say...

    You and your slides are inseparable. Do not worry about whether or not each slide makes sense by itself. The best slideshows, in fact, are almost completely nonsensical outside of the context of the live presentation...

    Explore a variety of alternative presentation styles ...

    Evolve. I’ve found that my style has evolved over time specifically because I’ve been watching and emulating other speakers I admire. Every presentation or keynote I attend, no matter how boring or tiresome, usually offers some insight ..."

    thanks to Pogue's Posts

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Professional Presentation Pointers

    Fast Company has a series of Professional Presentation Pointers

    Part 1: Prepare
    1. Start to prepare the minute you get an assignment to speak or present.
    2. Brainstorm.
    3. Organize your thoughts.
    4. Practice.
    5. Practice more than you think you have to.
    6. Practice using mirrors, audio/video recorders or in front of a small group of trusted colleagues.

    Part 2: Stage Fright
    "Skilled speakers know a secret about Stage Fright: It helps make them more animated, more exciting to watch and better at delivering their presentation. So instead of worrying about it, they embrace it.

    There is a caveat: Stage Fright works its magic best when you are prepared. Just as someone who is physically fit and experienced would be better able to fight off or flee from danger, so would a presenter who was well-prepared and/or who had experience be much better able to make Stage Fright work positively."

    Part 3: Nonverbal communication
    • Voice.
    • Hands
    • Body and Movement.
    • Eyes.
    • Facial Animation.
    • Dress and Adornment.

    Part 4 everything else

    "My experience has shown that the most successful, engaging speakers use notes. But they really know their presentation, though it is not completely memorized. They have practiced and/or done the presentation enough times so that they know what's coming next."

    "With very few exceptions, it's a good idea to step out from behind a podium."

    "Finally, most presentations need to have some spice, some lighter moments that foster the connection between speaker and audience"

    Read the whole series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

    tips for successful podcasting:

    The Wall Street Journal provides these tips for successful podcasting:

    "1. Be professional. Approach it from your listeners' viewpoint. If you're taking up even five minutes of their day, you want to make it worth their time. Use a high-quality microphone to ensure the sound quality is top-notch and even consider adding some short introductory and ending music to pull the piece together into an engaging segment. There is royalty-free podcast music available on some sites, such as When you set up to record, steer clear of background noises like barking dogs. Audio-editing software can help you delete some of the awkward pauses and "ums" that can slow the broadcast down.

    2. Be consistent. Set a regular schedule for your podcasts so followers know when to expect it. Perhaps you could post it every Tuesday or the first Wednesday of every month. Whatever you decide, stick to the schedule.

    3. Make it worth listening to. Face it, lots of people are podcasting these days and nobody has the patience to listen to everything. So you need to make your podcast better than your competitors'. Talk about current issues or provide advice that your customers care about. Or invite an interesting guest to do so. But don't be overly promotional -- your audience will tune out if the podcast starts sounding like an advertisement. And keep it to a manageable length. Most people won't listen to a recording longer than 10 minutes. "

    Web design

    Gerry McGovern writes on Why Simplicity Is Essential to Web Design

    A few quotes:

    "We don't pay for visiting a site with our money; we pay for it with our time. The longer we spend on a Web site, the more we pay..."

    "Visiting a Web site is about now. We have a particular need and we visit the website to meet that particular need."

    "We like sites that resemble sites we're used to visiting, because they are more familiar and easier to navigate."

    "If people loved complexity on the Web, then everyone would be using Advanced Search. We'd all be going to the 10th page of search results instead of clicking on one of the first three results on the first page.

    We may still end up buying complex products on the Web, but our Web behavior will remain relentlessly simple and hugely impatient.
    We simply don't have time to waste on complex navigation, convoluted language, or the vanity publishing of navel-gazing organizations."

    Creativity on Command

    Idea Sandbox summarizes the design process presented in the book Zing!: Five Steps and 101 Tips for Creativity on Command (by Sam Harrison.)

    1. Explore: Observe & Research - Gather all the information possible about the challenge. Become a sponge. Notice people. Anticipate. Don't just look, see!

    2. Freedom: Brainstorm & Visualize - Have a "free-range brain" and come up with as many solutions as possible. Judge not. Assume nothing is impossible. Observations + Connections = Ideas.

    3. Pause: Pause & Detach - Step away from the problem and let it stew in the back of your mind... Einstein said his best ideas came while shaving.

    4. Embrace: Edit & Select - While you were pausing "the subconscious mind was doing the heavy lifting. Now the brightest idea floats before you." With the embrace step, "we find a solution that zings."

    5. Life: Prototype & Implement - "Breathe life into your idea... In this step you add flesh, bones and heart to your idea. You make it lively and likable." Verify the idea. Modify it to make it better. Be the idea champion.

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    Video game design

    Boing-Boing has an interesting post on video game design.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Five Key Principles to Great Communicating

    Bert Decker says:

    1. The Spoken Word is More Powerful than the Written Word.

    2. Always Have a Point Of View. Always.
    * What’s my point!
    * What action do I want people to take!
    * What’s the benefit in it for them!

    3. Communication Rides Energy
    * Eye Communication – the most important, at least five (5) seconds
    * Posture and Movement – move, don’t stand behind lecterns
    * Dress and Appearance – “thin slicing” or the first three seconds
    * Gestures and the Smile – animation reflects our enthusiasm and passion
    * Voice and Vocal Variety – beware the monotone voice
    * Pausing – rid of non-words and the Power of the Pause

    4. Visual Impact Dominates Personal Impact

    5. Authenticity Is the Core of Communicating

    Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for the cite.

    What leads to success?

    Richard St. John answers in this short video.

    1. Passion (love not money)
    2. Work
    3. Good (practice, practice, practice)
    4. Focus
    5. Push
    6. Serve (give others something of value)
    7. Ideas
    8. Persist

    And to get new ideas, he says:
    Be Curious
    Ask Questions
    Problem Solve
    Make Connections

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

    Guy Kawasaki writes on The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint based on his experience in venture capital.

    "It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

    Design Dinner Party

    Creating Passionate Users outlines a Product Design Dinner Party as an alternative to meetings or brainstorming. The focus isn't on dinner but rather on presenting and selecting ideas through small groups that change membership with each round.

    The method features:
    1) Time constraints
    2) Forced lack of attachment
    3) Random, outside-your-domain inputs

    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    Designing sound

    From metacool

    "Why must things sound boring or terrible? Why not design them to sound the way they would sound if you stopped and thought about the right sound for the occasion? You know that ominous landing gear whine and clunk you hear right after take off in a jet liner? Why not make that sound confidence-inspiring? Everything can be designed, and to deliver a total experience, probably should be."

    Friday, March 9, 2007


    Seth Godin writes:

    "But having a dialogue is different. It's about engaging in (sometimes) uncomfortable conversations that enable both sides to grow and change."

    Monday, March 5, 2007

    Design Economy

    The StarTribune interviews Thomas Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Design

    Here are a few quotes:

    "The idea of the design economy is that, for developed countries like ours, which cannot compete in a global marketplace on price or even quite often on the quality of a product, we have to compete on the basis of innovation, creativity and imagination, which takes you to design. By design, I don't mean just aesthetics but function and cultural adaptability."

    "Look at the car industry. The American segment struggles because it still operates under the old assumption that price matters most. But people will pay a higher price for a Toyota Prius because it has a multiple meaning: It gets you places, but it uses less gas and carries this symbolism of doing something for the environment."

    "The reality in this new era is that innovation comes from opportunities to have face-to-face conversations, to stimulate one another with new ideas. But by separating ourselves off from that experience so we can live in our suburban house, get in our car, go to the office, then go back again and never encounter anybody, what you prevent is the unexpected experience that might get you to think about something in a new way. We've designed cities that prevent us from being as innovative and as stimulated as we need to be in order to compete."

    tip from Creativity Exchange

    Thursday, March 1, 2007

    Orwell on Writing

    Guy Kawasaki points us to George Orwell's Politics and the English Language

    "Apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common... The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose..."

    Orwell provides these rules:
    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    Saturday, February 24, 2007

    Singapore design

    "10TouchPoints seeks to demystify design.
    Not just about relative coolness and high prices, or what you see on the glossy pages for the hip and rich. Design makes up what is around you. Design is about the relationships people forge with things. Design is thus something we value as it has an effect on how we get to work, better communicate and the energy we save."

    Thursday, February 8, 2007

    Lessons from airports

    Customer Experience Crossroads makes design notes while at the airport.
    Including this:
    [Photo of sign-- Do not sit on baggage conveyor]

    When you have to have a lot of signs telling people not to do something, you have a design issue. Wouldn't it make sense to do one of the following things:

    1. design the carousel so you can't sit on it, or
    2. design the carousel so you can sit on it safely, or
    3. provide more seating
    4. Or a combination of all of the above

    Tuesday, February 6, 2007

    Death to PowerPoint

    Fast Company writes on Death To PowerPoint

    1. Limit the number of slides. These days, it is not unusual for a 30-minute presentation to contain 30-40 slides. THIS IS WAY TOO MUCH! Think about it from the audience point of view: They have to sit there and listen to a disembodied voice read to them. They have better ways to spend their time. When it's me in the audience being bored, I just wish the presenter had sent the presentation to me and let me read it at my leisure rather than forcing me to attend the event. Bottom line, for a 30-minute presentation, choose the 5-10 most important slides. (Hint: 5 is better –- and so much braver –- than 10.)

    2. Limit the information on each slide. There should be no more than 4-5 bulleted items or chart items on a slide. The fewer, the better. These can be fragments. You don't have to write complete sentences or include every thought you've ever had on the subject. These bullets should function as triggers or cues for elaboration. I once watched a terrific presentation by the president of a major ad agency whose slides each consisted of a single statement –- no headers, no details, very powerful.

    3. Make sure the slide is readable. How many times have you found yourself struggling to read a slide because the font was too small? This is another happy outcome of cramming too much info onto a slide. Have mercy on your audience. Body copy should be at least 18 points. 20+ is better.

    4. Use message titles. Instead of a slide with a headline that says "Performance," which in reality tells nothing about performance, consider a more complete thought such as "Company X significantly outperformed the S&P through 12/31/06". If you're stuck, you can often find the makings of a message title in your very first point on the slide. If you do nothing else as a result of reading this post, do this.

    5. Use animation and other bells and whistles sparingly. Most of the effects PowerPoint offers are useless. There is, however, at least one winning effect, the slide transition, "cover down." This effect creates a smooth, professional transition from slide to slide and far outperforms the default transition. Make sure you click "apply to all." If you're bent on animating the information on the slide, experiment with those in the "peek" and "wipe" categories.

    6. Automate effects as much as possible. There may be an item or two on an occasional slide that you would like to control by mouse click, but if you're clicking for each item to appear, trust me, it's too much work for you and too much "noise" for the audience.

    7. Make liberal use of the "B" key. Most people don't know this, but if you press the letter B on your keyboard during a PowerPoint presentation, the screen will go dark. This is a wonderful feature if, for example, you get into an audience discussion and want to eliminate the distraction of the projected image. When you're ready to move on, press B again and you'll be right where you left off.

    8. Do not use a laser pointer. I don't know whose brilliant idea this little piece of technology was, but not only is it distracting, it is quite ineffective, magnifying every movement or tremor of your hand. Can you say Stage Fright?

    Monday, January 29, 2007

    Amazing Powerpoint Presentations:

    Seth Godin writes:

    Here are the five rules you need to remember to create amazing Powerpoint presentations:

    1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.
    2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.
    3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.
    4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
    5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.

    Saturday, January 27, 2007

    Making Ideas Stick

    Guy Kawasaki says:
    We spent lots of time researching sticky ideas—ideas that people understand, remember, and that change the way people think or behave. The ideas we studied ranged from the ludicrous to the profound, from urban legends (no, there is no kidney theft ring) to great scientific theories (yes, the land we walk around on does ride on giant tectonic plates and when they collide they cause mountain ranges and earthquakes). We found there were six principles (“SUCCES”) that link sticky ideas of all kinds. Sticky ideas won’t always have all six, but the more, the merrier.

    For example, JFK’s idea to “put a man on the moon in a decade” had all six of them:
    1. Simple A single, clear mission.
    2. Unexpected A man on the moon? It seemed like science fiction at the time.
    3. Concrete Success was defined so clearly—no one could quibble about man, moon, or decade.
    4. Credible This was the President of the U.S. talking.
    5. Emotional It appealed to the aspirations and pioneering instincts of an entire nation.
    6. Story An astronaut overcomes great obstacles to achieve an amazing goal.

    and he continues:
    ... the villain of our book: The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.

    Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said “unnatural,” not “impossible.”

    Retailers and Customers

    Edge Perspectives writes on Retailers and Customers

    Let’s take a simple, yet very revealing, indicator of business focus. What are the relevant metrics of profitability? Most retailers focus relentlessly on profitability by store and, even more granularly, profitability per foot of shelf – these are facilities-based measures of profitability. True customer relationship businesses focus on profitability by customer, yet few retailers (with the possible exception of some direct marketers) even have a clue of their profitability by customer. Ask them which 20% of their customers generate 80% of their profitability and you get a blank stare. Ask them about customer churn rates and they start looking for a way to change the subject.

    Or, take a stroll down the aisles of your nearest “big box” retailer. Try to find someone to talk to in order to get a suggestion for a product you need or to get a question about a product answered. Good luck. It is pretty hard to talk about being in a customer relationship business when you are not available to talk to a customer. Big box retailers are the epitome of an infrastructure management business – reducing operations to high volume, routine processing activities with as few people as possible. They dream of even eliminating the cashiers and automating the check-out process.

    Of course, merchandisers live or die based on their ability to anticipate the evolving needs of the market. Some retailers have become very sophisticated in understanding certain customer segments – teens, techies, suburban soccer Moms, etc. In this sense, they are very customer focused. But that’s a pretty shallow notion of customer relationship – all businesses have to do that to stay in business.

    True customer relationship businesses set a much higher bar. Deep, lasting, trust-based relationships with customers – the hallmark of a customer relationship business – are generally built one customer at a time. They require the investment to learn about each customer’s needs and then they require the skills to take that understanding and turn it around into relevant, timely suggestions regarding products and services that might be most meaningful for that customer. Think of a good Mom and Pop retailer where the clerk knows you by name and greets you with a suggestion about an interesting new product when you walk in the door.

    Ah, but that’s not scalable, the skeptic will say. Ever heard of Amazon? They do something pretty much like that for millions of customers. Ah, but that’s on the Internet and not in a physical store, the skeptic responds. True, but that’s one of the problems – with few exceptions, we still draw hard lines between physical facilities and virtual services.

    Now, this is not just an opportunity; it is rapidly becoming a necessity, shaped by the shift from shelf space scarcity to attention scarcity, something I have written about frequently. In the face of this shift, retailers have two choices. They can become vast, automated warehouses with a high return on assets – in other words, infrastructure management businesses. Or they can find creative ways to build real relationships with customers in ways that significantly increase the return on attention for their customers – in other words, customer relationship businesses.


    Hee-Haw Marketing has a great post on how not to do retail.

    I wouldn't be what you would consider a 'luxury" shopper. Generally, I'm more comfortable in a vintage shop rather than at a Nordstrom's, but, jeez, some level of decency would be nice.

    I've got this Kohl's right next to my house, and with that proximity, I'll make a stop by every few weeks to check out the sales. Its always bad, but this Dallas, Texas Kohl's would look more at home in New Orleans after the flood.

    See the pictures and full post here:hurricane Kohl's and also see Kohl's response and a Kohl's employee's response.
    From Science News
    Weighing In on City Planning
    Could smart urban design keep people fit and trim

    Lawrence Frank is no couch potato. Taking full advantage of his city's compact design, the Vancouver, British Columbia, resident often bikes to work and walks to stores, restaurants, and museums. That activity helps him stay fit and trim. But Frank hasn't always found his penchant for self-propulsion to be practical. He previously lived in Atlanta, where the city's sprawling layout thwarted his desire to be physically active as he went about his daily business.

    "There was not much to walk to," says Frank, a professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia. For example, he recalls that there was only one decent restaurant within walking distance of his old home. Many restaurants and other businesses in Atlanta cluster in strip malls that stand apart from residential areas

    n 2004, Frank and his colleagues produced additional connections among urban form, activity, and obesity. The data on more than 10,500 people in the Atlanta area indicated that the more time a person spends in a car, the more obese he or she tends to be. But the more time people spend walking, the less obese they are.

    Frank's team, like the other groups, found that areas with interspersed homes, shops, and offices had fewer obese residents than did homogeneous residential areas whose residents were of a similar age, income, and education. Furthermore, neighborhoods with greater residential density and street plans that facilitate walking from place to place showed below-average rates of obesity.

    The magnitude of the effect wasn't trivial: A typical white male living in a compact, mixed-use community weighs about 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) less than a similar man in a diffuse subdivision containing nothing but homes, Frank and his colleagues reported

    thanks to Boing Boing

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Innovation and diversity

    Scott Page writes

    Most people believe that innovation requires smarter people, better ideas. That premise, though intuitive, omits what may be the most powerful but least understood force for innovation: Diversity.

    and continues
    Some of the innovation policies of Toyota Motor Corp. and Google Inc. illustrate a similar understanding that differences in the composition of their work forces boosts their bottom lines.

    To appreciate the full potential of the power of difference, however, requires opening up the pumpkins. What we find inside people's heads is that people possess ways of seeing problems and solutions—oftentimes different perspectives depending on the kinds of people viewing particular problems and solutions. People's perspectives are accompanied by ways of searching for solutions to problems, something scientists call heuristics. When confronted with a problem, people encode their (often quite different) perspectives and then apply their particular heuristics to locate new, possibly better, solutions.

    A person whom we think of as smart is generally someone who has lots of interesting perspectives and many effective heuristics. A smart person performs well, and often innovates, because of the many tools she possesses. Yet most of these tools won’t work on a given problem, which is why innovation is 99 percent perspiration. That's why Edison once claimed that he knew “a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.”

    But how would several dozen Edisons, or several dozen Edisons from different social, racial and educational backgrounds, approach the making of a light bulb? To answer that question requires a fuller grasp of the pitfalls and idiosyncrasies of innovation and the power of diversity, which in turn requires a slight detour into theory.

    First, for any problem there exists a perspective that makes it easy to grasp a solution, though that may mean waiting for a person as unique as Edison to come along. Second, across all problems no perspective or no heuristic is any better than any other. In plain English, any approach may be just as good as any other until it is tested.

    Third, teams of problem solvers—viewed as bundles of perspectives and heuristics brought together to solve a particular problem—do better when the diversity of perspectives and heuristics is greater than the overall ability or talent of the team’s members. In other words, diverse teams outperform teams composed of the very best individuals. Diversity trumps ability.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    How can you boost your web site's credibility?

    Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility

    1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.

    2. Show that there's a real organization behind your site.

    3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.

    4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.

    5. Make it easy to contact you.

    6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

    7. Make your site easy to use -- and useful.

    8. Update your site's content often (at least show it's been reviewed recently).

    9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).

    10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

    Missing skills

    13 Things I Wish I Learned In College
    from Nextpath

    1. Getting to the Point – Most of the term papers I did in college were long and had minimal requirements. The last thing my boss wants to read is a 10 page report that could have been one paragraph long. Professors need to teach students to get to the point and not push for lengthy essays.

    2. Making Proper Presentations – I have made a lot of presentations in college, but the professors did not show me how to successfully communicate my ideas. Having cheesy designed slides may have worked well in college, but in the corporate world simple, effective designs are preferred. Now I have learned that slides with less text and larger font sizes are much more effective then slides with lots of text and small font sizes.

    3. Working on a Team – Most of my college career was made up of reading, studying, test taking and paper writing. Most of which I did alone. I was graded on how well I performed, not on how well I performed on a team. But now, my boss wants to see how well I can cooperate with my co-workers, how well, WE can complete projects. So, being diplomatic and being open minded to team-member’s ideas has become second-practice. It’s important to understand that every member of a team brings their own skill set and perspective to a project.

    4. Writing a Resume – It seems like one of the biggest college and post college misnomers concerns “writing a resume.” College seminars that help students prepare for the great “job hunt,” should teach students how to create a basic resume template and then custom tailor it to fit specific job requirements. I’ve found that resumes that address the specific skills associated with job or company work best. Research the company you are interested in working for. Try to find how your interests, skills or knowledge directly applies to that company and that position. Then sell it on one page. There is no reason you can’t have more that one resume.

    5. Interviewing – I spent some ample time in college talking to my professors in an attempt to highlight my value in class, but dropping knowledge to a professor in order to increase my grade and proving that I am the best candidate for a job are two very different things. First off, be prepared to be judged, by how you are dressed, how well you answer questions and in “stress interviews” where there are multiple people interviewing you at once, on how well you keep your cool. Again, research the company before you go on your interview, go ahead and Google the name of the person who is interviewing you, find out as much as you can before you step into that room. I’ve also found it helpful to take about an hour the day before the interview and imagine what questions you might be asked and how you would respond to them. This gets your brain working in the right direction.

    6. Networking – Social life in college seemed to revolve around partying. I looked for opportunities to meet new people but not necessarily people who had like interests and career goals. Now I understand that friendship is the first step to networking. Having a base of friends with similar interests doesn’t only lead to interesting conversion it can lead to job opportunities. Building a social network online, through alumni groups or industry associations can lead to career growth. Not to mention, being friendly and social is a great way to communicate with your co-workers and has been directly correlated reaching the coveted “Top Executive” position.

    7. Accountability – If I did not feel like getting out of bed to go to class, I just skipped. I didn’t need to inform anyone why I didn’t attend. In my job, if I were to feel sick and not show up, I would be out of a job quickly. Also, it is important to communicate with supervisor regarding the status of assigned projects. Since others depend upon me, I can no longer do everything last minute like at college.

    8. Money Management – In school my parents footed the bill, so I never really worried about saving money, balancing my checkbook or overextending my credit card. If I got in a pinch, I always had a back up plan—calling home. Since I am now on my own, everyday expenses like eating lunches out add up. I have found that budgeting and saving is critical, and investing wisely is crucial to my financial future.

    9. Taking the Initiative – I remember doing only what I needed to do to get by when I was in college. It was easy doing only what my professors required of me, and often, most students never learned to think for themselves. My boss now expects me to come up with ideas and unique solutions to problems, not just “meeting the minimum standard.”

    10. Strategic Planning – Though I learned study skills in college, I never had a clear plan or strategy for what I was doing or where I was going, other than completing my courses. In the business world, every outcome is measured, every result analyzed. I have learned to formulate strategic plans to accomplish my objectives so that I am more focused and productive.

    11. Dressing for Success – Rolling out of bed and slipping into something comfortable doesn’t really cut it in the world of work. As the saying goes, “Look the Part.” As an emerging MBA graduate, it’s important for me to look professional, to wear a shirt and tie, shoes that aren’t sneakers. Most companies have a dress-code, and a lot have casual Fridays, make the most of these guidelines, but try to go above and beyond and if you are into fashion, there is no reason you can’t accessorize.

    12. Negotiating a Raise – In the real world, my salary is tied to my productivity. If my efforts are continually generating revenues or tangible benefits for the company I work for, my boss should reward my efforts accordingly. In all the college business classes I took, the subject was never breached. This knowledge would have saved me a lot of embarrassment. Also, it would have resulted in a healthier raise and higher perceived value to the company I work for.

    13. Writing a Letter of Resignation – Almost every year in college I had a part-time job. If I did not like it, I just quit and moved on. In the real world if I were to do that, my resume and references would be ruined. A resignation letter is not an excuse to criticize a company, no matter how bad it is. Instead, one that is professionally done can preserve a good reference, or open doors for new prospects.

    Donald A. Norman

    Donald A. Norman website

    "Yes, we want simplicity, but we don’t want to give up any of those cool features. Simplicity is highly overrated."

    Things That Make Us Smart
    The power of the unaided mind is greatly exaggerated. It is "things" that make us smart, the cognitive artifacts that allow human beings to overcome the limitations of human memory and conscious reasoning.

    And of all the artifacts that have aided cognition, the most important is the development of writing, or more properly, of notational systems: number systems, writing, calendars, notational systems for mathematics, engineering, music and dance. So when I was asked by Forbes to help them "rank the 20 tools which have had the biggest impact on human civilization," I was ready.

    "Writing," I proclaimed. "The invention of writing is probably the most important tool for human advancement, making it possible for each new generation to build upon the work of the previous, to transmit knowledge from person to person, across cultures and time."

    "Sorry," came back the response. "We decided early on to try to limit the list to handheld objects..."

    See also his webpage: In Praise of Good Design

    How to Write More Clearly

    How to Write More Clearly, Think More Clearly, and
    Learn Complex Material More Easily
    by Michael A. Covington

    •The world is run by people who write.

    •Clear writing leads to clear thinking.

    •You don’t know what you know until you try to express it.

    Also available in other formats


    Sociable Media interviews Lawrence Lessig
    Larry Lessig: Simple. Powerpoint has all sorts of power built into it, but it turns out the hardest thing is to keep it simple, and I think people connect with simple.

    CA: Based on your experiences seeing other PowerPoints, how would you assess the current state of PowerPoint presentations in business and education?

    LL: Awful beyond belief. If I were an executive at a major corporation, I'd ban it most of the time. The tool makes it too easy to hide reasoning. The viewer is less critical and less engaged. Less is communicated. This is not always the case, of course. Visuals are sometimes important for conveying some ideas. But bullet slides packed with data and text are worse than useless.

    CA: How would you describe your own approach toward PowerPoint? How is it different from other PowerPoint approaches you've seen?

    LL: I use the screen to frame what I am saying. One word, or a few words, so that the audience sees what they are hearing. But I never allow the screen to compete with what I am saying. I want them to be focusing on my words, not on PowerPoint graphics. So the word(s) on the screen help them tune into the words on the stage. Plus I use it to demonstrate abstract ideas, with drawings or moving objects. And it is brilliant for clips, etc.

    See also these resources from Sociable Media

    Customers, software, and icebergs

    Joel on Software:

    If there's one thing every junior consultant needs to have injected into their head with a heavy duty 2500 RPM DeWalt Drill, it's this: Customers Don't Know What They Want. Stop Expecting Customers to Know What They Want. It's just never going to happen. Get over it.

    Instead, assume that you're going to have to build something anyway, and the customer is going to have to like it, but they're going to be a little bit surprised. YOU have to do the research. YOU have to figure out a design that solves the problem that the customer has in a pleasing way.

    and he continues

    Assume that your customers don't know what they want. Design it yourself, based on your understanding of the domain. If you need to spend some time learning about the domain or if you need a domain expert to help you, that's fine, but the design of the software is your job. If you do your domain homework and create a good UI, the customer will be pleased.

    Now, I promised to tell you a secret about translating between the language of the customers (or nontechnical managers) of your software and the language of programmers.

    You know how an iceberg is 90% underwater? Well, most software is like that too -- there's a pretty user interface that takes about 10% of the work, and then 90% of the programming work is under the covers. And if you take into account the fact that about half of your time is spent fixing bugs, the UI only takes 5% of the work. And if you limit yourself to the visual part of the UI, the pixels, what you would see in PowerPoint, now we're talking less than 1%.

    That's not the secret. The secret is that People Who Aren't Programmers Do Not Understand This.

    Brochures or manuals?

    From Creating Passionate Users:
    Why do so many companies treat potential users so much better than existing users? Think about it. The brochure is a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom. The brochure gets the big budget while the manual gets the big index. What if we stopped making the docs we give away for free SO much nicer than the ones the user paid for? What if instead of seducing potential users to buy, we seduced existing users to learn?

    Let's take the whole damn ad/marketing budget and move it over to product manuals and support. Let's put our money where our users are. If we're in it for the short term, then sure--it makes sense to do everything to get a new user, while doing as little as possible once we've got them. But if we're really in it for the long haul--for customer retention and loyal users--then shouldn't we be using all that graphic design and pro writing talent for the people we care about the most? Our users?


    Seth Godin says:

    99% of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn't coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you've thought of.

    The devil doesn't need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.


    This blog is a collection of information for a new course I may teach in Fall 2007 at Kalamazoo COllege.