Data Will Set You Straight

We are very proud of our empirical focus, because it makes us humble – we realize that most of the time, we don’t know up-front what customers want. The feedback from testing quickly sets us straight, and helps make sure that our efforts are really focused at optimizing the things that make a difference in the customer experience

Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer, Netflix

The rest of the response to the question “What types of things does Netflix A/B test aside from member sign-up?” is well worth the quick read.

Inception Infographic by ~dehahs »

Anyone who has seen Inception should appreciate this beautiful infographic mapping the main mission and its constituent parts and levels.

If you haven't seen the movie as of yet, you should. Tonight. Really. Tonight.

Design Is History »

"Part of the graduate thesis of designer Dominic Flask, this site was created as a teaching tool for young designers just beginning to explore graphic design and as a reference tool for all designers. It is supposed to provide brief overviews of a wide range of topics rather than an in-depth study of only a few. It is a constantly evolving, changing, expanding reference library. "
- from the site's about page.

Mixing Typefaces (PDF) »

A cross-reference that indicates the degree of compatibility between fonts. This is ideal for selecting combination of fonts for a layout, though I wish it were newer and included a larger set (it was created in 1992).

Social Media? Why? How? When?

This began as a comment on Scott Hepburn’s post Social Media Graduates to the “How?”, but given how quickly my comment was growing, the fact that I was shifting the topic a bit and my inconsistent posting, I decided to flesh out my thoughts in a post of my own.

So here we go.

One key indicator of a shift from the “Why” to the “How” within professional social media circles is the stratification of its practitioners. As Scott, there are the charlatans and the under-informed claiming expertise, and there are the experienced teaching where they can and leading the way, but there are a few more slices in between that I’ve noticed of late:

  • Those who can explain the strategic and tactical methods for small efforts, those who can explain them for large efforts and those who understand both and know how to manage the differences between them.
  • Those who are married to one or a small set of key tools compared to those who stay on top of the industry as a whole. Niche expertise versus generalization.
  • Those who embody community and social interactions on and off line versus those who treat it as a job, turning off when they go home.
  • Those who are passionate about the opportunities social media provides, but don’t understand how to balance it against business goals.

And of course there are the shades of gray between all of these levels.

Let’s leave the conversations around “why [ insert latest tool here ] will change everything” to those discovering the possibilities social media affords. Tools are tools. We need to focus on the strategy behind the use of those tools when integrated with business needs and it is time for the experts and “social Media Mentors” as Scott phrases it, to demonstrate that the dominating force going forward is the balance between “why we use social media tools and strategies”, “how we employ those strategies” and “when we use a particular strategy”.

Missing the Point: Twitter for SEO

In my morning feed-scanning I came across Mihaela Lica’s SitePoint article touting how Twitter can impact SEO. Part of me wishes I had skipped it, but I read it and feel the need to review and correct what I believe is a faulty premise.

To make a long story short: although Twitter is a social media tool meant to create community and relationships, it does have an SEO value. For example, Twitter can affect positively your Alexa rankings by sending visitors to your pages. Usage data is a sign of quality for Google and all the other search engines. If you can make people come to your site via Twitter, then this is an SEO advantage you cannot afford to miss.

Mihaela Lica – Twitter’s Little Known SEO Value Emphasis from the original

I’m going to disassemble the article’s foundation here, but I want to note that I’m not writing this to skewer Mihaela, she took the time to write the article in order to help others, which I appreciate. Very few people give of themselves and I applaud the fact that she is contributing to our community.

The article attempts to make a case that Twitter helps SEO, even though the search engines don’t follow links in Tweets. The path follows the line of, if you tweet and include a link, someone will follow that link back to your site, which will increase your traffic and eventually Alexa and maybe Google will notice.

The exact same logic applies to those guys hired to hold furniture signs at intersections: give them a sign with a URL, and someone may visit the URL, your traffic will go up and if you’re lucky the big G in the sky will notice and bump your site up a notch.

The inclusion of Ask.com as a way to justify the argument isn’t valid. It’s not that you should ignore Ask.com – it’s whether the time and effort to focus on Twitter for SEO in the hopes of benefiting from Ask.com’s notice will be worth trading the opportunity cost of focusing elsewhere. If you’re expending effort to gain a small bump in a service that holds less than 2.5% of the market share, you’re wasting your time. Odds are good that that small bump isn’t the least bit noticeable.

SEO is not the be all and end all – it is a tool in your marketing efforts (whether you’re a giant brand or a lone blogger, you have a brand). Twitter can also be a tool in those efforts, but all too many people don’t understand how to use it properly, much less the expectations they should have and the ramifications of their efforts, both good and bad.

Twitter and Marketing

So, now that we’ve determined that you really don’t want that guy holding the furniture sign on the corner to be in charge of your advertising, let’s talk about who should be engaging your audience and prospects.

Simply put: you.

Want to use Twitter as a good Marketing tool? One that will have an impact? Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

  • You or someone as passionate about your work needs to be the voice behind each tweet. It matters
  • Tweet with the same level of excitement you have when you’re explaining what you do at a party to someone who actually appears to care. If you aren’t excited about talking about your company, blog or product, then why the hell are you trying to market it? Seriously – you’re in or you’re out. Half-assed attempts are quickly ignored on Twitter or even worse publicly ridiculed.
  • People expect you to communicate – posting links to your own blog or site without any other content is a quick way to fail. Twitter users expect a conversation – follow your fans back and reply to their questions, praise and anger
  • Promote other people and services that you use and like. Tell me when you’ve had a good experience with a company or been ignored. Provide value by being a good citizen within our community. You’ll quickly find that others will do the same for you.
  • When you have news – real news – post about it. You added a blog post, hey cool, lemme know. A New product release? Sweet, I’d love to hear about it. But don’t spam me with it. Reruns suck.
  • Like a marketing campaign, your effort will take time
  • Find a good URL shortener that will give you click-through metrics. I use Tr.im and have heard great things about BudURL. Then use that service for all of your links. You aren’t getting SEO love no matter what, but at least this way you’ll get some data.
  • Once you have metrics, take a look at what people actually found interesting and post more about that.

Disagree or Have More to Add?

Speak up in the comments or hit me back on Twitter: @BaldMan.

Drop the Lorem Ipsum – Have fun with Placeholder Text

“Lorem ipsum dolor…”

If you’re a design, build wireframes or prototypes, odds are good that you are all too familiar with the de facto standard for placeholder text. It works, especially if you want to ensure that people don’t focus their attention on the text itself. But it quickly gets old.

Sometimes you just need to shake things up and add some personality to your work, and there are some great resources for interesting text that serves the same purpose – it fills up the space, but isn’t the least bit related to the purpose of the page itself.

Here are a couple of my favorite resources for alternatives to Lorem ipsum:

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913

As noted in the site’s description, this is a searchable collection “detailing the lives of non-elite people…containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.” Here’s one of my favorites, from the case of John Harris, tried for Seditious Words on September 8th, 1714:

John Harris , was indicted for speaking scandalous Words relating to her late Majesty, viz. God d – n the Queen, she may kiss my A – se . The Evidence was a Constable, who swore, That the Prisoner came raving and swearing along the Street late at Night; and among others, us’d the Words in the Indictment; whereupon he thought it his Duty to secure him. It appear’d upon his Trial, that he was somewhat Lunatick, and had been under Cure for the same; whereupon he was acquitted.

And another case from May 10th, 1676:

Three women of Stepney were indicted (one as principal the other two as accessaries) for stealing Hemp enough to make Halters for all the Rogues in Christendome, that is to say, no less than four thousand weight in one Indictment, and three thousand in another. It being suggested that they had got a Key to a Rope-makers Warehouse, whence at several times they purloyned those vast quantities. But no direct proof appearing, they were all acquitted

Movie Descriptions and Commentary

The worse the description the better. A bit of time on IMDB or Amazon can net you some jewels (typos, poor grammar and all), such as these:

C.H.U.D. 2 – Bud the Chud

From IMDB comes this plot summary:

A couple of teenagers break into a secret government science lab and steal a frozen corpse for a high school prank and accidently awaken the corpes which turns out to be a CHUD, ironically named Bud, who goes on a killing spree and making his victims also canabalistic CHUD’s and its up to the teens to stop him.

The Brain from Planet Arous

Another one from IMDB:

A powerful criminal brain from the planet Arous, Gor, assumes the body of scientist Steve March. Thru March he begins to control the world by threatening destruction to any country challenging his domination. Another brain, Val, works with Marchs future wife Sally to defeat Gor. Val explains that Gor will be vulnerable when he is forced to leave March at intervals to re-energize. Gors vulnerable spot, the Fissure of Orlando, is described in a note left by Sally in Steve’s lab.

A Scathing Review of “Shadow of God”

And should you need a longer passage, check out this review posted to Amazon. Here’s an excerpt:

And the dialogue. Oh dear, the dialogue.

“That’s probably the fiercest dragon known to man,” Craig tells Todd toward the end. Because, you know, we have so many different kinds of dragons in the world with which to compare.

Okay, so he uses the wrong word and his characters are morons. You can overlook a misused word here and LOTS of writers are horrible with characters. Hell, I’m guilty of this myself. But sometimes he just
plain gets his facts WRONG:

“The stranger was beastly in size with thick, bushy eyebrows, a prominent protruding forehead, and a thick, black coarse beard. His gait was that of a mammal–a Neanderthal.”

I know I never went to college, but um . . . do you think Rayburn knows HUMAN BEINGS are mammals as well?

And later we learn that Cain and Abel were Neanderthals who lived in the stone age, feared dinosaurs, and that Cain was kicked out of the Garden of Eden for slaying his brother. Dude, Cain and Abel weren’t born until a LONG time after Adam and Eve–the only two people who ever lived in the Garden of Eden–were kicked out.

Other Sources

Do you have any interesting sources for good placeholder text? Please leave a comment below.

This Ain't Right: Fight the Orphan Works Act

Jeffrey Zeldman pointed out the dangerous Orphan Works Acts making their way through Congress. This act has far-reaching implications for everyone, but the impact is even larger for those who work or publish on the ‘Net. Ultimately Congress is attempting to reduce your rights as a creator (whether you write, draw, design Web sites or sing), by allowing the infringer to make the distinction as to whether or not they tried hard enough to find the owner of the work and reducing the rights of the artist, designer or author.

As noted by Mr. Zeldman, so called “orphaned” content “will be made legally available for use by commercial interests, even when the copyright holder is alive, in business, and licensing the work.”

That strikes the very heart of our society. You work hard to create something, you have every right to maintain ownership and be compensated for that work. If someone steals from you, you have recourse.

It’s Easy to Fight this Law

Luckily there is an easy way to contact our representatives in Congress to educate them on the dangers of this law and to inform them that we expect each and every one to oppose the bad legislation: Go to the Legislative Action Center tell them where you live (so they can match you with your representatives) and choose a letter that you want to send – click and go.

Here’s a snippet of the letter I sent to Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Lloyd Doggett:

I am told that the Copyright Office conducted a study of Orphan Works and that these bills are based on that study. I understand that an orphan work is a work whose owner can’t be located. I am alive, working and managing my copyrights. I can be located. My clients locate me all the time. But that does not mean that anyone anywhere can find me. And frankly, why should the failure of any one person to find me be the measure of whether or not I can be found?

What if 10 people can find me but one can’t? Why should that one person get a free pass to use my work? Won’t that give infringers an incentive not to find me? And why should I be obligated to go into court to prove anything about the diligence of the searcher or the value of my work? What if the same work is found an orphan in one legal proceeding and not in another?

Join the list of groups opposing this bill, spend three minutes to protect the basic rights of those who create what you enjoy.

Non-linear Scheduling

Muji Chronotebook Non-linear Day Planner
Photo from the Muji Web site

LifeHacker points to the yet-to-be-released Muji Chronotebook Non-linear Day Planner, which provides an interesting way to plan your day. Gone are the normal grids and standard sequence of hours and dates. They have been replaced by pages that display “time on an axis, like an analog clock.” One page is dedicated to the morning and the other to the evening. So you add your events to the AM or PM page, writing your “plans like spokes on a bicycle wheel.”

I don’t think it would work for me (I’m not a heavy user of day planners anyway), but I really love that they are forging a different solution to the problem of planning one’s schedule.

Spec Work, Pixish, Design Contests and Unicorns

Adam Howell sums up my thoughts on Pixish quite succinctly. Sure, the concept sounds great at first, as noted on the Pixish site, the community is set up as “a way to engage creative people online to submit, judge, and source amazing images.” Nice until you dig into it, just a little bit, and realize that a set of designers are all working on the same project, only one of whom will get paid. Even worse, “paid” may be a prize that is worth far less than they should have been paid.

Choices

Now, there’s a part of me that believes that it’s up to individual designers to decide to participate in something for which they may not be paid. But, in this case, as has been noted many times over, spec work weakens the profession, promoting the inexpensive option over a quality piece. Clients will view the talent pool as relatively equal, opting for a crap shoot instead of finding the right match for their needs. We do have an obligation to keep our industry strong.

For Those Starting Out

Some believe that this is a great opportunity for budding designers to build a portfolio, but as Adam notes, “We’ve got, you know, the web. Blogs. Youtube. digg/reddit/lots of other lowercase social sites. There are no longer just three ways to showcase your talent — there are three bajillion. And if you aren’t getting noticed, sorry, you either aren’t trying hard enough or you suck.”

Harsh? Yes.

True? You bet’cha.

So, do design contests have any real value? I think so. Competitions oriented towards students and amateurs to help them fill out a portfolio are great, as are contests that may benefit a non-profit, as long as the results of the contests isn’t used as a business deliverable, much less as a part of branding. That a disservice to the client who deserves nothing but the best representation of their brand and services; and it’s a disservice to the designer who should be properly compensated for their efforts.

Value

In this same vein of respect for the designer and the clients, I had a conversation recently with someone who had worked in marketing at a large tech company and was not willing to pay a designer the going rate (actually the lower end of the spectrum) for a Web project. This potential client told me that were he to interview someone who designed a site like Apple.com, he would automatically consider them out of his league. So, even though he respected and acknowledged their skills, he wouldn’t try to find a way to harness those skills, that designer would be set aside because they were too good. Anyone who wasn’t at that tier were then lumped together, as they couldn’t impress him, which means that they were charging too much.

He’s chasing a unicorn: quality and experience on the cheap.

Oh, and this is for a project that he is passionate about, and will represent him to the world. He seemed like a perfectly nice guy, but what does this say about the image he will project?

What does it say about the designers and clients using Pixish?

Quick Note

Derek Powazek has given a lot to the Web community, and I have benefited from his work in the past, so while I have a lot of respect for him, that respect doesn’t change the fact that I disagree with the concept of Pixish.

Slanty Design in the Real World and on the Web

Architectures of Control, which provides some very interesting analysis of products that are “designed with features that intentionally restrict the way the user can behave” in order to encourage the user to follow certain practices and behaviors, has posted Slanty design, which is a great introduction to the concept and bridges design in the physical world and design for the Web. It’s a quick, well illustrated article that I encourage everyone, not just designers to read.

For non-designers, it may shed some light as to why some of yoru favorite products and services act as they do.

The Urban Cup Holder

Urban Cup Holder, image taken from swissmiss.typepad.comThe Urban Cup Holder by Up to You is an amazing idea that transforms your environment on the go. In a large metropolis, it could shift the usual travel patterns, hopefully slowing life down by encouraging people to use the space around them and communicate. Or, as one commenter noted, it could be a nice way to extend the footprint of a cafe, something that could prove important to smokers as more and more cities enact non-smoking ordinances.

I think it will get the most usage (at least here in Austin), as a beer holder. Whether you need a spot for your brew when you’re on a party barge, or on the patio at one of your favorite night spots, the Urban Cup Holder would be pretty damned useful. The built-in hook would be handy for jackets or grocery bags, though I’m not sure how much weight it could hold.

I can’t find a product page, nor any photos beyond the one I snagged from swissmiss, so I have no idea if this is anything more than a concept. I’m going to contact Up to You in order to learn more, as I’d love to see these in use.

Via swissmiss (where I snagged the photo), via Ben Hammersley

Se the comments for an update.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design

You tell him I said to take a long unstructured walk around his city. Talk to strangers. Take pictures. Visit at least one museum. Pretend like he’s from somewhere else for an hour. Stop in a park to read Raymond Carver’s “What we talk about when we talk about love.” outloud would be rad, but I leave that up to him. Go into a music store, find two people who seem completely different from him and buy whatever they are buying. And then end his travels at your house where he’ll tell you the story of his day over a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin. The story should last as long as the bottle.

Maggie, the fifth commenter on the article One List to Rule Them All

I link to the article for the commentary more than the post, which is a brief rundown of resources for people interested in Interaction Design. The heart of the matter is the fact that Maggie’s instructions apply to anyone interested in becoming a designer, whether print or interactive, an architect or for that matter a strategist of any field.

We all follow the precedents of those who came before, but we lose sight of the road others walked before us, and the paths others take alongside us, as we look toward the road we must walk ourselves.

John Wayne, Fish Scales and Type

I recently discovered a great link in my design feeds, pointing me to the site I Love Typography, which is well on its way to becoming a great resource for designers and all those with an interest in type The most recent post, Who Shot the Serif?, is a tremendous introduction to the terminology used to describe serif fonts and makes any typographic discussion a bit more accessible to those without formal education in the field. Add a pinch of humor, and you’ve got a rocking article! Check it out, even if you aren’t a designer, you’ll learn something interesting for the day.

Kuler Dashboard Widget

Kuler Desktop WidgetAdobe has released a Dashboard widget for Kuler, it’s beautiful, and very useful Web-based color picking app. The widget consumes RSS feeds from the site to display the most downloaded, highest rated and newest color schemes. In addition to the abiliy to search the tags that are used to organize the color palettes, each scheme in the widget provides a direct link to that scheme in Kuler, making it very easy to modify the scheme to fit your needs, and of course save it to Kuler for future reference and sharing amongst the community.

Another great feature is the ability to click a button and have the HEX values of the currently selected scheme copied to your clipboard. If you only want one of the colors, it’s easy to see its HEX in the widget screen without copying it to the clipboard.

If you have yet to play with Kuler, give it a try. It’s well worth the time for every designer…well, as long as you don’t get lost in it for a couple of hours playing with color. Not that I did that or anything… Really.

Hrrm, okay back on track. It is functionality like this that makes Dashboard worthwhile in my book. For those on a Mac, this is yet another reason to include Kuler in your design process. For those on PCs, you may want to drop Adobe a line to encourage them to release the widget for you to consume.