Category Archives: good design

Lazy rules

Consumers don’t want the best; they just want good enough.

Thus suggests Jordan Julien in “Designing for the Lazy,” where he addresses the tension between marketers wanting to offer nuanced interfaces and customers just trying to get by. “The fact of the matter is,” Julien writes, “most people don’t want to optimize their decision-making process. They want to satisfy their current need and move on. This time-saving mentality is what the majority of UX architects & strategists have to consider when creating online experiences.”

A classic example is the online lead form. Consumers are asked to input information, but if they have any uncertainty at all about what will happen during or after the process, they will retreat. The main reason prospects fail to interact with you, Julien suggests, is not lack of trust, but simply they don’t want to waste time. Web usability guru Steve Krug has suggested the same in his classic 2000 book “Don’t Make Me Think.” The history of marketing is cluttered with complex failures than didn’t meet customers’ simple expectations: The Ford Edsel. The :CueCat. And today, dare we say it, soon-to-be-replaced Foursquare, QR Codes, and cable-television interfaces.

How to respond? Julien says design as if you want to help lazy people be even lazier. Don’t believe us; if you want to see simplicity succeed, check Google.

AOL cleans up your banner crud

Three years ago’s online content ecosystem had 120 million monthly users. Today, the number has collapsed to 60 million — so AOL is upping its game with an innovation called Project Devil. AOL is streamlining content on its web pages and also making ads look better — with a clean vertical box at the right of each page, one advertiser per page, and a simple layout that makes it easy (gasp) to actually read the articles. It’s a continuation of the trend triggered by Apple’s iPad, in which consumers became stunned to see that web content could actually look pleasing to the eye.

AOL concludes with a tagline that strikes to the heart of any planner struggling with poor click-through rates: “Advertisers own one third of the web. Imagine actually enjoying that 33.3%.” At this point implementation seems theoretical; AOL’s home page still looks like a car-salesmen-weather-guy-convention afterhours dance party mosh pit. But we love the theory.

The sexual impetus for your hatred of Gap’s logo

Word to the advertising community: The new Gap logo doesn’t suck. You’re just hung up about sex.

Before we explain, let’s review the rebranding kerfuffle. Gap, a purveyor of American denim and flannel, this week did what companies often do — redesigned its wordmark. The advertising world screamed bloody murder. Abe Sauer over at Brandchannel said the revamp “looks like it cost $17 from an old Microsoft Word clipart gallery.” David Brier of Fast Company called it “goop” and suggested protagonists would get fired. Someone launched the site offering infinite versions of Gap-crappy logos, and Adweek named the mock @GAPlogo to its top 25 Twitter accounts. And when Gap backpedaled suggesting it was open to new ideas, the blog ISO50 gathered more than 260 submissions.

What gives? Well, sex…

Ad gurus are steamed, you see, because Gap didn’t include enough nuance in its design, and nuance drives humans at the sexual core. It’s certainly not about the actual result, because Gap’s new use of the classic font Helvetica is similar to the wordmarks of other major brands — 3M, American Airlines, Panasonic, Toyota. Agency types are wringing their hands because such simplicity leaves their minds out of the game.

Nuance is a foundational human incentive because sex, food and shelter require it. For sexual attraction, humans look to symmetry as the core indicator of health and high-value sperm or eggs to produce strong offspring. Look at a photo of anyone you consider super attractive — Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson — and you’ll find near-perfect symmetry in their features. We focus on nuance because it signals reproductive health. In the long history of human evolution, nuance also led us to berries with more vitamins, tar for blocking shelter gaps, and metal better for battling enemies. Nuance is how we grow and survive.

If nuance is an over-focus of humans in general (Did you see the lines on the latest BMW? Did you try the latest Starbuck’s Via coffee?), it’s even more vital to ad agencies. Agencies are glorified temp workers, extensions of real marketing departments often filled with extremely intelligent right-brain creatives who are rewarded for ideas that scale memes across the masses. This is hard, because the idea marketplace is crowded, so ad creatives explore every angle of every communication and possible response. When found, a slight nuance is often the edge required to succeed. Nuance is the key to breakthrough success.

Gap’s logo failed for the design community because it lacks their core value: nuance. The logo is achingly simple, based on the old 1957 Helvetica typeface that has been used for decades by New York City subway signs. The irony of the outcry is the Gap logo’s Helvetica is one of the most beloved fonts among typography geeks; Helvetica is an everyman’s font because its thin lines are filled with nuance, such as a defined spur in the capital G or slight curves at the terminus of the lowercase a. Heck, designers love Helvetica so much they often mock the competing font Arial as a bastardized Microsoft knock-off. You see Helvetica in the logos for BMW and Target. You could argue Helvetica is the most popular font for brand icons in the world.

In its wrap-up of the debate, Yahoo Finance noted Nate Jones as one commentator who actually liked the Gap wordmark redesign. Jones wrote the new icon “brings to mind visions of a streamlined, technologically dominant future America where everyone wears white suits and cool glasses.” Gap’s icon moved away from the nuanced differences. Gap just went simple.

And since simplicity is the opposite of what you want in food, shelter and sexual partners, no wonder you are pissed.

So this guy put a phone, screen and keyboard in a blender…

Product designer Billy May has created a concept for a next-generation mobile phone that solves the thorniest problem of today’s user interfaces — we all want unwired gadgets that fit in our pockets, but the easiest way for us to communicate is to type on keyboards that don’t fit on small screens. The gadget would combine two projectors and sensors to push web or video images up on a wall, with a light-based keyboard capturing your finger taps on any surrounding flat surface.

Damn, we want one.

The deeper issue is May’s brilliance illuminates how humans just can’t settle down on one communications interface. Isn’t it silly, if you think about it, how many options we have for typing at each other? We remain agog over every slight Apple tablet update, Facebook layout change, or Twitter usability improvement … yet our core means of transferring information remain sight and sound output and voice or touch input. The constant innovation around how people share information across vast distances, and carry around connections, means we haven’t solved the problem yet. We wonder if device interfaces will ever converge into one simple, master interface. If so, May be the closest answer yet.

Via Ben Malbon.

Pilot’s big, bold ‘enhanced need set’ move

There aren’t many campaigns worth adoring, but we love, love the Pilot pen handwriting microsite which, as you can guess, allows you to scan in your own handwriting and then use it via computer to type documents or emails with informal penmanship. At first glance the system is a little gimmick designed to attract attention to old-fashioned (and perhaps classier) handwritten notes. But think of the risk. What happens to Pilot if we all opt-in, create our own computer fonts, and send messages to each other without buying pens and ink cartridges? Did Pilot just kill its future business?

This campaign is an example of meeting your customers’ “enhanced need set” — a concept from Don Peppers and Martha Rogers that means thinking of concentric circles around your core product, and then brainstorming the additional needs your customers might like filled. Mobil gas stations did this with their clean bathroom and Speedpass campaigns (moms want sanitation, drivers want to get in-and-out fast). Westin hotels did the same with its “heavenly beds,” a luxury mattress that made sleeping nicer and was copied by much of the hotel industry. If you sell A, what happens if you also meet customer need B as well?

For Pilot, we think the computer font move is brilliant, because the focus on handwriting likely outweighs the risk we’ll only type at each other. Just look at the Gloria signature above. Then think back to the days of fluffy white stationery with the little paper fibers embedded, bending beneath the scratch of your pen, with no delete key and only emotion to guide you. Don’t you feel guilty for writing home via email now?

Via @alphanum3ric.

Google: Oh won’t you stay just a little bit loooonger

Web strategists are scratching their heads over why Google would risk redesigning its $23 billion search results baby, adding complex features such as subcategories and real time results.

We say it’s simple: The more complexity, the more likely consumers are to linger, the more likely they are to click on a “sponsored link” ad, the more likely Google is to make more revenue. It’s an inventory play, giving Google more shots at you as you rush through its doors looking for vacation deals, similar to weather web sites that force you to click through four pages to find a local forecast. More page options equal more ad potential.

Let’s do the math:

> Assume 10% of Google’s 268 million daily users decide to click on one more search results page before rushing off
> Assume also the odds remain the same on a second page that users click on a search ad
> Google gets a 10% lift in ad clicks.

Hmm. What’s 10% on $23 billion?

The risk, of course, is by adding complexity Google diminishes its utility which pushes consumers away. But similar redesigns, such as Microsoft’s Bing, have gained traction by making the act of finding stuff nuanced. And we bet Google has a fancy math formula somewhere predicting risk vs. reward.

Uberdesigner Jakob Nielsen told BusinessWeek, “People don’t want to use a search engine. They want to get away from a search engine.” Exactly, Jakob: Now it’s harder to run away.

The gorgeous, improbable future of newspapers

Here’s an idea: Take the dying, shrinking newspaper and move it in the opposite direction. Bigger. Bolder. Better.

The creative minds behind McSweeney’s are publishing a vision of what newspapers could be — a stunning 380 pages of original content, including an enormous 112-page broadsheet 15 inches by 22 inches, a magazine, books section, and — take that, AP newswire — a 32-page news section filled with local reporting. Titled the San Francisco Panorama, it launches in early December with contributions from 150 writers, artists and photographers. (Preview the sweetness here.)

How could the market possibly support such a huge endeavor? Why, once a year, if that. The editors suggest this is a one-shot deal. “We think that the best chance for newspapers’ survival is to do what the internet can’t: namely, use and explore the large-paper format as thoroughly as possible. To that end, we opted for a huge and luxurious broadsheet … and then unleashed artists and designers to show exactly how much the format can do.” Given the book-like effort, the pub will go on sale at bookstores around the country beyond the local San Francisco market.

All we can say is, wow. They even brought back the comic strip in its full-page, complexly plotted, type-font-you-can-read glory. And yes, it will include ads. It’s a newspaper we might actually pay for. It makes us miss what newsprint used to be.

Via Mark Wanczak.

10-finger screens, yet no help for your remote

Clayton Miller has built a graphic user interface for computers that, yes, taps all 10 of your fingers. It is called 10/GUI. It is brilliant. And it is unlikely to ever see the light of day.

If you pan out like an angelic Walt Mossberg to look down from the clouds at humanity’s progress for the past 20 years, you’ll see cumbersome connections with technology. Each device — laptop, cell phone, television set — has a few common interface standards (say, most laptop screens tilt backward and use a QWERTY keyboard) but the real story is chaotic complexity. Gadget designs are all over the place. Sure, we have a common computer mouse, but good luck turning on the TV in your neighbor’s home or setting an alarm clock in a strange hotel room. Here’s a test: visualize where the “play” button is on your own home stereo. We bet you don’t know.

The disincentive of differentiation

Why are common interface standards so absent? Call it differentiation. First, technology moves quickly and devices keep changing; smart phones barely existing 5 years ago, and designers are still tweaking where buttons go on touch screens. Second, manufacturers continue adding “feature creep,” little tweaks to each device to try to defend margins. We didn’t ask for a video camera in our iPod Nano, but we got one. And third, the competitive marketplace is good for invention but not so fine for industrial standards. If your company’s product works similar to others then competitors can easily mimic you and steal your customers; it is better, for profits, to build a unique widget, sell the hell out of it, and block other companies from plugging in.

Consumers gain innovation but lose sanity in this process. The competitive market fails in improving consistent interface design. Incumbents with market share and installed customer bases (think Microsoft Windows systems on Dell laptops) have little incentive to change how you really interact with their devices; improving user interface would require huge hardware shifts, might make old products obsolete, and free you up to really shop around. And consumers also drive the fragmentation by buying new gizmos with new looks and feels, because shiny feels good, even if it means new shiny that doesn’t match the 20 other tools you have at home.

Darryl Ohrt suggests Clayton Miller may get bought out by Apple or Microsoft for his 10-fingered genius. We hope so, but alas, we fear the invisible hand of the free market has no need for 10 fingers.

Memolio: A proposal in your pocket

People like to promote themselves. Business cards are small, hold little information, don’t upload easily into Outlook or your iPhone, and are growing passé. What to do?

Memolio offers a more detailed personal touch by publishing small decks of multiple images. You can quickly hand out a mini portfolio, or photo album, or business proposal without booting up PowerPoint. A nice triage of the urge to share with the need to fit in a pocket. And at only €15 (about $22.00), it’s cheaper than a second meeting. Via Cool Hunting.

Can they see you when you are out of focus?

The culmination of hiring a new creative agency comes when they present concepts in a boardroom. Young-looking men and women dressed in black smile up front. Lights are dimmed. The marketing director cracks a joke about not giving the project to her 14-year-old cousin. A huge flat-panel video screen lights up. Music plays. And the executive audience, warmed by coffee and croissants and the anticipation that everyone is about to make a boatload of money, digests in crisp clarity the most beautiful rendition of their spot/ad/banner/video/viral/logo/website possible. Applause! Approved!

And then the work gets printed in cruddy newsprint, hangs on a dirty billboard unlit at night, or airs on TV while the target moms are distracted by fighting children.

German designer Ralf Herrmann confronts the problem of poor viewing conditions, at least in typography, with a new design tool that allows you to mess up the view — just like the ad impression will be corrupted in reality. For street signage, for example, you can simulate the blur that comes from seeing work at a distance, or under poor lighting, or other adverse viewing conditions. The reality issue is worth exploring for any creative treatment — how will consumers respond when your message is presented in the dirty material world and not the artificial clarity of a conference room’s plasma TV?

Via Ryan Kuder.