Tag Archives: dare

I don’t Like numbers

There’s a not-unreasonable perception that agencies are staffed with people who are preoccupied with the new and trendy. At Dare it’s fair to say there are gentlemen that don’t wear socks. There are girls who were in maxi-dresses last year and preposterous jumpsuits this year. There are even people that wear hats and scarves in June. But that’s just textiles. When it comes to digital I’d challenge you to find a more cynical bunch. Propose an idea in an internal meeting to make use of the latest in social networkery and you’d better have some solid evidence to prove it works because you are going to face a barrage of critical analysis from 24 year old juniors to 45 year old seen-it-alls.

With this in mind it’s been a matter of debate this week that perhaps the sheer volume of requests we get from clients asking us to take them (for example) from 10,000 to a million fans on Facebook, is getting to be a bit of a problem. I mean, how important to a brand is a Facebook fan?

Consider an example from Taco Bell in the states. During a spell of bad news for the Mexican fast-food chain where they were challenged on the volume of beef in their Tacos, the Yum! brand reached out to their fans as part of a $4m ad campaign. Presumably these people – who let’s remind ourselves had actively said they were fans of the brand on Facebook, would be up for some positive activity? Over the period in question they’d swollen their fanbase from 500k to 6 million.  Jonathan Blum explains that they offered these fans free food … hey friend, come get some free tacos, on-the-house.

What happened was that just 200k people did. That’s 3%.

97% decided not to take-up the offer of free food from a brand they liked.

When you can’t even give away free food to people who like you, how can you possibly expect people to pay for it? But we’re being asked to generate bigger fan numbers with the assumption that this equates to more sales somewhere down the line.

So, what’s at work here? Why did so many people look the gift horse in the mouth and walk away? What are the implications?

I don’t know how the mechanic was resolved logistically. It would have to be easy to redeem the offer. If you’re on Facebook it’s not that likely you’re in Taco Bell right then or perhaps even in the frame of mind for a taco. You might see the offer but unless it’s promoted in-store and can be obtained and redeemed at the point of transaction then there’s sufficient friction that customers (fans) are less likely to follow through with the process. It doesn’t take an expert in ethnography or service design to see that printing a voucher at home and remembering to take it next time you get a taco is a bit clunky.

Mixed messages
On the one hand there’s a lawsuit alleging your food is only 50% beef and at the same time you’re offering it up for free. What does that say about the quality and the value you place on your product? Does it display confidence in your taco or does it smack of desperation?

Like ≠ like
Perhaps we don’t actually care that much about the brands we like. Like has become a substitute for ‘join in’ on Facebook. In order to see or interact with content we have to Like it. We might not actually like the nrand but are just intruiged to see what the fuss is about – Like has become nothing more than a threshold. The freedom with which likes are handed out has devalued them; it was presumed that the peer pressure of being seen to like something you clearly wouldn’t would act as a moderator. For example, I might want to see what all the fuss is about Justin Bieber’s page but to like him would be to broadcast that to much derision amongst my friends. The reality is that I can hide this like instantly to spare my blushes but still it counts as another positive vote for the precocious little twerp. Many of those 6m Taco Bell fans aren’t real fans then, they’re just people who had a passing interest or were perhaps mindlessly clicking away on anything they recognised. What would scarcity do to modify this behaviour? Perhaps if we could only issue three likes per week we might think more careful about where we used them.

They just didn’t see it
Data at AllFacebook.com suggests that the magic of EdgeRank (Facebook‘s ostensibly-intelligent method of prioritising content for you) means that  only 3%-7.5% of fans actually see business page posts in their feed. The reasons for this are not entirely understood (Edgerank isn’t transparent) but brands that are posting infrequently or with low-engagement content for example aren’t going to be helping themselves.

But but but…
What about those people that did take up the offer and do see the posts? Their numbers may be small but are these the mavens and connectors, the influencers? Before we entirely dismiss the idea of the fan we should at least acknowledge the benefits of the engaged superfan.

Part of the problem is that Facebook’s irritatingly quantifiable. Chief Marketing Officers and their subordinates can hang their targets on tangible numbers – more fans, beat our competitors, more likes than last year etc. etc. This is data they can see daily, it’s not something they need to commission research for or wait until the next quarter. He or she can log-in at home or in the office and beat their agency with a stick as the numbers rise and fall in real-time. Trouble is, the acquisition of these fans costs money (c. £10 per fan in marketing spend some say), even more when you’re honest and realise that something like 1/10 fans is likely to be a truly engaged one.

It’s because of these superfans that I’m reluctant to call bullshit on the whole Facebook thing. It’s still important to (ahem) fish where the fish are. There are plenty of us swimming about in the big blue sea, but just trying to get loads of us into your net and assuming we’ll all eat your taco… (this isn’t working is it?)

Let’s just teach some of this to our clients and make sure that proposals aren’t about numbers but are about genuine engagement, conversations that are acted upon and activities like voucher redemption are as free from friction as possible. Let’s not go around issuing desperate calls for people to share, let’s think instead about strong scarce engagement ideas for some brands and tactical offers in volume for others. I’m glad I’m surrounded by so many cynics, I just wish they’d wear better clothes.

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smörgåsbord choice cuts (iii)

I have flirted with the idea of stripping-back my old Orange P7 ever since seeing the beautiful work at the Orange P7 project site . Back in 1995-6 I saved everything I earned at Sainsbury’s as a checkout assistant to buy my beloved bike. Back then it cost £1,200. It astonishes me that I could afford that when I couldn’t even justifiably cobble that together today for a MacBook Pro. Every so often the idea of bringing it back from the dead is freshened up and the post of the GT Bravado I saw on Cycle EXIF just serves to remind me what beautiful single-speeds 90s MTBs can make when treated with design dignity.

Information Architecture
Regular readers will know I curate (word of the moment for these days) thisisIA. The site showcases everyday examples of information design and organisation. I added a wonderful example today from Iain Tait’s crackunit blog that resonates with my autistic desire for order in cabling (Dare people should take a look at my zip-tied desk cables..).

A quick look at a wonderful idea from the Hotel Exerda (found on PSFK) whereby hotel diners can see the recipes for the dishes they eat. Very much along the lines of those hotels where you can buy the fixtures and fittings.

A very cute and simple idea seen in this Vimeo demo from Studio Sophisti [in het Nederlands] to use two lamps connected by the net (Ping) to sense when the other is on and consequently burn brighter. In so-doing the lights create a non-verbal communication link between the two users. I love the subtlety and intimacy of this idea that could be a very sweet way of connecting with loved ones. Away from your wife or girlfriend, both of you have connected lamps and you are working away when the lamp begins to burn brighter … touching.

A great find last week from my friend @Ppparkaboy was John Crace’s review in The Guardian of Roland Huntford’s new book Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen. This review draws our attention to the fact we seem to laud Scott of the Antarctic despite of his catastrophic failure, yet Shackleton – “who didn’t lose a man .. remains a footnote in the national psyche”. I suspect, when we think about this, we can find similar examples amongst many of the modern era’s heroes – athletes, talent-show contestents and so-on. Huntford continues:

“Only in Britain do we revere the man who died in failure above the survivor. Elsewhere in the world, Scott is seen as rather second-rate – an incompetent loser who battled nature rather than tried to understand it.”

It is definitely worth absorbing the remainder of this review.

Nota: I have added a few more sources to my collection of regularly-monitored feeds to mix things up a bit. I get a little bit of a PSFK and FlowingData overload so would like to share a little more UX. I will also try and keep to the subheaded structure to allow scanners to skip past content they’re not interested

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Exposing oneself in public (myFry part 2)

It’s not like I spend my day looking for cures for cancer, I just design and redesign digital experiences. Even so, when something you worked on, however small, gets genuine public attention including (justifiable) criticisms and joyous praise, it feels like a big deal.

So much of the day-to-day work is behind the scenes. Hours of screentime, meetings, sketching and commutes home with ideas buzzing in your head. Then it breaks the surface and with celebrity behind it, it leads to me spending an inordinate (and unbillable) amount of time monitoring the twitter streams fishing for compliments.

So that was myFry and that was yesterday. It occurred to me yesterday that this took place around an app that isn’t even free and, whilst it is undeniably popular, it is never going to be an Angry Birds (Rovio 6m+ sales) or even an ECB Cricket App (the OTHER media). Those apps reach the sort of population that – even ten years ago – would have been considered incredible sales records for the most successful of recording artists. In this day and age, a well-designed and popular app means your creativity is engaged with far beyond the single sales for Xfactor winners (< 0.5m units).

So that got me thinking a bit more (since I was involved on the outskirts of the hugely successful Waterslide and less successful Rollercoaster apps, both of which are free), does it matter more when the app is paid-for? The myFry app is nearly £8, it is hardly throwaway entertainment. Users rightly demand that such experiences work. As far as I can recall this was the first thing I have done which is directly paid-for by end consumers. Of course, sites I  have worked on are indirectly paid for as customers buy the products and services offered but the transaction is nevertheless perceptibly free, they have not just shelled-out cash to use the interface.

That customers have just paid for it means that they more-keenly feel the user-experience niggles (and there are some, both intentional and unavoidable) and feed these back into the AppStore reviews. It is these reviews that I care deeply about, the heartfelt feelings of the people I spent hours and hours designing-for and thinking about in front of my screen and sketchpad.

And there I will leave myFry, until I need to return for alternative versions, updates or any other development that Dare and Penguin see fit. You, dear reader, will only know more when such additional work becomes public.

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“A wholly original kind of app”: The Information Architecture Behind myFry

My esteemed colleague Flo described it as what happens when “the stars align“, I separately described it as a ‘perfect storm’. This week Penguin launched myFry an iPhone app that we at Dare had been asked to create for Stephen Fry.

This was one of those projects which sets sparks off when the brief comes in. Already engaged on another app (this time more iPad than iPhone) for an established Penguin talent, word reached us that Penguin would like us to look at this Fry work – in an incredibly short space of time. As the days and weeks progressed we were fortunate (and I know this all sounds gushing) to be working alongside a client in Jeremy Ettinghausen who not only profoundly understood his client [Fry] but equally understood the capability and talents of his staff and his agency [Dare].

The first step was to meet and discuss with information artist Stefanie Posavec who was employed by Penguin as a cover artist and who’s extra-curricular work had caught everyone’s imagination. We discussed the taxonomy of the manuscript, the experience of Stephen Fry’s writing and ultimately the opportunities for an interaction. From some sketches and notes I took this work and began by laying out a visual of the manuscript, demonstrating how this could be tagged and chunked, how these chunks could form navigable elements and how we could represent relationships through the text.

This work went back to Stefanie, Jeremy and others at Penguin from which Stefanie produced conceptual visuals and the hard work of beginning to read, analyse and tag the book began. As this was an editoral task, this was best left to the publishing team (and Flo – see his tagging output) but it left myself (and I suspect Stefanie) nervously awaiting the outcome; utlimately the visualisation and interaction would be profoundly affected by how the book was re-cut. It is important to note here that nothing was removed from the manuscript or changed in ordering.

In the meantime, I began to work with Ron and Luke at Dare (both visual designers) to start to refine the interface layer, understand the interaction journeys and turn so-far static PSDs into beautifully engaging experiences. All the time we were working on this, Penguin and Flo were tagging away and the tech guys (James, Joe & Perry) were astonishingly already producing prototype experiences.

These tech prototypes were incredibly important to the project. They enabled us to see how the click-wheel navigation would work. The detail required in understanding how many ‘spines’ we could fit on the wheel to be usable for the majority of people on an iPhone was crucial to determining how many sections the book would be separated into. In prototyping this work the guys creatively developed the liquid ‘bounce’ feedback on the wheel which gave valuable feedback to the user as to where their finger was in relation to the wheel – something we were unlikely to solve in static IA/IxD.

As the days and weeks passed I continued to refine the screen flows for the app, demonstrating every single interaction from the point of clicking the app icon, reading in each conceivable scenario through to managing the internal app settings. We toyed with ideas such as a horizontal histogram view (rotate your phone to landscape to view the wheel stretched out in linear fashion) and we experimented with section-to-section navigation but each of these experiences were debated and eventually dropped. It is important to say that we thought as hard, about the stuff we dropped as we did about the stuff we kept.

I continued to learn about the limitations of iPhone development: (detail bit coming up) changing values in the central apps settings interface doesn’t affect the app until it is launched which means toggles rather than realtime action buttons, for example. As the real data came in our experts in tech began to work out a way of tying the design/IxD visuals together with the data to make it work and I performed some Excel analyses on the the outputs to establish how the live data would affect the visualisation patterns. Over time my role switched to reviewing and tweaking interactions, consulting to ensure that the final build stayed close to the original concept and, eventually, on the 10th September (my birthday) the app was approved.

In general, it simply could not have happened this way without the enthusiasm, collaboration and skill of everyone involved. In my vocation we spend a stupid amount of time redefining our job titles: IA/IxD/Ux etc. etc. What I can say is that this job gave me full exposure to just about everything we think of in this sphere: true information architecture with the taxonomic analysis of the manuscript, cutting-edge interaction design and strategic experience planning; it had it all. That all this was done for a client in Penguin and a subject in Stephen Fry that were as enthusiastic and involved as we were made it doubly exciting. The icing on the cake? Stephen’s contact with Messrs. Jobs and Ive, experience and design royalty, ensuring that my work, our work, is on their radar.

I left Norwich Union (now Aviva) nearly three years ago to join Dare with the express reason of doing work like this, long may it continue.


Note: As of writing, within 5 hours since it launched, the app is already No. 4 in the iPhone Top Grossing apps.

Credits: Everyone involved in this project is writing about it and being gloriously magnanimous and humble in their praise for the team:

Official press stuff: Campaign wrote a simple summary and the Press Association have a piece too. As a long-time reader of Infosthetics it’s great that they have picked up on it too.

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