Clarity ON: Redhead Writing

ClarityOn

This morning, I came across the newly-relaunched website for Erika Napoletano, aka Redhead Writing.

Boom. Love at first sight.

Hmmm…let me backtrack a bit here. No, I don’t actually know Erika; and yes, I am profoundly in love with my wife (who is a brunette, by the way).

But when it comes to the branding/messaging – I was all-in within moments.

ErikaNapoletano

Bright simplicity of design. Superb use of colors and white space. Engaging picture. Clear navigation. And, above all, an exemplary message of clarity: I Get People UNstuck.

Attitude? Check. Compelling video? Check. Simple and memorable message? Check. Call to action? Check.

I got totally drawn in to the site. And I’ve been around the internet block for enough years to have pretty strong filters. Color me hard to impress.

While everyone else is arguing over who won the Super Bowl marketing wars on Sunday, I’m telling you right now who wins the Internet today. Erika Napoletano. No Clydesdales required.

Color me impressed.

(oh, and I stole the basic idea of the Clarity ON graphic above from Erika’s Twitter page. Which also rocks!)

When Techies Do Marketing

One of things that never fails to amuse me is coming across a website which was written by a techie – either an engineer, or buzzword-addicted consultant, or – worst-case scenario – an engineer/programmer/consultant.

Let’s say you’re a potential customer – you’re looking for help with something, and you come across a website (or other marketing collateral) with this kind of copy:

(_____) platform takes enterprise listening to the next – actionable – level. We operate in the Web 3.0 world where every bit of unstructured data gets converted into actionable insights. Our state of the art RDFa enabled architecture brings out the meaning from unstructured data of Social Media, Web and internal data sources ( call center notes, CRM notes, documents etc)…In essense (sp) (_______) creates the 4th dimension to the traditional 360 degree view…

Now, there is a place for this kind of technical explanation. That’s called a white paper. But marketing on the web and elsewhere, you have only a few seconds to get my attention with a straightforward explanation that clearly communicates the What’s In It For Me.

It’s the incredibly rare technical designer who can also create effective marketing. The mindset of the technical person is complexity and details. The mindset of the effective marketer is simplicity and value.

It’s amazing how many tech companies will invest a massive amount of money to come up with a brilliant solution, then assume that they’re communicating to people just like them – people whose pulses race to hear about RDFa enabled architecture. And I’ve seen many potentially valuable consultants who hang out a shingle but don’t have a clear, compelling message on it.

You have to wonder how much money gets left on the table – the opportunity cost of an unfocused message.

What’s the value? What’s the unique differentiator? What’s your company story? What can you communicate in 10 seconds that should make me want to find out more, and reach out to you?

I have worked with some immensely talented tech folks, and have enormous respect for their work. But when it’s time to go to market, please – get some creative minds to help craft the message. Or you may end up with Blue Spoon Syndrome.

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Why Google+ Could Succeed

Google has begun rolling out its latest iteration of a social network, Google+. It’s getting plenty of press in the blogosphere, with a wide variety of opinions (great start; Facebook me-too late in the game; meh-be; etc.)

Here’s my take on why it could be a winner – our current social networks are dumb.

You heard me. Dumb. Google+ is showing some potential smarts.

Not to say that Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and the like are poorly designed, or that there aren’t really smart people behind them. And certainly not to say that those of us using these networks are dumb for doing so. Not at all. These platforms are a good start, and it’s very smart to be involved with digital networked communications.

But these initial tools are baby rattles, compared to the sophistication we really need.

I’m going to point you back three years, to the series I wrote on the ideal social media/web interface (One Interface to Rule Them All <– the link is to the first of 7 posts). There, I outlined how we need smart platforms that would do things like layering (Google+ Circles),  automated finding via Intell-Agents (Google+ Sparks); and, last year, I had a hankering for real-time private rooms (Google+ Hangouts).

The need is for far better ability to classify, stratify, find (not just search), and control. Google+ is heading in that direction, and that is why it could take on platforms that do a more “brute-force” job of connecting and publishing. And make no mistake – current social platforms are still quite “dumb” on the brute-force level. They give us a bigger and bigger fire hose with only the most rudimentary ways to manage it all.

If  Google+ evolves with simple elegance and solid integration, our brilliant friends at Google have a great shot at a next-gen platform.

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When it Doesn’t Just Work

We came back home after a few days away to a rather amusing note from the gal who house-sat out home (and dog) while we visited family over the holidays.

She noted a few “issues” with our digitally-controlled stuff, summarized thusly:

  1. The radio in the kitchen does not work like a radio,
  2. The TV in the family room does not work like a TV,
  3. The TV in the master bedroom does not work like a TV,
  4. The atomic-interfaced alarm clock is now into 2017.

Anyone who, like us, has more modern digital video/sound systems knows the problem with the proliferation of remote controls and the occasional complexity of doing simple tasks, like, say, turning the thing on and changing channels. What if the prior input was for the Tivo, and now I want to watch a broadcast channel, or a DVD, or skate on over to Netflix-on-demand? Eventually, you get used to which buttons to press and in what order, but when someone else comes into the house, you now have…utter confusion.

Back in the day, when you walked into someone else’s house, every TV pretty much worked the same. And radios had on-off buttons and simple station selectors. It wasn’t HD, but it was simple. It worked.

We’ve come a long way in making great technology. I was reflecting with Joe Cascio over coffee a few days back how we old-timers were trained, by Microsoft primarily, to expect disaster and hardship and trouble with every new version, every peripheral, every update (the “Microsoft Flinch”). I still get angst-y whenever I install something or bring up a new device – except now, stuff mostly just works (OK, so I am now mostly working with Apple products, but the PC stuff is WAY better as well!)

But we’re not there yet. When a house-sitter can’t even get a TV to work, we have a user-interface problem. When I STILL need my kids to occasionally remind me that I have to press button Q on remote #3 in order to actually reach the proper menu to do X, this is not good design. We’ve crossed the threshold of easy on a lot of products and systems, but we still have a ways to go to make everything just work. I guess that’ll keep some of our talented people permanently employed!

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No Longer Running in Circles, Armano Unveils the sVenn Diagram

After a recent post put him over the Annual Blog Circle Allotment Quota, designer/blogger David Armano has just launched his newest information explanation creation, the sVenn diagram.

“My audience was getting tired of the same old Venn diagrams, and frankly, so was I.” explained Armano. As you can see from the trajectory of my graphics over time, I simply overused the circle metaphor to the point of radius overload. It was time for a change.

“For the last month or two, everyone’s been demanding squiggles. So that’s the heart of my new design motif, the sVenn.”

Not everyone was thrilled with the abrupt change of direction. “I’ve always liked Venn diagrams myself,” complained Alan Wolk, while feeding his pet toad. “Armano is taking a perfectly good mechanism for pretending to understand information design, and deconstructing it into an atomized mess of disparate graphical entities.

“Besides, you can’t do squiggles in pastel.”

Top American Social Media Idol designer Kristi Colvin had a different perspective, however. “Look, Venn diagrams are at least as old as AOL disks. We need something new, something fresh, something that can encompass all levels of both meaningful and meaningless, all in one package. The sVenn is perfect for this – a brilliant move by Armano. And my Uncle Sven is going to be thrilled that he’ll finally have his 15 minutes of on-line fame!”

Armano was reticent to show the full suite of his new sVenn diagrams, as they are under Patent Review for a New Method for Creating or Saving 1 Million Jobs, but he did pull one sample out of his gallery, an identity design for a social media guru formerly known as Scoble. “As you can see, with one sVenn, I’ve summed up every aspect of Robert’s Scoble’s his identity. Just wait ’til you see my latest, the sVeen, which will be the new lovemark for Gary Vay-ner-chuck (@garyvee).”

In other social media news this week, social media agency maven Darryl Ohrt described the Olympic sport of Curling as “riveting.” He was promptly unfollowed by 1,500 people on Twitter, though three Canadians did add him to their RSS feeds.

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Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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David Armano Wins Nobel Prize for “Really Cool Drawings”

(why not celebrate our third birthday with a fresh social media spoof?)

Today, it was announced that globally-recognized artist and hat-wearing aficionado David Armano has been awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in creating “some of the coolest graphics on the planet.”

Full CircleAccording to Hans Blimsted, Swedish Nobel judge of Peace and Social Media Stuff, Armano’s work, while somewhat confusing to the average mind, is full of soft, pastel-y colors and will certainly, over time, contribute to world peace and to the entire re-architecting of business processes across the world.

“Take his use of circles within circles,” said Blimsted, in announcing the award to a hushed audience of twelve Swedish professional curlers, joined in a live stream by countless bloggers and Twitterati around the globe. “Just gazing at those round shapes reminds us that the world is one, we all are one, and by moving toward a social business design in new collaboratories, we can calibrate a new ecosystem of holistic frameworks. Umm…folks, I just read the notes – you make sense of it.

“Plus, he does dots and gently curved arrows. That means peace in any language. Well, most. Actually – what do all those little arrows mean anyway?”

dachis_ecoShocked bloggers reacted with a mix of exuberant exultation and petty jealousy. “I couldn’t be happier for David!” declared Cathleen Rittereiser, just before unlocking the “local” badge on Foursquare. “Of all the circular-thinkers I follow, David has always been the most well-rounded! And if the President can get one for sounding cool, David should get one for looking cool.” On the other hand, Dear Leader of PlaidNation Darry Ohrt sniffed, “The guy doesn’t know colors at all. Pastels-pshaw! When has he ever done anything in plaid? Amateur!”

Rumors that Barack Obama had actually declined his Nobel Prize in favor of Armano were quashed when the President strode out of the White House wearing a cowboy hat and proclaiming that he was at least as cool as Chicago’s Austin’s favorite designer. “Armano didn’t deliver the Olympics for us, but with his circles and my teleprompter, we’re going to run rings around those pesky petty tyrants around the world. Now that’s some hope and change, baby!”

Mr Armano could not be reached for 140 characters of comment, as he was encased in his studio creating the next-generation 550-circle graphic of intergalactic business interoperability.

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Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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Ask the Ten Questions

TenIt really all boils down to about 10 questions. Sit down with a client, go through these questions, and you’ll pretty much have the raw material to brainstorm and blueprint a project.

Just about any kind of project. After many years of consulting with clients about projects large and small, in areas ranging from training to technology to marketing to social media, I’ve found that the key questions are pretty much the same. Here are my Top 10 Questions for Defining a Project:

    1. What’s the point? (at the highest level, what exactly are you trying to achieve?)
    2. Why? (what are the strategic and business goals that provide the context?)
    3. What is the current state? (where are you now?)
    4. What is the desired state (where should this initiative take you?)
    5. How would success be measured? (what metrics and results will be used to gauge effectiveness?)
    6. Who is/are the key stakeholder(s), and the target audience(s)?
    7. What are the available resources? (budget, time, internal personnel, etc.?)
    8. What are the potential phases? (short-term, long-term, ongoing development?)
    9. What are the anticipated deliverables?
    10. What are the potential variables that may impact the project?

With some variations on each theme, some sub-questions, and maybe some additional major questions depending on the nature of the initiative, those questions should give a pretty thorough overview for both client and service provider.

If you are on the vendor side, you know that most clients haven’t thought their projects through this thoroughly. That’s where you can take the Ten Questions and do everyone a favor by framing out the project well ahead of time.

That’s my take – what would you add? What questions do you use to tease out the details of a project?

(Image credit)

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