Tuesday, August 30, 2011


On some level we all improvise our way through our day- we make the little decisions that get tasks done and keep the organization moving forward. But that is improvisation on a micro scale.

To expect your group to improvise its way to success is madness. Point the way. Success doesn't just happen. Improvisation on the macro scale only leads to chaos.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Disaster Stories

The past weekend was fascinating for weather nerds not directly in the path of hurricane Irene. I enjoyed watching how the various news outlets covered the big story of the weekend, especially all the new toys that news divisions can deploy in situations like this.

I saw interesting live shots sent via cell phone. Tours of flooded neighborhoods from a moving truck. Reporters at one live shot having conversations with reporters at other live shots. Lots of newsgathering techniques that were not options a few years ago.

But I could see the times when the channels were in love with how they were delivering the news, but paying less attention to what they were saying. When the meteorologist is trying to show detail on a weather map, the viewer doesn't want a split-screen showing roaring surf or a flooded street- show the dang map. Don't get cute.

At the same time it appeared that most of the stories making it to air were the ones that could be told from the tether of the satellite truck. There were multiple crews scattered around Manhattan, each stationary, giving their tiny bit of the picture. It was both illuminating- live shots from the middle of the storm!- but also hard to get the big picture when all the network could do was cycle around from one live shot to another, waiting for each situation to change.

When new tools come on the scene it is easy to mistake telling the same old story more cheaply versus telling new stories, stories you couldn't really gather the old way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Engineering Fun

This week's Flyover Effect podcast discussed an idea that is too often overlooked in the development of pretty much everything: Fun.

I often see a "lack of fun" in software- the program that was built to do a specific job well, but has an interface that is ugly, complicated, and hard to use. All of the build energy went into making the features work, but zero thought went into the person who has to use the thing.

A corollary: If users of your software have a bunch of sticky notes on their monitors to help them with their work, you need a redesign of the UI.

Fun design encourages a user to explore the software, not run from it as soon as the task is completed.

This carries forward into every product and service. If something is pleasant to deal with, people will do more with it, and thus spend more money. If something is hard, difficult and unpleasant, it will be avoided.

Too often businesses can't step out of their own shoes to view how the public interacts with them, and thus can't make the changes needed to up the "Fun" quotient. A lack of fun holds them back.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Client Types

This was written in 2006, but it still nails the difference in client types.

Your life will be easier the better you get at avoiding grinders in the first place.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Sometimes clients are best served by recycling their old content.

While those on the production side would prefer to create (and bill for) a spectacular new project involving helicopters, marching bands and a dozen different effect shots, that may not be in the client's best interest. They probably have something on the shelf that can be freshened up and reused.

Taking the long view, purposely create marketing content where the beginning and end is created for each new use, but the center- the heart of the message- is static and consistent for ever audience. Both parties win: The client gets value out of creating one great package, yet retains the flexibility to shape the message for each new audience, while the producer gets a steady stream of small updates as new uses are found.

Take the long view for both you and your client.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Design By Intent

I highly recommend this thought provoking read about Design By Intent.

The series of cards in the pdf each have examples of design that isn't simply nice to look at, but improves useability (in most cases).

Lots of things to chew on.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Website FAIL

I encountered a website today that was a double FAIL.

I had to dig around to find contact information, and discovered multiple 404 link errors- in the store of all places.

Despite professional design and technology, not having things buttoned up scared me away. Sale lost.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Order Of Work

There is a big difference between processes that happen concurrently and those that can only happen consecutively. Planning for events can often mistake the two, and scheduled get crushed as a result.

In simple terms, two people can butter bread and slice cheese at the same time (concurrent), but you can't cook the grilled cheese until all the parts are ready (consecutive).

Every project had points where things will slow down until a key point is passed. Plan for them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pay Status

There are a few clients who require special rules, based either on class or experience. Politicians and political parties are a very special case.

Due to the nature of campaigns- cash is tight, the demands are high and timelines short, and they tend to fold up shop the night of the election (if not sooner)- the wise ask for half up front and the balance before the product is handed over. This means literally holding a tape hostage until you have payment, ideally something that acts like cash.

An audio friend of mine once had to keep the podium mic at a live event turned off until he had cash in hand. The candidate was about 20 feet from the stage, about to speak to the crowd, before the envelope appeared. The mic was turned on, the event was great, the client was happy, and later apologized for the drama. Had my friend not held the line, odds were high that he would have been stiffed. Campaigns have little loyalty to their vendors.

I once spent a day shooting for a Presidential candidate who eventually stiffed my boss. The candidate dropped out of the race before our invoice got paid. That's a hard way to make a donation to a campaign, especially if you are not a supporter.

Trust most, but some just have to pay cash.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Archiving of assets from finished projects can be annoying and time consuming- but can save hours when a client asks you to rebuild something for an update, a new distribution channel, or just the need for another copy. Minutes spent archiving content can save literal hours in the future, let alone the cost of recreating something from scratch.

I've been reminded lately to be more dilligent in my archiving process. One missing tape is driving me batty.


Thursday, August 11, 2011


Cliches are cliches for a reason- there is a grain of truth to them, and they are used to reinforce users impressions of a group, place or experience.

But they are also insulting to both the viewer and those being portrayed.

My personal example: Every political event leading up to the Iowa caucus must involve some visual agricultural image: tractors, livestock, straw bales, cornfields, etc. All of them. Even when the imagery it is ridiculous.

I once witnessed straw bales trucked in for an event in downtown Des Moines to be strategically placed on the lawn of one of the world's largest financial services companies in order to reinforce what the campaign believed was everyone's image of Iowa and Iowans.

It was the equivalent to staging a hundred Mob Goons as background for a political event in New York. Or a hundred suits yelling into their Blackberries. Or 50 yellow cabs caught in a traffic jam. and so on.

Worst of all, cliches are lazy because the don't require any thought by the creator.

Don't be lazy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


We forget what a joy it is to work on a well-conceived project with the proper resources behind it, until we work on something half-baked with no budget.

I would love to see the video equivalent on Iron Chef, where participants are given 30 minutes of lousy footage, no script, and given a period of time to make something entertaining. The results would be varied, but the process fascinating.

You can't fully judge someone's work without knowing how far they had to carry it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Giving It Away

I'm old enough to remember when patrons would be hassled if they tried taking pictures at any kind of theatrical or musical performance- it was just universal.

Things have changed. There will still be shows that ban it- but today there is a much more enlightened thought process around recording of performances. A friend tweeted last night about taking a gazillioin pictures of a show at Disney with his new professional grade rig. Its the kind of camera that would have been confiscated ten years ago, but is now encouraged. Disney realizes that my friend is going to show his cool photos to all of his friends, and will be some of the best marketing they could buy. Their only "cost" is letting my friend's stills out into the world.

Granted, if my friend tries to make a buck of those stills the Disney lawyers will be all over them, as they should be. But both sides understand the value of letting users create and share content derived from your original performance, as it becomes win-win.

Let your users play and share.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Everyone's effort rises and falls, often to match the level of crisis that's in front of them. Big effort to get the project out the door needs to be rewarded.

But when big effort comes from within, because someone wanted to improve an already approved product, deliver ahead of schedule, or just to see if something could be done- effort like that needed to be celebrated in whatever way that person finds most rewarding.

To ignore big effort begins a negative feedback loop that lowers productivity, breeds cynicism, and increases turnover as your best people bail in search of an environment where they feel valued.

Who around you is giving big effort? Do they know you've noticed?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thinking About Design

I've become a big fan of "The Flyover Effect", a podcast hosted by the staff at BitMethod.

Their discussions of design, UI and the general usability of life are always enlightening.

Subscribe, and dig through the archive. Lots of good thinking in there.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Do The Work

What Drew Said.

Somethings you just have to do yourself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

User Education

I noticed the lid to the jar of Natural Peanut Butter I ate last night had this little tidbit:

"Oil separation is normal. Just mix back together and enjoy!"

In other words: "It's not a mistake- it's how you know you're eating the good stuff".

If your product has an aspect that appears to be an error, but is really a feature, educating the user can move beyond eliminating a perceived mistake and move towards a signal of quality.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Second Life

Our new media environment allows for unprecedented recycling of content. With so many channels to fill, content can easily be used in multiple places without too much overlap of audience. This raises the stakes for making quality content rather than lowering it.

I hear too often the call do a project on the cheap because it's "only for the web", even though a successful web segment, if pushed to multiple channels, can have as much viewership as a high profile "non-web" project. Just because the viewership comes further down the Long Tail doesn't diminish the value of those views.

Because online content has multiple lives the effort should be raised because you never know where the content is going to show up down the line. What if by chance it does go viral? Do you want your best work out there, or something you just threw together?