design by committee doesn't work

Design by committee doesn't work.  Because commmittees often add direction while losing focus on the end goal - a simple product communication.

While the dyamic in the video below blames design flaws on client misdirection, it rings true on an agency side as well.  One way or the other, information has to be conveyed in a user centric dynamic.  Set a goal and stick to it.  Clutter never works.

Video below/after the jump.

Design Mistakes in Airports

ElalSo I'm sitting here in Ben Gurion International, THE airport in Israel, waiting for boarding.

The new terminal is stunning, the shopping is great, and pretty much everything, including McDonalds, is certified kosher.  The seating in the waiting area is adequate, with wide seats, plenty of space for stowing your carry-ons without taking up additional chairs, and there are windows galore - creating an open and relaxing atmosphere.  The Wifi access is free and incredibly fast.  What could possibly be wrong?

Firstly, let me state that overall, the new international terminal here is very well designed.  The points I am about to outline, are more annoyances than major issues.

To start with, there isn't an outlet in site, anywhere.  I don't know if this is an Israeli thing, a European eccentricity, or a design oversight, but free Wifi without outlets... just doesn't make any sense to me.

Secondly, there is the issue of cell phone rental returns. The returns kiosk is located after check-in at the airport.  Sounds great so far.  However, as any regular flier will tell you, much of your cell phone usage comes while you are waiting to board, not while you are checking your luggage.  Positioning your cell phone rental returns kiosk in the main (post-check-in) shopping mall not only serves as annoyance to your renters who are still looking for cell phone usage at the gates and waiting areas, but it serves to decrease the number of minutes used - and therefor your own revenue!  Oops.

My third issue here is rather minor, but I have found to be indicative of nearly all airports (and airlines) across the world.  There is a lack of communication.  There should be a bulleting board clearly telling fliers their flight status.  If the plane was delayed on the way in, and the cleaning staff is prepping it, please tell us that we will be 20 minutes late.  If inclement weather is holding up the flight for an hour, use your screens and tell us.  There is nothing more annoying than the nod of the shoulders.  ElAl does not do this, but I cannot count the number of times this has happened to me in the states.

And with that, I am out.  We are finally boarding (just 15 minutes late!), and I'm off to try to switch my middle seat to an isle or a window.  Wish me luck!

face it: your shoes (content) don't fit

Glass slipper If there's one thing I learned from Cinderella, it's not to trust talking rodents. 

If I had to chose another lesson it would be this: items are best utilized for their natural context.

If the shoe doesn't fit, forcing your way into it is both painful and useless. 

Contextual relevancy (the correct foot) is essential to obtaining the desired value (the prince) out of content (the shoe). 

We would do well to remember this.

Content delivers the strongest value to both the user and the content creator (or brand) when it plays in it's intended environment. 

A 90 minute movie may be enjoyable from the couch on a big screen tv, but it would be unwatchable when viewed a cell phone.  While a 30 second YouTube clip looks great on my cellphone, it is unwatchable on my TV.  Context drives the content experience.

Or as Valeria Maltoni said  "content works best within context".  I couldn't agree more.

And the implications are many.

Marketing Implications

Car lane The Current Dynamic: Content generators (newspapers) give the nod to feed aggregator users (Google Reader regulars), by creating RSS feeds.  These feeds feature the newspaper's existent text content and do not require additional formatting or redesign.  This content works reasonably well in the aggregate environment.

However, even as an avid feed aggregate user, I still prefer to read lengthy articles in their native environments.  There is a tangibly real value in reading content together with the pictures, formatting, sidebars and color schemes it was intended to be viewed within.

The Challenge:  Many brands are trying to live in the context of an aggregate experience (widgets in social pages, Google Reader, podcasts, etc.) by creating mini-microsites in the form of widgets and long form commercials in the form of podcasts.  A magazine ad would perform poorly on television. 

New Channel > New Experience > New Marketing.

The Solution: It's time that marketers began thinking about the aggregate user and the flaws of the strip-and-syndicate model.  We need to be building distributed utility that fits the need of the user within the context of the user, rather than the models that suit the brand low hanging fruit (text).  We need to think strategically within user and platform centric models, ultimately delivering unique utility that drives brand objectives.

It's time we started designing for success.

Technology/UI Implications

The Current Dynamic: RSS strips everything.  It strips the design, the context, the subsequent conversation.  RSS Readers strip much of the richness of the content in favor of the simplicity and ubiquity of pure text.

In a social media environment, RSS often strips even the social out of social media.

The conversational aspect of blogs as I see it, lives in three places -

  1. blog to blog conversations within the blog posts themselves,
  2. conversations living within the comments sections on blogs, and
  3. conversations (many of them public) taking place on external social media channels, such as Twitter. 

Read a blog in an RSS reader and you're only getting 1/3 the social capability of the channel.

The Next Steps

We can and will learn to aggregate and syndicate well.  But a new format is needed.

  • Wouldn't it be great is Google Reader could adjust the tonality and feel of their reader based on the piece of content being viewed?
  • Wouldn't it be fantastic if an aggregator could adjust the UI to the nature of the content (text, video, audio) rather than vice versa?
  • Wouldn't it be neat if Google Reader could display a few dynamic widgets on the page?
    • one containing related posts from across the blogosphere
    • another could contain comments and discussion threads in the blog comments together with the ability to contribute within the reader interface
    • a third would contain related media from across the internet - Twitter, traditional digital media, YouTube videos, etc.

Key Takeaway: Syndicated media need not lack for context.  However, without context, media is often stripped of it's richness and ultimately, value. 

By all means, syndicate and aggregate, but do so with caution.

next steps: Windows Media (Player and DRM)

Wmp11Windows Media Player is a mess.  It's slow, doesn't natively bundle a robust codec support base and ties into a less-than-popular DRM scheme.  It looks like a dieing product.  But I believe that Microsoft may be sitting on an untapped goldmine.

Over the past couple years Microsoft has continued to invest in their desktop media player and DRM (beyond the media suite coupled with Vista).  Microsoft has fully revamped the UI and redesigned overall experience, delivering a far better looking player. But the success of their player is going to hinder on the value it delivers, not the wrapper it presents.  A shiny nickel will always be worth less than a crumpled dollar bill.

But there is hope for Microsoft in this world.  Microsoft has one thing that Apple, iTunes and the popular VLC Media Player don't have - advertising.  Wow, that sounded evil.  Let me explain.

Microsoft has:

  • an incredibly powerful network of users and strong desktop penetration,
  • a robust network of content owners (they are a Hulu syndication partner)
  • and their key differentiation: advertisers. 

When properly and strategically leveraged, Microsoft is in the unique position to offer ad-supported downloadable video.  I'm not talking about NBC Direct's poor excuse for ad supported downloadable video.  I'm talking about a seamless experience.  I'm talking about leapfrogging iTunes in their own field.

Microsoft is the best suited company to deliver this eventual reality.

Microsoft's desktop player should become everything that Joost could have been, had Joost had access to first-run mainstream network content.  Microsoft should be providing downloadable, portable (to Windows DRM capable devices) premium ad supported content. 

This would give the Windows Media offering an amazingly unique value prop, one that nobody else could deliver.  Google, AOL and Yahoo! don't have the desktop penetrations that Microsoft has.  Apple doesn't have the advertiser relationships.  And users don't have a free and legal way to gain access to portable content.

Everyone wins.

SearchMe - intuitive search result browsing

Google's results page is great.  It's clean.  It highlights the relevant text within the article.  It cuts out the clutter.  It gets to the point. gives you the kitchen sink, including pop-up previews of the pages, bringing richer functionality.  Of course with rich functionality comes design clutter and often distracting noise.

SearchMe gives you the results as page previews - in cover flow.  There is little if any text.  The experience is all about the page you're visiting, not the select words that are found in that page. 

Will it work?  Will we care?  Will we adopt?

Check out the video below (after the jump).


Now here's the kicker.  We all know and use Google.  It's become a verb, a cultural icon! 

Is image based search results enough of a differential (assuming all else is equal, which is a daunting task in it's own right) to generate real marketshare in a fiercely competitive metrics and results oriented landscape?

form vs. function in interactive video

Ctv Interactive/clickable video sounds great... in theory.

Advertisers dream of the day when their products will clickable in-stream.  As a user, I would enjoy the ability to purchase background music or a film soundtracks from within the video viewing experience.

As an experience designer, how would you layer in this interaction?  How would you notify consumers of a clickable asset without intruding on the user experience?  When does notification become interruption?  When does interruption become invasive?

I don't have an answer, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Here are a few examples of what I've seen to date:

  • puts floating target beacons over the clickable elements within a video.
  • (kudos to Scott for sharing) allows users to turn on and off calls to action (floating targets).
  • Joost inserts semi-relevant widget overlays over video.
  • HoneyShed (a client) puts calls to action for the "clickable" items on a sidebar.

Which is the best solution?  I really don't know.  But I have a feeling that we are not yet where we're going to be.

Smart Player > next gen online video is here (w video!)

Header OK, so that title is a bit of an exaggeration.  That being said, I am very excited about Permission TV's new Smart Player.  This is THE FIRST truly interactive web player platform I've seen.

  • It has:
    • user generated in-stream commenting,
    • socialization tools,
    • mashability,
    • plinking (product linking),
    • e-commerce,
    • embedability,
    • content oriented interactivity,
    • smart serving (based on a full suite of demographics, geo-targeting and more), and
    • dynamic content/advertising.

And best of all, it's dynamic and semantic content engine is advertiser friendly with a rich reporting suite to boot.  Video below (after the jump).

note: video removed.  You can see it here.

Some Perspective: This is currently a technology play with marketing potential.  Permission TV's next step has to be around licensing and distribution.  They have to get the right content owners and destination/distribution sites on board if this product is going to see the light of day in-market.

Future Visions: Web interactivity is only the beginning.  As out living room media experiences become more connected via iTV, Digital Cable, IPTV, Gaming Consoles, Media Extenders, DVRs and more, the interactivity of the web will merge with the simplicity of the living room media experience. 

I've been hearing more and more about "The 10 Foot Interaction".  Our media experiences will evolve.  We will interact from our couch, just not from a traditional mouse or keyboard.  It is going to be up to platform providers like Permission TV to build out tomorrow's web experiences today, and to begin thinking two steps ahead towards the living rooms experiences of the 2010s, real soon.

The web was only the beginning.