SYPartners is probably one of the best creative agencies no one has heard of and that is on purpose. They a firm steeped in the belief that transformation of individuals, teams, and institutions requires equal parts empathy, aspiration, and a bravery to act. The firm fuses systems thinking and creativity to help organizations in times of seismic change: the formulation of a new business strategy, a merger or acquisition, the rise of a new CEO, the return-to-greatness journeys after an industry shock. Like most really good ideation companies their work is pretty much all confidential but I do know they are responsible for the Starbuck rebranding and the IBM THINK exhibit at Lincoln Center.
SYPartners is led by Keith Yamashita who recently spoke at the Behance 99% conference on ‘The 3 Habits of Great Creative Teams‘. This talk was born out the work that SYParters has also been doing working with over 1000 teams to create tools to help creatives and creative teams reach their true potential. The first release from this initiative was a brilliant iPad app called Unstuck with 11 free tools and over 50 targeted tips to help anyone get their inspiration and creative process back on track. The video is one of the best I have seen in a long time as it looks at what happens when the your team is faced with adversity does it stand strong and act boldly or does it crumble under pressure? Keith shares his insights about great collaborative environments including: have an awareness beyond your day-to-day, respect the unique talents of your team members, and actively cultivate meaningful one-on-one relationships. I think it is a must watch for any creative director. Now if I could just figure out how to get a deck of those cards…
Read more of: 3 Habits of Great Creative Teams »
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy I have had more than a little time on my hands this past week. During that time I thought about my experience with the utility companies in and around New York City and how badly their customer interactions failed. And there is a huge lesson to be learned here because these companies didn’t understand their relationship with their customers and they couldn’t look past the obvious tasks to see what their customers really needed from them – hope.
When the utility companies designed their Web sites, wrote their call center scripts and created social media strategies the focus was on letting customers accomplish utilitarian tasks like paying bills and solving simple problems. But they provide services that are vital to day-to-day life so they need to understand that this puts them in a different mental and emotional space with their customers. Their services affect lives, lifestyles, personal safety and personal health. These are huge issue people take very personally so their user experience strategies have to be able to transform from the obvious utilitarian tasks to provide something more when there are serious problems.
Interactions with these companies after the storm were so bad because you could never get a straight answer, never get a sense of if progress was being made or get a sense that the companies had any real idea of what was going on in the power restoration process. Every person I talked with understood what the utility companies were up against after the storm. They knew the size of the problem, they were willing to work with them and to have patience as the problem were fixed. But the lack of information lead to frustration with everyone because all we wanted was some information because that information would give us hope. Hope that our lives would get back to something close to normal and we wouldn’t have to worry about how we were going to keeps our homes safe and warm every night to food and light. Without that hope you started seeing signs like the one in the photo above which was placed on one of my neighbor’s front yards expressing his outrage with the situation.
I can tell that the utility companies didn’t design from the perspective of their customers so they couldn’t understand that their role in our lives is larger and more vital than other companies. They didn’t understand how important simple information becomes in a crisis and so they didn’t have the communication and information sharing in place that would have solved the problem. I have seen that having a strategy where your experiences are led by lack of insight and internal business structures leads to these types of tragic results.
It was also frustrating to me that their social media strategy was so laughably bad. They completely missed that social media is a channel that could have easily communicated a lot of information to give people some hope. The best example I have of this failure was that I posted the image shown above to my Instagram account with the caption “In my neighborhood many still don’t have power and @ConEdison communication is nothing short of pathetic”. Click on the link and you can see that Con Edison liked this photo. It this happened with one of my brands I would have had a nervous breakdown that our social media strategy was that dumb and blind.
No matter what business you are in, you have to really understand your customers, understand their needs and be able to look past the obvious tasks to deliver on all of their needs. This means you have to do research, talk to your customers and walk a mile in their shoes so their experience becomes real and not just a theory. I wouldn’t think this type of thinking wouldn’t be optional anymore but the more brands I work with the more I clearly see that isn’t the case.
Read more of: What Hurricane Sandy can teach us about user experience design »
If you are like me there are a handful of apps on your phone or tablet that are an integral part of your daily routine. Every morning my alarm clock goes off, I roll over to turn on the TV and grab my iPad. My first ritual is to check my email to make sure nothing caught on fire overnight and then I launch the news aggregator app Flud. I love Flud because my time is always limited so it lets me quickly pour through content from over 30 different self curated sites. Flud launched a redesign of the app last Thursday where they made a number of large changes to the interface and functionality but the reaction from me and the user base at large has been horrible causing their four star iTunes App Store rating to go crashing down to two stars. In an act of damage control the founder took to social media to explain their new direction and why they made the decision that lead them to the new design. I love Flud and would love to see it return to its former glory so I thought I would a little time to break down what happened and what we all can learn from Flud who seems to have been blinded by user data to the point where it is destroying what they were trying to create.
The problem centers starts with the previous version of the app the content from each site was laid out in a series of long pages. This meant that to see all the article from one site you wold scroll vertically but to move from one site to another you would have to swipe horizontally (you can see it in action in this video). It was this horizontal swiping that which lead them to their new direction as they cited the fact that 10 months of user data showed them that users did not want to swipe more than 7 or 8 times through the app. The new interface now completely removes the horizontal swiping to access to the content from individual sites in favor of a single page that mixes all the content from all the sources together. Let’s look at the real problems and how I think they should have handled their user data and new design.
Problem 1 – Control issues
I think the root of the problem everyone has with the new design has little to do with the actual design but has everything to do with control issues. The previous version of the app let me choose the sites where the content came from, let me control the order in which they appeared in and let me flip through them to decide which ones I wanted to read. The new version of the app takes all that control and customization away from the user and instead collapses everything down to one content stream that is controlled by the app. This is a huge user experience design mistake because they mis-read the data and over reacted to it.
Apps like Flud are just interactive tools and you build a tool you have to understand that there will be different types of users who want to accomplish different things and the design has to account for that. You need to have one path through the app for task focused users are seeking to accomplish tasks quickly through quick and simple interactions. These task focused users have very definite behavioral limits and little patience for anything that distracts them from their desired task. They want control in the form of being able to customize the interface to make things more efficient. You need to have another path through the app for content grazing users who want to take their time and look around. These content grazers are much more open to new experiences, to experimentation and distraction. They want control in the form of being able to add or remove functionality or content to the app so they can experiment and see how they like it. Both task focused and content grazing user are invested in the app and want some form of control over it.
I think that Flud looked at the data showing that there was a behavioral limit to the current interface and let it blind them to other larger behaviors of their users. In this case fundamentally changing the functionality so it took control away from those users after they have grown use to it and forcing them into a predetermined experience caused very bad reactions.
Problem 2 – Content consumption isn’t one-dimensional
The other problem that I think went unrecognized is that the way a person consumes content and the type of content they want to consume isn’t always the same. I use Flud in the morning to read through what was going in the worlds of technology, social media, mobile and digital design so when I walked into work I would be sure I was up to date on the latest developments and stories that would apply to my job. But when I got home at night I would use Flud to read through content about personal interests like industrial design, fashion, video games, interior design and movies. This means that for me as a single user I would use the same app for two very different purposes at two very different times but a behavior like that would never be reflected in just the user data. This goes back to my first point about control but now with the new design its impossible for me to replicate this behavior since all the content is now all mashed together. You can’t assume that information consumption is one-dimensional and all user will act exactly the same way all the time. I will say it again, Flud is a tool and no successful tool can be one-dimensional.
My two cents on using user data
There is an art and a science to how to react to user data. If you are talking about something straight forward and transactional where you have data that you will sell 20% more products with a certain verbiage on a button or fewer steps in the check out process then the path forward is clear. But if you are talking about data from large experiences or interactive tools like web sites, mobile apps or interface designs then the user data is only the starting point. Use it to understand literal behaviors like click-through or where there are behavior limits – like in this case where users wouldn’t swipe more than 7 or 8 horizontal times to see content. But then you have to be able to use art and science to read between the lines starting with the user data but add in an understanding of the psychology of your users then create the vision of how you want to evolve the experience to accomplish the goal of the re-design.
If you keep this type of information in vacuum without understanding user behavior and a clear concept then you get over reactions, things fall out of balance and you ultimately get very bad user reactions. This lack of balance also happens with more than just user data. Just look at the redesign of the Gawker platform last year where they let their need for increased online advertising dollars lead their re-design which killed the experience for the user and lead to their site traffic dropping from 5 million views a day to under 500k. For any digital experience to be success the final result has to be a negotiated blend of brand, business and customer goals. You have to look at each project and determine how those three needs to be weighted to achieve the desired end result and no single goal can completely take over the process. If it does then you get what we see with Flud or Gawker if information is misunderstood or if one of the goals dominates so completely that it gets in the way of the customer goals and creates a bad user experience.
Read more of: Flud. A case study in user data blindness. »
I first wrote about the need for creative leadership about three years ago and since then I get asked “What do you think are the qualities of a great creative director or creative team leader?” more than any other question. I think the question is asked so often because with the economic downturn companies need creative leadership now more than ever and they can’t find enough of it. So I wanted to revisit the subject to add new observations and insights I have learned over the past three years in the hopes that this helps create more great creative leaders.
As I wrote about in my last article, I have found creative leadership can be grouped into two general areas – leaders and managers. Managers do just what the name implies by managing their projects and focusing on individual deliverables. They hold weekly status meetings where the team slowly and painfully goes around the room reporting in on the progress of the workload and concludes with a quick rundown of the highlights from the latest company newsletter. This method maybe great for employees who do repetitive and mindless tasks but anyone creative it is a slow, uninspired death where you increasingly feel like your career is going nowhere. So what makes leaders different? What makes them a source of innovation and leadership instead of just a source of deadlines? Let’s break this problem down into a series of comparative traits that I think clearly separate leaders from managers.
Leadership vs Execution
The void in creative leadership starts with the fact that most companies don’t realize that just because someone is a good designer, information architect or writer DOES NOT mean they have any of the skills needed to be a great leader. When someone is a designer, IA or writer it means they are good at coming up to creative solutions to a problem and meeting deadlines. These are executional challenges that require creativity but to be the person who leads those writers and designers requires a complete different set of skills. It requires an arsenal of skills including psychology, politics and confidence to be successful. You have to be a psychologist who can understand the individual creative process of everyone on your team to know when you need to push them to solve the problem for themselves or help them by giving them some guidance to keep the process moving. You have to be a politician who can understand the matrix of any organization, maneuver your group into a position where they are viewed as having value and then use it to give promotions, raised, praise, etc. You have to have confidence so other people want to listen to you, want to follow you and want to be inspired by you. NONE of these skills have anything to do with the quality of your work as a designer or writer and they need to be developed completely independently. This is why you see time after time that you someone who was a fantastic designer fails miserably when they are asked to take more of a leadership role. There has to be a recognition that as you move up the ladder at any creative organization your skill set has to grow from the executional to the psychological to be successful. I have yet to find a company or agency that has made this realization was grooming their future creative leadership with this in mind.
Insights vs Best Practices
I go to conference after conference where a parade of speakers stand up to talk about their best practices to an audience who is diligently taking notes and trying to translate the knowledge to a form that will work for them. The problem is that best practices have value but without the ability to create your own unique insights you are staying the same as everyone else with no competitive advantage. Leaders are able to use best practices as a starting point but then create unique insights that give them competitive differentiation from everyone else. You need to look at social trends, business results and consumer insights to create real and unique insights to guide the vision of the brand, channel or next project. Spending the time to do this work can generate incredible returns and separate your brand from everyone else and isn’t that the headline that every conference brochure is promising?
Beliefs vs Status Quo
Navigating the politics of any organization can be difficult and you till see that managers deal with this problem by floating along with the status quo letting it move their opinions where it will. They do it because when you have an opinion it means you have declared a position on an issue and you can be judged on it – good or bad. Leaders aren’t afraid of this judgement and often welcome it. They have a strong vision and set of beliefs that they use to guide and drive their team. Think of any great creative leader – Steve Jobs, Ray Eames or Jim Henson – they all had their own unique visions and beliefs that they used to drive their teams. To be a leader you need to be able to develop your own beliefs and access that people will judge you on them but it will be your passion and thinking that will rally them to your side.
Ideas vs Management
Understanding how to position your creative team inside of your company can be a huge factor in its success. Managers create teams that are focused on deliverables, dates and blinding doing whatever is in the creative brief. While that approach doesn’t make any waves within the organization it also means that your group is perceived as a service driven commodity with not much real value. To change this you need to be a leader who makes your group focused on ideas that are always in service of the best consumer experience. This means you need to question what is in a creative brief if it isn’t in service of the idea that creates the best consumer experience. All of this is critical because ideas have value and that value will change the perception of your group and you.
Actions vs Words
Everyone has heard the phrase ‘talk is cheap’ but most people don’t take the time to understand just how true it really is and just how important it is to leading a creative team. Every new leader comes in with a lot of bravado and great sounding ideas but time is the real test of if its anything more than just talk. To be a real leader and to get your team to buy into your vision that talk needs to lead to real actions. It has to happen because creative teams need a sense of security and they need to know that their hard work is part of something real of they will get frustrated, disillusioned and they will leave. So remember that saying the right things is really easy but doing the right things is really hard but people inherently know the difference.
Self Awareness vs Emotional Deafness
Part of being a leader has nothing to do with your team but has everything to do with you and your self-awareness. Managers have an emotion deafness where they aren’t able to read the emotional and physical cues given off by people or teams to know how to get the best out of them. This leads to a blunt force management style where they force everyone to work like they do and the team becomes nothing more than a production shop. This defeats the point of hiring talented creative professionals because you are robbing them of their creativity, ideation and passion. To be a great leader you need to take the time and create the self-awareness to understand your process and how you can include you team in your process so they all rally behind it, make it better and improve their personal process so they get stronger. This is critical because creativity is largely an emotional profession where people need to feel inspired, invested and protected to do their best work.
Great vs Good
The last thing I see in every great leader is that good work is the single greatest threat to great work. Good work is such a threat because it gets the job done and can get sold to a client but its a compromise. Great work takes hard work, thought and the passion to go beyond what could get sold and get to work that is great, meticulously thought out and breakthrough. You get there by treating creativity like a blue-collar profession where are willing to do the extra work to create strong concepts and understand that when it comes to their execution there are no unimportant details.
SO… Now what?
I have found there is no magic bullet for what makes a great leader because their success is also defined by the company they work for, the challenges they need to solve and team they surround themselves with but these are all traits that I have seen in the great creative minds and the great leaders that I’ve worked for and with over the years. It is a difficult subject which is why so many people tend to default to the thinking that leaders were born with that skill set as opposed to thinking that people can learn to be a leader. I don’t agree with the thinking that you have to be born that way because I have found that with the right training and tools anyone who is willing to make a sincere investment in working on the skills listed above can become a great leader. I would love to hear your thoughts on what has made up great leaders you have worked with or what you have done that has created leadership in your team.
Read more of: Are you a creative leader or manager? (Redux) »
Brandalism is often defined as a clever mix of vandalism, graffiti and art that is created as a direct attack on the corporate branding’s effect on our landscape and society. I’ve been interested in the movement for a while mainly for a while and thanks to recent documentaries you will recognize some of the founders of this movement like British street artist Banksy and American artist Ron English. You known Banksy’s work from the documentary Exit Though the Gift Shop and I love too many of his pieces to name just one favorite. For Ron English I love his McSupersized painting and vinyl toys which are commentary on McDonald’s and Fat Tony which comment on Frosted Flakes cereals.
But the Brandalism movement recently took an interesting turn with 26 artists from 8 countries traveling across the UK for 5 days subverting billboard advertising. This project was the largest reclamation of outdoor advertising space in UK being installed over five days in one continuous road trip that covered the length of the country hitting 37 spots in 5 cities. The entire project was documented on their site and blog which you can read here.
Even as someone who works to build brands for a living I love this movement. I love it because I am not blind to the effects that brands can have on society for better or worse. I think that brand advertising has been one piece of a complex puzzle that has led to the consistent decrease in creativity in our society and that really pisses me off. I don’t like that I see more and more young designers who can’t do creative problem solving because their parents gave them the answer to every problem all their life. I don’t like that people are increasingly dependent to being spoon fed what they should think and take too much comfort in uniformity. You can easily see the trend when you realize that if deviate from that uniformity you get a label attached to you because even independent thought has to be categorized. It happens every day in small ways like because I don’t want to know what my dinner is going to taste like before I walk into a restaurant I get labeled as a foodie. I don’t want my news channels to tell me what I should think which gets you labeled a lot of different things depending on who you are talking to. And on and on…
We need movements like Brandalism that can take these popular brands and use them as a vehicle to wake people up to what is really going on around them. We need it because we are losing our creativity as a society and even though it is happening in small but consistent ways they are adding up to a big problem.
Read more of: Brandalism: Where branding meets street art »
Thanks to my local performing arts center, last weekend I was able to indulge my foodie lifestyle by seeing the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi‘. The subject of the film is 85 year-old Jiro Ono who is the world’s greatest sushi chef overseeing his 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. In spite of its location and humble appearance it’s the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage for a coveted reservation. I have written before about how I find chef’s to be an incredibly inspiring source of creativity and this was no different. There were two parts of the film that really resonated with me as Jiro talked very eloquently and insightfully on two subjects I have been struggling to better express surround problems I constantly see with young creatives.
Developing your palette
Sitting at a table in his restaurant, Jiro talks about his philosophy that to be a great chef you need to have tasted great food so you can developed your palette to know when you cook great food. This concept of ‘developing your palette’ is something I have been trying to express to designers for years and this is a better way of doing it than anything I ever had. It is such a critical concept because to be successful there has to be a constant two-part cycle of experiencing the best of your chosen creative profession and then using that knowledge as a measuring stick to judge your work. This means that to be a great designer you have to constantly experience great design or to be a great writer you have to constantly read great copy and then you use those experiences and insights to drive your work forward.
I have found the ability to develop your palette is an essential skill that goes constantly overlooked because people think that their talent alone is enough to create great ideas or designs. I think that would be true if we were just creating art for art’s sake but since we are creative designs and experiences that are going to be used by other people we need to start with a constantly evolving context of what else those people are experiencing. It gives you a measuring stick and insights into what works and what doesn’t. It gives your palette context. You can then use your palette to know when you have created an idea that stand out from the crowd.
But you also have to understand that this cycle consumption and developing your palette never stops no matter how long you have been in the industry. It has to continue because your palette has to be constantly evolving to keep up with changes in society, psychology, technology and design. I have seen many great creatives who think that they know it all or that they don’t need to keep up this constant evolution are the ones who quickly find their work and their careers in the dumpster.
Dedication and eternal dissatisfaction
The other theme that Jiro talks about throughout the film is his lifelong dedication to sushi and his constant work to improve all aspects of his craft. This is a trait that I’ve come to embrace over the course of my career and it’s a trait that I see shared by ever great creative mind I have ever know. I think it’s a byproduct of the fact that they constantly works to develop their palette and that palette is constantly evolving so it never lets them find any peace with their own work. They constantly want to make everything they do better. There is always some aspect of their chosen creative professional in their mind, drawing inspiration and storing it away for later.
To that end, over the years I’ve come to embrace the fact that for me there is no off switch. There is no time when design is completely out of my mind because I am constantly looking for new inspiration, constantly tormented by the flaws in my old work and constantly looking for that next great idea. When a project is finished I allow myself 15 minutes to enjoy the work that was done and then I am on to next project. I have little use for nostalgia because when I look back I see only see the mistakes and things that could have been done better. Nostalgia is for people who’s best days are behind them and for people who look to the past for answers. I’ll be damned if I let that happen just yet.
The reason why I think these tow things are such key ingredients to becoming successful is that as you move from designer to creative director your job is only going to get harder – a lot harder. More is expected of you, your ideas, your management skills and your leadership style. You are no longer just responsible for a set deliverables and are instead asked to become a conduit for inspiration, creativity, leadership and company profit. You have to have a way to keep yourself grounded, motivated and moving forward to be successful at all of those challenges.
So if you are looking for a good documentary do yourself a favor and check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you are looking for how to become a great creative thinker and leader look below the surface to see what has really made hm such a success and how you can use it in your career.
Read more of: Jiro dreams of Sushi. You need to dream of design. »
I’ve spent the past two days in San Francisco attending the launch of Adobe’s new Creative Suite 6, Creative Cloud and Touch Apps. Having now been at the launch event and having spent time working with all of the new CS6 products, Creative Cloud and Touch Apps I can say for the first time in a long time that I think Adobe is finally headed in the right direction.
For me it has been incredibly frustrating to watch the past few years as Adobe got crushed by Apple over Flash on iOS devices and even worse to watch the innovation of Macromedia stagnate as Adobe’s product launches became reactive to market trends instead of proactive to help shape the future to design and digital experiences. We have been burned by believing in new features that came out in one release that are then gone in the next release (cough…CS Review…cough). We all knew that something had to change and with launch of CS6, Creative Cloud and Touch Apps I finally see a meaningful and holistic strategy to bring about the change we have been waiting for.
Creative Suite 6
Of all the new CS6 products I have spent the most time in Photoshop CS6 Extended thanks to its beta (you can get your own copy here). After spending a lot of time doing a lot of designs I can say there is a lot I like about this new version of Photoshop. The biggest thing is that thanks to the new Mercury Graphics Engine the entire program is A LOT faster across the board. After that my top three favorite new features are the completely re-design crop tool which sounds dumb but it a fantastic improvement I didn’t know I needed, the new content aware move feature and finally background saves and auto recovery that always keep your designs safe. The other programs have other good enhancement (you can check out here) as well but I’ve only spent a small amount of time really putting them through their paces so I am holding final judgement until I can really test them out. But I am also excited to see a fluid grid layout feature for responsive design in the new version of Dreamweaver.
The Creative Cloud is made up of two different parts. The first part is a complete re-think of how you get your software, get new products sooner and publish your content. It starts with instead of paying one huge fee up front for all the CS6 products you pay a much smaller fee of $29-$49 a month for everything. You can then go into the Creative Cloud and download and install all the apps on to any two computers with a MUCH better and simpler install system than Adobe ever had. The Cloud also gets you access to monthly product updates and new applications as they are put out for beta testing. Finally with your monthly membership you are able to publish up to 5 sites with Adobe Hosting Services and with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, Single Edition you’ll be able to deliver digital publications to tablets.
The second part of the Creative Cloud focuses on cloud storage and collaboration and device syncing. The Cloud gives you 20GB or storage that can be added through Dropbox like desktop interface or through their suite of Touch Apps. Since it is an Adobe Cloud it understand and renders out all of your different file types so you can page through InDesign files or explore the layers of a Photoshop file. I think this part of the service has a lot of promise but still needs a lot of work before I would ever consider putting it in my studio and I say that for two reasons. The first is that in the version the demo’s at the launch you can see that files are either private so only you can see them or they are public so everyone can see them. They need to add a concept of closed workgroups so that your design can be kept private within a set group of people as no designer and especially no client wants their great new design to be available for the world to see before they want to launch it. The second part is around the security of the cloud which they did not discuss in the event. I hope they realize that this cloud isn’t like Apple’s iCloud where I could really care less if a photo of my dog or latest music download gets out in the open. For me this is more like I am giving you bank account information because for this tool to truly work creative teams have to be able to trust that they can put sensitive info, files and designs on the Cloud and they will be safe and protected.
Adobe Touch Apps
I think the introduction of the Adobe Touch Apps is another peek into the fact that they are finally clueing into the fact that they need go embrace how tablets are now part of the creative process and that their tools need evolve to part of the creative process not just the production of the resulting ideas. I have been working with the Touch Apps for about five months now on Android and really like them. My favorite is Adobe Proto which is a very fluid, gesture based wireframing and prototyping tool. My second favorite apps is Adobe Photoshop Touch which is a useful but light version of Photoshop that is good for creating rough comps and composites when you are on the run and need go show and art director what you want them to create. Other apps include Adobe Ideas which is for vector based illustration, Adobe Collage which lets you pull together mood boards from your files on the Creative Cloud or internet site like Google and a tablet version of Adobe Kuhler for creating color palettes. The only app I don’t use is Adobe Debut which is their presentation tool but I don’t like Keynote for iPad or any other tablet presentation app because I need more creative control than they can provide.
I also get asked a lot about what my relationship is with Adobe because my team and I have appeared in some of their customer stories and product showcases so I wanted to set the record straight. I have been working with Adobe for a few years testing new products and giving advice on their strategy and their products. I am not an Adobe evangelist. Adobe doesn’t pay me anything for my time. I do not have to, and in the past have not, said always nice things about some of their decisions. My opinions are all my own but I do have to give them credit because they didn’t bury their head in the sand and ignore those of use who had strong opinions about their products. They asked us to help and I think it is that type of behavior that has led to their new direction and strategy.
So I think when you look at what this new release has you see that it isn’t perfect but it is the first step to Adobe becoming more reactive to the industry and taking a holistic strategy to their products instead of just bolting features on that don’t last. It looks like CS6 will drop in early May and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Read more of: CS6 & Creative Cloud – Adobe finally starts to get it right »
If you have Netflix streaming and any interest in creativity I really recommend watching ‘El Bulli: Cooking in Progress”. It follows Ferran Adria and his team at elBulli from the closing of the restaurant from the past season, 6 months of work in their workshop in Barcelona to create a new menu and then the 6 months at the restaurant rolling out the new menu. It is a fascinating look into how their ideas came together, the dynamics of the team and the combination of precision execution and freewheeling creativity that existed in the kitchen. The style of the documentary is minimalist with no narration beyond the events themselves which means that watching it can be slow in parts but when viewed collectively it really shows how tedious their ideation process and how all that work was the foundation for the more open experimentation they do at the restaurant. So if you are a foodie or want to see a different expression of the creative process do yourself a favor and watch this.
Read more of: El Bulli: Cooking in Progress »
It’s no secret that since Oprah tried to spin The Oprah Show cache into the OWN Network things have not exactly gone to plan as slapping her name on the network hasn’t brought success or huge ratings. It has been painful to watch (literally) as this beloved global brand has started to crumble. Recently my wife and I have had a number of conversations about how to fix this mess that I wanted to share because she came up with a lot of good thinking and there is a lesson to be learned here for all consumer brands. So Oprah if you are out there – here are our completely unsolicited thoughts on how to get your network back on track.
Step 1.) Understand your brand – brand name vs. lifestyle brand
For starters OWN needs to take a step back and really understand what made Oprah such a powerful brand to begin with. Like any great brand Oprah created an emotional connection with people and at it’s best it was like a perfume tear sheet/ad in a magazine. When someone smells a perfume or cologne they really like they want to own it, love it and even become the embodiment of what that scent, brand or celebrity represents. That same thinking applies to the power of Oprah’s brand since people see parts of themselves in her brand and they react to that by wanting to own all of her favorite things, get smarter by reading her books and improve themselves through her adviser’s guidance. All of this made Oprah into a powerful lifestyle brand but the new OWN network has completely misunderstood all of this. They seem to think that the consumers connected with her as only as a brand name and that by slapping that brand name on a new channel people would come running. We have seen that isn’t the case and it is because the programming is only brand name programming that has broken the brand connection with the viewer. So all the reasons why consumers connected with the brand are gone – thus the viewers are now gone as well.
Step 2.) It’s all about content, content, content
Right now their strategy is to get Oprah herself on the channel as much as possible so it’s all Oprah all the time. They need to rebuild their brand through a number of different programming tracks BUT those programs all need to fall under the aspiring and empowering brand values that consumers connected with in the past. Right now all their shows have disconnected from those brand values.
They are currently trying to get Oprah herself into as many shows as possible like on “Oprah’s Next Chapter’ which almost completely focus on what Oprah is doing since she shut down her network show or has her doing news magazine style interviews. The problem with this type of content is that they aren’t giving people any of the aspiring or empowering brand values they are looking for. I don’t want to watch a mediocre interview where George Lucas bitches about how hard his life is because his fans don’t love that he made three boring new Star Wars movies and won’t stop messing with the original ones. I want to hear something interesting, inspiring, empowering or something that I can use to make my life better. That is why people have bonded with the Oprah brand and they can’t find that content or emotional connection anywhere in her new shows. The rest of the programming line-up is filled with shows like ‘Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal’ and ‘Facing Trauma’ which focus on negative events and do not fulfill the lifestyle brand promise her brand consumers are looking for.
So here are a few simple ideas for shows that would help shift the brand back to the positioning that made it so successful with content based on the original Oprah Winfrey show.
The Favorite Things Show
In terms of ideas this is low hanging fruit since it was one of the most popular shows she would do all year. The concept from the show could be reimagined into a weekly show highlighting different products from small, semi-unknown companies in fashion, travel, food, wine, gadgets, etc., the back story on their creators and tell people what is different and special about them. Then use the interest and momentum created by the show to drive consumers onto a special Oprah web site where they can buy the featured product. By highlighting small brands you are showing consumer useful items they can’t get at the local Target, the OWN brand becomes a trusted advisor and (best of all) the show can bring in revenue by selling limited numbers of the items through the OWN web site. You could even keep the same giveaway angle as the old show through social media where one lucky viewer would win everything on the show for posting to Facebook or Tweeting a certain hash tag. The end result would be like a mash-up of Fab.com, QVC and an Apple product launch.
The Oprah Project
One of the greatest thing Oprah was able to do with her show was that she was able to shine the light on causes that needed attention and support to create a positive change for that cause. This show could follow projects as large some of the celebrity philanthropic missions like Brad Pitt’s work in New Orleans but would be better served to do smaller, community focused groups. They could create is around a viewer interaction model like the Pepsi Refresh Project where the world can vote on what projects get chosen and then the show report on the finalists, the winners, their progress and how the donations made a difference. It creates a deep sense of involvement for the viewer, supports the empowerment brand positioning and creates actual change in the world.
Step 3.) Create the first true multi-channel brand experience
Oprah is not a one dimension brand with one dimension touch points and they need to remember that. Every print magazine’s tablet application is nothing more than a reformatted version of the print publication with a little video content and a few interactive ads sprinkled in. At the same time every major and cable networks tablet application is nothing more than a video and news clip aggregator. Looking at those two facts does anyone else think there might be a the huge opportunity for someone who happens to have their own magazine and TV network to create a breakthrough consumer experience? OWN needs to be the first brand to combine the two and create a tablet application that is both a compelling second screen experience for the OWN Network with interactive extension of the Oprah magazine. By combining the two together they can create a richer application with deeper consumer engagement, drive up sell between the two channels as well as offset some of the development costs by only have to create one app instead of two.
I have worked in this industry long enough to know there are no quick fixes for problems like these but my hope is that the network can take a step back, understand what made their brand so great and then start to look at how to construct programming and experience that will give the viewers what it is they are looking for again before it is too late.
Read more of: Three steps to fix Oprah’s OWN Network »
If you have followed my blog for any period of time you know that I get a lot of my creative inspiration from avant guard chefs and probably none more than Ferran Adria and his restaurant elBulli in Spain. The world at large probably first heard the name Ferran Adria in 2003 because of Anthony Bourdain’s TV show No Reservation on an episode called “Decoding Ferran Adria” which was the first primetime look into Ferran restaurant and workshop. I have been such a huge fan of chef Adria and the food because it is wildly creative and challenges the very conventions around what makes a meal.
I personally find a strong link between the creativity in cooking and creativity in design and advertising. I get a tremendous amount of creative inspiration from the work of chef’s like Ferran Adria, Jose Andreas, Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne. I even use their work to teach how to have to break through creative ideas in my studio. I tell my designers here in New York to go to Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant WD50 and have the eggs Benedict to see what I mean. It is a dish we have all had before but to completely re-imagined it into some you have never seen before in a form you have never eaten before the tastes bring back strong memories. It is that play between wild creativity that is contained in something familiar that I love. I think it is what all break through interactive work does. It gives you something completely new but there is something familiar in the usability and the experience when though it is all new.
I don’t know of many people who have been able to cross the #1 item off their bucket list but n the middle of December of last year I did just that. I was given the astounding opportunity to travel to Barcelona to meet Chef Adria, get a private tour of elBulli Taller which is his private workshop and have dinner at his new Tapas restaurant Tickets.
It is not an overstatement when I say that for me being able to spend time which one of the world’s greatest living creative minds and the man who forever changed the face of modern gastronomy in the workshop where he created the world’s greatest restaurant was an experience that had a profound effect on me. This was only the third time Ferran had ever allowed the public into his workshop and hearing about his process and seeing the level of detail he put into every single aspect of the dining experience at elBulli was astounding. The video above shows some of the highlights from that tour as well as showing you Ferran’s philosophy and just what he did to create such temple of creativity. I will more posts in the near future about some of the insights I got from my conversation with Ferran, how to selected his team at elBulli and the techniques he used to lead his team.
Read more of: My visit elBulli Taller – Ferran Adria’s private workshop »