You have to design the system not just the page

Hopefully this won't be read so much as a gripe but more a reminder to us all that DESIGN is something that is not just about artwork. Design is about the entire process you are working on. I am speaking specifically about business and the systems that help you run them. And even more specifically about digital processes in your business.

Building systems takes effort. And when I mean systems, you should have a system for everything you do. You have to understand that nothing stands in isolation. How you answer the phone, what happens when you publish content to your website, when you ask for feedback all of these things are not in isolation to other processes. They are part of many interactions.

You HAVE to think about all the interactions, all the processes that will result from what you are doing, and plan them too.

I have two examples one great and one quite dreadful.

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Watching others do something well is a neat feeling

I got to see the end result of a few new processes and approaches today as we released a new project.

It was the result of some, people offering up to do something risky, and applying what we had agreed was a great way to approach the challenge.

Then it was about execution. About getting it done and doing it well.

And they did!

So often those things are taken for granted. Sometimes people just don't get to execute it very well.

When they do, it is an awesome thing to see.

People working well together to a common goal.

Of course next week you have to do it all again. But for this small moment, I will sit back and reflect on what happened and what worked so well.

Well done people.

Are there too many rules in your design?

 

Over the last 6 months I have been having a lot of discussions with my team about the way a creative process should flow across the numerous different outputs we deliver (apps, web sites, graphics, social pages etc).

Over the last week I have also seen a number Designers discussing trying to find 'the right way' to build their design. Is there a right way? Maybe I have read too much Tom Peters, but to me I believe the design has to have a purpose. Commercial design, innovative design needs to solve something, fix something, make something better, or be something totally new.   Truly great design should be a very creative output. If that output is controlled  by too many rules can it truly be creative?

Will it be the best or right design for it's job?

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I want a new website. Part 1.

Sometimes I forget that for many the web is a place they do things in, not necessarily a place they understand fully, and that engaging an agency to create a new web site design they often don’t know really where to start. My aim in this short series is to create a starting point for people to work through some very important steps which will make their end project better.

Like driving a car, you don’t need to know much about the engine, just can it do the job you need it to do.

The problem for many in getting a website built is they make decisions in a way many make decisions about cars. How does it look, how comfortable are the seats.

Ever gotten home with your new car only to suddenly realise it didn’t have a tow bar that you would have liked, or other specifications that didn’t suit you? Most times that doesn’t happen. You critique each vehicle, take them for a drive, get them checked over mechanically or compare each of the specs against competitive models.

While many do that in a RFP or other method of evaluating web development partners, in many instances, the work done at this point is quite often not enough, or all wrong.

Typical RFP’s include technical information and evaluation criteria that have absolutely nothing to do with performance of the website for your actual goals. They have nothing to do with the marketing purpose, the integration with the business or what the best methods of getting a better online asset are. They tend to be regurgitated documents that others recommend to make sure technical requirements are met.

So where should you start? What matters most?

In my opinion, no matter whether you already have a development partner in mind or not, what you need to do is ask yourself some very important questions.

As Steven Covey explains in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective people, you need to ‘begin with the end in mind’.

What do you actually want this site to achieve. (this is equally important for application development or any other program for business).

While this seems extremely simple, I can tell you from more than 14 years experience, this is often the part that is glossed over.  The reasons that many come to us or any other developer are often things like, “we are tired with the look’, “it isn’t working for us” (general statement not quantified), “we are not happy with our current providers”.

So let’s start thinking about real, tangible results that you want from YOUR website. Not results a friend is getting, or something you read online, or heard on the TV. What matters for you?

Do you want inquiries or leads, sales, better response turnaround times for support questions, improved logistics numbers, less phone calls, more phone calls, a position one on google, less tyre kickers?

It matters.

The specific answers to this question should frame every part of the new site plan we want to put in place.

When you approach your developer and they ask you what are you looking to do, you should be able to emphatically answer “______________________________”.

Followed by a question.

“Can you help us achieve this result?”

This comes before questions about their technical platforms, what CMS the use, how many staff they have, examples of their previous work etc.

If you don’t know what you want, and don’t know what success in any development you undertake is, then how are your suppliers meant to be able to help you.

I would like to see a 2 page RFP something like this:

We currently get 3 inquiries a week via our online marketing channels. We want a provider that can get us 10 within 6 months. We want you to explain to us how, and hopefully in doing so we will understand your capabilities in doing this. We will then evaluate that against other methods so we can make a decision on how best to get to our goals. Oh and please this is for an online product, please only supply your response electronically.

That’s a focus that any developer or marketing agency should be aiming for. That’s specific. That holds everyone accountable.

So what end do you want your new site to achieve. Hopefully it’s goals are  lofty than my example above. Stage one of the planning process is simple, but often it isn’t given enough time. Be realistic.

Set some real targets, some real objectives. You will notice in doing so that, you actually have to ask many more questions.

Questions like how many are we getting now, how are we tracking them, does reception also ask where the inquiry came from? How do we measure such things. What matters most to us.
In reality this is recognising that your web site is an important asset in your business, and you need to give it the same treatment you give all areas of your business. It needs to fit in to your overall strategy.

At this point budget or cost, who or how shouldn’t be questions or issues you consider. Look simply at the result you want then we can get back to the how and how much.

Simple stuff. I know.

But it leads on to the next stages.

In the next edition we will start to examine how you take those goals, dig into them a little more, and start planning out information maps to get a real plan under way.

Should you be listening to your friends?

The referral economy.. recommendations, testimonials all being driven by those many virtual acquaintances and friends you have spent your valuable free time building.

Everywhere I look I see recommendations being built into everything online. Is that such a good thing? How do we filter these referrals so they actually have real value?

Right now we are in an early place of virtual referrals, like much of our social web it is one dimensional and very much still the Wild West frontier.

Have you stopped to think though who is giving you the recommendation? Do you really care the @frednerk rated that movie 4 stars or @janedoe hates Qantas?

How are you rating your friends?

Think about your real life friends and acquaintances, you have acquired quite a bit of history together and knowledge on their tastes, and worked out whether you should be listening to them.

networked friends but who do you trust

Not everyone gets this right, and often take their financial advice from their sparky mate over6 beers at a birthday bbq. Mostly though you work out the who is good at recommending things, you know to take you health advice at least from fit and healthy people, you know to listen to Bob’s recommendation about holiday accommodation because you have stayed in similar places and have similar budgets and styles.

Once foolishly years ago I was influenced to employ someone for a role because a colleague, whom I worked well with, was their best friend. Had I thought about it, why would I employ someone’s best friend? I shouldn’t’ have, because that was the determining final call on some issues that bothered me. Problem was my colleague had never worked with them, and it was their work ethic I was after. So the fact they might be a decent person to my colleague doesn’t mean anything in relation to them being a great employee.

How many of your friends in real life, would you really want to work with?

So how do you rate your online friends? Ireckon we need an online recommendation engine that helps you rate your referrers. Something that helps you clearly recognises that Jim is great with food, and I like his recommendations there, but that his movie advice is pure rubbish.

Imagine a tool that filtered that sort of recommendation for you, so you could get the best of your social friends. I reckon it would be awesome, it would be the glue between all the different apps and sites for places we eat, things we read, music we like etc…

I’d pay for that.

Well that’s what ireckon anyway.

Let me know what you reckon…

How do you cope when your site traffic doesn’t just spike it explodes?

When you have worked in the digital landscape for as long as I have, no doubt you’ve had to deal with some unexpected road bumps along the way. Particularly when you run sites / apps for large national or international brands that have the potential to go “viral”, there can be some interesting moments along the way.

Back 13 years ago when we ventured forth as an independent development and marketing agency on the web, scalability was a new concept, hosting was expensive and slow, but access from ISPs weren’t much so the amount of damage from something getting large volumes wasn’t that big.

Progressively as bandwidth capability has increased so have access speeds. Now moderate numbers of traffic to poorly engineered applications can cause tremendous load which has the potential to wreak havoc for businesses who were not expecting an unnatural spike.

Way back when, the big goal / fear was getting “slashdotted” – where a post about your product or site on www.slashdot.org would result in big traffic spikes that brought down sites. In today’s terms the traffic numbers they got are fairly insignificant, but in their time many tens of thousands of simultaneous users who all clicked on a one of the sites from a post created major issues.

Today that effect can happen from many sources, including news sites, social media channels, bad PR… the list goes on. With the ease of a click and share of a link, if something big or bad happens to you rest assured your web infrastructure is going to feel it.

For our team these challenges are part of the dynamic and fun space we work in.

We have had to help our customers handle massive spikes that would send most webmasters into a catatonic state.

2011 has thrown up numerous challenges to businesses and people in general with a raft of major natural disasters that have driven users online in hundreds of thousands looking to stay up to date with the major events as they have occurred. If you think about how much information you personally consumed over those events across the web and other news channels, then think about the local and international volume searching for that information – you can start to get a sense of the magnitude of provisioning such information.

Many of our non customers probably don’t know the scale of the Ireckon hosting infrastructure, which we run both in Australia and Overseas. It is significant, and while not a major international hosting company we easily deliver over 1 billion pages every month alone, on top of a raft of other items we manage.

Recently we stepped in to help the Brisbane City Council who was under a massive load spike due to the nature of the flood event taking place.

At a time when few sites would have been able to stand up to the massive and continuous load demanded of their group of sites, we were able to assist in getting the sites back online and stable with the core and critical information delivered.  At times of such stress and demand on a network, we were able to offer interim solutions that facilitated a fix, that could handle the load and then gracefully migrate back to the core infrastructure as the load diminished.

Just as we stood down from that, Cyclone Yasi came ashore, and as a partner with News Digital Media, delivering solutions to the Regional Newspaper network we stepped in again to assist The Cairns Post and Townsville Bulletin newspapers manage not only load, but also publishing in difficult and trying times.

The infrastructure was already in place for these web properties, but the manpower and accessibility to publish was a critical issue, and through the night, ireckon staff were on board, assisting to publish content from reporters in the field and across the network and giving the teams in Cairns and Townsville much needed breaks.

To us, that’s just what we do.  As we always say we take partnering to a different level. We live and breathe the real time, dynamic nature of the web and take our role seriously with all of our customers. We aren’t your ordinary agency, we are so much more.

To us, we just expect that the unexpected is going to happen, so I guess in a way we are always planning for the unexpected.

Are you? Is your hosting infrastructure up to the potential you are aiming for, do you have a plan B in case something goes ballistic? You should!

Well that’s what ireckon!

How much do you really know about your site visitors?

I spoke today at Interactive Minds’ September event, specifically on metrics.

The talk consisted of two of my favourite metrics tools. This post is about Clicktale, a brilliant usability and conversion tool.

Funnily enough while reviewing my notes, I saw a posting from @franksting talking about measuring readers, not visitors on his blog.

Amongst a raft of other great functions within the product, attention, scroll depth and link analysis as well as engagement time are all expressed using colourful screen overlays. Heat maps for eye tracking and attention measurement charts enable such visualisation of whether people are actually reading the content of a blog.

One of my favourite features is the recorded views. While these are only useful with a trained eye, and in combination with the more advanced summary data, they provide real time testing of your site.

With the ability to view versions you can see the significant difference between different examples being A/B tested, so not only can you see actual click patterns, but you can see the complete user interaction with the page (and content).

Mouse Movement Heatmap

Previously we have used this to identify where users have engaged more in the centre of a home page, and avoided a menu, only to use a completely different behaviour within a site. While this goes against some schools of thought on site wide consistency, knowing it enabled specific change to be made to improve the functionality of the home page and simplify it.

Tools such as Clicktale, when used correctly can enable a highly focused web site design that puts content exactly where users want it. What better way to maximise your efforts, ensuring that not only enticing content is generating the clicks, but also you aren’t creating endless content with a blind disregard for its suitability to your audience.

The conversion analysis tools that measure direct effectiveness of individual forms, and how they convert, is a three dimensional view above the funnel type of visualisation Google Analytics provides. This report shows how long each field is interacted with, specific drop out points, refilled fields and a raft of information that can be compared across form versions to ensure you stop dropping users.

You can run it free for a sample, but the paid versions are well worthwhile and compared to paid user studies of a site, and the time delays in getting results collated, this product certainly puts the power back into a webmasters hands.

I know I haven’t been using it enough of late, but having to sit back and evaluate the data we collect, has refreshed my enthusiasm into extending its reach into our sites.

Well that’s what I reckon! What tools do you love to use for analysing your sites?

It has to work. Not for you for your client.

Today I received an email, from a raving fan of my team. Basically my team do the work so that’s who our customers love really.

He wasn’t always this way. Part way through this project, our first with him, a few road bumps occurred.

But we dealt with them and pushed through to get the result required. In most circumstances there are always two sides to problems. To me that doesn’t matter.

I want to see the end result. Blame gets us nowhere.

Sure we have to make sure we hold ourselves and our customers to being honest and responsible, but our job is to make sure we deliver on our promise. More importantly it has to work.

Not the obvious does a page load or does data get stored. That is mandatory. BUT.. does it work for our customer, does their business get better because of what we did.

One month in and a 43% improvement of conversions (what the whole project was about) is a bloody good start.


I love that sort of result. I want to see that get better or continue on before I feel the job is truly done.

That’s why I have an inbuilt hate for the current era of social media and other digital late coming gurus. Not because I want to own the turf after 15 odd years in the game.

No, just simply because for all the hype and self proclamation, all the ROI presentations,and repetitive talk about how this and that are a must do thing, business and industry are doing business. Not talking about it.

If their business needs a certain marketing / web implementation because it WILL IMPROVE their business, then it should be done. It should never be done because it is the supposed latest newest thing that every business can’t do without. It isn’t about a few lessons in twitter or a youtube video that will just viral itself.

Something doesn’t just go viral because you want it to or say it will. That’s like trying to catch the flu in a room full of healthy people. Great ideas or messages go viral because they have the right signal in the right breeding ground.

Crap ideas end up in the internet loo. More dirty by-product clogging up the passages.

In business you have to be able to show some form of return. Even intangibles like customer satisfaction can be quantified albeit not exactly, but in ways that matter.

My advice, learn about all the new technologies, methods and ways to do things. But when the advisor you are hearing plays a numbers game, of fans or followers, or doesn’t have real experience in making businesses quantifiably better, simply put them on a performance guarantee. Something that needs measurement to pay by.

Only the good will remain. Make them be part of a great result. Good people will take that challenge easily.

In my book it just has to help improve their business or our work isn’t done yet.

Well that’s what ireckon anyway.

All that glitters is not gold!

The crowdspanking goes on

The crowdspanking goes on

Last night a person (yes a real human) made several mistakes. They made an error and then the attempts to manage it weren’t so great and things didn’t exactly resolve themselves as they could have.
Ever happened to you? In your working life, have you ever made one of those mistakes that sent chills down your spine? I know I have. I once type “ rm *.* /” (or to that effect it was a long while ago) on a Linux web server before going to make a coffee to come back and find an empty machine.

Deliberate? No. Horrible? Yes.

You know that sometimes it happens. We are people not angels or robots that can operate continuously without error. In fact, they cannot either.

So why is it that the tools of Social Media make tools out of people?

Yes, companies, people and organisations of any sort can and should be open to criticism and correction of poor behaviour. I agree totally. However I don’t agree that Crowd Spanking of everyone that does something wrong is effective nor necessary.

The Open tools of communication should make for better communication. Unfortunately, last night that didn’t happen. Before the company involved had a remote chance to respond, the crowds were out in force spanking hard and frequently. There was some sanity amongst the masses thankfully.

If you spanked your child every time they made a mistake (maybe you do which is much worse), or every employee that made a mistake or yourself ... you get my point.

There needs to be thought first action later.

Key facts:

  1. It appears to be a dumb mistake.
  2. Everyone who got one knew that they weren’t entitled to it; simply the wording of the message told you that. If you only flew once this year how could you have gotten close to the 50,000 points required to be a Gold member.
  3. Yes, virgin blue could have handled it better once it broke. Maybe they called it an IT error so they didn’t fly off the handle and blame a staff member without facts. They were probably fixing it first. Protecting staff is a good quality IMHO.

I am all for consumer advocacy and for consumer rights but I am also an advocate for common sense and understanding and human errors. If we are too afraid to make mistakes, we will never take risks!

What has been forgotten is that someone a person or small team of people are in a whole load of pain right now. Any of them your friends or family? Any of them maybe might lose their livelihood, or their credibility. How would you feel if it was you or yours?

Step back from the computer.  Take a deep breath.

Remember before you wade into the groundswell of consumer hysteria to apply some balance. Social Media Tools are not all one-way traffic. In addition, your rights are meant to be your rights. First, think about what your rights are and then be honest as well.

Really how many people just purchased a flight within 1 hour of ‘going gold’ for the extra benefit of access to the lounge, quick check in and extra luggage? I am a lounge member and nice as it is, it isn’t that flash, better than outside yes, but not worth a desperate purchase to get into. Maybe it tipped someone over the point of purchase, but in such a short space of time that would be a rarity.

The truth is people have now decided to seek out the freebies everywhere, jump on bandwagons of discontent without having any reason to.

Those that chose to wade in from overseas, or those that were not even part of it, who have never flown with them, really should stop being ambulance chasers. Stop the crowd spanking.

If you decided this fiasco was such a mess you would now fly Jetstar well good on you, you have consumer choice. I have flown Jetstar and I will happily stay with Virgin Blue. They treat me well every time I travel, and I travel a lot! I was actually pretty close to getting Gold, and do I feel slighted? No. I DID NOT deserve it, I HAD NOT earned it.

I lost nothing.

In fact while I KNOW Virgin Blue aren’t perfect I also know how well they treat me well, and that they have done more than Qantas ever did for lowering the cost of airfares in Australia. The fact so many of the crowd spankers have actually flown regularly is because of what Virgin Blue has done for Australian flying. It used to cost 3-4 times as much before and it was not that long ago!

Add some balance to your thinking and demands. Do you really want to force a business when they make such a mistake that you would be happy to force them to honour something that may well cripple a business? Add some perspective. This is not a corporation that has exposed their staff and customer to asbestos and are denying compensation. It is an upgrade people!

So what could have Virgin Blue done better?

  • They could have communicated quicker and better.
  • They could have made sure the messages they distributed were better constructed and more thought out.

Before all the Social Media Gurus come up with the 10 things that Virgin Blue could have done better blog posts think through how businesses and people at work live.

  • This was late on a Friday.
  • Under the pressure and volume of complaints they were receiving it can be very difficult to step back and create something creative and concise to appease the hungry hordes. To deliver a Virgin style message is not something that happens quickly, a lot of thought and effort goes into them.

Under the guns of public scrutiny and the pressure of the war of errors, the team of people involved probably thought they were doing an okay job, but one can only assume a lot of yelling was going on behind closed doors and there were a bunch of people hurting about it. Most people I know take their jobs pretty seriously (I have 15 of them). They would have been feeling very uptight and stressed about it.

Maybe they didn’t think it was life threatening, and who can blame them. It wasn’t.

However, the ideal lists of strategies to employ written by the gurus that have rarely ever had to deal live with these sorts of corporate problems will flow and be digested.

Step back from your keyboards Crowd spankers. You and I know that despite your howls and cries of bad play you will be on the next cheap flight because you aren’t a loyal customer that necessarily has a voice, you like me often choose purely on price. You will be back. They know it and we know it.

If you want to howl with rage then find something worth howling about. There are still plenty of real world travesties going on.

Well that is what Ireckon!

PS> If however this was a silly marketing ploy they thought they could turn well that is a whole different story 😛

16.11.09 > Several Blogs with interesting comments have appeared over the weekend.

Mumbrella has a post about it which has gathered a lot of comment: Virgin Blue's gold class Velocity email blunder

Stilgherrian has a great post with similar sentiment to mine: Virgin Blue's mistake reveals countless selfish whingers

Finding the Nuggets, the 13 things I got from SMX Sydney

miner1I often use an analogy of prospecting for gold when asked why I go to certain events or participate in some seminars. In the rough early days of prospecting, people stood in streams, panning for little nuggets of gold, to pay their way. Much of this was mundane, fruitless work, but work none the less.

Throughout the process there was a chance of finding those gold nuggets, or if that stream ended up being empty of gold, they would move to another. Attending conferences can be a little like this if they are industry specific. Often you will discover you already have heard, or know some or a fair bit of the content, because the conferences are aiming to fill a middle road or a broad area of attendees. Let’s face it they need to make money so if they are too niche they may not get enough people engaged to make profits.

The trick in all of these events, in my opinion, is to pan the stream for the little nuggets. Often the combination of a few little nuggets adds up to something far more valuable than finding one big nugget.

There are many good reasons to attend events, and I greatly enjoyed my time at SMX Sydney 2009 for the very obvious reasons of meeting new people, re-meeting people I have met before and for the social engagement.

Here are 13 little (or not so) nuggets that were worth panning the stream for:Continue reading