Archive for May 2011
A while ago I picked up the book The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman. The book was originally published in 1987. In other words, this book is as old as I am. That’s a bit scary. Scarier is that they didn’t really have computers back then. I know. Take deep breaths.
Of course, if they didn’t use computers back then and this is a digital marketing blog, what is the connection? Your answer: Good design doesn’t depend on the medium.
That was the reason this book was assigned to my Digital Marketing Masters class as must-do reading in our usability course. It was an enlightening view on how people approach problems, such as “Open the door.”
Opening doors is one of the first examples that Norman uses to illustrate his point that design is integral to how we use the tools around us. Basically, the idea is that if you are presented with a door with a flat metal plate, you know you have to push. If it has a bar where the plate would be, you know to pull. If the bar or plate is on the left, you know the hinge is on the right, and vice versa. But those rules don’t always apply. I know way too many doors with two bars, for instance. And no, writing “Push” or “Pull” doesn’t count. People don’t read. We take cues based on design. Though this seems like common sense, take my favorite door: those to the British trains. They have the handle on the outside and you have to reach through a window to open them. Norman used this example in his book, published in 1987, and they are still confusing people today.
The book is absolutely littered with examples like this, though that might be the most famous. I also enjoyed his description of absolutely useless telephone systems. Do you remember those telephones with multiple lines? They still use them, but they seem to be a dang sight better than what they were like. Unlabeled buttons and odd combinations to reach certain outcomes and if you mess up, you’ll never know what you did wrong.
Now pause, tell me, how this isn’t like so many websites you’ve been on? How about the ones that don’t seem to have a “Login” button even though you have to login to post something? Or those that don’t offer you a “Forgot my password” option unless you go to the “Help” section, which is nowhere near the big red letters saying you’re an idiot for not remembering your password. Or those menus that seemed to have been organized by the most eccentric person on the planet who thinks t-shirts are going-out wear?
People still rely on cues to figure out what they are going to do.
And when we design something to be used, like a “Login” button, it had better have all the bells and whistles to let people know how to use it. This could be as simple as making it a button so it looks like we should click on it, instead of just Times New Roman 12-point font in black, no underline.
Norman’s basic point is that when people make mistakes in using tools, it’s the designer’s fault. We’ve all used those lovely intranet systems that take forever to look up a simple piece of data. We’ve all gotten lost and had to ask a more experienced coworker for help. We’ve all watched in dismay when the task actually required what seems like 10 more steps than it should, using five different menus. Norman sets us free from feeling stupid. It’s not our fault. It’s the designer’s.
Designers often make things so that way the back end is nice and tidy, but if you have ever seen the back side of a cross-stitch piece, if the one side is neat, the other side is a mess (at least in my cross stitch). And that’s what we’re faced with. The worst part is that designers don’t realize it. They think it’s easy, because, well, they designed it! And honestly, what do you expect? It is difficult to go out of one’s way to make life easy for someone in an entirely different position than you.
In the end, I couldn’t recommend this book more to digital marketers. This is an enlightening book and quite a fun read. Norman has a very conversation tone, like chatting with a very witty friend. The old examples even make it more interesting because, well, old as they are, they were new to me.
Pricing is a sticky issue for publishers, particularly in the digital world. Basically, if a price is too high, you, the reader, may ask why on Earth would you want to pay that and go to your friendly neighborhood pirate for a free copy.
So how can a publisher approach pricing in the digital world? Here are three methods.
1. As Cheap As Possible
Because why not? Distribution is free and, as Clay Shirky suggests in his book Cognitive Surplus, there are almost no marginal costs. Basically, each ebook sale is added gravy. Going along in this line, ebooks can be priced fairly cheaply. While speaking at Bloomsbury Publishing in London, Cory Doctorow, author and journalist, acknowledges that there is the possibility of these cheap ebooks cannibalizing the more expensive paperbacks and hard covers, but he doubts it. Rather, he thinks he is merely hitting a market that has a lower price point. Those who want the more expensive hard covers will get them at that price point.
Though Doctorow sells his ebooks, he doesn’t lock the ebook files to one device or prevent users from doing what they want with them. He says that if I could lend and give away copies of my paper books why, when digital is supposed to give us so much more freedom, do I actually have less freedom to share the things I enjoy with my friends? He has a good point. In order to enable this, he protects his work using the Creative Commons license online. While his ebooks may be easy to find, he can still make money off of movie rights and physical book sales. Furthermore, he contends in that by allowing free distribution of his ebooks, he has actually done better in hardcover sales than he generally would. His reasoning? It’s great publicity.
People want to share the things they love. This is the motivation behind much of the digital piracy online. Seth Godin suggests in his book Tribes that pirate copies are being produced by the work’s biggest fans who want to spread the good word. Doctorow tells of how the 7th Harry Potter book was available online within 24 hours of release, and translated by fans into German within 24 hours of that. No one sits and translates a book into another language, for free, without a sizable amount of passion and love. And particularly Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I mean, did you see the size of that book? Doctorow is suggesting that this passion be harnessed into good publicity by allowing fans to freely share the work in a completely legal manner, rather than having to do so illegally.
2. Price What You Can Get
Rupert Murdoch certainly does not agree with Doctorow, having put The Times behind a pay wall. The experts are divided about whether or not this will work. Vivian Schiller from nytimes.com maintains that a blanket pay wall damages publishing’s traditional revenue driver: advertising. Bear in mind, she was the one who took down the TimesSelect pay wall. But there are others who think that Murdoch has a good chance at success, such as Rob Grimshaw from FT.com and Charlie Beckett from LSE’s thinktank Polis. They basically think that it will succeed as long as the payment is easy and accommodating to the readers, either bundled in with another News Corps service or with different packages for readers to choose from. Obviously FT.com thinks pay walls work, having successfully implemented their own.
But, as Clay Shirky has said, “Financial information is one of the few kinds of information whose recipients don’t want to share.” If a pay wall is to work, it has to protect information that both the readers and the publishers want protected, such as financial advice and information that helps those in the know come out better than those who aren’t privy to the necessary info. More than that, the information has to be unique enough that it is not easily replaceable. This goes to what the doubting experts touched on. Sly Bailey from the Daily Mirror and John Temple, from the now closed Rocky Mountain News, think that trying to force payment for what is, in essence, rather standard news coverage will not work. The FT.com has a reputation for good advice and financial news coverage. This is rather hard to find. Good world news coverage? Now that’s actually pretty easy.
3. Price Based On Costs
Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen also seems to disagree with Doctorow. Anderson holds that publishers have to be able to recoup the sizable investment required to create the material in the first place, plus cover the on-going maintenance of the publishing outfit. The manufacturing mindset of costing out items based on how much they cost to produce no longer works. There is a zero marginal cost to creating a copy of a file, as Clay Shirky has pointed out, but there is an accumulated cost over time to maintaining a decent publishing website and staff.
Anderson suggests adopting more of a software-style approach to publishing that makes up this initial investment over the foreseeable lifespan of the product. This approach is already working in some industries, such as the music publishing industry, which he calls, “one of the more mature areas of digital business.” The price of an iTunes song is creeping upwards, to as much as $1.29 for the more popular releases. People are willing to pay that, and the companies can’t afford to price lower.
These three approaches to pricing each make sense, but they all can’t be right. It is possible that, thanks to the ease of reproducing digital material, we can easily hit lower price points, saving those sales, while still enjoying the more profitable sales of premium products, such as hard covers, as Doctorow suggest. It is also completely valid for publishers to try and price what they think they can get, as Murdoch is attempting to do with The Times pay wall. But it is also true that we may be approaching how we think of a publisher’s costs from the wrong direction. Perhaps what we are really looking at is a large initial cost followed by a steady stream of a lower maintenance cost, and this must be recouped via pricing, as Anderson proposed.
There is no easy way to tell which will work out in the long run. Of course, I have my ideas, though. Those are the subject of my next post. Stay tuned for Part 2!
*This post was written as part of an assignment for my
but since the topic was interesting, I decided to use it for this blog.
In the past few months, I had the good fortune to attend the first Google Firestarters event, where I heard and participated in a fascinating discussion of what agile business practices can do for both agencies and clients, and the IPA Club 44 Event at Microsoft, where I got to hear industry insiders talk about the advertising opportunities found in games. Why did I attend these events? Lord knows, I was generally exhausted, had deadlines to meet for school and work, and really only wanted to snuggle down with a good book. But they were worth it. After each of these events I felt re-energized, ready to tackle larger, harder problems, and better equipped to do so. I got myself to get over my laziness by just thinking of how I’d feel afterwards. It’s like going to the gym. After work, it’s the last thing I want to do, but I tell myself how great I’ll feel afterwards and go.
So, to help you motivate yourself to go to that next event, I am finally doing some short event summaries. This one is for the Google Firestarters event. Expect the IPA Club 44 Event in the near future.
Google Firestarters – Agile and Innovative
This event was all about being agile and making things happen. Mark Earls was the first keynote speaker. He pointed out that people are herd animals. Best example: After the When Harry Met Sally’s famous restaurant orgasm scene, the little older woman says “I’ll have what she’s having.” Yeah, we flock together. And not only with our conscious choices. Mark also brought up an obesity example. Did you know obesity is contagious? Apparently, you are 60% more likely to be really large if a close friend is. Too bad it doesn’t work in reverse! However, Mark’s biggest point was that if an action isn’t visible, the herd mentality and contagiousness of state won’t come into play. Humans need to see it to copy it.
Stuart Eccles was the second speaker. He focused on start ups and how they, not the big companies, are changing our world and how we work in it. Unfortunately, there is no direct comparison between start ups and larger companies. But that doesn’t mean larger companies can’t learn from how start ups do it. Start ups focus on doing the minimum to achieve a goal, the customer, and being agile through iterations. The basic agile cycle larger companies can use is: Make → Learn → Test → Repeat. The trick is to do this process quickly, testing at every possible opportunity, and to start the entire cycle off at Make, not Learn, as unintuitive as that sounds. However, Stuart warned us not to confuse iteration with incrementalism. With iteration, you know what the beginning looks like, probably have a vague idea of where you want it to go, but you have no idea what the end will actually look like. You simply haven’t gotten there yet. With incrementalism, you know what the end will look like, you’re just doing it piecemeal. Hist final warning was that iteration won’t tell you what the best idea is, but it will help you to hone the idea you have.
After the speakers we broke off into a short unconference. I spent the entire time in Ramzi Yacob‘s group discussing how agencies can encourage clients to work in more iterative ways. We tossed around tons of ideas, and it is really an interesting question to puzzle. In fact, more interesting than our solutions are the various problems: if clients give agencies only 10% of the actual budget to experiment with, we may have convinced them to experiment, but can we actually show impressive results with a small budget? Also, innovation usually fails. How do we keep client trust when this is just the way it is and yet we’re supposed to be the experts? How can we get around short-term sales appearing more important than long-term innovation? How can a company motivate its employees throughout the change (or employees within the agency, for that matter)? The solutions suggested were often quite good and enlightening, such as approaching heritage brands with agile first because they generally recognize the need to stay up-to-date and relevant, or using case studies from different sectors to illustrate the possible gains. I personally like the idea of billing by results. But still, the problems agencies face tends to be more enlightening since the solutions wont be discovered in a discussion. They’ll be discovered through doing. Yet the problems we face can be discovered by sharing experience and then defining them together.
This event was truly fascinating and really worth attending. I hope to attend future Google Firestarters events, too, and report on them. You can find Neil Perkin, the organizer’s, summary of the event here. He goes into more detail about all the other unconference discussions and has some interesting points of his own about the event.
So In the Future…
Attend what events you can. I hope that this has inspired you to go to the next cool networking or presentation event you hear about. You can really walk away with some cool nuggets. If you know of an event that will happen, write about it in the comments. If you are, rather, looking for an event, write about that, too. We might be able to help each other out.