Posts Tagged ‘design’
18th November 13
Latest in a series of cross-posts we’re publishing here from the monthly tech column we write for Marketing magazine in the UK. This article first appeared in the October edition.
For half a decade or more, marketers have been told to expect ‘the year of mobile’ as we watch helpful graphs plot an inexorable path to where x marks the spot: the moment mobile overtakes desktop usage globally. And yet still we see mobile marketing spends failing to keep up with user behaviour (source: KPCB, Internet Trends report, May 2013).
Some businesses are notable exceptions. It’s no surprise that smartest and most marketing-savvy of CEOs, Burberry’s (now outgoing) CEO, Angela Ahrendts, recently declared a wholesale commitment to a mobile first strategy:
“Our design teams design for a landing page and the landing page dictates what the store windows will look like, not the other way round. In creative media, they’re shooting for digital, then we are turning it back to physical… now let’s do everything for mobile and then take it back to desktop.” (CEO Talk, Business of Fashion, September 2013)
Okay, so this approach may not work perfectly for every geography, category and every audience (Ahrendts is clear that their core target audience are Millennials), but if a company the size of Burberry can adopt behaviour like this and win, what’s stopping other organisations?
With the benefit of hindsight, the issue is easier to call. We’ve had at least three false dawns for mobile marketing:
i. innovations in hardware, specifically tablets
ii. mobile apps
iii. responsive design practice
Don’t get me wrong, each of these has brought tremendous value in multiple ways, but none of these has provided a perfect solution to marketing on the move. We know most tablets stay at home. Branded apps fail more often than not (as I’ve shared before in this column, 80% of branded apps have less than 1,000 downloads according to Deloitte data published in 2011). Responsive design is an elegant solution some of the time, but of course can’t solve every communications and design issue all of the time, particularly with banners.
Truthfully, most marketers still stare at the real estate available on a mobile ‘phone and frown at the tiny little ad units with even tinier little links contained within them.
So what now? Enter cards. Yes, cards. They don’t sound like the key to the mobile marketing universe, but bear with me for a bit. Cards, aka modules, are not new in digital media, services like Pinterest and Flipboard are built on cards, for example. What is exciting is how cards are rapidly emerging as an elegant design pattern to distribute individual, small packages of information (if you’re a marketer, a light bulb should have just gone off in your head). Witness Twitter Cards (enabling multi-media data to appear in-stream alongside tweets), Google Now, Spotify’s Discover service, not to mention Google Glass, for which “timeline cards are core to the user’s interaction” according to their developer guidelines.
It’s important to note cards aren’t simply an html rectangle; think instead of a manipulatable pattern you can arrange in stacks, flip over or fold to expand or contract the information. Aggregated content can be marshalled and presented depending on different, personalised criteria: location, interests, behaviour etc.
Quite fundamentally, the likes of Google Now show us how mobile use is forcing a move away from a web that mimics the publishing world of old (linked pages of content), to individual, dynamic and shareable pieces of content instead. Cards that feel beautifully native to a mobile experience, not a mobile version of something born on a desktop. As cards as a communication canvas becomes a new norm, it strikes me the opportunities for more effective, more exciting mobile work will only grow.
Perhaps finally, we have found an elegant solution to the real estate of a small screen.
5th November 13
One more in a series of tech columns we’ve written for Marketing magazine this year. This article by Adam on flat design appeared in the September issue.
Author: Adam Powers, Head of UX, BBH London & BBH Labs
Sir Jony Ive revealed his vision for Apple’s iOS7 operating system on September 10th, and the SVP of Design’s vision of the world is flat.
This redesign is about more than just eradicating embossed buttons and drop shadows. In typically thoughtful mode, Ive declared, “True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter.” For the first time in perhaps a decade though, Apple is joining a movement rather than creating one.
The flat design movement has been gaining momentum amongst technology companies for some time now. Looking back, it may well have been Microsoft Windows 8 design team that pushed things past the tipping point. They created a crisp, clean and minimalist approach where geometric shapes, bold colours and sharp corners dominate the rather nice operating system. The next flat design fans were Google, with their new aesthetic applied across a dramatically improved suite of applications (Google Maps, I adore you). Then came Yahoo’s elegant weather app, but many others have followed.
Like many art and design movements, flat design was a reaction to the dominant aesthetic that preceded it. Skeumorphism – the approach that borrows affordances from a user’s day-to-day life and translates that to screen-based design with the aim of aiding comprehension. All that stitched leather, aqua shine and drop shadow of the past few years was borne from that belief. It goes back further, to the days of WYSIWYG computer desktops where the workplace norms, such as files, folders and trash cans, were employed in the language of the operating systems to help us comprehend and participate in the desktop computing revolution.
Fans of this flat aesthetic, ahem, cite this change as a sign of the maturity of human and computer interaction. Our interaction with technology no longer needs to be disguised to make it more palatable. Flat design embraces the constraints and challenges of screen-based design and runs with it. Minimalist and utilitarian design that foregoes excessive ornamentation and is sensitive to bandwidth and functionality.
Before I get caught up in adulation of this latest expression of modernism, we should pause.
It would seem that flat design might come with risks. That (once?) esteemed voice of digital usability, Jakob Nielsen, has undertaken extensive user testing focussed on everyone’s must have tech – the tablet. After testing on a whole range of fondle slabs, Jakob concludes that flat design is not optimal for tablet devices. It would appear that the absence of hover-states on tablets, combined with departure of drop shadows and the ‘less is more’ conviction of flat design, means there is “…a dearth of distinguishing signifiers for UI elements.” i.e. It is harder to intuit what is and is not clickable and therefore things are harder and less satisfying to use.
This presents a very specific challenge, but I would suggest that there are a couple of wider reaching challenges that face the flat design movement.
The first is the ever present spectre of commodification of the web. Look at the search returns page on Google, the tightening embrace of iOS and Android design guidelines or the increasingly far-reaching rules for brands on Facebook or Youtube – it’s just getting harder for brands to cut through on tech platforms and services. Though the folks at YouTube etc. might argue that brands should focus on the quality of their content rather than the ease with which they can spray their colour palette across their respective brand channels. Either way, the flat design movement does appear to be at risk of further contributing to the commodification situation.
The second challenge that I see is that much of the impetus behind flat design is from Europe and North America – where there is long history with Modernism.
What does a critical market like Asia make of flat design, for instance? A Hong Kong based expert, working at the juncture of global marketing and technology, advised me, “Whether you’re considering ux design, user testing or anything else for that matter, you mustn’t think of Asia as a single market. China is as different to Japan as it is to Australia…and each has quite a different relationship with technology…”
Actually, one doesn’t have to look too far for some quite specific insights. This Tech in Asia blog observes that in China, Vietnam and Thailand, flat design may frequently be interpreted as overly austere or ‘…a lot of hot air…” It also proposes that for many of these commercially important markets, it is in fact ‘crowded design’ that performs best.
Somebody better tell Jony.
5th September 13
This is the third cross-post this week from a few articles we’ve written this year for a tech column in Marketing magazine. This one from the June issue looks at designing for mobile web versus native apps: as mobile moves to centre stage, should marketers design for every operating system and every device, or opt instead for the mobile web?
Last month’s column covered how wearable tech is likely to succeed for no other reason than it makes intuitive sense once you try it. Just as mankind ditched pocket watches en masse in the first half of the 20th century (albeit reluctantly at first: apparently your average British male stated they’d “rather wear a skirt than a wrist watch” until after WW1), it follows that we won’t carry around a smartphone when we can wear one instead and stay handsfree.
When it comes to designing for mobile however, wearable tech throws up additional demands in an already quite complex space. Designing for different operating systems on a bunch of different handsets and tablets is going to look like child’s play when wearable tech fully enters the arena. It’s going to get harder before it gets easier.
Enter the mobile web. I usually subscribe to the view that the more complex a task, the simpler the solution needs to be. Native apps increasingly dominate mobile traffic, currently delivering four times the volume of the mobile web and yet… why design separate solutions for different OS when you can have the broader applicability and lower costs of designing for the mobile web instead?
In truth, there is no one mobile solution to rule them all. So how best to navigate development choices now, with one eye on the future?
Here’s a dead simple guide to ‘what to choose, when’:
1. Native apps
If you’re designing a service or utility (task-based) app that requires real speed and you want to use the native features of the OS running on a given device, then for now your best bet is to code a native app, think Instagram.
2. Web apps
In other words, apps that live entirely online and run in a web browser tab. If you don’t need the native features associated with iOS or Android, say, and the purpose of your app is primarily information-based – to the extent it needs constant communication with the server – then you’re better off building a web app. An example of this would be Forecast http://forecast.io/, the weather app built using HTML5. No need to go to the app store, just search, download to your home screen and you’re good to go. Forecast also puts to bed any assumptions that a native app interface is de facto better. As Forecast themselves say, it’s more a question of users getting familiar with the progress that’s been made:
“It’s 2013, and mobile browser technology has advanced tremendously in the past few years: hardware accelerated transforms and animations have made it easy to create perfectly smooth, jitter-free, interfaces..”
3. Hybrid apps
In short, each of the approaches here have a role, it depends on what we’re trying to achieve. For marketers, I’d wager we default to a native app too quickly. The question to ask is “will this app provide genuine utility or entertainment that users will want to return to of their own accord in future?” If the answer is closer to “no, this is a short term campaign to promote a product launch” then let’s do everyone, including our CFOs, a favour and build a light, responsively designed web page instead.
Love this related post on cards as a design approach that solves many of the perennial issues around mobile – it’s must-read: Why Cards Are The Future of The Web, by Paul Adams @ Intercom.
21st June 13
I must have been around five or six when I at least subconsciously realised that my dad worked for ‘a brand’.
Taxiing through Schipol yesterday I saw the iconic KLM logo everywhere and it was for the Dutch airline, with its consistently modern, clean, emblematic branding, that my dad worked.
As children my sister and I saw plenty of that logo. On company Christmas cards and letterheads that lay around our home. On the multilayered paper tickets (always standby, always a nervy adventure) that took us away to places I now realise were exotic destinations in the 70s. And everywhere in the office at Heathrow, where we sometimes spent the day with Dad at work, in the dog days of the summer holidays.
And so yesterday it struck me that my taste in design might hark back to those days, to that logo. The simple morse-like arrangement of cross, over four dots over long dash. The discreetly powerful, squatly confident KLM in Noa Light. An imprinting of intelligent, stylised, corporate identity leading to a fondness for deliberate, thoughtfully bland urbanity. An interest in unplaces. The appreciation of the aesthetics of the shipping container and transport logistics hubs. Digitally rendered fictional suburbia. Street view art.
And taxiing through Schipol I thought about this. And this small thought, the memories, speak to the power of good design and branding and how a logo, assuredly deployed, can imprint itself on a person and shape them, years later, like a paternal hand from the past.
4th December 12
Posted in Creativityforgood
When we look into our mystic crystal balls of the future, who knows what we’ll be using technology-wise? Well, we could just shrug our shoulders and wait to see, or we could roll our sleeves up and get involved on the front line of development.
The charity Royal London Society for the Blind has a dream about the future of tech and they came to us to see if we’d help them promote it.
It’s a concept called Everybody Technology, a dream that tech companies, developers and users all collaborate to create and design with everyone in mind, creating 100% inclusive technology.
To make concrete RLSB’s vision, we enlisted the help of the person who we felt would best deliver and represent both the disabled and able bodied – the great physicist Professor Stephen Hawking.
His words are a rallying call to developmental arms, being ‘spoken’ by men, women and children, from different cultures, backgrounds and abilities. It encourages joining the Everybody Technology group, to create a network of developers and users to drive a revolution in thinking forwards
The iPhone and iPad are certainly the modern day shining examples of this revolution, technology that each and every one can use, in very different ways. But it began way back in 1880 – with two Italian lovers. A blind woman, who couldn’t write to her partner had to dictate her sweet nothings to someone else aloud. Not very private – so to overcome the adversity, her husband invented the typewriter for her. Which developed into the keyboard this very post was tapped out on…
RLSB see a future where more technology originating for specific needs enters the mainstream, and vice versa, enabling everybody to live fantastic lives to our full potential. That’s a future we quite fancy living in.
If you agree and you’d like to get involved in Everybody Technology, then share our film or sign up to the group here.
2nd September 09
We’re moderately obsessed with the world of data visualisaton here at Labs for a number of reasons: the ability to generate fresh insight from extraordinarily complex data sets, the ability to trigger radical reappraisal of familiar problems, the ability to put consumers in control of the vast quantities of personal data they generate every day. Not to mention the extraordinary fusion of technology and creativity it represents.
We firmly believe that data visualisation has a wealth of exciting commercial applications, from communicating in new ways to developing new tools, apps and utilities for clients and consumers alike. So we’ve grown slightly frustrated by the rise of visualisations that are moderately pretty but add little in terms of real insight, utility or illumination.
We’re also, as we may have mentioned, big fans of Manuel Lima here at Labs. So we were intrigued to see that he has authored an “Information Visualisation Manifesto”, a provocative (but characteristically generous and nuanced) take on the future of data visualisation which tackles head on the thorny questions at the heart of this ever-expanding field:
- Art versus Science
- Intrigue versus Immediacy
- Aesthetics versus apprehension.
Manuel comes down firmly on the side of clarity of communication versus visualisation for visualisation’s sake, citing the discipline’s roots in the desire “to facilitate understanding and aid cognition” and a growing frustration with the “eye candy” approach to the craft. Many of his principles are rooted in this utilitarian approach, reading almost like a Bauhaus manifesto (and none the worse for that):
- Form follows Function
- Do not glorify Aesthetics
- Look for relevancy
- Aspire for Knowledge
It’s a bold, purist and punchy vision yet also acknowledges the power of narrative and the role of intrigue. Indeed the question of narrative seems to lie at the heart of this Manifesto; the need to pose a specific question of the data and to weave coherent themes and stories from it. These themes then drive the aesthetic approach. As Manuel puts it:
“Form doesn’t follow data. Data is incongruent by nature. Form follows a purpose, and in the case of Information Visualisation, Form follows Revelation”
This is perhaps the key distinction between Information Visualisation as defined here and what Manuel suggests we start thinking of as “Information Art”. Within this approach, artists will freely allow form to follow data, using the random-ness this creates to add texture and interest. Take, for example, Aaron Koblin’s desire to embrace the random-ness of a data set and indeed the richness and texture added to his famous Radiohead video by “interrupting the data”:
“I think it really gives character, because I think it’s really that kind of intricacy and detail that builds character and in a sense it’s the errors and flaws that make art”.Both approaches are undoubtedly valid. Within any medium there will be times when we seek immediacy and times when we are prepared to be intrigued and to explore. There will be times when we want to understand our world better and times when we want to turn perceptions of it on its head. I can think of few practical applications of, say, the “Synchronous Objects” visualisation series but it mashes up art forms and messes with my mind in a truly delightful way.
As ever, then, we need to return to objectives, to ask what we are trying to achieve:
- Do we want to educate around an issue, making complex questions simple?
- To shift perceptions and provoke a response?
- To offer a fresh perspective on an infrastructure question for our clients?
- To offer our consumers better comprehension and control of their behaviours?
Simply put, are we going to offer something that is either very, very useful or very, very beautiful? Either way, greater clarity of intent and greater discipline throughout the industry can only be an advantage in building credibility and engagement. Building that credibiltiy is vital if data viz is going to become not just an entertaining diversion but a vital tool for navigating a world generating more and richer data by the second.
If what we are building is neither very beautiful nor very useful, to Manuel’s final point “Avoid Gratuitous visualisations”: “Simply conveying data in a visual form, without shedding light on the portrayed subject, or even making it more complex, can only be considered a failure”.
Or as William Morris put it: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.
8th July 09
Posted in design
Mulling over the various excellent posts springing up on why there isn’t more great work in the digital space it struck me that one area rarely discussed is the fundamentally different definitions of what constitutes “great”.
Traditional agencies are instinctively drawn to disruptive work-work that stops the consumer in their tracks and forces them to pay attention. Digital specialists on the other hand are focussed on a smooth and seamless user experience. Ideas that disrupt this experience risk increasing bounce rates from a site for designers working to the 10 second stay-or-go “rule” . This tension between disruption and usability is so profound it’s hardly surprising that we struggle to find a common understanding of what great looks like, much less deliver it.
Traditional agencies in the digital space (and indeed traditional digital agencies) are easily seduced by the power of Flash and the wonders of animation; we want attention and spectacle but what happens next? Why should the user stay, what are we asking them to do and where should they go next? The campaign microsite is perhaps the prime expression of this tendency-as Iain Tate puts it, impressively punchily, in Campaign:
“No one cares about your bloody microsite. In 2009 the flashy high production value microsite is finally starting to feel irrelevant. Sites that seem to do everything, but deliver nothing.”
10th April 09
From the latter crowd I keep hearing this analogy that using Crowdspring is akin to outsourcing (complete with images of dank foreign sweatshops). If were going to trade in metaphors, I would counter by labeling this crowd protectionist. (Picture angry immigration opponents rallying to protect US jobs they probably don’t want in the first place.)
This isn’t outsourcing and this isn’t bootlegging. This is simply about an expanded marketplace. And as long as your product is best-in-market, you’ll always have best-in-market work at your door.
One last thing I need to note as some are accusing us of being exploitive and that bothers me greatly. (MORE BELOW)
3rd April 09
Posted in BBH Labs
Tasked with exploring new models for marketers, one of our first orders of business will be to hold an “open pitch” for our new logo. All interested designers please visit http://bit.ly/39yWEd for more on the deadline, the brief and the fee.
We’re posting a brief on Crowdspring well aware of the heated discussions taking place within the design community regarding sites that promote spec work. Though the crowdsourcing business model is still clearly in its infancy, BBH Labs reasoning for giving Crowdspring a try, simply put, is because the model seems to be working (albeit, better for smaller companies).
We’ve heard the arguments against Crowdspring. We’ve heard it said that it lowers the standard of what is considered “good” design. But for the purposes of this conversation, isn’t a “good” design one that pleases the person paying for it? I think Marley and Me is a “bad” film. My niece disagrees. So be it.
Another argument is that the Crowdspring model is akin to outsourcing, putting professional design work in the hands of untrained amateurs, and in the process, driving down the price real designers are able to charge for their services. If you’re a great designer, these sites shouldn’t be a threat since aspiring designers willing to work on spec is nothing new. If you’re a mediocre designer on the other hand, then consider that new technologies will only continue to make you better: just as the mouse made you better and Adobe Illustrator made you better, competing on a larger playing field should also make you better (and add to your bottom line).
I don’t want to sound overly insensitive, but evolution isn’t always orderly: we are living in a transformational period and in order to not be put out to pasture prematurely, entire industries are having to retrain themselves and rethink how business is going to be conducted going forward. From young designers to established agency networks, change is coming.
I’ll stop rambling now and come back to why we like Crowdspring. We see these sites as giving much more than they take. By matchmaking small businesses that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise afford a custom logo with a pool of designers that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to offer their services, they are helping to grow an overall appreciation for design as well as build an entirely new market that didn’t previously exist.
Will Crowdspring deliver Labs a great logo that meets our demanding and sophisticated needs? Not sure, but we’re looking forward to fishing these new waters nonetheless.