Tuesday, June 14, 2016

#econfPSU Closing Keynote - Scott Dadich of WIRED

The Man of WIRED

WIRED was started in 1993...the magazine and the website were started concurrently.  They're a rarity in that and the first to champion digital.  What they're LESS proud of is being the inventor of the banner ad...*cue multiple boos*.  (Sorry about that)  They are the informational voice that talks about the way the world is changing...at least technologically.

In 1993, Dadich was a junior in high school...Jurassic Park was the #1 film, Windows NT, and the entirety of the Internet fit on 50 servers.  Today, Star Wars The Force Awakens topped 2 billion, 1 in 7 humans log into Facebook EVERY DAY, YouTube reaches more adults than cable TV, and Microsoft is a service company and a hardware company...oh, and Apple's Market value = > 500 billion.  WIRED always set out to feel like a letter written back from the future.  20 years, let's say...but now, what used to take 20 years to happen happens in about 20 months. 

What Is Design?
Everyone knows it...but knows their own.  Scott uses the Wright Brothers to illustrate design: Everyone thinks they designed flight.  No.  There were several flying machines before them.  They designed the human control element that allowed it to happen.  They brought it into the realm of human control.

What choices do we have when we design?  Red/blue, steel/spruce, Python/ruby...these are all design questions.  So, in some sense, we are all designers.  We are designing all the time.  Design makes things work...

Design is decision-making.

Decision upon decision ultimately builds, creates, or just plain MAKES something. 

And sometimes...it's important to make the WRONG decision.

Scott's Early Days

He started as a Creative Director for WIRED and was hired by a guy named Chris.  One of the things Chris wanted to do was to make the magazine "grow up".  The challenge, then, was to remodel WIRED for a modern context.  What he did was back into the component parts to understand how every little piece was built on a very common element: The pixel.  The logo represented binary (on/off/on/off) as well as the vibrations through the spine.  And, guess what?  Scott wasn't allowed to change the logo or the spine vibe.

So, Scott had a typeface created (a slab serif), went a bit more "Mad Men", a more monochromatic feel...and he was told to add more color.  Pissed, he walked away and found the gnarliest colors (safety cone orange) and added one square.  One.  And it was awful...

...but it drew attention to what was RIGHT with the design.  How SO MUCH ELSE was right.  So, next issue he went with a big RED stripe...the following he started pitting artist against artist, trying to actually make it NOT right/work.  Three-ish years later, they had come up with something...all through the "wrong" decision/design.  Present day, the spine (among so much else) has changed significantly.

The Wrong Theory and Wrong Theory Decisions

This concept has been there all along, despite Scott thinking he had actually come up with.  John Rand in 1841 came up with incredible new hues through chemistry, etc...and out of it came Impressionism.  Degas is another prime example: The pole in the middle his impressionist work with the horse/jockey...it was RIDICULED.  But then?  You begin to see it (the line element) being used more and more and more. 

Stravinsky in 1913 wanted to debut a piece featuring strings syncopating with winds, but also kettle drums playing counter to it.  By the second act of its debut, there was a riot in the theatre...they ejected 46 people, there were fights, etc.  A year later?  Biggest hit ever.  And the piece was rhythms and melodies from popular folk tunes layered over each other.  It built on what people knew, then made a considered choice.

Stravinsky was one of the first remix artists.  Boom.

Miles Davis (Bitches Brew) and The Sopranos...also examples. They all understood the rules and made a calculated decision.  It wasn't about ignoring the rules.  It was about becoming an expert within the rules BEFORE making exceptions to them.  Wrong Theory is Experimentation, Build Consensus, Find Perfection, then Ruin It.  Crazy.  But, if it feels bad, you're probably on your way to something new...wrong, right, or otherwise.  Design is not just about making something beautiful...it's about making something work.

(Got sidetracked listening, sorry...amazing stuff, one of the best examples being how similar our online experience is (Apple, Google, and Microsoft's native font is nearly identical) compared to how divergent the PC/iMAC situation was)

SimCity, Upsilon Circuit, Netflix...ALL playing with Wrong Decisions...and it WORKS.  In cars, Volvo makes a car JUST FOR RIDE SHARING...the one decision being taking out the front seat.  3D Printing...just a plastic spitting machine which now has been, for lack of a better term, reverse engineered.  Even our home furnishing...we're seeing it EVERYWHERE.

Find Your Orange Bar...Go Make Something Perfect...and Ruin It

I have always been risk averse for the sake of not "ruining/changing" something that works.  This talk has definitely, at minimum, started my considering of changing that thought process.  I'm hoping that I can go back to my current situation (which is chock full of change) and actually take it and ruin it for the better...I can only hope. 

#econfPSU Keynote The Third - Debbie Millman "Why Branding?"

MySpace and Beyond

Debbie was asked why MySpace, back in the day, did so well...based on its brand.  And she didn't know.  She went to MySpace, created a user ID, thought the UI was awful, and never went back.  She realized that MySpace was started two years earlier as an online storage site, but Debbie still didn't know why it had gotten so popular.

She did TONS of work and research on that very topic (including two books on branding significance) and FINALLY landed on an answer...which she's going to reserve for the end of the keynote.  Well played, Ms Millman...well played.

Back In Time

Debbie went back in time to how we branded to begin the process of picking apart the WHY as to how MySpace got big.  One of the first things she looked at was a supermarket...there's 100's of different brands of WATER...coffee?  Similar.  Hell, you go into your local Starbucks, there is nearly 19 MILLION possible combinations.  But they all look, fundamentally, similar.

Then there's the "anti-branders"...Adbusters, NoLogo, Buy Nothing Day...they're full of it, because they brand themselves.  So WHY...WHY do we feel the need to create new brands/branding?

Debbie went into a rabbit hole and landed on the conditions that lead to the conditions...50,000 years ago, no less.  At this point, our brains underwent a genetic mutation (a 3 in one brain) and they respond to markedly different stimuli than what they had.  It essentially became the "Big Brain Bang" or "The Great Leap Forward".  It's how we became the species we are today...no big deal, right?

Debbie covers the three portions/levels of the brain...reptilian, mammalian, and the true human element.  The "Big Brain", if you will, handles the cultural universals: Language, art, music, cooking, and self-decoration.  And it was at this point in our evolution that we started to focus on two things: Making or Marking.

Making or Marking

Our understanding of reality begins to be recorded on cave walls.  There's very little difference between cave paintings and what we put on our Facebook wall.  We start to apply makeup 10,000 years ago, to make ourselves more attractive to an almighty god, then create symbols to further explain the concept.  Crescent shields and flags begin to appear to designate friend v foe on the battlefield.  We used it because there was no way to mass produce uniforms, so flags it was.

The word "Brond" derives from "to make or mark with fire".  Livestock begin to be "marked", wooden surfaces, etc...Trademarks come into being in January 1, 1876.  The very first trademark was Bass Ale (yesssssssssss).  The first place the logo was seen in an advertisement (1882) was in an oil painting. 

So, what's happened since then?

5 Waves of Modern Brand Evolution

Wave 1 (1875-1920

Brands were guaranteed to be of quality and "premium".  People would spend an extra bit of money for something that was in a special kind of packaging.  Condensed soup, soap, Coca Cola...if you took a train from State College to California, anywhere you got a Coke you could expect it to be the same no matter where.  They'd be safe and they'd be of quality.

Wave 2 (1920-1965)
Ads and brands become Anthropomorphized - They were no longer reliant on a person or quality...they were about competition and differentiation.  Personality of a brand comes to the fore front.  Betty Crocker, Uncle Ben's, etc...these brands weren't based in reality...they were fictitious.  BUT, people thought they were real...and that's all that mattered.  You could relate to and project onto a character.

Wave 3 (1965-1985)
Brands become self-expressive statements:  The brand I'm wearing, carrying, or using says something about you.  If I'm wearing Levi jeans, I'm cool as shit.  A brand, at this point, could provide status.  It signified something about the carrier.  Levi, Nike, Marlboro, Volkswagen...Marlboro man hasn't been in an ad for 20+ years, and Debbie's undergrad students can still identify him without fail.

Wave 4 (1985-2005)
Brands as an experience:  From the brand, you would expect an emotional transformation.  Disney, Apple, Starbucks...if you engage with these brands, you would have a different emotional feeling about not only yourself but life itself.

The Path to Wave 5 (2005-present)
Our brains feel happiest when we are securely attached to those who take care of us.  BUT, now more and more people are living alone.  1 in 3 households, present day, are single person households and the perception of this has changed COMPLETELY.  SO...why was MySpace so big?  Sitting around the radio, black and white tvs, color tvs, cell phones...where next?

Pre-YouTube, Pre-Facebook, what were we doing online?  Emails, playing games.  That's it. 

Enter the iPod and "Isolation Nation" - Critics wrote that civilization was doomed because we were only interested in what was happening on our device.  Per James Katz, "The iPod psychologically depopulates social space view and increases isolation and anomie".  What does this mean for a species whose brains are wired to harmoniously resonate with one another?  What happens?

WE ADDRESS IT.  Enter Social Media.  And THAT'S how Social Media became so popular.  Wave 5, then, is branding as a connecter.  We're not in love with the device, we're in love with the feeling of connectivity we get from said device.  Social, shopping, dating, education...they're all in it.

So, Why Do We Brand?

Ultimately, we create brands to create tribes to help us feel bigger than we actually are.  What's alarming, though, (predicted by Henry Miller in 1938) is that no matter how much we increase the wage earning of the individual, they're always looking for the next rung.  If we are using the largest possible flat screen TV to equate happiness, we are kidding ourselves.  That feeling only lasts for a short period of time...the dopamine fades fast.

We are metabolism machines, and this also includes our feelings.  When you first meet someone, it's magic.  First six months of dating, awesome.  2-5 years later, you complain about how the other person breathes.  The same thing holds true in the social arena...the next Generation (D), where D = depressed, struggles to keep up with this "manufactured online presence".

We need to rethink the purpose of the brands we're manufacturing.  And it comes down to three things:

1.) Help People Feel Connected
2.) Inspire People To Feel Okay AS IS
3.) Make a Difference In People's Lives


Incredible talk about an angle I, as a mere consumer, have never considered.  Takeaway-wise, I'm going to be taking a much longer, harder look at how I consume, purchase, and (ultimately) brand myself.  Great retrospective on branding and society in general.


Monday, June 13, 2016

#econfPSU Keynote 2: Eric Meyer - Designing for Crisis

The Background

Family vacation...daughter taken to ER...tested positive for strep.  Never got better, went home, went to another hospital.  Seizure, CT Scan, 2nd seizure...I'm having trouble typing the rest of this.  In just 3 days, his daughter went from "normal" to "brink of death".  CT Scan comes back, brain mass identified, life flighted to CHOP.  Without them.  Not knowing if they'd see her again.

Someone that they just barely knew volunteered to drive them to CHOP...11 at night...barely able to comprehend what was happening.  Thoughts went through his head: How do we get to our daughter?  Not, Is she alright?  Will she be alright?  Just "How do we get there?".  Eric realized he had his iPhone, googled CHOP, and the image was their homepage:  A brochure that was out of focus.  At this point, Eric didn't have the mental capacity to comprehend what he was seeing.  He was past that. 

He finally identified the nav bar, after weeding through so much else he didn't need..."comatose 5 year old" was not a result.  He managed to find a "What to expect during your child's visit" page.  He eliminated Outpatient, Emergency Room, hoped for Inpatient...and tried them in order.  He clicked Inpatient...he clicked Surgical...nothing but massive walls of texts.  Nothing but references to documents you should bring, play activities...he didn't know if she'd play again.  He went through EVERY SINGLE LINK...and not ONE would answer their question: How do I get to my child?

The Phone Number

There was a phone number in the side menu on every page he visited...he was doing his research on an IPHONE...but it never occurred to him to USE IT LIKE A PHONE AND CALL.  Eric was browsing on his phone, with the weaker battery, so that his wife could answer when THE HOSPITAL CALLED.  They were acting on instinct..."You don't decide what your users will want to do on mobile."  We also don't get to decide what users choose to use our product...

Who does the site work for?  Marketing?  Upper Management?  (Personal tragedy aside, this sounds ALL too familiar to my situation.)  The parents bringing kids in for a routine procedure, outpatient visit, etc...sure.  But who else? What about the user/parent in crisis?  The emergent user.  The person who has a stalker who's made a credible threat against them?  The person whose auto draft failed on their mortgage payment for the past 3 months?  The parent trying to get to their dying child?

It takes EMPATHY.

Empathy is a Core Dev Skill

Eric shows a picture of the CHOP homepage with a button in the middle, reading: "Unexpected visit to CHOP?  Here's what you need to know.".  If you're driving in, here's where you park...here's how you pay for parking...here's where you go...here's where you go in the AM, in the PM...It takes empathy.  They could have done that and still let the CEO feel good about their "Top 100" banner on their homepage...but you have to think about everyone...potentially those at the worst place they could be.

It's good to design for the 10%, as opposed to the 90%...also referred to as the Edge Case.  But, when you use it, you're willing to define those you don't necessarily actively care about.  Eric believes the term should be replaced with STRESS Case.  When you use this term, you're not defining where your 'limit' is.  Stress Cases are good because they Stress test your work without minimizing users who may need your service.

Combine Persona With Context

Eric shows three "avatars": Happy, stressed, and (for lack of a better term) nuclear/crisis.  He then adds three "contexts": Midweek lunch, After bedtime, and Waiting Room in a hospital.  The level to which the crisis appears characteristically can vary based on the context.

He goes on to share more of the story...arriving at the hospital, most of which is closed down, dark, locked, etc.  They managed to finally find the elevator to get to their daughter's floor, and were greeted with an eerily (see: user hostile) child voice in the elevator greeting them.  But, at midnight, WHO WANTS TO HEAR THAT?  Again, the CEO and other higher ups probably LOVED it, but didn't stop too think...to empathize with the people who would be there at midnight.  There's ONLY ONE KIND OF PERSON THERE THEN...and it's not good.

Auto Insurance Example and Beyond

Eric goes on to relay another story where he was on vacation and a car t-boned his mini van.  Drivable, he was able to get in touch with insurance and work through their web form...through MUCH to do.  But he was on vacation...he was a best case scenario...he had all the mental bandwidth in the world.  What about the one car, paycheck to paycheck, service industry worker driving home from the late shift...same situation, different context/person.  What then?

Whoever made the interface on that site didn't think of THEM.  THEY assumed best case for anyone having to use the site.  HUGE oversight on their part...not being empathetic to the people who would truly need them.  He goes on to relay about "Lowes Depot" and their mission statement...gloriously floral in its verbiage...but was focused at the happy coulple having fun improving their home.  NEVERMIND the ones who had their fridge die, leak water, and start leaking through drywall and floorboards.  Bottom line:  THINK BEYOND BEST CASE.  "Lowes Depot" rethought their approach and revised with the following guidelines:
Prioritize helpful, realistic estimates.
Provide at a glance help.
Use plain language.
Write for the urgent case.
By planning for the worst, they were able to be at their best.

Back to Medical Imaging

Medical imaging rooms, in general, are scary.  Freaky.  Even when they try to make some moves towards "kid-like", it's not.  The room is scary, the potential end result is scary, and parents trying to hide the scared only end up making the kid more scared.  Bad situation, overall, medical imaging.  What's more, the imaging doesn't work if the kids move.

Most kids were FREAKING OUT, so the kids have to be sedated...LOTS of potential bad with Anesthesia: Death, reaction, long term damage, etc.  And the process takes a LONG TIME...they're scheduled for 10, you need to be there at 8...anesth starts at 9, and so on.

Enter GE Corporation, Doug Dietz, and their "Adventure Series" - "Helping children's imaging go from terrifying to terrific."  Right around the time Doug was realizing this issue, folks at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh were identifying this to and working something into their CT Scan process to help put the kids at ease.  They went to a party store, got a bunch of cheap toys and promised it to them if they held still.  Did it work?

In 2005, 354 kids were sedated.  In 2007? 4  The wait time to get in for a CT went to basically -0- because of this reduction, whereas it was 17 days before...17 days they had to sit through wondering...worrying.  All because of a simple trip to a party store...  Pittsburgh and GE/Dietz worked together to create a more inviting suite, and the results continue to improve.  MRIs were next in line to receive the "Adventure Series" treatment...with a 25.2% drop in sedation, and a 55% increase in patients seen (2009-2011). 

It's hard to put a finger on just where this hits me most...is it the anger towards designers staying quagmired in a "best case" mindset?  Is it embarrassment that I've done this very thing?  Is it sadness at Eric's story?  Professionals need to look at users in crisis...not users in a best case scenario.   Lives can be changed for the better.  Lives can be made more comfortable.

Eric charges us with the most thankless task:  People in crisis will not notice your work when you design for them in crisis.  But you will have helped them in the most profound way by simply not adding to their burden.  He thanks us in their place...

...no, Eric - Thank you.

#econfPSU Kickoff Keynote - Scott Stratten


President of Unmarketing, former music industry marketing, and professor at the Sheraton School of Business.  Worked with Pepsi, Adobe, and now us...man bun and kittens mentioned.  This should be awesome.

Screaming, Anger, Millennials...Ho Boy...

Why do we use the term UnMarketing?  Very simple - The UN means the actual branding and selling doesn't mean as much as what we do.  His book cover is BLANK.  Try to convince a publisher to do that...you'll see how hard it is to push.  But, it's WHAT YOU DO.  Ask any students/alum - Whenever you say a student's school name/title, it's what they DO.  When you see a university's logo, IT DOESN'T MATTER.  Despite what you think, the logo just creates a definition of what's behind it.  NO ONE has ever said "Hey, I got awful care at this hospital, BUT DID YOU SEE THE LOGO?"

(Oh my God...I'm listening...this is the very battle I'm fighting RIGHT NOW.)

A brand is a VERB, it's what we DO...it is NOT a logo. 

There's two types of people: People who do good to be recognized, and people who do good just because.  The story of the EKU president shoveling the driveway to get a kid to class is a PRIME example.  If that president took his own picture, that'd be one thing.....but the fact that it was a student taking his picture and it's just because he was there?  Stratten reached out to the President, as follows:

"You're awesome."
"Thank you."
"Why'd you do it?  Shouldn't you be up in, like, an ivory tower mandating to the masses?"
"My job is to serve my students.  If Twitter is the medium by which my students reach out, then I'll reach out to them this way."

He's not good at Twitter.  He's good AND he's on Twitter. There is no tool that is inherently successful.  There is nothing that works on its own.  There is no logo that makes information more relevant and engaging.  It's the push behind it.  And that's IMPORTANT.

We need to learn to use EMAIL properly before we're trying to implement this that and the other thing to solve our problems.  We don't need to re-design a look or a logo or a template (*AHEM*) to make our efforts more effective....we need to START PUTTING EMPHASIS ON WHAT MATTERS.  The effort...the intent...these things matter FIRST, all else second.  Don't use technology for the sake of technology.

...and Rosler said, "Amen".

Everything we do and say online and offline is the BRAND. 

You're The Brand

Everything you say and do is the brand.  You are the brand.  There's no such thing as a neutral brand interaction.  People need to realize they impact the brand, and a lot of times they don't realize they do.  The funnel comes into play...

You can have all the likes you want...you can have all the follows...IT'S NOT NEW.

6 years ago, people are freaking out saying "we finally have a social platform", and those of us who are older school are like "B&*%h please".  IRC, ICQ, etc...FORUMS...and WOE be to you if you tried to post an ad on there.  You get the old "Shame and Flame".  We're breaking social media.  Twitter's where Scott built his world.  Four books and twitter supported them all.  Remember the old days of Twitter (like 9 months ago)?  We just TALKED.  Now?  NO ONE TALKS. 

What happens is when we just shout on a platform, you lose the people who create the ecosystem leave.  New people come and see nothing but shouting, and they're not gonna come into it.  Scott was in HR, but he had to get out...because he...umm...hated people.  But they didn't like conflict, so they didn't FIRE the BAD employee.  They just avoided the conflict.  There's the problem.

The Milennials, Scott...they're coming


Fact: Milennials are from 18-35...not just where we peg them.

We LABEL milennials.  What we mean is: People younger than us who we don't like.  End.
(Or because they're younger than us.)  We WANT them to feel a little suffering.  We just want you to feel the PAIN of holding down PLAY RECORD AND PAUSE to record our favorite song on tape.  we used to line up and buy 29 dollar pieces of plastic to hear the ONE SONG THAT DIDN'T SUCK.  We DON'T LIKE THE GENERATION BEFORE US.  Gen X-ers WERE the laziest, disloyalest, unmotivatedest...but THEN Milennials came along.  And we were saved.

"But Milennials don't like meetings..."


"Ohh...Milennials like to travel..."


But when we say Milennial, we label it and it's ALLOWABLE BIAS.  If you want to stereotype, let's talk about good shit:  They volunteer more than any other generation (3:1), they give more per capita to charity...they want to change the world.  SO LET THEM CHANGE THE GODDAMN WORLD!!

QR CODES - What's the deal?

Out of spite, they put a QR Code on Scott's nametag...too good.

Scott loves the technology...they're a better barcode.  Boarding pass, concert ticket...great.  But for the general population that doesn't have a QR reader built into their camera, they're practically useless.  The technology is useful to a microscopic segment of the population.  Bring in the fact that use of mobile isn't permissible in all areas...are you seeing the problem?

360 video, augmented reality, virtual reality...JUST STOP.  Technology for the sake of technology doesn't serve a SINGLE thing.  Being tech-savvy and hip does NOTHING to getting your message and product across.  Focus on your message, focus on your content...THEN, and only THEN...focus on that "other stuff".

Easily, by far, one of the greatest motivational speeches/presentations I've ever had the pleasure of being present for.  It touched upon a very real, very immediate situation in my workplace and gave me a different perspective on the perspective Scott and I share (Content > Brand).  Hysterical at all the right times, but carrying meaning like not many others have done, Scott laid out his message perfectly, and I can easily say that my "brand" will be getting an overhaul in approaching the overall "brand" I need to get behind.  10+/10...and I might even post this on Yelp.