Eames on getting your hands dirty . . .

“Never delegate understanding”

“The details aren’t the details. They make the design.”

Both are from Charles Eames

They certainly don’t cover everything, and they won’t teach you what you need to know, but they do caution against the primary reasons for failing to do good digital or good design: oversimplifying, avoiding the hard work of understanding your materials and space,  and the artificial split between the big thinking and the dirty work.

Agencies digging their own graves – a small example

Catching up on some twitter links, I clicked to a 1:04 video and was greeted with a :30 commercial that didn’t have a five second “skip ad” button. The commercial was half the length of the video itself. Watching 24 on DVD in 2002 was the first time I realized that nearly twenty minutes of every TV viewing hour was dedicated to commercials. I had to give 1 of my time for every three minutes of TV if I wanted it for free. That was when I bought a TiVO, started buying and renting TV show DVDs, and by the time iTunes started selling, I was ready to pay money to get that time back instead of giving time to pay programmers back.

So, this payment ratio – I give you 30 seconds to look at 60 seconds of content – was annoying enough to tweet. And I got this response from a digital advertising veteran:

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Gotta love it – the fairly straightforward solution of presenting something commensurate with the value or length the content as a fair value exchange is dismissed out of hand as too much work. For an industry that loves to talk about “acting like a start-up”, “being agile”, “innovating your way to growth”, some of us can get pretty stuck.

On-line algorithms #fail

Following some of the memes and political commentary on Secretary of State Clinton’s clash with Senate Republicans, I found myself over at left-liberal TPM, where I received the following ad:

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While it’s true that the night before, after changing the water in our fish tank, standing on a wet rug with my shoes starting to soak through to my feet, I wondered if there wasn’t an easier way and looked at the Python on Amazon. But was that really the moment I was likely to pull the trigger and buy the thing? Was that the best use of my attention? Had they no other idea of what I might be interested in (especially Amazon?)?

When doing TV makes sense

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As a digital (gone) native(*), nerd, and suddenly time-challenged step-father, I live my life very free of TV advertising. Some of this is by chance – I rarely have a chance to watch live TV. But most of it is by design: I DVR when I can, buy iTunes TV and shows, and rip DVDs with Handbrake – so I can watch TV and movies where and when I want, thereby avoiding the wasted 1/3 of programming time dedicated to commercials. I also don’t watch professional sports and avoid pageants like the Oscars and the Super Bowl. So I don’t see TV ads in situ and have to work to remember why brands wants to buy them.

As a digital marketer, I came up realizing that interruptive things like TV ads do just that: they interrupt, and when they’re not very, very good, they’re rude. More important, I also recognize that most consumers need more information to be persuaded to buy a product, not more messages, no matter how funny or entertaining.

But, when 72andSunny, an agency doing great TV work, won the top spot in AdAge’s A-List this year, I thought it was absolutely right. (I work for MDC, of which 72andSunny is a part.) Their most celebrated piece of work over the last year has been the Samsung campaign goofing on Apple fanaticism and line-waiters:


This is what TV advertising should be. It’s incredibly well done, full of extra little details and acting craft moments that make seeing it several times not only not painful but worhtwhile, and it’s doing something digital actually can’t do as well: break the psychic hold Apple hold has on customers as the only smartphone of choice.

While the target of the spot (and the joke) appears to be the line-waiters, the spot really works on people for whom the line-holders represent people in the know. It shows that there is something else out there that’s very strong in the smartphone space – that works well, has great design, isn’t as square as the Blackberry, and handles media. In addition to creating a great product, Apple also created the first workable, working, easy-to-use smartphone in a market awash in too many mediocre and hard to differentiate products. Thus, iPhone became the smartphone. While some people, to be sure, are slavishly buying whatever Apple puts out next and putting absurd hours and amounts of self-esteem into being the first to have it – the real dynamic is that most people are unaware of a clear, simple-to-use, risk-free alternative to the iPhone. This spot highlights that despite the hype, there’s something out there that’s working great, does cool, new things, and is validated by cool people.

The longer story arcs of digital advertising and marketing utility, content marketing, and apps, which is what I do, can’t bring that psychic hold. Sometimes, you do need a cultural object – and an exceptionally well-executed one at that – to get through.

(*) I’ve always struggled with the idea of digital native. Growing up with digital in the background doesn’t make you digitally-savvy any more than having grown up watching a lot of TV makes me ready to write TV. Also, it seems to leave me out – having grown up with the advent of computing, I feel like I not only have a comfort level with new technologies, but have a better understanding of how it works. Still, perhaps I can fall into the rubric as having gone native.

An obscure, but excellent, look at Steve Jobs in action

This is a video segment from a documentary called “The New Entrpreneurs” that gets posted and taken down from youTube periodically. Every 9 months or so, I want to send it to someone and the previous link fails. Finally, it looks like the creator of the video has posted it, so it’s likely to stay.

It’s 20 minutes covering Jobs’s early days building NeXT. If you can overlook the amusing line from the mellifluous announcer that Jobs “values consensus” there are some great moments:

  • 7:17 – Jobs describes what it means to be a keeper, or as he puts it more interestingly, a “reiterator” of the vision. “1000 ways the vision needs to be reiterated . . . I do that a lot” This is part of his comment about focus being as much about what’s left out as what goes into a product.
  • 13:01 – all the different things you need to do to build a company, including getting a coffee machine so the team keeps on going
  • 10:14 – a slow burn as his team starts to question the core vision
  • 5:58 – a mouth breather talking about shells written in C, followed by some awesome 80s hair at 6:19
  • 13:55 – using an overhead projector with a piece of paper for his “builds”
  • 18:50 – Jobs talking about seeing how Apple II had an impact on kids
  • The first two are the key ones for me. Nearly everyone will agree that there needs to be a keeper of the vision, but Jobs reminds us that it’s about repetition and daily, even hourly, course corrections. In the whiteboarding session, he indicates what’s non-negotiable and what’s up for discussion, and he drills it into the group over and over, but also by with a very simple, mentally portable, set of bullet points on the whiteboard. On the second, again it seems obvious that entrepreneurs have to do a lot, but the coffee pot and kitchen comment are a reminder that sometimes, even most of the time, your job is to keep your team moving.

    Kimmel on Marketing

    In an Ad Age interview about the new time slot for his show, Jimmy Kimmel makes some observations about media and marketing that are music to digital marketers’ ears. (The show is moving from 12 AM to 11:35 PM, a symbolic 25 minute move which puts him up against Leno and Letterman.)

    Knowing What you Are – asked if he was going to change the show to meet his new audience’s tastes, Kimmel replied, “We’ve been doing the show for 10 years. We’ve had a chance to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t work, and I think that we would be very, very foolish to make wholesale changes just because we’re moving up 25 minutes.”

    Viral Videos – “We’ll have celebrity publicists call us and say, “We want to shoot a viral video.” We don’t shoot viral videos. We shoot a television show, and sometimes the videos become very popular online, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to put on a great TV show.” (How nice to have someone else say this.)

    TV Advertising – “We make more from the live commercials and I feel like it’s more entertaining for the viewers to see a live commercial than it is to see another commercial on tape.”

    The End of the Mass Market – “No, I don’t think there ever will be [another King of Late Night}. I think Johnny Carson was the last King of Late Night. I hope to have a narrow edge on everyone else. That’s really all you can hope for.”

    Maker birthday

    In addition to cakes, muffins, and cooking up various other edibles, Cindy and I did a fair amount of DIY on the party favors and the lights.

    Party favors from Makerbot were simple and downloaded from thingiverse (with the exception of the nameplates, which was my hello world in several 3D design tools – tinkercad, 3dtin, and OpenScad):

    Most interesting to me was that the 6 8 yo girls who came to the party were entranced watching Makerbot print, despite the slow additive process of the Replicator. I pretty much had to print stuff throughout the waking hours of the party so they could check in and figure out what it was doing (especially interesting was the mesh/grid pattern used to build internal structure to hold up the bigger objects without adding the weight, time, and material use).

    And the light show, with two layers of diffusion (foam and LED diffusion paper) painstakingly cut and taped to the LED strips:

    Sadly, I was unable to get the ALICE light show done. El panels require high voltage and an inverter – the 3C inverter could only drive one panel at a time, and weakly at that. When I finally got the 12v inverter it required some hacking that I rushed through – committing the classic mistake of not reading the instructions straight through before doing anything, leaving me without a clear memory of what I had done when it came time to debug it.

    ‘hello world’ on the Replicator 2

    20 minutes set up, 10 minutes to print. A whole new world, endless itches to be scratched, and lots of extruded, environmentally safe (comparative), plastic gewgaws, tools, parts, and maybe even inventions to come.

    (This is a print that comes pre-installed with the SD card you use to load files into the Replicator. The chains move freely after a gentle snap of the connective plastic printed with them.)

    Building is better than buying, even if it’s kits

    As I get my soldering skills back(*), I’ve been doing kits for little things that I can give people. Every so often, I like to make LED Menorahs (kits available everywhere, but I like to buy from Evil Mad Science when I can).

    (*) I had been trying to solder at 220 Celsius and ruining everything. After some research I moved it up to 350 Celsius and I’m back in business. (If this sounds unusually high, or you know something better, please ping me. But I found that most people recommend soldering in the high 200s and then adding 50 degrees for lead free solder.)