February 2010 Archives
TheyMakeApps is a showcase for iPhone developers across the world, claiming to be a “Home of the Finest Mobile App Makers for Hire”.
What’s particularly alluring about the site is its innovative keyboard driven navigation which makes browsing through developers and projects a breeze. Spiffing.
Earlier today 37signals’ Jason Fried posted a note to the company’s influential and well-travelled Signal vs. Noise blog, proposing that 37signals “eat its own dogfood”, as he put it, and choose a firm from Sortfolio to undertake the blog’s redesign. Fried stated:
It’s been too long since we redesigned this blog. Years and years. It’s time for a complete redesign. We thought it would be a good idea to eat our own dogfood and choose a firm from Sortfolio to do the redesign.
Sortfolio, one of 37signals many products is designed to match clients with potential designers or, as the company puts it, “Find the right web designer for your next project.” All good so far…
It might be argued that the firm’s decision to use its own service to source a designer is to be celebrated, however, a closer look at the budget and the conditions for entry make for a little less comfortable reading. To be eligible for the $8,500 project 37signals stipulated only designers with Pro accounts would be considered. A Pro account costs $99 a month. That’s $99 a month 37signals earns.
86 upgrades equals one new Signal vs. Noise design. Seen in those terms, with 37signals on both sides of the table - as client on the one hand; and as company potentially set to profit considerably from the project on the other hand - and the picture looks a little less rosy.
Within hours of Fried’s post announcing the project, Oliver Reichenstein of influential international design firm iA had tweeted:
37 signals pays you $8,500 to redesign their website. Every pitch participant needs to pay $99 to compete. Seriously. /via @jasonfried 1
Moments later, he’d followed up with:
Also, the winner of the Signal vs. Noise redesign campaign gets a free baseball cap and a VHS copy of this video: http://bit.ly/ahFVE 2
Clearly, with a series of tweets in swift succession, Reichenstein was surprised by the decision 37signals had reached and how it might be interpreted, adding:
Read it again to make sure that I get this right before nominating @37signals for the Stingy King Awards. 3
Stinging comments from a respected designer. Reichenstein’s comments were swiftly followed by another equally influential designer, Mark Boulton. Equally baffled, Boulton tweeted:
I don’t even know how to think about that. It’s like paying to play for bands. 4
And so it evolved, until Fried himself interjected, responding directly to Reichenstein:
Why don’t you call me on my office hours right now and we can talk about it. Let’s air it all out. 5
An offer which Reichenstein was swift to accept, curious to hear Fried’s reasoning. Every aspect of the conversation, however, had been played out in public.
There’s no question that 37signals, and Jason Fried, are extremely talented. Their products and their writing - both at Signal vs. Noise and in their books - are well thought through. They’re well known within the industry for their meticulous attention to detail. One can’t but help question the thinking here, however, and it will be interesting to see how the discussion evolves.
One thing is undoubted, the market is now a conversation, something presciently written about over a decade ago in The Cluetrain Manifesto, subtitled ‘The End of Business as Usual’. It’s a book that’s well worth rereading, or picking up for the first time if you haven’t read it (not least given the fact that it’s now available for free). In the context of the above its themes are pertinent. As Doc Searls and David Weinberger put it:
[The web] is a bazaar where customers look for wares, vendors spread goods for display, and people gather around topics that interest them. It is a conversation.
In this new place, every product you can name, from fashion to office supplies, can be discussed, argued over, researched, and bought as part of a vast conversation among the people interested in it.
These conversations are most often about value: the value of products and of the businesses that sell them. Not just prices, but the market currencies of reputation, location, position, and every other quality that is subject to rising or falling opinion.
Consumers, and in this case peers, are quick to air their thoughts in public and those thoughts - good or bad - can very quickly take hold.
In an age on instant - and very public - communication, every decision a company makes is open to scrutiny. The conversation can quickly get out of hand, potentially damaging a company’s reputation. Throw Twitter into the mix and the results are potentially volatile (good and bad).
No doubt the discussion will evolve as Reichenstein and Fried have the opportunity to discuss 37signals’ thinking. Both are frequent, and open, writers, it will be interesting to see the conclusions, if any, they reach.
Frustrated with oversized PDFs adding weight to application bundles, the talented team at Panic created ShrinkIt, a developer tool that automates the process of stripping needless metadata from PDFs.
Removing swatches, patterns, preview bitmaps and other needless metadata by passing it through Apple’s PDF processing results in considerably smaller files, in one example shown reducing a 188K file to just 4K. Quite a difference.
If your workflow involves PDFs in any way, you might want to download a copy, absolutely free. Thank you Mr Cosgrove.
Short of cash? Messrs Borsboom, Groenveld and Van Amstel have the answer to your problem: Please Rob Me. Creatively highlighting the dangers of location-aware services publicly broadcasting users’ current locations, they state:
The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. On one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home.
Eager to stress the project is aimed at raising awareness, their footer is crystal clear, “Our intention is not, and never has been, to have people burglarized.” Indeed.
As it turns out, even more impressive than the impeccable design are its technological underpinnings: TPUTH is powered by the same engine as webtrendmap.com, monitoring over 9,000 high-profile Twitter accounts and mining them for data. In the words of iA:
While the machine is a geeky as you can imagine, the GUI of the backend is the very opposite. It’s easy, fast and pretty. Optimized for quickly choosing, editing, cross-referencing and publishing the best links, it allows us to publish two days of headlines in more or less 30 minutes.
As interesting as the technology behind the ‘Socially Generated, Machine Filtered, Hand Polished, Electronic Newspaper’ is iA’s follow-up post, The TPUTH, Part II, which sets out to answer the self-imposed question: “How are we going to monetize satirical over sized headlines?”.
It could be argued that TPUTH is developed as a proof of concept of what can be achieved with what is a highly monetizeable asset: a machine - the Web Trend Engine - which can read, filter, index and cross-reference relevant Twitter feeds for you and even evaluate the importance and media relevance of these links, and present them in an easy-to-publish format.
A conversation Dan Wineman has every month or so that’s doubtless familiar:
Restaurant Web Site: I require Flash. Fuck off.
To quote MIX:
What could you create for the Web if you had only ten kilobytes of code?
It’s time to exercise your minimalist creativity and get back to basics - back to optimizing every little byte like your life depended on it.
In an age of near ubiquitous broadband (in the developed world, at least) it’s refreshing to see the MIX 10K challenge embraced wholeheartedly. The winners, just announced, are well worth exploring.
Nothing beats a little old school animated GIF action.
When does a design cross the line from ‘inspiration’ to… something a little less comfortable than ‘inspiration’?
Some might call it ‘influence’, some might it call it ‘theft’; one thing is certain, a fine line is all that separates the two.
Honda discovered this in 2003, when Wieden+Kennedy’s award winning Honda advertisement Cog was widely accused of plagiarism, due to its similarities to Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss’s 1987 fine art film Der Lauf der Dinge. The accusations were widespread, and not unfounded, with Creative Review interviewing the Swiss artists who insisted they would never have given their permission to use their work as inspiration:
Of course we didn’t invent the chain reaction … but we did make a film the creatives of [Cog] have obviously seen. We feel we should have been consulted over the making of this advertisement.
Companies have asked us [for] their permission to use the film on several occasions, but for this reason we have always said no.
Though Fischli and Weiss never filed a lawsuit against Wieden+Kennedy or Honda UK, aware that there was little hope of success under UK copyright law, it’s worth noting that the advertising agency eventually admitted to, “copying a sequence of weighted tires rolling uphill.” The controversy surrounding the work was blamed for ultimately denying Cog a Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
What goes around comes around.
There’s no question that Skittles’ Experience the Rainbow web site, just launched by digital creative agency Big Spaceship, is a very well crafted piece of work, and the metaphor of “experiencing the rainbow” fits well with Skittles’ strapline.
However, there’s equally no question that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Poke London’s award winning 2007 web site for Orange, Good Things Should Never End.
At the heart of both sites is the idea of a web page never ends; a simple idea, arguably, but one that - when well executed - creates a talking point, or social object, that the brand can use to generate a conversation, raising brand awareness. A social object with considerable value.
Poke London’s ‘Good Things Should Never End’, created for Orange UK’s ‘Speak Easy’ pay as you go mobile plan, was shortlisted for a number of awards for its creativity, highlighted in the Interactive category of The Brit Insurance Design Awards 2008. The idea was simple, as Poke state:
You don’t always have to go over the top wrapping up your ideas in loads and loads of complicated messaging. Quite often, the simple ideas are the best ones.
A never ending web page felt like a good, simple idea. The kind of thing that the world would like to see. So we made it.
The design also centred around a ‘rainbow’, as Poke put it, “There’s a rainbow in the TV ad. That’s integration.” Simple. Ingenious. Effective.
Three years later…
You might be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu. Big Spaceship’s ‘Experience the Rainbow’ web site for Skittles, whilst well executed, seems all too familiar with the user scrolling down a never ending web page as they ‘taste the rainbow’. Coincidence?
A never ending web page? A never ending web page that’s also a rainbow?
Where does ‘inspiration’ begin and ‘inspiration’ end? You decide.
MailChimp celebrates Version 5.0 with a lovely new microsite, breaking out of the box (and boldly going…). In their own words: “Now you can be anywhere on the planet, any time you want.”
While picking up a set of Jessica Hische’s niche-in-the-market-filling “Day Ruining” Invoices (see our previous note 1), you might also like to peruse her recently published prints of her beautifully crafted Daily Drop Cap series 2.
Available as individual drop cap prints - 8” x 8”, printed as archival giclée prints on Velvet Fine Art paper - they’re the perfect gift for your loved one (Valentine’s Day is, after all, upon us).
The ever-talented Jessica Hische rides to the rescue with The “Day Ruining” Invoice, aimed squarely at “incredibly annoying clients”.
Printed as US letter size notepads with letterpressed 100lb French Paper covers with two colour offset pages printed on 80lb ivory paper, the invoices feature a carefully considered multiple choice system for expressing every, frustrating eventuality:
Please remit payment for: the cocktails/beer I will need to calm my nerves; in the amount of ____, ____ … because of your poor email etiquette (unnecessarily harsh tone, passive-aggressive cc’ing, etc.)
No self-respecting design office should be without a set.
Cultured Code’s new Development Status page, which tracks the arrivals of new features, combines an elegantly implemented metaphor with some beautifully crafted design.
Regular readers will not be surprised to discover that we appreciate the minimalist elegance and pearls of wisdom dispensed by The Rules of a Gentleman.
Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Microsystems’ ultimate CEO, tweets his resignation with a haiku:
Stalled too many customers
CEO no more