Monday, 28 June 2010

Knowing the question

The internet continues to make people feel like super powerful know-it-alls. I fall into this trap as much as anyone, usually claiming sporting knowledge then using my mobile phone to find the answer only to struggle because I don't even know what to type in to Google in the first place. It is often easy to think you can get the answers and information you need online so you just nod and go with the flow but, most of the time it isn't that simple. You need to know a few things usually first in order to find relevant information and be able to trust it.

That old saying ‘there is no substitute for experience’ is perhaps more true today than it has ever been. I find myself taking a lot of information in from other people only to find, when questioning it, that it is really just something picked up on the internet. Worse still it is often out of context and when I find the offending item online myself it often reveals the real problem and the correct answers more easily follow.

A while back I posted a 'Thought for the week' on this subject (click here) and I'd extend this to include knowing the right questions in the first place as of equal if not more importance.

Often this problem can be solved by thinking a bit more about how you can find the right question in the first place. I work with a bunch of smart people and some are really good at what I am going to call 'question discovery'. For example, when they come into my office with a question they often start by giving me the context / problem, then they ask a series of open questions and as they take on board my answers they then start ensuring they understand these clearly by asking some closed questions, so it’s not this because...but it could be if... The other way this works is simply by me giving the problem its more widely held or semi official name, and then they have information that helps establish their searches for the answers.

Knowing the question is critical to finding the answers that you need and developing this question still has to involve people and their experience. And the internet can only really help when the question is one that can be supported by answers that can be found online. This is probably only true for a handful of the problems I see. It is more often the case that the right question means that good old problem solving and innovation is required to answer it, and the framework for these exercises can sometimes be shaped by what is out there or has been completed to achieve similar things in the past.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Thought for the week

"You can blame people who knock things over in the dark, or you can begin to light candles. You're only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing." American author and environmentalist Paul Hawken

Monday, 21 June 2010

Time out

I think getting real time out from the rat race is really difficult to plan for these days. When you go on holiday now there is some expectation that you are on 'the network' somewhere and therefore you are accessible / available in some way. Equally social media is so integrated into mobile that it goes with you as well. This is made even worse when you are in a 'digital' profession and you spend a large chunk of your time exploring this world and as a result adopt some different/bad behaviours - which I've seen in non-digital professional folk as well.

So, when you go away, as I did recently, with the promise of keeping people in the loop and 'the network' isn't there you really do take time out. This has a couple of real benefits:

1. You relax a lot more.
2. You focus on other things - perhaps more important things get more of your time.
3. And in my case you come back to 'the network' with a refreshed appetite for it.

All obvious stuff really. The lesson for me though is to factor in more of this approach over the normal course of my life so as to relax and re-energise more frequently and focus even more on the important things.

Time out is good.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Thought for the week

I think the vast majority of people wake up with honourable intentions.

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." American essayist Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985)

However, I reckon you can improve (or save) the world whilst enjoying (or savoring) it. Have your cake and eat it.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The humble brochure

Recently I've been learning a lot about optimal information design from brochures. In particular the fold out style brochures that are often shown in retail environments. The parallels with good web IA are strong.

The typical flow:

  • On the cover page they aim to capture your attention and provide some pretty good reasons to explore.
  • On the reverse of the cover page they provide some important information needed to proceed to purchase (as this is the reverse of the cover page it is therefore not the first page to be read and just acts in support of the next page).
  • Then they provide some compelling USP's / Promotions / key reasons to buy.
  • Depending on the product and/or service the brochure provides steps to configure the purchase to your needs (often acting as a guide).
  • It then gives the options needed to complete purchase - and being a brochure it is channel neutral so provides all available options in one easy to read layout.
  • The final page (back page) is then optional reading and is usually dedicated to any particular terms and conditions / special notifications.
The key difference:

The designs are often far richer and more creative than a lot of their web equivalents. They are also far better at providing the salient information needed to progress or continue to explore. There is no sense of having to give all the information in the world on the one page and simply the back cover provides any particular terms and conditions or additional information resources are highlighted.

In a way they are better information on demand systems than many web pages, where people seem to have forgotten that the international network of computers is actually one big information on demand system, and it is better to have a really clear navigation and sign posting system than swamp the most important information by trying provide every bit of detail up-front.

My tip to fellow digital bods is keep an eye out for brochures and other offline material. They have been created by talented people who have spent a long time perfecting the art of persuasive communication and we still have a lot to learn from them.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Thought for the week

New people and new ideas are great. They offer a fresh approach and help advance many things. If these are set in the context of experience and expertise, not to hamper them but to further evolve them, then they have a far better chance of being delivered and more importantly adding real value.

"A new broom sweeps clean, but an old one knows all the corners." Jamaican proverb

Thursday, 3 June 2010

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

We all have whiteboard skills this good. :-)

Seriously though the purpose vs. profit motivation conclusion is brilliant.