Yesterday morning, I was met with a rather depressing message during my reading routine. “On July 1st, 2013, we will retire Google Reader.” Behind the decision, apparently, is Google Reader’s steady decline in users and Google’s bigger aspiration to focus on perfecting fewer products as a company.
The news caused momentary panic, but it soon changed to excitement — as I started looking for alternatives, I realized there are actually a number of new and perhaps more desirable ways for me to interact with digital content. (I’m not saying that I wont miss the stripped back minimalist design of Google Reader…I’m just pleasantly surprised by its soon-to-be replacements.)
Whilst I’m ready to embrace the alternatives, others aren’t responding so well, already there’s a movement against the decision to kill this product. Within one day, there’s a petition to keep Reader running signed by over 100,000 people. Why are we all so afraid of change? I find it even more interesting to see a separate motion was even put to the White House asking Barack Obama to ask the company to rethink its decision to shut down this popular product.
I can imagine from Google’s perspective, there’s no need to give more attention to updates and design when there are so many alternatives, which specialize only in that field. The last update to Google Reader came in 2011, testament to their decreasing focus on RSS. Despite the variety of online debates that continue to form, Google’s grounds are good: so many popular competitors in RSS are doing it better. Pulse, for example, a reader endorsed by the late Steve Jobs, boasts a user database of more than 20 million (adding more than a million every month).
So what’s my soon-to-be replacement? I think my favorite so far, is feedly —within minutes of using it for the first time this morning, I can already see the benefits over Google Reader. A little cog on the top right allows me to view content in a variety of ways, the layout and typography brings the experience back to the user. You feel like you’re on an actual blog again and as such the content is much easier to digest.
This is the first Design Post, a new Wolff Olins blog series by designer James Kape
Do you need a formal education to become a practicing designer? Ten years ago, a strong majority might have disputed the very question! However, today impressive advancements in technology have empowered a growing online community which believe it’s very possible to learn on your own. They feel that design education is fundamentally broken, that you can’t teach to the number of disciplines within graphic design. So why pay thousands of dollars to receive a degree, which will consequently place you in debt without guaranteed job placement?
Last Wednesday,at an event sponsored by AIGA/NY and organized by Designer’s Debate Club,Alice Twemlow, Matteo Bologna, Abbott Miller argued for the motion Formal design education is necessary for practicing designers. Whilst Able Parris, Peter Vidani, Kate Proulx argued against the motion. On each panel it was interesting to see a mix of designers with and without formal education. However I felt the discussions which followed were heavily skewed against one design vocation rather than the broader profession. This was probably due to a panel of print and brand designers verse a panel of web designers. Whilst each did their best to stay on topic, I think the motion they were really discussing was “Formal design education is necessary for practicing web designers.”
Had that been the actual debate question, then some very intriguing points were made against the need for formal education. Perhaps some of the most unchallenged, “digital media in particular is too young for there to be any experts” and “It’s not a matter of being educated or not; there are other ways to learn those things”. Whilst this may be true, how do you identify exactly what those things are in order to become proficient?
With a formal design education behind me, I felt it very hard to side with the idea that school isn’t necessary. Perhaps best captured by a member of the audience for the motion during the closing statements. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” and that’s just it, you can complete numerous tutorials online to learn how to use the tools. But learning how to think, use a grid, and the right typeface at the right time isn’t something you just pick up. It takes time, trial and error.
If all web designers had a formal design education perhaps the web would be a more functional and considered place. I think design education is an important step in becoming a designer. The question now is does education need to adapt more quickly to design? And how can it be more relevant within its disciplines to help those starting out to be more successful and specialized in the long run.
These days everyone seems to have an opinion about graphic design. Some classify good graphic design as something they can’t create themselves, design that’s aesthetically complex or looks like it was really hard to make. Whilst others think literal visualizations are the most successful—it’s sometimes easier to relate to a mark (or logo) when it’s plainly representative of the product or service the brand provides. So what’s the answer? Does a logo need to be complicated or literal to be accepted by the public eye? And how much should public opinion affect a designer’s final output?
“Graphic Design — Now in Production” is an exhibition currently on show at Governors Island in New York City. An exploration of graphic design over the last fifteen years, the works within the exhibition cover the rise of user-generated content, alternative methods of printing and distribution, the wide dissemination of creative software, and the new opportunities that have emerged as a result.
One of the most interesting parts of the showcase can be found just outside the primary exhibition space. Here, members of the public are invited and encouraged to share their opinions on recently updated corporate identities like the New York Public Library, Nickelodeon and Wolff Olins’ very own fresh take on AOL. Viewers are presented with two logos—one from before and the other from after the company was rebranded. Then, they’re asked to vote on their favorite version.
As a designer myself, and an observer at the exhibit, it was really interesting to see what criteria led to the more popular mark! For example, one spectator spent considerable time deliberating over the new Comedy Central logo, in the end his preference lay with the original rendition. “I like those buildings, the details, it looks tricky to draw… I could have made the new logo with my eyes shut.” It seemed most judged on execution, if it was something they felt they could have done themselves the other mark wins.
At a recent AIGA event about the exhibition, Michael Bierut of Pentagram joked to the audience “I was curious to see how often people voted wrong.” Whilst this may be the case, there’s definitely something bigger at work. The success of this exhibition demonstrates the importance of a mark’s ability to engage with the public at large, and not just the design cognoscenti.
Graphic Design — Now In Production is currently on show until September 3, building 110, Governors Island.
What would be your ideal project? Is it to write a book, design a newspaper, or direct a film? Is it something that you could begin independently or would you need it to be handed to you as a brief?
The other week, the three principles of Project Projects — Prem Krishnamurthy, Adam Michaels and Rob Giampietro — spoke at Parsons School of Design for the AIGA covering this subject.
Adam was first to speak, touching specifically on the group’s love of paperback books from the past - mainly due to their pricing and portability. He said that finding the ultimate brief doesn’t necessarily come through a commission, but more often, it comes through a self-initiated proposal.
This led him to discuss Project Projects’ creation of a book called Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall. The book tells the story of the development of Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall, through archival documentation, contemporary interviews, photography and new analytical writing. It was a project that began with Adam’s self-initiated proposal to Princeton Architectural Press. The idea led to Project Project not only designing the book but also curating, researching and writing the content.
Project Projects had to undertake comprehensive research, develop and write the content as well design the book without any financial remuneration, then finally find a way to pay for the publishing costs.
The finished book became the first of several titles they would design for Princeton Architectural Press’s Inventory Book series, a platform for research on transformations in urban spaces and culture.
Project Projects stands out as an inspiring example for designers to get out and turn their ideal project aspirations into reality. It was an insightful presentation from one of New York’s leading design studios.
Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall can be purchased from Amazon here and for more on the project and Project Projects, go here.
James Kape is a designer at Wolff Olins New York.
Photo by the author. Book image via Project Projects.
Last week, NewsCred CEO Shafqat Islam and former Wolff Olins account manager Alicianne Rand—now NewsCred’s Marketing Director—came to share with us how they are disrupting the journalism and publishing industry while developing their brand identity.
NewsCred is a technology company that licenses and curates articles, photos and videos from over 750 high quality news sources, from The Guardian to The Economist.
The process of capturing the world’s best journalism is a complicated one, but Shafqat and Alicianne took the time to explain their method. They capture, license, customize, package, and deliver the world’s best journalism all in one place. Sounds simple right?
But NewsCred is not a news aggregator. Instead, it serves journalists- by getting them paid for their work, publishers- by offering customized content, and brands- by making it easy for them to host relevant, quality content with the editorial tools they’ve built. Brands they have worked with include Pepsi, Forbes, and Orange.
The technological abilities of NewsCred’s platform are impressive, but what I found most game-changing about them is how they work with publishers of great content, rather than against them. Their model is one of partnership and facilitation, a trend we’ve seen many startups embrace in the burgeoning sharing economy, from AirBnB to Getaround.
This spirit of looking first to cooperate, rather than compete, is not unique to startups either—industry behemoths are experimenting with this strategy too. Just the other day, Microsoft announced their newest offering, an app for IOS, Android and Windows 8 devices called SmartGlass, which lets you connect competitor’s devices to the Xbox 360 platform. In this case, it’s about providing a better entertainment experience by leveraging the products and services of those traditionally thought of as competitors, rather than Microsoft trying to provide every piece responsible for that experience.
As a brand consultancy, part of our job is reimagining how companies can operate in previously dismissed market spaces. This often requires new partnerships with existing companies, and a focus on what the brand does have, rather than what it lacks. So long as people are interested in learning, they’ll be interested in access to quality information. I’m excited to see which partnerships NewsCred initiates in the coming months.
Summer’s arrived early, so for some summer madness, here’s how the C-suite should rethink itself, for game-changing growth:
Chief Usefulness Officer (CUO)
Used to be CMO. Now, it’s not advertising and sales promotions but: what do our customers want to do? How can we be more useful to them?
Chief Experimentation Officer (CXO)
Used to be Chief Technology Officer. No longer tech upgrades and support, but: using new tech, how can we try out new things faster?
Chief Boundary Breaker (CBB)
Used to be Chief HR Officer. Forget performance frameworks or recruitment criteria. Instead: how can we find talent pools inside and outside the organisation? How can we get rid of silos and remove the barriers to collaboration?
Chief Value-Creator (CVC)
Used to be CFO. No longer about the numbers and the risks. Now: what if our main revenue stream died out? What alternatives do we have? What are the new ways we could make money, for ourselves and our customers?
Chief Purpose Officer (CPO)
Used to be COO. No longer efficiency but effectiveness. These days: how can we raise our people’s game by giving them a stronger sense of why we’re doing it?
Robert Jones is visiting professor at University of East Anglia and a senior strategist at Wolff Olins.
First, a little weather forecast. It ‘s going to be + 26 degrees Celsius in London today, coupled with blue skies. Which can only mean 1 thing – summer, summer, summer! Great times for, quite literally, sleeves rolled up stuff to the accompaniment of sandals, convertibles and ice-cold beer drinks.
And because summer is finally here, it seemed logical to remind ourselves of those New Year’s resolutions that kicked off 2012 (sorry, fellow gym goers!) Above and beyond being healthy, happy and purposeful – here at WO London, we said we are going to have an epic year. Not good, not great, but epic.‘Bring on the challenge’, we said. And so far it’s been a very busy 5 months with some high-speed galloping.
Riding into the summer, we are happy to welcome a new initiative - Wolff Olins Entrepreneur - into this epic year. A skill share between Wolff Olins London and aspiring product-focused start-ups, this is an effort we’re proud to learn from and help others learn from. As part of this program, Wolff Olins will share its strategic and creative brand insight with start-ups to co-create solutions to tangible business challenges. And, whilst on that journey, deep dive into the environment of a young business and expand our knowledge of product, go-to-market strategies and entrepreneurship in general.
Brand + Product + Entrepreneurship = Wonderland.And, all the talk aside - we are excited to kick this off with our launch partner start-up – TechHub in London (check them out!). Driven by a purpose to create a unique ecosystem of tech start-ups, TechHub has become a successful coworking space and platform for tech entrepreneurs seeking to change the world. We are learning loads – and are happy to share the highlights with all of you, folks. Stay tuned for more!
The other day I sat in a brainstorm with a bunch of fellow graphic designers, discussing the future direction of an international business. Someone in the team made a flippant joke about the moment: Most of us had gone to art school, not business school.
As designers we sometimes worry about engaging in the “business side” of things. But today’s businesses are desperate to find experimental and creative solutions and designers are just the problem-solvers they need. We’ve been trained to take a brief, assess the problem, instinctively create different directions, analyse the positives and negatives, reject one, create another, see what works, see what doesn’t.
We can rapidly create visual concepts that test how products, communications, experiences and interfaces can work together. And we can test multiple directions. It allows businesses to take risks they couldn’t imagine, because they can see tangible possibilities. That, is business prototyping.
There’s an opportunity now as designers to get beneath the veneer of subjective aesthetics and establish design, and design thinking, at the heart of tomorrow’s businesses – an opportunity we should grab with both hands.
The book that first got me interested in the whole idea of management was Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence, and one of its mantras was ‘stick to the knitting.’ But is that still good advice, 30 years on? Kodak, Xerox, Nokia, Kmart and Blockbuster all did, and look what’s happened to them. By sticking to their core activity, they failed to react to rivals coming from somewhere else. Google, on the other hand, has moved from its original search-engine knitting into every other handicraft, including self-driving cars.
We explored this topic at a breakfast discussion I hosted last week, exploring our view of the five habits that make 21st century businesses game-changing – which include ‘experimental’ and ‘value-creative’, by which we mean constantly searching for new strategies and revenue streams.
It’s also the topic of Repeatability by Chris Zook and James Allen, two consultants from Bain & Company. They say, in contrast: identify your core, simplify it, and repeat it.
So who’s right? We asked our excellent breakfast panellists came from Zipcar, Zopa and Google. Their view was that experimentation has always been important, and that the Internet now makes it easy to test new things very rapidly, with a huge population of testers. They believe that this kind of testing is natural to a 21st-century business, and that it’s so common that fear of failure – indeed, use of the word ‘failure’ – hardly exists any more. They also say that open experimentation – trying things out in the marketplace – is a great way to be transparent, to involve customers, and so to earn trust.
Where they differ depends on the life stage of their business. In the early years, they say, experiment around the edges until your core idea is proved, but stick to the core idea. ‘It’s a big enough battle,’ said one, ‘to establish our model’. In older age (and Google is a geriatric 14 years old), it become OK to experiment more widely and more radically. ‘Google is always in beta,’ said a panellist.
All three panellists, though, agreed that fruitful experimentation needsto be driven by a purpose. And that purpose can be hugely ambitious: Zipcar has its eyes on the day when there are more car sharers than owners, and Zopa on the moment when peer-to-peer loans outnumber bank loans. Zipcar, Zopa and Google all want to change the world for the better.
So maybe the answer to the conundrum is that Tom Peters was right. You do need to stick to the knitting – but don’t think of your knitting as your activity (which should change over time), but your purpose (whichshouldn’t).
Since Splash.FM had its public launch a few weeks ago, co-founder Jason Fiedler has been busy watching the start-up grow and making constant changes.A friend of Wolff Olins, he took a few minutes to chat with strategist Sam Liebeskind about the early-stage site and his plans to engage more listeners and brands.
If you haven’t yet read about Splash.FM in TechCrunch, Rolling Stone, and Gizmodo or stumbled onto it on your own, put it on your radar.This young social startup helps you find new music that you’ll love based on what your friends and go-to sources are loving.It joins a crowded space of sites claiming to do just this (Big hitters like Pandora, Last.fm, iTunes Genius, to name a few), but unlike most others, Splash rejects algorithm-based suggestions in favor of human recommendation, pulling together the best features of sites like Twitter, Klout, and HypeMachine.
SAM: First, the basics. What is Splash and who would use it?
JASON: At its core, it’s a social network— ‘a Twitter for music discovery.’You create an account, you splash (post) music you like, and you follow others whose taste you trust.It’s an easy way to stay on top of the latest music. Most people don’t like the stress of deciding what to listen to, but they want music they like.
At the same time, it’s a place where artists and tastemakers can prove their influence.We recognized that for everyone who has trouble finding music, there’s someone that thinks they have the best music.So each user has a “Splash Score” that’s based on how successful they are as a recommender.It’s really powerful, and really addicting.
I could imagine.So is that why people should use splash instead of Spotify or Rhapsody?
They shouldn’t use Splash instead of those guys.They should use it in addition to them.We’re not really trying to play in mainstream music, to compete with Spotify or Rhapsody.We don’t want to be an all access music provider for people who know exactly what they’re looking for.
Paint me a picture of Splash.FM’s personality?
The company is really just [co-founder Alex Gatof] and me so the brand doesn’t fake anything.It’s just us, so that makes it easy.You want to be fun and social.But you don’t want to make too much of a personality of your site because you don’t want to alienate any type of person.Look at Twitter and Facebook- they’re innocent. You want to be subtle without being sterile.
On the platform, to splash means to share a song (think ‘tweet’).Ripple means to like/re-share a song (think ‘retweet’). I love the name and terminology.How did that come about?
After trying to just come up with a name for the site for like, 3 days, I stopped thinking on that level.I needed to think bigger- more about the concept- and put that into words.I just talked out loud to myself and I was like, ‘Domino effect, one person affecting another…then all of a sudden I got onto waves and thought, its like someone just splashed [into water].’Right when I heard that word, I just knew the whole analogy would work.
Right.And the interface of the site carries the analogy through.Can you talk a little about the site’s design?
We never sacrificed the interface and the look.We invested heavily on that. And spent a lot of time on the logo too.I came up with the idea for it after a lot of research. [Some startups] might want to try to skip it but you have to really put time in there early. I audited the logos of all the other music sites out there before designing the concept of ours.
Tone of voice was also really important for us.I took a course [at Penn] on writing copy…It really is an art.You have to always remember that people are reading all this.So I thought, what would I want to read?
I see Barstool U currently has the highest Splash Score. What opportunities are there for other established ‘non-music’ brands to leverage your platform?
Splash gives lifestyle brands specifically an additional channel to express themselves and cultivate their image. If you go with the notion of brand as a personality, the type of music you listen to and like is pretty core to that. You can imagine Nike splashing a lot of workout music, Lululemon splashing tranquil yoga tunes… The goal is the same as Twitter- to amass and connect with a large userbase, build and maintain a loyal following. With Splash.FM, lifestyle brands can add depth to their brand perception that they previously couldn’t.
BarstoolU specifically has influence in the college demographic, and as a result they’ve resonated really well with our current user base. We’ve featured them, and will continue to feature similar brands that make sense.
You’ve read our Game Changers report.Which of the 5 qualities do you think Splash really nails?
Definitely experimental.To be a good product guy you just have to never be satisfied.Actually, if we didn’t have a hard date that we set, we’d still be in private beta, and probably would be forever.That’s how we still think today.
So what’s the future of Splash?
Eventually, we want it to be about more than just finding music.
One way to potentially expand in the future is this “cannonball” idea that we’ve been playing with.In theory, you’d get a cannonball if a song you uploaded or rippled early really went big.They would accumulate and turn into a virtual currency that you could use to get concert tickets.Or maybe it’s just about having a high Splash Score.This might be used to get you into bars/clubs (we’ve already done a few things with clubs where if you have a splash store above 70, you get to cut the line).Ultimately, your splash store is going to be a big deal.
What does success look like for you guys?
The ultimate success is to have people using our words beyond the site—make “splash” synonymous with liking a song.
If you sign up for Splash, be sure to follow Jason (@Jason) and me(@sam_liebeskind).Give us some ripples!