We need Hookturn now, more than ever.

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

Features to be significantly changed. Decommissioning of 360documentaries, Hindsight, Encounter, Into the Music and Poetica… One possible redundancy with the merging of Books and Arts Daily and the Weekend Arts teams… By Design and RN First Bite to be axed.”

The Guardian lists some of the casualties of the ABC funding cuts.

As our government literally decimates the national broadcaster, I’m even more conscious of the need for the ongoing telling of Australian stories in whichever way we can.

We take a lot of pride in where we come from. As Melburnians we’re constitutionally required to be parochial. Once every 18 months or so I travel to New York City and I marvel at its inhabitants’ parochialism. They put us to shame. I’ve travelled to Austin, which has the unique position of being a parochial enclave inside of Texas, itself probably the most parochial place in the world.

I’m speaking about parochialism as a virtue, which opposes my personal economic beliefs for globalisation. But the two concepts can and should co-exist. Continue reading “We need Hookturn now, more than ever.”

Don’t be scared to share.

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

Last week I went to a meetup about strategy and content in New York. The theme was ‘Show and Tell’ and each attendee was supposed to bring a piece they had worked on to discuss the thought behind its content and design.

Only four of us braved the surprise sub-zero November weather to turn up to a meeting room at EMC’s office and we were probably all a little disappointed to begin with. But soon we realised that with so few of us there we didn’t have to restrict ourselves to three to four minute time limit. Just as well. The things we brought with us demanded more attention and investigation.

A content strategist brought her hybrid strategy/publication schedule template, designed to teach her large accounting firms marketing team that there was more responsibility to creating material than just releasing white papers into the wild.

A self-starting web-designer shared his vanity project to produce online documentaries to capture all sides of a story.

A strategy designer shared an intranet created for one of the world’s largest banks to help employees get all the information they needed about their own employment (payslip records, accrued holiday leave, promotion and training opportunities), and how it was being used by the bank to improve employee retention.

I shared a recent Shareholder Review we created for one of our clients to discuss the narrative concept and how the content was able to exist in different formats online and in print.

We left amazed at the work we were all doing and I realised something really important: as an industry we don’t share enough.

Sure, there are some who share. There are those who stand up at conferences and talk about what they’ve learnt. We see them all the time and too often it’s the same faces over and over again.

Unfortunately, those of us at the coal-face rarely  talk about or show off the work we’re doing unless we’re pitching to new clients.

That’s not enough.

What I saw that night is that there are people who, like us, are trying to solve difficult problems every day. When we work in isolation these seem like really unusual or even unique problems. If we shared these problems more often we might find that we’re not alone.  We might even find someone else’s problem is congruent with ours. Their solutions might have value for our projects.

We can learn from the experiences of other people even when (and perhaps especially when) we work in different fields. Some challenges are universal.
Designers need to learn the value of talking to one another about our work and why it excites us. We should also share our disappointments to show that it’s unreasonable to expect every project to be 100% success.

The luminaries who publish books and tour the talking circuit do some important work, but if they’re the only people we listen to we are going to end up with a homogenised set of solutions. But evolution’s strength is in variety.

Let’s resolve to regularly share our experiences and talk to each other about the problems we face in creating our work. It takes a bit of guts and it can be a daunting task, but we will never improve if the only thing we share is exasperation at tight or mercurial deadlines. The power we have to improve our work is in sharing our problems, methods and results.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

How to Magic Yourself Better

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

We do a show that we release as a podcast about being better designers. It’s called The Nudge. In it we try to cover some of the issues we think designers face and try to find people who can teach ways to improve on that.

But we don’t often talk about the things we’re currently doing as a studio to make us better designers; The things we’re doing to make ourselves work smarter.

Recently we finished two massive projects. One was the ANZ Shareholder Review. We’ll post a full case study about that shortly. The other was the redesign of the way one of Australia’s major sporting bodies presents itself to the world.

These two projects took up every resource we had and then some. Many of us worked without weekends and up to 80 hours a week to complete these jobs on time.

That’s not a brag: It’s an admission. It shouldn’t have happened. We should have been able to work smarter and avoid working harder.

During those two projects we already started looking at what we can do next time to make the work go easier. We knew that the way we were working wasn’t great but we were stuck for the moment. Mid project isn’t a great time to swap between task managers, for example.

But then again, is there ever a great time to do such a thing?

We were using Basecamp for our task management and project related communication. Or I should say, we were kind of using it. Basecamp became a dumping ground for files and messages, tasks that were never completed. It was a graveyard of work we had done, work we had intended to do, and it never gave us an understanding of what was happening right now.

We think this might be where our problem was. Basecamp is an excellent product but it just wasn’t working for the way we do things.

Right now we’re trying two new (to us) products: Slack and Asana.

Slack is a good team communication tool that many of our colleagues and friends had recommended.

Asana is a task management set of apps that gives the opportunity to categorise tasks in a number of ways, nest tasks to be as granular as we like, and offers snapshots on projects and their progress over time.

We’re still in the early days of using these systems and we’ll try to keep you updated on what we discover about them and ourselves.

At the moment, though, it’s also important for us to realise that these systems can’t make people work better but they can offer the opportunity to improve our processes.

Just like buying a new notebook doesn’t make you write that novel and having a new bat doesn’t make you a better cricketer, having new productivity tools isn’t going to magic us into working better. It will take tenacity, discipline and support from each other when things get tough.

We’re lucky as well that we work in a team. Hopefully we can do that better soon too.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

The Disruption Fallacy

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

It may engender a whole new stream of book reviewing, but I doubt it, because people are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them. And if old media is so passé, why do they care so much about what we think?

Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, from
‘No, I don’t want to read your self-published book’ by Ron CharlesThe Washington Post, October 1, 2014.

We’ve been speaking a lot about the idea of "disruption" in the office recently. Of course, being urbane designers whose job it is to solve problems, we often regard the concept as nothing more than a buzzword surrounding or obfuscating a difficult truth: The world moved beyond the capabilities of a particular business model.

But it’s also within our bailiwick to look at the issue of disruption with empathy for both sides and to try to help our clients, whichever side of the disruption line they fall on.

The above quote from Sutton identifies one of the unspoken problems of disruption culture. Survivorship bias pushes us to look at the industries which were damaged by new competition. The newspaper industry is an obvious example. People never paid for news directly. The news was subsidised by the classified ads. Craigslist started and the classified ads dried up.

Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group recently gave a talk at General Assembly in Melbourne about his time at Lonely Planet and how they failed to preempt Trip Advisor et al.

That put a really interesting spin on the concept of disruption. Is it the act of the new business models pushing out older forms, or is it failure on the part of the older forms to react with appropriate innovation when the landscape shifts?

We never really hear about the start-ups that failed because the industries they were trying to undermine acted quickly and well to reinforce their position.

And then, in this quote from Sutton, we see an interesting in-between stage. Self-publishing is easy and many people do it. There are parts of that industry where self-publishing succeeds, to an extent. Science fiction and fantasy audiences are much more willing to take risks on reading and discover new authors. Children’s books, however, require an element of authority behind them to recommend them and let parents know they are making a wise investment for their children’s education and entertainment.

If we look at the microscopic level we see disruption or thwarting, depending on the victor. But if pull out to a more macroscopic level we observe business as an ecosystem, producing wins and losses all over the place. We see evolution as it should be: Businesses succeed or fail based on how well they can live in a changing environment.

There will always be something new coming around the corner. A business in stasis is never going to survive, but a business in panic is only slightly better off. Sometimes what a business needs is a third party to show what’s really important and its value as the environment changes.

That’s where we come in as designers. Our job is often to be the calming influence, to stop the panic and to develop strategies for showing value to customers, shareholders, staff or anyone else who might need a refreshing vision of the part your business plays in what’s important to them.

To paraphrase Yoda: There is no disruption, only do or do not.

To paraphrase Sigourney Weaver: There is no disruption, only Zuul.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

This week on ‘This Australian Life’

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

I grew up in Australia in the late seventies and early eighties, so it was natural for me to think that someone else’s culture was more valid than mine: The TV shows we saw were mostly imported; The local content was news or soap or procedural cop dramas; Australian children’s television was always solid, but as kids we were already given the sense that things that were made for us were of less consequence than things created for adults; And shows for adults that had a sense of quality came from the US and UK.

Is that how you remember it? It’s definitely the way we, as a culture, talk about it—especially when we have the inevitable "Why can’t we produce good comedies" discussion we love to have.

To believe that requires excluding the comedies like Auntie Jack, which led to Norman Gunston, without which we would have never had Let the Blood Run Free or The Games.

There were also the Kennedy-Miller mini-series, the way for which was paved by Crawfords productions, which eventually led to Simpson-Le Mesurier productions and the excellent Good Guys Bad Guys in the early nineties.

Australia is a giant country with a relatively small population. Our two most populous cities (only the second smallest distance between two capital cities in Australia), are almost as far apart as Paris and Berlin. We feel isolated from each other as well as the rest of the world, and as a result there is an insecurity in our actions.

Recently a friend told me he wanted to start a podcast festival in Melbourne. His intention was to invite Marc Maron and John Hodgman, and their presence would encourage other big names to come.

He never mentioned an Australian podcast he would like to invite.

So, why do we look externally for validation?

When I went to my first Webstock conference (realistically one of the best-run events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending), I was disappointed that a New Zealand-run event didn’t have any antipodean speakers.

I thought about this for a bit. Should we blame the organisers? (They are lovely people and work very hard.) Maybe they had evidence to show that local people weren’t a big enough draw card. That’s definitely what other attendees had suggested to me.

If this is what attendees think, based on just attendee-to-attendee discussions, then it’s probably true enough market research.

But this problem doesn’t happen with other countries or cultures. The aforementioned US and UK both host plenty of web-design conferences that draw huge crowds.

Do we just accept out cultural cringe and live with it, or do we fight against it?

This is a design problem. This is a problem of getting people to accept something they unconsciously reject. Its a problem of changing minds and behaviour.

But is it a problem worth solving? What are the costs associated with building antipodean pride?

There is a very real possibility that we fear realising our already perceived irrelevance—that, despite everything we have already given the world (wifi, bionic ear, ova freezing techniques), we still never think we’ll be listened to when we talk. And there’s nothing worse than an irrelevant body pretending it has validity. How embarrassing!

There is, however, the contrary position. If we are supportive of our own work and push ourselves to produce better products, then maybe it won’t matter what others think. Maybe we will develop a confidence to be content with our own attention.

This is not about local design for local people. It’s about holding our own work to an international standard, supporting it when it reaches that level and encouraging efforts to surpass it.

We can only do that one step at a time. It’s going to be tough, too, but relevance is demanded, not requested, and that takes grit.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog