Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
March 11, 2015
Interesting to see Amazon getting in on the Etsy/Quirky/kickstarter creative, individualist, inventor scene. It’s good to see the increased opportunity for entrepreneurs to get the exposure.
September 30, 2013
ios7 was a long time in the making- and a big move for Apple. It’s the first major break from the iconic visual design driven by Steve Jobs and the warm, homey graphics that made the techie device feel familiar: to-do lists that looked like lined paper, a bookshelf that looked like wood, and most importantly, easy to read text, links and buttons.
In this update, the new flattened design takes flat too far. The text is a pretty pale grey and the links a pretty pale blue, making both hard to read. All links are treated equally, so that “skip this step” and “next” links, for example, look exactly the same. The new tool icons are flat and colorless, which combined with the pale blue outlines- make them hard to distinguish. They just don’t pop off the page. The one that’s highlighted is great- if they were all treated that way, they’d seem less diminutive and more actionable.
I like the idea of modernizing the graphics, but this fails in the execution. The graphics are reminiscent of early web design that was less well attuned to customer experience mandates such as legibility, clear calls-to-action and ease of use. The newstand is still a newstand, and I can’t pull my New York Times out of it, so it continues to be two clicks away. The bookshelf design looks like something you might find in a windows app, with books floating on varying shades of blue. The safari icon looks like a compass. And I can’t find the new ‘easier’ to find spotlight search no matter what I do.
The critical issue: The text and link treatments are too pale. Too subtle. These are key elements of the design- and they need to be made legible.
The good stuff:
On the upside, ios7 seems stable and has some great new features. The new control panel is fantastic- it puts key functionality one swipe away, instead of multiple clicks- you can now access sleep, do not disturb, airplane mode- and even a flashlight with a quick swipe. Love that.
The camera is noticably better- with easy controls, and more accessible controls for a panoramic shot, square or video.
And the new App scrolling feature is cool- with two clicks, you get mini screens you can scroll through to see what apps are open and click directly in. Very nice.
There’s lots to like about the new OS release. Though I’m not a fan of how far they took the flattened design, I believe it’s easily fixable. The critical need is to fix the oversimplified text and link treatments. I hope that Apple will recognize the need to do this quickly in upcoming releases. The rest is just a matter of taste.
November 18, 2012
Nice to see people back to work in force, last week. The roads were slow and congested with the many shuttles going into NYC from NJ, while trains along the Jersey coastline were still undergoing major repairs- there was a tugboat that hit a railroad bridge over the Raritan river, and washouts along the tracks. An NBC news employee at the bus stop told me there were over 193,000 commuters displaced by the train shut-down. That’s a lot of busses on the roads.
They’ve brought in busses and drivers from all over to make it work. I’ve had drivers from Rhode Island, Boston- and some who said they were driving into NYC for the very first time. Admirable, really. Nice people- all of them. The commuters in the front row would help them find the way and make sure they found the bus lane. Most of the subways are running, except downtown. Reports there were that the water actually reached the top of some of those tunnels at one point. Today, the Brooklyn Battery tunnel- which had been severely flooded, was opened. And many of the trains will be starting to run tomorrow, too. Lots of progress.
It’s still mind boggling to see some of the footage that’s coming out as people are able to share videos from some of the harder hit areas. Tonight, we saw a National Geographic special on that showed aerial and ground tours of the worst areas. In the aftermath, it showed people coming together in streets, lighting fires to stay warm, together. We saw one woman going into her home for the first time- seeing the water lines near the ceiling, seeing all her furniture moved and in disarray- so disoriented by it, she kept saying, ‘We didn’t move anything. We kept it nice in here. We really did’, and then, seeing the refrigerator sideways on the floor, “that’s my fridge. I filled it up before the storm, thinking…”.
They explained how the force of the tidal surge can actually shear houses from their foundations and move them- showing footage of houses or second floors of houses, moved out on streets, into marshes- one on a bridge. They also explained how lower manhattan was actually built out into the water with landfill over the past 100 years- and how the water actually came up to its normal level, where it used to be.
Amazingly, no one died in the fires that destroyed almost 100 homes in Breezy Point, Queens. In today’s New York Times, there were lists of the deaths associated with the storm and how they happened. People drowned. People were hit by trees. They died from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators in enclosed basements. You can see it in today’s NYT, Mapping Hurricaine Sandy’s Deadly Toll.
As people sort through the rubble, a heartbreaking task, there are moments of joy when something precious is found. The NYT has been posting daily images that are awful and heartbreaking, and sometimes hopeful, all at once. One was an image of a woman and her husband smiling amongst the complete wreckage of their home, because they’d found a safe containing their family genealogy. You can see that image and others here: NYT daily photo, Nov 15. One photo from last week showed a man shoveling sand out of his house- it looked like a foot of sand, at least- and he’s chipping away at that, one wheelbarrow at a time. From his entire first floor.
There are areas, most notably, the Rockaways- where there’s still no electricity- no heat or water. And no estimate for when they’ll get it. These are people who don’t necessarily have the resources to relocate. It’s awful. In the areas hardest hit- there are so many people who are now homeless. So many lives that will be forever changed. I can’t help thinking about all of the children who are not able to go to school, and how we’ll remedy that. There’s a school nearby in Union Beach, NJ, that is collecting via an Amazon wishlist to gather supplies for its students- it’s an easy way to help: Union Beach wishlist. The NYT published a list of ways to help– where to contribute money or supplies, and lists of what’s needed.
There’s so much to be horrified by- the devastation, the people who’s lives have been turned upside down, the damage that remains, even now, to the infrastructure of our power and transportation services. But there’s comfort in getting to work and doing what we can to help those less fortunate.
So let’s do that. Live on. And help out. Keep it moving forward.
November 11, 2012
We got power on thursday- it was such a surprise, I almost didn’t register what it was. Such a relief to start getting things back to normal. Laundry! Cleaning! Hair dryers! Refrigeration! Nice to have it all back. It also made it much easier to start gathering more things to donate. A friend of a friend had her house ruined in Staten Island- she was in the worst area. She had just moved there 5 weeks ago to start fresh. She lost everything except a few books and pictures she was able to gather a few days after. Luckily, she had evacuated, and her son was away at college, so both were safe. But she’d left just with an overnight bag- and now that’s almost all she has left.
We’d donated lots the day after the storm, but now I’m focusing on her- collecting bedding, dishes, silverware- trying to think of everything someone who’s starting over will need. She doesn’t have anywhere to put it yet, but hopefully she will soon. Thankfully, she still has her job. There are so many more like her- who lost everything. So awful.
I’m so touched by all the helping I’m seeing. Today we drove by a vacant Foodtown, which has been taken over by the Red Cross. They had piles and piles of donations, and people were collecting bags full of whatever they could use- clothes, shoes- and more. So many friends on Facebook are taking up collections and delivering supplies. There are occasional reports of looting, but for the most part- people are giving.
In some of the worst hit shore areas, people were beginning to get access to their homes to try to retrieve critical things- like passports, pictures, important records. There were busses and checkpoints- homeowners of one island community were allowed one hour only- they had to leave only with what they could carry in one suitcase on their lap. They had to leave their license with the police to go in, and come out only with what they could carry in one bag. Can you imagine having to make those kind of choices? That is, assuming, your house was intact enough to actually find anything- I guess there are a lot of levels of lucky here.
The NJ shore train is completely out of service- the tracks were badly damaged by debris and water. The ballasts washed away and there are areas of track that were dislodged. NJ Transit isn’t even predicting when the trains will be back in service. They’ve responded by adding lots and lots of busses. I normally take one from PNC Arts Center, and all week they had busses lined up with drivers from all over- I had one from Rhode Island, and another from Boston- they’d never driven into NYC before. They did great. The passengers helped them navigate the way in. Coming home is a bit more challenging-on friday, the line stretched outside the terminal and down almost an entire avenue block. But it’s impressive for the most part, how they’ve managed to provide alternate transportation for us.
It will be quite some time before we get back to normal.
July 8, 2012
The dreaded VRU. How did it come to be such a brick wall? It’s a great tool for efficiency, of course- just not for us. No doubt it saves millions in staffing costs for companies, while creating a tedious, frustrating, and mind-numbing experience for those of us who spend infinitely more time navigating through the gauntlet of menus, only to find that none of them offer the right options- none offer a human. I’ll start to feel my blood pressure rising, the frustration growing, finally talking louder and louder to the VRU, as if I were talking to someone hard of hearing, saying, “I WANT A HUMAN!”, then getting the inevitably even-toned “I’m sorry, that is not a valid response. To return to the main menu, please press 1, now”.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there were always the option to speak to an agent, but many companies remove that option. Others offer it, but only after you’ve followed a path of automated responses that exhaust all possible functions the system has in its arsenal. The thing is, I don’t actually want to speak to a human. I’d much rather be able to solve everything through email or online. But sometimes, you can’t- and you really need to speak with someone, and it just shouldn’t have to be so hard.
Used the way they were intended, VRU’s have a place, providing answers to frequently asked questions, saving time and money- theoretically leaving more time for qualified agents to deal with more complicated issues. I get it. They can be a tolerable evil, to a degree, as long as there’s always the option to speak to someone. It’s just plain irresponsible to omit an option to do so.
In the early days of web shopping, you practically had to have connections to get a phone number at Amazon. There was one- but you could not find it on the site. It simply wasn’t there. When my friend AMB got the number- it was a big score- and we all saved it in our address books for future reference. It was like having privileged information. They’ve come a long way since those days.
Even now, there are a surprising number of high-profile companies that don’t provide phone service at all. Companies that just can’t handle the volume, or plain don’t want to. Some surprisingly big companies in the mix. See “Tech Companies Leave Phone Calls Behind” in yesterday’s New York Times- Quora doesn’t provide a phone number at all. Twitter has one, but it hangs up after directing you to email. Facebook is no better. In the article, Amy O’Leary describes the Linked In VRU cycle as a telephonic version of “Groundhog Day”. That pretty much sums it up.
And then…there are the times that speaking to an agent seems almost as existential as working your way through a VPU. Check out “The Theater of the Absurd” today in the NYT business section, for a humorous article on the subject, including a transcript of a baffling conversation between Alan Alda and a McAfee customer service agent, in which he says to her, “I am now in the land of Kafka” after going around in ridiculous circles. Worth a read.
I wonder if Siri could help. Try asking her to get you an agent at <company name here>, and see what happens. Let me know how that works out. I’m a generation behind, on the iPhone 4, so wouldn’t know. It would be worth the upgrade if she has that kind of power.
February 27, 2012
Abysmal writing in business is a terrible thing. Besides being unpleasant to read, it can instantly strip away your credibility as a cause, a brand or a company.
Sure, the advertising and retail world take a little license to play with the English language to make a point, or to create a more powerful message. But that’s intentional, so we give it a pass (to a point).
Bad spelling, misuse of words, or flat out bad grammar can hurt you. It makes you look unprofessional. It makes your message look careless and sloppy. Organizations looking to print, publish or launch something online, thinking perhaps they’re saving a few dollars by writing it themselves, well, they’re not saving anything in the end. They’re losing credibility. They’d be much better served by calling the people out there who make a living doing it.
Here’s a striking example. I got a letter from a local not-for-profit organization, working to protect open space. The header sets the tone for the entire piece, screaming, “DO NOT EXCEPT FALSE CHOICES ON TAXES”. Later in the letter, there’s a sentence saying, “If you were lead to believe…”
The entire letter is riddled with errors- grammatical, spelling, bad word usage. It’s embarrassing. The letter is signed by a Ph.D and a Lawyer. So either they never took the grammar unit in high school, or perhaps a volunteer wrote it- who knows. The point is, they signed it. If your name is on it, you need to read it.
The other thing to avoid is superfluous formatting: excessive use of capital letters, colors, underlines and bold type- by emphasizing lots of things, they end up featuring nothing. It’s just ugly and sensationalistic. This seems to be a common, yet unfortunate method many direct mailers use to try to get our attention. It does. But not in a good way.
This is an extreme example, but I can’t tell you how often I see grammatical and misspellings in business and upscale retail communications. If you have a brand to protect, and an important message to share- take the time to make it good. Your message will resonate if it’s written well. Or at least have a fighting chance.
The unfortunate mailer:
December 17, 2011
The real joys of the season are not to be found at Best Buy and Amazon. They are in the random acts of kindness or merriment we see along the way.
Every year, we jump into overdrive in the weeks after thanksgiving, shopping like crazy for family and friends, trying to beat the lines, get the perfect gifts, the deals, and get it all done. Sometimes to the point that we’re stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
Then something wonderful happens.
Something that makes you stop and smile. Like walking up 5th avenue, and seeing two random guys take the microphone from a Salvation Army volunteer, and start singing Christmas carols in harmony. Or giving something away you don’t need, to someone who does. Saying ‘yes’ to the people asking for money- and giving more than they asked for. Giving back, in random ways, gives you more than you can ever imagine.
On the news this morning, there was a story about a ‘secret Santa’ who’s traveling around the country paying off people’s Christmas layaway plans at Kmart and Toys-R-us, especially the ones that had late payments or would be forfeited due to a lack of payments. When one woman encountered her benefactor, and cried in joy, ‘what can I do for you?’, he said, ‘just do the same for someone else’. Is this a single benefactor? Is it a movement? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. It’s just wonderful. In a time of such high unemployment, such struggle with so many things in the world, and people just trying to get by and create some delight for their family, this story is an inspiration.
Let’s do more of that.
Do something wonderful.