- Mass Customization of the Fiat 500 – A number of folks we recently met in Europe mentioned this new (although an updated classic) car as being perfect for their needs. The variation and customizing, while perhaps not unique in today's marketplace (I'm imaging the Mini's variability is similar if not beyond) was still striking: "The 500 is available with four different trim levels: Naked, Pop, Lounge, and Sport. Customers can choose also between 15 interior trims, 9 wheel options, 19 decals, and 12 body colours. There are over 500,000 different personalized combinations of the 500 that can be made by adding all kinds of accessories, decals, interior and exterior colours, and trims."
- Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas – Allison Arieff writes about "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson" whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." I'm reminded of my formative experiences with Al Jaffee features from MAD magazine where he's describe future products or technologies, or explain (fancifully) the workings of some current product (i.e. bars of soap that are made with quick disappearing stuff on the outside and then a small interior core that takes a long long time to dissolve).
- Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt – Suggested to me by René Vendrig at the Amsterdam UX Cocktail Hour, after my talk on looking at cultural differences based on everyday observations. He tells me "It is about traffic, but the real subject is human psychology and how we deal with that kind of situations."
- It's Not TV, It's HBO – HBO's standard-creating slogan, giving words to the premium experience of their programming.
- It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks. – New ad campaign for Starbucks attempts to differentiate on quality, but sounds just a bit familiar.
- All This ChittahChattah | Flying the sneaky skies – (see link for screen grab)
While checking in online for a United Airlines flight, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus. It’s likely that most people decline upsells in many situations, though. The default would be to click “no thanks” and move on to completing the transaction. But United has done some tricky and manipulative interface design. The bright yellow arrow with bold text placed on the right is almost irresistible. E-commerce sites have trained us to envision a transaction moving from left to right (granted that they’ve landed on that model since it corresponds to how we read and other cultural factors); it’s very easy to click on the arrow and make a purchase you didn’t want. It takes cognitive work to search for the preferred option which is a lowly blue-underlined unbolded text link off to the left.
- Evil-interface design in airline website design spanked by European Commission – "Another common problem is the use of prechecked boxes offering services like travel insurance; consumers must uncheck the boxes to remove the unwanted charge." I've written before about United's website being slightly more subtle in their evilness, by offering an upgrade during check-in where the highly visible (colored graphic arrow) button in the default location will cost you tons of money; it's more effort to realize, locate, and decline the offer. Why do we live in a world where major brands want to sell us things that we don't want by tricking us? It's unconscionable that any company can claim to respect consumers and then pull crap like this.
- Cyd Harrell of Bolt | Peters reacts to the ludicrous Dell campaign trying to sell computers to women, in 2009 – "…a woman, with the last Dell I will ever own. It’s my current laptop, and I chose it because I needed a computer powerful enough to run screensharing tools and high-res video; I needed mobile broadband to stay in touch with my clients and employees, and not just my kid (heresy!); I needed my screen to look great when I go to meetings with clients. That is to say, I needed it for work. Dell, let’s make it official: you can bite me and the millions of other women who take themselves and their technology seriously."
I love the articulate passion here, as well as the insight into what may have happened organizationally/culturally at Dell (ahem, really crappy research) that leads to such a horrendously offensive sales pitch to HALF of their buying population
The latest Pew study asks about what Americans see as luxuries vs. necessities, as part of a longitudinal study of attitudes towards major categories of goods.
Clear majorities in polls conducted since 1973 have said that their TV set is something they couldn’t do without. Yet the latest Pew Research Center survey suggests Americans’ long love affair with their TV sets may be cooling.
Whether prompted by the recession or by the lure of new computers and other devices that can display TV programs as well as other kinds of streaming video, barely half (52%) of the public now say a television is a necessary part of their lives. That’s a decline of 12 percentage points since 2006 and the lowest proportion since 1973 to view a television as essential — even lower than the 57% who said a TV set was a necessity when the question was first asked in 1973.
Young adults have led the march away from the TV screen: Only 38% of those 30 or younger say a TV is a necessity, a 15-point decline since 2006. In contrast, perceptions of a television set as a necessity declined by just 6 points to 68% among respondents or older
Now far be it for me to impugn Pew (who seem like they do really smart and interesting pulse-taking research), but as of 2007 99% of US households had at least one TV, and the average household had 2.24 sets. So what’s the relationship here between what people say and what people do? If you’ve already got a TV set, how hard is it to say it’s not a necessity? [Of course, more people are getting video content online so that's part of the reason for the drop and Pew accounts for that, but I'm looking at the other issue]
I think we place a lot of extra importance on self-reported survey data, where people express opinions, out of context. There’s no behavioral data here about what people are actually doing (i.e., selling their TV sets to buy something more important, or holding off buying new TV sets, etc.) If people respond to the question about the importance of the TV in a new way, does that really mean the perception of the TV has changed or does it point to a different way to answer the question?
What do you think this bit of data means? What are the consequences or impacts? Who should be taking notice of it, and what should they do?
- How's that for a long-lasting brand/product? After 72 years, TV's `Guiding Light' switching off – It began as a 15-minute serial on NBC Radio in January 1937 and debuted on CBS television in 1952, focusing on the Bauer family of Springfield.
- April 2009 – Iraqis Snap Up Hummers as Icons of Power – “Iraqis love them because they’re really a symbol of power,” said Mr. Hilli, a chubby 37-year-old who could not stop chuckling. Nonetheless, he spoke with authority, since he was his own first customer. Hummers in Baghdad are symbols of much more besides: increasing security, returning normality and a yearning for the trappings of sovereignty. Mr. Hilli allowed that there was something else, too, a little more indefinable, which in Arabic is “hasad thukuri,” [penis envy]
- April 2003 – Americans induce patriotism through Hummer purchase – "When I turn on the TV, I see wall-to-wall Humvees, and I'm proud," said Sam Bernstein, a 51-year-old antiquities dealer who lives in Marin County, Calif., and drives a Hummer H2, an S.U.V. sibling of the military Humvee. "They're not out there in Audi A4's," he said of the troops. "I'm proud of my country, and I'm proud to be driving a product that is making a significant contribution."
- Listening to customer feedback? Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes (Thx, @susandra) – In '77, 3M decided to test-market. It failed to ignite interest. “When we did the follow-up research, there just weren’t a lot of people saying this was a product they wanted.”
"We knew the test markets failed, but we just kept saying, ‘Maybe it was us. Maybe we did something wrong. Because it couldn’t be the product—the product was great.”
To see for themselves how people responded to Post-it Notes, 2 execs cold-called offices, giving away samples and showing people how to use 'em. The responses were more enthusiastic. “Those things really were like cocaine. You got them into somebody’s hands, and they couldn’t help but play around with them.”
1 more test was in order. They got newspapers to run stories about it. They festooned stationery stores with banner displays and point-of-purchase materials. 1000s of samples were sent to office managers, purchasing agents, lawyers, etc. People demonstrated it to potential customers. It was a huge success, and 3M decided to launch Post-Its.
- Listening to customer feedback? Peter Arnell Explains Failed Tropicana Package Design – Big outcry over the Tropicana packaging design (which this suggests was NOT tested but that's hard to believe) led to a return to the previous packaging.
- Listening to customer feedback? Malcolm Gladwell on the Aeron chair – The Aeron chair was originally despised and deemed ugly. It didn’t catch on for 2 years, and then it quickly became the most popular chair. Everyone came to love it. Gladwell concludes that people find responses about some topics extremely difficult to articulate. While they may think they dislike something (like the Aeron chair), in their hearts they may actually like it. There is a disconnect that causes people to express dislike in their heads while they actually like it in their hearts (and vice versa).
- Listening to customer feedback? Hate Facebook's new look? You'll like it soon enough. – Slate advances the point that people react to change negatively but eventually get used to the change and make it work.
- Listening to customer feedback? Problems With NBC’s ‘Parks & Recreation’ – When do you listen to negative feedback and when do you follow your vision? I think there's an important middle-ground that is often ignored: understanding what lies beneath that feedback and choosing carefully if and how to respond to it, or how to create supporting activities that help get over the barriers that the rejection points to
- Paul Graham writes on "Why TV Lost" – Lots of interesting points in Graham's essay, but I found these two, about the underlying media component of many startups, and the temporal aspect of TV-watching especially thought-provoking: "Now would be a good time to start any company that competes with TV networks. That's what a lot of Internet startups are, though they may not have had this as an explicit goal. People only have so many leisure hours a day, and TV is premised on such long sessions (unlike Google, which prides itself on sending users on their way quickly) that anything that takes up their time is competing with it."
- Where does Twitter go from here? – My post on Core77 about how Twitter can think about evolving its overall user experience as it straddles lead users and mass awareness
- Logic+Emotion: Skittles Smackdown, A Sociological Viewpoint – Nice words from David Armano, pulling out something I wrote yesterday about the Skittles/Twitter PR experiement
One of the commercial breaks during the debut episode of Christian Slater’s new TV show, My Own Worst Enemy, started with a little recruiting pitch for the consulting agency that Slater’s character works for on the show, something along the lines of “we’re looking for a few good people.”
The spot listed a website for AJ Sun Consulting, the fictional character’s fictional employer. So of course I checked it out-I’m fascinated by this stuff.
The site was more substantial than I expected, sporting among its pages a mission statement, a privacy statement, and a client-access-only login field. And not a sign of it being a marketing platform for anything other than AJ Sun Consulting, until I had gotten as far as the fifth question on the job application form on the Careers page. But there it was:
Are you interested in learning more about our company’s employee program with Chevy?
Which Chevy vehicle would you prefer as your company car?
___ Chevy Traverse
___ Chevy Camaro
Looking into the backstory, I found a May 2008 press release from NBC quoting Dino Bernacchi, General Motors’ Director of Marketing Alliances and Branded Entertainment:
“We call it Fusion Marketing – partnering with the creative community around ideas that build relationships with a passionate audience, but done through the lens of the entertainment property.”
And indeed, a quick check of Whois.net shows the site registered to General Electric, NBC’s parent company. (GE, furthering its forays into “fusion marketing,” also appears as Liz Lemon’s employer on the NBC show 30 Rock.)
For a while, there was a lot of buzz around companies and public figures trying to create a presence in Second Life and use that world to spur more action for themselves in this one. (The Second Life Video Gallery at New Business Horizons has some interesting artifacts around some of these efforts.)
So exactly what is it that’s happening, metaphysically, when I’m in “first life” interacting in a fake forum created by a real entity like GM to sell a real product through a fake premise?
I feel a little bit like the girl in the old A-Ha video–inhabiting a place that’s between real and virtual.
Me on bass, Firefly Club, Osaka, Japan, 2001
I had the TV on in the background the other night while I was doing some work around the house–I’ll admit it to you–I was watching E Hollywood True Stories, “Joe Francis Gone Wild.” (Francis is the guy who created Girls Gone Wild (NSFW))
Anyway…about halfway through the show, I heard a really familiar sound fading up in the background. I turned up the volume on the show, and, sure enough, it was a piece of a song from a CD I recorded a few years ago.
As the wow feeling of hearing something I had made broadcast this widely subsided, I started thinking about other aspects of the situation: shouldn’t someone have contacted me, shouldn’t I be getting paid for this?
And here’s where the irony, or at least the thought-provoking conundrum, begins.
I know how hard it is to earn a living playing music (or even just to cover your expenses). Yet I have, ahem, “friends,” who download all kinds of “free” musical content. And when I lived in Japan, I had other, ahem, “friends,” who rented lots of CDs from Tsutaya (the Japanese Blockbuster Video) and copied them onto MiniDisc to build their music collections, thus depriving the artists of their cut of a CD sale. (For a great breakdown of the traditional music industry business model, and a startling look at the reality of making a living as a musician, check out Moses Avalon’s website and book, Confessions of a Record Producer).
My initial self-righteousness about getting paid for the use of my music highlighted a clear differentiation I’ve been making between creative “product” that comes out of the “entertainment industry” and what’s made by people like me, whose primary livelihood is something other than their music, art, etc.
Now that any content placed in the public arena is almost instantaneously redistributable, whither goes the business model/s for creative production? Are songs-as-products becoming obsolete, to be replaced by songs-as-loss-leaders, a la the Starbucks/iTunes “song-of-the-week” card?
How, in this freewheeling new world, will it continue to be possible to shift enough units to pay for the production of something like a U2 album or a feature-length film?
CD Cover, George Lynch (ex-Dokken), 2000
New analysis covered over at O’Reilly on Radiohead’s 2007 “pay-what-you-like” experiment for selling their album, In Rainbows, would seem to support the loss leader model, with the attention generated by the online trading of the album seemingly as valuable as any actual money earned through paid downloading.
I’d add as well that firing up the tour bus remains an essential part of the prospect. Aside from tribute bands, no one’s found a way yet to pirate the live performance. (Although perhaps the scenario in Kiss’ 1978 movie, where the band is attacked by a lookalike robot band, suggests one possible model.)
VHS box, Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park, 1978
But back to more grounded futuristic pondering. Is Karl Marx’ dream of making means of production accessible to ordinary people coming to fruition via peer-to-peer content sharing and the free flow of certain types of “raw materials?”
As the “redistributability” of content facilitated by the internet crossbreeds with technology and approaches like just-in-time production, 3D printing, and mass customization, will other types of product production also be wrested from commercial producers?
And will someone from E True Hollywood Stories please contact me about that royalty check?
Like Adam Richardson, I’m fed up with “Indentured Advertude.” Shortly after his post appeared, I returned to my Orlando hotel room and found that housekeeping had left my TV remote like this:
In order to get to the controls, I have to remove it from the sleeve. Like other forcing functions I’ve written about it creates some mindfulness that drives a desired behavior; in this case it’s not in my interest at all. You must engage with this ad before you can perform another task. The service being advertised has no connection to watching TV or using the remote; it’s just there to get in your way.
Here are two cartoon shorts that reveal powerful and dated perspectives on consumer culture and the automotive industry. Dated isn’t bad; in these cases it tells us a lot about what the concerns of the time were.
From 1974, an excerpt from a pilot for a MAD television special. It’s the credits and the first segment, a cynical interview with an automotive executive. The theme of poor quality screams out loud and clear.
From 1951, Tex Avery’s Car of Tomorrow. Silly concepts that speak to social attitudes and concerns from that period. Which ones have changed? Unlike the MAD piece which frames its critique by being very current, this cartoon looks to the future and reveals these values somewhat more indirectly.
(See also Tex Avery’s Television of Tomorrow)
In a nice attempt at transparency, NBC’s official site for ER includes a section about former cast members, entitled (of course) Where Are They Now (sans question mark)
So where’s Julianna Margulies now?
Julianna Margulies spent a total of six years playing Nurse Carol Hathaway on the medical drama ER. After leaving the show, Margulies went on to star in a number of plays and movies. Her career took her to the stage of the Lincoln Center to the starring role in such movies as “Ghost Ship” and “Snakes on a Plane”.
Note the horrendous grammar, the highlighting of some poor films and of course, no mention of her new starring role in Canterbury’s Law (on FOX). Maybe NBC isn’t quite as genuine/generous with its transparency as we’re supposed to believe. Don’t publicists check up on stuff like this? Or are they totally powerless once the contract with NBC is over?
We need a new term like greenwashing that describes the false transparency such as what we see here from NBC (and whether it’s ineptitude or malice, the lack of care and finish tell us something about what NBC cares about).
Boiled down from a bullet-pointy Fast Company piece that is heavy on highlight but makes me hunger for details.
Get more people to tune in to Court TV
The key has been to think like a consumer-products marketer…create a clear identity for each network.
Research revealed that the viewers of Court TV’s prime-time shows include two main groups: mystery solvers, typically women ages 25 to 54 who enjoy piecing together a story to solve a problem, and “real engagers,” young men who like true stories that take them places they wouldn’t otherwise go.
[So,] change the name. Court TV evokes images of criminals. The channel will relaunch as truTV.
Before truTV debuts, Koonin will send researchers into the homes of target viewers to gather information, much as Intuit famously does with its software.
One of the fun yet challenging aspects of spending two weeks in another country was stumbling over all the little things that I know how to do back home but didn’t work. I paid for a snack using pocket change, and eventually had to hold the pile of coins out to the counter dude so he could take the right amount. The coins say their value, in English, but in order to complete a transaction in the normal amount of time, you have to be familiar. It was an interesting feeling, to be such a foreigner.
At another point, I was riding the DLR (train) with my Oyster (smart card). A conductor comes along to swipe the card and there’s a small interaction where the passenger holds out the card and the conductor holds out the wand (yes, it was a wand, not the usual credit-card-swipey-slot thing). I wanted to put my card on top of his wand, but he wanted to put his wand on top of my card. I was just supposed to know the gesture. Sounds like a bit of a dominance issues, actually.
In using the self-check at Tesco (a grocery store), I realized the software was the same as what I’ve seen here at Home Depot, etc. but when it came time to pay, the voice prompt told me to insert my card into the chippenpin device. Turns out this was Chip-and-PIN, where credit cards and/or ATM cards have extra security via an embedded chip, and an associated PIN. These readers use a different swipe gesture, with the card going in the bottom of the keypad. Anyway, I stood there with my non-chipped credit card, putting it in and out of this bottom slot, to no avail. After I surrendered and paid cash, I realized there was the familiar vertical swipe slot along the bezel of the monitor, a different piece of hardware than the chippenpin.
And this one was subtle but confounding:
This is the TV remote from my Paris hotel room but the London hotel had a similar issue. In my experience, the red power button turns the TV on and turns the TV off. But in both these hotel rooms (and maybe this was a hotel issue more than a Euro issue) the way to turn it was to press the channel buttons. Enter a channel and the TV would go on and display that channel. The power button was actually on “off” button. You can imagine me sitting in front of the TV with a remote and trying to turn it on, in vain, until frustrated random button press gave me the result I wanted.
I often look around at local transit and marvel at how much the cues and other information in those systems are designed for people who already know how to use them; but I was able to plan for and learn about transit enough to be come a fairly comfortable user. It was these small interactions without cues, and under time pressure, where I found myself bemusedly incompetent.
From today’s Dear Abby
DEAR ABBY: I am a professional costume wearer. By that, I mean I have been an elf, a giraffe, a moose, T-Rex and a character for a major hamburger chain. I am presently a character for a major cereal company. Once I am in costume, I am not allowed to speak.
Adults and older children think nothing of hitting me, kicking me, pulling at parts of my costume, and trying to knock me down. One 12-year-old even tried to “head butt” me while his father looked on and encouraged him!
I am in costume for about an hour or so before I can take breaks. It gets hot and sweaty inside these costumes. I have a limited field of vision and can’t see many of the oncoming attacks. Even if I saw each one, I would not be able to say anything to stop or deflect these random attacks. What I do is have a paid “helper” walk beside me. This is now discouraging such actions by adults and children.
I would ask parents to please remember that there are real people inside these costumes, which are not heavily padded. I feel each and every hit and kick as if I were wearing street clothes. Thanks for printing this. — H.S. IN COLORADO
DEAR H.S.: You have my sympathy, and I am seconding your request. That a parent would encourage such poor behavior incenses me. You should not have had to hire a “bodyguard” to protect you.
I find it interesting, however, that the children who are acting out against you do not regard you as another human being. It seems they have mistaken you for the same kind of cartoon character they see on television — probably too much television — against whom violence is committed with no repercussions. (I’m reminded of the “Mr. Bill” character that was once featured on “Saturday Night Live.”)
One of my assistants, who has occasionally dressed as a chimp in her work as a docent at the L.A. Zoo [Ahem?! I'd suggest that if you're wearing a chimp costume, you can't really call yourself a docent! - SP], tells me that this is one of the hazards in your line of work. Call me humorless, but to me, assault and battery are criminal behaviors — and if someone I cared about were subjected to it, I would be very concerned.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, the spot features a William Hurt-esque everyman doing a Busby Berkeley number, as he celebrates the success of a search he has just done for “Chicks With Swords.”
Does this seem like a really odd choice of content to anyone else? The ad has me wondering: how would you parse the factors that separate “offbeat and interesting” from just plain “out there?”
Well, Yahoo’s TV page is in beta with its new facelist. Sexy. Content-y.
And useless. I don’t need to have a Rich Media Interaction with the Property and the Brand. I want to see if this episode is a repeat. The old version said very clearly
Original Broadcast Date: xx/xx/xxxx – if that was today’s date, then it was a new episode.
Sometimes they’d put (repeat) if it was a repeat, but the absence of that information doesn’t seem sufficient to verify it’s not a repeat. And reading the plot summary and trying to decide if I’ve seen that one? That’s work.
I know, users like to gripe when things get changed. But did they ask anyone how they use it, first? Or did real estate for big banner ads for the show take precedence over actionable data? I dunno.
Update: even worse…if you click on a show in the grid, say, the 10:00 pm listing for Law and Order, Yahoo shows you the “Law and Order” page, with information about the next episode. But the next one is a 2:00 pm syndicated episode on TNT. It requires much more work to get to the details of the episode I already told them I wanted. Finding the “all upcoming episodes” link and then looking through that to find the 10:00 link, clicking that and finally, the info I am seeking. Ludicrous!