30 November 15 -

Super8: Eight intriguing articles from November.

According to Wikipedia, and therefore supreme truth via consensus, November 21st is World Hello Day. November also contains Thanksgiving (the 27th) and apparently, Computer Security Day (the 30th, or so sayeth the Association for Computer Security Day).

In honour of these three momentous occasions, I’d like to say; “Hello, and let’s give thanks for computers”. Let’s give thanks for computers because they give us lots of awesome things. Like the Internet. And Super8, each and every month.

As usual, the Augustines have cast their vision to the Internet in order to uncover the most interesting, exciting and enlightening articles, lists, or discussions from the past thirty days. For the very first time, I’ve wrapped them all up into a neat Super8 package for your convenience. This month, we cover how to sell without selling; how to design UX like Real Madrid; how to optimise site registration; how to take feedback like a designer rather than a CEO; and, essentially, discuss the many faces of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. So let’s get to it.

If there’s an article you Pocketed, Tweeted, Facebooked, Instagrammed or told your desk buddy about this month, add it to the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

1. How to sell without really selling.

marketing

This is a great article that blends modern thinking with some classic principles of advertising and marketing. “Welcome to the new age of marketing…” begins Tara Shelton, and in some ways, she’s right: it is (kind of) a new age. With smart phone penetration increasing at the same astronomical rate that our attention spans shrink, there’s never been a larger chorus of ‘look at me’ for marketers to contend with.

Tara suggests that to attract attention in this overexposed new landscape, there needs to be substance in marketing. Some emotional resonance; some wit; humour; usability; some universal truth, idea or shared experience that people can plug into. There needs to be more than a flashing pop-up, gif and a CTA:

“It’s all about crafting amazing, creative content to draw attention to your brand; it’s about giving something back to your consumers. It’s about selling an idea, not just a product. If you keep creating good work, and making good products, customers or clients will come. It’s about being genuine and open, rather than shoving it in people’s faces.”

For me though, that’s one of the most timeless precepts of the advertising world: “it’s about the idea”. The idea of ‘the idea’ has been a carrot for advertising and marketing agencies since forever. There’s been the big idea and there’s been the long idea. Now, Tara suggests that it’s all about the shared idea – being honest, open, and approachable and trading insights with your audience about the benefits of your product or business. It’s a nice reminder that while technology is a great conduit for audiences, it’s content that resonates with them.

2. UX design is a team sport and is best played like one.

user experience

I’m a huge sports fan. As a copywriter, I’m pretty fond of metaphors and analogies too. They seem to eternally complement one another: sports broadcasts are always chock full of metaphors, and a lot of analogies used in daily conversation are plucked from the sports field.

In that vein, Neil Turner knocks this one out of the park (see what I did there?) by comparing great UX design to a functional sports team. More specifically, Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo (perhaps not the best example of a functional sports team, given their wobbling carousel of multi-million dollar signings and managers. But that’s beside the point).

Neil suggests that developing effective user experience is a largely holistic… experience, in that it’s influenced by all of copy, content, design, build and planning. Therefore, everyone in the team should feel a communal sense of ownership. He draws a link with soccer. Although there’s a striker, scoring goals is a responsibility that’s shared throughout the squad. Even though there’s a specific goal-scoring role, other players can, and should, contribute:

“If every move, every passage of play has to go through the [single] ball-hog [striker], then you’re in for one long and painful UX design process.”

Defenders and midfielders are praised for helping out and scoring goals, and sometimes even criticised if they don’t. In the same way, Neil suggests every member of the team can help by scoring goals with UX design too.

3. A breakthrough is nothing without a followthrough.

business

Who doesn’t love a great article headline? (Remember, I’m a copywriter). Attention grabbing, succinct, and that provides a clear and compelling overview of the material in the article. This is a classic example.

As per the headline, Fred suggests that while we tend to adequately celebrate the concept of innovation (a breakthrough), we need to place the same importance upon sustained effort (a follow through). Remember, genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

Fred discusses his experience of launching new ideas and initiatives. Using indicative freelance rates to measure ‘investment’ of time and effort in a project, he makes the case that there is often quite a significant amount of work involved in getting something off the ground. Unfortunately, in most cases, this is where the effort stops – when the excitement of the build and design process has faded, and the shiny new product is fully formed before your eyes.

Once you’ve got a product though, you need to produce:

                 “If we sit back, slouching back into old habits, old routines, old mindsets, then it’s all been for nothing. If we don’t push on, and make the most of our new abilities, new mindset, new opportunities, then we may as well not have bothered in the first place.”

An idea is nothing without execution. It’s a great crack of the whip, and a great mantra for work and life in general.

4. The many (type) faces of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

design + content

When brands, sites, products and designs really nail typography and content tone, it’s like listening to a really great DJ set. You don’t actually notice the skill on display, because everything hangs together organically. It feels so natural. Effortless.

These are the subtleties of tone. It’s also why a lot of people don’t necessarily grasp how essential it is to be considerate of tone, and the significant impact it can have. Because when it’s done well, it feels like it’s just been… done. As if it just fits, and always has.

Trent Thompson describes how powerful typography can be in relation to tone, in a really fun, impactful and visually succinct way, by exploring different depictions of the kaomoji: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Some fonts make the character look whimsical, fun and flippant, while others make it seem sour and insensitive.

 “A typeface implicitly and unconsciously helps a reader understand the emotional environment of the message, be it reading a belated birthday card or a memoir of someone’s personal experience of cancer treatments. Rounded off typefaces can have a playfulness to the content, while serifed typefaces give off the sense of a more traditional and formal feel. The New York Times conducted a study that found people whose statements were in a serif typeface were perceived as more believable.”

Trent has found a great way of communicating subtlety, simply.

5. Is email evil?

technology

You’d think the proliferation of intra-office messaging platforms like Slack and Yammer might have sounded the death knell for email, but as Alexis Madrigal so eloquently phrased it, “you can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the internet”.

Adrienne’s article questions the modern relevance of the ‘last great unowned technology’ – positioning it, as Jonathan Zittrain does in the first episode of Codebreaker, as ‘a shared hallucination that works’.

Or rather, doesn’t work. According to the article, the average person checks their email account 77 times a day. One imagines this would result in a pretty significant time investment, and therefore dent in daily productivity. Especially when you factor in that checking emails usually leads to reading emails, responding to emails, forwarding emails, and searching through old emails.

This article prompts you to consider how effectively you’re using your own email account(s), and it’s an interesting read on the whole. Win/win. I’d recommend forwarding it around to your whole office. Via Email.

6. You’re a designer, not the CEO.

design + content

Debriefs. Changes. Criticism. Feedback. Edits. Recommendations. Alongside a notepad, CS and InDesign, these are the tools of the creative.

Feedback can be hard to take, especially when you’ve spent hours slaving over the precise location of a couple of pixels. Or the placement of a comma in a sub-head tagline. But it shouldn’t be that way. Bradford makes the case for feedback as empowerment, and I tend to agree with the points he makes.

Essentially, he argues that designers and writers need to:

  • Take on feedback because their work is subjective.
  • Listen to everyone.
  • Enjoy your job. Enjoy receiving said feedback.
  • Invest in your own work, even if it feels as though others may not. Especially when they’re providing feedback.
  • See no. 2, rinse and repeat. Listen, listen, listen, listen.

I’ve always thought that the job of the creative is to articulate a certain idea or impulse so that it resonates a certain way, with certain people. Every brief that ever existed can be distilled down to that single minded proposition. The more perspective you can get from a wider assortment of people – PMs, developers, clients, management, friends, family, office dogs, the postman, whoever – the more accurate your perspective of how your work is resonating with a variety of audience members, and therefore the better your communication piece. Feedback is refinement, not rejection. It’s a honing process. Hone, sweet hone.

7. Registration Form Optimisation: 9 best practices for increasing signups.

development

I couldn’t compile a list of articles without featuring an article with a list, so here’s nine steps to increasing and optimising website signup. It’s a pretty essential component of designing a site: the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while a completely new prospect is a lower 5-20%. Increased rates of signup promote return visits amongst users. And, it’s always good to add to your database and prospective audience.

One thing I noticed was that most of the tips for optimising signup can be applied as best practice for digital marketing in general. Keep things brief (remember how I mentioned those shrinking attention spans earlier? Maybe not – case in point); keep things clean; try to personalise the user’s experience; make the interaction as easy as possible; design a mobile-optimised solution; and clearly guide your audience’s behaviour throughout the entire experience.

Netta practices what she preaches throughout the article, too. This guide is clean, clear and features some pretty convincing data to justify each of her claims and tips. It’s a pretty handy article, featuring both specific, practical guidelines and some powerful general user insights. Nice one Netta. Sign me up for future updates.

8. How long should your content be?

content

Finishing up with another practical piece, this is a really straightforward and simple resource that’s worth keeping on hand for clients, designers, content developers and of course writers. There’s a proven, optimal length for posts on every variety of social platform. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn – all of the usual suspects. Content headlines, Youtube videos, presentation lengths and all other kinds of written content are covered too. These are qualified, proven, in-depth insights. For example, the Facebook guide draws data from a sample size of 120 billion post impressions.

As for blog posts? The recommended length is listed here as being around 1600 words, putting me… right… on… the… cusp… of… the… limit… now.

In summary: useful.

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And that’s a wrap from us for November’s Super8. Look out for next month’s Super8 to round out 2015. If you haven’t yet signed up for our monthly collection of curated articles, then pop your email in the box below and we’ll say hi.

We’ll be publishing December’s Super8 ahead of the usual schedule. It’ll be a wrap up of our favourite and funniest articles throughout the year. And yes, bacon will definitely be referenced.