Constraints and creativity

pax-am

Most bands record their first album with a tight budget for studio time and often no budget at all for extras such as session musicians and guest producers. The instruments they record with are the ones they already own, or ones they beg, steal or borrow. And yet some of the greatest albums ever made were recorded this way. There is an edge to them. You cannot stop listening.

Constraints can be good for creativity. Faced with limitations people improvise, hack and work through problems. If there are fewer choices we are forced to use what we have. And through this process magic can happen.

Contrast that with the choices available to a band that has already had some success. Now there is queue of collaborators, gifted equipment, and endless time to record and to tweak. Would it sound better with another take? More overdubs? Maybe some strings? And so it goes.

The lean sound becomes bloated. The release date gets pushed back. Creative paralysis kicks in. When the album finally comes out there is so much more to it than the first one, and yet something is missing. The infamous second album syndrome has struck again.

This problem is not unique to bands. Many of us wrestle with something similar every day. Technology has unlocked an incredible abundance of opportunity. Sit down in front of your computer or unlock your phone and there is an almost infinite choice about what to do next. It can be overwhelming.

And that is why introducing artificial constraints can be so powerful. Some of the most successful products do less than their competitors, but do more for us as a result.

Twitter limits our messages to 140 characters, and so we are forced to be more concise. Instagram allows us to add only one photo at a time, and so we curate a better feed. Fixed gear bikes allow us to enjoy the simplicity of cycling, without obsessing over gear ratios.

I notice something similar when I watch my two young sons playing. Given too many toys at once and they never seem to settle into a game. Hand them a few pieces of Lego and they can create a whole universe.

Read the original article here.

guy-cookson-5-december-2016

Constraints and creativity

Nuance, not novelty, delivers the best user experience

touch

Before I joined Hotfoot Design as a partner I travelled to London every week for business.

As my meetings were often arranged at short notice I had to book a hotel at the last minute.

This meant I got to stay at some really plush places all over central London at a discount, as even premium and boutique hotels would rather their rooms be occupied at a much reduced rate than not at all.

And those rooms would often be fantastic, with great views, and lots of space. But one thing that drove me to distraction was the technology, as it was often so unnecessarily complex.

Setting the air-con meant deciphering a series of abstract symbols to escape an arctic breeze. Using the shower required careful analysis of multiple settings to avoid being scalded. And forget about watching TV – the minimalist remote controls gave no clue about how to change the channels.

In one room even switching the lights on became an absurd challenge, as it required dealing with a central touch screen “command centre” with layers of menus to select what I wanted to do.

I longed for a simple button to push, dial to turn, or switch to flick. I was usually staying for just a night or two. I had no desire to study an instruction manual to accomplish what ought to be a simple task.

I am no technophobe. In fact I love technology, but only when the execution is good and the context is appropriate.

These hotels had fallen into the trap of thinking they had to differentiate themselves from their budget competitors with technological novelties. Perhaps they feared a humble light switch would not be impressive enough for their discerning guests.

The most satisfying objects we interact with every day are usually not innovations but iterations of tried and tested products.

It is nuance, not novelty, that most often creates a good user experience.

See the original article here.

guy-cookson-24-november-2016

Nuance, not novelty, delivers the best user experience

One brick at a time

lego

Most big brands do not do politics and perhaps that is not surprising.

As much as they may want to be seen to be doing the right thing, and win hearts and minds in the process, they usually want to avoid alienating potential customers too.

And companies are made up of a diverse range of individuals with differing opinions and outlooks. It can be hard for a brand to get all its stakeholders behind a common cause.

So when brands do get involved with campaigns they usually choose great causes that are non-controversial. Pampers donates vaccines to Unicef. The Football League is in partnership with Prostate Cancer UK. At a local level we at Hotfoot Design support Neuro Dropin in Lancaster with pro bono design, digital and marketing support.

While Product Red has raised $150 million to date for HIV and Aids through tie-ins with companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple, this only happened after a huge public awareness campaign and a number of high profile and much loved celebrities had died of the condition during the 1980s and 90s.

Then there is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has worked to tackle poverty and inequality at an almost unimaginable scale, backed with an endowment of over $40 billion. It is amazing to think that Microsoft has indirectly redistributed wealth from global corporations to the poor and disadvantaged through the sale of software licences – and how few people realised it at the time.

And now Lego, the world’s biggest toy company, has supported a pressure group called Stop Funding Hate, which opposes the tabloid newspaper tendency to stir up division, with the surprising news that they would not engage in any commercial partnerships with the Daily Mail for the foreseeable future.

Cynics might question the timing of this announcement, coming as it does just before the Christmas buying bonanza, when being in the news can help boost sales.

But the huge public support for Lego’s stance suggests brands could be a little braver, and engage with important causes in the wider world a little more.

See the original article here.

guy-cookson-17-november-2016

One brick at a time

The day Sweden switched sides

dagen-h

I can just about remember being a small child in front of the television when I first realised that people drove on the other side of the road in America.

As I watched the A-Team van tearing up the highway I suddenly noticed they were driving on the right, and that the steering wheel was over on the left.

It was one of those moments that made me realise these things do not just happen by accident. At some point decisions have to be made. Systems have to be designed.

Over the years, as I discovered that in most places they drove on the right, I idly wondered whether we would ever change. It seemed crazy that we needed to get cars made especially for us, and that we had to remember which side of the road to drive on when we hopped across the channel.

But I soon realised that was never going to happen. Imagine the expense and the chaos. No country would ever make such a huge change. Except, of course, they did.

The date was the 3 September 1967, and the country was Sweden. On what became known as H-Day, short for Högertrafikomläggningen (which literally means “the right-hand traffic diversion”), millions of Swedes stopped driving on the left and started driving on the right.

They had a good reason to make the change. Their immediate neighbours in Denmark, Norway and Finland all drove on the right, and that led to many accidents on both sides of the border. Most Swedes drove left-hand drive vehicles too, making overtaking dangerous.

So in the years leading up to the change the Swedish government commissioned TV and radio ads. They published leaflets, produced stickers and placed notices on milk cartons. And they bought 1,000 new buses and retrofitted another 8,000 with right-side doors.

When H-Day finally arrived traffic was kept off the roads in the morning as all the road signs were changed around. And then, in the afternoon, people started driving again and it was almost as if it had always been that way. The A-Team would have felt right at home.

See the original article here.

guy-cookson-10-november-2016

The day Sweden switched sides

What’s in a (brand) name?

Photo by Timothy Krause. Times Square Manhattan, NYC
Photo by Timothy Krause. Times Square Manhattan, NYC

Sitting at his kitchen table in the Bronx, New York, Reuben Mattus wrestled with a problem. It was 1961, and Reuben and his wife Rose had decided to start a new ice cream business. After starting out selling ice cream pops from a horse-drawn wagon in the 1920s, they were ready to go upmarket.

But first they needed a name. Rueben wanted something that sounded premium and would justify a higher price than the hundreds of other ice creams for sale in New York.

Rueben thought a Danish sounding name would be good. He associated the country with quality products, a thriving dairy industry, and he wanted to pay tribute to the Danish resistance movement, which had successfully evacuated thousands of Danish Jews to safety in Sweden after Hitler had given the order for them to be arrested.

The only problem was that Rueben did not speak a word of Danish. According to an interview given by Rueben’s daughter in 1999, her father sat at the kitchen table saying nonsensical words out loud for hours until he found a combination of two he liked.

That winning combination? Häagen-Dazs.

Although literally meaningless, it did not matter. It sounded right, it looked good, and like an empty vessel, it became full of meaning when the product went on sale through the associations people made, consciously and unconsciously.

This was helped along by some nice packaging, which originally featured a map of Denmark, some good advertising, and some suitably high-end pricing.

Häagen-Dazs is not the only brand name with an unusual back story.

In the mid 20th Century Japanese brands would often adopt names they thought would work well in the US. Sony got its name in part from the phrase “sonny boy”, which the company co-founder, Akio Morita, had heard Americans use in the 1950s.

Ironically, as ‘Made in Japan’ became a byword for quality in electronics Western manufactures started to adopt Japanese sounding names, which is how Dixons own-brand came to be known as Matsui during the 1980s, complete with a rising sun logo, even though none of the components actually came from Japan.

See the original article here.

guy-cookson-3-november-2016

What’s in a (brand) name?

How the power of defaults makes decisions easy

apples

Making decisions can be tiresome. That’s why our attics and garages have a tendency to get cluttered with junk. We know we do not need all that stuff, but the thought of sorting through it all and deciding whether to keep, recycle, or throw away each item is exhausting.

This tendency to avoid making decisions presents a challenge for people who want to nudge us towards outcomes they believe are in our best interests, or the best interests of society at large.

How do you persuade employees to save for retirement, or patients to become organ donors, or children to eat more healthily?

It turns out there is a way. It is about tapping into what is known as the power of defaults. Put simply, we will often go with whatever option is preselected for us, as that is the path of least resistance.

Most employers in the UK must now automatically enrol all qualifying workers into a pension scheme. Importantly, employees have to choose to opt-out of the scheme if they do not want to participate. This has been a huge success – only around 10% have chosen to opt-out.

In Wales if you die in hospital you are presumed to have consented to being an organ donor, unless you have expressly indicated otherwise. The British Medical Association is now lobbying for the rest of the country to take the same approach, which they believe will save 1,000 lives a year.

In the US some school dining halls now place fresh fruit at eye level, within easy reach and near to the cash registers. The cafeteria staff upsell fruit by asking “would you like an apple with that?” By making fruit not fries the default option children are consuming 25% more than before.

There is, however, a darker side to the power of defaults. Insurance and energy firms exploit our inertia when they lure us in with a good deal and then hike the price up each year in the knowledge many people will not get round to switching suppliers again.

And of course sometimes it feels good to make some decisions. And that’s why, this weekend, I am finally going to clear out the attic.

See the original article here.

guy-cookson-27-october-2016

How the power of defaults makes decisions easy

Hurry while stocks last – how scarcity sells

space-shuttle

It might seem counterintuitive, but one way that many companies increase sales is by making it appear their product will be difficult to buy. The illusion of scarcity is powerful because we all hate to miss out on a good thing.

Online fashion retailers usually display sizes they no longer have in stock. Why? Because it provides social proof that others have bought the style of jeans you are looking at, and it implies your size might soon be out of stock too.

Travel website Expedia tells you how many rooms are available at the hotels you look at, how many people booked a room at the hotel over the last 48 hours, when the most recent booking took place, and how many other people are viewing the same hotel at that exact moment.

They even display special offers with a countdown timer ticking down. The entire experience is designed to ramp up the pressure to an almost intolerable extent. The message is loud and clear: buy now or lose out.

Clearance sales are another effective strategy many brands use, including Amazon. When people know everything must go they will often make unplanned purchases. I know of a company that did an experiment where they placed a product from their standard stock in the clearance section, at full price no less, and they smashed their sales target for the item.

Scarcity can be creative too. Limited edition items are naturally desirable because it feels good to own something relatively rare. American graphic designer Aaron James Draplin does this brilliantly by creating beautiful prints in limited numbers. The Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO) helps drive his sales. I know this, because I recently bought one.

Perceived scarcity can create hype before a product even launches. Rumours will often appear in the media in the days leading up to the launch of a new phone that stocks are expected to be quickly depleted in stores, that a particular model might not even be available for months, that the company may not be able to keep up with demand. And if all goes to plan for the brand, that might even end up becoming true.

See the original article here.

guy-cookson-20-october-2016

Hurry while stocks last – how scarcity sells