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If you play hidden object games very much, you will encounter the same objects all the time. Across many games from many developers, the objects seem to come from a same collection of photos.

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skade88 writes "This story should remind us all that air pollution controls are not just about addressing global warming. They also help us have cleaner air and fewer health problems resulting from smog and haze. Starting earlier this month, Beijing, China started having worse than normal air pollution issues. On January 14, 2013 the U.S. embassy's air pollution sensors in Beijing found the density of the most dangerous small air particles, PM 2.5, at 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The World Health Organization's guidelines for air pollution state that PM 2.5 above 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air is dangerous to a person's health. To put the problem into perspective, NASA has released two orbital photos of Beijing showing before-and-during images of the air pollution. The photo from January 4 shows parts of Beijing still visible from space. The photo from January 14 shows nothing but a huge, thick cloud of haze with no buildings visible."

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Another year has come and gone so it’s time for my year-end photo post (I guess it’s tradition now). Thank you, each and every one of you, for your continued support of Booooooom! I am thankful everyday that this is my job and I hope I can keep doing it for a long time. There are now more than 57,000 of you connected to Booooooom on Twitter, and another 114,000 on Facebook. That is insane. Hello also to the thousands of you that joined the Secret Email Club this year, I’ve really enjoyed putting together those extra little bits of weekly inspiration for your inboxes. Okay, maybe not always weekly but I think less is more when it comes to email.

This was a milestone year for Booooooom, developing a project for MTV, producing videos with artists like The Sheepdogs and Little Scream. Now we’re kicking off the new year working on The First-Ever Booooooom Book which will be published by Chronicle Books! I’ve never made a book before and that’s why I wanna do it. At this point I could keep running Booooooom the same way I have for the past five years with my eyes closed, but where’s the fun in that?

This next year I want to push way beyond what I’ve done so far, beyond what’s comfortable and easy. I want to fully pursue new challenges. Actual challenges – not things I know I can do. I want to explore new ways to engage this community. My interest in art is being eclipsed by my desire to connect with people, and connect those people to other people. I want to have a physical space for Booooooom where I can screen films for free. I want to create an event that combines Art with Bingo. I want to film a series of videos where I build paper airplanes with people while I interview them, and each one ends with us throwing our planes into the air from somewhere really high. I want to build an app, a drawing tool. If you are an artist who can code I want to collaborate with you. There are a million things I want to do and 2013 is the year I tell everyone my lofty goals so I have no choice but to do them before someone else does.

I hope you’ll stick around, it’s gonna be good.

Here are 64 photos by 64 photographers that I came across in 2012. These photos weren’t all produced this year, I just encountered them at some point in the last 12 months. Enjoy.

 

 

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64 photos by 64 photographers

(found in 2012)

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Photographer Mariko Sakaguchi

Mariko Sakaguchi

 

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An anonymous reader writes "Just Cause 2 Multiplayer has been getting a lot of press lately, but this making-of feature points out how the mod raises serious questions about the games industry: if 1,800-player massively multiplayer action games are possible on one server, why did it take a group of modders to prove it? From the article: 'There’s more chaos to come. That 1,800 player limit isn’t maxing out the server or the software by any means. Foote says that the team, who first met online seven years ago playing the similar Multi Theft Auto GTA mod, are "yet to reach any real barrier or limitation preventing us from reaching an even higher player count than the previous public tests." When it’s ready, the team will release the software for everyone to download and run their own servers, wherever they are in the world.'"


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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

John Gladdy

Speakers Corner

 

Hyde Park Corner, London, England.
Every Sunday since at least 1872.

Between 2009 and 2012 I became a part of the ongoing street theatre that is Speakers Corner.

Graduating, slowly but surely, from detached photographic voyeur to fully-fledged participant/heckler/occasional bit player.

I have joined a cast of thousands that have come to this place to express their views, however controversial or off the wall, over the last hundred or so years. Religion is the current hot topic, especially Islam, but over the years the area has attracted notable political and human rights activists including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and William Morris and still hosts a very lively Marxist forum and a selection of anarchist, conservative and socialist speakers.

This piece, as it stands, is not intended to answer any big questions or reveal any deep insight into the reasons people attend this place. I am not sure I am even qualified to ask those sorts of questions. I hope only in some small way to take you on a little sensory wander around the place. A selection of tapas if you like.

Enjoy.

 

Bio

John Gladdy (b. 1964) is an English photographer living in London.

He has no formal qualifications having been expelled from high school and no formal training as a photographer. He discovered he had a talent for image making while working with the photographer Brett Walker on a community project in 2003.

He came to photography very late in life and has worked his way back from initially using automated digital equipment to now using mainly fully manual film based equipment in a variety of formats. He processes and prints his own work, wherever possible using traditional darkrooms and materials.

His portrait work is held by collectors all over the world. He is currently resting in London trying to overcome heart problems and looks forward to being well enough to travel again and find a new project.

Started at 45 years old this is his first attempt at a long form photo essay.

 

Related links

John Gladdy

 

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A few months ago I went to collect a friend from hospital. Arriving early, I entered the waiting room and noticed in-house magazines stacked by the door. I picked one up, grabbed a coffee and took a seat.

The magazine read like a very long press release, blabbering on about patient-centric care and employee awards. I was quickly bored, so I read from my phone instead. The magazine failed in its purpose.

Effective content marketing holds people’s attention. It gives you a distinctive brand, loyal fans and increased sales. You don’t need a big budget to succeed, which is why good content marketing is the single best way to beat bigger competitors online.

Content marketing used to be about customer magazines and mailed newsletters. Now it covers blogs, email newsletters, eBooks, white papers, articles, videos and more. In this article, you will learn about content marketing techniques that you can apply to your business.

Prepare

Before creating content, you need to prepare. Think about your tone and style, where to find the best writers and how to organize your workflow.

Tone and Style

Too many companies start writing content before their brand has a defined voice. This leads to inconsistency. It’s like using one logo in your brochure, another on your website and another on your blog.

When speaking with people, you see their expressions and you adjust your tone accordingly. In a meeting, when you see that someone is confused, you clarify meaning, simplify sentences and speak reassuringly. The Web offers no feedback until your content is published, and then it’s too late.

To get the right tone, think of the person who best represents your brand. The person could be fictional or real, and they may or may not work for you. Now think of adjectives that describe them. Once you know what you want, provide clear details and practical examples.

Let’s say you run a travel agency that markets to young independent travelers. You want your representative to sound experienced, helpful and friendly. Try using a table like the one below to delineate what your adjectives do and don’t mean:

Experienced
Helpful
Friendly

Does mean…
Knowledgeable
Write with authority, as though the knowledge was gained first hand.
Efficient
Explain things clearly and positively. Make sure all relevant information is obvious and accessible.
Personal
Use informal language, and write as though you are talking to one person, rather than a broad customer base.

Does not mean…
Condescending
You know a lot but don’t talk down to your customers. They probably know a lot too.
Pushy
Promote your company, but not at the expense of good service. Always have your reader’s wants in mind.
Unprofessional
Make sure there are no grammar or spelling mistakes. Proofread carefully.

You’ll also need a style guide, so that your authors write consistently. Should you use title case in headings? Are contractions appropriate? Check out The Yahoo! Style Guide for ideas.

Picking Content Creators

Don’t pick the wrong people to create your content. It’s hard for a non-technical person to pick the best Web developer, and it’s the same with content marketing. You need to know about content creation in order to judge other people’s abilities. Some people suggest making everyone in your company a content creator, but this is a bad idea. Not everyone can be a good accountant, secretary or rocket scientist, and the same applies here. To succeed, you should pick the best.

Ask everyone who wants to be a content creator to write a sample blog post. Then you can find the best few people. Some might not be able to write but have interesting ideas. In this case, you’ll need someone to edit their copy. Perhaps you want to raise the profile of a particular staff member. If they can’t write, have someone ghostwrite for them.

Workflow

Some companies have a simple workflow: one person does everything. The person researches, writes and publishes without any input from others. This model can work, but you’ll see more success with a workflow that enables other people to take part. Have different people write, edit and proofread. It’s a good way to catch mistakes and to bring more ideas into the process. Think about the best process for each type of content. One person might be enough for a tweet, whereas four to six people might be ideal for an eBook.

Imagine you’ve got a well-staffed company that is putting together a B2B white paper. You could organize your workflow like this:


An example of how to organize your workflow in a well-staffed company.

Persuade

Your content should be persuasive. Pay close attention to how you speak and what you say.

Use Simple Language

Take the question below on Yahoo! Answers. To “sound intelligent,” this person would like to know “big words that replace everyday small words.”

Big words that replace everyday small words?

Many people make this mistake. They use language that is unnecessarily complicated, usually to show off or to sound corporate and professional.

“Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all,” said Winston Churchill. So, don’t talk about “taking a holistic view of a company’s marketing strategy to deliver strategic insights, precise analysis and out-of-the-box thinking.”

Prefer “make” to “manufacture,” and “use” to “utilize.” While “quantitative easing” offers precision to economists, your personal finance audience would prefer “print money.”

Lauren Keating has studied the effect of scientific language on the persuasiveness of copy. She found that most people respond best to advertisements that contain no scientific language. People found them more readable and persuasive, and they felt more willing to buy the product. Lauren’s conclusion was clear: copy needs to be plain and simple.

Have Opinions

Interesting people have opinions, and interesting brands are the same. Look at the amazing work of new search engine DuckDuckGo. It has positioned itself as the antithesis of Google, launching websites that criticize how the search giant tracks you and puts you in a bubble. The strategy is paying off: DuckDuckGo is seeing explosive growth.

Duck Duck Go
DuckDuckGo is an alternative search engine that breaks you out of your Filter Bubble.

While this strategy is perfect for defeating a big incumbent, you don’t have to be openly hostile to your competitors. You can say what you think without mentioning their names.

Bear in mind that people are ideologically motivated. Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler’s study, “When Corrections Fail”, describes the “backfire effect” of trying to correct people’s deeply held beliefs. The authors found that contradicting people’s misconceptions actually strengthened those opinions. If people see you as an ideological ally (like a political party), they are more likely to agree with you on other issues — even ideologically inconsistent or non-ideological ones. You can use your opinions to attract people to your company: converting the agnostic or validating the views of allies.

As a small-scale brewer, for example, you might have a strong opinion on ale, believing in craft over mass production. You might think the market is dominated by big businesses that sacrifice quality for quantity. In this situation, you could use content marketing to talk about the best way to make beer. By stressing how seriously you take the development of your product, you communicate your opinion to those who share it without directly criticizing your competitors.

Think politically: consider the popularity of your views and whether they will attract media coverage. Ideally, your opinions should be bold and popular.

Sell the Benefits

In the same way that you sell your products and services, tell your audience the benefits of your content. This technique is essential if your audience doesn’t know what it wants.

PaperlessPipeline is a transaction management and document storage app for real estate brokers. Its founder, Dane Maxwell, had a creative idea to sell his product. The biggest problem for real estate brokers is recruiting. So, Dane invited them to a webinar titled “Recruiting Secrets of the 200-Plus Agent Office in Tennessee.” Brokers didn’t even know they needed to manage transactions, so he didn’t mention it in the invitation.


Paperless Pipeline takes your real estate transactions and related documents online—without changing how you work.

In the webinar, he introduced PaperlessPipeline and explained how it enables brokers to recruit more agents. The webinar attracted 120 guests, and “16 ended up buying at the end,” said Dane in an interview with Mixergy.

Imagine you run a company that develops technology for mobile phones, and you want to promote a new femtocell that boosts mobile reception in public spaces and rural areas. This technology could be valuable to people who want to improve mobile reception, but those people might not have heard of it.

So, instead of promoting the technology directly, offer content that focuses on the benefits. By using benefit-focused copy, you immediately tell the reader what’s in it for them.

Teach

Think about what your audience wants. People want to hear answers and to learn something new, so give them what they want.

Give Answers

Content marketing needs to offer practical advice that people can use. Readers have been trained to expect answers on the Web, and yet so much content fails to deliver.

Consider FeeFighters, a comparison website for credit card processing. One of its blog posts, Do You Know What Makes Up Your Credit Score?, talks about the factors that affect your credit score. Instead of offering abstract advice and concepts, the post provides practical tips for improving your credit score:

Area #2: Your Credit Utilization Ratio

The second largest determining factor in what makes up your score is the amount of credit that you have available to you in relationship to how much of that credit you’ve used. This accounts for 30 percent of your credit score. The optimal rate is 30 percent, which means that if you have $10,000 in credit available to you, you should only be using about $3,000 of it. One trap that some people fall into is believing that if they max out their credit cards every month and then pay them off at the end of the month, they’ll build their credit. But since that gives them a 100 percent credit utilization ratio, and that ratio accounts for 30 percent of their overall credit score, they’re really doing more harm than good.

Say or Do Something New

Most content is boring and unoriginal, which is good for you. It makes it easier to beat your competitors.

You can make your content interesting by doing something new, without necessarily saying something new. For instance, you could write a comprehensive article on a topic that has only piecemeal information scattered across the Web. Or you could use a different format for a topic that gets the same treatment; rather than writing the fiftieth blog post on a topic, shoot the first video.

You can also make your content interesting by saying something new. An infographic by Rate Rush compares the popularity of Digg to Reddit, creatively combining a bar graph and clock to present the data. Although Rate Rush is a personal finance website, with little connection to social news, its staff researched a topic they were interested in and drew attention by putting it to imaginative use.

Our agency also researches things that we find interesting, and this has been a great source of content. In 2010, we polled around 1000 iPad owners to find out how consumers use the device. It led to a slew of media attention.

You can do the same. Come up with an original idea to research, and then undertake a study. Also look into studies that your business has done in the past, because interesting stuff might be lying around. One of our clients looked through her company’s research archive and found amazing material. She didn’t spend any money on research but got a lot of great content, links and media coverage.

Captivate

Give your content more personality. Captivate your audience with stories and characters that will draw them in and keep them coming back.

Tell a Story

Telling a story is a great way to connect with readers. According to a number of studies summed up by Rob Gill of Swinburne University of Technology, telling stories can be useful in corporate communication. Storytelling is fundamental to human interaction, and it can make your content more compelling and your brand more engaging.

Citing Annette Simmons’ The Story Factor, Rob says this: “It is believed people receiving the narration often come to the same conclusion as the narrator, but through using their own decision-making processes.” Told through a story, a message becomes more personal and relevant. The reader is also more likely to remember what was said.

Rand Fishkin is the co-founder and CEO of SEOmoz. Instead of sharing only positive accounts of his business, he also writes about difficulties such as his failed attempt to raise capital:

Michelle was the first to note that something was “odd.” In a phone call with Neil, she heard him comment that they “needed to do more digging into the market.” In her opinion, this was very peculiar.… Tuesday morning we got the call; no deal.


An email shared by Rand Fishkin in his post about SEOmoz’s attempt to raise funding.

Brands need stories, and stories need people, suspense, conflicts and crises. By reading SEOmoz’s content, and seeing both the positive and negative, you become immersed in its story.

Ikea is another example of a brand that tells stories that generate opinions about its company. For instance, it plays up its Swedish roots and paints a romantic image of a wholesome and natural society. Its website is full of stories that contribute to this effect.

A survey conducted by the B2B Technology Marketing Community showed that around 82% of LinkedIn users found that telling a story through case studies was the most effective form of content marketing.

Sometimes you’ll want to use anecdotes to make a point, and sometimes you’ll write a post or tweet to build a narrative. When you’re cultivating a story, keep the information simple, and don’t be afraid to repeat points here and there; some readers might have missed what you said before.

Always mix interesting stories with useful information; fail to do this and your audience will feel you’re wasting their time.

Use Real People

Think of your favorite writers. You’ve probably seen their photos and heard them speak. Likewise, people need to see and hear your employees, so use pictures, audio and video. This will bring your audience closer to your brand.

Jakob Nielsen has studied people’s reactions to images online. He used eye-tracking software to discover that people ignore images that seem decorative, random or generic. They even ignore generic images of people. But when they come across a photo of a “real” person, they engage with it for a longer time.

People prefer to get involved with a company with which they feel a personal connection. But introduce your employees gradually; as with any story, introduce too many characters too early and you’ll confuse your audience.

Summary

Develop a compelling tone of voice. Don’t assume that anyone can write amazing copy, because they can’t. If you want the best content, then you need the best writers and thinkers.

Produce something informative that people will want to read. Give your brand a personality and your business will benefit across the board, from recruitment to sales. Warren Buffett looks for businesses protected by “unbreachable moats,” and no moat is more unbreachable than a brand with a story, ideas and opinions.

(al) (il)

© Craig Anderson for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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People have differing ideas on the subject of piracy, but most would never step over the line and support it. Someone who advocates piracy is labelled devil spawn, promptly whipped and then lemon juice squeezed into the sores. In short, it's the internet's most heathen of crimes. If you were to tune into the chatter in the indie game scene right now though, what you may hear is a radically different viewpoint. Pirate radio, if you will.

It's more than hot air, too; actions are being made in an attempt to tap into the benefits of piracy. You will more than likely know the two highest profile contributors to the argument: Edmund McMillen and Markus 'Notch' Persson, both of whom have stood against the grain for years now but more recently told followers on Twitter to pirate their games when they could not or would not pay the asking price for them.

Predictably, there has been a backlash to this carefree outlook on piracy, with a few heated debates erupting between developers. The question is whether there is actually any worth in encouraging piracy for a small profit-driven developer. Instinct tells us not, but there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

Read more…

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gunpoint gama.jpg[As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, developer Tom Francis explains the concept behind Gunpoint and how his game journalist background has helped mold the game's shape.]

It's always interesting to watch games journalists forging a path into the world of game development. You have to wonder whether their knowledge of what makes games entertaining and enjoyable can give them an edge over your average developer.

Tom Francis is one such developer -- a British journalist who currently writes for PC Gamer magazine, and is developing one of the most talked-about upcoming indie titles of 2011.

Gunpoint is "a stealth puzzle game", in which players are invited to break into various buildings by rewiring anything and everything to trick the NPC characters who are guarding the valuables.

The game has now been nominated for the Excellence In Design award at this year's Independent Games Festival. As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Francis explains the concept behind Gunpoint and how his journalist background has helped mold the game's shape.

What is your background in making games?

I don't have one! As a journalist and an asshole, I'd sometimes catch myself wasting review space with ideas for how to improve a game, which isn't that much use to the reader. So I'd cut that out, but wonder if I was right or just, as I say, an asshole.

The smartest designers I've interviewed are also the humblest, so guys like Robin Walker at Valve are the first to tell you that you don't know anything about an idea until players have tried it. So I decided to try it.

What development tools are you using to develop Gunpoint?

I didn't actually start making a game until I discovered my favourite platformer ever, Spelunky, was made in Game Maker, which I'd heard was noob-friendly. It is, and in less than a month I had a movement prototype I could send to testers.

That feedback loop has been going ever since, and the public interest in it has been enough that I've been able to bring on some collaborators: John Roberts and Fabian van Dommelen to handle the art, and Ryan Ike, Francisco Cerda and John Robert Matz doing the music. I believe they're using paint brushes and bongos respectively.

How did you come up with the concept?

I feel like a lot of games are designed on the assumption that the player is stupid: a tester doesn't have the intended experience, so I guess we've gotta force him to look at that spaceship crash, lock him in the room until the enemies are dead.

I wanted to make a game with the idea that the player might be smarter than me. Let him think of solutions that never occurred to me in hours of playtesting, and give him the tools to be more creative than I was when I designed this level.

I don't think that testers are being stupid, I think they're being defiant. And they're defiant because the game isn't letting them be creative or smart or funny, it's trying to make them have a packaged experience.

So the Crosslink gadget, which lets you rewire any of the electrical things in a level, is my way of giving you some of the designer's power. It's almost like a level editor: I restrict some things to make sure it's a challenge to complete, then I let you design how you want the level to work to achieve your objective. You can be clever, efficient, complicated, funny or cruel.

You're developing Gunpoint in your spare time while writing full-time for PC Gamer magazine. Have you found that your background in games journalism has helped or hindered your ideas of what a game should be?

Definitely helped. But the really helpful stuff is stuff anyone could do. The job just forces you to, which saves you the trouble of having any common sense.

The big one is having an overview of what's out there, and what's notable amongst that. Keeping up to date with everything interesting that comes out, and having a few gaming friends who get you into stuff you might not have tried otherwise.

It's useful for judging whether your idea is unusual enough to be interesting. I didn't know if Gunpoint's main mechanic would work in practice, but I knew if it did, it would at least be unusual.

That's led to a lot of interest in it, which let me put out a call for artists, which made it look better, which led to more interest, which let me put out a call for musicians, and here we are.

The game has a very sandbox approach, in that you can wire any electrical item to any other electrical item. Has it been difficult balancing this with the stealth element, or do these go hand-in-hand?

I didn't think about it like that ahead of time, but they seem to be a natural fit. Stealth is just a cool word for 'maybe don't get shot in the face?' It means avoiding enemies and getting into position to ambush them, and rewiring stuff gives you a wide set of options to manipulate the environment to do that.

Since the guards also interact with the environment and move around it, the ability to change the way it works lets you set up traps for them. Often you don't even need to be in the same room to arrange their death, which is among the best ways to not get shot in the face.

What are the next steps in the development of the game? What is your vision of the final product?

I have a vision of all the awesome art John and Fabian have sent me being in the game, instead of in a series of zip files in my Downloads folder. There's more to be done on both the art and music sides, but at the moment I'm usually the bottleneck, because I'm doing so many things at once. That should be my job title: Bottleneck.

I'm writing the between-mission branching dialogue at the moment, which is really fun. There are also more levels to design, and I want to redesign a lot of the ones that are done to include the more interesting puzzles and possibilities the mechanics now allow.

Are there any elements that you've experimented with that just flat out haven't worked with your vision?

The last thing I cut was a gadget called the Cold Call, which let you spend some energy to remotely activate a device on any circuit you'd tapped into. It basically let you turn resources into trivial solutions to puzzles. I do want players to be able to spend a limited resource to bypass something they don't like or can't do, but I already have more interesting ways to do that, and the Cold Call was undermining them by being so straightforward.

If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

I wouldn't spend a fucking week on the elevators. For some reason I had it in my head that you needed to see an outline of the lift as you travel between floors, which changed it from a simple afternoon job to one of the most mammoth programming, bug fixing and polishing tasks in the game. I'm usually pretty good at stepping back from what I'm doing and making sure it's not a waste of time, but I always felt like I was on the cusp of finishing the goddamn elevators, and I really wasn't.

They're good elevators though.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

Yep, I've played everything in my category. Predictably, my favourite is Spelunky - though I'm also a big fan of Frozen Synapse.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

Those guys? Ugh, can't stand them. Some of those games don't even have unlockable concept art.

[This interview was originally posted on Gamasutra by Mike Rose.]

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Web design is a craft that is constantly evolving and yet also sometimes sabotaged. The moment a design is released, a new version is born. In the beginning, like a baby, it seems vulnerable and weak, but in time it grows up and becomes self-sufficient. Redesigning a website for its own sake doesn’t prove anything; quite the contrary, it reveals a lack of effectiveness on the part of the designer.

Product design is a craft in which new versions come to life with increasing difficulty. We can learn a thing or two from it when designing for the Web. First, let’s look at some examples.

  • How many designs for the iPhone has Apple released since 2007? The answer is one, with only two tweaks. How many Motorola phones for Android can you find on the market right now? Thirteen, not counting the old models.
  • How many designs of the Mini Cooper do you know of? Just that one brave design that has continually evolved since 1959! How many Toyota Corolla models can you count since 1967? Nineteen.
  • Zippo lighters have retained their appeal since 1933!

Forget marketing, technical specs and hardware. Products such as the iPhone, the Mini Cooper and the Zippo lighter have become wildly successful because of their outstanding design. Such massive success springs from three sources: the designer, sticking to the scope and iteration. These aspects can help us in Web design, too. In this article, we’ll look at what we can learn from successful product design.

The Ability Of The Designer

Zippo
Zippo lighters have remained elegant and reliable through time. (Image: cell105)

Do you trust your instincts? You should! Because when you see a design, you judge its attractiveness in less than a second. We all know what we like, even if we can’t always explain it. It’s about aesthetics. Aesthetics is a child of harmony, and harmony is not magic. It can be achieved when the designer embraces certain principles, such as balance, contrast and dominance. Becoming a fantastic designer, though, requires more than pure technique. It requires that you see the context and make decisions accordingly.

A couple of comments by Karim Rashid, featured in the documentary Objectified are fascinating and revealing. First, Rashid talks about a stereo that he loved as a teenager:

It was a white kind of bubble stereo with these two bubble white speakers. And it was probably very inexpensive — it was a real democratic product, and it had a turntable and the whole thing built in. It was a beautiful thing. Looking back and thinking why it was a beautiful thing, it was very self-contained, and the message was very strong and very simple, and at the same time it was very human. There was a quality about it.

See? A democratic, self-contained, human, simple thing with a strong message.

Here is Rashid again on thinking outside the box:

Why do we feel like we need to keep revisiting the archetype over and over and over again? Digital cameras, for example, [whose] format, proportion, the fact that they’re a horizontal rectangle, are a model of the original silver film camera. So, in turn it’s the film that defined the shape of the camera. All of a sudden, our digital cameras have no film. So, why on earth do we have the same shape we have?

How is it that Karim Rashid extracts such clear conclusions? What hinders us from doing the same? And not just in theory. Let’s do it for real. The next time you are about to make an important design decision, stop and ask yourself, What would I do if I were Dieter Rams or Jonathan Ive or — since you’re a Web designer — Douglas Bowman?

Asking this kind of question briefly expands our skills of judgment and makes us ultra-alert. Doing it regularly can drastically heighten our perception, values and actions as designers. Is this enough? No, but it is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with design.

And the Zippo lighter? It looks both friendly and solid, a comrade that needs your attention in order to keep working. Ιt has its own scent; it’s windproof; and above all, the sound when you flip open the lid is distinctive. And if you’ve owned a Zippo for a while, you must have noticed that it learns how you touch it when you light it.

All together, a Zippo is a product of craft — just as our designs for the Web should be. This is as simple and as hard as it sounds.

Focusing On The Scope

Mini Cooper
Once a Mini, always a Mini. (Image: Shelley Gibb)

Let’s go back to cars for a moment.

As noted earlier, the Corolla models of Toyota are nothing spectacular in their design. But what is a Toyota car known for? It’s a reliable, relatively cheap family car. Is Toyota successful? You bet!

What’s a Mini Cooper? It’s a beautiful small car that appeals mostly to young people. Is it successful? Of course, it is.

Cars are complicated machines. They do more than transport people. If a Toyota were as fancy as the Mini, then it wouldn’t be affordable. If a Mini were reimagined as a family car, then it would lose some of its charm. Oversimplification? Perhaps. But you get the point.

There’s a scope behind each product. As long as the scope is met, the product will be effective and remain on the market. The same happens in Web design.

Consider a metaphor. The closest physical product to a website is a periodical. Take Wired magazine (the physical magazine, that is, not the website or iPad app, which have slightly different characteristics). I’ve been reading it for more than 10 years, and if I had to describe it succinctly I would say “forward-thinking and cool.” Wired reinvents itself every once in a while and persistently fine-tunes the design, but the scope remains the same. Excellent design and illustration, superbly written long articles and a ton of clever short ones serve the main purpose: to introduce its audience to a new era. Audiences change over time, and new eras dawn, but Wired remains. Why? Because it has always respected a higher purpose. Sure, many magazines are well designed, and enough of them have great content. But you rarely find one with a unique identity, an identity that can’t be easily copied.

Your probably less complicated Web project needs to perform similarly. You must define the objectives. The design must promote them. Good content should prevail. You know the rules; make sure to follow them. Moreover, know where to stop. If it’s a new idea with vague potential or yet another feature or a last-minute change, just say no.

Websites are like breathing organisms. They evolve; new features are added and others are dropped, but they never stay still. Or at least they shouldn’t. Thus, while a promising fresh idea shouldn’t be discarded, it should be held until the next major update.

Big, ambitious, well-funded websites often seem to lose focus. Their owners try to satisfy all requests. This is a recipe for disaster, because it creates unnecessary friction between everyone working on the project. It dulls the impact of the best features and, above all, the scope. Tension fills the air. The worst days are ahead.

Such practices have led to the infamous concept of design by committee. Simply put, if everything is important, then nothing is important.

Iterations

Apple Store, London
Is what Apple does magic? I think not. (Image: Jon Rawlinson)

Let’s talk Apple. Apple’s iconic design and its founder’s exceptional way of thinking have been overanalyzed lately.

No matter how many words we write about Steve Jobs, we still seem to explain away his success as being a kind of magic. But that’s plainly wrong. People are inclined towards the least complicated, least demanding explanation to a conundrum. It is written in our genes. We think more deeply only when there’s a serious reason to do so. (But I digress.)

So, let’s do away with what Adrian Slywotzky refers to as the “Eureka” myth:

Apple would love us to believe it’s all “Eureka.” But Apple produces 10 pixel-perfect prototypes for each feature. They compete — and are winnowed down to three, then one, resulting in a highly evolved winner. Because Apple knows the more you compete inside, the less you’ll have to compete outside.

If Apple iterates so painstakingly, why shouldn’t we?

Inspiration for a great design roars when it comes. And implementing the idea brings a rush of enthusiasm. And our eyes sparkle when we anticipate outstanding success. And yet it rarely works that way.

Why? Because ideas and their execution are seldom free from flaws. You know the old cliché, “There is always room for improvement.” It still stands. There is always room for improvement, and accepting that your idea is the one that needs improvement takes courage. Demolishing your next great product in order to make it better takes nerve and self-discipline. But it also makes you wiser, and can dramatically improve the product.

Iterating extensively and in detail doesn’t depend on a certain type of project or a certain budget. It’s a tricky thing, because it forces us to confront our imperfect nature as human beings. To embrace our inner flaws is to walk the road of truth and maturity, silently, without making a show that we’re doing it.

This weight might feel a little heavy on our shoulders. If it does or if you dismiss Apple’s success, consider what Oliver Reichenstein, head of Information Architects, says about the iterations that his team makes in each development phase (this quote appears in the comments section):

It’s often almost impossible to explain easily why things look like they do, because we went through so many iterations, that it feels like explaining a chess game with all the ifs and whats.

The same goes when designing for the Web: there’s no excuse to avoid making as many iterations as we can.

Final Thoughts

When successful designers are asked where they seek inspiration, they often say something like, “Everywhere — I go for a walk and observe the world around me.” And it’s true. But what they don’t often say is that they also know what to observe and how to ignore the noise of the world.

There are many beautiful well-functioning products around us. Each has a story to tell, a story that is strongly attached to its design, its scope and the iterations that the designer took before releasing it to the world.

Take the Dyson vacuum cleaner. Its design is at least impressive, and its scope is clear (to suck dirt better than other cleaners and, thus, to make your environment healthier), and it took hundreds of prototypes for the designers to figure out how to make it work without a bag. The first Dyson vacuum cleaner was sold in 1970! To explore further and find similar products, just search for our three key words: “design scope iteration.”

Creating a lasting website is no easier than creating a lasting vacuum cleaner. But neither is it impossible. It requires a holistic approach, focus and maturity, just like the products we’ve looked at here. Not to mention, it requires a paradigm shift.

(al)

© Yiannis Konstantakopoulos for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Chloe Borkett

East of Nowhere

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The frozen conflict zone and ex-Soviet enclave of Trans-Dniester, is a narrow slither of land located along the Eastern Moldovan border – a disputed sovereignty, which for 20 years has been de facto governed but also unrecognized by the UN. This came about in the Soviet Union’s dying days as alarm grew in the Dniester region over growing Moldovan nationalism and the possible reunification of Moldova with Romania. A 1989 law, which made Moldovan an official language added to the tension, and Trans-Dniester proclaimed its secession in September 1990.

So what does it mean to grow up in a country that doesn’t exist? So called independence, was seen by many as a triumph that should have secured a better future, but the PMR government has only made time stand still in this little known region, where its people are subjected to living a poverty stricken, isolated and somewhat entrapped existence. Preserving a deeply Soviet hyper-reality, Lenin continues to stand proud on every town square. Political allegiance to Russia is safely guarded seemingly at a cost to its people as the day-to-day reality of maintaining such cultural and political heritage becomes the complete opposite of preservation. Compared to the west we are spoiled by choice, so what western teenager could imagine living in a landscape absent of entertainment, modern facilities or endless consumer possibilities? Where parental presence is limited, and travel or escape is economically and politically restricted.

To date there has only been a modest response made of the territory. Carrying out an on-going exploration pieces together fragments of history and politics to create a contemporary portrait of the new generation to become a fresh contribution to an under-documented region. Interior spaces and landscapes echo psychological states and social concerns, whilst a non-linear narrative leaves individual stories open to interpretation.

Bio

Chloe Borkett was born in southeast London and has been based in a number of cities around the UK and overseas. After graduating from LCC, she embarked on a 5-year career in the music industry, specializing in online marketing. In early 2003, Chloe retrained as a teacher and moved to Thailand for a period of 3 years.

During her time in Thailand, Chloe had the opportunity to work on various charitable projects. It was here where Chloe began to take photography seriously, cementing her decision to return to the UK to study concerned photography where she is soon to graduate with a degree in documentary photography from the renowned course at Newport School of Art.

With the reoccurring theme of isolation present within all Chloe’s work, subject interests have centered on social issues concerning minority groups and the young, as well as the exploration of underground or alternative cultures.

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Chloe Borkett

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