On the demise of Future of Web Design…

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I just spotted that Future of Web Design has been cancelled and the company responsible seems to have filed for bankruptcy. Sad but I’m not surprised.

I went there a few times and I’d considered going this year but was put off by high ticket prices. Add that to the cost of a London hotel for a few days and the fact that there are now plenty of smaller local conferences and unless you’re working for a big company you’d struggle to persuade your boss that it justified the expense.

The first few years were great and a real credit to the organisers at the time (the event was sold off a few years ago). I’d leave with at least one or two ideas that I could put into practice and generate a return on my employers investment. But something changed. The last couple of times I’d left with no new ideas to justify the cost. The speaker list became dominated by freelancers intent on building their personal brand. That’s to be expected, but the problem was the lack of quality. I didn’t see why a particular speaker was worthy of a place on the lineup when I’d looked at their work.

I grew tired of seeing presentations by UX ‘experts’ who behaved like evangelical preachers. Affecting exaggerated joy and glee when describing a nice example of interface design. And then raining down fire and brimstone on some poor bastard who designed a lift button he didn’t like in Prague.

The final straw for me was the workshop. I’d enjoyed the previous ones by Molly Holzschlag, and I remember a really good one by Aarron Walter from Mailchimp. But the last one I went to? It was run by two guys who talked a really good game but if you checked out their website you’d really scratch your head as to why on earth they were sitting up there as self-appointed experts. They relied on a gift of the gab and gimmicks to disguise a lack of anything new to say. They’d dole out sweets, and hand out random objects to ‘inspire’ people during the group work. The workshop was written the day before (it showed), but this wasn’t because they were lazy and were taking us for mugs. It was apparently because they ‘wanted the material to be as fresh as possible’– how’s that for spin?

And then the group work started. A collection of random objects were handed round to the different groups – I can’t remember exactly why, I think there was some nonsense about how they were supposed to be inspiring in some way. I just remember a young web designer in our group eagerly tapping away at a typewriter with a look of awe and glee on his face. He’d never used one before.

At that point I buggered off to the pub.

Wolves Job Rejected… By The Ghost Of Brian Clough

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Wolves search for a new manager is far from over, after it was revealed that the latest candidate to turn down the Molineux hotseat is the long deceased legend Brian Clough.

The former Nottingham Forest manager was summoned from beyond the grave for a 2 hour interview with help from ITV’s ‘Psychic’ Sally Morgan (Steve Morgan’s sister), but Wolves failed to tempt Clough to rescue the Premiership strugglers.

Wolves CEO Jez Moxey insists the decision was mutual: “I said this was no job for a novice and Brian is a candidate of the highest calibre, but we were concerned that communication could be an issue.  It takes so long to spell out a message on a Ouija board that we could be 2 goals down before we’ve even spelled out ‘hello’.”

Worryingly for Wolves, they have rattled through candidates at an alarming rate with Alan Curbishley, Brian McDermott, Gus Poyet, Neil Warnock, former Rangers manager Walter Smith, and Walter Smith- a Butcher from Dudley who was telephoned by mistake, all rejecting the chance to succeed Mick McCarthy.

The Wolves CEO added: “I’ve always said that ideally we’d have a new manager in place in time for the Newcastle game, I said nothing about which season that would be.”

Reports that ex-Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce has been sleeping in a tent outside Molineux and intimidating any rival candidates has been dismissed as ‘pure fabrication’.

Showcase Cinema – How NOT to do customer service

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People make mistakes, right? It’s how you deal with them that matters, but unfortunately Showcase Cinemas in Dudley don’t care very much about ‘customer service’.

Two weeks ago, my elderly parents took their 3 year old grandson to see Puss In Boots. The staff neglected to tell people buying tickets that the heating had broken. My Mom has Raynauds disease – an unpleasant circulation problem that means that a freezing cold cinema screening is best avoided.

My parents complained after the screening and the manager apologised. He admitted they should have warned people in advance, and issued them with some tickets that could be used ‘for any film, at any time.’ Great! He’d dealt with that in the right way. Problem solved!

So why have we just been turned away from Showcase Cinema?

I’ve just got back from Showcase after a very disappointing exchange with two managers. When we tried to use these ’emergency tickets’ (that’s what it says on them – I quite like the idea of an ’emergency ticket’, maybe I should just frame it, stick it on my wall with a sign above which says ‘In case of emergency – break glass’) we were told that as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a latest release, we can’t redeem our wonderful ’emergency tickets’.

Now, I understand that because of contractual obligations with different studios, it’s not always possible to offer free tickets for the very latest releases. But having been explicitly told by the manager ‘for any film, at any time’, I was expecting that this little problem would be resolved quickly.

It wasn’t.

The manager passed the buck ‘I wasn’t the manager who issued the tickets so I can’t do anything’ and simply wouldn’t budge no matter how many times I politely informed her that the cinema had messed up once and had now screwed up again. It didn’t matter that the one manager had admitted they were at fault. It didn’t matter that I’d politely asked ‘what can we do to sort this out?’- there was no hope of some common sense from the manager of Showcase Cinema in Dudley.

We’d gone from ‘for any film, at any time‘ from one manager to a firm ‘no!‘ from a different manager who should have a photo of herself in the Oxford Dictionary next to the word ‘smug’.  There was no apology, not the slightest whiff of an attempt to do anything to rectify the situation, it was just ‘no‘.  We asked to speak to another manager and were told that she was the only one working there today… this lie was then cruelly exposed when the other manager who gave my folks the ’emergency tickets’ in the first place then appeared from nowhere.

This guy was more reasonable and he all ready to let us in to see the movie.  He admitted that it was his fault and that he had said ‘for any film, at any time‘, but unfortunately the other manager must have been having a terrible day and by body language appeared to overrule him. She didn’t even blink when I told her that she hadn’t just lost about £20 in cinema takings that night, but hundreds in future revenue (it’s our local cinema and we’ve been going there since it opened in about 1999).  That’s when it hit home, she really didn’t care about customer service.

So to recap- Showcase Cinemas screw up the heating and give us some tickets that can be used ‘for any film, at any time‘, we then try to use them and find that ‘for any film, at any time‘ actually means ‘for some films, at some point and yes we did screw up but that’s just tough luck… NEXT!’

Steve Jobs – The Henry Ford Of Computing?

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It’s finally happened, Steve’s stepped down. Immediately triggering articles and tweets from Apple haters and fanboys.

Over the last few hours I’ve seen his role in the history of computing overstated, underplayed, or just simply misunderstood.

I’ve seen Apple innovations downplayed because they didn’t “invent” some of the technologies they are associated with, specifically the GUI and the mouse. True, they didn’t invent them. Apple didn’t invent the phone either, and Bill Gates has been talking about tablet computing for years. What Steve Jobs has is vision and an understanding of how people want to interact with technology.   Jobs is able to see a prototype piece of technology and understand how it can change the industry.  To steal a phrase from Anthony Painter “Jobs has always been a master at connecting research to market.”  He’s revolutionised our idea of what well-established technology should do and how we should interact with it.

Apple will be OK for the next few iterations of iPhone and iPad and the inevitable articles that judge Tim Cook by the next couple of products fail to grasp the problem.  The problems for the new CEO are about vision. How is the industry changing and how does Apple shape and dictate that change?

Apparently some have compared Jobs to Henry Ford and while others are more qualified than myself to compare the two, I think the difference is that Henry Ford changed the way a product was manufactured to generate huge volume at a significantly reduced cost.

Michael Dell and Bill Gates seem a better comparison to Henry Ford. Windows drove the costs down by enabling hardware manufacturers to compete with each other on price without worrying about a lack of software. Dell could slash costs by cutting out the need for brick and mortar stores, direct marketing and buy on the phone or online. The problems for Dell, Microsoft and Ford came when the product was ubiquitous, people had moved beyond just wanting a car or a computer- they now wanted style.

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black.” – Henry Ford

Microsoft have only recently woken up to the fact that people want more than just functionality.  It’s has to be a joy to use.  When the iPhone was announced, Steve Ballmer appeared in a video demonstrating exactly how little he understood this change. He laughed at it.

“The most expensive phone in the world.”

“It won’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.”

Referring specifically to the Windows powered Motorola Q he started ticking boxes: “It’ll do music, it’ll do Internet, it’ll do email, it’ll do instant messaging.”  Box ticking functionality. Nothing about the way people want to interact with technology. “Right now, we’re selling millions and millions and millions and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones a year”

This is the phone Ballmer thought could compete with the iPhone.  They still wanted to compete on features, and were unprepared to go beyond that.  Dell and Microsoft achieved the Ford style ubiquity but struggled to find answers to a new set of problems.

How NOT to advertise your special offer by three.co.uk

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After poor signal coverage I’m leaving Orange soon. As I use a lot of data I thought I’d take a look at Three and their website confused me in less than ten seconds. I arrived on the site with a clear goal in my head, landed on the site and scrolled down to find what I wanted. I wanted to look at a SIM only plan but couldn’t click on the link. Hell, I couldn’t click on ANY of the links.

Because I spend most of my day trying to spot issues like this, I wondered incredulously about that special offer graphic at the top of the page, the one I’d scrolled past quickly because I’m a task-oriented user… could that be a lightbox advert on the page?

three's very dumb homepage advert

Oh. My. God!

I tune out special offers if I am on a website with a clearly defined goal. It’s not that you shouldn’t promote a special offer- but it should be aimed at users who are just browsing. This offer would have worked just as well as an ordinary graphic featured in a similar position on the homepage. Hijacking control in this way is actually even worse than the old popup browser window adverts because the user cannot ignore it- he has to close it before any other action can be performed in the current window.

The background is a very light grey, the lack of an obvious contrast left me scratching my head wondering why I couldn’t click around the rest of the site. The lack of an ‘X’ in the top right didn’t help either. I’d be very interested to know what happened to the bounce rate of the three.co.uk homepage for the duration of this unconventional (and frankly bonkers) approach.

How to write headlines for landing pages

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“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy” stated David Ogilvy. A compelling statistic, but how does this translate to your web site?

Ogilvy continues; “unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.” But remember- he was writing about print advertising. Print advertising designed to distract a reader from his newspaper and compel him to read on. An eye-catching headline was vital. The reader hadn’t sought out the product, the advertising had to work for the readers attention. This is an important difference between a print headline and one used on a pay per click landing page- you have their attention, you need to minimise that bounce rate by quickly confirming that the user is in the right place.

Copywriter Andy Maslen suggests that a headline should ‘make the reader want to read the body copy’ and encapsulate the ‘sales pitch in 10-16 words or fewer.’ 

I’ve struggled with this on landing pages. In fact, I’ve obtained better results with headlines that immediately reassured a user that they were in the right place- aiming for consistency between the landing page headline and the PPC ad text. This might be dull, but if it quickly confirms that a user is in the right place, they’ll read your introductory paragraph (which is where you can start selling and where I’ve enjoyed most impact in my split testing).

Here are some quick tips which might help…

Split test your headlines

You’ll never know what works until you test! Claude Hopkins spent ‘far more time on headlines than on writing’ and Ogilvy never wrote ‘fewer than sixteen headlines for a single advertisement’.  Both copywriters would split test headline effectiveness by measuring coupon redemption.  Thankfully, we can split test too-  Google Website Optimizer! Write a series of headlines, split test them to see which generates the most conversions. It’s easy (and free)!

Find the right tone of voice

Different products require a different approach. I’ve tried what I thought was a compelling headline and found that a dry and boring one actually achieved a better conversion rate.  An attention grabbing headline might undermine trust if it’s applied to a product that calls for a more subtle or formal tone.  Do you want something more salesy, or does your audience expect something more functional? Test your ideas.

Read the news

Try and spot good headlines.  Journalists are experts at summarizing an article in as few words as possible. Some write headlines that grab your attention and compel you to read on. It’s worth reading Jakob Nielsen’s opinion of the headlines used on BBC News.

When Twitter can be inspirational…

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There are times when the power of Twitter & Facebook still amazes me.

Earlier today it was revealed that Chris Sievey (the creator of cult comedy act Frank Sidebottom) who died earlier this week, had not left much money behind & it was highly likely he would need a “pauper’s funeral”.

Very quickly, ordinary fans set up a paypal account and using Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, ordinary fans donated over £6000 in only 4 or 5 hours.  I found the speed of events breathtaking, and genuinely inspiring that so many people could reach into their pockets in tribute to a man who many won’t have met, spoken to, or even seen his face.

It’s nice to know there are so many kind-hearted people out there & wonderful to see another example of how social networks can be used in a positive, inspirational way.

Fatman iTube Carbon Mk2

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I never did get around to adding my thoughts on the Fatman iTube Carbon mk 2.  I’ve had it for a year now so I may as well post some comments.  In short – I love it!

iTube Carbon mk 2

My Sony Mini-Disc player finally died last year and I did some digging to find out if an iPod dock would be the best way to go, having experienced mixed results in trying to get a networked media centre.

I very quickly spotted the Fatman range of valve amplification docks & despite a truly awful logo that’s emblazoned on all of their otherwise nice looking machines, the reviews seemed good enough to buy one.  As suggested in the what hi-fi review, I paired it with some Tannoy Mercury F1 Customs.

Initially I had a problem with a crackle & to their credit both Superfi & Fatman both tested the unit and couldn’t find a problem, I’ve later found out that my own wiring inside my house has been the cause – this issue has now been totally resolved.

So how does it sound? Fantastic. Nice punchy bass. For future Fatman valve forays – it would be nice to see a network mp3 player.

Buggy & outdated, why does iPad need Flash?

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As the debate about the lack of Flash on the iPhone & iPad rumbles on I thought I’d offer my own thoughts.

Flash can be a creative tool but when browsing the web each day what is the most common use of flash (excluding video delivery)?  I’d suggest that it’s probably banner adverts.  I usually install a plugin to disable Flash content on page load to avoid downloading unnecessary & intrusive flash overlays and banners that seize my browser window and usually do a great job in hiding the close button – if I found stuff like that annoying on a zippy broadband connection on a 21 inch screen, why would I want to download that on a slow connection and play all of that on a mobile device?

The only Flash content that I use regularly is Youtube.  But with an iPhone app available to play Youtube videos, I struggle to see a compelling reason for Flash on a smartphone.  Add to that the fact that Google is embracing HTML5 and it’s video capabilities – why is Flash apparently such a ‘killer app’?

Steve Jobs has labelled Adobe as ‘lazy’, Flash as ‘buggy’ & suggested that Flash is responsible for the overwhelming majority of browser crashes.  But hey… no program is perfect right? And as long as Adobe keep an eye on fixing bugs when they appear then it’s not too bad.

If your company had created a device like the iPhone and knew that the majority of performance problems were related to some software that was not controlled by you – wouldn’t you be annoyed?

Gizmodo suggests that ‘Flash video performs terribly on Mac OS X and Linux‘ and I can see this on my own Linux PC’s & iMac where Youtube’s sound stutters badly & frequently leaving me with no option but to shutdown Firefox.

I’ve worked on websites that use sIFR and found that on Linux machines, text doesn’t render because the Linux version of Flash doesn’t play nicely with the transparent property.

Flash may very well have widespread adoption, but it is not and never will be a recommended web standard and as such Jobs is under no obligation to allow Adobe to roll any old crap out onto their new platforms.  However, I also think that this highly publicized feud between Steve Jobs and Adobe will highlight the problems with this plugin, and embarrass Adobe to address these issues.

But then again, perhaps Adobe are distracted, spending far too much time blocking the specification of HTML5… that technology that ‘The world is moving to‘.

Fanboy alert – A Portable Sega Dreamcast!

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I’m a massive Sega fan.  Growing up in the late eighties & early nineties you were either a Sega or Nintendo fan (never both!).  Although I own a PS3 and a Wii I’ll never be as interested as I was during the days of the Sega Dreamcast & I still ocassionally fire it up for a quick game of Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur or even lesser known gems like Rez.  So I was particularly impressed when I saw this homemade console mod – a portable Dreamcast.

Despite looking like a cross between a lunchbox & an etch a sketch this is a very impressive mod indeed. Very cool!  Right, I’m off for a game of Power Stone, thanks to Alex Ross who kindly sent me a spare copy he had kicking around.

Some alarming news…

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I needed a new alarm clock as the old one was a bloody ugly thing, and this fact was accentuated by being some close to my shiny Imac.  So I surfed around and found this Lexon alarm clock on madeindesign.co.uk and it arrived today.

No surprises for guessing that I wanted something that looked vaguely in-keeping with my Imac and it looks rather nice indeed.  Brushed aluminium – yum!

Lexon alarm clock

Ever have a song stuck in your head?

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I woke up this morning with ‘Where I Find My Heaven‘ by the Gigolo Aunts stuck in my head, but alas didn’t have the song on my Ipod.

I quickly googled the lyrics on my lovely HTC Hero & found that the first line summed up the morning rather well – ‘Hey Monday mornin’ is only for the brave’.  Certainly bloody is, my car was hidden below lots of ice and scraping ice off my car at 7 on a pitch black, cold morning is a rude awakening from a lovely Christmas and New Years slumber.

A line in the second verse caught my eye as well: ‘And the sacred moments of sillyness are Where I find my heaven’ – reminded me of the delights of working with Vicky & @Looplah at Attraction World a few years ago.  ‘Sacred moments of sillyness’ indeed!

As soon as I got home I picked up the Gigolo Aunts album.

2009 showed the power of social networking

2009 has been the year of Twitter.  While lacking Facebook’s massive userbase, the influence Twitter exerted on the national news agenda in the UK has been impressive.

Graham Linehan’s WeLoveTheNHS twitter hashtag marked the beginning of Twitter as a grassroots form of protest, & both the Trafigura & JanMoir hashtags gained a rapid momentum forcing the mainstream media to highlight these stories.  Over on Facebook, a group propelled Rage Against The Machine to Christmas number 1 as a protest against manufactured pop music. 2010 will bring more social media surprises, particularly with a General Election on the way.

It will be interesting to see how e-marketers try to harness the power of social media over the next year & try to adapt to a unique medium.

Social Media Marketing – What NOT to do

Social media marketing is a tricky subject & handled badly can generate terrible results.  Habitat tried to harness the power of Twitter by hijacking hashtags & posting special offers.  The problem here comes from the way the medium has been approached.

Habitat treated Twitter as if it were some form of broadcast medium; they talked at people and not with them – Twitter is the big conversation.

Unless you are tweeting compelling content, then you won’t acquire any followers, so your tweets won’t show on anyone’s timeline… they won’t be seen by anyone.  To counteract this Habitat’s marketing team started including current trending hashtags so that when users around the world did a search, the special offer would appear.

Unsurprisingly enough the Twitter community didn’t like this approach & has become a case study for how not to run a Twitter campaign; afterall who wants to see furniture being cynically advertised on a hashtag reserved for protests of outrage over the Iranian elections.

I think this 2010 will provide yet more interesting examples of what to do & what to avoid, but if you want to see the best example I’ve seen so far of a good Twitter campaign that engages with users, JetBlue is particularly impressive.

Iphone or not…

I’m finally due a phone upgrade this month.  After suffering for the last year with the Windows Mobile based Samsung Omnia,  I can’t wait to own a phone that I enjoy using.

Problems I’ve had with the Omnia include a terrible inconsistent UI – sometimes you can scroll through your contacts at speed in a similar way to the Iphone, but when selecting a contact to send a text message, your thumb has to act like a stylus and control the tiny scrollbar – good luck!

Unfortunately the majority of problems I’ve had stem from repurposing a flawed, buggy, slow Windows Mobile to emulate features found in the purpose-built Iphone OS.

In short: Windows Mobile – avoid!

So I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices.  I’ve already bought an Imac and I’m sure an Iphone would work seamlessly well with it… but still I find myself tempted by the Nokia N900 which runs a version of Debian, a large screen and has a slide out keypad – it does look a bit of a brick however. The latest HTC running Android looks rather nice as well.

I defintely need a good Twitter & Facebook app, as well as a good mobile browser – I noted with great interest that Google Wave didn’t work in Safari on the Iphone but seemed to run on the Nokia N900.

Not sure yet… decisions decisions.


Gone for the HTC Hero, looks like a lovely phone, open source OS & it should integrate seamlessly with my Gmail and Google Calendar, fingers crossed!

Are you getting mugged by your affiliates?

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I’ve most probably missed the boat by talking about affiliate marketing as it’s no longer the flavour of the month, not a day goes by when I don’t get an email suggesting a merchant has closed down their affiliate campaign), but it’s still a channel that can generate a worthwhile proportion of sales, but you will have to avoid some fairly common mistakes.

The biggest mistake is a lack of a PPC policy.  On one site I found that while the affiliate scheme was generating significant sales every month, the sales were all coming from affiliates who were bidding on the site’s brand name.  The major problem here is that purchasing decisions are non-linear. A user might visit your site a few times before he decides to buy your product, here’s an example:

If a user wants to go to Florida and your site sells tickets for SeaWorld Orlando, the process might go something like this:

A user searches for: ‘things to do in Florida’

This is an informational gathering term, an early part of the process – at this point the user doesn’t know what they will want to do in Florida.  After visiting a couple of sites, she lands onto your ticket site and reads about a few attractions including SeaWorld Orlando.

She goes away and thinks about it, and suggests SeaWorld to her husband and her kids who are also going on holiday.  They like it, so next she’s looking at the price and searches for something more like:

SeaWorld Orlando Tickets

This is much more focused, but she’s not booking anything until payday, so she’s just comparing the different ticket sites.

A week later and she’s been paid, time to book those tickets.  Assuming your site is persuasive, engaging and competitive on price (not necessarily lowest – competitive) then the next search will be:


The conversion rate for your brand name should be sky high!  That’s because people only search for it after they’ve been through this process or have bought from you before.

My original point was that if you don’t have a PPC policy on your affiliate merchant account, you’re open to affiliates carpetbagging sales by bidding on your branding.  It’s the easiest money any affiliate will ever make, because they didn’t do anything to persuade the user to buy – you did all that work, they wanted to come back and you paid a 5% commission for no good reason at all. Silly you!  Make sure you add a PPC Policy on your affiliate account prohibiting affiliates from bidding on brand related terms.

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