Succinct look at some relevant / noteworthy stats.
A homepage is the official entry into a site, so it necessarily evolves as the site evolves, reflecting new goals, new features, etc - and of course addressing failures (or weaknesses) of its earlier versions. It’s can (and maybe should) be a bird’s eye view into how a business develops.
DesignerPages.com has come a long way in the past 3+ years - and so the homepage has seen some pretty significant changes, the latest of which launched this morning! And so… a little bit of reflection.
The first iteration (below left) took on the “see how much stuff we do!” approach, linking together a few sites (still under the Designer Pages umbrella) …thus sending users away from this one. That search bar was a little daunting to people, and quite frankly, they didn’t get the results they wanted when they searched. This is when Designer Pages was all about manufacturer-generated content, and took on a bottom-up approach to gaining users.
So, along comes V2, August 2012 (above right). We introduce a simple navigation scheme, offering a safer (controllable) alternative to search (which for a manufacturer generated product catalog can be a little scary). The whole page takes the direction of dumping users into curated SERPs - which relates to the introduction our own (new) category scheme here. A move in the right direction… (less distracted, more effective at keeping users w/in Designer Pages) but people started to perceive the site as e-commerce because of that large-scale, sexy image at the top of the screen - in combination with the Amazon-esque category browse. Beyond communicating the wrong message to potential users, dealing with users you didn’t intend to get is a drain on resources.
So here we are today:
The approach is very different, but that’s because the site is too. First, we have a top-down approach to gaining users (targeting firms, not individuals) - evident through the (beta) launch of Designer Pages Pro this past Spring.
On the new homepage, we really tout new features (geared towards product management and collaboration) to communicate the idea that this is a professional service, not an e-commerce platform (a misconception with V2 above).
A login “wall” helps further convey this (and deter consumers). It also helps us validate our user base, and enables us to rely on analytics more for further development (because we know we’re looking at data from the type of user we care about). Beyond that, the user has access to more functionality, so it’s better for the user too - and frankly, a logged in user is more valuable for our data-centric business model as well. There’s even more to the logged-in user business, but I’ll stop here. Obviously, we really want people to login (even if this means losing some potential other users in the process). Testimonials provide validation (firms/people who use our platform) - but for us, it’s even more about communicating the existing user-base (prestigious design firms) to our target audience (more design firms). Lastly, signs of life (activity) always help.
There were inevitably sacrifices that had to be made. But such is life (particularly startups). Next step is evaluating whether or not the new homepage does what it’s supposed to do…
How Companies are Using Data: Amazon, Gilt, LinkedIn
From dating to selling, the more information you are equipped with the better you’re positioned. Data helps companies personalize and predict - at a really big scale. Taking a look at some major companies big into this, the hows and whys of data use are super cool:
1. AMAZON: Recommendation Engine to Increase Sales
This ecommerce giant integrates their recommendations everywhere: from product discovery to checkout to email. And this has played a huge role in their growth, which is marked by a very significant sales increase as of late.
What they look at: what a user has bought in the past, which items they have in their virtual shopping cart, items they’ve rated and liked, and what other customers have viewed and purchased
What they’re doing with email: The actual targeting is done by employee and not machines. Through this process, a customer “qualifies” for particular emails. BUT to avoid spamming the heck of of their users, they employ what CNN money describes as “a survival-of-the-fittest-type revenue and mail metric to prioritize the Amazon email ecosystem”. This means that the customer will only receive the most effective email (the email with a higher average revenue-per-mail-sent). Pretty cool, eh?
[Read more about Amazon’s methods on CNN Money]
2. GILT: Personalization and Predictive Commerce
When a daily email announcement goes out for this flash sale site, it’s deployed in over 3,000 versions tailored to customer profiles.
What their personalization looks like (and why): As they scaled from an exclusive, high-end site to something a bit more mainstream, they had to find a way to keep the experience feeling customized and personalized. They employ a “survival of the fittest” type practice. Of the potential 30+ sales, the define a small and tight subset of sales most likely to engage each customer. Your experience on the site and within the App will be similar — unlike that of your neighbors, and designed for optimal conversion based on your profile. Gilt is perpetually crunching customer data, and this whole process is heavily automated.
What they look at: demographic data gathered through registration + browsing/shopping history including spending patterns (via website, apps) + marketing history (acquisition source, referral connections, campaign response).
Predictive: There was an article in the NYTimes this past spring on Big Data. The article expressed the value of using search data for its predictive intelligence. For instance, the article states that “In economic forecasting, research has shown that trends in increasing or decreasing volumes of housing-related search queries in Google are a more accurate predictor of house sales in the next quarter than the forecasts of real estate economists.” Gilt knows what sells when, within a very desireable target audience of ”loyal, wealthy, nearly recession-proof consumers.” They can spot emerging trends, they can predict the quantity and type of merchandise that will sell within a given time frame, etc. They can tell you, based on the device a user is purchasing from, if the total is most likely to be bigger or smaller than if the user purchased from another device (iPad users are the big spenders). In short, the data they can get is seemingly endless. The more they model this data, the more intelligence they’ll have — intelligence that’s valuable to them (of course), but also to designers, etc. As the housing example showed, online activity can prove to be an extremely reliable source of predictive data.
[Read more about how Gilt deals with Customer Analytics here.]
3. LINKEDIN: Intelligent Workforce Planning
According to Nishtant Rao, director of business operations and head of global sales strategy at LinkedIn, LinkedIn’s future is in “leveraging big data for intelligent workforce planning,”
What they’re looking at: (100 million+ users) employment information, phone numbers, addresses, employment and education history.
How they’re using it: Job recommendations, people recommendations, newsfeed recommendations - personalized, targeted content for users. They want you to expand your network so they have more insight into you — so they recommend more connections. Their revenue comes from hiring solutions and premium accounts, “both of which are steps to uncover more data on the service," according to ReadWriteWeb. Geoffrey James, INC, talks about why LinkedIn will outlive Facebook - their data, their sheltering from “cool” in this article. I’d imagine LinkedIn will remain one of the more interesting companies to watch in upcoming years. Insight on how they’re aggregating this data and the specifics of how they use it are harder to come by.
Just for fun… big data in medicine via FastCo
If you’ve got any other cool data use cases or methodologies, leave a comment!
Phobias, Challenges + Creative Confidence
Some people (still) think creativity is reserved for that talented crew of artsy folk. It’s misconstrued both in terms of who’s got it (that mythical gene in the artsy folk), and in where it’s useful. See Fast Co’s 2004 article, The 6 Myths of Creativity for more on this.
The thing with creativity is that it’s somewhat personal: your ideas, not proven facts. When these ideas are challenged, you can’t just point to a spreadsheet to end all. You have to back them. But to back them, you need confidence - possibly more than it took to come up with the idea in the first place. (I studied architecture and learned that lesson firsthand in crits, where as the name suggests, you get a lot of criticism.)
Particularly when it comes to creativity, confidence is hard to gain and easy to lose. David Kelley, founder & chairman at IDEO, talks about his mission to help people regain “their creative confidence” in this awesome TED talk. Kelley references the work of Stanford psychologist Dr Bandura, who’s developed a methodology to cure people of phobias - and in turn proven that in overcoming a single fear one gains confidence in other areas as well. These people become more resilient in the face of failure, gaining what he calls “self-efficacy”.
The phobia referenced is snakes, and the process (which Bandura calls “Guided Mastery) is about turning fear into familiarity. The subject observes the snake through a two-way mirror and gets comfortable. Next, he or she watches it from within the doorway, and over time steps into the room. Eventually, with very thick gloves, the subject touches the snake. You get the point. Those who went through it (and touched the snake) not only cured their snake phobia, but they had less anxiety in other areas in life. They came, they saw, they conquered. The process seems obvious in retrospect, but the implications are pretty extraordinary.
Kelley’s mission is awesome because creativity is underutilized. It’s a tool to effect change and innovate, to help people think bigger and broader. But use of the tool requires confidence, teaching and training. People can lose this confidence in infinite ways, and lose opportunity as a result.
[Anecdote: Michael Lewis gave a great (albeit off subject) commencement speech at Princeton. In the speech, he briefly mentions feedback he received from a college professor on his writing, “Put it this way, never try to make a living at it.” Lewis is the author of 8 best sellers including Moneyball. There are endless similar stories (though they might not be as memorable or extreme). Point being, without creative confidence, vast opportunities can be lost.
Love What You Do
The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.
In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, I (like millions of others) paid tribute watching videos and reading articles. Back in 2005, he gave a commencement speech at Stanford entitled “How to live before you die” that paints a (15 minute) picture of his life and the lessons he’s learned.
He talks about getting fired from Apple and how it felt like the focus of his adult life was gone. Despite the public failure of it all, he says in his speech: “Something slowly began to dawn on me, I still loved what I did… I’d been rejected, but I was still in love.” He took ownership of his mistakes, apologized for his failures, and started over. As fate would have it, he ended up back at Apple.
Everyday, people launch into careers they hate for big paychecks, or launch start-ups with the goal of an “exit”, not the goal of an awesome product or company. A career becomes a means to an end, not a source fun and fulfillment (despite the hundreds of thousands of hours we spend at work over the course of our lives). But that’s not how great companies and people come to be.
In ”Delivery Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose”, (which is an amazing book) Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh talks about similar concepts. His passion for LinkExchange and Zappos, and his belief in what they could be led the companies to success (and him to greater riches at the end of the day). When he lost the passion for LinkExchange, it was time for him to move on — even though it meant sacrificing a substantial amount of money.
Jobs is an incredible case study in great people — and the creation of great companies and products. Hsieh too. Jobs ends the video with words of advice: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” So, if you read or watch anything in memory of Jobs, watch the video.
Good examples of media companies using Tumblr well. Thanks Mashable!
Who’s Important Now: Glamour, Glitz and Authority in Media
Condé Nast is notorious for treating its higher-ups quite well. Take Anna Wintour, a supposedly overpaid mega-bitch with infinite job perks. While Vogue is probably the biggest culprit, glossy print magazines are still providing enticing perks, and an uber glamorous lifestyle.
While new media might bring a bigger following (more readers), it lacks the glamour and glitz. As digital publications and new media houses gain authority, will this ever change?
Upturning Social Ranking at Fashion Week
The New York Times published an article entitled At Fashion Week, It’s Where You Sit That Counts, talking about how new media was bringing about changes in seating charts. With a finite quantity of seats, previous Fashion Show front-row’ers were displaced to make room for popular bloggers.
"There has been a stunning upheaval amid the ranks of traditional glossy magazines this season that is making it hard to figure out just where to place the most important." NYTimes writer Eric Wilson explained, "…the planning for this year’s event also serves as a reminder that the days when magazine editors were kings and queens at Fashion Week are long over."
Ex-Condé Nast’ers can’t Hack it Online
Brandon Holley moved from Condé Nast to Yahoo (upon the collapse of Jane Mag)…and back to Condé Nast (when she was offered a position as Editor of Lucky). At Yahoo, she was “the editrix of the company’s women’s site, Shine, which grew to average 25-million unique monthly visitors under her leadership, according to comScore.” via Business Insider. Conversely, according to Lucky’s Media Kit, the magazine has a total average paid circulation of ~ 1.1 million.
In Holley’s interview with The New York Times, aptly titled “The Beat Goes Online, Minus the Glitz”, she explained that Yahoo was way less glamourous. There was no stylist, chauffeur, or mega expense account.
I’m guessing Holley returned to Condé Nast because they offered her more money and more perks. But given that her job at Yahoo had her reaching approximately 25x more people, one’s got to wonder when things will change.
Fashion and Journalism Today
Considering that Vogue is now competing with numerous fashion blogs with far fewer overhead costs, (think about everything from The Sartorialist - to a 13-year old girl’s blog, The Style Rookie, that receives ~ 30K unique visitors a month) - change seems inevitable.
How long can Condé Nast afford to employ the likes of Anna Wintour? Will new media gurus / bloggers begin getting more glamorous treatment? What’s the future of traditional media versus new media in terms of glamour, glitz and pay-scale?
Why Design Now? and The Expectation of Innovation
The medium is the message is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. Wikipedia
From improving access to safe drinking water for underserved people, generating renewable energy through sun and ocean waves, and offering low-cost corrective eyewear to underserved patients to proposing a post-petroleum urban utopia—Why Design Now? is chalk-full of big ideas that address big problems. These products, prototypes, buildings, landscapes, messages, and more address social and environmental challenges in contemporary society.
So why am I disappointed? These innovative ideas are presented in outdated formats that can’t properly convey the concept, let alone importance of the work. The way a Monet is displayed at the Met isn’t appropriate for any of the work in this exhibition.
New media needs new media. An object that’s important for its dynamic and adaptive nature isn’t going to be well-received in a static format. The power of a communication tool (such as twitter) won’t be ‘communicated’ on a small (non-interactive) screen. I’ll spare you the infinite examples of how they flunked presentation and just say that for an exhibition on innovation and contemporary culture, I expected a presentation format that conveyed this mentality.
When it comes to showing noteworthy design: show why it’s awesome; show how it works. If standard museum layouts don’t do the trick, try something new. It’s the most sustainable exhibition in the museum’s history, according to the website. But it’s not teaching and inspiring in the way that it should.
** originally posted on the Designer Pages blog