Picture me stuffing a bunch of text into the random-letter-machine and seeing what comes out. I stayed up late and got up early and was driving to work in the quiet, pre-rush hour bliss of this Friday morning only to be stopped suddenly by a cop sitting in his car diagonally positioned across the road, casually surfing the internet on his mounted laptop, who didn’t even look up when I rolled down my window and politely asked if the road was closed or if I could do around and answered me only with a lazy turn-around-mister gesture of his left arm. So I went back the way I’d come and took a much longer way to get here which was pretty annoying but really it was the ’tude that bugged me so if there’s an edge to the rest of this now you know why.

And by the way, this is another mixpost. It’s been a few months since my last one. Indulge your short attention span and skim as you like. Also, I love getting your notes, so keep them coming. How I’ll achieve self-actualization without them I do not know ;)

CB, June 19, 2015

Track (1) Support Policies are not Design Promises

We all get that “mobile” is a paradigm shift. We’re experiencing it for ourselves. We feel it especially acutely when our phone’s battery dies and we’re stranded someplace without a charger and suddenly have to go cold-turkey for a while and shamefully acknowledge the junkie twitch of our own fingers toward that dead brick in our pockets. But that puts us in the mobile milk bottle doesn’t it? Inside, looking out, unable to see the label and know what sort of milk this really is. So, sometimes, we have to adopt crazy, dogmatic policies to get ourselves some perspective.

It started with “mobile first,” which sounds nice but is actually rash and silly and unfit to handle the scope of the very projects that need special attention paid to the mobile experience. It’s evolved and expanded with responsive design, atomic design, etc. Helpful stuff. And, some organizations are even blocking staff from viewing the “desktop” version of their websites (I say “some” because now that the NYT has done it, monkey see monkey do). As nutty as that may sound, it’s at least informed by the data NYT have collected that illuminate their readers’ context: that over half of NYT traffic is from mobile devices.

Data > Dogma. Which is why we need be more mindful of articulating detailed, data-informed design approaches customized to their context, not vast, sweeping, generalities that barely address the common problems, to say little of the unique, specific ones you face in your project. Step 1 should always be to review the client’s device profile and, consider it within the larger context of the “market’s” device profile. With those data, Step 2 is to outline a breakpoint strategy that best fits the situation, bearing in mind that this means prioritizing certain platforms, devices, and screen resolutions, not promising — whether intentionally or not — that responsive design will make the thing look good in every possible “mobile” situation. Step 3 is to take that plan and re-articulate it as a support policy for the property you’re working on. That way, you’ll have a source of truth when someone complains months later that the site doesn’t look right on the CMO’s nephew’s Droid or the CEO’s new smartwatch. Perhaps then you amend your support policy, but you do that as part of documenting the new work you’re doing to address these new concerns, not after you’ve treated it like a bug fix.

Track (2) A Timeline in Films

I recently re-watched High Fidelity. Have you seen that movie? I recall liking it very much, and on re-watch, still like it. But I’m not gushing. Something about the end just doesn’t work for me. It seems rushed and superficial in a way that the rest of the film just doesn’t. But that being said, I think that High Fidelity has a certain perfection to its portrayal of its time.

High Fidelity was released in 2000, so I’d say it’s safe to call it’s portrayal one of the turn of the millenium; not of 2000, per se, but of the end of the 1990s. I recall feeling that way when it was first released. That it was quintessentially of its time. And it still seems that way. And that got me thinking about other movies that perfectly capture the time at which they were made. That’s a very particular kind of film, isn’t it? It excludes all fantasy, science-fiction, period pieces, and the like. But I’d love to make a timeline, perhaps by decade, expressed in films. Not of films — as in, line, dates, films of note from those dates — but in films. Just the films, representing time. Imagine that: a film for the twenties; a film for the thirties; on and on up until the now. What films would you put on that list? What films do you think perfectly capture the time at which they were made?

Track (3) Nobody is Planning for You

If there is one thing I read this week that I agreed with the most — even though it’s on a list of other “rules” and conclusions that I don’t really endorse — it’s this:

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

  • Jim Rohn (quoted by Francesco Marconi, here)


I’m not saying it’s a sign of the apocalypse, but that we live at a time that is increasingly, irrationally prone to overvalue the fast and the new is not good.

A case in point: It’s more controversial today to say that perhaps a company long known for making great computers but also for inventing some gamechanging new things should continue to make great computers than it is to go out on a limb and crystal-ball up their next gamechanger. Am I being too vague? What I’m saying is that Apple has made wonderful computers for decades and it would be a damn shame if they stopped making wonderful computers because the market (and really, what I mean by that is greedy shareholders) pressured them — the richest company on the planet! — to repeat their redefine-the-category performance by making a car. Because let’s be honest; the iCar would not be the next iPhone. They’d do what they did with the watch and start talking about leather and chrome and such, and as far as the technology is concerned, it would be nothing more than a Tesla competitor. Hasn’t anyone at Apple watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi?

Track (5) This is a Long, Indulgent Track Which Will Probably Alienate the Listener.

As I’m sure you already know, Mary Meeker presented her Internet Trends 2015 deck at the Code Conference a few weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to take a look at it but didn’t get time until this week. Normally, I’m all about this yearly check-in with the oracle. But this time, I dunno guys. I’ve got some comments. And rather than my usual thinkpiece bombast, I give you the notes I wrote as I watched the talk, as I wrote them. No editing, no funny business. Consider it a liveblog of the re-run.

01:15: OK, so she reads her slides. She can do this because she’s Mary Meeker. But you? No. Do not do this.

01:42: “What’s happened since 1995?” Huh. What tech trend isn’t going to look tweetably dramatic when plotted over twenty years?! But seriously, I really don’t think that many people have their collective technology heads still stuck back in 1995. Which, incidentally, was still a time of VHS tapes and AOL discs and what not.

02:03: Straight-up LOLing at the “User Control of Content Up Significantly” pronouncement. I liked it last time I decked it when the headline was, “Societal Pattern of Food, Shelter, and Relationships Emerging.” As in, really. A MASSIVE spike around 2008ish but the friggin timeline starts in 1965 and doesn’t have it’s first dot on it until after 1975 and it’s labeled “VCR.” Kind of cooking the books if you ask me.

02:07: Still LOLing. Oracle is now reading the “Impact of Internet Has Been Extraordinary & Broad” slide, which has things like “consumer,” “business,” and “education,” in one column, with a little tiny pie chart next to it showing “Internet Impact to Date.” So, “Consumer” is just one big filled in pie. Business is about 2/3 a pie. No numbers. WHAT ON EARTH DOES THAT MEAN? Nothing. It means nothing. Oh, she said, “We sort of analyzed…” That explains everything.

This is just the first two-and-a-half minutes.

She is still just reading her slides. This could have been a webinar. No. She could have sent a telepresence robot.

04:50: Ok, you think “making a point in five seconds is a beautiful thing,” to which I’m like, what sorts of points can you make in five seconds and does it count if I string twenty of those together and take a gratuitous entire minute of your time? But then, wait. Wait. You are saying you are excited about Facebook carousel ADS? CAROUSEL_ADS? So, every mobile guru on the planet says nobody can be bothered to click/tap/swipe through a carousel when it’s full of free, helpful content on some marketing site, but we’re going to take seriously the idea that they will when it’s full of ADS. Terrific. Brilliant. Of course, here I am sitting through something that’s basically a carousel, isn’t it?

05:27: So we’re calling watching video on phones “vertical viewing” now. Just in case you weren’t up on the incredibly annoying jargon that you must use now in order to sound informed.

05:36: Mary Meeker, isn’t it at least possible that full-screen, “vertical” ads on Snapchat are getting a 9x higher “completion rate” (Jargon Alert: that’s what we’re calling clicks now?) because they’re designed to make it easier to accidentally tap the ad’s link rather than get rid of the ad? No, she says, “This is certainly something that consumers appear to be liking and that advertisers should be excited about.” Sure to the second part. As for the first part, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Apologies for the language but NEWS FLASH: No consumer likes pre-roll ads of any kind.

06:36 - 07:30: “Here’s are a bunch of businesses that exist now. But they’re apps so that’s why they’re new and important.” (Paraphrase)

07:45 - 09:42: Messaging is the most important thing we do on the internet. I had no idea. “Watch this space.” Thanks for the tip!

09:46 - 11:12: Finally, something worth talking about. This user-generated content stuff is starting to pique my interest. Mostly because the platforms seeing the largest growth of content creation and consumption are ones I spend little to no time on: Snapchat (37mm views of a new year’s 2014 eve story); Twitch (this year, 83% more content; 33% more time spent watching; 122% more active users); Soundcloud (this year 33% more content; 200% more creators); Wattpad (this year, 140% more content; 48% more users). I’m actually interested in generational tech blind spots, and I’m OK with admitting I’ve probably got a few of those. That’s an opportunity for research and discovery. I find it interesting that Meeker doesn’t get into that — to be fair, she probably doesn’t have time — especially given the demographics of her audience.

11:25: “Millenials love their smartphones,” and are taking a shitload of pictures with them and uploading them all to social media. So yeah, Huxley’s world, not Orwell’s. Sure, it gives us neat things like what Microsoft’s and Google’s research teams have done with recreating important places on the globe by aggregating user photos, but it also gives us surveillance by proxy, which sounds more benign and empowering when we call it sousveillance. Meeker discussed none of this. Ain’t nobody got time fo ’dat, sadly.

12:36: “The average individual needs shelter every day.” Another massive LOL from me. See 02:03 and file under “Basic Human Truths Needing No Explanation on Slides.”

12:55: “Drones…something is going on here.” Yes, spying and murders. Oh, but you’re talking about something else. My bad.

That was just the first half. And yeah, I guess I got a little snarky. Can you blame me? It’s late and I just lost a bunch of work to a tablet glitch, autosave, the cloud and an app I used to love until I discovered it has no versioning. And anyway, tear down your idols, people! In the second half, she reviews data pulled together to look specifically at the relationship between technology and the workplace. You can watch that or review the deck for yourself.

Track (6) You Should Write It Down Even Though It’s Probably Already Been Written

Here are five good reasons

  • There is nothing new under the sun. So we can get that out of the way.
  • But, your perspective on it will be different because you experienced it for yourself, and maybe you just experienced it so it’s fresh in your mind and creating all kinds of brain adventures that are unique to you.
  • Which also means you’ll explain it differently, because you are you and you are not that other person.
  • Believe it or not, you’re more discoverable to someone out there than the person who also wrote it that you’re thinking about, because someone out there knows about you but has no idea that other person exists, and that someone needs the information you have.
  • You need to write it down in order to teach yourself how to better explain it in the future. Consider it practice for impressing someone at the your next dinner party. Or the next meeting you attend. Or the next talk you give.
  • Writing it down will help you remember it.

One last thing: Friend and fellow Tinyletterer Ian Fitzpatrick, Chief Strategy Officer at Almighty, has put together a pretty interesting survey on accountability in customer service. With it, he and the Almighty team are looking to gather some data that will help paint a better picture of where that accountability lies and how it’s defined, used, and measured. He’s right that there’s really little in the way of study on that subject. So if you or anyone else you know is working within a large, enterprise organization, please take a moment to take the survey and/or share it. It’s completely anonymous, and Ian and his team have documented their promise to stick to the facts. No one will ever be contacted, nor will their organizations be directly referenced. He’s also offering to share the data they gather after the survey is closed. Here’s the survey: Customer Experience and the Organization

Heavy Rotation: PRI and Wisconsin Public Radio’s To the Best of Our Knowledge did an episode this week on Invisible Workers that was illuminating and depressing, especially in the segments covering Amazon warehouse workers, migrant workers, and unpaid interns. If you’ve ever bought something online or like fresh fruit, you should probably allow this information into your brain.

Recent Tabs: The first picture ever taken from space was taken in 1945 from a Nazi rocket. What would happen if all our satellites were suddenly destroyed. Meet Processing. Computers with “common sense”… as if there is such a thing. A bridge in Amsterdam will be 3-D printed by robots as they cross the canal it will span. Gravit is a pretty darn impressive browser-based vector editor and layered creative tool. They’re just getting started, and promise to always be free — not sure how that will work — but things like this could put some serious pressure on Adobe. “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.” The Secret Law of Page Harmony is a page I refer back to quite a bit. Nine years later, episode two of the In Our Own Time podcast is out. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene.” Why the trip back always feels shorter. “I started out so optimistic and I believed the internet was going to change the world. Now I’m cowering in the corner hoping it’ll all go away.” How to shut up. ALL SIX STAR WARS FILMS AT ONCE. If you’re into that sort of chaos, then here’s a chaser.

Written by Christopher Butler on June 19, 2015,   In Essays

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