Category Archives: Simple

White Room

The white room

White Room

I once saw this design makeover show on HGTV where the designer tried to get the family who was in the house to think about all design possibilities. She started out by removing all the furniture and painting everything white. The theory, as she explained it, was to start off with a blank canvass to illustrate that anything and everything was possible.

As I predicted, the family froze in the sea of possibility and lack of direction. The designer ended up guiding them into color combinations, design choices, etc., until they could see how everything was fitting together. Then, they came alive and started participating in the design of their makeover.

Very few people can see possibilities when presented with a blank canvass. Yet this is what happens time and time again with web sites and social media channels.

“You need to create content,” says the social media expert who has created the company’s new Facebook page, blog, Twitter account and Google Plus channel. “Y’know, stuff like videos and photos. Graphic content is always hot.”

And the client tenses up as if he is staring into a white room.

Unless you are prepared and skilled to provide the script, shooting and storytelling for the video or the art direction and shooting for the photos or crafting the blog article framework (or actually writing them) you may want to steer clear of advising a company to get into social media.

Simply setting up the social media channels and walking away is just painting a room white.

Cluttered Tackboard

Cutting through the clutter

Cluttered Tackboard

This is a tack board that was at the local coffee shop I went to last night. You’ve seen these everywhere, nothing special, no one card stands out from the next, almost all of them are clip-art logos, too many words on the flyer, etc. My favorite is the gray one in the middle for Pig of the Month. At first I thought it was a design firm, but it really is a BBQ place.

Talk about disconnect.

I don’t know how effective these things are — other than to entertain me as my party is finishing up using the restroom and giving me content for a blog post — but it occurs to me this is how most people are using social media channels. They are throwing their badly-crafted message out to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and a thousand other places hoping to catch the eyeballs of someone desperately looking to be entertained.

But it must work because a lot of people do it. Right?

Setting expectations in plain English

A few months ago, my shower drain backed up while I was taking a shower. So I called the local Rotor Rooter and the person taking my call started asking me all sorts of questions about what I wanted. I didn’t understand any of what she was asking so I simply said:

“I want to be able to sing all four acts of Figaro at the top of my lungs without my shower backing up. However we get there is your problem.”

She laughed and understood immediately what I needed. “No problem,” she said. “We’ll get a guy out today.”

And the plumber showed up a few hours later. Humming Figaro*.

I tell my server hosting company, “I want to be able to sleep nights.”

I tell my printer, “I want that red Coca-Cola red.”

All the while they press me to define server specs and Pantone® numbers. I don’t let them get off the hook that easily. Once they get you to sign off on a particular color or server speed, they then point to you and say, “but you signed off on that” when you really meant “I want to sleep nights” or “I want a deep red.”

I understand the need to set clear expectations and boundaries, but I am not an expert in the business of plumbing, server hosting and networking or color spec’ing. I have a conversational knowledge but expect the people who are experts to be experts.

How do you define your expectations so you communicate exactly what you want without taking on the responsibility experts should have?

*He didn’t actually hum the entire opera, just the short familiar part. I shared this because it was obvious he and the dispatcher talked and she shared my expectation with him. That’s good; I had hoped story would trickle through. As it turns out, he was also well-read, educated and was politically aware. We had a deep conversation about the state of education and health care in America. As he worked on my drain, of course. For him, it was probably a refreshing debate he normally doesn’t get to have. For me, it was a reminder to never pre-judge a person by what he does for a living.

Complicated could be deadly

Elevator fire panel

I was riding the elevator down from my doctor’s office yesterday and glanced over at the elevator panel. The emergency buttons caught my eye and it occurred to me that something that is intended to be used in the frantic throes of an emergency like a fire in a medical building should never have twelve steps.

And never be printed in small white lettering on a field of scarlet.

I’m sure that the steps were printed there to comply with some laws or other. After all, the chances of a fire breaking out in a modern medical facility are pretty slim. But if it did happen, it would be deadly.

Fireman need a standardized, human-intuitive interface for elevators. Firemen need a Steve Jobs approach.

What mission-critical things in your business are you doing that are simply “complying with the law” that you should be designing?