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Wedding Planning as a Designer (Part One)

Tyler and I got married just about 6 months ago (hooray!) After celebrating with friends, moving from Cambridge to DC, and honeymooning in Thailand, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on our “wedding planning process,” and how my work as a designer/strategist played into it.

The way I see it, my background as a designer/strategist came in handy for two reasons. First, I can design and make stuff. And not only do I have the skills to design and make stuff, but it’s pretty much my passion. As I learned from reading various wedding blogs, this is not always the case and there are many brides-to-be who hate Martha Stewart with just as much passion. So, being able to design stuff was handy. Second, I know how to plan things. In my professional life, working on projects where a lot needs to get done in a set period of time, my strength has always been scoping out “the plan” for who’s going to do what, when (Heck, I even do this for Thanksgiving dinner).

On Project Planning the Wedding:
There are a lot of things that go into planning a wedding (venue, guest list, food, music, decor, paper goods, etc etc) and there were clearly moments when we felt overwhelmed. Luckily, by bringing some of our favorite ‘project planning’ tools to the table, Tyler and I were able to reduce our stress considerably. Here are a few tools we used:

Lots of to-do lists. I kept so many lists. Running lists in notebooks, deadlines listed on calendars, lists to bring to the craft store, and many, many more. Because I’m no expert in weddings, I turned to some experts to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything major. A Practical Wedding and Paper Source were both helpful, as were the timeline sheets from Russell + Hazel. But, importantly, I paired down these into my own lists because one thing you quickly learn about wedding planning is that a huge part of it is identifying what parts you want to do and then eliminating everything else from your mind.

Obsessive Calendaring. Tyler kind of freaked when he saw how many things I wanted to craft for the wedding. To assuage his fears, I mapped out all of my ideas on monthly calendar pages and showed him that if I did this on that weekend, we’d be fine. I also promised him that if certain projects weren’t meeting their deadlines, they were out. And believe me, that happened – eliminated ideas included the one where I thought I’d crochet myself a wrap to wear at the rehearsal dinner, the one where I planned to paint guest’s names and their table numbers on stones that would sit on a bed of moss, and the one where I planned to create blurb books of photos of our friends to have strewn about at the reception (yes, a little ambitious).

The Big Notebook. I’ve already written about how I love to Idea Log, so it should come as no surprise that I kept a log for wedding stuff. Actually, I split my thoughts across three notebooks: the pocket-sized red moleskin (above) that I could carry everywhere, a sketchbook for exploring ideas in more detail, and this massive binder for collecting, well, everything else. I probably went a little overboard because that’s how I roll, but in it I pasted images from the web and magazines, saved contracts and contact info, and kept sketches and revisions of various designs. It was anything but practical to carry around, but its a neat thing to look back on, since it captures the year+ of pre-wedding frenzy pretty accurately.Harvey Balls. If you can believe it, we actually used Harvey Balls to choose our venue. In my professional life, I’ve used Harvey Balls as a way to evaluate opportunity spaces or concepts across multiple criteria. In the case of our venue, we needed to make a decision, fast, and this was a really good way for us to talk about the aspects of a venue that mattered to us, even if in the end we didn’t follow the ratings to a T. Not exactly romantic, but definitely useful.

On Designing A Wedding As A Designer:
Now, in terms of bringing my design training to wedding projects, I would say my background was both a blessing and a curse. Initially, I wanted to (co)design just about everything. We wanted our wedding to reflect us, and it seemed like the most straightforward way to achieve that was to do it our way, by ourselves. I think I also felt a bit of pressure to show off my design chops. The problem with this approach, though, was that we wanted everything to be great (it was our wedding, after all) and I am not an expert at all the things. I may have had opinions about flowers, invites, cake toppers, and so forth but I don’t have any special skills in arranging flowers, I don’t design stationary for a living, and my painting skills are rudimentary at best. So, DIY-ing it for the wedding turned out to be a lesson in having ideas and then enlisting the help of others to help bring them to the finish line. For example, my mom is great with flowers, so I pulled together some examples of things I liked, sketched out a few ideas, and handed the plans off to her in a neat PDF file. And they were beautiful! (Thanks again, Mom!)

In any case, I had a great time working with Tyler to DIY our way to the wedding. For me, it was a chance to focus my crafting energy on one, big event, and a time to stretch my planning muscles on personal projects. For the two of us, it was a great experience of dreaming up ideas together, working with talented folks to make them a reality, and overall creating a wedding that we were just so happy with. We’re so excited with how it went, and also pretty excited for what’s next!

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Recent Work: Christmas Card Designs

Having the ability to draw design inspiration from many sources, quickly sketch ideas, and ultimately turn those sketches into rendered graphics is so important to design strategy. As a designer, going through this process of actualizing ideas helps you filter through to the best ones. Moreover, many clients have trouble fully understanding new ideas until they are visualized. I like to work on personal design projects throughout the year to keep my visualization skills fresh, and to give me an outlet for my incessant need to create things.

As one such project, I’ve been working on designing our first ever Christmas card for a few weeks now. Just last night I completed the project by ordering a set. I thought I’d share a bit on my process for designing them, as well as our ‘rejects’ – I won’t show our final design so as to keep the surprise for those of you on the mailing list.

To start, I looked at stationary sites around the web for inspiration. I also looked through Real Simple and made a few trips to Paper Source to check out what they had to offer. The cards I loved most had interesting typography and blocky graphics.

After bookmarking a bunch of designs, I sketched out my take on some of the favorites.

Finally, I took to Illustrator to create the graphics. If you have the time, I find that a project like this is great for pushing your skills in design computer programs. Though the Adobe Creative Suite can be tough to get started with, there are lots of resources on the web – whenever I got stuck, I could Google, “How to create a clipping mask tutorial” and immediately find several helpful videos.

Here are some of our favorite designs:

And there you have it! Working on Christmas cards has inspired me that I can design our wedding invitation suite, so it’s on to the next project.

Side note: We ordered ours as postcards through Moo.com, which happens to have free shipping for orders over $35 until November 22. The process is very simple: upload your files, sign off on the proofs, then wait a few weeks for them to arrive in the mail. I can’t vouch for the postcard quality (yet) but love their services in general.

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Learnings from Likeable Social Media

I finished Dave Kerpen’s new book, Likeable Social Media, a few weeks back and thought it was great. The book is about how businesses can create social media campaigns that are more ‘likeable’ (as in, the Facebook ‘like’ button). The book is geared towards people who are familiar with social media tools but haven’t yet run serious social media campaigns, though I would argue it would also serve as a great refresher for people who have been working in social media for awhile. In this blog post, I hope to share three big learnings I took from the book, but in no way can this serve as a substitute for reading the book itself.

To start off, let me explain the principle of a ‘like’, which is how Kerpen makes the case for social media. Facebook’s Like button allows users to endorse companies, articles, photos – you name it – for all their friends to see. What’s so important about it is that the like button highlights what a Facebook user’s friends are buying and endorsing, which means that it is a far more trustworthy recommendation than an ad on TV. It’s word-of-mouth, but at the ginormous scale of Facebook and Twitter.

Likeable Social Media walks through what it takes to be a ‘likeable’ company, with case studies of companies who have done it right and wrong strewn throughout. Below, I’ve condensed its eighteen chapters into three takeaways: why social media is a great tool for making your business likeable, best practices for using social media to be likable, and things to watch out for along the way.

#1 – Why social media is worth it

  • Social media chatter is free market research, if you’re paying attention. By listening to what your consumers say about your business as well as your competitors, you can learn how to make more compelling products, services, and offers.
  • Social media gives you the opportunity to create positive experiences out of negative ones, which will help you retain customers that might have otherwise defected, and will also likely result in word-of-mouth praise.
  • Engaging with customers through conversations, story sharing, etc. makes fans out of them and builds brand loyalty.
  • Interesting promotions drive interest and sales (just be careful this isn’t the only thing you’re using social media for).

Social media tools are not designed for selling more product, but they are great for getting a better understanding of your customers and your company, which in turn helps you build your business. Moreover, social media is great for deepening  relationships with customers. While that’s sometimes difficult to link to ROI, it’s a clear win for companies.

#2 – How to use social media effectively

Throughout the book, Kerpen shares principles of what you should share on social media.

  • Share surprising, valuable content – meaning, give away free value to your customers. For a consulting firm, that might be white papers on methodologies. For a packaged food company, it might be recipes combined with coupons for some of the ingredients.
  • Share stories, and encourage your customers to share them too. Stories about how the company was founded, about your awesome employees, and about what you do for customers make your company human and relatable. Of course, even better than sharing your own stories is getting your customers to share theirs, so make sure to thank and recognize customers who do.
  • Don’t limit yourself to Facebook and Twitter. Videos are great pieces of media to share via YouTube, and Kerpen also suggests location-based networks (like Foursquare), niche industry networks, LinkedIn, and blogs.

Additionally, Kerpen offers strategies for how to share content on social media:

  • Think like a customer. As you post something to social media, think “would I click on this/find it valuable if I were them?”
  • Be authentic and transparent. A CEO’s Twitter account should be the CEO, not her assistant. If you do need a team to run your social media platforms, be upfront about it. It may make sense to sign tweets/updates, just so people know who they’re talking to.
  • Be engaging. Social media isn’t about pushing out information like announcements or offers, it’s about having a two-way conversation. Use twitter to respond to your customers, Facebook to start a wall conversation, or YouTube to share stories and ideas.
  • Integrate social media across the entire customer experience. Kerpen writes a horror story about one social media campaign that pushed out a promotion for a nearby shop to his Foursquare account. When he got to the store (with several friends he invited along), the sales associates had no clue what he was talking about. Instead of creating a positive experience, this campaign created a negative one, and was worse for the company than doing nothing. To avoid this, make sure every department is clued into your social media strategy.

In sum, social media is about people interacting with one another to share who they are and what they care about. Any company that tries to use social media purely for advertising misses the mark and will anger its customers. Likeable companies speak openly about themselves, interact with the community, and respond to feedback.

#3 – What to do when things go badly

Occasionally, bad situations get blown up into huge stories through social media. When this happens, your objective as a company should be to respond to the situation as quickly as possible and turn it around into something positive. Kerpen uses a JetBlue case study to showcase this. In 2007, JetBlue blew it when a string of storms combined with internal dysfunction made them cancel hundreds of flights. JetBlue’s CEO quickly filmed a YouTube video apologizing and promising this would never happen again. He followed it up with several media appearances in which he continued to apologize, and the incident was soon forgotten.

To be as savvy as JetBlue, Kerpen offers some key principles for responding to negative social media situations:

  • Do not delete a customer complaint unless it’s profane/bigoted/obscene. Savvy customers know when they’ve been brushed under the rug, and censorship will only anger them further. Instead, respond quickly – within 24 hours if you can.
  • Say “I’m sorry” and then figure out how you can fix the problem beyond a customer’s expectations. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t admit responsibility, it just empathizes with the customer and shows them you care.
  • Have an crisis plan in place – figure out ahead of time how you will respond to, say, a negative YouTube video that’s about to go viral. Who is able to decide about the appropriate response, and who will actually take care of it? What happens if it happens over a holiday or on the weekend?

Social media is scary for companies because bad reviews can spread so quickly – but so can good recoveries. When things go awry, use social media to fix the problem right then and there.

This post was intended to share at a high level what I learned from Likeable Social Media. If you’re interested in learning more, his book has many more details, insights, and case studies, and I highly recommend grabbing a copy. You can also follow Dave Kerpen on Twitter (@DaveKerpen), and subscribe to Likeable Media’s blog to learn about new developments in the social media space. I love that Likeable Media practices what they preach in the sense that they’re constantly giving out valuable information for free, which ends up giving them a lot of credibility as industry leaders.

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Lessons from South Park

On Wednesday, I attended a talk at the Innovation Lab by IDEO’s Life Sciences Chief Strategist, Rodrigo Martinez. The talk was put on by a group called ‘Design+’ which hopes to bring more design thinking to the business school through talks and events, something I’m clearly interested in as well.

While much of Rodrigo’s talk was familiar to me (he went over things like how folks at IDEO get inspired, the power of in-depth research over huge quantitative studies, the design process, and the value of cross-disciplinary teams), he and some of the other folks there mentioned a few things in the health space that I definitely want to check out, like the talks from TEDMed last week. But one non-healthcare mention peaked my interest – a student asked if Rodrigo had seen the documentary on the making of a South Park episode called ‘6 Days to Air‘ (he hadn’t). The student wondered if there were similarities between episode-making process of South Park and the project cycle of a design strategy firm. Having watched the documentary, I can tell you there are.

I should caveat by saying that I’m not really a big fan of South Park. I find its jokes crude, usually offensive, and not my style of humor. But I have great respect for creative teams in general, so I put my feelings about the content aside and looked at their creative process. The premise of the documentary, which aired on Comedy Central in October, is that the creators of South Park have just come off a long hiatus working on their Broadway musical, ‘The Book of Mormon’, and now have just six days to create the season-opening episode for South Park. As I watched the team, I was surprised to see that their methodologies and structures are almost identical to those of a design strategy firm.

1.) Create a safe space for ideation

On South Park, the writer’s room is a writers-only conference room where the team gathers to come up with episode ideas. The room’s exclusivity creates a safe space where folks feel comfortable throwing out stupid ideas without being criticized. Moreover, censorship for the sake of network politics is not allowed. Co-creator Matt Stone notes that “for every good idea, there had to be 100 bad ones” so having this space to air them is key to their success.

At most design strategy firms, a similar effort is made to create safe spaces for ideation. Some, like Jump, even create ‘rules for brainstorming’ which include things like: defer judgement, encourage wild ideas, and build on each other. To have a good ideation experience, you don’t need to be invite-only, but you to need to get everyone bought into creating a safe ideation space.

2.) Find inspiration in personal experiences and the world around you

As you watch Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and the other writers brainstorm, you hear them pull in ideas from current events. “What is it with those stupid iTunes terms and conditions, where they want you to scroll through 10 pages of text before you agree? Does anyone actually read that? No? Well, what have we all agreed to exactly?” Just like that, from an annoying moment in one person’s day, a whole episode arc gets created.

Design strategists know that you can get project-defining inspiration from the most unexpected sources. That’s why folks at creative strategy firms are constantly feeding their heads by reading magazines, watching films, talking with people, trying out new technologies, and going on field trips to local stores and museums. One key is to make sure you feed your head with stuff beyond the area your project is focused on. You’re working on a new mobile technology? Why not explore what’s going on in fashion for a day? It’s the unlikely connections that can lead you to the most interesting ideas.

3.) Be versed in prototyping mediums so you can try it as you go

The documentary shows that the entire South Park staff is able to prototype the episode as they create it. Writers hop up to the whiteboard to draw rough sketches of scenes, and animators slip into the characters’ voices to suss out sequences. Whether it’s in a medium core to their background or not, the team members have learned how to prototype in just the right level of fidelity to push their ideas forward.

As a design strategist, you’re encouraged to develop prototyping skills in the same way. Even if you consider yourself more of a strategist than a designer, you should know how to do a quick sketch of an idea to explain it to others. Conversely, your design chops will only get so far if you can’t do some back-of-the-napkin rapid estimation for a ballpark number to value your idea. As a member of a cross-disciplinary team, you need to be able to prototype in all the different disciplines in order to fully realize an idea.

4.) Success depends on how much fun you’re having

As the writing team brainstorms, the rest of the South Park staff casually strolls by the writing room door to check on laughter level. Why? Because the amount of laughter coming from the room is a clear metric for how late the staff can expect to stay. If there’s a lot of laughing, things are on track and they might make it home for bed. When everyone is starting blankly at the wall, you can expect to be there until 5am.

At design strategy firms, the amount of fun team members are having is a key metric to how well the team is working together, and how successful their outputs will be. At Jump, we liked to take breaks throughout the day to play four square on the patio or doodle mutant product ideas. Being silly energized us and allowed our minds to wander, helping us bring fresh perspectives when we got back to work.

5.) Set deadlines to force decisions

After the team has sent the final edit off to the network, co-creator Matt is not happy, and laments that they could have used another day to perfect the episode. He admits, however, that the feeling of not being done is one he has for every episode, and that deadlines are the saving grace of making a show. With an extra week or two, you can second-guess and re-write, but you’re only going to make the show 5% better.

I firmly believe that deadlines are key to the creative process. Whether its setting a deadline for how long you’ll brainstorm (hint: quit while the energy is still high) to when you’ll present in front of an executive team, working towards a time goal creates team energy that is hard to build otherwise. The key is to make the expectations reasonable for the time left (I would argue that South Park fails here, given that the entire team spends the Easter holiday sleeping at the office) by backwards-planning up front and being realistic about how long things take.

South Park may not be for everyone, but their creative team has developed a process that works. These five lessons are ones that any business that’s trying to be more creative can and should follow as it strives to develop new-to-the-world ideas and solutions.

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On Food and Social Media

If you saw my Quantified Self post, you learned that one of my “key knowledges and interests” is food & cooking. One challenge that I’ve faced in pursuing this passion through social media, though, is finding my way through the plethora of not-always-relevant tweets by food trucks and chefs, daily pictures of people’s food, and endless recipe blogs. Today’s post is about unique and useful intersections of food and social about that cut through the chatter, along with suggestions for further improvements to the food and social media landscape.

#1: Crossover promotions with food trucks and other industries

It’s now baseline for food trucks to use Twitter accounts to share their location and menu items. Many trucks have even branched out to other social media tools, like Facebook or Foursquare, that allow them to crowd-source fan ideas or give out rewards to frequent customers.

What’s newer and more exciting is cross-category promotions like the one that Virgin America did recently with food trucks in SF and LA. To promote new routes to Mexico, Virgin America created a challenge where would-be flyers had to seek out selected Mexican taco trucks and check-in on Loopt (another location-based social network) while ordering 2-for-1 tacos. Doing so qualified them for a 2-for-1 deal on tickets. It ended up being the fifth highest sale day ever for Virgin America.

Source: Airlinetrends.com

This promotion was not only fun but made total sense (tacos + Mexico), and I’d love to see more cross-category promotions like it. Maybe by checking in at select hot dog stands in downtown Boston, you could earn half off on Red Sox tickets. Or buying x number of sno-cones in the summer months earns you a free lift ticket for the next winter. We all have foods that we associate with certain events and experiences, so why not leverage those through promotions that combine the two?

#2: Tweeting recipes in the tweet

My ‘foodies’ Twitter list points to a lot of the usual suspects: local food trucks, grocery or specialty (read: cupcake) stores near me, food authorities like Food Network and its celebrity chefs, and a rotating list of food blogs. But one foodie, Maureen Evans of @cookbook, stands out. She shares entire recipes in 140 charactors – the length of a single tweet. I love this idea because it means I don’t have to click through a link to get to the full recipe or blog post (which is how almost every other person who tweets about food does it). As a confident home cook, I get what I need from this recipe without all the back story and details.

If I were to take this idea one step further, I’d create a food only sub-network for sharing tweets containing pictures of what you cook/eat with your friends plus a 140-charactor recipe/description. This network would be opt-in, so my friends who find ‘what I ate’ pictures gratuitous wouldn’t have to see them.  Maybe it’s just instagram for food (cookstagram?), but I think it would be pretty neat.

#3: Visual-based recipe collections

Browsing beautiful food creations is by far one of my favorite uses for Pinterest, the visual bookmarking tool I love so much. They say you first eat with your eyes, which is why I think using such a visual tool to save recipes is brilliant. In case you’ve never used Pinterest, here’s what a Pinterest food board looks like:

What’s neat about using Pinterest is that everything you pin is your choice, and you’re not limited by where you can source recipes from – you can literally pin any image on the web. You can also use the iPhone app to pin your own photos – so in theory you could take a picture of something you just cooked and pin it up there with notes.

If I were to make Pinterest even more useful for recipes, I’d want to be able to make sub-boards, so I could nest boards for main courses, baked goods, appetizers, etc. under my food board. I’d also want to make it a 1-click process to get from the visual spread to the recipe I want. Finally, at some point I might want to turn my favorite dishes into a physical cookbook so I could leave my iPad out of the kitchen. That’s where tools like Blurb (a self publishing service) or Tastebook (a site that turns virtual cookbooks into printed hard copies) could come in handy.

Finally, one other idea.

I watch a lot of Food Network, and pretty much eat up everything they throw at me, from thinking their celebrity chefs are awesome, to believing that the restaurants featured on ‘Diners, Drivers, and Dives’ or ‘Best Thing I Ever Ate’ are must-visits. What Food Network could really do for me, then, is to use a location-based application to alert me when I’m near a celebrity chef, restaurant, or food truck featured on one of their shows. Bridging the gap between the TV world and real world would benefit their stars, and would drive me back to their shows if they alerted me to something I hadn’t seen yet.

In conclusion, using social media to talk about food has become so noisy that it’s difficult for me to figure out who to listen to. As a result, I’ve turned my attention to food folks using social media in unusual ways that rely on principles core to enjoying food. Have I missed any? I’m interested to hear about your favorite food & social media pairings, or ideas for them!

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Recent work: Typographic String Art

One of my goals for the time while I’m between full-time positions is to work on projects for our wedding next May. Until recently, that mostly meant thinking about logistics, contacting vendors, and searching the web for ideas and inspiration. Now that we’ve settled into our place in Cambridge, I can start to fully focus on the part I enjoy most – designing decorations and paper goods.

One decoration that really caught my eye during inspiration searches was this string art wedding invite by Kyle Read:

Wedding Invitation by Kyle Read

Once I saw it, I knew I needed to incorporate something similar into our decorations. This weekend, I completed my string art DIY of ‘J & T’.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how I created this.

Step 1. I played around with a bunch of different font types and sizes until I landed on Market Deco for the letters paired with Marquee for the ampersand.

Step 1: Choosing The Fonts

Step 2. I made a prototype with newspaper and printouts to make sure I liked the wood size, then went to Lowe’s to get some plywood cut. The piece I used measures 14″ x 24″.

Step 2. Paper Prototype

Step 3. I used a few coats of stain (Minwax Polyshades in American Chestnut) on the wood, then added a few coats of varnish.

Step 3: Staining The Base

Step 4. Using printed letters secured with tape as a guide, I hammered nails every 3/4″. For some of the curvy parts in the ampersand I added a few extra nails, but in hindsight they probably were not needed.

Step 4: Placing The Nails (and Hinckley says hello)

Step 5: All that’s left was to string it up! There are a few OK tutorials on the internet (here and here) but really all you need to do is tie the string on with a butcher’s knot, and then wrap it around the nails. I went for a randomized look, similar to what Kyle used in his invite. Once I was done stringing, I secured the loose ends with a few half hitches, and then dabbed some Elmer’s glue on top.

Step 5: Stringing The Letters

And there you have it! One wedding project down, many to go!

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Quantified Self

When I was living and working in San Francisco, I had the chance to do some fascinating research on life loggers, i.e., people who go to extremes tracking data on themselves. In the course of our research, we talked to one person who tracked all of her workouts and food intake on a notes file on her iPhone. We talked to another person who created elaborate excel spreadsheets for budgeting and goals tracking. Another woman we talked to kept ongoing scrapbooks of her life for 18 years, and had all of them together on a massive bookcase in her apartment. We learned that there is a whole movement, called Quantified Self, growing around this life-logging trend.

I’ve always been interested in documenting my experiences and the things I learn, so what these folks were doing totally resonated with me, albeit on a lesser scale.  I’m not necessarily interested in tracking everything about my life, but I have been experimenting with several tools, online and off, that aid with doing self-assessments of all kinds. So, behold, my quantified self.

ME, PROFESSIONALLY

First off, my working style sheet:
At Jump, every time we joined a new project team, we would create some variation of this mindmap. Basically, we told our teammates what our thinking styles and learning modes were, what strengths we had (from the Strengthfinder 2.0 test), what we were working on during the course of the project, and finally, what we had going on outside of work. We drew it up on sheets of paper so we could hang them in our project space as a visual reminder for each other. This is one of mine from several years ago (pre-Hinckley!).

My flower diagram:
I’ve just finished reading What Color Is Your Parachute?, a great book for helping people figure out what next steps to take in their careers and how to effectively job search. In chapter 13, you go through a rigorous self-assessment to identify what matters to you in a job, on seven different petals. Even though I’m not considering a big career switch at this stage, I found this exercise helpful in reminding me both what I’m best at and what I enjoy most.

My Klout.com score:
Klout.com is a free service that measures your influence by pulling in data from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks. I like to think of it as Google Analytics, but for your personal brand. Klout creates a score between 1 and 100 based on how many people you influence, how much you influence them, and the influence of your network. It’s in beta right now, but seems to be gaining popularity.

MY HEALTH & FITNESS

Last Week’s Fitbit Stats:
I’ve talked about Fitbit already, but one of the neat features of Fitbit is that it’s not just a pedometer that you look at during the day to see how many more steps you need to take. Fitbit has an online dashboard that shows you step progress over days, weeks, or months, and also can track food intake, sleep habits, etc. It’s a lot like Mint.com but for health. Conveniently, it sends you weekly updates in email form in case you forget to go to the website.

My Nike+ Stats:
I have loved using nike+ for many years to track my running, and in my opinion, it’s still the easiest service out there for tracking, sharing, and feeling motivated. Another good site for exercise tracking is Daily Mile, which allows you to add all types of workouts, from yoga to running to swimming.

MY PERSONAL INTERESTS

A Visual Bookcase:
A visual of what I’ve been reading lately. I’ve found that Goodreads is also a great place to track reading and share book recommendations with friends.

Blog Breakdown:
I follow about forty blogs in my Google Reader. Here’s how they breakdown.

Weekly TV Lineup:
Breakdown of what we watch – good thing we have Tivo!


Well there you have it. My quantified self. What are your favorite tools for life-logging?

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Eric Ries on The Lean Startup

Harvard’s new Innovation Lab has been hosting a lot of great events this fall, and one of them was a talk given by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. To me, the thesis of his talk was that in order to run a lean startup, you need to test your ideas early and often. He told a story about working as the Chief Technology Officer of IMVU, a software company that was making an avatar-based instant messaging system. They had spent a year developing the technology, fixing bugs, and getting it perfect, but when it came to launch, they had a major problem. In order to sign up for the software, customers would need to click on a pop-up screen within their normal instant messaging window that said something to the effect of, “click to download a new avatar service.” But when it went live, no one downloaded it! After a year of burning the midnight oil to get the product up and running, it all came down to a single pop-up box that couldn’t get the job done. Eric’s point was that they probably could have saved themselves a year of trouble, and learned that customers were not interested in avatar-based instant messaging by testing that pop-up box on day 1.

For his audience of Harvard Business School students and start-up folks, he made the case for testing early as (“How can we figure out what we’re trying to learn with minimum effort?”) and described a feedback loop of Build – Measure – Learn. To me, this struck me as similar to the Express, Test Cycle that I was taught in Product Design classes. There, the point was: express your idea (either by actually building it, or explaining it through a storyboard, video, or demo), test it with your audience, get their feedback, and get back to work.

While it was an effective way to perfect a product or service concept, I came to understand that the Express, Test Cycle only worked if your idea was good in the first place. In other words, with the Express, Test Cycle you could still get pretty far down the rabbit hole of changing form factors or button colors before a consumer might admit to you that actually, they didn’t need/want this product at all.

When I worked at Jump, we commonly talked about the design process as a (not always linear) cycle between four stages.

First, observe how customers live, and find out what issues keep them up at night. For example, for a food client*, you might study busy parents and see how they deal with feeding their kids and negotiating healthy choices vs. convenience. Then, analyze your data to uncover insights about the customers. Maybe parents told you about secret rituals they used to manage food prep, or maybe they were really concerned about how their snacks appeared to others over how it made them feel. Next, translate these insights into directions – if food rituals are really important, what could our food company do strategically to better meet them? Should they shift from making only food products to making products that support these rituals? Finally, come up with actual solutions that the company could use. What would those products actually be – maybe a specialized kitchen tool, an iPhone app that celebrates the ritual, or a system for setting up space in your home to perform that ritual?

Now, as you might imagine, this process of observing, analyzing, and creating a strategy and ideas takes time – we would usually take 4-6 months to do a project like this – and most startups feel they do not have that kind of time to spare. But even a startup can find one busy parent to talk to before they get caught up in design details.  Overall, while I’m hopeful that the success of Eric Ries’ book will help startups and entrepreneurs gain empathy for their consumers earlier in their building process, I worry that getting empathy at that stage is often too little, too late. As I interact more with the startup scene in Boston and the Innovation Lab, I’m hoping to convince them that they can truly differentiate their ideas with customer research that happens before the coding even begins.

*The example I use to explain the cycle is created based on typical Jump projects, but contains no confidential information.

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The Future of Social Media

Not long ago, I had an amazing experience with social media. I had just lamented on Twitter that I’d lost my fitbit, an (expensive) electronic step-tracking device that you wear on your hip. I realized it must have fallen off once we got home from a lunch in Davis Square, and even though we drove back to look for it, it was nowhere to be found. Within twelve hours of my sad tweet, fitbit’s twitter account wrote back, “Bummer Joanna, please contact support@fitbit.com if you couldn’t find it, we have a replacement program that will be great for you.” So I did. Honestly, I didn’t think I would qualify or this would really work, but I was proven wrong! On Monday I received a brand new, upgraded version of the fitbit, for $0. Wow. Thanks, social media!

Obviously, social media done right can be a powerful thing for brands and businesses. But is it all about customer service? Where is the social media trend going and how will it evolve in the coming years? I have so many thoughts on the future of social media, but to keep this post reasonable, I’ve kept it to a few hypotheses on the short-term future vs. the long term.

In the short term, I think social media will become a primary vehicle for companies to advertise and communicate to their customers. In terms of advertising, social media is clearly starting to replace print and TV ads due to its viral and accessible nature.  We’re already seeing savvy customers request “advertisements” from their social networks to get trusted recommendations about services and products, and I think this trend will continue to spread. As for company-customer communication, I see customers today feeling much more empowered to use social media to support brands, or to give negative feedback to brands they’ve been disappointed by.  Because of this, companies big and small need to treat social media as a real, powerful mode of communication. Some great examples of companies doing this are JetBlue (with promotional campaigns and apologies for flight mishaps) and Pepsi (especially with their Refresh campaign).

In the future, I think social media will become a lot more customized, so that a follower or fan can opt in to some types of communications from a company (e.g. discounts, or recipes), but block others. Additionally, I think social media feedback will switch from being primarily customer service complaints and ‘likes’ on Facebook to include more involved engagement by customers. Soon, customers will provide input to help co-create new offerings. As a result, companies will need to adapt their internal structures. Social media is already influencing customer service and marketing, but soon it will also affect product development and legal compliance policies, so it will be important for social media strategies to be shared across departments.

Lastly, most social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and even Facebook) are in their infancy, with many new offerings and use scenarios to come. I suspect that as these platforms roll out new features, they will take a more socially segmented approach – creating services that help you attract targeted groups (e.g. runners in Boston) with targeted messaging (e.g. weather reports for races that weekend). It will be interesting to see if this segmentation takes a traditional demographic approach or follows organic user-created groupings like those on Google+. I, for one, am very excited to see and be a part of the changes to come!

On a related note, I just finished reading a great book about social media by Likeable Media’s CEO Dave Kerpen (@DaveKerpen on Twitter). The book, Likeable Social Media, has a lot of great tools for getting started in crafting a social media strategy for your business. I plan to do a full post on my learnings from the book, but until then, I encourage you to check it out!

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