All Posts in Helpful Tips

November 11, 2011 - No Comments!

The UX Behind Barkles UI

Note: This post has been kept up for historic reasons as Barkles is no more.

For as long as I can remember I have questioned why things have been done a certain way and what other approach they could take. In its simplest form UX is just that - questioning why things are done a certain way and making them more fluid for the user.

What Is UX?

User experience as it stands is not just a great UI (User interface) or functionality. It's about the experience for the user as they click-through, try on, purchase, run between and more (Wikipedia - User experience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a product, system or service). It's how they connect. Unfortunately, it's very easy to ignore or overlook a great UX due to:

  • Designer/Developer is too close to the product and can't see it from a new users point of view
  • UX is hard to do correctly based on the many viewpoints
  • There is no manual - it's often just what you feel by using the product
  • User feedback is ignored
  • The developers, designers and general team aren't using their own product

By taking into account the importance of a great UX early on, you can start baking core principles into your design, functionality and concepts. This will help build the foundation of your platform just in the same way Apple represents brilliant design simplicity. At the start of development the UX will be directed to how you feel using your own product.

A Live Example

I always find it important to give a working example to provide clarity to the visual readers. So I will dive into my recently launched startup Barkles and point out a few things I did early on that fed into functionality, marketing and the end result.

Barkles is a side by side platform for debates. The premise is simple - show side by side debating with commenting sections. Based on the simplicity, I wanted the design and functionality to stand out - to be harder to instantly replicate. In that, we also had to build the functionality to the same professional level.

A Barkles Dogfight

As you can see above, the Barkles Dogfight interface is simple. Yet, there is enough functionality to get involved and share your opinion, view Dogtags (profiles) & throw Bones. The design gets out-of-the-way of the user and allows them to get involved in the discussion.

Scrolling Context

The experience with functionality replicates this. The Dogfight Starter that stretches the full width of the centered area follows the discussion. When you scroll down the page it comes with you - constantly keeping the debate in context. This in itself is a powerful UX addition as it keeps the user focused on the point of the debate further they go down the page.

The Dogfight Starter fixes to the top of the browser window

The Quick Scan

The page width also helps out in creating a simpler and more enjoyable UX. We could have easily let the width spread the full side of the page so the responses had more room, but this would have required much more involved left-right scanning of the debates themselves. By keeping it center aligned and focusing on a smaller width it allows the user to follow the debate easily by scanning each side with minimal eye movement. Below is a wider mockup which is uncomfortable to read in comparison (click to view the larger image).

A quick mockup of a larger width area Dogfight

Simplicity With Colour

Other elements that enhance the user experience are the simple coloured lines next to the avatars. These lines reinforce the different sides of the debate. This simple, yet effective addition is noticeable when taken out:

Different coloured lines taken away from each side

As you can see, even with the Agree and Disagree buttons labeling each side the lack of coloured lines blurs the lines between the sides. It's only a subtle difference, but enough to 'feel' confusing or messy as the user scrolls down the page. The colours also break up the grey/blue themed page and add some character.

Try The Functionality

Now, while this article focuses mainly on design aspects, it's important to note the underlying functionality that supports the UI/UX. The quick loading and simple interface functions well, and great care has been taken to enhance the experience of adding an opinion. From text-shadow, input box drop down to hover box-shadow, everything has been put in place for a stronger (and easier) experience for the user.

While I could talk about the functionality for a while, it's better for you to get a hands on feel of how it works. View this Dogfight and get a feel for the experience we have crafted - http://barkl.es/tdSLU8.

I hope that these insights have given you a few ideas or at least an in-depth look at a Barkles Dogfight and the UX behind it. In future articles I will go into more detail about other pages of the Barkles platform.

If you have any questions just give me a shout me on Twitter.

June 13, 2011 - No Comments!

Rip It, Rebuild It & Release It

Heraclitus was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about 100 years before Plato. Although only fragments of his book remain, one of his most famous quotes, "The only thing that is constant is change" lives on strong.

The true nature of this quote is to embrace change, of all kinds. By embracing change, we can learn to accept the world we live in and in doing so, allow our minds to flow creatively without fear or interruption.

While it may sound simple to some, accepting a world where change is constant can scare so many. Below, I have broken it down to the 3 R's of how the cycle of change occurs within all aspects of life.

You are welcome to save and share this image

RIP

We rip apart everything we see, touch and feel.

We rip into a new phone, the design of a website and the way someone responds to what we say.

We can't expect to move forward without first ripping into the current system and revealing what works and what doesn't.

REBUILD

We rebuild after ripping apart the system.

We rebuild the product, rebuild the structure and rebuild the core.

We inspire to rebuild historic elements, desire to rebuild current directions and aspire to rebuild the pathways to our future.

RELEASE

We release after we rebuild the elements.

We release the latest version of the product, release the greatest update and release the rebuilt mental direction.

It is only after we release that we can start the cycle all over again.

It is with this simplistic overview that we can truly structure our lives to accept change and understand how others view the world. Society has always, and will forever rip apart something new, work to rebuild the elements and release it again to continue the cycle.

May 30, 2011 - No Comments!

ROI Is Not Spelt M.O.N.E.Y.

Money, money, money.

When I hear about ROI it's connected and described as money. But that's not what ROI is all about. Return On Investment (ROI) is "A performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiency of a number of different investments." - according to Investopedia.

When a person connects ROI and Social Media, they often refer to the amount of sales they will receive from their latest campaign. They are focusing only on the Return and ignoring the Investment. Strong investments are not get rich quick schemes; they are constantly maintained and monitored investments that hone in on the best present and future gains.

Think of a simple rental investment. Once you purchase the house, you spend time making it look nice and finding the right tenants for the place. Over the years you continually maintain it and keep it in good shape and every so often update it to fit the current standards. By the time you sell it, there is a good chance (based on the previous years care) that you will get a bigger return than what you initially invested.

Your Return On Investment in Social Media if done correctly, can continue to provide you with great results on a continuous basis. But it will only work if you really care for your investment (fans) by providing advice, maintenance and updates for the months that follow. Remember, Youtube video's can stay around for years!

Moving money to the side, here are the most powerful ROI's that you can gain from Social Media:

  • Continuous communication with fans
  • Customer written blog posts about great experiences
  • Photos and Videos of incredible customer service
  • Positive brand recommendations
  • Modern understanding of what the clients want
  • Thankyou's from clients in the public eye
  • Respect for allowing fans to communicate with you
  • A general sense that company cares about the customer voice
  • Honest and raw feedback

In many cases, these returns will provide for you longer than financial avenues. They will build the stories that craft your brand into a household name and give you a great public image to boot. Brown fizzy soft drink is not exactly something that gets me excited. But seeing Coke continually push the boundaries of social engagement, connection and human development is. By focusing your honest attention to your customers you can build revenue streams far bigger than those with only traditional push marketing.

Channels of sale are important, but they pale in comparison to an investment into your customers.

May 21, 2011 - No Comments!

Why Are You Climbing The Social Media Ladder?

The intangible Social Media Ladder is a tall one, filled with people of all ages, geolocations and races. But a simple Tweet from a new Twitter friend got me thinking about the reasons behind climbing the ladder. Why are you doing it?

Climbing the ladder in itself is a marketing game in which you are aiming to be seen in the crowd of millions. It's about getting noticed so you can get what you want out of the conversation. But if you don't actually know what you want, is the game needed?

If you're climbing the ladder to gain more fans and followers but don't have any content, products or substance to back yourself up you may be wasting your own time as much as everyone elses. Instead of climbing, maybe you should focus on building quality content, or creating a new product that people will want to talk about. Or even better, give away advice from your own experiences.

Personally, I love sharing advice from my experiences. In the past I had a very direct and in-your-face approach which I soon learnt how to control. Through reading someone else's advice I found out that it was ok to fail as long as you got back up and tried again. It was through this advice that I was able to start writing again (in a more controlled and cohesive manner) which completely changed the game.

Sharing advice is an extremely strong content advantage because no two pieces of advice are the same. Your past or current experiences can often help many more people than you realise - providing a solid reason for new fans to follow you and share your advice with others. If you find yourself talking for the sake of talking, try starting a blog, podcast or live video show where you share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in short snippets of advice. If you know what you are talking about, people will eventually find you (which will save you time and energy in hunting for followers to join your 'army').

Start Small, Focus on Content and Ignore the Ladder.

May 20, 2011 - No Comments!

Pros and Cons Of Digital Business Cards

For as long as I have been networking, I have used traditional business cards. Sexy, custom designed rectangles that fit inside any wallet. But as my venture into the digital world began to flourish, so too did the thirst for streamlining and digitising every part of my world.

Unfortunately, business cards have been left out of the loop for years. Many have tried to create sharable online versions and failed, but now companies like Cardcloud are working* on changing that.

How it works: When you meet someone at an event, pop out your mobile and open the iPhone App (or the website for Android etc). Then simply enter their email address and click send. They will now receive an HTML email (in the shape of a business card) and downloadable VCF with all your links and contact information. *I should point out that Cardcloud's app is Beta and you cannot create/modify a card via the app just yet - for now, you have to use the website.

Example of a card received via email (all links and icons are click-able)

Now this isn't just a plug for Cardcloud (however I do think what they are working on is superb), it's about the concept of the digital business card. While I do think digital business cards have a place (definitely in the future), they are merely strong additions to the business card world - not killers of the physical version.

As with all digital versions of a physical product, there are pros and cons. Here's a simple run through of them to which you can draw your own conclusions.

PROS

  • Often, you will be the only one in the room using them (Unique & Memorable)
  • Get someones email address and send them your card straight away (avoiding the need to collect business cards)
  • Change your details in a second for free (instead of ordering new business cards each time)
  • They're FREE
  • Click-able links
  • Accessible by checking email from anywhere (vs one physical card left at home)
  • Forward-able
  • Recipients don't need to have the app installed
  • Cardcloud saves geo-location for where you met the person
  • Cardcloud saves a list of who you sent your cards to
  • Save a tree

CONS

  • You have to open an app and get an email address (Slower speed than handing over a piece of paper)
  • If you can't access the net, you can't access your cards
  • Design-wise it's not as sexy as a custom card (future feature to be implemented)
  • You are stuck with their layout
  • They contain images (which are automatically blocked in most clients - looks a bit messy)
  • The big Get Cardcloud button underneath is very distracting*
  • You have to make your card online instead of in-app (future feature)
  • If you spell an email address wrong, they won't get your card
  • Some people may freak out
  • Constant education for people who don't know about it**

*Distracting as it may be, sending a business card and introducing them to a new tech product at the same time is a win for making a memorable impression. **That education is often worth it once they receive the card and start using the service themselves.

Overall, Cardcloud has a long way to go to supporting the majority and wiping out most of the cons. But early on, I am already finding great benefits of using such a service. The day after I sent a few from a networking event, I had many emails thanking me for the meet up, a few new followers via my Twitter and Facebook profiles and some even visited my website and read my latest posts - which is a much quicker response than I have ever had via traditional business cards.

I recommend you try them out for yourself and you like the service please let me know! You can also let them know via @getcardcloud.

May 18, 2011 - 3 comments

Simple Answers For Confused Entrepreneurs

1. I have an amazing idea, how do I get started?

Just start building.

2. Is my idea awesome?

Yes. Otherwise don't think about it.

3. How do I meet people?

Leave the house.

4. How do I get people to use my service?

Make something then move to answer 6.

5. How do I get more people to use my service?

Make something awesome then move to answer 6.

6. How do I let people know about my service?

Tell someone.

7. But how can I find people to use my service?

See answer 3.

8. But how do I get the masses to use my service?

Answer 5,6 and 3.

9. How do I keep people using my service?

Keep it awesome.

10. What if no-one is using my service?

Answer 3, 6 and if you can't keep going move to answer 11.

11. Should I Quit?

No. But you can always pivot.

12. How do I find people to join my company?

Answer 5, 3 and Search.

Do you have another to add?

May 18, 2011 - No Comments!

Are You The Blue Sheep?

The Blue Sheep mingle with the rest, but also lead.

The Blue Sheep is easy to spot amongst the herd.

The Blue Sheep know when to step forward and back when sharing opinions.

We live in a society that is ever-changing and rapidly developing every day. With that amount of speed, it's easy to get caught up in the trends and marketing hype that inspires us to share information, causing us to modify our thoughts and opinions to cover the biggest field. So how do you know if you're being true? Focus on being the Blue Sheep.

The Blue Sheep Run And Graze

You will notice the Blue Sheep by how strong they run with their opinions. These opinions can shake up the flock, and cause tension amongst the ranks, but can often be the 'right thing' for the herd moving forward. With truthful opinions (e.g. Justin Bieber is actually incredible with what he has been able to accomplish - truth) the Blue Sheep can easily alienate themselves from the paddock - and that's a good thing.

An opinion should inspire a discussion and move the team further.

Blue Sheep also know when it's time to pull their heads in and graze with the other White Sheep in the paddock. They realise that it's important to have a balance between having a strong opinion and letting others speak. If the normally unspoken White Sheep step forward and start sharing their opinions - let them.

Discussions are multi-voiced. Shut up and listen.

The Blue Sheep Lead and Never Deceive

Sometimes the White Sheep will believe (or convince) themselves to be the Blue Sheep, offering leadership at a time of need. These confused Sheep are hard to spot at first, but over time when the grass stops growing, their blue dye fades. Pay attention to the Blue Sheep with 'physical' experience in the field vs 'graduates', as the field is where you will end up playing in. This goes for choosing advisors, investors, staff and even friends.

Shouting louder doesn't make you a better choice.

True Blue Sheep will usually be very open and honest about the grass that lay ahead. Optimism is in abundance, but don't mistake that for hyperbole. When the Blue Sheep is leading correctly, the White Sheep will follow with admiration and respect, knowing they can speak up at any time. If you are the Blue Sheep, lead your team well by focusing on strong, honest communication.

Learn from anyone, no matter which patch of grass they graze on.

In essence anyone can be the Blue Sheep, but not all will. Blue Sheep training comes from within and can be modified and reinvented every second of every day. It can take a lifetime to be seen as the Blue Sheep by others, but starting early will set you up stronger for the later years. Are you the Blue Sheep?

May 11, 2011 - 2 comments

The Role Of A Speaker

I have recently attended a few business meetings and events where like-minded entrepreneurs speak about their businesses, achievements and give tips. These events happen frequently, so it's now even easier to be around inspiring people. The trouble is however, that many of the Speakers often forget one of the most important roles of being on the panel.

Offline Connection.

Entrepreneurs from all over have travelled to the event to make offline connections with other inspired people. In essence, it's about being in and around the industry, being inspired and connecting with others in a way that bonds stronger than online (otherwise they would've stayed at home and watched a TED talk). The role of a Speaker is to facilitate this exchange, encourage and help it to develop - especially when the audience is listening intently to the speakers every word.

Instead of this, what I see happening a lot of the time is the ego and 'self-worth' driving the connections. Sure, it's important to talk about your skills and knowledge, but never forget to take it further. This is especially evident at the end of a talk, where the Speakers huddle into the 'cool group' instead of mingling with the crowd that came to see them.

What Should Speakers Be Doing?

Get in and amongst the crowd that came to see you. Speak to everyone who is interested in a discussion - not just the movers and shakers that will grow your own business. Realise that the strongest time to build a network is the honest back and forth discussions that happen before and after the talk.  There may be a few weird moments where fans just want to stand in your presence because you inspired them and left them speechless. But it's at that moment you should be working out what makes them tick, what they're interested in and what they got from the talk. It's only then that you will know how well you did, what you can do better and how well you connected to your audience.

Focus not only on the people who inspire you, but also the people whom you inspire.

May 10, 2011 - 6 comments

Keep It Real Aaaaaight!

With so many Social Tools to share updates it's very easy to get lost. It's even easier to get sucked into following the trends that gain you more followers, get you quick attention and more. But where do you draw the line?

As the great Ali G says: "Keep It Real, Aaaaaight."

This simple humourous saying is such a good mental keepsake that I say it to myself at least once a week. The moment I start to drift into the "I know how to get more clicks" territory I lose focus on being real. It's enticing to build and write content that will be seen by thousands of eyeballs, but you need to have the 'stance' to back it up. Not to mention the amount of work you will have to do to keep those people coming back once they have been burnt by your rubbish article.

The reason this is so important these days is the upcoming standard in how we communicate. Very soon, human curated news will be the norm across all news channels. We will be relying on individuals more than ever to feed us content that impacts us, rather than 80% of the trash that fills the papers. We are also moving into an age where video is becoming common place amongst companies the world over, and internal social presenters will be sought out to carry the message of the brand in play.

If you can already see through the fake 'link-bait' articles that contain so much spam, ad links and useless knowledge, imagine what it will be like when we are all online showing our faces and speaking our own words!

If you are tempted to head down the Black-Hat road to increase your blog hits, Twitter friends or unique visits, remember this: Honesty is King.

It takes years to build a proper social network, and only seconds to ruin it.

May 9, 2011 - No Comments!

Avoid The Quick Rome

Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither were the skilled workers taught the art of crafting a wall, or breaking apart rocks and hauling them to their destination. But Rome also wasn't built by mass-marketing the message. It was built one connection at a time, designer to architect, architect to worker, worker to supplier.

In this 'mass-marketing' society it is easy to forget how simple it is to build true connections in favor of a Quick Rome.

A true connection happens with one person, in one discussion, over one platform. It's these mini connections that will drive the core of your social network and create a solid social presence from day one. What's the point of having 1 million connections if you only interact and 'influence' 1%. Avoid mass-marketing and connect with people who understand your message and can inspire you to go further.