Monday, February 11, 2013

Apple iWatch - 2013

Back in 2010 I wrote a blog post predicting Apple may be developing an iWatch. I was wrong. It ended up being the touch-screen Nano. But the rumors have persisted since. And now in 2013 it appears there may be some fact amongst rumor, with Business Insider claiming Apple is developing a curved glass iWatch.

The timing feels a little better for such a release than back in 2010.

In 2013 we're starting to see more hints of the growing trend from 'carrying' to 'wearing' tech.

The Pebble, while rough around the edges, shows promise and that there's a market, albeit for early adopters, for a smartphone wristwatch. Jawbone Up (which I now own), Fitbit and Nike Fuelband are leading the way for first-generation wearable health tech. Google Glass is opening itself up to third party development.

So for kicks, here's the original comp I did back in 2010. I expect Apple will take advantage of the curved glass opportunities and be able to produce a thiner form factor overall. Siri can also now provide a key input.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From iPhone to Nokia Lumia 920

"Woah. This is heavy" - Marty McFly

This week I upgraded from Apple iPhone 4 to Nokia Lumia 920. Nokia was my first mobile back in 1999. I've been using the iPhone since '08. It was time to go back to the future. And here's the highlights:

Fresh. That's my immediate feeling. Everything about the Windows 8 interface just feels fresh. Responsive. Animations are quick. The live tiles transition through various states, enough to feel 'alive' but not so much that it's distracting. It all makes sense. Live weather on your weather tile, upcoming meetings on the calendar tile, artist image on the music tile. No longer are you inundated with push notifications + alerts.

Bigger, badder. The phone is big, really big. Holding the phone takes some getting used to. Button position, with power on to the middle right, is smart. Some options are a stretch or, more commonly, a contortion of the thumb, when attempting to hit the back button in the lower left (I miss the Apple back swipe here). These thumb-aerobics are made all the worth while with a stunning screen and an interface that makes good use of those pixels.

Social at the core. Spend 10 minutes adding your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Gmail accounts, then see it seamlessly integrate into your experience. The People section pulls in the latest status updates, relationships, birthdays and addresses linked to maps. You can create sub-sets of friends as 'groups' and pin these to your homescreen. Select your Facebook cover photo as your lock screen image. It feels ingrained, not tacked on.

Mixed bag o'apps. I only need a few apps. And with Windows 8 you don't get a lot of choice.. but all the right apps are there for me - sans Spotify. Twitter, Zite, Chase, all benefit from smart use of the horizontal scrolling that Windows 8 does so well. They all look sharp.. literally. Hard to find a bevel or rounded corner round here. But quality is inconsistent, and without the depth of choice in apps, you're left with a few bad eggs - like the ad-supported and installed Weather Channel, or Stock Pickers that use pixelated images. They stick out badly. AT&T have included a suite of subscription-based apps. They stand up on their own, particularly the navigation, but with so many, I wish there were a folder to file them away for later.

Camera. They've talked up this camera a lot. And understandably so. Pictures look.. amazing. I have no need for a compact camera with this. Here's a photo I took today from Time Square:

Different strokes. Many times I've experience a minor 'wha?' moment as I navigate through the interface. It's not easy to distinguish whether it's a getting-used-to-a-new-interface moment vs something that is genuinely annoying. Time will tell. But I sense the interaction principles just aren't as consistent as they are on iOS. There are load times when you don't expect load times. Popup notifications aren't always clear. There are also times I feel they made compromises. The decision to include XBox Music with Nokia Music is one of those times. Neither team surrendered (I wish Nokia did). And for a such a progressive package - my wireless charging pad is on its way - it's odd to still see a panel in the Music app encouraging you to 'plug into your computer to add stuff'. Those days are gone.

But I love it. It's interface inspires me. With my social networks so well integrated it just feels more cohesive, one unit. The idea of piling on countless apps just seems less important. It's fast. It gets things done. And I don't have any feelings of regret in giving up the iPhone. I thought I would. How times have changed. Welcome back Nokia.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Training for a marathon you won't run.

"Few things in life match the thrill of a marathon." - Fred Lebow

As I type this I would have been jogging north on 1st Ave, choking down my third Expresso Love energy gel and high fiving my way to the Bronx at around mile 18 of my first marathon.

But a lot can happen in a week, and here in New York that is some understatement. The rightful decision was made to cancel the NY Marathon, and we can continue to focus efforts on rebuilding some pretty torn up parts of NY and NJ.

Training for the marathon has been one of the toughest challenges I've been through. You soon realize that there's no shortcuts, and that the only road to 26.2 miles is slow, disciplined and a lot of things working together - building core body strength, eating well, honing technique (landing on the front of the foot changed everything) and stretching.. lots of stretching. And when you hit mile 20 you know it's just as much mental as physical.

So I wanted to give credit to those things that helped these past 5 months. And maybe help those considering joining me to do it all again in 2013:

  • Foam Roller: When I did my IT band this cylindrical wonder saved me. Best $20 you'll spend on training.
  • Born to Run: My good mate Tim Mills put me on to this book. Fascinating, inspiring and educational tale on the Tarahumara Indians and one hell of a foot race.
  • Nike +: My training partner and data center. Inspring words from Jeremy Lin at the end of a long run can't be underrated.
  • Songza iPhone app: Their awesome music concierge provided the soundtrack to many early mornings around McCarren Park. 
  • This Week In Startups Podcast: @jason produces enough quality interviews to fill almost every hour I ran. Amazing consistency. Highlight included 2+ hours with Chris Sacca.
  • SPIbelt: Read up a lot about which belts would be useful and not too clunky for carrying gels, iPhone & a metcard. This one was perfect, barely noticed you were carrying it.
  • Gu Energy Gel - Expresso Love: In my first 20 mile run I think I almost overdosed on these things. They take a bit of getting used to. But now I take one 15 minutes before, then every 45 mins of running and gives me a well-needed energy boost.
  • Genr8 Vitargo Natural Grape 25 Servings: A glass of this with water straight after a long run helped recover well-worn muscles.
  • YouBar - Training 33: Tim Ferris' custom nutritional bars pack a lot of goodness. One of these at the start of every day. 
Great friends provided much needed support, tips and advise along the way. Christina, my trainer, worked wonders from someone who could barely do a set of pushups on day 1. And my amazing fiance Jen was always there, cooking breakfasts when I returned in the morning and putting up with a sober-October and early mornings.

So that's it for my 2012 marathon tilt. No matter how you prepare for things, some outcomes, like the events of this week across NY & NJ, are just plain awful. And you can't control them. But the process of training for a marathon reminded me that achieving tough personal goals requires a whole lot of discipline, hard work, dedication and support from the people around you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why I read business books.

"There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature." 
- Stephen R. Covey

I love reading a good business book.

I consume books at odd times - on the rooftop, couch, bed, plane. On the subway, with my iPad, all inconspicuously conspicuous. Almost always in short bursts rather than long hauls.

This disjointed pattern of passive consumption throughout the day provides a valuable balance to active participation - work. And works like career guardrails, that page by page, edge me back to being more focused, motivated and challenging the inertia of the everyday.

Seth Godin said that when he writes a book he spends 95% of his time persuading people to take action and just 5% of the time on the recipes. The 95% is why I buy the book.

One of my favorite things to do after reading a great book is to give it to someone. Alas, the Kindle is slowly eroding this gift, replaced by a loan feature and limited to a small percentage of titles. Sarah Lacey's 'Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky' and 'Founders at Work' are two titles in the above list that are available for Kindle loan. If you're interested email me at

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Logos with odd-sized stripes

Here are the logos for BrewsterKodingThe Mill and our own Float.  Like buying a car and then noticing that car everywhere on the roads, I've been struck by the number of logos that feature these odd-shaped stripes. One of our users, Avneesh, also keenly pointed out the Mac Mountain Lion Notification Center looks like the Float logo backwards.

Perhaps The Mill get the credit for starting this all. Or maybe it's the word processors, and Microsoft were the true innovators when they designed the left & right align icon for Office.

Monday, November 21, 2011

8 things I've learnt as a Digital Project Manager.

This week I stopped being an Interactive Producer. After more than nine years with the title, one that has alternated between producer and project manager, digital and interactive, from Associate to Senior, it was time to move onto a new role and another set of challenges. So as I throw another box of business cards in the bin, I thought it was time to reflect on some of the things I learnt along the way :

It’s not about delivering on time, on budget. It’s about delivering more value than the investment.

If it was about delivering on time, on budget, I would have been out of a job 8 years ago. Most projects I’ve produced were more expensive than when they started. Most projects I’ve produced didn’t go live on the date we estimated.
But that didn’t correlate to whether the project was considered a success or a failure.
The consistent theme for a successful project was when all stakeholders – from client to planning, design and development – were aligned on what success is, transparent on their roles within the team, empowered with the tools to deliver, and with the voice to say when you can’t. Unsuccessful projects fail in at least one of these areas.
Now when people define digital ‘success’ it’s often documented in metrics – visits, frequency, engagement, likes, products sold. But this isn’t what I talk about, when I talk about success.
These numbers are important – they drive business decisions, job titles, awards. But in the digital world, determining numbers is difficult – is 10,000 good? Is 100,000? And often as an agency you have control over only a small sub-set of all metrics (if you don’t control the media spend, how can you determine the visits?). And what you realize is, individuals rarely correlate a number to success – it’s value. Based on how much I invest – of my time, my money, my expertise – do I end up in a better place than when I started? Did I build better relationships, better process, knowledge, improve my perception amongst my boss and my co-workers? These things are important to people, and are often achieved in the process of getting to a result, not in the result itself. As a producer you have a lot of influence over this journey, very rarely the result. It cuts to the core of why the role of a producer is important.

You can’t ‘motivate people’. But you need to understand what motivates people.

Motivating people isn’t walking into a meeting with a plate of cupcakes. We’re all motivated by different things – empowerment, recognition, learning new things – spend time with your team understanding what it is each want, and try your best to support these.

Producing is not about following any one methodology. It’s about adaptability.

No one project is the same, and no one methodology can be applied to all. A great producer understands there are various methodologies, and knows how to apply them in a given situation. Most of my projects draw from Waterfall and Agile. I’ve given Agile a bad rap, but only because so many producers preach ‘Agile or bust’ – and in an agency environment, dealing with multiple teams, clients, projects and budgets, Agile is not always the answer - what’s more is its founding principles are 10 years old now. Technology and our ways of working have evolved. If you work in an ad agency, on a variety of clients, know the various methodologies, take the most relevant parts and apply them to your project.

Minimum Viable Documentation*

Some of the weakest Interactive Producers I’ve worked with were the ones that surrounded themselves with printouts of project plans, spreadsheets and Gantt charts. These printouts work like a protective cloak to reassure them they are busy. And they spend their whole time updating them.
Produce the minimal amount of documentation to communicate what is needed. Figure out how people like to communicated to. Alerting people to milestones can be achieved via a calendar, hotsheet, PowerPoint deck or Outlook alert. Gantt charts work for me and no-one else on my team. You’ll find most people err to a visual display of milestones relevant to them, but what’s right for one person, may not work for another.
Avoid duplication where possible. MS Project’s Timeline view means I can be deep in a Gant chart, but outputting a Powerpoint slide with only the right level of information for my client. Updated once. Less documenting means you can spend more time on meaningful things.
*This is my spin on Eric Ries’ Lean Startup Minimum Viable Product.

Meaningful meetings.

Meetings are wasteful. Next time you’re in a meeting, multiply your agency rates by everyone in the room for the duration. You’ll rarely find that the value of the outcome is worth that amount.
So treat each with purpose, don’t let them become a ritual and don’t let the duration be determined by Outlook defaults. Set an agenda, communicate it upfront and stick to it. Know that while they can be effective at broadcasting information to a team, the real value is in instant feedback, people’s reactions, contributions and interactions between one another. If the meeting invitees can’t offer this in return then you may as well send an email.
Everyone wants to be involved earlier, but not everyone should be invited to a meeting. Edit your invite list, there should be no passengers.
I know a status meeting is becoming wasteful when people are addressing their status to me, not the team. Producers often create status meetings to reflect process. The results are rarely meaningful for those involved, sometimes you need to figure out a better way – change up the frequency, the duration, the time of day, team members involved. Perhaps determine that a meeting isn’t best. Tools such as Campfire can be just as effective for regular updates on how people are tracking.

The medium is the message.

Since Marshall McLuhan coined this phrase back in ‘64, the forms in which we can communicate have continued to splinter. On any given work day I can reach my designer via Phone, SMS, IM, email, DM, Gchat, Skype. Heck, if I’m feeling adventurous I can even walk over there. But treat all these channels like a Swiss Army knife, know your tools and which one to use when. I’ve wasted far too much time on a heated email when I should have picked up the phone. Voice tone and delivery speaks volumes (no pun intended). Don’t spend ten minutes crafting an email that a short walk and conversation will solve. Don’t bury 5 questions within 5 paragraphs of meeting notes. People respond differently to different channels, know that determining the right channel for the message can be as powerful as the content itself.

Estimation: Back to the future.

I don’t pretend I’ve determined how to accurately estimate any given project. And if you’re working in an agency, and consistently accurate in your estimates, I’d say you probably not doing all that innovative work. But I will say that I’ve improved in my ability to estimate, and it’s because of two things:
1. What happened in the past is your best guide to what might happen in the future.
2. Parkinson knew what he was on about back in ’55 when he said “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Study work patterns from past projects. I’ve learnt the hard way, that when people take holidays during a project, you need to add contingency beyond the holiday duration – getting them back up to speed, rescheduling meetings around availabilities, sourcing alternate staff.. it’s costly.
You also need to set shorter milestones, milestones that matter to people. A status meeting usually doesn’t illicit a burst in productivity, but asking someone to present to a client their work, and they’ll be prepared, or they’ll be vocal in telling you if they’re not.

Producers inherit inefficient systems – don’t let that be an excuse.

Every agency I’ve worked at I’ve inherited inefficient tools to do the job. While I’ve spent years producing products with the best possible user experience for our client’s customers, very rarely do we critique the user experience of the products we use in our own job. From time tracking, to resource scheduling and project management – inefficient systems take up an irrational amount of time. But these days there need be no excuse. SaaS and cloud based services are changing the game. From Basecamp, to Google Apps, Dropbox, Pivotal Tracker, Done Done and Trello, there are tools launching every day that are helping us get things done. My to-do list has gone from sticky notes, to Outlook reminders, to Action Method and now Wunderlist. You shouldn’t settle for what you’ve inherited, stay informed on what tools are out there, discover what works for you and your team, and find a way to integrate them into your agency.

What’s next..

Which leads me to where I’m now spending a lot of my focus – Float. Float is a service we built for scheduling your team’s time to client’s projects. It was born out of a lot of frustration working with other producers, buried in Excel spreadsheets trying to allocate people's hours across all our client’s projects. We wanted to build a solution to make this simple. Float is now available at

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The lost art of the edit - An ode to the Send button

The way we communicate in the written form is evolving at a rapid rate – becoming more frequent, more bite sized, channels to communicate becoming more ubiquitous. We have more things to say and more ways to say it. And the way we say it is changing.

Mobile Instant Messaging is a big part of this growth - on track to triple in use in five years. Traditional SMS, while some say is declining, is still achieving 8.7% growth in the second half of 2010. BlackBerry’s popular messaging service – BBM now has competition with a wave of new alternatives for other devices, WhatsApp, and soon to be launched iMessage for Apple. WSJ also hint Google are in the works to introduce their flavor in mobile messaging.

Social services, now so integrated into our daily digital dosage, are also altering behavior. In only five years, Twitter has taught us, all that is important can be summed up in 140 characters. Google Wave, while perhaps ahead of its time and poorly positioned, wanted us to ‘communicate and collaborate in realtime’. Facebook updated their messaging service, declaring ‘we want to make this more like a conversation’, removing subject lines and enabling users to remove the Send button all together.

And yet amongst all this, Email still remains the dominant form of communication in business.

In a study into the ways we work, Email reigns supreme, with 78% increase in communication usage since 2005, outstripping IM (64%), Social Media (61%) and Texting (58%).

It’s the first thing I check when I wake, the last thing I check before I sleep. It’s how we share information within groups, present results, check in with colleagues – in and out of the office – approve work with our clients. It’s integral to our daily job. But as the world around us changes, ‘how’ we email is evolving. And with it, the lost art of the edit.

Which brings me to the Send button.

With it, we are granted the same luxury an author is afforded before publishing a book. The same opportunity a Copywriter is provided in the forming of an advertising message. The ability to edit. Refine. Focus. Time to define what needs to be communicated, and time to craft the most effective way to communicate it. In a business of negotiation, salesmanship, conviction – these words can carry a lot of weight, a lot of opportunity to change. But it’s an opportunity that’s gradually being wasted, as workers inherent their ‘instant messaging’ ways – one-take, unedited streams of thought. Sentences and paragraphs that lack structure. Lack purpose and conviction.

Scott Berkun filmed this wonderful timelapse piece on ‘how to write 1000 words’. It demonstrates the number of edits, rewrites and rearrangements involved in reaching that finished piece. Each time, improving on and refining the message being communicated. We don’t get this opportunity when we speak. We shouldn’t waste it when we write.

It was David Ogilvy, the father of advertising himself famously said “make every word count”. It’s how we should approach the written form, and make it count before we hit Send.