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Doing (and Feeling) Good – Social Media and Cool T-Shirts

Thanks to Algonquin’s corporate membership, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the Buffalo Chapter of Social Media Club for a while now. The opportunities offered through SMCBuffalo, to network and learn more about Buffalo’s ever-evolving social media community, are always enjoyable and I’ve been able to help plan and attend events like TacoVino and beSOCIAL, which are great learning experiences and a lot of fun.

Taco Vino Logo

Easily my favorite connection made through SMCBuffalo, though, was getting the chance to meet Dan Gigante and to become one of the participating artists for his “buy one, give one” organization, You and Who, which sells one-of-a-kind designer t-shirts that help worthy causes in cities across the US. Every time a shirt is purchased, You and Who gives the same shirt to someone in need through their collaboration with charitable organizations in the t-shirt designers’ cities.

You and Who Buffalo Tree Shirt

Back in 2010, I designed a t-shirt for Algonquin Studios employees to wear in a local charity 5k. My design wasn’t used come race day, but when I met Dan, I realized it could still be put to good use through You and Who. My “Buffalo Tree” design fit the organization’s “New Beginnings” theme perfectly and became one of the first shirts made available through You and Who. Now, for every Buffalo Tree shirt sold through You and Who, a shirt donation is also made to one of five charitable organizations in the City of Buffalo. In addition, my “artist earnings” of $1 per shirt sold benefits Buffalo Soccer Club (the pilot program of Algonquin Sports for Kids, a 501(c)(3) organization founded by Algonquin Studios) with donations around $75/month.

Buffalo Soccer Club offers low and no-cost soccer programs for urban children in the City of Buffalo, encouraging participants to develop good physical health, positive levels of self-esteem, and core ethical principals in a safe, fun environment. And, while I’m really no good at playing soccer (trust me I’ve tried), the connection I made with Dan through SMCBuffalo gives me the opportunity to contribute to Buffalo Soccer Club, local charities, and my community at large in a much bigger way than I could personally afford to.

I feel lucky to be a member of an organization like SMCBuffalo, where I can connect with so many smart, fun, and creative people in my city. And I appreciate the opportunities at Algonquin Studios, where I can use my own creativity on projects that benefit so many different people in my community.

Comparing Mobile vs. Desktop Data for Improved Experience

Mobile web sites and web pages are all the rage and it’s no wonder, with sales of mobile devices soaring (Gartner). So, maybe you’re considering a mobile version of your own site, but you want to be smart about it, doing what’s best for your site based on what makes good sense for your business. Thankfully, web analytics is here to the save the day! Analytics = super exciting, right? Well, bear with me here.

Start by accessing your Google Analytics account (if you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your web site, check it out to learn more about the insights and information the service can help you gather about your site).

You’ll want to set your date range for the past 12 months and go to the Mobile Overview section* (Click images for larger screen shots):

Mobile Data Overview

This report will show the percentage of visitors came to your site from mobile devices during the past year. If it’s a decent piece of the pie chart, usually 10% or more, the data is telling you it would probably be smart to invest in the development of a mobile site.

Click one level down to Devices and you’ll see which mobile devices are the biggest drivers to your site. It’s important to note if Apple devices are at the top of ­the list as Flash won’t work on these devices (and probably never will). You’ll want to keep this in mind and consider an alternative to Flash when designing your mobile site.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. What kinds of content are your mobile visitors viewing most often (Content>Site Content>Pages)? Does it differ from desktop users? If so, those answers can point you to better ways to organize your content for a mobile site design.

Here’s how: Hop down to the Content section, click on Pages, and bust out some Advanced Segments. Under the defaults, you’ll automatically have a Mobile Traffic option at your fingertips. This report will give you insight on what the most viewed content from your mobile visitors is. Is this same content at the top of your mobile site design or extremely easy to access on a mobile device? It should be.

You could just compare “Mobile Traffic” to “All Visits” but let’s be more awesome.

Create a quick and simple “Custom Segment” for Desktop Visitors.

Click “+ New Custom Segment” > Name itDesktop Visits” >Select “Include Mobile Exactly Matching No” > Test then Save your segment. You’ll know you did it right if your Mobile Traffic and Desktop Visits add up to All Visits.

Creating Desktop Visits Custom Segment

Now, you can start comparing differences between your mobile and desktop site visitors. Just select the “Mobile Traffic” advanced segment and your new “Desktop Visitors” custom segment, hit apply, and check out the differences. For example, on our own site I found mobile visitors spend way more time on our Web Design and Careers pages than a typical desktop visitor.

Mobile vs Desktop Visitor Data

If you don’t see a lot of differences between the way mobile and desktop user visit and interact with your site, simply creating a more mobile-friendly version of your current site is probably a valid option and should work perfectly for the vast majority of your mobile visitors. On the other hand, if there are big differences between the two kinds of interaction, you may want to consider a new design for your mobile site, pushing the most important content for mobile visitors to the top or highlighting it to make it more easily accessible via mobile devices.

If you’re an analytics user, have you tried any of these reporting options and checked out your metrics? Did you find anything interesting? I’d love to hear about it.

*All data shown is anonymous and is not reflective of our clients’ accounts.

Design By Committee – How To Make It Work

Design by Committee is an inescapable situation in many corporate environments today. It’s also the bane of most designers’ existence. I can understand the thinking that two heads are better than one, but trying to please a group of four or more varying opinions can seem like an impossible and very frustrating task that frequently ends in a “too many cooks spoil the stew” scenario.

Many people, on both the committee and design side, despise this particular challenge, but in my perspective it presents an opportunity to think of some ways to improve a process that so often ends in mediocre design solutions that no one really wants.

Identify the design’s purpose for all parties
Knowing the purpose of the overall design is imperative to keeping a committee on task but it also should drive design-making decisions. A design and its elements should be tied to a specific audience and overall objective that’s agreed upon by the committee in the beginning. When presenting the design, being able to communicate why a design element was used and how it meets the overall goal or appeal to the agreed upon audience can make committee buy-in easier.

Help keep egos and politics in check
All too often, a design by committee project ends up focused on the internal structure of an organization, or worse, a decision maker’s personal tastes, rather than the audience it’s meant to engage. Having the guts to ask why an individual or group is requesting a change and if that change will help meet the objectives they defined is our responsibility. Being a “yes man” may help you gain favor initially but it will most likely fail your design project and, ultimately, your goals.

For example, choosing a specific color or font because it matches your branding is a good reason for a design change, as it will help improve brand recognition and consistency across marketing efforts. Choosing a trendy font, just because you like it, as opposed to one that is more readable for your older target audience is not a good decision. As designers, we are trained to consider such things but we need to remember that the people on the committee might not be – bringing conversations back to these tangible points helps correlate something visual with the end purpose of the design.

Ask for feedback in a constructive manner
More often than not, personal backgrounds or emotional responses can end up directing a design by committee project. Asking open-ended questions can be a lead in to these emotionally-driven responses and misguided direction.

Fortunately, there are some questions you can modify to get more valuable feedback. Instead of simply asking if the CEO approves of, or likes, a design, you can ask if he feels the design meets previously-stated project objectives or if it appeals to the target audience. His answer then becomes less about is personal feelings and more about the goals of the project.

When presenting a design in person, over the phone, or even via email, it’s easy to ensure your audience understands the goals of the project but, sometimes a design will be presented to others without your knowledge or participation. Keeping the project’s objectives and key background points with your design can give context to someone who otherwise would have none.

Use research when available
You won’t always have the luxury of market research but when you do, it is incredibly valuable to the success of a design by committee project. It can help give the group an unbiased opinion of what imagery or language appeals to your target audience and, instead of basing decisions off of assumptions or popular opinion, they can be determined by audience trends.

Wrapping it up
In my experience as both an in-house designer and someone who produces work for outside clients, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I was designing for just one decision maker – whether they were in the room or not. Finding ways to collaborate with our clients in a goal-driven way whether they’re internal groups or outside clients is something we should all aim to do and keeping the above tips in mind should help make it easier for us in the long run.

Google Under the Magnifying Glass Again

Judiciary Committee

Author: Terri Swiatek 10/5/2011

There’s been a lot of scrutiny over corporate giant Google and its business practices as of late. The internet search and search-advertising company has been under fire from a number of competitors, spurring a series of Federal Trade Commission and European Union investigations over the past year. The most recent hearing, held 2 weeks ago, covered ‘The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?’   (View the full live webcast of the hearing above).

Testimony came from Google and its competitors, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee, including: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google Inc.;  Jeff Katz , CEO of Nextag; Jeremy Stoppelman, Co-Founder and CEO of Yelp Inc.; Thomas Barnett, Partner of Covington & Burling LLP; and Susan A. Creighton, Partner of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC.

The basic argument against Google is that, as its business interests have diversified over time, its market dominance in the search and search-advertising industries presents a serious conflict of interest. Competitors claim it’s no longer in Google’s financial interests to simply present the most relevant results to a user’s search query but to first present results that favor other Google properties and partners-where Google benefits from ad revenue. Google counters this charge, saying their goal is to always present the best answer to a search query, and if possible, to calculate and present that answer even if that means the consumer doesn’t need to click through to another site. For example, if someone searches “Macy’s,” Google’s studies indicate that, in most cases, the user is looking for a map with the location of a brick-and-mortar store; so the results page immediately displays a Google Places map. This is interesting because Google has changed, over time, from being a “GPS of the web” to a destination site itself.

The example below, recreated from one presented by Jeffrey Katz, illustrates how the relationships Google has with other businesses get preference and dominate the first half of a search results page. Paid ads are highlighted in green and Google Places and “related searches” are highlighted in red.

Washing Machine Query

I did my own, similar search query for “wedding dresses” and while three results did manage to surface to the top, the search results are still pretty Google-dominated.

Wedding Dresses Query

Google’s detractors also claim that the company has practiced improper scraping of content (Yelp’s accusations) and is using its expanding scale and volume to create unfair and anti-competitive barriers for its rivals (Microsoft’s complaints).

Interestingly enough, Jeffrey Katz (PDF) stated that 65% of Nextag’s search referrals come from Google and Jeremy Stoppleman (PDF) stated 75% of Yelp’s overall traffic came from Google, in some way. These highly successful companies are clearly benefiting from Google’s free organic listings as well as paid placement relationships, so why are they being so highly critical of Google’s business practices?

I think it’s pretty obvious that these companies trusted Google to act in a specific manner and designed critical parts of their business around those practices and technologies. These companies placed an enormous amount of trust in a single customer acquisition channel they had no real control over and now, when Google has decided to change the rules, they find themselves at a severe disadvantage. But it should be obvious that an unbalanced customer acquisition strategy can be a hindrance to any company’s sustainable growth; you wouldn’t build a stock portfolio and invest 75% of your money in just one company, would you?

In fact, Google changes the game a lot and has been doing so for awhile. According to Eric Schmidt (PDF), Google’s Executive Chairman, they change their ‘proprietary’ search algorithm slightly every 12 hours and did so over 500 times last year. When you’re playing on the home field and you happen to pay the referee’s salary, the question of a fair game is certainly debatable. But when have free markets ever been fair?

I do believe Google moved ahead of its competition because it was innovative and had the best results in the marketplace. The consumer chose Google more than its competitors, so they rose above the others. But while Google is clearly in the business of ranking, it has aggressively expanded into many other competitive areas and, while there are certainly alternative search and search-advertising companies out there, the issue comes down to scale. While Bing is Google’s biggest competitor in the US its 30% market share doesn’t even come close to Google’s 65% (ComScore). In the mobile market Google has 97% share and in the EU, Google takes the cake with 80% of regular search. At that scale it’s understandable that competitors and government entities would be concerned about reduced consumer choice, control of information, and stifling innovation. Google sits on the cusp of becoming a monopoly (Susan Creighton argues it’s not there quite yet (PDF)), which would bring the Sherman Act and other anti-trust laws into play.

Furthermore, Google’s apparent “bigness” obscures the fact that it lacks anything resembling monopoly power. Monopoly power has long been defined in the courts as the power to exclude competition or to control price . . . Google has neither power. – Susan Creighton

So end game, what can Google and the industry do to avoid intrusive and costly regulation of the internet search industry?

Over the past few years we’ve seen a trend that has the government stepping in to fix broken industries like banking and healthcare-do we really want it to end up going down that path? The panels were clearly looking to Google, and to its competitors, for suggestions of changes that could be made to avoid government interference or additional legislation and only a handful were offered. Could Google self-regulate or should there be some type of collective committee? Or would that be unfair to Google, a company that’s worked so hard to become a success? Should the government instigate more in-depth, private investigations to determine if Google is unfairly favoring the search results that make it the most money?

I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want my search engine to become a utility; paying for a free-to-consumers service that works so well as is definitely isn’t an attractive option!