Have UX Designers replaced Brand Designers?

 I wrote this piece last week called "Have UX Designers replaced Brand Designers".

It's a question that I've been going over for the past year. It's a really a spin off thought from my aborted book project. It's not supposed to be an attack on designers and it's not supposed to be any great revelation. Just some ideas born from my experiences as a designer.

After I wrote it I wasn't sure what to do with it. I didn't know if it was going to turn in to a blog post, book, open letter, presentation or something else. So I thought I would just drop it on my site and see if there was any reaction.

Have a read and drop me your thoughts on twitter.


MORE TH>N's freeman

A project of mine launched recently. It's the latest development in our MORE TH>N Freeman campaign. It's built around the newest TV spot, which highlights MORE TH>N's Personal Customer Managers. The notion is that everyone needs someone to lean on. Someone to be there in times of need. So I thought it would be nice to celebrate those people who have gone the extra mile. Users can nominate a freeman (a person of distinction), nominations are then voted on by the general public. The person with the most vote at the end of the month gets a huge party thrown in their honour (pretty good prize really).

It was a really short production schedule and there are some improvements coming. But I'm pleased with the design and concept work.

Take a look, nominate a friend and tell me what you think.


The race for the perfect music cloud UX

In recent months we've seen Spotify, Amazon, Apple and newcomers Rdio all ramp up thier offerings to take advantage of cloud based systems and streaming subscriptions. Each of them appear to be in a service design race to get all platforms and levels of distribution just right, so they are the first to unlock the world's desire to discover and manage their music, in a way that fits seemlessly around their lifestyle.

Spotify obviously have the streaming library sewn up, but seem to be angering devoted users by changing their free services. Apple obviously has its devices and the iTunes music store (which I maintain is a terrible UX) with all major labels signed up, but no streaming capabilities to speak of. Amazon has the access and infrastructure to deliver cloud based services, as well as distribution of music, but no devices or music management tools. At this time only the US and Canada can access Rdio - so it's unknown brand in Europe.

I'm excited to see which one solves all the service issues first and delivers a UX that allows versatility, access with a pricing structure that isn't prohibitive. I'm also excited where the UI design goes in these developments. To date everyone has followed the creaky format laid down by iTunes. Even Spotify, with all of it's fine detailing and simplistic interaction design, is based largely on the list and column approach.

Perhaps it will be an in-browser function like ex.fm or perhaps Last.fm will come back to life? I don't know which way it will fall, but I am sure that this is a defining time for digital music and UX design will play a major part in it.

#### Update 10/05/2011 ####
Google appears to be entering the fray with the launch of its own music service, creatively named Google Music.


Advice for agencies (from a client)

Going from agency to in-house has given me a whole new perspective on the client/agency relationship. I'd like to think it has helped me empathise agencies. It has certainly shown me how wrong some creative groups can get it though. All the way from an initial approach to the handling ongoing partnerships.

No names or malice, just some sincere advice for anyone in an agency hoping to form a mutually beneficial working relationship:

1. Don't skip the heirachies
If a manager makes a decision, don't undermine it by going to that manager's boss.

2. Don't be afriad to say "i don't know"
Blagging insight or experience is only ever going to lead to an embarrassing unveiling of the truth.

3. Don't pretend to be experts in everything
Focus on what you do best and don't grab at everything going past the window.

4. Do proactively pitch ideas
If you've got a truelly great idea, then it's a client's obligation to listen and make it happen. Don't always wait for the brief.

5. Do meet as many people in the business as possible
By getting to know all of the teams you can build up a better picture of what life is like for the client, therefore what influences their decisions and ultimately making your job easier. It also helps maintain the relationship if your contact moves on.

6. Do maintain contact if there is interest
Sometimes you need to do the chasing. I know that's not very nice, but if a client states an interest you have the right to hassle the hell out of them. It's not an annoyance, if they are keen, but disorganised.

7. Never, ever make up spurious charges
It's no secret that if you start at reduced rates you have to make up profits later down the line - that's fine, but don't try to drop in charges for random nonsense. From my experience Marketing Managers have no problem paying for expertise, so make the charges up in time, not "DVD burning project management" or "checking the flux capacitor"

8. Don't be afraid to turn a bad brief on it's head
Everyone who has worked in an agency has had a bad brief. More often than not it's because it was born from a confused business decision. Sometimes it's easier to see a more graceful or effective solution from the outside, so stand up and show the client how it can be done better.

9. Know when to back off
Regardless of how long a client has worked with an agency or well the agency knows the business, it will never be privvy to the whole picture. Although it's good for agencies to challenge and push clients, there is also a point at which an internal team must resolve it's problems on it's own. Learn to detect when internal ranglings are happening and back away.


My new holding page

Nothing special, just a new holding page on my martynreding.net domain. It's just an excuse to experiment with CSS dropshadows, Typekit and media queries.

I recently watched a talk by Wilson Milner about the merger between designers and developers and I also heard Jeffery Zeldman, on his 5by5 show, talking about designing straight in to the browser. So I thought I'd give it a spin. I have to be honest, it didn't go very well. After a while I arrived at a design that I was happy with technically, but visually was a bit of a mess. I tried for some time to resolve the visual design problems straight in to the HTML, but gave up in frustration. Within a minute of opening the page in PShop I had it sorted in to a composition I was happy with. It seems I can't get away from being a visual thinker.

I've still got to polish off a media query to serve up a mobile CSS - you know, for shits n' giggles.


Simple & Usable by Giles Colborne

I measure a design book's impact on me by the amount of sticky notes I leave in the pages. When I was done with Simple & Usable (web, mobile and interaction design) by Giles Colborne the volume was strewn with marked out passages to refer to. Following the book's guiding principle, it's a simple and straightforward walk through methods to adopt when designing interactions. Methods which help to strip away superfluous elements, creating a more successful design.

Sample passage:
Simplicity is about control.
Unraveling your users' emotional needs can be tricky, and made worse by the fact that many people are uncomfortable sitting in a design meeting talking about feelings.
Fortunately, when it comes to designing for simplicity, the key emotional need is for users to feel that they're in control. Firstly they want to feel in control of the technology they're using. Secondly, they want to feel in control of their lives.

I recommend it to anyone who has Design, IA or UX work and wants to create better products, services or brands.