Monthly Archives: December 2013

Emotional headlines that make you cry are the new SEO

And that’s not a good thing, say critics of what’s been called “social content.”

They are talking about the way sites such as Upworthy and Buzzfeed are effectively gaming Facebook in order to get their content shared, writes Andy Pemberton from Furthr.

Their method is to tweak headlines until they drip emotion (often accompanied with pictures of crying women and children). If that makes no sense to you, visit the upworthy generator, an algorhythim that does the work for you. The downside:

Facebook are hip to what’s going on and aren’t too happy about this kind of content – content people do actually like, after all – appearing in news feeds. They’d rather people read the kind of upmarket stuff advertisers like to position against. Furthr pal Tim Tucker suggests you go to 38 minutes into this video for a really good discussion of the “Upworthy problem.”

Read more at Furthr’s 10 design principles are simply a work of genius

The website was voted ‘Design Of The Year’ in 2013, the first time a website has ever won this prestigious award. I wrote about it on coverthink back in April, but now, reports Andy Pemberton from Furthr, the people behind the site have detailed exactly how they get such great results.

  1. Start with needs*
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Read more here at furthr.

‘Colour is a chromatic and tangible funnel of our brand values’

This genius spoof hits the buzzword bingo button with a vengence. Created by U.K. agency The Quiet Room, The *Santa* Brand Book rips into bonkers branding language right down to the smallest details. Here’s a few choice morsals:

*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea. It’s an Emotion, not a feeling. It’s both Yesterday and Today. And it’s Tomorrow as well.

Don’t use the over-familiar and paternalistic ‘Father Christmas’. If only because it anagrams to ‘the rich Mr Fat-ass.

Elsewhere, *Santa*’s brand assets of Fatiness and Beardiness are used to chart the strengths of potential *Santa* competitors, such as Miley Cyrus (least threat) to Harry Potter’s Hagrid (maximum threat).

There’s fifteen pages to this masterpiece, check it out in hi-res pdf right here.

How to create Christmas, by using the very heart of your brand

Christmas is massive for all magazines, with The Big Issue no exception. They produce five festively themed issues, which requires ever increasing levels of ingenuity as December rolls on.

So hats off to another amazing cover, this time Santa as a digital mosaic of Big Issue vendor pictures. Here’s editor Paul McNamee on how and why they did it.

‘Distribution staff are always saying they need Santa on the cover at Christmas. I didn’t want a regular Santa – doesn’t say anything unique about us. This year has been all about celebrating the vendor. So I decided to create Santa out of the faces of hundreds of vendors. That’s where we started. Our art director Scott Maclean got one of the best digital mosaic artists in the world – Charis Tsevis, from Athens – and he built the cover. I think it’s the best Christmas cover I’ve been involved with – and I’ve done a few here.’

The Big Issue is a big brand, with a haloed place in our national consciousness. But it’s value is entirely wrapped up in the unique relationship between vendors and readers. that’s why this cover is so ace. For reference, here’s an earlier post on how the Big Issue are using twitter to #celebrateyourvendor

This new issue will be on sale from Monday. So get out and buy one, it’s Christmaaaaaaaaaas! (Holder/Lea)

How the hell do you combine the best of 2013’s worldwide art and design, into one handy book?

This is the printed annual of the It’s Nice That website, which proclaims to ‘Champion creativity across the art and design world’

With a mission statement like that, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was some kind of government project, but it’s clearly working for them, both commercially and creatively.

As someone not intimately familiar with the brand, I didn’t have a clue what to think when I saw the cover, other than pick up on the comic annual reference. But this ambiguity is inevitable, and possibly desirable, with any attempt to document Art. It’s much like trying to document life itself, although Life magazine tried that back in the day, and had the name to prove it.

But the fact remains, this book is just excellent. The editorial tells us that this book contains over 150 examples of the best work from the website during 2013. And such is the usability and navigability of print, it’s a brilliant way to encounter really emotional and moving stories that you’re not actively searching for, or swatting out of your social streams.

It really is joyous to see the best of the years big art exhibitions, graphic design projects, art installations, and media design all within a few pages of each other.

The breadth is challenging, as there will inevitably be stuff that doesn’t interest all readers. But like the New Yorker, if the It’s Nice That brand can build trust, this becomes a non-issue.

It would make a fantastic, unexpected Christmas present, you can buy it online here.

The big surprise behind successful editorial brand development

A cracking talk last night from legendary agile exponent Kelly Waters at Skills Matter in London. Titled ‘My Agile Journey: If Only I knew Then What I know Now’, Kelly gave us a walk through of his impressive CV, delivering loads of insights and wisdom along the way.

Kelly has just finished a six month stint as interim director of digital engineering at The Guardian, responsible among other things, for moving the whole site to a new .com url. Previous to this, Kelly worked at RBI and IPC media, where he implemented agile practices across the whole business.

The principles of agile are simple, but successful implementation is another thing entirely. As an example, here’s last night’s list of things Kelly believes business leaders need to do in order to make agile work.

1. Think big, start small. Hold onto the big picture, whilst breaking the work into manageable parts.
2. Collaborate. Too many leaders expect everyone else to do that, other than them.
3. Focus on value.
Concentrate on what value the work can add, not just cost.
4. Do less.
Focus on what’s really important.
5. Learn fast.
Test early and often.
6. Empower teams.
And really mean it.
7. Explore and adjust.
As Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit’.
8. Accept hard truths.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
9. Lead by example.

I’ve worked in agile delivery, but the interesting thing here, is that these best practices are universal, not just exclusive to software development.

The fact is, so much of the editorial brand development process is agile, without it ever being recognised as such. Editorial brand development is all about developing user identification, tone of voice and point of view. But just like releasing code, it’s about launching new product into a fast moving and constantly changing environment. And as always, the best results come from empowered teams, frequent feedback loops, MPV, clear priorities, stand-ups, process visualisation and all the rest of it. In other words, Agile.

All of Kelly’s slides and a podcast of the evening can now be seen here at skills matter. His excellent blog is at

The best thing about The Daily Mirror’s new website ampp3d? It took just eight weeks to launch

The Daily Mirror have jumped onto the Buzzfeed bandwagon, with this new data journalism called ampp3d, here’s a story at gigaom that explains the approach:

‘The idea behind Ampp3d is to use social-sharing methods — snappy headlines, emotional content etc. — in the service of data journalism’

The speed of the development is impressive, just 8 weeks from decision to launch date. Also, the fact that Trinity Mirror are willing to experiment in this space, having already had a go with something called Which whilst looks fun, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

The Ampp3d site is pretty good. There are lots of smart stories, all well told with compelling visuals. The idea of simple data visualisation isn’t new, people from Business Insider to Furthr, have been doing this for ages. The thing that will determine Ampp3d‘s success, is whether users will want to share.

The visual cues are big, with social buttons front and centre at the bottom of the posts. So it’s now all down to whether the headline is engaging enough. There’s been a lot of debate about the new style of headline writing exploited by upworthy and in particular, viralnova. In short, this technique relies on doubling down on the emotion in the story, but stripping out the content. Here’s how Business Insider describes the method:

‘The headline model for the site is laughably smart. First, take a news story, add the phrase “you won’t believe” or “this ____ made me cry, but” and then the kicker sentence: “what happens next will blow your mind” or “then this happened.” There’s your recipe for viral success.’

The Ampp3d headlines are good, but if they can develop a real point of view that maintains a high level of emotion, they could do really well.

But what looks wrong here is the name. Ampp3d is hard to remember, impossible to type, and with a content and context that seems to talk more to the business model than any kind of user experience. The ‘3’ is totally confusing. Is this about the phone company, page three, or perhaps it’s just some hangover from the 3am girls. It may well be that in the digital space names mean diddly-squit, if the stuff is being shared, who cares what the site is called?

But I doubt it.

Update: Since I wrote this post, Martin Bellam, who launched the site has written a fine piece explaining how and why the name was chosen, along with many other insights into the challenges of getting a new launch out the door so fast. Recommended.

The Big Issue crowdsource their Christmas cover. Here’s why it really works…

This is The Big Issue’s Christmas cover, designed by seven year old Dylan Allman, winner of their recent reader competition to create the cover. It’s the first time The Big Issue have ever done this, but I suspect it won’t be the last, as I think this is just great.

The principle is not dissimilar to that which schools get the kids to design Christmas Cards, in order to make parents want to buy them. it creates a sense of community, a feeling of innocence, and the belief that reindeer really are flying through the air.

This is all good, but the reason why this crowdsource cover is so clever, is that the hand prints deliver real human scale. Like the Hollywood pavement, where stars put their hands in the concrete, the work is intimate, immediate, and generates a real sense of connection.

I’m not sure about the script for ‘This is Christmas’, as it fights with the logo, but that’s not going to affect the sale, which I think should be pretty tasty.

Update: My friend and colleague Mike Pretious has just commented, quite rightly pointing out that crowdsourcing childrens’ art is nothing new. As comments can’t take images, here’s his point: Britain’s Christmas stamps from 57 years ago!