Category Archives: Design

The Best-Ever Publishing Festival Line Up

PPA-festival-line-upI’m producer of the two big content streams at this year’s PPA festival, where along with CEO Barry McIlheney and his team we’ve put together the most fantastic line-up. Four stages, 60 speakers, CEO’s, MD’s Facebook, Google and…Mushpit!

The festival is Thursday May 12th, there’s still a few tickets left, buy them here.

Small, but perfectly formed

Facebook_Reactions3x2Here are the crisp new emoticons facebook is planning on us all using anytime soon. Will they give a better user experience? Maybe.

Will facebook aggressively sell the ‘nuanced responses’ to brand content that these emoticons might generate? Certainly.

facebook-emoticonsHere’s Mr Zuckerberg himself explaining how they work, using what the new pressure sensitive iPhone UI. This is a game changer in itself. Once the device in our hands starts responding to a nuanced range of physical gestures, it’s ability to express our feelings is significantly improved.

This is hardly AI, but it sure shows which way the river is running.

Fifteen hot links

20120826-Moncton_SetlistHandwritten1. This is one of Springsteen’s many back-of-an-envelope set lists, emotional, personal, and totally uneditable. So here’s my post for InPublishing on Wunderlist, the world’s best make-a-list app.

2. What do you believe in? And what are you going to do about it? Good post about how brands create trust.

3. ‘Sticky content’ bullshit. And ten other content marketing buzzwords from SXSW.

4. Seventy eight places to find free, high quality marketing images.

5. Ace photojournalist Giles Duley is setting off on his biggest project ever. Here’s an interview with him at Time all about ‘Legacy of War’

6. How Marriott Hotels aim to become the world’s largest producer of travel content.

7. Look out! How programatic trading allowed these ads to run before ISIS propaganda videos.

8. Super bitchy, and super well informed. Michael Wolff on the new Guardian editor.

9. Buzzfeed really is the new king of the world. Here’s fine insight into how that happened, along with more detail on their social strategybusiness model, ethical standards and The Dress.

10. How the Economist has stayed ahead of the digital curve.

11. Here’s a blog post headline writing template!

12. Uber releases an in-house magazine.

13. Upworthy’s co-founder on clickbait.

14. Haters ahoy! Wired redesigns its website.

15. Good post on magculture about the surge in magazine podcasts.

My interview with Wyatt Mitchell, the Creative Director of The New Yorker

wyatt-mitchell-talkWyatt is going to be speaking at Magfest 2014, the Scottish PPA’s eagerly awaited conference on September 5th. He’s The New Yorker‘s first ever Creative Director, as well as having a storied CV behind him, with roles at Wired, Vibe, Esquire, Oprah Magazine and TV Guide.

Here’s an exclusive podcast interview I did with him last week for the Scottish PPA. Wyatt talks about redesigns, digital innovation, native advertising and what it’s like to work inside one of the world’s greatest media brands, all fascinating and at times totally unexpected revelations.

In other news, I’m also on the bill for Magfest, where aside from buying Wyatt a drink, I’ll be talking about how to build trust in media. More on that later …

How the launch of Hearst’s Town & Country will help give Putin some manners

Quuen-putinIn her editors’ letter, Justine Picardie claims that the time is right for launch of Town & Country on account of  ‘a tidal wave of global wealth that is pouring into London’. She acknowledges the enduring appeal of traditional Britain, but make no mistake, it’s the international rich that advertisers want here, as opposed to a bunch of Downton fans.

Town & Country has been published in America since 1846, where, without a royal family, money really is the true indicator of social status. The big idea behind the UK edition is that this is increasingly the norm over here. If you can afford to buy your way into the highest echelons of English society, Town & Country will show you how to walk the walk.

Extreme wealth has never been a guarantee of social acceptability. The great English essayist G.K. Chesterton once said: “The rich…are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it”

Whether this describes Vladimir Putin is neither here nor there, but we do need to know if Town & Country will succeed in its business of turning new money into old school charm. See more

How do you compete with a billion dollar logo?

buzzfeed-voxThis post was first published on The Media Briefing earlier this week.

Buzzfeed is now considered one of the world’s most innovative news organisation. It’s value is currently over $1b, getting close to the likes of The New York Times ($1.28b), and dwarfing other digital news sites. So it’s no surprise that more start-ups are wanting a slice of the pie.

American news site Vox is early out of the blocks, launched just three months after founder Ezra Klein left the Washington Post. He claims that Vox will ‘Explain the world’ but the site is already creating a stir, as evidenced by last weeks rant from a senior Facebook executive complaining that ‘Someone should fix this shit’

He was referring to Vox’s story about how you should ‘Wash your jeans instead of freezing them’, with the complaint was that they were not delivering  ‘A new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native’.

When it comes to content, you have to make your intentions very clear. Which is why design is central to a users understanding of what to expect. Can Vox persuade readers that it’s a real heavyweight political commentator? Can Buzzfeed change horses midstream and let us believe that they too should be taken seriously?

In short, what does the design of these two sites say about trust?

The logo fonts are fundamentally different. Buzzfeed’s is a functional sans, with an almost child-like feel created by the big lowercase ‘ee’. By contrast, Vox’s serif ‘V’ on their twitter icon is huge, and when spelt out has a sophisticated flourish. It feels high end, a bit like The Atlantic, redesigned by Pentagram not so long ago.

Newspaper-logosLikewise the colour means very different things. Not for nothing are serious newspaper logos black, and tabloids white out of red blocks. This visual language is impossible to deny: red means urgency, black is just inert. It has no opinion. (Although Stern have managed to have their cake and eat). But what does yellow mean in this equation?

Buzzfeed has built both traffic and reputation on spectacular viral techniques, listicles, cat videos, engaging headlines and their killer franchise, the online quiz, proving that content most people are interested in are stories about themselves.

But now they now want to do serious journalism. Reuters reports that they have boots on the ground in Ukraine, are publishing in-depth articles on Chinese dissenters and have had some big, breakout stories. But can Buzzfeed ever be regarded as a serious news site, when their key visual signature looks like this…

Buzzfeed-Logo-lolOr more precisely, LOL, in black type within a yellow circle.

The use of yellow has vexed media designers ever since CMYK was invented. It’s the brightest colour, but has the lowest tonal value, which means it has the highest level of visual cut-through.

US-small-coversNowhere is this more apparent than on a magazine newsstand, where yellow is the number one technique for getting a headline to stand out. For some brands, relying on yellow can cause real problems, as illustrated by the case of People, the world’s biggest and most profitable magazine brand. It costs a dollar more than most rivals, but because the whole category rely on yellow headlines, People looks cheap by association.

Moreover, in the world at large, yellow is often used to deliver marketing messages and price tags, which has taught us that when we see yellow, we’re being sold to.

Buzzfeed-desktop-homeIt all comes down to how it’s used. Like a celebrity news magazine, Buzzfeed, use bright yellow to draw our attention to comments, or small pieces of content that we may otherwise overlook.

It’s effective, but combined with a red logo, lemon tint panels and bright blue headlines, the combination of these colours creates a tabloid environment more akin to a Screwfix catalogue, than a premium destination for serious journalism.

Buzzfeed-mobile-articleAlthough to be fair, at the far more important mobile article level, the presentation is cooler, with the colour focused on social sharing buttons.

Grazia-magazineVox have taken a different tack. By making yellow the only colour, they’ve managed to retain it’s effectiveness, but without tarnishing it’s delivery. This is exactly what Grazia did in the magazine market. By using no colour other than yellow, the pallette looked like a fashion statement, and made the rest of the weekly market’s use of red obsolete overnight.

Vox--desktop-articleVox then go further by teaming yellow with grey, delivering a sense of sober authority. And in an unexpected twist, instead of black headlines, Vox use a very dark grey. When I first saw this in the ‘V’ of their twitter icon, I though it was an error, but this approach is consistently deployed in many places all through the site, particularly on mobile. The content can look pale and washed out, but it does prevent the words looking like sales messages.

Vox-mobile-HOMELinks are understated too, with a cool grey-blue, as opposed to Buzzfeed’s more eye-popping style.

Typographically, Vox has a cultured approach to their content. As any fule kno, there are only two fonts in the world, plain and fancy. Vox use both, with italic serif call-outs, traditional gothic headlines and modern sans text fonts. The feeling is sophisticated, although the small sizes create a somewhat pale reading experience.

Buzzfeed’s headlines and text are primarily in the highly legible and good-looking Proxima Nova. But with bits of Helvetica and other random fonts creeping in, there is a slight low-fi feeling and a lack of brand consistency.

Like Buzzfeed, Vox’s appeal is driven by virality of the headlines. Here’s a super-snarky story from Forbes, attempting to dismantle the thinking behind headlines such as ‘The Simpsons predicted the Ukraine crisis back in 1998’

VOX-desktop-homepageBut Vox are also using content curation as a way of building a content mix, as this homepage shows. Here, they pair a super-dull Russia and China story (good for credibility) alongside an orgasm story (good for clicks). Overall, I sense the desire to have a slice of Vice’s now very substantial content marketing pie.

Buzzfeed-mobile-HOMEBy comparison, even on mobile Buzzfeed go flat out for volume. Everything’s turned up to eleven, all of it looks fun, but there’s not a serious item in sight. And in the American style, deploy the hyped up tone of capping up every word in a headline: ‘A Naked Woman Has Made The Alphabet Out Of Human Hair’

Vox use a more measured upper and lower-case European approach: ‘How conspiracy theories explain political parties’. This typographic technique has less urgency, but a lot more conversational intimacy. And would certainly be preferred by Buzzfeed’s UK editors.

Overall, the Vox design direction is somewhat dull. But it’s undeniably modern, with yellow keeping the site just inside the pop culture canon. From a business point of view, they have set out to claim the journalistic high ground, and go viral from there. Buzzfeed are attempting world domination the other way round, by taking the lowland masses first, and then attempting to scale the higher peaks.

vox-native-advertising

Like Buzzfeed, Vox’s business model is based on ‘native advertising’ or any other term used to describe ads that look like a bit like editorial. However, unlike Buzzfeed, it’s really hard to see which posts are ‘sponsored’, and which are not.

Political authority and influence may be the motivation behind the site, but aside from the click-bait headlines it’s hard to detect any real sense of tone in the content.

Unlike established news sites, I don’t yet know what Vox believe in, other than an enthusiasm for Obama Care. We may be conditioned to it, but when it comes to politics, readers need to know what the brand believes in order to work out the true colour behind the journalism.

This is a problem Buzzfeed just don’t have. What you see really is what you get. It’s not pretending to be cool, there’s no attempt to seduce with the presentation. Which makes me trust them all the more.

David Carson, and the layout that changed the way I work

We-SurfI believe this brilliant spread is from The End Of Print, one of David Carson’s many books featuring surf magazines he designed pre-Raygun. But I was reminded of it again last week, whilst working with a client around the theme of people and their passions.

David Carson made his name with some very funky typography, but in this instance it’s the sheer power of connection with his audience that impresses me still.

Photos can absolutely change peoples minds, the work of Don McCullin and others have proved that. But with ‘lifestyle’ media, to make the claim that content has changed behaviour, and (I assume) be able to back it up is rare indeed.

Brand or content, what should be seen first?

people-logosThe UK newspaper People closed their website a little while ago. Launched with the idea that it would be ‘Buzzfeed for grown ups’, pretty much everything went wrong, according to this excellent reporting from of all places, Buzzfeed. Patrick Smith reports that there was a lack of identity, a lack of focus, and a complete failure to grasp how the native advertising business model works.

people-multiThis lack of brand benefit is perfectly expressed in the website logo. The way it worked (or rather, didn’t), was that the People logo was preceeded by a rotating series of words; ‘Sporty’, ‘Famous’, ‘Glam’, ‘Funny’ and so on. The story underneath didn’t change, but the context did.

What this did was remove any trace of brand from the content beneath. The stories became entirely generic, no tone, no point of view, no recall.

buzzfeedBy way of contrast, this is Buzzfeed’s home screen from the very same day. Which, when you compare the lead stories of ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Wanker’, pretty well sums up why Buzzfeed’s tone is so sharp.

Print has similar issues, but the context is very different. On a newsstand, when is right to put a coverline above the logo, and when should you never do it? Find out more after the jump.

See more