Friday, 12 December 2008

What the hell websites have to do with decision-making

A website is trying to get me, the reader, to do something. But, before I take action I have a whole bunch of questions that need answering. There are many decisions I have to take before I do anything. No 1. "Should I even bother reading this?".

I’m on a journey to find something useful, interesting or entertaining. The website is hoping to be my destination. Once there perhaps I bookmark the page for later, physically go visit the business, send a link to a friend, join the mailing list, buy something or call up for an appointment.

At every stage I’m deciding whether to carry on. I’m matching what I find against my internal criteria. In each second there are a list of doubts and concerns that what I see has to overcome. After all I’m human, I’m brilliant at finding the reasons why not.

As a human I’m also all about relating. Every time my needs are met I feel more secure and I feel more trusting. As my anxiety decreases I’m ready to start thinking about action.

Your website needs to be a beautiful place for your audience’s minds to be in. They should float along on clouds of useful information, insight and friendly service. They should be embraced by your credibility and trustworthiness. they’re ready to call you up.

Friday, 31 October 2008

The all new The Right Words: repackaged, refocused and renamed

Here's a short Q&A I did with myself about the changes that are happening in the business.

So what was the business about before and what is it about now?

The Right Words was about user-friendly written communications. Clear, honest communication that expressed the personality, or brand, of the business I was working with.

PrettySmart is about user-friendly online communications.
Same idea but now we specialise in one medium and offer a broader range of services beyond writing and editing.

Besides the words there is much more that goes into creating the experience of being on your website. The typesetting, the visuals, the tone of voice of the design and text, the way users can move around the site and how the information is organised. We help businesses improve this whole experience and as a result create better relationships with the people who are, or will become, their clients.

We offer consultancy and advice at an affordable hourly rate as well as DIY planning and writing tools. If you want someone to handle the whole job of creating the website then we can also collaborate with other technical specialists to do this for you.

Why the change?

Business for me is about finding that point where what people need, and will pay for, meets with your own expertise and vision.

The new business is a response to what I’ve learnt from my clients and about myself.
The issues I’ve found that people need support with include:

Branding and planning: What is their business really about and what’s the singular message they need to communicate to potential customers?

How to: Where do they get started with planning the content for a website? How do they decide what to put in and where to put it? Who do they need to employ to help them – a website designer, graphics designer, copywriter or programmer? Can they do it themselves?

Writing: How do they overcome the daunting feeling that comes with having to write? How should they talk to people online? What information is useful and relevant to the reader?

Getting it done: Whether they do it themselves or outsource the work, how do they find the time to do the work required: the writing, the design briefing, picking the visuals? And how do they keep the focus so that it doesn’t keep drifting on, with 6-9 months gone and still the project is not finished?

I personally get excited about the internet and about communication. I think modern business communication is about building relationships. It’s about being direct, thinking about exactly who you’re trying to talk to and making it easy for that person to relate to your business.
I celebrate the way the internet has changed the way we talk with one another, making us more open, more respectful and more connected.
I’m also a closet geek who actually likes reading techie blogs and attending talks where research scientists explain the problems of 'discovering the grammar of visuals'.

Business-wise, the new company will offer more variation in terms of services. The projects will vary in length, from just a couple of hours to several months, and vary in price and profit margin. These changes will help with planning time and managing cash flow.

And the new name?

Well it took some time, but I’m really pleased with it. Lists and mindmaps of words and ideas bought the thinking around to my interpretation of communication. For me it’s not just about words, it’s about how things look. So suddenly there was the ‘pretty’ and the smart came from thinking about being straight, concise, functional, clever, effective and really making sense to people.

The runner-up prize went to The Golding Communication Factory.

Friday, 12 September 2008

News from the world of business repositioning

I've repositioned.

I was about communications, from leaflets to e-newsletters. I'm now about user friendly websites.

I've got web designers and programmers ready to collaborate with me. I've written a website planning template which I'm giving away to my clients. I'm working on my packages, there's going to be a basic, regular and 'bells and whistles' option. I've got clients. I've got my own website in production. Go go go.

Planning for my own website.

I now live with huge bits of mahjong paper on the floors and walls. Each is covered in plans for arranging and rearranging info on the current client's site.

These beautiful problems stay up until solved.

It all feels like how it should be.

Monday, 25 August 2008

My business has morphed...

I love creating user friendly web content. This is probably why most of my recent work has been on web content projects. It feels like the business has morphed and now it's time to officially reposition myself.

I've already changed my response to, "what do you do?". I now reply, "I help small businesses create user friendly websites."

Now you might have noticed how I started the post talking about web content and now it's about websites. It seems to me that there's really no point having user friendly content if the fonts are hard to read, the pages difficult to navigate and the general feel completely at odds with the businesses' personality.

If you're Amazon you'll have your User Experience Team making sure every element of the site from search to shopping carts is user friendly. Small businesses don't need a team of people. But, they might need someone, inside or outside the business, who knows about user experience and can drive the project of making a user friendly website.

If they don't have someone who can do this, or someone who has time to do it, I'm going to be the person they can hire.

So that's the idea so far. I'm on the hunt for web designers who share my passion for the user's experience. This way we can offer clients a package of content, design and project management.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what businesses need, what they already know and what they want from their websites. Add a comment or for in-depth chats I'm always free for a cup of tea,

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Checking a website is user friendly is really important

(This was an email to a client but it wanted to become a blog post too...)

We'd like to think, well I would, that there'd be some rules that we could follow to guarantee everyone can get around our websites easily. There are some rules, but not enough. For the bits that we can't follow rules for we have to find another solution: testing.

Here's an article about user testing for you to take a look at. As a small business working for small businesses I'm very aware that we need to be mindful of resources. But convincing people to do something fun, like test a website and share their opinions, may not be that hard.

You could ask your current/past clients to help you. If you said "we're really keen to get some intelligent, savvy people to share their opinions about our new website and we thought we'd ask you" they may say "we'd love to". Of course they'd have to pick people from their teams who didn't work with you last time, people who know enough to behave like a potential client but don't already know what you do.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

An ode to user experience

In the world of website design there is this lovely idea of 'user experience'. I've become quite interested in user experience. Personally, I've always been very definitive about sites I love to use and those I don't. My opinion on how a company relates to me has been heavily influenced by the way they let me experience them.

As I've worked with clients over the past few months I've felt like this idea of the user's experience is the thing that I've been driving at, I now have a handy phrase for it. I love the way the web has driven us to discover these ideas and make them part of our everyday experience.

There's an interesting article here from a company that help businesses create amazing user experiences on their websites - they've helped some of my favourite sites so I think they know their stuff. Flow Interactive - What makes us happy what makes us stupid

Sunday, 13 July 2008

What do you want to use your phone for?

Still on the subject of the E27 Unconference, I was at a session on Mobile Platforms. Aside from lots of techie conundrums, the discussion centered around how people actually use their mobiles, what they mean to people and the iphone.

Since then I've been thinking about what I want to use my phone for. Here's my list so far:
  • Phone calls, taking pictures and listening to my music. I'd want to upload pics straight to Picasa too.
  • SMS - With option to SMS ideas I have and things people tell me into my email inbox.
  • Check my Google account for calender and contact details. I'd want to be able to upload info back to these places too.
  • Request recommendations for near-by restaurants, hotels and bars from reviewers who like stuff I like - I'd want a short description, with the option to SMS the place to get directions and make bookings. Oh and I'd like it to be able to translate the message into the local language!
  • Street maps specific to my location with nearest public transport info included.
  • Location of nearest public toilet, decent coffee, post office, ATM for my bank and perhaps news on whether any of my mates are near-by.
With the right handset I can probably do a lot of what's above already. But the tricky bit for everyone seems to be about how businesses will communicate with me. I was wondering about a website that acted like your settings. So you go in and tell it what services and info you want to receive. For example, do you want Starbucks to tell you where their nearest shop is when you click their icon on your mobile home screen? You could even select the types of ads you want to see. So if you have to show me an ad whilst my map loads, I'm seeing info I'm interested in.

What do you think? What do we want to really use our phones for? How do we want businesses to talk to us?

I'm plotting interface designs now...

It all starts with a great idea

Yesterday I was surrounded by geeks. At the E27 Unconference for web start-ups I got over excited about the amount of good ideas and clever people there are in my community. Here's a list of the most interesting groups I saw.

- Beautifully easy to use website for finding homes. Map based, it also includes a price comparison so you can see how much people have been paying for similar property.

ZopIM - Chat with the people who are currently visiting your website. There's no need to log into Messenger, it's integrated into your site. The businesses' end also collates data about your visitors.

GoThere - Another beautifully functional website. Type in any two places to get maps, directions and public transport info (including cost and journey duration).

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Facts and Feelings

Is communication just about facts, figures and information? At a recent press conference I listened to people launching a really lovely product. The ideas behind the product were fascinating, but they were being devalued by the way they were delivered. The organisers thought the event was about telling us what to think. They forgot that if they themselves were the essence and spirit of what was being launched we’d get it without being told.

The product being launched was a major art exhibition with the title ‘Wonder’. Art and wonder are pretty ephemeral; they are experiential. We weren’t given experiential, we were told about ephemeral in a pretty conventional, dull and predictable way. A panel behind long tables communicated how credible the experts were. An intro video with everyday people caught on camera in candid moments talking about ‘Wonder’ communicated that the exhibition would reach out to the community. Then came the urgent and vital information about why, when and how.

When the distant experts, the curators of the event, started talking we got a glimpse of the interesting insights and ideas that were at the heart of the exhibition. Behind the table, muffled by poor acoustics and an awkward atmosphere of urgent uncertainty, their message about what it is to feel wonder - to be awed - was half lost. What they did say felt contrary to the reserved, political, practical focus and the lack of creativity.

I wondered what it would have been like if it was all a bit more real; if we’d been able to hear about and connect with the spirit of the exhibition. The feelings that reside in the minds, hearts and occasionally the words of the people who are making it happen.

The thing that’s really difficult for me is that these guys have a great product. I went to their last exhibition. I was moved, challenged, confronted, comforted, inspired and awed because art lets us experience our own humanity. But this energy, this exceptional and unique aspect of the product, was not given a confident airing. It was all facts and figures and not enough feelings.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Getting to know The Right Words

Come and hear more about the big idea behind The Right Words at our next workshop. I'll be sharing some examples of real communication and answering your questions.

The first workshop involved plenty of good quality chatting, laughing and learning. Join us at the next one, it's a great chance for us to meet and for you to see what I'm all about.

April 17, 6.30-8.30 at Post-Museum, Rowell Road, Little India. Email me by April 10 to let me know you're coming.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Being present during my presentation

(First written March 5)

The pun title just popped out of my coffee addled brain, it was too much to resist.

So it's almost a week since 'The right words' philosophy was verbally launched in the public domain. A group of nine lively minded people came along to hear what I had to say and ask some questions at my first 'Finding the right words' workshop. Most of the group were friends, which gave me equal measures of relief and nervousness. As ever fears were unfounded. The evening was relaxed and stimulating. What stuck me more then anything was the way that I managed to stay present throughout. I kept up with my thoughts as my brain created them and my mouth framed them in words. I also kept with my audience and enjoyed some wonderful moments where their questions and comments showed me that they'd understood my message.

It hasn't always been this way for me when presenting to a group. I've spoken in front of people, from groups of 4 to 400, many times. But this was new. I was calm, I took comfortable pauses, I was real and my ideas came out in ways people understood.

So why the change? I went on a a training course. Hang on a minute, a training course? To me it's rather incredulous that a course could really make me change the way I do things. Courses normally give me ideas. I then make a whole bunch of intentions on the way home and put the folder on the shelf next to the others. Not this time. This was one of two occasions where I've been fundamentally changed by a course.

The first time I was shifted along by a piece of training it was a management workshop on using emotional intelligence. After leaving the class, I took the first steps towards overcoming a pretty bad case of claustrophobia. There begins an interesting story which I'll save for another occasion.

The most recent fundamental change happened just a few months back. This time it was two days of presentation skills training. Since that weekend I've felt different, more at ease. I've been more comfortable about communicating and it's changed the way I get to interact with the world. I've discovered just how clarity, confidence and being yourself makes for more fluid communication and more fluid living.

What I learnt stays with me and saw me through last week's inaugural workshop.

Andrew Lightheart is the man who made all this happen for me, you can check out the details of his presentations skills masterclass at