Without growth, we are standing still and if we are standing still we die. By growth, I don’t necessarily mean profit – there is more to growth than a swelling bank account. By growth I also mean our innate ability to learn, develop insight, and act on our ideas to do something different.
At the Shirlaws Annual Conference this year there was at least 200 entrepreneurs and Shirlaws coaches from around the world gathered to explore innovation as a magical process for developing assets in their business.
“If you can predict it, it’s strategic. Innovation is magic.”
So said Darren Shirlaw, who shared with us an impressive timeline of ideas and innovations he has helped lead since 1994 and then generously demonstrated how they were leveraged into income.
Any business owner unconvinced about ‘taking a leap’ and trusting the innovation process (and yes there is a process) needed only to look upon the graph David J Hall from The Ideas Centre shared with us.
The graph showed the pace of change and opportunity in the world; and the pace of change in a business when its response to the world is based on traditional models – that is “the way it’s been done before”.
To close the gap between reality (the world of opportunity) and your business, doing something different is required.
To quote Darren Shirlaw -
If you do something first, you are called a leader.
If you do something different, you are called innovative.
It doesn’t need to be more complex than that.
3 steps to get you started
Assign one person responsible for cultivating innovation in your business and make time to play with ideas.
Let go of ‘how’ thoughts.
You are “exploring” not “fixing”.
Ask questions, don’t build solutions.
Frame the question.
The question is a problem statement that puts ‘guard-rails’ on your innovative ideas
Create an ideas portfolio
It’s unwise to try to implement all your ideas at once, but keep a record of ideas you can return to at a later date.
Let go of the fear of being wrong.
No business problem has a single right answer.
You may have noticed the increasing popularity of video on websites – not just as featured clips, but as moving full-screen backgrounds that add depth and interest. Here is a collection of 5 very different examples from the understated and impact-full, to experimental and delightful.
A clever use of video backgrounds emphasises Youth London’s USP – they understand young people, because they are themselves youthful.
The video clips are incredibly short, just enough to add movement and realism. Having young people looking back at you out of the screen is striking and somehow made more powerful by their positioning on the page. Great design decision, don’t you think?
The ‘Philosophy’ page at XY Agency displays series of ‘ethos’ statements on a moving background. A short video clip fills the screen and is on-repeat. It adds depth, interest, and movement to an otherwise simplistic page.
Video adds depth and movement and it’s attention grabbing too
One thing to bear in mind, if you use the same technique, is that movement is attention grabbing and therefore it is important to consider what you are drawing attention to. Does the filmic backdrop add anything? Context, meaning, re-emphasis?
There’s nothing worse than an auto-play video that plays before you’ve decided you want to see it. It’s a common mistake made on website home pages – but this site bucks the trend and puts the user in control with the call to action ‘Slide to begin’.
This site uses video to signal the start of a narrative and ‘make it real’.
Once you have decided to look deeper the first video takes you on a journey into/along a street before introducing you to navigation options. Full screen video and audio narratives are interspersed amongst full screen images throughout the site to deliver a multi-sensory experience and give voice to the people of New Orleans.
5. Just a Reflektor – Watch in Google Chrome
Featured as Website of the Week last month, this website hosts an interactive short film exploring the themes in the song ‘Reflektor’ by Arcade Fire. It’s so immersive in fact that it’s possible to quite forget yourself and any preconceived ideas about the nature of film and what videos on websites look like as each of them are broken.
This is an immersive Google Chrome experiment using a combination of video and interactive technology.
Relationships are made up of a series of moments – ‘points of contact’ where we have an opportunity to interact.
You don’t need to physically present or live online in order to interact with your audience. You can invite users to interact with your organisation online and set up your website and email to respond automatically.
Imagine each point of contact as an opportunity to draw that person closer – closer to an understanding of who you are and how you can help them (and visa versa!); closer to recommending you to their friends.
Social media; news sites; websites; email; and video are all tools that can help us build relationships. Coupled with art, design, and digital thinking your digital toolbox can be implemented in surprising and powerful ways.
Building relationships is done by
* Reaching out / demonstrating a genuine interest in others
* Helping one another out / problem solving
* Sharing interests and things in common
* Hanging out in the same locations (online and offline)
* Making time to talk / dialogue, discussions, conversations
* Sharing good times – having fun and celebrating
Have you leveraged your web platforms to do any of these?
As a type enthusiast, I may be bias. Please correct me if you too don’t find this website utterly delightful.
An interactive playground, this website is dedicated to showcasing a new typeface ‘FF Mark’ which is available for purchase on FontFont.com
Simplicity and integrity are the key words that jump out at me. The ‘cover’ page of the site has an introductory paragraph and a background film that loads quietly in the background without disrupting the user experience.
Interactivity quickly becomes a given, as each section allows you to explore the typeface from another angle.
Navigation is seamless with help from red arrows that show you where to go next. This allows movement to be free and playful, centered around the question ‘what can I play with next?’
Experiment with the FF Mark font in the browser, composing paragraphs, and applying advanced styling.
Adjust the styling of the clock, and see what time it is in different time-zones.
Explore the weight of any individual character
Experiment with combining text in different layout scenarios
In truth, this website best speaks for itself. Check it out here: www.ffmark.com
In order to adapt to a world that has fully embraced digital communications it is important to resist the pull of digital solutions and return to the core purpose of being online in the first place. Building relationships and sharing information.
The temptation of vimeo and youtube, sound cloud and iTunes, blogger and wordpress, Facebook and twitter, LinkedIn and Email is great. All of these things are tools you can use — that you see other people using — but they are not answers in and of themselves.
When you find yourself struggling to get website visitors engaged and taking action – focus not on the tools you might use, but the quality of interaction you are looking for.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
Path making, way finding, and problem solving — most people who visit your website have a problem you can help them with. You know that in order to solve their problem there is a path they must follow. Why not create an journey for your users with a clear beginning, middle, and end?
Give visitors a way to connect – really connect. Is providing social media links really enough? How might you encourage a two-way interaction? Can you personalise the experience?
Give people a way to contribute their point of view. E.g. guest posts, Q&A sessions or debates, and image sharing. Consider what would be appropriate for your organisation
Encourage dialogue and conversation. How do you want your customers to communicate with you, and do you want them to talk to others about you? How might you make it easier for them to do both these things?
Extend an invitation – is a call to action really enough? How can you step it up to the next level and provide access to a deeper level of information, knowledge, and connection (in exchange for an email address)?
By considering the quality and nature of interactions they are looking for, a website owner can use their online platform to strengthen the relationship with their audience.
Idea generation and brainstorming are my favourite pastime, so why not give me a call and we can talk about how these questions can be applied to your business? I’ll buy the coffee!
This website is a stirling example of how to combine concise copy and understated design to make you and your website shine, i.e:
Make an impact
Glow with praise
The ‘Bienville Capital’ website (pictured) stands out because of the following:
1. A simple and purposeful home page with a clear message
The home page consists of one sentence, a short loop of film depicting New York City at the current time of day (night, day, dawn, etc), and a discreet menu bar on the left which features the logo.
At a glance we can see where Bienville is located and what they believe: ’Creativity starts with viewing the world differently.’ The loop of film in the background re-enforces this philosophy by giving us view of New York city and the use of time-specific media helps us feel connected to the place in real time.
Where next? The menu slides out from the left of the screen on-click, and the page is so free of clutter – it’s not hard to work this out.
2. Clear concise copy that connects the reader with their brand and benefits they can feel.
‘How do you view the world?’ – as a heading this links back to their core philosophy and speaks directly to the reader with a question. The unspoken question is ‘Do you share our values/approach?’
The body copy goes on to make the reader feel good about themselves, and make it clear what they can expect from the firm.
3. Useful, relevant, content that will re-enforce your claims and keep people coming back for more
The lasting value of this website is the knowledge library which re-enforces Bienville’s claim that you can rely on them for knowledge on specific investment themes. By sharing some of their knowledge the firm becomes more believeable and credible as a source of knowledge.
4. Attention to detail / Remove all clutter
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, all design decisions have consistently been made to enhance and showcase the content and brand messages. The result is a clean, bold design, and clear messaging.
In his recent Guardian article (pictured) Rohan Gunatillake calls on the arts sector to shift its funding focus from projects and products to the how and why of process.
The time has come to make a case for funding people because it is the creative person or team that drives the ‘how and why’ of process.
As I see it, the format and structure of project funding is based on assumptions about the shape and nature of the collaborations and outcomes. While this sounds like common sense to a funding body, it leaves little room for anything genuinely new and innovative to result.
In order to embrace digital technology and create strategic partnerships with other professional networks, the arts must set the spirit of the artist/maker free – and allow them to shake preconceptions.
Art comes into it’s own when it responds to the status quo by exploring new possibilities and alternatives.
Given free license to develop a new art venture in collaboration with professional artists, academics, and creative companies, R&D partners would have the opportunity to use art as a genuine catalyst for change.
In the end, innovation will result from new insights and ways of working, and pre-defining the shape of a project or project team will only stifle innovation.
Does innovation come from funding projects or people?
In the end, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? The finished project or product is the product of people – their skills, their knowledge, and their conversations.
The time feels positively ripe for forging new connections and partnerships across disciplines, and between communities. The outcomes of these collaborations, inevitably, rely on the structures and foundations on which these collaborations are built.
So really, it is a very important question: in an ideal world, what form should these take?
In a time where both art and academia are under increasing pressure to justifying their value and impact on society I see an opportunity to revolutionise the relationships and interactions they have with the public, with business, and the internet.
Those with the most relevant insights, and therefore the opportunity to inform the future of collaborative partnerships, are those within creative and academic organisations.
There are already funded opportunities to collaborate such as REACT Sandbox and the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts but to what degree are these meeting our ambitions and aspirations?
In a world-wide-web adjusting to responsive technologies, where fluid layouts are becoming common place — there’s an overload of modular box-ey designs that scale easily across multiple devices.
Perhaps that’s why this design is so refreshing with it’s use of CSS ‘skew’ transformations to make diagonal lines/shapes that cut across the rectangular screen.
This site ‘XY Agency’ is commended for it’s execution of modern HTML5 and CSS3 techniques. It is a CSS Design Award winner and got an honorable mention on Awwwards. It gives me the opportunity to introduce page transitions: as both a beautiful addition and a game-changer.
Where before, moving from one page to the next was instantaneous – like flicking a switch, either on or off, no in-between – now it is possible to fade in or out, slide, etc. While this is an opportunity to improve the user experience, it is a game changer for designers who need to learn to apply transitions.
Although this website is award winning don’t be intimidated, it still offers some clues as what new considerations need to be taken into account when applying transitions.
Transition effects on navigation should help orientate users – not dis-orientate
On arrival I selected the ‘News’ page first, and it slid up from the bottom of the screen. I loved the graphic design, the layout, the use of line and blocks of colour.
Moving on, flicking through pages to see what might be there of interest, I began to feel disorientated. Not only does the navigation menu move about the page, but the page transitions vary wildly.
While News slides up, Sevices slides down, Contact slides in from the left. Admittedly, when the navigation options are selected in order this is less jarring. But pages are rarely selected in order – users select whichever is of immediate interest or relevance.
As I tried to orientate myself within the site, I was unable to build a picture in my head of the ‘shape’ of the site and where I was within it.
Transition effects enhance sense of space, shape, and dimension.
Websites have always been referred to as virtual spaces. They are compared to a ‘shop window’ or a ‘home’ or they are named ‘portfolio’.
We are invited to ‘step into’ a website and ‘move through’ it via links. We may imagine ‘pages’ organised, and fixed, like in a book; or loose leaf; or arranged, suspended in hyperspace. Either way we have a sense of a web page existing not in isolation but as part of a collection.
Website users retain a memory of where they have been. They are on a linear journey with a sense of previously visited pages ‘behind’ and new pages ‘ahead’. But with page transitions that literally come in from the right or the bottom, designers are now able to cultivate specific spatial relations.
The act of going ‘back’ to a previous page could now be ‘back left’ or ‘back up’ or ‘back down’. The perceived ‘abstract’ shape of the website is now as important as ‘literal’ location of pages as in URL design.
New visitors are moving fast, repeat visitors are taking in more detail, and looking deeper.
Design features I found niggly and disorientating at first started to make more sense as this site took on a degree of familiarity and when I began to move through it more slowly.
On my second visit to ‘Projects’ I was able to appreciate the way each new project made an entrance: the top and bottom of the page slides in reverse directions.
Sweet portfolio navigation – something this good can’t backfire – can it?
You would have no difficulty if you were specifically seeking the portfolio and landed on it first. Even the too-pale navigation arrows on the left and right of the screen would be easy to locate because you would be expecting them.
But on my first encounter I was browsing casually ‘past’ and ‘through’ the projects page before I really stopped to look, and all I really noticed was a disruptive change of of layout and transition.
It is not enough that the menu moves into the middle of the page: more needs to be done to suggest that you have entered a different part of the site which is going to behave by an entirely different set of rules.
This could have been as simple as giving the portfolio ‘a cover’ to indicate to users that they are entering into a different environment.
More websites like this please!
Despite my critique I really do like this website. It shows people what is possible, and executes transforms and transitions in a way that makes them attractive, desirable, and content specific.
We need designers to explore and play with the HTML5 and CSS3 toolbox, even ‘just for the fun of it’, so that others may be inspired, informed, and enlightened – not just on best practice but what is possible.
In recent years it has been all too common for businesses to start a blog before they have a clear idea of how they are going to use it. This week I came across someone who didn’t have a blog who really, really needed one.
Do you try to keep an archive? Does your website content look out of date as a consequence?
This was the problem faced by a community interest company in Hampshire this month. They wanted to keep their website up to date with the latest news and activities, while retaining evidence of previous activities and events in the community. Their pages were getting longer and longer, their navigation menu’s more full and unwieldy. The benefits of being able to easily add pages, new sections was beginning to conspire against them.
A quick analysis and subsequent website tidy was all that was needed to re-organise the site and during that process it became clear that a blog was a straightforward and accessible solution to their desire to create an archive.
The beauty of a blog is that you can write about topical ‘of-the-moment’ events as and when they’re happening, without that article looking out of date. The date stamp grounds your article in a specific date and time.
A blog is well suited for any news item or comment piece has the potential to look out of date in a more permanent position.
Unlike a primary web page, a blog post is part of a fluid and shifting chain of information which is dated, categorised, and displayed in chronological order – recent articles uppermost, and older articles still accessible.
5 reasons to start a blog
Demonstrate your expertise and character
Grow a content library to attract repeat visitors to your site
Keep your audience up to date on new developments in your industry / community (keep it relevant and useful, to help them)
Answer questions your potential customers will want to know before they contact you