Monthly Archives: December 2011

Holiday Techno Decisions

In the world of choices to be made by less-experienced members of geekdom, deciding where to buy the stuff we consume on our shiny, new tech devices is overwhelming. Some things play nicely with others—music purchased from virtually anywhere can (usually) be plugged into another player or storage device. Video, subscription services, and e-books, however, are loners in the digital-asset playground and only like to play on their own turf and on their own terms. To the veteran mobile-content consumer, these content and consumption barriers are initially a pain, but work-arounds and the partitioning of certain content types to certain providers and apps become part of the everyday use of the technology. To the newbie—you, yes, you—sitting there with your new device, hesitant to remove the screen protector since the case you got doesn’t fit your device and/or is the wrong color, the glow and allure of the sexy, new techno gadget in front of you is enticing. But after you charge the battery and finish the configuration and get to the meat and potatoes of the device, my guess is the app store is your next stop. Hopefully, the gift giver gave you a gift card to the app store of your choice so you can dive in head first.

A few things to remember for both publishers and consumers:

 1. Solo OS Stinks
Apps that play well on one and only one operating system are poor sports on the playground of techno content consumption. You will want to gobble up all the bits you can across multiple devices, whether right now or at some point in the future. Manufacturers that provide multiple devices across different areas of the spectrum and provide the same experience using similar operating systems hedge the bet for app developers who focus on one and only one operating system to support. The downside is that as many more people adopt single-use devices, like the Nooks and Kindles of the world, these devices currently cannot complete other core functions (easily and cost effectively), like email or phone calls. The user is then left with different operating systems on different devices:  smartphones, tablets, notebooks, desktops, and/or smart TVs. You will consume content on multiple devices in the future, and being tied to only one operating system for the apps you love will hurt when you change. Be prepared.

2.   Device-Specific Experience Is a Gamble
Think about this: Before we wanted to consume traditional print publications on our tablets and smartphones, publishers produced titles with region-specific variations for both newsstand and subscription delivery. The traditional printing process changed for the most part at the end, with different variations of a specific set of forms printed within the larger print run. The process was heavily automated, and the variables, while seemingly significant, were relatively controllable since the press, roll width, and bindery restrictions were fixed. Once online distribution and multiple electronic variations were dumped into the mix, the traditional publishing model went awry. If we can assume that the vast majority of advertising and editorial content in today’s modern publications are actually worthy of multimedia additions, then the burden to produce a consistent experience across multiple devices over multiple operating systems—given very different hardware functionality—is a tall order. That said, device-specific subscribers to e-versions of traditional print titles may or may not have the same experience on another device mostly because of the hardware and software limitations of any specific device. Ultimately, this complicates the field of content to be consumed on your spanking-new techno device. While it may not matter right now in 2011, it may be a different story as  displays and the user experience continue to evolve while the hardware that we use to consume content continues to grow.

At some point you will muster up enough courage to pull off the screen protector and dive into the techno goodness that is behind the new device in your hand or lap. Just remember, consume wisely, not only for your wallet, but because someday in the not-so-distant future, the single-function device will be replaced and the electronic library that you have created may not play well with the devices and operating systems of the future.

Author: John Carew

Top Technology: Reflections and Predictions

As the year comes to a close, I’m reflecting on what has happened and looking forward to what is to come.

In 2011:

  1. The number-one story in tech news was the death of Steve Jobs.
  2.  Social media came into its own. After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Facebook and Twitter became lifelines for those reaching out to friends and family. Facebook also played a crucial role in the Arab Spring uprisings, being used to spread messages and topple governments.
  3. This one has made ripples in the tech world for months and will probably be the year’s last big headline: After months of trying to merge, AT&T has decided to abandon its attempt to take over T-Mobile.

There were so many other stories of 2011: BlackBerry missteps, the PlayStation Network hack, and the last of the IPv4 addresses (with time counting down for IPv6 addresses).

I expect 2012 to be just as exciting a time.

Computers:
HTML will continue to rise, allowing web developers to create richer, more dynamic websites. The Cloud movement will continue and in the years to come may bring about Software as a Service (SaaS), an arrangement in which consumers don’t buy software but instead pay monthly fees to “rent” it.

Tablets:
Tablets have been a game changer, and they will continue to become faster, more powerful, and finally, cheaper. One rumor swirling around the web concerns an iPad Nano, smaller and cheaper than its counterpart and said to be arriving late next year.

Mobile:
Mobile payment will become the norm, and every phone will come NFC (Near-Field Communication)-enabled. Voice control, such as the iPhone’s Siri, will really take off, allowing a person to use a phone without touching its screen or any other buttons. If you decide not to speak to your phone, however, in 2012, zooming and scrolling will be done by bending the screen––I am looking forward to seeing where the bendable interfaces go.

In the coming months, I can’t wait to see what other surprises come from the tech world and how they change the way we communicate with the world around us.

Author: Susan Hallinan

Why Typography Matters

It’s everywhere: on buses, in subways, stores, apartments, and––more often than not––stalls at your local pub. If you’re as paranoid as I am, you’re probably thinking I’m referring to a new flu virus or an easily catchable disease. I’m happy to say, I’m speaking about typography.

Typography, in one sense or another, has existed since the dawn of writing. Even the Flintstones have their own font. But why does typography matter? Yeah, it’s everywhere. We take it for granted and hardly think of the consequences. I mean, can someone really tell the difference between Arial and Gill Sans?

In typographer Thomas Phinney’s article “How to Explain Why Typography Matters,” he describes typography’s many uses, forms, and effects—both subtle and obvious—to justify its importance.

As representatives from a creative agency, we’re often asked to justify our reasons for the use of a particular shape, color, or font. More often than not, the most compelling reason for using a particular font is the client’s brand. Numerous Utterly Orange posts have discussed the importance of branding, but it might be worth reiterating the value a font has for a brand.

If you get a chance, check out the movie Helvetica. This documentary walks you through not only the history of this seemingly universal font, but its impact on modern-day brands. Love it or hate it, Helvetica took us from the hodgepodge mash-up of fonts of the ’40s and ’50s and gave us a style that’s both legible (pragmatic) and malleable (artistic).

Fonts define a brand, and brands define a font. Typography and a brand become one and the same when we incorporate them effectively. Typography is so ingrained in us that we’d have no trouble identifying a well-known Fortune 500 company simply based on the typeface used.

With so many fonts available, it seems practically trivial to continue to develop new fonts. And yet, a sliver of an industry exists where people are coming up with better and new ways to write the words we read. Phinney’s article justifies this the same way fashion designers or furniture makers justify their work. With no shortage of clothes or furniture styles, we continue to create new fashions and new furniture. Why? Simply put, because of trends. The only consistent thing is change. Fonts evolve just as trends do.

After clients are convinced that fonts matter, they often want to take these newfound tools and exploit them. Caps, bold, and “fun” styles like Comic Sans become their paint brushes, screwdrivers, and hammers. Unfortunately, painting a picture red, using a screw that doesn’t fit, and hitting customers over the head isn’t always the best way to produce the right message.

Today, experimental studies are being done by psychologists and typographers on the effects of good typography. These studies help determine what constitutes good typography and typeface design as it relates to legibility. Some research involves hooking sensors to the orbicularis oculi (the muscle around the eye) and measuring things like squinting and frequency of blinking. These sorts of tests help us determine how effective a font may be, whether we see it or not. Forgive the pun.

Author: Eric Swenson

Take It to the Cloud––No, Not That Cloud, Fuji’s Cloud! Where?

Since the “cloud” has quickly become an everyday topic at our office, we have tried out a plethora of cloud-based storage services. Sometimes we even have a hard time finding which cloud we have put our files on. The more clouds we get, the more inclement our moods are. The fix-all organizational tool that the cloud purports to be has discombobulated our lives and fragmented our minds and documents. It was easy when you knew, “Damn, that file is at home on the computer.” Now, the question is, is that document on Box.net, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Evernote, iCloud, iWork––or maybe it’s on the Fuji copier? We don’t need a new cloud, we need an atmosphere to keep all of our clouds in one place. Our network administrators are turning into meteorologists, and we all know what their accuracy rates are…

Regardless, Fuji Xerox has launched a cloud-based document collaboration tool that interfaces directly with its copiers. While I think this is great selling tool, couldn’t Fuji Xerox just integrate this into one of the existing could storage solutions? The apparent answer is no, it needed its own cloud, and presumably that is what everyone else has concluded. Don’t get me wrong––I think the cloud is an amazing tool. It has made my life easier in so many ways. But it could still be simpler. The market is being diluted with too many free services that are trying to catch everything in one basket. I’d rather pay for something that handled all of my cloud-based needs.

Fuji Xerox could be onto something here. It is the first in the mainstream market to integrate cloud-based storage and collaboration with its production workflow in the copiers. The power that this will bestow onto users is great. Being able to modify documents seconds before they hit the press is a great selling point. But does this make sense in the real world? The implementation of computers, print-ready PDFs, and email has already made the standard RUSH job a nightmare to pull off. In the current workflow, the ease of submitting new files mid-production has led to jobs being “approved” 4–5 times. I can only assume that this will make that worse. However, with the correct procedures in place, there could be success with this product. We will have to wait until Fuji Xerox releases this into the US market to give it its fair trial. Sales started in Japan last Monday, so reviews of this are still very preliminary.

As Jay Alabaster in PCWorld points out, “A myriad of similar online storage services exist, and many such as Dropbox and Evernote can sync with faxes and scanners. But hardware makers are rushing to launch cloud offerings that work seamlessly with their products, as a way to lock in clients and a buffer against commoditization amid falling profit margins.” All I can say is that I couldn’t agree more! Fuji’s service will cost around $45 a month and allow 10 users access to 10 GB of shared storage. The company aims to sell 10,000 contracts for this service per year.

So what is your cloud-sharing service preference? I find myself using Dropbox the most.

Author: John Mehl

Top 10 Viral Advertising Campaigns of 2011

Another year has passed us by. So many Top 10 lists to think about… Today I will share the 10 most popular viral campaigns of 2011, per Advertising Age.

What’s your favorite and why?

Author: Marina Kaljaj

Don’t Cross That Data Line: How a Lack of Knowledge About Modern Business Technology Can Be a Death Sentence

From sorting spreadsheets to simple statistical analysis of a data set to basic knowledge of what occurs in the back-end functions of the average business “server,” a functional understanding of everyday technology systems is paramount in today’s world. Don’t get me wrong––expecting the average person involved in a complex business process to understand all aspects of that global process is inefficient. Regardless of where you stand regarding division of labor and the ideas of Adam Smith versus Karl Marx, specialization is part of today’s world and is, and will continue to be, a deciding factor in the expansion and penetration of mobile technology into our lives.

No, this is not a post on human resources, talent management, or anything related to job-placement skills. My goal is to pose a question to anyone who interacts with new technology, whether at home or in the workplace. My simple question: Are we ready for mobile? Mobile today means far more than “mobile” ten years ago––heck, even five years ago. Mobile today means access to documents––anywhere, anytime––access to applications that drive business processes and integration, with a wide array of devices. We have seen mobile technology expand our personal lives, but a functional understanding of what powers this technology tips businesses toward success or failure.

In any job, there is an existing process, defined as a set of procedures or steps that take something from one form to another. Each process has a set of inputs and outputs that feed into a sequential order, creating an increasingly larger system. Often, knowledge of the previous and next steps in the process is critical for someone to complete his or her given assignment efficiently.

All the business processes interact with other systems constantly. The buzzword du jour is “cloud,” which implies reliance on a robust and stable network as well as some “special sauce.” This sauce is knowledge of what powers the cloud, an understanding of what occurs behind the browser or touchscreen. Compared to the mechanical systems of the last century, where pulling a lever or turning a knob had an effect on a mechanical device, the black-box concept of digital systems today hinders a user’s ability to understand. These days, simple, practical knowledge of the back end separates the mice from the men tablets.

Why, damn it, why doesn’t it just work?

Hmm, let’s see. Storage of electronic assets is not intuitive to start. Day to day, we can let documents pile up in a drawer or inbox. If the need to retrieve a document or piece of information from a physical document arises, you use the efficient (sometimes inefficient) query  engine known as the human brain and its accompanying visual system to locate the physical document. This applies to the digital world, but the physical (eye-based) portion of the retrieval process is made far more difficult in an electronic environment given the limited viewing options. If the electronic document was poorly stored, lacking the proper references for searching, or was stored in a repository not possessing the right functions, the document is lost in the digital file cabinet. Tagged electronic resources may be common on many websites and familiar to everyday Internet users, but the implications of what that information means in the context of a larger system is often lost.

What needs to be known?

It is important to understand the business process and the rules associated with it as well as how the data points from this process are used within the larger global scale of the organization. Ultimately our modern technology makes us curators of information, whether pertinent to our personal or professional duties. The better we are at data stewardship, the better we can support the existing processes in all aspects of our lives. Being stewards means knowing about modern networking, the basics of what powers the Internet, document management skills, and what can be done with the data that are added to any given process.

Are you ready for this change? Are your team and company on the same page when it comes to your systems and data? Tell us what you think.

Author: John Carew

Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is not new technology; it was first used on a much larger, more powerful scale to identify airplanes during World War II. A transponder on an aircraft would respond to radio waves coming from a command post that identified an approaching plane as a friend or foe (the IFF or Identity Friend or Foe system).

By the early ’70s, RFID systems had become much smaller and were used to identify livestock and in our everyday life as the annoying tags on clothes that make store alarms go off. Today they are used for many things, including keycards to get into the office, E-ZPasses, microchips in pets, and lately, mobile wallets. (Mobile wallets use near-field communication, which is a subset of RFID.)

In the near future, in some cases the very near future, this technology will make your life much safer and easier. Hospitals are testing bracelets that have RFID tags embedded in them. Each tag is connected to a patient’s medical records, which allows the doctor to call up the complete medical record to a computer or tablet.

In Europe, the intelligent shopping cart is being tested in some stores. All items in these stores have RFID chips, and as they get placed in the shopping cart, the total is calculated. When the customer is finished shopping, he or she wheels the cart through the checkout line (like E-ZPass for shopping carts), and the amount is automatically deducted from the shopper’s bank account electronically.

Mobile marketing can use RFID for incentives. Dairy Queen, for example, is expanding its very successful RFID customer loyalty program. Customers who opt in to the program affix an RFID sticker to their mobile devices; this sticker takes the place of loyalty cards that customers might otherwise attach to their key chains, and one sticker can be used for multiple retailers. Each time the customer buys something, he or she uses the tag to take advantage of specials and sale prices for the items purchased. Dairy Queen is able to track the person’s spending habits and offer specials and coupons that cater to each individual.

The possibilities of RFID and its subsets will make our lives much easier and, hopefully, save us money.

Author: Susan Hallinan