Author Archives: Utterly Orange

Let’s Get Visual!

I’m going to tell you the worst-kept secret that you already know. Nobody likes to read anything anymore. Well, not anything that is just a wall of text. We’re all guilty of scanning a document instead of reading every word or sharing an article after just reading the headline. Nobody is proud of it, but with the sheer bulk of content that is produced everyday, we have to get through all of it somehow.

All of the most digestible information we encounter now has enormous visual pieces coupled with it. Think of every infographic you read, every photo with a caption, and video you can play while multitasking. You learn much more from these visually captivating pieces than from walls of text similar to this post (but I’m breaking up this content with pictures, so bear with me).

Social media provides a great platform for watching how people consume information. We started off with blogs that were hundreds––if not thousands––of words long. We then moved to Facebook, cutting people’s word count by at least half, and then to Twitter, keeping our count to 140 characters or less. Now, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Tumblr are allowing for content sans words, replaced by images, audio, and visual communication.

But just because we are truncating what we write, does that make it more effective? It sure seems that way. Here are some stats:

  • 44% of social media users are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures (as opposed to other types of media)
  • Facebook photos get at least 7x more likes than links do
  • Pinterest, a completely visual social media channel, has grown by 6000% in the last 8 months
  • Images are the most clicked-on content on Twitter
  • Recruiters spend more time looking at a user’s LinkedIn profile picture than anything else
  • More than 6 billion hours of YouTube videos are being watched per month
  • Flipboard, a visual news app, was the #1 application when the iPad launched
  • Images are processed 60,000x faster than text by the human brain

So are you prepared? Content is still king, and visual content requires originality and thought. Make sure everything you post has something engaging to look at.  Visuals will cut through regular marketing speak, and original visuals can even stand out from other media of the same ilk. So charge your smartphone and grab your camera––you have some work to do!

Author: Zack Smith

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Managing: Production vs. Digital

When you are providing management oversight in this industry, it shouldn’t matter what type of job it is, correct? Well, that’s very far from the truth. When the company shifts from a production (print) environment to a digital one, project management has to take on a whole new role. Let’s start with some basic differences between production and digital.

The end result of a production job is tangible––you can touch it, see it, feel it. Also, you are generally on the same page with the customer or vendor when you agree on the paper, color, quantity, size, and binding. The proofing, or verification, phase is straightforward because you––and the client––can touch it, see it, and feel it.

Digital jobs are intangible. These jobs are generally process implementations, computer programming and software development––things you don’t touch, see, or feel. These jobs are usually something new for the customer or an upgrade to an existing system. Although customers know what they want, their needs are conveyed in general terms. The verification stage becomes a testing phase where clients may decide that it’s “not exactly” what they meant, or decide that something “a little” more is needed. At this stage, you will also encounter differences in opinion––for example, when you agree with the client that you are going to provide documentation, does that mean a “how-to” user manual or a “blueprint” to rebuild the program from scratch? This is where the real negotiating usually comes into play, but proper planning can avoid this pitfall.

There are five basic project management phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and completion. These phases should be followed for any type of project regardless of the final output. The planning phase is probably the most critical for any project and ensures that both customer and vendor agree on the final output. In a production job, planning includes negotiation and agreement with the client on the paper, color, quantity, size, and binding for the final product. In a lot of situations, a sample or proof is created so that there is no misunderstanding––again, you can touch it, feel it, see it.

When you are dealing with an intangible deliverable, the planning phase needs further expansion. The creation of a sample or proof is generally not feasible, and the final output will not be realized without a majority of the work being completed. Therefore, “enhanced” planning  is required when you have a project in the digital arena. You will need to create a detailed, step-by-step approach from concept to completion. In addition, you must avoid using general terms (which could lead to divergent expectations, as illustrated in the documentation example above) and be as specific as possible about the final product, as well as its limitations. You can’t read the client’s mind, so you need to be more inquisitive and document what you discover so that both of you can “see” what the client meant.

Author: Tim Murphy

Top Tech in Movies and Television

Much of today’s technology was seen in movies first––it makes you wonder how much these movies have influenced designers.

Devices resembling the iPad have appeared in many movies throughout the years, including 2001: A Space Odyssey (whose HAL was a precursor to Siri) and Star Trek with its PADD (Personal Access Display Device).

Cell phone–like items have been seen many times over, most famously as Star Trek’s “communicator,” but in the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, those aboard the United Planets Cruiser have phones attached to their belt buckles. And in more recent times, Jim Carrey’s character in The Cable Guy predicted we would have a phone, computer, television, and game-playing device all in one.

Minority Report has a scene with gestural interfaces, as well as other user-interface innovations, in front of transparent screens. In the same scene, there are also flexible and transparent displays!

Minority Report UI Innovation analysis from Philippe DEWOST on Vimeo.

Which other Hollywood inventions have become realities? What other ones would you like to have in real life?

Author: Susan Hallinan

Did Quark Quack Its Last Quirk?

In 2002, I started working in the industry as an assistant prepress technician. Back then, we were on working Power Macintosh computers in the advanced operating system of “Classic Mac”—we couldn’t possibly trust the new OS X! We prepared files in QuarkXPress 5 and sent them to a film marker to eventually make plates and begin the printing process. Adobe was just starting to filter into prepress departments with InDesign 2, but like OS X, it was also not to be trusted.

At this time in the industry, the only software that could successfully communicate with plate setters and filmmakers was Quark. Yes, it had its quirks, but it always got the job done. Designing something in InDesign and trying to get it successfully onto a printing plate could spell disaster for my keyboard—InDesign was always the whipping boy for me!

Fast-forward to 2013, and you can clearly see that the tables have turned.  Adobe has totally taken over with CS 6, and those who refuse to make the switch only use Quark. I cringe when I get files in Quark. Just recently I received a magazine file in Quark, prepared perfectly and packaged appropriately. After doing our due diligence of loading the customer-supplied fonts and then opening the document and relinking any missing images, all seemed to be well. Our esteemed prepress technicians made print- and screen-ready PDFs, and we distributed them to the client for review.

This is the shocker: All the caption fonts were incorrect, and there was an entire image missing on one of the pages. After receiving this news from the client, I questioned our prepress technician. Much to my surprise, the response was, “I’m not surprised”—this is a known occurrence with Quark these days! Upon further investigation, we determined the fonts were there (we had to manually switch it), and so was the image. But the image was hidden—not behind something, just blank, gone! It came to our attention that a new feature called “content aware” text wrapping was used to wrap text around the image without placing a proper clipping path in Photoshop. So, the question is, why is Quark releasing features that are not totally fleshed out?

The moral to this story is: Quark, you quacked your last quirk for me! If a software provider who was a leader in the industry allows itself to be overtaken in a market it once dominated, it should cease to exist. You can’t take back market share when you are releasing versions that have so many “quirks” that it doesn’t make sense to use. So, today the only useful feature of Quark is the hidden Easter egg—the little alien that marches onto the screen to delete your object. When you get frustrated with Adobe products, open up Quark and hit this key command—it will make you feel better, and then you can quit Quark and go back to Adobe!

Tell me—do you use Quark and have a full keyboard of keys, or does it look like mine?

Author: John Mehl

 

Vanguard Direct Cleans up Little Bay Park with New York Cares

This past Saturday, 15 Vanguardians laced up their boots once again to aid in the ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief effort, tasked with cleaning up the shoreline at Little Bay Park in Bayside, Queens. They were joined by 4,000 other volunteers around New York City, joined together for New York Cares Day, an annual volunteer and fundraising effort dedicating to cleaning up parks across New York City in preparation for summer.

In early spring of each year, approximately 4,000 volunteers spread out to the corners of the five boroughs to clean up 70 different parks around the city. They spend the day raking, painting, and planting to make these spaces a desirable destination for the summer. This year was especially important as many of these locations were destroyed in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.

Doreen Doyle looks at the beach upon arrival

Little Bay Park is a small beach situated directly underneath the The Throgs Neck Bridge, which connects Queens to the Bronx. Vanguardians arrived bright and early, ready to pick up the rakes and trash bags and get started. The beach was divided by a line of rocks with debris caught in front, behind, and on top of them. Within the first hour of working, over 20 bags full of trash were pulled off the beach. As the day progressed, the tide went out farther allowing for more access to the water line. As a result, we were able to dig up larger debris such as a skid and numerous tires that were buried deep in the wet sand.

Digging tires from the water. From left to right: Natacha Arora and Zachary Smith

Despite the fatigue and perhaps a smidge of windburn, everyone enjoyed getting out for a few hours and participating in this cleanup effort. Sarah Bishow-Semevolos from New York Cares told our own CEO, Bob O’Connell “I really like the dynamic of your company, you can see that its family oriented.” This just goes to show that a few hours of time can go a long way, and create a fun team effort all the while. New York Cares is open for volunteering opportunities all year round, and can be viewed http://www.newyorkcares.org/volunteer/.

The team. Top row from left to right: Zachary Smith, Natacha Arora, Eugene Lee, Abdul Kersh, Bob O’Connell, Doreen Doyle, Joe Corbo, and Melody Dukos. Bottom row from left to right: Linda Chin, Kathy Lupo, Ketsy Avila, Samantha Avila, New York Cares Staff, Cathy Kersh, Millie Camacho, and Maria Kersh

More pictures of the adventure can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/VanguardDirect.

Author: Natacha Arora

After Procedures, What Comes Next?

In my earlier post “Neck-Deep in Procedures and Gasping for Air?”, I presented my Procedures Manifesto and some rules to follow when specifying and implementing procedures.

The next real question for procedure stewards to answer is: How can we improve? Specifically, how can technology be implemented to support a procedure and associated business processes? Support can come in many forms, from workflow transparency for team members or managers to complex, data-driven validation and automation. Most processes and their potential technological-support counterparts lie somewhere in the middle. It is our job as stewards of data across a process to identify the areas where technology can provide support. In order to do so, however, one must have a strong foundation in the concepts behind available technology and a working knowledge of the data or specifications of a given process.

Where can you learn about the concepts of process automation?
Look around the Internet. From the websites of IFTTT to Amazon to USPS to Vista Print, concepts of automation are all around you. You experience the end-user side of these systems daily, but step back for a moment and look at what information you provide to those sites. Basic info is irrelevant since contact info and demographic data don’t matter, but the specifics about your transactions with those sites push data into “behind the scenes” systems that allow companies to function.

Data specifications––who cares? I am not a programmer!
Wrong! You do care and you do know about data specifications. As you guide data through a given process, you often know if something “doesn’t make sense” or will cause an issue down the line. That knowledge is exactly what data specifications are built upon––the only difference is that the specifications are structured in a uniform way that is not always obvious. Ultimately, form is something that an expert can help with, but making a simple list of the variables or data points you need to begin a process can be an eye-opening exercise to see precisely how little or massive the amount of information you need to complete a process really is.

With the right business process shepherding accurate information, technology can support that process. The other missing piece is standards, but we will leave that for another post…

Author: John Carew

RIP Google Reader, Bring On Social News

If you use the Internet to curate all of your news, then chances are you’ve used an RSS Feed backed by Google Reader. In that case, you are then well aware that Google is nixing Reader during its yearly spring-cleaning purge. Often, apps that bring in no revenue or have long since been abandoned are what get the axe, not a popular application used by millions. The public outcry was instantaneous, all with one unified question: Why are you doing this to me?

For those who are still a little confused about what Google Reader is and the importance it had for many industries, it was the service offered by Google that aggregated specified content into a single web feed. This allowed users to scan articles and find pieces of relevant content quickly and efficiently. In March, Google announced the end of the service by July, with no replacement service to offer as of yet, or so it seems.

The last couple of years, social search and crowdsourcing have become more and more common in our everyday lives. Every blog and news provider has social channels––most likely multiple channels––it posts to. With Google’s constant attempts to breach the social scene, this shouldn’t be a surprising announcement. What is a surprise, however, is how many people are opposed to the idea of using social media as their sole news driver, even though it caters to personal preferences, niche markets, and like-minded attitudes. Sites like Twitter have every potential to operate like a newsfeed, with the added bonus of real-time debates and sharing abilities. But for some reason, our customary agents of change from the tech industry are shouting that they like things the way they are.

Which is ridiculous. Especially because everyone should have seen this coming. The Pew Research Center found that over 93 million of Facebook’s 133 million active users use the social network to read the news their friends and family share, while another 31 million of these users get their news from dedicated news providers. That was in 2011. That same report showed that, of all the users of Twitter––still climbing the ranks to become one of the popular kids in the social circle––36% used their friends as news sources, but 45% used accounts from established news sources pushing their own content.

I must reiterate. That was two years ago. Since then, Google has been pushing for Google+ to be better integrated into the everyday person’s social sphere, mostly to little success. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Reader pop up under a new guise in Google+, with the hopes of persuading people to use Google+ as their new RSS Feed/news aggregator. If you’re still in doubt, take a look at the last update Google Reader got in 2011. It was integration with Google+. Also two years ago.

This is not a shot in the dark, and it is almost certainly a very calculated move on the part of Google. Removing Google Reader is one move on the chessboard. Whatever Google plans on doing to remedy the current disappointment it dealt its loyal followers, you can be sure an answer will come before Google Reader cuts out for good.

Author: Zack Smith