SKY LIMIT Studio Customized This Blog

For those who have been reading since blog since it started a whole month ago, I am happy to report (as you can see) that my custom theme is now complete. This post builds on my previous posts about the process that I’ve done through to get up and running. In this post, I’ll talk about the selection of SKY LIMIT, and how it was working with them.

So with the design of my site complete, I went online to find a developer that might be able to do the WordPress customization and apply my theme. I explored two avenues; the first was reaching out to online providers that turn digital files into themes such as w3-markup.com or psd2html.com. The second approach was to take the project specs and put them on Craigslist for anyone that wanted to bid on the project.

The online providers were obliviously set up to do the project as fast as possible, and with as little interaction as possible. There were fairly clear specification requirements on their site but all communication was done through a tracker system. In other words, it took a while to establish exactly what I was getting and whether or not specific idiosyncratic customizations would be included in the base cost. Furthermore, their canned service responses that we doled out through the tracker gave me the impression that they were not focused on customer service. In terms of cost, it seemed like you’d be starting at around $500, plus additional fees depending on customization.

The Craigslist post on the other hand generated over forty personal responses before I took down the post. Perhaps this is a comment on the state of the economy, but I was really impressed with the quality of folks interested in bidding the project. I should note that it did probably take extra time to review each proposal, and that I was not on a deadline.  Honestly though, it didn’t take that much longer … and I got to exchange  e-mails with folks as far away as India who wanted the work. Bids ranged from $750 to $150. After averaging the estimates out, I found that the mean was around $300, so I used that as my target price.

It was pretty clear at this point that I wanted someone that I could talk to, and who could advise me a bit, so I decided that I’d go with one of the independents who was domestic and preferably in the same time zone. As a consultant myself, I also preferred to work with a consultant or small business. I interviewed three of the best candidates to discuss their past projects and make sure they were comfortable with the pricing I was offering. I was willing to pay less than the online providers would cost, but I was willing to be flexible schedule wise,and I promised to write something up (this) if the project went well … which it did.

Ultimately, I settled on SKY LIMIT which is based in Seattle, WA. Note, that they’re previous incarnation is TYZ Design, so that’s the place to go to see their portfolio. I worked most directly with Christopher Wood, who is their Director of Marketing to get the project off the ground. We negotiated that I’d pay 50% up front, then 50% upon completion. Working was Christopher was great, he responded to my e-mails promptly and connected me with the developer who was doing the work at the appropriate times. I’d recommend working with Christopher and SKY LIMIT for anyone trying to get a customized blog up in short order.

The project did take a little longer than expected due to some cross-browser issues that wouldn’t go away, plus a couple of tricky details that were important to me, but this didn’t bother me too much because I was flexible time wise. Plus, they were transparent and communicative along the way. Having worked with many service providers, and as a service provider, I can tell you that it’s always better to just explain what’s causing a delay. People can deal with delays if they can empathize with what’s going on behind the scenes, and work on contingencies (so long as you’re working hard to fix it). What I cannot stand, and what will destroy our relationship, is delays without transparency. Don’t do it!

So, thank you to Christopher and his team at SKY LIMIT. I look forward to working with them again if one of my consulting clients has an appropriate projects.

A Design Process Diagram

Last year I was invited by Kim Lenox, to present at a San Francisco IxDA event that took place at the IDEO’s offices, and at that event I talked about a process diagram that I created for Adaptive Path. In this post, I’ll share that diagram, and a slideshare that outlines how the diagram was created with the very process it illustrates. I also want to give special thanks to Jesse James Garrett who worked closely with me on the development of this diagram, it would not have been possible without his insights and ideas.

 

 

Process Diagram

One of the challenges in coming up with this design, was that the best design processes are flexible, iterative, and agile. So how do you diagram for a moving target? The design addresses this in two ways. First, it features internal loops, or pathways, that allow it to represent the iterative nature of the design process. In other words, it is hard to know in advance how many times you’ll have to go through the prototyping and testing cycle, but you can know where the forks in the road are. Second, the diagram embeds one convergence/divergence diamond process inside another, rather that putting them in sequence, which is often the case with other diagrams I have seen. I should clarify, that this diagram actually has three diamonds, with one in sequence and the other embedded. The first diamond is unique in that the top half is not truly generative because it is about defining the opportunity space, and creating an inventory of what is currently in that space. Thus the “discover” and “gather” cycle.

What is a convergence/divergence diamond? In the diagram above, the top half of each diamond illustrates a generative process where you might, for example, generate ideas. The bottom half of the diamond represents a convergent process that serves to distill, combine, or select from the set of ideas generated in the top area. For this reason, I show the convergent section as “imagine possibility”, while the bottom half about “analyzing patterns”. The process of analyzing patterns is a comparative analysis to understand similarities and differences between the ideas. What ideas overlap? Where are the gaps? Etc.

Say you are trying to make a new wallet, here’s what the process might look like step by step. I’ll start with the first diamond and assume that you’ve got your client relationship stated already:

  1. Diamond #1
    1. Diverge: do discovery to understand how “wallets” are defined in the marketplace
    2. Diverge: gather examples for the market
    3. Diverge: repeat until you have a representative sample of the territory and have set boundaries
    4. Converge: look for similarities and differences within the set you’ve collected
    5. Converge: set goals for how your product will sit in the market space (relative positioning)
    6. Proceed to a discussion of the opportunity space
  2. Diamond #2
    1. Diverge: articulate the challenge and discuss possible solutions
    2. Diamond #3: initial cycle
      1. Diverge: move from your articulation of the challenge to imagining possible solutions
      2. Converge: look for similarities and differences within the set you’ve collected
    3. Converge: define one potential solution
    4. Converge: make a prototype based on your definition
    5. Diamond #3: iterate and repeat until you have prototypes which it can be evaluated
      1. Diverge: move from your articulation of the challenge to imagining possible solutions
      2. Converge: look for similarities and differences within the set you’ve collected
    6. Diverge: change perspective by exploring the challenge in a new way. For example, if you’ve been thinking about the wallet in a utilitarian context, try thinking of it as a fashion accessory, a status symbol, a self-expression, etc.
    7. Converge: look for similarities and differences within the prototypes you’ve made
    8. Define: articulate the most successful solution
    9. Hone: make a higher fidelity prototype and refine definition
    10. Make: your final wallet

Here’s the presentation deck that explains how the diagram was developed using this process:

Here are some additional design process diagrams, that were kindly forwarded my way by Jon Littell at Hot Studio and others. Plus, here is a link to a great report on the Design Council’s website that shares research that they conducted into different processes being used at eleven global firms.

Thanks, and I look forward to your feedback. If you’d got other diagrams that you’d like to share, I’ll add them to this post!

Visualizing How Marketers Got Here

Last week I wrote a post about where marketers are today, and I wanted to follow that up with a quick post about how we got here. I’m sharing a short video that summarizes the chronology quite well, and I want to highlight the importance of visualizing these narratives to make them more tangible.

First, a point about visualizations. Several months ago I have the pleasure of meeting Dan Roam, and inviting him to present to the staff at Adaptive Path. Dan’s book, The Back of The Napkin, is well worth reading and explains how we process visual information differently than written texts or spoken narratives. He points out that  our ability to process visual information  pre-dates our use of language, and explains that presenting ideas in a visual format allows us to access a  highly evolved and intuitive part of our brain. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.” My abbreviated explanation doesn’t really do his book justice though, so you should really check it out.

In the meantime, here is a video that summarizes many of the thoughts from my aforementioned post. The video comes from the  German Ad agency Scholz & Friends. Kudos to them for making this.

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The Making Of The Adina Bus

Back in 2004 I joined a startup beverage company called Adina For Life, Inc. as their marketing guy. In my three year tenure, I worked on the launch of three product lines into national distribution. There are many stories about the birth of the business that I could share but this post is focused on one project I spearheaded for Adina, the creation of a promotional vehicle. I hope this will be helpful for anyone considering such an endeavor.

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Some Background On Adina

Adina was started by a small group of passionate juicepreneurs that included Greg Steltenpohl, the founder of Odwalla. The company’s mission was to bring healthy and nutritious beverages to the market, and provide an alternative to the corn syrup based beverages that have fueled the diabetes epidemic in this country. In addition to offering a lower sugar alternative, we were working with ingredients that were not common in the market at that time and which have significant anti-oxidant properties. One such ingredient was hibiscus, which we sourced through a woman’s run cooperative farm in Senegal; many of the original flavors were based on traditional recipes that you would find in regions that were influenced by the African diaspora. The Adinian mission encapsulated the idea that is was possible to put something good into your body while also doing something good for the world. Thus, we focused on sustainable farming practices, organics, fair trade sourcing policies, etc. I tried to take a similar approach with the Adina bus by finding with a vintage bus (recycling) that was made in California (local), and converting it to run on vegetable oil (sustainability).

The Story Of The Bus

I was responsible for bringing Adina to our first trade show back in 2005, which was the largest natural products conference in the world, called Natural Products Expo West. As a start up, we had a very tight budget to work with but it was important that we make a splash with our product launch. Greg and his wife Dominique Leveuf came to me with some ideas for our booth and introduced me to the art cars of Burning Man. These cars were amazing and inspired me to get in touch with Peter Jens-Claussen, who I had recently met on his party bus, Teacher With The Bus. I talked with Peter about the possibility of working together to bring his bus to the expo because it had already been renovated, featured a lounge on the inside, and could be converted to run on vegetable oil in time for the show. Our idea was to drive the bus into the exhibition hall, surround it with jungle foliage, and create a roadside juice stand.

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The more I talked with people about the idea, and got an understanding of the costs involved, the more things started falling into place. For example, I learned that to participate in trade shows you have to pay for your booth set up to be brought into the exhibition hall on forklifts or carts. Typically there are union contracts that govern the freight and dryage, you can’t just bring it in yourself, so bringing in your products can be one of the biggest expenses. This is especially true if your products are beverages because they are heavy and rates are based on hundred pound weight increments. I discovered, however, that there were special rates for the car shows that often take place at these exhibition halls. Car shows would be prohibitively expensive to put on if exhibitors had to pay by weight to bring their cars in. Therefore, if you can drive a vehicle into the hall there is a $150 “guide fee” which entails someone walking in front of your vehicle until you get to your spot. Compared to the thousands of dollars of freight fees, the bus idea started looking very attractive. In essence, we could put almost all our booth materials into the bus and simply drive it in for $150.

Still, the event was going to be very expensive because the bus was 35 feet long and required a 20′ by 24′ booth (with the bus positioned diagnostically across). Plus, the booth was an island, meaning that it did not share any sides with another booth, which made it even more expensive. At this point, Greg stepped in to help negotiate a partnership with a company called Jungle Products. They produce cooking oils made from palm trees that were also organic and sourced from Africa. Our theme was a perfect fit for them, and since the bus had to be positioned diagonally across the booth it would be possible to set up two sides to the experience. Plus, we could share the interior lounge space on the bus for private meetings. To top it all off,  Jungle Products we being run by Tedd Robb whose father was the CEO of Whole Foods, so we’d have a chance to chat with him in our lounge!

With the financial picture coming together, I was able to afford to have the bus repainted for the show. I worked with Dominique to come up with the design for the bus, which was based on the unique transport buses of West Africa.

bus

Because we were going to split the bus with Jungle Products they were able to paint their side of the bus as well. I painted the base colors with La Monte Lamoreux, and created a company event to add the hand painted elements of the design. La Monte really lead the charge and did an amazing job in the face of some significant paint and weather challenges. In the end, this turned out to be a really fun bonding experience for everyone involved and got us really excited about the bus. You can see more pictures of the painting experience here.

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With the bus painted, converted to run on vegetable oil, and the rest of our trade show experience planned, we headed down to Los Angeles in the bus. Peter took care of the driving and delivered the bus to our booth. As far as I know, it was the first time anyone had arrived with anything quite like this because everyone at the exhibition hall had to come by and kick the tires. It was a really great start to getting the buzz going.

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In the end, the booth was a total hit and we did get a chance to meet up with the CEO of Whole Foods. He was so blown away by the presentation and the bus, he asked if we could take it on a tour of Whole Foods once they took our product into distribution! You can’t really ask for much more than that … the only problem was that Peter needed his bus back, so I’d have to get another one!

The Adina Bus Part II

We had a couple more weeks to use Peter’s bus, but it was clear from Expo West that we needed a permanent bus of our own. The process of converting Peter’s bus to run on vegetable oil and painting it had prepared me well to improve the design with Adina’s own bus. So, I started searching for another Gillig. I wanted to work with a Gillig because it was a locally manufactured bus and because they have a unique vintage look that resonated with the Adina brand. Gillig buses do have some unique qualities that bear mentioning, for example they are manual, have twelve gears, and do not have a sequential clutch (which means you have to double clutch to downshift). I have to admit that I really loved driving this bus … but then I enjoy driving.

It didn’t take long to find a 1968 Gillig on Craigslist with about 100,000 miles on it, and I didn’t even have to leave the Bay Area. We purchased the bus for around $3,500 and immediately got to work (the cost of these old buses is surprisingly low!). We knew we wanted to have a lounge on the inside, but the design  would be a bit different than Peter’s bus because we wanted it to be easy to take on the road to retailers like Whole Foods. I created the design myself, which included room for 500 gallons of vegetable oil (for long range travel), juice storage under the seats, a bar with refrigerators, and a fold out bed in case we took the bus on an overnight journey. It was totally pimped out, and the design included a second phase of renovation to add solar panels, a larger stereo and more. The build out of the design was completed by a wonderful shop called Figure Plant. Here is an image of one of my design specification documents.

Bus-drawing

For the vegie-conversion, I was forunate enough to get connected with a great local conversion shop called VegRev run by William Hibbits and David Shelhart. We worked together to design a great system that would allow the bus to pull up to any fast food chain, suck out their used vegetable oil, filter it on board, and then run on it. I ended up establishing a relationship with a local restaurant to get free fuel on a regular basis. With the capacity to hold 500 gallons on board it was possible to drive up and down the west coast without refuleing! Here are more images of the conversion process.

 

With the bus renovated and converted to run on veggie, I had to go through the arduous task of getting the bus commercially registered and insured to operate. This proved to be time consuming and frustrating mostly because it required inspections by the Public Utility Commission and the California Highway Patrol. I also had to get a commercial driver’s license so I could drive the bus while it was full of people. With that done, it was just about time to go back to Expo West! Instead of bringing the bus inside the trade show this year, we decided to use the bus to do some guerrilla marketing. We conducted drive by juice drops around the convention center during the day, and we held cocktail parties in it in the evening. It was a really fun event and we made a big splash once again … this time for the launch of our coffee line. The trade show organizers were a little bent out of shape, however, because we didn’t have to pay anything to have the bus there!

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Though I’ve left Adina to take on new challenges the bus program has continued. I understand that it’s completed some of the Whole Foods store visits that served as part of the inspiration to own a bus in the first place. It’s gone to music festivals like the Harmony Festival, and to corporate campuses like Google. As you can see here, the bus has been redecorated with new branding to reflect the coffee line and the new company motto “Drink No Evil”.

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Green Hosting

In today’s Daily Statfrom Harvard they shared the results of an interesting study from The McKinsey Quarterly about the carbon footprint of datacenters. It turn out that “Emissions from data centers are expected to grow at more than 11% annually. Right now, the amount of carbon emitted by data centers worldwide — 80 megatons — is more than half Argentina’s carbon output (142 megatons) and that of the Netherlands (146 megatons).”

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Which is why I’m happy to say that my site is green due to the carbon offsets and renewable energy that DreamHost buys on my behalf. And just in case you want some proof, check this out. Ask your host if they’re doing the same y’all.