From looking at product design through the eyes of science fiction to searching for the most influential people using your product, topics at this year's SXSW are as varied as usual, and they're almost as thought-provoking as the queso is delicious. (Which is to say, very.)
A couple of main themes to talk about so far, from my perspective as Emma's product manager.
1. Collaboration, innovation & expectations. As we all know, consumer expectations have changed. Not only do we want access to the latest information and support when we encounter problems, but as consumers we also want to be a part of the product itself. To that end, it's important that companies don't create new products in a vacuum. After all, we're creating and building something that we hope will bring value to our customers, so we should get them involved early in the process and let them help shape the final result.
We're also learning that releasing new products or features is just the beginning of the process. New technologies to collect and respond to feedback, paired with iterative development techniques, are giving users a more active voice in how products evolve over time. As product builders, our role is to listen to lots of single voices and ideas, and then synthesize and reshape that information to create innovative solutions that do more than just solve problems – they create value.
It's not quite a haiku, but: Collaboration leads to innovation… Innovation is shaped through iteration… Iteration validates the vision… The vision inspires collaboration.
2. Social space trends: reach & influence. So if reach indicates how wide your network is and influence indicates how much your endorsements matter, it's time to rethink what's actually more important. Reach used to be all the rage, but influence is measurable.
And as for the science fiction, one session about "design fiction" emphasized that story-telling, including science fiction, can do things that science itself cannot. Imagining people in the future keeps ideas focused on how we'll work and play, buy stuff, communicate with friends and coworkers and so on. As the stories of people emerge, the objects and gadgets and interfaces that they'll use start to magically appear right along with them. And sometimes those objects look very different than if the conversation starts by trying to envision the "future version" of the gadgets we use today. People use products, so the more clearly we can visualize how people will change, the more clearly we can aim the technology to support those new stories.
And with that I give you the future of note-taking – maybe.
We heard Daniel Burka (of Tiny Speck, formerly creative director at Digg) and Rob Goodlatte (product designer at Facebook) give a talk about how important the first fifteen minutes of your experience with a product is. It was great content for us, of course, as we're always trying to make Emma's service easy for folks to use from the moment they first log in. But among the many great points they made, one seemed as relevant for email marketers as it did for software developers.
What's the ah-ha moment?
Goodlatte told the story of Facebook's user testing as they tried to improve the registration process. Their research and development team recorded the eye movements and faces of folks as they signed up for Facebook for the first time. In one woman's case, they watched her have a not-so-great experience. She got lots of error messages. She had an invalid email domain. She was confused. That was all before the ah-ha moment. She got to the point in the registration, after she'd filled in her high school and college information, that Facebook showed her pictures of folks she might know. When she recognized an old friend from high school, her face lit up, she leaned forward in her chair and she grinned for the rest of the registration process.
It was an ah-ha moment for the Facebook team, too. They got to see this woman realize how their technology was worth her time. In fact, she stopped relating to Facebook as technology altogether and saw instead the value of reconnecting with old friends. With her in mind (and a lot of other users), they redesigned the setup process around that notion and eventually saw a 5% lift in the registration process.
So, what's the ah-ha moment in your email campaign? It's the moment folks stop relating to your email as just another email and instead find something that's worth their time. Have your ah-ha moment in mind when you first start your email design and content, so you can introduce it in a way where your subscribers will find it in the first few seconds of reading your email.
Maybe it's an article that speaks to a problem they're dealing with at work. Maybe it's a discount or a special offer. Maybe it's hand-drawn illustrations that accompany each news story. Or it's something less tangible, like a certain tone you write with or the unique way you personalize your campaigns. It's different for every organization, and it may change from email to email, but it's about connecting the point of your email to the delight of your subscribers. After all, you're not just sending an email. Like the team at Facebook, you're designing an experience, connecting with people and inviting them to engage more with you.
One thing's for sure: It's a lot sunnier here in Austin at SXSW than it is back at Emma's Nashville office … also, they have lots more retro neon signs here than Music City. And don't even get me started on the cool bike cabbies (think overgrown tricycle, with room for three passengers). As for what's happening inside the conference, here are the top five words I'm hearing so far (and a few other words to go along with them).
1. ITERATE: Don't just do it once; keep reworking it. Daniel Burka, formerly of Digg, and Rob Goodlatte from Facebook talked about making iterative improvements to their products. One interesting point for us at Emma is that they talked about redesigning the registration process all the time – in most situations, users will only go through registration once, so it doesn't affect everyone already using the product.
2. EXPERIENCE: Get to know your users, their needs and motivations. And do it early enough that what you learn can influence your design decisions.
3. FAIL: It's OK to make mistakes — just be sure to learn from them. One person said that failure is when you don't feel proud to show the work that you've done, while another described it as the thing that keeps him up at night because he didn't do enough. A big theme is that all of the people who create something feel like it's their fault if it doesn't work. There's no blame game here — it's about taking personal responsibility. In a different session, the Gmail engineers talked about when Buzz launched: Many of the engineers felt so personally responsible for the problems that they slept in the office until the job was complete.
4. PSYCHOLOGY: We've heard so many examples of how to influence people and how they feel as they use your site and product. Referencing books like Nudge and Buyology, presenters talked about creating trust and using positive reinforcement in this ad-saturated environment. (They said we may be exposed to 5,000 branding messages a day.)
5. OUTLET: As in, "Have you seen an outlet? My battery is dying."
And as a bonus round of SXSW info for you, people are all abuzz about the iPad and issues about mobile. As the mobile business grows, of course, people expect to have smooth, desktop-like experiences on their phones and in other mobile environments. One way for user experience teams to think about this is to pay attention to all the things that will make someone not want to use your product ever again. A speaker from Google UI mentioned that he believes mobile Web will be bigger than apps, even though everyone is more excited about apps now. If you really want to think freaky mobile thoughts, think of all things the phone could do without ever coming out of your pocket.
If there's such a thing as lanyard memory lane, we are now going to walk down it. In 2009, folks at SXSW helped Emma fund 40 classroom projects through DonorsChoose.org. SXSWers weighed in on their favorite regions and subjects, and we chose the projects accordingly. In 2008, Emma asked lanyard wearers at SXSW to vote YES for trees, because they're tall and leafy and why would you vote no? For every vote we got — up to 5,000 — we planted a tree with our tree-planting partner, Plant-It 2020. (Of course, we decided we like trees so much that we haven't really stopped planting them since. We plant five for each new customer who joins Emma.)
This year, we're focusing on one of Feeding America's national programs, the Backpack Program, which provides food-filled backpacks to hungry kids, giving them a convenient and discrete way to take food home to their families. Started in 1995, it now serves nearly 200,000 students a year through 3,600 individual Backpack Programs across the country.
Even if you're not joining us at SXSW, you can click to turn an ordinary backpack into a super-awesome, hunger-fighting backpack. After 1,000 clicks, Emma will donate 1,000 backpacks filled with food to Feeding America's Backpack Program. If you're ready to super-awesomify a backpack, visit myemma.com/backpack.
Pictured above: As part of our sponsorship for Marketing Sherpa's Email Marketing Summit in January, we provided Emma-branded napkins for the afternoon break.
If you're near one of these events in March, stop by and say hello. If you're planning on attending the National Rubber Band Exhibit instead because you've had your heart set on it for, like, ever, now's your chance to reconsider.
Podcamp is built on the same un-conference format as Barcamp, but this version focuses on all things new media. This is one of those events that allows us to support our local technology community in Nashville. Oh yeah, and the event is free. How cool is that? Very cool.
This event presented by Austin Community College focuses on bringing quality content to local business and non-profit professionals. Our very own Jonathan Gesinger will be running our booth, so please stop by and say hello to Jonathan if you attend.
If you register before March 5, registration is $99, and you can use the discount code INSIDER to take a friend for free.
SXSW started out as a music and media conference in 1987, and they added festivals for the film and technology communities in 1994. This is Emma's third year in a row as lanyard sponsor at SXSW Interactive. Through our sponsorships, we've had some fun while we've done some good, rallying support to plant trees and provide for underprivileged classrooms.
This year's campaign will focus on hunger, and the conference is already blogging about us. (We're blushing.) Check back on March 12 when we unveil our new campaign.
Weâ€™re fans of really big ideas, so we're thrilled to announce our support for TEDx Nashville. TED started in California in 1984 as a way to bring together ideas from the brightest minds in technology, entertainment and design and has become quite the phenomenon. We'll be attending during the day, so if you're in the area and like possibly world-changing, mind-blowing ideas, that's enough reason to hold off on that Rubber Band Exhibit for one more year. Tickets are on sale for $20.
This is our fourth year sponsoring the AIGA's Y Conference. (You could say we're fans of not only big ideas, but also all things design.) The 15th annual Y-Design conference is hosted by AIGA's San Diego chapter. This year's conference, titled SHIFT will provide designers with ideas on adjusting to ever-changing business methods. If you register by March 10, you can receive a special discount — just click here and enter the reference code EMMA.
The third annual Creative Freelancer Conference kicks off in June, and if you're in the business of freelance — whether you're a graphic designer, copywriter, illustrator or photographer — this event is one to consider. I know what you're thinking: Why is this June event on the March update? Well, I'm glad you asked.
If you sign up here by the March 12 early-bird deadline, you'll save on registration. Also, use the promo code: "11k" to receive an extra $25 off. Now, I bet you're glad we mentioned this June event in March, right?
Invite your email subscribers to be a part of the relief efforts in Haiti. Emma's endlessly talented graphic designers put together a suite of donation badges that are yours to add to your next email campaign. Here's how it works:
Every year, we award free Emma email and survey service to small, deserving non-profits that our customers tell us about.
Today, the nominations are in — over 100 fantastic groups doing fantastic work around the world — and we're asking *you* to vote for your five favorite groups anytime between now and the end of January.
When we say it's the most wonderful time of the year 'round these parts, we're talking about Emma 25 time. It's the annual program (now in its sixth year) where we team up with our customers to award free Emma service to deserving non-profits — 25 around the world, and 25 in the cities Emma calls home (Nashville, Portland, Denver and Austin).
If you're an Emma customer, why not nominate your favorite non-profit for free email marketing and survey services from Emma? It's a fantastic way to help those groups use email to stay in touch with volunteers, find donations, send newsletters, manage events and more.
Come early January, we'll post all the eligible groups and invite the whole world to vote for their favorites. But for *your* favorite group to be an honoree, *you've* got to nominate 'em.
It just takes a few minutes, and you'll have that warm, fuzzy feeling that no amount of delicious gingerbread lattes can rival. Go on and get to nominating!
As usual, Emma's got big plans across these United States to participate in conferences, sponsor events, and share email marketing tips & best practices. And the fall's no different — from Chicago to Denver, Scottsdale to Dallas, Emma staffers are braving bag-check fees and peanut allergies and that guy who insists on putting his seat back and all sorts of other travel perils to make an appearance at a town near you. Here's what's on our itinerary — say hello if you'll be there, too, or check out some of the discounts we're able to offer through our sponsorships. Cheers!
Our good friends over at MarketingProfs have put together another solid event with great content that will help you generate new ideas for your business. If you're in the Chicago area and want to swing by and say hello, click here to register and take advantage of the $200 discount they're still offering. Also, don't forget to come by our booth and say hello to Emma's Sara McManigal and Megan Feltes, who will be representing our gal at the conference.
Emma's latest satellite office recently opened in Austin, so we're thrilled to be a part of this event for the technology and marketing community in Texas. Our very own Jim Hitch will be giving a presentation on elements of stylish email design at 9 AM, so be sure to sign up for that if you can. You can also say hello to Jonathan Gesinger, who's heading up our efforts in Austin. If you are interested in attending, use the discount code PR9EMS for the special full-day discounted price of $65.
If you work for a business school and are interested in learning new skills and strategies to grow your school, this workshop-style event may be right up your alley. Emma's Steve Turney and Megan Feltes will be around to answer any questions that you might have. Be sure to click here and use the event code BSDC09 for an early registration discount.
This event in lovely Raleigh helps marketers and entrepreneurs hear the latest trends in internet marketing. Annie Williams, Emma's Director of Business Development, will be participating on a panel about best practices in the email marketing realm. If you are interested in attending, we've got five tickets to share and we can also offer the VIP code, which is worth $50 off your registration. If you're interested, please drop me a line. You can also register and learn more about the Internet Summit by clicking here.
Join Emma's Gina LaMar and Suzanne Norman for a morning workshop sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Direct Marketing Association filled with great tips and advice for creating your next email marketing masterpiece. If you are in the Denver area and are interested in attending, click here to register and get directions.
Enterprise LAMP is an event unique to Emma's hometown of Nashville, TN. The event is being organized by Marcus Whitney, part of the Emma emeritus team and air hockey champion extraordinaire. Nashville's ever-growing technology community has expressed a need for an event like this one, so we are thrilled that we can help sponsor. The first day of the event will focus on the overall impact that Enterprise LAMP has had on CTOs from around the country, while day two's BIG LAMP CAMP will focus on teaching many developers the ins and outs of LAMP. If you are a part of the Nashville Technology community and want to attend, please be sure to use our special discount offer when registering. Use the code 2009EMMA and you will receive $75 off of your registration or $25 off your BIG LAMP CAMP ticket.
If you have any questions about these upcoming events or want to know how you can get more info about the types of sponsorships we do, please feel free to let me know. Happy trails!
Here at the Emma office, we were especially floored about this event, as it was the first design conference that our entire design team has been able to attend. Everyone on our team had such inspired and varying feedback, that it seemed only appropriate to share the love:
Lauren Johnston: The part that particularly stuck out to me was emphasis on process work, brainstorming, and research to initially organize design ideas. Usually, I mess around with my design on the computer until I get something I like. A lot of the speakers chatted about the importance of sketching and mindmapping to really hone in on a particular thought. Then, taking your process work to the client helps to communicate the design direction more clearly.
Researching seemed to be a key part of the process as well. Paula spoke about researching particular environments and spaces before designing it. Ken and Jenn chatted about the importance of researching the clients company and style to have a more successful outcome. I really enjoyed the conference overall. It really inspired me to get moving on some projects and to revisit my portfolio.
Daniel Brown: There was a lot that really stood out but I think one of the main things for me was the IDEO guy [Ian Dapot] saying that he only likes 1 thing out of 10 that he does. So, DO a lot. I can be inclined to not do something if I don't think it will turn out well but that's a bad way to look at it. You never know when something will take a turn for the awesome, so the more you do, the better your chances are of making something great.
Jennifer Crigger Kasdorf: As designers, we generally take criticism about our work more than the average person. Use the criticism as a way to grow and to see your designs in a new light. – Jenn & Ken Visocky O'Grady Problem-solve in creative ways. Sometimes we do need breaks, so take them! You might be surprised with the results. – Jenn & Ken Visocky O'Grady + "The Harder I work, the luckier I get." – Thomas Jefferson (Dave Werner) + Self-promote. Be honest. Be yourself! – Dave Werner + Be inspired by your work. – Ian Dapot + Sometimes you have to design through the problem to see the solution. – Ian Dapot + Find new ways to create, new ways to be passionate about your work. -Paula Scher + Create for you. – Paula Scher + Surprise yourself. – Paula Scher
Jessica Saling: I really liked Paula Scher when she discussed creating a distinct style. At one point, her brand identity for the Public Theatre was ultra-successful. People liked it so much they actually starting mocking the style all around the city. While this was a compliment to Paula, it destroyed the brand. After the style caught on to many designs around town, the Public Theatre lost its presence.
This really spoke to me to always think about the context your work is displayed. Design can change its effect with the time or place. Designers need to always see the whole picture and not just the design. Also, while design can be effective at one time, it can quickly lose its effect if we don't pay attention to what changes around us.
Elizabeth Williams: I was really impressed with the varied perspectives of each speaker. They each brought something different and thoughtful to the table without too much overlap.
I feel that the motivation to take risks is what I really took away from the conference. A couple of quotes I enjoyed: one from Ian Dapot who encouraged us to start, "exploring what you don't know, NOT exploiting what you have", and one from Albert Einstein via Jen and Ken reminding us that, "Imagination is more important than knowledge". It's easy to fall into the same routines and tricks that you feel comfortable with, but it takes much more courage and gumption to build upon the ideas stored in the "probably absurd zone" of your brain. So, three cheers for risk taking motivation!!!
Kelly McClain: During the Q&A discussion, someone asked all the speakers to share a piece of advice that's stuck with them, and one of the panelists said how one of his instructors once told him that "everyone has the same 24 hours." It's a nice reminder that if you manage your time properly, you can complete even the most daunting projects that as long as it's humanly possible, you have the same amount of time within each day that any other human capable of completing the task would have.
Taylor Schena: I liked with Ken and Jenn's speech where they talk about how what you contribute is more than just the final piece and with OkayDave's, where he talked about doing interesting things that aren't related to your portfolio/body of work. Also, I enjoyed Paula Scher where she talked about how she did work to pay the bills and the work she loved on the side. I think it helps to keep a designer fresh and not burn out.
Jimmy Thorn: I think the thing that sticks out the most was Paula telling me to work the jobs to make money to afford the luxury of doing the projects you really feel strongly about, and to never let a project that you feel passionately about go by the wayside. She said that she would design 135 record covers a year, and be truly happy with five, but those five were her passion projects. I like that.
As for me, one topic that seemed to come up in one form or another, is the fact that a good designer usually spends the least amount of their time on the actual design. I was reminded how many other variables are so important to the design process and when one covers all these other bases, the design usually just flows right out. I believe it was Jenn & Ken who mentioned the phrase, "Design the system, not just the product." I look forward to focusing more energy on this way of design thinking.
We hope you all enjoy our moments of inspiration and if you're able to attend Think Tank: 2010, I highly encourage it.