Latest Writing & Things of Interest

May 23, 2018

What Email Marketers Can Learn From the Original Apple iPod

ipod illustration

It was about being very focused and not trying to do too much with the device—which would have been its complication and, therefore, its demise… the key was getting rid of stuff.

That quote is from Jony Ive, the lead designer of many of Apple’s iconic products, in this case the iPod. While Apple does a lot of stupid things (getting rid of MagSafe and headphone ports, fucking up laptop keyboards, etc.), there’s one thing they almost always get right: Simplicity. Although Jony Ive was talking about product design, email marketers could learn a lot from his work and Apple’s overarching focus on simplicity.

Far too often, email marketers (or the stakeholders making the demands) try to cram as much as they possibly can into an email campaign. Product updates, company news, surveys, and events jockeying for position in the same email. Little thought is given to the content other than trying to fit it all in. Subscribers are overwhelmed. Email campaigns are ineffective.

It isn’t just email content, either. The underlying email strategy suffers, too. Especially with retailers, the cry is for, “More, more, more!” More emails, at all hours of the day, for “limited time only” sales that happen every damned day of the week, month after month. The desire to send more emails in the hopes of driving engagement works directly against that goal.

Jony Ive knew that more is rarely better. While competitors were busy cramming more features and specs into their MP3 players, Apple focused on getting rid of the things an MP3 player didn’t need. They focused on stripping the product down to its core, and the results were revolutionary.

In the same vein, email marketers should consider overhauling their own strategies and email campaigns. Audit your emails, document everything you send, then take an honest, painful look at those emails and see what you can kill. Strip onboarding drips down to their essentials. See which emails people actually open and dump the rest. Find out what content subscribers are actually interested in (hint: it’s not everything) and leave the rest on your blog.

Be thoughtful. Be focused. Be ruthless.

We might not be able to replicate the success of the iPod, but chances are that we can blow our competitors out of the water, just by stripping emails and the strategy behind them down to the basics.

May 23, 2018

Link: Enough Already

I’ve been thinking about this same concept over the past year or two, especially as my wife and I have gotten better about budgeting and paying down debt. The idea of enough seems so foreign to us these days, but it’s wildly useful and should be top-of-mind. A good reminder from Paul Jarvis that we should all probably revisit on a regular basis.

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May 18, 2018

Link: Why the LGBTQ+ Community Must Fight for Disability Rights

Some excellent thoughts on the intersectionality of LGBTQ+ and disability rights, from three people working to expand both. Two quotes stand out. The first from Dominick Evans:

I think a lot of people don’t realize how common it is to have a disability, but disability rights are human rights.

And this one from Kay Ulanday Barrett:

So many of my peers are constantly asked to do free work, or to be so grateful to literally sit at the table with able-bodied people. But you know what? I don’t want to be a plus-one, or in the background of a photo as some kind of poster child. Trans people and disabled people and people of color should be compensated for their knowledge, for their experience, for their professional contributions. Sitting at your fucking table is not good enough.

Also, them. is an excellent publication. Follow it, you won’t be disappointed.

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May 18, 2018

Link: The Developer's Union

This is great. A bunch of iOS and Mac developers—led by Brent Simmons, Jake Schumacher, Loren Morris, and Roger Ogden—have banded together to lobby Apple for making some much-needed improvements for developers. It’s important to note that it’s not just a bunch of complaining, but reasonable, community-driven requests starting with support for free trials for iOS. There’s already over 200 apps and 200 people joining in.

It’s sad that something like this is needed, but encouraging to see a grassroots approach to soliciting change. Kudos.

Check it out →
May 18, 2018

Link: I Don't Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore

Ugh, painfully hits home. I remember spending so much time online at the turn of the century and it was absolutely world-changing. Not so much anymore. I still spend most of my time online for work, but it’s largely lost that sense of wonder and joy that seems to be getting drained from a lot of aspects of life these days.

That being said, I do think there are good pockets of the old web out there. Places like Micro.blog and movements like the Indie Web are still devoted to some of the principles of early blogging. What’s more is that both are seeing increased exposure and investment these days, thanks largely (IMHO) to the shit-show that is social networking and the homogeneity of corporate-controlled websites and aggregators.

There’s hope, but the web is most definitely a struggle these days.

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May 8, 2018

Once You See It...

magic trick instructions

Inclusion is a lens through which you see the world.

Inclusion, accessibility, universal design, diversity… they are all powerful words and powerful tools for better understanding and improving the world. While they all—rightfully—have practical applications, there is a bit of magic to these terms as well:

Once you start learning about inclusion, accessibility, universal design, and diversity, they will quite literally change your outlook on the world. And—for all but the coldest of hearts—that change will be for the better. It’s nearly impossible not to notice their implications damned near everywhere.

Once you’ve read about Ronald Mace and Selwyn Goldsmith pioneering universal design in architecture and environmental design, it’s hard to overlook buildings or cities that don’t take disabled communities into account. As soon as you’re exposed to the online #a11y movement or read something like Laura Kalbag’s Accessibility for Everyone, you look at your own design, code, and copywriting in a new light. Once you’ve devoured everything Ashe Dryden has published, it’s extraordinarily difficult not to have diversity on your mind pretty much all the time.

And those are all amazing things.

These are topics that are worth discussing ad nauseam because, even if you’ve been exposed to them, more people haven’t. You might be sick of reading yet another article about alternative text on the web but, if that’s the case, your eyes are probably open to the importance of accessible images online. You may skip over an article on hiring people from underrepresented groups, but hopefully it’s because that is a part of your hiring culture anyways.

So many people haven’t been properly exposed to these ideas or haven’t discussed them enough. We haven’t changed their outlook and marginalized groups are suffering for it.

People are still talking about web standards in 2018, even after we moved on from table-based, all-image, or Flash-based designs. That’s because there are still people and organizations out there pushing shitty work to production. They build inaccessible, hard-to-navigate, mobile-unfriendly websites that but the burden of use on the user instead of themselves. As much as we’d all love to move onto topics outside of web standards, we can’t—they are absolutely foundational and always will be.

Similarly, a lot of us dream of a more enlightened, inclusive world but we won’t get there unless we keep discussing these topics in the open: publishing articles, writing books, posting videos, and—more importantly—having difficult conversations at home, in our communities, and in our workplaces.

There’s magic in inclusion, diversity, universal design, and accessibility, but only if we keep at it. We can flip those switches in people’s minds and open their eyes to a better world, but there will always be more people to educate.

Magic tricks are wonderful things. Once you see the technique behind one, you can’t unsee it. A magician’s trick is impressive on its own but—to me at least—it’s far more magical once you see the years of work and dedication that went into perfecting it.

Don’t shy away from that work, don’t stop discussing those important topics. Once you see the power behind them, you won’t be the same.

April 26, 2018

Link: Broad Band

I just finished reading Claire L. Evans’ Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. It was fantastic. I’m fascinated by early computing and internet history, and the focus on little-known women pioneers was a fantastic approach to documenting that history. It’s absolutely worth anyone’s time, and I had a few quotes that stuck around with me:

But being a woman online today comes with the same anxieties that have always followed women and minorities, and fears of being silenced, excluded, and bullied remain as palpably real in the digital realm as they are IRL. Our dense net of connective technologies, and the increasing facility by which we are surveilled within them, has led to new forms of violence: doxxing, cyberstalking, trolling, revenge porn. And anonymity, which the cyberfeminists, along with many early cyberculture thinkers championed as a method for transcending gender and difference, enables violently misogynistic language all over the Web: in YouTube comments, on forums, on Reddit and 4chan, and in the in-boxes and @replies of women with public opinions. The incorporeal newness that so intoxicated the earliest women online has morphed; it has become what the games critic Katherine Cross aptly calls a “Möbius strip of reality and unreality,” in which Internet culture “becomes real when it is convenient and unreal when it is not; real enough to hurt people in, unreal enough to justify doing so.”

A little bit on why understanding early internet history is important:

We should care about early online communities and publications, as we should care for their archives, because they were the places where the medium revealed itself. The financial bets being made on the sidelines are remembered because of their dark reverberation on the economy. But another bell tolled, and it still rings out, growing fainter by the day: the contributions of those who saw the Web’s potential right away. After all, the Internet’s only job is to shuttle packets of information from one place to the next without privileging one over the other. Our only job is to make the best packets we can. To make them worthy of the technology.

Finally:

The more diversity there is at the table, the more interesting the result onscreen, the more human, as Stacy Horn would say, bite me, the better. There’s no right kind of engineer, no special plane of thought that must be reached to make a worthwhile contribution. There’s no right education, no right career path. Sometimes there isn’t even a plan. The Internet is made of people, as it was made for people, and it does what we tell it to do. We can remake the world.

Broad Band exposed me to a lot of amazing people and their work. The most memorable was probably Stacy Horn, who founded EchoNYC, an early online community primarily for New Yorkers. She wrote a book about it, Cyberville, which I managed to track down on Amazon. It’s a used copy—that’s right out of the nineties—but it looks brilliant. I love learning about building communities as much as I love learning about computer and internet history.

The only downside of reading Broad Band is that it will make you long for the early days of the web—the days where people and the websites they built were unique, communities could thrive, and the culture was being built by passionate and compassionate people instead of owned by massive, unfeeling corporations and populated by rancid, uncaring trolls. I fear that we’ll never be able to regain that magic. Even though the technology has advanced spectacularly, something vital has been lost in the transition from the old web to the new.

Check it out →
April 20, 2018

Link: Grid Systems for Email

Another amazing post from Anna over at Style Campaign, this time on using typographic grids in email design. Grids are well-worn territory in the web world, but haven’t been talked about much in the context of email, so it’s great to see someone tackle the topic so thoroughly.

Check it out →
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