Hacked By GeNErAL

Posted by Ben Thompson on August 28, 2014
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Remember the last time you were cornered by the socially unaware person who talked of nothing but themselves?

Even while you glanced around the room, with no attempt to hide your disinterest, still they persisted.

Somehow, many (marginal) businesses think it’s okay to do the exact same thing. They’ll act as if the world revolves around them and talk incessantly about themselves without pause to consider the audience. Yet, as customers, we’re turned off in the exact same way.

What separates a mediocre company from an exceptional one lies in their perspective of who the hero is.

Here’s a hint: It’s not the company.

Consider the massively successful Uber for a moment. They realize what they’re selling — and more importantly, what the customer is buying — is much more than a ride from point A to B. Like a great host, Uber anticipates their customer’s needs and have made their messaging and subsequent experience top-to-bottom all about the customer.

Their landing page makes it very clear who the hero is, inviting customers to:

MAKE IT A NIGHT OUT
BE THE BOSS
ARRIVE IN STYLE
TREAT YOURSELF
SHARE EXPERIENCES
OWN THE MOMENT
CREATE ESCAPES

Uber knows their customers so well that every cue, message and experience reinforces it was created precisely for them. And it resonates.

Compare that to the approach of distant competitors, Yellow Cab. “Try our new app” — They’ve made themselves and their forgettable app the hero. In desperation to keep up, they’ve made themselves irrelevant.

So, what’s it going to be… “Own The Moment” or “Try Our New app”? What can you do today to make your customer the hero?

If you don’t know what your customers are buying, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Posted by Ben Thompson on August 1, 2014
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Your logo doesn’t have to be clever, or have hidden meaning to it. So called ‘award winning’ logos are not the recipe for the success of your business.

Your logo doesn’t have to try to demonstrate your core values at the scale of a postage stamp. It is an empty vessel that your customers will inject meaning into it over time. It just needs to match the ethos of your company.

Your logo should say who you are, not what you do. Apple doesn’t use a computer, Nike doesn’t use a shoe and Starbucks don’t use a coffee cup. Only commodity brands attempt to depict their product or service in a logo.

Your logo doesn’t necessarily need an icon or pictogram. In many cases, a well crafted logotype is all you need, yet context is still critical. Obvious exceptions, such as sports teams, clearly need a visual mark. If you do include one, it should serve a purpose. And if you’re a software company, you will want to have a plan for your app icon.

Your logo should be recognizable, but shouldn’t try to steal the show. If shown out of context for crowdsourced feedback, it would be unsurprising to receive luke-warm feedback. Graphically, there is nothing special about the logos for Target, McDonalds, Adidas or Beats by Dre… but they are all extremely effective.

Your logo itself is less important that the ways in which you use it (scale, pattern, color, context, contrast).

Contrary to what a naïve or self-serving designer will tell you — Compared to the emphasis you should put on designing the entire customer experience, your logo is not really all that important.

Posted by Ben Thompson on May 9, 2014
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Suppose we wanted to cut down a tree. In the tool shed are an axe and a sledgehammer.

Who grabs the sledgehammer to get the job done?

No one. But why not?

The sledgehammer will land some blows and pulverize the tree in the process, but most of our energy will bounce back in vain. If the tree falls at all, it wouldn’t be pretty. More likely, we’ll give up from frustration, pain or discouragement. Or we’ll be forced to quit because we’ve run out of time or energy.

Even someone who has never cut down a tree before knows the axe is the better approach. But what makes an axe so much more effective?

The axe is a wedge; its finely honed edge is focused and sharp. All the energy we expend converges on a singular point.

Obvious, right?

But when it comes to business, why it it tempting to forget this principle?

Trying to appeal to the widest possible audience is like wielding a blunt tool to chop down a tree. To break into a market requires focusing on a narrowly defined group of people, meeting their specific needs, and forgetting the rest.

Here are a few examples of designing for a hyper-specific audience:

Hammer: A nutrition bar for athletes
Wedge: A protein bar for crossfit enthusiasts

Hammer: A better home thermostat
Wedge: Intelligent thermostat for people who own iPhones

Hammer: A ski jacket.
Wedge: High performance outerwear for telemark skiers

Hammer: A package design blog
Wedge: A showcase of remarkable packaging design for beer enthusiasts

Hammer: A fly fishing pole
Wedge: A minimalist fly fishing pole for backpackers

Hammer: High quality headphones
Wedge: Fashion-forward headphones for the hip-hop generation

The difference in each of these is NOT the product; it’s the clearly defined audience. Only after specifying the audience is is possible to design a product experience that delights.

But aren’t these too narrow? What about growth? Moving to a wider audience can come with time. It’s far more effective to grow loyal marketshare with a small, dedicated base of followers than a mishmash of halfhearted customers.

So if your goal is to create raving fans — and it should be — ditch the sledgehammer and make sure you’re swinging an axe.

(Oh, and we hear chainsaws are good too.)

Posted by Ben Thompson on November 13, 2013
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Image: bthompson.me

Swiss army knives are great, aren’t they? They’re great in a pinch and can do just about anything. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been grateful to have one with me when I was in a bind.

But here’s the thing. No one chooses the swiss army knife because the fold-out screwdriver is pleasant to use. We use it because it’s there. We’ve got no other option. It’s not the best tool for the job, but what are the alternatives?

The reality today as customers is that we face an overwhelming amount of choice. Businesses that ‘do it all’ like a swiss army knife are doomed. Merely happening to be around as a last resort or being the only alternative in a not a strategy for longevity.

To be desirable, sought after and chosen a business needs to be focused. A business must do one thing really well and clearly communicate it.

I first handled a precisely machined slotted screwdriver as an industrial design student. The slot head was milled to a parallel edge rather than tapered like the cheap cast ones I was used to seeing. My professor brought it in to demonstrate how something so ubiquitous could become an extraordinary object when proportion, balance, size, feel are carefully considered.

The inherent value was compelling. Using it was desirable. It was clearly worth seeking out and choosing among other options. And that is exactly the experience magnetic brands create for their customers.

So how can a business choose to be more like a precisely manufactured screwdriver?

Anticipate customer’s needs. Delight them. Be the perfect fit they didn’t even know they were looking for. Focus on the details. Care about something specific and take a stand—no problem is too small! Do one thing insanely well and people will seek it out.

What kind of screwdriver do you choose to be today?

Posted by Ben Thompson on August 5, 2013
Image: bthompson.me
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Food Truck Design Recommendations and Vehicle Wrap Template for 2007 Ford E-450 Super Duty Step Van.

Food trucks have become a mainstay in places like Los Angeles, Portland and New York. They’re fun, and the variety and quality of the food can be impressive. Since completing the branding and design of the Tango Mango Truck, we’ve had a number of people ask about the process of wrapping a food truck and now we’re sharing what we learned.

These days vehicles aren’t typically painted with graphics, instead they are wrapped with a thin vinyl film. Wrapping is a cost-effective way to outfit your rig and the surface is surprisingly durable. Vinyl sheets are printed and then carefully applied by hand in small pieces, contouring around some elements like fenders and covering over other surface details like rivets and sometimes even windows.

Remember, just because you can wrap the entire vehicle in gradients and photographs, doesn’t mean you should. We’ve all seen examples where lack of restraint produces tacky results!

Wrap One in Anaheim has done amazing work for us in the past and we highly recommend them as a wrap vendor if you’re in Southern California.

Feel free to use this food truck template as a launching off point for your designs. This particular model is a 2007 E-450 Super Duty Step Van. Adobe Illustrator is required. Due to the popularity of this template and volume of requests we can’t offer additional support.

First use this template to create an initial design. Then have a wrap vendor hand-measure your exact vehicle. Then transfer the design to their template.

Download the template (2 MB .zip). Feel free to tweet us @studiofluid with pics of your creation. A credit or mention is appreciated.

Posted by Ben Thompson on August 5, 2013
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Once upon a time, having a lot of choices in the products we buy was a benefit. The more the better. But we’ve reached a tipping point where more choice is not better. It’s confusing, frustrating and creates anxiety.

Amazon knows this. Although they can offer nearly everything in the world, one of their strengths is the genuinely helpful automated product recommendations

Last week I was consulting with a startup manufacturer of high-end mountain bikes. They’ve taken ideas from the best engineered products in the aerospace and Formula 1 world, to create a bike setup that performs elegantly and simply, priced in the $6K range. A bike made to meet the most demanding of trails — conceived, built, tested and proven on the trails of Durango, Colorado.

But, like many startups, they were facing a dilemma about how many products to carry in the product lineup. Should they carry a “good, better and best” option as entry points, just like all of the mass market brands?

Absolutely not.

How did we arrive at this conclusion? Simple. We looked at what they stand for; their brand promise. With their bikes, you’ll be a better, more confident rider because they’ve created the ideal setup for you to reach your potential.

To meet that promise as a boutique brand doesn’t require more options. It requires less. In conclusion, they settled on a “hard tail” for trail and a “fat bike” for all-terrain. Two bike models. That’s it. End of story.

Aside from inventory and supply chain considerations (which are more about benefitting the company), they’re providing critical value for their customers.

They’ve eliminated extraneous choices. They’re providing customers the luxury of less, not more. They’ve sweated every detail and painstakingly selected the exact components to provide a beautiful ride — from the suspension fork, gearing, shifters and brakes. Everything is there with a purpose because an experienced, knowledgeable craftsman put it there.

“Curated” is a buzz word we hear a lot of these days. And for good reason, because it’s exactly the experience that savvy customers are looking for. They’ll gladly support businesses that know and anticipate their needs. The more aspirational and sophisticated the brand, the more the customer experience must be curated and streamlined to meet the brand’s promise.

But back to the bike manufacturer: What about the gear heads that want to spec custom components for everything? They can buy an empty frame without custom components. Still not good enough? Well, then they’re not the right customer.

In a world of infinite choices, the businesses that lead their customers are the ones that succeed.

What decisions are you taking away from your customers that make their life better? Wading through all the options isn’t a luxury anymore

Posted by Ben Thompson on June 5, 2013
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