Summary of my talk at Design Camp 2012

Design Camp 2012

Design Camp 2012 Logo

Watch this space for a summary of my presentation at Design Camp 2012held at Chennai on September 29 & 30, 2012. I will be putting up reference links of my talk as well as my presentation itself, for download. Please re-use judiciously.

My topic:

Designing Apps with Windows 8 personality
Through the bold use of color, typography, and motion, Windows 8 design style brings a fresh new approach to the user experience. In this talk, you’ll learn the design principles and get insights into how to apply these principles in your own apps.

Apple Maps and Tim Cook

So the whole of the internet world and media went crazy today about Tim Cook’s letter of apology to customers about Maps – Apple’s latest offering as part of iOS 6 that apparently has left the company red-faced.

Apple's Maps replaces Google Maps from the latest version of iOS

Google Maps on the left and the newcomer, Maps on the right.
(Pic courtesy – persquaremile.com)

Personally, what annoyed me most was industry experts writing off Tim Cook as having not just let customers down, but having let Steve Jobs down! I mean, give the guy a break! It was right under Jobs’ nose that Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007 without bluetooth or the ability to forward a text message. It was under his stewardship that they launched the fourth generation of their iconic phone with a serious signal / antenna problem. No one’s perfect. But what sets apart men from great men is their ability to respond to exigent situations.

Apple has come under media fire for their Maps app. Tim Cook goes out and issues a letter of apology. Cut back two years – customers who had just bought the (then) new iPhone 4 were unable to use their phones on the AT&T network the moment they entered their homes, buildings or basements. Outrage is the only way to describe the paying public and media’s response to this glaring error by Apple. What did Steve Jobs do? Ordered the issue of external antennae! I mean, you gotta love the guy and his guts!

Now I am never going to be CEO of Apple. And neither am I pointing a finger at Cook’s apology letter. However, if I were to have been Tim Cook, yes, I would have written the letter. Would I have apologised – no. Would I have rewritten it differently – yes. For the better or worse, I will let you decide and tell me through your comments / tweets.

My version of Tim Cook’s letter dated September 28, 2012

Dear Customer,

At the outset, I’d like to thank you for your warm embrace of the latest version of our iconic operating system, iOS 6. We currently have over 100 million of you who have chosen to upgrade to the latest version with more coming on board each day.

I write this e-mail in specific response to a lot of focus that has been around the launch of our Maps service. At Apple, we have thrived by disrupting the most established of market places – be it personal computing, music, publishing, telephony or even tablets. It is because we have dared to dream beyond what you were content with and give you something that you loved. Our latest Maps app is not, as being touted by sections of the press, an attempt to prove a point. Google Maps has been an integral part of iOS devices since launch and has been loved by all of you. However, we want to take the maps experience many steps further and were thus constrained to go at it ourselves. We want to give you turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

When Steve and the rest of us built the first iPhone way back in 2007, many wrote us off as having no experience in building telecom hardware. We were decried as having omitted some of the most basic features in a phone. However, you did not write us off. You went out and bought our phone – 300 million of them. You believed in us. And we assure you that your faith in us is well placed, that we continue to work day and night to ensure you get the best Maps app you have ever experienced.

We appreciate that some of you may have been inconvenienced by the introduction of Maps and certain aspects of it not living up to expectations. Rest assured, we hear you – and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard, as everything else that makes Apple products the best in the world.

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple.

 

Leisa’s Secret’s need to discover Marketing’s secrets

Leisa's Secret Hindu Metro Plus ad

Leisa’s Secret Hindu Metro Plus ad

Welcoming me to today’s copy of the Metro Plus was a large prominent ad for a new brand called Leisa’s Secret. The ad was aided by the presence of a pretty lady and a bold headline that screamed – “The weight loss secret for those who’ve tried everything but failed” – as someone who resonated with that, I was hooked and started reading. 3 minutes into reading the ad, I had already decided the following:

  • I would be interested in learning more about them by contacting their call center or looking up their website
  • I would be doing a bit of reputation research about them on the internet

As I ventured into the first of the 2 next steps, I was pretty annoyed. What followed was a series of marketing faux pas that this new brand launching into India seemed to have just committed.

  1. Website – there wasn’t one!Upon typing their URL (which thankfully they promoted in the ad pretty well), I didn’t see a website! Rather, the website had been wrongly configured and what I did see was an IIS listing of all the dot net files on the server!Update: As of 1700 hrs today, 10 hours after most people probably saw the ad, the website was still not working!! However, just now, as of 1830 hrs, someone seems to have caught wind. So what did they go do? They just redirected the .in domain to the .com website! Decent enough temporary cover up, but now, a 13L print ad is pointing customers to a website with zero relevant data! Weird are the ways of this world.

    Leisas Secret website - Config error

    Leisas Secret website – Config error

  2. Domain Name – The brand was called Leisa’s Secret. As a result, their domain name was www.leisassecret.com – the double S leaving enough room for confusion. In such a situation, the ideal thing to have done would have been to a) register the obvious domain people would type in – www.leisasecret.in – without the plural S, and b) advertise the domain name as www.LeisasSecret.com – the typographic play helps people read the domain name better and establish the brand’s identity also. It anyway doesn’t affect the resolution of the domain name, whatever case you type it in.
  3. Irrelevant Call To Action –I went back to the more conventional call to action at the bottom of the ad (where you normally have dealer or branch information) and found they had indeed listed physical locations of nutritionists who recommend their product. This was great – validation and information, in one place. And then came the bolt – they ONLY had ‘Nutrition Partners’ in Bengaluru! Then why advertise them even in a Chennai ad??!!!

    Leisa's Secret - Useless Call to Action

    Leisa’s Secret – Useless Call to Action

  4. The (Useless) Offer– As most brands launching in the country, I expected to see a ‘launch offer’ somewhere. On cue, they had an offer for the first 500 callers to their call center – a “Free personalised weight loss consultation with a Qualified Nutritionist, near your home”. Sure, if there was a Qualified Nutritionist near my home, then why the hell didn’t you list them in the first place!!

    Leisa's Secret - Useless Offer

    Leisa’s Secret – Useless Offer

  5. Socially absent – Was eager to offer my feedback to them, especially the website (point number 1 above) and thus opened up Twitter to look for them – surprise, surprise! No twitter handle either. This prompted me to re-look the ad in the paper and was surprised to not find any mention of their social channels in their ad. Heck, just the other day, I even saw an automotive component manufacturing company promote their social channels in their print ad.

I decided to drop plans of taking my bike out for a spin in this lovely Chennai morning and chose to pen this instead. The intent of this is not to write off the creative. Obviously a lot of effort went into making it and the agency will not stop short of blaming reasons at the client’s end for this while the client itself (read brand manager) will further point to decisions from above causing confusion. Whatever be the reasons, the brand is what suffered. And the agency & the brand manager as custodians, would do well to read this and perhaps adopt a point or two, if they agree with what I have said.  Would you? Feel free to comment and let me know.

 

Mother Culture Magic

I can’t seem to blame one single factor for the dwindling influence of our mother tongues or ‘mother-cultures’ (if such a phrase even exists though it probably makes sense) on our every day lives. At a very macro level, I think I’d say globalization – it forced upon us the need to be competitive at a global level which translated into the adoption of western practices, taste and whatever little of a culture that existed.

A traditional game of vermillion at Durga Puja – the shining star of the Bengali festival calendar.

But occasionally comes across a day like today when you experience an exposition of your ‘mother-culture’ that shakes certain assumptions and beliefs that have formed. I wanted to quickly list down here some examples of my culture that I have / had written off or just passed by.

Perspective: I have lived in Chennai all my life. I was born here to parents who are an eclectic example of national integration. Dad was a Tamizhian, born and brought up in Kerala where growing up, he had more Malayalam influence than Tamizh. Mom is Bengali, born in UP, brought up in Bihar, that part of Bihar that’s now Jharkhand! They moved to Chennai in 1976 post which I was born here in 1984.

I have always been more Bengali than Tamizh / Malayali. Rarely in contact with the paternal side of the family, I spent most of my childhood (vacations) attached to the maternal uncles, cousins and their homes in Kolkata, Kharagpur (West Bengal) & Jamshedpur (Bihar, now Jharkhand).

Now coming to the glaring cultural omissions / wrongful assumptions of my life till now:

  1. Bengali music
    Growing up, all my lullabies were in Bengali. Owing to the beautiful nature of the language, there were very few ‘designated’ lullabies – most normal songs also passed off as lullabies. As a result, while I never really actively engaged in bengali music, it always stuck in my head somewhere and struck a chord that every once in a while when I heard it playing at a public place. Today while sitting back in my office and listening to Aami Chini Go Chini and Jodi Tor Daak Shuney (as made popular in Amitabh Bachchan’s voice in the 2012 movie Kahaani – Watch) in their original renditions, I was really moved and felt bad for having missed out on years of enjoying this fabulous genre of music. In fact, every time I am in Kolkata, Rahul exposes me to some great numbers that never really find room in my luggage back to Chennai. It’s especially impressive how Bengali music has flourished in genres like Rock and Rap, doing much better than more mainstream languages like Hindi, Tamizh or Telugu. I can only think of Sindhi as the other language where music has flourished as much as bengali.The other wonderful part of Bengali music is the lyrics of the songs. Almost every song seems to have such powerful lyrics that make some connection with your mind somewhere. Of course, this applies only to those who actually understand the language! To this end, bengalis owe it to a certain Pandit Shri Rabindranath Tagore who, almost 150 years ago, set the bar for Bengali song writing so high that the contemporaries and generations to follow almost felt compelled to keep up :-)But that said, trust me, Bengali songs or rather music makes for very easy listening, even to those who don’t understand the language.
  2. Bengali Cinema
    If there was Tagore in helping shape Bengali music, there was a Satyajit Ray in shaping Bengali cinema. A legend in his own right, Ray’s films were “pure cinema”, as described by many sections of Indian and British media. Just reading the Wiki on his life brought a smile to my face, his especial disdain for “stupid western clients” during his stint as a Junior Visualizer for a British run advertising agency in 1948. That junior visualizer went on to deliver some of the best exposition of Indian cinema the world had seen till then – Panther Panchali, Mahanagar, Charulatha, Devi among others. His most successful commercial venture was Goopy Gyne Bagha Bayen which was a comic story of 2 men who travel by foot to prevent impending war between two neighbouring kingdoms. When viewed through the lens of perspective of the period when this movie was made, one gets to appreciate the genius of Ray’s narrative and art of story telling. Even more popular than the movie itself was its music – again, composed by Ray himself. The bhooter naach or Ghost’s dance was a great scene from the movie, representing the state of political & socio-economic affairs of pre and post independence India.  As kids, we did watch this movie and remember rolling over in laughter. Unfortunately, it still remains as the only Bengali movie I have watched entirely. In recent years, directors like Rituporno Ghosh and Srijit Mukherji have kept the flag of quality Bengali cinema flying high.
  3. Bengali Food
    Probably the least guilt raising of the 4 points listed here, I have done good justice to Bengali food in the last 2-3 years thanks to Bay Leaf, the bengali cuisine restaurant in Chennai. From the classic Rolls to more authentic Jhingey Posto, Daab Chingdi, Chola’r Daal, Maach-er Paathudi, Bhapa Eelish (Hilsa) and Kawsha Mangsho, Bay Leaf has been rocking it for us. Come Durga Puja and out comes the awesome Panchmeshali Shobji, Khichudi, Shukto and Tomat’er chutney as heroes of those 5 days. Aah, bliss. And then there’s our wonderful Chaale’r payesh (Arasi payasam for my dravidian friends). More bliss. I strongly recommend all of you sample bengali cuisine at some point in your lives. Contrary to rubbish rumours, not all Bengali cooking has sugar nor is it made in mustard oil. You will definitely come back for more.
  4. Bengali women
    Like everything else to do with women, this point is stickier than the rest. From what I have seen in my life – my family and Bengali families around me, Bengali women are always the primary driving force. I am resisting from use of words like domineering with the hope of being served my next meal in the house 🙂 As a result, I had created a mental block that I did NOT want to marry a bengali woman EVER! I had even gone on to convince myself that I would enjoy marriage with someone from another region or background since it would allow me to learn and absorb a lot about a new culture. Agreed, there is some merit in that theory. But off late I have realized that my theory was bull shit. Bengali being the thread that it is, is a fabulous culture and common ground for the foundation of a great marriage. The joy of sharing beyond just lives but also souls of the partners definitely augurs for a beautiful married life. I wish myself luck in possibly finding a partner with whom I can sit back and enjoy a Satyajit Ray movie on Sunday afternoon after a fulfilling meal of Luchi, chola’r daal & kawsha mangsho. 
I somehow feel I am not alone in this conundrum. I think a lot of people who live outside of their ‘mother-territories’ (Yes I know I am really pushing creative license here!) tend to get distanced from their ‘mother-culture’. However, I am not sure how many of them have this awakening in time to change course and still get a chance to enjoy the joys of their cultures. I have and I am glad.

Party Host 101

Admittedly I don’t blog enough. I have an Evernote with a whole list of topics to blog about – but none really pushes me to open up my computer and start typing like NOW! (The iPad is great for consumption, rarely for content creation). But an incident that happened last night had me thinking overnight and I decided to pen this today.

Disclaimer: Some points of this post might have me come across as bashful and indulging in self-praise. My only defence is that narrating of those parts was important to set context for the post. Thank you. 

My mom got back into town after a 5 month stint in the US (mostly chilling & cooking up some great food for parties in SoCal) and decided she wanted to throw herself a homecoming party. About 15 of her friends were invited and I decided to call about 7-8 of mine. That number eventually swelled to a grand total of about 40 at peak during the course of the night. One of the last minute additions was my dear Prashanth P2 Nagarajan and his group of about 10 people! Before he left for the night (around 3:45am), he repeatedly stressed on how he wanted to learn from me on how to be a perfect host. He said he was particular impressed with how I was never fazed by last minute additions to the party list and was always open to more people joining in. Prashanth is in the process of rebuilding his home and hopes to become a prominent fixture in the city’s party venue list – trust me, with a heart like his, he sure is on his way to being a great partyman.

This post is to encapsule some key elements of throwing a great party. How to come out unscathed and guests waiting for the announcement of your next one.

1. Heart

Throwing a party is 60% heart, 40% effort. You really have to love entertaining people to be able to throw a good party. And trust me, all those frustrating moments of putting together the perfect evening will fade when your guests come forward to graciously thank you at the end of the night.

I almost put in as much effort into planning a party as I might into wooing a woman – everything’s got to be perfect, take the person by surprise and ensure a smile. Also, if you throw a party regularly, it’s not about making EVERYTHING unique each time – it’s about that special something that’s unique THIS time.

2. Discovering & leveraging your USP

B-52

B-52 by The Sharck

Every party and every host has his or her own USP. In my case, the entire party always revolves around my bar – it is the venue as well as the centre piece. Coupled with the fact that I love serving alcohol (the finest, even if I often get ranted at because of it) and cocktails makes my bar the USP of my parties. Similarly, when Prashanth becomes party host, I think besides his awesome house to be & bar to be, the most identifiable aspect of him is his sense of humor – great timing and quick wit – he will and must learn to capitalize on the same, not necessarily always resorting to comedy of the stand up variety.

3. Preparation

Do NOT leave anything to chance – something ignored is something definitely bound to go wrong. Here’s  quick check list of what to do before the party:

  • Plan the event somewhat well in advance, at least 2 weeks. People are getting increasingly social and may not be available at short notice – not necessarily putting up their price. Just respect their schedules.
  • Make the guest list – Send out SMS invites and try to get confirmations to know the party size you are expecting
  • Set the menu – decide if you will be cooking at home or ordering in. If you do NOT know the party well enough, ask how many Veg & Non Veg people you are expecting. Also, do note that if the group is somewhat close and booze is going to be free flowing, you can down play the food aspect. Most people will drink till late and a decent array of short eats will do the trick. Just throw in a biriyani, rotis, some paneer & a basic dessert as dinner back up.
  • Try and spread the cooking (if cooking at home) between hours 36 and 12 before the event. Will give you enough time to recover from mishaps if any.
  • Test your appliances – if you are living in Chennai or most other parts of India (excepting the winter months in cities up north), you will definitely want to ensure your refrigerators are defrosted and your air conditioners working. If at the slightest hint of stress in cooling properly, get your air conditioner serviced and gas re-filled (Rs. 1800-2000).
  • Play List – Decide the sort of music you want to play through the evening and into the night. Go about arranging it on CDs or downloading them. GET THE SEQUENCE RIGHT! You do NOT want to welcome your guests with Mr. 305 Pitbull at 8:30pm. Start off with some easy lounge or bollywood music and then transition to something with rhythm but not necessarily very loud. Go with the (alcohol) flow and keep building up the tempo as the night goes on.
  • Sound check – Check your sound system to ensure everything’s ship shape. You might think this is be being paranoid but trust me, at my uber planned last weekend party, the sound system completely let me down with my rear channels as well as the sub woofer completely refusing to work. I decided not to bother too much about it and ensured people got served more alcohol (:-p). When I checked it the next day, someone or something had caused the sub woofer’s setting on the receiver to Off instead of On! If only I had done my sound check….
  • Ensure power back up is in place
  • Cutlery, crockery, glasses are sufficient, cleaned and readied for use
  • It’s quite easy to forget the mixes – Soda, water, Coke, 7 UP, Red Bull & Orange Juice are bare essentials. If you plan on whipping up cocktails, get their mixes sorted out – usually various types of juices, bitters, bitter lemon, ginger ale, tonic water, etc help.
  • If you have pets, have a pet plan – they react very differently to different situations – loud music, people petting them, people eating around them, ignoring them, etc. Ensure you have that sorted.

4. The Bar

– Alcohol

The not-so-secret ingredient of a great party, the alcohol requires fair planning to ensure you don’t run dry – your bar as well as your bank! It’s quite acceptable if you just have the basic whisky, vodka, rum and beer on offer with some basic mixes as said earlier. However, if you do enjoy bar tending and want to push out some cocktails, plan them up front and make a list of what cocktails you will serve. WARNING – DO NOT try and wing this. You will either miss out key ingredients (and you will realize this precisely when all the other ingredients have gone into the shaker!) or ruin the cocktail.

– Ice

The key to the best drinks is ice. Ensure you buy from a reliable source to the rough thumb rule of about 100 gms per person attending.  I almost always buy atleast 10 kgs. I get mine home delivered by Mr. Padmanabhan from Golden Ice (+91 9080335522). Rs. 20 per kilo and approx Rs. 150 delivery charges to most parts of Chennai.

– Equipment

Clean up your bar and the equipment. You do not want to be serving your guests in dirty glasses with dirty ice tongs or mixing with soiled stirrers. Also, if you are in cocktail mode, do keep in mind that you will need more than one shaker. Usually drinks with juices will dominate one shaker while save the other one for drinks with milk and cream. This will save you the hassle of constantly running to the loo to wash a shaker.

5. Liven things up

Party Night - Invite

Invite to a party at B-52 in September, 2012

As passe as they may seem, setting a theme for your party almost always will get your guests excited. While some will make the effort to adhere, the others will simply not bother. Let this not deter you from livening things up with a quirky theme. Western, Retro, Polka, colors, etc have all been done to death. I particularly remember bling, silver and underwater as themes that excited me in the recent past.

I try and get some livery going around the event by putting up a specially designed invite and a curated menu for the evening. I like e-mailing this to guests, putting it up on Facebook and indulging in other such PR. Besides getting you recognition, it also adds to the ‘hep’ value of the evening where your guests are going to be that evening.

6. Ask for help

Unless you are super human, you will never be able to pull off throwing a good party for anything above ten people without help. If you are lucky, you probably have good, reliable domestic help. If not, don’t hesitate to ask your friends for help. Remember, if you are going to be captive behind the bar or DJ console or camera through the night, most guests are going to have a tough time having a good time, without access to you at your party – especially if it’s a disparate group. Let friends help you with the bar, music, taking pictures, cooking, serving & cleaning up even.

7. The smoking areas

If you live in a flat, your guests are most likely to smoke either in a verandah / balcony if your house has one attached or some other common place. Prepare the space with an ashtray and possibly some aromatic oils. Especially in the case of common areas that other apartment residents’ use, ensure your help cleans up the place immediately after most guests have gone. You are definitely going to be served a notice by the association if they discover cigarette stubs and empty beer cans in the common areas.

8. The back up plan

When things go bad, you have to be prepared. Some basic steps:

  • Have spare bedding for those who have had one too many to drink
  • If possible, have a driver on standby to drop people off (I always do)
  • Candles in the case of a power cut – plus they look nice and cool and some dark room games could help too. Use this time for some flash photography also.
  • Midnight food delivery service if people get hungry
  • Some basic medicine for the over indulgent who might take sick

Finally – open up your heart and house on party day. If your friends want to bring their friends, as long as you don’t mind, encourage them to bring them over. Don’t let your preparation stop you. What’s the worst that can happen? They know when they are last minute inclusions into your friends’ lists and will not mind in case you run out of food or alcohol for them. They are over to have a good time and the music ain’t going to run out for nobody. Yes it might generally be a good idea to avoid complete strangers since remember, you will still be liable for any events / actions arising out of your party.

Good luck and tell me how your next one goes by tweeting to me @TheSharck or commenting here.