Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

Designing the Invisible: The birth of a book


No idea is a bad idea. Well that’s not true, tons of ideas are awful and you only need to watch Dragon’s Den to find that out. But some ideas start as a simple, rough around the edges thought, that can be honed and polished into a winning concept. That is exactly how Designing the Invisible came to life.

I remember the moment well. It wasn’t a eureka type event, more of a ‘I’m going to email Mark (Boulton) with a book idea and expect to be laughed at’ moment. Hours later I was onboard as a Five Simple Steps author. I’m getting ahead of myself here though, let’s go back to the root …

‘Mark, I’ve got an idea …

I was working at Mark Boulton Design as a Project Manager and I was heavily involved in the work for Five Simple Steps, this is the publishing company headed by Mark and Emma Boulton. As a team we were in the latter stages of getting Mark’s first book released but were already thinking beyond that, including future titles and authors.

I had written for several travel publications previously, but it was media studies and the web that really ticked my boxes, so those passions coupled with my year working at BBC Wales in Audience Research led me to email Mark a book idea which has since been polished to what is now Designing the Invisible.

A dirty diamond.

In its original form, the book was more focused on audiences and was going to discuss topics such as audience research, analytics, and personas.  It was given a title (which I won’t reveal in case Five Simple Steps want to use it at a later date) and the ball was rolling.

When Mark and I met about the book for a progress report, we both had the same reservations about some of the subject matter. Mark felt that the chapters that were centred on communication and semiotics were the more interesting, as did I, and so we agreed that they would become the focus of the book.

I went away, did my research, revised my table of contents and sent it to Mark. That makes it sound easy but it was a time consuming and at times, tough process. The whole time I had to focus on what made this book different to others, what was the unique selling point? So whilst it may seem that I have dismissed several weeks work in one sentence that isn’t the case. Honing the idea was hard.

That said, it went through a couple of revisions over a few weeks and it was a relatively fast and pain free process compared to many publishing stories I have heard. Before long, it was signed off.

The aim for any book published under the Five Simple Steps brand is for it to arm the reader with practical advice for working in that subject area – eg web design. It should also be written in an easy to read, friendly style and the design of the book/packaging should be beautiful, simple and clean. We had the content pinned down in keeping with the brand, but we needed a title to represent the broad range of topics and content to be included. Because it was part of the Five Simple Steps brand the title was most likely (though it didn’t have to) start with A Practical Guide to …

The naming ceremony.

Thinking of titles and headlines is my downfall. I struggled. Then one day Mark came into the studio and said ‘Designing the Invisible, I think we should call your book Designing the Invisible’. At first I felt it was a bit of an enigma, people wouldn’t ‘get it’ and connect to the book but it does represent the content so well and it grew on me. I said yes and then I probably made him a cup of tea or something.

Never judge a book by its cover …

…but if you do then you will judge the Five Simple Steps books in a positive way. With the nitty gritty details agreed we continued working on Mark’s book, Designing for the Web. As we reached April 2009 when the print version was released we included two postcards, one for Mark’s second book, Designing Grid Systems, and one for my own, Designing the Invisible. These postcards featured the covers, designed by Nick Boulton, and a synopsis of each book.

Soon, but not yet.

Since April lots has been going on behind the scenes regarding legalities and contracts but I won’t bore you with that or it will be a future blog post. The book was originally due to be released on December 1st but such masterpieces cannot be rushed so it has been pushed back for a short while. We have a tentative date and should be able to confirm this publicly in the coming weeks.

Stop talking and start writing.

I have been beavering away researching, writing, panicking, worrying, but above all, getting excited. I am in a position now where I can start to reveal the process and content of the book and this will be happening here on my blog, via the Designing the Invisible Twitter stream and on the Designing the Invisible website.

There will be more blog posts to follow documenting the whole process. We are hoping to show you a behind the scenes, warts and all account of self publishing.

It’s worth asking.

I had part of an idea and within weeks I was confirmed as an author. I urge you, even if it is just a small idea, to share it. You never know what it might grow into after a few creative discussions, brainstorms and some research. It is better to try and be told no, than always wonder what if (bit soppy there sorry). You can even contact Five Simple Steps with your idea.

For now though, thanks for coming along for the ride. It’s going to be bumpy but I’m strapped in.

First photo taken by Felipe


Dear Twitter, we need a break

I’ve been falling out of love with Twitter in recent weeks, so much so I felt compelled to write about why.

I can definitely see the benefits of Twitter. Here are some:

  • It can be used to promote new blog posts, releases, products etc. In fact I have been invovled in using it as a marketing tool and it was invaluable.
  • You can create communities and easily find like minded people and those with shared interests (especially since the addition of Twitter lists).
  • I have ‘met’ some fantastic people via Twitter and enjoy conversing with them and learning from them.
  • It is perfect for utilising the knowledge and contacts of others. When I was made redundant the support of my Twitter pals and the number of job leads I received from them was incredible.
  • It is a good tool for encouraging healthy debate and sharing opinions.
  • It is a great platform for sharing wisdom, articles, asking questions and generally having access to a plethora of people that you would never normally be able to contact so easily.

Too easily?

But therein lays a problem. With many people able to connect so easily it leads to trouble. Here are some reasons I’m falling out of love with Twitter and please note that I have no quarms in admitting that I have been guilty of some of this myself too:

  • Tweets can be taken the wrong way by those reading them
  • People can make the tweets be about them and start unnecessary bickering
  • Tweets can be used to target others negatively in an anonymous way
  • Some tweeters seem to think that someone with a different opinion to them is wrong.
  • People can join in conversations on Twitter part way through and again, take things out of context
  • A lot of people moan on Twitter (I have) and sometimes you just don’t wanna see moany tweets in your stream
  • It is a breeding ground for snide remarks, flipant comments and if truth be told, bitchiness.

Truncated Communication.

I think a big contributor to these negative aspects of Twitter is what I call, truncated communication. We are restricted by 140 characters or less so we have to choose our words wisely. At times we have to omit words and this can have a big impact on what we are trying to say.

A word, or lack of, can change the context of a tweet or accidently make a tweet seem negative, aimed at specific people/groups, or cause knee-jerk reactions which create conflict when there is no need.

Tone of Voice.

It is so easy when reading tweets, and this applies to emails too, to misinterpret the tone of voice in which something was meant.

If I were sat opposite someone, my tone of voice would communicate if I was being sarcastic, saying something in jest or down right livid. With online communication we don’t have this luxury and whilst a tweet might be sent innocently, we have no control over how the readers of that tweet will interpret it.

A 😉 or a 🙂 helps at times but there aren’t always enough charcters to tack one of these on the end!

Too easy to respond,

When we see a tweet that might annoy us or upset us then it is too easy to type a response and post it. Once that moment of retaliation or anger has subsided it’s too late. The tweet is already out there in the public domain. That’s why it is so important that we should all think before we tweet.

Practicing what I preach.

I’ve been more mindful of how I tweet lately and I do use Twitter less than a few months ago. In fact I think I’m going to take a back seat from it for the foreseeable future, simply using it for new blog posts like this one. I will watch what is going on but don’t think I will contribute as much for a while.

Likewise I once lived happily not knowing what people were eating or watching, not knowing where they were going or have just returned from. I’m going to review the tweets of those I follow and see what, for me, is noise and what is of interest. I’m not in any way trying to tell people what they should tweet, it is freedom of speech and people can and should say what they like (provided it is considered) but does it bring value to my life? I’m not sure it does. I didn’t need this information before, so why now?

In short …

I suppose my issue isn’t with Twitter itself but those that use it. Maybe the answer is to change the people I follow? I guess that Twitter is the vessel through which this communication flows and perhaps unfairly I am shooting the messenger here.

That said, I might start to fall in love with Twitter again after a cooling off period but for now it’s moving down my list of communication tools and I won’t be opening Twitterific this week in work. I will of course be using it to promote this blog post and if someone shares something of interest then I will click the link or retweet and so on but I’m afraid dear Twitter than for now at least, you will be sleeping on the sofa!

Am I overreacting? Please share your thoughts below.

Storytelling Through Brands.

What’s it all about?

Brands tell stories. It doesn’t happen overnight but over time certain brands become bigger and permeate our lives to the point where they become part of our culture. It might be that they fill a gap in the market, gain international status, market themselves so intensely and cleverly that we simply cannot ignore then, or maybe they simply have a kick-ass product or service that everyone desires.

One thing is for sure though, most have grown from humble beginnings.

I’m not talking about your average company here, I’m talking about the powerhouses that we recognise just by catching a glimpse of part of their logo, or the sort of company that you can almost guarantee to find no matter where in the world you might be. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Sony, Tesco, Heinz, Apple, Google, Marks and Spencer e al.  All have iconic logos and brands that we recognise, usually trust, and often choose over rival products.

Markets are saturated these days. There are dozens of choices of brands and the company’s that stand out from the crowd are not always the best ones, but the ones that make the most noise and tell the right story.

How do brands tell stories?

It’s all about building blocks and bringing together several strands. Let’s break it down:

  • Values
    Any successful brand will be born out of carefully chosen values. They may not be explicitly written on the product or marketing material but chances are the company will have thought of a mission statement and values that they want their company to represent. They may not always live up to the values either, but they are idealistic and help to sculpt the brand and story. These values underpin everything that follows.


    Common brand values include trustworthy, reliable, honest, and open.

  • Logo
    A good logo can make or break a company. Despite our lives being bombarded with choices we can still recognise one company over another just from their logo. The old saying tells us that a picture paints a thousand words and never is this more true than in relation to branding. If we spot a logo that we recognise then we will associate that with our experiences, knowledge and expectations from that company.


    The best way to demonstrate the power of logos is to look at some:




  • Of course these are the logos for Twitter, Starbucks and Google. Let’s take the Starbucks logo. When I see this I know I will get a comfy warm setting in which to sip my tasty warm coffee whilst chatting to friends. For me the Starbucks story is all about meeting friends and catching up over a coffee, or having an informal work meeting, or grabbing a coffee whilst on the go. I know what I will get and I only need to see a hint of that green logo in order for that to be communicated to me.
  • Strapline/Slogan
    The short snappy text that anchors your logo adds to your story. In fact if it is written in a certain way, the slogan can be the story just in very short form.


    Again, this sort of speaks for itself so let’s look at some examples and think about the story they are both telling and contributing to:

    • Orange – The future’s bright, the future’s Orange
    • Apple – Think Different
    • Tesco – Every little helps
    • Nike – Just do it
    • British Telecom – It’s good to talk
    • Cadbury Milk Tray – And all because the lady loved Milk Tray
    • Carlsberg – Probably the best lager in the world
    • KFC – Finger lickin good
  • Colour
    As I have previously discussed on my blog, colours have hidden meanings and connote certain values and messages. Yellow is associated with happiness, blue can be calm and cool, green often has links to nature and red can connote love, passion or danger. That said, the dominant colour of a brand is important in telling the right story. For example, if your brand values are all about being environmentally aware then this might best be communicated through green.
  • Marketing
    A crucial element to building any brand and one that can fail spectacularly. With today’s technology, we can tweet about adverts, share opinions on a product or company, and audiences seem to have more influence now than ever before. When it comes to marketing though, you just can’t beat a good idea!


    It is important to remember that just because everyone knows your story (in the case of the big brands), it doesn’t mean you should stop telling the story. There are always new audiences waiting to be discovered and new ways of telling the same story.

    Successful marketing campaigns are the ones that people talk about long after the advert has finished. The format and content of the marketing will add to the brand story. If you want to promote yourselves as being relaxed, approachable and fun to work with then make sure this is clear in your marketing campaigns.

  • Story
    There has to be a story to tell. Whether that be how a small coffee house in Seattle became one of the most recognisable brands of today, or how two men added a special waffle pattern to his shoes to help him run faster, naming the shoe after a Greek goddess, the shoe became and still is a worldwide success (Nike).


    But how you tell the story is almost more important than the story that is being told. Cue the case study.

I’ve got a golden ticket!

Yesterday I visited Cadbury World in Birmingham. This was an interesting couple of hours, not only from a chocolate loving perspective, but from a brand and marketing stance.

The first thing of note was the colour. Everywhere I looked purple was staring back at me. From the big sign on the way in, to the handrails around the factory, the wrappers of the chocolate to the uniforms of the staff. Purple is Cadbury and Cadbury is purple!

Logo 1

Logo 2

Logo 3

It takes a long time for a brand to be so successful that a single colour can remind us of it. Here is a surmised Cadbury timeline:

  • 1824 – John Cadbury opened his first grocer shop
  • 1866 – Cadbury start to sell Cocoa Essence
  • 1897 – The first milk chocolate for eating was launched
  • 1905 – Cadbury Dairy Milk is born
  • 1915 – Milk Tray make their debut
  • 1928 – The glass and a half logo is used for the first time
  • 2003 – Cadbury become the world’s number 1 confectionary company

Ok so a lot of hard work happened between 1928 and 2003 but as you can see, Cadbury have been around for a lot longer than anyone reading this blog post! That means we have known their products, logo and brand for all of our lives and as purple is the consistent colour across all their marketing and advertising it is no wonder that the association between purple and Cadbury is an easy one to make.

The significance of purple.

I don’t expect that when the branding for Cadbury was being decided, there were many in depth conversations around the connotations of colour, yet it is significant nowadays.

In the western world, purple is a colour that is said to represent luxury, royalty, the finer things in life, and even wizardry. These are pretty good values to market chocolate as. It is often seen as being an indulgence, a luxury, a treat, and the packaging that the chocolate arrives in reinforces this belief.

As purple represents these values and Cadbury use purple as their dominant brand colour, then Cadbury are associated with these values too. In that case, we are more likely to see Cadbury as being luxurious and indulgent than we are the colour purple (as we don’t often stop to think about hidden meanings in colour) and that in turn reinforces the idea that purple is a colour of luxury and indulgence, and so the cycle continues.

Of course this is all helped by other elements such as the style in which Cadbury is written and the fact that chocolate for many people is the absolute meaning of life!

Appealing to the masses.

The second thing of note was the crowds. There were literally hundreds, if not well over a thousand, visitors. What is it that draws people to Cadbury World in such high numbers?

It undoubtedly has to be two main reasons. 1, people love chocolate, and 2, the Cadbury story.

Cadbury have one strong advantage to play with and that is the wonderment of making chocolate. Books and films have romanticised what is in reality, a rather dull production process. But we can’t help but be curious about what magic is happening behind the imposing factory gates that so many average joe’s get to pass through.

The other strength for Cadbury is the fact that it is so old. There is something inside us that jumps for joy when we reminisce and look back to days gone by. Cadbury World plays on the nostalgia at every opportunity, retro posters of their packaging, videos of the past adverts, and indeed the history and story of the company are constantly made visual during a visit there.

Telling the story … again … and again … and again …

When it comes to marketing, Cadbury could teach us all a thing or two. They could probably get away with never airing another advert again. But they do. And they work on so many levels.

They work because they are creative and just when we think we know all about Cadbury, they surprise us and get us all talking again. It’s the same old story but repackaged. There is a whole section in the Cadbury World experience that is dedicated to their adverts.

I was fondly reminded (there’s the nostalgic thing again) of the “everyone’s a fruit and nut case” advert, the “a finger of fudge is just enough” song, the Cadbury sponsorship of Coronation Street, the rollercoaster advert for Crunchie that looked like it was made of chocolate, and more recently, these two:

Quite what they have to do with chocolate I don’t know. They have been spoofed, recreated and written about countless times though. Cadbury is still making positive headlines almost 200 years after they first set-up shop.

Listening to the audience.

Despite their global dominance Cadbury are still able to listen to their audience. This should never be underestimated. People set up Facebook groups and led a campaign to bring back the Wispa chocolate bar. They succeeded.

Consumers spoke and Cadbury listened, shining yet another positive light onto the company and adding a new chapter to their story.

Quite where the Cadbury story will end I don’t know. I guess the key thing is that they refuse to be silent. They have worked hard to grow and create a brand that has now become part of our culture. They also seem intent on retaining this position and are always thinking of new ways to achieve this. Whether you like chocolate or not, there is no denying that Cadbury have created a brand that perfectly tells their story. And they keep telling it. And it keeps working, so much so that I now need to go and get some Dairy Milk. I’m confident that I will be able to spot it immediately on the shop shelf amongst all the other chocolates. I’ll just keep an eye out for the shiny purple wrapper.

Invisible Communication

Human communication consists of 93% body language!

Arguably then, 93% of what we communicate is invisible. Not literally as it is there on show and if you know what to look for you can read someone’s body language to understand what they ‘really’ mean, but how often do we do that, we tend to focus on the words they are saying when there is a much deeper level of communication happening in their gestures, posture, handshake, facial expressions and smiles.

In the name of research I have recently been reading a book called The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease.

It is a fascinating book on this topic and here are some of my favourite nuggets of information from that book:

  • It is proven that less than 5% of people can identify the back of their hands from a photograph (so be careful next time you say ‘I know it like the back of my hand’)
  • Phrases we use highlight the importance of body language to our communication, get it off your chest, keep your chin up, face up to it, put your best foot forward, and shoulder a burden are just a few examples.
  • Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell estimated that we can make and recognise around 250,000 facial expressions (dare you to try and find them all)
  • 7 out of 1o people cross their left arm over their right arm.
  • There are many cultural differences but the basic body language signals are the same everywhere. One universal gesture for example is shoulder shrugging.
  • Modern humans are worse at reading body signals than their ancestors because we are now distracted by words.
  • A natural smile produces characteristic wrinkles around the eyes – insincere people smile only with their mouth.
  • Science has proved the more you smile the more positive reactions others will give you.
  • When you fold your arms your credibility dramatically reduces.
  • American television is the prime reason cultural body language differences are disappearing.
  • If you make a V sign with your fingers it can mean ‘two’ to an American, ‘victory’ to a German and ‘up yours’ in Britain.
  • When a man is excited by a woman, which part of his body can grow to almost three times it size? His pupils!
  • An American survey found the 3 words women would most like to hear from their male partner were not ‘I love you’. They were … ‘you’ve lost weight’.

This is by no means a definitive list and if it is a topic that interests you then I urge you to buy the book. It doesn’t end with people though. Invisible communication is all around us. An overview of some examples include:

Supermarkets – they are designed to make us buy things. It’s a science! Not only are we subconsciously made to buy lots of things but we are influenced to buy specific products the supermarket want us to buy. The biggest influencer is the layout of the store and positioning of the shelves.

Colour is used effectively, red for offers, green for fresh and so on. Popular brands are placed at the end of aisles to ‘welcome us’ to that section, fresh fruit is almost always placed as you enter the store as it says ‘we have fresh food here’, items like bread and milk are at the back as they are often items people need when doing a quick shop so they make you walk past everything else to get to them.

The trouble is, supermarkets don’t put the customer first, it’s all about the money for them which can make for a poor user experience for the shoppers

Airports – It is no secret that airports too are designed in a way that means passengers can get to where they need to without too much thought.

Different floor surfaces represent different areas and signage is vital. The most talked about airport is Schipol. Yellow signs here provide information, signs for cafes and shops are blue and green is used for escape routes.

A considered combination of terminology, colour coding, placement and fonts can make for a much more pleasant airport experience, subconsciously of course!

Advertising – this fascinates me. I like to think that I am not influenced by adverts, I am above it and I decide what to buy, not the global corporations.

If truth be told though, I am influenced by advertising. Again I think this influence is invisible in the sense that I may not see an advert and immediately rush out and by the product but next time I am in the supermarket I am drawn to it.

Messages are communicated to us which we think we ignore but perhaps we don’t. If you buy this aftershave you will be more like Ewan McGregor, eat this cereal and you will lose weight, wear this deodorant and you will be fighting the opposite sex off, and so the list could grow and grow as adverts use idealistic lifestyles to influence us. (a blog post on advertising is coming soon!)

Films – We may think we go to the cinema, we watch a film, we leave. Not so. Films are rife with character types, narrative twists and turns, storytelling techniques, and codes.

Throughout our childhoods and into our adult lives we learn about storytelling conventions and the characters of hero, villain, princess etc and even though we may not recognise it when watching films, we can often look for these characters and apply these storytelling methods to what we are seeing.

That’s why it works so well when the conventions are played with and turned on their head. (Lost for example!) Films communicate a lot more than what is presented literally on screen to us. This is also true of the media in general.

The web – And so to the web. Invisible communication is also present here. In the colours of websites, colours that can connote various messages to users and influence their moods and colours that have different meanings depending on which part of the planet you live.

Navigation should communicate to users too and if it is designed with the user in mind then they should be able to move around websites with little thought as to what we are clicking on, it is almost like an innate sense.

Navigation tells the story that guides the user to where they want to go without having to think about it. Stories have a beginning, middle and an end and this storytelling should be applied to navigation telling the user, where they have been, where they currently are, and where they can go next.

Signs and icons communicate messages to users too, we can see an icon and know instantly what it represents. If I see an envelope I can send an email, a green tick means go, proceed, ok but a red icon is likely to be a warning.

Types of websites also share conventions that could arguably mean that there are genres of websites. The words we use are important, the design/layout of a website creates the ‘scene’ and brings together all the elements of copywriting, colour, design, typography, navigation and so on, in the same way the scene of a film brings together the lighting, script, actors, set decoration and costumes.

So much to say.

This topic is deep and something else I will blog about in the coming weeks but nothing is as it seems, adverts, supermarkets, pictures, colours, websites, they are built with layers and if we peel back those layers then we can reveal some interesting insights into human behaviour, the media, and the web.