Human first, technology second

As an ex-developer, I love that techniques from the world of coding are seeping into the rest of the world, particularly the advertising and creative industries.

The concept of prototyping, creating something rapidly and often using makeshift materials and tools, allows us to test an idea cheaply, kill it if it fails, or scale it if it works.

The concept of ‘beta’ gives us permission to constantly build upon something, and it be okay if we make mistakes (providing we listen when we get it wrong).

The concept of ‘agile’ allows us to ‘test and learn’, whether it is using data, prototypes, or strategy, and get to something right through a series of steps, rather than planning every last detail in advance.

I’d like to see our industry go further, and embrace more concepts – distributed working, open source, forking, and most importantly user centric design.

User centric design is the process of understanding and building systems around how people function, not expecting people to function within a system. Human first, technology second.

This means examining and embracing the complex ecosystem of decisions, influences, behaviours and spaces that a person flows through, not just focussing on specific devices or channels.

Thinking about the human first, and the technology second demands that we explore a consumer’s touchpoints across the entire day, not just media, but every interaction and environment they may experience – transport, transaction, friends, workplaces, and more.

Thinking holistically about a person and their actions demands that we stop thinking about individual channels, but instead behaviours and narratives. What happens when someone goes to sleep? What happens when they wake up? What happens when they get lost? What happens when they arrive?

Thinking about these narratives allows you to solve a brief with any number of platforms, tools, channels, devices and interactions; it allows you to solve an actual challenge, rather than just answering how a predefined solution could be applied to a challenge.

We become anthropologists and discover a dozen potential new channels which are relevant to use. Perhaps some of your owned assets are already part of the story, and you¹re not using the m. Maybe there is a frustration that a customer frequently faces, and you can provide a solution, not just a message.

We can continue thinking about platform strategies and channels, but we need to start looking at the human first and the technology second, to understand all of the other opportunities around the behaviour in question, rather than just the channels we already know exist.

NB. I wrote this article for the IAB, and you can see the original posting at

Email Stats

Playing around with Google Apps Scripts again today.

In theory, the image above is a live* representation of my inbox: the number of emails, the age of the oldest response, and the average age of the oldest response.

I tend to leave emails in my inbox until dealt with, so they’re either responded to immediately and archived, or left until I’ve done the task.

I know its not a good GTD technique, but it might create something interesting visually.

I expect to see:

– Email dips on Fridays (as I’m not at Carat on Fridays so can get through my personal tasks)
– Steady growth throughout the day, and dips at the end of the day
– Average durations of response only display things that linger, not things that are immediately dealt with

* live = updated every hour

Carat Coffee Club

As some of you might know, I like my coffee.
As more of you probably know, I’m also very lazy.

Combine these two facts, and you arrive at the need for hyperlocal quality coffee, and what better way of doing this than starting your own Coffee Club at work? Rather than leaving the office to get a fix, I’ve brought a hand-grinder and bag of beans from Kopi into work, and left them in a public space within my team.

The plan is to let people drink the decent coffee, give them some lessons on how to use an aeropress, and the importance of good quality beans being ground just before you make the drink – and we have a nice little social movement.

If it works within my team, I’m planning on rolling it out across my whole floor. Hopefully ‘donations’ towards each cup will make it self-sustaining, and each month, we’ll aim to have a different coffee from a range of suppliers like Hasbean, Kopi, Monmouth and beyond.

On the topic of lowering ebook prices

the issue with ebook pricing is perception.

The general population think that ebooks should cost less because of the reduced distribution costs – there’s no paper, no shipping, no manufacturing. Once you’ve made one copy of an ebook, you can just copy paste, copy paste, copy paste all the way to the bank. This is probably built upon the assumption that a healthy chunk of the cover price of a standard printed book is the hard material cost.

The publishers and content creators suggest that the lion’s share of the price is you paying for quality of content, and paying pennies (like we do for apps) for books is frankly offensive to the author.

In part I agree. It’s a value exchange, and I’m always willing to pay in thanks for great content. I frequently ‘tip’ authors who I read and appreciate online, if there’s a mechanic. Vimeo have just launched their ‘tipjar’ mechanic to do similar for video.

However, unless publishers have been making a loss on the manufacturing and passing the majority of that price on to the authors, shifting from physical books to ebooks is actually a cost reduction exercise for publishers. Yes, ebooks offer greater value, usefulness, features and functionality, they’re not just digital versions of books, and can be so much more, but at the heart of the majority of titles in ebook format today, they are cheaper to distribute, delivering higher profit margins for publishers.

What publisher would not want a reader to choose the digital version over a paper version, when the distribution costs are so wildly different? Business is business, not altruism.

And this is the problem for the general majority when it comes to ebook pricing – whether the above is true or not, this is the perception. “I’m paying for pixels, which are free to send to me, and free to duplicate, why should I pay the same amount as atoms?” (possibly expressed in less nerdy terms).

So price is important when it comes to ebooks, regardless of margin.

British Gas this week are suffering from the same issue – they’re putting prices up, and reporting £345m in half-year profits. That doesn’t stack up from a perception point of view.

If the perception is to change, there has to be an understanding of where that money goes, and once you’ve removed manufacturing costs, surely, more money can go to the author. I don’t take any offense to paying £10 for a book in any format, providing the right people get the money from that exchange.

I’d love to know if any publishers are changing their royalty models so that the revenues to authors increases pro-rata against the cost saving of non-paper books, as then, perception might start to shift from ‘profit margin’ to ‘value of content’.

So to build upon my initial response to @alexhern, Amazon’s drive to lower prices is to shift perception and adoption of a higher profit margin format, rather than to encourage more people to read. It’s a format drive, rather than a category drive.