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The web leaders hate typography (but not for long)

It probably started with HTML, and then Yahoo, of course. But eBay escalated the hatred and Google and Facebook have institutionalized it.

To have lame typography, to avoid opportunities to speak not just with what you say, but how the letters look—this is part of the web's engineering-first ethos.

Sergey Brin famously said that marketing is the cost you pay for lousy products, and apparently, typography is a variety of marketing.

Sergey’s wrong about marketing, of course (great products are marketing), but doubly wrong about the benefits of typography.

Typography is what sets Apple, at first glance, apart from just about everyone at the mall. Typography is what makes a self-published book often look pale in comparison to a ‘real’ one. Typography (or the lack thereof) is a safety hazard on airplanes (who decided that all the safety labels should be in ALL CAPS)?

The choice of a typeface, the care given to kerning and to readability—it all sends a powerful signal. When your business card is nothing but Arial on a piece of cardboard, you’ve just told people how they ought to think about you… precisely the opposite of what you were trying to do when you made the card in the first place.

The irony here is clear. It was computer technology (particularly Apple) that put typography into the hands of all of us. And it’s computer technology that is relentlessly picking it apart, devaluing expression in a misguided attempt to demonstrate that you’re too busy coding to make anything look trustworthy or delightful. Typekit and other web solutions are trying to address this problem, and it's pretty clear that the next generation of sophisticated organizations online is going to look a lot better than this one does.

Great typography isn’t as easy as lazy type, but it’s worth way more than it costs—in fact, it’s a world-class bargain. (some typography resources). And a neat tool via Swiss-Miss.

Waving to myself

When I'm on the bike path riding my truly weird recumbent bicycle, sometimes I pass someone else similarly outfitted. And I wave.

Same thing happens when a pregnant mom meets another at the airport, or when two backpackers encounter each other in a strange city.

Of course, we're not waving at the other person. We're waving at ourselves.

The warning signs of defending the status quo

When confronted with a new idea, do you:

  • Consider the cost of switching before you consider the benefits?
  • Highlight the pain to a few instead of the benefits for the many?
  • Exaggerate how good things are now in order to reduce your fear of change?
  • Undercut the credibility, authority or experience of people behind the change?
  • Grab onto the rare thing that could go wrong instead of amplifying the likely thing that will go right?
  • Focus on short-term costs instead of long-term benefits, because the short-term is more vivid for you?
  • Fight to retain benefits and status earned only through tenure and longevity?
  • Embrace an instinct to accept consistent ongoing costs instead of swallowing a one-time expense?
  • Slow implementation and decision making down instead of speeding it up?
  • Embrace sunk costs?
  • Imagine that your competition is going to be as afraid of change as you are? Even the competition that hasn't entered the market yet and has nothing to lose…
  • Emphasize emergency preparation at the expense of a chronic and degenerative condition?
  • Compare the best of what you have now with the possible worst of what a change might bring?

Calling it out when you see it might give your team the strength to make a leap.

Form design

The purpose of a form is not to treat the human as a computer, who will dutifully fill in each and every box just the way you want.

No, creating a form is like hosting a party for words.

Those little boxes (one per letter) are on some forms because it communicates to you that you should slow down and write clearly, because a human being is going to have to read what you wrote and type it in for you.

The large lined area on the application implies that you're supposed to write more than one sentence.

Online forms work the same way. When you use big type and big boxes, you're telling the visitor something, talking in a certain tone of voice. The local DMV site feels very different from a web2.0 company that happens to be collecting almost exactly the same data.

We're all looking for clues, clues about what you want, who you are, whether we trust you. Even in a simple form.

More or less

You can either seek to get more out of an opportunity (job, technology, interaction, person, moment), or less.

More exposure, more risk, more upside, more work, more learning, more engagement, more passion, more chance to be blamed, more opportunity to make a difference, more effort…

or less.

The facts

A statement of fact is insufficient and often not even necessary to persuade someone of your point of view.

[I was going to end the post just like that, but then I realized that I was merely telling you a fact, one that might not resonate. Here's the riff:

Politicians, non-profits and most of all, amateur marketers believe that all they need to do to win the day is to recite a fact. You're playing Monopoly and you say, "I'll trade you Illinois for Connecticut." The other person refuses, which is absurd. I mean, Illinois costs WAY more than Connecticut. It's a fact. There's no room for discussion here. You are right and they are wrong.

But they still have the property you want, and you lose. Because all you had was a fact.

On the other hand, the story wins the day every time. When the youngest son, losing the game, offers to trade his mom Baltic for Boardwalk, she says yes in a heartbeat. Because it feels right, not because it is right.

Your position on just about everything, including, yes, your salary, your stock options, your credit card debt and your mortgage are almost certainly based on the story you tell yourself, not some universal fact from the universal fact database.

Not just you, everyone.

Work with that.]

September 13 session in my office

By request, I'm offering a small group session in my office on the 13th of September. Call it group coaching for lack of a better term… bring your marketing, business model, web or other challenges and we'll try to work through them. A few big ideas are likely to come of it for each attendee.

Apologies in advance if you can't get a ticket, but if it goes well, I'll probably do it again. Details and tickets.

A little empty

I guess this is how a sports fan felt when Joe DiMaggio retired.

Business didn't used to be personal. Now it is.

Computers didn't used to make us smile. Now they do.

We didn't used to care about whether a CEO made one decision or another, or whether or not he was healthy. I do now.

Sure, there was baseball after joltin Joe stopped playing. But it was never quite the same.

Thank you, Steve, for giving us all something to talk about and a way to talk about it with beauty (and fonts). We owe you more than we can say.


[more on the pic here]

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t Mark Zuckerberg

"Mark Zuckerberg" has become a codeword for the truly gifted exception, the wunderkind freak of nature for whom traditional rules don't apply.

Well, sure, Mark Zuckerberg can drop out of Harvard, but you're not Mark Zuckerberg…

Here's the thing: Even Mark isn't Mark Zuckerberg.

This notion that there's a one in a billion alignment of DNA and experience that magically creates an exception is just total nonsense. Mark is successful because of a million small choices, not because he, and he alone, has some magical properties.

Mostly, the best way to be the next Mark Zuckerberg is to make difficult choices.

Two earthquake-related thoughts about human nature

1. The first thing that happens after we encounter an earthquake is to wonder if anyone else felt it. The need for group validation is widespread and happens for events that don't involve earthquakes as well.

If those in the tribe feel something, we're likely to as well. That's why people look around before they stand up to offer an ovation at the end of a concert. Why should it matter if any of these strangers felt the way you did about the event? Because it does. A lot. Social proof matters.

2. Organizations are busy evacuating buildings, even national monuments. Even though experience indicates that the most dangerous thing you can do is have tens of thousands of people run down the stairs, cram into the elevators and stand in the streets, we do it anyway. Why? Because people like to do something. Action, even ineffective action, is something societies seek out during times of uncertainty.