EATagency - 8 Bit Strategy: The Golden Age of Video Games Can Help You Become and Better Designer and Strategist
THE GOLDEN AGE OF ARCADE
GAMES CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER
STRATEGIST AND DESIGNER
Look around. Every blinking screen is your competitor. Every brand is
teasing quarters out of consumers’ pockets. Standing out requires consistency. #vision
You can take your product/service anywhere you want. Fancy, conservative, freemium or enterprise. Navigating these digital waters is more
than a template and a press release. #direction
After you choose a strategy, you’ll have to pull the trigger
on tactics. Staying safe is a sure-fire way to become
Hot dogs, pickles and eggs chase a hapless chef (Peter Pepper, for the
hardcore) through a scaffolded maze of platforms, ladders and giant
hamburgers. Players help Chef Pepper construct the hamburgers while
avoiding the murderous garnishes. Where do the burgers go? Who eats
them? Do they possess the gamey savor of a man’s fear? We can only
The most important dimension of any
creative or commercial project is your
relationship with the customer, the
ultimate user of your content. This is
the person you must inform and delight.
Any other goals you set, any other
challenges you face and overcome, will
be done for them and on their behalf.
conflicts, the setbacks and eventual
victories, from our own lives. If you can
craft a story in which users feel familiar,
you have thrown open the door and
invited them home—where the heart is—
where trust is.
In order for users to make sense of our
words, they recall a constellation of
meanings associated with those words.
Some words contain within them whole
stories. When Peter Pepper’s off-screen
customers place their orders, they
presumably don’t order “raw ground
beef, seasoned with salt and pepper,
grilled at 400 degree fahrenheit, placed
between two buns, with a leaf of lettuce
and a slice of tomato, symbolizing the
unpretentious melting-pot ideal of the
For Peter Pepper’s customers, that
content is food. In our trade, it centers
around story. Encode meaning into your
stories, and you will enable users to
access greater depth of meaning more
easily and consistently.
Clear stories are easy to remember
because we are so familiar with their
structure. We recognize the heroes, the
United States.” They ordered a burger.
“Burger” is a story that captures all the
details of its recipe, history, preparation
and cultural significance. That’s
one of the primary reasons why the
game caught on in the United States.
“Sushi Time” would not have played
nearly as well in heartland 7-11s and
laundromats, no matter how dynamic
the game physics.
The problem is that in order for users/
customers to make that informed
decision, you have to engage them first.
That means packing a slew of attributes
into a few emotionally resonant words
and phrases. Fight against the reflex
to see this as squishy emotionalism or
dubious marketing slight-of-hand. It
Making the right semantic call
might not be a simple question of
accurate description. Internally, your
organization understands its products/
services in all their minute intricacies.
It’s tempting to present users a litany of
attributes, relying on their good sense
to make the reasonable choice based on
Metonymy is the rhetorical device that
allows a writer to pack a universe of
meaning into just one or a few words.
It’s why “Hollywood” is more than just
a zipcode—it’s the entire mechanism of
American mass-culture. It’s why “The
White House” isn’t a building—it’s a
political force. It’s why the phrase “The
breakfast of champions” just made
you think of cereal, the 1976 summer
olympics and the color orange.
vocabulary of stories as the words
themselves. We should be cautious
not to fall into the trap of overlooking
their importance in the construction
of user narrative. In fact, narrative
transcends even these boundaries, to
be constructed across all touchpoints of
the user journey.
You’ll have to find those powerful few
words that encapsulate the maximum
amount of meaning and emotional
resonance for your customer. But you’ll
also have to expand on it, since most
projects call for more than just a catchy
slogan. That’s where you deliver your
value: distilling meaning, and applying
it to longer-form copy, graphic design,
and the interplay between them.
You can see a clear snapshot of this
if you spend just a few minutes on
Kickstarter’s overarching narrative
is this: independent artists use
crowdfunding to create moderate-tohigh budget projects without prior
approval from the gatekeepers of art
and commerce. And Kickstarter tells its
Copy is component to UX, code, design
and brand. And make no mistake:
they are as much the grammar and
– Huimin Li, “How Do You Develop a Shared Understanding on an Agile Project?”,
story by curating the site to put the most
successful and well-realized projects at
A well-curated partnership also has
the potential to expand story beyond
both the start and finish of a brand
engagement. You’ll find a great example
of this if you ever need to Google
“How to wrap an extension cord.” The
first result returns a link to The Art of
Manliness, a blog cleaving faithfully
to its kettlebells-and-moustachewax brand gestalt. The site’s story is
that of rediscovering lost masculine
competencies—precisely that narrative
in which a man finds himself when
wondering how to properly wrap an
First, we see faces—smiling—successful
artists and inventors. We see clever and
enticing designs. And we see success. A
casual visitor to the site must typically
dig down at least two levels before
they find projects with less than 100%
funding. This despite the fact that fewer
than half of all Kickstarter projects
succeed in reaching their funding goals.
The story conveyed through this
design says: this is where artists get
funding—not merely seek it. Whether
a contributor or fundraiser, you
won’t waste your time or come out
As he reads the article he sees one of
many prominent banners for Huckberry,
a curated online retailer that specializes
in durable, design-centric, smallbatch products, which also hearken
back to turn-of-the-century standards
and aesthetics. In addition to a
rotating stock of curated merchandise,
Huckberry maintains a top-notch photo
blog, whose themes reinforce the values
of taking the best from the past while
staying contemporary, design-conscious
first is internal, editorial. The second
and third are curated from outside
sources. But throughout the experience,
the story, and its hero, is consistent—the
user will never be confused.
Cheat Code #91: Creating attentiongrabbing headlines can both drive
valuable clicks and dilute your brand. If
your content doesn’t do much more than
pay off the lead, readers will feel duped.
If you haven’t done it already,
experiment with split testing tools
(Optimizely is a good place to start).
Once you’ve winnowed through
the noble failures, you’ll find real
customers—people who want and need
exactly what you’re offering.
Order from the site, and the retailer
provides consistently branded thankyou postcards. Thus does a unified story
cross from one digital space to another,
and into the physical world. The first
is free, the second and third retail. The
You wont always nail your copy/story
on the first go round. So, if a tactic
(a hypothesis) doesn’t pan out—if the
wieners of customer disinterest and the
pickles of technical unsustainability
block your way—you have to be able to
discard your strategy, and pick another
one. Have faith, and head for customer
what they actually want/need from what
they think they want/need, you can run
back to metrics with a newfound, realworld clarity.
Which brings us to the final lesson of
BurgerTime: Everything you touch is
content (food)—but only some of it is
edible. If a piece of content isn’t to your
user’s advantage, it’s a threat to the
message. Knowing what to say and how
to say it is contingent on knowing your
end user. And with that goes attention
to the medium of delivery.
It’s not enough just to check the
receipts, read the comment cards, and
occasionally greet the guests tableside.
You have to look at everything. Before
all your best metrics and conversion
funnels fail, bust out the coffee and
bagels and invite some users over for a
gab sesh. When you’re convinced that
users are having trouble distinguishing
Technology, IA ,UX and design are both
part of and shape your story. Technology
assembles the practices and facilitates
the audience. IA manifests structure. UX
directs pacing while design formulates
style. These aren’t “considerations”;
they are every bit as much part and
parcel of content as the “actual” service
you intend to deliver.
The essence of any brand story is always
to consistently communicate a solution:
print, web, social and experiential. The
result will be great copy and story—
and orders that keep rolling in. And no
matter what, deliver on your story’s
promise. Everything else is methodology
With that out of the way, grab your roll
of quarters and let’s venture further
into the dark, blooping recesses of the
Work on your homepage content last. Instead, start with with a piece of content
that is both distant from the pre-sale pitch and contains a singular CTA (signup email or receipt, for example). Your goal here is to reduce the friction of
“homepage politics,” so that you can find and build on a tone that resonates.
Start thinking about fonts as soon as you begin to create content. You need to
plan and draft based how your words will appear visually. Look at the content in
Think about your mobile content early on. Heds at 90px may look great on
desktop, but what happens when you view them on a phone?
Brand when you can, but not at the expense of readability. Use brand-specific
copy style for receipts, thank-yous and error messages. Eric Karajaluoto’s book
Speak Human, is a good reference.
Analyze every available piece of content and ask: would any of this be better in a
different medium? Should the article be a video? Would the slideshow be better
as an ebook?
You know what it looks like. Players guide a yellow circle through a series of mazes, eating pixelated fruit and power pellets, while racing to
escape a quartet of colorful ghosts. Or is there more to it?
Pac-Man is nearly impossible to win. In
a way, it was intended to go on forever.
There are 255 different mazes of yellow
pellets, pixelated fruit and those pesky
ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Sue. To
date, only six people in the world have
achieved the honor of playing a perfect
game of Pac-Man. And they didn’t
win by chasing random dots—they all
succeeded by perfecting the paths and
patterns that take players through the
mazes as safely and quickly as possible.
They learned that circling around one
quadrant of the board and trying to
devour every goodie before moving on
is nothing more than a great way to get
a quick game of Pac-Man, at the
laundromat or in the back of whichever
dive bar we haunted in college
(nostalgia makes for sticky shoes).
We never bothered to learn patterns.
We had clothes to dry, rounds to buy
and Journey songs to karaoke. So we
dropped in our quarter, bellied up to the
joystick and chased dots until the ghosts
caught us. If we were really good, or
lucky, we made it past level five.
That’s the trap you fall into when you
narrowly obsess about one facet of
project at the expense of seeing it as a
Before you commit to a single pixel of
your next digital project, you’ve got to
Most of us have muddled through
understand your problem. Pinpointing
that primary problem is a crossfunctional bear. A clunky check-out flow
might turn into a departmental tug-ofwar. Those 3am site copy changes by the
CEO may dictate structure and security
for CMS templates. If you don’t account
for these twists and turns, it’s easy to
get caught in corner without a power
Some content exists to spur user
engagement—as in the case of calls
to action—while other types, such as
forms, already assume engagement.
Consider for a moment how content can
be subordinate to user-directed action,
as in the case of most buttons and
arrows, while some content functions
solely in circumstances of user
receptivity (video content, receipts).
Most content exists on a continuum
between the two. For example: a
thumbnail image (user-agent) might
lead to a product description in a
purchase flow (user-patient).
Rewinding a chapter, make sure you’ve
got a good handle on your content.
Amass, consolidate, dissect and
arrange. Do this with as close to 100%
of your content as possible before the
first pixel flashes to life. And always
stay cognizant of what users are trying
Once you’ve answered these questions,
it’s finally possible to create a design
pattern and flow that will help users
– Uzi Shmilovici, “User Experience and the Poison on the Tip of the Arrow,” Tech Crunch,
achieve their goals, whether active or
passive, perceiving or utilitarian.
will be engaged. Your UX needs to be
functional first and beautiful second.
At any stage of game—whether that
game is Pac-Man or new product
development—you can’t avoid some
degree of polished pixel work. But at
each stage of a project it’s necessary
to identify distinct standards for pixelperfection.
Design exists to stylize an experience,
but its primary goal is to communicate.
At the outset of any project, there will
always be two audiences with whom
you are communicating. The customer/
user is the obvious one. But before you
can even begin speaking to them, you’ll
have to get sign-off and approval from
internal and external stakeholders.
For example, if you’re seeking funding,
for an iPhone app, initial high-res
designs are going to be crucial. But
pixel perfection isn’t going to help if the
design has fatal navigation flaws. And
skeuomorphic design flourishes won’t
matter much if your app is targeting the
wrong audience. If potential funders get
tripped up on details and can’t visualize
Deciding how many pixels to chase at
a given time, and in which direction—
these are patterns you need to identify.
How do you decide? Research, that’s
how. Aesthetically gorgeous design
elements do not ensure that customers
the offering, it’s an almost iron-clad
guarantee the project won’t get funded.
If the project can’t be funded, you will
never get the chance to communicate
with your user.
them experience the challenges with
If this isn’t a solo operation, and you
have stakeholders involved in your
project, you’ll need to determine what
level of fidelity to show them. How do
you balance flexibility with sign-off?
Ideally you would include them in the
sketching process. Graph paper and
a few Sharpies can cement buy-in by
turning everyone into an architect.
Customer and product insights exist
throughout your organization. Your job
is to extract, process and synthesize
It isn’t fair to your stakeholder to ask
for the green light, with the caveat that
everything is subject to change at your
discretion. But if you never get your
stakeholder’s sign-off, there will be no
accountability for things going wrong if
your advice isn’t followed. Better to let
You’ve heard of minimum viable product.
Initiatory design is minimum shareable
concept. Ask: how do we begin to create
a design that elocutes and fosters our
idea? How do we make it real enough
that we can begin to pick it apart? Think
of the minimum shareable concept as
– Hillman Curtis
the art on an arcade game cabinet.
As revolutionary as these golden-age
games were, their primitive pixels would
not have captured our imaginations
if it hadn’t been for the bold, lurid
art on their housing. Design initiates
communiction for the simple reason that
pretty things get more attention.
Cheat Code #582: If you can attract
stakeholders with a beautiful cabinet—
that is, style cards, UX mockups, copy
samples, etc.—then you’re well on your
way to sign-off on patterns and strategic
frameworks that you can build on. This
Stakeholders see results without
paralyzing your ability to pivot. You
get the accountability you need,
while retaining the ability to try
new approaches. Comps that grab
stakeholders’ attention should be
limited to small elements—enough to
get them excited about a new visual
direction, but not so detailed that
you are locking down hex colors and
perfecting the golden ratio.
IA, technology decisions may dictate
all of the above. And what are your
business objectives again?
Once you have that interest, that initial,
exploratory 25 cents, you can start
to create an elegant user experience,
design your content and commence
Identifying one or two key pages in a
user experience flow can be vital to a
project’s success. Otherwise, afternoons
disappear sweating the details before
you’re ready. If your design solution
hinges on choosing between a 960 grid
and an 1170, the fine details may be
moot. Getting too granular too soon is a
rookie mistake. Do as little as possible,
as often as possible—work big to small.
Once you nail down an initial design,
remember that design feedback,
consumption and iteration always
take longer than you expect. Fidelity
setbacks are a frequent hidden delay.
Whether you’re building an application,
a website or a print newsletter, every
dimension of UX can seem contingent on
other practices. For instance, no project
can start with perfect copy, because
visual design can’t be nailed down at so
early a stage of the process. And before
design can be finalized, IA and CX need
to be established in tandem. Preceding
Delivering high-fidelity comps and
getting back fundamental changes
means you skipped step one: sketches.
And when those low-fidelity comps
come back with a post-it reading “this
looks unfinished,” it means someone
should have been at the table earlier.
by describing the problem, we rob
the designer of his/her autonomy.
We should help the designer work
towards defining the problem, but
that responsibility ultimately rests on
their shoulders. You might appease a
stakeholder if you “make that section
bigger” or “change this font”—or you
might create a bigger problem.
The ghosts of past projects shouldn’t
ever frighten you into chasing finished
designs without proper input. The
lessons you take from each prior
engagement form your stockpile
of patterns, but there’s a fine line
between dipping into pattern libraries/
templates and rote repetition.
Receiving critical feedback is a learned
skill. There’s a subtle difference between
identifying, exploring and actually
understanding a problem. We have to
remember that while it may be “our”
design it’s the client’s solution.
Cennydd Bowles, Design Lead at Twitter,
uses a very helpful model called The
When we provide too-specific
solutions, rather than starting
Vaildation Stack to facilitate feedback
Design Theory. This layer offers insights
such as: People click red buttons more
frequently, but red buttons pull users
out of the story more consistently than
green buttons. You get the idea.
At any stage of game—whether that
game is Pac-Man or new product
development—you can’t avoid pixel
work. You have to eat every power pellet
in order to move on. But at each stage
of a project it’s necessary to identify
distinct standards for pixel-perfection.
In the end, you’ll be amazed how many
tokens you have left.
The top layer of stack, User Evidence,
receives the most weight. It answers the
question: What did users say when they
used the design to accomplish a task?
The second layer, User Research, speaks
to the initial discovery and research.
The third, and least empirical, layer is
Design in-browser. Sitting down and making a Photoshop document is the
“chasing pixels” way of thinking. Much of what you design can be done in CSS. If
you can start there, do it.
Use style cards. Nail down style cards before you wireframe - or start comps - or
begin to design in the browser. Make sure that design language means the same
thing to you and the highest level of stakeholders.
Personas are created to shape and codify business rules, not guide UX. Design
your tremendous UX to accomplish a goal—not to please Mary, an imaginary,
single, 37-year-old fitness instructor with a Pez collection.
Design for mobile (and tablet) early on. Designs that look good on your desktop
might look like gobbledygook on your iPhone - unless you plan for it. Plan for it.
Clever for clever’s sake is rarely clever. Don’t reinvent the wheel but do push
It was the first platform game to feature jumping and in-game narrative development. Players control “Jumpman” (suspiciously similar in
appearance to the future Mario), who must navigate a vertical maze of
girders and ladders while avoiding barrels, bouncing springs and other
hazards, as he rescues his girlfriend Pauline from the titular wayward
Before Jumpman takes his first step
onto level 1, Donkey Kong—his own pet
monkey!—tries to drop a barrel on his
head. But instead of squashing our hero,
the barrel lands in a nearby drum of oil
and explodes in a fireball, which follows
him up the scaffolding. As more barrels
careen to the ground, they ignite in the
same drum, lighting still more fireballs.
threatens to turn every subsequent
challenge into a ball of vengeful
It might be a recalcitrant IT department
who would rather you not go poking
around their turf in the first place. Or
it could be an organizational culture
that is capable, but not yet equipped,
to deliver the ongoing content your
strategy calls for. Maybe your first big
obstacle is to stitch together multiple
agencies, with three different project
management systems and a CMO who
believes a new website is a waste of
Mario/Jumpman doesn’t have the option
to get rid of the oil drum. That’s the
unsettling reality of life in the Donkey
Kong universe. Luckily, we don’t have to
So, before your next project begins,
you’ve got to determine: What is your
oil drum? What preliminary obstacle
“What’s in it for me?” That question is
the flaming barrel at the starting line
of all change management. Identifying
and addressing how change will affect
every party in your project is the key
to success. The selection of one CMS
over another can move content updates
from a known IT budget to a nonexistent marketing budget. Committing
to excellence in customer service may
present the need for new systems
requiring multiple logins, which the
COO’s pet system doesn’t support. These
are big changes that may not have been
an obvious part of the project scope.
phase, expect some pushback.
The reality we must contend with,
internally as well as with vendors and
clients, is a paradox: Organizations
generally don’t want to change much—
but more often than not, they need to,
But rethinking how a business
works must inevitably coincide with
determining what it does.
Adaptability has surpassed consistent
specialization as the main determinant
of an organization’s longevity, and
nowhere is this more pronounced than
in the digital sphere. More than ever,
organizations must be set up for change,
Not everyone will admit it, but people
and companies go through cycles of
working hard and conserving energy. If
your initiative/project is going to force
someone back into the “working hard”
– Steve Blank, Harvard Business Review
iteration and quick pivots.
radically more technical, and continue
to become so at a rate that most current
CMOs don’t understand.
Labs and innovation centers need
to be viewed as profit centers.
Intraprenuership and skunkworks
transcend mere R&D, especially in the
digital world. These are organizational
systems and company-wide philosophies
that are shaking the tree of many
A CMO may have successfully used just
one or two tactics for the last 30 years.
But today (and even moreso tomorrow)
a CMO has to understand how to build
products (if not build them him/herself)
as well as know how to market them.
The struggle between inertia and the
need to change is by no means confined
to sub-management roles. One of the
most striking examples is the role
of chief marketing officer. Gartner/
Experian estimate that, by 2017, CMO
tech budgets will surpass those of the
CTO. CMO expectations have become
If your CMO doesn’t understand that
Twitter’s lead-generation cards are an
option, or that New Relic is now the
best way to monitor and iterate an app
live, you’ll be left behind in a wake of
technical and process changes gone
unrecognized. In fact, it’s a lot easier for
an individual with technical expertise to
adapt to marketing than vice versa.
While some of this subject ventures
into lean thinking (which we’ll cover in
chapter 5), what we’re really getting at
is the eradication of being average. Seth
Godin calls this “racing to the bottom”
and says “if you’re not going to be the
absolute best, you may as well put a
halt on your career now.” Part of change
management is the nerve to admit that
being ok isn’t going to cut it anymore.
The other part is planning and executing
a system to achieve change — Fortune
500, startup or freelance.
Cheat Code #497: Transfer 50% of
your marketing budget into making
your product better. Create a lab or
intrapreneur program and invest
measurably in being amazing.
The gateway to effective marketing is,
first and foremost, to have a product
or experience that customers want
to use. As you adapt your product
to knowledge gathered during the
validation cycle, your organization
changes to complement that adaptation,
your marketing becomes increasingly
self-evident. You are moving toward the
proverbial product that sells itself.
The threat the old guard feels in relation
to organizational change is real. Where
will they all work? What skills will they
have to drop—or pick up? What if they
can’t hack it in the new arrangement?
– C.J. Jung
These are legitimate fears, and they
have to be addressed on a case-by-case
basis. But it does no one any favors to
deny they exist. So whatever you do,
don’t just walk away from the oil drum—
get rid of it. If department X is dragging
its heels, don’t begin the project by
humoring them—insist on coming to an
understanding before continuing on.
You can’t necessarily change an entire
culture or ethic in a single engagement,
but you can’t allow it to go unaddressed
Back to the game. As the barrels
keep rolling, Jumpman can either
hop over them and keep on running,
or crush them with a mallet. So can
you, metaphorically speaking. If you
understand the end goal, you’ll know
which obstacles to whack with a
hammer and which to jump over—where
change must be actively managed and
where you have no choice but to use
The barrels of legacy will chase you until
you take action. Here’s how:
Even with the oil drum safely out of
the way, obstacles will keep coming—
that’s the nature of the game. So choose
your battles and keep referencing your
Whacking: To whack an obstacle means
to remove it from the scope. In order
to remove it, you’ve got to talk about
it. This requires identifying the right
CAST (Champions, Agents, Sponsors
and Targets) and talking to each of
them in their own language. The myth
of the one-size-fits-all PowerPoint
presentation is not only a myth, it’s a
trap. Authenticity respects its audience.
Whacking isn’t about picking a fight, but
rather removing low-hanging (sometime
rotting, sometimes sweet) fruit. You’ve
heard it said before: “Are we on the
an unrealistic expectation. Sometimes
you just have to let things go. It might
mean saying ok to a logo you don’t love,
or committing to an enterprise software
solution you don’t 100% agree with.
“CYA” gets a bad reputation, but it
has value outside of hedging on your
own behalf. Used judiciously, it can
be a buffer against the bad habits
that calcify organizations against
meaningful change. Work to establish
contingencies. Spread the word when
you do. There are some barrels that you
have to let just roll on by.
Hopping: means to compromise. Digital
strategists are fond of fiery, idealistic
manifestos, but the fact is that change
management consists of a lot of buyin, and getting everything you want is
At the end of the day, the good idea is
the one you can sell and implement.
Roll up your sleeves and identify the
– Gina Abudi, “Project Managing Business Process Improvement Initiatives,” BPTrends, Oct 2011
outcome you’re chasing. Discover
your princess on the other side of the
obstacle. Look at that goal in light of
all the project’s high level goals and
ask: Will this single item block delivery?
If multiple goals are truly contingent
upon that one, and the obstacle is really
unwhackable, then compromise is the
only choice you have. It might not be the
ideal solution, but if it’s really the only
route to the princess, it will have to do.
Just remember: that damn monkey’s got
Shaking an organization out of its rut
really can feel like going up against a
ten-ton gorilla. But you will always have
an advantage. As an individual hungry
for change, you are nimble and driven,
just like Jumpman.
Determine who has the power. Very early in the process establish a decision
rights model and nail down where the buck stops.
Start simple. Work hard for early results. Know where you are headed. Invest in
growth over fixes. Be good to your people.
Have a Beer. You can initiate this meeting. For the duration of the project, you‘re
basically dating an agency or another team inside your own organization. Hang
out, understand what makes the other folks tick and find common ground.
Create/Identify some baseline numbers. You can’t measure progress unless you
know where you started. Sounds obvious, right? But sometimes analytics are
poorly set up. Sometimes fiefdoms hide failures. Sometimes spreadsheets are el
Keep a Project Journal. Document meetings, milestones and phone calls
like a teenager. The business versions of this might look like: “Why did she
mention that ACMECORP thought our SEO plan was weak?” or “The agency’s
presentation felt rushed.”
A phalanx of space squids descends from the top of the screen. You play
a green tank (or something like that), and zip back and forth shooting
lasers while the squids drop bombs on you. You’re equipped with four
barricades, which dissolve pixel-by-pixel each time they’re hit by a stray
projectile. When the squids land, or your tank is hit by a bomb, you lose.
First things first: The stakeholders
aren’t the aliens. They are all those
invisible, offscreen users on whose
behalf you’re fighting. The aliens are all
the pitfalls and challenges that come up
in the course of a project.
up to 83%(!), while cutting success
metrics by a full 50%. Innovation and
job satisfaction likewise suffer (-93%
and -80%, respectively).
While you’re busy zipping out from
behind the barricades, launching
daring volleys of lasers into the green
and black sky, your vendors/partners/
colleagues are firing helter skelter
into the barriers, turning them to
Swiss cheese from the inside. While
you’re in the lab crafting solutions of
grace and beauty, your stakeholders
are busy spinning expectations that
are guaranteed to butt up against the
work you’ve done in private. Good luck
zapping their expectations after two
No doubt it’s tempting to cocoon
yourself in the comfort of a project
puzzle, to disappear into that rich inner
Lawnmower Man world of Gantt charts,
Graffletopia and Pandora stations where
You. Are. God!
But that’s a luxury you can ill afford.
According to a study by Microsoft,
“virtual distance”—that is, disconnects
in geography, operations and affinity—
reduce trust among team members by
– Mike Kenny (@formerteenager), Kettle
Breathe deep. Walk around the arcade
and gauge the temperature of the
players (the team) and the game
(the project). Remember that project
management is everyone’s job. Some of
the most well-run projects don’t have a
PM, but every department and practice
plays its part in creating transparency
and accountability. If you do have
project managers, it’s vital that your
organization supports and empowers
them. A PM without authority is an
expensive note-taker with an admin
account and a Gantt chart program.
through them. Instead, be the most
helpful, organized person on the team.
And while the challenge of disagreeing
without being disagreeable is frankly
more than most people want to take on,
you’re the one person without the option
to avoid it. Embrace the role.
Creative differences are inevitable. You
risk being labelled the wet blanket,
or worse yet, “difficult to work with.”
Visions of the corner office explode into
a pile of green digital dust. But conflict
can (and should) lead to better results.
It’s the way in which you manage that
friction that will determine success or
Cheat Code #229: Don’t be a toll
collector on a free bridge. That is,
a project manager who insists all
conversations and information go
Some tips for success: deliver bitesized blasts of information. Consolidate
your requests into one email instead
of five. When possible, link directly
to referenced information. Strive
for clarity without overwhelming
your counterparts with minutia. Put
users before stakeholders, and ask
stakeholders to do the same. The first
few weeks of a project might be prone
to awkward conversations. Just remind
everyone, there are two finish lines you
are tracking: Business goals and user
digital hellfire. In our office we like to
call him The Hidden Stakeholder.
Maybe it’s the mysterious exec who
didn’t want to bothered with this
project—until now. Or maybe it’s a
parallel department that isn’t involved
in the project itself, but will be affected
by it. If you and your team have been
lurking behind the barricades, these
hidden stakeholders are going to fly
right through you.
Get in front of stakeholders as quickly
and often as possible. Take tangible
articles, which must be evaluated then
and there and pin them on the wall
for feedback. The easy abstractions of
circling back and crossing bridges when
From time-to-time, Space Invaders likes
to send you a little surprise in the form
of an angry red saucer that soars across
the top of the screen, raining down
– “Culture and the Myth of the Black Box,” Quappe, Samso-Aparici and Warshawsky,
The Deloitte Review
you get to them will cease to function
as escape-hatches for indecision
and fear. If you’re met with a table of
nodding heads, followed up with an
email that documents a polite 180, it’s a
sure indicator of an unresolved change
of project failure will become the norm
by 2016. Failure isn’t a defeat, per se,
so long as it leads to new knowledge,
backed up with the ability to pivot.
Impress this upon team members and
the higher ups whom you’re trying to
It’s a sad but true fact: some projects
just aren’t meant to succeed. Project
management often introduces
innovation that can threaten established
departments and fiefdoms within an
organization. So be visible and flexible.
However, that doesn’t apply to projects
that are undermined internally. If
partner or team recalcitrance is the
cause of a project’s failure, that tells you
nothing about the merits of the product,
service or experience.
The growth of lean methodology and
the “fail smarter” ethos has changed
our perception of what it means to fail.
Gartner estimates that a 20-28% rate
Never forget that: you and your
organization are on one side, and
the space squids are on the other.
Stakeholders are collaborators and
your job is to extract their knowledge,
engaging them from discovery to
barricades you wont last, neither will
your project. But if you come out of
hiding, and engage with the challenge in
view of all, the space squids won’t know
what hit ‘em.
Until you zip out from behind the
barricades, your project is much more
vulnerable than you. Get in front of
everyone. Introduce yourself and make
friends during discovery. Use the tools
and processes that everyone is familiar
with. Document past decisions with
scientific precision. Research future
decisions with the understanding that
you may hold the missing link between
success and failure.
Your cohorts are not the challenge;
the challenge is the challenge. If you
stay behind the scenes, hiding behind
Show Your tools at work. Instead of laying down the law (“We’re using Basecamp
and Dropbox.”), create a sample project demonstrating how you would use tools
to manage your project.
Celebrate milestones. When the sprint ends, or the build is accepted, it’s easy
to jump right into the next phase. Take time to congratulate the team, eat some
cake, print some “I Survived Phase 1” T-shirts . Remind them that process is
integral to product.
If at all possible, try to avoid using a project manager whose only job is to
project manage. If you can self-manage, you’ll move faster and transfer
knowledge with less information lost in the shuffle.
Don’t nod your head in the meeting, only to follow up with an email that flips
the script. Project conflict comes in three flavors: decision rights issues, budget
issues and discovery issues. Assign each conflict a category and solve for it.
Calculate Meeting Hours. Break down everyone’s salary to an hourly rate and
keep track of how much each meeting costs, including prep time. Now compare
that to the actual value of the meeting.
True, the frog might technically have been the same size as the cars that
threatened to squish him, and the risk of drowning never seemed quite
as great as the game presented it. But the controls tested players’ ability to give equal priority to every direction on the axis, and that is what
makes it so instructive.
Frogger is hard. With the possible
exception of Missile Command, it’s the
hardest game in this whole extended
metaphor (we’ll tackle Defender some
other time). Despite having only two
dimensions, four direction-controls and
a predictable series of obstacles, you’ll
be hard pressed to get froggy across
the road on the first try. Why is that?
Because in order to beat each board,
a player has to move forwards and
backwards, plus left to right.
implies some disappointment or
unachieved potential. But in lean
methodology, as in Frogger, it’s the only
way to win. You must move quickly in all
directions to reach your goal.
The advantages of lean have been welldocumented. From iPhone apps to
sports cars, products go to market at an
ever-accelerating pace, in increasingly
brief development-to-release cycles.
From 2000-2010, the lifecycle of a
product shrunk by a ratio of 4:1. During
that same period, product development
cycles across all industries shrunk
by nearly 100%, from an average 47
months to 24. In the digital and tech
worlds, that average is probably the
The culture of the West is forwardthinking to a fault. We’re not
accustomed to the standing option
of moving in any direction we please.
“Backtrack” is practically a synonym
for failure. A lateral or circular move
Luckily, a compensatory toolbox is
constantly being refilled with new tools
to meet these changes. In the past, only
those with capital, backing and a minor
personality disorder could survive the
cycle of trial and error that is product
development. Now anyone can do it.
Every industry is in the middle of its own
cupcake revolution, and the competition
is as insane as the fact that there was
ever a cupcake revolution.
which someone will actually pay for. It
allows you to fail faster by establishing
and testing your hypotheses with real
Cheat Code #55: Stop researching and
start building something—now! You’ll
learn more by doing than by planning.
To make it across the metaphorical
highway, from the forest of hypothesis
to the lilly pad of a developed product,
you’ll need to be able to move as fast
as the market and its concomitant
Lean Method Step One: state your
hypothesis. “Everyone loves cupcakes!”
Lean Method Steps Two-ThroughInfinity: build, iterate and find someone
to buy your cupcakes.
Lean methodology allows you to stick
your neck out and validate a good
idea, to discover something buildable,
– Eric Ries
Ship often but don’t ship shoddy.
Whether genius or terrible, ideas
need to be communicated well to be
judged fairly. Lean lets you know if you
are on the right track as quickly and
inexpensively as possible.
Imagine your team is the Frogger frog,
with each department representing
a direction on the joystick. The
UX designer should work with the
copywriters and visual designers to
build an experience that’s both graceful
and engaging. They should all work with
the developer to manage feasibility,
and so on, back and forth, forward and
backward, taking two steps forward, one
back and to the left—maneuvering their
way past a testable beta, to a successful
Ok. You may already know that you need
to pivot and iterate quickly. So, how do
you actually do it?
The traditional sprint form calls for
everyone on a project to work in the
same room, slamming tasks day after
day for a couple of intense weeks. You
should be applying this principle to
every project, even if you can’t follow
it to the letter, and even if you’re not
Don’t underestimate the value of
proximity. Despite our sophisticated
telecommunications technology, the
fact remains that messages deteriorate
over distances—call it the “game of
– Adash Kumar Kakar, “What Motivates Team Members and Users of Agile Projects?”
telephone” principle. About 55%
of communication consists of body
language. Telephone communications
remove that vector, while video chat
distorts and crops it. Emails lose the
most, since some 38% percent of
communication is carried in vocal tone.
communicative benefits to what we
call the Frogger method. The benefits
to morale are just as significant. Some
75% of VersionOne survey respondents
cited agile, a lean analog, as improving
overall productivity. Another 71%
reported faster time to market. And a
full 72% reported that agile noticeably
Of course, lean isn’t a call to arms
against telecommuting. But the fact
remains that iterating, for most teams,
is easier when they can tap each other
on the shoulder. An IM about an email
with a Dropbox link to an interactive
comp is never as efficient as scribbling
something on a whiteboard and pointing
like a chimp.
That’s partly because resistance
develops between team members who
only meet in times of crisis, or to make
requests and demands of each other.
We should also extend this principle to
our vendors and partners. We should
make it company culture to welcome
them into your offices—create both
There’s even more than technical and
a physical and cultural space that
outsiders will want to visit and work in.
People tend to interpret email and text
communications more negatively than
face-to-face communications. Better
you should walk down the hall, or at
least pick up the phone.
the same place for too long.
Get out of the building. Send teams of
two (one interviewer, one note-taker) on
the road with the low fidelity prototypes
to gather feedback from the intended
audience. These prototypes can
range from a low-fidelity Omnigraffle
wireframe to an HTML clickable. Make
it fast. Get feedback fast. Fix it fast. Get
Everybody is a part of a lean sprint—
the partners, the vendors, potential
users and you. Everyone is on-hand or
readily available for contact. Everybody
is engaged, according to their ability,
in the tangible construction of strategy
and delivery. Every stakeholder, every
developer, every freelance graphic
designer can see the products and race
cars zipping along. Here’s one more
lesson Frogger teaches us : Don’t stay in
Cycle times accelerate—iterations go
out at faster and faster speeds. The
project, like the organization itself, has
only as much room for error as it has
bandwidth and budget to pivot. As in
Frogger, you have to move decisively,
because a frog pulled in all directions is
a squished frog.
refresh, and you’ll be confronted with an
entirely new set of colorful obstacles,
a new destination and the chance
to rack up even higher scores. When
this happens, just remember to stay
light, remain flexible, and always keep
Keep moving until you’ve either found
something that users will pay for, you
pivot to an entirely different product, or
you fail altogether.
The beauty of lean is the way it spreads
understanding and learning across
all teams, supported by a continuous
deployment system to (and through)
Lean is a topsy-turvy world where
assumptions usurp functional
requirements, design is a team sport and
failure is often the best path forward.
And just when you think you’ve reached
that final lilly pad, the screen will
Failing faster requires organizational change. If not everyone involved in your
project is on board with lean thinking, then you’re a waterfall org with lean
Every lean project is made up of two complementary stories. The first story
inspires team members and stakeholders and clarifies your assumptions. The
second validates that hypothesis with prospective customers.
Ask your grumpy uncle Ed. We all fall in love with our own ideas. Some are
game-changers, but most are duds. Put your idea in front of someone lacking
your domain knowledge.
Some projects aren’t products but are still worth completing if there is a lesson
and a (limited audience). But be ruthless with your side-project roster.
Organize a trusted group outside your organization to take the first pass at your
ideas. Make sure your group has different vantage points: marketing, UX, code,
legal and sales, etc.
Players take on the role of a surface-to-air missile defense, firing at incoming missiles (presumably from Russia with love). Glowing red and
green vectors criss-cross their way toward the cities below, and players
must use their limited arsenal to intercept as many ICBMS as possible.
Resources are limited. Losses are inevitable. In order to save America,
players learn to strike as many incoming missiles as possible at one
During a digital project, you can’t meet
every incoming crisis on its own. Good
news: This isn’t the cold war, and your
company isn’t the Pentagon. As in the
game, you’ve got options.
manager that they’ll need to sacrifice
a legacy custom publication in favor
of new video case studies. Or that IT’s
CMS solution requires duplicate content
entry for mobile. Or that comps, which
already have signoff from Singapore to
Soho, don’t work for any of the legacy
There are two methods for tackling
content issues. Either you can make
the first strike, or you can do it later
in a state of impending WW3 panic.
Digital projects always have a content
component, so you can’t hide for long.
The goals of building a better product,
service or tool, and maintaining
a balance of power within an
organization, are often at loggerheads.
You have choose what to save. Maybe
that choice is a no-brainer, but as
stated earlier—change is difficult.
Convincing the gatekeepers that 150word blog posts have more value than
500-word posts, when the former are
Incoming in 5-4-3-2...
No one is likely to object to thoughtful
selection and reorganization of your
existing content. The hard part comes
when you explain to the new brand
harder to write. Or just try to restructure
a database while maintaining an
inefficient, legacy interface so users
don’t have to be retrained.
questions: (1)Who is this for? (2)What
is the problem? (3)How will this solve
that problem? In Missile Command the
answers are obvious: (1) the Free World,
(2) the Commies, (3) Ka-Boom. You likely
have different answers.
Therein lies the valuable lesson of
Missile Command: you can’t save
Content strategy is no panacea—and
that’s coming from a team of contentfirst thinkers. Neither is it CS’s fault
that it has become a fad. The refrain
“Content is king” rings as implausible
as a speech by Brezhnev if it fails to take
into account content’s complements:
UX, graphic design, IT, customer service,
etc., etc., etc.
At its most basic, this is what we do
when we conduct a content audit
and merge into a new sitemap. We
make a list, highlight the similar
items, strikethrough the redundant or
unnecessary content, and rearrange it.
Highlighter colors become demarcation
lines. The strikethrough mark, a red flag.
The discipline is improving, but content
strategy still needs to play nice(r).
In the end, we must pose three essential
Strategists shouldn’t bang their shoes
on the table and demand compliance
from every other department. For,
together, we are armed with a powerful
solution called story. Rejoice, comrades!
Cheat Code #284: When egos get
involved—kill yours first. Then kill your
favorite turns of phrase, your slickest
video content, your most exhaustive
Story is experience in narrative form.
It’s the thread stitching together the
disciplines, informing our decisions,
and, when done correctly, allowing you
to take chances. When your story is
strong, honest and true-blue, there’s
less posturing and your brand can afford
to be transparent. At the macro-level it
means creating an environment where
story is the hub of your communication
strategy. At the micro-level, it means
nuking anything that muddies your
Content strategy should make room for
what’s next, so that all content works in
harmony to create—you guessed it—your
But you can’t always save the
consistency of a strategy.
Example: digital is no longer moving
toward multi-screen content
consumption; it’s been there for years.
Bootstrap or another foundation won’t
– Edward Baldwin, WeAreCurve
always solve your responsive problem
(in all candor, let’s admit it often will).
But the multi-screen solution is less a
function of technological capabilities
content marketing” proxy war, but
it’s worth repeating that content is
something a User eXperiences (eh? get
it?). The UX designer and the content
strategist have access to the same tools.
Depending on the task at hand and
resources available, you may lean more
to the design or content side, but you
are fundamentally the same player with
a trackball and fire button.
Assuming you have a good content
strategist, you should include content
strategy thinking on every project
activity: business strategy, brand
strategy, persona creation, competitive
analysis, analytics review, technical
assessment and creative brief.
The UX designer may use a sitemap
to help establish a tricky navigation
element, while a content strategist
could take the same sitemap and
synthesize content blocks across
templates. They’re both crafting the
same story. They’re just approaching the
target from slightly different angles.
It’s a 99.9999% guarantee that whatever
project you are currently working on
hinges on the development, curation,
editing, display or findability of content.
We’ll avoid the “content strategy vs.
A workable content strategy combines
the two approaches, creating a story
that minimizes loose ends while
achieving all the goals of a great user
experience. You have to be willing to
let go of anything, at any time. A wellplayed game of Missile Command only
needs one city to survive. And a great
content strategy is one that is laser
(forgive the pun) focused, where every
decision hinges on one pivot point.
whether that’s a block of copy, a line of
code or the greater part of L.A. County.
Content creation requires sacrifice.
Content management requires
discipline. Content design requires
cooperation. And content strategy
combines all three modes of
discrimination. We can’t fall in love with
a portion at the expense of the whole,
Since you’re ‘wickd smaht’ and already performing a content inventory, add a
column to tag each piece of content with: CTA (asking user to do something);
Informational (telling a user how to do something); or Trust (telling a user about
your brand). Is there balance or imbalance?
Push for the best solution but in the end you’ve got to work with what you have.
Starting from scratch is not always an option, or the best answer. There exists
an optimal solution for the contraints you are facing, find that solution.
Create a journey map. Identify every piece of content and every customer
touchpoint. Compare this map to your analytics tracking. Make unhappy face
and adjust accordingly.
More is rarely the best strategy when it comes to content. Break content down
to its bullet points to distinguish between what’s essential, explanatory, and
Always return to those three crucial questions: (1)Who is this for? (2)What is the
problem? (3)How will this solve that problem? Do it for every draft, iteration and
Up to four players competed in 100m dash, hurdles, hammer throw,
javelin, long jump and high jump, by jamming on three buttons - two
for running (L/R) and one for jumping. Button-tapping speed was what
counted most for the win, which meant that first-generation cabinets
got smashed into unusability in a matter of months. Only a few gamers
had the nimble fingers it took to win the game - these were the players
who broke records and became unbeatable.
The steps an individual can take to
master the game Track & Field are
vague. It’s a system of controls that
are simple to memorize and next to
impossible to master. And unlike
the other games, you’re not merely
competing to rack up points. While
many early arcade games had two player
action, these consisted of players taking
turns competing against the computer.
Track and Field was unique in that it
pitted up to four players head-to-head.
Social Media, it is the most crowded
marketing space anywhere today.
Brands are shoulder-to-shoulder,
hammering away against a field of
competitors, the size of which has never
Some 96% of brands measure their fans
and followers via social media. Another
89% measure traffic, while 84%
measure mentions, 55% track share of
voice and 51% track sentiment. 56% of
respondents use social to gain clarity
about who their customers are and what
The social media game is similar—
it’s much more zero-sum than simple
The competition is more direct and the
victories and defeats more public.
A recent Forbes study reports that
92.5% of companies had at least one
full-time employee dedicated to social
– Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock
media. Agencies like VaynerMedia
and Ahology are specializing in social,
managing the mashup of technology
management and content delivery on
behalf of their clients.
commit resources to social media
command centers, to optimize their
listening speed. Inside, you’ll see
computer monitors scrolling through
reams of analytics, highlighted
influencers and customer service folk
answering questions on social media.
There’s a dubious similarity between
T&F and the social media game: the fact
that so few people seem to understand
quite which buttons do what. Track &
Field was notorious in its heyday for
being a cabinet you won by mashing
buttons until you came down with a case
of carpal tunnel. But frenzy is not the
same as speed, and speed wins in social
media. (Speed + relevancy that is.)
When Marissa Mayer accidentally (but
very publicly) trashed Yahoo’s on-hold
music, NYC agency JinglePunks caught
the news on social media and rapidly
composed a new hold song featuring
90s rapper Snow—in two days—which in
turn made the social media rounds and
garnered lots of good, free publicity.
Cheat Code #006: Speed can also kill.
Amassing millions of customers is not
Some larger organizations, such as
Gatorade and the Red Cross, already
that easy and not that useful if it isn’t
part of a broader strategy. Cramming
content fields with countless #s and
@s, is lazy, desperate or wasteful—take
your pick which is worse.
getting a real response to their service
ticket, it feels like a personal affront. It’s
not, but it feels that way.
The CVS long-receipt meme of 2012
is one example. CVS customers were
posting photos of their ridiculously long
paper receipts to Twitter and Facebook.
Some receipt photos were next to
measuring tapes, others stretched out
next to their children.
Make your followers care because your
content is about them—not you. RT
requests, +1 Likes, pins and favorites
are symptoms of engagement, not goals
to pursue in and of themselves. Social
engagement is a two-way street. The
balance between talking and listening
has never been more important.
CVS got the message, but rather dryly
announced they would reduce the
receipt length by 25%. They could
have embraced the social equity and
established a contest to prove they were
listening. Instead they treated social like
a problem instead of an opportunity.
Every public communication a brand
makes is directed at both the singular
user and the using collective. When a
user receives a 20% off coupon before
– From “Demystifying Social Media,” McKinsey Quarterly, Divol, Edelman and Sarrazin
Social media is a tremendous
opportunity to turn negatives into
positives. Its momentum is difficult to
initialize and hard to stop, but a quick
instantaneous feedback. It rewires our
orientation, away from the long-view,
and onto immediate gratification.
Secondly, creating content for social
media is more difficult than it seems. It
isn’t a one-size fits all Sunday circular.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube—
every outlet require significantly
different narratives, contextual
expertise and broadcast chronology.
Trust means different things on
different platforms. Some platforms
are relationship-first and others are
interest-first. Any content that’s meant
to cut across these platforms needs
to be tailored accordingly. The basic
functionalities of each tool have to be
grasped and, if not mastered, at least
For social to work, it has to break
down internal barriers and force an
organization to work together. While
multiple departments need to digest
and internally react to social data
intelligence, there can only be one voice
heading back out to the social media
That’s hard. You know that. Here’s why:
First, social feeds the dark parts of
our ego (business or personal) with
practiced, before smashing buttons willy
nilly and hoping for a high score.
devise effective means of measuring
social ROI. The “High Score” for
websites, traditionally measured in page
views, visit duration and search engine
ranking, means very little when applied
to social media. Likes, RTs, 3 star ratings
and repins are difficult to compare and
contrast. Content visibility (a Tweet or
Facebook post) can’t be measured like
a static webpage, or with advertising
metrics. That said, the request to
measure ROI will come and you will
need an answer.
It’s unrealistic to expect organizations
to keep their teams apprised of best
social practices, across platforms, in a
top-down training style.
A recent HootSuite white paper reported
that 35% of those in sales rate their
training in social media as far below
adequate, while only 15% rated it as
somewhat or very adequate. When “very
adequate” is the high water mark, it’s
the individual who must to take matters
into their own hands.
Tying ROI to detailed initiatives is the
only way to win here. The Altimeter
Group identifies six ways of measuring
social media ROI in their 2012 Social
Media ROI Cookbook.
To determine what social will work
for your unique situation, you have to
Participate in others’ social media
endeavors. Not as a way to get
attention, or put your brand out there—
it’s probably better if you practice
pseudonymously. Do it to experience in
brand social interaction from the user’s
1. Anecdote - mentions that lead to
2. Correlation - the ratio of likes to
3. Multivariate Testing - A/B testing of
social media usage vs. non-usage
4. Links and Tagging - shortlinks and
5. Integrated - SaaS analytic tools
6. Direct Commerce - ecommerce
Then, you can pick, or create, low stakes
projects to simultaneously test the
utility of several platforms. This is where
the scientific method is so important.
Your tools to measure ROI will be a
work in progress, so select one of the
six measurement types and start small.
If you’re looking for user feedback on
a new product/service, make that the
mission of each social media tool for
a fixed, finite span of time. The best
The entire report is worth a read—check
it out at altimetergroup.com.
Prematurely going all-in usually leads to
a lack of understanding down the line.
tool will be immediately apparent, and
you’ll know to use it in similar future
Give, give and give some more before
you ask for a single thing. Tap that run
button as fast as you can before you hit
jump. Tooting your own horn is fine but
make sure you can delivery what you
It’s the equivalent of spending fifty cents
to learn the game’s basic controls and
scoring system. While you’re taking all
comers to the cabinet, you’ll see more
techniques that you can experiment
Chance favors those who were
previously generous. Be generous.
Start slow, watch others, and fail your
way to a more nimble, dextrous social
strategy. Then you can seek out the kid
with the Farrah Fawcett haircut and
‘Keep On Truckin’’ shirt, and make an
informed decision as to whether he can
really help you improve.
Establish dummy accounts. These are your labs for experimentation, for
research and play. They’ll help you observe the social ecosystem without
altering your own corner of it.
Focus on your primary outlets. Identical posts across media don’t reinforce your
message—they devalue it. Better to park an account than jam it up.
Follow the outliers. Did you know that Jolly Ranchers’ Twitter account follows
both Sarah Silverman and Raekwon? When one of these entertainer’s followers
check out the Jolly Ranchers account, they find a weirdly kindred spirit.
Discover your outliers and use them to build your brand.
Integrate your naming. Knowem.com allows you to check every major social
network to see if your preferred handle, or something like it, is already occupied.
Avoid sharing similar or interchangeable names with sketchy or inappropriate
Stay generous. Use social media to educate, inspire and entertain your users.
Social media gaffes happen when brands puff themselves up, insinuate
themselves into unrelated controversies and go to war.
With such limited processing power, storytelling was mostly confined
to the art decorating the game cabinets themselves. The “kill screen”
refers to the point at which a game consistently crashes, despite player
actions. The 256th level of Pac-Man, for example turns into a waterfall
of colors and letters, effectively making level 255 the final one of the
game. This was as close to a victory as players could hope to get. There
was no beginning, middle and end, no narrative arc. There was just a
premise - and the point where you couldn’t go any further.
It’s hard to imagine today, with our
increasingly cinematic gaming products,
but except for Donkey Kong, there are no
narrative victories in these golden age
arcade games. Success is based solely
on score and/or levels beaten. Did you
rack up points to put you in the top ten
gamers ever to touch this machine? Did
you top your personal best? The criteria
for victory were more nebulous and
a team of designers, developers or
engineers loose, they improve and
expand on any given product on a
weekly-if-not-daily basis. But after six
months of that, you might be left with
an impeccably crafted product that
no one outside of your organization
cares about. In other words, there’s a
difference between feeding quarters
into the machine and actually building
Engagements don’t have tidy endings,
either. They keep going indefinitely, or
they reach a point where nothing more
can be done.
Despite several claims, and innumerable
attempts, no one has positively beaten
a kill screen. This points to the fact
that there are always secrets to be
discovered. The search for new tactics,
and all the unsought discoveries that
crop up along the way, continues as long
All the markers of success spring from
the customer’s experience. If you set
– John Hagel, Deloitte, at SXSW
as you do.
That’s the moment when you’ll
need to draw on all the skills you’ve
learned in the previous chapters and
Even when you’ve done your job to
perfection, a moment will come when
you belly up to the cabinet, and the
game freaks out.
There is no princess waiting at the
end of your engagements. Only you
and your customers can set the
criteria for success. There’s relative
value, best-use-case, dollar amounts.
There’s customer acquisition and
retention, positive/negative feedback.
You can go for the high score, or
levels completed. It’s your quarter,
and your call.
What was known becomes unknown
once more. Methods and processes
fracture against the algorithm of
repetition and the inevitable flux of
markets, technology and turnover. Up
is down, left is right, and the pathways
of last year are an unnavigable hash
of familiar, but inchoate icons. Today’s
innovations soon become tomorrow’s
best practices. And today’s best
practices fall into obsolescence.
The beauty of it is that there are no
limits in the real world. Unlike these
amazing artifacts of gaming’s past,
the world is pure sandbox. We build
with the fundamentals, but our own
journey is completely open-ended. As
long as we never forget that we’re not
the only players in the arcade—that our
users (and competitors) are right there,
playing alongside us, we can always
keep improving and the game doesn’t
ever have to end.
is the co-founder and Creative/Strategy
lead at EAT Agency. He considers
invincibility stars to be cheating.
is a writer and Senior Strategist at
EAT Agency. He still judges vacations
by the quality of the hotel arcade.
owned Journey Escape for Atari and
concedes that it wasn’t the greatest game
Cennydd Bowles and James Box — New Riders
Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden — O’Reilly
Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan — Maxwell Stone Publishing
Eric Karjaluoto — smashLAB
All things you do and say.
Present Shock: When everything happens now — Penguin
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