Designing Compassion, Part 2: Legos, Locks and Land Mines

K-16, by Peter Engelmann

(If you get bored by anecdotal introductions, just skip-scroll to the TAKIS AND CHAI TEAS section down below.)

I just finished a text conversation with my business partner regarding the Apple music player, which for some reason won’t allow songs on her playlists to play in sequence, like a jukebox, and instead repeats the same song. Yes, there’s a solution to this, but one shouldn’t have to do any detective work to find the solution for this simple feature.

The main headline font for one of my WordPress sites all of a sudden changed from a sans serif font to a disco-looking typeface, simply because I updated the theme, because WordPress recommended that I do. Of course there’s a hack to fix this, and I did, but I shouldn’t have had to.

My octogenarian mom decided she wants a Facebook page, and so I tried to set her up with one. Because her last name, San Diego, has a space in between, Facebook’s algorithms (I think) decided that it may be a business account trying to disguise itself as a human being, and disabled her account. I don’t remember Facebook doing this back when I set up my account ten years ago. When I have more time and more patience, I’ll try again, and probably experiment with different ways to type her name so that Facebook doesn’t red flag it. Again, I shouldn’t have to. Life shouldn’t be this difficult.

Now, imagine being a business owner who’s basically new to this online thing, but who heard from one of your buddies that you should have a more updated website, even have a shopping cart for your products, and while you’re at it, you should also have social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for your business. And then you see the commercials on TV that make everything look easy, like GoDaddy or Wix or Squarespace. Or even Fedex/Kinkos and the UPS store, because it seems like IT’S EASY TO BE ONLINE! LET’S GET YOU STARTED!

I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve talked to that called those 800 numbers and wound up abandoning their projects a few weeks into it, but continued to pay for a year’s worth of hosting because they had no choice. (Or had their nephew set them up initially, but the nephew goes to college and doesn’t answer his phone calls anymore, because kids these days would rather text than talk to the elders, you know how it is…)

The bottom line is THIS STUFF IS NOT EASY, unless you’re doing it simply for fun, like kids on Snapchat or Instagram. They don’t have to worry about customers like business owners do. They don’t have to worry about losing a sale because they couldn’t login to Facebook to answer a customer question. They don’t have to worry about setting up 2-step verification so it’s safer to access online receipts.

So what do you do?

If you’re one of the smart and/or lucky ones, then you did your proper research (and you’re a little lucky finding the right people to help you.) You Googled “web developers” or “designers”, looked at their portfolios, then checked out their reviews on Yelp, or looked at their work on Behance. You joined moderated Facebook groups, or subreddits, and asked for advice there. You went on LinkedIn, and are now reading this article:)

Oh yeah, why is this article titled “Legos, Locks and Land Mines?” Because some of the problems you’ll run into are like walking barefoot on a Lego block—it’ll hurt for a minute but it’s easily fixable and you’ll be walking again soon enough. Locks, because too many locks (safeguards, verifications, tedious ID checks on contact forms) can hurt your business more than they help, so you have to have a balance. And Land Mines, because you can wind up in a really bad situation, like getting your whole ecommerce site hacked because you’ve installed a nefarious WordPress plugin, and don’t have protocols set up, like a backup website that you can redirect your customers to in case of emergency.

I’m not gonna get into the nitty gritty details but here are some reasons you need help from people that specialize in this stuff. Regarding social media, here’s something to think about:

TAKIS AND CHAI TEAS

Social media experts eat, live, and breathe this stuff. If you’re away from social media or not downloading the latest updates for the two dozen apps on your mobile, then you aren’t as plugged in as that dude (let’s call him Trevor) that just graduated with a computer science degree, who plays video games with one eye and watches the Twitch channel with the other eye, all the while checking out his Twitter and Instagram feeds on his dual-screen Android. While you’re “running your actual business”, Trevor has been swiping through hundreds of trendy memes, knows what the President had for lunch, has subconsciously seen hundreds of pop up ads (and is aware of corporate branding AND what works and what doesn’t), while searching for ways to make his 2010 Craigslist laptop run faster without spending any money. During all of this, Trevor has managed to study WHY he likes doing what he’s doing, has more than 3,000 hardcore followers on his Instagram page and posts something new every time he enters a new zipcode on his commute to work every day.

His female counterpart, let’s call her Cecile, has watched hundreds of how-to videos and has an excellent sense of what gadgets and hardware tools the younger generation (your target demographic) are into, can navigate the Dollar Tree blindfolded, and has set up her own YouTube channel, produces and stars in her own videos, and has managed to get a handful of corporate sponsors while attracting 35,000 subscribers on her DIY channel, The Fixit Chick (I didn’t check to see if someone is already doing it, but if not, you’re welcome, Internet.)

These social influencers have literally spent THOUSANDS of hours absorbing this subculture into their heartbeats. And you think, dear business owner, that you’re gonna buy a book and pay GoDaddy a hundred bucks a year so that you can do what they do?

DIVI UP, PLUG IN, AND GIRD YOUR CHILD THEMES

Truth be told, I have a love-hate relationship with WordPress. I get a couple hours sleep a night, which means I’m nowhere near the best at wrangling it, but I try. Oh WordPress, how do I love-hate thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Everybody uses WordPress, so I gotta use WordPress, and you gotta use WordPress, and Oprah’s gotta use WordPress.
  2. You should update WordPress and its plugins whenever there’s a new version, but doing so may result in your site looking mightily different when you wake up in the morning. Which means you (or that person you pay what you think is too much money) have to babysit it weekly, and even daily, to make sure that child theme is still behaving itself in relation to the parent theme, which just got an update. If this doesn’t scare you, here’s a verbatim result from Google if you search for “updating parent theme”, a legit question from a dear pilgrim: 

    If I create a child theme, then Activate the child theme, then at a later date an update is released for the parent theme. Do I activate the parent themeupdate the parent theme, then activate the child theme?

     

  3. You need to know what plugins to use, and how stable each of these plugins is in relation to the theme that you’re going to use it in. Meaning, some plugins play better with certain themes than others.
  4. Everything is a moving target and nothing is ever set in stone, because plugins and themes and your content are continually being updated. The heart of WordPress ENCOURAGES content creation and growth, and the Internet gets bored easily, so you always have to stay fresh. I know, ouch wallet, but if you convert those expenses into sales, then you still come out on top.
  5. As of July 24, 2017 there are 14,864 WordPress themes to choose from, each of them with their own idiosyncracies and predilections. Imagine going on a field trip in a really big elementary school bus that holds 14,864 kids. There ya go.
  6. In terms of options, you can build your site using the basic WordPress control panel, or you can use third-party plugins to make the job easier (where “easier” is a relative term). Divi, Elementor, and Beaver Builder are three of the most popular, and there are people that specialize in those as well.
  7. Okay, the list is much longer than this, but I’m tired so I’m gonna wrap it up now.

This is the truth:

YOU WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF COOL STUFF TO USE ON YOUR WEBSITE.

YOU WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF COOL STUFF TO POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

IF IT’S COOL, YOUR CUSTOMERS WILL BE ATTRACTED TO IT.

Your biggest problem will be trying to keep everything together and working efficiently once you begin. And if you can get somebody else to do the keeping it together for you, then you can just concentrate on your business. Yes, you will still step on Legos from time to time, and during those times you’ll have colorfully-worded conversations with your web developer and social media contractors. But at least you won’t accidentally lock yourself inside your own house, and you won’t have to worry about stepping on a virtual land mine.

*This article also appears on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/designing-compassion-part-2-legos-locks-land-mines-gerardo-san-diego/

Designing Compassion, Part 1: How Are You?

Untitled, Pablo Picasso

 

Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.

The lead mechanic for one of my clients died from a heart attack last week. My client owns a manufacturing shop selling refurbished but very expensive machinery, and has a dozen orders that need to be finished before any new money will come in. Two months before, his nephew, head of sales, had a stroke, and is still in the hospital.

Throughout these setbacks, my client has had to do the job of four other people (his admin assistant also took an unexpected leave of absence the week before), working twelve-hour days, at least six days a week, except when his wife forces him to spend a Sunday with her. He exhausted his six-figure emergency savings to keep the company running, to pay his employees, who also have families to feed and bills to pay.

This went on for two excruciating months. And here I was, the consultant, the outsider, trying to get paid. Trying to figure out a way to continue to work for him, but also trying to figure how I’m going to pay my own bills. Because the more work I did, the more likely he will sell his products, but at the same time, I cannot work for free, and he knew that.

Once enough money arrived, he did pay me, and we continue to work together. I did not find a solution to get paid earlier, because when there’s no money, there’s no money. Sometimes there is no solution. Sometimes things just go bad. And the only thing left is patience and compassion.

HOW ARE YOU?

These three words are too often said without a conscious pause soon after saying them, to actually listen to a response. After I shake hands with the client, it’s too easy to go straight to the business of business. But that’s when I look at the client’s eyes, and do my best to read if they would rather take the next few seconds to just stop thinking about work, and talk about themselves, their families, their favorite football team.

I like to schedule meetings right after lunch, especially during follow-up sessions, because I’ve discovered that that’s when clients have the most free time and the best attitude—their bellies are happy from lunch (hopefully), their morning stresses are taken care of (hopefully), and everyone else in the office is either still at lunch, or back from it, also taking that extra half hour for the blood to redirect from their stomachs and back into their too-often stressed out brains. The middle of the day is a good halftime reset, and usually a good time for me to make my pitches.

When they tell me how they are, I listen, and I add to my mental inventory of the things that I know about my client. If they’re unsure what color they would like to use, sometimes the subconscious answer comes through their stories, the car they drive, the clothes they wear, their Facebook background image, the wall hangings and shelf items in their office, what their spouse bought for them that now take up valuable real estate on their desk. One of my clients’ children painted a portrait of his dad, full of blue, gray and purples. Another client’s brother-in-law made a found object art piece that he hangs on the wall next to his desk. From these, I learn about them–are they more conservative in their style, or are they willing to take chances? Are they more into words or images? Do they want Dodger blue as part of their headline letters? (And yes, this actually happened:)

And if you’re wondering, do my clients know that I’m doing this, profiling them during every meeting? Yes, because I tell them that I do, because I want them to know that what I’m designing will absolutely have a piece of their style in it, even if it isn’t obvious. And if nobody else in the world notices it, at least they will know, and I will know. It’ll be our little secret.

There’s still a lot for me to write, but I’m gonna stop here for now. The next section will be called Collecting Content, discussing how I go about getting information from my client, with as little work on their part because I did a lot of preparatory work on my part. Thank you for reading, more soon.

P.S. I write “More soon” a lot when writing emails, because I want the client to know that I continue to think about their project, and, well, because there will be more, and very soon.

 

*This article also appears on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/designing-compassion-gerardo-san-diego/?published=t

Facebook is Not Just for Food Porn

Some people say that Facebook isn’t trendy anymore. They say that kids have now switched over to Instagram, or Snapchat, or YouTube. They say that Facebook is only for old people.

What I say to that: Good.

Because that’s not what I use Facebook for anyway.

True story: My business partner and I were waiting to be seated at Hof’s Hut, when she looked over and jokingly said, “I can’t believe how much you’re on Facebook…”

An older gentleman, who was also waiting to be seated, heard what she said and looked up from his newspaper and smiled at the both of us, then looked at the smartphone in my hand, with my thumb in scrolling position.

I turned the phone around to show them what I was looking at, which was basically my newsfeed from Facebook:

Facebook screencaps

I don’t remember the last time I saw any of my friend’s food on Facebook. Maybe I just don’t pay attention anymore. I don’t remember the last time I clicked on a “share this if you are a true friend” thread. Maybe I just don’t pay attention anymore. I do remember unfollowing friends that purposely add me to their Candy Crush group, or friends that post thirty inspirational memes an hour, or entertainment pages that post 40-year old photos of Linda Blair throwing up chunks of pea soup in The Exorcist just to shock you into clicking the article. That was then.

This is now: AP News, New York Times, Reuters, Scientific American, Bloomberg, CNBC, Public Relations Daily, Technobuffalo, The Washington Post, CNN, Internet Architects, InfoWorld, Film Riot, Book Riot, Nova/PBS, City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the list goes on and on…

Facebook, at least to me, is INFORMATION. It is an endless newsfeed of everything that you want to know, about topics that you care about that will increase your knowledge in business, in life, in productivity. Because of Facebook, I know how the stock market is doing and WHY it’s reacting that way. I can check the local news as well as what’s going on in the nation, and not just in a general way but much more specific, more targeted–many times a news entity will have a subdivision, and that subdivision will have its own Facebook newsfeed. Huffington Post Finance is very different from Huffington Post Food, is very different from Huffington Post Technology.

Facebook isn’t just a newsfeed, it’s also an event organizer. The New York Times FB page includes an Events section that lists local conferences, concerts, art installations, and other social gatherings. Within each listing is a calendar and RSVP feature that you can tick off so Facebook reminds you when it’s about to happen. It has a map of the venue that clicks to your phone’s Google Maps or Waze app to help you get there. If attendees take photos and tag them during the event, those photos are linked to that event’s page, so you can see it from other people’s points of view.

Facebook isn’t just a bunch of selfies, it’s also your online portfolio. If you’re an artist or designer, you owe it to yourself to have a Facebook page that features photos of your work. Your fans and customers can comment on your creations, can buy your products directly from Facebook (YES, Facebook has a store!), can ask you questions directly as well as engage others in conversation about your work, and when you have an exhibit, you can invite all your Facebook fans to that event with one posting, AND keep track of who wants to go!

Facebook fan pages isn’t just for celebrities, it’s also for people that aspire to be like one. You can easily do a Live Video with your smartphone (at least the relatively new ones can do it), and anyone can snoop in on your business meeting, or while you’re making linguini with clam sauce in the kitchen, or doing a reaction video that supplements your monetized vlog on YouTube.

So for anyone in business, YES, Facebook is absolutely useful, you just have to tweak the settings accordingly. To begin, you can use Facebook to read industry news and check the weather to prepare you for the long drive/flight to your business meeting. You can organize your colleagues with one notification of that event, with time, place and map, within Facebook Events. You can message your business connections through FB Messaging, AND send them Word files, Excel files, and other presentation files directly through Facebook. (Note that some mobile devices require that you download a separate FB Message app to handle the messaging, but it’s directly linked to your Facebook app, so the experience is basically seamless.)

The bottom line is you can plan, organize, conduct, and chronicle a whole day using just Facebook.

So don’t be too upset when your kids make fun of you for being on Facebook. While they’re taking selfies and posting on Instagram, or gossiping about Taylor Swift on Snapchat, you’re on that old fuddy-duddy of an app, and you’re getting down to business.