The phrase ‘UX’ is one that’s bandied about quite a bit nowadays in relation to websites. Far from being just a buzzword, UX really does matter and is definitely something you should be thinking about. Here, we’ll offer a run-down of the key things you can do to improve your website using the principles of UX.
Firstly, what is it? As readers of our last blog post will know, UX stands for ‘User Experience’. It relates to how visitors to a website – your customers, or potential customers – use the site, and how their experience of it affects their behaviour and view of you. This is crucial, because if you have a fantastic product but a website that makes it hard for customers to buy it, you’ll feel the results on your bottom line.
There are certain key things that anyone, regardless of technical ability, can do to improve the user experience of their website.
Anyone that works in a technical industry like web design and development can fall into the trap of talking in acronyms and niche phrases without thinking about it. In the Nixon office, this works well because we understand each other, but many a client or new employee has had to quietly confess that they don’t really know what we’re talking about.
As a starter, here’s a run-down of some of the main phrases you might hear us saying.
We were recently in the unique and flattering position of being a sponsor for the ‘installation’ of Dawn French as the first Chancellor of Falmouth University. (A process, by the way, that she likened to the installation of a fridge.) For us, this was a massively special occasion as it represents an embracing of the arts in Cornwall that we completely support.
On 26 March, we joined the actor and writer as she walked up the aisle of the Church of King Charles the Martyr in Falmouth, where she vowed to become a “warrior” for Cornwall’s university.
I won’t deny this is an unashamedly fun and frivolous post, but it does have a serious point. The way your brand talks to audiences gives a distinct impression of who you are and what you stand for. Sometimes these communications are spot-on. If one of your core values is energy and you write in a clear, fast-paced way, you’ve nailed it. Although it might not be a conscious thing, you'll naturally remember and feel more positive about brands with a truly unique, consistent personality and tone of voice. Like people, every brand should look and sound different; not be a carbon copy of others.
We always say that the essence of your brand is what people say about you when you’ve left the room. In life, we can all try our best to make a good impression at a social event: we have a certain amount of control over how we appear. But when it comes to your brand, you’ll never meet most of your audiences face to face, and they may never know what you stand for. Instead, we all have a mental image of companies based entirely on how they ‘speak’ to us (through text, images, products and customer service.) In our heads, we build up a personality for them.
Which leads me to the fun point that demonstrates this perfectly. If brands were people, who would they be?
I’ve always loved making stuff. As a kid, I wasn’t satisfied with just experiencing the things I enjoyed, I wanted to make my own. I turned my bedroom into Splash Mountain after falling in love with the ride at Disney World, and created my own cardboard CCTV cameras to keep villains out when James Bond became my hero. Creativity was my way of engaging with the things I loved and was a constantly joyful and self-absorbed process. That’s the way it usually is when you’re a kid. Creativity is a natural, uncompromising thing without a hint of agenda.
Part of being in a professional environment, though, is getting to grips with that transition from pure, egocentric creativity to structured, brief-orientated output. The things we produce aren’t just a response to inspiration, they’re client deliverables that come with deadlines, budgets and expectations. That’s a lot of responsibility; we’re expected to find inspiration on the clock and harness that into a product that fits our clients and converts into measurable profit. Without the safety net of inspiration, the possibility of becoming detached from what you’re producing becomes a real danger.
It’s a danger because emotional attachment is vital to design. It lets us communicate with sincerity and connect with people in brave and engaging ways. Without that compulsion that we felt as kids, our practice becomes stagnant, irrelevant and hollow, as we draw on the skills we already have and the solutions we’ve already explored.
So, how can we nurture that joy for creativity that’s so central to our industry? For me, a big part of it takes place outside of the studio, where a lack of accountability means a lot of freedom. The freedom to make mistakes, for example, and create in a directionless and selfish way.
One of those ways is music. I played the piano as a kid but never to any remarkable level. Being a firm amateur, though, was one of the things that inspired me to start a band with my partner Jo. We set ourselves the challenge of writing an electro-pop album, complete with custom artwork and fully-realised band personas. Don’t get me wrong, the tracks are at best pretentious noise and at worst disgracefully incompetent, but that was the excitement. We wanted to make something that was just for us. Something messy and unwanted and playful.
I think that’s a huge part of creativity: the joy of playfulness and the excitement of finding new ways to communicate. It’s something that illustrator Keri Smith champions in her book Destroy This Journal, which urges readers to make mistakes and glorify in the outcomes. You’re instructed to stamp on, stain, bury and dig up the pages of the book in an effort to remove the expectations of a finished product and admonish the fear of doing something wrong. It takes you back to that childish state of creativity where making a mess and being brave are at the heart of what you produce. You’re fully engaged in the creative process.
That’s the real point I want to make. Without passion, courage and interest in what we’re doing, we lose relevance and so will our work. I’d urge every creative professional to find the joy in creativity. Join a band, write a play, start a revolution, make mistakes and love what you do. Your experiences will be richer, your work will be braver, and your solutions will come quicker.
Ps. We’re playing our first live show this summer and fully intend to enjoy every achingly, off-key minute of it.
Tone of voice is something that I talk about a lot. In a nutshell, it’s how your company speaks – whether that’s in person, through images, or in text. A strong, relevant tone of voice is a key part of branding. Imagine meeting Grace Kelly, only to find her swearing and shouting.
Let’s take a look at five companies that communicate really, really well, and consider why.
I recently spent some time at Trewirgie Junior School in Redruth during Maths Week. I was there to encourage students to embrace all things numerical by showing them how much fun coding is, while teaching them that it is actually all about maths.
There are a few things that have inspired me to talk about design and risk, but the more recent catalyst was the unveiling of a new logo and brand identity and the way it was received by designers and audiences. It made the news and both the Guardian and the BBC had initially skeptical views on the logo design and some of the connotations that could be read into it.
To be perfectly honest, the first time I’d heard the debate around the logo was one morning while listening to the radio. The views of the presenters were overall quite negative, but also very instinctive and immediate. Having not yet seen the logo for myself theirs was the only opinion I had to go on and it was invariably one-sided. It felt slightly unusual as a designer to hear about a design without having the chance to see it. So it got me thinking.
You hear about this sort of situation a lot – a design that hasn’t been received well, deemed ‘wrong’. Although of course, you’re more likely to hear about something that’s gone wrong than something that quietly works. An obvious example would be the hysteria caused by the London 2012 Olympics logo, where the branding industry was suddenly thrust into mainstream media and those responsible were hounded outside their homes by the paparazzi like a celebrity without make up. But regardless of opinions on the logo, it was still used and will certainly be remembered.
So what happens when something new is created, with the best intentions and a seemingly watertight rationale, but when unveiled is met with almost immediate and instinctive rejection? There’s usually an element of risk that has to be taken: the risk that something won’t look right and will ultimately fail its user in creating, generating or maintaining interest. When a risk doesn’t pay off, it’s a nightmare scenario for designers and clients.
Why am I talking about this? Well, it seems like an elephant in the room. We all want to feel reassured when we’re investing time and money into something, that there will be some kind of return, and rightly so. Equally, everyone wants to make sure when they create something that they get it ‘right’. But how can we determine what’s right and wrong in design, can it be measured, and how certainly can it be planned for?
Unpacking the first point, many things in this world can be divisive: art, design, tastes, politics, ethics, opinions – not least those of this article. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to always please everyone. With design comes a certain level of subjectivity, but it’s not art. It has a more direct and tangible purpose and so retains a certain amount of objectivity. Design falls halfway: it needs to be distinct enough to allow its message to be seen and heard by the right people, but open enough to not be exclusive.
An obvious measure of success is increased numbers of customers and ultimately, to put it bluntly, financial gain. Another familiar measurement of success is award schemes. These happen in many industries and come in all shapes and sizes. But they’re often presided over, and judged by, our peers or predecessors.
Of course, it’s important to remember that design isn’t created in a vacuum and is subject to factors such as brief, budget and tastes. As marketing consultants we always strive to create something that adheres to a client’s needs. So in that sense, success is measured by how well it answers a brief and meets the end goal of the client. As designers we arm ourselves with knowledge, experience and principles, to give ourselves the best chance of doing a good job.
Finally, can we plan to get it right? Short of stopping people in the street and asking for their opinions, can success be guaranteed? Short answer: yes, kind of, it depends. Long answer: no, not always. Even if we go through market research there’s a risk that something homogenous and boring will be created, which can be a failure in a different sense. This sort of ‘wrong’ hides in the shadows of subjectivity and behind market research reports.
I should have mentioned earlier that I’m not trying to solve any issues with this post. Sorry about that. Like lots of things, opinions on the balance between risk and safety are subjective and dependent on many factors. But it’s a debate worth bearing in mind at the unveiling of each new concept.
Apple today announced the biggest quarterly profit ever posted by a public company; a staggering £11.8 billion. It now has £93 billion pounds in net cash reserves and can boast revenue 30% higher than the same period last year. The success story of this darling of the stock-market is due, in no small part, to the colossal sales of its hugely successful iPad and iPhone ranges, raising the question: are people ditching their desktops in favour of their pocket-friendly counterparts? The answer, it seems, is a resounding, “Yes”. Here in Cornwall, as well as elsewhere, having a responsive website could be the key to big business.
A recent comScore report attributed 65% of all online traffic to smartphones and tablets, up from 50% the year before, and it is estimated that by the year 2020 over half of the world’s population will use a mobile device to access the internet. Surely then, with such prevalence, all websites are now designed to cater for portable devices with their reduced screens and patchy connections. Well, at the time of writing only 1 in 8 companies in Cornwall have websites that are built to respond to the device on which they are displayed, meaning the rest suffer from slow load times, fiddly button presses and plenty of scrolling across reams of indecipherably small print.
The answer lies in a growing trend within the web design industry called ‘responsive design’. The principle is simply that that the design should adapt or ‘respond’ to the size of the screen and nature of the device it’s being displayed on. The result? A site that is equally as usable and just as beautiful on the smallest mobile as it is on the largest desktop. As the team behind such works as Tresco, St Aubyn Estates and Cornwall Mobility, we’ve been proponents of responsive design for years and ensure that all sites we produce are fully responsive.
Using a technique called ‘mobile first’, our designs begin life on the small screen, taking into account the constraints of reduced processing power, lower download speeds and decreased screen real estate. From there, they are progressively enhanced to take advantage of larger devices with fewer constraints. This approach not only works; it’s necessary. In a study of 5,388 people, just under half lamented the fact that some of their favourite sites were not optimised for smaller devices, claiming it made them ‘feel that that company didn’t care about their business’. A further 28% complained they would leave if the site didn’t load quickly enough.
In a world where well over half of all website traffic comes from phones and tablets, businesses simply cannot afford to get left behind. Making your website responsive is essentially a form of future-proofing. It’s something that can make a huge difference in terms of sales or brand engagement.
If you have concerns that your website is not optimised for mobile use or would like to discuss how responsive design can benefit your business further, contact us on 01736 758600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
At Nixon, our New Year’s resolution is to get down on paper – or screen – some of the useful things we’ve learned about design, web development and copywriting. We’ll be running a series of articles, posted fortnightly, beginning here with a post relating to copywriting. Proof-reading might seem too simple a place to begin, but read on and you’ll see why it’s best to start with the basics.
We know how it is – you spend ages working on a document or a chunk of text, you’ve been at it all day, you’re fed up with it, and you just want it done. You should really sit and proof-read it, but… It’ll probably be fine. Won’t it?
That thought process could well be your downfall. Yes, proof-reading is dull. Yes, your document, which you’ve just spent hours looking over, probably doesn’t have any typos left in it that you haven’t already noticed. But, oh my, yes it’s essential. The document that you’ve worked so hard on, that makes your business sound amazing, can just as easily make you look like the biggest mug ever if there’s an unfortunate typo in it.
Most people will think that this advice is completely unnecessary, but even the best of us can fall foul of the English language. Just Google ‘terrible typos’ and you’ll see what I mean. My personal favourites are the American ‘School of Pubic Affairs’ (embarrassing for everyone), the ‘Valley Newss’ newspaper that misspelled its own name, and the revelation that school is ‘two easy for kids’, as reported on WNDU 16 News. If you had to read back over this paragraph to find out why any of those were wrong, you’ll see how easy it is for errors to slip through.
The trouble is, when you’ve been looking at something for a long period of time, it actually becomes harder to spot your mistakes. If we could offer a step-by-step guide relating to proof-reading, it’d probably go something like this:
1) Do it. Just do it.
2) Use a spell-checker. If you’re inputting text directly into a web page that doesn’t have one, copy and paste it into a Word document.
3) Take a break. You may not have lots of time, but a quick break from the text makes it easier to find mistakes. Make a cup of tea and come back to it.
4) Print it out. We like being green, but we also like being flawless (if we possibly can be). For some reason, it’s often easier to see errors on paper.
5) Ask someone else to read it. Unless you’re working on your own, this is a really valuable thing to do. You might think that you’re using ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ correctly, but another pair of eyes will root it out if you’re not.
As a starter for ten, let’s delve into some of the most common mistakes we see.
1) Its v. it’s: This is a weird one that can catch out anyone. If you’re shortening ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, the result is it’s. If someone owns something (a possessive), you use its: e.g. ‘the dog chased after its ball’ or ‘Cornwall is known for its beaches.’
2) Capitals v. lower case: Proper nouns (e.g. names) should always have a capital letter, whether it’s a person’s name, place name or a brand name, such as Coca Cola. However, if you’re referring to a thing more generally, like lemonade, it doesn’t.
3) They’re, their and there: Even if you know this, a momentary lapse in concentration can catch you out. Their is when a group owns something (possessive), e.g. ‘the group pooled their resources’. They’re is short for ‘they are’ and there is a place.
4) Double letters: words with a mix of single and double letters are among the most commonly misspelled. Do check a dictionary to be sure. The following are the correct spellings: accommodation, necessary, possession, disappoint, unforeseen.
5) Missing words: it’s easy to miss words out of a sentence altogether, as this is something that a spell-checker won’t pick up on. To avoid it happening, make sure you read what is actually written on the page, not what you expect to be there. The same applies to words that can be accidentally shortened, like ‘off’ and ‘of’.
Remember, if in doubt, we can proof-read for you. If you’re paying out on having 10,000 flyers printed out, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as the people who wrongly captioned Sesame Street’s the Count.
We’re delighted to say that our unique creative services now include copywriting and content strategy. Megan Oldcorn has joined the Nixon team to offer everything from the essentials such as proof-reading and editing to larger projects like creating tone of voice guidelines in line with branding.
With so much attention given over to how brands look and feel, maintaining a strong, consistent approach in text has never been so important. We know only too well how tricky it can be to work with a brand that is visually stunning but doesn’t quite deliver when it comes to content. Nobody wants to be accused of being ‘all style and no substance’.
In the past we’ve delivered both visually and in terms of content by working with expert wordsmiths such as Stranger Collective. Now, we’re happy to be in a position where we can combine our great relationships with others with the perks of having an in-house writer.
Generating compelling content can pose a variety of problems for the uninitiated. There are those who dedicate energy to web design but can’t find time to manage the demands of its blog page. Others have a large mailing list of current or potential customers, but email newsletters that fall flat. Often, it’s the people at the heart of a business, who understand and love it, that know best what they want to say. It’s just that finding the most impactful words can be more of a challenge.
That’s where we come in. We can offer help or advice across a variety of services, including:
• Tone of voice and style guidelines
• Website copy
• Email newsletter marketing
• Ghost blogging
• Proof-reading and sub-editing
• PR copywriting, such as press releases
• Advertisements, flyers and brochures
• Advertorial and features
• In-house magazines
If you’re not sure whether your text is working for you, we’ll gladly offer our opinion of where improvements could be made (nicely, of course!) If you do need help, or just want to outsource a job that isn’t your favourite, our copywriting and design services can work together to ensure that every word you put out there is on-brand and decidedly ‘you’.
We’re a pretty friendly bunch at Nixon, so if you’d like to find out more or have a chat about your business and current copy output, email email@example.com or phone 01736 758600.
If you’d rather manage your writing in-house but would appreciate a few tips on making it stand out, stay tuned to our blog for upcoming articles offering advice on a range of ‘wordy’ topics.
From designing and building a website for a privately owned island to branding an independent cinema in a redundant fish factory – all in all, it’s been a very diverse and exciting 2014.
We’ve started working for new clients in some very dynamic sectors and one long standing client is coming back for an unprecedented fourth time in ten years for their latest website. We’ve art-directed, coded, illustrated, photographed, designed, artworked, project managed, strategised and deliberated over 465 individual projects spanning 65 clients. A pigeon even flew through our window to join in the fun. Here’s a snapshot of what we've been up to in 2014.
The other week we climbed aboard Stranger Collective’s Raft event for a Friday afternoon that was just ever so slightly out of the ordinary. Tempted away from our desks, a healthy mixture of curious people amassed aboard the ‘vessel of ideas’, all as perplexed and intrigued as each other about the upcoming events that proved hard to define.
Sipping on our cups of Yallah Coffee, the proceedings began by hearing from Kyra Maya Philips about the benefits of being a bit more like a pirate. Kyra is one of the founders of The Misfit Economy and has carried out research and interviews with some of the world’s most notorious hackers, pirates, black marketeers and criminals, with the aim of discovering new ways for businesses and economies to function. But for us it was more about how we can stand on the shoulders of giants by taking influence from those we admire most.
We heard about pirates’ strictly democratic customs; in fact, facing far more benefits from operating as a pirate than working legitimately as a merchant sailor. They only ever followed an elected leader during battle and all decisions were feverishly debated with all opinions equal.
After some time to stretch our legs (the majority of us were sat on deck) and quell some mild sea-sickness with our provided Fisherman’s Friends, we heard from writers Molly Naylor and John Osborne about the conception of their first sitcom; After Hours. The two long-time friends told us how their labour of love, which they had started writing just for fun, blossomed and was picked up by Sky. They have since been closely involved with Sky and director Craig Cash to produce the six-episode series, which will hit the screens of all those with a Sky subscription in spring 2015.
After another short break admiring the surroundings as we meandered up the waters of the Carrick Roads, flirting with the mouth of the River Fal, we headed back inside to have our minds blown by research magician Stuart Nolan.
Stuart’s talk opened by helping us to swing a paperclip on the end of a string using just the power of our minds through concentration. Nolan afterwards explained how this was no mystery but actually down to our bodies subconsciously channeling our concentration into the minute cognitive muscle movements in the tips of our fingers. An interesting exercise possibly best attempted on dry land…
Stuart also showed us what had inspired him and his work in the first place by demonstrating the best trick his dad never did. A trick that as a child he had always thought his dad had shown him, but was in fact his uncle’s — the power of a determined mind perhaps?
Before we knew it we had already moored back on Falmouth’s Prince of Wales pier and were heading to Hand bar for Sipsmith cocktails and complimentary seaweed-based snacks from The Cornish Seaweed Company. It wasn’t long before we were gathering back at the pier for the start of Bullsh*t London’s fantastically fictitious frolic across Falmouth. We heard of promiscuous adulterers that congregated on ‘staircases to heaven’, and how Falmouth was in fact very much in the middle of a war in which bunting that at first appears friendly can easily be transformed into deadly tools of battle.
The day was rounded off in spectacular fashion with an evening at The Falmouth Townhouse. We watched the first public viewing of Finisterre’s amazing new film Edges of Sanity, directed by Chris McClean and narrated by Charles Dance. The evening was topped off by Dave Waller and his journey to bring a little bit of Brooklyn to Bodmin through the creation of hip hop made using Cornish vinyl.
Read Stranger’s more succinct and eloquent write-up of the day, including pictures, here.
I recently paid a visit for the first time to the Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, just outside of Penzance, with a personal highlight being James Turrell’s piece ‘Tewlwolow Kernow’ (Twilight Cornwall).
Tremenheere Gardens themselves are nestled slightly inland, set back from the nearby coast, with views of the ocean and St. Michael’s Mount when looking south. Opened in mid September 2012, the gardens are still relatively young, but seem to have reached a stage of adolescence, providing a perfect landscape for the various sculptures to be set within. With a number of different paths to ascend by, and plenty to see along the way, James Turrell’s skyspace sits almost at the summit of the gardens.
James Turrell is an American artist who has worked with light and space for over half a century. His work is influenced by an early childhood fascination with light and his formal training in perceptual psychology, as well as having a keen interest in flying — having flown over twelve thousand hours as a pilot. Turrell’s work predominantly deals with creating spaces that gather and arrest light, personally describing his work as “more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing”.
As you enter the Tewlwolow space you’re steadily introduced to a new and very different set of surroundings, that will ultimately feel very visually distant from the gardens previously experienced. Turrell’s piece was completed in 2013 and includes a sheltered entrance space with a relatively narrow set of doors and intimate tunnel, through which you must first travel before entering the skyspace itself.
Currently just concreted walls with a gravel path, the tunnel is narrow, dark and provides a starkly different transitional experience to the main feature. Entering the main space on a bright, late summer’s afternoon you’re immediately struck by a sense of release created by Turrell’s arrested light and organic circular space.
The space feels quite separate from outside and seems to have its own micro-climate. With hardly any wind and the September sun still going strong outside, inside the space it’s distinctly cooler in temperature. Neither too cold or particularly warm, but somewhere in between — just the start of feeling somewhere separate from the outside world.
Beyond the natural feelings of tranquility and serenity there’s also a slight curiosity and even sense of foreboding to the space. Gazing skyward through the oval viewport you can hear the outside world and even faintly smell the gardens outside and the sea beyond. But you’re starkly aware that you’re somewhere physically separate. Connected, but not by sight. With the sun still shining, a bright oval is cast on the smooth walled space, interrupted only by a shelved area that’s just a few feet out of reach.
Ideally viewed at either dawn or dusk the view is still just as seductive on an early afternoon, the sky shifting with mixed cloud cover that’s pushed around by the coastal breeze above. The view is only occasionally broken by a gliding bird or inquisitive insect coming into view. You can see the outside but only through a distinctly vignetted view high overhead, creating a feeling that you could be anywhere.
With the sun obscured by cloud the space starts to cool. There’s a slight chill and it’s time to leave. Although you could easily stay in this state of transcendence, you exit back through the dark tunnel, which feels oppressive by comparison, before re-emerging in the gardens, back where you started.
Since the early 1970’s Turrell has been working on his largest project, Roden Crater. The crater is an extinct volcano that Turrell has been sculpting within to create a series of chambers, tunnels and apertures that “heighten our sense of the heavens and earth”. More information about the artist and his monumental project can been seen on his website.
The last two weeks I have been lucky enough to be working with Nixon as part of a university work placement. Being apart of the the design team and discovering how a design studio works has given me so much knowledge and insight into the design world. An aspect that I have realised seems to be at the core of everything in this studio is detail. After observing and participating in projects and spending time in the studio, detail is one thing that has stuck with me the most.
Attention to detail in everything from the importance of every single word within a brand’s strategy, all the way through to finding a small detail in an object for inspiration right onto the final execution and even the interesting details within the studio itself. Working across multiple projects has been really interesting and exciting as well as giving me insight into the depth in which everything has to be completed.
The whole team at Nixon have been incredibly welcoming as well as honest with regards to the projects I have been working on and improvement of details, which has been a really helpful experience. The guidance and experience of the team has helped me know what small things to look for and perfect when creating work. These busy two weeks have given me the ability to observe the way everything from clients to a rogue pigeon flying through the office window are dealt with. The studio is filled with a crazy mix of interesting and inspiring objects. The disco ball hanging from the ceiling in the office begs a few questions, and the interesting objects continue right through to the sardine tin pattern on the bathroom mirror. You could not be bored visually here, there is something to look at every time you turn your head.
These last few weeks have gone by incredibly quickly and have involved pushing myself into lots of of different projects with the help of everyone at Nixon. It has been an incredibly inspiring and very satisfying experience and I really hope to see everyone again one day!
Quite why a creative agency like Nixon would choose to exhibit our wares amidst the flowers, farming implements, prize winning cattle, rabbits, poultry and other assorted livestock at an agricultural show could be a mystery. However for us, the Royal Cornwall Show is a highlight of our calendar, and given that we’ve now been exhibiting there for over a decade, if we chose not to do so many people might well wonder what fate had befallen us.