Designing a Chinese Logo

…or,

How an American Software Startup Chose an Indigenous Australian Marsupial as the Logo of a Chinese Mobile App

I know, right? Truth is better than fiction, most of the time.

But, indeed, that second blog title is the more colorful description of the actual process from 3 years ago, when I oversaw the creation of the logo and name for Appconomy’s first mobile app in China.

bbv-brand slideshareNOTE: The brand design example in this post is drawn from a larger presentation – Brand Element Basics – that is available on Slideshare.

Here’s what happened.

Our first app was designed to be an “every man’s” version of the Starbucks loyalty app, primarily for small-footprint, food & beverage (F&B) locations, like small tea shops or food stands, but also for other retail merchants, like  jewelry stores or mobile phone kiosks.

It is very common for Asia-Pacific mobile apps to have mascots or other anthropomorphic features (like eyes or hands) integrated into their branding.

So, we began by studying and evaluating the branding of various competing apps that were broadly in our category, as show in the example below.

bbv-logo 1

From that initial survey, we chose a lengthy set of shape/color/font combinations, each with one or more referring sources.

We had already gone through an initial app naming process, settling on the working name of “Jinnang.” 

A jinnang is a special kind of man-purse, if you will, that is a key element in Chinese fairy tale that nearly everyone in China knows, kind of like the magic beans in Jack-in-the-Beanstalk, from Mother Goose in the US.

bbv-logo 2

From the large set of options, we worked through pros and cons and down-selected to a smaller set of concepts that we wanted to further develop.

For the next round, we focused more on shapes and narrowing in on simple, unique, original imagery.

To help, we kept to a mostly black & white palette, to keep attention on the core visual composition.

bbv-logo 3

As you can see, by this stage there were 2 macro-design concepts emerging, with one purely emphasizing the magic purse and another incorporating cute animal mascots.

The kangaroo was a natural option because of its pouch, which was kind of a built-in jinnang, and because it had friendly, yet strong character attributes.

And, it was a mascot that was still available, unclaimed by any other major software competitor, as far as we could tell.

Next, we undertook yet another round of narrowing on images, with the addition of color and fonts to the options, to give them full character.

At this point, it was TIME to CHOOSE a final concept!

bbv-logo 4

Winner: the kangaroo!

From there, we advanced to a round of micro-tailoring of the concept elements, e.g., mouth, headwear, neckwear, color and more.

bbv-logo 5

As you can see, we made him skinnier and gave him better posture, in the process!

Eventually, we settled on the finalized logo, both symbol & wordmark.

bbv-logo 6

You may have noticed that, in the process, between the 4th round and the 6th & final round, the brand name changed from Jinnang to Jinjin.

The simple rationale was that “jin jin” was easier for English speakers to say and, as a meaningless set of morphemes – similar to the “goo goo or ga ga” of babytalk –  it would be easier to trademark.

There’s more to it than that, but I’ll save that story for another time.

The Media Monetization Cycle

The media monetization cycle (MMC) is something that I’ve come to observe, experientially, from more than 30 years of working in information and communications technology.

In short, as the chart shows, experience has shown that new media go through three cycles of value creation: content, community, commerce.

bbv - MMC hand-drawnAnd, while all three are essential at some level, to the medium’s success, the quest for media companies and those that build on top of the medium (like the web) is to see how quickly they can reach the commerce curve.

Knowing that all new media go through the MMC, your strategy should be to anticipate the commerce curve and build a platform for facilitating the transition from content and community as easily as possible.

For applications development and infrastructure planning, this has broad implications for everything from user ID management, to client- and server-wide applications payloads, to schema development and database distribution, and more.

Ideally, you want to build all of those things, knowing that the medium will eventually get a place where commerce is a principle driver of activity across it, if the THE principle driver.

Understanding the MMC is more important than ever, because the pace of technology adoption has become faster than ever, as reflected by the chart from Singularity.com.

bbv - tech adoptionIf you are in a profession, like I am, where you are in the business of seeking to launch innovative new ventures that leapfrog or even transcend (a nicer way of saying “disrupt”) incumbent technologies, then the more that you build – from the very beginning – towards the inevitable maturation point of the MMC, the better positioned you will be.

Mainstream VR is Here

The New York Times (NYT) has launched a major initiative to integrate VR (short for “virtual reality”) into their digital news coverage.

Their first big reporting series with VR has been the stories of three refugee children.

bbv-HanaTheir stories are part of a larger series titled “The Displaced” that the NYT has been running for more than a week.

I’d seen the heavily promoted VR component to the story, but simply hadn’t taken the time to try it.

If you’re like me, VR has been something that you’ve been hearing about for so long that it seems too (1) time-consuming, (2) complicated (3) slow (4) or gamer-ish.

My opinion has changed.

Our NYT subscription includes the digital edition and the Sunday print edition.

IMG_8510So, this past weekend, we received – as we assume tens of thousands of others did – a Google cardboard VR viewer bundled in with the newspaper’s protective plastic wrapper.

It was sheathed with a nice GE-branded container and came with a small 1-page instruction sheet.

IMG_8511The VR viewer came pre-assembled and the instructions to download the iPhone app were straightforward.

The app downloaded rapidly from iTunes and its set-up instructions were simple.

However, there is an easy to reach FAQ section, just in case a little extra hand-holding is required.

IMG_8513The app and “The Displaced” story series were produced in partnership with VRSE, a VR high-end production company, specializing in VR films.

Each VR movie downloads to your smartphone, before playing.

So, ideally, you’ll want to be connected to a broadband wi-fi or hardwired network when you download the films.

With each movie, there is a bit of information, displaying its run-length, as well as its file size.

There is also a direct link to the New York Times “print” article for which the VR film is a companion.

IMG_8512REMEMBER: the NYT is a paywall publication that allows 10 free article views per month, after which a valid account is required.

Sidenote: the paywall seems to be working, as the company recently announced that its online subscription base had passed the one million subscriber mark. (Gee: it only took nearly 20 years to navigate that disruption!)

This was the first time I’d really used a VR viewer and I found the production values to be quite good.

The filmmaking itself was compelling, with the pacing and choice of shots, dramatic.

You are truly transported to another part of the world, instantly.

A few tips to optimize your experience, should you try it:

  1. Use headphones or earbuds to get the accompanying sound – it’s essential to the stories.
  2. Sit down when you use the VR viewer. Sitting will prevent you from losing your balance or accidentally running into something or someone.
  3. IMG_8516Use a swivel chair, when sitting. The filmmakers have packed so much into the story of each of the three children that you will want to take it all in, as a full 360-degree experience. A swivel chair will allow you to move in every direction.
  4. Dim or turn off your room or your office lights, if you can, to reduce the glare and get more of the full picture and color of the story.

Finally, VR seems to be hitting a mainstream tipping point.

With Youtube updating its flagship Android app to switch videos to a VR mode, it’s only a matter of time – months perhaps – when more and more of us will be choosing to watch our VR videos.

You know what that means, right?

bbv-mcflyThat Bob Zemeckis’s comedic-dystopian view of 2015 in Back to the Future II only missed its timing by a few months!

Who could forget the scene of Marty McFly’s future teenage son, outlandishly captured in full VR-viewing twitchiness at the dinner table!

God (and New York Times) help us!!

Periscope Behavioral Impressions

Or Look, We Can Use Our Phones to Do What Pornographers Figured Out on the Web 20 Years Ago”

I installed the Periscope app a couple of weeks ago and have been using it intermittently since then.

periscopeBasically, while the technology might be slightly more sophisticated, layering in a modicum of social networking, it’s the functional equivalent of a live, handheld web cam.

Here are a few initial observations, mostly behavioral:

1 – When you hold your phone in front of you, while you’re walking or talking, you can’t avoid conveying the impression that you are filming. You might as well hold out a film marker in front of you, snap it shut, and yell “action!” because it equally attracts the natural curiosity of people that are walking towards you.

Thus, unlike a go-pro or body cam, which can film more subtly, the act of holding your phone in front of you is explicit. So, it’s harder to catch people in their natural states.

2 – When live broadcasting, I felt compelled to narrate the action, like a program host. On longer segments, I found the need to re-announce the subject matter of the broadcast every five or ten minutes, like Terri Gross does on NPR’s “Fresh Air” just before she takes a station break.

3 – The days and times that I had the most organic Periscope viewers were weekend mornings and weekday afternoons.

4 – It seems more viewers tuned in for lifestyle ephemeral, rather than purposeful, business-y broadcasts. My most watched broadcast was while enjoying a beer on the rooftop deck of our office building with a great view of the Texas State capital during which I answered questions about Austin.

The second most watched was crossing a bridge over Lady Bird Lake in central Austin while viewing the flower planters, shortly after SXSW 2015.

5 – I tried a couple of experiments to attract scheduled viewers, from my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but they were dismal failures (the experiments, not my friends/followers). My guess is that I didn’t offer a valuable enough incentive for people to schedule or remember to view the broadcast.

6 – I also tried to sneak in a live broadcast of former President Bill Clinton’s remarks from the Four Seasons when he was a guest dinner speaker for a China-US Private Investment Summit in Austin. My guess is that there were cell and wifi jammers in place that significantly slowed or prohibited broadcasting, because Periscope flat refused to work.

The app design itself is fairly simple and clean, which I expect to evolve via a rather constant series of tweaks as it gets more widely used. If I had one feature-function beef, it would be about archiving your broadcasts.

periscope-screengrabsAs best I can tell, when you save your broadcasts, it doesn’t keep a complete archive of all prior broadcasts available to you…just your most recent one or two.

They disappear from your stream in a day or two, after which all you have left to fall back on is the recording (if you choose to save them) of the video on your mobile device.

However, your mobile device recording is plain vanilla, i.e., it lacks the Periscope-enhanced information with the viewers’ handles, their questions, or the heart streams that they gave you while broadcasting, which is a bummer.

I suspect that may change in the future, hinting at the kind of functionality they will “turn on” for subscribing users, to monetize the freemium version.

My Kickstarter Pledges

I’ve participated in four Kickstarter campaigns to date, for which I spent $1,368 total.  Based upon this modest dataset, here are my observations:

  • The popularity of a campaign in no way assures its success.
  • Products that are first-time-to-market, at scale, are (…surprise!) likely to be flawed and perform poorly, if at all.  Actually, when you think about it, that shouldn’t really be a surprise.
  • Creative works delivered in conventional media (books, recordings, film, paintings, etc.) will “perform” but their performance will only be as good as the creative talent behind them.  Thus, the workmanship risk you are taking isn’t on the packaging or product “operation” but on the creative quality that imbues it.
  • A service is more likely to deliver a better experience, because the campaign producer can augment it, right down to the last moment.
  • And – proving the cliché “some things never change” – proven product or service innovators are safer bets than first-time innovators.

Name: The Porthole kickstarter - porthole

Description: A simple and beautiful infusion vessel that can be used for cocktails, oils, teas, or any infusion imaginable.

Goal: $28,500 Pledged: $736,112 Backers: 4,270

Funded: Sept 4, 2012

My pledge level: $175 for TWO black Portholes along with a seasonal cocktail recipe from the Aviary. US shipping included. Estimated delivery, Oct 2012

Experience Summary: It was delayed multiple times, arrived a year late, leaks profusely no matter how much or little we adjust the device.  It’s visually lovely, but a complete failure functionally.  It currently adorns our kitchen counter as an empty display.  We’ve discussed putting layers of colored sand in it for display or maybe making it the most fashionable ant farm ever outside of Toys R Us.

Name: Embracing Disruption kickstarter - embracing

Description: A manifesto about disruptive innovation and the cloud revolution.

Goal: $5,000 Pledged: $5,886 Backers: 64

Funded: Nov 9, 2012

My pledge level: $128 for SILVER LEVEL SPONSORSHIP: Your name, business, and twitter handle listed as Silver Level Sponsor in the back of our book, ebook, and website. + T-Shirt Level + Four Book Level + Sticker Pack Level + Early Access Level.  Estimated delivery, Mar 2013

Experience Summary: I knew Nathan and had collaborated on blog post with him previously, so I knew that he was a technical talent.  He and his co-authors delivered what they said they would, when they would.  The electronic copy was available on time, with the printed copies received a month later.

We are especially pleased that the team made the product available to others via an open source distribution strategy, via the Embracing Disruption website.  A satisfying conclusion that we were happy to support.

Name: Light Wing Trainer: Impossibly light Tyvek paper shoes kickstarter - lightwing

Description: Unbelievable Testing Laboratory has created Tyvek® paper shoes weighing in at 150g.

Goal: $15,000 Pledged: $142,197 Backers: 2,178

Funded: Aug 1, 2013

My pledge level: $65 for LIGHT WING 2nd MOVERS – Despite being a bit slow, we have an awesome deal for you, you are still able to grab a pair our limited edition shoes! Get yourself one pair of limited edition LIGHT WING PENCILs. (Suggested Retail: $68). We will also throw in one Tyvek wallet. Estimated delivery, Aug 2013

Experience Summary: After providing after converting my American size shoe to match up with the Chinese manufacturing, the shoes delivered were still too tight by a half-size or more; plus, they make a squeaky, rustling sound like you are walking around in newspaper, when you have them on.

I gave them to my daughter, who has tinier feet and is cooler than me.  I figure she’ll use them to shuffle around in doing garden work.

The whole thing reminded me of the flower-child, crafty projects of the 1960s. A laudable idea, but one that probably won’t be commercially ready until the 3rd or 4th iteration.  I wouldn’t recommend the shoes to anyone, except for the pure novelty factor.

Name: The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint IMG_5122

Description: Human beings who are addicted to Blood. Funny, Sexy and Bloody. A new kind of love story (and not a remake of “Blacula”).

Goal: $1,250,000 Pledged: $1,418,910 Backers: 6,421

Funded: Aug 21, 2013

My pledge level: $1,000 for You Will Be An Extra In Our Film. Estimated delivery, Sept 2014.

Experience Summary:  Awesome, through and through.  I got to spend most of a day on set with Spike Lee, took direction from him, watched him in action set up and film multiple shots, took multiple photos with him, took a slow, hour-long private tour of his 40 Acres and a Mule studio in Brooklyn.

It was worth every penny!! The one slightly unnerving moment was that within days of the project funding, I received a notice that the filming would be within weeks!  But, the timing all worked out, with the help of a little vacation time and some airline frequent flyer miles.

The actual film, currently titled “The Sweet Blood of Jesus” is in post-production with a release expected in 2014.  If you see me, it’ll be in the Martha’s Vineyard bar scene near the beginning of the movie.

“A” is for April and Appconomy

Take a good look at the figure, because that’s where I spent the majority of my April (and March and May, etc.) writing time. 

In fact, just as in January, I spent so much time on my number one investment (Appconomy) that I didn’t manage to find any time to write about other subjects of a more personal interest.

So, it’s only fitting, three weeks after the close of the month, that I devote my April 2011 blog entry to perserving the record of Version 1 of “The Appconomy” – our guide to the global app economy.

Version 2 of The Appconomy should be rolling out soon, with a more dynamic, activity-feed oriented view the articles, comments, and other information served up on the channel, as I refer to it.

The whole thing is an enormous work in process, based on my Appconomy co-founders’ and my shared belief that there is a hunger for better, practical guidance about the shift to work and leisure activities that increasingly rely on mobile technology.

Time will tell. 

But, one thing is for certain: for at least a while, if you want to read what I’m writing, you’ll be much better served following my work each week on Appconomy, or on the blogs and twitter-streams of any number of my other ventures.  Browse by and check them out!

From app design to sock choice: Everything communicates

They say that everything communicates.

Quick digression: the reference to “they” reminds me of the classic scene in Pulp Fiction

You know the one – where Vincent and Mia are having dinner at Jackrabbit Slim’s – here excerpted for your reading pleasure from the IMDb script database.

MIA

Is that a fact?

VINCENT

No it’s not, it’s just what I heard.

MIA

Who told you this?

VINCENT

They.

Mia and Vincent smile.

MIA

They talk a lot, don’t they?

VINCENT

They certainly do.

But, back to the post: everything communicates. Meaning what you wear, what you say and how you say it, where you live, when you eat, how you walk, etc. Everything.

The same is true of your website, enterprise software, or mobile productivity app. Everything about your app communicates.

So, when you are conceiving it, start by understanding what the heck you’re actually trying to do. Understand the context. Listen. Observe. Learn more about a usability technique, called contextual inquiry, that provides some useful guidance.

In addition to understanding context, it’s important to understand what the actual design elements themselves communicate. For example, elements like typeface and color are too often taken for granted.  They are considered more a matter of personal taste than deliberately approached with data in mind.

And, finally, understand the elements that lend credibility to your app.  This is perhaps the least understood yet most crucial aspect to design. I studied this subject years ago, stumbling across what I still consider to be the seminal, original work addressing persuasion and credibility in technology: BJ Fogg’s Persuasive Technology.

My 2005 article in Pragmatic Marketing magazine, Seven things you can do to improve your credibility on the web, is a good quick summary of some of Fogg’s research and writing, primarily focused on the credibility of promotional-oriented websites.

So, as a team, remember: think about what your _________(fill in the blank: app, website, office décor, customer thank you gift… whatever) communicates to see if it is saying what you want it to say.