Thoughts on Making Informed Decisions

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It’s important to understand your users.

Some people are so concerned with the way something looks (does it fit into the current design/development trends?), that they forget the purpose of what they are building. This can be said (in my opinion) about both websites and applications… and the larger the organization, the worse this problem tends to be.

If my career was the entirety of my life, then it’s fair to say that I grew up around research-based approaches. Design and development were always so far removed from me that I didn’t really get to understand them until recently. I get how important they are, I even get that the trends are trends for a reason other than aesthetic value. But what pains me, deep down inside, is the lack of importance placed on making informed decisions, rather than just what someone thinks is right (when most of the time, they’re not). What was that saying? “Advertising agencies think everyone is as stupid as they are”. It’s time to change this.

User experience, after all, is user experience. How somebody experiences your brand, your product, and yes, your website.

Something I give the Social Media industry credit for is their reliance on metrics. Because social was the new kid in town, it had to prove itself. A website or application’s success is not built upon traffic numbers, rather the ability to guide the end user to a desired action. Driving people there by spending thousands of dollars does not accomplish anything if you can’t get someone to accomplish something. Wasted effort, wasted money.

In a perfect world, user testing (real user testingwould guide and lead designers and developers to understand that the decisions they’re making (emergent strategies, if you will) contribute to more than just how something functions and what it looks like. How better to understand the purpose of these things than to get a handful of users in a room and figure it out? There are even base-level things that can be done to understand how people currently use a site:

  • Card sorting
  • Morae tests
  • Deep analysis of current web analytics
  • Heatmapping
  • User personas
  • Task analysis, etc.

All of these things prove easy enough that they shouldn’t be a barrier to good user experience, they should be a gateway. Those hours you pay to have someone perform the basic foundational tasks are an investment to secure happy users. The users probably won’t even feel elation from the outcome, it will be so organic that they won’t even have to think about it.

Alls I’m saying is that having something that looks nice and works means nothing if you don’t understand how these elements contribute to your organizations success — and the only way to do that is to understand the purpose of your site or application.

Informed decisions: a hell of a drug.

Something to be Proud of

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Soshal Office

Newly unpacked, the new Soshal office, mind the mess.

May, 2012.

I was sitting in a Super 8 motel room in Austin, Texas. I had just arrived and went to the mexican restaurant next door. I was sitting on my bed, just about to eat my dinner when my phone rang. I had been in such a strange place in the months leading up to that day. The company I worked for had drastically changed, as did my team, and I was still recovering from the loss of my then mentor, Janet.

I wasn’t entirely happy with my work situation, and that call was the call that would change almost everything. On the other end of the line was a guy who I went to college with, a guy who was rarely in class due to professional commitments, but always kicked ass when he was there. Most people were envious, they were at school everyday and still couldn’t get the marks that Dave got.

Dave was offering me a job from the other end of the continent. There was no promise of security, no clear job description, he just knew he wanted me to work there. He was building something, he had been building something since we graduated in 2010. Something he believed would be great. At that very moment, I realized I wanted to be a part of this thing.

June, 2012.

Unsure of what I was getting myself into, I started in my role as a Digital Strategist at Soshal. Then, the group was a team of 6 people in this little office that had barely any furniture. The boardroom only contained two $10 IKEA chairs, a whiteboard lying on the floor, and nothing else. What I felt, though, was enthusiasm. On this tiny team of 6 people, everyone felt completely committed to doing great things. So I started working, outside of my comfort zone. After all, this job was nothing like my old one. This job grew with me.

July, 2012 – August, 2013.

In the year that followed, this tiny team grew from six people to twenty. Furniture started to populate the tiny office, and with that came the inevitable culture shifts with it. We went from friends, to coworkers, back to friends again. With the arrival of new faces came new dynamics, new ways to work, and the initiative to build good shit.

During this time, I learned SO many things. You see, working so close with such a tight-knit group almost forces you to understand what everyone does, and how they contribute to what you do. Now, we have a full team, with many different types of personalities that form a culture of its own. A culture where everyone likes each other, built upon young and fun-loving attitudes, and much bigger projects.

Today (September, 2013)

One of the things I often take for granted is how involved I am in this once-little agency. It’s not my job, it’s a major part of my life now, baked into almost everything I do.

We moved into a new office yesterday. This seems like such a small, insignificant thing – but it’s not. This seemingly small activity invokes pride, it creates a tangible thing out of the success of this company. Success mostly due to three guys who worked day and night, and sacrificed for a little fish in a big ocean full of sharks.

They found a group of passionate people who were willing to be invested in the vision that they created. Now this group, over three times larger than they were a year ago, have a space that matches the vision, that personifies it. Something to be proud of.

Tomorrow

There is no doubt that that tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year will bring up more challenges for Soshal, but the employees here have confidence in the direction, vision, and most of all heart that this agency was built upon. There is definitely something to be said for feeling like you really are a part of something great, and this is something I look forward to being a part of for a long time.

My Take on Digital Strategy

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Every time I get into a conversation with my friends or acquaintances about what I do, it seems to take an unnecessarily long time to explain. Because of this, I tend to just say “I create strategies for websites and stuff”. That, my friends, is a cop out. I seem to always land on jobs that other people don’t understand. When I was a “Social Media Specialist”, people would say “So, you just Facebook and Twitter all day?”. After awhile, I started to give up and just say “YUP!”.

Another thing that seemingly always gets to me, is the number of ‘job descriptions’ for a Digital Strategist, and how very few of these job descriptions share any commonality at all. And then the hoards of people who list of digital strategy as a skill, not understanding that it’s more of a blanket statement for a number of skills.

A Simple Misunderstanding About Strategy

Strategy means so many things to so many different people, and that’s perfectly fine. Strategy is a direction, an un-specific journey to a better destination. It’s not the how, it’s the what. This simple fact is what many people tend to misunderstand – they over complicate how simple the end product of a ‘strategy’ really is. In fact, a strategy is often just a simple statement. It is the solution to move from where you are to where you want to be.

Strategy is a class of solution that deals with uncertainty – the idea that outside sources may inhibit you from reaching your goals. A well thought out strategy will be the statement of solution, not a prescription on how to get there.

That’s it folks. Adding any element of how to the strategic statement starts to turn it into a plan – and that is putting the cart before the horse.

Seemingly Simple, But Not So

While my above statements seem to be simple to construct, it is actually quite the opposite. There are a lot of different elements you have to know to be able to construct a strategy that will provide the great results that you intended in the first place.

In order to craft a strategy, you must first uncover the problem that it needs to be a solution to.

This can sometimes take weeks of legwork, and while the outcome is a simple statement, that legwork requires a lot of time and multiple resources.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning comes after crafting a strategy. It is the process of defining the strategy or direction, and making decisions on allocating resources to pursue this strategy.

Being a Digital Strategist

As a digital strategist, I apply the above to digital business problems clients have. That could be the need for a new website, creating more comprehensive and goal-focused navigations, or creating leads and generating business online, for example. It is important to have a strategy before you have a plan, but some people do not possess the skills to create strategies (which is totally fine). It comes down to a level of thinking that I have spent time honing and perfecting. While I am certainly not the best strategic thinker ever, I pride myself on my ability to create direction and be the voice of logic.

So that’s what I do. Voila.

Why I Buy Lime Crime

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Anyone who knows me knows how much I love lipstick. My guilty pleasure is usually of the MAC variety, and I own many of them. From Saint Germain to Rebel, limited editions, and reds galore, this is truly one of my addictions.

Nothing really beats an awesome lipstick formula, the kind that stay on for HOURS despite eating, drinking, talking, etcetera. I have found this in many of my MAC lipsticks, but especially the Mattes and the Retro Mattes. Sometimes, I can’t get the lipstick off with any amount of scrubbing, and this is a good sign.

I currently follow a lot of makeup trends and new products online, through one of my favourite subreddits /r/makeupaddiction. There, you can find tips, trends, tutorials, and stare at peoples perfect faces all day, it truly is glorious. That is where I first heard about Lime Crime Lipsticks and their somewhat stained reputation. Basically, the Coles Notes version is that the woman behind Lime Crime threatened to sue over a bad review, resulting in a PR scandal, and such.

I would see pictures of the colour payoff, the opaqueness, the beauty of the formula, and for awhile, I stayed far away. I mean, did I want to support a brand like that? Really?

Then I started to think. This woman really takes pride in her products, and is extremely emotionally involved. Plus, she makes a wicked lipstick, so does it really matter what people say/think? The truth is, some people will be turned off by bad customer service no matter how good the product is, and others will continue to buy regardless. Where Lime Crime really lucks out, is that they make an awesome product (and I’m specifically referring to the lipsticks, not the eye shadows or anything else).

This leads me to a kind of self examination. People HATE this company and spread their hate for it on social media and the like. But what is more important to ME? In the end, it will always be the product. Like they say, good customer service can’t save a bad product – BUT – bad customer service doesn’t destroy a good product. Unless a brand is doing something harmful to animals, having their products made under unethical circumstances, then the truth is, I’m still going to buy it. This is the exact reason why Abercrombie is still in business, even if they fat-shame people, skinny people still want to buy their clothes. I’m sure both Abercrombie and Lime Crime’s bottom line dipped a little from the bad PR, but that doesn’t stop people from continuing to buy their products.

Now, I’m not saying that I endorse the behaviour of these companies, but I also don’t think that me purchasing their products enables them to keep acting the way they do (they’d do it without my money). I believe in supporting good products, and after some back and forth, I bought Lime Crimes Vegan Lipstick in Geradium and I absolutely love it.

Does a bad reputation stop you from buying from a brand? Why?

 

Time to Grow Up

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I feel that over the past year, my mental capacity has really evolved into more than it was before. There has been a lot that has happened, both personally and professionally, that has changed or altered my viewpoint on things in some way. In the process of “finding myself” (you could say), some things just became less important. This blog was one of them, my Twitter account was another, and I’d say networking in general kind of fell by the wayside.

That may have been a mistake, in hindsight. There is incredible value in exercising the mind enough to write a meaningful (and I do mean meaningful) blog post. Somewhere along the line, my posts stopped being meaningful – they became kind of exhausting to be honest. I would force myself to write about something that I wasn’t really interested in. Then, there was my internal frustration that I was changing direction in my career but my peers weren’t. In my own head I probably viewed myself as a bit superior, because I had come to learn different not necessarily better things. So my “hate on” kind of continued…

I couldn’t look at Twitter without feeling physically ill at some of the posts I was seeing, posts that I myself probably would have posted less than 2 years ago. “What is wrong with these people?” I would say to myself. “Don’t they see it’s about technology enabling business and revenue and not about who is retweeting you?”.

 Not long ago, I analyzed the person I had really become. This blog, my network, these were all assets, so why was I treating them so poorly? I can still absorb information from these people (most of whom are probably smarter than me anyways), and share information with them – so how is that such a bad thing?

The truth is, it’s not a bad thing. We’re all part of an ecosystem (The Digital Jobosphere, you could call it), and we all have something to contribute to one another. Now that I’m out of this teenage angst phase of my professional life, I can finally grow up and stop being such a recluse.

All this being said, it’s time to apologize (I’m sorry), and get back to the great things the digital culture has to offer. I would like to present myself, Marissa Gagnier, to you all. I am a digital strategist at Soshal Group, a really amazing Digital Agency in Ottawa (also… Calgary and Toronto). I handle web related strategy that includes lots of things, such as: Ecommerce strategy, Information Architecture, Primary & Secondary Research, Technology and Application (both Social and otherwise) Strategy, etc. These are the areas of focus that I am interested in now, so these are the kinds of things you can expect to see on my blog. I probably won’t write about social media anymore, but I promise I will write some awesome stuff.  I feel like I can be dedicated to this again, and I will do my best to deliver.

 

Leaning In

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While I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook COO) Lean In, over the past few days I’ve read some blog posts, watched some Lean In videos, and explored Sandberg’s concepts of women taking a stand in the workplace.

It’s overwhelming to listen to Sheryl speak. It hits you in a place that you didn’t know was sensitive to begin with. She gives you some facts that are undeniable…

“Since the 1970’s, women have made more and more progress, except at the top. We’re held back by lots of things. We’re held back by sexism and discrimination and terrible public policy. But we’re also held back by stereotypes. Go to a playground this weekend and you’ll hear little girls get called ‘bossy’. You won’t hear little boys get called bossy because men are supposed to be assertive and lead. Rather than call our little girls bossy, we should say: ‘My daughter has executive leadership skills’.”

All of these things are true, the more ambitious a woman is – the more she is disliked by those around her. We as women make a choice to have a family and we strongly believe that by doing that, we have to change who we are professionally. Sheryl also goes on to talk about how choosing a partner who is supportive is imperative in your professional life.

I’ve thought about all of these things over the past few years. Being liked, being judged, being stifled, being successful, being a wife, being a mother – all of these things impact how I view my professional path – and to be honest it changes almost on a daily basis. Since I was a little girl I dreamed of being successful, and as I got older those dreams have remained, but the nightmares of failing begin to takeover and you become more careful, more complacent. Listening to and absorbing Lean In over the past few days, it really caused me to reflect on how I’m choosing to deal with my career path. While I work in an environment that supports and empowers the women who contribute to the workplace, there are few agency CEO’s that are of the female persuasion.

Working in corporate environments, you see the lack of female leadership in the workplace. Executive roundtables are made up of at least 80%-90% men. The women who sit in those executive seats are always disliked or treated differently than their male counterparts, and it’s not fair. As a woman in todays workplace, you start to think that this is okay that we don’t have those positions, that we don’t show our ambitions – and that is not okay.

All of this to say that Lean In is an excellent resource for women, one that I will constantly use to remind myself of what I deserve as a professional, not just as woman. We as women (and men, too) need to work together to support each other and create leadership roles for women because as Sheryl says:

“The blunt truth is that men run the world, and I’m not too sure that’s going too well”

I highly suggest you all watch this video (it’s worth the 57 minutes of your life):

http://new.livestream.com/leanin/leanin

Resolutions at the Right Time

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Every year I set new years resolutions & share them (somewhat) publicly. Every year after about 2 weeks I give up. It’s become kind of a comforting routine, actually. I find comfort in it because I know, in the back of my mind, that I don’t really have to keep these resolutions. People will forget, or not ask because they too have not kept their own resolutions.

We’re more than half way through January, and now that I have worked this years resolutions into a somewhat routine, I’m okay to share now. Most of these are personal to me, but I think I truly should be accountable for them.

1. More Focus. Some would call it ADD, some would call it ‘master procrastination’, but I can admit that I have a focus problem (until the last minute when whatever I have to do has to get done). 2013 is going to be the year that all that changes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I always get done what I have to do, I just need to focus more throughout the working process. I need to set plans and goals for everything, and make sure that it gets done.

2. Health. It’s no surprise here, I mean, isn’t this everyone’s resolution? Gym memberships soar high in January only to be abandoned come February 1st. I don’t like the gym, I hate the CULTure that comes with it. I’m not generally a show-off, so I don’t need to stare into a mirror while I work out – and I’ve had gym memberships for the last 5 years that just prove time and time again to be a waste of money. All that being said, my fiance and I have built our own at-home gym that works just fine. I’m also eating a lot better. No more starchy carbs (drool), serious cut-downs on the chocolate front, proper portioning, etc. etc. I’m actually quite proud at how well I’ve been doing with this. I don’t put harsh limits on myself, nor do I weigh myself – I know that these things will come.

3. Write. Not everyday, not every week, not even once a month – just when the time calls for it. This blog has been good to me, and I abandoned it for awhile. I got to the point where I just didn’t want to write at all, and in retrospect it was probably good for me to take a break. I have come back with an open mind and fresh eyes and I have decided that I’m gunna write about whatever I damn well please. This blog is going to host a mish-mash of information – some professional, some personal, some just bat-shit crazy and that is what it needs to be to survive and not die a slow, painful death of neglect.

4. Save money. Another typical one, amirite? No but seriously, I’m getting married and I need to feed 200 people (donations are always accepted, ha!). Also, I’m cheap, and I enjoy being cheap, so saving money makes me giddy.

That’s it. Little things, but all very important to me. Things that will make 2013 better. Here’s hoping it’s a good year!

-m.