Company relationships are like a marriage

Before and After Relationship - from Kathy Sierra

Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users just made a brilliant comparison of customer relationships to personal relationships. She points out that many customer relationships are like bad marriages. Everything starts off rosy, then it all goes wonky:

This is such a big bowl of wrong. I don’t understand this in personal relationships, and I don’t understand it in business-to-customer relationships. Shouldn’t you treat the people you’re in a relationship with better than you treat anyone else?

It is completely true of course, though not easy to do in personal relationships either (and isn’t “a big bowl of wrong” a great phrase?). But there are so many terrible examples of companies getting this wrong, shouldn’t some of them be listening?

As Joris points out in the trackbacks to Kathy’s post:

[There are a] lot of books and papers on CRM. All complicated theories on how to combine business strategies with analytical workflow applications, that are all focused on customer retention.

Today Kathy explained it to me in plain english and clear pictures. Just keep flirting with your existing customers, as much as you do with potential customers.

If you can’t do it yourself, go hire a service design firm – they’re the people who grew tired of being asked to make pretty stuff for your rubbish products and services and decided to do something about it.

(Image from Creating Passionate Users).

Inane Searches

Sometimes I trawl through Playpen’s stats to see how people find me. (Yes, yes, navel gazing – don’t tell me you don’t do it too). Anyway, I always find the search phrases amusing and I noticed a bit of a trend:

  • i hate carphone warehouse
  • why i hate mobile phone
  • i hate working in a mobile phone shop

Then there are those that are simply odd/funny:

  • what do you call those playpens at the park? [who puts a query like that into a search engine?]
  • top hat and tails for hire
  • tv vs internet
  • woman in short leg cast
  • why people feel emotional
  • scary photographs
  • bauhaus stolen
  • hit and run accident finchley road
  • drunk

It makes sense why they ended up here. But I don’t suppose they stayed long.

Why do I blog this? It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m procrastinating. Give me a break.



Following on from those thoughts about the Nintendo Wii, I noticed an Engadget re-blog of a Chicago Tribune story about folks in a retirement home getting into Wii Bowling. They’re having tournaments now in the home.

“People have no fear of picking up a remote control, but they’re hesitant to pick up a video game controller,” Llewelyn said [Beth Llewelyn, Nintendo’s senior director of corporate communications]. “So the idea was to make the controller look like a remote control with just a couple of buttons.”

One of the ‘old-timers’ said he used to “play a bit of Pacman” – sounds like a reformed addict.

So, although the graphics are apparently rubbish, it just goes to show that gameplay and interface can make all the difference.

(Image thieved from the Tribune article – and incidentally, this post’s title came from the image filename that someone there had wittily named it).

Omnium software released as Open Source

Omnium V4.0

Last night the new v4.0 Omnium software that runs all of the Omnium projects, such as the Omnium Creative Network and the forthcoming Creative Waves 2007 (as well as all of COFA Online’s courses ) was released as a beta.

It is a massively upgraded version, although much of the effort, as always, has gone into making things simpler not simply adding new things for the sake of it ‘Word-style’. (Of course re-writing and packaging it as open-source took a great deal of time too). There are loads of improvements, including a brilliant admin interface.

It looks beautiful and if you have ever struggled with the likes of Blackboard or WebCT (or even Moodle) then you’ll enjoy this. If you are a creative or research group collaborating in any way (especially involving images and other rich media) and prefer an interface that feels like someone has thought about it rather than a ‘view on a database’, you’ll love it.

Download it now from the Omnium Open site.

Periodic Table Table

Tabletop Table of Elements

Theodore Gray now has a whole range of the most beautiful Periodic Table posters for sale. Gray is well known for his wooden Periodic Table, erm, table.

Argon Image  Periodic Table Display

But what caught my eye delving a bit deeper are his interactive displays. Each element has a touch sensor which brings up information about the element. Basic interactivity I suppose (it’s not like you can irradiate your friends or anything), but a real lesson in beautiful craftsmanship for a display.

(Thanks to Lot 49 for the poster link).

Poke Wins With Cock

Thought that title might get your attention.


Congratulations to Poke for their Digital Design – Commercial win at the Design Week Awards 2007 with Cock-A-Doodle. The

Cock-A-Doodle is a very amusing and well put together piece of Flash fun with a good cause – I wrote about it a while back (these design awards are slow eh?).

The Design Week podcast of the awards is hilarious – Cookie manages to squeeze the word ‘cock’ in there about 20 times. Nice work from Iain, Cookie and Knotty (and I’m sure other Pokers I don’t know about).

Backup iTunes online with Bandwagon


I’ve been struggling with separate iTunes libraries on different machines for a while now and I also made a stupid command line error a few weeks back which nearly obliterated my iTunes library (and everything else on my machine). I had to go through a very tedious restore process and then even more tediously get the metatags from the files and rename them again and then weed out duplicates.

Bandwagon is exactly what I needed – basically it’s an online backup of your entire iTunes library with a nice OS X interface. You can see the interface on their Flickr set.

It’s not free, and in fact not launched just yet. But it is free to bloggers who link to them until 22nd Feb (which is also a smart idea in terms of publicity). So here’s my link, of course, but it’s worth blogging in any case.

Via crackunit

Magic Mirror

The Big Space have created a Magic Mirror for retail environments. It utilises RFID tags and a rear projection onto a mirror (and, of course, magic) to blend the style challenged customer’s image with style tips, product information and sometimes elements that “simply serve to provide an emotional link to the product brand…”

The Big Space

I’m looking forward to the version that exclaims “How much?!” and “You must be joking, your bum looks enormous in that.”

(The Big Space co-founder, Rob LeQuesne is ex-Antirom and the other, Dick Lockard, ex-Razorfish).

Interview with United Visual Artists

I wrote a little while back about UVA and onepointsix’s installation at the V&A called Volume and it generated some discussion about the work.

I asked the UVA boys a bit more about it and here is the resulting interview:

Volume after the rain

AP: I really enjoyed Volume, it’s very mesmerising and it also brought up some thoughts about the continuum of interactivity and reactive installations. I think the first thing that would be interesting for me would be to hear some of the motivation behind the piece and why you chose to construct it in the way you did.

UVA: The commission for Volume arose from an earlier site-specific work we’d created for the John Madejski garden, at the invitation of [onedotzero](]. The piece was untitled but came to be known as ‘the monolith’. We’d made a conscious decision to resist our natural impulse towards complexity and produce something very simple – a single band of colour and simple analogue synth sounds, becoming harsher and more aggressive as you approached.

Although the monolith wasn’t entirely successful from an interaction point of view (we had more people than we anticipated, so it spent too much time in ‘overload’ mode), it did ‘work’ in that it created a powerful aura and transformed the space. As a result, when the V&A were approached by Sony Playstation to create a specific work for the Playstation Season, they commissioned us to create something essentially ‘similar but bigger’. We first explored the option of simply making a bigger monolith, or replicating the monolith (with three or four). From there it was a short step to a large regular array of ‘monoliths’ (multiliths?), at which point we realised the potential of creating an all-enveloping field of light and sound.

AP: In terms of the interactivity debate, whilst I could tell it was reacting to me, it doesn’t create that kind of instant reactive-interactive feedback loop that normally I go for. By that I mean it is quite hard to ‘work it out’. Yet, I think you showed that this ambiguity can be used to good effect as people seemed to approach the installation as if it had been deposited there by aliens – there was a kind of combined wonder and mesmerisation going on. Many people walked up very close to the pillars and stared at them or touched them as if trying to work out how to communicate with them. What do you make of these observations and is it what you expected?

Volume installation - Photo: John Adrian

UVA: The intention with Volume wasn’t to create an ‘interactive experience’ in the sense you describe, or to elicit any particular reaction from visitors, including ‘working it out’. Our previous experiences with that approach to design led us to believe that the problem of predicting the responses of groups of people is more or less intractable, except under simple circumstances like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema. People quite regularly fail to work out the simplest interactive models, because they’re not expecting any interaction; they’ll often stand and look at something as if it were a television (“it’s not doing anything”); or else they’ll work out the interaction model, get bored, and walk away (“yeah big deal”).

Instead, our goal was to create an immersive, responsive environment that felt like it was alive in some way, and was pleasing to our own eyes and ears. The way visitors behaved, and the atmosphere the piece created, were emergent properties rather than design goals. For all we know there were just as many people who took a brief look and walked away unmoved.

For the record, the interaction model is very simple, as you’d see if you walked through it on your own (admittedly you’d have to turn up at 10am to get a chance to do that). Each column plays its own assigned melodic or rhythmic sub-part of the overall musical composition. Walk up to a column and it activates its sound and visuals; back off and it fades out. Stand still too long, and you become invisible to the system until you start moving again. With more than a certain number of visitors, the complexity generated by these simple rules overwhelms your ability to decipher them, but they are nevertheless there and regularly applied.

The key maybe is that the piece works in different ways on different levels – even when it’s switched off, the contrast between its aggressive, regimented minimalism and the Victorian backdrop of the garden creates a powerful sense of presence. Even when the system is ‘overloaded’ with crowds of people, you can still walk through a musical/visual composition, get right up close to LED (which most people don’t get to do), and in particular watch and enjoy the reactions of the other visitors – it’s a group experience.

AP: I know many are interested in what is running the whole thing behind it technically? I don’t know how much you want to say about that…

Volume - Behind the scenes

UVA: Dragonfly 3 [UVA’s custom-built application] is the software controlling the installation. Exactly the same software that runs all our work.

The IR illuminated scene is captured using a strategically placed camera, with an IR filter. We then track the people in the scene and feed this information through to our visualisation system, which controls the LED. Midi signals also travel between a mac running Logic (for audio) and our visualisation system, to allow audio to trigger graphics and vice versa.

(More behind-the-scenes images and video.)

AP: Given your answer about the setting of the work in the V&A’s Victorian space, can you imagine this being anywhere else? Are there plans for it to be re-installed/exhibited anywhere else? It always seems a shame that such an effort then gets removed again never to be seen.

UVA: We would love to see the installation in other spaces, there has been interest – watch this space!

But wait, there’s more!
Last year I wrote an article for Desktop about UVA. As part of my plan to archive everything online, it follows after the ‘Read the rest…’ break.

Continue reading “Interview with United Visual Artists”