In search of: Todo apps

I admit it.  I have failed more times using GTD then I care to admit.  It was easier to quit smoking then get the process right.  Though I think there is merit if you have the fortitude to stick to it.
I have tried many many todo apps. Many of them great – but did not fit my needs or the way my mind worked (or did not work).
I have tried:

Wunderlist
Recently I came across a new application that seems to work amazingly well for me called Wunderlist by 6wunderkinder.   It is very simple and beautiful.  But don’t confuse simplicity with lack of functionality.  You can create context lists or different lists by function like work, personal or home.  You can share lists – print lists and set do dates.  My favortite feature of all is its cross platform synchronization.  I use a Mac and a PC at work, a Mac at home alone with an iPad and iPhone.  If you setup a free account on their web site you can synchronize all your tasks across multiple devices. A version for Android is also in the works to be released shortly. Opening up the application on any of the devices initiates the synchronization so you are always up to date.
If you live your life by a list this is a great application to make it a little easier.

Lean and Green

Logo Herman Miller LogoA few weeks ago I posted and article about design and sustainability on our company blog. I saw this article on TreeHugger the other day in the similar vein and after reviewing the headline I  thought there was a misprint.  How could a giant factory only generate 15 pounds of waster per month?  But in reading the article I was blown away but some of the facts that were included in it.

Herman Miller’s GreenHouse Factory Generates 15 Pounds of Landfill Waste Per Month

  • About 45 million pounds of parts, materials and packaging come into the plant every year. Amount of waste sent to landfill every month: fifteen pounds.
  • 50% of the parts used are manufactured within 30 miles of the factory in Zeeland, Michigan
  • The “store” contains two hours worth of parts; each assembly line has a couple of minutes worth of parts. Trucks arrive from some suppliers as many as six times a day

This is a great example of how lean manufacturing works at its peak.

But the article also when on to talk about what employees do – how they work and how the environment is setup.  Something else that really stuck out to me was a picture that is included in the article or a huge skylight.  It is it obvious that the use of natural light helps with the electricity savings within the plant.  But the article goes on to say that as a result of the skylight

they save a fortune on electricity, productivity is higher and absenteeism is lower.

Being able to equate productivity and absenteeism to the way this facility is constructed is amazing.  I would love to see other examples of how this works with other companies. If you know of any please let me know.

Not So Mobile Coupons

The other day I was emailed a coupon from CVS for my reward dollars.  The coupon said to print it out and bring it to the store to redeem.

FrustrationWhen I went into the store I realized that I  for got to print it out but I thought why would it matter?  I turned on my iPhone and  I brought up the email that I received.  On the email was my barcode for the coupon.  I showed the check out clerk and asked her if she could use that instead.  She told me that they had to have the piece of paper to put in the draw for tracking and that the barcode scanner could not read it off the screen.  I have tried others apps that allow you to store all your loyalty cards on you iPhone and I have had very poor results with the scanning so I was somewhat understanding of that issue.  But having the coupon in the draw when it tracked against my loyalty card kind of surprised me.  Since no one else could use the promo without my card why do I need the paper? She explained that I could come back and they would refund me the money for the item if I brought the coupon back in.  While it was a nice suggestion I was angered by the additional effort I had to do to take advantage of the savings.

I went back to my apartment and printed the coupon out and later returned to the CVS. When I gave the clerk the print out she was very kind and tried to scan it over and over and it was not recognized.  So she restored to manually typing the code in to give me the credit. White this 25 digit number was being entered I looked at my phone and realized this number was also on the email so I was a little more perturbed. After the transaction was completed and I had my $5 back I thanked her and started to leave when I noticed her crumple it up and throw it away.  I said ” I thought that had to go in the draw?” she responded with since I entered it manually I dont have to.  Very very frustrated I walked away thinking now I have wasted more time for something that could have been done the same way from the phone.

As I left I went next door to a Starbucks and ordered my usual Americano.  I opened my Starbucks mobile app hit the pay now button a simple bar code was created, it was scanned and I was done.  Simple, no hassle and a process that made the transaction feel better.

I think and hope that more retailers will follow a similar path in the future or risk loosing loyalty customers all together.

Whitespace in Music


Fender telecaster thinlineSome of my favorite guitar players are not what many would think of as tradtional guitar heros. They have all played in famous groups.  But one of the things that distinguishes them from so many other great guitar players is what the don’t play rather than what they do.  All three of them recognized what I like to call the white space in the music.

Andy Summers is well know as the guitarist of The Police. [ Perhaps not as well know was that he was also a member of Eric Burden in the Animals in one of their incarnations.] He played short reggae riffs and let the other instruments fill in some of the voids. He created tonal layers instead of trying to overwhelm the music with rapid fire insertion of notes to impress.

Johnny Marr was the lead guitarist of The Smiths. In some songs his notes were so sparse you wondered if he was playing.  In my opinion a perfect example of this is in the song “Half a Person“.  The entire song is made up of chords played in a slow appagio like format and then he would have the most unbelievable little hook that made the entire song.

One of thing most distinguishable sounds of U2 is the minimal guitar playing by the Edge.  While he may overlay tracks of sound or heavy use of echo and time delay – the actual notes he plays are relatively minimal to the overall sounds that he produces.

Like great design sometimes it comes down to what you leave out rather then put in that makes something so special.

UX meets common tools

I have always been fascinated with the User Experience, regardless of the medium. In retail stores or on the web. I have loved the store designs at Apple for instance on how they encourage you to touch and play and ask questions. Creating a good experience on the web is very important and there are many ways to do this. But you really need to learn to leverage the tools well and that can be a full time job in itself. I usually work from paper to get my ideas out, and then transfer them to a wire frame product (currently I am using iMockup) and then hand them off to a real designer to bring them to life.

While searching around for a clean straightforward social media monitoring tool I came across Swix. I loved the design and ease of the site so I dug into their blog and came across this great post from Craig Fitzpatrick – Vice
President of Products. He uses Keynote to do all his work and then transfers it to iWeb.

Disposable Culture

Almost 20 years ago I bought a John Deere lawn tractor for my yard.  I had been envying one for a long time.  We had one growing up and I knew as soon as I had enough land I would but one.  At the time I think I paid $1,500 which was and is still a lot of money.  My friends told me I was crazy when I could get another brand for less than half of that.  I thought about it but knew about the quality and reputation.  I could get parts, it was easy to work on and there was a local dealer nearby if I needed one for something above my repair skills.
My friends all purchased other various brands and let me know how much money they saved.  Two years goes by and the first one dies, engine not to be revived.  New purchase.  The following year 2 others ended their life as lawn mowers and had to be replace.  This cycle continued on for the last 19 years.  To date – the three friends have bought more then 12 new tractors.  The have spent much more than I have.  In addition there are a lot more tractors that made it to the landfills creating an even greater problem.

My question is this… are we a disposable culture now, have manufactures stopped designing for the long term?

Substitution Customer Service

Tonight on the way home I stopped at a fast food chain and ordered a simple request.  I got my meal and something told me to check it tonight.  It was wrong.  I backed up to the window and told the gentleman who took my order.  He told me they were out of what I wanted so they just gave me what he thought I would like.  I was not notified that they were out of my choice, I was not notified of other choices that I might be interested in. I was given what ever he had at his discretion.  So instead of going the extra distance to talk to me they substituted my meal with bad customer service.

What does your product do?

When I look at products I always ask myself the following:

What does your product do?
Does it make my life easier?
Is it new and unique and fills a niche?
Does it remove an everyday aggravation from my life?
Does your product do something better then another product?
Is your product aesthetically beautiful?
Does your product inspire imagination?
Does your product create a visceral effect?
Does your product conversation worthy?
Does it create a buzz?

So ask yourself, what does your product do? If it does not do several
of these its just another product.

Is Starbucks the new Cheers?

If you have ever spent more than two hours with me you will know I am a fan of Starbucks coffee.

I go there twice a day – different stores depending on my location. Starbucks has made a reputation for quality products. It has also been called the “third space”, not home or work. The third place to hang out or work. But they have also exceed that in so many areas. Customer service is a prime component of the equation. When I go to the stores they know my name, ask me how I am, let me know about specials and usually when I walk in someone recognizes me and starts my drink while I am in line. Is all that necessary to deliver a good product? No. Is it necessary to make people feel like they are part of something bigger? Yes. Like Cheers Bar when Norm walked in everyone said “How’s it going Norm?” and in typical Norm fashion “It’s a dog eat dog world and I am wearing milkbone underwear ! “