Cyberdrum: Day in the Life
A Digital Day in the Life
Phillip Lockwood-Holmes, digital media director, Whitespace
The digital day starts with The Guardian on the laptop over breakfast unless my toddling daughter Meg is already awake. Over the weekend I’ll keep checking my team on Fantasy Premier League – even though improved for this season, it’s still a pretty awful site to use with no grace or elegance – but the competition with my wife and her extended family and friends is very addictive. If I’ve got a bit of spare time I’ll also see what albums are appearing in the current year’s ‘best of’ list on Metacritic, noting down any worth a listen in my wiki.
Over the last 18 months I’ve become addicted to wiki-ing. I used to love lists and notebooks of ideas but they were so clumsy. Now I have a password-protected wiki where I keep all my work and personal to-do lists plus notes and ideas. (In fact I’m writing this in it right now, so I can come back to finish off next time I’m online with a free moment). At Whitespace, the digital team also has a wiki where we collectively develop our style guide and code snippets alongside technical details, roadmaps and team scheduling.
During a working day I’ll be fairly task-focused and in a lot of meetings – so I can easily go a whole day in the office without surfing to more than my clients’ sites, current projects and our intranet. I tend to check out links that I’m emailed by the team, clients or friends at home in the evening.
The sites I visit frequently are functional: Google for search; Wikipedia for curiosity; Google Docs for spreadsheets (so I can update data whatever machine I’m at); IMDb after watching a film and not being able to place a face; online banking; BBC for 24-hour weather forecasts; BBC iPlayer for watching University Challenge. One thing I’ve noticed while writing this is how many devices I now use to access the web and how almost all are wifi, a huge jump from the old beige desktop with a 56k modem: 2 laptops; 1 work PC desktop; 1 Mac desktop at home; a DVR connected to the TV for iPlayer; sometimes my Nokia 770 internet device and very occasionally a Nabaztag wifi bunny (which is a different story for another time). I checked a couple of these devices’ browser histories and aside from the sites mentioned already, found loads I visited once or twice – either for research or to complete a transaction. I’ll probably never return to the majority, but spent money at quite a few. Apart from advertising revenue, I’ve never spent a penny with the majority of my most frequently visited sites – and you can mention that next time a brief asks for a ‘sticky site’ . . .
Ross Riley, partner, One Black Bear
Keeping up to date with what’s happening online involves monitoring hundreds of sites so the first thing you need is a decent RSS aggregator. I use Netvibes which allows you to subscribe to hundreds of sites through a nice Ajax home page which is my first port of call every morning.
Blogs are a great way to stay connected with the community so these make up at least a hundred of the sites I subscribe to. Search Engine Watch, Techcrunch and Read Write Web are the best general news blogs.
Especially useful are the new wave of social news sites. Reddit is my favourite, especially the programming section, along with Digg which is more popular but has a slightly less intelligent community. These sites filter news stories based on their popularity amongst users which is a great way of getting articles you may have missed otherwise.
Outside of work I like to keep up on the news so The Guardian, Salon.com and Newsvine are my preferred destinations. In my spare time I write for online music site Strangeglue.com so I’m also a frequent visitor to Pitchfork, NME and Drowned in Sound to keep up with all that’s new in the music world.
Andrew Massey, creative director, Line
I’m not sure how interesting a piece on which sites I visit on a daily basis would be. After all, it would only tell you what sort of content is of interest to me, and not tell you too much about the sites themselves.
Everyone’s interested in news and sport (BBC / Scotsman), their mates (Facebook / MySpace), or doing a spot of shopping (Tesco /eBay). I visit these because of what’s on them, not because they’re fantastic sites – in fact the latter examples of each are anything but.
What is more interesting are the sites I don’t visit very often. Those sites that you have to use, or else face the prospect of a half hour wait on the phone before speaking to a robot with an Indian accent who doesn’t understand when your query deviates from the script in front of them.
These are the websites you want to be in and out of as quickly as possible. They’re there simply to perform a function like booking a travel ticket or managing your finances. But how often is that experience a breeze?
As someone involved in web design, the frustration I feel with a poorly designed site is probably greater than most and also more critical, but it continually astounds that some companies take the “it’s good enough” approach when it clearly isn’t. The damage being done to their brands is the same as with the Indian call centres – no one likes using them, but these companies have made the decision that their business’ financial needs are more important than servicing the customer well. This “we don’t care about you” approach is hardly going to make your brand appealing, is it?
The Nationwide’s “Proud to be different” and NatWest’s “UK only call centres” current advertising campaigns are clear demonstrations that customer service does matter significantly to your brand. But who’s taking this initiative online?
National Express’ new train booking site (originally commissioned for GNER) is infinitely superior to The Trainline’s site which tries, and basically fails, to provide the same service. Designed by Flow Interactive, the National Express site does a great job of providing what the user wants – the fastest routes or the cheapest tickets, and doesn’t over-complicate the checkout procedure. Whilst the interface design takes a little getting used to due to its uniqueness, it’s an elegant solution for the site, and the system produces fewer error messages than other booking alternatives in what must be an exceptionally challenging technical environment.
British / Scottish Gas’ meter reading website is similarly a comparative joy to use to the average functional site. Though notoriously difficult to style in an usable and attractive way, their online forms have been considered end-to-end with the user in mind, providing prompts for why questions are being asked, where to find the information you need, and how your information will be used. The sign-up procedure is fast and trouble-free, and the information fed back to you leaves you with no concerns that you’re correctly editing the right account details.
Simplicity is the key – not just to the visual design, but the design of the process. Simplicity is not simple to achieve. It may take a little longer to develop, but it does show that these companies value their customers and their customers’ time. Worth the investment? I’d say so.
Richard Sharp and Mick Foden, joint executive creative directors, TBWA\Manchester
Richard Sharp (on art)
Just before you read on go to the link below.
My web usage splits into two camps: normal bloke and arty bloke.
The normal bloke stuff tends to focus around whatever is current in my life at the time. I have a long commute so petrol costs are front of mind and I’ve discovered a brilliant site called petrolprices.com which tells me where all the cheapest petrol stations are. I’ve recently discovered Scrabulous on Facebook, which is becoming a mild obsession so I check in first thing to make my next move. Have a go, you’ll soon be hooked. If it’s Monday I will check out the Telegraph Fantasy Football site for my weekend score and to see how badly I’m doing in the TBWA\ superleague. Plus a quick visit to the awesome nike+ to see how I am getting on in the many challenges I have signed up for. Anyhow… If you are still awake at this point and you haven’t done it yet then go to the link below.
As for my arty bloke surfing I can only hope you will find the next paragraph more enlightening and inspirational. I make time to look at any sites that anyone here at TBWA\ recommends as I need to make sure I am aware of any great creativity online. When reading any online reviews I always make a point of visiting the sites mentioned so that I am gathering constant inspiration for our own work. Two that I have really enjoyed recently are hbovoyeur.com which is visually superb and the quite insane and hungrysuitcase.com which features Sammy the suitcase and a fun way to pick a holiday using the vacation fun-a-lyzer. To keep abreast of trends generally I think that trendwatching.com is well worth having bookmarked.
And if you haven’t looked at it yet (because I know you haven’t bothered to) then really do go to the link below.
This link was sent to me by one of our TBWA\ suits Lara this week. Really made me smile. It’s a great example of making what could have been content blandly presented really creatively entertaining. Which for me, has to be the essence of any great website.
Mick Foden (on words)
So what’s it to be: do we trawl the net for interesting piccies and pieces of film, or do we go on to look at new expressions, new ways of using words?
Well, being a writer – in a former life – I’ve got to go with words, though I do love art and regularly check on The Tate Modern site to see what’s happening. (For the record, other Arts sites I like to have a nose at are pollockslondon.com which has just been launched in London by a bunch of young artists, some of whom haven’t even finished their A levels yet – isn’t that fucking awesome? – the Donmar Warehouse site, and of course Urbis here in Manchester. Oh and YouTube is obviously a great source of reference/ inspiration/fun/etc.)
But the sites I love the mostest (sic), are those that use language in its freshest, loveliest way. Like Ben and Jerry’s who’ve even come up with belters like Chunk Spelunker – check the site to see what that bad boy means – and Innocent Smoothies who just make me wanna be on their team. Oh and Jack Daniels – Lynchburg obviously has its very own Garrison Keiller in residence – and even oldies like The New Yorker can still show the world how to engage and motivate through the power of language. No mean feat in a world that, nine times out of ten, defaults to visuals.
They used to say that to write well for radio, a scribe needed to use a completely different skill-set. The same can be said of the net. I can only scream from the rafters in praise of the people who put cursor to screen and have written/are writing for the above. They not only appear to love their brands and have an evident joy of language, but have also shown how to make words on a computer screen really, really come to life.