Monthly Archives: July 2011

All about planning a really great intranet

I’m working on an intranet project at the moment for a big global company, with lots of sites and lots of different types of employees.  It’s a fantastic challenge just from a persona creation point of view.

The one thing that is quite tricky is doing a competitive review of intranets, given that most companies are pretty secretive about this sort of thing.  I thought it would be helpful to share with you some of the resources I have found useful.

Here’s a white paper called ‘the social intranet’ – it seems pretty good.

Here’s an article about the key characteristics of good intranet design, some examples from big companies and a screenshot of the Microsoft intranet.

Here’s an article from 2008 about IBM’s social intranet, The Beehive – essentially an internal version of Facebook.

IBM’s intranet is something really customisable and special, but the focus is still on its role as a business tool and ROI.

Here’s the top line results for IBM’s intranet.

Here’s a New Zealand Ministry of Transport intranet that won prizes for looking so nice.

Here’s a white paper about measuring ROI – it’s linked to other white papers about intranets too

And another decent white paper about best practice…

Intranets maybe don’t seem as sexy as other websites, but they are potentially extremely powerful in terms of bringing people together and promoting brand values.  I’m very excited about working on this!

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Don’t shout at me if I don’t use the cycle lane, you dicks!

I really wish that the council would talk to people who actually ride bikes when they are putting lanes in.  Apparently they do, but they never asked me.

I am all for the idea of making cycling in cities safer.  However, I am slightly worried that cycle lanes make it more difficult – and perhaps more dangerous.  There are very few cycle lanes I can think of that don’t have parked cars in them, aren’t on the wrong side of the road, or that don’t finish randomly, leaving you stranded somewhere.

There’s a new expensive looking development on Elderslie Street which is a case in point – there’s a contraflow lane on one side of the road, which is totally useless because they’ve put speedbumps in the wrong way round which skinny tyres get stuck in.  Also, if you going the other way on the other side of the road, you’d have to cross the road for one block just to use it.  It’s rubbish.

However, the other day I got shouted at when I wasn’t using it.  Someone shouted, ‘Use the cycle lane you slag,’ from their car on the other side of the road.  I just ignored them, but it really annoyed me.

The answer to making the streets safer isn’t cycle lanes, it’s driver education.  It’s speed limits and speed bumps.  It’s not using your car for a ten minute journey.  It’s chilling the hell out and giving every road user a bit of room.

Anyway, shouty, rude and sexist drivers:

  • I pay council tax and income tax too
  • I don’t have a car, which means there is one more parking space out there, just for you
  • So leave me alone, and stop trying to kill me/scare me off the road

I really like things like this which make it clear that there needs to be more thinking around cycling in cities.


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Personas – non grata?

Today we had one of our regular Equator Academies.  These are really good sharing sessions where people take turns to share knowledge they think other people will find useful.  There’s often a big discussion that follows and we identify things we can start doing (or do even better) as a result.

Today Elaine was talking about what she took from the UX London conference earlier in the year.  She said something very interesting about personas, which sparked a big conversation.

She said that the speaker had said that:

  1. Personas should be developed by the same person who does the audience research
  2. Everyone should agree on the personas

These are two very important points, which we wholeheartedly agree with but which led to the following points in our discussion:

Personas should be developed and written by the same person who does the audience research

  1. This is true but the audience research and development of personas should be done by an objective observer, rather than someone in-house.
  • This helps to avoid it becoming too much about what the brand wants its customers to do, and be much more about what consumers want – i.e. it becomes insight, attitude and behaviour based as opposed to business goal based.  I am sure there are people out there in insight teams who do write good personas, but as a rule, it makes sense for it to be done externally.
  • There should also be a consensus about what a persona is.  And what it is for.
  • We come up against ‘but we have already created a segmentation for DM that you can use’ – or – ‘we gave you Mosaic profiles’ fairly often.  Personas are different from these.  A persona is not a specific group of people, more a state of mind.  The big difference between personas and segments is that the same person can be all kinds of personas – it just depends on when they visit the site and how they feel when they visit it.  For example, on a hotel site, I could be a room-booking persona, a party venue researching persona, and a business meeting persona, on 3 different occasions.
  • Personas are very specific to online.  Getting them right means you design sites that work really well, in terms of meeting your business goals but also in terms of making life easier for your target audiences.  It’s worth spending lots of time and effort getting them right because they can be used over and over again, reference documents that are as important as your brand guidelines or marketing plan.

2 Everyone should agree on the personas.

  • Because personas are so important as a resource, everyone should agree on them.  This is not the same as them being designed and tweaked by committee.  Someone has to ‘own’ them and protect them from harm.  They have to make sense to your company, but also to your agencies.

Anyway, that’s just a couple of points I thought were really important.  I love doing my own focus groups and depth interviews because it really does help me understand my audience, and I also love making personas up (it’s like writing stories).  My favourite book about personas is The User is Always Right because it makes everything seem simple.  Because it is simple.  Once you’ve made it simple.

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Get used to hearing about Agile Planning

Take the time out to read Neil Perkin’s presentation on ‘Agile Planning.’  You won’t regret it.

There are lots of ‘this is the new planning’-type declarations out there.  Planning is planning is planning.  However, this is still fantastic, for a number of reasons.  7 reasons, in fact, which match the 7 sections, which cover the main aspects of our work:

  1. I love the way he talks about how increased connectivity is a driver for creativity and better ideas.  How partial hunches, half-ideas need to be put out there, allowed to collide and network, and become better ideas.  This is a totally true truism but it never hurts to repeat it.  Stop leaving people to work things out alone – together we are better.
  2. The use of 2 killer quotes, reminding us to challenge the question and find the problem to solve.  We should always challenge our clients’ questions and help them identify the real business problem, even if they tell us to get on with it and do them a banner, we have still shown that we are thinking about the bigger picture.
    • Jeff Bezos said, ‘There are two ways to get bigger as a company – look at what you’re good at…or start with the customer and work backwards, even if it requires new skills.’  I’ve always thought of the audience first.  It always makes it easier, even if you have to work back to what the company is good at/wants to push.
    • Clay Shirky said, ‘Institutions will try to preseve the problem to which they are the solution.’  This is also true, although I reckon it is becoming less so.
  3. Creating and curating choice is a very interesting section of the presntation – I’m not sure that I fully agree with it.  It’s good to explore all the options but when it comes to talking to clients about what they can do it usually makes sense to have a fairly limited number of choices, as you can seem indecisive or unsure.  On the other hand, it is far preferable to make decisions with clients, collaborate, and so the best thing to do here is agree that there will be a collaborative discovery process.
  4. Test and learn – think like a start up.  Don’t be afraid to take risks, embrace uncertainty.  Make stuff hackable – this is what I like about the Cult of Done manifesto – things don;t have to be perfect – if they are imperfect there is scope for them to improve.  Someone wise who I work with says on a fairly regular basis that ‘a website is never finished’ and this is the truth.  And this is something I like but I think a lot of us are a little bit afraid of it.
  5. ‘Always on’ marketing – just a reminder that we’re not about campaigns anymore, we’re about continuous communication.  Yes, yes, yes, but also, we have campaigns too.  I’m more comfortable with the molecule approach a la John Grant.  This is more helpful, and easier to explain because you can go into detail but also look at the big picture.
  6. Smart collection and re-application of data – turning data into wisdom.  When I was a baby planner I also worked as a knowledge manager, which was all about turning information into insight, knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge is information you can do something with.  What you do with it depends how wise you are…  there’s lots of nice data collection stuff in there, APIs etc.
  7. Free your mind and your budget.  We’d all like to do this…

So we’ve had account planning, digital planning, connections planning, integration planning, brand planning, comms planning…  I think we will hear a fair amount about agile planning and this may be the thing that stays, given that our projects are agile, or at least they are here at Equator


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I’m not talking about longbows or live animals here, people

I have had a bad day.  It is largely due to Eurostar and SNCF‘s inability to join their service up properly, but also just general computer-says-no-jobsworthness, bad British customer service, and cyclist-hating.

Let’s start with the problem.  I booked a return ticket on the Eurostar website from London to Bordeaux.  You go Eurostar from London to Paris and then SNCF TGV to Bordeaux.  Fab.  I’ve been on the train to southern France before and it is magical.  I loathe flying anyway, but another reason for doing this on the train was that I could take my bike, whole, rather than dismantling it and carrying it with me.

Or so I thought…

Nowhere on the Eurostar site does it say you cannot carry a bike on the TGV leg of your journey.  It does say that you have to contact Eurodespatch to book your bike on, which I did in person this week whilst visiting London.  It doesn’t say that you can’t take your bike further than Paris.  They charged me £140 (rather than the £30 each way stated on the site) for the privilege of taking my bike (and my partner’s) on the train both ways and told me that it would only get me as far as Paris, but no problem, call SNCF and it costs 10 Euros each way.  They gave me the phone number and sent me merrily on my way.

Great.  Back in Glasgow I phoned SNCF and they said no.  Eurostar are responsible for the booking.  You can only get your bike on if you book your ticket through SNCF, which you can only do if you are French or if you split your tickets and make it twice as expensive.  Not only that, but everyone I spoke to, from Eurostar, to Eurodespatch, to Rail Europe, to SNCF, were extremely unhelpful (with one potential exception) and were at pains to make it clear that it was my fault for buying a ticket in the first place, for not doing lots of internet research beforehand.

Some choice examples of what these people said:

‘Only one percent of our customers are cyclists.’

‘You shouldn’t have bought a ticket.’

‘Leave your bike at home.’

‘You should have read [this site], [that brochure] and [this small print].’

‘Buy a bike bag.’

‘Buy your ticket from SNCF.’

Eventually I did speak to a fairly sympathetic human being who is going to try and get me a refund for the Eurodespatch thing, so I can spend the money on a bike bag instead.  But this will not solve the problem.

Booking my bike whole onto the TGV would solve the problem, but apparently this is impossible.  Why, I don’t know, because there are spaces for bikes on the TGV.  No one can tell me why I can’t tell SNCF I am going to be on that train, and book a place on it.

I was prepared for it to be a hassle.  I was prepared to speak separately to Virgin, Eurostar and SNCF to get my bike on the train.  I was prepared to pay extra.  I just wasn’t prepared for this absolute nonsense.

Perhaps it is easier to take a crossbow, sword or a speargun all the way to Bordeaux than it is to take a bike.  I’m not sure how easy it is to transport live animals…  You can certainly take your car on the Chunnel.

It just feels like being a cyclist is much harder work than it should be.  Certainly, when I take my bike on the train closer to home on Scotrail trains I always have to ask permission to share the cycling spaces with people’s suitcases and buggies and what have you.  However, they do at least try and are putting more cycle spaces on their new trains.

Likewise, Virgin won’t charge you to take your bike along, you just have to book ahead, take your ticket to the station or phone up the phoneline and sort it out.  That’s absolutely reasonable.

As a cyclist, I’m used to having to wear a helmet so that I would be seen as less responsible in an accident, I am used to being cut up by impatient cars, by being wolf-whistled, by getting wet in the weather that hates me…  And I love it all…  I’m unlikely to learn to drive, I have never owned a car, I don’t see the point in driving when all it would do that I can’t currently do is get me to IKEA quicker…

I’m doing my bit for the environment, and for car drivers, by not using fuel and space on the roads up.  Why aren’t people nicer to me?  Or at least, why aren’t train companies nicer to me?  I am the future.  That ‘one percent of passengers’ I belong to is going to grow and grow as fuel prices grow and grow.

Get it right, Eurostar.  Oh, and please add a search function to your site whilst you’re at it.

But also, where is the ‘cycling lobby’?  We can’t have much power if nothing’s getting much better.  Or did it all use to be much worse?


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You can wear ordinary clothes to cycle in

Levi’s are apparently getting into the bikewear game – starting with adapted versions of their skinny 511 jeans.  Adapted so that there’s a nice slotty thing in the waistband for your Kryptolok and also reflective seams so that when you roll your jeans up they look good and keep you visible.

None of this is new, of course, Swrve and Rapha and Howies and a host of other niche brands have been doing this kind of thing for the urban cyclist in countries where cyclists are generally seen as sad or mad for a while now.  Cyclists who don’t drive places to ride their bikes but actually ride their bikes to get from A to B not because they don’t have a car but because they prefer riding their bikes.  They prefer cycling in cities to walking or driving or taking a bus in them.

Anyway, part of the reason that cycling doesn’t take of in countries like ours (besides the grossly inflated perception that cycling in cities is suicidal) is the weather and the myth that you have to wear special lycra clothes to ride your bike in.  I recently bought some padded shorts after a ride round Arran on my fixie made me realise what they are for.  (The weather in Arran was lovely and I wore a dress the whole time.)  But for riding in the city – even in the rain – you’re not going far, so jeans are perfect (although when it’s hot a skirt or shorts is a much better option).  In places where cycling isn’t seen as crazy people go even further than this and ride their bikes to special do’s wearing evening dress and suits and high heels and so on.  Amazing. I was blown away when I visited Amsterdam for the first time in April this year.

It’s what all these cycle chic websites are for.  Americans and British people marvel at these Continentals who wear whatever the hell they want to ride their bikes.  There’s an emerging movement against lycra and the tyranny of organised rides in these sites, campaigning for the right to normalise bikes whatever, whenever, however you like.

Anyway, the point is that if big mainstream brands like Levi’s are getting into urban bikewear then we’re maybe beginning to enter the next phase of the cycle revolution.  There must be money in it, if they are investing in it.  Perhaps urban cycling is where skateboarding was in the eighties and nineties when brands like Nike were making their first experimental moves, having the confidence that a bit of trial and error with activity was worth it, eventually settling on a successful business model after 20 years.

Hmm, this was meant to be a ‘play’ article but it all comes back to what I do for a living…

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What are the rules for (besides being there to break)?

People who know me will know that I am, basically, obsessed with cycling.  I don’t go for ‘training’ or all that, I am just not competitive in that way (I only get competitive about things I can win, generally,) I just like bashing about on my bikes, using them as the most fun and amazing form of transport known to humanity.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about how amazing riding bikes is – that would need a whole blog of its own.  No, this post is about rules.

I was forwarded a copy of these rules recently and it sparked loads of different, very interesting and insightful conversations, Twitter chats and emails to-ing and fro-ing.

These rules are a mixture of sensible, petty, weird and obsessive, and downright obscure.  Of course, there is a tongue somewhere in someone’s cheek there but to all intents and purposes these rules help to paint a picture of the cycling subculture, help us to understand ourselves people on the bike spectrum better.  Although I also really enjoyed reading Bike Snob’s guide to cycling tribes (which is also funny and true,) I think the rules are much more interesting from an anthropological, human behaviour perspective.

The bike rules sparked off a whole load of conversations about other subcultures’ rules.

Skateboarders told me about theirs – there’s a whole lot about what colour tape you use, whether screws or allen key screw things look better on a truck, what tricks are beyond the pale, what you wear for different situations and so on. They figured that their list of rules could be as long as the bike one.

I also thought back to another obsession of mine – dance – and there are a lot of rules there too.  What you can wear to show that you have been doing it for ages, how to stand when you aren’t actually dancing, how to sew the ribbons on your shoes, whether to wear pink tights or black (footless black tights are OK, ones with feet are not,) when legwarmers are appropriate, and so on.

A lot of them (like in skateboarding) are related to helping you not bump into each other.

Usually subcultures’ rules are unwritten – and often unspoken – so you have to pick them up for yourself.  The thing I thought was really interesting is that these are the rules people stick to.  It’s probably because they make them up as they go along, there’s a consensus somewhere about which rules to adhere to, which rules will help you belong.

When you want to understand people better, look for the rules they follow.


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