The design team at FortyFour takes inspiration seriously. We spend significant time crawling Awwwards, Dribbble, Behance, Httpster, CollectUi, and Bestfolios, to name a few. We discuss inspirational art, type, and UI projects in our creative team weekly meetings. We share drool-worthy interactions and color palettes via slack. All of this preparation makes it easier to kick off new projects and bring fresh ideas to new pitches.
Recently, this practice sparked a heated debate across the team.
I found a particularly interesting site that I showed to my deskmate, Liz. The website in question had truly strange interactions, an initially imperceptible purpose, and an impossible layout on mobile. After several minutes of digging, we discovered it was site for designer shoes. Liz suggested we pull up another site, this time for a restaurant. The throwback styling of the site immediately conjured up memories of customizing my first MySpace layout. It had letters tracing the cursor, overlapping tickers, and a color palette that made your eyes vibrate.
With many of our developers at FortyFour specialized in Magento, we end up spending a lot of time talking about the platform. While many in the digital service industry are familiar with Magento, not everyone knows what it means to be a Magento 2 Solution Specialist. Becoming a specialist requires an exam, and we’re here to walk you through exactly what that exam entails.
What is it?
According to the Magento website, “a Magento 2 Solution Specialist is an expert user of the Magento 2 e-commerce platform. Drawing on a deep background in business and e-commerce, the Magento 2 Solution Specialist can efficiently align business objectives with Magento 2 functionality, optimize use of native features, and avoid unnecessary customization. Whether as a merchant, a manager, a consultant, or an analyst, the Magento 2 Solution Specialist knows how to make the best use of Magento 2 features and functionality.”
As a Magento 2 Certified Solution Specialist, a developer should not only have knowledge of Magento basics, but also be able to apply what they know in the best possible way to help the client. The exam serves as confirmation that he or she is able to do so, while still aligning with Magento’s core development principles.
A “business analyst” is a difficult role to define. Even the name itself is a bit of a conundrum. In the e-commerce industry, most roles come with a self-explanatory “verb” + “er” style title.
If you develop, you’re a developer. If you design, you’re a designer. If you manage projects, you’re a project manager. So when it comes to a “business analyst,” what’s in a name? It’s a bit murky.
Adding to the confusion, a BA’s role can vary from company to company, even within the field of e-commerce development.
So what do we actually do? Decoding the job from the title isn’t as simple as removing a suffix, but it’s not such a bad thing. In short, we take in business and product requirements and help build out the technical specifications needed to deliver the product.
If you have ever managed a Google AdWords account, you are likely well aware of a problem that, until recently, we had chalked up as Google just trying to make a few extra bucks: the constant phone calls and emails from Google representatives looking to optimize our underperforming AdWords accounts.
Beyond the nuisance of multiple calls and emails per day, they go as far as reaching out to our clients and frightening them with statements about how their account is underperforming and that Google offers this free, short-term service to optimize their account for better results. The client begins to question all the work we’ve done for them and assume our inadequacy and carelessness. Why would they pay us for our services when they can get even better results directly from Google for free? The situation must be drastic for Google to contact them directly, right?
When I started working at FortyFour, I was the only member of the newly established content team. But FortyFour is growing. Since the time I’ve been here, we’ve practically doubled in size and what was once a solo content venture is now a solid team of three.
As both our team and agency grow, old ways of thinking and doing must be amended with, if not outright replaced by scalable ways of ensuring our work is original and value generating for our clients. As FortyFour’s content team matures, so has the need to create frameworks that enable us to sustain the high quality of work it has become known for.
When I set out to create a broader framework for effective content creation, I started with a simple question: What is great content? When I read, watch or listen to a great piece of content, what are the attributes that actually made it good? I’ve identified four characteristics that are nearly universal in great content.
Over the past few years, we have been proud to partner with CREDO Mobile and their efforts to fund progressive causes. Ahead of this year’s March for Our Lives, our team at FortyFour created a series of posters calling for sensible gun control laws in America’s schools. Thanks to the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, you can see some of our work on billboards across the Lansing area.
We look forward to continuing to work with CREDO Mobile.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like inside the mind of a UX Designer, take a glimpse into the world of Witt Langstaff’s life. From his secret talents to his penchant for dad jokes, read all about our South Carolina-born Solutions Lead!
Where are you from?
Hartsville, South Carolina, USA, Planet Earth. It’s in Darlington County, which has a huge NASCAR speedway – You can do Daytona, you can tackle Talladega, but you can’t tame Darlington (at least that’s what they say.) I was born in a hospital not far from the track.
What brought you to FortyFour?
I was working for a startup, and my good buddy Graydon is the Director of Content here – he mentioned 44 needing some help on the UX team so we made it happen. I really like the folks who work here, and saw it as a good opportunity to learn and grow. It’s been great so far!
By now, most people are aware of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the recent historical drop in Facebook’s stock price and valuation. For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a brief timeline:
March 17, 2018 – The Guardian and The New York Times report that as many as 87 million Facebook profiles were harvested for Cambridge Analytica. Christopher Wylie, co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, claims that the data sold to the company was used to build psychographic profiles of people and then deliver pro-Trump content to them online.
March 21, 2018 – In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg addresses the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Zuckerberg outlines a three-step plan to solve any future misuse of user data:
1. Investigate any third-party apps that had access to large amounts of information before Facebook’s platform change in 2014
2. Restrict developers’ access to user data
3. Provide users with a tool that shows them what apps have access to their data
April 10, 2018 – Zuckerberg testifies before a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees in what turns into a long and awkward conversation between older Senators that seem out of date with modern social media and a very nervous Zuckerberg.
April 25, 2018 – Despite the backlash from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook reports Q1 earnings well above analysts’ estimates. In a conference call that afternoon, Zuckerberg reflects on the earnings report, “Despite facing important challenges, our community and business are off to a strong start in 2018. Over the next three years we’re going to keep building Facebook to not only be a service that people love to use, but also one that’s good for people and good for society.”
July 26, 2018 – Following the first full quarter after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook loses about $119 billion of its value as the company’s share price drops by almost 19% marking the biggest single day drop in U.S. market history.
After months of collaboration with teams across our agency, FortyFour is proud to announce that our client partnerAptean has launched a new website. This best-in-class digital experience further unifies their broad product portfolio under the Aptean brand.
Aptean is a global software company that builds niche products for a wide range of industries. Over 7,000 organizations in more than 20 industries and 74 countries rely on Aptean to streamline their everyday operations. One of their major strategic projects this year was to redesign their information-rich website and introduce new brand messaging. To achieve this goal, Aptean partnered with FortyFour.
Nearly every department in our organization contributed to the end product. Our user experience, design, content, business analysis, development, analytics and project management teams all worked tirelessly to ensure this project was a success. In the end, we designed and built a site that will increase engagement by presenting very technical software information in a personable way that excites users to reach out to the Aptean team.
We look forward to seeing Aptean continue to grow and to helping them achieve their goals in any way we can.
Is it a real holiday? We’re not the arbiters of real holidays here at FortyFour. We just build great websites and read great books. Here are some books beloved by the folks who work here building those aforementioned great websites.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I first played the text-based game when I was 14, and instantly fell in love with the quirky British humor and space escapades. Finding out that it was a book series, BBC radio and TV series was a pleasant surprise!
-Adam Darby, Developer
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
It encompasses the use of how language can be used to paint pictures of very specific actions vividly, while also making light of incredibly serious topics. That, and the fact that the entire story is a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be read entirely to come close to understanding it as a whole.
-Bret Ausura, Project Manager
Where We Want to Live by Ryan Gravel
Because what kind of Atlantan are you, really, if you haven’t read this?
-Ryan Anderson, Director of Marketing
Tenth of December by George Saunders
I love reading Saunders for his zaniness, humor, and ear for internal dialogue, but in this collection you can tell his writing has become much more humane. It’s great.
-Brian “Bryan” Zirbes, Business Analyst
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Really amazing to read *while* in the western states. I read this during a backpacking trip in Utah and I felt like I was right there with the main character (the book is based in Arizona). #BestSummerReadEver
-Kelsey O’Manion, Project Manager
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
This was the first novel I read with strong latina characters! This novel follows 3 generations of Chilean women through their trials and triumphs after WWI. It has magical realism elements as well and is a beautifully written novel!
-Karla Fleming, Business Analyst
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
I love how it encapsulates the practice of architecture in the 1920s and 30s. Howard Roark is a polarizing protagonist who stirs healthy debate about the ethics of design, the role of individual ego, and deviation from collective design values. I also just really appreciate Rand’s command of language.
-Paul Landon, UX Designer
Dune by Frank Herbert
Who knew west vs middle east politics and the world’s utter dependence on oil could be so entertaining when rewritten as the best science fiction novel ever?! Frank Herbert, that’s who.
-Hadi Seyfi, Designer
The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury
I first read it a few years ago, but it has stuck with me–especially since I recently went to the Powder River Valley in Wyoming and saw some of the battle sites. The way we teach US history glosses over Native American history and culture, so it was an eye-opening read; I learned a ton. I don’t usually love histories but the writing in this book was really engaging.
-Liz Simms, Copywriter
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
A Naked Singularity broke every rule regarding a first novel: It was long, dense, and weird. That’s why it was originally relegated to being self-published. But over time its genius shined through, and it’s now regarded as a classic of early 21st century literature because of its piercing look at the harsh realities of the New York City criminal justice system, its hyper-literate but playful style, and its unexpected use of pulp and noir elements.
-Graydon Gordian, Director of Content
Bluets by Maggie Nelson It feels a bit odd to call a book of poems my favorite, but there’s no book I’ve returned to as many times in my life as many times as I’ve picked “Bluets” back up, like an old friend. Besides, I’m not even sure I think of it as poetry to begin with so much as I think of it as… a meditation. Nelson begins with, “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.” From there, “Bluets” falls into a pool of itself, lyrically exploring themes of love and grief and the volatile ways the two coexist in our lives. Nelson’s writing feels like a revelation every time I return to it.
-Rachel Perkins, Copywriter
Whether you’re working in a traditional Waterfall, Agile/Scrum environment, or some combination of both (commonly referred to as Wagile), there will always be a need for requirement modifications. That’s just the nature of projects in an a fast-paced agency setting.
Managing the the requirement modifications against the project delivery is a real balancing act, and that’s where Business Analysts and Project managers have to work together seamlessly to spearhead difficult objectives.
Frequent requirement modifications, unknowns most commonly referred to as risks, can impact a project’s execution, delivery, and budget. While a successful project in today’s world requires you to work with a certain amount of unknowns, when there is a lack of agreed upon strategy for how to manage risks you might find yourself in trouble.
Most major IT project failures are caused by frequent requirement changes and could be prevented. It’s especially dangerous because requirements touch every aspect of the project from the design approach to the technology in use to the relationship with the suppliers and vendors to the resourcing to the–you get the picture.
I’ve experienced several projects that had frequent requirements changes that made the projects so unstable, we almost had major financial consequences. In one instance, senior leadership had major differences and visions of the project more than 60 days into development! It ended up costing us 100 hours of refactoring and even more countless hours of throwaway code.
As business analysts and project managers, we’re extremely concerned with requirements changes. These events, in isolation or in combination, can clearly have detrimental effects on projects that will persist regardless of software development methodology (Agile, Waterfall, Kanban, Lean, etc.) or the requirements management process in place. No methodology or process guarantees there will be no requirements change.
Often we assume when requirements move to the design phase, they are “complete” and not subject to change. However, that isn’t always the case. In fact, most times it isn’t! There always some changes in requirements throughout the development lifecycle. Although Agile “welcomes change and allows you to easily pivot” and claims their “collaborative” approach facilitates unpredictable changes, this will be challenged when there are many requirement changes.
I should emphasize that frequent requirements changes is not “scope change.” They are two different things.
Frequent Requirements Changes: Here, the scope remains static, whereas the requirements are dynamic. This is a micro-level change that eventually impacts the subsequent phases of designing and developing a solution.
Scope Change: Scope change manifests through, “I want more.” This is a macro-level change that impacts the whole end-to-end solution. It is a redefinition of the initial agreed outcome.
In agency life, we usually have a couple days of discovery with the client to identify their requirements and formulate a strategy. As much we try to get all the detailed requirements from the organizations leadership and SMEs, there will always be undiscovered business needs. To transform unknowns into knowns, the best way to address the issue is to use a Business Analyst’s expertise of discovering and analyzing requirements and data thoroughly.
When you move into the design phase with too many unknowns, your potential for frequent requirements is high.
A business analyst’s primary responsibility is to ascertain and define requirements through an analytical process, known as requirement analysis (aka Discovery). Requirements documented in this phase are only as good as the BA’s ability to draw out the key requirements based upon inputs provided by multiple stakeholders. Business analysts add value to this process by using their expertise and past project experiences to facilitate the gathering of clear and concise requirements that cover all possible scenarios/use cases.
Every organization has its own set of values and practices that contribute to the organization’s overall identity. The identity can impact the requirements analysis process both directly and indirectly. Attitudes toward requirements management can be a reflection of the organization’s culture.
Unpredictability and unknowns have major effects on project budget and timeline. Requirements are the necessary foundation needed for developing any solution whether it’s a website, retail experience, or product. Requirements provide the baseline for scoping and schedules and are used as “gospel” for future phases of the project, when it comes to design, development, and testing.
Agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, XP) are the most suitable forms of the software development lifecycle to manage frequent requirement changes. However, that doesn’t mean that the ability to adapt quickly doesn’t impact the project budget and schedule. It makes a difference to have an experienced delivery team and seasoned business analysts that can clearly identify and manage the project unknowns.
Andreu Harris is the Director of Business Analysis at FortyFour.
At the time of writing this, my son is less than two months old. As first time parents, my wife and I have fully embraced the ever increasing world of everything baby. Tips for first time parents from your great-great-grandma? Let’s hear them! Do you have a great first-time dad’s blog I should subscribe to? Consider it done. Did we see the 2018 Red Dot Award finalists for all things infant care related? We already bought them all!
Of course, sifting through all of that data is its own labor of love. We’re always keeping up with the world of baby science and worshipping at the altar of trendy design, but the most important opinion in the room is, in fact, the baby’s! He hates the award-winning bottles we grabbed and prefers the same classic ones I had as a kid. As far as pacifiers go, he loves these crazy modern ones that barely look like pacifiers at all. When it comes to the world of baby product design, he is our client, user group, QA team, and a rather vocal fan base all rolled into one.
So how, in my sleep-deprived brain, do I see all of this relating back in some meaningful way to what I do as a designer on a daily basis at FortyFour? Simple: be open to new ideas, new methods and the wisdom of others.
In the past twelve months, we have made a very concerted effort to embrace new layout and prototyping software in our day-to-day workflow.
Adobe and its suite of tools still have a place near and dear to my heart, so embracing this still relatively new ecosystem of apps was no small undertaking. Why use the weird, new pacifier when you know that the one everyone has used for decades works just fine?
It’s not until you get your hands dirty a couple times that the real benefits start to manifest. We went from UX files directly into designing… with the same file! We started exploring the nuances of symbols in Sketch, and how layer nomenclature had a huge impact in Principle. It quickly went from, “Okay, fine. It’s new software,” to, “Oh man, did you play with this feature yet?” Speaking about type and layout in the exact same terms of a developer was another beneficial side effect. Why hasn’t this always been the case?
In the past, I’ve learned over and over again to not trust plugins from third party companies. They either stopped working the night before that huge deadline, or the second after you finally updated the main software it was attached to. Now, seeing the almost weekly updates coming from not only the main developer but also the plugin is refreshing and reassuring! The trustworthiness of the software finally caught up with the inventiveness of plugin developers.
Experiencing the benefits of these new tools firsthand while my wife and I do our best to embrace parental wisdom of the ages, mixed with the newest techniques, has felt like a whirlwind of learning experiences. Finding that perfect combination of cutting edge technologies while still understanding the foundations of tried and true solutions is a daily challenge, both with parenting and agency life and all its intricacies.
A child is a joy to be around, but they certainly come with some very unique challenges. The diaper bag filled with the right tools can make or break an otherwise fun-filled day. A well-designed project, using the right tools that allow everyone (strategy, UX, design, and dev) to contribute and collaborate, will only benefit from new techniques and exciting tools like Sketch and Principle.
FortyFour is proud to announce that, with the help of teams across our agency, our client partner Phobio has launched a new website. Built on Drupal and reflective of the brand’s new visual direction and messaging, the website plays a key role in Phobio’s senior leadership’s growth strategy.
This site is the second of a two phase re-launch project: A quick redesign and relaunch was necessary at the end of 2017 because of some key strategic opportunities. But the goal was to always create a more thorough, informative and compelling experience that was reflective of the best-in-class quality of the platforms Phobio builds. That goal has been achieved.
Nearly every department in our organization contributed to the end product: our user experience, design, content, business analysis, development, analytics and project management teams all collaborated to ensure this project was a success.
We look forward to seeing Phobio continue to grow and to helping accelerate that growth in any way we can.
While it might seem UX design and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra don’t have much in common, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the aspects they share. I recently had the pleasure of attending a symphony performance in Atlanta and found myself with two questions on my mind.
What does music have to do with digital experience design?
How can my experience at the symphony affect my approach to crafting engaging UX?
As your night at the symphony begins, you’re immediately engulfed in a hail of emotions. Directly beneath the theatre stage, an orchestra warms up in the pit. The drone of musicians tuning their instruments resonates through the packed room. Cushioned velvet seats hush the anticipatory murmuring from the balcony seats above. Rising to the podium, the conductor flourishes a baton to silence orchestra and audience alike. With a furious upwards swing, the performance begins.
When companies are deciding how to best manage their content, Drupal is a consistently reliable choice. Regardless the size of a website build, the purpose will arguably remain the same: to engage, to inform and to connect. Drupal alleviates modern content management headaches while promoting the integrity of brands and enhancing customer digital experiences. Let’s talk about all the ways Drupal helps busy enterprises build their audiences and create engaging, informative content across multiple channels.
What is Drupal anyway?
Drupal says it best, so let’s leave it to them:
“We’re the leading open-source CMS for ambitious digital experiences that reach your audience across multiple channels.”
The open-source concept is extremely important here since it not only means that Drupal improves and maintains their own product, but promotes others to contribute and give back in the form of modules, themes and even to Drupal Core itself. Let’s not forget that Drupal and its community provides all of this for free.
Should I always choose Drupal?
The answer is NO. Platforms should be chosen based on the requirements of the project, client needs, budget, etc. and knowing what tool to choose is vital to capturing the digital experience. Now on to the good stuff!
How does Drupal help build audiences across multiple channels?
Before you even build a website, you have to know who your audience is. Analytics tools can help you better know and build your audience. We even have a team at FortyFour who specializes in this area if you’re looking for help! With that said, let’s dissect the multi-channel idea.
The “multiple channel” idea stems from Drupal’s ability to wear many different hats at the same time, or even just look really, really good in one. Drupal can adapt and mold to the requirements of any project, whether, e-Commerce shop, web app or multilingual, multinational corporate marketing site. These different channels are made possible by the considerably limitless characteristics of Drupal. Let’s break them down.
While the core language of Drupal has always been PHP, the release of Drupal 8 extended the functionality of the CMS by harnessing frameworks like Symfony, Twig and Object Oriented Programming (OOP). Drupal 8’s API First Initiative has completely transformed the possibilities of it’s potential now that modern JS frameworks like React JS and Angular 2 can be used create sleek, interactive user interfaces. All of this allows developers who are learned in these areas to beat the curve and jump in head first, which leads to the next characteristic.
Content Management and Accountability
Content Management is definitely the sole purpose of its existence, otherwise it wouldn’t be called a CMS! The daily CUD operations, otherwise known as Create, Update, Delete are all typically done in the admin interface (unless you have a nice headless App) and follow the same flow to empower content administrators and make the process less taxing. It should also be recognized that Drupal has extensive permission and roles that are baked in and can even be extended to have Workflows for large corporation who want to control when/if content is actually published!
The scalability of any CMS is important since any website should be able to grow with its company. Drupal does this in a couple of ways. With a small amount of configuration, Multisite Installations comes out-of-box with Drupal. Secondly, The Multilingual Initiative can be enabled to create translations for content, and when paired with a multisite setup, can allow a company to replicate and maintain the look and feel of their brand in one codebase while extending the freedom for unique content experiences in other markets.
The large community of Drupal developers and contributed modules gives Drupal an even more robust toolkit to meet the everyday needs of a company, especially in regards to SEO and Accessibility. Various modules extend Drupal is very different, very important ways, but one I’d like to illuminate is the Drupal Commerce project that was completely revamped for Drupal 8. The reason this is so important is that is puts Drupal into the e-Commerce running with other platforms, while keeping the foundational integrity of it’s CMS role.
Robust customization and flexibility of Drupal raise the ceiling on how UX and Design teams can approach how brands are represented and how users interact with your content. Whether it be through the Theming API or an advanced JS framework, Drupal let’s you pick!
When you’re a busy enterprise, managing content and a website shouldn’t be a chore. Whatever channel you are, remove the boundaries.
Patrick Sweeney is a Senior Drupal Architect and Acquia Certified Developer at FortyFour.
Every week, our talented and energetic design team gathers round the conference table in the room we’ve lovingly named “Inman Park” to talk about stuff that’s inspired them that week. Over the course of the month, they tend to amass a lot of great stuff so we’ve started cataloging it here on the blog! Here’s what our design team was loving in June.
Spectral is the first customizable and interactive parametric Google font by Prototypo.
In the world of e-commerce, very few names ring louder for clients than Shopify, a platform devoted to ease of use for its customers and simplicity of theme creation for its developer base. Last year, the Shopify team released Slate, an open-source developer toolkit designed to improve the experience of creating custom themes.
Despite initial release issues, Slate provided developers with a CLI in which to efficiently build on today’s fastest growing e-commerce platform. After a year of listening intently to the development community, Shopify has released Slate v1, a newly redesigned toolkit that helps reduce coding errors and improve the developer experience.
When we’re starting an e-commerce project at FortyFour, clients often mention the importance of SEO for their business, usually in regards to maintaining traffic after a redesign or a re-platforming. What’s not often discussed, however, is how SEO is a part of the shopping journey — or how content can be optimized for organic search growth and deliver long-term impact.
In retail, the display or kiosk can make a difference in whether a product sells. Even where the product is placed in relation to other brands, or how close the product is to the ground, can drastically impact sales. Consider a busy afternoon in SoHo or 5th Avenue in New York—the window display is meant to draw your attention and ultimately make you shop for the exact item or other items in the store. Let’s just say there are a lot of variables for why something may catch a shopper’s eye.
While e-commerce marketers tend to focus on conversion metrics, standardized functionality, and templated (or repeatable) design, the most natural function of a shopping experience is often the most ignored—window shopping or browsing. Shoppers are not always looking for an exact solution. Sometimes they’re just looking for inspiration.
Have you ever wondered what a business analyst does on a day to day basis at a digital agency? Our resident BA, Karla Fleming, is here to explain it to you, while also sharing her thoughts on podcasts, latino food, and the always raging debate here at FortyFour—pineapple on pizza.
Where are you from?
Give us the elevator pitch you have ready when someone asks you to explain what a business analyst does at a digital agency.
As a business analyst, my job is to retrieve business and technical requirements from the client and verify that the solutions we are delivering are in line with the client’s needs. To do this, I am writing user stories and I stay in contact with the developers to make sure that they have all of the information and tools that they need to deliver the solution needed.
What has been your favorite client project so far and why are you proud of it?
Phobio has been one of my favorite projects so far because I have been able to see the project develop and change from the time we won the business until we launched the site.
What’s something you’re really, really good at cooking?
I never enjoyed cooking until just a few years ago. I’m still working to specialize in good everyday meals. But desserts are my favorite type of food to prepare! My specialty is a cranberry apple pie recipe that was passed down from my mother-in-law!
Andrew Chen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Head of Growth at Uber, recently had a great thread on Twitter about how over-exposure to your product can negatively affect your ability to evolve that product over time.
“When you work on the same product every day for years, it’s easy to assume that everyone uses the product the same as you do,” wrote Chen. “Of course that’s not true!”
In fact, as Chen notes, the users a product designer is most similar to — core users who use your product or service to the fullest extent — are not the ones she should be focused on. “When you do the analysis, the most important user perspectives aren’t just your core users, but all the folks out on the edges who are casual, churned, or blocked somehow,” he wrote.
We experience a very similar problem in marketing. Marketers are more familiar with their brand than anyone else, and they often forget that not everyone is as exposed to the brand as they are. (In fact, most marketers would be horrified if they thought hard about how little consumers think about their business.) They grow fatigued with creative, or create complex, even convoluted communications that prospective customers have neither the time nor attention to decipher. Product designers are taught to keep it simple — marketers would be wise to do the same.
Marketers also focus too much of their attention on the “core users” that Chen mentions, when the bigger opportunity is on the edges of their business, i.e. the millions of people who have yet to try your product or service. One of the least true but most commonly believed marketing truisms is that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your sales. For countless businesses — Ford, Coca-Cola, Crest, Unilever, and Chen’s former employer Uber — this is not nor will ever be the case. Growth will always be reliant on high volumes of people purchasing a product somewhat regularly. (For a car, that’s every few years. For tooth paste, every few weeks.)
Does that mean core users or your most loyal customers aren’t important? No, they are vital and should be highly valued. But if your goal is to grow your business, the opportunity does not lie with those you’ve already convinced to click the buy button. The opportunity is to convince and convert the countless individuals who’ve never used your product or service in the first place.
That opportunity reminds me of a quote from another figure at Chen’s firm, founder Ben Horowitz. He’s fond of saying, “your story is your strategy.” You can’t be focused on growth if you aren’t telling a story to that speaks directly to the wants and needs of those who will help you grow: prospective customers. Oftentimes companies claim they are focused on growth, but the story they are telling is fundamentally about retention. They are speaking to their current audience, and developing products and services for loyal customers and power users.
The story your marketing organization is telling will betray your true strategy. Make sure it enables growth instead of getting in the way of it.
From breaking into the marketing industry to his feelings regarding pineapple on pizza, read on to find out what our senior marketing manager, T.R. Wilhoit, has to say.
What brought you to FortyFour?
I had worked at my prior agency for around 4 years, which makes me ancient in “agency years” so it was about time for a change. Coming from a more strategy and planning background, I was interested in learning E-commerce and developing new programs for clients in this industry.
What has been your favorite client project so far and why are you proud of it?
I really enjoy working on Case-Mate’s ongoing marketing. We’re able to see the results of marketing efforts quickly since we’re focused on the E-commerce site, which is rewarding. Plus the target market is something I’m not as familiar with (more fashion-focused), so I learn something new about their audience almost weekly.
Tell us one of your secret talents.
Not sure how much of a secret it is, but I have been a musician my entire life. I mostly play electric guitar but I also play bass, drums, trombone, and baritone. I’ve also put out electronic music a few times, which is featured in the background of this fun Vietnamese makeup tutorial video.
At the end of May, the e-commerce community was abuzz with the news that Adode would be acquiring Magento. For those who are entrenched in the community, the news should come as no surprise. This has been the plan since Permira acquired Magento from Ebay in 2015. But whether or not this was expected doesn’t answer the most important question: Is the acquisition good for Magento and its customers?
Here at FortyFour, we believe the answer is yes.
The e-commerce platform market has seen a great deal of consolidation over the last few years. The most notable acquisitions were SAP’s purchase of Hybris and Salesforce’s purchase of Demandware. These platforms, which already had good penetration into the enterprise market, were further strengthened by their new parent company’s broad suite of offerings.
A little over a year ago, the design team at FortyFour incorporated “Stumps and Dumps” into our weekly design sync. What are “Stumps and Dumps,” you ask?
“Stumps” are the problems we’re facing with current projects. More importantly, it’s an open invitation for critical feedback and creative insights from our teammates.
“Dumps” are the show-and-tell portion. It’s an opportunity for us to talk all things inspiring, unusual, and thought-provoking within the design world.
We’ve amassed a considerable list of design portfolios, websites, Instagram accounts, films, artists, animations, and design tools over the last year. We come back to this list time and time again for inspiration, so we thought we should share it with the world. Here’s the space where each month we’ll share with you the things we’ve loved lately. Without further ado, here’s a few things we loved in May!
This week we sat down with Carson Britt, our Senior Software Engineer. Hear what this front-end pro has to say about growing up in Georgia, riding his bike through the city, and why you shouldn’t limit your own skillset.
Where are you from?
I’m from Atlanta. I grew up in the ‘burbs and moved to north Georgia at 14, but then I went to Georgia Tech and stayed here since.
What brought you to FortyFour?
Before this I was at 22squared, which handles more traditional advertising, and we weren’t really getting into digital the way I wanted to. I wanted to go into something more digital-focused, where I could feel more challenged. I wanted to do bigger, more intimidating projects from a dev perspective.
What has been your favorite client project so far and why are you proud of it?
I’ve worked on nearly every project here but a favorite has been CREDO Mobile. I got to work on a couple of microsites for them, and I liked the style of it. It’s very front-end heavy stuff which is really interesting on Drupal.
Over the years we’ve had several clients ask for help with high-level corporate messaging — things like their corporate values. I’m excited every time the opportunity comes up because I’m a believer that corporate values can be more than pleasant sayings on a poster in a conference room: they can generate real business value. I also believe that many organizations miss out on that opportunity by misunderstanding the true purpose of corporate values.
Like any piece of internal or external messaging, crafting compelling, effective values depends upon understanding both the audience and the medium via which the content will be delivered. What’s fascinating about internal communications like values is that, sometimes, the audience and the medium are the same: yes, you want your employees to read your corporate values, but you also want them to ingest and evangelize them. Your employees—not a poster, internal email, or speech at an all-staff meeting—are the vehicle by which values are implemented at scale.
This week, we sat down with our director of project management Katherine Wilmot to chat about her agency experience, where she buys horseradish pickles, and what she wants to name her future doggo. Check out her answers below!
Where are you from?
What brought you to FortyFour?
Thomas, [one of our Managing Partners]. I had been working at larger agencies, but I wanted the opportunity to make a bigger impact. It seemed like the best way to do that was to get in at the ground level of a startup agency, so when Thomas reached out, I went for it. I’ve been here 3 years in May.
What’s been your favorite client project so far? Why are you proud of it?
Phobio, because they share the same startup mentality that we have. Being a software/tech company, we share a lot of ideals. We’ve helped them with a couple iterations of their website. The first was a re-skin, and now we’re re-platforming them onto a CMS while implementing additional branding and messaging updates. Giving complex technology products a tone and voice that makes you want to work with the people behind them is always a challenge, but working with the Phobio team has been fun.
CREDO Mobile has always stood for progressive change and regularly engages its customers to support worthy causes. As millions of activists across the globe prepared for the March for Our Lives this past weekend, CREDO Mobile wanted to support those activists with anti-gun violence rallying cries. CREDO Mobile partnered with our design and content teams to create 12 unique posters decrying gun violence and the weapons lobby in the US. All twelve free posters are available for download here.
Love it or hate it, group chat has a place in the day-to-day life of every agency. No more sitting in a pod with a designer, a UX lead, a project manager, and a developer to make decisions: newly available tools are changing the development process for the better. Group communication tools have increased transparency, improved efficiency, and strengthened collaboration with our clients.
Here at FortyFour, we have group channels for everything: for projects, for teams, for favorite TV shows, for random thoughts (and there are a lot of random thoughts). Catching up daily on the kitten and Nicholas Cage memes can be time consuming, but distractions aside, we’ve found that private and public chat rooms have enabled us to make decisions without losing momentum.
Before we sing the praises of group chat, it’s worth noting that it has its own drawbacks. According to research that I found online (it must be true), every distraction costs somewhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours of productivity. On top of having an open floor plan and a highly collaborative environment at FortyFour, our group chat never goes away. Everyone has to learn to manage the distractions in their own way.
This week we sat down with Graydon Gordian, FortyFour’s director of content & editorial, to talk about his past as an amateur boxer, his love of basketball, and even a little bit about life at the agency.
Where are you from?
Austin, Texas–keep Austin weird!
What brought you to FortyFour, and how long have you been here?
I had been working at Turner, which is where I’d been since I first moved to Atlanta from New York. But I’d always been intrigued by the agency world, so I called a friend of mine who ran an agency, Thomas Frank [Founder and Executive Creative Director of FortyFour]. We talked, and I started as contractor before coming on full time as the Director of Content and Editorial. It’s been almost 2 years to the month.
What’s been your favorite client project so far?
My favorite project has been Phobio. Phobio is a software company that makes device trade-in and workforce communication platforms. We have a close relationship with the executive team–we’re not just their agency, we’re a strategic advisor to their organization, which is what we always seek to be. Our work has included a multi-phase website redesign. A big part of that effort has been developing a broader corporate messaging strategy for the organization. We’re adding value in a lot of ways and framing the future of their business–it’s fun.
FortyFour has been growing quickly, and this past year, we officially added business analysis to our competencies. But you might be wondering: what is a business analyst, and why did we need one here?
Business Analysis Defined
The business analyst (BA) acts as a bridge between the cultural and technological sides of a digital agency. From the UX designers to content strategists to technology directors, various agency teams have a difficult time integrating the myriad projects and platforms in which they’re working. That’s where the BA comes in.
At the beginning of any project, the BA gathers all the requirements and develops a game plan. Through consumer research, design thinking, customer journey mapping, user flows, prototypes, and user stories, BAs are able to round-up all the requirements a new project will bring with it. Their goal is to ensure a consistent product vision, from the initial client discovery phase to the product release and through ongoing maintenance.
Was Thomas Jefferson a prototypical UX designer? According to Paul Landon, a user experience principal here at FortyFour, the answer is yes. Read on to learn about his interesting theory–and what else he loves about UX, life at FortyFour, and Atlanta in general.
Where are you from?
What brought you to FortyFour?
Before becoming a user experience designer, I worked in architecture for several years. But I’d had a longtime interest in digital, so it seemed like the right trajectory to move out of architecture and into UX. I started working at an agency. One of FortyFour’s managing partners had worked at the same agency, and our networks overlapped. I could see that FortyFour had a great creative team, plus more structure and leadership, which was important to me. So I joined the team, and now I’ve been here two and a half years–Taylor and I started the same day, actually.
What’s been your favorite client project so far and why?
On my first day, we kicked off Exide’s website redesign project. It was a great opportunity to impact their brand globally and tackle a very complex set of website challenges. The architecture had to provide a more organized framework for very diverse business units, appease internal stakeholders, and speak across industries. We created a strong, scalable solution. It was the largest website I’d worked on at that point, too, so it was cool to work on every stage of the process. I learned a lot.
The retail industry is in a state of flux. Legacy companies are still trying to navigate the move to ecommerce, and the new upstarts are learning why a physical presence is useful. Out of that turmoil, the retail landscape has come to be dominated by two firms: Walmart and Amazon.
Walmart has done a fantastic job of rebooting their ecommerce strategy in recent years. Marc Lore, who has run the ecommerce business unit since Walmart bought his company Jet.com for $3 billion in 2016, has taken what Walmart Labs was supposed to do and super-charged it with acquisitions and a laser-focused strategy.
Walmart has built out a brand strategy through the acquisition of companies like Bonobos, ModCloth, and Moosejaw. This lets them offer unique products that can’t be directly price shopped across retailers (Bonobos) while also leaning in to premium brands (through Moosejaw and ModCloth) for the customers who don’t consider themselves “Walmart shoppers.”
With that work underway and performing well, Walmart is focusing on additional customer experience points. Recode writes of two such projects, focused on a personal shopper experience for “high net worth urban consumers” as well as a rethinking of the in-store shopping experience. We’ll leave the latter alone for now because “fixing in-store shopping” could be a book’s worth of thoughts.
We recently sat down with the talented Taylor Daniel, senior designer here at FortyFour, to learn more about what inspires her work, what she loves about Atlanta, and what she drinks at 4:30pm on Fridays.
Where are you from?
What brought you to FortyFour, and how long have you been working here?
I heard about FortyFour when I was making a move from Birmingham, and I was wanting to grow my skill set in digital & UI. FortyFour was attractive because it’s independently owned and run–a place where you could get your hands dirty and learn faster because you could work on both large and small accounts. The creative leadership came from big agencies and companies, so I knew I could learn from those experiences on a more personal level. And 2.5 years later, here I am!
What’s been your favorite client project so far, and why are you proud of it?
I’ve learned the most and done the most with CREDO Mobile. They came to us for help with digital marketing and e-commerce, but as we’ve built a relationship with them, we’ve helped them with their whole brand. The opportunity to define a brand and create the look feel has been awesome. Then, working on the UI of the donations and e-commerce sites–it feels rewarding to be part of a project from start to end.
Phobio is known as a leader in the device trade-in space, but they’re more than a brick & mortar retail service–and they needed some help communicating that on their website. In partnership with the Phobio team, we’ve embarked on a two-phase effort to elevate their brand with updated designs and refreshed messaging. We’re proud of our hard work so far, so we wanted to take the opportunity to share the results of phase one and to congratulate our teams.
Phase one of the project began with discovery sessions to uncover what makes Phobio so great at what they do. Over the course of several conversations, we learned that they’re innovative and entrepreneurial, continually setting and resetting the bar for device trade-in. Their team is serious about software, but they also have vibrant personalities and a warm culture. So we realized that a pretty simple question seems to drive the Phobio team: what if we make device trade-in awesome?
We’re excited to announce that Google has recognized FortyFour as a leader in digital marketing and paid search advertising. Earlier this week, FortyFour received the shiny new badge that proves it: our agency is a certified Google Partner with a specialization in search advertising.
Google Partners are agencies who have proven to be both knowledgeable and successful in various advertising specializations. To become a paid search Partner, FortyFour had to pass Google AdWords product certification exams and demonstrate six months of sustained client performance in search advertising. Some of our most impactful work has come with partners such as Case-Mate, where we more than doubled paid search activity year over year, and Manhattan Associates, where we saw cost per conversion drop by 25% after taking over their program.
“Digital marketing, and search marketing in particular, remains an important pillar for brands,” says Director of Digital Marketing Ryan Anderson. “It’s an opportunity for companies to develop and deliver messages that resonate with their audiences. I’m proud that we’ve worked with our clients to do exactly that.” And FortyFour is proud of our digital marketing team for earning this certification–congratulations!
This holiday season, we decided to give back to Atlanta, the city that made us. We divided the office into three teams, and each team chose a local charity to support: the Atlanta chapter of the International Rescue Committee, The Giving Kitchen, and The Atlanta Children’s Shelter. In a little over one month, 57 donors helped our teams raise $2,500 to benefit those charities. But it gets better–the partners at FortyFour generously matched every penny donated to each cause, which brought our grand donation total to $5,000. We announced the final numbers at our belated holiday party, giving everyone that much more reason to celebrate.
We’re thrilled to be a part of this community and thankful for the opportunity to give back. Thank you so much to everyone who helped us make a difference this year!
Brands are eager to capture the attention of millennials: the generation that came of age around the 2000s, was the first to adopt social media, and has driven consumer culture since it began gaining purchasing power in the mid-aughts. Famously picky and equally loyal, millennials are an audience every brand strives to be on the good side of.
Our longstanding partner Coca-Cola has done just that. According to Business Insider’s recent study of millennial brand loyalty, the most refreshing drink on the shelves is also millennials’ most beloved beverage. Out of a hundred iconic brands—including Apple, Nike and Amazon—the study ranked Coke as millennials’ ninth favorite.
At FortyFour, collaboration is at our core. Working closely with our clients keeps us aligned on the goals and objectives of our work, and for each step of the process, it allows us to explain why we make the choices we do and what impact they have on the overall outcome. For example, typography is often considered an aesthetic component of the designed end product, but today, it’s as important to the overall user experience as ever. Using only type, we can guide a user to take a specific action, help them prioritize certain bits of information over others, or prime them to anticipate what comes next. That’s powerful stuff that we want our clients to understand so they can engage with us in a conversation that results in the best work possible.
What other elements of typography do we want our clients to consider during the UX phase? Let’s discuss.
When a new website design project kicks off, a common practice is to start designing a page to explore the visual direction for the site. This makes sense in some ways: clients like seeing pages because it’s the most obvious way to visualize what a site is going to look like—and, after all, that’s what they’re paying for. Typically this means starting with the homepage and exploring the design system through the context of that page.
The problem with designing the homepage first
The homepage is the first thing a user see on the site. It’s the foyer, with doors leading to all the other areas of the site. The problem is, homepages tend to be the most unique page on the site. Elements on the homepage often only serve one purpose: to drive a user to another area of the site. These homepage elements are some of the least reusable elements on the site. So why do we start with a page that does so little to inform the rest of the site? Why start with pages at all?
It’s one we’re all faced with often but for the user experience designer, it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. If I simply say, “I’m a user experience designer,” I’m often met with a glazed expression and an awkward silence. I sometimes say, “I design websites and mobile applications,” but then people tend to think I’m a developer or a graphic designer.
In our defense, the entire field of user experience design has difficulty defining exactly what it is we do and the role we play. As a standalone discipline, the role of UX is still fresh and, quite frankly, a little controversial.
On one hand, we’re investigators. We interview, analyze, and sort out the who, what, why, and how of a project. We establish the foundation upon which the team designs and builds the site or app. On the other hand, we’re planners and problem solvers. We create site maps, information architectures, content outlines, user stories, and various other tools that serve as a roadmap for what users encounter. These define how they navigate the site, and how they accomplish their goals. But the fun doesn’t end there. Once the practicalities are sorted out, we slip into the creative role and explore the visual manifestation of this information through wireframes and prototypes. These are the blueprints that visually describe what we’re building.
Years ago, while on vacation in California, I had the fortunate — albeit slightly overwhelming — experience of sharing a cab over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge with the VP of Marketing for a very large home goods company. The conversation inevitably veered toward what I do and, upon discovering I worked for an advertising agency, what my agency was like.
Secretly hoping to get a foot in the door for some new digital business, I quickly set to giving her the list of amazing things our agency could do and the attributes that set us apart from the rest. There was only one problem: My explanation, while factual, wasn’t amazing or very compelling. Long story short, I got the business card, but not the follow up.
So while the business deal wasn’t struck, I came away with the discovery of a monumental problem: I didn’t know how to sell the company I so enjoyed being a part of.
Fellow Atlanta biz MailChimp invited FortyFour Director of Analytics Ryan Anderson to chat data. In marketing it’s tempting to collect an endless bounty of data and attempt to pull conclusions from there, Anderson says — but that isn’t necessarily the best practice. Read the whole MailChimp interview here and don’t forget to check out Anderson’s blog post (also about data! What a guy) here.
We’re so excited to see our partner CREDO get recognized for all the great work it’s doing supporting progressive causes. We’re not the only ones impressed, either. Fast Company published a piece applauding the company’s philanthropic efforts, as directed by its clientele. FortyFour’s contributions — including content, design, and video work — also appear in the article. We’re proud our contributions could help propel this brand’s growth, especially when paired with such good causes.
The promise of digital centers around just how measurable everything is.
A marketer can go into an analytics platform and instantly see impressions, clicks, and spend by different audiences, times, and creative treatments. With on-site tracking, they can measure performance down to the individual marketing channel. The operations team is able to see how order volume changes during sales and by time of day. Finance departments can tie back every cent of revenue and cost directly to its source.
In theory, this data makes it easier to run an effective business. The marketing team can optimize around the best performing tactics, operations can forecast and plan for labor spikes, and finance has a clear view over how all of this impacts the company’s profitability. More conversions are good, less spend is good, on-time orders are good, and this is where most of our revenue comes from.
Digital platforms have become more sophisticated. The amount of data they collect and can report on has increased exponentially. This has been celebrated by many people in the business world. We agree — having that data available to a business is great. But companies should be diligent in how they consume data. Continue reading
The internet is synonymous with two things — shopping and something that rhymes with “corn.” Today I’m going to focus on shopping.
Magento 2 has been out for over a year now. If you’re not familiar with the Magento platform, it is a powerful, open-source (read: free) e-commerce solution that offers users an impressive suite of features to help their business in a highly competitive online market. As of today, the current version number is 2.1.3. There have been significant improvements to the codebase since it first released November 2015. Let’s take a look at just a few of those, in no particular order.Continue reading
Clear, consistent communication helps build trust between brands and customers. If a brand doesn’t seriously embrace a hard-lined style guide, it can come across as sloppy or unprofessional. Get your message across by establishing a defined, concise brand style guide and disperse it throughout the company to maintain compelling copy. Teach everyone from junior marketers to senior executives to follow the same rules, and your brand’s voice will be recognizable in all company communications.
FortyFour has a standard approach for developing brand style guides. Our rules include:
Pick a base style
It’s an unnecessary headache and time-suck to create a brand style guide from scratch, so lay a foundation with a pre-existing, somewhat common style. No one style is superior to the rest, just make sure you’re consistent. If you go with Chicago Manual Style, that means serial commas are standard. If you go Associated Press Style (which is industry standard in journalism), they are not. This ensures all content under the brand umbrella, including promotional materials as well as external and internal communication, is consistent. Continue reading
Shifting careers is often hard to explain. Whether you’re moving departments or starting over in an entirely different field, you’re likely to face a litany of retorts.
At first, I had trouble explaining my jump from the well-defined architect trajectory to the comparably young field of user experience design. Initial attempts to communicate parallels between the design of website interfaces and the construction of buildings were still lacking.
But after five years and trial-by-fire agency experience, however, I like to think I’ve refined my story. Below is a version of that, highlighting the exciting correlations between my former Architectural employment and current Experience Designer role.
Context is crucial
Understanding and operating within contexts is still essential to great work — all of the best architects and experience designers do it. They examine physical factors like the building site or device screen size and adjust design decisions to accommodate for these influences. Great designers also recognize and execute against non-physical determinants such as office politics, project budgets. All of these factors have a hand in shaping context-driven solutions. Moreover, a finished building or marketing website never stands alone; they’re one element in a collage of multifaceted contexts, a collage that affords architectural and experience design professionals an opportunistic medium through which to creatively work.
If you’ve worked in marketing in some capacity in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with a certain syndrome. It’s called “bright, shiny object” syndrome, and it affects marketers all over the world as they become distracted by the latest fad or trend in the marketing world. Whether it’s Snapchat for your B2B financial firm or Instagram for a funeral home, you may have been the victim or carrier of the syndrome (and that’s OK). With all of the new channels and marketing opportunities developing almost daily, it’s increasingly difficult to stay on top of the digital marketing world.
This is why few channels have lasted with the development of the internet as a more lower cost sales vehicle.Continue reading
Our agency is excited to announce further growth efforts in the e-commerce sphere. We now employ 10 developers specifically certified with the leading, enterprise-class e-commerce platform, Magento. Magento is written in PHP (hypertext preprocessor), a popular open-source, general-purpose scripting language malleable for web development. One in every four online businesses operate on Magento, making our team’s finesse all the more valuable. With so many developers on staff well-versed on this crucial platform, we can tend to clients’ needs even better, while keeping their brands’ practice as modern as possible.
FortyFour banded with Exide Technologies to revamp the battery brand’s entire website, alongside new brand guidelines for the company as a whole. We also developed several human resources videos and marketing campaigns, among other contributions. Read more about our work with Exide here.