Category Archives: Technology

This year, “say it with socks”

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.20.03 AM

William is not an Artist, nor a stylist but by watching him, he grabs your attention. Everyone is seduced by his charm. They are impressed by his confidence.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 10.42.36 AMA few months ago Brendan and I attended UX Camp Ottawa. On the first day we met two incredible designers and entrepreneurs, Francois Boisvert and Sylvain St-Germain, founders of Socks by William. Organizers of the event had commissioned Socks by William to produce custom socks for the event to be gifted to each attendee. They had also set up a booth at the event where they were showcasing their collections.

As luck would have it, Brendan and I had the opportunity to share food and drink with the “men behind the socks” at a funky wood clad bistro-brasserie in Vieux Hull called Gainsbourg. After a few drinks and a few prefunctory “Sock, Sock jokes“,  Francois and Sylvain invited us to share our ideas on how we might help them take their business to the next level. The rest is, as they say…history in the making!

Objective:

Pop up shop December 11th at Java U on Rue McGill.

Pop up shop December 11th at Java U on Rue McGill.

Working in collaboration with our two “Socksperts” our initial mandate was a complete look and feel re-fresh of their Shopify site geared specifically to hit Black Friday and close our 2014 in style. Our Black Friday / Holiday campaign was all about increasing engagement online and off. While working in paraleel on physical and social channels we did deep POS market testing at a lovingly designed pop up shop in Old Montreal and invited the influencer, fashion bloggers and host of prominent sock fans.

 

Challenge:

The challenge for our creative team was to create a visual story different from other sock designers while still adhering to time-honoured industry standards. To start things off, we needed to take Francois’ and Sylvians’ initial inspirations for the ten designs and further develop them into concise but compelling stories. As you’ll see on the site, and beyond the sheer beauty of the designs are the prominent artists behind them and story they tell through their choices of patterns and colour.  The ever popular Tour de France is a great example:

tdf-social-story

We designed a series of these graphics (In French and English) for Facebook and Instagram.

In order to accomplish this task we needed to get super creative and then a little bit more. All told, the H&C team spent triple digit hours in the boardroom cultivating and developing ideas.

The next big challenge came with the online shopping experience. We knew we wanted to do something different. We decided to create a continuously scrolling story that drew the user through the – pardon the pun – thread of the collection. With custom photography and a complete content re-fresh, we were able to successfully engage with the consumer through beautifully designed experience of beautifully designed products. And it seemed our work paid off. Within the first week of our launch of the campaign, three of the ten designs were sold out.

Moving into 2015, Socks by William has tasked us to expand their retail program, design new stories around each collection and continue to help grow their online community.

Technology:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.29.39 AMWe custom designed and coded a responsive multilingual Shopify theme using original design concepts, photography, and content.

Check it out and tell us what you think.

Video of the Week – The Boy Who Beeps by GE

‘Weird yet awesome, and interesting but still confusing’ – the thoughts that went through my mind while watching GE’s new video.

This short video talks about an epic tale of a boy who only beeps and can communicate with machines. As he grows older, he discovers his capabilities and what he can do. His special powers allows him to speak with the machines that surround him. When “the boy who beeps” converses with the machines, he is making them work better that benefits everyone.

GE tells a powerful and poignant story about the abilities and capabilities of their Industrial Internet who speaks the language of industry. The ad is designed to evoke emotions surrounding the evolution of GE and how Industrial Internet business brings software and machines together to serve various industries. Additionally, they effectively portray a vision where all machines and IT systems can communicate efficiently together. Yet having a human, the little boy, embodying the language of the industry is a symbol of GE: that they are people that are doing this and not robots! It is edgy, distinctive and vividly brilliant.

At the end of the video they quote: “When you speak the language of industry, the conversation can change the world.” GE is winking at us, saying when you’re GE and you create things such as the Industrial Internet (AKA the Internet of Things), they’ll change the way we communicate with machines, and these communications are changing the world.

We especially like how they’ve created an evocative, sentimental view of a world where we can communicate with our machines. The “boy who beeps” is fluent in machine and human languages, whereas everyone else in the ad are constantly frustrated with their machines. The Internet of Things, or as GE is calling it, the Industrial Internet, is meant to make machines work for us in a much more cohesive manner than ever before. This ad makes us excited to see how well it will work!

Find Your Fit with U.N.I. Training Montreal

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.13.35 PM

No matter your fitness level, whatever your goal, let your fitness needs become your fitness advantage.

facility_1_fullA few months ago Chris Ince, president and owner, of U.N.I. Training Montreal contacted us about helping him re-fresh his current (at the time) website to better tell his “gym”s unique story. U.N.I. is not your run of the mill gym, their unique philosophy and beautiful facilities demanded something better. We didn’t want to just build another “gym” website, we wanted to create something for Chris that truly illustrated the expertise of his staff, their fitness philosophy, and showcased their inspiring facilities.

Objective:

Working in collaboration with president and owner Chris Ince we were tasked with designing, developing, and copywriting a new web portal for U.N.I. Training Montreal. The goal was to build something as unique as their story and help them find new members.

Challenge:

The challenge for our creative team was to create a visual story different from other fitness centers online, but still adhere to industry standards without confusing potential clients. We needed to ensure that their message of fitness was clear. We knew we wanted big, bold imagery of their facilities to help tell this story accompanied by a brand story that still resonates with fitness goers.

Technology:

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.11.10 PMWe developed the site using ThemeFortress’s WordPress Reverie theme built on ZURB’s lightweight Foundation framework. Thinking mobile first, we ensured that the site is fully responsive for the ultimate experience on any device or screen. Taking Reverie to the next level we integrated a ton of custom features for end-user management.

Check it out and tell us what you think.

Looking the Part

Doing What We Do Best. Google+ Expert Ray Hiltz Gets His Horse & Cart Website Overhaul.

hero-rayhiltz

Here is Rayhiltz.com, the sharp new internet face of Montreal-based Google+ consulting and strategy expert, Ray Hiltz.

Objective:

Working alongside Ray himself, we were asked to design a fresh new site to best reflect his business and person.

Challenge:
Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 2.12.17 PM

Like with any website creation, it’s vital to the success of the site to be reflective and true to the brand you’re bolstering. It’s one thing to produce a compelling digital work, but it should always feel like an extension of the subject, even if it is starkly different than what originally existed.

It was important to both Ray and the project to keep the site clean, personal, and informative. His new website needed to encapsulate Ray without looking gimmicky, and as Ray is the heart of his brand, it was especially important to make sure what was produced resonated with him, foremost.

After bouncing ideas and trying out different looks and layout, we wound up with a product we’re proud to present.

Technology:

We developed the site using ZURB’s lightweight Foundation framework. Thinking mobile first, we ensured that the site is fully responsive for the ultimate experience on any device or screen.
ray-logo

Check it out and tell us what you think.

Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

Silicon Valley’s season finale “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” ensures that the show will be back for season 2. It mostly deals with how in general, startups spend most of their time fronting, the constant rumour mill of the tech world and the absurdity of pivoting.

Through sheer luck, the guys at Pied Piper ended up with a shark of a lawyer (I dunno about you, but Ron Laflamme seemed like a total flake when we met him in “Fiduciary Duties”), and so because Erlich was attacked, the gang is moved up to the finals of Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Silicon Valley - NucleusOnce Pied Piper see what Nucleus has become (nice work, copying the Internet Explorer logo! It’s become pretty apparent that Hooli is supposed t orepresent all the current tech giants: Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.) they determine that Pied Piper is futile – they just don’t have the reach and additional functionalities that Nucleus would because it is fully compatible with the rest of the Hooli suite of apps. Richard, as usual, treats every challenge with his usual Eeyore mentality, whereas Erlich decides that he can talk his way out of this one too:

Richard: “They have 50 modules that are all awesome, we have 5 that barely work. I mean, we’re still having trouble compressing 3D files. Who’s running off to buy that?

Erlich: Who the fuck cares? So the platform can’t handle 3D files. You know what? 3D movies suck anyway!

Erlich’s plan is to sully the names of Hooli and Gavin Belson via the attack incident. Jared’s plan is to determine how Pied Piper should pivot. He also hasn’t slept in like a week. Jared’s “market research” is a great example of how when startups say they are pivoting, they look pretty dumb.

Silicon Valley - Jared doing customer validationJared: “Hi! Can I talk to you about something called Pied Piper? What does it do? Good question. Maybe you can help us find an answer. What if Pied Piper was an app that could attract rats. You know, like the fairytale? For purposes of extermination, or to feed your pet snake – I’m not here to tell you what to do with your rats, but we’re here to get you rats – STAT. Would you be interested, somewhat interested or not interested? Which one? Which one? Which one?”

Meanwhile, Richard goes for a walk and encounters Monica… I have to admit, I’m totally disappointed that they’ve set up the sole female character as a love interest. But I also feel like I shouldn’t have expected anything different.

Silicon -Valley - We're actually brokeAt the same time, Dinesh and Gilfoyle have a look at the booths at TCD. They’re genuinely scared that Pied Piper is going to fail, and they are seriously considering jumping ship at this point. It’s not entirely out of order, and so they go have a look at a company that appears to be doing really well. After talking up Pied Piper in order to show that they are not traitors, the CEO then asks them if they are hiring #startupfail.

So many penises...

So many penises…

They all wind up in the hotel room to sulk. There, they get into a ridiculous argument about how to best jerk off the whole room within 10 minutes. This turns into a problem solving session and it seems like . This ridiculousness becomes the spark of inspiration that Richard needed – which I find true to life – most startups are inspired by the most mundane and ridiculous conversations in order to find their true purpose.

Impressions/opinions:

Leila: Like I’ve said before, I’m super disappointed with the way women are portrayed and the serious lack of female characters in here. But this is a typical TV show, so in that respect, I am not terribly surprised. Obviously they were going to win or something fabulous would happen, considering the show has received some serious acclaim and overall great reviews. Plus they were showing at Disrupt, what would be the point in showing off a merely average app. This is the first time that we see Richard seriously working instead of constantly worrying, which is a relief. For a while I wasn’t sure if he did anything other than whine and cry.

Beth: On pivoting – Pivoting isn’t bad. In fact, Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product Group says that 3 out of 4 startups will iterate or pivot at some point in their life. It’s pretty rare to get it right the first time. Successful pivots happen when a greater pain to be solved is discovered through customer validation and/or customer development and NOT when something simply isn’t working without understanding why.

Silicon Valley - A Happy EndingIn the end, we’ll have to wait until next season to figure out what they do with Peter Gregory’s character (unfortunately, the actor has since passed away), how much money Pied Piper has raised since winning the competition, and how awful the Richard/Monica paring will be.

Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

‘Third Part Insourcing’ deals obliquely with the theme of gauging your company’s strengths and weaknesses. If you can do it properly, you can assert yourself in areas of expertise and seek external help where appropriate.

But it’s not quite easy when you’re caught discerning facts from illusion in your decision making process.

silicon-valley-ep.-6-cloud

Richard: Outside help? No we are not getting any outside help.
Jared: Well it’s a week until TechCrunch Richard, we can’t wait any longer.
Erlich: Look at the board Richard. Cloud architecture is just a giant turd that is clogging up our pipes. We have to call in a plumber to fix it.
Richard: I can solve it!
Erlich: Richard, you’re a fucking rock star. OK? You just don’t know Cloud. This tiny little shitty area, which is becoming super important, and in many ways is the future of computing … that sort of went South on me, but you understand what I’m saying…

FACT: Richard needs help with the Cloud service configuration for Pied Piper. He’s been stuck on it for a week.
FACT: Richard is a great programmer in areas aside from Cloud. He learned Ruby on rails over a weekend when he was Seventeen.
FACT: They need outside help for Cloud but Richard seems to be handling everything else well enough.

Simple enough list of facts, but it’s funny how those can get lost in the noise.

Call a Friend or Skip Your Turn

Jared: I’ve made contact with a programmer whose Cloud architecture is supposed to be insane. They call him “The Carver”.
Richard: The Carver? That Black Hat guy who apparently hacked into The Bank of America and took down their entire system? That The Carver?

silicon-valley-ep.-6-carverWe already see Richard begin to lose a handle of the facts. The reputation of The Carver as a genius programmer clouds his judgment. Richard can’t help but feel a sense of inferiority. All of this is compounded when they meet him for the first time in the offices of a company that is being taken apart, having been rendered obsolete by their move to the Cloud.

Jared: Six months ago, these guys had 6 million in series B financing. Now, the Carver’s here doing teardown.
Dinesh: He’s basically moving the carcass to the Cloud.
Erlich: Don’t touch anything failure is contagious.
Jared: I think that’s him. Excuse me, …Mr. Carver?
Kevin (The Carver): Uh yea people refer to me as The Carver, but no one actually calls me that. It’s, uh what people call a screen name. Y’know, I’m Kevin.
Jared: OK Kevin we’re from Pied Piper, we spoke earlier…
Kevin: Yea, you guys are fucked, huh.
Richard: No we are not fucked.
Erlich: Yes we are totally fucked. We have a live demo in one week and our Cloud isn’t assured.

Dinesh: Hey Kevin, so how did you bypass B of A’s network security? I want details.
Kevin: My lawyers told me I’m not allowed to discuss it.
Dinesh: Totally get it, that’s baller.
Richard: Are you ok over there? Do you have any questions?
Kevin: Yea…. one question.
Richard: Cool, shoot.
Kevin: Why do you keep your lips pressed so tight together when you’re not talking? ‘Cause they’re like white. Looks uncomfortable.

You can read Kevin’s snottiness several ways, but Richard’s primed to attribute it to his boy genius halo. His taunts and sass actually don’t do anything to logically support his capabilities. His attitude problem could actually just indicate he’s a jerk, but because of perception, insecurity, and reputation, it’s chalked up to being a sign that he’s competent.

silicon-valley-ep.-6-carver-richard

As they sit silently working beside each other, Richard begins to overestimate The Carver’s abilities and underestimate his own more and more. Now unsure of his own abilities, Richard actually hands off some of his own work to Kevin. For a second, even the viewer is taken in by Kevin’s peacocking, as he sits down with a sigh in front of the monitor, “Oh Christ.”

Soon, however, we learn that while Kevin is probably quite capable of a Cloud Programmer, he’s not quite the legendary web puppeteer Richard has come to see him as.

Richard: Did you just overwrite the data scheme? Why would you do this? You don’t ever do this.
Kevin: That’s exactly what they said when I was working at B of A…
Richard: Working at BoA? I thought you “hacked in”!
Kevin: No… I was a consultant at their retail banking services. I crashed their entire system. It took a team of seven engineers weeks to comb through all the code and find my mistake. And the only way that I ever avoided being sued was by agreeing to never tell anyone that I worked there.

Richard followed the Pied Piper too far (see what I did there?); he was deluded by the ultimately misleading promise of a charismatic leader. Self doubt, fear, other people’s comments can lead to the wrong conclusions. It’s important to make a proper assessment of where your company is at.

Gilfoyle: Richard, why would you let that little fetus access the DDL?
Richard: Because I thought that fetus was better than me, and so did you and everybody, and you pressured me into hiring him.
Erlich: Yes Richard, for the CLOUD, to deploy the Cloud.
Gilfoyle: So that you could do what you do best and concentrate on everything else which the fetus just fucked up!

The Signal and the Noise

This episode of Silicon Valley showed us that knowledge of where your assets and vulnerabilities lie are at the center of running an efficient business. Buying into the hype can cost you dearly. It’s important to assess where your strengths and weaknesses are and not to be swayed by things that are not grounded in fact. It’s dangerous to get lost in the noise rather than seek out hard facts to support your decisions.

Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

I don’t really speak all that Wall Street bullshit, you know what I mean? We’re just like five guys hanging around in a house trying to make cool shit. –Erlich

A lot of startups are inherently about rejecting old methods and promoting cutting edge ideas. Inspired by the stories of Facebook and Apple, entrepreneurs build narratives for themselves about finding new, better ways of doing things.

Certainly, these are great aspirations. There is great value in being critical of worn out conventions that too many follow like sheep because they can’t be bothered to challenge them.On the flip side, many business traditions exist for a reason: they work.

In “Signaling Risk”, problems in communication and efficiency threaten to damage Pied Piper’s credibility and burn through their funding before they can take their product to market. Now that they finally have their vision, funding, and legal issues ironed out, Richard takes a whack at building Pied Piper’s Corporate Culture.

What’s in a Logo

The quest continues to find a Pied Piper logo that strikes the right chord with the team. Erlich decides on his own to seek out local street artist Chuy. He also has very clear ideas of what he doesn’t want.

This is what we need; something raw. We already have kind of a shitty name, ‘Pied Piper’, but the last thing we want is two lower case P’s in a square like those motherfuckers across the freeway would make. –Erlich

What Chuy delivers ends up being quite graphic. Pied Piper is scrawled out in barely legible graffiti script and suffice it to say there’s a sex act being performed on a prone Statue of Liberty by Dinesh. Silicon Valley - Signalling RiskAny designer worth their salt would probably find a hundred and one ways that image fails as a logo, even beyond the obvious obscenity issue. A logo needs to be accessible and communicate that your company is stable and reliable. It also needs to be legible and attractive in large and small sizes and in black and white.

A perfectly decent example of a logo fulfilling these parameters is seen when Jared proposes to produce it internally to save the company $10K. Quickly, he sketches out two interlocking P’s. It’s not slap-you-in-the-face exciting or anything, but it’s recognizable and it won’t get you in trouble with the police.

Are you fucking serious? Lower case letters? Twitter: lower case T, Google: lower case G, Facebook: lower case F. Every fucking company in the Valley has lower case letters. Why? Because it’s safe, but we aren’t going to do that. We’re going to go with Chuy. –Erlich

After another revision that doesn’t do much aside from replacing the Statue of Liberty’s face with Erlich’s (lol), Chuy finally delivers them a logo that’s exactly the two interlocked lowercase P’s that Jared scribbled quickly.

It’s no groundbreaking design, but there’s a reason for that: it works.There’s no point in being cool and countercultural for its own sake. It could probably be best expressed by adding words onto Facebook’s famous motto: Move fast and break things, if there’s good reason to.

Corporate Culture

In the beginning of the episode, Jared flags the team that they’ll run out of money in 5 months on the outside and that they really have to get their efficiency issues checked if they’re going to beat Nucleus to a launch. The state of emergency is compacted when Gavin Belson announces he intends on launching at TechCrunch Disrupt, in 2 months.

Pied Piper has loads of communication and governance issues. The ones they specifically emphasize in this episode are the constant bickering and lack of communication that caused Jared to not realize they had to cancel their TechCrunch competition registration and Dinesh and Gilfoyle to waste time by working on the same task. Meetings are constantly interrupted and there is no method in place to monitor the progress and completion of jobs. As Jared attempts to propose solutions, he gets pushback from Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and Erlich who think they don’t need to operate like a traditional company.

Jared: I think we need to define our corporate culture.

Erlich: Our whole corporate culture is that we don’t have a corporate culture.

Jared: Take Dinesh and Gilfoyle, they are wasting an enormous amount of time arguing. What if we were to separate them? Right? Divide their existing workspace into two areas. We could put in some sort of portable barrier.

Dinesh [barging into the managers-only meeting]: He’s talking about cubicles!

Gilfoyle [barging into the managers-only meeting too]: We’re not doing cubicles, no way.

Jared: No no no, don’t think of it as a cubicle. Just think of it as a neutral-colored enclosure, about yea high, around your workspace. You know who uses cubicles? Every single Fortune 500 company. Why? Because they work.

Gilfoyle: He’s trying to turn us into Corporate Rock, Richard. We are Punk Rock.

Dinesh: Actually I think a better analogy would be Jazz. You know, riff and improvise around a theme to create one cohesive piece of music.

Gilfoyle: You take fucking Jazz at Juilliard. We’re not jazz, we’re fucking Punk Rock.

Jared: You see you guys are arguing over what metaphor to use to agree with each other. This is the inefficiency I’m trying to eliminate. My suggestions could actually help you beat me in this argument. Do you see the irony there?

In the end, Jared (who is quickly turning into one of my favourite characters) manages to make Gilfoyle and Dinesh follow his “Scrum Method” by tapping into their competitiveness.

Jared: So from Rules-based Filtering we go to Workflow, which means that card is moved from the Ice Box into the In Progress column. And it stays there until it’s ready for Testing. This increases visibility into our team’s progress and that gentlemen, is Scrum.

Gilfoyle: This just became a job.

Dinesh: He’s trying to make us compete so we’ll work faster. He thinks this wall of Psych 101, MBA mind-control bullshit is going to motivate us.

We tend to indiscriminately condemn all bureaucracy as stodgy and unnecessary. But bylaws and guidelines exist because ultimately nothing else ensures that a group of people working together day in and day out will be able to align their efforts to achieve all-important long term goals. Jared trusts in “the system”, and it produces results. You can use the system and still be an innovative and groundbreaking company.

Dinesh: Feeling pretty happy about yourself?

Jared: I’m pretty happy with OUR-self.

Dinesh: *sigh*

Our Thoughts

Vivien – Richard really needs to stop thinking and complaining about the 10 million they turned down in the first episode. It’s a distraction. They should do a post-mortem report on what lessons are to be learned, but I think they need to stick with their choice and move on.

ThePoet – I’m an ex-anarchist, poet, artist, and law breaker, the beard says it all! When I made the transition from college to freelance and then to working with and for startups, the consensus was always to do things different. Break the rules. Make new rules. At Brendan & Brendan we often talk about how we think “Agencies are broken” but, we’re not specifically referring to process, policies, guidelines, etc. These things are necessary to run a business. We’ve learned the hard way at B&B. Agencies are broken because of the individuals who are managing these processes, policies, guidelines, etc. Defining your corporate culture and determining workflow are absolutely essential, otherwise nothing gets done!