Making the web more awesome: Karen McGrane on the big web show this week
Karen McGrane, designer of The New York Times website and managing parter at Bond Art + Science is our guest on Episode #25 of The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET Thursday, 28 October at live.5by5.tv.
We will discuss putting publications online (Karen has worked with The Atlantic, The Week, Fast Company, and Conde Nast, and just launched National Journal), the horrifying state of content management, careers in web design and development, running a design business, teaching UX and design, and the explosive web and interaction design scene in New York City, where Karen has long been a major player.
If the internet is more awesome than it was in 1995, Karen would like to claim a very tiny piece of the credit. For more than 15 years Karen has helped create more usable digital products through the power of user experience design and content strategy. Today, as Managing Partner at Bond Art + Science, she develops web strategies and interaction designs for publishers, financial services firms, and healthcare companies.
Prior to starting Bond, Karen built the user-centered design practice at Razorfish in her role as VP and National Lead for User Experience. Karen is also on the faculty of the MFA in Interaction Design program at SVA in New York, where she teaches Design Management, which aims to give students the tools they need to run successful projects, teams, and businesses.
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is recorded live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!
When I moved to this teeming borough of painters, drunks, junkies, queers, nudie photographers, novelists, girlfriend-supported guitarists, bikers, drummers, sax players, gang members, and ad folk, I little imagined that it would one day be considered a safe, boring island of stockbrokers, playing straight man to Brooklyn’s hipster.
Happy Cog and Airbag merge
Now the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Happy Cog™ and Airbag Industries announce the merger of our firms, effective today, August 3, 2009. The resulting super-agency will be called Happy Cog, and will maintain studios in three cities:
Happy Cog East, in Philadelphia, directed by President Greg Hoy;
Happy Cog West, in San Francisco (the newest branch), directed by President Greg Storey; and
Happy Cog Studios, the original, in New York City, directed by little old me.
From an internal perspective, this merger of people and resources, freely shared across all three agencies, means we can now bring boutique-style craftsmanship to any size job. If you’re a client, you no longer have to choose between “big enough” and “good enough” when selecting a vendor. You can hire a big agency that designs and cares like a small one.
With the mix of people now at our disposal, you can expect exciting product development as well.
Staffed up and pumped up, Happy Cog East and Happy Cog West will specialize in client services, web design, and development. Happy Cog Studios in New York, while also designing selected websites, will focus on business strategy and content development via A List Apart Magazine, An Event Apart design conference, and other ventures.
None of us knows exactly where all this is going. But we like who we’re going with—and we trust them with our lives. More than that, we trust them with our reputation.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for the gentle touch of a make-up pad. Or of anything, really. I love this photo (shot by Byrne with my iPhone) because it captures the fact that I’m still really a four-year-old. It also shows what a genuine photographer can do with even the humblest of tools.
I have a full day’s work to do, but I’m home watching my four-year-old. Thus, this morning, Noggin was on.
“Daddy, what’s that black?” my daughter asked, pointing to the TV.
A black crawl eating 20% of the screen announced that Time Warner Cable, New York City’s virtual monopoly cable provider, will stop broadcasting Noggin at midnight tonight.
Comedy Central (home of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show), MTV, and other Viacom-owned channels will also be lost, the crawl said. But as the parent of a child under five, you’re asleep before The Daily Show comes on, and you haven’t cared about MTV since Run DMC walked this way with Aerosmith.
Time Warner Cable can do what it likes where your personal entertainment needs are concerned. But if they stop broadcasting Noggin, your four-year-old won’t shrug it off. It will be like when great grandma died.
Your mission is clear. You have to save Noggin.
The crawl and the websites of the soon-to-be-cancelled channels list a toll-free 800 number where customers can demand that Time Warner Cable keep Noggin on.
When you call the number, Time Warner announces that it cannot take your call due to “technical difficulties” and hangs up on you.
In its way, it’s kind of brilliant. By not answering their customer feedback number, Time Warner can claim not to have heard from their customers.
Although I subscribe to their overpriced service, I’m no fan. Since I described my frustrations with their fast, high-speed access, Time Warner Cable’s RoadRunner Turbo has continued to pile on the incompetence. This month they sent me a new modem and told me I needed to manually replace my old one. Beside the fact that nothing’s wrong with my old one, the new one isn’t compatible with my set-up, which is wireless.
Time Warner set up the wireless network using their wireless modem, and charges a monthly surcharge for the wireless activity they provide. But they sent me a non-wireless modem as a replacement. A two-man shop in Kazakhstan’s smallest town would not send a non-wireless modem to replace a wireless one. But Time Warner Cable does, because they are a monopoly and under no pressure to offer competent service.
And yet, although Time Warner Cable’s uncountable levels of existential suckage could induce vomiting in a giraffe, reality is never as clear-cut as a crawl on Noggin.
It is obvious that Time Warner Cable and Viacom are playing hardball in a price negotiation. Time Warner wants the Viacom channels cheaper than Viacom wants to sell them. Instead of working out a deal like mensches, the companies are taking their impasse to the public, and playing on the anxieties of parents with young children. Indeed, Viacom appears the guiltier company, since it is Viacom that is running crawls on its channels and popups on its websites, using the kind of language and typography more properly reserved for fake terror threat alerts.
Although Time Warner doesn’t answer its customer feedback number, some of the company’s phone numbers still work, and if you loop your way through a sufficient number of audio menus, you soon hear the company’s claim to be negotiating with Viacom.
If it were only about me, both companies could stuff it.
Will no one think of the children?
[tags]Viacom, Time Warner Cable, Noggin, high-speed access[/tags]
Two greatly gifted user experience professionals are contributing their time and talent to Happy Cog.
A veteran strategist and instructor, user experience director Kevin Hoffman creates compelling online experiences via patient research and sparkling creative insight. Prior to joining Happy Cog, he spent more than a decade building sites, developing strategies, and leading projects for colleges and universities in Baltimore. Kevin joins our Philadelphia office; we are thrilled to have him.
Co-inventor of a patented search tool for American Express, user experience consultant Whitney Hess has a bachelor’s in writing, a master’s in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon, and ten years’ experience making complex sites work beautifully. Her work for the New York office of Happy Cog will soon bear public fruit; we are delighted to have her on our team.
Welcome, Kevin and Whitney.
[tags]Whitney Hess, Kevin Hoffman, UX, userexperience, happycog, talent[/tags]
Fast high-speed access for NYC internet professionals
I’m home watching a sick kid and waiting for Time Warner Cable to come make a third attempt to install a cable modem. If you’re good at math, that means Time Warner Cable, the market leader in my city, has twice failed to install the correct cable modem in my home.
Because the web never sleeps, even web professionals who work in an office need reliable high-speed access when they are at home. Speakeasy provided that service via DSL in our old apartment (our previous DSL provider having been wiped out, literally, on September 11, 2001), but, as documented in old posts on this site, it took two months of comedic mishap for Speakeasy to get our home DSL working. And after Best Buy bought Speakeasy, it became harder and harder to contact the company’s technical support people to resolve service problems—of which there were more and more. By the time we moved out of our old apartment in December, 2007, frequent gapping and blackouts made our 6Mb Speakeasy DSL service more frustrating than pleasant to use.
The monopoly wins the bid
So when we moved to the new apartment, we decided to immediately install cable modem access as a baseline, and then secure reliable DSL access for redundancy. Time Warner Cable had set up a deal with our new building, and no cable competitor was available to service our location (you read that right), so the Time Warner got the gig. They came quickly and the system worked immediately. The digital HD cable fails once a week, probably due to excessive line splitting, but that’s another story, and we don’t watch much TV, so it doesn’t bug us, and it isn’t germane here.
Unwilling to repeat the failures and miscommunications that marked our Speakeasy DSL installation, I went ahead and had Time Warner Cable set up the wireless network. It costs extra every month, and Time Warner’s combination modem/wireless/Ethernet hub isn’t as good as the Apple Airport devices I own, but it makes more sense to pay for a system that’s guaranteed to work than to waste billable hours debugging a network.
Due to the thickness of our walls, the wireless network never reached our bedroom, but otherwise everything was hunky-dory. Within a few days of moving in, we had reliable, wireless, high-speed internet access. Until Time Warner told us otherwise.
Last spring we received a form letter from Time Warner stating that they’d installed the wrong modem, and that we were not getting the service we’d paid for. Apparently this was true for all customers who chose the service. Some of our money was refunded, and we were advised to schedule a service appointment or come to the 23rd Street office for a free replacement modem.
I went to the 23rd Street office, took a number, and within about fifteen minutes I was sitting in front of a representative. I showed him the form letter and requested the new modem.
He asked me for my old modem.
I said I hadn’t brought it, and pointed out that I hadn’t been instructed to bring it.
We both reread the form letter.
“It’s implied,” the rep said.
“Implied?” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “If we’re going to give you a new modem, of course we’ll want your old modem.”
I guess it was implied. But it wasn’t stated. And when you charge an installation fee, a hardware fee, and a monthly service fee, and then give people the wrong modem, you probably shouldn’t rely on inference in your customer support copy. To avoid compounding your customer’s frustration, you should probably be absolutely explicit.
I didn’t say these things to the rep, because he didn’t write or approve the copy or send the wrong modem to all those homes. I left empty-handed and continued to use the modem we had. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. Whatever the poorly written form letter had to say about it, as a customer, I didn’t have a problem with the modem.
A visit from a professional
As summer ended, Time Warner Cable sent me a new form letter. This time I was told, rather darkly, that if I failed to replace my modem, I definitely would not get the service I was paying for. Indeed, my service level would somehow be lowered, although it appeared that I would continue being billed a premium price.
So I called Time Warner, arranged a service visit, and spent the day working at home.
Around the middle of the service window, a Time Warner Cable authorized technician showed up with a regular DSL modem (not a wireless modem).
“You have wireless?” he asked in amazement.
“Yes,” I said. “Doesn’t it say that on your service ticket?”
“Hey, I’m just a consultant. I don’t work for Time Warner Cable,” he helpfully informed me.
“So are you going to get a wireless router from your truck?” I offered after a pause.
“I don’t have those,” he said.
We looked at each other for a while, and then he said, “Besides, you don’t need to replace your modem. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your modem. You don’t need to replace it,” he said.
Then he called someone to inform them that he hadn’t swapped modems.
Then he asked me to sign a form.
“What am I signing?” I asked. “That you didn’t do anything?” I said it more politely than it reads.
“You’re signing that I was here,” he said. So I did.
That evening, as I was bathing my daughter, Time Warner Cable called to ask if I was satisfied with the experience.
I said frankly I was confused why I’d had to stay home all afternoon for a service visit on a modem that didn’t need to be replaced.
The nice lady said she would talk to her supervisor and run some tests.
I was on hold about five minutes, during which my daughter found various ways of getting water out of the tub and onto me.
The nice lady came back on and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we just ran tests, and you do have the wrong modem. We’ll need to send someone out.”
So here I am, two weeks later, waiting for a technician to come try again. Will this one bring the right hardware? The suspense is awesome.
Although New York is a leading creator of websites and digital content, the town’s home and office internet connectivity lag behind that of practically every other U.S. city. Two factors account for it:
An aging infrastructure. It’s hard to deliver best internet services over a billion miles of fraying, overstretched, jerry-rigged copper line.
Monopoly. How hard would you try if you had no real competitors?
In future installments, I’ll discuss our adventures securing high-speed access to our studios at Happy Cog New York, and discuss the pros and cons of Verizon home DSL.