Category Archives: branding

  1. Writing for the Web: Engaging textual content for online assets

    Users on the web are task-oriented. They have an objective in mind. It’s your job to point them to the information they seek, as effortlessly as possible. Unlike writing for other mediums, the challenge for any web writer is to keep things brief and anticipate the reader’s requirements.

    If your site is an informative one, anecdotes and long introductions will not be effective. Let go of everything you learned in English class. Here’s a set of quick and fast rules to follow to ensure that your writing is efficient and effective:

    Keep It Simple
    The most important advice you can take when writing content for the web is to keep it short and simple. Visitors to your site will not read every word. So your content should have the most relevant information upfront and other information should be easy to locate.

    Make Content Easily Accessible
    Web readers are impatient. They don’t read. They scan. They look at headings and subheadings, quickly searching for the information they want. It takes for the average web surfer three to five seconds to decide if they are going to read a web page, or just click away. That’s the time frame you have to grab attention. Use it wisely.

    Succinct paragraphs and easily digestible chunks of text are important.
    Use lists, descriptive headlines and sub-headlines to help point your users to the most important content.

    Use bulleted lists to break up blocks or text.
    Provide overviews, especially if the topic is a complex one. It can help the reader decide if this is the information they are looking for.

    Write Front-Loaded Paragraphs
    Start a paragraph with your conclusion. Visitors to your site want information quickly. You shouldn’t make them wade through unnecessary information to get to the point. You can then follow the paragraph with the rest of the details.

    Use Active Voice
    Younger users generally have a shorter attention span than older users, so getting to the point immediately is important. Using an active voice will ensure your content is clear and direct. You risk sounding dry and bureaucratic when writing in a passive voice.

    Have A Goal
    Before you begin, ensure that you know your audience. Who you are talking to? What do you want to say and how you want them to respond? Do you want them to contact you? Or sign up for a service? Lead the user to the next action point.

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  2. Designing a symbol: An internal critique

    There’s a beautiful poem by the great spiritualist Kabir that goes by the opening ‘Jheeni re Jheeni’. Kabir was a weaver by profession and spiritualist by nature. In this poem, he literally weaves the elements of his vocation with the high philosophy of life and living.

    Using this as a simile, he connects life (and body) to a beautiful tapestry. The poem talks about how life’s impulses form the warp and the five elements the weft – creating the tapestry that we call life… and so on. He interprets these connections and constructs the form of his poem. The poem itself is like a weave.

    So what? What’s that got to do with design? Leave aside the high philosophy of the poem (the content), and you see the pure craftsmanship of it.

    Design of a symbol, or any other design act for that matter, must be a deliberated act of connecting, interpreting and then constructing. Conceptually, the design approach must first distill and arrive at strong narratives – what story must the design tell? What aspects must it emphasize? What mood must it create? What balance must it strike? That’s the conceptual connection. We must then interpret this connection visually, formally, and graphically so that we have a ‘complete construct’ that is resolved and cohesive. Even if we present only drafts (as we normally do as a part of the design process), the drafts themselves must be complete and cohesive, even if they are not refined in presentation.

    At times, we are missing out on this collective deliberation as well as individual critique that is a part of good design approach. We must adopt more effective ways of deliberating, coming up with conceptual connections and have internal critiques that will help us pick, debate, choose or discard things that work and things that don’t work.

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  3. Portfolio July 2011: Web, devices and more

    The Apparatus portfolio has evolved over the last eight years. It has a fair share of information portals, enterprise applications, brand communication, web and mobile apps. There are a bunch of publications designed for print and tablet too. Please do view this full screen and write to us soon. (And do select ‘presentation’ mode.

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  4. A Timeline: Plotting Apparatus’ past and predicting a future

    Apparatus is going to be eight years next month. We are constantly trying to redefine ourselves as a creative business. Lately we have been pursued for partnerships from across Europe and I have been talking history. This presentation is to walk interested people through our progress, our competencies and our goals. Take a look at this presentation.

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  5. Cottonworld campaign 2011: Entrepreneurs’ comfort zone – II

    We do not do advertising at Apparatus. I always thought advertising as business promotion with short shelf life. It does not work along the entire lifecycle of a product or services as a brand.

    We got associated with Cottonworld as a brand six years back. We did an identifier refresh, lightened the brand to make it younger and distinct. We also elevated Cottonworld from an image of a family-run business to a substantially large pan-Indian mark. Our association with this brand has been so strong that we did all their advertisements too. You can see our brand work for Cottonworld here.

    Last year we discovered a new plank that can promote the brand – young entrepreneurs. We interpreted it as ‘Comfort is about doing your thing in your terms’. We shortlisted a set of unique businesses and got the founders to model for Cottonworld. You can see the 2010 campaign here and glimpses of 2011 campaign below.

    Aadore Sayani runs a Sleight of Hand that specializes in delectable brownies served at your doorstep in Mumbai.

    Spiga is a Med-style restaurant in the heart of Bangalore run by Aparna Suri.

    DJ Suketu is a big name in the party circuit and runs his academy for youngsters with a penchant for mixed music.

    We enjoyed working on Cottonworld over these years. Today we are working with them on their social media strategy, ecommerce plans and of course, a younger brand. We have been very minimal with the backdrops and sets this year with a focus on entrepreneur and clothes. If you are a young businessperson with an interesting story write to us to. If selected you can get featured in the next campaign.

    See Cottonworld on facebook and follow the brand on twitter.

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  6. Learning Discovery: How to make users reach products?

    The key to any good ecommerce experience is leading the user to the apt product and of course seamless fulfillment. This post deals with product discovery in ecommerce. The overall objective is to reach a single screen of appropriate products, typically 10 to 20, through a minimum set of clicks.

    A typical stage area promotion where the brand consistency and quality of design can be stronger

    Homepage promotional portlets have to be compelling and not intimidating

    Even if there are more than one gateway to enter an ecommerce catalogue we designers should meticulously think through the categories, search model, multiple portlets within portal pages and related (up/cross) selling These are compelling reasons for users to reach to a specific product easily. The elements of discovery in ecommerce are:

    • An information model and a catalogue tree that is intuitive and appropriate: Product groups should be put through rigorous questioning to tuck them under appropriate category headers. Category header labels should be easy to understand and offer quick segue to the products. A good practice is to put the category tree through a small focus group to understand flaws.
    • The basic search: Ecommerce search should start free form – a simple field and dropdown of categories. However filtering, sorting and comparing products from the search result is a key ingredient to a satiating shopping experience.
    • Sort and filter: The column headers of these search results to sort should be thought of intelligently. Typically these are values that can ascend or descend. For example – price. Sort rearranges the order and does not exclude like filter does. The parameters used for filter should be the ones that you will use as a buyer and these filters are contextual to your wares in a category.
    • Promotions and portlets: On the homepage or a similar page with multiple boxes that include house ads, the campaign plan and the content plan should help the user reach a product very quickly. The promotions should be calendar sensitive and the team should do a yearly plan that accommodates changes and inserts. The leader lists should be intuitive top tens on social parameters like popularity or rating. The lead stage promotional banners should contain the chief promotional messages well designed with striking imagery and typography.

    With these there is all possibility that all users will efficiently reach their product and if convinced can be converted too.

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  7. Turbulent Trays: The rise and fall of airline food

    Good airline food is an oxymoron. An improbability further diminished by strange reheating apparatus and plastic containers. They do promote food in the non-coach classes. But it is just better cutlery and wine.

    Few years back, my city airport was not a serious international hub. It resembled a state tax office with a wind sock and a large striped scoop looking for its mother on top. I had to do all my international connections at Bombay. Those were times when I did ten days at a stretch to America with visit USA coupons and a crammed itinerary of a city a day. I took bleary red eyes that dumped me across the coast and it was morning as I get ready to sack out. These carriers were filled with large belligerent stewardesses who slammed a pack of pretzels (who invented this outrage?) and a heavily iced plastic cup of soda onto my gullible hands.

    I spent overnights at long-stay hotels with no restaurants. The breakfast was not warm and dinners were microwave packs from the lobby vending machine. I would not call these trips a culinary delight except for weekends at a grill in Dallas with my brother. When I was done I took that long haul through Zurich back to Bombay.

    The lights of home were always inviting as we landed after midnight. I had to wait a few woozy hours on uncomfortable chairs for my Jet connection to Bangalore. That flight made me appreciate a good airline breakfast after days of insipid fodder.

    There was a fluffy folded omelet with translucent onions and cilantro – well cooked outside and gooey inside. The eggs were served with sauteed mushrooms glistening in the streak of morning sun and golden hash browns. A bowl of cold fruit, a croissant and good cup of coffee made it a complete meal tray. The vegetarian option was upma. At times I used my loyalty status and devilish smile to charm those sweet in-flight staff to get me both. And Jet Airways stayed consistent with their quality. I thought I would never say this, but I loved airline food.

    Things have changed. Air Carriers all over the World are bleeding. Travelers have to pay for their meal. Jet airways invented a new low-cost variant called Connect and collected money for your meal on-board. Recently I traveled a standard Jet flight and they were benevolent enough to serve breakfast. The masala scrambled was 99% spice and 1% egg. The grilled vegetables were more like chewing jerky. Stale croissant and an old bowl of papaya did not reach home either.

    Airline food is back to their grandeur of low esteem.

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  8. Window shopping: Is there a re-commerce in India?

    As Apparatus engages in new projects that involve catalogs, payment gateways and retail concepts I am starting a series of posts focussing on ecommerce in India. This is the first of the lot.

    Indian railways is probably responsible for making online users ready to pay and buy things on the web. With their devastatingly ugly website they could generate substantial revenue with payment modes that were compelling – cash on delivery for instance. The air carriers, travel and ticketing websites followed suit. And now this is the sole vertical that generates B2C revenue online. However fashion retailers and bookstores never took to selling online like they did in the west. The users were still wary of identity theft and misuse to swipe their cards online. There were a few retail platforms like rediff or indiatimes that stocked fashion, had their own logistics partners and private labeled shops for big brands. However this was restricted to the privileged credit card holders.

    Sometime early last year with the sweep of social shopping websites in the US and the death of local social networks in India online startups considered commerce again. Venture capital firms were ready to look at this new found interest. Even the new fangled security measure of validating personal credit cards at the über secure bank website did not deter them. Myntra, Flipkart, Bigshoebazaar and more such names appeared and today they are growing or consolidating.

    I personally think there are flaws in these properties and more payment methods do not necessarily make better user experience or more business. The things that ail Indian ecommerce are:

    • The business is not a brand: The principals are from a technology pedigree and they make functionally strong websites. But they do not consider the value proposition, persona or the tone/voice of these brand expressions. They do not engage the users like a brand does. Examples are Myntra’s inconsistent promotionals, human models without a specific statement and a packaging that does not communicate.
    • Product discovery is about an intuitive information model, focussed promotions and an agile search: Category trees can be misleading if they are not thought through. Consolidating categories for more real estate can be detrimental to a seamless ‘buy experience’. Flipkart’s ‘Art, Photography and Design’ as a category has about 100000 books in it and filters like hardcover/paperback or delivery time does not help me narrow down to what I need.
    • Focus the homepage: Why do we all like the Apple homepage? It is an intelligent solution with a single product/promotion occupying over 50% of above-the-fold real estate. The rest can really be interactive stamp size pictures. Cluttered home pages with too many portlets like in or can intimidate a new user. Also the brand gets a boost with a visually lightweight homepage.
    • Fulfill smoothly without much ado: Myntra messaged me twice, called me more than six times before they hand delivered a pair of shoes that I bought. I would have preferred it less intrusive and efficient. So it is important to engage a smart logistics partner to get wares without a hitch.
    • Play the brand always: Engage the users like offline brands engage consumers. Remember amazon’s bookmarks, expedia’s smart guides and goodies from Target to create a brand asset biosystem that goes beyond the online shopping experience.

    Follow our blog for more posts on online shopping user experiences.

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  9. Designweek at Target: 19 Nov 2010

    Last month I was invited to present Apparatus and share thoughts on information design at the Target facility in Bangalore.

    Mr Rakesh Mishra giving Shiva a goody bag from Target

    Mr Rakesh Mishra who coordinated the Designweek program gave me a goody bag that was promptly looted by my daughters.


    Designers, technology engineers and marketing professional responded well to the concepts presented. I had a pretty long question and answer session with them post the talk.

    Target has always been my favorite chain when I am traveling in US of A. Their consistency of brand communication and overall product mix was always compelling. When I got invited for a group talk of sorts to discuss design and information design at that I happily accepted it. The audience were a good mix of technologists, marketing professionals and UX designers. I was happy to present my point of view and heard great responses from them.

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  10. Tablet vs eReader: Touch-me-not

    Apple has sold three million iPads in 80 days and that is a lot of pressure on the eReader market.

    ‘There are going to be five million ereaders in the United States alone this year and is estimated to grow to 15 million by 2014’ says Consumer Electronics Association. With Apple’s stride it is clear that the tablet and ereader markets are merging rapidly. All big players are worked up with iPad’s rapid climb to success. So, Amazon slashed Kindle’s price by a record breaking 27% down to $189. The Nook, Barnes and Nobles ereader product saw a price slash of 23% and retails at $199. The trailing Sony ereader sells today at $169. Given all this, they realize they are way short on features compared to an iPad. We hear a lot of research and development to bootstrap the standard reader.

    All this when iPhone 4 releases this Thursday with a new version of iBook on it. This allows users to read on that desirable fantasy of a gadget. Apparently well designed, like any Apple product, and can dent the ereader market further.

    Now what does all this rambling mean to us designers.

    I have been at client meetings lately where tablet apps are substituting traditional marketing and other promotional assets. There are more devices realized for various verticals and target markets. More devices mean more user interfaces, more challenges to differentiate, surpass and brand better. Not to mention all that content that needs to be designed to consume.

    Well it is going to rain interfaces my friend and we have to be there monitoring the sanity.

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