Musings on Design, Entrepreneurship, and the Creative Economy

Brian Scates

Going back in time with vinyl


Used music stores don’t sell 8-tracks anymore, or cassette tapes. But I’ve found several that sell old records. Something about vinyl gives it an enduring quality.

It’s been probably 15-20 years since I played a record, but having found a couple of local caches of vinyl gold, I decided to give it another go. I don’t know what it is about vinyl, but its a unique music experience for me, that my computers and iphones and zunes just can’t match.

The coming revolt against Apple


Over the last few years, Apple has solidified itself as the cool kid’s legitimate alternative to the Microsoft mainstream. They have excelled at packaging hardware and software together in sexy ways with usability that has put all the first-movers on defense, scrambling to catch up. The iPhone has been a smash hit and helped them expand their Mac market share substantially. broken-iphoneBut when you’re at the top of the cool mountain, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep your footing. There are storm clouds on the horizon, and there’s a revolution brewing.

The torches are being lit over in iPhone land. The iPhone has been a cult success in spite of itself in many ways. Other phones had better hardware and more features, and the iPhone was missing long standard features like MMS. But nothing matched the allure of the all touch screen form factor and the brilliant iPhone OS. When the App store was released, that made up for many of the (still persistent) feature deficiencies. But now that App Store is becoming a real problem for users and developers alike.

Tips and Best Practices for HTML Emails in Outlook 2007, 2010.


While Microsoft has been making great improvements on the web standards front in IE, they’ve been seemingly rolling backwards with HTML support in Outlook. For the 2007 version they switched from the IE rendering engine to the Word engine (apparently for security reasons), which is completely crippled compared to IE. For anyone who does email marketing and designs and codes attractive HTML emails, this decision has no doubt had you shaking your fist and cursing Bill Gates’ mother.

We were all hoping that for the upcoming Outlook 2010 release Microsoft would go back to IE, but they have announced that they are sticking with Word. The pitchforks and torches are waving, but it looks like we’ll be dealing with the Word engine for emails for many years. Even if they switch to IE for 2012, we’ll have clients using 2007 and 2010 for years. So if you haven’t yet learned the ins and outs of designing emails for Outlook, now’s the time to learn!

Don’t define your customers, let your customers define you.


Never underestimate the creativity of your customers. You may think you have a great product, but don’t get married to your intended purpose for it. It’s quite possible that customers will find alternative uses you may not have even thought of, maybe even better uses. If you’re launching a new product, particularly a web app, be prepared to adapt it to the way your customers actually use it, and not necessarily the way you designed it.

The most recent, and high profile example of this is Twitter. Twitter was originally designed as a “what are you doing/thinking/status” feed for friends. 140 character limits forced you to keep it short and sweet, and post more often. At first, this is how people used it, but after a while we all grew bored …

AT&T = Fail.


After reading Tech Crunch’s article about AT&T’s current visual voicemail problems (AT&T Is A Big, Steaming Heap Of Failure), I realized I haven’t received a voicemail in a long time myself. So I went to test it – first I called my wife’s first-gen iphone and left her a message. It didn’t show up immediately, but a couple minutes later it appeared. Then I called my 3G phone from my wife’s and left a message. It’s been half an hour, and I haven’t received anything yet. In fact, I can’t see my deleted voicemails either – it appears it’s simply not working at all. Now of course I have to wonder if I’ve missed any important calls. Not cool.

Steal This Idea: Auto-Temperature Coffee Mug


Several years ago, my wife and I stopped by Starbucks on our way to church, and got our respective beverages in our own insulated mugs (I’m not a coffee drinker, so I just get hot chocolate). As often happens at Starbucks, the drink I received was much too hot to drink. Because I had it in an insulated mug, it stayed at that temperature for a long time. In fact, 20 minutes later when we arrived at church, it was still too hot, and I ended up leaving it in the car and not drinking any of it.

So all through church I’m thinking about how to solve this problem, and what occurred to me is that what I need is a selectively insulated mug – a mug where the insulation can be broken to allow heat to escape, and then reestablish the insulation to hold it at that preferred temperature. What I envisioned were a series of metal ‘tabs’ inside the insulation layer that would expand when heated, and could be calibrated to connect with the metal exterior of the mug at n degrees, and then contract away from the outside when the temperature drops below n degrees. I sketched what that might look like …

How to respond to bad press online


Following up on my earlier post about customer service being the new marketing, I just came across a great example of how your business should respond to bad press online.

For some reason, an insensitive phone call with a Spanish speaking customer was recorded and uploaded to YouTube, to the embarrassment of Frank Myers Auto Maxx. It got picked up by a very popular blog, The Truth About Cars, giving it broad exposure. Immediately the comments started coming, all of them disparaging to the dealer.

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