Loren Omoto

Innovator, Strategist, Educator

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It’s Alive…

For everyone who thought this blog was on hiatus – it wasn’t. It was on involuntary vacation after WordPress kept reinstalling itself on top of the existing database. (Has that happened to anyone else? If so, I’d like to talk to you.) Having gained new appreciation for the importance of recent backups and reliable tech support, I’m going to hammer out a short post about another topic: creativity.

Specifically, creativity and the idea that your own concepts may be just as good as the next designer’s. This not-earthshaking insight comes courtesy of a website: campfires.io. You may have encountered this site in the past, especially if you’re in the storytelling or design game. I had, but I never truly understood its inspirational power until now.

Everyone feels a little fish-out-of-water when starting a new creative endeavor. It’s natural. It takes a while to develop a portfolio and feel your creative oats. Design, in particular, seems to demand an extra level of self-assurance. After all, if you don’t believe in your own work, who will?

Reading a recent blog post about campfires.io reminded me of many conversations I’ve had over the past year. In a cohort of aspiring designers, we all had moments of doubt. Knowing that “pros” feel this way, too, is empowering and oddly uplifting.

The quote from Pitchfork’s Molly Butterfoss is telling: “…never feel like you don’t belong somewhere or that you don’t know what you’re doing. No one knows what they’re doing and being able to handle that and adapt is what makes you a good designer.”

Those first designs are terrible. Critiques are justifiably brutal. But the next design is better and the next one is better still.

Not much new here, but it has tremendous resonance for me and, I suspect, the great group of people I’ve been working with for the past 12 months. We all had moments of doubt. We felt pangs of inadequacy. But, in the end, we emerged stronger and self-assured – the prerequisite for any creative career. In Jacob Gube’s words: “What’s important is that we start. And that we keep moving forward once we do.”

We’ve made a start. And now it’s time to move up and ahead. Good luck, everyone.

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The next big thing(s)

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Elephants by decafinata, on Flickr

I love the idea of publishing in multiple forms. Not just as insurance for the Zombie Apocalypse, but also for future-proofing. As the author of this blog post states, with certainty: “Something else is going to come along.”

Having witnessed an industry frantically try to reinvent itself over the past 15 years, I can identify with the search for secret sauce that magically leads us to the future. As Karen McGrane so eloquently explains, it ain’t gonna happen.

Meantime, I share her enthusiasm for wearable technology. Not just for fitness and fatness measurements – that’s early-adopter stuff. I’ve been thinking about possibilities for wearable tech as a content channel.

Not only are these devices connected, but they’re persistently, insistently attached to the owner’s body. This is a step beyond 24/7 “social presence.” It’s more like a direct line to the organism.

What are some implications for content producers? You may no longer need to consider attracting audience in traditional ways, but instead must focus intently on value.

In a world where everyone (or large portions of desirable demographic groups) is wired all the time, what will it take to rise above the noise level? More to the point, how to you avoid the left-swipe into permanent oblivion? The answer is to devote as much energy to user incentive as to your own intent.

Obvious questions about screen size and audio quality notwithstanding, optimizing content for a wearable device will require special skills and exceptional focus. Until we’re all sporting Google Glass or some other flavor of heads-up display, content consumption will be characterized by winnowing – separating info-wheat from the chaff.

For creators, that means being better editors, curators, and selectors. It means putting the interests of your audience first. And it means understanding their lives more deeply than before.

Instead of just being the loudest voice in the room, successful communicators will be the most valuable, empathetic, and rewarding. Are you ready for the challenge?

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I read the news today, oh boy…

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Today, I read news coverage about Martin Luther King Day observances…from Pago Pago. MLK Day was the top story on the Samoa News website.

How did I wind up there? I traveled to the South Pacific via a simple, but effective mashup called Newspaper Map. The web interface is pictured above; a mobile-friendly version seamlessly appears if you hit the site URL using a small-scale browser.

On one level, Newspaper Map is nothing new. User-generated mashups with generic Google Maps icons have been around for nearly eight years. But the added functionality on this site makes it more than a novelty.

To start with, newspapers are color-coded by native language. Should you want to explore beyond the yellow (English) markers, instant translation links (via Google Translate) are available. As anyone familiar with that tool is aware, the translations are rough and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, but the meaning usually comes through.

There’s even a gateway to newspapers of the past – like a time machine – although it doesn’t use the graphical interface or popover navigation. Still, it’s a charming wrinkle and a tempting time waster.

The Swedish company behind Newspaper Map says its mission is to make things for the web – “cool, useful, fast, modern, interactive, intuitive, cross-device and cross-browser compatible, etc.” This simple demonstration succeeds on all counts. And it makes me wonder about what’s coming with the “etc.”

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Failure as motivator

Does failure make it easier to succeed?

I came across an interesting article. about “productive failure.” The article dealt with research into ways that failure could set the stage for later academic success.

Pretests were used to assess students’ knowledge BEFORE instruction. Results were predictably dismal. Some students then received traditional instruction while others were left to “sink or swim.”

It turns out that students with a tougher path tend to do better, in the final analysis. As the article states: “The experience of failure and struggle gave students something valuable.”

This is a great concept for designers — we’re reminded every day that our failures help us improve — but it’s tough to implement as an instructor, especially an online instructor.

TIme and again, I have seen students disengage and become discouraged when struggling to understand an assignment. We do everything we can to make sure all the questions are answered and the path to success is clear.

Judging from this research, it might be good to teach less and question more. What do you think? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

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Is that really what you meant to say?

There are some pretty funny examples in this blog post, mostly from the media world. Behind it all, the author makes a serious point:

Consequences of thinking about content after the design process is completed can be pretty embarrassing. Content-first design is where it’s at.

For all designers, the task of creating a color palette, layout, interactivity, multimedia, etc., can seem to be most important. Even overwhelming. But it shouldn’t be our top priority.

We need to think about content first. As the original writer points out, doing otherwise is like creating the container before you know what’s going to go into it.