Cold, Cooler, The Coolest

By now, we all know about The Coolest. If you’ve backed it on Kickstarter and are expecting your own Coolest, you’re also likely planning a few extra outdoor trips before the summer sun burns out. Kudos to the team at Coolest for helping peel us away from our screens just a little bit more. 

I’m intrigued by the product, but more so, I’m intrigued by their Kickstarter history. This isn’t their first swing at the ball and, as you can see, their first was a whiff. There could be dozens of reasons why it didn’t work out initially. They launched their campaign in the winter, likely because they figured they could get product into people’s hands by summer. Maybe summer wasn’t on anyone’s mind (or just depressingly far away) at the time and it made it hard to really consider a purchase. It could also be their more focused approach and clear messaging. There’s also a good chance that the much lower funding goal was encouraging to backers. 

They went from just over $100,000 in backing funds, and ultimately a failure, to over $5.5m in just days. This type of dramatic increase in success is a huge lesson for those who are building products. There’s value in recalibrating, iterating and relaunching. 

It’s a simple lesson in theory and difficult in practice but the principles ring true. Over the last week, I’ve been working in my free time on building Display into an attractive idea. I’ve tried to communicate with people directly for collaboration, gauge interest through Reddit, and establish flowing content on Tumblr. In the meantime, I’m working on putting together original content and figuring out my process on how I’ll do that regularly. I’ve run into a number of speed bumps, but most of them have been related to my positioning or language. 

I’ll be taking a few lessons from Coolest. It’s a great sounding product but the story of their growing success seems to be of greater value. As I build Display, I’ll be looking to find meaningful triggers that indicate that I’m either headed in the right direction or that I need to rethink my approach.

Just Say It, Do It, Show It or Prove It

There’s a serious problem in design that I think carries over to everything else we create. We struggle to just say exactly what we want to say. This happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes we haven’t figured it out. Sometimes, we fear perceptions are off. What if someone disagrees? In school we learn to write with attention to detail and by using supporting information but often carry those habits too far and over explain our ideas. I still write the occasional post that sound like I’m handing them in for a grade. It’s decent writing, but not for the context or audience. 

Great design is all about communication, but it removes itself from the audience by using experimental formats to send the message. This is a good thing, as It can be an opportunity to open the viewer’s mind and help see the content in a new light. Design is a powerful medium. For this reason, great design requires clear messaging. The concept can be abstract. The message has to be clear. 

The same clarity is important in creative work that goes beyond the visual. Products, games, organizations, exhibits… all have their own way of reaching audiences. Those with clear messages are most easily adaptable.

I once heard some great advice that said “it’s less about showing something new than it is about showing something familiar in a new way”. We live in a noisy world and are constantly battling for ways to clear out the things that stuff our mind-space with useless frill. The best way to show your readers, listeners, players and viewers that you respect them is to honor their time by being clear. Show them you trust them by giving them something they can grab on to in a way they’ve never experienced. Let them discover something powerful without requiring them to wonder what they missed. That kind of relationship is impactful and lasts a long time.

Emulation

Sometimes we learn things, but refrain from sharing because we feel like we’re the last to the party. It’s safe (and we like being safe) to assume that the knowledge we just acquired is something everyone else knew all along and we just barely skid into line for the awareness club. The truth is that everyone is, to some degree, faking it and projecting their experience as complete and put together as they possibly can. The best way to close the gap of feeling unaware is through emulation.

We often feel shady emulating others as if we’re not being genuine, but are completely okay with watching our peers glean great success from learned lessons through emulation. A good way to get on board with the idea is to think about how some of the most common things we’re good at are learned in that same way. For example:

We learn musical instruments through emulation. Before I started writing my own simple songs, I spent hours pouring over Led Zeppelin and Smashing Pumpkins tabs. That’s how I learned techniques. It’s how I learned to see music through the mind of others more progressed than I was. 

We learn language through emulation. Forget that even learning to speak as children is pure emulation, but even learning foreign languages is managed this way. I learned to speak French and Malagasy (the native language of Madagascar) within about 8 months overall by complete immersion. I had nothing to lean on but emulation. Listening and copying were the only tools I had in my belt. Once I became confident, I started to speak more colloquially and even fluently. I didn’t need to know everything, just enough to feel good about testing the waters on my own. 

We learn parenting through emulation. No matter how many books we read and how much advice we get, nobody is initially up to the task of being a parent. What’s generally our primary reservoir of comfort or advice? Our own parents. We know their parenting process (and I guarantee they felt like they were faking it a lot of the time). We know what we feel worked and what didn’t. We emulate those values of their parenting which we admire. As our own parenting procedures congeal into something more of our own, we iterate and recalibrate our purposes for the children we raise. 

A great challenge for makers of all types is to embrace emulation, press on to iteration, and find a voice in the process. It comes, whether we think it’s soon enough or not. The trick isn’t to just wait for it, but to coax it along through emulating great creative output. That’s going to be my biggest challenge with Display.