December 8, 2005

  • Can You Take “Less” Too Far?

    To follow on from my “Getting Clients Involved In Less” post, I thought I’d share what I’ve done with my corporate site at “”.

    My site has gone through many changes in the just under 10 years I’ve been running it (the site will be into double digits in January). It shrinks and expands in direct proportion to the clarity I have around what I’m offering my clients. Usually, when I introduce a new service or change what I’m doing, I end up adding more to the site to make sure people understand the new stuff we’re offering.

    But after a while, I realize that most of what I was saying didn’t really matter and could be done away with. Then the site starts to shrink again. A few weeks ago I launched a new version of the site — probably the sparest iteration since our “hello world” page a decade ago. It’s four pages long. The logo is the only image on the site. Nothing dynamic, web 2.0, Flash-enabled, or even particularly exciting.

    I like it — but then again I’m already sold on my services so maybe I’m not the stereotypical site visitor we should be building for! I guess I have a bit of a concern that this might be too much less — that I’ve taken out something that a new prospect would expect to see — that I’ve created a disconnect that will cause potential clients to pause and think twice about using our services.

    This is a particularly sticky situation because our primary services are helping people make “their Internet strategy smarter” and “their website better”. So if I’ve done a bad job on my own site, I’m not going to get a lot of clients. So here is the issue. I think this site is a fine example of getting the job done with less, which I feel is a critical skill these days. But will clients — who probably haven’t thought about the benefits of simplicity — look at this the same way I do? Or will they see it as an underdeveloped site where they were expecting brilliance?

    Your feedback on the site is welcome. Take a look at “” and let me know — did I take minimalism too far?

    Originally published at on December 8, 2005.

  • Getting Clients Involved In “Less”

    There is a growing movement towards “less design and more constraints” in designing for the web — much of it sparked by Jason Fried of 37 Signals. At last month’s Torcamp I had an interesting conversation with Jon Lax about this concept and how the biggest problem facing companies that want to adopt “less” as a design sensibility is client buy-in. Clients typically want more not less. When you’re paying for something the first reaction is that more is always better, but of course that isn’t the case.

    Probably the most dangerous point in the process is when you unveil a mock-up or prototype to the client’s team. Invariably people will say they like it “but…” — and with that but we start getting a laundry list of enhancements. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, “I think a user might want to be able to…”, “I don’t see anything for User Group F, G, and H on the site, could we put in a new section…”. You know the drill. The same thing happens when teams brainstorm the next iteration of a site. We naturally default to adding rather than taking away. To focus people on “Less” instead of “More” I suggest that we switch the goals of unveilings and brainstorming.

    Rather than saying “what’s missing”, “what next” or “what else can we do for people”, let’s try asking these questions:

    • What can we take away without impacting the user experience?
    • What words can we remove without looking meaning?
    • What can we get our servers to do so that users don’t have to?
    • What can we remember from visit to visit so users don’t have to repeat themselves?
    • What processes can we reduce?
    • Where can we user simpler language, plainer English, and a less formal voice?
    • How can we make pages smaller so they load faster and require less scrolling?
    • How can we anticipate what users will commonly want to do next and make that painfully obvious?
    • Can we do this with fewer people, less time, less technology, less money, and less pre-planning?
    • Can we create artificial constraints that will make us look for more elegant solutions?

    If we set up our processes to reward these questions — if we encourage “less thinking” instead of “more thinking” we’ll all benefit. Have you had any success in convincing clients that simpler is better (but still worth paying for)?

    Originally published at on December 8, 2005.

December 7, 2005

  • Seth Godin’s Squidoo Launches

    Squidoo is now live in beta and is definitely worth checking out. They may have my favorite homepage right now (see above). How’s that for minimalism! I was one of the alpha testers for the site and did what I think many people will do — I built an About Ken Schafer Lens (Squidoo’s term for a web page). Actually, I don’t mean that everyone will make a page about Ken Schafer, I mean lots of people will build lenses about themselves — just in case you thought my ego was completely unchecked. Earlier today Heath Row of Squidoo sent this e-mail to all the alpha testers:

    You may notice something special about Squidoo today. We have quietly — and completely — moved out of the closed beta test… and into a public beta. That means that anyone can visit Squidoo, find lenses, claim lenses, and build their own. We’re thrilled to open our doors to the public, and to let everyone use the platform that you’ve been helping us test and improve these last few weeks. But we’re not going to tell anyone yet. Except you. So, now’s the time for you to share what you’ve been working on during the secret beta test. Email your lenses to friends. Post a lens to your blog. Tell your mom. And, for a limited time, your friends will be the only people to know that Squidoo is finally live. Thanks for working with us over the past two months. We can’t wait to see how the general public responds to what you’ve been building!

    Ready. Set. Squidoo.

    Heath Row

    Senior Director of Community Development Squidoo

    P.S.: Yes, it’s OK to blog about this.

    It will be interesting to see how people respond to the public version of the site. There was a lot of initial buzz when Seth started talking about it followed by a lot of “whatever” kind of posts. I think this is a natural outcome of early hype on products — blogs can generate some much heat so quickly, but it often isn’t a very lasting effect. Take a look at Squidoo (maybe read my lens and create your own), then add a comment below with your initial thoughts.

    Originally published at on December 7, 2005.

December 2, 2005

  • Redesigns Around Content Channels

    If you’ve been to in the last few days, you’ll notice that Canwest’s flagship site has been given a makeover.

    Earlier this week Chris Powell at Marketing Magazine posted a brief overview of the changes:

    The revamped site–which draws content from 43 websites, including CanWest’s 11 daily newspapers, the Global and CHTelevision sites, and vertical sites including the recently relaunched, and–boasts a new look, greater navigability and new “targeted content channels” including travel, health, video and lifestyle. Additional content and features include event and restaurant listings, city guides, local shopping guides, telephone directories and maps. has also partnered with what CanWest Interactive president Arturo Duran calls “tier-one companies” such as Expedia, Mapquest and Google on associated features like travel, maps and content and search-related advertising. CanWest says the revamped site will also give advertisers the ability to integrate their products and services “with the most relevant content environment that best reaches their target consumer.” The site also offers access to the latest digital technology, allowing participating advertisers to “leverage multiple rich media platforms” to carry their message. Current advertisers on include Saab, Dell and Rona.

    It’s interesting to see this relaunch of the site that has three million unique visitors per month coming hot on the heels of the launch and so close to the holidays. I know that tradition has it that e-commerce sites shouldn’t muck around with their sites after Thanksgiving, but maybe it’s okay for content sites to use this time from some end-of-year housekeeping and redecorating.

    Originally published at on December 2, 2005.