Amazon is the new eBay

There isn't much I could write about Amazon's history to date that hasn't already been said. However, for a company so famously predicated on customer service, I've found their storefront increasingly frustrating to use. Anyone can now sell on Amazon - which is great in theory - but in practice it has resulted in a huge amount of undifferentiated clutter, of spammy products straight off Alibaba. That endless filtering and scrolling is unfortunately familiar to eBay users.

It's easy for Amazon to take a cut of those sales without any effort, but is that worth the cost of degrading one of the key reasons why people use their site in the first place? I don't think it is. Even Amazon's position is not so unassailable that people won't look elsewhere for a better buying experience. There is value in curation when we're bombarded with nearly infinite options.

Pointlessly Convoluted

The legendary product designer Dieter Rams said many years ago that "Products have to be designed in such a way that they are comprehensible". He was a master of pared-down, functional design. I try to make my work follow that philosophy as best I can. On the other hand, it looks like GE's smart bulb design team disagree, based on the reset procedure they've created for their smart lightbulbs. Read more

Measure Twice and Cut Once

That's one of my favourite aphorisms. "Back in the old days" it was easier to remember to double- and triple-check advertising or collateral before releasing it because everything was a hard copy. Now that so much of what we produce is digital it's easy to just dive in and release something as quickly as possible, telling yourself you'll fix any issues as they arise.

That's fine for something where being first to market is important - like an app, maybe - but most of the time it's preferable to take a bit of time to review and test. That could be anything from checking for typos to duplicating a website to test plugin updates rather than updating on the live site and hoping nothing breaks. It's a bit more upfront work but that bit of work is worth it to ensure your business always looks polished and professional.

Walk the Walk

I attended a fireside chat today featuring Adii Pienaar, and one of his points especially hit home with me. Someone in the audience asked a question about branding; something along the lines of "how do you pick the right name/logo?". He replied that those things only account for maybe 10% of your "branding", and that the way in which you interact with your customers is far more important. Brands shouldn't just try to look good, they also have to "act good". The catchiest name and slickest logo won't ever make up for a terrible customer experience.

It's a simple idea, but a good one.

Metaphors vs. The Obvious

Sometimes an idea makes perfect sense until you see the end result. Great in theory, but not in practice.Read more


McDonald's just brought back its $1 coffee promotion, wonderfully timed to coincide with Tim Hortons' price bump. This obviously makes the latter look pretty bad in comparison, but their problems run deeper than that.

Tim Hortons have been coasting for a long time by co-opting Canadian national identity as their own, rather than relentlessly focusing on the customer experience and the quality of their products. Profits are down and franchisees are unhappy, but decades of marketing have managed to inextricably link Tim Hortons to people's idea of what it means to be Canadian. But that can only take you so far.

McDonald's, on the other hand, is the exact opposite – they have a rather bad public image, that of a guilty pleasure at best – but they constantly tweak and refine and introduce new things to their menu. They've been very aggressive in promoting their coffee, setting their sights on Tim's in particular given the similar price bracket (as opposed to Starbucks or Second Cup).

Tim's over-reliance on public image rather than its products is catching up to them, as are their competition. It's a shame, but why didn't they see it coming?


It seems too easy, almost childish, but asking "why" is a great way to figure out what to do to accomplish a goal. Each time you ask yourself why, you're zooming out a little bit more and seeing more of the big picture. Keep doing it until you can't zoom out anymore, then dive back in. I find that exercise really helpful in situations where I have a solution in search of a problem, or when I think I know the answer intuitively but need to validate it.

Be Prepared

We often don't have a contingency plan in place for something that hasn't happened to us before - it tends to be top of mind only after we've gotten burned. I noticed this last week due to a few different circumstances.Read more

Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are deliberate design decisions made to trick people into believing or doing something they might not have done otherwise. They're so insidious that often times we don't even realize we've fallen for one. Read more

Babies, Bathwater, and Watches

I recently saw a quote written a few years ago in the context of business strategy that says (paraphrasing) "You don't want to be starting a mechanical watch business when everyone is switching to digital". The intent of that piece of advice is clear - don't jump into a dying industry - but as a bit of a watch nerd I found that specific example interesting, in that it refutes itself. Read more

Reinventing the Wheel

The marketing industry, especially the more tech-driven corners of it, tends to pile onto new technology as soon as it launches. I've been guilty of it myself with failed platforms like Google+. Read more

Obsolescence Through Technology

Cars used to have a useful lifespan of decades. Compare a '38 Ford to a '58 and there are some marked improvements, but the older model would have been quite at home on the roads of 1958. That longevity applies less and less to the cars of today.Read more