Roman Mars is creator of the oh-so wonderful 99% Invisible, one of my most absolute favorite podcasts and one I would recommend to anyone who can call themselves 'interested'. There is a really fantastic and fun TED Talk Roman gave back in 2015 on vexillology, the study of flags. I had watched the talk shortly after it had been published and it resurfaced in a recent (pre-holiday) recap on a year end 99% Invisible episode. It's a cheeky talk and worth your time for sure and it addresses some interesting ideas that I certainly had never considered.

What flags mean and represent is not something I think many of us contemplate. But 'man', when a flag is bad, they are bad. And when they are good they are really good.

During the recap episode where this topic resurfaced, Roman noted that the town featured in the TED Talk for having a bad flag design (Pocatello, Idaho) recruited their community, and him, to help spark the recreation and redesign of their flag (their new flag is great!). It's a charmingly happy ending, one where good people and good will have created good design. Win win win.

Revisiting this TED Talk was a joy. Here it is for you to enjoy also.

Presentation and Meaning

We need to evolve and rethink how we present the news. Nearly every news site you visit is based on the idea of sections, or categories, of content based around a very old structure. It's based on the newsPAPER. In paper, for what feels like a billion years, we've done things the same way. We organize the stories of the day into nice sections for you. The biggest, most important (well, really it's the stories with the highest selling potential) stories go on the front page. Then we further categorize each page or group of pages into a section.

The arts section.

The sports section.

The opinion section.

And this made sense when they way you mostly interacted with news content was with a printed paper. We needed that organization to help make sense of the world around us. And this concept, I think, is still great for print where the goal is to receive a physical summation of the events that have happened around you.

But it's 2018 now.

We're still basing our content delivery on a system modeled after a physical product, one that is a one-way street and just between the newspaper and you (the reader). The only interaction was another street, though this one two-way, and was with you and with whomever you were sharing your newfounded information.

We are an interconnected society now, sharing conversations often, and in real time. We need a presentation model that follows suit. When was the last time you stopped with someone and said, "Let's talk about sports, and when we're done with that, we'll talk about the arts. Oh, and we're only going to talk about a few items on each topic, and ones that have only very recently happened."

That's not how conversations and interactions work, yet that's exactly how we're showcasing our product to you. In an outmoded concept that you can no longer relate to.

I think what we need to do is reimagine how we present news. How do we share with you content based on and idea? How do people think about topics, ideas and news items in conversation and relationships with others?

We often talk about items in the idea of generalized topic and date. We easily give events names. We do this all the time. Hurricane Sandy. The World Series. Super Bowl LII. The Blizzard of '78. Nine Eleven. We also have ongoing conversations about ongoing topics. As a local newspaper, we will often have a legal matter that may have dozens of updates, sporadically, over the course of years. We see this with election cycles and ongoing voting topics.

Yet we still base our presentation on strict categories where you, the customer, have to do all of the work. Try to follow along a long-running event on a local, or national news site. Even more frustrating is trying to follow a conversation about that event. The conversation gets lost. The timeline of events gets lost. Meaning gets lost.

Let's reinvent how we can present our product to our customers. Let's find a new way to show meaning and develop understanding within our community.

To do this, we need to start by asking questions about how people communicate and share. And we need to be unafraid of change and let go of concepts of the past.

Rebranding a Crisis

"Climate Change." The words can act as a personal affront, a shot across the bow, to many. We used to call it "Global Warming", but that fell out of fashion. The term "Climate Change" is quite accurate. Our climate is changing. And there is overwhelming evidence (those are also called facts) that human intervention is the cause of this rapidly changing, and warming climate.

I wonder if it's a marketing problem? Does the term "Climate Change", while accurate, not give us enough of a reason to take notice? How do people react to each word and it's meaning?

"Climate" is not a really well understood concept among many people. Climate is not the weather and I fear that many people simply don't know the difference. It's hard to prove the climate (the long haul of the averages) is changing, while the weather (the down-to-the-minute current conditions) is moving in all directions. Many people aren't keeping them seperate enough to know that one affects the other. I think some major conflation of ideas is happening.

"Change" is something that people tend to both fear, and want to think is slow. We generally think about change in the past tense. What has changeg? How long did that change take? We compress the past, minimalizing it in our minds. We generally fear a change happening in a fast way. Especially happening to us directly (think car accident). On top of that, we minimize the changes of the past into something slow in our minds. Think about the industrial revolution nowadays and it seems slow and maybe even obvious, but in human history it was an incredibly fast and great feat.

To me, the term "Climate Change" is wonderful. It very accurately describes what is happening. But I think it's a hard sell. We (people in mass) don't well understand the "Climate" and minimize the idea of "Change". Maybe it's a just bad term for getting opinions to... well... change?

What about using a less accurate term, but one that more people would react to? Perhaps "Weather Radicalization". We can see "Weather". All the time. And we aren't big fans of "Radicals", those nasty nasty troublemakers!

"Weather Radicalization" is less accurate (although the changing climate IS causing the weather to be more radicalized) overall, in the long haul picture. But it is more relatable, understandable, and actionable?

Note: Edited on 1/17/18 at 11:51 am to add the word 'actionable' to the end question.

The Facebook Market

We knew this was coming for a little while now. It was in October, 2017 that NiemanLab posted an article about Facebook toying with the NewsFeed section of their service in a way that moves content from Pages (like those from newspapers... like us!) into a different, separate feed. Facebook is always tweaking the algorithm and redefining the goal for itself.

When news like the happens, most of us in the (especially newspapers, who are very much in the PRINT) publishing world tend to react quite loudly. NiemanLab is pondering a good, and interesting, question: "If Facebook stops putting news in front of readers, will readers bother to go looking for it?".

Bravo, NiemanLab. Exactly.

If Facebook doesn't shove our stuff at you, will you bother? Is what we have worth you seeking it out. For many newspapers, the answer is unfortunately "No". Without something like Facebook doing all the work for us to get our content in front of readers, what are we to do? We're incredibly bad at marketing and promoting our content. We're even worse at marketing it on social media platforms. Remember, these are MARKETING platforms. In my opinion, the best marketing platforms humans have made to date. The entire point of them is to show your best self to as many people as possible. There's a reason that we have 'selfies' and those selfies are posed, staged and make to look glamorous.

What we fail to do as publishers is to promote our content in a good, marketed, way. We post content, often not 'great' content (I'll save that for another post) that is repetitive and lacks an understanding of how to build interest. We're often repetitive and don't take the time to curate the content we do post to Facebook. We leave the same headline and 'lede' that we plan to use in print as both the introduction to our posts and the headline of the linked story... and in the 'teaser'. How much interest does a post on Facebook that says "An area man dies in car crash at major intersection" followed by a linked story with the headline "Area man dies in car crash" and then followed by some teaser copy that says "An area man died today when he lost control at an intersection and..." 

Whew. I mean c'mon. 

Interest is fleeting and our content, good or not, cannot be marketed in this way. It's repetitive and makes the customer have to do all the work just to find out the most basic thing they want to know. "Do I know this man?"

Good marketing is effortless, makes you feel knowledgeable and entices you to take action and do more. It's not repetitive and unengaging. We need to invest in either marketing training for 'traditional' reporters, or in a separate team to the marketing for us.

We need to learn the importance of marketing our content well, and journalism is not marketing, and especially on the best marketing platforms we've ever had.

Wassily Chair
 Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair / Ryan Wm Blechinger

Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair / Ryan Wm Blechinger

I recently attended "The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920's" exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. A great number of furniture, fashion and style pieces from that era including some wonderfully optimistic tea sets (no, really).

One of the stand-out pieces to me was this Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair, also known as the Model B3 Chair. I'm taken with how so many pieces from the Bauhaus are timeless in their design and this chair is, to me, near the pinnacle of that achievement. The Wassily Chair looked good then, it looks good now, and it will look good one hundred years from now. It's classic in it's proportions and it's form says "lounge, relax, enjoy" while at the same time promising to you that the only thing looking more noticeably classic that it, would be you sitting in it. Love.

Very important people

The V.I.P. feature in iOS is one that I currently don't really use, but would LOVE to use it if it had more streamlined management of my contacts. Right now it's only found in the Apple iOS Mail app, but I think it would be a smart feature to have system wide.

Flagging people with VIP status for Mail is great and can help point you to emails from those people and is far, far easier than setting up rules to organize your incoming mail. I'd love to see VIP be a feature in the Contacts app for more holistic management across any app or service. if you could label anyone in Contacts as VIP, you could then use that assignment to filter messages, see notifications and receive calls when "Do Not Disturb" is turned on (currently, this is done with the Phone app favorites only.

Having VIP status be system-wide would mean that you could organize a bit better the bombardment of attention-seeking highlights that we are presented with on our devices. It would make our communication cleaner and easier to digest, and also ensure that the people care most about can always get through to us.

A type apart

Always a lover of typography, I've been getting back into working, and experimenting, with type online. Good typography is hard. To have type that is easy to read, communicative, engaging and that emotes the intent of the author is a hard thing to do and is something I will always be learning how to improve and to better understand.

Bad type keeps us from reading more, engaging more. Cluttering the flow of reading with links, imagery and ads (ADS! OH, THE ADS!) prevents us from reading and comprehending the meaning of the message.

Right along these lines, I found a talk held in December '17 and offered at A List Apart. Take the time to enjoy.

A List Apart events presents "Web Typography & Layout: Past, Present, and Future", a Google Hangout chat with Jeffrey Zeldman, Jen Simmons and Roger Black.

Power Trip: part III
 Illustration of battery icons / Ryan Wm Blechinger

This is Part III in a series of posts spawned from recent issues with how Apple does power management in iOS devices. Part I and Part II.

I think that Apple is doing smart power management on new devices running iOS, and I think quite a bit of fear and frustration comes from our misunderstanding of how batteries work (full disclaimer: I am NOT a battery engineer!) and how they are affected by the things we do.

I started thinking about the idea of a battery icon on a device that would help communicate more information to us than the current 'remaining charge' level we have now. 

What if we had dynamic battery icons that would change to show us not only the charge they have remaining, but their overall health, potential to hold a charge or even how aggressively we're using them?

What if a battery icon could help convey things to us such as:

  • Potential (how 'healthy' the battery is based on how much energy it can possibly store.
  • Remaining charge (we have this now today).
  • Use (how aggressively we, or software, is taxing the battery)

If we had an icon that could show us these things, would we use our devices differently? Would we save more energy? Would we do less stuff? Would we feel anxious about using our devices for fear of using the battery?

A dynamic battery icon is interesting to me, and I think there is some potential for good as a result of more communication, but there could easily be downsides as well.

I began by sketching the three 'metrics' that would be used to configure the dynamic icon. Specifically a wave-form within a standard battery outline that would show the current state of the battery.


The overall height of the waveform filling the icon is only as high as the potential capacity of the battery. A new, fully capable battery would be full height, while an older, damaged or less capable battery would be below full height. Ideally the height would be the exact amount of potential the battery has. If the battery has 85% potential to charge fully, then the waveform filling the icon would start at 85% vs. the 100% full height of a new battery.

The width of the form would be determined by how much charge remains of the overall current potential. A fully charged battery would be the full width, while a battery with half a charge would only be half full. Just like we have today.

Adding the battery health (height) to the charge (width) already gives us a more dynamic icon.


The next option to the icon would show us how aggressively the battery is being used. We could have the 'block' shape above distort into more of a wave shape. The slope, or curve, of the wave could show just how much the battery is being taxed at that moment. The bigger the 'curve' would show, in a way, the battery capacity being 'pulled' back.


I put a few images together in a gallery slideshow to illustrate how this icon may behave. This example shows a fully charged battery, with full potential (health) and as it's used more and more aggressively, the slope, or curve, gets greater and greater and the overall level (remaining charge) will retreat. As usage slows, the curve becomes less and the usage doesn't drop as fast.

I'd like to make this more dynamic and interesting. I feel like having a more sinuous shape to the form could communicate more about what's happening. Something that emotes, maybe through animation, that it's being pushed back or depleted could be interesting.

Power Trip: Part II

I first mentioned the Apple iPhone power management issue and only relayed my thoughts that Apple is doing a really great thing by doing this, but communicated it poorly. Then I quickly went into some crazy thing about how batteries aren't gas tanks. And failed to talk about any ideas for change, or why this is misunderstood.

Let's take a look at a couple of quick ideas that could be used to communicate differently.


The messaging Apple offered was honest, true, and open ended enough to cause the media and people to freak out. Here's what they said:

Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components. 

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.

They note that they are managing "overall performance" and the "life of their devices". Which are all good, right? Who doesn't want the best performance for the life of their device? Later they note that they've added a feature to "smooth out" peaks, and only when needed, to prevent the device from shutting down. 

That's where I think everyone went crazy. That statement is just vague enough to cause panic and let everyone jump to conclusions. The've since followed up with a fairly thourough PR statement. The new PR statement seems almost aplogetic, as though it's trying to over simplify and explain to us, in basic terms, what's happening.

These power management features are really great and SHOULD HAVE been touted as a benefit of iOS. They should've marketed this from the get-go as a feature that keeps your iPhone running at peak performance, no matter what.


That goes directly Apple highlighting anything that admits fault of something they've created. It's not Apple's fault that batteries degrade, they just do. All batteries for all devices, always degrade. Acknowledging a power management feature to keep your iPhone at best performance also acknowledges that the battery in your iPhone is less than perfect. And that is what goes against the entire Apple headspace. They ignore the bad and highlight the good. Which is exactly what good marketing does.

This was a case of bad messaging in PR. The simple first message sent by Apple was just open enough for interpretation. Had they figured out a way to message this as a new feature, saving the day from the horrible truth that batteries still aren't great – that they had figured out a way to always make your iPhone the best it can be, we might have a different landscape to look at.

User Interface

Are there things that could be done in the iOS interface to convey to the customer that their iPhone battery may be less than ideal?


The battery icon and percentage count is really a bad idea. Because batteries aren't like gas tanks, the icon is a gross misrepresentation of how your battery works and how your OS handles itself according to the availability and health of your battery.

How could we rethink icons for your phones health and battery life that aren't a 'fuel gauge' type level like we have today? When your battery goes from 94% to 46% in a few hours, leaving you wondering, 'what's going on?'. Well, what is going on? Let's talk about what is happening and how to convey that to our customers with assurance.


Notifications such as dialogs could be made available in the OS, similar to the 'Low Power Mode' one, to help you identify any issues with charging or battery supply and in a way that doesn't leave the customer thinking 'did I do something wrong?'.

The battery icon could have a ubiquitous red dot notifier highlighting you to messaging about your battery and, if needed, offer information on a replacement. Overall battery health needs to be conveyed with imagery and text. How do we do that?

Batteries may not improve beyond these issues at a pace faster than our adoption of them more and more in our daily lives. We'll need to find ways to bridge the gaps in understanding and communication as batteries are used in more of our regular-use items, like cars, to help reassure the customer that their device is A-OK.

Power Trip

In my opinion, iOS brilliantly handles power and battery management. Apple's PR statement seems to have sent some of the public and and the tech media into a crazed frenzy of statements and thoughts that "Apple is slowing your iPhone to get you buy a new iPhone."

This makes zero sense to me. How would making their product worse, drive you to spend more money with them?

The 'slowing' of iPhones is done in an incredibly smart way. It's not really 'slowing', it's keeping your phone running as best as it possibly can for as long as it can for you. Your iPhone will behave differently in 'low power' mode, should you activate it, to keep the best performance possible while maintaining as much battery life as possible. It does the same thing overall when your battery quality degrades. The experience might be slightly less than perfect, but it's better than the alternative – your phone shutting off due to the battery quickly depleting or because it the battery doesn't have the power throughput to maintain what you're doing.

Batteries aren't like car gas tanks. They don't just keep your phone running the same 100mph until the fuel runs out. An older battery out of peak performance (or a new one under improper conditions, ie. extreme heat or cold) simply can't deliver the fuel to your phone as well. It's as though your gas tank is now a bit smaller, the line carrying fuel from it to the engine is a bit smaller too and the there's a little hole dripping fuel along the road as you go.

That doesn't happen to your car gas tank. It doesn't shrink, not deliver fuel nor sprout leaks. But if those things do happen and they cause your car to slow down, you wouldn't say that the manufacturer of the car did it to push you to buy a new car from them.

Anywho, the PR behind this is poor. Just loose enough to seem condescending. Just vague enough to cause panic.