Clarity First Newsletter, February 16, 2018

Clarity First
A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

I bet that I’m even more surprised than you when I see what shows up in this letter. I’ve got my settings on ‘open’ and I am consistently blown away by what shows up in my feeds. This week I captured some good ideas about design, trusted behavior, learning from bees, and why good website copy matters. And there’s a lot more where this came from.

New credo: function follows human needs, form follows human behavior

Is the old, trusted law ‘Form Follows Function’ still relevant in the digital age? After all, an iPod Shuffle looks like a key fob, which looks like a memory card. Their forms aren’t following function. But Sherry Wu thinks that the spirit of the law holds, it just needs to be updated to recognize that function meets a defined human need, and then the form reflects how humans act.

Form Follows Function Sofa, by Daan Mulder

“The appearance, or form, is cultivated through the study of human cognition and behavior. The better we understand how people think, feel and behave, the better product we can design to make it intuitive to people.”
Article: How is ‘Form Follows Function’ to 21st century Design?

John Perry Barlow. Image by the European Graduate School, via Wikimedia Commons

John Perry Barlow (R.I.P.) creates a list of wise rules to live by.

John Perry Barlow died on February 7. I knew of him first as a member of the Grateful Dead family, as one of just two lyricists who could create words strong enough to provide ballast to hold the crystalline heights of the Dead’s music. Then he achieved another fame when he penned A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, and founded the Electronic Freedom Foundation. He leaves a huge legacy. This article is a good jumping off place to explore it. And the 25 rules in the title are worthy of framing. I’ll tease you with the first five:
1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
Article: The 25 Principles of Adult Behavior

Learning from bees

Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker studies superorganisms like ants and bees, looking for lessons we can use to foster better collaboration. She suggests that we can cultivate what she calls Collective Intelligence, if we follow the bees. Principles include:
1. Facilitating self-organized networks
2. Aggregating scattered tidbits into something meaningful
3. Cultivating diversity and independence
4. Communicating openly and constantly in a two-way fashion
5. Triggering decisions using simple rules and feedback loops
Article: 5 Biomimicry Principles for Collective Intelligence

Everything else being equal, stories are our preferred way of absorbing information.

Data helps us make sense of a complex world. But we need to help the data tell its story. That means learning to translate the probabilities, tables and graphs, which our brains typically choke on, into the simple stories that humans prefer.
Article: Human Beings Need a Story

How would you craft your pitch if your entire target user base was as lazy, selfish and cheap as you?

“Maybe people aren’t using your product because they’re lazy too, and you simply haven’t given us enough reason to stop being lazy.” While written for product designers, this article contains great insight for communications designers, too.
Article: Design for the Worst Version of Yourself

A more intuitive Value Proposition canvas

I’m a big fan of the Strategyzer group, and lean heavily on both of their books on Value Proposition and Buisness Model design. But, I’ve noticed that both clients and workshop participants alike get confused by some of their language. The concept of “Customer Jobs,” for example, trips people up. Last week I assigned a client team to use the Strategyzer Value Proposition canvas and they balked. “We’re not so clear about the different definitions,” they reported, “So, we used the explanation from Peter J. Thomson. His feels more comprehensible to us.” Move over, Strategyzer. Hello, Peter.
Article: Value Proposition Canvas

Copywriting matters: Boring brands, take note.

Nishi is a website that aims to “inspire the internet to suck less, one website at a time.” It does it by showcasing websites that “aren’t plagued with business jargon, and talk to you like they’re a human.” Inspiration found here. (P.S. Note that this work is also a brilliant piece of “freemium” content marketing by a company that improves landing page conversions.)


Lake Street Dive are hometown heroes. The four-piece met while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. They woodshedded their first sounds in Western Mass. They released their first albums on Northampton’s Signature Sounds Recordings. And, last year they came home to headline Greenfield’s Green River Festival. Here they are completely nailing a Tiny Desk Concert. The intimacy of the setting shows off their ensemble groove so beautifully. Kvelling.

Images of the week

When not shooting architectural interiors and travel-scapes, photographer Sebastian Erras shoots images of his rather incredible shoes on even more incredible floors. These images are from a new series called Cuban Floors.
Article: Colourful Cuban Floors Project

What’s Clarity First?

If you’re new to Clarity First, it’s the weekly newsletter by Mitch Anthony, and Clarity, the consultancy that helps mission-driven companies use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as powerful tools for transformation. Learn more.

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