October 25, 2016

On Netflix & Positioning

Dear Netflix: quit sucking at everything and do what you do well instead.

Positioning has been a big point of my internal dialogue lately. As a generalist, your work is seen as a commodity, whereas specialists within a field and/or market segment are more often seen as invaluable strategic partners who deliver tangible value to their clients.

I was a Netflix customer back when physical movies were mailed via USPS back and forth. Only typing this now do I realize how obsolete that sounds – on par with landlines and phones that just phone. Nevertheless, in the early Ots, it was a novel concept with a huge following as the Netflix catalog put every nearby Blockbuster to shame, and eventually out-of-business.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Netflix has gone through a number of growing pains around phasing out the physical subscription options and moving to a complete digital streaming operation. What we now have in terms of “convenience factor” from Netflix, we’ve lost in titles available for streaming.

As part of their shift as a digital company, Netflix has also begun producing high-quality original content, on par with anything major networks are producing. Series such as Master of None, Black Mirror, The Get Down, Stranger Things, & House of Cards are as good as anything currently on network television, while their movie catalog continues to shrink and stagnate. Just Google “netflix catalog sucks” for more on that.

So, back to positioning. If I were in charge of such a strategy at Netflix, my approach would be two-fold:

1. Build the Netflix Brand and UX Around Original Content

Currently, Netflix is viewed as a generalist. They do it all but aren’t noted for doing anything particularly well. They have some movies and shows, but not a deep enough (and ever-shrinking) catalog to warrant the monthly subscription costs for most customers. They have some great original programming, but it’s often overlooked and lost in the weeds among viewers who are seeking familiar, brand name titles. Meanwhile, they are piling on debt and pouring billions (6 billion to be exact) into original programming with the goal of being 50% original content within the next few years.

However, the Netflix brand and experience is still caught in the middle trying to appeal to everyone, when it should be built around their fantastic original programming. Simply compare media powerhouse HBO’s homepage with that of Netflix’s. One provider features content, while the other is stuck trying to explain their business model.

2. Quit Releasing All Your Shows at Once

Perhaps there is a business reason for releasing all episodes of a series in bulk, but I’ve thought long and hard about what that might be and keep coming up short. Yes, I get the hype factor of “binge-watching,” but then what? It’s like winning the lottery, taking the lump sum, and heading to Vegas. By the third or fourth episode, viewers have completely zoned out and now that original content you’ve worked so hard on simply turns into background noise for whatever is happening on their phone. There’s a reason the week-after-week format has proven to be so successful for cable programming; hint: it keeps viewers coming back for more.

Again, HBO has this figured out. Think about the success and viewerships of shows like Game of Thrones and True Detectives. Yes, people could wait and subscribe after all the shows have aired and binge-watch, but more often than not, they don’t. Part of the appeal of television is being part of the conversation, which doesn’t happen with the Netflix bulk-release model.

October 5, 2016

The Sweet Spot


“If you can find the what the overlap is between what you love doing and what people want, I mean, that’s the thing, right, and everybody talks about that – I’m very lucky that I got there. You and I both share the perspective that it took A LOT of struggle, A LOT of struggle, to get there, and it was not easy.”

“I don’t think I realized how hard it was until I found that fit, that overlap, between what I could provide, what I like providing, and what people want to buy. And then suddenly it was like, ‘Oh, this is what easy mode is – this is what it feels like to be graceful.’ Running head first into a wall for a few years, I thought that was normal, I thought that was what owning a business was like.”

Nick & Kai discussing the sweet spot on How To Make Money Online

Running head first into a wall… sounds about right 😉

October 1, 2016

Artists Who Become Great Just Work Harder…

“I believe artists who become great just work harder at it then anyone else. I really do. I mean painters, and things like that, they just work harder. They might have some ability, but they don’t have anymore ability than anyone else. They’re just driven. I think drive is the most important thing.”

“But what about responsibility, obviously you’re the best at what you do, so don’t you feel you have a responsibility…”

“…to be good, and to take it seriously… I owe it to my audience.”

Howard Stern & Norm Macdonald discuss being responsible for the work.

September 1, 2016

All That Leads to the Dark Side

The oppression, the destruction, and the genocides started with the fear of the “other people.” Fear that led to hate. Then hate led to the justification to dehumanize the others. There are two universal stories in the world: the beautiful tales of love and the ugly tomes of fear. If we are to see peace on earth, it is time that we outgrew the tight evolutionary grip of fear. Unfortunately, overcoming 6 billion years of evolution won’t happen quickly.

Ben Huh from A Gap Year Around the World…

It’s certainly worth taking ten minutes from your day to read the entire article.

August 29, 2016

Rapha’s Head of Design, On Design

…and to me, that’s what design is, it’s not creating the product – it’s the process that you go through. It’s not the final thing, it’s how you got to the final thing. It’s the journey. It’s all the crap that comes with it.

From An Inside Look at Rapha

August 19, 2016

Creating a Value Based Design Business

The key to any business’s success is all about the value it creates. Same goes for employees, products, or any relationship. As designers, we often struggle in defining the value we create beyond “we can make it look nice” especially as more of our industry is commoditized by talented production artists and DYI platforms. Why should a client pay upwards of $10k for a “custom website” when a simple Squarespace site, or in some cases, a well-executed Facebook presence, can accomplish many of their business requirements for much less? Same can be said for logos, printed materials, on down the line.

We must be able to define and sell the value of our services and offerings if we expect to have any longevity as design professionals. It’s something I constantly am working towards, and too often, find myself back in that production/generalist mentality instead of narrowing my focus around the true value proposition that’s intrinsic to good design and strategy.

In his talk, designer Clayton Farr provides some much needed direction for creating a value based design business. A few of my key takeaways from what Clayton had to say:

As a business, you must decide what work you’re going to do, (just as importantly) what work you’re not going to do, for whom you’re going to do it, and why.

This is a daily struggle as a recovering “wandering generalist” who needs to pay the bills.

Become intensely appealing to a certain group.

How do we become the person who a friend recommends as “Just the guy/gal for the job”?

Clayton’s four principles for defining what you do and where you do it:

1. Think Beyond Money – What is the higher purpose – why do you exist?
2. Competencies – What are you uniquely qualified to do? Play to your strengths.
3. Who Are Your Customers? Is there a need and can you bring value to them?
4. Culture – What are your principles?

Finally, he has some excellent advice regarding pricing: Don’t negotiate costs, negotiate value.

Can I produce this for what it’s worth profitably? If it’s only worth X amount, but it takes you this much to produce it, it’s not a project you should take on. It’s not financially viable for you or anyone else.

View Clayton’s talk in it’s entirety above.