Remember the Sony eMarker?

Of course you don't. What we can learn from design and product failures...

In 2000, the potential of digital music was uncertain. There were a handful of limited MP3 music players. And Napster was the main way that people shared digital music (illegally). iTunes and the iPod hadn’t been launched yet. Everyone knew that the Internet could revolutionize the music industry. No one really knew how…

Sony released a product in 2000 that tried to bridge the gap between the old music world and the new digital one. The Sony eMarker solved a legitimate problem. It would let you mark songs that you heard on the radio so you could buy them later. This $20 keychain had a button and a small LCD display. When you heard a song on the radio you wanted to remember, you pushed the button. You could save up to 10 “eMarks.”

When you got home, you plugged your eMarker into your computer and fired up a Flash app that cross referenced your time stamp with the radio stations that you said you liked in your area and told you what was playing at that time. It then offered you a link to purchase a CD from Amazon or CDNow. 

The eMarker worked surprisingly well. I know because I was one of a small number of people that actually owned one. It’s mostly a forgotten experiment, though. The service was discontinued in 2001. It’s even hard to find a good picture of the eMarker online.*

Here’s the thing about the eMarker. It was a relatively well-designed and reasonably effective solution to a real problem — music discovery. But the product was a failure because it wasn’t where the market was headed. The eMarker was based on the assumption that radio would still be the main way people discovered new music. And then users would pay to buy CDs from Amazon. iTunes and the iPod destroyed that world. (The problem of figuring out how to purchase music that you heard around you was eventually solved by Shazam, the iPhone and iTunes.)

Often, we see projects fail because they are based on a flawed strategy or approach. Look at Apple’s recent admission that the design of the new Mac Pro was a misstep. Apple “backed themselves in a thermal corner” because they bet that the future of professional machines was multiple, lower-powered GPUs. They designed and built their concept of a professional machine, but the rest of the industry charged ahead with large, power-hungry GPUs. Apple’s design couldn’t accommodate where the market needed them to be. No one doubts the skills or abilities of Apple's designers, but the new Mac Pro wasn't able to serve the pro audience because it was based on a flawed concept.

Even the best designs are only as good as the assumptions they are built on.


* It occurs to me that it's impossible to find a high quality images of the eMarker because there weren't any high quality digital cameras in 2000.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is trying to figure out how to use all the ink he has purchased. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.

“You choose your dysfunction.”

I've used this phrase for years to describe changing jobs. Maybe I was wrong...

Every place we work has its own dysfunctional elements. And when you change jobs, you move from one group of challenges to another. Every job has challenges. You choose which challenges you'll face.

I had coffee a couple of months ago with some friends and one of them was in the midst of a job search. I relayed my standard "choose your dysfunction" advice. One of our friends piped up:

"I don't know. I think that sometimes, we bring our dysfunction with us."

I still haven't been able to get that thought out of my head.

Yes, it's true that each job brings unique challenges. But it's equally true the we cause many of our own issues. Too often, we blame the environment around us for something that we, ourselves, are causing. 

The key to addressing those issues – to finding happiness or fulfillment or whatever you are looking for – is being able to tell the difference between the dysfunction you find and dysfunction you carry with you.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is trying to figure out how to use all the ink he has purchased. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.

Pens, Passion and Entrepreneurship

Reflections on the Atlanta Pen Show

 

My wife and I made the trek from Columbia to Atlanta last weekend to catch the Atlanta Pen Show and the live recording of the Pen Addict Podcast. We went last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. (I wrote a post about last year’s experience, too.) Some quick thoughts on our new annual tradition:

Preshow. #atlantapenshow

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The Pen Addict Live. We wanted to go to the Atlanta Pen Show, but the live recording was the main reason we made the trip. The Pen Addict is a great show and I listen to it every week.*

The episode they recorded was excellent, as usual. Once again this year, Myke and Brad were joined by the equally awesome Ana Reinert. But they also had a couple of interviews on the show, too. Vito from Story Supply and Brooks from Carolina Pen Company both talked about their businesses. It’s always great to see and hear from people who are so incredibly passionate about their craft.

Seeing Vito and Brooks on the live show crystalized something that I’d been thinking about for a while. Yes, the Pen Addict is about pens (and ancillary stationery products), but it’s also a celebration of entrepreneurship. Myke and Stephen took their mutual love of podcasts and started their own podcast network. Brad and Jeff started NockCo and are building an amazing case business. Ana has a new product for sale, the Col-o-ring. Vito talked about what drove him to start the Story Supply Co. And I honestly have no idea how Brooks combines polymers and makeup to make the beautiful pens that he sells through Carolina Pen Company. 

Myke and Brad routinely bring in creators to talk about their products and creations. They support, encourage and build up the creative community.** I really do think that support is a big part of what makes the Pen Addict — and the larger pen community — amazing.

NockCo Sinclair. I enjoyed the show, but I didn’t buy much. (I’m still working my way through all the ink I bought at last year's show.) I checked out some vintage pens, but didn't see anything I had to have. 

One of my favorite purchases was the NockCo Sinclair. I was in the market for a smaller case… I love my NockCo Brasstown, but I wanted a smaller case for carrying with me to meetings. NockCo had some exclusive colors for the pen show circuit. I was eyeing the olive/lime Lookout. I seriously love the olive/lime colorway and you know how I love my bright greens… But once I saw the Sinclair with a black waxed canvas exterior and a garnet*** interior, I was sold. I’m a lifelong Gamecock fan and the creative director at the University of South Carolina. For a case to carry around campus, the garnet and black case is perfect. I’ve really enjoyed using it this week and I’m thrilled with my purchase. Hopefully, they’ll make some more pieces in this colorway, because I will buy them all.

Coffee #atlantapenshow

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Waffle House. There is a Waffle House in the parking lot of the hotel and we decided to grab a bite Saturday morning before we left Atlanta. (Myke and Brad have mentioned on past shows that they tend to frequent this Waffle House during the pen show.) It was packed. We found our way to a couple of open stools at the counter. The waitress told me that the weekend had been one of their busiest ones of the year. I guess we can blame the Atlanta Pen Show for the crowd. Next year, they should completely hook Myke and Brad up with some free coffee or something.


* I listen to a bunch of other Relay FM podcasts, too. I'm a Pen Addict, but I'm also a fan of the whole network.

** Unless your product is a bogus Kickstarter rip off. Then Brad will tear you limb-from-limb.

*** Officially, the color is burgundy, but I'm sticking with garnet.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is trying to figure out how to use all the ink he has purchased. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.

Linked: Comic book lettering

The evolution of a lettering style

My friend Kris Black posted the video below from Vox on Comic Book lettering. I love lettering and comic books so this was right up my alley. It’s a really smart piece that clearly explains the difference between lettering and fonts, shows how lettering design is connected to production limitations and best of all, doesn’t mention Comic Sans a single time. If you are interested in lettering and/or comics, check out this video:

Side note: The creator of the video, Phil Edwards, has done a bunch of awesome videos for Vox on a wide range of topics. I really enjoyed his history of Wingdings and his video on the origins of the Oxford comma.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he tries to explain the difference between type and lettering. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Microblogging Cross Posting

crossposting.png

I'm wondering how much I'll use Micro.Blog's cross posting features.

Facebook Memories shows you what you posted on this day in previous years. And eight years ago, I was cross posting everything from Twitter to Facebook. 

It didn’t take long for me to figure out this wasn’t the best approach for me. My Twitter followers are mostly professional acquaintances. My Facebook friends mostly want to see pictures of my children. So I stopped cross posting.

Today, the only crossposting I do is through Buffer to schedule posts on Twitter, Facebook, LInkedIn and more. But I select and customize the posts based on where they are running.

I’m thinking about how I’ll use Micro.Blog. Lots of people are interested in figuring out how cross posting works so they can post to Twitter and Micro.Blog at the same time. I understand why this a primary part of the platform — cross posting to Twitter gives people a way to try out Micro.Blog without investing significantly more time. But I’m thinking that I’ll largely avoid cross posting for two reasons:

My communities are different. I’m not sure what the community at Micro.Blog will be like, but I imagine they won’t mirror my design-heavy corner of the Twitter universe. (At least not initially. I'm pretty confident Micro.Blog will have a compelling story to tell to creative professionals. Look for a future blog post...)

I’m excited about the unique aspects of Micro.Blog. Twitter allows for 140 characters. Micro.Blog allows for 280 character posts. I don’t really expect to write much longer posts, but I do look forward to not having to rewrite sentences or butcher punctuation to fit a tweet under the 140 character limit. And Micro.Blog allows inline links and simple formatting with Markdown. That’s lost when I cross post to Twitter.

I'm looking forward to the launch of Micro.Blog and figuring out all the logistical issues like cross posting. Hopefully, the service will evolve to the point where cross posting isn't necessary.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is thinking differently about Twitter. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.