A Design Story: 11Mystics

Sit back, relax and let me tell you a short story about design, pent-up demand and being positioned well for the next big evolution of the Web.

You know I’ve talked before on how design matters…a lot. That said, there seems to be a huge reluctance on the part of tools providers to make a tool high function and high design. They either throw in every possible feature or make a tool so stupid simple that anyone serious would be embarrassed to use them.

But in a time of accelerating change around people generating content, increasingly using the Web for communications and participation, there is significant pent-up demand for easy-to-use, highly functional and in-the-hands-of-mere-mortals vs. propeller-headed designer toolsets and some vendors are shipping new tools that are meeting demand in the marketplace.

Last October we embarked upon an adventure to build Rise of the Participation Culture, initially as a Web-based report. It seemed prudent to use content management or blogging engines like Drupal, Joomla, WordPress or even Typepad to deliver it, but the realization quickly came to us that we were considering using bazooka’s to kill an ant.

I’m revealing for the first time — and holding myself up for potential ridicule from those who view iWeb, Rapidweaver (RW) or Sandvox as “stupid simple” or “Borsch you should be embarrassed to use it” — that we used iWeb to deliver the report. It was clearly a 22 caliber pistol to go after that ant and allowed us to quickly deliver the content…and that’s what mattered and no one cared if it was created in Dreamweaver, Expression or any other higher level and more complex tool.

As has always been my experience, the stock templates in iWeb are cheesy so I went on the hunt for more professional looking templates (and one that would resemble the look-n-feel of my blog).

I found them at 11Mystics since I was searching for great design that I could map to iWeb and 11Mystics offered very nice templates that would do the job. After buying one and discovering that the PNG images wouldn’t render in Internet Explorer 6 (one reason why I wrote When Will Internet Explorer 6 Die?), I queried support and the owner, Suzanne Boden Boben, and I began interacting by email. She provided us with a pre-release version of the template with JPG images instead of PNGs and it was flawless. GREAT customer service.

But it gets more interesting and revealing. I’ll tell you why all of this matters to you and how I perceive Suzanne as the poster child for remaking yourself and creating a business where one didn’t exist through great design, filling a need and being well versed at conversational marketing.

Turns out Suzanne lives in the Twin Cities. I could visualize several ideas for her business and we discussed meeting, but I dropped the ball since I’m so busy. Going back to her site today to see how she’s migrated her work, I discovered that she’d modified the design (her blog is first) and I began reading. Here’s what leapt out at me this morning:

a) Her blog reflects her deep and personal connection to her customers and the emails I received from her last year reflect it. This is conversational marketing at its best, though hard to maintain as a business scales so we’ll see how she does this going forward (and I think emphasizing mass communicating via the blog is the answer, BTW)

b) Since Apple weighs engaging the ecosystem surrounding their iLife tools vs. pre-announcing products and features, Suzanne is unable to prepare in advance for iWeb 2.0 since Apple pre-reveals very little. She’s blogged a warning to her iWeb customers to wait until it’s released to upgrade for fear 2.0 will break her templates. This is the sort of strategic communication that most small to enterprise companies fail to do since they harbor the notion that they’ll reveal something competitors will pick up on but her post is *exactly* the right thing to do

c) Both iWeb and Rapidweaver (another tool we’ve used) will sport new, easy-to-use template creation engines. Knowing this was appearing and likely to minimize demand for her templates, she’s teased her audience about a new template creation product coming and I’ll bet it hits the sweet spot of demand when it ships

d) Lastly, she had quite an interesting post that I found quite revealing on how she has set her intention to create her business and how her head is wired. If she only knew how many people were right with her on what is obviously her path to becoming more enlightened as a person. I’m going to send her an email after this post and let her know about some folks she might not be aware of in this town.

There are several lessons here:

1) This woman is not even a graphic designer! She’s been in software lifecycle management and has extensive experience developing major e-commerce applications and web interfaces for affiliate marketing. Yet she saw a need (great design and professionalism using a new generation of easy creation tools) and just went ahead and jumped in with both feet

2) The next version of these tools (rumored with iWeb and certain with the beta of RW) will deliver significantly more robust features for delivering Web application-like functionality. With all the widgets and API’s coming out, this creation tools category is going to explode (read Prediction: Apple’s iWeb Will Own Mass Market Web Applications to better understand my thinking). Building great Web applications won’t be the sole purview of hosted offerings like Google Pages, CityMax or Homestead.
They’re fine solutions, but desktop/Web assembly applications is much faster and gives people the necessary control that separate the cheesy and
embarrassing sites from ones that look professional (IMHO).

3) Everywhere I look I see the inefficient being made efficient as more and more businesses map themselves onto the Web. Having a soft need appear (people goofin’ on iWeb but having only a handful of stock templates) and jumping in with deliverables (Suzanne’s templates) is one example. We haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg with respect to tools, chunks of functionality delivered for assembly using these tools (e.g., widgets) and creation tools for mere mortals to use.

To wrap up this story, let me leave you with this quote by John F. Kennedy: “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Let me know of other people like Suzanne pushing the envelope on the Web, meeting pent-up demand and shipping useful stuff since I want to know about all of them.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.