Samuel Miller

Wordpres vs. Wix – What You Need To Know

I built this website on a WordPress server app, but my last 3 projects are based on the Wix platform. Starting in 2017, I create many of my new web projects on Wix. It is a relatively mature platform. You save a lot of time in customer training. It is very easy to hand-over Continue reading →
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Looking for Comparisons? Here’s What You Should Know

Each year there are more and more platforms, systems and solutions available for almost any need that I can think of. Abundance of choice is not necessarily a good thing: it often stifles your ability to make a decision. This is why many, like me, rely on comparisons by experts Continue reading →
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Table Top Game Marketing: The Paid Review Problem

When promoting a table top game, there is this expected check list of actions. One of these actions is paid review: sending the game to board game blogs and paying to have the games discussed in special columns or channels, dedicated to paid review of new games. I chose not to tic this particular box Continue reading →

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The True Cost Of Working For Free

I am often asked to work for free. It has many forms: “spec work”, free consultation, free public appearance or simply helping out a friend. There are many reasons for providing free services: self promotion, supporting a cause and returning a favour. There are, however, far more reasons to decline.

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More Than Game Design: The MDA Framework

When you play a game, what are you looking for?

Zoo Tycoon was a business-simulation game favourite of mine. One day, feeling mischievous, and not having my daughter with me to play the game, I decided to try and see if I can break the rules Continue reading →

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Are Copyrights Laws Becoming Obsolete?

My first experience with copyrights breach was in 2001. The Vault was the first TV format to be sold by an Israeli company and make it big in the international TV market. The contract signed between Keshet Broadcasts and CBS Kingworld was blown almost out of proportions by the Israeli media Continue reading →

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Roooster Is Shutting Down

It was a long journey for us here at Roooster.

We started working on the idea of a business platform for creative professionals in early 2015. We believed, and still do, that the time has come to present the world with a new method of doing business: where independent professionals are not just Continue reading →

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So What Is Roooster All About?

We started Roooster out of our own experiences and frustrations: Chasing projects, only to find, once we won the bid, that we have none of our favorite team members available. Continue reading →

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Finding Out What Teamworking Designers Need

We, the Rooosters, want to solve some of the biggest problems facing the creative professionals’ community today.
This is an ambitious goal, but we are taking it one step at a time: Our first version is out, with minimal functionality and great hope for the future.

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“Creative”, A Dirty Word

Mike Monteiro takes offense to being called “creative”. At least this is what I understand from his pinned-tweet. Is “creative” such an offensive word? How come this adjective-turned-to-noun became such a politically incorrect reference to people who take pride in being craftspersons ? Is this word, as Monteiro claims, really used as a tool by The Man to disenfranchise hard working design trade professionals?

L. Jeffry Zeldman says Monteiro’s claim is “rubbish”, but seems to actually agree with Monteiro in certain points of his post: First, Zeldman says that the title Creative does not diminish your trade, if you admit that Creative is just one of the many other professionally acceptable components of the trade, such as “research, data, conversation, testing, and all the other science-y stuff we trot out to prove that we are worthy business partners”, as Zeldman puts it. Meaning that the whole Idea of being called Creative is insufficient in itself to gain any sort of professional recognition and appreciation. You do need to stress the fact that there is this “science-y stuff” along side the creative “stuff” to garner public respect.

Zeldman goes further into undermining his own argument, by writing about “That spark, that divine spark, that indefinable creating essence of the spirit”. Thus, being a creative is much the same as being a prophet, in the most biblical sense of the word. This quote from Zeldman should be alarming for any non-designer who may consider hiring a designer. After hearing it. one must be reassured that they are not hiring a possessed person or a religious fanatic who suffers psychotic episodes.

To reconcile both Monteiro’s and Zeldman’s views, we can argue that Creative is this single-letter-code which may be used by members of the creative clan, but not by outsiders. A C word which self proclaimed creatives can utter freely, but god forbid a corporate suit will use it. Isn’t it, anyway, a problem of how designers are perceived by the non-designer majority of the general market?

Well, Paul Rand didn’t think so. In his article The Politics Of Design, he refers to “the skilled graphic designer is a professional whose world is divided between lyricism and pragmatism. He is able to distinguish between trendiness and innovation, between obscurity and originality”. Yes, the skilled graphic designer is one who needs to have achieved equilibrium between the level of artistic expression one expects from themselves AND the level of service one knows the customer needs for the market in which they exist.

Rand’s approach is not as naive as it may sound. He claims the optimal terms are where an ideal customer provides “a harmonious environment in which goodwill, understanding, spontaneity, and mutual trust — qualities so essential to the accomplishment of creative work — may flourish.” But Rand also contends that customers are insecure and worrisome, which causes them to doubt the direction given by a professional designer. A secure and skilled designer, on the other hand, should be able to provide the best solution and convince the customer of this one solution, instead of providing several halfhearted sketches. If you are a skilled and confident designer, being called “creative” by non designers should not be an issue. There is nothing diminutive about this word.

Design, according to Rand, is a problem solving occupation. Funny, because this is exactly how engineers define their occupation and you can probably find many theoretical mathematicians, physicists, physicians and plumbers, who define their occupation as a problem solving practice. I think that the only ones to argue against this observation, will be psychologists. They will resent this assertion as demeaning, simplistic and reductive, before ceding their high ground. Creativity? This is how you, as a professional, solve the problems at hand.

On the other hand, those working in traditional problem-solving occupations, like software engineers, are also very creative. But this adjective is not often used in relation to engineering. You hear a lot about “innovative” and “ground breaking”, but creative? nope. However, if you talk to software engineers, medical doctors and police detectives, they will use the C word more often than you might suspect in relation to their own occupation. Assuming that “creative” is used by detectives to denote their methodical approach and not in how they treat evidence, I think we can put this awkward debate about this word to sleep.

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To Shame A Freelancer

It was late at night when I saw this Facebook notification from D. Usually I remove notifications immediately without reading them, reminding myself to set FB notifications off and never follow through with this resolution. But this notification was unusual for two reasons: for one, D doesn’t usually post on Facebook, so this was a rare occasion, which made me recall the fact that we are, actually, Facebook friends. Secondly, this was a shaming post, calling colleagues to avoid working with a particular freelancer. It was the first and only personal shaming post I received so far.

D is a Los Angeles TV producer, running her own independent studio and working relentlessly to bring her content to the viewer. Anyone who is slightly familiar with the Via Dolorosa a TV program needs to go through from pitch to broadcast, knows how hard it is to see the process through for each and every show. Independent producers, small studio owners, work constantly with freelancers. The project, if successful, may take long commitment periods, so once you have your production crew in place, you know you cannot team any of them for the next project you have lined up.

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Obviously, someone who has worked with lots and lots of freelancers and who doesn’t use social media very often, must be outraged to the extent that they will go ahead and publish such a post. Shaming is a dangerous tactic for handling professional problems: it may paint the shamer as a bully, it is likely to backfire and it may make potential business associates think twice before forming a relationship with you.

I had my share of disappointments from hired professionals, in-house as well as swords-for-hire. Up til now I had managed to avoid disputes and I follow an advice I received a long time ago from a wise woman: always give the people you work with the impression they will work with you again. There is a mutual dependency between employer and employee once the project starts: you are booth invested into the process and any status change may harm you both. Situation must be real dire if a producer needs to fire a director in mid production. Such a step carries additional financial costs, threatens the project delivery date and puts the entire project at risk.

Shaming is not just another step in escalating a situation. It is an entire new floor of bad relations. Public relations, that is.

After trying to figure out if D’s shaming post was necessary, my conclusion is categorically NO. There is no call for publicly shaming a freelancer, or anyone, for that matter. There is, of course, no clear border that lies between shaming and a non-shaming rant against a perceived injustice. When a stakeholder in your project acts in a way that threatens the well being of anyone else in the crew, or threatens the project, or is in breach of contract – then there are ways to deal with these situations, non of which include publishing a shaming post on Facebook or Twitter.

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Algo-Design – Rise Of The Machines

Is design going to be an extinct profession? Algorithms, machine learning and a bunch of other technological advancements bring us ever closer to Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity and the rise of the machines, but we still do not need to give in to an apocalyptic point of view. On the other hand, it is also not helpful to be complacent, or dismissive towards the new automated tools. Here are the news: algo-design is here to stay.It may be good, it may be bad, but this is a fact.

The major complaint from designers, at least those with whom I speak, is that this type of design is doomed to be of poor quality. Those who require designer services do not necessarily know what’s good for them. Businesses, small or big, do not necessarily know how to create their brand, project their identity to the outside world with the best visual representation or to understand how bad design will harm their business.

Over the past few years we saw an increase in online services offering extremely cheap design services. Anyone with a photo labeling app can offer their $5 logo services. This is a trend that many designers, not just in the branding and web design worlds have to deal with. It does have some good in it, where those who appreciate high quality design and want to stand out from the automated design drones, are happy to invest in a proper design.

Algorithmic based design is a totally different thing. Algorithms which automate manual work are already well established in the financial trade sector. Search engine learning your search patterns to perform increasingly better, is another way algorithms have, arguably, improved our online experience. Today, with algorithm based news services and even personal assistants such as Google Now, it seems that we are slowly and surely being entrapped in an artificial intelligence spider web woven by these smart machines. Usually we are oblivious to it, especially when it serves our day to day needs.

But when it comes to areas where human input is considered a must, we start to protest. It first hit us when we learned that websites use bots as customer service agents in chats. Later, we learned that online dating services use fembots. These are just the first harbingers of winter. Imagine a world without cab drivers or even Uber drivers, when all cars will be self-driven. We already have algo-news and it is not hard to think of an algo-psychlogist, with patient-therapist confidentiality as a privacy setting. It can also be good: in the future, the Miranda warning may be rephrased to say: “If you cannot afford an attorney, an algorithmic defender will be appointed for you.”

Are designers going to follow stock brokers, switchboard operators and video store clerks? Maybe, if creativity is quantifiable. But if creativity is creativity, and you know it is, than designers will have to design a new path to take.

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The Automated Logo Experiment

2016 elections provide a great marketing opportunity for all kinds of ventures. One marketing effort that was quick to take advantage of the run, is Tailor Brands’s PR post . The post is quite creative: as a show of force, they attempted to create logos for campaigns of several leading candidates from both big parties. The results are somewhat less than successful: Hilary Clinton’s logo looks like it belongs to a new social network named Hillary. Jeb Bush’s logo looks like an English language after-school program for struggling kids and Rand Paul’s logo looks like an actual brand design, for cows, that is.

This startup, Tailor Brands, is all about helping small businesses brand themselves. As opposed to its name, Tailor Brands is all but tailoring the brands. It is an automated logo design tool, which basically cuts the middle man. The problem is that the middle man here is the designer.

When discussing automated tools which threaten to replace professional human designers, one major rant I hear from designers, is that this type of design is doomed to be of poor quality. The problem, designers argue, is that people who need design services, do not necessarily know what’s good for them, so they settle for cheap design which may harm them in the long run.  Another argument is that businesses, small or big, do not necessarily know how to translate their core values and identity attributes, to a graphic language in a way which will truly represent them. The Tailor Brand experiment is a proof to this claim, no?

Well not so much. Looking at the way this automated logo wizard works, it does follow the same procedure as most, or many, logo designers. The problem with the 2016 election campaign logos is that the process was not done by any of the campaign managers. It was done by Tailor Brands themselves and that’s where the problem lies: what do they know about the core values of the candidates? As the candidates themselves are human beings, what do the people who ran the algorithm know about their likes or dislikes, about their typography preferences and about their core values? I think it is safe to say that if the campaign managers were the ones to run the algorithm, the results were quite different.

For me, this tool is yet another toy to play with, so I went ahead and played with it, using Roooster as a test case for what happens when the actual stakeholder is the one using the tool. The results are here. I don’t know how I feel about them or if I would ever use any of them, but they are not half as bad as the ones produced in the PR experiment.

Is there a conclusion to draw here, or a bigger picture? Of course there is, but it is not as simple as good or bad. Cheap crowd based design hubs and automated logo machines are here and they will take over the trade. Is it a defeatist assertion? Most probably, but we cannot assume that the wisdom will forever remain at the hands of experts. Is design, as a whole, going to be extinct by the rise of the machines? This is a topic for my next post.

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How Is Sharing Caring?

This is Africa: I drove with my host around Soweto, when he threw his plastic water bottle out of his passenger’s seat window. To my protest, he just smiled and said “sharing is caring”. I noticed while driving around these roads, how the shoulders were littered with bottles and cans, plastic bags, cardboard boxes and old rags. Now, as he kept smiling, I started noticing the people walking on the side of the road, picking up stuff. “Everything is recycled here”, my host continued: “nothing is left unused”.

Roooster is a solution based on the idea of sharing. Obviously, freelancers can’t be compared to used water bottles: water bottles don’t get to decide if they want to be refilled or not. In this competitive independent studio market, sharing is perceived as a problem, and for a very good reason:

Being someone who relies on a freelance workforce, you want to have an edge on your competitors, to signify you as unique and make you stand out from the rest. You hire only the most talented professionals, those who you already know have both the skills and the work ethics to provide the best contribution to your project. But how can you establish this edge, when the talents we use for our projects are also employed by other studios? Our competitors?

The answer is simple: every studio has a leader, someone who distinguishes the studio by their quality of work, by the creative ingenuity or by the speed of delivery. For the busy studio, there is always need for a fresh talent to join a project’s team. This person, if they’re good, will probably be constantly busy with many creative leaders queuing up to hire them.

So how does one make sure that the project is teamed by the best available talents? Evidently, a big list of high quality contacts is needed, because, as a creative leader, if you blink for a minute, you’ll find that all of your precious contacts are already employed by other studios.
And it is a good thing: it tells you that your previous projects were part of the reason these people were hired for their current project. It is also Your work which is evaluated by your peers. You do the same: appreciate other studios’ work and try to contact people from their credit rolls.

There is this African code of sharing one’s good fortune with those who need it. If you have a good job and a steady income, it is basically your moral obligation to hire a housekeeper. This piece of information, believe it or not, was provided by my host as an answer to my question why there is no self-service gas station in South Africa. For the same reason, in this industry, where high-value professionals sometimes find it hard to market themselves, they rely a lot on the recommendations of those with whom they have worked. If you can’t provide your dear freelance a job right now, why not help them get hired? By the time you’ll work together again, you will also benefit from the gained experience.

Exchanging contacts is a great way to communicate with other studios. Sometimes you recommend a brilliant illustrator and get the details of a 3D modeller to build your fantasy castle. Sometimes you ask for a character designer, and get “go fish” as an answer. Besides, there is absolutely no reason to think that the creative freelancers that you keep in your secret address book are, well, a secret.

 

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