Starbucksgate: Mind the GAAP

Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks aren’t aware of the HMRC’s existence.

For the past few weeks the press has been filled to the brim with stories about the “immoral, but not illegal” tax practices of some of the world’s biggest companies. Most focus has been on Starbucks (who managed to pay less than 1% corporation tax on £3bn revenues in the UK) and Amazon (who paid £1.8m corporation tax on £74.4m profits, from £3.35bn revenue), but Microsoft have been brought kicking and screaming into the melée also after it was revealed that their revenues are funneled through Luxembourg to avoid UK taxes too.This is all very provocative and stirs up a lot of emotions – especially given the tax burden on us “normal people”. But before you jump onto any bandwagons it is important to try and see both sides of the story. Is it really fair to paint these companies, who are operating well within established international laws, as mega-evil tax-dodging scum?

Continue Reading “Starbucksgate: Mind the GAAP”

What Do You Think of Microsoft’s New Logo? (Updated)

Microsoft’s New Logo

It has been 25 years since the last redesign but here it is, Microsoft’s new logo:

What do you think?

 

Microsoft’s New Logo

I do believe that companies should refresh themselves every so often. Microsoft’s old logo is a classic and timeless so there must have been something significant to have encouraged them to rethink the label that will go out on every box of software (and cloudy app) for the next… however long. Obviously that significant something was their much-loved, much-hyped Metro interface.

And while I believe in congruence in design and branding across an entire organisation, changing that shouldn’t be done for change’s sake. And in this case I suspect that changing the entire company’s face to coincide with a punt-in-the-dark user interface innovation on one of their myriad products (Windows 8) is possibly too much too soon. Especially when that innovation isn’t being very well-received. And that logo – Microsoft’s first – it’s just the stylised logo of Windows. So they’ve confused matters enormously by giving it the same colours of their Operating System product. In fact, they’ve missed a trick to come up with a set of four different colours with which to base their organisational (as opposed to commercial/product) brand.

So with the above in mind I confess: I really don’t like the design.  Continue Reading “What Do You Think of Microsoft’s New Logo? (Updated)”

Design Student Shows Microsoft How its Brand Should Look

Design student versus the marketing might of the world’s 5th richest company. Design student wins.

When Andrew Kim was born in 1991, Microsoft were just putting the finishing touches to Windows 3.1 – the operating system that launched the company to international megasuccess. But 21 years later, Andrew Kim is trying to tell Microsoft how their brand should look. And do you know what? He’s completely right.

Andrew has started with the concept of “Windows” and challenged the 4-square motif that echoes not-so-much 21st century walls of glass and more Edwardian hash window.

 

Windows in the metropolis look nothing like four squares. This is the new design element I am proposing. I call it the ‘slate’.

 

The slate isn’t just a replacement for Windows, as you can see in the image, Andrew has tackled Office and the new Surface tablet/flipbook things too. Interestingly, Andrew has included Windows Phone in the Surface branding – this is very smart, and would go some distance to consolidating Microsoft’s sometimes confusing estate of products.

I’ve complained in the past that Microsoft’s new Windows 8 “window” looked like the work of a first year design student, but Andrew Kim has proven me completely wrong – design students could do much, much better. He hasn’t just revamped the product line either, he’s taken a look at the “Microsoft” logo too and refreshed it with a new font and some astronomically good concepts for how it could be used:

 

Continue Reading “Design Student Shows Microsoft How its Brand Should Look”

Google

Google CEO, Larry Page
Larry just got bad news from the Oracle.

I was all set to write an apology to tech mega-giant, Google. Even though my AdSense woes are still unanswered, there are aspects of the Google operation which really excites me. Self-driving cars is important and they’ve put nearly a billion dollars into renewable energy. In fact, they say they want to run their entire business on renewables; considering they constantly consume over quarter of a billion watts of energy that is a big statement. To put that into perspective, a nuclear power plant will output a billion watts of power…

Once Google+ has a half-decent API it will become an immensely powerful platform for developers to hook into that even Facebook will struggle to compete with and Android is the most exciting mobile operating system out there today.

But the reason that this isn’t the apology I had originally intended was because Google dropped yet another clusterfuck of incompetence this week.

 

Google+

This week, Google revamped the look and feel of its Facebook rival, Google+. From the photos I saw flowing through my RSS reader (yes, sometimes I still live in 2004) and Twitter it looked GREAT! Everything a modern web application should look like. I love the menu down the left hand side, the way it is grayscale until you mouse-over or select an item, and then it becomes colourful and you get an arrow indicating without any ambiguity that the content is coming from this chosen app. It is neat.

However, the first thing that I’ve noticed about the new design is just how FREAKIN’ BUSY the whole user interface (UI) is. I’ve taken a vertical slice of the home page, below, just look at how many horizontal lines there are in this picture. Some are solid, some are dotted, some have shadows, some don’t, some have white on either side, and some separate grey from white. There are six (count them, SIX!) different types of font in there too. There are different font sizes, colours, upper-case and not. It’s actually tiring to look at:

 

GooglePlus is so busy

 

That is unforgiveable. Google is one of the richest companies in the world and their speciality is supposed to be The Internet. They have redesigned their mostly-unloved social network a mere 7 months after launch, something that gets Facebook into lots of trouble with its users every time they do it.

They should follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Software should be written for the lowest common denominator. Facebook isn’t complicated to use, that’s why it is popular. It is so frictionless. To a user experience (UX) specialist, or a software designer, or anybody with some stylistic flair, Facebook looks shit. The only “brand” that is present is that little blue bar across the top. The rest is just links, little pictures, and lists of information or activity. But it works. It works to such effect that it has a monthly userbase of over 800 million people.

That is DOUBLE the userbase of Windows 7.

The worst thing about the Google+ revamp is that it simply doesn’t work. People don’t have 800-pixel wide screens anymore, so when I use a normal, domestic widescreen monitor how come I end up with 50% of the screen showing me NOTHING at all?

One wise person realised it was the perfect place to store their streaky rashers:

 

Google Plus Revamp
Google plus... umm... bacon.

 

It’s daft. And I don’t mean the bacon.

 

Google+ User Count

Facebook are very strict about their user counts. When they say “active user” they mean somebody who has actually signed into Facebook in their browser or on their mobile device. Simples.

When they say they had 845 million ACTIVE users in December 2011,  80% of their US userbase logs in daily and 483 million people log in each day I tend to believe them. They are backed up by staggering independent stats too from places like SocialBakers:

  • 157 million users in the US logged in YESTERDAY.
  • 30 million users in the UK logged in YESTERDAY.

Now let’s look at what Google are claiming about Google+.

They say “170 million users have upgraded to Google+”. Well, that’s misleading for a start-off. Anybody wanting to sign up for a new Google Account will automatically get added to Google+. When you consider that “a Google Account” now means “a Blogger account”, “a YouTube account”, “a GMail account”, “a Google Earth account”, “a Google News account”, “an Android device account”, or any other account linked to Google’s digital estate, you can’t really announce that 170 million figure as being directly attributable to Google+.

A cynic might say Google’s move to move to a single Terms and Conditions document seems to be to bolster the G+ user figures…

For me, the important difference between Google (who I distrust intensely and find incredibly creepy) and Facebook (who I am neutral towards) is this:

Google makes it clear that Google+ is designed to make their search results, and thus their adverts more relevant. Facebook makes it clear that they only care about a fantastic social experience and their adverts (which you can turn off or complain about, or give feedback on, and control quite a lot) are a necessary evil for keeping Facebook going.

The tone between those attitudes is significant.

Everybody loved Google when their adverts were the necessary evil to keep their best-in-the-world search engine going. But now that they seem more focussed on profits than product everybody hates them.

My biggest concern is what happens if Facebook switches their focus to the bottom line? Post-IPO (which is set to happen in the coming weeks), they may be obliged to do so. What happens to our data then??

I went to a Microsoft event a few years back and I got talking with a Windows Vista evangelist (possibly the toughest job in the world!) about the certification process for new software that would give publishers the right to put a “Certified for Vista” gold star on their boxes. He said something like, “to be honest we’ll certify anything, because the market will get rid of all the bad products for us.” Market forces certainly seem to be at work here to the detriment of G+. In March 2012, Comscore said that Google Plus users only spend 3.3 minutes per month on the site, compared to 7.5 hours per month on Facebook.

 

Google Code Jammed

Every year Google hosts a developer conference called “IO”. It is damned popular and some of the most innovative stuff in the universe has come from it. Remember Wave? I loved Wave. That was Google ingenuity at its best. Pure Internet technology pushed to its limits in a new, revolutionary and (most importantly) really useful way.

Tickets cost $900 but delegates get loads of brand new hardware (last year they got Samsung’s 10.1″ Galaxy Tab tablet and a Chromebook) and deep-dive software previews and coding session that give them a headstart on their competition.

This year the tickets for IO sold out in 20 minutes, but Google started a competition called Code Jam to offer 100 more tickets to good coders. Very generous.

Coders had to code solutions for four problems posed by Google. However, people ran into problems almost immediately. The first problem would only accept incorrect answers. Anybody with the right solution would be turned away. Many, who had stayed up all night to enter the competition, gave up after this first hurdle. Those who had done a shoddy job of coding and came up with the wrong answer were allowed to proceed and ended up being offered the tickets.

Totally unfair, and proves how seriously Google takes its Quality Assurance processes. Maybe that explains the Buzz fiasco too…

 

Update 22/04/2012:

Google have relented and say all developers who entered, regardless of their success, will be offered the chance to buy tickets to IO.

While the Google IO Code Jam Google+ page is full of initial spite and subsequent praise of Google for their “generosity”, it is very difficult to see what other options were available to Google over this unfortunate event.

The real irony is that Google cocked up verification code of a competition which looked down its nose at cocked up code.

What a clusterfuck.

 

Top 5 Worst Companies

We’ve all had them; horrific experiences with companies who, through a series of totally incompetent actions, have impacted your life negatively. Here are my Top 5 Worst Companies.

 

5. Stratstone

2006 Audi A4 Avant (Blue)
2006 Audi A4 Avant (Blue)

Stratstone was founded in 1921 by two blokes, Ernest Instone and (possibly the coolest first name ever) Undecimus Stratton, and is a seller of prestige-brand vehicles; Europe’s largest prestige car sales network in fact!

87 years after Ernie and Undie founded the company a fresh-faced Geordie of 23 years called into a dealership with a wad of cash ready to buy an Audi A4 Avant. That fresh faced Geordie was me! The car I was after was lovely, metallic blue with chrome roofrails and it looked the mutt’s nuts.

I was trading in a 2005 Vauxhall Corsa SXi which I had owned from new and, due to a recent promotion, I was looking to dip my toe in the awesome pool of German automotion. I was £4,000 short of the asking price of the A4 and needed my car to be valued at that much to make the deal. I even said as much.

“£3,300,” said the greasy-haired manager.

Bugger. I knew the car was worth more than that because I had shopped around. Similar models were going for between £4K-4.5K. I said I thought my car plus my cash would be sufficient for the deal.

“£3,300,” he said again, irritating my very core. He wasn’t going to budge. An hour of bartering hadn’t progressed things further and had only left me bloated and agitated from machine-dispensed coffee.

I left, feeling thoroughly downtrodden.

A week later, I ended up at Carlisle’s Lloyd Jaguar dealership who not only offered me £4,400 for my car, but I ended up with a slightly newer, better-specced A4 for less than the man with the oil slick in his hair had for sale. Result! But, as a result, I won’t shop at Stratstone ever again, and I recommend to anybody else that you shop around before engaging in negotiations with the company that came so close to being called Erndecimus. Continue Reading “Top 5 Worst Companies”

eBuyer: Another Great Customer Experience

eBuyer
eBuyer: Delivering Another Cup of Awesome

After eBuyer’s epic customer experience win shortly after Christmas I recently had reason to buy another graphics card from them. Surely they couldn’t repeat such a fantastic display of customer service again, could they? Well, yes actually, they can.

I ordered the card at midnight on Saturday night after a bit of a peruse around eBuyer’s deals and digital shelves. Having just had to fork out an unexpected £100 for a graphics card I chose the free “5 day delivery” option. It would be with me by the end of the week.

An email early on Monday morning let me know that it had been “Despatched”, but looking online I couldn’t get a tracking number for the consignment, so I assumed “Despatched” was eBuyer’s internal vocabulary for “sitting in an outbox waiting to be picked up by a courier”.

I was wrong. Despatched means despatched, and  yesterday (Tuesday) morning arrives, guess what is waiting for me as I rock up to work? That’s right.

Remember, folks, great customer experience isn’t sorting out the problems when they happen; it’s taking every step to make sure those problems don’t happen to begin with, while keeping a huge smile on your customers’ faces.

eBuyer, I salute you!

(Well, not really. That would be weird. But I’m dead impressed).