Speaking of Clover.

Archive for the ‘Our Opinions’ Category:

Marketing Your Small Business

In light of our recent Clover Friends promotion for small businesses, I wanted to post a recent interview/article that was written about marketing your small businesses. This article was written in light of Black Friday in hopes of helping businesses turn their web traffic into foot traffic, but hopefully there are some gems in here to help boost your business’s foot traffic for the entire year.

Check out the article

What HTML5 Really Means

One of the coolest things about the church media crowd is that you guys are at the forefront of technology buzz. You’re the early adopters and the first ones to know about the latest technologies and trends. Because of that, you’re also the most concerned about HTML5 and the future of the web.

To be honest, I’ve delayed writing about HTML5 because I didn’t feel like it was important for us to be in the argument. Clover has long provided the best of what’s available on both Flash and HTML, and nothing has changed about that. But recently we’ve realized that there’s so much misinformation floating around that it was time to debunk some myths and give our perspective on the issue.


What Is HTML

I’ll start at the beginning. HTML is one of the languages that the web is written in. It’s been around for a long time and it’s evolved and expanded in spurts as different programming groups have added features. The most difficult sticking point for HTML is that it is handled differently by different browsers, and it has to be backwards-compatible (meaning that any new features still have to work with the old ones, unless you’re Microsoft and you don’t care).

There have been several versions of HTML, and for most of the past decade, XHTML was hailed as the latest and greatest (i heart validator, anyone?). Unfortunately, after years of hopeful work, XHTML was never actually ratified and is now dead.

Enter HTML5, the new latest and greatest. Read More…

Teapots: A lesson in product design.

I’ve been pretty frustrated with my teapot lately.

I know that probably sounds pretty trite and prissy, but hear me out. We all have those products in our life that we wish worked better- Whether it be something as simple as a pen, or as technical as an operating system or¬†cell phone, we have all encountered those products that make us ask the question, “Did anyone try this thing out before they started selling it?” For me, I’ve asked this question about my teapot.

There’s 2 major problems I ran into with my previous teapot (the white one in the picture above).

1. Every time I poured myself a cup of tea, I needed to use 2 hands to pour (because if I didn’t hold the lid on, the top would roll off the top mid-pour).

2. After I poured a cup, tea would run down the spout as I tipped the teapot upright, pooling at the bottom of my teapot. I needed to pour my cup with a napkin under the teapot if I didn’t want to drip tea all over my desk.

When you really think about teapots holistically, you realize quickly that their job isn’t tough. All they have to do is hold and pour tea, and while doing so, making sure every drop is transferred from teapot to cup without losing any scalding tea to the skin of the consumer or the table it rests on. Pretty simple.

Then how is it that a teapot left the development table that failed to do what it was created for? And how did the creator of this product feel OK about selling a faulty teapot that dripped all over the place and required the consumer to use 2 hands in order to not make a mess? And better yet, why have I gone so long without looking for another solution?

Here’s the lessons I have learned from my teapot about product design:

1. If a product is noticeably cumbersome and awkward, BLAME THE PRODUCT. This past year I have noticed that I tend to blame myself if a product is hard to use. I have a tendency to trust the packaging and what the creators say about the product over my own experience. Unless you’re purchasing schematics on the space shuttle you are making from scratch, you are probably the target market for the product you are purchasing. If it’s cumbersome for you, the creators blew it in development somewhere along the line. They didn’t think about the consumer of their product.

2. If you’re annoyed with your product, look for another solution. One of the most beautiful things about the market place today, is that we have options. Chances are if you are annoyed with a product, someone else was too. Search out your options- they’re probably out there. This is why Ben and I started Clover. We were looking for a solution for our church, and there was no other beautiful, intuitive solution out there. Clover was created out of necessity. ¬†Luckily, most products are out there already, and you won’t have to worry about months of development.

So what ever happened to my teapot, you (probably didn’t) ask?

My conclusion was that both the 2-hand pouring and dripping problem was a design issue. I’ll explain… Look at the picture above. The white one is the original teapot, and the turquoise one is my new and improved version.

1. Pouring issue solution: Even though the new teapot is a loose leaf teapot, there is much more control with 1 handed pouring due to the chrome, thumb brace sticking out just below the lid (see picture). It allows you to brace the contents and lid with your thumb so it doesn’t fall off during pouring.

2. Dripping issue solution: It’s a simple physics issue. Notice the the ends of each of the spouts. The old one is much more horizontal at the point of pouring, which caused the tea to trickle down the spout. The new and improved teapot’s spout is pretty close to vertical at point of pour, allowing any remnant tea to pour off into the glass rather then back down the outside of the spout. Interesting, huh?

There it is… My lessons from a teapot.

Branding: The Benefit of the Doubt

This last weekend I was finishing up my weekly Saturday morning run, and I was struck by this sign a couple streets away from my house.

I loved the simplicity of the message. No need for excessive text, addresses plastered all over the place, or fliers all up and down the neighborhood. I knew with one symbol that there was a garage sale down the street.

Ben and I met with a couple of consultant friends about a year ago to go over our branding and advertising strategy for Clover. One of their biggest concerns they had with our strategy is that they felt we gave people “too much credit” in our advertising. They said by keeping our message too simple we were losing people. They believed that we had to do and say more in order to include the most people. Read More…

Amazon Kindle

This Christmas I received an Amazon Kindle. I’ve been wanting one of these ever since I played around with a friend’s first generation Kindle a year or so ago. This item has also sparked some lively debate around the office about whether or not a device like the Kindle will actually replace the “book” as we know it.

After spending some time with the Kindle (purchasing and reading a couple of books as well as spending a lot of time playing around in the interface of the tablet) I have solidified my opinion on what I believe the future will look like in how we will read and consume literature. Read More…

New Look, Stronger Message

As you can probably see, we have a whole new look to our blog. We’ve been wanting to change the look of our blog for a while now, and finally mustered up the time to give it a redesign and new feel.

Along with the new look, we have also decided to change the way we approach writing on our blog. Here’s how and why. Read More…

We Review the Magic Mouse

Initial Impressions: Wow. Definitely the sleekest looking mass-produced mouse I’ve ever seen. The clean lines and design of this mouse make it look so incredibly clean and design focused – I was worried that there wouldn’t be much focus on function.

Ergonomics: The mouse sits on the desk with a very low profile. While the low height is very pleasing to the eye, I initially declared it to sit too low for my hand.The comfort just isn’t there like it was even with my Mighty Mouse – when laying my hand on the mouse I can’t help but feel like I’m trapping a wounded bird underneath it. The length from front to back of the mouse also seems to be too small for me. The mouse would feel much better if it were a half inch longer but then of course it wouldn’t look quite as cool.

Design: As with most Apple products, a simple glance at the mouse reveals how strongly design was emphasized when creating this product. I think this little device is one of the most beautifully designed products Apple has ever created. Its beauty lies in the simplicity and the cleanliness of the design; there are no wasted lines or accentuated buttons. They were able to remove the scroll-wheel entirely and what remains is a clean and smooth surface.

Functionality: Once up and running, the mouse functions as promised. The one touch scrolling is wonderfully intuitive – much like the iPhone. Primary and secondary clicking also behaves as expected. A secondary click seems to require that you remove your index finger before it will detect your click as a secondary one (I lived with this same experience using the Mighty Mouse so this was nothing new).There is new functionality built into this mouse that allows you to two-finger swipe (left-to-right or right-to-left) and advance next or previous through pictures in Preview or iPhoto or the history in your web browser. I haven’t yet got used to the sideways swiping yet. If the mouse was bigger and fit better in my hand it would probably be a little easier to get used to but maybe in a month from now I’ll have no complaints.

Interface Compatibility: Installing this mouse was no walk in the park. Full Disclosure: my installation of the latest Mac OS (Snow-Leopard) was very very fresh – but it did have the latest software updates. I put batteries in the mouse, turned it on and told my Mac to find a new bluetooth device. Initially my computer didn’t find the mouse at all. I had a couple of people at my desk at the time and none of us knew why it wasn’t working.

We turned it off and on again, we waited 5 minutes for the OS to search for the mouse, all of which left us scratching our heads. I think at one point we must have turned on the mouse’s “Discoverability Mode” by accident which seemed to fix problem with the mouse not being found. That really is just a guess though because being typical guys we never even opened the instruction booklet so I guess I can’t fault Apple on this one.

My computer quickly found the mouse but none of the Magic Mouse functionality was enabled. I thought perhaps it was disabled by default but the mouse settings revealed otherwise:

It turns out that the OS needed a Magic Mouse update installed that it didn’t know about until I connected the mouse in the first place.After all was said and done it took almost 20 minutes to get this device up and running.

Over-All Grade: I give this mouse an A-. It’s the nicest mouse I’ve ever used but I can’t go any higher than that because of the ergonomic short-falls. A mouse is a tool that you use every day but it’s also something that can put you out of work with an injury if it isn’t designed and used correctly. Apple has always put design ahead of ergonomics and while I appreciate that decision, the result is still a considerable problem.

Design Inspiration: Book Covers

Hey all. I know it’s been a while since I posted anything, but I thought it would be good to share a little inspiration I came across recently…

I finished up designing Francis Chan’s 2nd book, Forgotten God (due in stores in September), and we (The Regime, our custom design company) are shooting the curriculum DVD for the book starting at the end of this month.

All this to say, it’s hard to create a great book cover. Especially in an industry that tends to be behind the times artistically. I ran across this blog post recently at wellmedicated.com. If you need a little inspiration for any art pieces (or book covers), check out this post.

This is one of my favorites:

Just because you can…

Doesn’t mean you should.

I get the privilege of leading worship at my church every other weekend. I’ve developed a bit of a pet-peeve after leading worship bands over the last bunch of years. I hate, hate, hate it when musicians are decent at one instrument that they play regularly (let’s say an electric bass), then get some guts and play another form of the instrument (upright acoustic bass with a bow) on stage during a worship service. Normally what happens is a bit of a train wreck on stage… But hey, at least they look cool.

Unfortunately, I think this saying is beginning to apply more and more in the web world. It seems that with new capabilities and fads being created daily, there has become a rush and expectancy for websites to adapt to each new creation.

Here’s the thing- I’m all for new ideas and tools. It’s what keeps the web world innovative and constantly creating. But with these new tools being created daily, there is a growing responsibility of the website owner to determine what it is that their website is created for, and simply do that thing well.

I know that sounds like a simple concept, but you’d be amazed what’s out there. When Ben and I were doing custom stuff through The Regime, a big part of our process with the client was to determine exactly what the burden of the website was, and do that thing the best we could. A lot of times, if we were to leave the clients to their own devices, their websites would be a marketing piece, a blog, forum, “new version of Facebook”, and make breakfast for them in the morning.

I simply write this to encourage the website creators out there to ask the question, “What is the one major thing I want my website to accomplish?”, and do that thing extremely well. It will not only make your visitors extremely happy, but it will also give you the peace of mind that you are accomplishing your website goals and don’t have to chase every fad that pops up on the internet. Like I said… Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

The Cost of Free

After checking into our hotel in Nashville for the NYWC (National Youth Workers Convention), I hopped in the elevator to cruise up to my room. The elevator hit floor #2, and as the doors opened I was engulfed in a sea of youth pastors. Apparently they were heading from floor 2 to floor 4 (which I thought was rather odd), and my floor was 5… Which gave me about 9 seconds to have a meaningful conversation with them.

One of the youth guys asked me if I was there for the YS conference… I told him I was, and that I was one of the exhibitors down in the exhibit hall. He asked who I was with, and I (proudly) mentioned Clover.

His next comment is what got to me a little bit. He asked, “What are you guys giving away?”

Although caught off guard by his annoying comment, I answered back, “We’re handing out inspiration.”

I was pretty pleased with my answer, but I was still a little frustrated with the interaction. Maybe it’s the nature of these conferences that have the tendency to make me question if it’s the best way to spread the word about Clover.

There’s something that happens at these places that’s kind of reminiscent of a carnival… at least the portion of the carnival that your walk through super fast so that the carnies don’t make you feel ridiculous for not playing their “toss a nickel on a plate and win an over-sized doll” game that you will never actually win.

If you replace the “over-sized doll” with “free stuff exhibitors give away”, you have a typical exhibition. Unfortunately, a lot of times the product is the same as it is at the carnival- pretty much good for nothing.

In preparing for attending our first round of conferences a few months ago, we had a bunch of conversations about whether or not we were going to give away anything in order to get people to our booth. Conferences really made us think through our marketing approach. After hours of conversations, here’s what we determined:

“Free” always costs something. Always. Whether it’s handing out a crappy pen at a conference, or a 10% discount for every person named “Jerry”. The cost for the company is not necessarily the amount of money they lose giving the discount or buying the product they are giving away- what they really lose is the respect of their product.

Right out of high school, I went on a missions trip for 3 months on the Logos 2, a ship that sailed around distributing Christian books, Bibles, and educational curriculum to 3rd world countries (among other things). What was really interesting was that even though we could have easily given these books and Bibles away to the very poor men and women touring the book exhibition, there was a distinct choice that was made to have everyone pay something for the pieces of literature they wanted.

I remember asking one time why they made people pay money – that they had very little of – for Bibles. The answer was very simple: “People value what they pay for.”

At Clover, we have created a product that is easily worth $20,000. We understand that most ministries cannot afford a $20K website, so we chose to offer a product at a price point any ministry can afford.

Part of the reason why we offer websites for $1000 rather than $999 is this idea of this concept of respect. We might be able to sell more with a price point of $999, but we firmly believe that people will respect the product much more if they have committed thousands of dollars rather than hundreds.

Maybe sometimes it’s worth selling your information for a chance of a free T-shirt or an iPod Shuffle. We can’t determine that for you. But for us, we probably won’t sucker you in with a month of free hosting or a chance for a month of back-rubs from Ben. We believe that if you have looked for 5 minutes on the web for any sort of solution for your ministry’s web problem, Clover will emerge as the best, strongest, and most price-effective solution for you.

For those that need the free T-shirt or pen to entice you to purchase our product, I’m not sure that Clover is the right fit for you. We just make great websites. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thanks for reading all the way through this post… I think it’s the longest to date. In the midst of the craziness at all these conferences, I thought it would be good to nail down some thoughts. All of us at Clover really believe that our product is revolutionary. We are not trying to just add another voice to the web market, we are trying to re-shape the industry. Your website should be beautiful, easy, and affordable. It’s time for the web to change– starting with the church.