NEW NAME. SAME EXPERTISE.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
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NEW NAME. SAME EXPERTISE.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
VISIT OUR NEW SITE

AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for 2015

New Manager Tools

This article leans slightly towards Technology Management but is applicable across disciplines

You've been a great senior resource, you've lead a team or a project, and you've made the decision, along with your manager to transition to some kind of management role. If you are still thinking about it, or wondering what it will be like, start here: This 90-Day Plan Turns Engineers into Remarkable Managers. This article will give you all of the thought starters your need to decide if management is something you want to pursue.

Below are some required reading to add to your utility belt. Start taking a read through these, and make sure you block off the appropriate amount of time each week to continue your learning! This list is meant to be a starting point for new managers, not an all inclusive list of manager resources

Books

  • Managing Right for the First Time – This book is intended as a field guide for first time managers, or for managers who want to begin doing a better job. David Baker worked closely with 600+ companies and interviewed more than 10,000 employees, then summarized the findings in an interesting and eminently readable form. Read this book and you're likely to understand management and leadership like you never have before, but also learn very practical steps toward becoming a better manager and leader.
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free ProductivityNote: I'm not advocating for using the GTD system. Use what works for you. However, the first half of this book is a gold mine for how to think about planning, resources, and managing your own and other's tasks. I personally do use GTD, but the lessons, and the way of thinking that this book opens up is transferable to any system. It got me thinking about planning and delegating in different and exciting ways. Read the introduction and I guarantee that you'll see scenarios you recognize and want to scream YES, YES I DEAL WITH THIS. I HATE IT! HOW DO I FIX IT?
  • The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business – This book is, but isn't about MBA. It's a toolkit of how to handle various situations and grow your skill set. It's not meant to be read cover to cover, but peruse the table of contents you'll see things you want to read.
  • Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results – Great book on emotional intelligence

Articles to read

Websites to subscribe to

Listening

  • Manager Tools Podcast – A huge library of how to deal with any situation. Skim the list, there will be something in there you want to learn about. Don't forget to subscribe!

If you have anything that should be on this starter list, let me know!

You can follow Tim on twitter.

Business

How to Sync Basecamp Todos to Omnifocus or Todoist

Basecamp is a large part of our process at Ai. It tracks most of our communication (a lot of this has been moving to Slack). Basecamp serves as our system of record for signs-offs and deliverables. We also use it’s “todo” function pretty heavily in the planning stages and tracking client tasks. Once we get into implementation, we transition to Jira, as it’s more powerful. Clients do not have access to Jira.

I don’t have an issue tracking Basecamp tasks. It’s really good at emailing you when something is due. But, as I’ve said before, I’d be even BETTER at it, if the tasks were in my world. My world is Omnifocus, but there is a VERY large contingent of Todoist users at Ai. I am the outlier in this. In the past, my reasons for not using Todoist were I didn’t want Ai tasks and personal project tasks in the same app, the hotkeys weren’t up to snuff, and I didn’t want to pay for premium to get notifications. I’ve since ignored these rules with Omnifocus; It runs everything in my life, it DOES have great hotkeys, and I dropped the $$$ for premium Omnifocus which was more expensive than Todoist premium in the long run. But, this is a topic for another post.

Back on track. How to get Basecamp todos into my system? Again, Zapier to the rescue. Zapier can connect to Basecamp, do some basic filtering to make sure I only get tasks that I care about, and drop them into my Omnifocus inbox. Most of the following steps hold true for both Omnifocus and Todoist

  1. Create a new Zap that triggers when a new Basecamp todo is created. Have it create a new task in your system
  2. Select the appropriate Basecamp account and test it
  3. Select and test your Todoist/Omnifocus account
  4. Choose your Basecamp Account, Project, and Todo list. If you want to filter even more by only items assigned to you, add a custom filter. Do this by either Assignee ID or Name
  5. Match up the Basecamp data to your tool of choice. First is how I send it to Omnifocus. Note, I do need to populate the due date by hand. In both options, I add the url back to the task in Basecamp so I can easy mark it off or comment in it when I’m done. Todoist lets you be a LOT more granular and handles all of the fields so you have no manual intervetntion
  6. My tasks are now in my world. Profit.

 

You can also follow Tim on twitter

Technology

Basecamp 3 is Coming

Basecamp 3 is coming and I’m exited. Below are excerpts from Basecamp’s preview post on what I’m looking forward to most

Basecamp won’€™t send you any emails, push notifications, or in-app notifications if it’s outside your specified work hours. Live a little! Work Can Wait until you’re back at work.

group chat room for quick discussions

This is cool but it came a little too late. We’ve been using slack for project based and individual chat. It has a dedicated app that is easy to cmd+tab to. I see campfire in the browser sitting in an unchecked tab and not being useful

Show someone you care by clicking the Applause button on any message, comment, document, or answer on any automatic question. They’ll get a discrete notification letting them know you appreciated what they said. This is a great way to show your support for someone’s suggestion, idea, or point of view without also sending a notification to everyone else on the project.

e.g. What did you work on today€ or Are you blocked on anything?)

Hmm, I wonder if this could be used for virtual scrum?

@mentions: Psst!

YES, YES, YES, A MILLION TIMES, YES

They’ll instantly get a notification letting them know they’ve been mentioned, along with a direct link right back to where you mentioned them

If you’re not in the desktop app

Buhhh wait what? Ok maybe what I said about the tabs and apps above might not apply

You can bookmark just about anything in Basecamp 3 so you can jump right back to it from anywhere else

This will be handy. Here are always a few key threads I end up digging for. Usually long running threads about key deliverables

At the bottom of every project is a timeline of all activity going back to the moment you started the project

I like this if search hadn’t been improved. This has a lot easier than scrolling through all the lists looking for something around a certain time

So you can make a folder and put a photoshop file, a Google doc

👍🏻

Now you can assign to-dos to multiple people. Now you can set date ranges, not just single due dates. Now you can bulk assign multiple to-dos with a single click. Now you can select multiple to-dos and move them as a group.

😭😭😭

Now you can save any new message or document as a draft before you publish it

Basecamp 3 allows you to see all the work you’ve assigned to other people

You can sign up for an early invite here

Technology

We are honored to announce that Alexander Interactive (Ai) has been named one of The Best Places to Work by Crain’s New York Business.

This coveted award is designed to identify, recognize and honor the best employers in New York City, benefiting the city’s economy, workforce and businesses

There is no doubt that what sets us apart from other companies is the culture that has come to define us. Six years ago the concept of “The Morgan Freemans” was coined to describe the type of human being who thrives here. Passion. Fortitude. Initiative. Resilience. Morgan Freeman embodies the qualities we value most–and the velvety, reassuring voice we all aspire to lead with.

“The values we foster are directly connected to the value we create for our clients, ” said Josh Levine, Ai’s CXO.

Success isn’t measured in deliverables or hours, it’s measured by the problems we solve and the process through which we solve them. This demands people who simply care about the other people we work with and the people we work for. People willing to get their hands dirty and fight the good fight, day in and day out.

“We give a darn about what we produce. We don’t just want to get a job done. We want to sweat and laugh with our team on a hot summer rooftop and then drink beers with the sun on our shoulders and feel like free men.”– Josh Levine, Ai’s CXO

Congrats to all of our awesome people. And thank you for making Ai a company like no other.

You can read the full list of companies here.

CrainsMF

 

Uncategorized

Ninja Productivity Tricks: Lessons learned from 9 years in the Ai trenches

I recently held an AiU session for the company (deck below) focusing on my personal productivity hacks and habits that get me through my day. As a Project Manager, the only constant is change. Even the best-laid plans go awry and even the most proven processes go off-the-rails. The true test of your mettle as a PM is how you respond. In the transcript and deck below I share ways I’ve found to ensure success by turning to a repeatable system that gets better over time.

 

— (Transcript)
 
My Journey: Earning my black belt
I’m going to share a bit about my journey of improving how I manage my day and my life overall.

I played sports growing up and throughout college where time management and productivity was all about my tasks and me. I didn’t have to worry about tasks that others were doing. I didn’t have to set expectations with people about timing (I couldn’t tell a professor that I’d be two days late with an assignment)… It was, here’s your homework, here are your projects to get done, be at the gym for practice at 2pm, etc. The structure was set for me, and I just had to figure out how to balance keeping up with schoolwork, playing volleyball / traveling and having a life outside of both.

I went from a volleyball team in college to a team of less than a dozen here at Ai as an intern in college in our office on Park Ave South. I wore many hats, and the concept of managing time and tasks for others was something I struggled with. I didn’t know how to prioritize, because I didn’t have a full view of what was in the mix. I often stayed late at the office because I didn’t have a system to help me.

Enter the Treo. Alex (our CEO) and I had a system where he would get a new phone, and I would get his old phone. The concept of a digital calendar, tasks always in my hand, rather than a paper notebook entered my world.

Projects grew, teams grew, and responsibilities grew.

Here we are now. Projects grew, teams grew, and responsibilities grew. Over time I developed a system for me so that no matter the size of the team or the project, the principles of managing the associated tasks still applied.

For me, repeatability is key. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel with every project. The process I use to manage work projects is the same process I use to manage trips I take, fundraisers I plan, my wedding, etc.

You need a system in place that allows you to make wiser choices and see the full picture.

So, when you ask me how I can get all of my work done but still make time to be with my friends, family, and workout – the process I follow is how I do it, and you can do it too. I have a system in place that allows me to get stuff done, make priority calls, and still be able to do things I want to do.

Maintaining Control

The second I feel like I don’t have control of what I need to accomplish or what my teams need to accomplish, I freak.

We all go through this; we have a plan for the day, things come up, our to-do list goes out the window, and we end up staying late or leaving early with anxiety.

Maintaining control means I hit deadlines, I can set appropriate expectations, and I can manage my personal time. Everything I’m about to cover allows me to maintain that control.

Meet the Playas

Over the past 9 years I’ve tried a ton of tools. I keep coming back to a core set that work for me so that sense of control and comfort and less stress are real. I’m not looking to have everyone adopt my entire way of working. It’s not the only way, and different personalities and brains think in different ways and need different views, but we all share common needs in terms of things we need to solve.

My GTD Army

I use every single one of these tools daily to Get Things Done:

  • Todoist: This is, by far, the most important tool in my toolbox. Without Todoist, my work would not get done.
  • Evernote: I use this for all sorts of data management. Tagging is key.
  • Dropbox: I use this for file management and to be able to access them on any computer / phone. Dropbox has become my new “local” and what I use to transfer files between my phone and computer.
  • Flickr: I’m the one who always can find that photo. Flickr is my tool for photo storage. It’s the forever home for my photos all placed in albums.
  • Alfred: I use Alfred to access things on my computer quickly.
  • Dashlane: I use Dashlane to save passwords, contact info and credit card info to make logging in and checking out on websites much quicker.
  • Text Expander: I setup snippets once and then type using abbreviations for words and phrases that I use all the time to save time and brain space.
  • IFTTT: I use IFTTT to create recipes for automation to connect systems that I already use to minimize the duplication of effort.
  • Feedly: Feedly aggregates all blogs and sites I want to read from grouped by topics I have created.
  • Pocket: This is where I save things to read for later. My Feedly feeds my Pocket.
  • Pinterest: This is where I save things to buy later or browse later as gifts or for myself.

This may seem like a lot, but most of them are doing the work for me. I set it and forget it.

One Home

There are things I need to manage, and each of these things needs a home – not multiple homes – that’s what gives me the sense of control and relieves stress.

“Hacktics”

Tactics my GTD army and I use to go to battle – i.e. manage my days here at Ai and really, my life.

1: Get on a cycle

I cycle through my Inbox and my Todoist task list multiple times throughout the day, but on my time, not when a notification is telling me to.

As a PM, if I assign a task it is really still on me to make sure it gets done. Trust the people, but trust your system.

Check your calendar before you leave for the day and your to-do list for the next day before you walk out the door. If your calendar “free time” does not line up with the time it will take to complete everything in your to-do list then you need to re-asses and reset expectations. You’re only setting yourself up for failure if those things don’t line up.

2: Set it and forget it

For me, things will happen and get done if I write it down, assign it, and give it a due date, and that’s what my Todoist workflow allows me to do. I have a project specifically for orders that I place online so I can check off that I received it once I do. It is the only project where tasks don’t have due dates because they aren’t tasks, it’s just a list, but a list I want to make sure I’m checking regularly.

For recurring activities, include notes that you need to reference every time when completing it. For example, when I create weekly status reports for clients I reference my calendar, project schedule, Todoist tasks, Basecamp tasks, etc.

3: Implement visual cues

These are equivalent to what we do for users on websites in our UX/Designs to make it easy for them to get done what they are looking to get done.

For example, color code items per project or per client to recognize colors associated with projects (e.g., calendar appointment categories, Todoist projects, physical folders to hold paper, etc.).

Add photos to your Outlook contacts. Make them funny photos if you want. It’s easy to recognize who messages are from at a glance, and it reminds you that there’s more to the message than just the text. There’s a human behind those words!

Visual cues can still be text. For example, I sort my iPhone folders by verb – “watch, listen, pay, eat” etc.

Other examples:

  • Create iPhone alarms based on what you are waking up for and when.
  • Add photos and emoticons to contacts so it is easy to associate messages and calls – e.g., my husband gets a heart and my friend with a star tattoo gets a star emoticon so it’s easy to find them when scanning a list.

Surround yourself with things you love. Visual cues help to get things done but also remind you of things that just make you happy. I surround myself with my favorite color, photos of my family, an image of a kettle bell to remind me to go workout and finish up work so I can – it’s a form of stress relief and constant reminder that things just aren’t that serious.

4: Keep things lean and clean

Anything on my computer desktop is something I’m currently working on. When finished working on it, I place it in the appropriate folder on my computer and on our shared work drive. And, an actual physically clean desk to work on helps too.

5: Take shortcuts

  • I use Dashlane to autofill forms within my browser
  • I use Jira tabs to open all Jira tickets listed on one page in new tabs all at once
  • I use the Google Chrome Bar to set search engines and trigger JS snippets for easy access to URLs I go to all the time
  • I use TextExpander snippets all day every day – e.g., By typing “meetingnotes” I get my template at the start of every meeting to take notes within.

6: Silence the unnecessary

This goes along with minimizing distraction to feel in control. Notifications and badges are only on for things that I want to react to immediately. Otherwise, I’m in control, and I decide when to look and when to respond.

Share the wealth

Productivity blogs to follow:

Have other tips to share? Questions? I’d love to hear them! Comment or holla’ anytime.

Uncategorized

Please, Alexa, I want some more (or “How do I compete with Amazon?”)

Ecommerce Voice Ordering

And…boom. There it is.  About an hour ago Mothership Amazon sent me an email announcing they had activated voice ordering for my Amazon Echo. It’s here, and perhaps a bit faster than I even imagined in my blog post from 2012 on the future of ecommerce. Back then the story went:

Alex: Siri, my wife said we need diapers.
Siri: You probably mean the Size 3 Swaddlers for Nina.  Lesters.com can have them to you tomorrow for $20.  Shall I order them?
Alex: Yes, and have them send a gift for my wife.
Siri: They recommend this bracelet to go along with the earrings you bought her last year for your anniversary.  Shall I add them to the order?
Alex: Yes, thanks.
Siri: Forever in your service, Alex.

 

It appears Amazon’s offering will be just that easy: “Alexa, re-order laundry detergent” and it shows up on your doorstep 2 days later.

Why does this matter to the rest of us in the ecommerce industry? Because hidden in this experience is the answer to the question, “How do I beat Amazon?” Your retail business only survives and only wins if you make the experience of ordering from you dead easy, dead simple, AND AN ABSOLUTE DELIGHT.  If you don’t, you won’t be here in 3 years.

I’m not saying you need the latest voice recognition technology (though it certainly couldn’t hurt).  But you do absolutely need an online ordering experience that is tailored specifically to your customers, that requires zero training, and is fun to use.

Amazon competes in a completely un-level playing field for most parts of its business. You’re probably not going to match their purchasing power, their distribution network, the number of Prime users, and a whole host of other things they do better than the rest. However, the user experience design of your retail website can be specially designed for your products and customers, and that’s how you can compete with one-size-fits-all Amazon.

For the moment, I’m going to ask Alexa for that present I promised my wife back in 2012.

 

Ecommerce

Ai at Imagine 2015

 by Tim Angiolillo IMG_2942 (2)

 Wow, what a show! Ai descended upon The Wynn Resort this past week for the annual conference/seminar/massively-awesome-Magento-party that is Imagine to catch up on the latest and greatest with the platform and rub elbows with the ecommerce glitterati in Las Vegas. Highlights included an updated timeline for Magento 2’s release, new updates to Magento EE and CE, great talks on B2B ecommerce in the breakout sessions, and Steve Wynn’s engaging keynote discussion on the universal truth’s of a good customer experience.

Getting together with your clients, friends, and competition to talk shop for a few days in the desert reinforces the community element in the things we create and the experiences that inspire us. We’re as excited as ever with Magento’s momentum and look forward to another year of designing and and developing websites with the world’s most popular ecommerce platform. See you next time!

 

Uncategorized

Facebook Responsive Photo Gallery Plugin

It’s been way too long, but I finally got around to updating the Facebook Photo Gallery plugin for the terrific image gallery framework, Galleria.  The library lets you put Facebook album photos on your website using the Graph API.  Galleria has great support for responsive photo gallery layouts.

Facebook loves to change their Graph API without warning (and sometimes defying logic), and we needed to make a small tweak to the syntax for changing the default limit of 25 photos on a album to:

var url = 'http://graph.facebook.com/' + params['album_id'] + '?callback=?' + '&fields=photos.limit(' + this.options.max + '){images,source,picture,link,name}';

Enjoy the plugin, and take part in the discussion on the aiaio github.

Put Facebook photos on my website

Design

IRCE Focus: Digital Design

Righteous Recap for Rockstar Retailers

by Grace Paik

IMG_1768

Alexander Interactive recently attended the IRCE Focus conference on Digital Design in sunny Los Angeles, California. We had a booth on the exhibition floor, as well as a separate booth in which our Experience Director and design-wizard, Ed Samour, was able to provide in-person design consultations for conference attendees. Co-founder and pixel-whisperer, Josh Levine, enjoyed the limelight as the conference’s concluding speaker, sharing thought-provoking insights on how to incorporate social sharing in a site design along with some pretty killer anthro-animals. Yes, that’s a thing.

As exhibitors, we found the conference a fantastic opportunity to connect with existing clients and meet some new ones. By attending some of the seminars, we were able to learn what’s really on the minds of retailers big and small. What are their burning questions? What are the specific challenges they’re facing? What are some digital concerns that they hadn’t considered but should be prioritizing?

Many retailers were visiting the conference to find solutions for a specific pain point. Others were more interested in learning where the industry is focusing its efforts, both on an enterprise and small business scale.

Here’s some stuff we learned while we were there.

  • Agency-recommended SEO best practices are great, but retailers should drill into the ones that translate to actual sales. Look holistically at your business and focus your energy on those strategies that will move the right needles.
  • We’ve known for a long time that video helps drive conversions in e-commerce. Did you know that YouTube is the second most popular search engine on the Internet? Combining video with your SEO strategy is more crucial now than ever.
  • Buying and sharing should not exist in silos. Learn from social sharing – implement seamless favoriting and hearting on your site.
  • Customers are researching products on social networks where you might not have much control over those conversations. Have no fear! This content is gold – aggregating and integrating it into your site not only helps with merchandising, but also provides customers with more confidence in your products.
  • Know your audience. If your site sells beautiful jewelry, privilege visual social platforms over others (i.e., do you really need that Twitter share button?).
  • Speakers who invested in responsive design found that it did not increase their mobile traffic very much. But it did increase their mobile conversions – and their bottom line – in dramatic ways.
  •  A full 30% (WHAT?) of the top 500 internet retailers aren’t set up to be mobile-friendly, either with responsive design or with an m-dot site.
  • Google is changing its algorithm on April 21, 2015 so that sites that are not mobile-friendly will drop in the rankings.
Design