Civil: a design story

tl;dr: As a personal side project I had a go at Civil’s brand. Apologies all around and caveat emptor.

A story worth telling
I’m a fan of Civil. I came across them in a Twitter ad (IKR? Who notices Twitter ads?) and was intrigued by their plan to apply the blockchain to journalism.

The jist of Civil is to use tokens to fund newsrooms and the immutable ledger to record facts. Tokens get rid of ad models (and bad actors who can’t afford to mine), and the ledger establishes “truth” in the community. It’s an ideal marriage.

But it’s also a tricky story to tell. On one side you have journalists who are just trying to grok the tech—let alone put their faith in crypto. On the other is the crypto community who are in such demand they can easily overlook what Civil offers. Where do you point the story? What do you emphasize? And, for me at least, how can design help?

registry-visitor-accepted
© Civil Media Company

I was thinking about this as I studied Civil and the familiar communication issues they face at this early stage. Like all startups, their story and visual choices could be smoothed out and made more consistent. But their immediate challenge consists of:

• establishing character
• building trust
• paying homage to their roots

I think Civil can simplify and humanize their story and, in the process, establish a tone that is reassuring to the writers and engineers they need to build their community.

And, since I was rooting around for a design side project, I decided to make this challenge my challenge.

I started with their name.

Continue reading “Civil: a design story”

The straw is us.

The straw is the opposite of special. History has flowed around and through it, like thousands of other bits of material culture. What’s happened to the straw might not even be worth comment, and certainly not essay. But if it’s not clear by now, straws, in this story, are us, inevitable vessels of the times in which we live.

Alex Madrigal, writing in The Atlantic, on how we’ve allowed capitalism to hollow us out, even while we slurp our McDonald’s shakes.

“The world’s taste, and the world’s time, is what we’re after.”

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Netflix gave New York Magazine’s Josef Adalian a full-access pass for his #longread on the company. It’s a good piece and worth your time.

Reading between the lines, I’d suggest that Netflix PR is aiming this one at the creative class/tastemakers in an effort to dispel the sentiment that a) shows are getting lost and b) data is running their decisions.

You can sum up the narrative with a few quotes from the middle of the piece:

Yes, we’re big:

I ask him how many potential viewers Netflix has, since most of its 125 million-plus paid subscriptions are obviously used by more than one person. “About 300 million,” he says. Given that, and the platform’s international reach, couldn’t one of Netflix’s shows eventually reach 40 or 50 million viewers? “Yeah, of course,” Sarandos offers. Has that already happened? “Definitely,” he says.

But we’re targeted:

Sarandos cites IMDb again as evidence for the success of one of Netflix’s original movies, the teen-targeted romantic comedy The Kissing Booth. Sarandos calls it “one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe in the world” — but of course he won’t offer me any internal data to back that up. “In [IMDb’s] popularity rankings right now, it’s the No. 4 movie behind Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and Solo,” he says. “Jacob Elordi is the male lead. Three weeks ago on the IMDb Star-o-Meter, which is how they rank their popularity, he was No. 25,000. Today he is the No. 1 star in the world. And Joey King, the female lead, went from like No. 17,000 to No. 6. This is a movie that I bet you’d never heard of until I just mentioned it to you.” Sarandos’s point: Because reporters like me don’t have ratings or box-office numbers, we’re too quick to listen to rivals who claim stuff on Netflix is getting lost. “This is the competitive message you hear out of a couple of different networks and studios all the time. It is so wrong,” he says.

And creators love it here:

Netflix won’t even tell its creators how many people watch their shows — which was actually a selling point for recent hires Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes. “Ever since Glee, it’s been a daily death having to get up in the morning and get your daily report card that you know is a lie,” says Murphy. “The people who watch my shows are nontraditional TV viewers who are interested in nontraditional fare. They’re not going to watch something when you tell them to; they’re going to watch it when they want. I have so many tearful conversations with actors, having to say, ‘[The overnight ratings are] not the true story.’” Rhimes says she never paid attention to Nielsen numbers, even when they supposedly mattered. “What I like is that now I don’t have to work at a place where people believe [ratings] could be helpful for me in some way, send me those numbers, and expect me to translate them into anything,” she says.

Eyes wide shut.

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Brilliant image for the Guardian’s piece on Netflix. It isn’t hyperbole, either. Netflix hasn’t been competing with Blockbuster or HBO or Amazon. They’e competing will Hollywood writ large—and have flawlessly taken away control of distribution and marketing from the studios and networks.

As Ben Thompson points out in aggregation theory, the company who owns the consumer interface wins. Netflix owns it—and will only concentrate it further in the years to come. The drama now is who wins the fight for the table scraps.