Clever Features

Clever Features: Betabrand (Too many to list)

I hate marketing emails.  I get them no matter how hard I try not to and no matter how many times I unsubscribe.  It’s an annoying fact of Internet life, I guess.  There is one exception, though, and when I realized today that I actually open and read the emails I get from Betabrand every time I receive one, I thought it was worth a few minutes of my time to give Betabrand some kudos and do my part to spread the word about a brand that I think highly deserves it.

Betabrand is a small clothing operation run out of the Mission in San Francisco, and from all indications, they are on fire.  I am not a very fashion-conscious person; in fact, people that know me would probably say I’m anti-fashion, or fashion agnostic, or something like that.  Truth be told, I would wear jeans and a t-shirt all the time if I could get away with it.  I mention this simply to underscore how effective the marketing of Betabrand is.  I’m the last person on the planet that would be their customer.  First, they sell primarily men’s clothing, and second, they are beyond hip in a way I can barely fathom.  So why am I on their mailing list, and why do I read every email and immediately go check out their latest products online?  It all started last Christmas – I was looking for a cool pair of corduroy pants as a gift for my other half.  Somehow I stumbled upon Betabrand and the Cordarounds.

I thought the Cordarounds were clever for two reasons:  1) the horizontal ridges on the pants and 2) the bold fabric that peeks out of the sides of the pockets.  These pants are really unique!  It doesn’t stop there, though.  The reason I continue to read all their emails is because they are ridiculous.  They are funny, campy, weird, and just plain entertaining.  Below is part of the text of the email I received yesterday, titled “Betabrand presents: Black Sheep and Sasquatch Sweaters”:

In today’s newsletter: one beautiful wool sweater, two tales of varying veracity. Plus, a strategy for photographing Bigfoot that’s guaranteed to work!

One of the following sweater stories is true. Which one is more worthy of retelling is up to you. Read on!

#1 The Black Sheep Sweater: Now You Can Wear A Figure Of Speech

Every autumn, we knit a small batch of limited-edition Black Sheep Sweaters with loners, iconoclasts, and the oft-misunderstood in mind.

True to its name, this crew-neck pullover is knit from 100% natural (undyed and untreated) wool yarn that comes from actual black sheep. Shunned by most of their paler brethren, these outcast ovines live on a few small Montana ranches near Yellowstone National Park. They’re raised how you’d imagine Western sheep would like to be raised — in fresh air and wide open spaces, with lots of tasty summer grass to munch on and plenty of John Wayne DVDs to watch at night.

Our mill in the nearby Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming takes the shorn black fleeces (more grayish-brown, actually) and spins them into soft, extra-fine yarn for our sweaters. We’ve been assured that no hazardous chemicals or robots are used in the process. In fact, these folks are dedicated to environmental sustainability and preserving traditional ranching culture in the West.

Yes, the Black Sheep Sweater is not only ruggedly handsome and ethically produced, it’s a figure of speech you can actually wear. But what if you want a slightly more exotic (and hirsute) garment? In that case …

#2 The Sasquatch Sweater: Cryptid Couture

Since time immemorial, the hair of the Sasquatch has been prized by clothing manufacturers for its color, texture, and unique earthy aroma. But this shy creature’s reclusive nature — and occasional propensity for sudden and terrible acts of violence — has made genuine Sasquatch-wool garments nearly impossible to find. Until now!

Introducing our new, limited-edition Sasquatch Sweater. Each one is knit from 100% pure Bigfoot fur, harvested from our free-range herd in the Cascade Mountains. We like to say a better sweater begins with a happy Sasquatch, so ours are lovingly raised on an all-organic diet of berries, roots, and fresh salmon, giving their fur a robust character that’s been compared favorably to the finest black-sheep wool.

Know that our Sasquatch enjoy an idyllic existence at the sprawling Double B Ranch, spending their days sunning in wildflower-filled meadows, loping through copses of hemlock and spruce, or just rolling around in mud and fragrant bear scat. And when it’s time for our ranchers to gather lovely Sasquatch fleeces, the gentle brutes are taken to feng-shui-approved wool sheds and given a powerful chamomile-based sedative, lest they grow uneasy and rip off a rancher’s arm or face.

Also, rest assured that this garment contains only residual amounts of Sasquatch musk, ensuring that sweater-wearers may visit the forests of the Pacific Northwest during mating season with only moderate fear of romantic entanglement.

No matter which story you choose to believe, one thing’s for certain: We made just a limited batch of Sasquatch and Black Sheep Sweaters, so they won’t stay around for long. Order yours today — only at Betabrand.com. (We’ll be tracking the popularity of each product and will report back next week with our findings.)

This company has so many things going for it; it’s really pretty inspirational to watch them expand.  According to a year-old article on FastCompany.com, they debuted with the Cordarounds last May (2011) and expected to hit $2MM in revenue that year.  Pretty insane, and they now carry tons of apparel.  Speaking of which, besides being hip and hilarious, they find really clever ways to design innovative features into their clothing.

Take the Gluttony pants, with three buttons so they can be expanded when the wearer eats too much.  Or the Bike to Work pants, that when rolled up have a reflective material on the cuff and a triangular reflective flag that pulls out of the back pocket to make the rider more visible.  This is definitely a company I’m keeping my eye on.  Their humor has captivated many, and the company has capitalized on how well they resonate with consumers, with a highly successful app for submitting user generated content.  People that upload photos of themselves wearing Betabrand or with the Betabrand ‘B’ photoshopped onto their faces sideways like a pair of glasses get a discount if they purchase within 24 hours, and the pictures the public comes up with are almost as funny as the content the brand produces.  Check them out, even if you’re not a clothes junkie – they are impressive.

Clever Features: Ford Escape Foot-Activated Liftgate

Normally when I think about clever features, I’m thinking about software, as in Gmail’s brilliant attachment prompt, and WordPress’s smart logo redirect.  I caught a commercial on TV today, though, for the Ford Escape that demonstrated the new foot-activated liftgate.  Check out this article and video on Forbes.com.  It struck a chord because I think it’s a great example of one of the concepts I wrote about from The Little Black Book of Innovation – looking for innovation opportunities in the space where people compensate.  When you watch the simple wave of a foot underneath the back bumper of the vehicle, it seems completely obvious that someone should have come up with this idea eons ago.  How often do you struggle with your hands full when you approach the trunk or hatchback of your vehicle?  Especially when what I’m carrying is heavy, the last thing I want to do is put it down and have to pick it up again after I open up the trunk.  Kudos to Ford for delivering some real innovation!

Clever Features: Gmail

As I described in an earlier post, a product designer’s ability to anticipate user actions can result in the kinds of features that help a product to stand out from the crowd, or just plain make users happy.  Some of the best designs build features and interactions that are so smooth the user doesn’t even realize what’s in front of them.  Others pop out at you, like the brilliant Gmail attachment reminder prompt.

I send attachments via email all the time, and often I either get wrapped up in writing the email, or get distracted by something for a few minutes, and come back to finish and send it.  Inevitably, I forget to attach the file I’ve said I’m sending to whomever the recipient is.  Gmail has a great reminder feature that works by doing a quick scan of the body of your email.  If you’ve said ‘attach’ or some variation of that word, but didn’t attach a file, Gmail prompts you to ask if you mean to send the message without an attachment.

This is a really simple, yet really brilliant feature.  It represents holistic thinking about what a user does (or rather, doesn’t do), when interacting with an email program.  I have no inside knowledge as to how Google designs its features, but if I were to think of this feature in general agile development terms, I think it’s the type of requirement that would come of some in-depth discussions about user types.  I’ve said before that companies need to go beyond the ‘As a user, I want to …. ‘ user story, and instead dream up all the possible personality types they can.  In this case, had someone defined a “busy user dealing with regular interruptions,” or “forgetful user that writes really long emails,” they may have come up with this concept.  Of course, thinking about what people don’t do can be conceptually more difficult than thinking about the core use cases a program has, but it’s in coming at problems sideways or with some different perspective that features like this are thought up.

Clever Features: Wordpress

Central to the skill set of a good product manager or UX designer is the ability to anticipate a user’s actions.  I recently wrote about how annoying it is when I type my phone number into a field on a form with dashes, or periods, and then get back an error message after I submit telling me I needed to enter it with no extra characters.  A designer should anticipate that the user will do things like this, and do whatever is reasonably possible to prevent asking them to do more work.  I recently found an excellent example of this kind of anticipation in design.

As I was wrapping up a post about why I love WordPress, I loaded the WordPress home page so I could grab their logo image and add it to my post.  When I right-clicked on their logo, instead of seeing the typical browser menu options, a widget popped up offering me direct links to their official logo files.  The fact that they anticipated users would want to download their logo file this way was not only cool, but also practical and smart.  They keep more control over the images that are used elsewhere, and make sure they adhere to their standards.  It told me that instead of only focusing on what a blogger might want to do within his or her blog dashboard, the product people at WordPress really put thought into the edge cases.

Typical right-click image menu

WordPress Logo Widget

An edge case is a type of use case that doesn’t occur frequently, but could occur, and product people need to balance the gain in addressing them with the associated expense of doing so.  Bugs often live in these spaces because certain user actions aren’t thought of ahead of time, aren’t tested or aren’t tested thoroughly.  Sometimes it’s not worth the effort to address an edge case that you have reason to believe will almost never be encountered.  Sometimes it’s sufficient to just block a user from doing something when you find a loophole or a way they might be able to generate an outcome that’s not intended as opposed to changing a design to fully account for it.

In the case of the logo download widget, though, the cost of implementation would be quite low.  Even if you weren’t able to project the value, as a product manager, I would certainly have voted for this idea were it presented to me because implementation would be so simple.