Category Archives: Strategy

Considering accessibility

Jun 6, 2014

Accessibility-72andSunny-SuzyMae-Strategy copyWe met working at 72andSunny, a fast-growing advertising agency making the coolest work in culture today.  Ken Lin, Max Miner, Roberto Salas, John Angelopulos and I needed to make a website more than accessible to people with impairments– hearing, visual, or physical disabilities.  It had to push the boundaries of what accessibility could do, be compatible with common hardware, serving the needs of people with disabilities who use screen readers, magnifiers, and closed-caption tools.


Going straight for experience, we blindfolded ourselves to understand what using a cell phone feels like with no vision, quickly discovering the most obvious difference.   Without the benefit of sight, navigating a touchscreen interface with a screen reader is much easier than using keyboard.

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In your hand, the tactile sensation of a finger dragging across a flat surface, signaled by ascending and descending tones, is simple to understand and memorize, compared to manually searching through code.  Screen readers that use keyboards require lots of listening, patience, and practice to decipher even the most basic websites.


A friend from Chicago, Andy Slater, joined us on a Hangout to share his experiences using technology.  Legally blind, Andy has retinitis pigmentosa, which makes his eyes extremely sensitive to light, but allows a limited range of vision.  Trying out blindfolded tasks on a cell phone is much easier than needing to use screen readers 100% of your time online.


Andy’s insight helped us understand what designers consistently miss when creating websites for a general population.  Sidebars can obscure information when a screen is magnified, so consider notifications about content.  Make accessibility tools easy to trigger on and off, especially on cell phones.    Even small, obvious things like the need for hearing-only games make a difference.


Building simplicity and elegance into the website’s means rethinking the standard code that screen readers access.  Use short, descriptive lists, instead of long pieces of text.  Add search options.  Recognize screen readers and activate accessibility mode immediately.  Senior UX designer Max Miner used his in-depth experience in accessible sites to lay down a strong, highly functional architecture that kept every design on point.


Creatively, the site came together with a powerful creative message from Max, Roberto, John, and Ken, supported by creative directors Chi and Gui, plus strategy director Bryan Smith, creators of the innovative Art, Copy, & Code site for Google.

Working as a strategist on this team goes down in history as a project that keeps me proud to work in advertising.  Combining expert information, qualitative research, and first-hand experience to help develop a digital product that’s well crafted, beautiful, and functional, plus highly accessible was a win.

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These deep research projects that I love so much help me realize, no matter how much we know, or think we know, there’s always more to improve upon and learn.



Improvising / advertising

Dec 12, 2013

Yesterday I leapt onstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in LA alongside six other people, with a plan to entertain a crowd, unscripted, for thirty minutes. This could have been terrifying, but for three reasons, it wasn’t. I’d prepared as much as I could. I knew my group. I knew the structure. And I was secure in that.

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I started practicing improv theater after realizing there were lessons to be learned in improv that could improve my performance as a strategist and creative. I recommend a basic improv class to anyone involved in advertising, whether you’re on client side, the creative department, or a CEO. Not only does improv push you to develop your on-the-spot thinking skills, it develops confidence, awareness, and creativity. I’ll get specific, even, and detail three ways improv helped me improve.

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Team playing //
Connecting with a team is a huge need for strategists. Planners have to be extremely diplomatic, guiding creative ideas into a format that’s best for the consumer. You can’t shoot down a creative idea or clash with a creative director. Even if you know the research shows nobody will use this app for more than thirty seconds. Improv’s most famous rule is “yes, and.” In a successful skit, you don’t say “no” to an idea. Your character may say no, but as a performer, you accept the reality your scene partner creates, no matter how wild. It’s about trust and respect, and finding a place where both realities can live together. “Yes, and,” your way to a creative solution. “Yes, and while we know branded apps that push news to the user are rarely used more than a few times, this creative could work well in an e-newsletter, or integrated into a Pinterest board.”

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Unique approaches //
Strategic planners can never deliver a basic performance from a template– each project and each brief has to be custom, crafted, intelligent. Otherwise we’re dead weight at the conference table. Improv is about delivering a custom performance every time. There’s no backup script or character to revert to. It’s all in the moment. Never performed before, never performed again. Part of creativity is the ability to accept any concept or idea, if only for a second. It’s only by accepting the impossible that we break free from tradition. And in advertising, we’re always seeking to disrupt traditional messaging with a new, poignant take on an established offering. Taking on the work required to come up with a unique approach is definitely harder than delivering to basic expectations. But it pays off when a strategy comes to life in the hands of creatives.

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Dedicated listening //
We have to hear every detail in improv, remember it, and use it immediately. We have no props, costumes, or sets. The audience has nothing but our words and actions to interpret, and not only must these be crystal clear, they have to be completely aligned in order to tell a story that makes the audience laugh. Names of characters, details about who’s who, aspects of the environment, accents and relationships… all quickly created by improv actors, operating on instinct. In a performance, it’s not enough to think quickly. You have to listen closely. This is incredibly relevant for meetings, especially with the client. The client knows more about their product than agency folk could ever think to ask– and we have to keep our ears peeled for details and comments that could reveal important insights. Listen closely instead of waiting for your turn to speak, and you’ll start to understand the objectives your clients value, the things that scare them, and how this specific project fits into a larger plan. At the very least, listening closely to your client allows you to understand the terminology used to describe the brand or product attributes.

Live, learn, and take an improv class.


When It’s Time to Do Good

Nov 11, 2013

No one wants to expend more effort than necessary //

It’s human.  We adapt to do the least amount of work possible.  We identify with what we know.  We save ourselves and those around us first.  When it’s time to do good, what is closest to the self is most strongly felt.

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It’s easier to sympathize and motivate around shared experiences //

Sometimes, situations that have not been experienced directly are beyond emotional comprehension.  There is no way I can understand the life of a child solider in Uganda.  Knowing something is bad is not the same as knowing what bad feels like.

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Immediacy inspires action //

Natural disaster relief.  Current events.  Local customs.  When issues have direct impact, the consequences are visceral, immediate, emotional.  It’s why Thanksgiving is the hottest night of the year to serve at homeless shelters.  A national holiday unites us all.  For the rest of the year, homed and homeless have little in common.   When organizations require action for slow, invisible, unfamiliar issues, our empathy range is limited.

The range of options we have to make our voices heard has never been more accessible.  Petition sites like Aavaz, MoveOn, and Peers allow anyone to join or start a movement.  But as our lives speed up, becoming digitized and decentralized, how do we motivate via identification?

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Universal stories //    We’ve all had our hearts broken, felt shame, or experienced relief.  A narrative invoking emotion can bring even the dullest environmental issues to a vibrant, piercing call to action.

Global holidays //    There aren’t many global holidays; New Year’s is commited to self-improvement and Christmas is a cluttered field of messaging.   But we’re unified online.  No reason not to create new global traditions…

Unexpected familiarity //    Surprise engages.  It sparks fight-or-flight.  It’s why we laugh at jokes.  A sensation this lizard-brain powerful links shock to action.  As suprises are often initiators– something we’ve never experienced before– they tend to stick.  Seek shocking links between faraway issues and the lives of your audience.

Personal interaction //    Clipboard people, go away.  Stop pressuring people out on their errands to stop what they’re doing and subsidize your hourly wage.   It doesn’t make business sense and denigrates your cause.  Asking for money is more challenging than asking for time.  Asking for advice is more effective than inquiring about expectations.  Communication and contributions can be achieved by door-to-door information shares– ask for nothing, simply educate.

It’s not impossible to connect slow or remote issues to individuals– the first step is demonstrating why the unfamiliar is, in fact, personal.

xo, suzymae