Author Archive for Emily Leahy


When Fads Collide

I saw these QR Code Cupcakes over at Fast Company on Friday. Usually I’m all about convergence technology. I was the proud owner of CueCat and I literally swooned over StickyBits a few days ago. But, QR codes on cupcakes? Really?

There’s nothing wrong with cupcakes, but I don’t think anyone would argue against them being a fad food. Sure they’re sweet and delicious, but also a bit overdone.  Serving cupcakes instead of sliced cake at a party isn’t going to surprise anyone. They’re expected and soon we’ll be on to the next fad.

Seeing QR codes on cupcakes made me wonder if both are on their way out. Will brands ever find real, sustained marketing value in QR codes? Or will there be just a series of gimmicky uses before we move on to something else?


The ASICS Brand Story

(via anecdote)

This is a great example of brand storytelling. It’s wonderful to hear a company’s founder describe the philosophy behind the brand and the origami visuals  are really engaging. Even though I’m a barefoot runner, I sort of want to go out a buy a pair of ASICS now.


Data Viz: Seeing What You’ve Heard

LastHistory – Interactive Visualization of Listening Histories and Personal Streams from Frederik Seiffert on Vimeo.

(via Lifehacker)

For people who love to think about experience, seeing a primarily auditory experience translated into a visual one is very cool. Enjoy!


Conan O’Brien: a Man, a Brand, a Twitter Account

(Conan’s March 2nd Tweet)

Conan O’Brien tweeted for the first time on February 24th, 2010 and already has close to 600,000 followers. Unlike other celebrities who tend to tweet either too much, too little, or inconsistently, he only posts one message a day. If you’re a follower, his single tweet stands out to you. Why? For the same reasons things are collectible — scarcity and quality. He’s only sending one a day and he makes it worth it. In fact, the picture in the post came from a tweet he made about how many people it takes to write his daily message.

He didn’t follow anyone for the first few days. Not listening to others is a newbie mistake brands make and seemed a little strange. Then on Friday, Conan did something that is a combination of altruism and marketing genius. He picked one person to follow at random. We all had to know who this lucky person, Sarah Killen, was and her followers went from 3 to over 10,000 in a day. Conan’s tweet said her life would change and it looks like it will. She’s engaged and like any bride-to-be, she’s been overwhelmed by the costs. Now she’s got offers for free invitations, dresses, and more. She’s Twitter-famous and every wants to be a part of it.

What makes this brilliant is that Conan probably thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make one of my fans famous so they can experience what it’s like?” We feel like we know him and over the years and he’s proven to be a really nice guy who recently got a raw deal. I don’t think he was thinking, “Let me show the world that I’m so famous, I can make anyone I want famous.” You know, like in “She’s All That.” If we thought that’s what he was up to, we’d be turned off by the lack of authenticity. The sincerity of his intention is important.

With that sincerity of intention, his success in lending his fame to another person, and innovative approach, Conan’s Twitter account is telling us a story about who he is. If it were a brand statement, it might be:

Conan O’Brien uses innovative media approaches to build connections between fans, celebrities, and sponsors.

If you’re a fan, he’s the everyman who allows you to experience celebrity. If you’re a celebrity, aspiring celebrity, or advertiser, he’s the trusted gatekeeper to his engaged, loyal fans. And his innovative approach to a medium (formerly TV, now Twitter) keeps us all tuned in.


A Magical Take on Empathy and Customer Experience

Jamy Ian Swiss at Gel 2009 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

For magic tricks to work, the magician has to be obsessed with how the audience will experience them. That desire to know the mind of the audience can be exploited by con men (or con persons) or used to create a magical experience. It’s easy to see how those of us who create stories and experiences can find inspiration within this seemingly unconnected field. This talk from Jamy Ian Swiss is partly a story about magicians, partly an audience-driven design philosophy, and thoroughly entertaining.


Feedly: Keeping Up Never Looked So Good

Keeping up with all the blogs and other news sources that I love has been a struggle for me over the years. RSS is powerful, but I’ve never enjoyed the RSS reader experience. It takes beautifully designed blogs and makes them plain, cold, and boring. I’m trying to keep up with what people are thinking, but being treated like a robot. I’ve tried different things: following the Twitter streams of my favorite bloggers; making folders of favorite sites in my bookmarks and trying to remember to visit; and sucking it up and using Google Reader.

I’m so glad I finally found feedly (it’s been out about 18 months). It’s a Firefox plugin that turns your Google Reader RSS feeds in a a “beautiful, magazine-like layout.” Setup is amazingly simple and it integrates with and Twitter, so it can be your single source for all the web content you crave.

One especially cool feature is integration with search. If I search for say, “facebook gaming” on Google, results from my favorite sources are displayed in a modal at the bottom of the screen. It’s helpful if you want it, but not in your way if you don’t.

And since I’m already blogging to blog readers about reading blogs, let’s go ultra-meta. Here’s what the blog you’re reading right now looks like in feedly.


Watch Logorama

This Oscar-nominated animated short uses over 2,500 logos to tell a disturbing story about American culture. And you can only watch it on Facebook. It’s got some rough language, so you’ll definitely want to wear headphones for this one.

More about this film at Gizmodo.


If you can’t say something nice…

We’ll turn off comments. I swear, we’ll turn this blog right around and you’ll never be able to comment again.

Oh, I’m just kidding. We love our commenters, but the web-based technology magazine Engadget recently did turn off comments because “tone in comments has really gotten out of hand.” This has led to some debate about the value of comments to user experience and whether online communities can self police.

Today, Engadget turned comments back on in a post titled: “Commenting on Engadget: a human’s guide.” As a reader, you’ll be able to turn comments off yourself if you want. You’ll also be able to up- or down-rank comments so that presumable the best will be seen and the worst will get buried. And their editors may delete comments that are offensive.

Will this defeat the trolls? We’ll see.


The Moth: Stories Told

I’m afraid to fly. It’s a long story. So to prepare for a recent flight to New York, I knew I’d need something to distract myself. Storytelling has been on my mind and I wanted to find some great stories from real people. Luckily, I stumbled on to The Moth’s podcast on iTunes. Some stories were hilarious and others a little disturbing, but they totally captivated me.

Here’s a bit about The Moth:

The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization, was founded in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, who wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings on his native St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda’s porch. After moving to New York, George missed the sense of connection he had felt sharing stories with his friends back home, and he decided to invite a few friends over to his New York apartment to tell and hear stories. Thus the first “Moth” evening took place in his living room. Word of these captivating story nights quickly spread, and The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York. Today, The Moth conducts eight ongoing programs and has brought more than 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members.


Missing Feature or Audience Insight?

It’s likely that everything that can be said about the iPad has been said (at least until consumers start getting the device in their hands.) I just wanted to point out something about the site experience Apple put together for the announcement and one feature that was notably absent. Can you spot it?

This is the page where you could watch Steve Job’s Keynote and there is no share feature. No single click to post to Twitter, Facebook, or Digg. No URL for embedding the video into your site. You simply choose the quality you want and then it opens in QuickTime. Does this mean Apple doesn’t understand the importance of the social web? I’m laughing too.  They get it as well as anyone. So then why not include a share feature?

Apple’s site (and brand) are all about making things simple and clean. They don’t skimp on features, but they don’t add things they don’t need. And they don’t need a share feature, I believe, for two reasons. First, to their audience the social web is the web. These people know social tools and share readily. Second, Apple’s content is compelling enough that they don’t need to ask their audience to share it.

It doesn’t seem like Apple made a miscalculation either. provides some simple analytics for URLs that have been shortened through their service. According to that site, the page with Keynote videos alone has been shared over 20 thousand times since the 27th of January. That doesn’t include other iPad-related pages on, the same page shortened through other services like, or all the Tweets and blog posts during and about the Keynote.  There was no shortage of buzz.

So does that mean we can take Apple’s lead and stop adding all the little social buttons (like those right below this post) to our web and mobile experiences? It depends on your audience and your content. I’m sure many people find them to be useful shortcuts. Others need to be reminded that their friends might be interested in the content they are experiencing. But as the social web and its tools become more integrated into everyday life, they won’t need to be a part of the site experience.

Stay Informed