It might still be a little jarring to consider attending group gatherings or crowded scenes. But if this is (hopefully) the last phase of the pandemic, people will soon be back at it, mingling in close proximity like the Before Times. At least, that’s what tech companies in the portable device business are counting on.
Sonos, the company known primarily for its in-home audio products, has made another portable Bluetooth speaker. And this time, Sonos has actually designed it to be, well, portable. The Sonos Roam is an itty-bitty, lightweight Bluetooth speaker, the second in Sonos’ portable lineup. Images of the product leaked last week, but now the company has now officially announced it. The Roam costs $169, and will be available in the US and around 30 other markets starting April 20th.
Sonos has long established itself as a home-focused audio brand, even throwing shade at more accessible “smart” speakers from companies like Amazon and Google. Sonos executives have called these Bluetooth speakers “stepping stones” to more high-fidelity (and stationary) speakers like the Sonos’ indoor stalwarts. But the company has also been wisely plotting an expansion to the outdoors.
“Sonos has held such a position in the home for so long. They’re kind of a brand that a lot of people look up to,” says Ben Arnold, an industry analyst focused on consumer tech at NPD Group. “But they want to sell speakers, right? That’s their business. You can only sell so many speakers into somebody’s home until they become saturated.”
Sonos’ first foray into Bluetooth came in 2019 with the $400 Sonos Move. While technically mobile, with a nifty built-in handle in the back, the Move is a bulky six-pound chonk. It’s unwieldy when hauled in a backpack, and works best as a kind of backyard speaker.
By contrast, the Sonos Roam is designed to go all over the place. It weighs less than a pound and stands just over six inches tall and two inches wide. Sonos claims it has a 10-hour battery life. It also has an IP67 water and dustproof rating for extended jaunts into uncharted territory. It charges wirelessly with any Qi-certified charger, though Sonos is selling a Roam-specific charger for an additional $49.
When users do return home, the Roam’s “Sound Swap” feature will allow them to press and hold the play button to send the audio to the nearest Sonos speaker. (The feature works on nearly all newish Sonos speakers.) And like other newish Sonos speakers, the Roam has far-field microphones and supports voice control with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
The Roam’s versatility and mobility-oriented marketing are well-timed. According to NPD, sales of Bluetooth speakers rose by nearly eight percent in 2020 in the US, likely due to demand for portable gadgets as outdoor activities grew more popular. NPD notes that most of the growth occurred in the $100+ category of speakers; not the super cheap ones. And as Covid-19 vaccine rollouts are expanding, the CDC has declared that vaccinated people can safely gather in small groups without wearing masks or social distancing. (Vaccinated people, mind you. This isn’t carte blanche to just go hang out with whoever, even if they do have a dope playlist.) People who are anxious to travel and get moving again might want to bring their tech with them.
It’s a common refrain: “We’re a B2B company. We can’t do the same things those B2C funsters get up to.” Another good one is, “Our product/industry/niche is just too serious and boring for content marketing.”
But it’s also worth pointing out that shedloads of content are published every day for which “boring” might be a polite description (“predictable” and “unnecessary” would be others.) I regularly come across reports, white papers, and articles that would require me to stab myself repeatedly in the leg with a fork simply to stay awake beyond the opening paragraphs.
I’m sure the marketers publishing this content wouldn’t say it’s boring. Perhaps they don’t always realize it is. Perhaps internal feedback convinced them the world really is desperate for an academic thesis on interlocking flanges … or something. Perhaps, as can be the case in B2B, the content was written to satisfy an internal audience – a C-suite eager for the brand to appear smarter than the competition on everything to do with flanges.
Meanwhile, the intended customer audience just wants to solve a problem or learn something new without feeling like they are studying for a Ph.D.
“Aha,” I hear some of you cry. Boring doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Lots of things can be boring while still offering value. People don’t download and read a white paper on flanges to be entertained, right? They download it because staying on top of flange technology is useful in their job. If lots of people are downloading the white paper or whatever it is, perhaps being boring isn’t really an issue.
Let me rebut by getting up onto one of my favorite old soapboxes. Ahem …
The number of downloads doesn’t reveal if the content was effective. The number of downloads merely proves the title was interesting or that the email and landing page were persuasive enough to encourage people to fill out the form or click the download button.
Surely the goal of all these white papers, reports, and e-books isn’t just to capture unqualified leads and never mind if no one reads the content. That’s like a movie studio claiming its new blockbuster is a raging box office success despite audiences walking out of the cinema after the first few scenes. Marketing may have sold tickets and put bums on seats, but the content still needs to hold the audience’s attention until the credits roll.
Shelley, my wife, is always at me to eat more fruit. I’d like to eat healthier too – or at least I know I should. So, if we both agree, you’d think I’d be the peak of nutritional fitness.
Good intentions fill my fruit bowl each week, but good intentions don’t mean my snack preference is a plum or a banana. I just finished off a packet of wine gums, those gumdrop-like candies, someone (read: me) recklessly left near my desk (read: purposely put in the drawer when Shelley wasn’t looking). So, those good intentions aren’t working too well right now.
Eventually, I’ll throw out the uneaten and overripe fruit before stocking up again with more of what I should eat – but probably won’t. Funnily enough, cheesy and sugary snacks never seem to reach their use-by date in our house.
I’m the same with white papers. I regularly download interesting-sounding reports and e-books, filling my iPad with content I “should” read. The information they promise is directly relevant to my work or the research is pertinent to my areas of interest.
But, like my fruit bowl, when I’ve a few free minutes, I’m far more likely to choose something I want to read rather than what I feel I should read. Those worthy and good-for-me reports and white papers stay unread until the information within them gradually passes the best-before date. It’s 2021. That detailed report on digital trends for 2019 is probably not that useful anymore. Delete.
I know I’m not alone. It’s hard to measure precisely what percentage of white papers and e-books are downloaded but never read (if someone has the stat, I’d love to see it). But whenever I bring up the fruit bowl analogy in a workshop or at an event, a quick hands-up poll usually has most of the room admitting to the same backlog of worthy-but-unread downloaded content cluttering their inboxes or hard drives.
So how do you turn “should read” into “want to read” and eventually into “did read”?
Your content doesn’t have to be only relevant or even mildly interesting. It also has to be compelling and irresistible. How will your white paper make the reader stop whatever they’re doing to devote time to it now? Or, failing that, what will ensure the reader can’t resist returning to it later?
The importance of being earnest
No, I’m not arguing that all of your content needs to lighten up. Sometimes, engineering pieces need to be engineering pieces. Sometimes, adopting a conversational tone or pushing creative boundaries isn’t the right approach.
When you’re reading the instructions to install that new piece of software or replace that engine part, you want unambiguous and unembellished clarity presented in as few words as possible – ideally alongside simple diagrams and pictures.
That’s why technical writing is a discipline quite separate from other forms of writing. Technical writing isn’t about providing inspiration or delight. It’s about putting information into action.
In this case, what matters is how long the content takes to get to the point. And that means too much creativity or storytelling can be boring, too, by getting in the way of the reader.
It’s why some people get frustrated by recipe books that spend page after page waffling on about the writer’s entire backstory with this particular dish, how they sourced the ingredients, and that funny incident with the fennel one Christmas, when all the reader wants is a simple set of instructions to make the dish for themselves.
Cut the waffle, slash the company bios, ditch the lengthy introduction from the CEO that basically reiterates yet again why the white paper is worth reading. WE KNOW! We’ve already read the email, landing page, and whatever else. That’s why we downloaded it! Stop selling the content to us and give us what we came for!
To be honest, your readers probably aren’t wading through that self-serving introduction anyway. They’re skipping straight to the first page that looks like it might deliver on the advertised promise.
It’s also worth remembering that some of your target audience may not be quite as deeply enmeshed in the world of industrial flanges. And even if they are, reading your content shouldn’t feel like hard work.
According to research conducted by Christopher Trudeau at the Thomas Cooley Law School, 80% of people prefer clear English in legal documents. So far, so very unsurprising. However, you may be surprised to learn that this preference for simple, plain English increases with the level of education and specialist knowledge.
Even the people most equipped to understand the industry-specific conventions, jargon, acronyms, and excessively formal phrasing of your content don’t really want to if there’s something better on the telly.
Sometimes, you need your content to have a bit more color, a bit more creativity, a bit more fun.
If the topic, product, or industry seems boring to you, of course, it might seem impossible to produce interesting, creative, and engaging content. And when you’re working on the business side of a topic, product, or industry, you may be focused on what the product is rather than what it does – viewing it primarily in functional and technical terms – which can be quite different to the customer’s viewpoint.
Products and things aren’t that inherently interesting. It’s people who make them interesting. It’s people who give them meaning. That’s why a central tenet of content marketing is that the product isn’t the story – people are. B2C knows this almost instinctively. B2B sometimes has trouble thinking quite the same way.
Is your content about things or is it about people and what they can do with those things? Instead of writing in the abstract, place your content in the real world. Their world.
Or, if the real world of people working with flanges is still a tad too pedestrian and boring, take your content a step further. Blend some fiction in with your fact to create a hyperreal world your audience will happily spend a little time exploring.
It’s not often I get to write lines like this in B2B content: “I’m sure we’ve all had days when your carefully laid plans suddenly change, and you unexpectedly find yourself defusing a nuclear device while hanging upside down out of a brothel window in Marrakesh.”
Doesn’t sound very B2B, does it? It’s from one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on, a collaboration with Sydney agency McCorkell & Associates on an e-book for Oakton (now NTT) to promote its business intelligence tools.
Oakton had asked the agency to come up with a content-led strategy that would stand apart from the myriad data service organizations targeting the same audience of CMOs. Sam Marks at M&A suggested a secret agent theme that drew an extended analogy between James Bond’s Q Branch, equipping agents with the gadgets and intelligence they need in the field, and the data management capability within a large organization.
Supported by a series of sponsored LinkedIn posts and a Pulse article, the campaign easily exceeded its target for landing appointments with high-value leads.
And then there’s U.S. tech company SunGard’s brilliant e-book, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide, which was supported by emails, an infographic, and a social media campaign just in time for Halloween 2013. (I only wish I was involved with this one.)
A theme that tapped into the pop culture of the day (The Walking Dead was still good back then), coupled with a strong creative, led to the e-book smashing the expected download rate three times over. The overall campaign received a 150% higher click-through rate and 200% higher click-to-open rate compared with other campaigns. It won a swag of marketing awards too.
Most importantly, the campaign also smashed Sungard’s target for qualified leads as well. Not bad for a content campaign turned around in three weeks.
Colorful analogies like these can be effective ways of explaining otherwise boring technical concepts. They can also make the content more fun and irresistible to read.
Better still, every little pun, every unexpected twist, every wry joke may help to make the content more memorable. Humor can be a great tool to maintain a reader’s attention. And laughter, or even mild enjoyment, is associated with an increase of pleasure hormones like dopamine, which aids the creation of memories, and a reduction in stress hormones like cortisol, known to impede memory.
If all of this seems less professional and more frivolous than it should when targeting enterprise decision-makers, remember that professionalism isn’t defined by a tone of voice – serious, formal, and academic – but by how effectively the job is done. If everyone gives up on your white paper after two dreary and boring paragraphs, how can it be classed as professional?
So, next time you’re admiring the impressive download results from your latest white paper, ask yourself how many of those people actually read it. How many people acted on the information and advice contained in those pages? How many people made it to the call to action on the final page?
Too many white papers want to appear clever and valuable instead of actually delivering on the promise. But by focusing on the reader’s natural interests and behaviors and not being afraid to be more creative, your next piece of content may have more chance of being plucked from the fruit bowl while it’s still fresh.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
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The Roomba s9+ is iRobot’s most advanced vacuum yet; it has powerful suction and even empties its own dustbin.
It’s expensive, but it’s totally hands off; it’ll clean your floors for a month without needing any maintenance.
Over time it makes a map of your home and you can instruct it to clean or avoid specific rooms.
In 2002, iRobot introduced the first Roomba. Since then, the brand name Roomba has become synonymous with “robot vacuum.” Though dozens of other brands have entered the space, iRobot continues to stay ahead of the innovation curve.
In September 2018, iRobot introduced the Roomba i7+, which was the first robot vac that featured a charging dock that emptied the dustbin. Based on feedback, iRobot made tweaks to the design and features of the i7+ and launched a new top-of-the-line model, the s9+, in October 2019.
The Roomba s9+ is innovative because it has increased suction power, a D-shaped design, two long main brushes with unique positioning, and a longer-lasting battery. I’ve tested the s9+ for several months now — it’s the main vacuum I use when not testing other models — and here’s what I like about it.
Design and specs
There are a few design choices that make the s9+ different from other Roombas. The most obvious one is the D shape, which is supposed to help it get deeper into corners. The unit is remarkably small at 12.5 inches in diameter, but the height is comparable to other units at 3.5 inches.
The small body size is impressive considering that it has two of the longest main brushes I’ve seen at 9.5 inches each. The brushes are located closer to the front of the unit than most other robot vacuum models. The forward design and length of the brushes are supposed to facilitate better corner cleaning and make it easier for the robot to pick up debris on a single pass.
Though iRobot doesn’t give precise suction power measurements for its robots, it claims that the s9+ has suction 40 times more powerful than the Roomba 600 Series and four times more powerful than the next strongest Roomba and s9+ predecessor, the i7+.
The Roomba s9+ comes with a Clean Base that charges the robot and empties its dustbin. The box also contains an extra high-efficiency filter, an extra side brush, and an extra dirt disposal bag.
Setting up the Roomba s9+ took longer than most robot vacuums I’ve tested, but I still had it up and going in under half an hour. After unboxing the elements and finding a spot for the Clean Base, I plugged it in and set the vac on the charging dock.
Next, I downloaded the iRobot app and installed firmware updates. The updates took the bulk of the setup time. Once they were installed, I scheduled the s9+ to clean daily, which was an effortless task taking only a few seconds.
I liked that when I scheduled the vac, it let me choose how powerful the suction is. On its lowest setting, the battery lasts for two hours. On the highest setting, it only runs for about 45 minutes. I chose the highest setting, and since I have more space than the Roomba can clean in 45 minutes, it just returns to the dock to charge and automatically finishes the cleaning cycle once it has enough juice.
Connecting to Amazon Alexa was a seamless process. I just added the iRobot skill in the Alexa app, and it was ready to go.
The most important feature of any robotic vacuum is its performance. How well can it pick up debris on a variety of surfaces? To test this, I pour a tablespoon each of flour, kitty litter, and coffee grounds along with pet hair on low-pile carpeting and hardwood flooring. Then, I run the vacuum on high for two cleaning cycles, measure the contents accumulated in the robot’s dustbin, and compare before and after photos to estimate how much of the debris the vacuum picked up.
On hardwood, the Roomba s9+ did better than any vacuum I’ve ever tested. All of the kitty litter, pet hair, and coffee grounds were gone, and I only found a trace of flour left over. The performance on carpeting was only slightly less impressive. Gone were the coffee grounds and pet hair. Only around 5% of the kitty litter and 10% of the flour were left behind.
I also tested how well the s9+ does at cleaning corners by sprinkling a teaspoon of flour into hardwood and carpeted corners. Though the D-shaped vac came within an inch of the carpeted corner, it only picked up about 30% of the flour. This is likely due to the powerful main brush not coming into direct contact with debris. On the other hand, on hardwood, the unit did much better, picking up around 85% of the flour and coming within 1.5 inches of the corner.
The s9+ rarely gets stuck. On our testing course, which contains cords and other obstacles, it did not get stuck at all. And, in my daily use, it tends to only run into issues when one of my messy family members leaves clothes on the floor. The s9+ will try to suck them up, and I’ll get a notification that the main brushes need to be untangled. This is easy enough to fix.
In addition to performing well, the Roomba s9+ is packed full of features that work as advertised. My favorite feature is the Clean Base, which serves as the charging dock and empties the vac’s dustbin. The dust is collected in a disposable dirt bag, which you only need to replace every month or two when the app notifies you.
The iRobot app is among the best robot vacuum apps I’ve used. You can use it to do basic tasks, like schedule cleanings, as well as more complex functions. For instance, once the s9+ maps your home, which can take several cleaning cycles, you can schedule it to clean specific rooms at certain times. I also liked that I could set no-go zones that the unit would automatically avoid.
The biggest negative with the Roomba s9+ is how loud it gets. On its highest suction setting, my sound meter measured 77 decibels, which is comparable to heavy city traffic. The vac was better on its lowest setting at 64 decibels — about the same as a normal conversation. In my testing, I’ve found stronger suction is usually correlated with louder operation, and that appears to hold true with the s9+.
It took at least four cleaning cycles for the s9+ to be able to map the layout of my home. This was annoying because, in the meantime, I couldn’t set no-go zones, and I had some areas with several wires that the vac would get caught up on. Fortunately, I was able to set no-go zones eventually, and the robot did a good job of obeying them.
I just completed an update to our guide to the best robot vacuums so visit that for our most up-to-date recommendations. I’d like to add that Roomba just introduced its most affordable self-emptying Roomba, the i3+ (currently $549.99 on Amazon). At nearly half the price of the s9+, you sacrifice some mapping capabilities and suction power, but it’s still an impressive device that performs better on carpeting than any of the other vacs I’ve tested.
Despite these minor negatives, I think the Roomba s9+ is one of the best robot vacuums available. I especially like that it empties the dustbin itself so I don’t have to remember to stay on top of that between cleanings.
The s9+ is one of the most expensive robot vacuums available. Even the most affordable robovacs are luxury items and do not replace traditional upright models. So, we mostly just recommend the s9+ to consumers who have significant expendable income and want a low-fuss device that automates the chore of vacuuming. The s9+ is also a great option if you simply must have the most innovative gadgets. It’s the top-of-the-line model from the top name in robot vacuums.
Robot vacuums are usually deeply discounted during the major sale days, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day. So, if the s9+ is just outside of your price range and you don’t mind waiting, keep your eyes peeled for deals.
Pros: Features a useful app with virtual no-go zones, large main brushes, charging dock that empties the unit’s dustbin, does better on hardwood floors than any other vac we’ve tested, good performance on carpeting
Cons: Didn’t clean carpeted corners well in our tests, loud, takes several cleaning cycles to create a floor map
When the global economy rebounds sharply, emerging market stocks usually outperform U.S. and European equities.
That’s why, with the global economy poised to take off because of trillions of dollars in stimulus, it’s a prudent idea in the current U.S. stock market selloff to do some contrarian buying emerging markets (EM). Those stocks will likely outperform their S&P 500 SPX,
and Nasdaq COMP,
To find ideas, I recently caught up with Michael Oh, who manages the Matthews Asia Innovators Fund MATFX,
A native of Korea who moved to the U.S. when he was 15, Oh settled in the Bay Area by way of University of California, Berkeley. Since becoming portfolio manager at his fund in 2006, he’s readily beaten competing funds and benchmarks.
Looking beyond the inflation tantrum
Oh says he’s taking the current inflation tantrum in stride. Instead, he prefers to stay focused on the basic tenets that have served him well over the years. It boils down to this: Identify long-term trends and buy companies that will benefit, as long as they have the right qualities.
“These trends can last as long as 20 years,” he says. “When you find a long-term structural trend that will play out over five to 20 years, then short-term economic cycles impact you less.”
Here are five lessons from Oh, and 11 stocks from his portfolio — based on his favorite mega trends and go-to company qualities. Oh is worth listening to because his fund beats its Pacific/Asia ex-Japan fund category and its benchmark MSCI AC Far East ex-Japan Index by over 10 percentage points annualized over the past five years, according to Morningstar. It also beats them by 4-4.5 percentage points since Oh took the helm 15 years ago.
Lesson # 1: Buy into the emerging middle class in China
A big perceived negative on China now is that global companies are transplanting supply chains elsewhere — to dodge gnarly problems like trade restrictions and tariffs that pop up because of simmering U.S.-China tensions.
Oh doesn’t think supply chain relocation will be a big challenge for China, since so many people are breaking into the middle class. That’s transforming China to a domestic growth story from “factory of the world.” Japan and Korea went through the same transition years ago, so there are plenty of guideposts.
Here’s one that’s key. The median income in China has hit $8,000-$9,000 a year. That’s the inflection point to watch for, says Oh. Once people hit this income level, they reach beyond spending on the basic necessities. This is great for companies in areas like leisure, entertainment, electronic gadgets, sportswear and health care.
Wuxi Biologics, a Matthews Asia Innovators Fund holding that trades over the counter in the U.S., offers a good example. It provides research services to biotech companies developing drugs and therapies in China. Until now, only the U.S. and Europe had big enough markets to support drug development companies. But now, China joins the club because of its emerging middle class (and the next mega trend, below).
This means the entire biotech industry is poised to take off.
“We like the biotech industry in China a lot,” says Oh.
You can try to pick winners. But it also makes sense to own the research-services company that will serve them — meaning Wuxi Biologics.
“It is a good proxy for betting on China’s biotech growth,” says Oh. This stock has tripled since December 2019. But it still has a reasonable valuation given the growth prospects, says Oh.
Oh is only allowed to talk about three names from his holdings. (The other two are below.) But a look at his portfolio shows he also owns Innovent Biologics (which also trades over the counter), a cancer therapy research company.
Other names from his holdings that look like they will benefit from greater spending beyond necessities as more Chinese join the middle class include Samsung Electronics, the restaurant chain Haidilao International HDALF,
and Li Ning LNNGY,
in sporting goods.
Lesson # 2: Invest in rising disposable incomes in China and elsewhere in Asia
This sounds a lot like the emerging middle class theme. But it’s different, because pay levels are rising across the income spectrum, including among people in the upper range of “middle class” and beyond.
This is an important investing trend in Asia. While economic growth in Korea is fairly mundane at 2%-3% a year, disposable income there is growing at a much faster 10%, says Oh. In other Asian countries, the growth rate hits 20%-30%.
“When income grows that quickly, it creates huge opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs,” says Oh.
This trend means people splurge more on luxury items sold by Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton LVMUY,
a name in Oh’s portfolio. But they also spend on more practical thing like life insurance. Here, his fund owns AIA Group AAGIY,
Wuxi Biologics is a play on this theme, as well, since people spend more on health care when they have more discretionary income.
Lesson #3: Invest in companies that benefit from powerful sector and product trends
Oh identifies several of these which you are already familiar with — like e-commerce, the cloud and electric vehicles. To make it into his portfolio, a company has to be a dominant player in its space.
Looking through his portfolio I see the following examples: Meituan MPNGF,
in online food ordering and delivery, and bike sharing; and Kingdee International Software KGDEY,
in cloud services. While filings tell us Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns BYD BYDDF,
for exposure to electric vehicles in China, Oh’s portfolio shows he’s gone with XPeng XPEV,
Lesson# 4: Look for innovative companies with protective moats
Here, Oh cites Sea SE,
in online games, e-commerce and digital financial services. Sea is like a combination of Tencent TCEHY,
and Alibaba BABA,
positioned in Southeast Asia. Sea is the dominant e-commerce platform in many countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, say Oh.
“Once you have become a dominant player, you have a barrier to entry,” he says.
Lesson #5: Pay attention to valuation
Oh says the video content platform company Bilibili BILI,
may well become the YouTube of China. This is a play on the popularity of video-content creation in China.
“It has a clear secular tailwind,” says Oh.
That’s already helped propel the company to a $40 billion market cap, up from $10 billion when his fund first bought it. But Oh thinks Bilibili’s market cap will grow to $100 billion and beyond. So he cites this one as an example of a holding with a reasonable valuation.
Michael Brush is a columnist for MarketWatch. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any stocks mentioned in this column. Brush publishes a stock newsletter called Brush Up on Stocks. Follow him on Twitter @mbrushstocks.
Women of Letters is the first in a new series of short interviews. We begin with a collection of four interviews with creatives from New York to Saigon: Lynne Yun a NYC-based type designer, technologist, and educator; Deb Pang Davis, a product designer with The 19th in Texas; Coleen Baik, a designer and artist in Manhattan; and my local friend, Duong Nguyen, educator and Managing Editor of ELLE Decoration Vietnam. The questions are deliberately not confined to work-related themes as we celebrate not only the work but more crucially the women behind the work.
New York Scholar
ILT: Something, I think, that sets you apart is your passion for both history (scholarship) and practice. Personally, I lean heavily towards the history; but you appear to be equally enamored and comfortable with both passions. Is it something that comes naturally to you, or is this duality something you’ve deliberately nurtured?
Lynne Yun is a NYC-based type designer and educator with a special flair for typography, lettering, and calligraphy. She’s a board member of AIGA NY and teaches for educational institutions such as Type@Cooper, Parsons School of Design, and the Letterform Archive.
This is an interesting question. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever considered them to be separate from one another. People often tell me I’m a pro-procrastinator — meaning that I’m continuously dipping my toes into various different rabbit holes that aren’t quite relevant to whatever I happen to be doing at the time — but they do become useful later on. For example, when I was doing a lot of research into Bâtarde, a form of gothic cursive, I was doing it because I found it fun to to be doing an online treasure-searching of sorts. Many digital manuscript collections don’t sort or tag their collections by calligraphic hands, and so it turned into a passtime trying to discover gothic cursive manuscripts. I’d go deep-diving into blog posts, papers, and then look up the references of references. For anyone familiar with the term ‘Wiki rabbit hole’, I think they may relate to what I’m talking about. After a while, it seems like a natural progression to try to re-create what you’ve been looking at for such a long time. I think this is how I’ve gotten into most hobbies and professions throughout my career.
ILT: It’s no secret that type design is still a male dominated occupation. Could you tell us how much of an impact this has had on your career, if any? Do you have any thoughts on why this is still the case? And are you optimistic that this will change in the near future?
The thoughts I have on this are continually evolving and changing. It’s true that when I started on my type design career, there were only a handful of women in type design. Type designers of color were even rarer. Imagine being in that intersection! I can’t deny it has impacted my career and practice. Although I’m confident in myself as a professional, the self-doubt, that I was given an opportunity due to tokenism, always crosses my mind. For example, every time I’ve been asked to be a speaker at an event, I always see if the organizers have a history of inclusivity before agreeing to it. This doesn’t stem from the type design industry in particular, but probably from being a woman of color in daily life. There’s a certain flavor of pessimism that manifests when you get mistaken for a laundromat worker every time you try to do your laundry. This is a huge part of the reason why I created my affordable online type design course and BIPoC scholarships. I want to see more diversity and inclusivity in the industry.
Above:Trade Gothic Display and Trade Gothic Inline, designed by Lynne Yun
That being said, although the gender and ethnicity disparity still very much exists, I think there have been a lot of positive changes in recent years. There have been a number of women and designers of color who have become visible. Someone who I admire a lot is Juan Villanueva who has been running scholarships for BIPoC students in his Display Type class and running Type Crit Crew, a free resource to connect type design students to professionals for virtual crits. I’ve been meeting more and more women and students of color every year. So looking at changes like these, I’m cautiously optimistic that the type design industry is becoming more diverse.
ILT: Could you tell us Lynne Yun’s top three tips for better typography?
1. Do a ton of research! Then forget about it, and try to recreate from scratch. Guaranteed you’ll make something unique yet inspired by your references.
2. Sometimes just being aware of your surroundings brings great inspiration. One of the things I have in my cherished collection is a handwritten receipt I got from a coffee shop. The barista’s handwriting was exquisite!
3. Take care of yourself. You can’t do great typography running on Red Bull and 3 hours of sleep.
ILT: You recently moved to New York. What took you there, and what keeps you there?
Based in Manhattan, Coleen Baik is an independent product designer, artist, and writer. She has worked for the likes of Twitter and Medium. Her polymathy encompasses animation, illustration, & storytelling.
I moved to Manhattan three years ago to invest in my development as a visual and motion artist. I’ve wanted to live here since I was a teenager when I visited for the first time. Even then, New York didn’t feel so much a place as a vibe. And from minute one it has felt like home.
I’m fed by the constancy of expression here, the gamut of glamour, the conversation — I love overhearing people talk about plays and novels and food. I’m blown away by how easy it is to connect with neighbors. New York City is just good for my work and headspace; it inspires and refuels me.
It’s a difficult place to be, too, obviously, particularly now with the animus and paranoia, the pandemic and its ravaging effects on the city. I walked from Harlem to Times Square at the height of the pandemic last April, as a sort of communion with Manhattan. It broke my heart. Before the pandemic hit, I loved gallery-hopping with friends, or dining out alone. About once a week I’d have a glass of wine at the local bar after work, chatting with the bartender who also happened to be a painter. I hope he’s doing alright. I don’t know how different it’ll all be going forward, but I’m hopeful. I miss so many things — even tourists.
ILT: You speak several languages and have broad artistic and intellectual interests and passions. Why is that? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Korean was my first language. I learned English when I was eight, Spanish when I was about 12. French was my college major and I lived for a bit in Paris, then Provence. I’ve always loved letters, language — reading has been a passion from early childhood. I thought I’d end up as a novelist, in fact. But ten minutes into taking my GREs (a standardized test for admission into graduate schools in the United States), I decided that I was sick of exams and got up and walked out — and that was that. It must have alarmed the other students, the proctor chased after me to ask what was wrong. They thought I knew something they didn’t! And maybe I did.
▫ Mixed media painting. ▫ Work station. ▫ 2018 at a book signing. ▫ Faces. With sound on Instagram. ▫ Color Factory, 2019. ▫ Empty Times Square, April 2020
I feel like most of my loves stem from an infatuation with the lyrical and the strange. You can see this in my taste for literature and poetry. Carson’s Autobiography of Red reads like a photograph, as does Duras’s L’Amant. The written word can be have a musical quality too, like Nabokov’s Lolita and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! I love that expressive modes can complement each other this way. The synergy between language/music/images/time excites me, and I think that’s what’s led me to explore animation.
My mother took me to see Fantasia when I was little, and she said that I was mesmerized. I want to affect people like that with my work too, to strike and linger and haunt. I’m inspired by traditionalists like Miyazaki as much as I am by artists like Lynch, Polanski, Kar-Wai, the Quays. All of them are masters of intuition. They take things that are dull or dead, and they recognize which to put next to which else, and when, in order to spark life. They’re open to engaging with the unknown.
I’m about to wrap up a minute-long animated short called Tuscany, which is exciting. I’ve been sharing 5 seconds a week on Instagram for about a year, and will launch the finished piece as a whole on Vimeo and elsewhere soon. I still consider myself a neophyte but I’ve put in enough time now that I can spend less on mechanics and more on expression. That’s a huge milestone. I wrote a series of articles on how to get started with hand-drawn animation a few years ago and I’m happy that folks seem to find them helpful. I’m considering writing a biweekly behind-the-scenes for folks who’re curious about my process, how I work through problems, what tools I use, the lessons I’m learning along the way. A sort of artist’s journal though, more intimate and ruminative than a straight ‘how-to.’ I’m fascinated by process in general — I think most people are, though we’re outwardly so obsessed with finished products. I’m not sure which platform I’ll use — Substack is the leading option right now, but once it’s definitive I’ll announce it on Twitter and Instagram as well as port subscribers over from Substack in the coming weeks.
Deb Pang Davis
ILT: You’re a product designer. In a recent unscientific poll of friends, I asked them to explain what a product designer does. All but one (a product designer) failed. So, can you please tell us what a product designer does?
Coming from a background in editorial design and photography, Deb Pang Davis has worked for The Globe and Mail, The Chicago Tribune, and National Geographic Traveler, to name a few. Deb now works as product designer for The 19th.
I asked a similar question! It’s a tough one to answer. First I believe it is important to define ‘product’. For many people product means physical objects. For example: cars, furniture, toys, and kitchen gadgets, to name a few. Then, there are digital products such as websites, dashboards, software, and apps. So without getting into the history of industrial design, human factors, human computer interaction and the impact of computing, where these types of products intersect and where disciplines converge is how I would define product design today.
The role and responsibilities of a product designer can vary depending on the industry and the size of an organization. I work at The 19th, an independent newsroom reporting on the intersection of gender, politics, and policy. As the product designer, I feel like a bridge internally and externally. I’m also constantly thinking in layers. My primary responsibility is to support reader experiences and our journalism. So, our audience is top-of-mind during every sprint. The business of journalism and engineering also factor into what I do and how I think about why, what, how, and when to solve and approach design problems. So, I guess my job is to think holistically. It’s a very collaborative role and one that has loads of variety day to day.
▫ Woman’s best friend. She keeps me in the present. ▫ Canoeing on a reservoir in Upstate New York. Quiet and nature is my happy place. ▫ Mike. I asked, He said yes. We are now grandparents! ▫ Mornings. My favorite time of day. Watching the sun come up never gets old. ▫ Our cat Blu. Miss this little guy. He passed away last April
Here are a few things I do on any given day: interviewing participants during a user testing session, scoping out projects, pair programming with our engineer to make front-end code changes, explore and test new tools, designing mockups or social cards in Figma, writing use cases, scenarios, documentation, and reports, presenting to stakeholders, teaching co-workers about accessibility, image optimization or data viz best practices or loads of secondary research and competitive analysis. Our team is very small, so I help out wherever I can.
ILT: You recently moved across the country to Texas and started a new role with The 19th. Can you tell us a little about the 19th, and why you chose to work with them?
The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting on gender, politics, and policy. It was named after the 19th amendment but with an asterisk because the 19th amendment remains a work-in-progress. This is straight from our mission statement because I cannot say it any better: ‘Our goal is to empower the people we serve — particularly women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community — with the information, resources and community they need to be equal participants in our democracy’. I applied and chose to work at The 19th because the mission aligns with my values and in the nearly eight months I’ve been here, The 19th has, so far, proven to be a different kind of newsroom. I’ve been given plenty of opportunities to get out of my comfort zone, given the time to learn and given a voice. It is an environment that allows you to grow and succeed. The people I work with empower me. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like a token this or that.
ILT: Besides starting a new job and moving across the country during a pandemic, have there been any other recent challenges?
Going back to school in my late forties to pursue an MFA was exciting, challenging, and truly a privilege. Frankly, it was also flat-out scary. When I was in the thick of juggling multiple classes plus a part-time job, I thought it would be the end of me. Let’s be real: The physiological changes happening for a forty-something woman aren’t aligned with pulling all-nighters. There were many days when I felt alone, completely out of my element and in the dark swamp of despair. That said, it was worth every one of those moments because I was also free to immerse myself in my classes, think and write about design, research, make, experiment, test, critique — rinse and repeat. The freedom and space to practice every day in a focused, structured environment was the best gift to Self. I learned from some of the best in their fields. It was a must made possible with the support of the people I love most.
Thuy Duong Nguyen Phan
ILT: What advice would you give to female designers just getting started? And, if you could time-travel back to the beginning of your career, would you do anything differently?
Duong Nguyen graduated with Masters degrees from SCAD and SPD Milano. She is Managing Editor of ELLE Decoration Vietnam, and teaches professional communication and graphic design at two Ho Chi Minh City universities.
That’s a tough question for me to answer. I consider myself more a communicator than purely a designer. Nowadays, in different projects, I work as designer / art director / project manager, or even as a communications strategist. However, I think women designers should be aware of their unique thinking traits. Women possess certain powers of sensitivity and sophistication, and very often are more sociable than men, in general. I think if each of us can utilize these abilities and the assets of being a woman in this era of more equal opportunities, especially in this less gender-biased creative field, we might very well make an even greater impact. If I were to give advice, then I’d say to fall in love more often. I believe our creative juices flow as our hearts flourish.
Personally, I don’t regret any of the career decision I’ve made. I’m blessed to have met such wonderful partners and mentors, but to get to this point, to where I am now, took more than luck.
▫ ELLE Decoration Vietnam. ▫ Photoshoot: Last-minute adjustments. ▫ With students at the University of Architecture in Ho Chi Minh city. ▫ Work for Vietnamese singer, Vu Cat Tuong. ▫ On location
ILT: You wear many hats in your career: as a teacher, a managing editor, and as an art director. How do you balance these roles? And do you have a favorite hat?
I get this question a lot. I’m not particularly proud of wearing so many hats. There’s a Vietnamese proverb that goes, ‘It is better to excel in one profession than to practice nine.’ (Một nghề cho chín còn hơn chín nghề). I admire those people who have keen eyes and the patience to pursue and ‘ripen’ the ultimate art of making a product; daily, I read and learn a lot from them. In my case, being a communicator means being cross-disciplinary, speaking different languages, and necessarily wearing different hats — that’s part of the job. I’m not sure whether I’ve found the perfect balance. Every day is something of a tightrope walk, but the people around me are both my cheerleaders and my safety net.
At the core, I find more joy in teaching. My mentor Robert Fee, from Design Management at SCAD, used to tell us that ‘teaching is the most rewarding job’. But it is also the most challenging, and certainly the most energy consuming.
ILT: Can you tell us your top three design tips?
First thing is research, research, research. Nowadays, there are so many tools, methods, and other resources available that it’d be a crime to start any design without some preliminary or preparatory research.
Duong literally wearing her favorite hat
Second tip would be to try to develop common sense. It might sound funny, but to me it’s crucial, especially as we’re talking about design, rather than art. If you know what common sense is, then you can develop your own sense of humor and sense of aesthetic in each and every design context. Eventually, it will become a more intuitive and natural thinking process.
My third tip would be to remember that you are unique, just like everyone else. Think a lot about that! ◉
Privacy Please is an ongoing series exploring the ways privacy is violated in the modern world, and what can be done about it.
When it comes to your television set, brains are overrated.
Smart TVs have long dominated the home entertainment marketplace, with internet access and the built-in ability to play content from streaming services like Netflix considered a must for any modern device. But as is often the case when it comes to the relentless drive to connect the world, when you load your gadgets up with both cameras and behind-the-scenes monitoring tech, and then connect them to the internet, you get a lot more than you pay for.
You’re probably aware that smart TVs have a bit of a reputation when it comes to invading their owners’ privacy as a matter of course. In 2014, a Salon editorial highlighted the fact that even then some smart TV manuals contained language warning customers about discussing “sensitive information” in front of their televisions. The embedded microphones on Samsung smart TVs, as the Daily Beast later reported in 2015, were likely sending voice commands to third parties to convert speech to text.
What we didn’t know at the time, and what we do know now, is that text-to-voice systems — like those used by Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple — for years relied on real humans listening to customers’ voice commands (and many likely still do). And, at least in the case of Amazon’s Alexa, devices in the past often started recording without a wake word prompt.
And that’s just the tip of the privacy-sinking iceberg.
“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,” the FBI warned in 2019. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”
But even slapping tape over your smart TV’s camera and disabling the mic isn’t enough to protect your in-home privacy.
Automatic Content Recognition
Many modern TVs come pre-loaded with something called automatic content recognition (ACR) software. You’d be forgiven for never having come across this particular term before, and that’s most definitely part of the problem.
“In order to provide you with customized Smart TV experiences, some of our feature and services will rely on your TV viewing history and Smart TV usage information,” explains the policy, dated Jan. 1, 2021. “Your TV viewing history includes information about the networks, channels, websites visited and programs viewed on your Smart TV and the amount of time spent viewing them. We may use automatic content recognition (ACR) and other technologies to capture this information.”
In other words, imagine some ad executive standing over you ever time you turn on your TV, recording in minute detail everything you watch and for how long, and then sending (or possibly selling) that data to any number of third parties that you’ve never heard of but who now posses your IP address (which can be tied back to your name) linked to your viewing habits.
“When ACR collection is turned on, we may share Viewing Data with authorized data partners including analytics companies, media companies and advertisers,” it explains. “Viewing Data is sometimes enhanced with household demographic data and data about digital actions (e.g. digital purchases and other consumer behavior taken by devices associated with the IP Address we collect).”
Sounds creepy, right? And when you think about what companies might be able to infer from your viewing habits — your religious and political beliefs, your income level, your marital status, your proclivity for specific types of pornography — it gets even creepier.
Thankfully, there’s a solution that doesn’t involve a brick.
Turning off ACR
When it comes to turning off ACR on your smart TV, there’s the easy way, and then there’s the hard way.
The easy way — disconnecting your television, permanently, from the internet — also renders your smart TV partially dumb. Which, hey, that might not be so bad. If you’re the type of person who has a vast Blu-ray collection, or someone who hooks your laptop up to your TV with an HDMI cable every time you want to stream something, then disconnecting your TV from the internet makes sense.
These days, though, many people rely on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime for their viewing pleasures. In other words, connecting your TV to the internet is nonnegotiable. Thankfully, many smart TVs now offer the option to disable ACR.
Frustratingly, the option to do so is often buried deep within a TV’s settings and explained with confusing terms — making it a challenge to locate, and, once found, to understand. Oh yeah, and every brand hides this option in a different place.
Press the MENU button on your TV’s remote or open HDTV Settings app
Select Reset & Admin
Highlight Viewing Data
Press RIGHT arrow to change setting to Off
You’ll want to disable viewing information services, interest-based advertising, and, for good measure, voice recognition services (these may be under another settings page, titled “Privacy Choices”).
Own something other than a Vizio, Samsung, or Roku-enabled smart TV? No problem. Consumer Reports has a wonderful step-by-step guide for turning of ACR on a bevy of different smart TV manufacturers, including LG, Sony, Hisense, Philips, Sharp, Element, Insignia, and Toshiba.
Modern technology increasingly invades consumers’ lives in ever-more disturbing fashions, but that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for the companies trying to profit off what few private moments you have left.
So spend a few minutes diving into your TVs’ convoluted privacy settings, and rest assured that you’re at least doing the bare minimum when it comes taking back control of your data.
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Fire TV Stick deals haven’t been as common lately as other Amazon device lines, but that changed earlier this week.
BGR Deals readers have been swarming Amazon for the Fire TV Stick Lite while it’s down to $21.99, and the even more popular Fire TV Stick 4K is on sale for $37.99 instead of $50.
These deals will almost certainly end soon now that the week is coming to an end, so it’s your last chance to take advantage.
As 2020 drew to a close, Amazon wrapped up the year with incredible deals on so many different Amazon devices. That’s not surprising at all, of course, but it was a bit of a surprise when the action continued into 2021. So many of those great sales from 2020 carried over into the new year. Unfortunately, however, just about all of the hottest deals we saw on Amazon’s various device lineups over the course of February have now vanished since Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day are both behind us.
Thankfully, there are still some very impressive Amazon device deals to be found on Amazon — and the list of remaining deals happens to include two of the most popular Amazon gadgets you can buy. It’s also a bit of a surprise since these particular Amazon gadgets haven’t been discounted very often over the past few months.
Amazon’s beloved Fire TV lineup is neck and neck with Roku in terms of popularity among our readers. Now, the most affordable product in that lineup is even more affordable thanks to a 27% discount. Head to Amazon and you’ll find the Fire TV Stick Lite on sale for just $22.99. For those unaware of this latest addition to Amazon’s Fire TV lineup, the device itself is exactly the same as the regular Fire TV Stick. The only difference is the remote, which is still an Alexa Voice Remote but doesn’t have the extra power and volume buttons to control your TV. If that’s not a deal-breaker for you, definitely take advantage of this bargain!
On top of that, you can also save even more by upgrading to the king of Amazon’s streaming dongles, the Fire TV Stick 4K. There is perhaps no streaming media player at the $50 price point that comes anywhere close to matching the Fire TV Stick 4K, and it’s on sale right now for just $37.99. And finally, if you want it all you can pick up a $120 Fire TV Cube on sale for $99.99. It’s basically a Fire TV Stick 4K combined with an Echo Dot, and people love it!
Fire TV Stick Lite
Our most affordable Fire TV Stick – Enjoy fast streaming in Full HD. Comes with Alexa Voice Remote Lite.
Press and ask Alexa – Use your voice to easily search and launch shows across multiple apps.
Tens of thousands of channels, Alexa skills, and apps – Including Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max. Subscription fees may apply.
Follow @BGRDeals on Twitter to keep up with the latest and greatest deals we find around the web. Prices subject to change without notice and any coupons mentioned above may be available in limited supply.
Best Buy says it has trimmed its headcount by 21,000 over the last year as the pandemic has accelerated the company’s transition to selling online. Most of those losses were due to attrition—including workers who were furloughed during the pandemic last year and then chose not to return to work. But Best Buy says that in recent weeks it formally laid off 5,000 workers. The company now has about 102,000 workers—including employees in its retail stores and corporate headquarters.
A company will often lay off workers because it is struggling. The last year has certainly been a challenging period for some brick-and-mortar businesses. This week, for example, electronics giant Fry’s shut down all of its stores.
But that doesn’t seem to be the situation at Best Buy, which has weathered the pandemic fairly well. In the last quarter, same-store sales at Best Buy’s brick and mortar stores were up 12 percent compared to a year earlier. Meanwhile, online sales were up an impressive 89 percent.
As a result, online sales accounted for 43 percent of total sales in Best Buy’s fourth quarter, which ends on January 31. That’s way up from 25 percent in 2019 and 22 percent in 2018. And Best Buy believes that this shift will be mostly permanent, with 40 percent of sales coming from online in the new fiscal year.
Best Buy is downsizing its physical retail presence
Best Buy says its recent changes are an effort to adjust to this new market reality. Traditional stores aren’t going away, but they’re becoming less important. Best Buy says that it has been closing about 20 stores per year over the last two years and expects to accelerate the process in the coming year. Best Buy has 450 stores (out of roughly 1,000) whose leases will run out in the next three years. The company says that it always rigorously evaluates a store before renewing its lease, but in the future, the company will have “higher thresholds on renewing leases.” In other words, under-performing stores will get shuttered more quickly than in the past.
That will mean fewer workers overall and particularly fewer full-time workers. As it laid off 5,000 mostly full-time workers, Best Buy is planning to add 2,000 new part-time jobs.
Best Buy is also working to increase the flexibility of its workforce by training workers to perform a mix of face-to-face and online-oriented jobs. For example, during a slow shift, workers with appropriate training can pick up customer calls from Best Buy’s national hotlines.
Best Buy plans to reconfigure stores to devote less space to showrooms in the front of the store and more space to storage and shipping facilities in the back. Store workers will be able to spend some time helping customers face to face and some time packing online orders.
Some parts of Best Buy’s business are booming
This is all in the context of a generally upbeat financial picture for the company. In a call with investors on Thursday, Best Buy executives reported that the pandemic has boosted demand for several categories of products that Best Buy stocks. For example, the company has struggled to keep gaming consoles on store shelves because “there just hasn’t been enough inventory to meet demand.”
Remote workers have been spending heavily on a range of work-from-home products, from “high tech chairs to monitors to standing desks.” Best Buy says that printing products are in perpetually short supply.
Best Buy also says that home theater equipment and personal fitness gear has been selling briskly as more people exercise and watch movies at home. Kitchen gadgets have also been selling well.
Moreover, Best Buy believes the spending surge is unlikely to abate in 2021. While many workers have struggled financially during the pandemic, a lot of white-collar workers have seen their savings rise as they kept their jobs but couldn’t spend as much on restaurant meals, travel, or other luxuries. So Best Buy expects strong sales of luxury gadgets to continue well into 2021.
If you have a Galaxy S10 tucked inside your pocket, Samsung has just announced some very good news. The South Korean technology firm has announced that it’s extending its security updates for a number of its popular devices, which mean its gadgets are now guaranteed to receive important new features and security updates for four years.
Samsung previously only offered two years of software upgrades, so this is a major change for fans of these popular smartphones.
Alongside recently-launched phones like the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy Note 20 getting these future updates, Samsung has also revealed that many older devices will be part of the programme. In fact, a swathe of phones including the S10, Note 10, A10e and Galaxy Fold are part of the new programme.
By extending support for security updates delivered on a monthly or quarterly basis, Samsung says it is giving users peace of mind knowing their data is protected for as long as they use their Galaxy device.