Work Culture

SimTower Taught Me Fundamental Truths About Office Life

This sounds crazy, but a lot of what I learned about work culture and marketing strategy came from playing SimTower as a child.

I will never forget the wrath of my SimTower tenants when I created hastily placed elevators with no schedule. You want to piss people off? Make an elevator that follows no rhyme or reason during rush hour.

Until I recently revisited SimTower on Wikipedia (rabbit hole!) I didn’t realize elevator management was actually a key component of the game:

SimTower, which was built around an elevator simulation program, places a strong emphasis on good elevator management.


I was a kid – I didn’t understand the concept of rush hour, but I quickly learned to understand the complexity of society. Playing the game planted that seed that everything in an office is connected in a careful, deliberate manner.

Every department in a company can easily fall into a silo, and often one of the most surprising schisms is between sales and marketing. Only at one company (one!) have I joined a marketing team that frequently talked to sales.

I had a manager a couple years ago who literally forbade me from talking to sales. He said “they’ll figure it out” and it was a “waste of time” talking to them. Well, as a web manager I need to talk to sales! How else do I know if I’m sending over good leads (among many other things)?

This manager was eventually fired and it turned out, no, we were not sending over quality leads. Only when we were able to work closely with sales were we able to give them what they needed.

In the ten years of my career I’ve reminded myself to keep in good contact with Sims from every department, and I think this has served me well.

Shifting gears here, I read a piece in the Times this week about the future state of elevators in busy office buildings in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. The challenge is getting all of those people up in a non-petri dish way.

SimTower never had a simulation for a pandemic, however, they threw enough disasters our way to prepare us for anything. As Carrie Bradshaw would say, “I couldn’t help but wonder” when I read this article what a SimTower of 2020 would look like.

Would there be a SimZoom expansion pack, complete with Sims who can “see you but can’t hear you” or Sims who join the meeting a week late?

One can only hope.

Discrimination Work Culture

A Gross Gesture of Me Too Failure

In my past there was an incident where a man in a very senior position explained how I was soon going to have data flowing down my throat, which he demonstrated with a gesture mimicking himself jerking off into his own throat, mouth wide open. 

I was deeply uncomfortable and grossed out, but honestly I was unsure if he understood how truly heinous that gesture seemed in a closed room with a female mere feet from his nasty face. 

I never had much contact with this man, so I can’t be sure if something like that would have happened again. He is a highly conservative, very religious man who holds President Trump in high regard. Making assumptions, I’m guessing he’s not on the lookout for inappropriate behavior in the workplace. However, this also doesn’t mean he had ill intentions here.

Incidents like this aren’t easy to articulate, and I feel the Me Too movement still hasn’t given us a clear answer on how to handle this stuff. Does he deserve to be fired for doing something like this? Does he deserve to be reprimanded? Should it even be mentioned if there is no other indication of harassment? Is it simply a question of him being completely clueless of his own actions? 

The thing is, I NEVER hear men tell stories like this. I have never heard a man tell a story anything remotely like this. I am guessing that even if this disgusting gesture was completely accidental, he would somehow refrain from performing such a gesture to another man. 

Ultimately, I didn’t do anything about it. From my perspective at the time, there was nothing I could have done about it. Even though it’s my belief that he didn’t intend to harass or offend me, I still felt grossed out every time I looked at him and always wondered if there was more to it. 

In day-to-day life, I don’t believe Me Too has changed much for the average American working at the average company. Most men don’t believe they’re at fault, because they would never assault or rape someone. And it’s true – most men wouldn’t. But I haven’t witnessed any real action to get men to understand how uncomfortable it is when they make jerking-off-down-your-throat comments. You don’t have to be a rapist to be inappropriate and make women uncomfortable. 

This is where Me Too has failed. Anyone and everyone lost their livelihoods in the face of unchecked allegations, and it’s a shame because it’s a serious problem that still needs serious conversations. 

Photo by Mihai Surdu via Unsplash

Discrimination Work Culture

Combat Racism by Having Uncomfortable Conversations With Family and Friends

I had an encounter with a coworker over racism in 2016 that’s stuck with me and resurfaced in my mind since the George Floyd murder and protests.

I’d read a piece in the Harvard Business Review talking about creating a more diverse workforce and how it isn’t as simple as bringing in more minorities and women to interview. The premise was that if you have five white men and one black person to interview for a job, it’s a phenomenon of difference. People are generally more comfortable choosing something from the majority than an outlier so the minority is still unlikely to get hired. If you have multiple minorities or women to interview it’s less likely they’ll suffer from this “outsider” phenomenon. 

I repeated this to my team simply because I thought it was interesting, and with the company HQ being an hour north of a small city, the workforce was very white. The developer who happened to be sitting nearby somewhat aggressively said, “Well what if all the best candidates happen to be white?” 

This guy was typically soft spoken and not what I’d characterize as an aggressive individual by any means. I was taken aback by his reaction.

I calmly explained that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with our current skill set in the company, and in fact I really love the company. It’s the only company I’ve worked for that is very active in employee appreciation and engagement. However, I was used to working in London, which is highly diverse. One of the first things that stood out when I moved from a major city to a small town was how white the workforce and leadership tended to be. 

BUT. When you don’t have people from different genders, cultures, races, etc., how are their perspectives supposed to be heard? As a global company, how can we truly be global if our workforce only represents the rural Midwest?

The developer got angry. He repeated that there was nothing wrong with people in the county where HQ was, and why should they be punished if they happen to be the best for the job? 

I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t encountered this type of underlying racism suddenly and aggressively thrown out into the open. He was extremely offended at the thought of outsiders taking jobs away from the hardworking people he’d grown up with, and couldn’t even begin to see the benefit a different perspective could bring to a business.

Fast forward four years, and here we are having these same conversations. It’s so encouraging that for the first time, much of the population seems to get it now. My main concern is what happens when the fire calms. What happens when people stop sharing lists on what books to read, where to donate, what black businesses to support?

It’s not enough to educate ourselves and donate to causes. We need to learn how to have uncomfortable conversations with people we love, work with, associate with. I don’t think most people are ready to do this. 

Anecdotally, what I’m seeing on social media among friends and family (as opposed to large-scale “detached” social media like Twitter) is a continued lack of willingness to confront the many forms of thinly-veiled racism. Many of my friends are posting about Black Lives Matter, but they aren’t confronting the people who are posting racism masked as conservatism. 

I have one friend in particular who is white, hyper-conservative and posts only about black people who say there is no such thing as white privilege and discrimination. He’s one of those people whose persona is “see, here’s a black person saying this is fake news.” He’s outraged about the riots but completely unconcerned about the murder of black people or George Floyd. Exactly one of our mutual friends has reproached him on this. One! 

It’s not OK. It’s fine to have differing political views and not want to make waves with friends/family/coworkers, but allowing this sort of racism to continue to flow around us is not OK.

I’m not saying we need to start fights with these people, but we do need to start conversations and use our collective voices to let them know it’s unacceptable. Staying silent negates every financial contribution and book read.

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

Email Design Email Marketing Litmus

Get rid of ugly alt text on images with this quick trick

One of my favorite little email tricks I’ve learned in the past year is that you can style alt text of images. This is particularly handy for logos or images that contain styled information that you want to remain consistent with your brand.

For example, our email newsletter has our logo at the top:

Full color logo illustrating image display in email.

In some email clients, like Outlook, images often aren’t rendered “to protect your privacy.” Having default alt text is ugly! With in-line CSS added to the img tag, you can easily create a more on-brand situation:

Logo image depicting alt text with styles added to image tag.

I simply added our brand color for pink, the brand font family, and capitalized to give a similar feel to the logo that always appears in all caps. If you’re using a builder, such as Litmus, you can easily toggle the images on and off to quickly see the effect.

Design UX

A note on users and the people who interact with your website

One of the many things that’s made Disney so successful is how they’ve effectively removed any mental association of money with the purchases their customers make. You don’t pay with cash, and now you don’t even pay with credit cards. Rather, you get a super fun Mickey band for your wrist that you can tap on anything and it’s yours! It’s a powerful technique, and it works.

I often think of this dissociation technique when I hear people discuss other human beings who use the products they’re trying to sell. In my case, I am referring to websites and “users.” People are not people in the Web world. They are faceless, nameless users that you don’t associate with real human beings. This is a problem!

It’s not a purposeful technique employed in the same way Disney employs it to make more money, but the effect is there nonetheless. Words and associations matter, whether you’re using them to purposefully drive profit or carelessly using them and succumbing to unintended mental gaps.

Calling people “users” doesn’t as easily allow you to design for the people who are going to be interacting with your digital landscape, whether it’s your website, ad network or social media. Your “user” is someone who can’t figure out how to navigate your site, and instead of blaming the company they blame themselves for not being smart enough. Thinking of people internalizing ineffective, poor design in this way is heartbreaking.

I prefer to say “people” or “customers,” which has the connotation that these are people who are engaging in a transaction with what you’re creating. People are not simply using your website. They are giving you their time, data and money, and that’s a big deal worth correctly identifying.

Digital Marketing Email Marketing Marketing Automation Pardot

How to quickly take email screenshots in Pardot

This might seem like a total “duh” post, but I’m going to come out and say I had a major “duh” facepalm regarding email screenshots – so that means there are others like me!

I was frustrated by the inability to quickly take a screenshot from the email preview pop-up in Pardot. This seems like a major negative of the platform, considering most customers almost certainly need to provide full-length images for approval to their managers or teams.

I’d take a screenshot of half, or sometimes quarters (!), and paste them together in Photoshop to save as one full email to upload to my approvals platform. Then, if any changes are requested, the process had to be repeated. SO TIME CONSUMING.

Then it dawned on me that I could simply save the HTML in a code editor (such as Sublime or Brackets), open that file in my browser and use a full-page screenshot tool (like Fireshot or Full Page Screen Capture). Simple!

I am often hesitant to write about such simple things, but I have found when it comes to Pardot it’s really not simple to find information about how to do anything. Until recently, you’d think you’d found an answer, but once you clicked through from Google you’d be told to update your bookmarks and reference the Salesforce knowledge base. NO.

There are some solid blogs on how to accomplish more complex tasks with Pardot and manage full-scale marketing automation. Within the few years I have used Pardot, however, I have found it to be lacking in the most basic knowledge. It’s hard to get started and it’s hard to feel confident using it because I think you really need case studies vs definitions of the tools. I hope I can capture some of the basic questions I had in the past and explain them in a way that makes sense to new users, whether it’s setting up Engagement Programs, dealing with automation rules or taking simple email screenshots!

Work Culture

In defense of open office plans

While I am always one to question everything and try to find the best, evidence-based solution, I can’t get on board with the idea that open office plans are bad!

I have read many blogs and articles stating that open offices are too noisy and distracting, contribute to higher levels of virus spreading, etc. But I am enthusiastic about open offices because I love seeing the people I work with. Even simply looking across a room full of people, I feel the spark of energy and collaboration!

Of course, most times I’m not going to pop over to someone’s desk if they are obviously deep in thought or typing. I may send them a quick ping to ask if they’re free for a minute before walking over. But the point is that it encourages a lot more face-to-face interaction, which I truly think is invaluable.

Being able to talk with people saves a lot of back-and-forth email traffic that is oftentimes confusing and annoying. How many times have you had to send a follow up email because the person tried to save time by skimming your email and subsequently asked you a question you clearly already answered?

We are in the office for a single reason: face-to-face interaction. Otherwise, companies could save a lot of money and effort by having everyone work from home.

When everyone is hidden behind a cubicle wall or office door, it becomes a much more invasive move to attempt face-to-face interaction. It’s almost easy to forget you have coworkers with whom you can talk to vs firing off another email.

When their door is shut, how are you supposed to know if they’re on an important phone call or if they’ve shut their door because they are embarrassed of listening to Justin Bieber’s Christmas album in October? Or December.

No, I’m not judging because I have definitely shut my door due to Bieber’s holiday tracks. And you shouldn’t judge, either. Have you heard his song with Boyz II Men? Talk about collaboration!

Now that we’ve come full circle on collaboration, I’ll end by saying that I don’t think offices have to be one way or the other. I think we can achieve open office plans while still giving people their privacy.

My last company had official meeting rooms to reserve, but it also had a lot of private “huddle” rooms that anyone could use with no reservation. This could be for private phone calls, work you need absolutely no distractions for, whatever. There were also a lot of large open spaces for teams to work in as to not distract those at their desks trying to work. I felt like that company really got it right on this balance, and I hope to see more of that going forward!


3 things I learned in college that I still use every day

When applying for jobs over the years I’ve felt like I couldn’t mention experiences from college despite a few of them being integral to my life as a working professional. To be sure, in the eight years since I graduated I’ve gained invaluable experience in the workforce and I have plenty to discuss! However, there are three very specific things from my college years that formed the basis of my career and still influence me greatly.

1: Editor in Chief

First was being the Editor in Chief of my university newspaper, the Indiana Statesman. Wow. That was a crash course in management if there ever was one – in terms of both people management and project management. In addition to going to class full time and having a job at the local bookstore, I had to spend at least 12 hours a day, three times a week, managing content as well as a team of 30 editors and reporters. That is a heck of a lot of moving parts!

Never in my career since that have I felt more stress and pressure – it was basically work for a year straight with no down time.

Ever since then, I’ve had a lot of respect for my managers’ time! I try to take on extra tasks to help out. I try to be the one who raises my hand when they ask for a volunteer, and I try to anticipate how I can best present information to make it as easy as possible for them to make educated decisions in a hurry.

When someone asks me if I’ve managed people, I still feel like I have to say “no” because it seems like college experience doesn’t or shouldn’t count in the “real world.” I don’t know if this is accurate.

2: Editorial Internship

The second most formative experience that influences me literally every day was my internship at Indianapolis Monthly magazine. I was an editorial intern in charge of fact-checking major articles for the magazine, including headline pieces. My managing editor had us go through every single word in every article and check off the word with a red pen.

By checking every single word you were saying you had looked at that word and both its spelling, meaning and accuracy were 100% correct. For example, is a person named Jon later referred to as John in the same story? Or, is the actual fact correct? In one story I remember a person wrote about running a race through the city, but in fact the map of the race course indicated a different route than what she’d described from her run.

Now, as a web manager of sorts, I have a mental red pen with me – always. I’m always checking for consistency and accuracy, even though my job is rarely to be a copy editor or writer. I’m often hesitant to post anything at all online if I haven’t fact-checked it. The fake news phenomenon is particularly troubling to me because I honestly can’t imagine being the type of person who posts random memes without checking to make sure it’s 100% accurate.

3: Military Training

The third formative experience from my college years was going through Air Force ROTC field training in the summer between my sophomore and junior year. Although I ended up not joining the Air Force, going through that type of boot camp training gave me a confidence I’d never have otherwise found.

Field training challenges you more mentally than physically, but pushes you in both regards to go harder and be stronger than you think you can.

You don’t get to choose what job you do there. My commander decided I was going to be the academic officer, which meant I would be given a news article or encyclopedia article and within 5 minutes I had to read it, try to understand it and then stand up in front of a team of 25 people to educate them about it.

I think of this experience frequently when I’m giving presentations to company stakeholders or explaining technical projects in a meaningful way to a group of non-technical people. I have so much more confidence in these situations because it’s never as stressful as being forced to talk in front of a large group about something for 20 minutes when you have zero knowledge of the topic!

Design Digital Marketing Information Architecture UX

How to redesign a landing page: why you should initially say no

Ever tried to buy something on a website but it was so badly designed that you couldn’t figure out how to give them your money?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the average website is a pile of reactionary, incoherent content. A lot of content on sites was posted simply because there arose a need somewhere at some point to post an asset or alter a design, and it was done with no regard to the ecosystem it was entering.

Web designers and marketers should initially say no to design requests and first ask why.

There are probably 1.3 million articles on the web about how to redesign a landing page, so why am I writing this? I’ve found that a lot of design and marketing how-to articles are talking about some fantasy world where everything is perfect and everyone is super excited about following a process.

What about all the companies that have no process and live firmly in the Wild West of the web? And no, I’m not blaming or even criticizing these companies. Websites are a beast. A big, fat, hairy beast that is extremely hard to control once it’s gone rogue (which it does in a hurry).

The truth is, not every company can afford a fancy web agency full of bearded white guys sipping cold brew laced with activated charcoal. In a lot of regards, they don’t need to.

Hiring a strong digital designer adept at asking questions and crafting a coherent architecture on your site will go a long way.

As a digital designer, you should be asking questions like this at the start of any design request:

  • What is the #1 goal of this redesign? (you would be surprised how often this isn’t addressed)
  • What priority is this work?
  • When is the deadline?

From there, create an end-to-end journey map, starting with the routes your customers will take to arrive at the new page(s).

Reassess your flow chart and ask the following:

  • Where and how will customers enter this page or set of pages?
    • Email, direct mail, search? Explore all possibilities.
  • Will this page make complete sense to someone who enters laterally, say through organic search?
  • What contingencies and dependencies are there?

A flow chart/journey map will help you more easily identify even the smallest dependencies that could put your design on hold. Break the work into manageable chunks with their own deadlines.

You can’t design a page if you have no content. Look – I understand more than anyone how much joy you can get from using Back to the Future quotes as placeholder text, aptly named DeLorean Ipsum. But just don’t. Save yourself time and sanity by simply demanding content up front.

Start with a whiteboarding session that includes your copywriter and any other key stakeholders. Create a rough layout that you can combine with your flow chart and translate to a medium fidelity prototype using a tool like Adobe Xd. When you reconvene, it’s another chance to assess the flow of content. Your copywriter will then have a good idea of how the words will fit into your design.

All of these things were not things I knew how to do when I graduated with a Bachelor of Science. College gave me the skills to create smaller pieces of work, but I learned on the job how to connect all the dots and create coherent, usable designs.

Judging by the frequently chaotic state of the web today, I’m guessing there are many millions of people in the same boat! But I think this is a positive thing for digital designers – there is a lot of room for growth and to make a huge difference!

Design Digital Marketing

Ways to prevent global websites from failing at being global

As someone who has spent nearly half my life living and working professionally in both the United States and Europe, it seems to me that people are quick to assume highly Americanized global websites are simply the result of insular thinking among Americans.

Perhaps to an extent, but I don’t think that’s the biggest reason why many global websites fail at being global. They fail because they’re failing to take care of their biggest market – at home – before expanding into other markets.

Growing sales teams and acquisitions outside the United States create an immediate need for localized and translated copy on the company website. Underfunded web teams scramble to catch up and often end up serving in a reactionary capacity, completely side-stepping strategy and planning.

This creates sloppy, half translated, outdated content that ends up being an embarrassment more than an asset.

In my experience, smaller to medium-sized companies will hire exactly one do-all, be-all person to manage the entire global corporate website and anything connected to it. The job duty includes, but is not limited to:

The content administrator.

The designer.

The developer.

The troubleshooter.

The email … everything.

The marketing automation magician.

The analyst.

Meanwhile, marketing teams are able to call themselves just that – a team – likely filled with more than one graphic designer to design outdated print collateral. And do not get me started on the fact that these types of companies will hire an entire human being to manage social media alone. </endrage>

This problem has a few solutions.

  1. Establish a designated person to be the gatekeeper of localization. Nothing suffers from the deferred responsibility phenomenon more than managing versions of a website no one understands.
  2. Decide which areas of the site are most useful to sales teams and customers abroad. Make sure the English language content is completely in order, and focus localization money and effort here first.
  3. Inventory the crap out of your current English language content. Chances are high that 75% of it can be deleted, reworked or consolidated.
  4. Create an independent web team outside of marketing. Even if this team consists of one person, placing them outside the bounds of other teams will better enable them to serve the broader interests of the company both internally and externally.
  5. Hire a content administrator. Companies throw tens of thousands of dollars down the drain by forcing a web manager or designer to do the work of a new college grad or paid intern. An experienced web manager should not spend half his or her week copying and pasting words onto a website or uploading and deleting documents. You’re paying them big bucks for their technical expertise and strategic thinking – use it!

In future posts I’ll explore these points at a more granular level. I could go on and on right now because the topic of managing global websites is a genuine passion of mine!