LessConf: Eoghan McGabe and Des Traynor of Contrast.ie

How to be Awesome!

Up first at Lessconf, Eoghan McGabe and Des Traynor of Contrast.ie on “How to be awesome!”.  Starting off with a few words of introduction about the Irish slang, culture, and myths as lead-in to conventions.


Are agreement of ways of doing things.  Formed from personal experience.  Formed via survival of the fittest (evolution).  Examples: red means danger.  Funny to see tourist around Ireland because we use red all the time, and it stops tourists in their tracks.  An example of when you don’t follow convention you can cause trouble or at least inconvenience.

Benefits of Conventions

Reduced friction.  Example: doors should have handles and not buttons with signs and arrows explaining “how to lock the door”.

Reduced learning curve.  Example: if you’re designing a box that has to be opened and it opens like any other box, you have no problem.  If you have a box like Microsoft’s Office cd box, you end up with Microsoft help file on their website “Opening the Windows Vista Box“.

Increased ease in design.  Example: Ruby on Rails gives you a set of defaults in stack decisions, mvc, etc. Instead of making those decisions, conventions let you focus on your design and things that make you special.

Problems with Conventions

Restricts innovation: If you’re going to follow what everyone else is doing, it’s hard to break new ground.  Example: cell phones.  iPhone would never have happened if Apple followed conventional cell phone design.

Lazy: Following conventions by rote is lazy. Don’t be a sheep blindly following a flock.  Following convention blindly is not designing.  You need to understand the reasons for conventions and the decisions behind them.

Decreased Marketability: if you do what everyone else does, you are un-remarkable.

Opportunities from Breaking Convention

Commercial wins. Example: Dyson.  Rethought the entire design and requirements of a vacuum.   Wii got out of the graphics chip arms race by changing the focus to how much fun can we make games?  (Reminds me of Innovator’s Dilemma).

Challenging conventions lets you change the world. For example: change the daily lives of train commuters by challenging the rule that a transit map needs to be geographically accurate.

Web Conventions

Layout conventions have overtaken the web.  All sites’ layouts look the same.  Signup also has conventional layouts.  Blinksale, Invoicemachine, SimplyBill, and other invoice sites have very similar sign up forms.  (1.2 billion “about us” pages on the web, 98 millions “sign up now” pages).  Home pages are another convention that has evolved.  The idea of “pages” in general is an example of an evolved convention that is just “one step above” the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue from 100 years ago.

These conventions result in “unremarkable stuff” and will never get you to your “purple cow” moment.  Plus, some are just wrong.

What to Break?

Don’t break conventions just for the sake of breaking them.   Break convention upon opportunities from tech advances like browser technology.  Examples: portfolio sites to help you break out from the crowd.  Signup sites to help people sign up without jumping through hoops.  Skip the sign up all together and let users try your product without signing up.  Ex: mysoup.com ‘s “Try” button lets you actually “try it”. The “Try” link goes to the product, not to a signup form.

Break copy. Convention for copy is dull “programmer speak”.  Do something like flickr where the welcome message is in another language each time.  Huffduffer.com and threadless.com are great examples of copy that breaks convention.  Homepages are ripe for break of convention.  Too many apps blindly follow convention of the first page upon login is the “home page” or “dashboard”.

Break branding. Specifically: once signed up for an application — stop the branding!  It’s become convention to have the app’s or company’s logo in the app’s header.  But users don’t like the continuous sell.  They’ve already bought the product, let them use it without the continuous sell or branding.

Break your toolbox.  If you’re working with the same tools as everyone else, you’ll likely create the same results as everyone else. Remarkable doesn’t come from the tools, but from your creativity. So don’t be restricted by your toolset.

What do we know?

Contrast.ie was basically forced into breaking convention. They needed to get noticed and did not have a large marketing budget.  One way to get noticed is to break convention.


– Conventions have benefits such as reduced friction in transactions (personal and business), reduced learning curve, and ease of design.

– But, conventions also introduce problems. They make it easy to be lazy and make it hard to break out from the crowd.

– Don’t blindly follow convention, but don’t blindly break it either.

– Write copy and design for your user’s image of themselves and why they’re at the site.

– “Rethink the conventions, break the tools, be re-markable, and have fun!”

– Breaking convention in smart ways can get your app noticed.  Breaking convention in design, if done well, can be a great marketing opportunity.

– “Building the app is just the start.”  It’s simple to build the app, it’s the marketing and selling after the app is finished is the challenge.  Consider that when building the app itself.

Great job by the contrast.ie guys, @eoghanmccabe and @destraynor!  Thank you guys.

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