Communikitchen

A small design studio
with big ideas about the web.

Notebook

  • After about three years, we decided it was time for major renovation around here, and we decided to go all in. Not only new colors (which we feel better fit our personality), but also a new font (we have a history with Proxima Nova), and better responsiveness (responsive web design was only in its infancy when we designed the previous version of this website, and we were so busy being responsive for everyone else that we left our home behind). And not to forget the sweet kitchen-themed icons Francesca Komel designed just for us.

    This renovation has also given us a chance to play with new toys, such as CSS’s Flexible Box module, SVG images, and some complicated (but very fun) SASS mixins.

    Also, we added a Resources section, which hosts a growing repository of information for clients, as well as fellow designers, developers, and drupalistas.

    Last, but not least, we’ve decided to respect the original spirit of the web and get rid of our copyright. Now most of our content is available under a Creative Commons license.

  • After blogging and e-mail, let’s tackle proper behavior in social networking. While I do think everyone should feel free to be him/herself (within a reason, always) when acting on Twitter or Facebook on a personal capacity, I become pickier when it comes to business.

    Some may want you to believe that social networking for your business is part of a broader marketing strategy. While I think that can be true to some extent, I believe that what you write and do in social networks falls squarely into your content strategy, and should be consistent with it. It would make no sense to plan a content strategy that’s careful and considerate, only to blow it all off on Twitter.

    What I’m giving here, as usual, is not advice on what content to write, which depends on your specific strategy, but on how to do (or not to do) certain things on various social networks. Some of this advice can equally apply to Facebook or Twitter or Google+, and some is aimed at promoting, preventing or correcting behaviors on specific platforms.

    Be human

    You’re a human being, so act like one. Your content should be always fresh and new, even when you’re promoting a product or service. Copying and pasting old tweets or statuses will add to the ambient noise, and will do nothing to your brand (except making it look like a spambot).

    Of course, there are cases in which it’s okay to have a bot help you. Specifically, when you have content on your website that you need to publicize on various platforms. In this case, using a service like dlvr.it to poll your website (via RSS) and feed the results to Twitter or Facebook will simplify your job—especially if you publish content very often.

    One more human thing to do is to engage with your audience or with the people you follow more than by simply retweeting other people’s content. Establish your brand, your identity and your personality by creating your own content—but again, make sure it matches the personality that you outlined in your content strategy.

    Be cool

    But again, be cool as a human, not as a machine. This includes:

    1. when you post something on your Facebook page (or even on your personal profile), don’t “like” it. It should be quite implicit that you like what you just posted, but if you need to add something to it, just add a note before posting, or a comment after posting. If you posted something you didn’t like, just say so
    2. thanking every one of your followers for following you is something middle schoolers might do on MySpace. You don’t need to do that, as it just adds to the noise. Plus, people don’t follow you to do you a favor, they do it because they’re interested in what you have to say.1 The best way to reward your followers is by publishing meaningful content
    3. likewise, sending phatic cues (like an isolated hello) to fellow tweeters, particularly those you don’t know personally or you haven’t previously interacted with, doesn’t just grab their attention (which I assume would be the desired outcome), but it will most likely get you reported as a spammer
    4. don’t rush things. I know, we’ve all been there: the early-morning tweet that we just have to respond to while we’re still uncaffeinated, only to go “D’oh!” right after we send our response off into the world. Sure, you can always delete it or deal as gracefully as possible with the consequences, but prevention is the best course of treatment.

    Be consistent

    If it’s not just you, but you have a bunch of people managing your social networking, make sure everyone is on the same page. Come up with guidelines that everyone should follow in order to prevent apparent schizophrenia. And, as always, accuracy and attention to detail go a long way.


    1. Unless they’re spammers, in which case they follow you just to get in your way, and you have every right—nay, a duty to report them on the spot. 

  • Whether you’re sending e-mails for business or pleasure, communicating with a client or a friend, to someone you know well or someone you’ve never met in person, there are a few guidelines you might want to follow. This has little to do with the degree of formality of your message: you can be very friendly and informal and still write messages that are not painful for your recipient to read.

    Some of these are style requirements, some are personal pet peeves that I think will make your e-mails more pleasant even if your recipients are less picky than I am.

    Measure your content

    One of my favorite rules about web content is “Give enough information and no more than that.” If anything, keep your reader wanting more—not wanting out. This applies to e-mail too. Of course the measure of how much is appropriate changes depending on whom you’re writing to. Business e-mails that contain anticipations or recaps of meetings will naturally tend to be richer in content than, say, a message to make dinner plans with friends.

    (N)etiquette changes accordingly, and e-mail can be as formal as you require it to be.

    One content-related corollary: no chain letters. Ever. Seriously. If I need to explain this, maybe you shouldn’t even be using e-mail at all.

    Use a meaningful subject

    One piece of content your e-mail should always have is the subject. And it should make sense. Using “Hey” as the subject for a business e-mail is not a proper subject. If your reader is anything like me, that e-mail will probably be ignored or neglected for a long time.

    Of course, if all you need to say is “Hey,” maybe to nudge a friend you haven’t talked to in a while (I mean weeks, not years), then I guess it’s okay to use that as a subject.

    On the other hand, be considerate of how many words you use in your subject. The subject line is not really made to host complete sentences, and definitely not more than one.

    To sum it up, use the subject with judgment, but use it.

    Use proper language

    This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use swear words via e-mail. (It’s up to you, really.) It means don’t butcher the language, and also:

    1. separate paragraphs
    2. watch your punctuation
    3. capitalize words where appropriate, but avoid all capitals
    4. don’t use abbreviations.

    I’m not even going to explain numbers 1 and 3.

    About number 2, one thing that drives me bonkers is the misuse/overuse/abuse of suspension and exclamation points. Neither should be used to end regular sentences. True, the number and spacing of suspension points is different among languages, but one thing I know for sure is that there shouldn’t be more than three (or four) at a time. More than that and I must assume your carpal tunnel is acting up. Also, suspension points make your message sound insecure and tentative—while that may be okay in personal communications, it’s a definite no-no when it comes to business. It’s always better to sound bolder than you feel than to sound duller than you actually are.

    Excess exclamation points, on the other hand, make people sound like lunatics. If you want to express excitement (or outrage), then go for it! But stick to one mark where appropriate. Ending all sentences (including questions) with one or more exclamations is equivalent to shouting everything into your reader’s inner ear.

    Use question marks at the end of questions. Of course there are languages, like English, in which properly formulated questions are still understandable as such even without a question mark. Conventional as it may be, it’s a courtesy you’re paying your reader to let him know at a glance where questions are asked. One question mark will suffice. If your question is a rhetorical one that requires extra strength, you can add an exclamation point. How cool is that?! (But see, even that sounded a bit too excited.)

    When you have a full keyboard in front of you, using SMS-style abbreviations is idiotic. (Modern cellphones make it idiotic to use them on texts too, in my opinion.) An example from the Italian language: it makes no sense to abbreviate the word “non” as “nn” when you have a full keyboard, as some do. I maintain it takes more effort to lift your finger to type that double N than to do a smooth index-ring-index move to type the full word. Oh, and it’s not a matter of age: it’s still idiotic even if you’re fifteen.

    No style is good style

    No matter how cool you thought it made your e-mails look in 2000 (hey, I did too!), formatting e-mail messages is an ugly beast. Also, some people don’t have the first clue about typography, and they end up typing in all-capitals, eighteen-point, yellow Comic Sans over gold background.

    Instead of doing that, imagine your e-mail application is an old Lettera 32 with a kick. Using simple text as your default will make your messages lighter and a lot of people happier.

    Now, the pet peeves

    First, if your recipient has more than one e-mail address, don’t send your message to all of them. It may increase the chances for your message to be read, sure, but it also makes it a viable candidate for being considered spam. So, unless you’re really uncertain about which address is the correct one (an easy-to-repair uncertainty), just go for the one your recipient usually responds from.

    Second, don’t ask questions that were already answered in your recipient’s previous message. You know why you’re asking those questions? Probably because the first thing you did after hitting “Reply” was erase all previous messages from the body of the e-mail. (Or maybe it’s because you didn’t read the previous message, but that’s a different issue.) So, don’t erase the message history from the body, especially not the latest message: it’s there for a reason.

    Third, no vowel elongation. Like with exclamation marks, use the number of vowels required by each syllable. Like I said, it’s a pet peeve.

  • I’ll limit my lecture to three simple tips, things I think are important beside the obvious (and too often neglected) “Have something interesting to say,” and also, “Know what you’re talking about.”

    They might fall under the category of blogging advice, but these tips can be applied to any kind of verbal content, including personal blogs. However, I’m directing this post specifically to people who write content for their own or someone else’s business website.

    First, don’t hurry

    If your content is time-sensitive, give yourself enough time to write, edit, proofread, and sit on it for a few hours—even a full day, if possible. Don’t hurry also means plan in advance. Knowing your subject is pointless if you can’t deliver it the right way.

    Side tip for the night writers: wait until morning to publish your content. This goes for blog posts as well as newsletters. Writing something in the middle of the night because you’re inspired (and because you had no time during the day) can often lead to unwanted mistakes. As stoic as it may seem to be up late working, no one thinks you should be doing that. The night is (mostly) for sleeping.

    So if you do happen to be the type to stay up and write web content, let it sit there until the morning, at least. Read it again after breakfast—not over breakfast—and if everything is okay, and you don’t sound to yourself like a sleepy lunatic, go ahead and click that publish button.

    Second, proofread

    Yes, the web is supposed to be all free of rules and formality. That is, if you’re completely blind to the needs of content. Just because you’re writing on the web it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and (yes!) capitalization.

    I often tell my clients that a single person who notices when your content is poorly written will hurt you more than ten people who don’t have a clue. Because those who don’t have a clue don’t care whether you’re doing it right or wrong. But those who do notice and do care will notice only if your content is a mess. And they will be able to make the difference between a typo and an error.

    (Yes, typos and oversights are allowed, within a reason.)

    Third, if you don’t know any better, find someone who does

    Let’s be frank. Not everyone is a natural-born writer. Maybe you have the right ideas, but when it’s time to put them to paper or pixels they just don’t come out right. So, find someone who can help you with it.

    I’m sure everyone has a trusted friend who knows his way around grammar and such, so that’s the person to ask. However, when it’s your business that’s at stake, I highly recommend finding someone who does the job professionally. Someone who really knows what he’s doing, who understands your communication goals (and your business goals) and who’s able to make your content sound like you. You can still put your name in the byline or sign that newsletter with your name, if that’s what worries you.