David LaFontaine escapes the maze

David LaFontaineDavid LaFontaine

David LaFontaine is the Director of Content and UX/UI at DigitalFamily.com.

David has written or coauthored five books, including Social Media Design For Dummies, Mobile Web Design For Dummies, and Poison Pen. He has also produced more than 20 hours of online training videos for KelbyOne and Pluralsight.

David has taught Digital Immersion and Online Multimedia/Digital Publishing at the Annenberg School for Journalism at the University of Southern California.

He has also lectured at universities around the world, including at the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism at the Mohyla University in Kiev, Ukraine; the Nelson Mandala School of Journalism in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and at the University Mayor in Santiago, Chile. In 2012, he traveled to Ethiopia as a Fulbright Specialist to train NGOs, journalists, and pro-democracy groups in digital media skills.

Design Books

Dave is the author or coauthor of five books, including:

  • Social Media Design For Dummies
  • Mobile Web Design For Dummies
  • iPhone and ┬áiPad Design For Dummies
  • The Poison Pen

Dave's background in journalism included designing pages for newspapers and magazines, a skill he's updated for the web, mobile and social media as a Dummies author.

To Dave, great design is about making complex information immediately appealing and engaging.

The Latest: Learn How to Become a Creative Data Scientist

David LaFontaine class Google Analytics for Creative Professionals Pluralsight

 

My latest training video - this one for Pluralsight, called "Google Analytics for Creative Professionals" - just launched on July 8, 2016. This video is the first of a series aimed at teaching creative professionals to overcome their "numbers phobia" and use the insights and knowledge from Google Analytics to make their articles, photos, designs or videos better.

You'll note that in the headline, I've kinda made up a new job title: "Creative Data Scientist." Yeah, I know. It sounds a little weird. But believe me, there is a desperate need for professionals who can function with a foot in both worlds.

Let me explain.

As part of the research for this class, I interviewed "creative types" who work at digital agencies, to see what tools or technology they most need help with. Most of the requests centered around the little bugs and glitches in Adobe's Creative Cloud Suite that drive us all crazy (and that I will address in time).

But the thing that jumped out at me was the fact that when I asked what the audience reaction was to what they were creating, people shifted uncomfortably in their chairs and looked away. It turned out that the people actually doing the creative work were absolutely PETRIFIED of dealing with web analytics.

These were top-level digital designers, writers, photographers, video producers, who thought nothing of digging deep within themselves to find a little piece of their souls, and then expose it to the entire world - a prospect that paralyzes ordinary people (check out how many people would rather die than speak in public). Instead, a common practice is to push the responsibility for monitoring analytics to some poor schnook in the office who is low on the totem pole -- or even on an intern.

To paraphrase Tallyrand, this is worse than a mistake. It's stupid.

Without at least a decent grasp of how to read web analytics, creative professionals are going to continue to lose control of their creations, because to decision-makers, the charts and graphs and spreadsheets seem to be the very essence of unassailable logic. Worse, content creators will lose out on the opportunity to make what they create better, by gaining insights into the needs, desires and motivations of their users.

Too many digital experiences are being carefully crafted by creative professionals to "surprise and delight" users -- only to lose that human essence at the end, when final decisions are made, based solely upon surface-level analysis of audience behavior.

It need not be so. In fact, we desperately need to start putting the "human touch" back into what we create. Because the alternative is just so much over-processed brainmush. Slideshows, listicles and clickbait are not what we were put on this earth to create nor consume.

So check out my class. If you are a digital content creator/designer, resist the temptation to stay in your comfort zone. Instead, stretch a little, and engage with the analytics. I promise: it's not as scary as you think it is.

Particularly with me as your guide.

Speaking and Teaching

David's engaging, informal presentation style has earned him repeated invitations to speak at conference and events around the world.

Speaking topics include:

  • Multimedia on a McNugget Budget
  • Zombie Content Strategy Rules
  • The Great Traffic-Driving Experiment: Content may be king, but distribution is queen. And she wears the pants

Watch videos of David speaking and being interviewed.

Training Videos

KelbyOne Media asked David to produce a series of training videos on the entire Adobe Edge Suite of webtools. These include:

Edge Animate - Adobe's attempt to make creating "HTML5 animations" an intuitive process. Of course, I know that there really is no such thing as an "HTML5 animation" -- what we're really talking about is animations that use CSS3, JavaScript and jQuery to produce interactive animations that play in browsers without the need for a Flash plug-in. Yes, this is all in response to the lack of support for Flash on iOS mobile devices. And yes, this is still very much a work in progress. But you can do some surprisingly cool stuff - just check out my video.

Edge Code/Brackets - These are hard-core coding tools, with features that will make all the code monkeys chirp and jump up and down excitedly. I know that the vast majority of designers freak out at the mere sight of HTML, CSS, or JavaScript code (to say nothing of Ruby on Rails, PHP, or (horrors!) C++. I'm not saying that Edge Code and Brackets will make you into a code genius overnight ... but they do make the process easier.

Edge Inspect - You can see the results of this tool on all the screens behind me in this still frame, taken from my training video. Inspect allows designers to test their designs on iPhones, iPads, Android tablets and phones, and even on Amazon Kindle Fire platforms. You've heard the old saw, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is." Well, Inspect pushes theoretical designs out into the real world, where we can check out their flaws on actual mobile devices.

Edge Reflow - This tool is still officially a "Preview" as of February 2016, but most of its functionality is being folded into Adobe's other web-design tools, such as Dreamweaver or Muse. Reflow was built to help designers visualize how their pages would look at various pagewidths, by giving them a "handle" to click and drag around on the screen. But its most intriguing functionality was to allow a designer to crank out an entire webpage in Photoshop, and then import it all in one gulp into a web design program, to be converted into HTML and CSS. It works ... kinda. If you're in an absolute hurry and can't stand to sweat the details, well then, yeah, you can built a web page this way. But I don't recommend it.

NAA audience planbookResearch and Case Studies

David's background as an investigative reporter and editor have given him the skills to do in-depth analysis of tech trends and tools.

His freelance work includes case studies on newspapers and multimedia development for the Newspaper Association of America (NAA.org), the World Associaton of Newspapers (WAN), the Online Journalism Review (OJR.org), and Advanced Interactive Media (AIM Group).

As a managing editor, he assembled a team of expert journalists, digital entrepreneurs and marketing mavens, to build the Audience Planbook for the NAA. It lays out the necessary processes that a news organization must go through in order to reinvent itself and start producing the kind of content that attracts online readers.

You can read the .pdf version of the Audience Planbook here.