Steve Mouzon’s New Media for Designers and Builders
Steve Mouzon has written a very useful book for designers and builders (planners, etc.) who hope to capitalize on the web and social media. Steve asked many of us to review his book, and I took him up on it. I’ve already heard of slight revisions based on input, so what I read is the e-book equivalent of a “galley.” Apparently, something like 200 people agreed, so – following his book’s advice – I’ll limit my review to an area in which I think I can add value. For me, the central question is, “How should we approach social media?” That's second to "Who should buy this book?" I think there is a danger of becoming mercenary – and to his credit, I’m sure Steve would be horrified if that were to happen.
Steve’s stated thesis is that businesses have to follow new rules now, and that the designer or builder has to stand out from the crowd. The answer, therefore, is to get out there and contribute ideas. This isn’t just an advertising push. You have to offer useful content and converse. You’re not just showcasing your work. You’re showcasing yourself – and offering a bit of yourself. Steve gives you a soup-to-nuts walk-through of why to do it, what to do, and how to do it.
The gist of the book is probably in the first 150 pages or so, and is an easy non-technical read. But it gets more and more detailed, slowly morphing from a manifesto to a technical manual. That’s exactly what you need if you want to take his advice.
Steve's seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Yes, I suppose you could just do one bit, but if you only make use of some of the tools – as I do – then it’s like following only part of a diet. For instance, I have a blog, and I am on e-mail lists in which I engage in conversation. But I rarely mention my blog on those lists. I don’t micro-blog on Twitter much, because I find that it is not very good at fostering conversations. So I read the book feeling slightly guilty about not putting myself as “out there” as I “should” be.
Steve’s program is a lot for one person to do. Yes, as Steve says, the basics are easy to master, and it doesn’t take too much time per day once you have. Yet, Steve may be underestimating the cognitive load. Steve has taken a great deal of time and effort to learn complexities that will take more than two weeks to master. Yet, the bits I’ve done have been fun. So it’s probably a longer learning curve than he suggests, but rewarding.
New Media for Designers + Builders is, naturally, an e-book. Originally, I gather, the book was meant to be in iBook and pdf format. Now, perhaps, Steve will also put it out in epub format. The book progresses from the general to the extremely specific. Although of course one can take it or leave any of its advice, it’s really more of an all-or-nothing proposition. The book details not only procedures for getting your message out, it has a sort of plumbing diagram as to how to do it. In fact, it's the cover art above. Your blog is at the top, and it has complex flows to and from video, micro-blog, communities, website, publishing, speaking, images, “idea cards,” mailing list, discussions, and email.
The first part of the book explains why you should be engaging people at all. The economy is following different rules these days. We have too many designers and builders who are unable to justify their own value. The cure is to engage the public, not just market to it. So Steve wrote the book.
Links fill every page in the book. Some are internal, and some are external. They’re visually disruptive, and somewhat undermine Steve’s recommendations for simplicity. Perhaps a later edition will replace the cloud icons and book icons with plain link text. Fortunately, about 100 pages in, the eye barely notices them anymore. Another quibble is that Steve has a way of naming too many things: “The Age of the Idea,” for example. I think it’s best to take it for what it is: a sort of handle for otherwise-unwieldy explanations. It’s not a prounouncement in the same way that “The Jet Age” was.
Overall, the back part of the book is almost a handy user’s manual for the content side of the Internet. It’s the most succinct version of such a guide I’ve ever seen, and it’s probably worth the purchase price by itself. I say “almost” because personal advice and technical advice are mixed together. In less skilled hands, these would be incongruous, but Steve’s single-mindedness skewers these disparate subjects like lamb and onions.
The big question, though, is about motivation. What should our motive be for doing as Steve says? Steve hooks us by appealing to self-promotion, but he tells us to contribute something of value, to be honest in what we don’t know, to collaborate, discuss, and generally be genuinely sociable. There is no hint at all that he is being disingenuous about this. In fact, I am quite sure that he would say that self-promotion shouldn’t be the only reason. The reader could turn around the proposition, and rationalize the fun of making a social and professional contribution as a business cost.
I have to say that Steve has a talent for this sort of reversal, and it’s sometimes hard to tell what the heck is going on. He may not even be aware of it. He’ll give you a thousand reasons for doing eaves correctly or hating vinyl siding, or even for tradition in general. However, the reasoning could equally work the other way: from aesthetics and tradition back to practicalities.
In New Media for Designers and Builders, Steve presents a very precise prescription for self-promotion, but that makes it sound mercenary. The opposite, at least in Steve’s case, is clearly the truth. He has been promoting The Original Greenfor longer than he has been pursuing this strategy. I happen to know that his habit of engagement and contribution pre-dated this tactic for self-promotion, and even though he says it’s about the dog wagging its tail, it’s really the other way around.
So you should buy this book if you want to be sociable, contribute, and engage your colleagues as well as your clients. If your motives really are mercenary, then hire a PR firm.