Saying Goodbye To Your Car – Buying A New One

I’ve been thinking about this idea of saying goodbye to your car for a while and when I just read this post about selling a Volvo and buying a new Prius, I thought I’d share my thoughts also.

I traded in my 2001 Saab 9-3 SE last month on a shiny new electric car: A Chevy Volt. More on the Volt later.

I found the process of deciding on a new car and going through the purchase process much more difficult now than I did 8 years ago. Part of the reason was that the Saab was the first car that I ever owned that I really loved. And part of the reason was that there are no cars on the market that did what the Saab did as well as it did them for the price.

I know that Saabs are not known as popular cars. They’re quirky and sometimes unreliable but for the quirky girl that I am, my car was perfect. Here’s why:

  • In a time when oil & gas were cheap the 9-3 had an average of 25 mpg (28 hwy) and carried 4 people easily with plenty of room for luggage/stuff in the trunk.
  • In a time when big engines were becoming more popular for more power, the Saab had a small 2 liter engine with a powerful turbo that engaged with a sport button. Giving you lots of power on demand without sacrificing fuel efficiency.
  • It was an elegantly designed car. The interior was both sporty and had burl-wood on the dashboard, a great balance to have.
  • And most of all, those clever Swedish engineers allowed the back seats to fold down, and sloped the back window all the way to the bumper to add a hatch. This made the car as effective as a station wagon at hauling things, and I made use of it!  So many sedans have a back window design that could accommodate this, and yet they don’t design hatches on them. So frustrating.

There were negatives to the car too. The SAAB did break down in really weird ways and at the end had an unknown unsolvable electrical problem that drove me to the brink of screaming-anger when it would leave me stranded for 30-60 minutes while doing errands.  It was like flipping a coin on whether the car would start if it was still warm from driving, and it kept getting more frequent. And my brother kept saying my car was “Borked”, like the SAAB company. Heckling never helps even when it includes Muppet references. The rust on the fenders and bottoms of the doors was just annoying.

I really struggled to find a car I liked for a long time. The used car market where I usually look was decimated by the cash for clunkers program and a lot of natural disasters leading to smashed cars. Also cars 3-5 years old didn’t have great fuel efficiency. I was left with only new cars as choices for the first time in my life. I needed something innovative and revolutionary to talk me out of my attachment to the SAAB.

I considered the Buick Regal since it has a turbo charged GS version, although at the time I was looking, it was not available. It is an attractive car, similar gas mileage as what I had and in the right price range. I unfortunately found the local Buick dealer was inexcusably rude and the car felt small and the interior wasn’t very elegant. It would have been an OK choice, but it didn’t feel like something I would love for 10 years.

Buick Regal GS 2013 in Red via Motor Trend Online Magazine

I considered buying one of the new old stock SAABs shipped over from Sweden on a suggestion from my brother. Someone bought the one I was considering in Chicago while I was trying to transfer funds to buy it. I worked through a deal with a dealer in another state to buy and ship a beautiful chestnut brown one, but couldn’t sign the papers when I read how excluded everything was from the 3rd party warranty and how SAAB/GM held no responsibility for this quirky 9-5 at a pretty high price and no MPG gains over the old one.

Saab 9-5 Brown Auto Show via Flickr

I briefly considered a suggestion from a dealer of an Infinity sedan because Consumer Reports really likes their quality and the cars are elegant. But the gas mileage sucked.

Infiniti G37 Sedan in Grey

Soooo… I came back to the car I had been watching develop for a long time. The Volt.

I was initially very excited about the car when it was a concept.

Then when I saw the real deal, I was not impressed. It looked cheap and somewhat Delorean back to the future-ish.

chevy volt concept vs reality car - the truth hurts

Then I saw the price. Woah, no way.

Then we heard about the government rebates and sat in a Volt a year later at the auto show. (the first year you couldn’t get close enough to see them). The car was more elegant on the inside than the outside. And it was a practical 5 door.

So we went back and payed more than the car should really be priced at, for the size and looks of it, but we admitted we were paying for the technology development and the novelty of it being new and not so much for the car itself.

Chevy Volt 2013

Am I happy with the Chevy Volt? Yes, it does impress me in different ways than the SAAB did. I don’t spew emissions when I’m driving most of the time now and its a lot faster than people think. I still spend most of my time driving in the left lane and I think its important for people to see an electric car in the left lane passing them. This car is very quick, capable and fun to drive. (sporty) Sure, I sacrifice some battery life driving that way, but I’m still way ahead of the efficiency I had before.

What are the drawbacks other than the price? The trunk is really small. The radio doesn’t have that DVR rewind feature that the Buicks have. It costs more than most luxury cars it doesn’t look like one, and it has the same brand badge as a really cheap Sonic.

Brand aside, the Volt is the best car for us for the next 5-10 years. As gas prices continue to rise and my job will be moving from 25 miles away to 50 miles away I needed a fuel efficient car that I would still be able to put a baby seat in and have the capability to answer the phone wirelessly with Bluetooth. And its a revolutionary technology platform for a car. I like things that are different when they’re really better and I think this car really works.

2013 chevy volt red driving fast in left lane passing all the priuses

My husband likes it a lot too but I think we may need a larger vehicle for kid related stuff so we need GM to make a larger version of the Volt before we buy another one. And he isn’t really ready to say goodbye to his blue 1998 Acura Integra GSR either. He may possibly be more attached to his car than I was to mine.

Fighting Morning Sickness All Day Long

ginger ale cans, great for nausea during pregancy and morning sicknessBeing pregnant is exciting for about the first 2 weeks you know until your body decides that everything you like to eat is completely unacceptable.

Morning sickness doesn’t affect everyone, but I have more issues with it than I anticipated and wanted to share some strategies I’ve used to avoid using a prescription anti-nausea medication. I’m looking forward to a time where pregnancy is more fun and morning sickness & nausea are not as prominent.

First off its important to remind people that morning sickness doesn’t just strike in the morning. I’ve had nausea just about any time my stomach is empty. It wakes me up in the middle of the night. Hangs around all day at work and is back about 1 hour after eating. I’m lucky in that I haven’t been tossing up anything, but the constant nausea is draining to someone who is already tired because of my system trying to adapt to a lot of changes right now.

My tastes have changed too. In the first 2-6 weeks of pregnancy I could not get enough of steak and protein based foods. Veggies were yummy. No issues with dairy or anything else.

Week 7 things changed.(this week) The occasional passing feeling of nausea was now consistent all day and night every day for 4 days before I realized I really did have morning sickness all the time and it was time to try changing what I was eating.

I wasn’t aware that you could affect morning sickness by changing diet because I usually don’t have a sensitive stomach to any foods. I guess its just common sense right? I started looking for those things you eat when you have the stomach flu and this is what I’ve been living on:

  • Ginger Ale Soda (seriously the best thing ever, it works!)
  • Bread & peanut butter
  • Organic mini crackers & cheese
  • Bagel & cream cheese
  • Whole foods beignets
  • Baked Potato
  • Apple Pie
  • Animal Crackers

Its a short list of bland food, but I’m just so happy to feel normal again that it seems like the best food in the world. I know its the taste palette of a 7 year old kid, but its where my stomach has reverted to at the moment.

It is just so surprising to go get a veggie stir fry or eat a steak & veg dinner and feel totally horrible afterwards. It just didn’t compute at first because my stomach has never done this before.

I was worried about getting adequate nutrition during this early development time but I take huge prenatal vitamins so my hope is that they will cover any deficits in my diet while I live on starch alone for a few weeks to avoid constant nausea during early pregnancy.

I’ve read that morning sickness is only a factor in the first trimester for most women, so my hope is that by week 12 I will be able to go back to eating hummus & veggies, Greek yogurt and Sweet Tomatoes salads.

Saving Your Yard In A Summer Drought

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to save my yard, landscaping and trees from the summer drought we are having (July 2012) and I thought I would share what has been working and not working so far.

usa drought map july 2012, its hot!

We had an early spring this year and yet very little rain. This has been a much larger issue for farmers in the Midwest but as an average homeowner I’m not happy about the weather either.

We have tried several ways of keeping our yard alive and green and these are the results.

1. Underground sprinkling system. We bought the house knowing it had a sprinkling system and then didn’t use it for 2 years. By chance, we decided to fork over a lot of $ to have it hooked up this year and then paid again for the control box to be replaced. After all that how well does it work? Eh, not great. Its a lot of money for spraying a lot of water into the air. We still get brown spots where there are gaps in the area sprayed, and I battle certain spray nozzles that soak the roses when the wind blows, therefore defoliating them with black-spot. I don’t recommend this option if you don’t happen to have one installed in the yard already. I think there are better options out there.

2. Soak hoses. We decided early on to invest in some really long soaker hoses. The kind that have permeable membranes rather than the ones that spray in several directions like a sprinkler. We wound them around the landscaping in the front, the roses in the back and the perennials at the base of our lot. We then covered them with mulch and you can’t see anything there at all.

hose connector splitter lawn sprinklers

The key to using soaker hoses is to use a splitter connector at the faucet. (we got ours at Meijer, they come with 2 or 4 connections) This way you can have the soak hose and regular hose connected at all times and there are switches on both ends of the splitter so they can run at the same time or individually. We also leave the soak hose at the base of the lot 365 days a year and just run a regular hose out to it across the lawn when we need to water.

We have come home many times and just switched on the soak hoses around the landscaping and then went on with other things while they ran for 2-3 hours. Plants like hydrangeas and ferns really need this because their roots are very shallow. Also, if your trees are less than 5 years old they probably have shallow roots and can’t reach a reliable water source yet. Help them out with a soak hose in your landscaping around the tree drip line or a regular watering.

If you’re really tech savvy you can buy a programmable electric control box for your hose system/network and set them to run on a schedule. You can even have small connectors from the soak hose set up to water pots individually. We’re not that clever and we just turn them on and off as needed.

3. The good old rotating/oscillating sprinkler. These are still the simplest and best solution for watering a large area without wasting water. The water spray is heavier so less evaporates, you control when its on and off and where you are watering. Yes you do have to go move it every hour or so, but if it isn’t a drought you don’t have to do this every week. They waste a lot less water than in ground sprinkling systems. Remember that trees need water too. If you have some shade in your yard remember to water there even if its green since the trees need water in the heat. If your leaves are turning brown and falling off it is dangerously dry and needs more water. Don’t let it get that far. You can use a splitter at the spigot to run 2 hoses with sprinklers at the same time if you have a small parkway space to water and don’t want to be up all night.

it gets the corners rotating sprinkler vintage etsy

4. Succulents. I experimented with more succulents in pots on our deck this summer because I thought they looked pretty cool. What I found was that they are perfect for a drought because they’re from the dry southwest. I have some other pots with geraniums and coleus but they’re covered by the front porch most of the day and not in full sun. The succulents are basically cacti without thorns and they are the only things surviving without water this summer in the hot 100+ degree Chicago heat.

Weight Loss Strategies & Thoughts

sparkling water bottle for weight loss success stories blog post lemonI have been on a bit of a weight loss journey for the last few months and I finally have had enough success to blog about it.

After I tried a round of IVF in February (it failed) I found that I had gained another 5 lbs on top of the 20 or so pounds I had gained from the time I got married in July 2009.

The IVF hormones and drugs seemed to make me puff up around the middle and I am sure that there was some stress eating along the way also.

I had been battling my lifestyle, stress and eating behavior for years thinking that just changing one thing, or giving up one key item would be the turning point to weight loss success. Boy was I wrong. People who say that are lying.

I had been pretty successful at losing weight when I needed to earlier in life. Once in high school (90′s) while very active in sports and discovering lean cuisine and diet coke and another time in my 20s while dancing up to 7 days a week (2000′s).

Now in 2012 with a sedentary desk job that demanded hours of excel analysis and implementation and a husband/home/cats/yard to take care of I had given up all of my personal interests and hobbies. Yep, every single one of them. I had no way to exercise and no time.

I finally have had some weight loss success because of several factors coming together to change a lot of things in my life. Like hundreds of things. Lifestyle change isn’t really the right word for it, it is more like millions of really small decisions adding up every day. I don’t actually feel like my lifestyle is any different. I am not sure how much of your lifestyle is really about food anyway.

Some of these changes were:

1. I was diagnosed with ADHD, documented by years of childhood report cards with attention issues. Medication helps me concentrate and stick to things until I get them finished, and keeping the long term goal in mind has always been a problem for me with weight loss. Some people may cry foul because many ADHD meds do lessen appetite, but I counter that with the fact that my stomach still growls if I am hungry while taking it. I just eat a more normal amount and I don’t use food as a stress reliever as much since I’m less frazzled in the first place.

2. I mostly gave up cooking, and certainly the idea that I had to provide my husband with a fancy full course dinner several times a week. (I never cooked before we were married) This led to less groceries being bought, less exotic ingredients in the house, less opportunity to snack. Less choice in the matter of snacking. And fewer trips to the store, which are tempting within themselves. I also canceled all those email recipe newsletters, unsubscribed to the food blogs and droped the idea that desert was needed at all. It actually gives me more time to do other things if I don’t have to always be meal planning, cooking, cleaning and prepping. I have a few staple things I still make, (roast chicken, onion/green pepper/mushroom omelette with egg beaters, quinoa veg salad, organic cornbread) but overall the cooking is much less frequent.

3. I reduced portion size by half. It is important and needed its own mention separate from the previous item on the list. Small plates help but someone isn’t going to lose weight on that method alone as certain statistical studies and books suggest. Basically I have the slowest metabolism in the world so my body can make a tiny bit of food last forever. It may have been an evolutionary bonus but now its a huge negative. I probably live on 1000 calories a day because I don’t exercise. There has also been research lately that states that people who have been overweight have cells that have a history of expecting overeating and slow processing. My take on that is I will always have to eat less than my contemporaries because of my history and extra slow metabolism.

4. I don’t eat breakfast. All you breakfast eaters that hate my method can shove it. I know that my eating snowballs during the day. I start out with lots of motivation/focus and as I get more tired/frustrated/stressed I eat more. My resolve weakens. I also have a kind of weird rebound effect to eating where I get hungry again within 2 hours especially if it is sweet stuff. So why sabotage myself by eating first thing in the morning if I’m not hungry? My metabolism isn’t going to get jump started by eating but my stomach cravings will. Sometimes I wonder if this suggestion is deliberate sabotage by the skinny people of the world that seem to talk about food constantly and eat nothing. Here is an article stating that you never start burning fat reserves unless you fast for 12 hours.  

5. I don’t drink soda - I drink organic coffee with organic creamer in the morning (I guess instead of breakfast) and sparkling water the rest of the day. I’m not a big alcohol drinker so cutting that out is pretty much status quo for me. ( a 1/2 beer is enough to make me sleepy) I don’t think soda is inherently evil but I do think I can’t afford its calories and my teeth don’t need the sugar/nutrasweet. (just like most parents thought back in the 70′s when I was a kid). I don’t drink diet soda because my body was past the point of being tricked by sweet tasting stuff that has no actual nutritional value in it and my body was pissed. About an hour after drinking diet soda I get incredibly hungry and inhale just about any food around me because my stomach hurts so much. Sparkling water seems soda-ish enough with the carbonation, but not sweet or with any calories. (avoid the flavored waters with nutrasweet or splenda) Other people make their own infused waters with cucumber, mint or orange/lemon/lime. That is cool too but I’m not going to cut up produce and do dishes at work, so my sparkling mountain bottle just sits on my desk.

6. The only exercise I do occasionally get is yard work and walking. At first I had no stamina to do basic things like mow the lawn (it’s not self-propelled but still it isn’t like we live on a hill either). I did force myself to get through yard tasks whether I liked it or not because I am incredibly embarrassed if the yard looks bad. This is only really something I have time for on weekends so if I have a bonus of some time during the week I do walk around the subdivision. There is a 1 mile loop around it that takes about 45 minutes. I even go out after dark. No excuses. The dog walkers are still out there and the weather is nice in the evenings now that it is summer.

7. I don’t obsess over lunch. If I bring lunch it is a Tupperware of fruit (pineapple, grapes, oranges & apples) or something like broccoli salad. I have also learned that the potbelly chickpea salad is the healthiest thing within walking distance of the office. I also get chipotle burrito bowls from time to time but only eat half. And the rest is for dinner. I told you I could make a few calories go a long way.

8. I like organic products but I am wary of some since they seem to have more fat, sugar and calories than their non-organic counterparts. I think the organic decision is more about long term health and less processed food, fewer chemicals, fewer hormones and pesticides that you ingest to hopefully avoid cancer. This may be more meaningful for some than others depending on your genetics and other factors, but I just think its safer to minimize the risks a bit. Its impossible to go totally organic so I don’t try but when I find a good organic alternative I usually stick to it even if it is a bit more expensive. Just avoid the organic granola/energy bars. Some have as much fat as a big mac.

In summary it took a lot of changes and a lot of time but after 4 months I have lost 15 lbs (to fit into things I wore in 2009). My hope is to lose another 5 and I hope this blog post doesn’t jinx it!

SAAB Car Company – Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to SAAB cars. I viewed the TopGear UK (season 18/Ep 5) show this weekend at my brother’s request, and found that Jeremy Clarkson and James May had some nice and not so nice things to say about the loss of SAAB (Swedish) car company late last year.  Since I still drive a 2001 9-3 SE turbo 4-door hatchback (117,000 miles), this episode review is also a summary of my thoughts on losing my brand and the history I have with my car.

First off, I was surprised to see the TG UK guys mentioning the SAAB cars at all, since it has been about 5 years since they have included any SAAB cars for review or inclusion in their show.

Their review segment provided a look back into the history of SAABs that included some interesting and odd findings:

black vintage saab top gear uk 2012

1. After WWII the SAAB company found that the need for their airplanes was greatly diminished and put a wing designer to work designing a car for consumer purposes. The result? A profile of a car that looked like the profile of a wing.

Top Gear James May Driving a Vintage Saab

2. Some of the earliest SAAB cars had issues with small 2 stroke motors that required the gas & brake pedal to be used at the same time since these (lawn mower) engines mixed the gas and oil together, lubricating and fueling the engine all at once. When driving down a hill there was still a need to lubricate the engine, hence the gas/brake pedal use together. This resulted in some issues with brake failure as James demonstrates in the photo above.

3. They also cite that in later years GM had several budget talks with SAAB engineers about making their cars the same as another brand/car/platform with just the badges/grille/tail lights different (like how GM is trying to cheapen/kill Buick right now by inserting Chevys like the Sonic as the Verano) and SAAB continued to defy them until their last days by making vastly better cars in safety, design and usability. I am glad that someone told the arses at GM that this strategy never works, it only cannibalizes your market by making expensive cars that look just like the cheap ones. On the other hand, SAAB was massively in debt because of their decisions and that did lead to their end.

saab history cars ads

Image from Flickr

4. Top Gear also showed the old SAAB jets in almost every advertisement possible. The only ads I remember were the quirky hand drawn animated ones that starred my car. I thought the “Born from Jets” line was a more recent one, but in reality it was a very tired and worn out marketing line that has no actual relevance to the cars. The only similarity between the cars and the planes is that they were both made from steel. It is too bad they never came up with an ad for “the smartest people on the road” featuring the geek-eliete with their vintage framed glasses and european scarves that are so popular these days.

Jeremy & James also went into detail about some of the best hits of the SAAB years.

1. They demonstrate quite literally that if you drop a SAAB on its head (upside down from 8 ft off the ground) it is much more surviveable than a similar BMW dropped from that height. Nuff said.

2. They also point out that in their opinion, SAAB drivers are some of the most educated people driving. Not car education, just generally well-educated folks. They keep referring to architects as the target market, but the people I have known to drive SAABs have been doctors. At least that is who introduced me to SAAB cars, and I have been driving one ever since.

My take on things:

Even though I bought my SAAB used in 2004 (for $14,000), I will agree with the TG guys that these SAAB designers/engineers have always been quirky and brilliant at the same time. I had previously owned 2 almost-identical ruby red 2 door Buick Regals and this black-midnight-egg car seemed so much more sophisticated, luxurious, sporty and european. Because it was.

1. I found the origami folding cup holder both hilarious and very functional in a small space, although when the coffee mug gets stuck and you yank upward to release it, the mug hits the rear view mirror and splatters coffee all over the dash.

2. I decided that I really like a Turbo charged engine for both efficiency and power. There was always a small turbo lag, but then it kicks you in the seat and take off whether you have the sport button on or not. All this, and I get 25 mpg average and previously I was getting around 18 mpg with a much slower car.

3. I found out that heated leather seats are a necessity in Chicago. No matter that they are a dark grey/black and require layering towels on them in the summer after sitting in the sun for hours so you don’t burn your bum.

saab car full of stuff

This is what moving looks like with the hatch full.

4. I don’t know how I ever lived before I had flip down seats and a 4 door hatchback for carrying things. I have impressed so many loading dock guys when I transform the car like origami and they remark “what kind of a car is this?” while loading furniture/TV/boxes in the back. It also made moving to three different locations a lot easier. Did I mention it hauls like an SUV and gets 25 MPG?

5. I am quite proud that with the SAAB sport button on, I can usually beat my husband’s Integra GSR in a drag race. This may be because he has to waste time shifting gears manually and I don’t. (I understand that isn’t the proper theory but he doesn’t shift quickly)

But it hasn’t been all wine, roses and warm heated seats with the SAAB.

Some of the funniest moments have been when it fails.

And SAABs fail in the most spectacular ways possible. And when I say spectacular, I mean expensive and weird.

saab won't start

SAAB won’t start – service men pushing it from the car wash

1. For the last 6 months I have had issues starting the car after running errands, stopping at the store and getting my car washed. We initially thought it was a water/rain related problem shorting out the electrical and security systems because after 30 minutes of inactivity it always starts fine (yes it has done this exactly 7 times). This past weekend I had this happen again and found that after locking myself in the car it started fine. Bizzare.

Towing after the fuel pump line crack spewing gas problem

2. I had a fuel pump line crack after some Chicago winter snow hydroplane-ing in the alleys (which don’t get plowed and you just drive through them as fast as possible so you don’t get stuck) which resulted in my 16 gallon tank of gas being spewed out all over I-88 on my way to Aurora, and it was empty within 60 minutes. It is freaky when you smell gas and you turn the car off and see nothing dripping, no puddles, nothing. Then see the gas gauge dropping by the second as you drive. Freaky-Weird-Bizzare.

Saab at service dealer

Somebody at the dealer liked my car enough to park it like this.

3. I had to replace the turbo at 80,000 miles within a month after the 6 year warranty expired. I was on my cell phone in the showroom with customer service yelling that “this is why nobody buys a SAAB twice”. They paid for 1/2 the $3,000 cost.

4. I have also had the odd collection of failures like the LED dashboard displays ($800 each) and the electric antenna (stuck up then, stuck down now) as well as small things like headlights that go out and come back at random, regardless of the age of the bulb, the air conditioning system needing to totally be replaced (both the condenser and the compressor) Another $3,000.

5. The brakes always squeak when I am backing out of parking and the electric side view mirrors broke within a few months of the warranty expiring. The fog lamps have never worked. And the wheel wells are rusting because of the salt on the roads in Chicago.

A little burlwood on the dash makes a girl happy.

All these things have gone wrong so, why am I so reluctant to give up this car?

It is unique, my black egg car looks like nothing else available today, and is the only car that I have ever seen that combines the best of all possible features into one. In this crazy over-diversified car market where there are too many companies and too many models to choose from, I really enjoy a car that gets all of the qualities you want in one vehicle. I am waiting for another car company to see the value in this all-in-one-car strategy because I think they will win a lot of the public’s respect and sales. Here are the strategy highlights:

koeneggsaab

We had hope for a few weeks that it would become a koeneggsaab, but that never happened. I also wondered why Alfa Romeo didn’t buy SAAB since they made quirky cars also and the 9-5 looks a lot like several alfas.

1. Safety (I have never had to test this) Having not had an accident, I would say that great brakes are a plus, airbags a must and a structural frame that can be dropped upside down is a differentiator.

2. Luxury/Comfort (don’t go overboard) But leather heated seats and an upscale interior is a must. A little burlwood on the dashboard makes a girl happy, but no chrome and no carbon fiber or suede. (ick)

3. Sport (for everyday use) Use of Turbo 4 Cylinders has recently caught on with Buick via Opel. I want an e-Assist and a Turbo in the same engine. Possibly a supercharger too.

4. Fuel Efficiency (25-40 mpg) More would be even better.

5. Convertibility (hauling in a hatch, see A7, Panamera) I see so many sedans on the road that could become a 5 door without changing much. Once people have the availability of this feature with a luxury car they won’t ever want to buy anything else.

6. Reliability (ok they could have been better) But over the years I have been driving my SAAB I have had some great long distance trips and most days I get to work just fine, no matter how cold it is outside. Those Swedes knew how to make a car for the cold Chicago winter.

The 9-3 lived outside for the first 5 years I had it.

Someone came to this post with the search term “saab born from jets, killed by assholes“. Congratulations for being the funniest search term I’ve seen this week.

Pinterest Success in 2012

I have been seeing bloggers refer to “pinning” images on Pinterest for a year or more and just recently I finally got an account started. Pinterest required linking to my FB profile which was a dealbreaker, but I deleted the app and unlinked it afterwards. I was curious as to why Pinterest was different than other mood board sites (polyvore) I had seen that didn’t really impress me. At the same time I have been reading more about how Pinterest drives more traffic to retailer sites than Google Images, how women are the primary audience and why Pinterest traffic has taken off like a space rocket.

My take on the site as a web analyst, a woman and a user of the site may be different than the media’s perceptions. I concentrate on the behaviors and uses of the site and have listed my opinons on their growth/success here:

Some reasons I think Pinterest has been a growing site:

1. Images do say more than a 1000 words – They can make you feel hopeful, creative, inspired and motivated. Great images move people. That is why good photography is both art and marketing at the same time. (think Flickr/Instagram) What happens when you want to see that powerful/inspiring image again? Do you bookmark it? With your other 1,000 bookmarks? Blogging it has been better, but not everyone wants to blog and some people frown on hotlinking in your posts although that is what Pinterest uses. Flickr has been great with it’s searchable favorites image list, but not everyone likes Flickr like I do. Some people just want to link other people’s photos and not upload their own. Facebook is ok if you want to blast your friends with all the images you save/share about your home remodel project and make everything archived by the borg, but I really think image saving/sharing is out of context on your personal branding page. Capturing and sharing this image information has had a tricky history and Pinterest solved a problem we didn’t know we had.

2. People are busy and ideas are fleeting – Maybe this is the ADHD generation? I am a GenXer. I have way too much to do, a reasonable income and a very short attention span. I have a hard time keeping track of things that aren’t completely essential and ideas are on that list. In a personal example: With my process of moving around a lot in the last few years, my confidence in the house decorating department was a bit threatened from being a bit out of practice. I have made up for it with a huge file of images saved on my computer from design blogs. It was an old school solution to needing a place to look for ideas from images I already filtered and liked. Did it create solutions for my house? Yep, several rooms in the new house have been redone based on color pallettes from those photos. But in a day I may only see 1-3 photos I like from 50+ interior design blogs. In a year that is a lot to comb through and it isn’t share-able offline nor is it accessible from anywhere. So, Pinterest has recently proved more accessible and more shareable for keeping these images. Plus it is free for now. I could see them evolving into suggesting ad based photos by retailers based on your tags/likes/pins in the future.

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3. Trends/Decisions are easier to analyze when you have all the information from multiple sources in one place. I find it difficult to make buying decisions in this day and age because in most every category there are too many brands, products, colors, choices, prices and options to keep straight. (information overload) Making a pinning board for new shoes you are considering buying takes a lot less time than going to the 5 stores in your area and trying to decide that way or ordering online from Zappos and having to return them all. Plus you can save that pic of that shoe you love but don’t need right now for later. Side by side lists and comparisons make shopping a little easier, but in most cases these wishlists really work on selling to you and others. Someone recommends something, you loooove it, click-click-bought. That isn’t really a bad consumer strategy. I have found that if I ever pass on an item and want to look it up to buy later, it is impossible/gone  with how short the merch time is in stores (online and off) and how styles change so vastly that it may never be seen again. (yet the things you’re never very thrilled with seem to pop up again and again in many different stores). Items/Pictures that are popular on Pinterest may have more staying/selling power due to the large audience or they may be more trendy when people move on to the next micro trend. I am not sure yet because there is a lot of churn in products these days, some people consuming constantly, others stopping completely.

4. Like TED some ideas are worth sharing. I enjoy seeing what my friends have discovered and pinned. It tells me what they are into, what is new, what really good ideas/recipes they want to share and hopefully some of those ideas are good for me too. I have found some interesting clever solutions for household annoyances this way. True, this may just mirror the offline world where women would share tips on household stuff while chatting in the yard, but it makes sense for other subject matter/industries too as long as there aren’t proprietary info in the photos and there is a collective community sharing information. This could be a marketing strategy if you have real solutions your product offers and the story can be told in an image that looks real.

5. The biggest reason? Discovery is a process that a lot of us get a big burst of happy from. It doesn’t matter if it is online discovering photos, reading a magzine, watching a TV show, taking a vacation or creating something like artwork or crafts. Many of us have jobs that are pretty specialized and we do a short list of things for the company and don’t have a lot of variety or creativity in our daily lives. I have found that I need some form of creativity (writing, photography, art, dance, design) in order to be happy and I have a feeling that this may be the case for others too. Even the simulation of creativity by discovering and learning from photos of how to keep wrapping paper on the roll with a sliced toilet paper core haves us that Aha moment and makes us feel happier, smarter & more connected. All this in an easy to use format and without requiring much reading for the ADHD generations.

6. Another reason it may be growing is that Pinterest is very accessible on iPads which can go anywhere in the home when you have time to look at it. (the app is just fair, I prefer the full site in the browser on an iPad) It is a guilty pleasure just like celeb blogs on some level. I think mobile/tablet use is making the site more addictive although probably not the main reason for it’s success. Now that retailers (Etsy) has added pin it button to their listings pages I hope more retailers do this to help promote their products. One thing is clear though, it will take 500+ views and likes before you find someone ready to buy, and you will probably have to have some familiarity/trust built with them first. Most people do a lot of window shopping/dreaming on the site, a lot more than buying. But that is part of marketing, getting the word out in the first place, or as some say, creating the need. A large enough audience may just be able to significantly impact sales too.

7. The more I think about it there are more reasons that this site works well and attracts people so quickly. An element of new sites that often works well is keeping the interface simple and the navigation self explanitory. (especially with people who don’t have a lot of time or patience) In this case the content/images take center stage and the navigation/functionality is uber simple and almost in the background. If/when they would like to expand on it they can build more complexity over time and teach the audience along the path to more features just as/or before they get bored with the current ones. Facebook has done this pretty well and has been able to innovate its way ahead of many other sites.

Any other reasons you think Pinterest is growing so quickly?

Design Trends 2012: More reprocessing of the past

This article in Vanity Fair describes a design rut that we seem to be in at the moment.

I’m not sure I would describe it as a rut, but I think there is a lot of reprocessing going on.

You may wonder why I care.

I don’t work in design but I do have this habit of moving around a lot, and buying/selling/decorating houses so I can move seems to be my unofficial job. I also have 47 blogs in my RSS reader under the home/interior/design category that I have been using as resources for about 4 years. I see a LOT of design in order to have an opinion on it.

Looking at all these blogs, I have wondered how the 18-25 crowd looks at a lot of the resale stuff, clothing and music from years past as new. (anthology, lonny, backgarage are examples) I attribute this to a specific age group because that seems to be my observation from the bloggers but it could be more widespread.

I do think as a rule the younger generations tend to drive style & design innovations and it then travels through age brackets like waves. By the time it reaches the eldest brackets the youngest don’t want it anymore.

eddie izzard coolness circleIts like Eddie Izzard once said, things work in a circle: cool hip & groovy is right next to looking like a dickhead, but you can’t back into it, there is only one way around.

Some of my thoughts about this younger generation’s design mash ups:

  • They take furniture that my grandparents donated to charity years ago and call it mid-century modern and cool. I sometimes call this style “granny chic”. I make fun of it, but I do have a 1965 stereo credenza in my living room now.
  • Sometimes the rooms look like a 19th-20th century explosion with no 2 pieces with any similarity whatsoever. I sometimes think of it as the garage sale look. (I also have a mixed era home.)
  • This new generation takes jeans and sneakers from the 80′s and call them cool one day and wear bell bottoms from the 70′s the next. (This I can’t do)
  • They have convinced me that yellow gold colored jewelry is ok again after loathing it for about 20 years post 80′s. (about 75% of what I wear is yellow gold now)
  • They like 80′s music, and not really the stuff I feel nostalgic about.
  • The people who haven’t lived through much of the 20th century seem to be driving the rebirth and reprocessing of all the styles from that time.
  • It is also important to note that the millennial generation has the highest unemployment of any age bracket due to the recession. It may not be a surprise that they would think so differently about design/life and choices based on what they can afford and have experienced.

The vanity fair article cites several reasons for this design rut. One being a cultural overload where people just can’t process any more new information because the internet/call phones was too much! This may be true for the Boomer age groups but not the Genx-Millennial. I think the millennial is actually driving the design changes and for completely different reasons.

Does this drastic innovation make me less interested in new stuff? New design? More nostalgic for the past? Not at all.

I feel lucky that all the drastic innovation and change that is listed in the article happen just after I graduated high school. (internet, computers, cell phones, social networks, search engines) None of the available professions at the time really appealed to me so it makes sense that I now work in a field (internet marketing) that didn’t exist in 1993. I look at these radical changes as “normal” and something I need to and like to learn about.

I think there are other elements to this design nostalgia epidemic and reprocessing phenomenon.

1. It is easier and cheaper to reprocess than invent. This relates to my previous post about ROI being the only metric in business these days.  Society has no time for developing cutting edge design. Good ideas come at the sacrifice of time and a lot of re-dos, and time is expensive just like materials. And what materials are available now that weren’t 10-20 years ago? No real innovation there either. Things just keep getting made from cheaper less durable materials. The only R&D going on is how to make things cheaper that look good but fall apart quickly so the customers come back again to buy more. Plus we don’t have enough trees for everyone in the world to own teak/oak/mahogany furniture.

2. We have had a more documented history in the last century than ever before both through museums, video/audio, photographs and the family history of people passing down their personal stories while living much longer. We look back at history and think, boy they had it right.  Nothing is as elegant as how they designed things back then. And they took pictures in B&W, what an elegant design choice! You get reprocessed things like the PT Cruiser/Plymouth Prowler/Chevy SSR, Oxford Heels, Swing Dancing, Sailor Pants, Pea Coats, Red Lipstick/Bottle Blondes, Bombshell hair, Mad Men, Starburst Clocks and just about any kind of hat.

3. Law of diminishing returns: It is also more difficult to keep finding something “new” in design when we have to design so much more stuff. It is common for Americans to replace their entire closet of clothes every 3 years and retail stores have to replace everything on the sales floor every 6 weeks to seem “new” again. We kind of don’t respect good design, or any design. As a culture we want to throw it out as soon as we see it in too many places and be more unique again. Shows like Project Runway also show how anyone can be a designer with training and everyone gets more educated about what the demands of great design should be. This makes the general public much harder to impress.

4. At the same time a certain part of the population is sick of all the new-new-new and the churn that happens. We want useful, dependable, reliable and timelessly elegant.  We don’t have time to go shopping for things every 6 weeks in order to find those elusive great items at a great price before they’re sent off to the overstock stores. And of course when you do need something…you can’t find it anywhere because the supply chain in China didn’t anticipate that need 6-12 months ago, and it’s not “new”. I think some people literally choose to go retro because they see it as timeless. In many cases this is cheaper, more elegant and less work.

5. Globalization happened. We used to think it was quaint to go visit another country and come back with something to remember it by.  Now we see places all over the world in places other than World News Tonight or National Geographic. We see the world on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Imagur, Stumble Upon and Google. What used to be new to us is not all in mash up mode. We take the best of every era as well as every culture in our past to create this new hodgepodge mix that represents who we are. And everyone is more global now than we were 20 years ago. I have had fascination with Asian prints and Indian jewelry as much as Scandinavian furniture. We have bought most of our cars from other countries for a while. It is just lagging that the rest of the items we buy are more globally influenced too. I sometimes click to buy things on Etsy or from a blog link to a store and don’t notice that the store isn’t even in the USA until I see the shipping cost. Sometimes I buy it anyway, it is a rare moment to be unique in my neighborhood.

Lastly, we’ve seen the future before.

We grew up hoping for flying cars and they never showed up.

Our future can be found in watching FUTURAMA. Or Wall-E and  Idiocracy.

We know where things are going, and it seems more about recycling and less about space ships so I’m going to hang out with the millennials and see what else they come up with.