Not even five years ago, there was a word that was downright dirty amongst professional Web designers: template.
If you worked with a template, especially on behalf of a client, you weren’t worth much to anyone – after all, a template was supposed to be something anyone, even a layman, could effectively implement on their website. Well…things changed. Looking back on Web development over the last few years, I’ve figured out why.
We all know the old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This concept as applied to modern Web design might read, “If a website has an amazing design and cool/advanced features but takes too long to load, will anyone use it?”
And thus is the struggle of the modern day Web designer. Of course, we want our designs to be striking and our websites to have cutting-edge features. But at the same time, we don’t want the design or features to overshadow the ultimate goals of the website. Maybe just as important, we don’t want the site’s features to adversely affect the site’s performance: slowing down load times or overcomplicating the interface, which could turn users away.
Recently, I attended a Dallas User Experience Group meetup. One of the featured speakers, Jeff Whitfield, touched on this topic during his talk. At one point, Jeff started to draw a pyramid on the whiteboard and related it to a user’s experience on a website. This idea referred to an outstanding article written a few years back by Smashing Magazine called, ‘Designing For A Hierarchy Of Needs,’ which applied psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory to Web design. (This article has a solid explanation of Maslow’s theory, as well as a great application to Web design. See visuals below.)
At the heart of the Smashing Magazine article and Jeff Whitfield’s talk was this question – In terms of the experience of a website, what is the most important thing vs. the least important? As he drew the pyramid, Jeff explained that the base of the pyramid is the most important. As applied to design, the base is functionality: does the website work/load correctly/address the user’s basic needs? If the website does not load correctly, or takes too long to load, or doesn’t have the content the user is looking for, they will leave your website. Quickly. The user in that case won’t get to experience the amazing looking features you spent months creating. The same goes for general human needs. If you don’t have enough food to survive, you won’t get to achieve the higher level needs we aspire to in life: like peace, knowledge and self-fulfillment.
Let’s design this thing as we go.
Since the dawn of the Internet, the workflow process of website development has been pretty straightforward and unchanged. Essentially, it went like this: When Web/browser technology, design styles and/or a client’s business model evolved, we recommended a project to design and build a completely new website to replace the previous one. So every few years, it was out with the old, all of the old, and in with the new, something entirely new.
Recently, my mindset had a seismic shift about how this process should work. To be honest, I can’t take credit for it. It’s been bubbling under the surface of the most forward-thinking digital interfaces for a year or two. I first heard about it at SXSWi two years ago, and this year, at the same conference, I learned a little more – just enough to make me want to dig deep into the topic when I returned home. Now, having researched this idea a good deal, I feel like I’ve entered a new age of Web design enlightenment, and I’d like to share it with you. My new nirvana is called iterative design.
In general, iterative design is a cyclical process of prototyping, testing, analyzing and refining. The designer changes and refines the product to improve the quality and functionality of the design. User interaction becomes material to research and inform each successive version of the product.
Photo by Possan, CC-BY-2.0
The creative development process is exciting and rewarding. There is nothing quite like going from a blank screen to something that captures the imagination, tells a story and compels action in just a few seconds. But for all that excitement, great creative is only as good as the media plan that connects the creative to the right audience. Despite the spreadsheet appearance of a media plan, it holds the key to creative success.
Here are four recommendations for unlocking the door:
They don’t make the Internet like the used to; or at least, they shouldn’t.
Replace “they” with “we,” and you have a major theme of SXSW Interactive. You might know it as Responsive Web Design. According to CNET, almost 30 percent of adults in the U.S. own a tablet or e-reader, up roughly sixteen slamjillion percent* from three years ago.
*Not a real number, but it used to be like 2 percent
Almost everyone has a smart phone of some nonstandard size and shape, and we’ve gone from viewing websites in a desk chair to viewing them in the middle of a crosswalk. How did we get here?
For most of its history, the Web looked like a desktop computer. The only major change came when we threw out those 70-pound CRT monitors and got some fancy LCD screens.
So we kept right on crafting our stories in the same way. (We were so young…) Now, the Web looks like this:
If you’re a creator, curator or creatorator* of this shiny new Responsive Web, the time has come to think differently about experiences. This is not just for designers. Design and development will go through obvious changes, but they’re not the whole story.
*This one IS real.
Story. That’s what we’re all about, from traditional advertising and PR down to any basic human interaction. We share stories and create experiences around those stories to make them easy to consume and enjoy.
Over the past couple of centuries of marketing, writing for the audience has always led to communications success. Looking back on traditional communications, the process was relatively simple – headline, body copy and call-to-action. However, the onset of the Internet age brought new complexity as copywriters wrestled with a whole new vehicle – the website. The challenges were three-fold – finding a way to cram in as many keywords as possible (for search success) while preserving the natural flow of the copy, encouraging the audience to click from one page to the next and ultimately prompting the audience to open an immediate dialog with the site owner through a contact form or email link.
As if juggling all these priorities weren’t enough, today’s digital marketing presents writers with yet another challenge, accounting for the various device types the audience uses to interact with the message. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick with the example of websites although many of the same principles apply to other digital vehicles, such as banners and online video.
Usually a trusted source within the PR and advertising industry, Ragan’s PR Daily recently posted an article, “17 types of content that Google loves.” Although we typically enjoy the site and find it interesting, we found the content from this article could be confusing for those just now dipping their toes in the SEO pool.
As a leader in SEO for clients, we thought it would be a good idea to go through the 17 points and clarify them.
For starters, the article’s title is misleading. You should create content not for what Google loves, but for what searchers want, because Google doesn’t love anything. Google tries to show unique and informative content based on the searcher’s “intent.” For example, are you trying to buy something, find something, learn something, etc.?
Then there are the types of content recommended for a successful Google-oriented strategy. Here’s our take:
Everyone wants credit for a job well done. However, it is often the person with the last word, the most recent idea, the more lofty title, etc., who gets the credit for success. However, most every success we have in life is influenced by the contributions of others. You know, the “it takes a village” idea. So, why is it in marketing, where we have the ability to give credit to the influence or the contribution, do most companies not attribute any credit at all or attribute it only to the most recent contributor?
The easy answer is because it is not easy. It takes technology, methodologies and expertise in both software implementation and analytics. But attribution – tracking user behavior allowing each marketing vehicle to receive credit for the desired action (sale, request for quotation (RFQ), meeting, etc.) – can provide a holistic view of your marketing efforts and allow you to make better decisions that can be game changers for your business.
Many companies who do practice marketing attribution focus on last click. This is a direct approach allowing you to see the most recent source of the engagement. It is one way to track engagement and action that is very effective. However, there are attribution models and systems that allow you to track all (or most) touch points with a user that led to the desired outcome.
In case you didn’t already know this about me, I’m a HUGE Instagram fan – get the picture? It’s simple – take a picture of something awesome, upload it to your profile and get your friends and followers to show love to your pictures by double-tapping the image to “Like” it. This same type of simple, instant gratification was the premise behind the Polaroid brand camera, No wonder Instagram has adopted the nostalgic camera tech as its logo inspiration.
Instagram has indeed captured the wonder of users like myself, and along the way, more than a few brands have noticed the hottest photo sharing app out there. The number of brands on Instagram is growing each day.
So the question is – can brands get real business value out of a photo sharing app that is not focused on link sharing or buying products or distributing specials to fans? The jury is still out, but there are some big brands testing the platform for spreading awareness and cultivating relationships with their biggest fans. Check it out.