*A sticky-note to all digital designers.

20 years ago when I was starting down my journey as a designer, I was faced with a question – are you wanting to go into computer graphics, i.e. TV titling, or traditional graphic design. In my heart I loved cutting up bits of paper, I wanted to use my hands – it’s a craft thing, or so I thought. Little was I to know then that within 3 years I would be sitting learning DTP on an AppleMac.

The one thing that has kept me sparked along that journey since, was the promise of cross-media communication, and by that I am talking about the heart of convergence, when what I do in one environment has a bearing upon the other and yet treating each experience as totally unique to the other. This has yet to become a reality in the way we currently approach media.

Repurposing brochure-wear never worked on the web. Repurposing TV ads similarly does not work on the web. They are completely different channels and I am in a completely different mindset when I engage with each. When I watch TV I am in a passive, lean-back zombified state – I am ‘vegging-out’ and can’t be bothered to change the channel half the time. Hence why interactive TV has been slow to come to bear, and doubtful it ever will.

Stick me in front of this laptop now on my knee and suddenly I am a researcher, an author, a creator of content – the TV maybe 10 feet from me, but it is this laptop that I am leaning-into in an active state of mind. This is my interactive world – right here, in front of me that I can physically touch.

Understanding channel development is my job. It’s about the user experience at any moment in time. Coming up with pretty ad’s and buying media based on what you think ABC1’s look at is not enough. It is not acceptable to egotistically design a piece of creative and then find somewhere to stick it. We need to understand that as designers we are ‘commercial’ artists, not ‘fine’ artists. For those of you who are unfulfilled, maybe you took the wrong course back at college? For the rest, there is a job to do – and that is to find a means of communication on behalf of our clients to their audience. That is why in essence it is called ‘commercial’. So how do we embrace this?

Those publisher specs are your best friend.

If the research shows putting volume on by default or making things fly across screen will alienate your audience, then you want to know that. If you knew before you approached someone that they once were in a accident, then you would have to pretty callous to push a line of conversation that touched a nerve with them. So what is the difference when it comes to audience relationship? Read the specs. Let me say it again, READ the specs. Demand them, question them, wrestle with them, but read the specs. They are based on research and findings and trial and error. There really is no need to make the same mistake twice.

Despite what I have read in the press, I simply do not accept that publisher specs are restrictive to designers. If a newspaper is black-and-white, you can not tell them your design looks better in colour – it just looks different. After all I love black-and-white photography, don’t you?! No-one ever complained a TV ad was 30 seconds long. If the TV ad is bad, it’s not the length or shape that’s the issue, but what happened within it. If I am the designer then it’s my responsibility to make it work. The current formats and tools available for online; an overlay-to-expandable combined with synchronising two adverts to talk to each other, means there is nothing that has been conceived online to date that could not be developed with those two technologies alone. And if you do not know how, feel free to send them through…

The media agency is your best friend.

Now I know they like a free-lunch too, possibly a little bit too much at times, but in essence what they are doing is trying to understand what makes me tick and where I do that ticking. I may visit Yahoo’s homepage, I may use Hotmail, I may use MSN Messenger, I also look at BBC and Auto trader. There are calculated reasons why certain sites are selected, but putting an advert in front of me in those areas is not enough. When I am in Hotmail, I am creating content, I do not want things flying in front of me and I am too busy to click on something. When I am in Messenger, I am communicating still, but in a lot more relaxed way, unless messages are popping up at me every fives seconds, but I am generally there for a long time, so my moods will continually change. When I am in Auto Trader, am I selling or buying, or both? Am I downsizing or upscaling?

Do MPU’s work better than a skyscraper? Not in the middle of my email, no. Does red work better then blue? Probably not on a red website, no. Despite the best mathematical equations introduced at the media planning stage, the only sure fire way of really knowing is in understanding what worked and didn’t last time. Read the reports and if you don’t understand them, get someone to explain them, but READ the reports.

If the reports show a high interactivity and warmth of use of video in one area, at a specific time of day, then you need to know that. If in another are data capture is more prevalent, then you need to know that. If clicks decline in one are but balanced by a high interactivity, then you definitely need to understand that. Hear me when I tell you clicks are not a sure fire measurement of success. Clicks in the wrong place can be the death of a campaign, like jumping into bed with someone too early in the relationship…

Courtship leads to relationship and that is what you are trying to develop for your clients – they are not after a mere thrill. So no, one size will not fit all, especially where digital advertising is concerned.

How the designer can become a best-friend.

There really is no point developing a single creative concept and shoe-horning it in to every position you can get it into. It will not work. I hasn’t until now, and it certainly will not moving forward.

I goto a hompeage maybe once, twice a day. I spend ten times longer in messenger. I check my mail regularly throughout. I look at news first thing and at the end of the day I start writing my own.

What if during this day-part you create a high-impact splash on a homepage to wake me up to your brand – but only once mind you. What if you develop a warmth to that brand as I travel through my news reading. Remind me continually as I communicate by mail or instant messenger. Eventually when the messenger windows calm down I may expand the ad on rollover and watch the video, can I sent it over to my mates online? I may be distracted to play in Hotmail or quickly respond when I am typing email, but unlikely to go clicking and reading, so interactivity and data capture are good bets for me here. When I get back and its personal time, remind me of the brand as I browse, put it in front of me when I am trying to create something and I will write a stern review to disembowel your client quicker then I can click to close your ad!

Is this making sense?

What we are trying to do is turn the warm fluffy feeling of first-love towards a brand, managing the passion into a mature commitment, where someone will want to stand up in front of their friends and family and say ‘this is the one!’

It takes time to nurture and develop those feelings, and multiple approaches along the route. Behavioural advertising and re-targeting will naturally make it easier, but this should not be relied on as a magic formula. Good old fashioned chivalry still goes a long way, and holding the car door open for someone still has its place. Make things easy for them to be reminded of your presence as they meander throughout their day; understand the pressures of rushing to get to work, demands of the workday routine and the ‘me time’ in the evening. Finding ways to communicate and assist at each event will pay dividends in the end, and help you stop looking like an idiot by acting inappropriately at the wrong moment.

We’ve all been there – and probably more then once! ;-)

So tone of voice, and considered relevancy to the placement and delivered at the right time, are all key in developing effective creativity, not just formats and features alone.

Next time I will take this to the next stage and look at what this means to break out of the browser and into other media channels.