There is a huge discussion going on right now about the size of ads online. All recent studies would point at first glance to the fact that bigger is not necessarily better, and looking at the data I would tend to agree with that sentiment. However I think we are missing something crucial – and that is the environment.

Most ads tend to get repurposed to fit an assortment of shapes and sizes and just placed online through a variety of targeting methods. However, user-testing is very often overlooked. If it’s good enough in the designers mind, its good enough. We would never design a car or any product this way, more often then not we wouldn’t design a website this way, but in online ads we ignore the basics of what is working and what is not. Science and art seem to go together like oil and water.

But this is not some fine art course – this is graphic design. Its commercial art. Rules and ROI ‘must’ come into play.

Where ads appear is crucial. A billboard along the side of a motorway will see different results to a screen in your local post office. One is being noticed whilst moving at blistering speed, one is amusing the boredom of waiting in line. The same can be argued for comparisons of a homepage against a desktop messenger program. The former I am opening a page, selecting links, clicking and I’m off – you have to work hard to convey your message to a mass audience against such speed. The latter you have time to peruse, catch my attention as I chat with friends and colleagues, the ads are there for much longer and therefore eventually the unconscious becomes the conscious and is shown with increased behavioral metrics within those ad formats. Yet can we truly argue that smaller is best here – or is it simply the environment?

Check again the data surrounding ad sizes and you will see a difference between browser based ads and desktop or application based ads which are traditionally smaller. It’s location, location, location! You see as more people leave ‘browsers’ in favour of applications, first seen desktop messenger, add in TweetDeck and Hulu or BBC iPlayer or Spotify, add in the shift of access to Twitter and Facebook on a mobile phone via an application over mobile browsers – and you are very much sounding a death knell for browser-based ads over the coming years. Simply because the vast majority of what we do online does not require a browser experience anymore; just a custom application which takes an Internet connection.

Now we are seeing a whole range of consumer devices connected to the Internet – from wireless digital photo frames to digital cameras linked to Facebook, from BluRay players taking additional streaming content to Internet-enabled refrigerators displaying stock items. The world is changing, and that right fast.

Yet the biggest excitement for an old editorial designer like myself is the range of ePrint devices about to hit our shores – as the Amazon Kindle and Sony eReader give way to the proposed Apple iTablet (or iPad) – an 10” (25cm) touch-screen device for reading books, magazines, newspapers or even watching TV and film content, playing games or typing emails. Think where the iPod was and where the iPhone is. Think of how we shifted from desktop PCs to laptops. Expect a similar shift to tablet-computers. From an advertising perspective it is going to be very exciting.

Magazines over the last few years have already been shrinking in physical size away from the old A4 format. Yet the ratio of ad to editorial content has remained consistent – around 60:40 in favour of ads. That means everytime you buy a magazine, you skip through pages and pages – full colour double-paged spreads – of beautiful glossy ads as you read your content. In fact those ads ARE the content, they are information pieces in their own right. Pick up Vogue and I expect to see the new Jimmy Choos on display. Pick up AutoCar and I expect to see the new Audi R8 making my mouth salivate. It’s part and parcel of how we learn within an environment that is relevant to me as a consumer. Yet those ads are not offensive to me, I simply flick through the magazine.

Ever seen an iPhone, and how you can flick through photos…?

I take an iTablet. I place a digital copy of a magazine on there. I flick through pages. Full-colour, full page ads. Except this time if something catches my eye, I stop, finger pinch to zoom in and out, click to play the video. Then when done, flick on again to the next page.

Can you see where this is going? This is the best of print combined with the power of real-time targeting combined with audio-visual experiences in a native Internet-enabled device that is about to relaunch everything we have come to know about online ads.

Just for goodness sake let’s not let the software engineers anywhere near these devices. They will end up with annoying pop-ups and arguing for tiny clickable banner ads before you know it, quoting ‘user experience’. Get back in your room I say!! Tiny ads do not convey the beauty of art – which the rest of us enjoy – and those new Jimmy Choos, that Audi R8, hmmm, that is art!