Practice safe design. Always use a strategy.

The single largest problem that continues to hinder interactive design from really coming into it’s own is the fact that designers allow their work to be led more by technology or production techniques and not creative thinking that creates a user experience or concept that will resonate with the consumer.

As a creative director I have had tons of interactive portfolios come across my screen over the years and I see the same problem over and over again. Designers who think that technology is an idea. Unfortunately most of this work has been produced in Adobe Flash and that technology has taken a huge amount of criticism over the years. I personally believe that pointing to Flash as the reason for ineffective user experiences and online advertising makes about as much sense as blaming paper for creating junk mail or the telephone for creating the solicitors who call during dinner. The fault should fall to the designers who have not taken the time to use a creative strategy as the basis of their work.

A good on-line creative strategy should define the values and brand attributes that need to be communicated to the consumer in a distinctive and compelling way that takes advantage of the medium. I use answers to the following list of questions as a starting point when I meet with a new client or start on a new project.

What are we advertising and why?
When you meet with your client about a new project, get a thorough understanding of the focus of the communications efforts such as: the brand, a specific product or service, a promotion or new news. Make sure you understand their reasons for wanting to be on-line. Often the rationale clients provide are expressed as marketing objectives not as communications objectives. Communications change the way people think and influence their behaviors. That is the difference between a marketing objective and a communications objective. What is it they are trying to achieve? Increase market share? Drive awareness? Increases frequency or penetration? Increase sales? Focus on uncovering the single most important obstacle the communications must overcome.

What is the brands communication past?
Get a clear understanding of where the brand has come from and where it is now is critical to determining where the brand needs to go. Look at the brands past advertising to gain a solid understanding of the it’s positioning, personality and focus. Research if the target of the brand’s activities have shifted and why. What are the reasons for this change?

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