By Josh Sklar
President / Creative Director of Heresy
I work with a lot of “traditional” print designers who have been finding more and more often with most of their projects that they are expected to craft Web sites, apps, banners, and/or a user interfaces and templates whether they like it or not (most often not). If the clients were aware of their focus and background, they likely wouldn’t want the print folks working on the digital components, but of course what designer or art director is going to stand up in 2012 and declare they do not have the experience or skills to do the job. Instead, they do what we creative professionals always do. They calmly and arrogantly bluff and then, in private, torture themselves with self doubt and loathing over their worth, their painfully non-fluid creative process, and the stark reality of the hopeless fraud in which they are now so deeply engaged. Of course, once that well-worn road has once more been travelled, they present work that is eventually accepted so it can all play out again.
As it turns out, the real problem is that there is rarely a decision maker with enough knowledge of the area to refute such dodgy work and ensure a successful user experience that is going to not frustrate their audiences, not work against their brand, and not prevent their goals from being achieved. They tend to examine everything from a corporate standards’ perspective instead of the point of view of the people they are designing for.
When a traditional designer looks at a digital environment whether desktop, smartphone, tablet, gaming console, or kiosk she is, in general, not looking at it as a place filled with multiple potential points of interaction and nuanced opportunities for guiding and engaging. Instead, she is scanning it the way Arnold did as the newly arrived Terminator when he was trying to find someone in the bar with clothes to fit his deadly bulk. She is quickly and efficiently targeting and surveying the area, the margins, the frame, the elements around it, the perspective, the native palette, and everything else that will help her hang branding and content objects for the most appropriate look and feel as if it were a static print ad; a snapshot frozen in time. Instead of organically introducing elements that emphasize or play upon the unique selling proposition of the product or the personality traits of the brand, she will concentrate on making everything appear visually balanced. That talent is important for establishing a professionally styled, credible atmosphere, but the priority has to be given to ease-of-use, which also includes how things are laid out and if they interfere with maximum usability.
I usually chide my designers with, “If you can take out our client’s logo and replace it with a competitor’s, the design has failed.” The environment has to take cues from the brand in the same way as the logo (should) and be built to represent and reflect it everywhere it can. Companies want their sales people and receptionists to represent their brand to targeted customers by presenting a particular personality when they are communicating – and the same applies to digital channels. You should not be able to take out Coca-Cola’s logotype from any site or app it produces, stick on a Pepsi mark and have it look like it belongs. The same should be true for every company.
When it comes to usability, these traditional designers have a habit of overlaying type on image or plopping an interface component like a drop down menu over whatever it happens to drop down over. In addition to not considering how items may interfere with each other, they neglect thinking about the different situations a visitor might be in, including frame-of-mind or navigation preferences. In other words, if traditional art directors, designers, and clients are to produce effective work in this brave new world, they have to stop thinking in the limited dimensions of the print world and open themselves up to the deeper universe of opportunity – and risk – that digital offers.