June 8, 2009
Navigation is one of the very first words that I had encountered when I started designing and developing websites in 1998. It was and still is the very foundation of what sets digital apart from traditional. The navigation is what gives our audiences the wheel in order to make their own decisions and to decide how and when they were going to interact with the brands that we put in front of them.
Web design is not advertising nor is advertising slowly becoming web design but what bridges the gap between the two is how we hand over the wheel when we design and formulate a navigation system to our now rich and complex online campaigns.
When I say navigation I am not just referring to that left hand down or that top centered line of icons or text. I am talking about how we take our audiences through the experiences that we build.
There are clients who will jump on the band wagon and throw millions of dollars towards whatever the hot new trend is right now because they want to take advantage of the immediacy of the crowd and its various waves.
The draw back to that is that a strategy needs to be formulated on the spot and executed flawlessly as to not seem like it is band wagon jumping and to also completely interpret what that wildly fast trend is at that exact moment, not so easy.
Then we have clients who want tried and true, a website or a digital campaign that embodies the very core of digital standards, upright information, clean sleek design and absolutely none of that horse play that goes on all over the web.
The safe route. Playing it safe in a dangerous world can sometimes be quite dangerous.
Then we have clients who are always a step behind, they want the best, they want to experiment and be the absolute cutting edge but due to not being guided properly and tending to fall in love with what has already been done successfully they simply end up missing the mark and looking tired and old once their shiny new digital campaign has launched.
Then there is the trend setter, the brand that has the digital eyes and ears to navigate the yellow brick road without falling prey to the disasters that ensue along the way.
The web is so vast and so precise that it is so easy to get it wrong. You have to stay one step ahead without over jumping that step and maintain a strong and steady grip on this bucking broma bull we have all mounted.
I read Ad-Age and AdWeek each and every day, the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal and countless blogs (just see my blog roll on iPro, yes I do read all of those) and what I am experiencing is similar to the picture at the top of this post.
That Scarecrow that keeps pointing Dorothy in every direction and at the same time in no direction.
AdWeek will feature some CEO talking about the revolution that is Twitter and then follow up with another CEO bashing the social media trend. Yet another who says traditional isn't dead and then the very next day some famous Creative Director swearing that every single dollar must be put into digital, then another COO claiming that Facebook will raise the dead and yet another saying that Television is about to explode and then another saying that.... STOP!!!!!!
See what I mean?
I'm not saying that any of our prestigious publications are not doing their jobs, they are. But it is up to us to decipher what is and what inst the right direction to go in for our clients.
With so many options today it is extremely important that we try to stay away from just slapping on a trend and calling it a day.
The way of our business is that everything happens fast. The pitch takes place at lightning speed, and that sets up unrealistic expectations because we promised the client the world. The agency then wins the account and starts bidding out production, then the production shops have to all fight for the right to execute those unrealistic expectations against a crazy time line and zero budget - you can imagine the end result.
Lets remember that there are a hundred answers to every problem and each one of them need to be carefully examined before dumping tons of money into a campaign that will prove to do nothing more than scratch that digital itch.
As an industry (digital) we need to help navigate the deep channels that are now dominating our client's attention and guide them carefully as to where their money will be best spent.
The first step is carefully understanding each one of those channels and knowing how to wrap it around the right brand so it accomplishes the goals that the client sets out to meet. This involves having the right people who can hit those moving targets when the time comes and get the brand positioned with the channel that fits them best.
So the next time you read that "this" is dead or "that" is hot or "this" is dying or "that" is emerging. Keep in mind that everything comes and goes and that the web is a giant life cycle that keeps on feeding into itself as it gives birth to new and more interesting ways to navigate its waters.
Don't ignore what has been or what will be and keep in mind what is now and what works best for your brands. That is the beauty of this medium. Unlike print or TV it is never canned or done, it is an evolution that is constantly morphing as we morph within it.
Imagine a digital campaign that lasted forever, slowly evolving and taking on various incarnations but all seamlessly and effortlessly flowing through the same vessel as its changes. No new website, just an evolving digital idea, a story that intensifies and changes over time based on the terrain that it navigates over.
Now that's digital!