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The Truth About Twitter

Over the past year, Twitter seems to have hit its tipping point and truly entered popular consciousness. (@idpkbrian called it when he saw a reference to Twitter in a Wal-Mart ad in a movie theatre this summer.)

Just to be contrarian, I think it’s time I shared my Twitter peeves. Let the Twitter scroogin’ begin!

Twitter != IM
If more than half your tweets start with @, you might want to consider downloading an instant messaging client. Of course, if all those @ replies are interesting to your followers, more power to you. But, more often than not, @ replies consist of stuff like, “@ so-and-so, what are you doing tonight? I’m washing my hair!”

Know what I say to that? #annoying! Pick up the phone, send an email or use instant messenger.

Watch the re-tweets, Mister.
RT, or re-tweeting, is repeating what someone else said because you thought it was funny or interesting. That’s fine, but if more than half your tweets are RTs, what the hell are you doing? Add something interesting to the conversation, or don’t talk. (This from the girl who tweets pictures of her kid. Who do I think I am?)

Twitter is also not RSS
If all that you or your company are tweeting about is your latest blog post, please stop. If we want to read your blog, we’ll subscribe to your RSS feed. (If you sprinkle your blog notices among other interesting tweets, no worries.)

On a related note, if all you’re doing is @replying to people who mention you or your competitor, please stop. You’re killing me.

Quantity vs. Quality
This goes for tweets and followers alike. If you’ve been on Twitter for six months and you have thousands of tweets, you are either:
a) incredibly interesting and knowledgable
b) self-obsessed
c) in need of an IM client (see: Twitter != IM)

The answer is most likely b or c. Sorry.

Low or No-Value Tweets
When it comes to followers, I’m glad you have X-hundred or thousand. Good for you! Seriously, good for you. But, you don’t have to tweet every time another 5 people start following you. “I have 100 followers!” “I have 110 followers!” gets old very fast. As someone who’s following you, I obviously think you have something to say. Rattling off your number of followers is not that interesting. If I want to see how many followers you have, I can look at your profile anytime I want. On a related note, it’s really not necessary to publicly thank all your followers.

I am Not a Snob.
I saw a video last month decrying Twitter “snobbery.” The basic message was that if you have a ton of followers and don’t follow all of them back, you’re not social media, you’re solo media.

Um, no. I certainly don’t expect every blog that I read to also read my blog. Similarly, I don’t expect everyone I follow on Twitter to follow me back. I’m busy, they’re busy, we’re all busy, and keeping up with 2,000 tweeters may not be high on my list, or theirs. There are certainly people with thousands of Followers and Followees, and God bless them (see: @stephenfry). But, I have a full-time job, a blog, a husband, a house and two kids. I use Twitter to follow some friends and some industry people that I think are interesting. That’s it. And it doesn’t make me a snob, it just means I’m smart enough to know my own limits.

The Elite
It bugged me when bloggers did it years ago and it bugs me now that tweeters are doing it: lists of who is “elite” based on number of followers or number of tweets or other wacky methods. What bugs me is the “I’m more popluar than you” mentality that smacks of junior high school. The beauty of where technology is right now (Web 2.0, if you will) is that we all have a voice. Not everyone can start a radio or TV station, or start printing a newspaper, but anyone can set up a Twitter account, a web site, a blog, or a Facebook page — and if they have something interesting to say, they’ll find an audience.

If anyone has this kind of right, it seems like Mr. Tweet does. He looks at it in terms of influence and relevance, which seems right on the mark. Trying to calculate who is elite based on followers or tweets just seems silly to me. I’ve seen people who have made thousands of low-value tweets. That ain’t elite. Where Mr. Tweet gets it right is in understanding that it’s in the eye of the follower: what’s relevant to me may not be relevant to someone else. This is not high school. There is no “in crowd.”

The Echo Chamber
Just like in real life, there are clusters of Twitter users. Many of us follow many of the same people. The result is that I might get the same article tweeted 5 times in 5 minutes. (related: my RT gripe). @jongordon noted a few weeks ago that it seemed like Twitter was made up of 90% PR people and “social media experts” and sometimes, it sure seems like he’s right.

Everyone was all a-buzz about the Motrin Moms a couple of months ago, but only ONE DAY after the whole thing happened there were so many tweets ABOUT it that it was impossible to find the tweets that actually WERE it. Echo….echo…echo…

I got a lot of Amens this week when I tweeted, “the more people use twitter, the more it becomes a place for ego-tripping and butt-kissing. i’m ready for that to stop now.”

Here’s what I’m talking about: the ego-tweet is the standard annoying bragadocious comment. This was brilliantly parodied by @lolife who said, “Having lunch with @god, then a meeting with @obama and then drinks with @bono before my date with @superhotchick.” Ego-tweets are all a variation on that theme. #snore

The butt-kiss tweet is usually a reaction. It goes something like this: powerful client-type person tweets about their business. The bajillion vendor-type people who follow this person go into a tweeting frenzy, each one trying to prove their smarts and derring-do. “Why yes, @powerfulclient-typeperson, we are incredibly strategic and smart!” And then we’re all subjected to the equivalent of a group capabilities presentation in 140 character bites. Which makes me, and all the kittens in the world, weep.

The Circle of Life
Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. It’s changed my life, cleared up my acne and I have lost 15 pounds since November. It’s just going through an interesting phase.

If you think about the arc that blogs have followed, it’s easy to draw parallels: began life as geek-only tool, gained popularity, users started defining crietria which make them “elite” to set them apart from all the newcomers, companies thought they were a golden ticket, blog ad networks developed and PR companies actively wooed bloggers, some bloggers were outed as shills and some managed to make a living at it, “real” journalists bristled but grudgingly started accepting blogs, blogs pronounced dead.

This same arc applies to Twitter. When I joined almost two years ago, there weren’t a whole lot of other people tweeting. Now that it’s hit the mass consciousness, the elite lists have started popping up, more and more companies are tweeting (and just like with blogs, a few are getting it right and the rest don’t know what to do), Twitter ad services have started popping up and will soon start to infiltrate. When I was watching CNN last month they were scrolling tweets across the bottom of the screen which means that sometime later this year, you can expect the “Twitter is Dead” headline to hit Wired.

Of course, blogs aren’t really dead — they’re just not the Next Best Thing anymore. Now, that mantle is carried by Twitter. We’ll see how long it lasts. In the meantime, happy tweeting. Follows or rotten tomatoes can be directed @irishgirl.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog]

Note to new Geek Girls: if you need to know more about what Twitter is, you can check out my earlier post. There’s no shame in not knowing, but there’s no excuse for not learning!

MIMA Summit Liveblog: Afternoon Breakout #2

Augh. Impossible to keep up with liveblogging; the day is going by too fast! Ran out of power and couldn’t cover my first breakout session which was around interactive TV. Now hanging in the Geek Out room with moderator @halvorson where we’re discussing how the day has gone and giving input on next year’s Summit.

Follow the Geek Out convo on Twitter.

Too bad I’m going to have to leave before happy hour to do daycare pickup; I really want to hang and chat with people. I haven’t even had a chance to find everyone I know who’s here!

MIMA Summit Liveblog: Lunch Keynote

So far, Ze Frank is great. It’s gotta be hard to talk while people are eating and he’s doing a great job. Engaging, funny and smart. (And yes, @hlockwoo, also adorable.)

My favorite part so far, re: user-generated content: “The Crapucopia: There is so much crap being made.” Amen, brother.

Excellent point #2: the conversation is not about the content. The value is the conversation itself, not necessarily the topic. 

Random side note: it just occurred to me that there’s a really funny double-standard going on. There’s lots of twitterchatter about how cute/adorable/attractive Ze Frank is. How offended would I be if a woman was keynoting and people were tweeting how hot she was? Would men dare to tweet about a hot female keynote? Food for thought.

MIMA Summit Liveblog: Breakout #2

For breakout session #2, I chose the Marketing Mix challenge. Interesting to see how four different marketers would approach the launch of a new product using a three-month marketing budget and with Minneapolis/St. Paul as a test market. Really dug the approach of the first presenter, Luba Smulka from General Mills’ consumer insights team. Eric Boyles from Medtronic had a great approach as well; he packed a lot of great data/thinking into just three slides.

Overall, very interesting. Now, let’s see what the audience is asking about…

  • People are wondering about the lack of social media in everyone’s mix. The response from the panel is that the three month trial needs to build a real-world experience before engaging social media online. Great insight from Luba: just because you build it, they won’t come. It’s about building the experience first. Get them to try it so they will start talking about it.
  • Did you think the budget was realistic and how closely did you stick to it? What would you do with twice as much money?
    Patty Henderson responds that for proving whether audience will try/buy yes. As far as testing marketing vehicles for national launch, would like more money. With twice as much money, she’d use the same approach but with broader tactics.
    One of the guys (can’t see who, I’m sitting on the floor!) responded that he’d double the timeframe to 6 months instead of 3.
  • Question from Twitter about the role of package design in all of this.
    Luba assumed that good, communicative packaging was a given. Would also use the packaging as a vehicle for couponing.
  • If and how would the current state of the economy affect your mix?
    Couponing and sampling becomes more important to get into the consumer’s budget. Couponing is effective across all income brackets.
  • How would this plan change if the test market was Manhattan and not Minneapolis?
    The mic went out, so I have no idea how they answered this, but it’s a fascinating question.

I’m sitting near an outlet in the back of the room to keep my laptop charged. Not comfortable at 9 months pregnant and I’m pretty sure my foot just fell asleep.

MIMA Summit Liveblog: Breakout #1

So, I couldn’t literally liveblog during the first breakout session, because Nancy and I were moderating a discussion titled, “Wired Women.”

We had almost 25 people show up (including some Clockworkers — thanks, guys!) for what I thought was a lively discussion about women in interactive. We met some kickass women from around the Twin Cities and beyond and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion, the disagreements, and — surprisingly — I thought the uncomfortable silences that are typical of most panel discussions were pretty minimal. Thanks to everyone who showed up and participated; if you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it. Oh, and here’s a link to the article I mentioned during our discussion: Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership.

Now, I’m in breakout session #2, the Marketing Mix Challenge. I had to sneak to the back of the room before my laptop died and find a power outlet. So far, I’m digging this breakout session; four marketers discussing how they’d spend a marketing budget for a new product launch.

Update (10/2): I read this article on MinnPost this morning which hits on some of the same points about women in leadership roles as the Harvard Business Review article above. One of the things that came up in the panel discussion yesterday was a concern about whether we exacerbate (or even create) a “problem” where one doesn’t exist simply by naming it (e.g. are there really not enough female voices in the interactive field, or are we looking for a problem where one doesn’t exist). I guess my argument here is that we know there is an overall problem (that people are reluctant to address and don’t fully understand the causes of) of not enough women in leadership roles across the board and that extends to the interactive realm as well (perhaps even more so within certain interactive roles like programmers, etc.). It also extends to the creative departments of many ad agencies. I’m not advocating for a “woe is me, I’m just a girl” approach to this, nor am I saying that I feel oppressed or held back or have ever let anyone’s perception of me as a woman keep me from speaking my mind. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I see gender bias issues in our industry, and in others. And I’m interested in doing something about it. Nancy and I will be posting more about our thoughts on this in the future! For now, I thought that MinnPost article was relevant and worth sharing.

MIMA Summit Liveblog: Morning Keynote

Today we have an opportunity to do some liveblogging at the MIMA Summit (we’ll also be tweeting* if you want to follow: @irishgirl or @Nylons). We’ll be updating throughout the day with our thoughts on today’s happenings.

So, here goes. We’re here at the MIMA Summit, enjoying some hot coffee and crullers. So far, the morning keynote by Rebecca Lieb is honestly, underwhelming. The topic is supposed to be “The Decline of Advertising & the Creative Renaissance” but we keep just watching viral vidoes together. And, I don’t feel like I’m getting any new information yet. Like, did you know that traditional advertising is over? Thanks for the heads-up. Did you know that advertisers are now content generators? Whoa. I’d much rather watch these vidoes on my own later and hear the presenter give us a more insightful analysis.

Hm, so far…I’m not impressed. At least the crullers are good.

*Wondering what the hell tweeting is? Twitter will be this Friday’s Geek Chic topic.

Kill Your Television

Not like this is new news, but every day I’m reminded more and more that traditional television (and with it, traditional advertising) is dying.

For me, it started around 2002 with Netflix, which killed any need I had for cable TV. Why pay for HBO or Showtime when I could rent The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex and the City and gorge myself for hours in one sitting? The years since then have produced an avalanche of other factors. This past year, an EyeTV and an HD antenna on our roof meant that my husband and I could snag HD-quality shows off the airwaves, record them to a MacMini (hooked up to a projector) and watch them whenever we felt like it. Add ABC and NBC’s websites (and my discovery that the Firefox extension AdBlock Plus zapped ads inside the ABC episode player) and there was no reason at all to give a rip about stupid ol’ networks and their stupid ol’ commercials.

Hulu sealed the deal, allowing me instant access to shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (not to mention discovering oldies-but-goodies like The Bob Newhart Show and full-length films like Ice Age for my kid). While they have ads that are immune to the powers of AdBlock Plus, they are relatively unobtrusive and don’t require any “click to continue” nonsense. The frosting on the cake is the growing number of self-produced and online-distributed shows like 3Way and We Need Girlfriends, the latter of which has been picked up by CBS. (We can only hope it enjoys a better fate than the pile of suck called Quarterlife, which NBC picked up and then promptly dropped when it suffered worse ratings than the XFL.)

And how about the glorious day when I discovered Best Week Ever was a free podcast that I could sync to my iPhone along with TV shows I had purchased from iTunes? I haven’t experienced a boring airline flight since.

And yet, with all of that, the networks seem to be in utter denial about what’s happening. The CW made a huge gaffe this year when, in an attempt to “force” more viewers to watch Gossip Girl on the network, they decided not to make post-strike episodes available on their website. Presumably, this decision was made to get better ratings: the show was crazy popular on the CW site and iTunes, but not on the dusty old television. Surprise, surprise, pulling the full episodes from the site had almost no effect on ratings. After tasting the freedom of watching a show online whenever you felt like it, who the hell was going to sit down on the date and time the network decided and watch it on TV?!

Their decision was understandable in the sense that nobody seems to have figured out how to monetize online entertainment in the same way that they have on broadcast, and the CW presumably makes less when I buy the episode from iTunes than if I watch it on TV where they can sell ads. But how long can that last? Viewers aren’t flocking back to television; they are (like me) tossing their TVs and snuggling up to their computers.

So, my big question — and maybe some media buyer out there can answer this for me — is why? How can this not translate into better revenues for online advertising, or some new model for monetizing the distribution of online entertainment? Especially considering how damn trackable and relatively cheap it is compared to a TV commercial? At some point, won’t the old model crumble under its own weight? And can’t we come up with something better than just aping the existing broadcast model of interrupting the show with X-second spots?

While I love to pick on the ad industry (and bite the hand that fed me: I was raised by a copywriter and a print project manager), I don’t argue that there has to be a way to pay for this entertainment. I’m willing to watch ads if I’m getting a show for free (except during Lost. Sorry, ABC.), and I’m willing to pay iTunes to have Mad Men at my fingertips. I’m not the kind of girl that has illicit late-night encounters with BitTorrent. But — all that being said — advertisers need to find a way to reach us without assaulting us (I’m looking at YOU, movie theaters! I paid for my damn seat, don’t make me watch a car commercial before the show. Or how about TBS and their ridiculous “pausing the show for an ad” trick? See, that’s what drives us into the arms of AdBlock Plus whenever we have the option!) and consumers need to be realistic about their expectations around what is free.

But, I know that it’s unlikely any of this will change. The genie is out of the bottle: I have to read ads in bathroom stalls and my neighbors are all trading pirated files on Limewire. But, it sure would be nice if we could call a truce and allow more on-demand access to entertainment while also fairly compensating the businesses and people that create it. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy insane Nissan product placements while watching Heroes on and wait for this all to shake out.

UPDATE: Well, well, well. I was listening to MPR over the weekend and On The Media had a story about this very topic!

“…the most ambitious aspect of NBC’s Olympic plan might be its push to change the way advertisers pay TV networks for ads. NBC will use the Olympics to attempt to show the world that, despite gloomy reports for the future of the networks, their audience hasn’t abandoned them at all. They’ve just migrated to other platforms.

So, says, Grant Robertson, media reporter for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, NBC will be keeping meticulous track of the numbers of people watching the Olympics across all platforms, online, DVR, cell phones – and both people who still sit in front of the TV. And they’ll combine those numbers in a brand new way.”

It will be fascinating to watch this develop and see if and how it affects the future of advertising [cue futuristic music].

UPDATE #2: According to New York magazine’s Daily Intel, Gossip Girl is returning to the interwebs.

My favorite quote from their article? “As it turned out, illegal access to GG episodes increased by 45 percent when the CW stopped streaming it.”


I Ain’t Much for Book Learnin’

Ooh! Ooh! Our very first reader question!

Whitney in Minneapolis wrote:
“I’m a young female who just recently got into the world of social/interactive marketing. I must say I think I’ve found that one thing I could do for the rest of my life. I was wondering though, without there being a specific degree in this would it be better to go the journalism route, or the IT route? I have an AAS degree in music business already, but I’d like to get your point of view on this. I was also browsing your “Sites We Dig” section and noticed the Clockwork link goes to the Future Tense site, not sure if that was intentional or a misdirected link.”

Um, first of all, I totally fixed that link. Then I fired myself for being so stupid that I screwed up the link to the company I work for. Don’t tell my boss!

Second, I wouldn’t worry about the degree. I have a degree in Journalism, but that’s because when I was young and foolish I thought I wanted to be a copywriter and work at an ad agency. (Not to mention the fact that in those days they had a special tutorial on how to use this new thing called “email” so getting a degree related to computers that wasn’t computer science was impossible.) Even now, with technology as pervasive as it is, higher education hasn’t really caught up. So, as you’ve noticed, there’s not really a good degree program for people that want to work in Interactive. I mean, there is if you want to be a programmer or a designer (kind of) but there’s not a clear path if you’re like me and end up going into strategy/project management type stuff. And it sounds like you are on a similar path doing strategy and planning-type stuff along with content development.

In the past I considered doing a degree in human-computer interaction (when I was thinking about focusing my career more specifically on IA) but in retrospect I think I might have found that approach a bit dry. So, my advice to you would be to continue doing what you’re doing now which is gaining real experience working with clients, websites and social media. When it comes right down to it, a degree is nice but most people making hiring decisions in this industry are going to look at experience (either as a portfolio of sites you’ve worked on, or a successful employment history where you can demonstrate how your role on the project had a positive effect on its outcome).

I believe that to truly be successful in Interactive, you have to love it. You have to live it, breathe it, consume it, and create it. You have to enjoy doing it even before you start getting paid for it and most of what makes you good at it isn’t something you can learn from a book. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for other careers. (Accounting, for example.) But, the best Interactive people I have met — even programmers in many cases — are those who are largely self-taught. The ones who stay up late at night staring into a glowing monitor just for the love of the game. Because those same people are the ones who continue to learn and stay on top of what’s new long after dust has started collecting on the frame of their diploma. And in an industry that moves as fast as this, those are the people you want working next to you.

The Web Is Not Cheap

I should say right away that this post is in danger of turning into a rant.  That is not my intention.  I am not here to whine.  I am here, though, to put out into the universe a concept that needs to be discussed.  So, here goes. 

The web is not cheap. 

There.  I said it.

Before diving too deep into that argument, let’s review what the web IS. 

–The web is fluid. Every document that exists on the web, in order to be really useful, must be a living document.  Because the web is, by its very nature, a living, ever-evolving, content repository. 

–The web is accessible.  Anyone with a small amount of knowledge can publish to the web.  I always say the web is the great equalizer, suddenly we all have a voice and the vehicle through which we can be heard.

–The web is immediate.  Case in point – I was reminded about how much this issue bugs me about five minutes ago, and here I am saying something and publishing it to a (potentially) global audience five minutes later.

Let’s face it, everyone knows someone who does ‘web stuff’.  That’s what makes having high standards in this business really hard, and really necessary – the fact that everyone has a cousin or son or nephew or babysitter or neighbor girl who can make a website on a Saturday afternoon while goofing around in their garage/office.  Because the spectrum of talent engaging in this kind of work is so broad, and the perception of value associated with the work is equally as broad, it is really hard to truly understand the value of the necessary skillset and expertise that play into a well-defined web strategy and execution.  Heck my mother recently said she’d mastered ‘copying and pasting’ and maybe she could ‘help me out’ since we’re so busy.  She was joking, of course, but the irony is in the fact that she’s a trained professional — a physician.  I suggested that we just swap jobs for a day.  I’ll deliver babies, and she can build web stuff.  No problem.

The fact of the matter is, the web is an investment.  A real strategic approach is necessary to doing business on the web.  You can’t just expect to slap up a site and have it work miracles.  And once you do launch a site, you are not done, you’ve only just begun.  I think most people’s perception of their website is informed by an old school traditional marketing approach to print work.  You jump into drawing pictures and coming up with catchy, brand appropriate copy, you execute in line with the creative, you launch, you’re done.  That is entirely the wrong way to think about your website.  Yes, good creative is essential.  But creative is not strategy.  You have to define the why before you consider the how.  Creative is a ‘how’ not a ‘why’. 

The web is transactional.  You are engaging in some kind of business interaction on the web.  Hopefully in the process you’ve managed to learn more about your audience that allows you to interact with them on a more on-to-one level.  A microsite has its place. But microsites aren’t appropriate as often as they happen, trust me.  So you’re not getting off cheap by building half a site.  You might end up paying more in the long run by not considering how micro-content fits into your overarching strategy. And any interaction with your target should have some kind of integrated component with your primary brand presence on the web.  Even if its just data.  Data is really the key.  But that’s another post entirely.

Most people walk into a web shop and expect the vendor to define their budget.  They send RFPs out to a number of vendors that fall in a variety of spots along the pricing spectrum, and generally they award business based on price.  The lowest price, then, becomes their budget.  By selecting a vendor that way they miss the opportunities to think comprehensively about how to address their business objectives on the web, and how to appropriately evolve on the web.  Meghan always tell clients they should come to us with a problem, not a solution.  This is great advice when thinking about how to extend your brand, and do business, on the web.  Don’t walk in saying I want these 44 things and I want them all for under 10 bucks.  Instead, prioritize your objectives and look for a real strategic development partner to help you think about how best to implement your priorities.  This might require iterative development, or incremental roll-outs of features.  But that’s ok.  By moving some or all of your business to the web, you’re making promises to your audience.  If you are smart about how you move, and you choose quality and ease of use over cheap and fast, you’ll keep those promises and your audience will stick with you.  They will wait for a good experience to get better.  And they will be key influencers in how you improve on your feature-set. 

Money is an issue.  Don’t get me wrong.  You have every reason to want to control costs.  And you should.  But control them in a way that makes sense and doesn’t compromise the deliverable.  Control costs by working closely with your vendor/partner to identify your priorities and the time it will take to address them.  Then have checkpoints or deliverables on the path to getting there.  Budgets are generally eaten up by the intangibles — vapor.  Don’t let that happen.  Insist on helpful documentation, in language that makes good business sense, to help guide the project.  Then follow those roadmaps closely.  Be collaborative and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  No one knows your business better than you.  Ask for what you want and be clear about what you’re asking for before anyone starts coding.

The web is not cheap.  But it does make good financial sense if you approach it prudently.  It is an investment.  You can start small and work up to your ideal solution.  But don’t compromise good sense looking for a deal.  You end up paying for the work twice in the long run.  Once trying to be cheap.  And you pay the second time when you decide to do it right.  Get it right the first time.

Why I Love Interactive Designers

No offense to my print designer friends (and really, some of my best
friends are print designers, I swear!), I’ve lately been thinking about
how much I love Interactive designers. And production folks. And
developers. Maybe it’s because many people seem to think that a
designer is a designer is a designer and the result of this way of
thinking is working with clients who, for whatever reason, want the
person who designs their offline materials to also create their web
site. “You guys can work with so-and-so, right? He’ll do the design and
you guys can produce it.”

Sure. Sure, we can. But, the thing is, the web is a unique medium.
Compared to print, we have far less control over things like fonts, or
colors, or even alignment. I can’t tell you how many times in the past
couple of years (or even months) I’ve had to explain to a print
designer that the pretty, perfectly-sized boxes they laid out are going
to get jacked all to hell as soon as the client starts putting content
of different lengths in each one. Or how many times I’ve gotten a web
site design where everything is Flash and/or images because the
designer wants to make sure that they control every aspect of the

The reason why Interactive people are MY people, why I love them
with a burning passion matched only by my love of IKEA meatballs and Gossip Girl,
is that they are supremely flexible. They understand that what they
lovingly create in Photoshop will vary slightly when it’s produced, and
when it’s viewed by me on my Mac or their mom on a PC. They create
designs that can handle those variations. They are accustomed to
constantly reviewing and revisiting their design in production and
tweaking it to optimize both the display, and the end user experience.

Print designers*, on the other hand, tense up at the thought that
the headlines and body copy can’t all be [insert obscure font name
here], or that my Grandma
could increase the size of the body copy WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION. So,
when they are directing the creation of a web site, tension is created
between the well-controlled viewpoint of a print designer (who is used
to having the ability to tightly control font, layout, color and
overall presentation) and the chaos-theory viewpoint of a web
production team, who knows that they must plan for a variety of viewing
situations that range from cinema screens to Blackberries, PCs to Macs,
and browsers, browsers, everywhere!

But while it may make a print designer feel good to control the user
experience, and while that may be a perfectly reasonable way to think
about a print (or even television) experience — that level of
attempted control makes for a very poor user experience online. It can
make the site harder to find on search engines. It makes it impossible
for someone to resize the font for readability. It can make access by
disabled users difficult or impossible. In short, it can succeed at
looking good and fail at being usable. A controlled experience is great
in print, but it doesn’t translate well to the online world.

As I said, no disrespect to my print designer friends. But please, let my people go.

*I’m generalizing here, and I know it. I know there are a few
designers out there savvy enough to design well for both print and
online media. But, they are few and far between. So for the same reason
you wouldn’t ask your kickass web designer to create a billboard for
you, stop asking your kickass print designer to create your web site. A
good print designer and a good web designer can — and should — work
together under an overall creative direction and produce the best
representation of that creative direction in their respective medium.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog