Oct 28, 2009

The Stubborn Mule-Like Tendencies of Reactionary Thinking

Three random events transpired recently. Each fairly innocuous, in and of itself, but together they served to remind me how much the world hasn’t changed once you leave our particular neck of the woods. (Or the internet, as the case may be.)

The first epiphany happened during a session with a client, when I was trying to explain why flash sites had fallen out of favor. I decided to use that old standby LeoBurnett.com as an example of the sort of flashturbation and “ha-ha you can’t figure out what to do next” interface that was once held out as the gold standard. And in that ten-second interval before the page loaded, I found myself thinking that surely they must have updated the site, that someone would have realized how out of touch it made them look.

But then the screen filled up and there it was, in all its spinning, black penciled glory. When you moved the mouse, the pencil drew little lines and it was 2004 all over again.

In our world we know that this is just bad UX, that agency sites like those maintained by Big Spaceship, Barbarian Group, Mullen, even Boone Oakley are showcases for what’s good and true and right.

But not all agencies-- or their clients have caught up to that. And there are still CMOs and agency search consultants who are dazzled by the “creativity” of flashturbation and dismissive of the “boring, overly dense” sites we hold so dear.

Another day, another scene.

I’m scrolling down some random web page using a giant ergonomically correct mouse I’ve recently inherited and I accidentally click on a banner for some product I have no interest in. This happens a couple of times a week, regardless of what mouse I'm using. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I intentionally clicked on a banner and I rarely stay on the accidental clicks long enough for the landing page to actually load. And it dawns on me that my behavior (and clumsiness) is probably more common than not.

Yet we’re still judging banners by click-through rates. Or using the negative click-through rate as proof that banners don’t work. We know that click-through shouldn’t matter, that banners pretty much serve to drive awareness and that no matter how much they move and dance and jiggle, no one's going to click on them because they’re too busy doing whatever it was they originally went online to do.

But we are not the ones controlling ad budgets. And the people who are controlling ad budgets still view click-through rates as the Holy Grail and they judge both their agencies and the state of digital advertising on their vicissitudes.

Final event: In our world we understand why the whole “Good Enough” economy makes sense. Wired’s even done a whole article on it. We get why experimenting and getting things out first and changing them on the fly is important, and, more importantly, why it’s what consumers are coming to expect.

But try explaining that to someone who doesn’t get it, as I recently was called on to do. No matter how you word it, it sounds like you’re just making excuses for shoddy work. For something you should have just stayed up later and done better.

And so releases are delayed, products and apps and sites are polished and repolished and clients sneeringly turn away from companies that use terms like “embracing failure” and “fixing things on the fly.”

A few things to take away from this meditation:

  1. Change happens quickly at first, then slowly. Once you get past the early adopters, getting the rest of the world on board takes a while. Most people don’t like change, will resist it and will often become hostile in the face of a growing tide of apostasy.
  2. We can’t expect everyone else to get it. And we can’t treat them like idiots because they don’t. Patience and reasoned explanation goes a lot farther than anger and hostility. No matter how dismissive you want to be when a client sneers “you’re just going to let people write whatever they want about us on this blog?”
  3. We will eventually triumph. Progress almost always does. Rarely as quickly as we’d like, perhaps, but it does eventually triumph. And these truths that we hold to be self-evident, will, in time, become self-evident to everyone else.

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