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Breaking the Visual Barrier

  |  April 25, 2008   |  Comments

How will advertising survive the next onslaught of non-verbal media?

Nowadays, it seems, we can't help but think of a visual way of interacting. We talk in pictures. We relate things we see to other things we've seen before and open up our devices and show pictures to each other on a whim.

This seems natural to most people. Yet over a hundred years ago a visual was a considered craft, a personal talent, or an interesting hobby. Pen had to touch paper so that images could describe what the written word couldn't. Yet it was the era of the word over any picture book, the mind was captured by its own images while reading.

Fast-forward to the moving image of the past century and our ability to see movement, capture gesture, nuance and understand body language of people we may never meet. Film and video brought us a new canvas, a new pen and paper with a multitude of possibilities.

Sound and music come into play. More and more our senses are captivated by the dance between images, words, and music. We feel emotion. We're captivated even more than in our own mind at times.

As the funnel narrows in the collective creation experience that we're witnessing in this past decade, many of our learned behaviors are still vital, still important to communicating.

Advertising has done an amazing job of putting a simple idea into a mind without much effort on the viewer's part. As some have said, TV spots are the poetry of our modern era.

But now just about everyone with a little talent can create something. It's not always interesting or poetic, but at least it communicates.

Is this the end of advertising? Has online really changed communication?

What's changed is the concept of audience participation. The sole viewer is a participant in this play, this theater on a video screen, be it a laptop, kiosk, or a phone. Just plainly and passively watching something is next to impossible and in the future it will be irrelevant.

The large dark video cloud has sauntered over all other types of rich media and pushed them back behind the curtain of the interactive stage. We're missing the idea of interactivity in this time or at least it's become less important.

Advertising will miss the boat on what rich experiences are good for. To some extent, it may never come to the end of the story.

At some point, and I'm not sure when, the interactive industry will find its holy grail in a measurement metric that all players can agree on. Now some of you may think another industry standard of measurement is the child in a dysfunctional family trying to keep her parents together. Not so, in fact it's akin to a new language that no one has invented yet and subsequently no one can learn.

This isn't to say that this fine industry won't overcome this barrier. But when it does, the idea of a seemingly inconsequential digital interaction will be worth something. Right now that idea seems impossible. But with the intense movement to visually-oriented devices, we can't avoid some kind of metric like this.

What rich media teaches us is that visual design and how it moves is a language, one that communicates function.

It's called visual functionality. It's the new mash up of user experience design, video technology, and the user participation models that allow interfaces to grow and refine based upon behaviors.

So the idea of one-way storytelling will have to contend with this new concept. Though the idea of telling a story won't go away, it will change into something more like a plot in a good mystery novel set in stage drama where the user is at center, smack dab in the middle of it all.

This will not kill the written word as we know it. It will just give words a new role. What role I'm not really sure. Hopefully, not the simple but effective "click here."

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Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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