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Striking a Balance Between the Art and Science of Web Design

  |  February 27, 2001   |  Comments

Art concept versus site usability: Have you faced this dilemma before? Choosing the right tactical approach to drive creative makes the difference between so-so and great online advertising.

Developing creative advertising on the Web has many unique challenges. One of the most hotly debated issues in the hallowed halls of interactive agencies is when to draw the line between conceptual art direction and Web usability.

It would be nice if beveled buttons would die quietly in a back room somewhere, but again and again they prove to be a successful device at getting people to interact. If we listen to Jakob Nielsen, every Web site should be bland and boring -- but they sure would be usable. On the other hand, beautiful Web sites leaving users clueless as to functionality fail, giving fuel to usability gurus who seem to want to make the entire Web a generic directory of forms. Of course I'm being facetious, and this oversimplifies the issue, but too much emphasis in either direction can ruin your Web creative.

Art directors and Web designers have to be able to play consumer psychologist and user-interface designer, illustrator, photographer, animator, and director, often all at the same time. The same tension between the art of advertising and the science of advertising pulls creatives in opposite directions. In fact, this is the heart of the issue: How do you strike a balance between the art (concept) and the science (usability) of Web design?

Basically, it all comes down to each specific client and that client's business model. If a client's business model is about the brand and how consumers relate to it, the project must favor the conceptual end of the spectrum. In the realm of emotion, you must communicate to consumers on that level.

For instance, Web sites like Volkswagen's Turbonium would never have come to fruition if usability experts had had the chance to ruin it. On the other hand, Amazon.com wouldn't have been so successful if it hadn't provided a streamlined one-click purchase experience making it easy and efficient to buy its products. Clearly, these are two examples of where it's appropriate to favor either end of the creative spectrum to achieve a client's objectives.

For the first few years of Web advertising, direct marketing and user-information design have dominated online advertising creative development. The newness of the medium, low bandwidth, the promise of e-commerce, and high click-through rates all supported the commonly held belief that the Web was not a big opportunity for advertisers to communicate their brand message. In many ways, the fall of click-through rates and dot-com demise have changed all that.

This is why, in part, that the pure interactive agencies have been the hardest hit, while big agencies that preach integration are making a comeback in the interactive space. When companies like Sony, Coke, or IBM do a great TV spot, they never use the words "free" or "buy now." But make no mistake, they do push sales, and in the end, it's still about the bottom line.

Choosing the right tactical approach to drive the creative -- concept or usability, or a mix of the two -- is the difference between so-so online advertising and great online advertising.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson is a freelance Art Director in New York City. He has worked on top brands for several interactive ad agencies and with some of the top Internet marketing minds. He has worked with Sony, Lockheed-Martin, Best Buy, Ameritrade, Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, IBM, Valvoline, Monster.com, and a host of blue-chip Canadian brands. With five years of industry experience, and a few awards, Adam's career has grown with the Web.

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