Where Are All the Sexy Surprises?

I can’t understand why much of the stuff we see on our screens has to be so boring.

Try this.

Open up your Microsoft Outlook and take a look around. Gray colors mixed with gray colors, combined with clip-art icons and a hint of blue. Open up Word, and you’ll just about fall asleep before you start writing.

The fact is, many of the tools we use and many of the sites we visit are characterized as being incredibly boring. Now, don’t stop reading. This is important. I’m not just trying to foist a discussion about my design predilections on you. I’m discussing an apparently overlooked aspect of brand building.

Tell me. Why does everything we do, when it’s perceived to be serious business, have to be dull? Column after column, gray colors and stock icons. The ostensibly automatic recourse to staid design is inspired by the parallels we draw between serious business and lack of levity, and this stereotypical response is reflected in much of our online communication. But how is brand building surviving in this environment? Gasping for breath, I’d say.

The other day, I stood next to a colleague as she was typing a letter. Instead of a flashing cursor, it appeared as a little tree icon. As you know, trees have arms, and this little icon had arms that made it almost impossible to decide which direction the cursor was pointing. Baffled by the falling leaves and the many arms, I asked my colleague, “How on earth can you stand that cursor?” She replied, “Well, it’s so cute!”

Then I realized an obvious fact: We need cute stuff around us. We need to make things appealing, a bit more sexy. Why do most of us have photos on our desks? Magazine clippings pinned on our walls? Colorful posters and plenty of kitsch to represent our memories and personalities? Because we yearn for the human touch in our daily lives. We need things to disrupt the predictable schedule, the boring gray and standardized welcome message. We need to feel at home.

Just think about Macintosh and its smiley computer in the beginning of the nineties. It won hearts. Consider Tomogotchi, the world-conquering Japanese toy that responded to the care its owner did or didn’t give it; Furby and its overnight global success; Donald Duck’s longevity. Such adjuncts to daily life provide us with extracurricular interactive dimensions. They add color to our lives.

So, show me a Word program that’s cute – that surprises the user with changing formats and colors. Not that you’d want your navigation to change, just the look. Show me a PowerPoint presentation that doesn’t have a blue-toned background with a logo in the bottom right corner. Show me an Outlook program that’s fun, and that I can look forward to opening day after day. Never underestimate the element of surprise. I’m simply talking about adding a hint of creativity to the tools we know so well. I’m talking about making things a bit more sexy.

This isn’t just a fatuous matter of taste. It’s a matter of understanding where your site visitors’ minds and tolerances lie when they encounter your product onscreen. Online users know the technology. What’s more, the rising generation craves constant diversion, change, surprise, and innovation. And your job as a brand builder is to harness consumer interest in your product.

I can tell you one thing. The sites that offer surprise and creativity will be the ones that capture consumer attention and brand loyalty. Surprise: It’s just another way to build your brand by appealing to the heart instead of the intellect.

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