Monday, February 11th, 2013

How Lo Can You Go?

How Lo Can You Go?
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If people want crap, then designers can make that crap. You know the brands and what they need. Just lower your standards and rack up the billable hours while trying to fill the void.

Designers love to bitch about others not valuing their work. Maybe this was different before the Mac and laser printer, or perhaps it’s all the attention crowdsourcing gets that puts designers’ undies in bunches. Either way, our bickering clouds what a good time it is to make things… particularly lo-fi ones.

Content seems easy, but it messes brands up

I know: I’m supposed to be talking about social, and instead I’m mocking crybaby designers. Forgive this apparent dalliance; these things are, in fact, quite closely linked. You see, delivery channels, while important, are just one part of the equation. The content that fills these channels is quite another—and this content isn’t as plentiful as some might think.

The problem for those within organizations is that they’re impulse driven (like the rest of us) and fail to see the cost of their desires. At some point in their marketing plans, they start talking about social. This leads them to open up channels (be they Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, you name it) without considering the resources required to maintain them. Some choose to respond to customers (not a bad idea); others think they’ll curate content (ha ha ha ha ha); meanwhile, another group is foolhardy enough to believe it can create its own content.

Actually, this last approach does make some sense; it’s just the logistics in accomplishing this that tend to prove challenging. Imagine a soccer garment company. While they’re probably quite good at designing their products, managing workflows and servicing clients, they’re less likely to be as adept at concepts, ideation, managing creatives, shooting video, writing copy, building microsites, yadda, yadda, yadda . . .

“Professional” is no longer the price of entry

The logical response for brands is to simply hire content creators. The rub is that professional content creators don’t (generally) work on the cheap. Meanwhile, they face a situation much like that of designers: They are trained the “right” way and are a little pissed by all the amateurs creeping into their domain. They, too, complain about how experience, training and skill matter; and they’re right. Except, they’re not.

Content has changed. While there are still situations in which we need a photograph, video, song or written passage to be perfect, it’s no longer always necessary. It’s the social media that are to blame.

A kid with a silly haircut can repeat the word “baby” and become a musical icon. A guy who makes videos of phones in blenders is a household name. A mommy blogger can write about her personal trials and tribulations and gain pseudo-celebrity status. Notice the theme running through these examples? Precisely: This is all lo-fi, homegrown content. And it doesn’t matter. Neither high production values, nor professional actors, nor snappier copywriting would make any of these things more sticky.

We have come to appreciate crappy content. This doesn’t necessarily mean bad content. We just no longer expect the level of perfection we once did. (Sometimes we even shun glossy approaches due to the apparent lack of authenticity.) Today’s content consumers take surprise over sureness, ideas over delivery and reaction over intention.

They want crap? Designers can make that crap!

You know where I’m going with this one, don’t you? If the people who need the content can’t make it, and those who make it aren’t prepared to lower their standards, we, the designers are just the ones to lower our standards! (Don’t hate me—I’m trying to be clever.) Seriously: We’re close to the brands, understand their needs and are good at making something from nothing. Meanwhile, we haven’t been tainted by the knowledge of what we shouldn’t be doing.

This sounds crazy, right? Perhaps, but consider the paradox found in comparing the first Star Wars trilogy to the second. The former had insufficient budgets, unknown actors and “primitive” technology. The latter faced none of these challenges; nevertheless, there was magic in the lo-fi approach, which the newer movies just couldn’t replicate.

Our clients need lots of content, and they need it fast. (Oh yes, they also prefer the cheap variety.) You can fight that or embrace it. You can write whiny blog posts and snarky status updates, or you can find a board and ride the wave. And what a wave it is!

Hundreds of thousands of channels are bereft of programming, and we have the opportunity to fill this void. (That’s a lot of billable hours, my friends.) We can tell stories, run experiments, facilitate interactions, entertain people, cajole responses, link media . . . and the list goes on. Awesome, ain’t it, mofo?

All we need to do is rethink the term “designer” as one that’s more analogous to “maker.”

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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