Monday, January 15, 2007

Creativity Abuse

Mary Schmidt has a recent post on Bad Creativity, in which she takes off - as only Mary can - on agencies and designers who put "creativity" (and the desire to win awards) ahead of the matter at hand: building a business web site that actually supports the business. In Mary's experience:

Across the years I’ve worked with many creative agencies and web designers. And, the best ones always put the business before the technology and design. Or, to put it another way, “Just because it’s cool, doesn’t mean you should do it.”

Mary goes on to cite a number of different things she's seen on web sites that form a "barrier to entry" to someone trying to gain an understanding of what a business does and how they can do business with them.

Needless to say, Mary is right on. We've all seen too many, too cute for words, too flashy web sites where you don't know where to look or what to look for. The majority of the web sites I look at professionally have something to do with technology (hardware, software, consulting services), and I find that they can be among the worst offenders. I've been on web sites where I've had to drill down three or four layers to figure out whether a business is selling software or consulting services or both.

Sometimes I don't want to just see stock photos of business types sitting around gazing into a computer screen. Sometimes I want to know what they're looking at.

Sometimes a picture - or worse - some flash-a-tonic graphic - is not worth a thousand words. It's worth one: Damn!

Creativity abuse is, of course, not limited to web sites. We've all seen the brochures and ads that not only don't say much of anything, but actually get in the way.

Years ago (pre-Internet), I picked up a competitor's brochure that was a very artfully done piece in an irregular shape - somewhere between a trapezoid and a rhombus, if I've got my geometric terms right. If you set it on your desk and looked at it, it looked just fine. Once you picked it up to actually read it, the shape made it completely unwieldy. It was difficult to hold, difficult to turn the pages. It may have won an award, but I'm guessing it never helped win a customer.

Years later (post-Internet), a company I worked for spent oodles of money on a new corporate brochure that featured a brushed aluminum cover. Again, the piece looked nice, but the edges were so sharp you had to handle it with kid gloves, or risk slicing the tip of your pinkie off. Fortunately, we never injured any customers because the brochure was too expensive to mail out. I'm sure that by now they're in landfill somewhere. What a waste - literally and figuratively.

Everyone wants their web site, ads, and collateral to "look good." What "looks good" is largely subjective. But we all know that "bad creativity" Mary talks about when we see it. It's creativity for the sake of creativity. It gets in the way of whatever you're trying to get across. It leaves the reader/viewer (i.e., your prospective customer) asking one of those questions you never want them to ask: "What the....?"

Creativity for the sake of creativity belongs in the gallery and the museum. Art for arts sake. Use that irregular shape. Go for that brushed aluminum.

Business web sites, ads, and collateral can be artful, but here's one place where form absolutely must follow function.

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