Culture of Indifference

[January 12, 2009]

Pixel widths, white space, negative space, foreground, background, color palettes, photography, illustration, video windows, slideshow panels, buttons, bevels (inhale)…

Clearly, the number of visual elements a digital designer needs to juggle is staggering. Add to that the desire to create a memorable layout, provide a good user experience, engage consumers and motivate them to action—and we’re talking about a mountain of work.

Given that, it’s easy to see how many Art Directors might find it tough to also accommodate the demands of Copy. In today’s typically understaffed, underbudgeted and overscheduled work environment, the temptation to give Copy “Later for that” status must be overwhelming.

Such temptation is only strengthened and deepened by the growing industry consensus: Copy as merely another category of building stock—cut to fit like carpet, poured into molds like wet concrete, swapped in and out like playing cards, and written by anybody with access to a keyboard.

Against this background culture of indifference, there’s nothing to break a harried Art Director’s ingrained habit: Designing layouts based solely on design principles with little concern for the Copy depth the topic, the audience or the client demands.

Shut Down the Machine.
There is a better way. Without adding to an Art Director’s burden we can break the culture of indifference and elevate digital creative, making it more memorable, more motivating and more “trustworthy” in the broadest sense.

It starts with Process. Projects should never enter the design phase until everyone involved agrees on the project’s underlying message. Then both schedule and budget must allow room for Art and Copy to develop a way to deliver that message. Standing up for this time is simple: you just need to show your resolve.

Start Up the Adventure.
For their part, Art Directors need to get beyond the functional requirements of “how many words” and explore the emotional climate and imagery the copy conjures up. Because copy’s effectiveness is directly related to its ability to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.

By the same token, Copy creatives must stop writing without reference to visual context. Instead, they must risk all to align their work with the messages conveyed, not merely by photography or illustration, but by the total design palette.

Of course, this temptation to merely editorialize also grows out of the culture of indifference. With the “get it done” mentality so deeply entrenched, resisting the pressure to “import and tweak” existing boilerplate copy is tantamount to career suicide.

Yet these bad creative habits are the root cause of our current state of Web-wide mediocrity. That’s whyCreatives of every stripe must banish the cookie cutter and resist the call to cut and paste. Lit with that commitment, the path from indifference to creativity is clear.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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