Collaboration: The Confluence of Influence

[September 24, 2010]

Out of necessity, laziness and unexamined habit, we tend to produce Web sites in stages, as carried out by specialists working in isolation. While there’s definitely a need for people to gather their thoughts in their own head space, everyone involved should start working collaboratively as soon as possible. 

One obstacle to meaningful collaboration is an inability to “grok” the meaning of the word. The copywriter who bakes a series of headlines into a pun and walks away is no more a collaborator than the art director who insists a couple of reams of stock art, a cloned navigation gimmick and a pre-fabricated color palette is a creative concept. 

Let’s be clear: Collaboration means you actually have to talk to each other.

On a digital project, additional creative partners, the information architect, and perhaps a content strategist, also need to be part of the discussion. It’s a confluence of influence thing many creatives never grasp—especially if their creative process is a cross between “Mad Libs” and “Broken Telephone.” 

So given my tape-loop obsession with this topic, how can a true, collaborative process yield better results?

Vamp ’til ready.
Consider, if you will, the typical site map, replete with landing pages for each section. Rigid adherence to this model often leads to reams of redundant content, dragging with it redundant images and redundant cross links. To eliminate all that “blah, blah, blah,” Copy and Architecture must routinely discuss whether the available content density actually needs to be summarized.

In other words, is there really enough to say about “The Product X Difference” to warrant a stand-alone section? Or would it be better to let “Difference” emerge from specific key points throughout the site? 

The answer becomes more critical the more your client insists on certain immutable phrases. Speaking as someone who was once required to weave the phrase “The Magic of Disney” into every page of a promotional piece, I’m here to testify the effect can be deadly. The more of this noxious offal the client demands, the leaner the rest of the content has to be.

Density Denial.
An understanding of content density is also important for the visual team. Because within the heart of every Art Director lives an idealized White Space Utopia in which a gloriously rendered image basks comfortably in a soothing aura of delicious proportion, shimmering light, demure shadow and sensuous color. It’s the hallowed realm of The Simple, The Balanced and The Pure that’s spoken of only in whispers. Left to their own devices, Art Directors will always draw from that happy place first. 

And that can be trouble. In most cases a quick look at the quantity of mandatory boilerplate copy would make the design process a lot more realistic. Sadly, the battle for white space is often lost before the project starts, when a client decides to pick up acres of existing copy, no matter how amateurish, in the name of a doubtful Efficiency. 

Again, the solution is collaboration. Copy and Art need to talk about content density from the start. There’s no use going into denial about it, just because you’d like to see your name in OneShow.

Listen. Invent. Enjoy.
Moving from this analytical view to the specific creative landscape, a writer must also be prepared to work within the confines of that reality. While the well-worn phrase “less is more” will never have much meaning outside of its original context, a collaborative writer knows when it’s time to shut up. That’s good for the site in a number of ways, but chiefly because it helps writers maintain a conceptual orientation to the project.

It also helps them welcome the problems that, when solved collaboratively, produce some of the most enjoyable, insightful moments this line of work has to offer.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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