(For some reason various posts aren't showing up in my RSS feed. Not sure why. So I'm reposting this to see if I can get it to happen. Sorry if you get it twice. )
OK. So, following on from Monday's blahfest, why does it matter so much that we're building a false assumption about marketing and stuff into our technologies, and that we can't get organisations to co-operate and integrate all the phases of a product experience.
The first answer is to do with the increased spiminess of products; the way that every little product will soon come with an accessible bit of information space. This will be a good thing. A product that knows its own history, materials, construction and disposal routine is going to be a smarter and more sustainable product. The only problem is...
...the same mess of corporate non-talking we saw before is quickly going to port itself onto the spime's slender infospace - as soon as the marketing folks find out what the heck a spime is. And this will result in a crappy mess of promotions, cashbacks, trailers, warranty information, EULAs, starbursts and limited time offers crowding out the subtle bits of information design all the design students are dreaming of right now. (Plus, imagine the corporate fuss when someone decides to hack the spime like this.)
And, what's worse, we're going to see the same mess writ even larger - all over our cities. If we thought urban spam was bad. Wait until it's animated, live and augmented, skinned onto our buildings and beamed into our spex.
Designers and architects are excitedly planning for a world where every building is draped in an interactive skin. Buildings like this are being imagined, and will presumably, at some point be built:
And some of them will be beautiful. But most of them will be covered in unsatisfactory media art, and then, fairly swiftly, they'll be featuring 2-for-1 offers from the local pizza shop. Similarly Dan Hill's vision of The Well-Tempered Environment is gorgeous, intelligent and compelling. And I bet stuff like that is going to happen. So we should start talking about the fact that the communication idea encapsulated in an image like this:
Is conceptually more likely to look like this:
(Made-up logo courtesy of Ben.) The dataspace of the well-tempered environment will soon be invaded by logos, credits, banners and offers. The financial temptations will, I suspect, be too hard to resist.
And, as Chris points out, it's already happening. Not in a thoughtful, measured, interaction designy way but in a land-grabbing, shouting in your face, attention-to-me, marketingy way. The likes of JC Decaux are steadily replacing static print posters with screens and movement. And media buyers are buying them and agencies are supplying odd animated versions of posters.
And this makes a huge difference because turning posters into telly is a big change. It's not gradual and it makes us re-examine them and re-evaluate the deal we've made. Which is where I need to take a moment and talk of urban spam. I've been thinking about this a bit more recently, and some of it has a bearing here.
First obvious statement: there've been commercial messages in public spaces for as long as there've been public spaces. Probably. There wasn't a golden age when the public square was free of people hawking their wares. If anything, an environment like Central London is probably less cluttered with advertising than it was 50 years ago. (Anyone? I'm sort of guessing, but I think that's true.)
However, in recent years the declining efficacy of regular 'broadcast advertising' has created the largely horrible ambient and guerilla media industries - a huge marketing arms race aiming to squeeze every drop of attention from unwilling eyeballs.
I think we object to this so much for a number of reasons:
a. Because it doesn't feel like a societally negotiated deal. We're basically OK with the notion of ads in newspapers on in the middle of Coronation Street. That's a deal we've done. We'll swap that much attention for that much subsidised media. But every new bit of spam forces us to examine that deal again; is it worth doing? Are we willing to swap this bit of attention for that bit of fun or utility or free stuff?
b. The deal isn't that clear. What do I get out of Coffee Republic selling space on their tables? Is their coffee noticeably cheaper or better? Are the staff better paid and more cheerful? What do I get out of the way you've brokered my attention?
c. One person's fun is another's spam. These little trucks are advertising a model village. I'd find them charming, some might find them annoying. But, in a new environment, with new media, in a world that people think of as more cluttered and mediated the fun bar is set a lot higher. Bouncing up to me with a free t-shirt isn't going to cut it any more.
d. Most of it is insultingly crass and unimaginative.
All these effects, and more, are going to be magnified by animated, augmented urban spam. There's a massive step change between moving posters and TV Everywhere. Especially when that TV is starting to know you're there and react to you.
And this matters for a couple of reasons. (Probably also obvious) Firstly, because living in Bladerunner brought to you by Cillit Bang would be horrible, just as a person. Secondly, because I think it actually makes for counter-productive marketing. Annoying your potential customers in more and more places is not a useful strategy for businesses.
So, if I remember my actual talk correctly, I just sort of tailed off at this point. But having had more chance to think about it. Having discussed it with people at Design Engaged and having typed all this stuff I have some 'so what now' thoughts to offer.
1. For Total Experience Design to work designers have to go and engage with marketing and communications people. (And vice versa.) If they do, then better products, services and experiences will happen. Designers have a disciplinary advantage here. Marketing, as practised in most large organisations is a failed science based on false assumptions. 'Design thinking' (dread words) is more likely to produce good stuff than 'message thinking'. However it's not enough for designers merely to be right. They also have to be energetic, open and engaged.
This is / will be particularly important in all these new infospaces on all these new screens. I would love to see what Stamen would do with the screens up the escalators at Oxford Street. Or what Kicker could do if they took a manifesto like this and also took on responsibility for designing the media that surrounded the product. That would be awesome. If I were an interaction designer I'd be desperate to see what I could add to the experience if I got my hands on 60 seconds of space in the middle of Dancing With The Stars. Or something.
2. At the moment we see spimes as spewing off data. And when we start with data we always seem to end up with maps and graphs. Don't get me wrong I love maps and graphs, but couldn't we do more than that? Couldn't we think of embedded intelligence as doing more than spewing information? Because, really...
Imagine if you combined the beauty of great data visualisation skills with the willfully fictional imagination of the best advertising. I think you'd get something good.
3. I think there's an emerging area of pratice here. A business that could engage with all this stuff coherently could be a valuable thing. Too many people seem to talk of Total Experience Design but stop at the boundaries of paid-for communications. If you could get that in there too something excellent might happen. And if that same business could design for all these emerging screens, media. infospaces and interactions that would be good.
4. We need to stop describing ad-supported things as 'free'. There might be no exchange of cash but there's an exchange of attention and cognition. The marketing business justifies a lot of crap on the basis that it's giving things away for free. If we paused and recognised that they're not actually free then we might think harder about whether it's the right thing to do. We might do smarter, better things if we recognise the cost we're imposing on people without their permission.
5. I suspect we're going to be surrounded by all this stuff sooner than we think. If we slide into commercialising it the same way we did the web, it's going to be awful. We don't want adwords and banners in our real or augmented worlds. Because they're bad solutions for society and they're bad solutions for business.