Designers have a formidable task when it comes to
helping businesses make the initial transition from
conventional forms of marketing, communications
and commerce to the global playground we call the
web. To begin with, they need to dispel the myth
that the web will create a diaspora of traditional
print-based marketers and content providers, sending
them in droves to Human Resources in search
of asylum from the onslaught of the new junta of
web designers and software developers.
This can’t be further from the truth. The web
isn’t a replacement or a takeover—it’s an evolution.
It’s Darwin, not despot. And as in all things evolutionary,
we either adapt or drop off the planet.
The instruments we once used as tools to generate
the message—namely the computer—have
evolved to become a carrier of the message itself. As
the environment surrounding media consumption
and dissemination evolves, so must businesses. They
must evolve in parallel with the way people consume
information in order to reach the largest possible
audience—or risk extinction.
This is not to say there’s no place for print. Print
will always be a vital component of a business’s overall
marketing strategy. The web is simply an extension
of that strategy—and one that can’t be ignored. The
challenge here is that this particular evolution doesn’t
occur naturally. When a business decides to augment
its traditional marketing initiatives to include digital
media and distribution, it often requires a helping
hand from the very people they mistakenly thought
they had to run from.
Understanding the evolution
The purpose of any marketing message—regardless
of medium—remains the same: to sell, to inform or
to entertain. If businesses are smart, they will encompass
all three seamlessly. But not every business is
aware of the true potential of the web as a content
distribution medium or all of the tools that are
available to connect and communicate with users.
It’s a mistake for designers to go into a project
with the assumption that their clients understand
online media as well as they do. In fact, there will
be times when a business’s web strategy won’t extend
beyond the knowledge that it has to be on the web
… in one form or another. It’s the designer’s role as
expert to help businesses wade through the muck,
and help them focus on the new media as well as the
mindset required to work with it.
“My biggest problems,” says Dave Shea—
Vancouver, Canada-based designer and owner of
occur when a client can’t differentiate between
site design and site functionality, and they fixate on
placement and color at a stage in the project cycle
when we’re more concerned with establishing content
types and user input.”
Shea’s comments reveal that web designers’ jobs
don’t begin and end with the visual aesthetics of a
website. They have to be equal parts designer, consultant,
programmer and information architect. (I’ll
be covering the evolving role of the designer in the
April/May 2007 issue of this magazine.)
Designers also need to understand more than
websites; they must do some background work to
familiarize themselves with their clients:
Porting print content to the web
- Business and industry
- Target audiences
- Long-term business goals
- Motivation for going online
- Expectations once online
Every established business has existing content in
hard copy format—marketing brochures, press
releases, product catalogs, manuals and other support
material, professional portfolios—that it will
eventually port onto its website.
The business must make a decision as to how
best to present this content on a digital medium:
Duplicate it, redesign it or combination of the two.
- Duplicate: Make an exact digital copy of the
print content. This can be either an interactive
digital catalog using Flash or a simple
downloadable PDF version of the hard copy.
- Redesign: Develop a distinct design for each
medium—print and web. Both, however,
must reflect the same brand identity. (See
“Digital Brand Identity: Marketing’s Great
Equalizer” in the February/March 2006,
V11N1, issue of Dynamic Graphics.)
Duplication is definitely the quicker and less
expensive of the two. But in order to maximize user
retention on a website, a business’s web offering
should include something that can’t be found in its
print offering. Having identical content on two different
media can be redundant and will do nothing
to drive traffic to the site. A business’s website needs
to augment the value of its existing print content,
not simply reproduce it.
“The last thing anyone wants,” says Nick
Cummins, creative director of Australian web design
firm Sputnik Agency (www.sputnikagency.com), “is
for a business to just replicate online what it has traditionally
done in print. We get clients excited about
the extra stuff that can be achieved online, above and
beyond just having a brand presence.”
Web content, however, has an evident disadvantage
compared to print: It lacks tactile quality.
But what web content lacks in tactile quality, it more
than makes up in creative possibility, user interactivity
and ease of distribution.
The web allows businesses to interact with users
in a way that print can’t. The important thing to
keep in mind is that different media and content
types require different design models—especially
since web content is presented on a very small canvas,
namely a computer monitor.
Prepping copy for the web
Print content lends itself to what I call “lawn chair”
reading—that is, sitting back with a hard copy publication
in hand and flipping through it leisurely. Web content, however, lends itself to quick, “clickand-
Even when the meaning of a message is identical,
readers don’t interpret print content the same way they
interpret web content. (See “Keep Their Eyes on the
Prize” in the August/September 2006, V11N4, issue of
Dynamic Graphics for more information.)
According to an article by usability expert Jakob
from computer screens is 25 percent slower than
reading from paper; therefore, he suggests publishing
no more than 50 percent of the text you would in a
With this in mind, when presenting web copy:
Product catalog dimensions
- Be brief and to the point—Web users are less
likely to read long streams of text or will only
skim through it (which might diminish the
intention and meaning of the content).
- Maximize message with minimal space—Don’t
pack every inch of screen real estate with content.
Top-level web pages should include only
core concepts. If you need to present more
detailed information, provide links to subpages.
- Split up text—Text should be organized into
multiple subsections over several pages rather
than one long stream of continuous text on a
- Use point form—When presenting many ideas
at once, use point form rather than lengthy
Product catalogs are among the most commonly
ported print content—whether by a manufacturer
marketing its products or a retailer selling its wares.
But simply giving customers digital equivalents of
a print catalog doesn’t do justice to the potential of
the web medium: chiefly, customer interaction with
Flash can be used to enhance a business’s online
catalog by allowing customers to zoom into and
rotate products, view them in various colors and
watch short movie clips of the products in action.
Some online retailers will even allow customers to
submit reviews of their products.
Crumpler, makers of bike messenger, camera
and laptop bags, has taken full advantage of both
print and web media—each complementing the
other. “It’s always nice to have something tactile to
flick through with all the products laid out nicely
for comparison,” says Crumpler webmaster Jeff
Boag. “The print catalog also has funny themes running
through it that are different from what you see
online.” Crumpler has succeeded in using both print
and web media to design very unique feels while
staying true to its casual, humorous and unconventional
Many print artists use the web as a virtual art gallery
in which to showcase their work and connect
with current and potential clients. “At the beginning,
I saw my website just like a web gallery, but
I am now conscious of the full potential of a good
website,” says Yanick Déry, an internationally
renowned fashion photographer based in Montreal.
“I have clients who saw my work online first and
then contacted me to work on their project.”
But one of the biggest challenges with reproducing
an artist’s work on the web is to do it without
losing the visual impact of the original. “I am not
showing scans of tear sheets on my website, but pure,
clean images straight from the original,” Déry points
out. “I was more concerned with how the website
would look on different browsers and operating
systems. Monitor size and resolution can change the
perspective of my work, but I can’t control this. The
bigger challenge was to create the template and find a
standard format to present my images.”
Going digital didn’t stop there for Déry. He
saw the evolution to digital as a natural extension
of his photography services and recently started a
whole new business offering photo retouching services.
“I decided to extend the retouching service to
other photographers and direct clients,” says Déry.
“Retouching is complementary to what I have to
offer and is now an independent business.”
Delivering digital content
Websites are one of the best ways for a business to
reach a large audience with minimal effort and cost,
but they require users to “pull” content by actively
going to the site. When new content is available,
users won’t know it’s there unless they return to the
site. This poses a problem for businesses that want
to deliver time-sensitive content such as upcoming
events or announcements of sales.
A website alone isn’t enough to deliver digital
content to an audience. Here are three of the various
“push” delivery methods frequently used to complement
1. Opt-in e-mails: E-mail allows businesses to
reach a wide audience in a short amount of time for
next to no money beyond the initial development
and design of the content. E-mail for marketing,
however, is different than e-mail for personal
communication. Content designers need to get creative
when using e-mail as a marketing vehicle, taking
into account two stages of user attraction: first,
grabbing the attention of readers before the e-mail
is opened; and second, maximizing reader retention
once the e-mail is opened.
Unlike a high quality printed brochure—something
that’s more likely to catch a reader’s attention
because of its tactile quality—an e-mail’s window of
opportunity is fairly small. To maximize the chances
of an e-mail being seen and, more importantly, read:
- The message must be brief, clear and concise.
- The e-mail’s subject header must be meaningful,
giving users an indication of its content
without opening it.
- E-mail should only be a hook to a business’s
website. It should contain just enough information
to keep a user interested, with links to
the website for more detailed information.
Opt-in e-mails are a subset of a wider group of permission
marketing media. For more, see “Secrets of
2. RSS (Really Simple Syndication): RSS is an
XML-based method of distributing and syndicating
web content that allows users to subscribe to topical
feeds. These feeds can be viewed with stand-alone
software applications called aggregators, e-mail client
applications and web browsers with RSS reader
capabilities, or web-based aggregators.
Aggregators automatically check a user’s list
of subscribed feeds for new content and display it
for them. The amount of content and frequency of
delivery is entirely up to the user.
RSS and e-mail share similar design and presentation
guidelines, but the former has some advantages
over the latter:
- RSS feeds don’t have to compete with hundreds
of e-mail entries—personal and work
messages, jokes from friends, newsletter subscriptions
and, of course, spam—for users'
- RSS is less intrusive than e-mail (although
some marketers might see that as a disadvantage)
since it doesn’t get in the way of personal
and work messages.
- RSS doesn’t overwhelm users. Many RSS
readers give users the option of viewing only a
content summary with links to its associated
website or the entire document.
- RSS feeds won’t be blocked by any filters, so
the message is sure to get through.
- Users don’t need to provide any personal
information such as an e-mail address, so they
might be more willing to sign up for content.
Although the potential for RSS as a marketing vehicle
is great, it hasn’t been widely adopted by businesses
as a core component of marketing programs
or accepted by users as a means of receiving content.
RSS suffers from an identity crisis, due largely
to user perception. Many casual and nontechnical
users tend to avoid acronyms, and this one doesn’t
exactly scream “sexy.” The name isn’t even descriptive
of what the medium does and may mean little to the
average user. Would so many nontechnical users have
jumped onto the website bandwagon over 10 years
ago if they were called HTTP sites?
3. Blogs: Blogs, born from online diarists and citizen
journalists, have gained a lot of traction as a
business tool for the delivery of serial content—
both on a website and through an RSS feed. They
can be used to connect with an audience and to
inform them of the business’s current activities and
One of the most appealing things about blogs
is that they tend to be less formal than most other
forms of content. Blogs are not press releases issued
by a business; they’re written by a person with a face
and personality. They’re a fantastic way to “humanize”
a business since they take on the voice of the
author, not the business.
Podcasts and vodcasts (video podcasts) are very
similar to blogs except they use audio and video,
respectively, rather than text. This subject will be covered
in an upcoming issue of Dynamic Graphics.
Evolution is progress
The evolution from print to web requires a new
mindset. It’s a mindset that must include both the
adoption of new design models to accommodate
digital media and a firm understanding of the methods
for transmitting the content.
But beyond media, the tried and true principles
of marketing and communication still stand: creative
design and interesting copy. You can have the most
advanced technology at your disposal, but without
knowledge of the fundamentals of design and copywriting
it won’t matter if you have a crayon or a
hologram. Without a solid foundation to build upon,
your evolution might end up a mutation.
SIDEBAR: Key Benefits of Web-based Content vs. Print
in real time and
make it available
as soon as they’re
is a central repository
As long as
the site is kept
up to date, businesses
to worry about
have to incur
the expense of
runs when content
web is an interactive
When a business
sends out a hard
it’s speaking to an
audience; when a
business has an
with an audience.
of the dynamic
nature of the web
to create a unique
will only receive
applicable and of
interest to them.
SIDEBAR: Problems With E-mail as a Marketing Vehicle
E-mail has lost some of its effectiveness
as a marketing vehicle through no
fault of its own. It became a victim of its
own success when spammers used the
medium to bombard users with everything
from shady real estate to miracle
hair growth products … and worse.
SIDEBAR: 8 Success Factors for Blogs:
- A user inbox is a high traffic area: The
more e-mail users receive in a day, the
less likely a given item will be to attract
attention. This is worsened if the user’s
inbox is disorganized.
- Messages can easily be mistaken for
spam and deleted or blocked.
- It’s indistinguishable from other e-mail.
- Users may have implemented a
“whitelist”—a list of addresses the user
is willing to accept e-mail from—or
very restrictive spam filtering software.
There are a lot of things you can do to improve
and maximize your blog readership:
Stay on topic—Every blog should have a
central focus. Users follow particular blogs
because they contain content that’s of interest
to them. But if a business feels the need
to cover everything from Web 2.0 to yeti
sightings within a single blog, users will lose
patience and interest. A blog that tries too hard
to be everything to everyone will end up being
very little to anyone.
Cater to your audience—Match the tone and
content of the blog to your core audience. If
your primary readership is comprised of hip
graphic designers, don’t write like the CEO of
an insurance company.
Be yourself—Don’t try being someone you’re
not. If you’re Dick Cheney, don’t try writing like
you’re Robin Williams—you’ll sound like a hack.
Readers follow blogs because they enjoy not
only the topic, but the personality of the blogger.
If you fake it, readers will know.
Find your voice—Those who aren’t used to
writing anything aside from internal memos or
press releases might find it difficult to uncover
a true writing voice. Practice, practice, practice!
Be natural—Unless your blog is meant to be
formal, write like you’re speaking with a close
friend. You can connect with readers by writing
in first- and second-person voices. Don’t wax
poetic if you don’t yet possess strong writing
skills to do so.
Post on a regular basis—Because of the
real-time nature of web content over print,
readers expect new posts on a regular basis.
This means, at the very least, once or twice a
week—not once a month.
Keep it short—A blog isn’t a book. Some readers
might not have time or the patience to read
lengthy entries, so unless it’s time sensitive,
split it up into multiple posts.
Allow user feedback—Allowing users to provide
comments at the end of blog entries
encourages discussion and helps build community
content. If you’re worried that inappropriate
user comments will negatively impact
the site and business, user feedback can be
moderated for obscenities, spam and relevancy
before it goes live.