Beware of the costly trend

Beware of the costly trend

By September 5, 2014 Thoughts No Comments

The first website I published was in 1998, when I’d the smart idea of building an “interactive” website in an attempt to win my group bonus marks for coursework.

It took forever to build, and in a true spirit of comradery, the rest of the group left me to it for nights on end.

It did get us a few marks. The hardest earned marks of my life.

But it was rubbish.

I know this story echoes the starting point of careers of many digital farmers, especially those of my generation, people best described as equal parts curious and uninformed. We were, after all, unable to call upon Google and the vast amount of advice and tutorials it can unleash. Copying, analysing, breaking and fixing HTML source files was how we learned our trade.

I was the first (and not the last) person to laugh at the outcome of my project, yet the process taught me numerous valuable lessons, of which the most important were:

  1. Plan your work.
  2. Analyse trends before you follow them.

The first lesson taught me that it’s not just design and build time that stacks up the hours on a project:  content tends to be the killer. If you plot 100 pages for your site, the chances are that 5-6 templates will cover off the design and build, and it’s largely repetition and testing thereafter. But writing 100 pages of content – which the world could actually read (and ideally they would) – well, that takes time.

Which leads me neatly into how I solved the content problem on that site… by following a trend. About four in 10 of the pages were published with an under construction GIF in place.

And like all good under construction pages, never again were they revisited.

At the time it was what you did: it was how you made promises that this was a site worth returning to in a few days or weeks. But my older, wiser self still wonders why I – a person who questions just about everything I’m told – meekly followed this bizarre and dishonest precedent. When all I really needed to do was streamline the site.

But trends can be very contagious.

Many of them are innocuous: it didn’t take us long to remove all our bricked backgrounds and splash pages.

Sadly though some of them are quite costly.

Frames, perhaps the first real evil in internet design, were one of the first web technologies to witness the oddity that somehow sees mass adoption meeting wholesale departure at the same time point in time.

Flash websites. In the mid-noughties, I’d an impasse with a creative lead over his desire to render a charity’s website as 100% Flash, and before we finished the project, what seemed like the entire hotel industry committed themselves to the expensive build and maintenance involved in this technology. The funny thing is he was right: it was what people wanted. But some 7-8 years later, and there’s still some hotels who can’t afford to replace their white elephants.

In 2010, the industry threw out everything it had learned about solid web design, and we all spent a couple of years imbibing in the delivery of off-the-cuff Facebook apps with no shelf life.

The Facebook love-in festered offline too, and to this day I’m still perplexed at a local haulier who paid to hand the entire back door of his lorry over to a “find us on Facebook”  – without finding room for his company’s own name or logo.

Around the same time the marketing world vainly sought any excuse to create a native app for their organisation, often because “one of the directors wants one”. There was rather a lot of money spent cloning websites for iOS and Android. A lot less time was spent counting the number of downloads.

QR codes tried really hard to be a trend. But let’s be honest, they were such an utterly useless mechanic that nobody tried them twice.

More recently the term parallax website won’t mean much to most people in the world, but developers can’t help but shudder at the words.

One of the nice upshots for our industry is that when the curve arcs downwards, rectifying these trends can give us an opportunity show off our stuff, and to make some money too.

Being more altruistic sorts, at MINUS40 we don’t enjoy working the downward curve.

We take great pride in challenging trends before recommending them to our clients. If you would like to work with an agency with a refreshingly well-informed take on how to do digital better, get in touch.