Archive for the 'Panels' Category

The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology

I am becoming more and more interested in avatars, the online, graphical representations users create as their identity. The avatar can be as simple as finding a photo of your favorite movie character or, in massive online games that implements a character creation system, a fully fleshed out character. No matter which end of the spectrum a user is on, one thing holds true: people love self-expression.

Game designer and panelist Harvey Smith of Midway put together a thoughtful presentation. He said that the avatar phenomenon is part of the larger modern trend of participatory culture. There is a greater desire (and, thanks to the web, outlet) for self-expression and asserting one’s will, views and identity.

Despite this, an avatar is still a mask and only so much information can be gleaned from them. The reasons people choose their particular avatar is a combination of an individual’s self perception and state of mood. Images across the web are appropriated with personal meaning. The state of mood is important, because it always changes, and so can the avatar. The avatar is the pulse-check into a person’s state of mind, and as more and more people sign on to instant messengers, social networking sites, forums, blogs and massive online games, the use of the avatar will only continue to increase.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 


Why Web Typography Sucks

Typographers get a bad rap. No one (except other typographers) understand them. Typography in the print world has precedent and history to back it up, with everything from the Chicago Manual of Style and Robert Bringhurst’s formative treatise The Elements of Typographic Style. But the established typographic rules can get muddled up with html coding and browser defaults on the web and end up looking less sophisticated.

Granted, most people don’t know the difference between a dash, en dash, and em dash. But a designer should, and should not let browser defaults take care of the details of type design.

The panelists provided a few websites that are a good resource for designers who work with type on the web:

A List Apart


posted by Bryan Keplesky

Why Marketers Need to Work with People Media

Advertisers are people, too. They read blogs, instant message, go to social networking sites. They see that there are a vast number of people involved in online communities and want to be a part of it, too. And maybe get a marketing message out there as well.

Right now online conversation like blogs, MySpace, IM, are creating media messages. The trick, for sure, is how ad people navigate this new media space. Panelist John Battelle, Chairman & Founder of Federated Media Publishing, stated that there are 3 pillars of a great media product: author, audience, advertiser…ideally they are in a conversation where all are being fed. Online social media does not work with the traditional methods of advertising. The web encourages audience participation and dialog. Social media users do not want to be dictated to.

Brands, to some degree, are wary of all this new media. Once their product is put out onto the web, it’s fair game. Anyone can say anything about it at any point. The users, rather than being passive receivers of advertising messages, now have the ability to determine if they want to hear the message or not. According to panelist Toni Schneider of Automattic Inc., brands can’t have thin skin in this environment.

But it’s somewhat logical for brands to feel this way. This is new territory. It’s important new territory, and will only grow and expand and become more ingrained in people’s lives. But from a marketing perspective, there are still some kinks to work out. The current ways of measuring the success of an online advertising campaign using social media are somewhat vague. The big reason is because there’s no real way to measure engagement, which Battelle proclaimed is “now part of the lexicon of marketing.” Advertisers can get data on how many web hits their product’s blog (for example) is receiving, but are people staying, reading the content, and becoming engaged in a conversation through online social media about the product? There’s no format for determining that (yet).

posted by Bryan Keplesky

Static Ads for the Web

“Online Advertising: Is it Worth It?” was a brief, and pretty straight-forward half hour panel. But it got me thinking about designing static ads for the web. By static ads, I mean the “standard” click-through banner ads, usually situated along the top and down the sides of a website. Of course, being the standard has its inherent advantages, but the disadvantages are starting to pile up. This seems to indicate that the traditional click-throughs are slowly losing favor for other alternatives.

Despite being convenient (banner ads are essentially templates), there’s little room for design customization. There’s also the potential for banner blindness… users are so accustomed to “seeing” web banners in their standard locations that they can be completely ignored or forgotten immediately. With the web becoming more and more niche, it’s a greater challenge for advertisers to really target their audience, meaning there’s a better chance of placing ads on a site with the wrong demographic. Web sites that offer ad space should be able to provide very specific details, down to age, gender and location, of the people who access their site.

So where is online advertising going? A next generation version of the traditional web banner ads actually emulates the same idea behind “top shelf” placement at grocery stores. Take a look at It’s much more aesthetically pleasing then a traditional web page, in fact you almost can’t even see the ads. That’s because in this case the music labels are paying for top-shelf exposure. The danger, of course, is that the line between original content and the ads is starting to blur. A sophisticated web user can probably tell the difference, but that implies that there are others who won’t.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

Avatar-based Marketing in Synthetic Worlds

Companies are just now starting to get their feet wet in the virtual world webspace, in places like Second Life or There, and it’s obvious because a discussion about how to market to people in synthetic worlds feels more like a discussion of philosophy or anthropology than it does business.

I found this panel to be quite fascinating largely because it posed more questions than answers. But while “fascinating” is an admirable trait, that doesn’t necessarily translate into an effective business model for marketing.

That’s the main problem. Marketers don’t really understand the culture of the virtual world, and since there are no web banners or web hits, the traditional ways of tracking a successful online campaign don’t work.

There’s also demographics. This is where the philosophy comes into play. When you exist and interact in a synthetic world, you are represented by your avatar. Your avatar can be a realistic digital version of you, or it can be completely fanciful. There’s debate about what exactly the relationship is between the real-world person and their web-based avatar. Is an avatar a truer expression of the individual? The anonymity of the web, the lack of real face to real face, can make people feel more comfortable and allows easier, genuine self expression. Or does an avatar transcend the real person and become its own unique entity, in some ways separate from its creator? According to Jack Hemp, a panelist and Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review, “there’s still a person behind it [the avatar].”

Hemp also stated that even before the internet, advertisers have marketed to avatars. In this case, the avatar is the consumer’s alter ego, the idealized self that is brought out due to whatever product is being sold.

When it comes to companies currently marketing in synthetic worlds, some are doing better than others. Media companies, like MTV, is a good example. The reason the failure rate can be so high is, again, the traditional rules of advertising do not work. You can’t erect a synthetic billboard on top of a synthetic building in a synthetic world. You can’t get Nielson ratings, or click-throughs, or (obviously) real products being moved.

Linda Zimmer from MarCom:Interactive, another panelist, stated that the synthetic world is not a “mass market.” You have to really know your target audience and go after them specifically, on the specific platform that the audience uses. The attraction to synthetic worlds is that you can forge deeper connections with people. That’s the secret, according to Zimmer: A brand must develop content that connects people to each other, rather than connecting a person back to the brand.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

TV: The Next Generation

Video on the web was a dominant topic at this panel, which focused on what’s next for video content. Despite being in its infancy, web video is here to stay. Its taken the advertising industry a few years to catch up, but now major companies like Budweiser are dedicating serious dollars to invest in television programming online. Many other companies, if they’re not starting their own dedicated websites to exclusive, original content, are at least taking online videos on third party sites (like Revision3 for example) seriously. The question is can the traditional TV buying system media companies use work on the web? The answer is more no than yes.

Even taking a further step back, advertisers in general are still stuck on the “click through” (i.e. banner ad) methods. Sure YouTube is being scoured for the next Ask A Ninja but it’s getting a lot harder now that more and more general users are becoming sophisticated with video technology.

The one thing that can transcend all the dollars and the numbers, thankfully, still seems to be honesty, trust and creativity. Some companies might be hesitant to create a video and put it out onto third party websites like YouTube or BitTorrent, thus leaving it out of their control. But as long as their content is meaningful and fresh, it doesn’t matter where people find it. Users will go back to the original source to see what’s new.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

The Influence of Art in Design

This panel focused on how the arts, being painting or architecture or music, for example, can help shape the way products are designed. Each of the panelists took turns giving brief mini presentations regarding this theme. A few of them stood out to me.

Glenda Sims, an interactive designer affiliated with the University of Texas and the Blanton Museum, talked about designing an interface experience for a particular painting. The painting, by Byron Kim, is a series of 20 8.5 x 11 canvases, each one a “portrait” of a person based solely on their skin color.

Sims designed a hand-held interface that let gallery attendees select one of the 20 paintings to represent the closest match to their own skin color. From there, the user could darken or lighten the skin color to get a personalized color. Then this final color could be uploaded and archived in a Blanton database.

This is a great example of technology enhancing the user-experience of a piece of art. The hand-held application makes the experience more personal, when you select your skin color, and more collective, when you upload your personal color swatch into the database.

Here’s Glenda’s original paper on the project, and an online version of the user-experience.

David Shea talked trends of commercial photography, particularly how amateur photography has changed the landscape. Digital photography continues to get better, and traditional film has remained static. This means that costs are lowering. With professional-grade digital cameras available for less than $1,000 almost anyone can produce commercial-quality photographs. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to avoid purchasing a stock shot from sites like GettyOne and searching Flickr instead, finding a photograph, contacting the photographer directly, and negotiating a much cheaper usage rights agreement.

Finally, Patrick Haney presented a unique slide show of various screen captures of websites he gets inspiration from. He has his whole collection on his Flickr page.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

What’s Behind the Door?

SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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