Digital Craft: Difficult to Define, Easy to Enjoy, Inextricably Part of Our Lives
It’s been 25 years since the first banner and book stores started selling directories of websites (it’s difficult to imagine a world before Google, Uber, Amazon, Spotify, Just Eat and Tinder). I can confidently say that back then the ‘how’ to get it produced was more important than ‘what’ we were doing. Print was adapted to the web and making that work was an adventure in itself. They were slow, ugly; counter intuitive and most of the time useless things that performed because there was not much else going on.
Nowadays digital craft is enjoyable, engaging, obvious and invisible. It is complicated to explain otherwise or dissect in the same way as film or print. From a brand point of view, it is multi-dimensional, connected and dynamic.
Next time you go on holiday and start looking at destinations – think about it. You might start getting inspiration through Pinterest or Instagram, search for flights and hotels, choose your seat and get your boarding pass on your airline’s app (which also provides you with additional information such as weather or shopping offers at the airport). Throughout this whole process you are oblivious to the army of people who have spent hours defining engagement journeys, media purchase, SEO, adwords, AI, UX, Design, hosting strategy, production, data and analytics. You just do it because it feels natural. You enjoy the sense of discovery, the feeling of being in control and the certainty that you got the best deal in the world.
That is digital craft at its best - and a good illustration of why it is so difficult to talk about digital craft as a one-dimensional skill. To judge digital craft we need to look at three areas:
- How it works: What is it meant to do and how well does it. Think of Xbox's Fanchise Model. Its purpose was to sell the new Xbox controllers that came in thousands of colour combinations. Photos of thousands of controllers could have been uploaded to an e-commerce website for consumer review. Instead, the experience was made far easier via a website where the buyers could build their own controller, making it simple to choose their favourite combination of colours. The controller defined who they were as gamers, which in turn made them want to share it through social media and convince others to buy it.
- How it flows: Asking an agency about their AI/UX teams (or lack of them) is a good indicator of how advanced or behind the curve they are in this area. These teams have a relentless focus on reducing the number of steps it takes for a user to complete a task providing an essential antidote to confusion, frustration and drop rates.
“Make up Genius” by L’Oréal is a perfect example of simplicity. Turn the app on, frame your face within an oval shape in the screen and select different products featured in the lower part of the screen. Once finished the consumer gets the list of products used and where to buy them. A whole makeover in two steps and three pages.
- How it feels: Some digital experiences simply feel better than others. It’s a combination of how the elements are designed, the way they animate, the layout, the images, the iconography, the writing, the most subtle element makes a difference. How do you feel when you type on your tablet and you hear a keyboard noise while feeling a small vibration on the screen? Does it make a difference when you like an image on Facebook and five animated icons pop up so you can select your feeling instead of Instagram’s heart? QuickTime or Media Player? Uber or Lyft? Just Eat or Deliveroo?
Digital as a media is different. Unlike other media, it became very hi-fi very quickly. In radio there was mono before stereo and then surround sound came on board. In digital we had Flash. We could do anything. We were able to play easily in a visual world before HTML5 happened and made things… more challenging. Flash allowed designers and people in motion graphics to transition into the digital world easily bringing their expertise. Very quickly we went from text websites to obsessing over every detail across the experience: the way menus responded, the loading icon, even error messages.
While it is difficult to define it is very easy to understand. The democratisation of technology and information has bred a generation of advertisers and marketeers that are digital native. Being fully unaware of a pre-cloud world, they see where we are now as the base of what digital craft is and will continue to elevate it to a place in which digital becomes and invisibly engaging part of us.
Sergio Lopez is chief production officer/EMEA, McCann Worldgroup