Very Recent History: 19-Nov-10

Very Recent History – a view of things I’ve been reading recently…

It feels like the past week has been an online flurry of intense ideas and conversations.

It started with Helen Walters post (which, technically, was from last week) Design and Business: The Bottom Line. It’s lengthy, but it’s a great perspective on what designers need to do avoid the future where the design “discipline will be written off as just one more failed fad left to rot on the scrapheap of nice ideas that had so much potential and yet never quite managed to deliver.” It’s a call to action, although one which needs to be take on at the highest levels of our profession. But she also points out a real problem: that the designer leaders who are able to make change can have trouble finding a place in big organizations: “these innovative misfits often fall between the cracks in organizations that have entrenched silos, established ways of doing things and that more than likely don’t know how to change things, even if they wanted to, which many people probably don’t, really.”

The second big post, two days ago, was FastCompany’s epic The Future of Advertising. The piece was a great overview of how out-of-touch the ad world is with “digital” (ie interactive) — but it also pointed out that there is great work is being done, the opportunity to entirely rethink the agency model, and the potential for a creative revolution. Advertising may be dead, but there’s energetic thinking happening there.

FastCompany, anticipating the response that this would get, but also helping to stir up even more discussion, cleverly created (via BigSpaceship and Co:) a nice site to bring together all the tweets around the topic. Much easier than following hashtags around in twitter, it was a nice way to build community around the issue.

Among my favorite responses were these from Matt Creamer (@matt_creamer) who tweeted “The future of advertising is the sight of one’s own bellybutton, painstakingly described in 6,000 words” and Ben Malbon (@malbonnington) who tweeted “The future of advertising is… stop worrying about the future & start making sh*it.”

So can agencies adapt? Is there a future to advertising, or should advertising fade away, to be replaced with something new — more useful or sustainable? Edward Boches, who thoughtfully writes about how agencies are working to fix themselves, posted about how the current graduates from the agency-supported Boulder Digital Works don’t want to go into agencies: “Virtually every one of them wanted to start their own company so that they could build something and reap the rewards.”

I’ve previously questioned whether an agency-supported school is too narrow a model for good education. Why aren’t agencies, instead, reaching out to, and collaborating with, universities and research groups in more disparate disciplines? Ed Cotton wrote a great post Why Agencies Need Labs — on the need for real R&D that’s separate from the day-to-day work that firms do. A reminder that “labs demonstrate that the agencies involved get the fundamental change that’s at hand” while allowing the day-to-day work to continue.

I think the most exciting post was Peter Merholz’s The Pernicious Effects of Advertising and Marketing Agencies Trying To Deliver User Experience Design. How’s this for a sample quote: “Ad agencies, in particular, are soulless holes, the precepts of whose business runs wholly contrary to good user experience practice.” It’s a rant, but it isn’t without truth. Be sure to read the follow-up comments, too.

A very interesting week!