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July 7, 2009
Let’s Redesign Advertising
 
We experience the digital world as timely, relevant, useful, and personable. I can find out exactly what my friends are doing as they do it via Twitter or Facebook. Or grab directions to a restaurant and concert tickets on the go through my mobile phone. This is how technology (when it works), has fundamentally altered the way we behave, work, and live.
 
But when it comes to advertising the focus is currently on disrupting culture, not augmenting it, and advertisers have focused on crafting messaging rather meaning.  For this industry to thrive as technology continues to shift behavior, and during tough economic times, the model of experience design must move front and center.

As a discipline, User Experience, or UX for short, has been a staple of product and software development for decades. In essence, UX is about designing things for people. As Don Norman puts it, "The whole point of human-centric design is to tame complexity, to turn what would appear to be a complicated tool into one that fits the task, that is understandable, usable, enjoyable.”

UX in its basic form is information architecture: organizing content logically. But at its most potent, experience design has the power to transform brands and products. OXO changed cooking products by emphasizing ergonomics. Nike Plus transformed running through community. The iPhone redefined "mobile phone." All of these examples stem from understanding and designing for peoples' needs.
 
The vein through which we can transform advertising from a function of marketing teams, to a core piece of the enterprise, lies within human-centric design. It starts by approaching brands, not with an eye for communications, but from the view of an experience designer. After all, consumers can interact with software, or use a physical product. But people have never been able to use a thirty-second spot, or gain value from a billboard ad. And that's the fundamental reason why traditional forms of advertising are in decline: people want meaning, not more messaging.

Experience design focuses on individuals, rather than customer segments, and it levels the playing field between people and brands. Because people want to talk to each other, not to technology, and not to advertising. Just momentarily think about this: if corporations treated individuals like humans, would ads exist?

For decades we’ve been saturated with marketing messages from all angles and channels. Messaging that is surface-y rather than cerebral, comical rather than emotional, and usually based on popular cultural symbols, rather than deeper human truths. What we really long for as individuals are meaningful connections — emotional, personal, and significant moments.
 
That’s in essence what this cultural shift is all about — not technology, but about humanity. A revolution against the pedantic brand and enterprise-wide efforts we’ve been fed for so long. We don’t want to be talked down to anymore. We want to communicate with other people. Meaning trumps messaging.

After all, some of today's strongest brands, from Whole Foods to Google, have made their way into culture without a dollar spend on ads. They've built permanence by focusing on customer experience. They've designed for people, and that is the treasure chest for any agency moving forward. And this is the mantra: redesign the experience.

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Ross Popoff-Walker joined Modernista! in 2008 to lead user experience  at the agency. Previously he worked at Forrester Research, helping clients with youth marketing and web strategy, and at Harmonix on the video-game franchise Guitar Hero. Ross holds a Masters of Entertainment Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. He blogs regularly at http://www.annoyingdesign.org/blog http://www.modernista.com
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