BUILDING A TRADE IDENTITY: 1 – Trade Identity and Trade Dress Outlined

This is an area in which all us small guys can take an object lesson from the Corporations.  The Corporations take TRADE IDENTITY to levels of a fine art form. Any one of them taken at random – go to a website now – and you will not see one hair out of place. Down to the last comma and final question-mark; all will be hunkydory.  And if not, should you spot a blip or a smutch, let them know and heads will roll in their Web  Marketing Teams.

For the likes of us and for the Big Boys the game is the same; pay minute attention to the fine detail so that in the aggregate the monolithic whole is a homogenous but organic presentation of the Company image, (involving and including its logos, stated mission and corporate vision).

Danny Devito as Maras Wilson’s father in the movie of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ (a movie by the way which surpasses the novel it is based on) sells secondhand cars and is an out and out crook.  But he makes good money at it – and he explains why he does:

I say appearance is 9/10 of the law. People don’t buy a car, they buy me – which is why personally I take such pride in my appearance. Well-oiled hair, clean shave, snappy suit.’

It is a commonplace in advertising circles to affirm that consumers often are not buying a product or a service so much as buying the ‘dream’ or the ‘lifestyle’ which the advertising of the product trades in and conjures in a typical buyer’s imagination.

Corporations carry this ‘dream factory’ image-making to the nth degree. They call it creating and nurturing a CORPORATE IDENTITY.  A CORPORATE IDENTITY done properly works inside the organisation every bit as effectively as it does outside it; on TVs and billboard hoardings and in showrooms.  The Company ‘line’ is sold to its employees as hard as it is promoted in the marketplace; although it may well be nuanced differently so as to incentivise and energise its workforce.

However, in this initial article on TRADE IDENTITY I want to trace quickly and on the surface the concepts of BRANDING and TRADE DRESS. These concepts are related to TRADE IDENTITY – they are two of its key components.

BRANDING is the Company logo usually incorporating a TRADE MARK or MARKS, which are able to be registered at government offices in most nations and trading blocs, so as to allow it monopoly protection in law against theft and unfair duplications of it.  BRANDING is considered by many BigWigs in industry and commerce to comprise the Chief Capital Asset of a Company or a Corporation.

Here below are the TOP TWELVE Brands for 2014 with their estimated $US billions valuations:

Each of the twelve logos is instantly recognisable to us; as if we were indoctrinated in their habit. And this is where the money is made from – by them being kept repeatedly in our minds like an imprint.

The grey apple with the bite out of it does not stand alone – behind it is a whole composite universe. Likewise for the Google mark and the Coke mark, and the others.  A major part of this composite universe is that the apple and the golden arches and the four-coloured square each signify very precisely what is being marketed by their companies. They are each, in the terms Trademark people use to describe Brand logos, Badges of Origin. They stand for a consistency of quality, and of technical specification, of functionality and appearance; and as a guarantee of aftersales and other as standard service packages.

The monolithic Trade Identities of the Companies (Corporations) behind these logos, and supporting the products and services they head-up, act as context and background in the same way as, say, a novel’s main narrative and plot subsists upon a fully built-up-with-detail world-picture sufficient to present to us, when read, as if a ‘real life’ experience.

The essence of Branding, of Trade Identity, and of Trade Dress, is consistency, self-consistency, so that everything which is capable of being duplicated exactly when placing the advertising, the marketing, the website and the paper goods, leaflets, hoardings, in whichever and every place they appear on public display – does never deviate nor contradict itself and is utterly word-perfect and conforms with itself.

The overarching aim in all this is to give an impression of perfection to their publics; leading on to an implicit assumption in our minds being suggested that these organisations do not make mistakes.

One might scoff and knowingly say – ah! of course they mess up, who are they kidding – but the power that resides in this meticulous, gigantic and even tyrannical effort to maintain a squeaky clean Trade Identity is not lost on the guys who demand this image of pristine purity from their huge marketing teams. They know well how we humans work – that we are suggestible and able to be awed and wowed and dazzled by so much conscious and deliberate intricate care and attention to detail

Our unconscious minds respond almost against our conscious wills in the ways the Boardrooms of the Corporations want them to.  We are very often prostrate before such an outright and demonstrative expression of power.  It is akin to standing at the foot of the Flatiron Building or in London The Shard, and being unable to help ourselves feeling their statements of ‘We are the Champions!’

Just a word about Trade Dress before this first article comes to a close.  When one buys a well-known popular Branded product there comes with it packaging. Often the packaging is elaborate and it is obvious that much time and some considerable effort and money has gone into presenting the product for sale in this way. There will be a colour scheme, an arrangement of designs and fonts and logos, shapes and angles, and endorsements and quality markers and star ratings and so on; all consistently identical on the whole Brand product run – it is the monolith in little.   Much of the Trade Dress – for this is what this rigmarole is – will tap into the general Trade Identity of the Company and its Brand(s) and reverberate against these, sending reminders and prompts to our passive receptive neurons, for synapses of association to occur to us.

Thus the power of the whole organisational entity is fed into and able to be released by each individual item of product.  Thus the importance of self-consistency in Trade Dress.

Like The Shard and the Flatiron Building, Corporate Identity and its monolithic homogeneity right down to the very finest last detail; are emblems of tyranny. They state openly and brashly where the money is; who the powerful are; what the strong are capable of.  We are like straw before them and we acquiesce as if to a Dagon or a Baal when the thunders and lightnings shake the firmament and we run to our caves for shelter.

That is how it is. Well, it is half the story, and the lesser half.  There is hope elsewhere.

Designing for Function

We took a fleeting survey of Designing for Content in Part 2 and now we go on to look at how functionality might affect how one might design a website

Firstly there are some important Considerations:

Get to the Root of the Purpose of each Function to be Designed for (i.e. what does it do?)

Many websites, whether commercially driven by sales as well as those that are not intended for profit-making, will want to classify their items of data. Take a typical physical local general store at the corner of the street: it has perhaps ten thousand product types in stock – from garden hoes to boxes of matches, handkerchiefs to penetrating oil.  Easy even for an old timer sales assistant to lose his way around, when the item he wants has been misplaced and is not in its proper place. When you have a map for finding the needle in the haystack, when the map is accurate: no problem; when it is even just a few centimeters out: big problem.

So classification; i.e. a stock map or a data map – for doing online organisation is usually an essential. And there are millions of permutations of cataloguing which might make up viable classification systems; and this is the nub.

Designing for your classification pages is a vital part of making your chosen mode of cataloguing data easy to use for clients and site visitors. Design can make all the difference between a good experience and a nightmare. But the capabilities of a good design are not a universal panacea for taking the pains out of searching and finding. You must choose a cataloguing system that is fit for the purposes you require of it; and it should be one also that is amenable to good design work being possible to be applied to it.

(There will be articles on Classification per se coming in this series the future)

Here are some tips:

  • Build a storefront that carries some ‘in-your-face’ product/data ‘specials’ advertised as it were at the front door where the punters enter and browse with an eye to assessing who you are and what you are like.
  • Like in the general store, have your products/data organized on ‘shelves’, that is, make groupings your items of product or data into appropriate classes, sub-sections etc
  • A general store will  have salespeople situated at strategic points; and so you might have signposts carrying relevant information posted neatly without diverting browsers too far from the main matter on the page,
  • And of course a checkout counter where items can be paid for; or else a holding page wherein a client saves the data he wants and marshals it.

The aim is to hit that delicate balance of convenience and comprehensiveness without making it feel like coercion and cajoling. Leading people by the hand rather than forcing them heavily through to the checkout

Beneficent Mission Creep

  • Design can have unintended consequences, some of which will be beneficent and some might be adverse, and these arise generally as a result of a website’s client-base ‘hijacking’ and extending the functionality planned for in the initial build.
  • Unintended uses that are created by a user base, depending on the nature, are often taken advantage of by site admins as ‘windfalls’ which can be developed and made into discrete features and sometimes novel attractions.
  • One has seen historically that popular social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) have continuously, quickly, latched onto and developed such ‘discovered’ features especially those elected for use by, say, businesses (like sponsored posts, payment channels, etc.)
  • Businesses in particular, because of their increasing use of the web to trade in, and so because of their increasing dependency on creating a big, well-esteemed online presence, so as to succeed and grow; have moved-in on a host of extraneous web entities, enabling them to reach out to larger and/or more focussed audiences/potential customers/clients.

The website User base (who are the people going to use it?)

  • Classification of goods/data is paramount here.  Your clientele will want their data/goods arranged on display and for use in ways suited to their best convenience, and not to your own. In this respect: The customer is always right. So it’s worth consulting your client base and finding out how they like things being done, even when what they tell you  seems counter-intuitive or counter-productive.  Keep them sweet.
  • You will benefit from market research so as to find who are your target markets, and you can build into your design the knowledge you acquire in this way.  If you have an overarching concept which dominates your website it is important you make it as appealing as it can be to your known target audience.
  • Important gauges of target audiences include: age, gender, social strata, levels of specialised knowledge expected, spending power/disposable incomes, ethnic and cultural expressions, predilections, hobbies, interests, occupations and so on.
  • Knowing about all these descriptors of your typical client enables you to pitch your store or database services at that optimum level where Mr and Mrs Average are comfortable and at home. Your knowledge about them will serve you to be tailored to their cloth
  • Tech-savvy audiences/clients can handle features or interfaces which are more advanced and sophisticated than average. Technologically-challenged users will conversely need more hand-holding by way of use of easy wizards and step-by-step procedures. Your expository texts likewise will need to sit well within the range of audience/client skill and awareness

Getting the User-interaction bits right (How do your users use the site?)

  • All in all a good website will feel intuitive and natural to its users.
  • As technology progresses it appears that user interface trends are beginning to converge, coming  from different virtual spaces (e.g. mobiles, desktops, web, etc.). You could do worse than merely to take your cue as to what are the newest up and coming trends, from the popular commercial operating systems, and from the flourishing, fashionable websites. Use what they can show and tell you for your own inspirations.
  • “Intuitive” can be a difficult word. It means different things to different user bases. For example, the majority of your users are, say, Apple Mac fans, so you’ll want to look into and research Human Interface Guidelines for OS X and/or Mac. Such research will pay off with help and recommendations for your interface patterns, such as button placement, standard glyphs and symbols, and so on.  At least some of these items are going to be variant from those found on Windows or Android.
  • Finally, you don’t have to slavishly follow fashion and the popular vote –  there is always room for new opportunities; in a rapidly-evolving arena like the Internet there is always going to be space for new guys like you to create new trends and employ new user interfaces, design techniques, and goals.

So follow your instinct, and if you believe you can cut the mustard; then go for it.

Project Takeover Blues 5: Conflicts of Interests, Pressures, Priorities

The absurdist drama of the later 20th century, plays like Samuel Beckett’s famous ‘Waiting for Godot’ and Harold Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’ usually carry rambling storylines which by design largely go nowhere.  At least when judged by the sequential and structured trajectories of traditional European storytelling.

For these absurdist dramatists it is not so much the destination, but rather what happens along the way in their plots that makes them interesting and successful. I was going to add ‘innovative’ also, but it struck me that the Jewish tradition of storytelling, stretching back some 3,000 years and more, has aspects in common with this absurdist drama.

For a basic understanding of what a Jew would want to obtain from her reading of a traditional Hebrew story you only need to go to The Bible, The Old Testament, with its fabulary stories like the events in the Garden with Adam and the Serpent, or else to the magic realism of The Book of Jonah.

Like an audience needs to do when it is watching a drama of Beckett’s or Pinter’s, Jews find in their stories not a naturalistic narrative with close verisimilitude to actual life and events,  but instead a figurative approach to learning about their religion and life in general. They ask themselves: ‘What is this story trying to convey to me; what is it offering; what is it aiming to teach me?’

Beckett and Pinter and their school above all share with the Biblical story makers an ability for deep close insight into human’s psychological states and the human condition in general.  It is this insight which allows their works to retain their value and to add value to the lives of those who experience them.

A foundational strand of human psychology which is developed in many of these stories might be loosely termed as the portrayal of ‘human characters talking across one another’, and ‘talking at crossed purposes’. The two facets of human interaction are rather different but are quite nearly related to one another.

‘Talking across one another’ entails an amount of self-absorption or even self-obsession, in two or more persons who appear prima facie to be in conversation; but who are in fact missing what the other is saying, and hearing only their own voice.

Usually this means that several different topics are being talked about at the same time; one by each person involved.  Their individual self –absorption often denies them the power to observe this is happening; or that no-one else is listening to them.  These abortive conversations are capable of going on for quite some time and their participants are able to come away from them being even yet oblivious of the absurd situation they have just played out.

In the drama of course this oddity is often built-up into a comic feature and at the same time carries a considerable amount of pathos leading to audiences sensing the tragedy inherent in such situations. The human existential aloneness of each of us; the impossibility of full human connectedness with one another

‘Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,

Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,

Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.’

The paradox in all this is the realisation of a liberation of the spirit which one is able to receive by way of one’s working to nurture and grow a self-awareness of one’s inevitable existential aloneness.  Such liberation is incomplete always, since one can never wholly know oneself or come to terms totally with whom one might be.  But the very fact of acknowledging one’s utter aloneness in the final instance, oddly enough begins to free oneself up from the oppressive spiritual weight of the loneliness of it all.

One result of obtaining some such self-awareness is that one is enabled to observe rather more clearly cases when conversations in fact become only occurrences of ‘ships passing in the night’, instances of ‘wholly missing one another’s point’.

However, how might any of this rarefied meditation apply to project takeovers?

Simply said: Many of the communications between developers and their clients fall into this category of being ‘talking at crossed purposes’

Trying to be a good communicator, like humility, is endless. The philosopher Karl Popper once said: ‘There is nothing I can say that cannot be misunderstood.’  But first and foremost a person must listen, and be listening, in order to have the slightest chance of understanding at least in part another person’s communication. One cannot listen whilst one is self-absorbed. An when one has one’s own agendas uppermost in one’s mind all the time one is conversing one becomes hamstrung for listening.

The diverse agendas of developers as set against their clients’ agendas are usually radically, perhaps irreconcilably, different.  The client is focused on delivery dates, on meeting deadlines and hitting milestones, so as to furnish monetisation and sales and marketing of his awaited products.  His money he has invested in his developer to make his project he considers to be dead money until the products are built tested signed off launched and making income for him.  Time then is of utmost importance. Speed even. He will be fussy so as to chivvy along as much as he can as much as possible. He may even out of anxiety be going over his developmental plans and refining them as he goes, thus doing what his developer will call ‘tinkering’ with the original specification and so on. Money and time being absolute priorities to the client he will be most reluctant to accept a later delivery date or to pay more so as to cover any such refinements he adds.

The developer is focussed on getting the project right. He will have a head full of code and future planning. He will be pressed for time; developers are always pressed for time. He will be managing any crew he has and catering to their needs so as to keep them sweet. He will want invoices paid promptly, in the form of the client’s understood to be dead money. The developer is also probably involved in researching and sourcing of raw material for use in building custom apps and themes; not just looking for customisable pre-built open source apps, but usually also for know-how and clear and useful tutorials to help him and his team do clean jobs. The role of developer is naturally expansive and amorphous being an unknown quantity in respect of how much time and work will actually be required on a project on any given day. He has to juggle time, and roles, and sequences, and configurations; he is not easily pinned down and cannot easily say definitely when, or sometimes what or how, right up front.

These two guys then, the developer and the client, coming together to speak and communicate with one another: is it any wonder that so many times they miss one another’s drift, their points, and points of view?

‘The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune   

Of a broken violin on an August afternoon:         

“I am always sure that you understand               

My feelings, always sure that you feel,               

Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand.’

Designing for Content: Part Two

In the first article part of this topic we laid out some fairly basic “dos and don’ts” with recommendations and reasons, concerning Web Designing in relation to Website Content.  There is considerably more to say on the subject, and this first of two follow-on articles aims to amplify further as a general overview of how to, and where to, use your design skills so as to make the most of your website content.

Groupings (“albums”) of photos or videos are typically arranged in a grid fashion so as to allow a browsing user to be able quickly to scroll through them as a set.  Try to avoid thumbnails so as give each of your video ‘still’ previews a large enough size so as to be able to convey something significant about its content (such as its title or a fitting image that explains its subject-matter well). Nothing is more frustrating and a bigger deterrent than having to open up each item in a video thumbnail grid layout so as to get a broader awareness of their content.  People will quickly give up when a video cannot be found by them reasonably quickly and they go somewhere else.

A hover over with the Title or Subject of the video in it is useful.  As is also plenty of space between items in the grid. This might seem like ‘wasted space’ at first thought but space equals a sense of freedom psychologically and lack of space equals a sense of confinement; and so of oppression. So always aim for the feel good factor for your readership and viewership.

Grouping your images and/or videos in some kind of reasonable and easy to grasp classification system (like by topic or chronologically or by author/creator alphabetically etc) is a useful and a welcome thing to a browsing user of your site.  She will recommend you to others and will recognise a will on your part to be hospitable and that you are trying to anticipate helpful aids for your readers/viewers. Add to your image titles a basic search facility too.

Once again, and it cannot really be overstressed, the general principle here, and in all web design is that one must imaginatively and sympathetically put yourself in your web visitors’ shoes, and ask oneself once in them: ‘What would I like to see here? What can  help me see it? What helps are in place to help me find what I want. And even, is the site owner/admin a good guy who cares about his visitors enough to put herself in their shoes?  And always learn from your visitors’ comments and implement what is by popular demand wanted.

Systematised Data (like race or game venus and fixtures and results, league tables, car#eer histories etc) always benefits from being arranged in rows and columns usually displayed as tables.  This type of data in quantity can be tricky to manage its display well.  Remember again, give your viewers lots of visual space. Again: space is freedom from oppressive feelings of a cramped perception.  As clear and plain a font as you can get too. Try not to embolden or italicise overmuch; and if you do use these keep them in whole columns or whole rows, which adds a sense of arrangement and so of order to the view of the page.  Be consistent in your formats you use – including usage of colours and fonts and table dimensions and line thicknesses.

Colour indeed can help or hinder a lot with Systematised data display.  Some colours are hard on the eye – and some colours kill the text they are background to.  Text must always be readable and easily so.  Choose your colours with care; make sure they don’t clash badly and make sure they add clarity and are not in fact obfuscating your intended communication.  A personal preference is for soft colours – pastels and lighter shades – which are able quietly, almost unconsciously,  to differentiate data types and make simple plain demarcations.  Perhaps too much colour and colour in much force is too much like shouting at a browsing user, or maybe like forcing your attention down his throat??

Taking time out for thought beforehand is always the best choice for you; so as to plan out the best arrangement of your data in tables, charts etc. There are books and web pages that discuss presenting statistics to view, and which look at various layouts for the same materials according to their client consumers’ likely uses and purposes.

Sometimes small pictorial icons can be used to effect – like those that  link to a Chart or to a Graphical representation of stats – but maybe keep such links to other pages either to the base of a page or maybe placed altogether on separate page – so that you stay lucid and inviting to the view.

Highly-Interactive Interfaces

Communication-type content (such as for instance: comments in forums and on social media; or web-based chat) normally are arranged in a (descending) chronological order. This arrangement allows users easily to follow the flow of a conversation (as in a forum thread) or train of thought (as in a person’s social media “wall” or “feed”) from its origins through its development and to any conclusions that might have arisen. In other words the whole history is presented in a form that is best for its digestion by a visitor who has no prior knowledge of its contents..

Often you will want to make very clear each comment or message that is associated with any single online identity (maybe via use of a user name or handle, or maybe sometimes using a profile photo or avatar, or another identity or data tag).  There is usually also a time stamp beside each entry to give context to its message. Such a context may be crucial for determining when something was put down in writing; and this knowledge can settle arguments or else remind people of facts and appointments; all context is very useful and in certain instances can be absolutely vital to have and to know.

There are furthermore some advanced layout techniques which have been created in the belief that they are able to enhance conversations like those in social media and forums, techniques such as the indenting a comment to signify “replying to a reply”, or sometimes specially marking comments so as to indicate the importance of the person commenting (usual in employment situations).

Sometimes a highlight is placed on the user identity who started a forum thread, and the highlight runs throughout the thread whenever she re-comments; or else the same highlighting idea but used for tagging a comment come from an administrative-level user of the website, and so on.

In the third and final part of this series on Designing for Content we will look at the basic rules for creating facility in Navigation, with a short summary recapitulation of the entire subject to close on.

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Introduction to Professional Web Design

When I originally set out to write this article, the question as I had it in my mind was “How long should it take to design a web site?”  After some reflection, I decided that while this question is a burning one for clients, it would be more comprehensive for me to ask what issues necessarily must be considered when doing design for the web?  What I’ll be doing in this article here is laying out some general areas for consideration, into which we shall delve further in detail in later articles. Continue reading Introduction to Professional Web Design