I'm often asked for my opinion when someone re-launches, re-designs or is about to re-think their web presence. Having been in the halls of various editorial offices for most of my career, I definitely know a thing or two about the presentation of content, lets call it. I've worked with and without the most talented art directors saving the day. I've seen horribly empty stories come alive across the pages due to nothing more than an incredibly sophisticated graphic hand, while sometimes important photography, writing and all of the incredibly hard work that went into it would get buried in an awkward and uninspiring mess.
In another time, we would hear that prints had arrived and all run down a long hallway sprinting towards the art department, all cluttered in thousands of scraps of paper and scissors and glue. And there they were, new stories, big for all of us to see and be inspired and make everyone feel like we were part of something, that we were all working toward something, together, as a team. It was the next issue. There was always a next issue. Another chance to get it right, to try again.
So fast forward to our present age of digital dilemma. We have gone from everyone having to have a really cool business card to having to have a really cool website. So art directors were replaced, first by web designers and now by what I would call "WordPress template customizers." People usually start with a pretty simple blog style template, simple mechanics, working with the tempo of information flow and then as they develop, move closer and closer to what they believe will be a graduation to "site hood", that wonderful expression where large featured images slide across the top, with various little squares of other content appearing in clusters and some sort of "in case you missed it" making an appearance alongside endless social media buttons.
Of course there are some standouts, where things get all multi media or experimentation with illustration and heavy use of video lights the way, but for the most part, I keep seeing the same templates, the same color choices and unfortunately the same image quality, only the actual name on the top left corner lets you know where the heck you even are! Sameness is like a new sort of disturbing clutter, always moving but rarely moving me. It's like the difference between hearing an amazing song and having that song stuck in your head, repetitive and broken down into a series of dead notes. The funny thing is that people have come up with the excuse of saying it was 'just their blog', like that was the caterpillar and they are about to morph into the true butterfly of a site they were always meant to be. It's as if this is a new actual state within the lifecycle of a digital brand, the 'blog stage.' Like a thirteen year old with braces and bad skin is in their "dog stage." You know, those pictures that Snapchat was obviously invented for that we all wish we could magically be erase from our timelines. I keep hearing editors talk about their new site designs, and when I ask about the old ones, they claim, "oh, that was just a blog, now we are going to have a real site."
This is the moment, when they will either stay eternally part of noise, or somehow break out. With no glue, no scissors. Instead, features, verticals, links etc....the tools of today's trade. Its tough, because its seems like everyone has access to the same art direction, the same kind of content and everyone's favorite editor in chief, themselves.
So what's missing? I think it's all about point of view. That itself has several meanings. First of all, your site, your content and everything about it should have a unique voice, and every post should be that same starry-eyed attempt at working towards that next perfect issue. Most importantly, though, remember what it looks like from your audience's point of view. In other words, to them, the entire web, every time they jump on, is their "next issue." Every time they check their media feed, they are reading the next issue. Don't be the awkward and uninspiring spread in the horrible mess that is the whole internet. There is no art director in sight who can save you this time.