Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Attack of the Floating Head!

Hey folks, Ryan here. This post sees me returning to the theme of graphic design in film promotion, but I swear there is an underlying message that can be applied to all design.

That message: Trends become stale and unappealing, and fast.

The biggest example of this that I can think of is the "floating head" movie poster. You've all seen them. Every other poster that lines the theater walls shows giant, disembodied heads of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise on top of some abstract blurry colors with a small explosion or car chase in the bottom right corner. It may have worked for the first few films, but it is painfully clear that these are uninspired and lazy.

The floating head poster has no doubt already solidified it's place in the internet meme hall-of-fame alongside lolcats, chocolate rain and the winnebago man. And yet here we are, 2009, and the floating heads continue to barrage this designer's eyeballs when he visits the local multiplex or purchase a blu-ray. Well, a lot could be said about the correlation between film-marketing and film-quality, but that's an entirely different post; and as I pointed out in my previous article on movie posters, there still is eye-popping design coming out to this day, though few and far between. So what makes this design approach sustainable? How does this appeal to audiences. What is it about these horrid, conservative designs that still aid in getting a man or woman to plunk down their hard-earned $12 to go see that screening?

Here, kids, lies the trouble with trend.

On the whole, trends can be great. Trends can prove to be progressive for technology and design and general public thought. That is, if the trend is embraced as a starting point or a status quo. A trend should not mean the apex of popularity or thought - that's when the snap bracelets start slitting wrists and Eddie Murphy's 30 foot swollen head tries to sell you on Nutty Professor IV: Forrest Klump. Trends, be it in print design or web, should be analyzed and inspiring, but never copied and continued. It's one of the trickiest dragons I battle with weekly, especially in the fickle land of web-design.

You see, print design has more room to breath, it's got more give. There's almost literally a blank canvas there for the designer to paint broad, colorful, masterful strokes, the bounds of the project very little in a lot of cases. Designing for the web can be equally as full of creative opportunity, but with a tighter pair of pants. Web-design is the Wooderson of creativity (think Matthew McConaughey, Dazed & Confused). My point is, web-design is very restrained, and that makes it incredibly easy to fall into a trend.

Let's do a little experiment. Open up a new tab in your browser (don't close this one!) and pull up the Google. Think of a letter in the alphabet, then think of a food or animal that starts with that letter. I chose 'B' and subsequently 'broccoli'. Enter that food or animal into the Google and hit search. Click on the first link that comes up in your search (one that isn't Wikipedia).

I will bet a hundred dollars that the page you made it to had most of the following:
  • Logo, no bigger than 175px x 250px, in the top-left corner
  • Colored background
  • Centered content area no wider than 900px
  • Arial or Times as the sole or secondary font throughout the entire site
  • One of, if not both: Standard text links for navigation horizontally or vertically at the top and left of the content area, respectively
Cue the floating head poster.

The reason for that little experiment is self-referential really; of course the majority of web-sites follow this grid. What I'm asking myself, and other web-designers, is do we need to continue forcing ourselves into these tight, uncomfortable, acid-washed pants? What we need to do, as a community and as progressive-thinkers, is sit down and re-evaluate the logistics of where we start when we design a website.

The grid system we sketch out on paper is breaking and in turn the majority of websites are stale. The trends themselves are vanilla. But herein lies the problem, just like floating heads in the theater lobby, they still sell. Sure you could make the argument "that movie poster/website/packaging gets the consumer, the target, from point A to B", but I say nay. We'll get them to B alright, but let's not have them fall asleep on the ride as if their Dad had piped in Moody Blues for 6 hours without so much as an Archie Double Digest to keep you entertained.

So where do we, as web-designers, as creators, go from here? We can't very well break our top-left-centered-955px-verdana habit now can we? The web hasn't quite evolved yet. But what's taking it so long? Is it NETLOR, the terrifying beast that controls the internet and tells us when it's okay to go above and beyond what we've been doing for 10 years? Well I don't believe in NETLOR, and quite frankly the idea frightens me. It's the trend that's holding everything back. The trend dictates what everyone should do, thus creating the environment we operate in and its limitations.

If everyone were to use the trend as a starting point, a base you don't go below, working only to improve on that, I think the web as we know it would be incredibly different, and incredibly cool.

I don't know what it will take to rid our lives of those terrible floating head posters though.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Web Expansion

Over the last year, Francomedia has expanded it's web team and devoted hundreds of hours and resources into expanding our teams knowledge and understanding of web 2.0, content management systems and back end functionality.

What this means is that Francomedia can pretty much tackle any web based project... not that it stopped us before, it's just now we're prepared and well versed in virtually every aspect of web-based development allowing us to compete with anyone on the planet... not that it ever stopped us before.

Our web team consists of experienced graphic designers with a keen insight into usability and web developers that are motivated by challenges and pushing the envelope. Did I mention award winning? Yeah, they're that too.

Some of the sites that we are working on currently are using 'smart' technologies in the way that content is being presented to the user. For instance, if you are shopping for product A, the page will also display products or information that are relevant to product A. This may sound simple and from a user standpoint it had better be, but from a development standpoint it takes a real understanding of the customers products and offerings to pull it off so that it works well. If done right, it should aid in the sales process of any site - whether selling services, products or ideas.

So, if you are thinking of developing a new web site, especially if it's complicated and involved... we're your team.

This self-serving, promotional plug was brought to you by your friends at Francomedia.com!

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