The sublime Kathy Sierra argues for keeping the ‘flash, puff and magic’ out of presentations until the final version is ready for public presentation.
In a post that is largely about computer coding and product design, the points Kathy eloquently makes apply equally to our field of endeavour, especially when considering how we present draft campaigns to clients.
Says Kathy in her post Don’t make the Demo look Done:
When we show a work-in-progress (like an alpha release) to the public, press, a client, or boss… we’re setting their expectations. And we can do it one of three ways: dazzle them with a polished mock-up, show them something that matches the reality of the project status, or stress them out by showing almost nothing and asking them to take it “on faith” that you’re on track.
The bottom line:
How ‘done’ something looks should match how ‘done’ something is.
Every software developer has experienced this many times in their career. But desktop publishing tools lead to the same headache for tech writers–if you show someone a rough draft that’s perfectly fonted and formatted, they see it as more done than you’d like. We need a match between where we are and where others perceive we are.
Joel Spolsky talked about this way back when in The Iceberg Secret, Revealed. The secret:
“You know how an iceberg is 90% underwater? Well, most software is like that too — there’s a pretty user interface that takes about 10% of the work, and then 90% of the programming work is under the covers… That’s not the secret.
The secret is that People Who Aren’t Programmers Do Not Understand This.”
Robert Scoble talked about this recently, in a story about the early fake prototypes of Vista:
“Later… I found out that all we really saw were Macromedia Director-based movies. They looked so cool…how good they made us feel… This actually was NOT a good thing for Microsoft…when you build up expectations and you aren’t able to meet them you look pretty silly.
But behind the scenes things were even worse. Why? Because executives bought into the Flash and Mirrors song and dance too. They thought what they were seeing was possible… it’s very possible that what you are dreaming of is simply not possible.”
So, overpromising by delivering a flashy (or Photoshopy or Powerpointy or Visioy) demo is tempting, but it’s short-term gain (you’re a hero to your client, boss, the public) with long-term pain. But there’s another problem with overdone demos that’s just if not more damaging than wrong expectations:
The more “done” something appears, the more narrow and incremental the feedback
We see this with books and software all the time. Show them something polished and pretty, and you’ll get feedback on font sizes. The reviewers make incremental tweaks, blinded by what’s in front of them. But show a napkin sketch, and they don’t just see what’s there, they see what’s possible. Obviously you need to tell reviewers about the kind of feedback you DO want at this stage… you don’t want big-picture-forest feedback when you’ve really moved on to the tree stage.
Kathy then goes on to introduce one of her favourite tools: Napkin Look and Feel, a GUI “skin” for Java that makes the interface look–quite literally–like it was scrawled on a napkin.
Now, we are given the luxury of being really able to present a hand-drawn sketch (listen to the discussion between Allan and me on the creative process in Chat #22 (mp3). But a tool like Napkin Look and Feel would be dead handy for, say, creating a ‘look and feel’ for a dvd or cd-rom interface to accompany the CEO and C Team’s most recent ‘State of the Union’ addresses for employees or shareholders/investment analysts. (As an aside, David Jones and Terry Fallis have an excellent discussion on the whole issue of the integration of generalist PR and specialist divisions such as Investor Relations and Government Relations over on their podcast Inside PR: issue #39; mp3.)
As always, it is the comments to Kathy’s posts (and there are always a shedload of them) that add additional colour. My favourite comments:
Brilliant. I read this and first went “duh”, then went “so why don’t I do it?” I just recently started using lorem ispum dummy text on all unfinished pages, but some of the ideas linked to by the article/comments are great (using temporary CSS classes to give unfinished elements a hot pink background with yellow text – so simple and yet so effective!).
Now if only there were a way to survive those final “pre-launch” meetings where you have 10 people sitting in a boardroom who spend 2 hours arguing about whether a heading should say “My Account” or “Your Account” or “Account Information”…
This applies to hardware engineering as well.
We would make some Rev 1 prototypes out of big cardboard boxes.
Rev 2 would have medium sized cheap plastic boxes from Radio Shack.
Rev 3 would often be samples of something really close to the final product.
That seemed to show progress and set expectations that seemed to work some of the time.
Nothing like a 14 hour meeting spend discussing that 10x10x2 is “too big” for our product when the second prototype is only 5x4x2. The weird part is how some people latch onto something completely irrelevant and won’t let go. 10x10x2 was the space under the passenger seat of a coworkers car and had nothing to do with the product but somehow the PHBs wouldn’t stop talking about it for a 14 hour meeting.
That reminds me of a wonderful story in one of Alexander King’s books. It seems as a young commercial artist, King was given an assignment to draw a party scene with about a dozen or so elegantly-dressed couples dancing. When he finished it, his mentor took one look at it and said, “Before you show it to the boss, put a big hairy man’s hand on one of the women.”
King refused. A day or so later, his mentor came back and saw him working on the drawing again. He said, “What happened?” King replied that the boss had told him he had to turn all dozen heads further towards the front. And the mentor said, “Yes … if you had put the man’s hand on one of the women, he would have taken one look at it and said, ‘Oh my God! That’s a MAN’S hand! FIX IT!’”
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