Shocked. I was shocked!

“This page is so easy to read!” I thought. “Where are the ads? What’s happening?”

I came across a remarkably readable news article on today. Not an ad in sight! No gratuitous design. Plain, straightforward, attractive in its ease, and completely readable. It was refreshingly simple.

Compare the AP.Google page with other news sites’ pages. Two principles become obvious to me. First, simplest is best. Second, ads suck.

I don’t have a problem with news organizations taking ads. The New York Times is right: as a reader, I’d rather access their content for free and see advertising than pay an online subscription fee. But the ads shouldn’t blur into the content; nor should they distract from it.

I have a problem with advertisers, especially ones making the awful eye-grabbing animated GIFs. They’re only distracting and annoying. I’ve not once clicked on an online ad because the ad was cool.

There are tried and true rules to advertising:
Find your target.
Be relevant.
Advertising is the most expensive, lowest return form of marketing. (See Marketing without Advertising, from Nolo Books, which advocates ethical business practices and good service as fundamental strategies for encouraging good word-of-mouth.)

There are also tried and true rules to graphic design:
Be transparent.
Serve the content first and foremost.

And while art often breaks rules, I’d like to challenge the misconceptions that art is equivocal to expression or beauty, and that art is ultimately subjective. Objectivity and criticism can exist in fine art as well.

Often people say they like art that they can keep looking at over and over; they appreciate a temporal looking experience that results in multiple discoveries. But I would argue that making things more visually complicated does not necessarily make it more interesting.

As a reader, graphic designer and artist, I’d love to convince people not to confuse loudness with success. Generally Americans don’t like to think so, but it’s OK to err on the side of quietness and not underestimating your audience. As Jenna Fisher’s agent told her when she went into her audition for The Office, “Dare to BORE me.”


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