Back in the mid-90’s, when my agency was agency of record for Lands’ End, we were wrestling with getting the ‘vibe’ of this billion dollar entity onto the Internet. I was lucky enough to be working with a great team in Dodgeville, and I was also lucky that, while not in a day to day capacity, the founders of the company — Gary Comer and Dick Anderson — were still paying attention, close attention, to the doings. (As someone once said, “attention must be paid.”) At any rate, these two giants, who had emerged from Y & R Chicago to take a boating gear company into the stratosphere of content meets commerce, were worried. They knew that print and catalogs and copy and facts were “warm,” and they were faced with this plastic and glass box, a box that didn’t do a heckuva lot with type or layout either. I, being a child of Steve Jobs (just an expression of phrase — I wish!), was taken, smitten, drinking the kool-aid and just about everything else about the box. But these guys were worried. Had pause.
And this stunned and impressed me. They recognized that something vital was at stake. While not McLuhan-ites, as far as I know, they knew that a “warm” media form was being traded in for, or morphed into, a “cool” form.
So we worked at it. We built early ‘dressing’ avatars, we had some of the first ‘live chat’ features on the web — realizing that those good old alfalfa of the earth phone operators from Central Wisconsin were gold. We questioned every which way we could add some pulse and life to the cold plastic eye (as I put it) sitting on the desk.
Dick and Gary may have passed but their concerns and their legacy live on. UX and metrics are all well and good, but we are still dealing with a very generic device. The task at hand — how to ‘warm it up.’ Account planning can help. Good writing can help. Simplicity can help. But most of all — heart can help. It’s an ongoing, never ending battle.
I wish computer screens were on paper you could fold up and put in your pocket and then throw away. Maybe there’s a super secret project left over from Mr. Jobs that they’re working on in Cupertino to do just that.
I wouldn’t put it past them.
Have a warm weekend.