Ed Cotton: Agencies And User Experience

These are confusing times. It’s harder than ever to define terms like, “user”, “consumer”, “creative” and “agency.”

Peter Meholz of Adaptive Path wrote a blog post a couple of days back which slammed agencies for operating a business devoid of user understanding. It contained so many quotable gems that it was impossible to ignore and and of course, generated a flurry of coverage on blogs and Twitter.

The gems included:

“When criticizing ad agencies, you have to begin at the core — advertising, as it is widely practiced, is an inherently unethical and, frankly, poisonous endeavor that sees people as sheep to be manipulated, that vaunts style over substance, and deems success to be winning awards.”

“Such poor treatment of staff is a big part of the reason that ad agencies end up dissatisfying their clients. Clients are sold a shiny flashy bill of goods by slick senior folks who are then never to be seen again. In their place are squads of junior and mid-level designers, working across multiple projects, with little chance to reflect and improve their skills.”

“One thing I haven’t yet touched on is the legacy ad agency practice where the art director and copywriter are the voices that matter, and the rest of the team exists to serve their bidding. This might be fine in communications work, but in user experience, where utility is king, this means that the people who best understand user engagement are often the least empowered to do anything about it, while those who have little true understanding of the medium are put in charge. In user experience, design teams need to recognize that great ideas can come from anywhere, and are not just the purview of a creative director.”

I found Peter’s comments a little strong and somewhat wide of the mark especially in our case, we’ve had frequent conversations with Adaptive Path about working together and ended up doing a considerable amount of work on user understanding with one of the founders of the company.

Anyway, here’s was the response I wrote as a comment on Peter’s blog.

These are confusing times.

It’s harder than ever to define terms like, “user”, “consumer”, “creative” and “agency”.

In the chaos of this confusion, it’s very easy to be convinced that the world is bi-polar with the user advocates and deep experience creators at one end and the traditional “Mad Av” ad creative teams at the other..

This polarized world is fast becoming a dated concept, the smartest agencies get that this isn’t a zero sum game with one winner, but instead the goal is often for a hybrid “best in breed” approach.

User understanding is vital and important, but it’s just the start of a conversation on top of which creative flair has to be added. The marriage of deep user understanding with leading edge creative talent is for now and the future, but the switch isn’t going to flip over just like that.

(Continue reading here.)

Ed Cotton is the Director of Strategy at BSSP, and is curious about all things relating to brands, marketing and culture. Read more at influx insights

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