The achilles heel of big ideas

The achilles heel of big ideas
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When I first started out in design I was told: "the devil is in the detail"; everything should be considered and the tiniest element can bring the most delight to its audience. But as I make my way around the advertising galaxy, I continue to be surprised by the lack of appreciation for execution and craftsmanship.

We're no longer selling cigarettes to people who think they make you more attractive. A single 'big idea' slogan might work for Don Draper and Lucky Strike in fictional 1960's Madison Ave, but in the modern world of digital advertising it's a lot harder to engage our audience. Obvious right? Well, I still see agencies trying to engage their audience with big ideas and not considering all aspects of their execution. This to me is an old fashioned way to approach a very new world and, as Steve Jobs said: "Ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions."

It's the execution that makes an idea believable and it makes it real. It’s only when you can see something, pick it up and hold it that you can really appreciate its value. It’s this tangibility that feeds the senses and creates a physical relationship with the audience. Whether it’s a device or a website, form affects us emotionally. It's primal. Humans want to touch and interact with physical objects. It's what makes us fall in love: the touch, the feel and, most importantly, the beauty. 

When I think of my favourite ball-point pen and ask myself what makes it my most beloved writing tool, the answer lies not in the fact that it puts ink on paper – there are lots of pens that do that. It's my favourite because of the aesthetics, the softness of the rubber grip, the weight and balance, the way the ball glides fluidly across my page. It's the details that make life better and our work should be making people's lives better, not just selling a vision of a better life.

Sure, there still need to be big ideas. Everything starts with an idea. But if you really want to create an amazing experience every single aspect needs to be considered. Perhaps the Nike Fuelband wouldn't be such a successful product if it looked like a Pat Cash style headband or if it was made out of Velcro. Maybe it's better to perfectly execute simple ideas rather than grappling with overly complex idealistic metaphors.

So, why do some agencies still not maximise the value of an idea by placing less priority on its execution?

The problem is that it’s easier to communicate a big idea; the client understands it and gets excited about the vision. It’s not as easy to communicate the nuts and bolts of how it is going to work, look and feel and we end up shielding our clients from the small details. However, it is the details that, to me, will make all the difference. 2013 is the year of the ‘nuts and bolts’ and it’s everybody’s concern. So perhaps we need to look for better ways to sell execution, new ways to present digital ideas and get clients involved so they can see for themselves how important our craft really is.

So rather than firing up the rusty old projector in your next client presentation, perhaps present your idea on your tablet or show them a prototype and let them touch, feel and fall in love with the details.

Form and function exist to make the experience of the audience better. We like to make things for human beings. We want our clients to see our work through the eyes of their audience and measure its success based on their response. We go to lengths to allow the client to experience the actual product when selling an idea. 

We’ve had to lug some heavy machinery around Sydney just to allow for a tiny detail to be communicated to the client. Because a great execution can sometimes take a little extra love, it’s important to us that the client understands how important these details are. It is only when clients and agencies both understand the immense value of execution and craftsmanship that the value of an idea can ever be realised.

Alex Christian is design director at Digital Arts Network Sydney

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