Design like the Movie Studios
Hollywood is the holy grail for the whole movie industry, and it’s where all blockbusters (or most of them at least) come from. These movies cost a lot of money, but they (usually) also make a lot more money. And you know how Hollywood movies make so much money? Because they research. A lot. And they design for success.
It’s easy to create an analogy between design (of a website, an app, a poster) and a movie. In one way or another both mediums try to convey a feeling, and tell a story. Both have something to “sell”, a conversion objective.
If you’re designing a poster, your objective is usually to either promote an event, a brand, or a product. An app has a more focussed objective, accomplishing an action such as “reading email”, “buying tickets”, “taking photos”, whatever it might be. But we can all agree that when designing any of these, there is an artistic influence and a specific design style that you try to use and convey to your users. And while you may want to only focus on the art and the style of your work, you need to keep in mind your end goal.Unless you’re an artist that just creates art for the sake of it, you will need to achieve an end goal.
Unless you’re an artist that just creates art for the sake of it, you will need to achieve an end goal
So, how is Hollywood a good inspiration for designers? Hollywood runs a business, and a movie is nothing other than an investment made by people who backed the movie financially, with the end goal of making profit and taking revenue from it. Their product is the movie, the merchandise, the licensing rights for toys and games, and all of these generate revenue out of the movie.
There’s a lot more to be said about the movie industry and how money is made, but I’ll leave that to the movie experts. My point is, in the end, the movie is not made with the sole purpose of existing as art, or telling a story; it’s a business: Money goes in, money comes out. Unless it’s a flop in the box office, and that’s just bad business.
I was absolutely amazed when I found out about test audiences for movies. I was naive enough to think that a movie was simply produced in a team, edited and released, and it would do well or not, depending only on the hunches and talents of the team that made it. But oh, no.
A movie is well-tested, changed and improved, and re-tested again until it tests as well as possible. Movies are shown to a test audience, and people are asked several questions about the movie: How does it make them feel? Do they like the whole movie, or specific parts of it? Would they pay for it?
These tests have a big impact on the final movie, as a lot might change to get the best test results with the audience. Because again, they want to sell tickets and make sure people are happy with it. And unfortunately, I feel like a lot of designers don’t think the same way.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on a website. There are a lot of companies and designers out there that do a great job on design and development, but the only people involved in the process are the design team, the development team and the client. They forget about gathering feedback from the most important people of all, their target market.
I’ve seen this over and over again. People have opinions and ideas on layout, copy, features, and obviously the client has the final say (well.. it shouldn’t have, but that’s a topic for a whole another article). And then the website is the aggregated result of the designer’s and developers work and the feedback and opinions and all the rounds of amends requested from the client. And once you publish it and release it into the wild…well, if it does well or not is all dependent on these people.
So why don’t we do it a bit more like Hollywood and use a test audience? Just grab some people that you believe to be your target market, get them in front of the website and ask them what do they think, and more importantly, what do they want? It’s as easy as just paying a beer to a friend after work to take a look at your work, or a lunch, or heck, if budget allows, even allocate an amount to pay for their time!
And by the way, have you done your homework as well? Any market research on your target market? Competition research and checking what others are doing well and what they’re doing wrong?
Show your work to the most relevant people: the ones who’ll be using your work
This is obviously not a general problem. Startups already do this. More and more you see great companies and their user experience teams doing amazing work, having a lot of user interviews way ahead of time, creating personas and use cases. They test it all throughout the design and development process. However, it’s mostly done in product development teams.
But designers still lack the input from users. Instead, they work mostly to please the client. “A little bit more to the right, a little bit more to the left.” “Oh my daughter loves purple, let’s use purple.”
Designers often work in a silo, and that kind of behavior leads to work being created blindly without any input from others. Feedback and input is crucial for good work, so if you’re a loner (like I am), use that for when you need to focus on your work and get stuff done, but remember to, from time to time, get up and show what you’re doing to others. A brand new set of eyes will bring a new view, new ideas and great feedback on what you’re doing.
So take a hint from Hollywood. When you can, show your work to the most relevant people: the ones who’ll be using your work. They are the ones who really matter.