Monday, October 03, 2005

Writing with words, talking with pictures

Last week, while on vacation, I stood on a street corner in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, waiting for the light to change. And I was shocked to find that I was staring at an electronic sign that said "Don't Walk." Perhaps much of the country still has those things, but it has been ages since I've noticed one. I've grown accustomed to the graphic version, popular around the world, where a red hand tells me not to walk and a white outline tells me I'm free to cross. I'm not even shocked anymore when I find an artist here in New York has modified one of the graphic symbols.
But pedestrian directions in word form surprised me. It seemed old-fashioned, silly.
I thought of that again this morning as I read about an exhibit at the Science, Industry and Business Library of the New York Public Library about differences in advertising from medium to medium. Among the more notable observations is that online advertising -- more visual than radio or TV -- has more in common with print ads than it would first appear, using visual wit and "grabby graphics" to capture attention. At the same time, one lesson of the exhibit is that "the best online ads are not only visual but also kinesthetic."
There's a lesson here not only for the folks in the advertising department, but for editorial types as well. Interactivity, movement, graphical representations and visual presentation are the hallmarks of compelling online storytelling. Dropping text on a Web page does not create an online product. It's just a jarring reminder -- like a "Don't Walk" sign -- that things are out of date.
For a look at someone who understands the visual world of online storytelling, check out the beta version of CNET's redesign.

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