Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Tim Sharp

Just as I thought law firm communication was becoming more about the visual, designer Tim Sharp at Moore-Wilson tells me that cutting edge websites are in one sense far more about text and content these days. I’m baffled. I know of one Top 20 law firm that has “visual differentiation” as a key strategic point. And as today we have the opportunity for far more immediacy in the creation of vodcasts and other video-style content on websites and social media platforms, etc, I thought we were moving towards a greater emphasis on visual rather than textual communication across the board: we’ve had YouTube since 2005 and now we have a plethora of channels focussed on the visual – Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr; and in the legal profession we’ve also witnessed the freeing up of law firm colour palettes (from grey to blue as discussed in one of my July blog) that would never have been tolerated in the pioneering days of law firm marketing. Well, it was the 1980s; moreover solicitors and barristers alike have been on a long journey to understand what “branding” means in the context of a legal business. It’s taken about 20 years for most to understand the difference between brand values which run very deep, essentially summarising partners’/members’ commonality of purpose, versus the more superficial outworking of this, logos, which were typically lawyers' first pre-occupation in the brave new world of legal marketing. They now know they are only just one of the visual manifestations of brand values.

But are we now to understand the visual is less important?

“The point is that “Look & Feel” is just one aspect of design." Tim tells me. "Functionality is equally important. What we’ve learned is how to work the relationship between form and function to best effect to engage key audiences through a website. New technologies have enabled so many different new ways to put over content, we can think so much more creatively about how to engage. I’m happy to say also that law firms have got so much slicker about this in the last few years: a typical starting point for them now in building a website is to think about “user journeys”: stepping into the shoes of clients and contacts and others who will be using the site; understanding what they will be looking for (of course Google Analytics tells us so much about what site visitors are looking at when they visit, and law firms have learned to use this data to refine their sites or when designing new sites from scratch); making this information easy for them to find/access and then planning information you want to “push” to them around this. Some of the content may be delivered in a visual way – eg vodcasts and videos, diagrams, animations, etc. But home pages rely far less on overwhelming branding and wizzy colours/visuals. They focus far more on text signposting clear pathways through the site to the information most visitors will be after.

"Part of this is definitely driven by SEO [Search Engine Optimisation] and packing home pages with words that will maximise a firm’s Google rankings [ie how searchable they are when people google eg the term “legal advice”]. Although currently there is a big debate about whether SEO is dying and being taken over by social media...

"But in part it’s about all of us developing a better understanding of the appropriate balance between words and images in communication and a deft use of both to put the right messages and impressions across in a way that engages with your audiences in the way they want to interact with you. The web design industry has a lot more functionality to play with now so is able to perfect the balance between form and function much better, and use this to engage with website users far more effectively. The top law firms have got this too, as much as everyone else in the broader business world.

I have written in this blog before about the gradual shift in our culture towards visual rather than textual information. And regular followers will know this is a theme covered by one of my all-time favourite films, Fahrenheit 451 (the title coming from the temperature that paper burns, apparently). They may not be on physical paper so much any more, but good to see that words are holding their own!
On the subject of new ways to communicate visually, my newly downloaded Vine app has been growing on me. It has taken my tweeting to a whole new level! How nice to be able to share more of what I'm doing by posting six-second video clips of the people I meet.

I read this week that in seven months since its January debut, Vine users have climbed to more than 40 million. Having trialled it this week, I completely see how it's managed to wrap its tendrils so tightly around our Twitter habits in such a short space of time. It's addictive!

Here's a Vine I posted this week featuring Kysen friend and head of arbitration at Stewarts Philippa Charles and her amazing revelation that she uses Shoes of Prey to design her own shoes. As another friend Charlotte Ward said to me when I showed her, this is the PERFECT Twitter story for me: new social media toy, creativity... and of course shoes!
From light to shade, another more serious Vine I tweeted this week told the amazing story of the Big Issue salesman who works outside our office on Long Acre (Covent Garden). 

Unbelievably he's been studying for a Masters in Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology at Brunel University, his dissertation focussing on life as a homeless or housing-challenged person in London, and has just been awarded a distinction. People never cease to surprise me. Nice to see how much this story was re-tweeted and favourited. It's an inspiration.

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