Designing For the Fast Lane

Are you adapting to a faster world?

In the early 1990’s, Robert Levine, a social psychologist, ran an experiment.  He visited 31 cities around the world and measured how long it took people (who didn’t know they were being observed) to walk 60 feet along the pavement.

He found some interesting things.  The fastest cities tended to be the most economically advanced, in Western Europe or Asia.  The slowest cities tended to be less economically developed, in Latin America and Africa.  For instance, they found that pedestrians in Rio de Janeiro walked only two thirds as fast as those in Zurich.

In 2006 Professor Richard Wiseman repeated the study as part of his ‘Pace of Life’ project.  He found similar patterns.  Singapore was the fastest city and Blantyre (in Malawi) was the slowest.  However, Wiseman also found something else.  In his study pedestrians walked 10% faster than 15 years before.

The conclusion = we are speeding up.

We are speeding up because the world around us is speeding up.  And the more things speed up, the more being fast becomes a competitive advantage.  For instance, Amazon found that a tenth of a second increase in loading time of their website cut sales by 1%.  A tenth of a second increase – a fraction of the time it took you to read that sentence.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, in our industry, we often assume that the world is still in the slow lane.  For instance, that people pay full attention to TV adverts and watch them from beginning to end.  That someone driving a car is more concerned with looking at billboards than the road in front of them.  That a shopper will automatically see a new product as they walk down the aisle.

Why do we often assume this?  Because we are very close to what we do.  We carefully watch our new advert from start to finish.  We see all the detail as we appraise our new billboard.  We walk down an aisle and look for our new product.  But most shoppers don’t.  They are living in a fast world, where there are a lot of – let’s be honest – more interesting things for them to be doing.

So, if the world is changing, then we need to change with it.  Adapting how we design and communicate for a world that is getting faster.

So, how and when should you do this?

Designing for Fast-Forward.  Apart from live events like World Cup games or Royal Weddings, most of us don’t watch TV in real time.   We don’t need to.  Why sit down at 8pm and put up with adverts, when you can watch any time on Sky Plus and fast-forward through the ads.   So, no matter how good your advert, a lot of people who see it, will see it on fast forward (x30).

The 60 second ad is now a 2 second one. Nobody will be able to take out a message in this time.  But they could remember the brand if your design is right.  This means having a really strong visual identity.  It means having real distinctiveness.  A great example of this is Red Bull.  A Red Bull TV ad is instantly recognisable as Red Bull.

Designing for Scrolling.  The internet, and the devices we use to access it, means that things are getting faster and smaller.  This is why there is an increasing focus on hero images instead of standard pack shots for grocery websites.  If you have a shopper scrolling quickly, often on a smartphone, with a product image the size of a fingernail, you’d better communicate quickly and clearly.

This means making sure the product image is clear.  Making sure the variant is clear.  Making sure the pack size is clear.  Making sure the product name is clear.  All simple stuff but often not delivered.  The same is true for banner advertising.  Lots of banner ads still try to say too much and are not well branded and distinct.  They blend into all the other visual noise on screen.  The smaller the communication space, the more there is around it, the more you need to deliver clarity.

Designing for Movement.  A lot of communication is seen when people are on the move – for instance, in a car.  Despite this, many 6 sheet posters require you to properly stop and look at them to even understand what the product being advertised is.  Contrast that with a recent Cadbury’s 6 sheet.  The design was so well branded that they didn’t even need to write Cadbury’s on it.

Most of the time in store, shoppers are moving.  They typically see packs, POS materials or displays from an angle.  They will often see shelf ready packaging before they see primary packaging.  Great design in store is not just about how something looks front on, it is about how recognisable it is from side on, whilst shoppers are on the move.

This is not about speeding up communication.  It is about prioritising communication.  If there is an increasingly small window in which to communicate, you need to maximise the impact of what you do in that window.

The clock is always ticking.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.

© 2020 by Insight Traction