So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (On Leaving Website Design Behind)

I’m one of the pioneers in the world of website design. My company was one of the first 12 web design companies on Yahoo!. I’m responsible for a lot of Internet and web firsts- the first rock concert on the web (Moist, Matthew Sweet, Hootie & The Blowfish, and Blues Traveler at the 99X Chinese New Year concert in Atlanta, 1993), the web’s first live news event (Freaknik news coverage, 1994), the web’s first large-scale corporate rollout of multimedia technology (BellSouth, with Shockwave), groundbreaking virtual reality web projects (The Olympics, Major League Baseball), and so on. It’s been a wild and often wonderful ride, helping to create some of the best websites in the world.

And this week, my agency dropped ‘website design’ from our list of services.

Why? Because I don’t think websites in and of themselves matter so much, anymore. What matters is content, and connecting with customers. A website is just one way to do that, and it’s not even a very effective way nowadays. Moreover, the vast majority of website designs bore the heck out of me. It’s like we stopped innovating years ago- “put the logo at the top, put the navigation across the top or down the left side…” etc. The only cool thing lately has been the movement to embrace web standards. But it’s not enough to hold my interest. Web design has become, with some notable exceptions, a commodity.

And we all know commodities suck.

The one exception I am making: I love working with startup companies on their digital strategies. It’s been a lot of fun working with positive-minded people to help get their ideas off the ground. And designing a killer website is usually part of that, so we’ll keep on with that aspect. But general corporate website design and redesign projects? No thanks. I need more, to stay interested. And I need more, to make a difference to a company’s success. And I like making a difference. I like helping clients do good things for their businesses and their communities. Helping clients create great digital content that tells their stories gives me that.

In the past year, we’ve had an absolute explosion of projects here that are still web-based, but which are more content-related: things like creating quality digital video, and interactive content and applications for use on mobile devices. It’s been a blast helping our clients tell their stories these ways, and thanks to things like YouTube, I get to reach a lot more people this way than I ever could with a website.

I still believe in the web as a medium, of course, it’s just that I’ve found better ways to work with clients and make a difference than by designing websites for them.

Many of you won’t be surprised at this shift away from website design. After all, we started positioning ourselves as digital storytellers over three years ago.

I’m thrilled that storytelling has finally taken its rightful place in the online world, and in a big way, this shift is less of a retirement, and more of a re-focusing, it’s a return to my roots- I began my professional life as a multimedia designer with clients like The Cartoon Network, NASA, and the Department of the Navy. I’ve always liked to tell stories and help clients tell their stories, in a variety of media and platforms. So I’ve decided to refocus my agency on doing exactly that.


New Video & Film Projects

Ever have one of those periods where you’re so busy that you don’t have the time to talk about the cool stuff you’ve been doing? That’s how it’s been here for us, lately. I just got back from New York and a nice shoot at PepsiCo, where I teamed back up with my was-LA, now-New-York-based camera assistant Katie for a few days of fun work. Now, we’re headed to Taco Bell world headquarters to do a shoot. And earlier this week I was at UCLA doing a video shoot for their new MBA program. On top of that, my movie “Unlaced” is starting to apply to film festivals.

Meanwhile, Jeff finished an important web design project last week that’ll make life around here a lot less stressful. And we’ll be starting up some end-of-year housekeeping for ourselves around here towards the end of November, after our web client PLUSdoc’s next revision is complete and rolled out.

So it’s been really busy, but pretty fun here. I can’t wait to show off some of the stuff we’ve been working on.


How Do You Compete?

Our friends and colleagues at Rowboat Media posted an interesting blog today about avoiding the commodity trap. It’s a good read, and not just for digital agencies, but for every kind of business. The main points they make are:

  1. If what you sell is commodity-like, you better add goodies onto your stuff so it looks like a better deal
  2. No matter what kind of thing you make, you must take action to be sure you’re doing everything you can to tell the world about what you do
  3. If you have the goods and the guts, don’t compete at all on price, and don’t be a commodity at all- rather, focus on quality and differentiation (a theme we touch on quite a lot around here)
  4. Make sure you explain why what you make is better than the commodity-like competition

We’ve talked about how competing solely on price is not something any business (in any sector) can sustain. Sure, you might undercut the competition today, but you’ll be undercut tomorrow. Soon you find that your hard costs can’t be covered, and your business goes under.

And while I absolutely agree with everything Rowboat’s saying, I find myself gravitating towards their third point, making sure that everything we create is special and cannot be replaced by a commodity, that it comes out at an extremely high quality, and is easily differentiated from the competition. We decided long ago to not be an assembly-line driven, commodity shop.

I’d like to claim that it was an astute business sense that led us to that decision, but really a big part of why we chose that path for PatrickOrtman, Inc. was simply that it’s far more fun to create really cool stuff that truly helps our clients succeed than to go in half- hearted and create crap.



Custom Shops Rule

The difference between us and a more assembly-line driven shop is, simply, we’re not an assembly line shop. Each project our digital agency  creates, from website designs to web application development, and every film and video we produce is a custom product, crafted specifically for our client to meet their exact needs.

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t take advantage of the economies of using similar processes and pipelines for each client. For instance, our RED digital cinema post production pipeline is awesome, and helps us massively reduce costs to where we can deliver outstanding, feature film quality video for our clients for a midrange price. And on the website side, our reliance on CMF MODX and the LAMP stack has similarly helped streamline our process when developing highly complex websites for clients. So no, we don’t reinvent the wheel every time we do something. What we do is use our awesome, proven wheels to help us develop projects that are spectacular and specifically geared towards our clients.

It’s the difference between hiring a rock star architect to design your building and buying an off-the-shelf tract home plan for $50 online. Nothing against tract homes, I lived in one for years growing up. But in today’s business world, you need all the advantages you can get to differentiate your business from the competition. You need a killer architect to get the most out of your project. We help businesses and organizations do exactly that.




Web Video Production: Scriptless is Foolish

We love helping clients create memorable videos for their websites. But often we’re approached by clients who know they need a video, but don’t understand that a script is really important. A good script, or at least a solid treatment, is really the only way to make sure you’re creating a video that’ll meet your goals. And it’s far cheaper to make changes to a script than to a finished production.

Sure, there’s times when a script isn’t vital- times when you’re doing interviews and getting soundbites, for instance. But even then, a rough treatment will help ensure you grab everything you need, which saves you time and pain in post.

It’s like building a house- you really need some sort of blueprint, or you’ll end up building something terrible that’s a complete mess. Or something gorgeous that’s just not what you wanted.  Either way, it’s not useful to your business- or at least, not as useful as it should be.

When we can, we try to educate the client about the importance of having a script for their video. Most of the time, they listen, and the collaboration is fruitful. Sometimes they don’t. We try to avoid those situations as much as we can.


Companies with video get 437% more engagement from customers

From GoMoNews:

 Videos are now a bigger part of Google’s search results as Google learns to index video content. Videos account for 50% of all online traffic as of January 2012. Not only do videos boost your company’s visibility, but they promote engagement. Customers exposed to videos are 437% more likely to engage your brand.

Wow, right? That’s more than 4x the engagement. Video matters. A lot. And no matter what your business’ size, you need quality video on your website and an active YouTube presence.

Learn about our video production services.

Read the whole article at GoMoNews


Professionals Specialize

When we first started building websites and creating promo videos for clients, we were open to any CMS, any camera, any software app or technology out there that looked promising. We were brand new, and trying new things was a lot of fun for me and my team. We’re still constantly evaluating new technologies and tools, and bringing the winners into our toolkit. But over the past two years we’ve settled on a core group of tools- from the RED cameras we love to shoot on, to our favored CMS (MODX) for building websites and web applications, and a standard set of dev and post production tools.

Why? Because professionals specialize.

It’s impossible to deliver amazing, stunning results when you’re constantly fighting with your tools, and learning how to use them. But by finding out which tools work the best for you, and really learning them inside and out, they become like extensions of your mind. This opens you up to putting your efforts into the job- not the tools. It allows you to focus on the story you’re telling, or the user experience you’re building. Plus, it makes for projects that have fewer errors or delays during production. That’s huge.

Again, I’m not advocating a closed-system mentality. You need to be constantly trying new things. But having a reliable, extremely high competence in a core set of tools can help your digital agency succeed. I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved PatrickOrtman, Inc.