"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones."— John Maynard Keynes
Some things can remain the same. Necco Wafers for example. Or the Tootsie Roll. Sometimes change can be unwelcome. Look at past attempts by Coca-Cola to change its product line or its look. McDonald's endured a complete "freak out" by the public when false rumors of the Big Mac being retired began to surface.
There are many cases where the public, the purchaser, the client - want what they know and love.
They don't want surprises. They're counting on "the thing" being the same, every time. Small outlier elements can change, sure, like a new attraction at Disney World. But the core experience must often remain the same.
This is absolutely NOT true when it comes to interactive design.
Some may stake a claim that conventional approaches are critical in providing good outcomes, and this is particularly true in the world of higher education interactive marketing, and those who critique it. However, I strongly disagree, and we continuously see innovative design and strategy succeed for our clients.
Interactive design is in its infancy, it's a medium that propels change in our lives, it's a platform that has been instrumental in radical evolution and transformation throughout the world. So why on earth should we stick with what's worked well in the past? Why should new ideas or concepts be frowned upon or derided as frivolous or stylistic indulgences?
Do we really think the people who come in contact with our design products are so limited in their ability to explore and learn that they will be incapable of embracing new ideas or approaches?
Are users really so influenced by their web experiences of the past that they will be appalled by different or unconventional presentations?
I find all of those notions insulting and rather hopeless. I'd probably go find another profession if that was indeed the case. However, it is not, and it's proven again and again when we examine how unconventional projects play out for our clients in the higher ed space.
Most recently, we've seen our unconventional approach succeed for Bucknell University.
When Bucknell partnered with Fastspot, they didn't want a cookie cutter face-lift approach. They didn't even want a "gorgeous fully responsive easy-to-use website." They wanted to break the rules and try new things. Why take that risk? Because it was critical that they differentiate themselves, and let the prospective audience know that Bucknell was the kind of place that fosters innovation.
They knew that their web presence told a story, and even if that story bucked convention and presented some unproven approaches to navigation and usability, the story would be one of innovation. The story would reflect a place that welcomes risk takers, outside-the-box thinkers, and people who don't need safety nets.
Of course, we still did our work to ensure optimal user experience for the target audience. We did usability testing and iterated on the initial deliverables (because you can never know how something will be used by the public until it's released to the public). We continue to work with the Bucknell team even today to tweak the site to improve goals and metrics.
And of course, the results that Bucknell reported today are a product of efforts by many people across many platforms. Bucknell made some strategic decisions to widen their reach, like lowering the app fee and dropping the mandatory 500 word essay. They made it easier to apply.
But they didn't make their website appeal to everyone. They did the opposite.
They said, "We are different as an institution and we want people who are excited by those differences to come to school here."
They made it easy for those people to apply, but they clearly identified "those people" first, before inviting them and providing an easier pathway. Bucknell used innovation to differentiate itself, to be memorable in a crowded and generic space. It presented itself as a University wiling to take risks. It all paid off.
We are really proud of Bucknell's recent numbers, as we can attest to it being a fantastic school, staffed with passionate and brilliant faculty and staff, who are there to make a difference in the world and in the lives of their students, alumni and colleagues. We will continue to do some followup research once the committed student list is complete, and inquire specifically about the role the website played in their decision making process. But for now, congratulations to the Bucknell team and all those who worked so hard to make something different and unconventional into the success it's proving to be.
You can read it for yourself: A Record Year for Bucknell Admissions.
"Bucknell University dared prospective students to rise to the challenge, and they did — applying in record numbers for admission to the Class of 2019. As of Jan. 27, the University had recorded 10,925 applications, marking an all-time high in Bucknell's 169-year history. The milestone represents a nearly 39-percent increase over last year's number of applications and exceeds the previous record set in 2006 by more than 1,800."
Most importantly, I just want to really be clear about one thing. Interactive design is a space for new thinking, for the status quo to be challenged, for innovation. It is what attracted so many creative and unique minds to it in the first place, and it changes and evolves daily. Tomorrow we may be designing for interactions in virtual reality, or on someone's wrist, or throughout homes and cars.
Every situation will require a unique approach, or at the very least a willingness to embrace a new way of thinking.
Just look at how much mobile devices have transformed how we think about interaction design and how we work to create it. This is an industry that requires designers and strategists to be able and willing to push envelopes, consider new approaches and be looking to the horizon and beyond. And that is what we seek to do every day at Fastspot.