As every artist knows, without a solid foundation, your art can be doomed. In portraiture, this foundation is known as the imprimatura. It is the drawing or sketch that constructs the correct sizing, spacing, perspective, and tonal values that will establish success for details of the rest of a portrait. Also known as the underpainting, imprimatura was a painting technique championed by the early masters of the Renaissance. When careful attention was paid to these initial steps, the output was astonishingly realistic. However, when rushed or miscalculated — even the slightest bit off — the whole illusion of reality fell apart and the painting became lost in its own inexactitude. What's worse, once the foundation was set, it was nearly impossible to correct later on in the process. Too many details would have already been applied and, in most situations; the entire effort would be trashed and started from scratch.
Not the end of the world, if you are enterprising in a small painting, but let's consider something larger, more expansive and expensive: an online marketing campaign for instance. Without careful attention given at the beginning, an entire initiative can be in shambles with the utmost certainty that there will never be enough time or dollars to make up for the upfront mistakes.
So then, why is it so common for design teams to forget — or forgo — many of the initial and establishing details in a campaign's framework? All too often we see this first stage rushed or skipped. And only when we have a chance to step back and see all the flaws in the initial concept, it is much too late to make the necessary corrections.
With the ever-complicated evolution of the multi-channel, non-linear, highly segmented experiences required for the new customer landscape, more than ever we need our sketch work to be rock solid, clearly defined, alongside a deep understanding of customer attitudes and motivations.
Some critical imprimatura things to consider when beginning your next multi-channel experience design:
Gather rich perspectives.
Before anything has begun, make sure every stakeholder is able to distill what the experience means to him or her. Conduct in-person (ideally) or phone/email interviews to collect personal goals, business goals, content considerations, and other valuable insights from all key business owners. These stakeholder perspectives can be documented and distributed among team members.
Lead with behavior, not the tech.
Starting with a clear view of what our intended behavior needs are for a successful marketing effort is a far more important step than listing out technical requirements. All too often, we lead with technical understanding and map an experience within the limitations of that understanding. By first digging deep to determine the simplest interaction required from our customers, you will invariably reduce technology requirements, not increase them.
Establish the user's perspective.
Early on, we need to determine how different people will approach and use our solution. We need to uncover any anticipated user behaviors and document what will be required by the solution to match those expectations. Ultimately, this leads to an informed user understanding that identifies all the imperatives needed for a successful user experience.
Locate the human element.
If you can't see the soul of your experience from the beginning, it will lack a meaningful connection with anyone other than yourself. Even the most appealing, incentive-based promotion should have a heart to it. Humor, gratitude, friendship, sharing, anything that will resonate after the customer interaction has occurred. In our distracted world, now more than ever, our touches with customers need a piece of humanness to them or else they will fall into absolute obscurity.
Keeping some of these thoughts in mind when tackling the "underpainting" of your next marketing experience can hopefully move it from the mundane and uninviting to the truly meaningful masterpiece that it deserves to become.