The Visual Bottleneck… or We Have No Wallop!

InsightExpress released a study a few days ago rubbing our online noses in the fact that people prefer print magazines over their online equivalents. And, heck, I’d have to agree, given the current state of online graphic design and the hardware systems’ display technology.

According to the new survey, only 22% of those who read online magazines prefer the interactive version over the print version.

If magazines like National Geographic and Sports Illustrated had to reduce everything into a nine-inch square and make all the images 72 dots per inch, no one would read them either.

This isn’t an issue of bandwidth anymore; it’s an issue of human aesthetics and computer display capabilities.

Display Technology

Who would have thought that after 20 years, our screen resolution wouldn’t have improved? Sure, we’ve added lots of colors, width and height to our monitors in the interim, but very little richness. And that’s fine for the display of information. It’s just not fine for the display of images that evoke emotion.

Hmmm, images that evoke emotion. That sounds a lot like what we advertisers are looking for.


Online design today breaks down into two schools: the tediously informative (and cluttered) versus a high-concept - minimalism.

The first school is best illustrated by taking a peek at any trade magazine online, particularly the technology-oriented ones. The second school is perhaps most epitomized by those superfluous Flash introductions to many ad agency websites. Once visitors fast forward past the Flash, they come to a series of obscurely-labeled buttons. I’m sorely tempted to name some examples, but hey, I have to keep working in this industry.

Neither of these formulas constitutes useful design, in my opinion. While at least the first school has the charm of being information-dense, neither give to site visitors what magazines have delivered since the 1920’s: a rich visual tableau of a topic.

In the old days, before color printing was cheap enough, the big publications, like Look and Life, ran in tabloid size, using breadth where they failed in the richness of color. Better and better printing technology allowed them to come down in size and deliver even better images.

Magazines have become more evocative over time as they’ve become richer in design and more specific in topic.

And as an advertiser, it is just these qualities that I look for in a media opportunity. I want a medium with a specificity of topic that allows me some very good targeting, and a place to deliver a creative wallop.

We have the targeting. We have no wallop. And we won’t get wallops until our computer makers find reason to profit in providing a richer medium for the publishers.

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