Christian Dodd: Bridging the Divide

Christian Dodd is Global App & Operations Manager, FordPass,  Ford Motor Company

Christian Dodd is Global App & Operations Manager, FordPass, 
Ford Motor Company

As we head towards this year’s CreateTech Conference, we wanted to explore the issues, breakthroughs, challenges and opportunities faced by those on the front lines. So we’ve reached out to members of the Creative Technology community to hear about their projects, the way they integrate with traditional agency executives and what they see for the future of the advertising industry. Over the next few months will be sharing these stories with you here. We hope you’ll find them as illuminating and provocative as we did. 

Today we hear from Christian Dodd, Global App & Operations Manager, FordPass, Ford Motor Company. Christian shares his thoughts on ways of working between tech practitioners and their colleagues who come from other backgrounds.

Bridging the Divide

When I made the transition from a digital agency to a full service, more brand-oriented agency seven years ago, it became quickly apparent that the ways I had become accustomed to conveying ideas & vision would need some adjustment. I have a distinct memory of one of my first meetings, discussing a brand home page. Thinking I would show some initiative, I sketched up a quick wireframe prior to my first meeting with our internal team, hoping it could help guide and focus our discussion. It did not. The account director (who would later become one of my favorite collaborators), upon seeing the wireframe, became visibly annoyed, told me it was totally wrong and could never be shown to the client. I immediately assumed he didn’t understand what a wireframe was, and questioned my career choice. In actuality, the reaction was driven by the words I’d thrown into the wire to indicate content sections, and was easily remedied. I learned something important though, about the difference in focus and expectations both coworkers and clients bring to the table when dealing with anything from a “brand” shop - even when it’s part of a functional work flow.

Words matter

For better or worse, clients look to their brand agencies to solve messaging and communications problems.  They want your guidance on how to talk about products and services. Even when evaluating something intended to prescribe functionality, there will be a tendency to evaluate “what it’s called”, calls to action, product labels, and any other copy on the page. While it can seem pointlessly time-consuming to noodle copy in a wireframe or low-fidelity prototype, it’s probably worth it - especially if you’re trying to sell an idea. Enlist a copywriter, or at least someone familiar with the brand to get you as close to appropriate tone as possible and help you avoid seemingly innocuous words that might set someone off.

Always provide context

While details matter, diving directly into them almost always puts the team’s focus on the wrong things (like the words). I try to work down from as simple a model as possible (Where does this content hub exist in the broader campaign? What are the major steps necessary to make this reservation?). Once the details are placed in appropriate conceptual context...

Describe the experience, not the thing

Particularly when selling a new idea, it has generally helped to spend more time describing how the thing (app, site, product, etc.) will be experienced and exist in the life of the user than the individual pages or buttons.  It is important to know what it is and how it works. It is just as important to make it seem obvious by the time you get there.

Higher fidelity is better

This has been a tough one to accept. With a background in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) methodology largely based in the world of large, complex software projects, the idea that low fidelity wireframes and prototypes lead to a more efficient design process with better outcomes was almost gospel. When operating in the world of advertising however, I was forced to admit that rounds of revision in wireframe without at least some layer of brand-appropriate design were often wasted. Like the words, the visual design is so critical to the reception of an idea that wireframes rarely work.  We still draw them, but treat them more often as an internal working document rather than a default client deliverable.

Video can work better than the real thing

In the quest for higher fidelity, prototyping seemed like the pinnacle - not appropriate for everything, but certainly the thing to shoot for if time permitted. However, for many of the reasons above (providing appropriate context, focusing on the real world experience), even a quickly produced video can do a better job of selling the experience than even a highly polished prototype. Prototypes can be great for testing, but haven’t worked as well as a tool to sell ideas.

Seven years in, I still get blank stares, puzzled looks, and lots of questions. But it is getting better, easier, and more fun. And, like the ideas themselves, I’m sure at least one of these thoughts will change tomorrow.