My friend and leading web designer, Greg Storey (@brilliantcrank), forwarded a piece from designer Travis Gertz (@travisgertz) on the decline of web design — especially as it relates to designing environments for publishing.

Gertz even sees content as stealing the emotion from design.

There’s a lot of writing happening, but so little of it has any substance. Superficial content is cheap. It’s outsourced to content farms and social media consultants. We hire interns, students or project managers to “maintain the blog.” Publications have reduced the number of in-house staff and rely on armies of underpaid freelancers who have no budget or support for investigation, research, or anything more than a shallow thought.

What are we putting out in the world? If design is the expression of content, and the content is worthless, what is the point of good design? Most of the shit we are compelled to put out in the world doesn’t deserve the pixels it’s rendered on… and you know what? No one seems to care. We’ll even interrupt the readers who were baited into reading crap content with a popup badgering them to sign up for more crap content to fill their inboxes so we can “increase our reach.”

We don’t actually care about content. We only care about what content can do for us. Why should anyone care about how it reads?

This pressure created by phoney metrics, fear of risk, and worthless content has squeezed expression and emotion right out of the design process.

I hate to say it, but it’s happening big time in the case of law firm publishing.

Many law firms are focused on metrics, page views, painting by the numbers, email notifications, colors, designs, logos, head shots, bio’s and who’s writing the content for who.

Few firms ask about what makes for good digital publishing or blogging. I am never asked how can we help our lawyers connect with their audience in a real and authentic fashion. How can we build trust?

Heck, half the time, we’re not even welcomed to speak with the firm’s lawyers and coach them as to blogging well. You know, “Not to worry if we’re headed in the wrong direction, we’re making good progress.”

In Gertz’ below suggestion that designers ought listen to the heartbeat of content and let the content give design her voice, there’s a lesson for law firms and law bloggers.

Designing from the heart of our messages out means we fully acknowledge that they will not speak the same way to every person. We’re no longer chasing numbers. Instead, we’re thinking about how we should treat each piece of content, designing to reflect its subtle personality. The content should speak to the few people who can identify with this personality because this is the only audience that matters. No machine will ever A/B test its way to a more meaningful relationship.

Find your passion, listen to your heart and speak to the people who can identify with your interests. Blogging is more about connecting with people than penning the treatise on an area of the law or covering every development in a niche.

Traffic is much less important than relationships and trust. By expressing yourself and giving insight of value in a real and authentic fashion in a focused area of the law and/or locale, you’ll attract folks with relevant interests. Relationships there count.

Superficial content is cheap and plentiful in the law. Reach for something better.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Gina

  • “Blogging is more about connecting with people than penning the treatise on an area of the law.” I need to write that sentence on my coffee cup. For me the number one stumbling block to writing more consistently–weekly or even daily–is that need to “pen a treatise.” There is no shortage of topics to talk about, but you want to come across as being an “expert.” Keep it conversational. You can write about a topic without writing a legal brief.

    • It’s a challenge for each of us to remember that sharing what we reading and offering our take is an excellent blog. You share information others may not have seen, you share what it means — at least to you, you share how you think about things and you give others an opportunity to get to know you. That’s not all bad.

  • Jason Shinn

    I’ve fought the “temptation” to outsource blog writing for various reasons. Chief among them, it is something I enjoy and it allows/forces me to keep up to date on my corner of the legal universe. Also, while I don’t pretend to be on par with Shakespeare or Bryan Garner (essentially literary equivalents), I do believe that I produce a better and more genuine writing product than content that is outsourced.

    • You’ve also demonstrated that what you are doing works.

      I have always looked at blogging as being something quite special. It’s reading other news and information and then responding to it with your insight and commentary. Much like a conversation over dinner with other people you listen and then respond. People can then learn a ton from how you respond, your tone, the information you share, your passion and your sense of humor. Even if you are not engaging what someone has written directly, you can respond to the questions you get or the questions you believe people have – doing so you are also listening.

      Blogging could be considered a subset of content marketing I supposed, but content marketing does not reach the heights of blogging. Content can be purchased from someone and you distribute it. That was done 30 years ago with newsletters and today it’s done on the net, no difference.

      Blogging is different and you’ve connected with folks in Michigan in a real way as a result.