January 29, 2021

The Fallacy of Final

Back when I still had spots, I was at a small agency designing coffee table books for clients in the Sports and Entertainment industries. One of our clients, the NBA, would publish a book each year to celebrate the league champions about a week after the conclusion of the series. That’s right—one week after the championship team was getting champagne in their eyes, a commemorative 112-page, full color, hardcover book with over 150 photographs was hitting the shelves at Barnes & Noble (the quicker the release, the better the sales). Copy, design, photo retouching, proofing, client approvals, file prep, printing, binding, shipping… in a week.

Now, in all fairness, we would get somewhat of a head start on the writing and design before the winning team was crowned. As the championship series progressed, we’d shift our energy and attention to the book design — we had one going for each team — that mapped to the team that had the momentum. Lakers? Yeah, definitely the Lakers. Wait, no… Pacers? No, Lakers. Hold up... Pacers? LAKERS WIN!!!

The 72 hours after the series ended would be frantic — a small team of about six people would work around the clock in order to release the final file to the printer. The name of that file would be something like “2000NBA_Finals_Book_LakersFINAL.qxp.”

And then it was “2000NBA_Finals_book_LakersFINAL_v2.qxp”

Then “...v3.qxp

“...v4.qxp

“...v5.qxp

“2000NBA_Finals_book_LakersFINAL_v27.qxp”

Yep. 27 times we thought we were releasing the “final” file — only to find a typo, or a missing page number, or a photo of a player wearing a hat in which the brand of that hat wasn’t “an official sponsor of the NBA.”

And so began my hate-filled war with the word “final.”

From that day on, I stubbornly refused to name any files with the word “final” in it. Partly because of superstition, but mostly because of the existential realization that nothing is ever final. My suspicions were all-the-more confirmed as I transitioned from print design to digital design. It didn’t take me long to realize that in digital, the notion of “final” was even more misguided than it was in print design. At least in print, somewhere down the line, paper gets bound, shrink-wrapped, loaded onto pallets, and shipped. That’s pretty “final.” By contrast, in digital, what’s “published” can be changed in a moment’s notice, and changed over and over and over again — not to mention the publishing flexibility that’s afforded by automation and AI.

Rather than a curse, this ability to avoid finality in favor of adaptability is a brand’s greatest asset. It’s also one of the most overlooked and neglected attributes of digital activation. Regularly, we see brands spend a ton of focus and energy getting to launch, and lose sight of what's possible, and even required, post-launch. “Launch” needs to be regarded as the starting line, not the finish line.

With that spirit in mind, I offer some (ever-adapting) best practices regarding the launch of a site or app:

Do commit to evolution, not perfection. Release, learn, and improve. Brands have the responsibility to collect and leverage ongoing data and insights to inform the evolution of features and content. In the words of Voltaire: “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.”

Do define post-launch workflows and governance. Knowing what to publish is difficult, but knowing what not to publish is even more difficult. Establishing frameworks in advance that provide guidance and a governance model is essential for consistency and time management. Brands should be building out processes that will turn the insights they glean into actionable tasks, and managing those tasks in a backlog prioritized by user needs.

Don’t underestimate the need for cross-disciplinary talent. While brands often appreciate the need for content creators, they almost always underestimate the ongoing nurturing that only skilled data analysts, UX and digital designers, product managers, content strategists, and developers can bring. Investing in these roles is a commitment to the evolution and optimization of content, features, functionality, and brand assets.

Do invest in good tools. Spend the time to investigate and test drive tools to collect data from users (Crazy Egg, Google Analytics and Tag Manager, SurveyMonkey, etc), and tools to help manage the backlog (Jira, Trello, DoneDone, etc).

Don’t neglect your CMS. The most important of the tools, the CMS, should get (almost) as much UX love and consideration as the customer-facing site. An effective CMS can be highly configured and customized so that the terminology and permissions aligns with existing business nomenclature and workflows. Content managers should inform the buildout of the CMS, and a training program should be implemented to support onboarding.

Do get into the right mindset. Arguably the most important consideration is recognizing that the investment to nurture your digital property after launch is less expensive and has a better ROI than undertaking a major redesign every three-to-four years. Just the search, RFP, selection, and procurement of an agency can cost seven figures and take months. Brands should find a partner that won't “drop the mic” and is committed to their client’s long-term success.

The end.

Or is it?...

Nick Lo Bue

Executive Creative Director, Digital Practice Lead

As VSA’s Digital Practice Lead, Nick specializes in the development of integrated digital experiences that transform businesses, focusing on the conception and evolution of large-scale, customer-centric initiatives. Prior to VSA, Nick was a Group Design Director at Fjord, co-founder and Partner of Timshel—a social impact strategy and technology firm, the first-ever Creative Director for the White House under the Obama Administration, and Group Creative Director at Razorfish.