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17 Nov 2005

by Noel

Authentic is the Authentic Black

It’s pretty rare that I agree with anything that Joel writes on his blog “Joel on Software”. However, when he discusses<a
href=”http://joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/10/30.html”>his site redesign he hits on something that rings true:

A long time ago I paid a top web designer, Dave
Shea, who created a stunningly beautiful design for me to
use. It ended up looking a little bit too shiny, though, so
I never used it. This is a site designed by me, badly, using
my poor Corel PHOTO-PAINT skills and my crappy amateur
photos and my affection for the font “Georgia” and my poor
eyesight (thus the largish font). … The more it looks like
it was designed by a geek, not a graphic designer, the
happier I am, because I am a geek.

Authenticity is a big deal; perhaps the big deal for small companies. When people contact a small company they want to talk to someone with a name, not a random customer support droid. They want to feel a personal connection to that company, and perhaps that a little part of their success is due to them. Building this connection is one reason we write Untyped, and also why we have our <a href=”http://untyped.com/about/index.php”>dream offices</a> on our web pages. It also goes the otherway: by
personalising our web presence we feel a bit more like it’s ours. In this early stage we aren’t working to build our careers, we working to fulfill our passions, to build our dreams into reality, and this sense of ownership is important.

What happens when a small company gets bigger? This is were trouble hits: they <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jump_the_shark”>jump the shark</a>. This might be the death knell for TV shows, but normally companies just keep on getting bigger. Except now people aren’t using their products out of any attachment to the company, but because they are forced to. The signs are that <a href=”http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2005/08/google_brand_an.html”>Google</a> and <a
href=”http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/have_we_jumped_the_shark.php”>37 Signals</a>, both companies we respect immensely, are tettering on the edge.

Is there anything that can be done about this? I’m not sure. It’s a fact that as more people join a company you can’t expect to know all of them, and vice versa. A lot of companies spend a lot of money to try and project a single voice, but this is really a symptom of the problem. Perhaps the thing to do is let the babble overflow the corporate boundaries, and let people make their own connections with those inside, just like they used to? It the opposite of standard marketing thinking, which is all about protecting the brand, but perhaps showing the human reality is the way to keep communication personal. Either way, it will be a long time before we find out.

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