Holding Onto Something: Tangibility in a Digital Era

Idea by Vincent Pagé

Since the phenomena of being locked inside, I’ve found myself missing the sensation of touch. Lockdown has become a sort of sensory deprivation chamber in some ways, disallowing the holding of a friend’s hand, touching the sand at a new beach in a new country, or experiencing the weight of the utensils at a restaurant your first time there. I used to be so involved with my hands through things like whittling, sketching, writing with a pencil, and sculpting clay coffee-mugs that were never truly worthy of making it into the cupboard. But lately my activities have narrowed, largely composed of replying to emails and doomscrolling Twitter and Instagram.

But before the digital era, one of the main ways we would interact with the world was through touch. Of course there was and is sound, sight, smell, taste etc, but I’d suggest that none has been reduced by tech and lockdown more than touch.

We’re buying our oranges and lemons online through our glass phones, our coffee-mugs online through glass phones, our glasses online through glass phones; it’s rare we’re feeling the genuine physicality of much of these products or objects before buying them. And worst of all is when that sensation is off, when you thought you knew the feel but your product shows up at your doorstep being very much a C-list version of your A-list expectations.

And now more than ever due to this missing sensation, I find myself utterly drawn towards websites that have a sense of tangibility. Though they exist in the ethereal digital plane in a series of 1’s and 0’s, I leave these websites with a sense that I was there with them, that ontop of sight, touch was triggered (I’ll let you know when we figure out how to make a website smell like the ocean).

Ultimately what I’m talking about is interaction design, but it’s a little deeper than that when it’s leveraged effectively. Someone who knows how to design a website that truly “feels” is rare but so, so valuable. If I move my mouse over something that illuminates, there is sensation beyond sight. A real interaction, a cause and effect, just like picking up and squeezing a lemon for its ripeness. There’s a human sense of interacting that has been so missing from our leap to digital that it needs to be the next focal point of web and digital design.


A few examples of what I’m talking about:

Julie Bonnemoy
While this site as a whole is a little “much” for me, I think that the use of water ripples over her work lends such a gentle sense of touch, that it actually feels like you’re running your fingertips through water. The reason this is effective is because if you look at her work, it is gentle and understated, and I end up not just seeing her portfolio pieces with my eyeballs, but feeling them too, with my finger hovering over my trackpad.

Sasaj Jewerly
This is one of my favourites because of the use of interaction design mixed in with language. Scrolling down, the first interaction that really occurs is the ECHO growing bigger or “louder”. As you scroll further down, the photography shrinks, almost reflecting the actual sound of an echo fading into silence. This was a brilliant tactile choice, allowing us to cause the expansion and contraction of certain visual elements in the site almost like we’re the ones shouting “ECHO” into a canyon.This is one of my favourites because of the use of interaction design mixed in with language. Scrolling down, the first interaction that really occurs is the ECHO growing bigger or “louder”. As you scroll further down, the photography shrinks, almost reflecting the actual sound of an echo fading into silence. This was a brilliant tactile choice, allowing us to cause the expansion and contraction of certain visual elements in the site almost like we’re the ones shouting “ECHO” into a canyon.

Playground Paris
Perhaps the simplest, but most perfect example of what I’m talking about comes from the graphic design agency Playground. The text is black, present, but once you hover over it the words turn into an array of bright pastel colours that then fade back to black after a few seconds. The hero of this site literally allows you to “play” with the text, and the fact that it fades back into black indicates that you can stay as long as you want, and that playtime is done when you’re ready to scroll on and learn more. I’ve been on this website once and have not forgotten the experience.

Wickret
The final example I’ll use comes from Cuberto Design & Development for a new banking app. Again, this interaction is simple, but totally lends itself to a tactile experience. When hovering over “Banking Reimagined”, there’s a colourful light that shines through the text. With such a bold statement, you’d better convince me quickly that anything about “Banking” has been “Reimagined” but this manages to achieve it. The sensation I take away from this is almost like I’m waving a flashlight around on a dark screen, and it allows me to illuminate these words. It makes me feel like I am there, interacting and experiencing them, accumulating into a sensation that is so much more than just reading text, but almost as if I am imagining it in the first place.


This is all to say that I miss interacting with the outdoor world, and that engaging with a screen 15 hours a day is slowly sucking the life force out of me, as I’m sure it is with most everyone. But it doesn’t have to. Tonight just make sure to consciously scratch your cat, hold the ingredients you’re going to make dinner with, and appreciate when some team of designers and developers thoughtfully worked to make the subtlest shift in a website so that it felt for that moment, just a little more human.

You Didn’t Pay Enough For Your Corporate Website

Idea by Vincent Pagé

Since the phenomena of being locked inside, I’ve found myself missing the sensation of touch. Lockdown has become a sort of sensory deprivation chamber in some ways, disallowing the holding of a friend’s hand, touching the sand at a new beach in a new country, or experiencing the weight of the utensils at a restaurant your first time there. I used to be so involved with my hands through things like whittling, sketching, writing with a pencil, and sculpting clay coffee-mugs that were never truly worthy of making it into the cupboard. But lately my activities have narrowed, largely composed of replying to emails and doomscrolling Twitter and Instagram.

But before the digital era, one of the main ways we would interact with the world was through touch. Of course there was and is sound, sight, smell, taste etc, but I’d suggest that none has been reduced by tech and lockdown more than touch.

We’re buying our oranges and lemons online through our glass phones, our coffee-mugs online through glass phones, our glasses online through glass phones; it’s rare we’re feeling the genuine physicality of much of these products or objects before buying them. And worst of all is when that sensation is off, when you thought you knew the feel but your product shows up at your doorstep being very much a C-list version of your A-list expectations.

And now more than ever due to this missing sensation, I find myself utterly drawn towards websites that have a sense of tangibility. Though they exist in the ethereal digital plane in a series of 1’s and 0’s, I leave these websites with a sense that I was there with them, that ontop of sight, touch was triggered (I’ll let you know when we figure out how to make a website smell like the ocean).

Ultimately what I’m talking about is interaction design, but it’s a little deeper than that when it’s leveraged effectively. Someone who knows how to design a website that truly “feels” is rare but so, so valuable. If I move my mouse over something that illuminates, there is sensation beyond sight. A real interaction, a cause and effect, just like picking up and squeezing a lemon for its ripeness. There’s a human sense of interacting that has been so missing from our leap to digital that it needs to be the next focal point of web and digital design.


One example I’d like to focus on specifically is with a company we’ll call ACME. With an annual revenue of somewhere between $50-70 milion, ACME approached us last year because their lead funnel was completely broken. They sell tech and their site looked about 10 years old, so understandably it was difficult getting people to reach out to the sales team. And not only had ACME identified that a poorly designed website was decimating their sales potential, but it was also creating an immensely high turnover rate within the sales department, fostering a toxic work culture within the company.

Sasaj Jewerly
This is one of my favourites because of the use of interaction design mixed in with language. Scrolling down, the first interaction that really occurs is the ECHO growing bigger or “louder”. As you scroll further down, the photography shrinks, almost reflecting the actual sound of an echo fading into silence. This was a brilliant tactile choice, allowing us to cause the expansion and contraction of certain visual elements in the site almost like we’re the ones shouting “ECHO” into a canyon.This is one of my favourites because of the use of interaction design mixed in with language. Scrolling down, the first interaction that really occurs is the ECHO growing bigger or “louder”. As you scroll further down, the photography shrinks, almost reflecting the actual sound of an echo fading into silence. This was a brilliant tactile choice, allowing us to cause the expansion and contraction of certain visual elements in the site almost like we’re the ones shouting “ECHO” into a canyon.


On average, corporations should and are spending between 5%–10% annually on marketing. In the digital world, this means clicks, and when you’re spending that much money on getting people to click, it’s genuinely harmful to not invest properly so that when consumers land on your website it’s worth it. So often corporations invest too little in this critical field, and they do end up paying for it in the long run.

Playground Paris
Perhaps the simplest, but most perfect example of what I’m talking about comes from the graphic design agency Playground. The text is black, present, but once you hover over it the words turn into an array of bright pastel colours that then fade back to black after a few seconds. The hero of this site literally allows you to “play” with the text, and the fact that it fades back into black indicates that you can stay as long as you want, and that playtime is done when you’re ready to scroll on and learn more. I’ve been on this website once and have not forgotten the experience.

Adapting And Thriving During A Global Pandemic

Idea by Danny Elkhoury

Since the phenomena of being locked inside, I’ve found myself missing the sensation of touch. Lockdown has become a sort of sensory deprivation chamber in some ways, disallowing the holding of a friend’s hand, touching the sand at a new beach in a new country, or experiencing the weight of the utensils at a restaurant your first time there. I used to be so involved with my hands through things like whittling, sketching, writing with a pencil, and sculpting clay coffee-mugs that were never truly worthy of making it into the cupboard. But lately my activities have narrowed, largely composed of replying to emails and doomscrolling Twitter and Instagram.

But before the digital era, one of the main ways we would interact with the world was through touch. Of course there was and is sound, sight, smell, taste etc, but I’d suggest that none has been reduced by tech and lockdown more than touch.

Since then, life’s been difficult to navigate, both at home and at work. It’s been one full year and I’m still working on how to get used to this new way of living at home, but I do have a few suggestions for brands and businesses to adapt and thrive in this new normal.

Step 1

// ADAPT

1. Accept the Facts

This one is hard, but is 100% necessary. The bad news? This is the 3rd worst global pandemic of the last 100 years, behind only the 1918 Spanish Flu and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The “good” news? We’re all living through it, including your customers. By accepting it, you will find solace in it, and only then will you be mentally prepared to adapt.

2. Understand the newly developed needs of your customers.

Consumers are the first to adapt. With a whole year of practice, your customers have already adapted to their new reality by doing everything online, and this trend is here to stay.

There is also a newly developed sense of financial insecurity that surrounds your customers and as a result, consumers have a new classification for what they deem essential. Re-evaluate the way you price your products/services, and ask yourself whether or not your pricing is fair and mindful of this new notion, while, of course, maintaining your profitability.

3. Provide a fast, safe, and contactless experience.

Your customers now expect a fast, safe, and contactless experience. Whether you are a physical retail store or a digital product by nature, no business is exempt from this widely accepted, newly developed expectation. What am I talking about?

Here are a few examples:

Physical Stores (Retail)

Provide a faster checkout experience by:

  • Implementing a new POS system to speed up the checkout process, if your existing one is out of date.
  • Adding more cashiers (if necessary) to accommodate the many customers waiting in line, to meet limited capacity requirements.

Provide a safer (for your employees and customers) shopping experience by:

  • Offering complimentary masks and sanitizer stations.
  • Screening each customer by asking questions and taking rapid temperature checks.
  • Installing protective barriers between shoppers and cashiers.
  • Installing floor markers and other wayfinding systems to remind customers of directions and distances to keep between themselves and others.

Provide a contactless shopping experience by:

  • Accepting “tap” credit or debit card payments
  • Making online purchases available for delivery or curbside pickup.

If you don’t already have an eCommerce website for your retail store, there are several platforms you could implement quickly and for very little cost, without the need for a developer, by utilizing pre-existing themes or templates. Here are a few we would suggest:

Shopify ($$$) – Best for stores with a large catalog.
Squarespace ($$)  – Best for boutique, brand-focused stores.
Square Online ($) – Best for stores who already utilize Square POS or for sellers who are on a smaller budget.

Digital Products and eCommerce Stores

As a digital store, you already have the advantage of being the safe and contactless option for your customers. To further enhance the safety of your customers, consider the importance of enhancing the safety of your employees by:

  • Creating an in-office rotation schedule
  • Offering complimentary masks and sanitizer stations in all workspaces.
  • Screening each employee by asking questions and taking rapid temperature checks, and keeping logs of the results.
  • Installing protective barriers between desks and workstations, in both office and warehouse.
  • Installing floor markers and other wayfinding systems to remind employees of directions and distances to keep between themselves and others.

You can still provide a faster experience by:

  • Ensuring your website’s frameworks, content management systems (CMS), and hosting/servers/resources are built to handle speed. The slower your eCommerce experience is, the more cart abandonments you will see.
  • Ensuring your customers are getting their orders as fast as possible by re-visiting your supply chain and logistics plan. Consumers are spending more money online than ever before and with that, comes the expectation for fast (and usually free) shipping.
  • Adding on-demand customer support via live chat or phone support to assist customers with questions about your products.

We’re buying our oranges and lemons online through our glass phones, our coffee-mugs online through glass phones, our glasses online through glass phones; it’s rare we’re feeling the genuine physicality of much of these products or objects before buying them. And worst of all is when that sensation is off, when you thought you knew the feel but your product shows up at your doorstep being very much a C-list version of your A-list expectations.

And now more than ever due to this missing sensation, I find myself utterly drawn towards websites that have a sense of tangibility. Though they exist in the ethereal digital plane in a series of 1’s and 0’s, I leave these websites with a sense that I was there with them, that ontop of sight, touch was triggered (I’ll let you know when we figure out how to make a website smell like the ocean).

Ultimately what I’m talking about is interaction design, but it’s a little deeper than that when it’s leveraged effectively. Someone who knows how to design a website that truly “feels” is rare but so, so valuable. If I move my mouse over something that illuminates, there is sensation beyond sight. A real interaction, a cause and effect, just like picking up and squeezing a lemon for its ripeness. There’s a human sense of interacting that has been so missing from our leap to digital that it needs to be the next focal point of web and digital design.

1. Write down your goals and revisit them daily.

Where are you going? In some scenarios, you may benefit from having no plans or an agenda and simply going with the flow. Running a business is not one of them.

Whether you use a note taking app, word document, Post-it notes, or good old fashioned pen and paper, write down your goals and remind yourself of them, every single day. Without a roadmap, you might end up nowhere.

2. Understand your customers and target audience.

Who are you for? We’ll keep this one simple. If you’ve been in business long enough to survive a pandemic, there’s a good chance you know a little bit about your best customers. Pay attention to the needs, behaviours, goals, characteristics, personality, age, gender, and occupation of your favorite customers, and document your findings.

Voilà: now you understand your customers, know who your ideal customer is, and most importantly (for growth), you have identified your target audience.

3. Define yourself within your industry and market.

Who are you, really? This might sound silly, but it’s time you got personal with yourself and your brand by asking yourself every day: “What do I stand for?”

If your values (what you stand for) are reflected in your work, congratulations! (If not, you might want to reconsider your line of business)

With that out of the way, ask yourself: “Where do I fit within my market?” Understanding your small role in a much larger ecosystem will help you not only attract new ideal customers, but retain them as well.

4. Articulate your brand’s positioning.

How do you want your customers to feel? It is human nature to trust people, companies and brands that share our values and beliefs. In correctly positioning your brand, you’re allowing customers to understand who you really are and what your purpose is.

Not everyone will be your customer, and that’s okay.

5. Focus on your digital experiences first.

Lastly, to welcome guests and thrive in a post-COVID world, your digital home needs to be the centre of attention. Far too often, there is more emphasis on advertising and marketing than there is on the main brand touchpoint to which2 all those (digital) advertising efforts lead.

Before you invest $$ on advertising efforts, be sure to take a closer look at whether your website is helping or hurting your bottom line.

Thanks for reading.

A special thank you to all frontline workers. Your hard work, dedication, and selflessness is deeply appreciated.

All photos on this post were provided by unsplash.com