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Form, Function, Emotion

The Dell Landscape

Another design concept of which the Digital Media Group is fond, is that of DNA—a common element that can move between media and be used in some layers, while being ignored in others. When outlining a design plan for a client, Rolston says that the group asks itself, "Is there a DNA that's shared between the branding definitions and the content and outside media?" That outside media could be advertisements, press kits, or other materials. The willingness to look beyond the Web site when identifying DNA is an example of why Frog considers itself to be a convergent firm—one that tailors its designs to be worn by many different forms of media.

With the Digital Media Group's next major client, Dell, the DNA took a general and a specific form. Generally, Dell's design called for the use of blue on all pages. Specifically, the group decided to include black and white photos, strips of blue, and small triangles on appropriate pages.

For Frog, Dell was a new testing ground for the standards and practices Frog had instituted with SAP. But the group knew this wouldn't be a simple process. Historically, agency relationships with Dell had ended shortly after they began. Agencies that offered traditional homepages lacked a "whole universe" context and failed to show Dell design solutions that could scale to several sites and media. "Agencies would come in, say great things, do their work, give [Dell] a bunch of Photoshop comps," says Rolston. "Dell would beat up the comps with their links, the agency would get fired, and the next one would come in."

For Rolston and the team, the philosophy at Dell differed dauntingly from SAP. "With SAP, the means are deeply part of everything," says Rolston. "With Dell, the ends are more important. Their key focus is the business problem. They aren't into the methodology of putting together their Web site. To them, it's problematic."

One of the first things Frog did with its new client was to step back and survey the Dell site (see Figure 2). Frog defined several concepts that anyone on the project could use to refer to the structure and the execution of the Web site. The goal was to help Dell focus its discussions about the functions of the site. The group watched as Dell adopted the language and began to use it for Dell's own independent design discussions. "We really crossed thresholds in Spring 2000 with Dell when we had successfully described the landscape of how we would work together, as opposed to being clever here and clever there. When they were using our terms of molecule and atom, we brought them into the concept of design interaction and process with a group," says Rolston. He notes that this interaction methodology should be shared freely. Design firms are rarely known for sharing the entire process with clients. According to Rolston, firms would be more productive with their clients "if you were just to spill the beans about how you do it."

Over the past four years, Frog and Dell have worked out a process that allows for continual refinements. This, says Rolston, is where it gets interesting. "Each time we've gone through Dell's site, we've more successfully developed and tested alternate ways for people to buy PCs," says Rolston. Given that Dell reports daily sales of $55 million, and aside from Amazon, is considered the prime example of e-commerce at its best, why would the company still worry over the minutiae of the online buying experience? The reason is that Dell has reached a saturation point and now strives to move beyond it. "We got to the farther edge of customer behavior," says Rolston. "We're trying to attract grandma to buy online. We're trying to do things in terms of personalization. Dell is way behind Amazon in terms of personalization.

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