This article continues our series on the presentations made as a part of our Lifeblue University program. This week we discuss LB designer Justin Miller's take on the 'signatures' agencies place on the websites they design. These signatures can take several forms; you may have seen a 'site created by' stamp in the bottom corner of a site's homepage or perhaps even a mention of the agency in the page's footer. Sometimes credit will be given on a separate page placed in the site's 'About' section (referred to as a 'colophon'), or it could be hidden in the page's code, viewable only by examining the page source material. Other times search as you may, you might not even be able to find who created a site because this information is nowhere to be found.
All of these methods, along with a few others, are currently used to allow agencies to leave their mark on their work in a literal manner. In the world of web design, this kind of clear labeling can be in a lot of ways necessary. To make this point in his presentation, Justin started out by warming up the LB team with a game of 'Match the Work with the Creator.' While most everyone had little trouble identifying the art of Van Gogh and Michelangelo, a prototype by BMW and Coca-Cola's iconic bottle design, the team had a much harder time naming the agencies behind the websites Justin showed next.
In last week's LB University presentation, Jonathan explained how the 'group auteur' theory could generate a synergistic dynamic among a team to create work with a recognizable style, but this idea applies more to a consistency in quality rather than appearance. The websites in an agency's portfolio'unless all created to look extremely similar'rarely achieve the instant identification that other products are able to. And in this industry of serving diverse clients in different categories with unique needs, agencies would be wise to strive to make it to where each site is not similar in appearance to another before it. But then how, you ask, can an agency brand its quality and style in a way that ties back to its name? This is how a signature can help.
Those who oppose the use of signatures claim that this practice is a sign of a less established agency that is not 'professional enough' to forgo clearly displaying its name in order to attain credit. Another common argument against the practice is the fact that any mistakes made in the management of the site following the launch of the agency's initial design could be reflected upon the agency, whether or not it is actually at fault for the error.
However, the support for signatures is much stronger. Most hold the belief that the name and contact information of the agency responsible for a site's design is desired by the user often enough to make it readily available. A signature gives credit where it's due and has the ability to drive business to the agency when prospective clients likes what they see on a site that that agency has designed. Lifeblue has seen first hand how some of its own signatures directly influence interested prospects to contact the company.
Signatures hold intrinsic value for designers by giving due credit and providing referral opportunities. This value evidently holds a lot of worth considering that the use of signatures has become a common practice in the industry.
In most cases, agencies will attach some form of a signature to the sites they create, but most will agree that there are right and wrong ways to do it. 'Black hat' methods that involve attaching a signature to every page of a site or displaying it in a distracting manner are generally frowned upon and can even be counterproductive by generating negative feelings towards an agency's brand for being so uncouth. Most will agree that these kinds of practices should definitely be avoided.
Some of the more favorable methods of displaying a signature that were noted earlier have proven to be more positive and successful ways for an agency to leave its mark on a site. Each of these methods possesses unique benefits.
A 'site created by'-type stamp is a quick and noticeable enough way to put your agency in the spotlight for a job well done. This also provides the opportunity for prospective clients or interested users to click through to your agency's website for further inquiry and information on how to contact you. A mention in a page's footer serves the same purpose but should be used sparingly to not become seemingly overbearing.
As mentioned earlier, a colophon is a separate, but easy to locate page that supplies ample space to list information on the creation of the site. Think of it like the page in a book that displays the facts like its copyright, publication, editing, etc. A colophon acts in the same way by providing the opportunity to give credit to all involved and to include all relevant information on the site, like the code it incorporates, the type of computer on which it was created or the programs used to design and manage it.
Another form of leaving a signature involves placing it within a page's code. While it will be mostly the computer-savvy that will come across this mark, it is one of the least intrusive methods. Code-implanted signatures also allow for increased creativity in display since it will not be a visible distraction on the website itself.
Some agencies prefer to have a standard protocol concerning the format in which it displays its signatures, but again, each client's needs are unique and each site different, so handling this issue on a case-by-case basis can allow for more flexibility. No matter how it's done, it's critical to ensure that most importantly it's done right. As with anything, always refer to the best practices and further your agency's business in a manner that is consistent with its brand message and better serves its clients.
The way a signature is presented on a site can prove to be just as important as the signature itself, so take the appropriate time to consider this practice and how your agency handles it. Play your cards right, and your success could one day have people asking for another kind of signature.