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Informercials of the future

So I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately —blah blah blah, you’ve heard this, right?— and in the gigabytes of crap I’ve accrued, a couple of shows have stood out for reasons they doubtless wish they hadn’t. This is the story of one such show.

It’s called Designing for Usability —a feed I discovered as I searched the iTunes directory for anything both interesting and software-related— and it’s produced by Classic System Solutions. They’re a design/usability consultancy, this is their usability podcast; sounds promising, non? The QA Podcast seems to be working for QA Labs, and basically anybody with knowledge to share and a consultancy to plug is doing so by podcast these days, so what could go wrong?

Well, the thing that strikes you about Designing for Usability (if you subscribe) is that it doesn’t share knowledge so much as it emits a heavy funk; it’s a marketing ploy, and a lousy one at that. Red flags raised:

  1. It’s a podcast consisting of one show posted mid-August and not touched since.
  2. An acronym is employed to spell out the seven steps to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (!)
  3. Cheesy customer testimonials.
  4. The word synergy.
  5. An execrable ‘host’ one expects to squeal “Gee willikers mister! This usamajility stuff sure sounds tough!” at any moment.
  6. Tortured dialogue (see above).
  7. A free newsletter.
  8. A 1-888 alpha-mnemonic phone number.
  9. Plenty of cheese.

And through all this you have to wonder why. Why would anybody sign off on this colossal misallocation of advertising dollars? What kind of customer does such a patently inauthentic marketing scheme hope to attract? The gullible kind? It’s an infomercial, plain and simple… and I don’t know anybody in the technology business that actually buys into that kind of marketing. Designing for Usability has become one of those sad cases where an attempt at marketing fails because the producers don’t see how tacky and cliché it is. Ronco spray-on usability indeed.

I don’t mean to bag on ClassicSys: there is some decent advice in there, and they might have first-class usability consultants, but there’s something to be said for a podcast that can make a grown man gag in under forty seconds. It took an iron will and buns of steel to sit through the remaining twenty-eight minutes, and whether ClassicSys really is as bogus as they sound or whether they’re just the victim of a bad advertising agency, it makes them look phony. Of all the images you want to project about your company, that isn’t one of them. Talk to Infinium Labs if you don’t believe me.

The funny part is, their chosen delivery format is the one leading the charge against this kind of old-media bullshit. The entire weblogging experience, of which podcasting is an extension, is about authenticity. About transparency. Airing 7 Steps to Successful User Interface Design on The Steak Knife Channel with a few guys in tweed jackets and bouffant hairpieces might actually work if the housewife set were in need of UI advice, but it just doesn’t fly here in hi-tech land. For god’s sake… remember your audience.