Saturday 26 December 2009

The Holiday E-Card: What has Happened to the User Experience?

The weekend holiday is upon us. Before I close the office door, however, permit me to comment on one lamentably disappearing feature of the season. I am referring, of course, to the holiday greeting card.

One of the holiday joys has always been the receipt and display of cards from near and far. Sadly, the number of holiday greeting cards received is much reduced this year, replaced by email-delivered greeting cards of various sorts. I recognize that e-cards are kinder and gentler to the forest environment. As well, snail mail delivery requires airplanes and vehicles for moving the inventory, which in turn means consumption of fossil fuel. Here, too, holiday e-cards certainly contribute to the environment.

Nevertheless, from the vantage of this blog, the transition impacts on the way that visual and textual creativity is brought to bear on the social experience of reaching out and connecting (or reconnecting) with people though the exchange of cards, to be opened, grasped, read, and read again, before finding their ultimate resting place for display. More generally, the move from traditional holiday cards to the e-card variety raises an interesting twist on the way that contents are related to distribution and the user experience.

When we set out the copyright paradigm to students, we describe the triangular interrelationship between the content creator, the distributor or publisher of the contents, and the public interest. When I think about the traditional holiday greeting card, I realize that this paradigm may be inadequate. Distribution of contents is not merely finding new ways to package and deliver them more efficiently and economically. Depending upon the circumstances, it may also be about the user experience. If the means of distribution does not provide a superior (or least a satisfactory) user experience, presumably it will not gain traction with the user.

Think about both online distribution of contents, as opposed to the hard-copy delivery, or reading a full-length tome on an e-book device. In both cases, these distribution platforms are preferred because of the experience connected with the use of the platform. True, the attraction of online contents may also be function of the fact that it has largely been (at least up to now) free, and that the e-book devices promise savings in the purchasing of the books. There may also be a generational divide--my kids will be more likely to prefer the online experience than I do. But even taking these factors into account, it remains the case that on-line distribution and e-book devices are preferred means of content delivery because of the user experience.

Assuming that this is true, then I find the transition to the holiday greeting card a bit of a mystery. Simply put, I find the user experience far inferior to that of the traditional greeting card. I start with the size and shape of the envelope, which is usually different from that of the business letter. When I encounter such an envelope, there is already an expectation that a holiday card awaits inside. Once the envelope is opened and the card is removed, there is the feel of the texture of the card and the encounter with the aesthetics of the artwork. Moving on to the interior of the card, there is the text, perhaps personalized, perhaps not, usually a combination of the two. The experience in opening and reading a holiday e-card pales by comparison. In a word, the e-card has impoverished the holiday greeting card experience.

E-Card: Share the Holiday Experience

Permit me to conclude with an anecdote. For several years, I would commission a photography student at a local arts school to provide me with a portfolio of pictures suitable for use on the holiday greeting card that I wished to send out that year. Once the preferred picture was selected, I entered into a licence and royalty agreement with the student for the use of the photo. My entire family would then assist me in gluing the picture on the front of the many hundreds of cards that were to be sent. This was followed by the signing of each of the cards, most of which with personalized text. Recipients would mention, later on, about the uniqueness of the card. That, dear readers, is a genuine holiday card experience.

1 comment:

Mark Anderson said...

I agree that e-cards are fairly pointless. They are as interesting as spam mail, and are (nearly) as quickly deleted.

By the way, what is all this "holiday weekend" about? Personally, I think it detracts from the user experience of Christmas to avoid calling it by that name. I appreciate that you may be following a (US) trend. However, viewed from this (UK) side of the Atlantic, the trend seems as unsatisfying as an electronic Christmas card.

Happy Hogmanay,