hypocritical : talking the talk without walking the walk

April 04, 2005

Curtail the cropping of screen shot chrome or compromise your collective brand impact

I've noticed something intriguing, as of late, and it has the potential of becoming a recurring theme. It has to do with the treatments of screen shots in print. More and more, I'm noticing that every screen shot I see (and I see more than I care to see) is cropped to remove the product "chrome" (the surrounding nuts and bolts of the product) from them. Showing the guts, but not the face, of the product.

It's happening in publications, in corporate literature, and on Web sites. And it's not good.

Now, let me preface this rant with one thing: I tend to hate screen shots. You have to have something pretty compelling and, well, pretty, before I get too excited about slapping it into a piece of marketing drivel. But, I realize, from experience, that I'm in the distinct minority here.

I understand that, for many, the screen shot -- like the picture of your building in your PowerPoint presentations -- is the anchor of credibility. It's your way of showing that you've arrived. That you have a real product. Never-you-mind that any number of us can probably draw a non-existent product that looks as real as your real-product screen shot, if not more real. I'm pretty sure that it would be prettier, given pictures don't have functionality requirements.

Now, do I think slapping screen shots into content is the right way to do things? No. Does that mean everyone is going to automatically stop doing it? Thankfully, no. I don't need people hanging on my every word.

So, I know that we are all going to have to deal with screen shots as marketing content. And, if we are going to use screen shots, I become more concerned with how we use them. More importantly, how do we use them correctly?

Here's my thing. Unless you have a contractual agreement to the contrary, any chrome cropping or identity cropping should be in direct conflict with your product reference and usage guidelines. It should be spelled out in your style guide as such. If you don't have those kinds of guidelines, get to writing, buddy. You need to have them. Even if you only have a Web site. (And by the way, a Web site is a product.) Someone is going to want to take a shot of it at some point. Don't ask me why, but they will.

But our product and Web shots don't really look that different from anyone else's, you say. Our screenshots don't set us apart. Our logo does.

Deep breath, Rick. Okay. I'm going to try to remain calm here, but for shame for shame! Tsk tsk tsk. If this is your line of reasoning, then your screen shot is saying far more about you than you would like. But mostly it is saying this: I couldn't care any less about my users if I tried.

In a perfect world, every product would carry a look and feel that was unique to the company that designed it. I don't care if it's on screen or not. Every product needs to be a champion of the corporate brand. (Do you think the iPod looks the way it does because it's an mp3 player?) If your company thought it was a good idea to create and sell a product, then they darn well better think it's a good idea to make it unique. Because if it looks like everything else... Sigh. This is a rant for another time. Feel free to call me and I'll give you an earful. Or come back later for a tongue lashing in a future post.

Now where was I? Oh yes. Suffice it to say, I am not privy to the terms of your media, partnership,or customer contracts. And, clearly, I haven't read your style guide (although, I would like to do that; I love those things). You may have partners that are paying to private label products. If so, then this cropping treatment is completely acceptable. If they are not paying for that privilege, however, it is not.

In fact, when any media, customer, or partner uses product screen shots, your company should be requiring that those screen shots appear with all of the product chrome intact. (Detailed callouts from those screens are fine, so long as the accompanying screen appears in full chrome somewhere). A copyright attribution to the company and any applicable patent information must appear in the fine print, as well.

I know this sounds like a minor point. However, the look and feel of most software products is a critical component of the corporate identity. In toto. Not a little chunk here or a little chunk there. But how the entire screen flows together. Especially for small companies. (This goes for your Web site, as well. Or any onscreen presentation of your intellectual property.) This is where your customer lives and breathes. Where your customer interacts with your brand on a regular basis. And, as such, the seemingly lowly screen shot carries a great deal of brand equity.

Do I like that little fact? No. But, I don't especially like gerunds either, and I still make a habit of knowing how to use them correctly.

Suffice it to say, that unless your brand equity is being purchased in some way by the publisher of the screen shot, you need to be defending your intellectual property by requiring the appropriate attribution. If you don't, you're just giving away intellectual property and market presence by allowing others to proffer your technology as their own. Others claiming ownership of that technology without appropriate licensing starts your whole company down a slippery slope. A stitch in time and all that rot. I've run out of platitudes for the day.

So the next time you think a screen shot isn't all that important, step back and rethink it. Or save your time and mine. Go ahead and pull your logo from the piece, as well.

Phew. You made it through another tirade. Congratulations. Do you think I'm niggling on unimportant points? Or is this something with which you've experienced difficulty? Please comment away. Laud me or leave me, but please return.


Curtail the cropping of screen shot chrome or compromise your collective brand impact
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