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Judge a Book by its Cover

December 9th, 2013, By

Fast Company: A Case Study in User Experience. How packaging and the subsequent emotional joyride has trumped the prominence of substance.


Fast Company, a full color business magazine with a strong off and on-line presence, has understood that to stay competitive it must convey a strong visual and even seductive experience.




The magazine presents the visitor with a website that seems to be tailor-made for the visually receptive and intellectually curious amongst us. The pages are centered to get the undivided attention of the visitor, with very few distractions on the side, beautifully designed social media buttons, soft, yet neat fonts, and most importantly a massive image to compliment the theme of the article.


Keep Coming Back for More

After several visits to the magazine’s Facebook page, the user experience turns into an addictive journey of aesthetically pleasing images. Fast Company’s social media presence captivates and lures the user into clicking the posts, regardless of the general interest – or lack of – one might have on the topic.  The intensity with which Fast Company bombards those who’ve clicked ‘Like’ on its Facebook page is as astonishing as it is impressive. FC’s posts leave you with a feeling of wanting more.

How do they do it? The reasons can be divided into two basic principles:

  1. Brilliant leads and copywriting (Facebook, Twitter) that employ succinct phrases and words known to appeal to the tech-savvy, affluent professionals and of course to the hipsters looking for their daily fix of excitement and meaning.
  2. The careful application of trendy, appealing words such as ‘creative’ ‘user experience’, ‘pop’, catch the attention of the user.

How to sell it?

For example, take this article on user experience. The article quotes the musings of Joe Stewart, the creative director of Huge, a New York based digital agency. According to Stewart, we live in image-obsessed times.

“The ability to instantly communicate through imagery now seems to transcend everything for businesses–for content creators, for e-commerce companies, for mass brands,” Stewart muses.

In case the irony is lost on you, FC’s guiding principles are straight from Stewart’s playbook – word for word.  The length of this particular article is only about 300 words, probably less than the amount used to promote the piece! Indeed, the compelling lure of the text has very little to do with its actual content because the devil is in the details.


Indeed, FC’s marketing and content strategy can be perceived to operate based on three simple steps:

  1. Find a topic everyone in your target demographic is talking about.
  2. Convey the topic through the words of an interesting thought-leader or an evangelist (Joe Stewart)
  3. Employ a powerful social media barrage to drive traffic to the site.

Content Matters

However, the lack of substance shouldn’t be confused with the lack of meaningful and interesting content.

FC’s content is superb because it’s always timely and answers questions that computer-staring young professionals ask themselves on a daily basis: How can I be happier? How can I get my creative juices flowing? How do I get employers to consider me for the job?

FC’s content writers takes these questions, and with the help of its graphic designers (likely 80% of the magazine’s staff), device articles that attempt to answer basic questions with incisive and insightful answers.  Irrespective of the occasionally shallow and hollow answers, the magazine does it enviably well.


FC – Mastering the Changing Landscape of SEO

The Fast Company concept illustrates the changing face of SEO. The development of Google’s algorithms and consequent expansion of its IQ has forced all online operators to design their web presence with two entities in mind: the user and the search engine.

In other words, SEO is not about stuffing texts with specific keywords, but more about user experience, as can be measured by metrics such as time on site, bounce rate and sharing – as the FC success story demonstrates.

However, even Fast Company has understood that to stay competitive in organic search results it must succumb to certain unchanging laws of online marketing. This means that it can’t cast a net too wide, but must cater to a certain audience and promote specific niche topics.


Follow FC’s Example

Using visually impressive images and aesthetically pleasing color pallets are the building blocks of creating an exhilarating user experience. FC has mastered the art of communicating directly into the subconscious of the picky, educated and demanding professionals who do not have the attention span for reading a book or even a pamphlet on a given topic, but rely on summaries and artfully processed insights.

In terms of its visual outlook, FC is the flagship of the changing landscape of what online publications and modern websites should look like.