Image from the NY Times blog, Laugh lines

Last week, my friend who writes for a comedy in Los Angeles, sent me her script to edit. At the same time, I was designing targeted campaign landing pages for one of my clients. Through the injustice of it all, I found a parallel. And I did the thing you’re not supposed to do: analyse a joke.

What is funny?

90% of her script was perfect. But there were a couple of parts that were “funny”-in that the dialog and actions were technically funny-but they didn’t make sense. So they were only funny in theory. The episode hasn’t been filmed yet, so I’ll give you a similar example from a movie I saw recently.

On January first, I was feeling lazy* and so I watched a horrible movie called You Again. Besides the fact that a teenage boy tells his sister that she is “an amazing person” (has the director ever met a teenager before?), the movie was totally unbelievable, so any joke that would have been funny, wasn’t.


The unfunny, dissected

For example, a couple makes amends in a treehouse. A 10-year-old had plans to disassemble said treehouse and hide it (for reasons I won’t go into because they’re asinine). The first step in his diabolical plan was to loosen all the screws in the treehouse. Followed by the actual disassembly. Oops, he didn’t get to stage two when the couple decides to ascend and repair their relationship inside this treehouse. So it collapses, and they fall down, laughter etc.

Now, I think falling is hilarious, I won’t lie, but not in a situation when it would never happen. No one, not even a 10-year-old, would take something apart by loosening the screws and leaving them in place. That was obviously the writer going “how do we get them to fall out of the tree house? I know!” So it’s not funny. It will never be funny because it’s not believable.

Comedy writing isn’t design, is it?

No. But it has the same foundation: authenticity. If you want someone to do something (whether it’s laugh or buy), they have to believe you.

So how do you create authenticity out of thin air? And amid the context of so much noise?

Everyone likes rules, especially designers

These aren’t so much rules as things you should think about when you’re creating a targeted landing page:

Be consistent:

What did your audience just see? With landing pages, you often have the luxury of knowing where your audience came from: an ad, a television commercial or a banner from another page. So you know what it is they saw. This is an easy one: did you say something costs €29.99? Then your landing page should say €29.99. It’s not rocket science.

Set a scene

Creating stories online is always a challenge. Because you can’t dictate a linear order, a story is not about the narrative, it’s about the scene. We can set scenes through sentence construction and word choice. Instead of listing features, we can describe how your audience will use those features. When you talk about things in concrete terms, those things become images, and images are far more convincing than jargon.

Consider your space

Just like comedy has rhythm, design has space. The elements on your page shouldn’t compete, but rather complement each other. Here’s a great example:


I suspect Book Oven started thinking about space after they developed their two messages: write vs procrastinate. This is a lovely and succinct overview of their products partly because they juxtapose each other, thematically and spatially (plus they have a rhyming couplet, so they win).

Comedy is hard

And so are effective landing pages. But if we tell the truth, we get more than just karma points. The truth is far more diabolical than it seems.

Randall Snare