So wrong it can’t be right

Often in my work, I need to create a placeholder animation, text, or graphic before the final version comes in. The problem with a placeholder is that if it remains in place long enough, it can eventually be mistaken for the genuine article. A temporary font becomes the final font. A temporary, unlicensed, low resolution google image becomes the final production image for a high definition show. Usually these mistakes are caught toward the end of the production, and there is much panic as proper replacements are tracked down. Other times the placeholder wins and is broadcast. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen?

The more common solution to problems like these would be to write “PLACEHOLDER: LOW REZ” on a graphic, or something boring like that. This solves nothing. Everyone knows it’s a placeholder, but it’s always good enough “for now” and will sit around forever, never getting replaced until the very end. Maybe it’s less likely to go on the air, but there’s still a flurry of activity as the deadline looms.

My strategy is to make the placeholder so ridiculous and obviously wrong that no one could ever mistake it for being correct. If there’s a question of font, don’t use Arial as a temp font, use something crazy like a party font. If you have a temp graphic that’s too small, shrink it more and save it as a 25% quality jpeg. Even on a tiny screen everyone will see the image isn’t good enough for broadcast.

In one case I had to attribute a graphic to Google Earth. No one could tell me the font, size, or positioning to use, so I created a title with 80 point font that says “GOOGLE EARTH IS AWESOME!!!!!” right across the middle of the screen. That got fixed quickly.

In contrast, a “temp” sound effect in our show was meant to be replaced with a new, awesomer sound effect. Unfortunately because the “temp” sound effect was pretty good, it became the final sound effect. We knew it was a temporary sound effect, but there was no rush replacing it so we didn’t. Had the temp effect been more inappropriate, we would have gotten around to creating something better.

Is this the beginning of a series of Getting Things Done posts? Geez I hope not. I’d like to think there’s a difference between a silly font choice and reminding yourself to pick up milk using RSS feeds, Google Maps, and SMS Messages. Is it possible to blog about tricks like this and not be contributing to the whole efficiency / Web 2.0 / Moleskine cult?