My funny Valentine

Designers are constantly moaning, in private, about the lack of vision among their clients. For every enlightened manufacturer working hard at its branding through packaging, corporate identity or website design there are dozens coasting along without a care in the world.

Occasionally, the business world’s reaction to a regular calendar event proves the point.

Valentine’s Day happens every year. We are not allowed to forget it – florists and chocolate manufacturers hammer their sales message home from the end of Christmas. Those of us with occasion-related surnames sometimes even receive random junk mail in handwritten pink envelopes, just to get our hopes up.

But, when it comes to the Internet, allegedly an established venue for the sad and lonely to find true love via e-mail relationships, there is precious little romantic action to be found.

Typing “Valentine” into an Internet search engine late last week, purely in the interests of research, generated well over 200 addresses.

These included one for a company called Valentine which makes in-car radar systems to help US motorists avoid speeding tickets, and domestic home pages from a number of fellow Valentines. While these featured a peculiar staple of personal home pages – pictures of cats – there was little amorous content.

Every US state seems to have a thrown-together site looking at local cultural issues, many currently mentioning Valentine’s Day. None appeared to be hotbeds of design excellence, or routes to hot beds of any other kind, sadly.

There were a number of anti-Valentine’s messages from, it would seem, those who have suffered poor experiences based around 14 February in the past, such as Alt.Suicide.Holiday Valentine’s Survival Kit.

There were, however, no opportunistic businesses plying their trade with anything more than heart-shaped candy or flower arrangements. Even those were all in the US.

Visits (they weren’t located by the key word) to the sites of various well-known florists and lingerie companies revealed a total of zero special effort for what is, frankly, my day. I feel slighted, and astonished that companies are being so slow to use the technology available to them.

It seems to have been left to condom-maker Durex to keep the seasonal fires of passion burning. The company has commissioned multimedia design group AKQA to develop a suitably smutty website dedicated to what we all secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, hope Valentine’s Day is about.

There (http://www.durex.com) you can see Durex’s Cupid character and, if you have a reasonably powerful computer at your disposal, play games with him.

You can also see, on the permanent section of the site also created by AKQA, the results of Durex’s worldwide sex survey (the British apparently have more sex than the Australians, so who cares if they’re better at sports), or you can play games to find the most sensitive parts of a human body, fill in a joke questionnaire and order condoms to be delivered to your home.

It’s easy to navigate, and provides some much-needed fun. Even so, it would be easier to find if it had showed up on a search for Valentine’s Day information. I only tried it on a colleague’s recommendation.

There must be other sites out there offering relevant information, but I didn’t find them. Like most shoppers, I am not prepared to trawl the website of every manufacturer and retailer in the country until I find one with a suitable gift.

The expected increase in e-commerce is bound to happen, but innovative retailers are thin on the ground at the moment. Until they arrive, it looks like those Valentine’s gifts will continue to be bought the old-fashioned way.

Valentine’s gifts can be sent to Matthew Valentine care of 50 Poland Street, London W1

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