The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


The Best Monday Of Your Life. Unless You Live In NYC …

So the good news is this is the one and only post of the week.

I know … could today be any better?!

You see as you read this, I’m on a plane zooming my way to NYC.

I must admit I’m super excited about it.

Not just because I miss the rush of an intense city … nor because I will get to see friends who I miss very much … but because I’ll be doing two things that are going to be new to me.

One is I’ll be judging the final round of the North American Effies.

The other is that I’ve been invited to talk to design gods, Pentagram.

OK, so I’ve judged the Effies before and I’ve done more than my fair-share of talks, but what’s exciting to me about this is that it’s a totally new context.

The reality is American advertising is very different to the advertising I am used to, make and – to a certain degree – love.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different.

More bombastic. More spell-everything-out. More leave-nothing-to-chance-or-interpretation.

It’s also much more rational and focused on driving immediate sales than creating a position in culture that builds sustainable brand value.

OK, not every brand is like that – and I also know many other markets are becoming more and more like this – but as someone who passionately believes in setting long-term directions, not to mention true culture driven ideas, it’s going to be interesting how I view the results versus some of my fellow judges.

As for the talk …

Well, we all know I can do that in my sleep, but I must admit I’m super excited to be doing it at Pentagram.

For those of you who don’t know, Pentagram are one of the undisputed gods of design.

Literally, one of the gods.

Given it’s not that long ago I was only using the IMPACT I must admit to being somewhat surprised they asked me to come talk to them about my perspective on design, but then I discovered it was less about me and more about the work I’m doing with a certain famous rock band which is why I felt the best way to handle the challenge is to only have 1 image and make that image truthful to what I am sure they’ll leave thinking about me.

Especially when they see my Birkenstocks.

So while I know it’s Monday and you’re probably not looking forward to the week ahead, I hope this post has helped offer you a glimmer of hope for the next 5 days. Unless – of course – you’re based in NYC, and then your week is even darker than you could ever have imagined.

See you next week …

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When You Run Out Of Reasons To Believe …

Reasons To Believe, or RTB for short.

Of course they’re super important, but a few years ago, I realized that clients felt they were important for different reasons than agencies.

For us, it’s about proof. Something tangible we can use to help build our ideas off.

Of course it’s best when it’s something unique, but as long as it’s true, that will do.

But for clients, it’s different.

Sure, they know it helps sell their product to their audience, but it’s also important to them for self-validation reasons.

Imagine you’d spent 3 years of your life making Post-It notes slightly more sticky. You’d want to feel that was worth it wouldn’t you … so when an agency comes back with an idea that doesn’t focus on the importance of ‘stickiness’, you’d feel all your hard work was wasted. So you’d push back.

And back.

And back again.

And even though it leads to fucking awful advertising, you’d be happy because for you, this isn’t about selling the product, it’s about you feeling less shit that a proportion of your life was spent on making a piece of paper slightly more sticky.

I experienced this quite recently – when I was in China.

For weeks we had issues with a client on a particular idea before we discovered he was the person behind the design of a small element of the brand and he felt we were ignoring it … which translated to him feeling we were ignoring him.

Ego can be a great thing.

It can give you the impetus to push you forward. Try new things. Explore new standards.

It can also fuck you up.

Make you lose sight of the bigger picture. Or any picture for that matter.

Which is probably what happened to the guys who had to do the packaging for the brown packing tape.

And why I love the absolutely correct comment from Mike Jennings [courtesy of John Dodds]

If that wasn’t enough, here’s something else to blow your mind.

I am on holiday on Monday for 2 days.

A work holiday and a national holiday.

Bet you thought my days of free holiday blagging were over, didn’t you.

Well you thought wrong, because it is July 4th … a day I will soon grow to love.

And with that, I’ll see you Wednesday y’all.



Little Things Make The Difference …

In Asia, hand cleanliness is almost an obsession.

People even eat their sandwiches and burgers with knives and forks to avoid having to pick them up.

OK, so maybe that’s the case everywhere and I’m just showing my common Nottingham roots … but I still find it fascinating.

Everywhere you go, there’s hand sanitisers.

I’m not just talking in hospitals, I’m talking restaurants and all sorts of other places.

Recently, I saw this on my wife’s bag.

Yep, it’s a portable hand sanitiser.

But I’m not saying this because it highlights how long we’ve been in Asia, I’m saying it because making a product that can attach easily to a bag is an act of simple genius.

For a culture that doesn’t want to just wash their hands, but have them truly germ free … this little idea has big appeal.

Sure, there’s other products on the market that do a similar thing, but having something that attaches to your bag gives a peace of mind that wipes hidden in your bag, just can’t do. Plus being permanently on display helps advertise the brand to all who see it. Nice.

I’ve said for a while that I feel designers are doing things in more interesting ways than ad agencies and ultimately that’s down to one simple difference of approach.

Designers want to solve problems whereas ad agencies want to communicate problems.

Not all agencies are like this.

Not all agency employees are like this.

But right now, the design industry is kicking our ass and I swear it’s because we are holding on to remuneration models that reward ‘the old ways’ rather than finding ways to get paid for what we are truly capable of if given the freedom to do it.

[That and the fact adlands creative department hiring policy is still primarily based on art and copy rather than embracing different types of creative people/thinkers/doers]

We will have to wake up soon, otherwise the bullshit we churn out for Cannes – that we claim is ‘creative problem solving’ will become the benchmark for our standards and when that happens, we may as well pack up and go home.

But I have faith it can be done, if only because I saw The Kennedys Shanghai consistently solve problems in imaginative and innovative and intriguing ways for 9 months.



Never Trust A Brand That Talks About The Future …

Hello there.

Not that you asked, but yes – I did have a good birthday thank you very much.

I didn’t get anything stupid [which for me, means awesome] but it was lovely.

Jesus, how old do I sound!

Talking of old, I recently came across this …

Believe it or not, this photo is not all that old.

But what I love about it is that huge sticker declaring it to ‘never be obsolete’.

That’s some big claim.

It’s also a massive pile of bollocks.

Given the alleged breakthrough by Canadian company, D:Wave, all computers may soon be obsolete so for some company to suggest their 90’s PC Tower would be able to withstand decades of focused innovation and technological breakthrough is both massively misguided and massively misleading and anyone who fell for it deserves all they got.

But the other thing this photo did was remind me of the ‘stickers’.

Oh my god, back in the day, every computer had them.

Little logos explaining either what the machine claimed to do or the manufacturer of some of its components.

And people fell for it, because we didn’t know better and we were looking for some reassurance we weren’t being taken for a ride.

Even when they put a massive fucking sticker on it claiming ‘NEVER OBSOLETE’.

God we were gullible fools weren’t we and while I’d hope we have got past that, the fact is I know we haven’t.

Sure, the tech industry have started moving away from sticker pollution, but there’s a whole host of brands in a whole host of categories that have started taking it on. Just look at any car ad these days and it seems they have more logos on the page than words… which is why it seems this video is the perfect way to sign off this post.

Microsoft may no longer as bad as they once were, but it seems a lot of brands are still forgetting that confidence in your product is about what you don’t say, rather than what you do. By all means use channels to explain the benefits of your product … hell, you can even talk about who has been part of it’s development … but when it comes to the actual product, be focused and make it glorious.

I will go and lie down now.



Packaging Adds Value …
December 8, 2015, 6:20 am
Filed under: Craft, Design, Packaging

OK, so this is hardly a new topic.

Any person who has ever bought an Apple product – be it an iPhone or a Macbook – appreciates how the packaging has been designed to enhance the specialness of ownership.

I call it the ‘ceremony of purchase’.

Of course, lots of brands have followed Apple’s lead … from Beats Headphones to pretty much every luxury watch manufacturer in the World, but recently, when I was in Amsterdam, I saw a company present their ‘cheap and cheerful’ [but not that cheap] headphones in a way that I thought was cute … especially compared to all the others that just had a photo of the product on a nondescript box.

Nice eh.

But it wasn’t just headphones they did it with, here’s their USB charging cable …

OK, so their logo design is a fucking disaster, but in the quest to stand out from the myriad of competitors, they realised one way they could do it presenting their product in a way that would attract and appeal to their audiences eyes and heart.

Simple. Clean. Effective.

My wife – an ex-packaging designer – has always said good design solves problems.

Where adland often needs complex presentations and reports to prove their campaign has been effective, great design often speaks for itself.

It’s something we could all do with remembering as we develop work.

And I include clients in that.

In other words, make the idea so good it can’t be denied.

If you need copious amount of words to explain why it’s right, it’s probably not right.