When I grow up

This past week I listened to a lengthy interview with Paul Weiland. If an interview is a good one, it gets you to thinking. About the interviewee’s life and yours.

I heard a number of parallels between me and Weiland. A passion for advertising, hard working and asthmatic to name a few. But I also heard differences.

He talked a lot about wanting to be a director, even from early on in his career. This got me to thinking about why I got into the business and where I want to go.

I never wanted to be an artist or a photographer or illustrator or painter or printer or anything else other than a designer. Part of it is that I’ve always had a passion for ephemera and communications that are of a graphic nature.

Ahhh … a page from the 1977 Letraset catalog. Heaven!

The other part of it is that I could never be an artist. Really.

I could never be an artist because I’m not particularly good at initiating a project out of me own head. Yes, I have inspiration and I think about things all the time — like a series of t-shirts I have in mind at the moment — but I’ve never have this burning urge to express myself that way artists do.

Latest idea rumbling around in my head – a series of t-shirts.

Rather, I take immense pleasure in helping other people realize their vision and bring their ideas to life. Even better, if someone tells me what they are wanting to do and they let me go figure out the best way to achieve it. Problem solving.

I’ve always wanted to be a designer, never anything else.

Sure, I might call myself (and even be) an Art Director, a Creative Director, Production Artist or a Webmaster, but at the heart of it all I will always be a capital “D” Designer.

This is mainly because I have a very designerly approach to life and work. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a new ad campaign, a fresh graphic identity or writing a business proposal, I use the same methods every time.

Charles Eames, considered one of the greatest designers of the 20th century, always thought of himself first and foremost a craftsman. I’ve always liked that. Too many creative folks struggle with who they are and who they want to be. If you want to make art, grow a pair and get your art out into the world. If you want to write novels, get out of the agency biz the Peter Mayle did.

Be true to yourself and you will come out in your work, even if you feel you have nothing to say.

Week links, #02

CREATIVITY

Here’s what the evidence shows about the links between creativity and depression
There’s a stereotype that mental distress is an almost inevitable part of being highly creative. But is there any substance to this idea, or have we been misled – by biographers drawn to artists with colourful and chaotic lives, and the conceits of cultural movements like the romantics?

DESIGN

Design in 2018 – what will graphic design look like?
As part of our series on the future of design in 2018, Standards Manual and Order co-founder Hamish Smyth looks at what will happen in graphics over the next 12 months.

Designers Finally Have A Seat At The Table. Now What?
Companies are finally listening to designers, writes Google Ventures’ Kate Aronowitz. Here’s what designers need to do now.

You’re not a designer unless…
Remember when you were learning design and your tutors told you that all you needed was was Photoshop and some ideas? Well, it turns out that there’s a whole heap of other stuff that you simply cannot call yourself a designer without.

2018 Is the Year of the Intangibles
At the Stanford d.school we practice “design abilities” to navigate today’s incessant murkiness.

Gordon House: Designer to The Beatles, ‘Groovy Bob’ + London’s Swinging Sixties
House was an artist himself, in addition to designing for some of the most prominent figures of the era. How had we not heard of him?

ADVERTISING

The Death of Advertising
Given the contrast between the recent success enjoyed by companies like Google and Facebook and the utter paralysis being undergone by CPG companies and advertising agencies the world over, I felt this article was worth republishing. Advertising will not “die,” per se, but what will are the brands that succeeded in a world without the unparalleled access that Facebook and Google afford consumers and producers to each other; brands that succeeded precisely because Facebook and Google did not yet exist. The advertising that emerges in tandem with the new — brands borne out of the existence of Facebook and Google — is already different enough so as to warrant penning an obituary for the advertising that emerged in tandem with the old. This is that obituary.

Hands up who’s heard of TOM McELLIGOTT?

More brilliance from Mr Trott: SHOW DON’T TELL

Return on Influence, the New ROI
The more marketers accept the concept of measuring influence relative to reach, the quicker social media industry standards will surface. Social networking revolves around the art of people interacting with people, not logos. People have influence. Things do not. Ultimately, influence is power that differentiates.

How to Build ROI and Accountability into Your Marketing Plan
While determining the right marketing mix can be a significant undertaking in itself, some of the biggest challenges associated with building a strategic marketing plan include assigning accountability and resources for each task, staying on track throughout the year and demonstrating your plan’s impact and ROI.

Is Jeff Goodby the Best Copywriter at Goodby Silverstein & Partners?
Why Specialization isn’t the secret to success

Time is on your side. Or should be.
For about thirty years, I’ve regularly done “The New York Times” crossword puzzle. For about the last ten years, I’ve confined my efforts to the Sunday puzzle. I’ve always regarded it as a reward for the week gone by, and a way to relax and unwind.

SELF-HELP

Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help
In today’s always-on, information-overloaded world, it can be hard to stay focused throughout the day. How often do you find yourself distracted by inner chatter during meetings? Or how often do you find that emails are pulling you away from more important work?

How to Become More Productive Using the Pomodoro Method
It’s deceptively simple and hard to wrap your brain around if you’re like most people, working hours on end without allowing yourself to stop (because you think you can’t). However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Designing Your Life Through Design Thinking
Design thinking has helped me create new products, imagine new retail concepts, & solve other abstract challenges. It has also helped me to design a better life for myself. In fact, I believe design thinking may have helped save my life and that it has the power to save the lives of others.

Being a chameleon

I have no style.

As I’m writing this, I am wearing a pale blue oxford cloth button-down with gray slacks and black loafers. There is nothing special about the cut, the quality, the material, the tailoring, the brand names, nothing. As I sit here to today, I have no style.

But that’s not what I’m getting at. The style I’m talking about is my work.

Back when I was in college, in my Intro to Design class, we were working on one of those conceptual projects where you were limited to using very simple images. We were a couple of months in and had moved well beyond the simple “black square” projects design students know all too well, and we could use more literal imagery to help communicate the idea. My concept was “compress”, and to show it I did a very graphic drawing in two panels of a hand squeezing a tube of tooth paste. The hand holds the tube in the left panel but grips it in the right hand side and toothpaste oozes out. The pencil drawing was right on.

When it came time to paint it, because that was what you did back when I was in art school, I chose a color palette that had a definite 8o’s flair. This was unlike me, but I had been spending a lot of time in the Print Regional Annual and decided I needed to start pushing myself into a more stylistic direction. I was particularly fond of the burgeoning scene in Dallas. Not a pastel as Miami Vice, colorful. Smarter looking. I wanted to be one of them, and by using their color palettes, I’d be on my way.

Prior to this act of artistic independence, all my work had been primary or bold colors. 100% Cad Red Light, for example. I’ve always had an affinity for color, especially ones that stand out. I looked at the “compress” project as a chance to break out of that mold and start down a path to stylistic salvation. So I painted my 15” x 15” board in soft pastels.

When it came time for the crit, all the students lined their work up on the rail along the wall that circled the design lab in the basement of the art building. Our profs walked around, looked, didn’t speak for a bit, soaking in all the work. Then the floodgates opened.

Jane picked up my board and asked who had done this one. I proudly raised my hand. Being an illustrator, she appreciated the drawing and commented that it successfully communicated the “compress” concept. But what was with these colors? I remember it like it was yesterday:

“It’s so pasty. I look at this board and it makes me feel like there’s this film on my teeth…”

While holding the board in one hand, she uses the other to scratch her teeth like a dental hygienist scraping schmag at your six-month check up. It was humiliating, but an important lesson.

The color selection, the choice to inflict a stylistic approach to my concept, totally disrupted the communication. Sure, the pastiness of it was indicative of tooth paste, but while doing the project that was not on my mind in the least. The drawing wasn’t about the tooth paste, it was about the action of squeezing the paste out of the tube. The style hindered the communication, made my audience think about something quite different. And gross.

This lesson has stuck with me for years.

If you look through my book, at all the design I’ve done, you’ll not find a single style. My intention is always to approach the project from the client’s perspective, not mine. At the end of the day, it about what they want to say, not me. I don’t want to impose my aesthetic on them, my mission is to help them to be themselves. The only style I strive for is “Good”.

Is the {logo, ad, poster, site, etc.] well designed? Does it communicate in a smart fashion? Does the design reflect the client’s values and beliefs? Is the design appropriate? None of these questions nor their answers should have anything to do with style.

That approach makes me a chameleon. I am not a slave to style or fashion.

I like looking at the logo trends every year. What are we seeing on Dribbble and elsewhere? (This is dangerous when you think about it.) Not only do you see so much sameness, you also see work that the logos are firmly fixed in a point in time. For a logo, that is the death nail. More than anything, a logo should be timeless. If someone is going to invest the money and time into making a logo, they will want it to last and be relevant for years to come as their business grows.

Adverts are interesting because they can and should be a reflection of the time and current culture. That is part of how they work. Tap into the zeitgeist, use it to your advantage to help communicate, and don’t worry about longevity. If the ad clicks with the audience and in a brief moment delivers the message, that’s a win.

But what that requires of the creative professional is stylistic acrobatics. You cannot hope to survive in the business if you hang your hat on one single look. You have to be nimble enough to adapt to changing times and tastes and clients and markets.

If you plan to have a long career, you’ll want to become a chameleon, too.