If you’re a mid-career designer, no doubt you look back at your student work with a twinge of horror: Was I really that clueless? That unskilled? Did I honestly think tossing around parametric this and transformative that made me sound smarter? Now imagine if someone took that work, and tacked it on a museum wall.
This is not just an unpleasant thought experiment. This is something the Design Museum Holon, in Israel, has actually done, with Designers Plus Ten, a showcase of the creative output of 42 Israeli designers now, and about a decade ago, when they were fresh-faced design students. “In Designers Plus Ten we wish to present the people behind the objects, and how they have evolved over the past ten years,” says chief curator Galit Gaon.
The show highlights a range of disciplines–including fashion, industrial design, and digital communication–and covers wildly varied professional trajectories. There is OTOTO Studio, a pair of industrial-design students who achieved instant success with a spiral-shaped light fixture they designed in school that went on to become a popular-selling fruit basket. Then there is Frau Blau, a fashion label that produced this rather unflattering dress made of knit gloves early in its career, then went on to design more sophisticated trompe l’oeil garments.
If there’s a lesson in any of this, it’s that our student years are not our destiny: They’re a time to try out ideas that sometimes work (see aforementioned fruit bowl) and sometimes–more often, actually–fail (see mitten dress). Either way, our careers don’t hinge on them. And luckily, for most of us, our student projects never wind up in a museum.
Looking for a craft project this Easter that doesn’t involve making out with chicken spawn? Here’s an idea: Build your own Easter eggs out of old magazines.
That’s how British artist Julie Dodd forms these remarkably lifelike marbled-egg sculptures. First, she takes the pages of a magazine and snips out thousands of egg shapes. “For each egg I probably use two or three magazines,” she tells Co.Design. Then she glues together the pieces, working on several eggs at once so they have time to dry, and continues to build layers, one by one, until they match the thickness of a real egg. “When this is done I leave them to dry out completely,” she says. “Then I sand them until they are quite smooth and they resemble eggs and finally varnish them using my fingers to get a smooth finish.”
The whole process takes a few weeks. So if you start now, you could have something sort of, maybe, kind of resembling an egg by Easter. Hey, you might as well do something with all those unread New Yorkers.
For another creative way to reuse magazines, go here.
Dodd also makes stunningly delicate sculptures inspired by trees. See more examples in our slideshow.
Have you heard? Advertising isn’t about … y’know, advertising anymore–it’s about telling stories, man. Keith “Keef” Ehrlich, a director and producer who’s done plenty of time in the advertising trenches, has heard it, too. “I spent years doing traditional ads, always hearing that word ‘content‘ thrown around a lot. But it never seemed to apply to the filmmaking part,” he tells Co.Design. “Whatever they’re calling it, ad agencies aren’t making content. They’re making work to win awards. It’s not the same thing.”
Ehrlich was interested in making content and telling stories. So in his spare time, he started making a series of online documentaries called “Made By Hand,” focusing on creative people making honest-to-god stuff with their own two hands. Then he started getting inquiries from brands and companies asking him to do the same thing, but for them. Soon, The Bureau of Common Goods–Ehrlich’s new production company–was born.
“These clients usually aren’t asking me for ads or spots,” Ehrlich says. That’s not to say he’s opposed to making those–the Bureau’s first piece of work, above, is unapologetically labeled a “promo.” The difference, says Ehrlich, is that’s the exception, not the rule. “They want content. I’m working with a client right now who approached me and said, ‘Make us a film.’ And then kept saying, ‘No, really. We actually want a film. We’re not just saying that.’”
It helps that the Bureau’s current clientele is mostly smaller startups and brands who “can’t afford to talk to a Radical Media, or don’t even know they exist,” Ehrlich says. “What they do know is that whether they’re making baseball bats or iPhone apps, they want to tell a story that engages people. That’s content, not advertising. That’s what Made By Hand was all about, and that’s what the Bureau lets me do by working with these kinds of clients directly. We can get to know each other, become partners, create the film together. It’s not just about executing a brief.”
Sidestepping the traditional ad world is also a way, Ehrlich says, to take back control of his creative career. “Advertising is extremely competitive, there’s a ton of talent in the pool. It’s very hard to develop your work,” he says. “I kind of decided that I was tired of waiting for other people to help me out. With the Bureau, I can be the agency, the producer, the creative director, and the filmmaker. I felt it might give me the ability to do better work–less compromised. And maybe a better way of working, too.”
The first “Made By Hand” film
That said, Ehrlich isn’t planning on dropping his agent anytime soon. “Look, if GE wants me to direct a spot, that’s great. I’m not turning my back on that,” he says. Rather, he sees his work through the Bureau as a way of growing his creative career more sustainably. Call it “middle class media-making.” “I just want to do what I do well,” he says. “It’s not enough to just be a creative person. You have to be an entrepreneur as well. That puts you in charge.” But like many of the clients he partners with, Ehrlich doesn’t want to grow his company into a behemoth. Like the artisanal knife-maker whose story helped launch the Bureau’s business model, Ehrlich would rather keep things at a scale that lets him create his work by hand.
The business practice of brainstorming has been around with us so long that it seems like unadorned common sense: If you want a rash of new ideas, you get a group of people in a room, have them shout things out, and make sure not to criticize, because that sort of self-censoring is sure to kill the flow of new thoughts.
It wasn’t always so: This entire process was invented by Alex Osborn, one of the founders of BBDO, in the 1940′s. It was motivated by Osborn’s own theory of creativity. He thought, quite reasonably, that creativity was both brittle and fickle: In the presence of criticism, it simply couldn’t wring itself free from our own minds. We could only call our muses if judgments didn’t drag us down. Osborn claimed that this very brainstorming process was the secret to BBDO’s durable creativity, allowing his ad guys to produce as many as 87 ideas in 90 minutes–a veritable avalanche. “The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines,” writes Jonah Lehrer in a long, excellent article in The New Yorker. But as Lehrer argues, the only problem with all this is that brainstorming is total bullshit.
You’re More Creative Working Alone
As an opening salvo, Lehrer lays out a devastating experiment, conducted in the 1950s, which found that when test subjects tried to solve a complex puzzle, they actually came up with twice as many ideas working alone as they did when working in a group. Numerous studies have since verified that finding: Putting people into big groups doesn’t actually increase the flow of ideas. Group dynamics themselves–rather than overt criticism–work to stifle each person’s potential.
Lehrer doesn’t quite explain why that happens. But in a nice coincidence, Susan Cain tackles that very problem in her upcoming book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. As she explains in The New York Times, groups don’t encourage creativity because of the social pressure they bring to bear:
People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.”
Criticism Improves the Brainstorming Process
Those findings all probably make sense to anyone who has sat in a brainstorming session and wondered why Debbie from accounting suddenly became the world’s most vocal expert on car design. (Here, I’m referencing a real-life experience I got sitting in on a brainstorming session for a major car company.) But Lehrer goes on to point out that other studies have shown that the presence of criticism actually increases the flow of ideas. One experiment compared two groups: One which brainstormed with a mandate not to criticize, and another which had the license to debate each others ideas. The second group had 20% more ideas–and even after the session ended, the people in the second group had far more additional ideas than those in the first.
Why is that? Lehrer doesn’t really say, and neither do his sources. But this idea makes sense. The problem with traditional brainstorming is the assumption that good ideas can spring up unbidden. But the process is really more interesting than that. Usually, inventions often begin when an inventor spots a problem. Good ideas usually don’t hang by themselves, unattached. They come about as solutions. Thus, allowing criticism into a room full of people trying to brainstorm allows them to refine and redefine a problem. Adding more and more complex problems to the mix doesn’t stifle creativity–it actually gives the mind more to work with, simply by demanding that we find better and better answers.
Creativity Is About Happenstance, Not Planning
Lehrer then goes searching for better models of the creative process, and finds a couple. One comes in the form of a professor who was able to study how the relationships within a group affect the quality of their work. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, found that on Broadway the worst-performing productions were the work of two groups: Those that had worked together too much, and those that had worked together too little. Too much familiarity bred groupthink. Too little meant that they didn’t have enough chemistry to challenge each other. The most productive groups were those with a baseline of familiarity but just enough fresh blood to make things interesting.
But there’s a serendipity involved that you can’t fake: Studies have shown that the most successful groups of scientists also work in extremely close physical proximity. Just being around another creative person is vital to the process, because so many ideas happen as a result of water-cooler chatter and passing contact. The best support comes by anecdote: Building 20, a famous hothouse of ideas on the MIT campus. It worked because its design was so crappy and haphazard. It was nothing more than a sheetrock box, but in its maze of corridors and cramped offices, scientists of all stripes often found themselves happening upon conversations with others from wildly different fields. It’s no accident that so many breakthroughs came from that building, including radar, microwaves, the first video games, and Chomskyan linguistics.
Can We Rework the Brainstorming Paradigm?
I laid out all of these details from Lehrer’s article because each of these findings suggest that the brainstorming process might not be totally hopeless after all. We know that breakthrough insight likely requires intense, individual reflection. We also know that criticism unlocks creativity. And finally, we know that creativity can be fostered by a certain type of physical space.
Each of these findings, taken together, is cause for hope. For one, the brainstorming might work better if it focused not on finding solutions, but rather identifying problems. What if, during a brainstorming session, people weren’t asked to simply throw out ideas, but rather problems as well. Granted, you’ve still got the annoying problem of groupthink. But the fact is that people are usually better at finding fault than they are at finding answers. Properly harnessed, that could be a good thing. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to invent a new computer UI. It’s much more productive to find what drives people nuts and the features that keep them from doing what they want to do than it is to find out what sort of computer they’d like to have in some idealized fantasy world. Solving such a complex problem as UI design demands a certain subtlety and depth of thought. But those solutions only begin flowing when the problem becomes interesting enough to demand new ideas.
Finally, the fact that office design can so dramatically affect the work we produce means that designers have the wherewithal to affect a company’s core mission. Designers really can make a company smarter, if they embrace the chaotic reality of creativity, rather than trying to create spaces where every last function and possibility has its place. In other words, there might be room for a new design paradigm that embraces both limitations and flexibility. You can create offices where accidental encounters are the rule. And you can create offices where nothing is ever fixed. The smartest office isn’t perfect, and it isn’t permanent.
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
And a few more thoughts, from one of the greatest men of my lifetime:
“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”
. . .
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
. . .
“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”
Sasha Dichter gives a tremendous talk that was just picked up at TED. Other than an insane amount of effort and practice, what’s his secret? He’s speaking his own story. Rather than following a map or parroting a line from someone else, Sasha is talking about his own work, his own ideas. He paces because the creative energy gives him no choice, it’s that eager to get out into the world.
Here’s a followup I did in response to a request from Sasha’s cohorts at Acumen. Again, this is straightforward (I won’t say ‘easy’) because it’s what I believe. I’ve been in the field and seen this with my own eyes. Too often, the corporate world pushes talking points onto people, and more often than that, speakers and writers get nervous and they turn into parrots. The only reason to go through the hassle and risk of putting yourself out there is to be out there… you, not a clone.
PS In honor of mynew book, here are a few interviews I’ve done recently that you might enjoy…
With Brian Clark at Copyblogger on blogs, books and more
You allocate increasing amounts of budget, time and resources with social media to connect one on one. What about the other 90% of your budgets? What learnings can be cross-pollinated to increase your impact?
The focus in social is on the 5th P (people); communities, niche groups, and influencers. Traditional media consists of the 4Ps; product, price, promotion, and place. Consider integrating the 5th P into traditional; not just a ‘Follow us on Twitter’ or ‘LIKE us on Facebook,’ but deeper learnings that can create significant impact.
Here are 6 social insights you can and should start applying to traditional…
Chances are your social campaigns are highly geo and contextually targeted. What about your traditional? Does it mirror your segmented user targets? Or is it a commoditized plan reaching broad demographic groups, using essentially the same creative?
Highly targeted ads create much higher consumer connection. You can see this clearly with social. A hyper targeted campaign on Facebook will generate upwards of 0.1% CTR’s with 60+% Fan Click Through Rate (FCTR). A broadly targeted demographic campaign may only generate a 0.2-0.3% CTR and 25-30% FCTR. Thinking the same way about traditional can dramatically increase your impact and ROI.
How are you customizing your outdoor and place based messaging? Do you use wild postings in urban areas and day-parted messaging with digital out-of-home? We do. In fact, we even use different messaging for men’s and women’s locker rooms. Do you have broad demographic targets for your radio and TV, or separate campaigns and music beds for your different segmented groups? The more traditional is customized, the greater your ROI will be.
Is your creative approach focused on the big idea? Or are you using a series of smaller ideas designed to resonate in specific markets and within specific niche groups? Typically the same traditional creative may be running in all markets for several weeks. However, traditional can learn lessons from social’s top creative, where top performing social ads may only perform for 36 to 72 hours before needing to be optimized. In the case of the Facebook Ad Server, it will save you from creative burn out because it will just stop serving your ad. However, your traditional could keep running and running…
Are you listening to conversations and then attempting to tap into them to promote the next deal period or sale? Looking at consumer insights for the 4th of July, it became clear that BBQ recipes and cupcakes were the most searched for items historically. Thus, we integrated these topics of interest into our creative to better join in the conversation and fulfill actual wants and needs.
Most of the media analytics applied to traditional are decades old and primarily mechanisms of commoditizing a buy to broad demographic groups. Effective social campaigns are focused on reach and frequency.
GRPs and IMPs mean nothing in terms of actual reach and frequency; 100 GRPs can be a 50 reach and 2 frequency or a 10 reach with a 10 frequency. They also do nothing to indicate the environment that the message is being showcased in. Are you looking at GRPs and CPPs or reach and frequency with different consumer segments? If not, you could be entirely over-reaching logical frequency levels with one group and entirely under-reaching another.
Think about the amount of time devoted to strategizing your 1 or 2 daily Facebook posts. Think about the analysis of the timing and content of when your tweets are most amplified. Could your traditional use the same analysis to better engage? The first step in the process is an understanding of how the consumer is actually consuming media and what other media is being used simultaneously.
Pandora Web is used mostly in-office and Pandora Mobile is generally used in the car. Won’t your messages engage more effectively if you take advantage of where people are consuming media? That’s why we’re huge advocates of heavy use of day-parting; it engages better. Drive time radio may have slightly higher usage, but much lower consumer attention spans and receptivity. A well produced :05 or :15 might better engage people in drive time, while an engaging :30 is a more effective messaging tool middays and weekends.
Think of crowdsourcing as the focus group of the future; it can offer much deeper information than a series of “controlled” focus groups ever could. It’s the next level of listening, by actually reaching out and having on-going insights on your creative, product mix, line-extensions and promotions. It’s no longer what you or your agency is thinking “back to school” may or may not represent, but what your segmented consumer groups want and will engage with.
Consumer’s media consumption, adoption of new technology and increased reliance on social elements will only continue to explode. Astute marketers will see that this translates into much less value to the “old days” of traditional commoditized media plans, siloed strategies and one size fits all creative. Integrating best practices from social can help your traditional better connect and create higher ROI.
Chris Beck is a 30-year marketing veteran and is the founder and Chief Vision Officer of 26 Dot Two. The company works with leading brands, including Whole Foods Market & Popchips. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The role of the resume has remained constant throughout its 500 years of existence — the point of the resume is to get a job.
Relative to other forms of communication, though, it hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, most of the changes have been merely cosmetic — most employers still require a one-sheet, black-and-white printed resume at interviews, regardless of the fact that we all use email and have had access to much better design options for years now. Not to mention, printing is unnecessary in the digital world we live in. At this point, even the role of cover letters in today’s job market is being scrutinized.
Monday night, Adobe released a new, experimental Flash-to-HTML5 conversion tool codenamed Wallaby.
Wallaby is an AIR app that lets devs and designers quickly and simply convert Flash Professional files to HTML5 — and when we say “simply and easily,” we mean it’s a matter of dragging and dropping. The company is specifically hoping this tool will make it easier for designers and developers to get their content onto iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad.
We saw a demo of Wallaby last fall; while some of the company’s CS5 software offered HTML5 plugins already, we said Wallaby was different because it supported elements and resources within animations, not just the animations themselves.
Wallaby is being released on Adobe Labs; Adobe is asking devs and designers to take it for a test drive, see how the HTML5 code looks, and give feedback accordingly.
Adobe has had an interesting time trying to articulate its position on Flash and HTML5 over the past year or so. To put it briefly, the company feels there’s still room in the current technological and creative spaces for Flash, but it doesn’t think that either Flash or HTML5 has to exist to the exclusion of the other. Therefore, as a company that, to a large extent, exists to serve the creative and development communities, it wants to create great tools for both the HTML5 and the Flash camps.
In a release, a company rep stated, “With more than 3 million Flash developers in the creative community, Adobe continues to look for new ways to help them build on their existing skills and to make their content available to the widest possible audiences. User response to the Wallaby technology preview will enable Adobe to better understand what types of innovations are needed in our long-term investments in both Flash and HTML5 technology.”
Check out last fall’s demo of the app, and in the comments section, let us know what you think of Wallaby so far. And if you do decide to download Wallaby yourself, let us know how it worked out for you.
Yes, you shouldn’t text while driving, or talk on the cell phone, or argue with your dog or drive blindfolded. It’s an idiot move, one that often leads to death (yours or someone else’s).
I don’t think you should text while working, either. Or use social networking software of any kind for that matter. And you probably shouldn’t eat crunchy chips, either.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing all that at work (in moderation). But not while you’re working. Not if working is that the act that leads to the scarce output, the hard stuff, the creative uniqueness they actually pay you for.
You’re competing against people in a state of flow, people who are truly committed, people who care deeply about the outcome. You can’t merely wing it and expect to keep up with them. Setting aside all the safety valves and pleasant distractions is the first way to send yourself the message that you’re playing for keeps. After all, if you sit for an hour and do exactly nothing, not one thing, you’ll be ashamed of yourself. But if you waste that hour updating, pinging, being pinged and crunching, well, hey, at least you stayed in touch.