• Making Great Stuff is the Best Way to Meet Great People

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    *Originally posted on the Need/Want blog.*

    The below painting of a cat as Napoleon Bonaparte helped me get my startup team acquired, become a partner at MetaLab, and meet Jon to start Need/Want together (which produces SmartBedding, Mod Notebooks, and more).

    There’s a million books on how to “network” and meet cool people. I think they’re all mostly garbage. The single best way I’ve found to meet interesting people is to make great things.

    Over the last couple years, I’ve met some really amazing people, and am fortunate to call many of them friends. A few of my most cherished and successful relationships have all stemmed from a single project I made.


    The Project

    In October 2011, I was living in Santiago Chile for Startup Chile’s round 1 program. It was late and I was surfing Reddit and drinking wine with my buddy Amir. I don’t remember quite how it happened, but while intoxicated I had the idea for what became 18th.me.

    18th.me is basically face-in-the-hole with real paintings. I found a team overseas with some amazing painting talent. They can re-create any classic painting (think Mona Lisa) but using anyone’s face I give them. It’s been a fun side-project, and has turned out to be a really great way to meet some really interesting people.

    Building 18th.me

    Once I had the idea and sourced the painters, I began brainstorming names, domains, and wireframes. I eventually settled on 18th.me, and snatched up the domain for $10.

    Intense wireframing then followed. Here’s  the final design I came up with:

    I then hired a great designer off of Dribbble that turned my wireframe into something great.

    Cost to build

    18th.me domain: $10
    Test paintings: $287.70
    Website design: $450
    Website coding: $328.77
    Shopify hosting: $87

    Total cost to launch: $1,163.47
    Total time taken from idea to launch: 3 months


    Meeting Great People

    After 18th.me went live, I began reaching out to people I admired. Looking back, it helped me to stand out during these interactions.

    Meeting Andrew Wilkinson, Founder of MetaLab

    When I first launched 18th.me, I sent out several paintings to some people with good blog followings to draw up interest. One of those was for William Wilkinson, a designer at MetaLab. He also happens to be Andrew’s younger brother. William posted this to his blog:

    You know when someone asks if you want a free painting from their new service and you forget about it for three months, then it shows up at your work?

    Not long after launching, I noticed an order come through from Andrew. He commissioned us to paint his cat as Napolean Bonaparte. I had been following MetaLab for years, and was a fan of Andrew’s work.

    Several weeks later, MetaLab launched Design Capital, their hybrid investing approach. Essentially they invest their resources in startups. This could include design, dev, cash, or a hybrid of all three.

    At the time I was still working on my startup, Obsorb. We needed some additional capital, and maybe help on our design. The day they launched I reached out with this simple email.

    To my surprise, Andrew responded, citing 18th.me!

    Eventually after many back and forth emails and calls, Andrew and I worked out a non-typical Design Capital deal. I proposed a joint venture between Obsorb and MetaLab to build a new product together.

    My co-founder and I went up to Victoria for 2 months to build out the prototype with Andrew and his team. By the end of the two months, it was obvious we worked well together. Andrew eventually made an offer to have us join MetaLab.

    The product we were working on became Peak, and I’m now a partner in MetaLab’s software business.


    Meeting Jon and starting Need/Want together

    While much of the deal above was happening, I was tinkering with a new bedding concept. My interest in physical product design had been growing and after a few prototypes, I started to make plans to Kickstarter a project.

    Jon was a tech guy that had just launched an iPhone case company, Peel. I found it intriguing that Jon was going from software to physical products, a rare occurrence.

    There’s something interesting that I’ve noticed in the world of startups – most tech guys just don’t want to deal with designing and selling physical items. It seems like manufacturing, large upfront costs, and the lack of infinite scalability intimidates many.

    Jon’s move from tech to physical products resonated with me, as I had started to dabble in the same. So, I reached out via Twitter.

    If you’re curious what those first two emails between Jon and I looked like, you can read my original reach out email to Jon here, and his response here.

    Jon and I kept talking via email and learned we had a lot of shared interests. Eventually I pitched him on doing SmartBedding with me. In the following months we went on to launch the Kickstarter campaign, raising $57k+.

    Due to SmartBedding’s success, we decided to create Need/Want and build a portfolio of  products together. This blog also followed.


    Lessons learned

    When you execute on ideas, you are forever associated with a tangible thing. People remember tangibles, not ideas.

    Looking back and connecting the dots, I’ve realized that any big career advancements or opportunities that came my way were always linked to something I made, or built.

    And so, the single best way I’ve found to meet interesting people is to…

    Make things, and then share them with the world. You’ll be surprised with who you meet along the way.


    If you found this post interesting you can follow me on Twitter @Marshal and Need/Want @NeedWantInc

  • A 3-Step Process for Naming a Project/Product (And Some Resources)

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    Naming a project is always an awful experience.

    An earworm that won’t stop tapping your skull from the inside. A tenacious pop jingle with teeth and a paycheck.

    As a freelance designer, I do a fair amount of this for clients. Generally, my process has been a garble of notes and trips to thesaurus.com, but lately I’ve noticed a fairly simple pattern emerging, a 3-step framework for cutting through the fog.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    3-Step Process
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Step 1.
    Identify the feeling you want the brand to convey. A great brand communicates on an emotional wavelength, so make that feeling your bedrock.

    One way to identify what feeling you’re pursuing is by figuring out what you’re not. A great brand is defined as much by what it is as by what it is not. So if you’re entering a certain market that is a certain way, identify that point of frustration and invert it. For instance, if your market is confusing, you could pursue ‘Relaxed', or ‘Lucid'.

    Step 2.
    Embody that feeling in a list of persons, places, things or phrases (etc) that communicate viscerally. For instance:
    Relaxed = a picnic
    Exclusive = Studio 54
    Cool = Paul Newman

    Step 3. Final
    Identify a detail that represents the [embodiment] of [your feeling] in a non obvious but compelling way.
    Relaxed = a picnic = Sunny Nap™
    Exclusive = Studio 54 = Velvet™
    Cool = Paul Newman = Ben Quick™ (a character he played)

    Repeat.
    New insights gained from the process should help you get a better handle on the unique feeling or value your brand has to offer.

    Ideally,
    the name should have a ‘special wrongness’* to it. An unforgettable newness. A new shape. 1+1=3. If your name lacks this, the product itself may have a hard time differentiating itself in whatever market you’re entering. Why are you different than your competitors? That difference should be reflected in the brain jam your name causes in its audience.

    *"Special Wrongness” is a term I’ve stolen and adopted from Peter Mendelsund from this amazing interview: http://portersquarebooksblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/interview-with-peter-m...

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Credentials
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    As for credentials, here are some of the things I’ve named:

    Svpply (snobby social shopping)
    Varsity Bookmarking (link-based interview magazine)
    10,000 (TBA athletic apparel)
    General Projects (design studio)
    Work Of (maker community and store)
    Mined (TBA digital marketplace)
    Lookwork (visual RSS for professionals)
    Lunch League (foodie clothing line)
    Embrella Group (design consultancy)

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    G.O.A.T
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Some of my favorite brand names of all time, the ones I aspire to matching, have the appearance of having emerged from this kind of process. Names like:

    Saturdays
    Girlfriend
    Hunter Gatherer AKA HUGA
    Mo’wax
    Slack
    Dress Code
    Mother
    The Quiet Life
    Public School
    Free People
    Girl Skateboards

    These names emerge from the fringe of their vibe. Familiar details that've been blown out larger than life.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Pretty Good Tools & Resources
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    http://www.Phrasefinder.co.uk — A robust database of slogans, phrases, idioms and such. Annual fee for this one.

    http://Rhymezone.com — Rhymezone is great for finding rhymes, but even moreso, it’s great for a feature it calls “related search”. Like a drunk cousin reading the dictionary, it often yields connections you wouldn’t see elsewhere.

    http://Thesaurus.com - Yep.

    http://Niice.co — Visual search engine. Good for non-linear, non-verbal associations. and its “Surprise Me!” button is great for knocking you out of a loop.

    http://iwantmyname.com - I use this for domain name searches because it has the most comprehensive list of TLD results that I’ve found.

    http://domai.nr - Domainr will cut your name up into chunks and tell you if there’s any odd domain combos available. Think: de.licio.us or days.am

    USPTO Trademark search - Once you’ve landed on a name, you’ll want to check for existing trademarks in your product’s space.
    USA: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/
    UK: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/tm/t-os/t-find/tmtext.htm

    USPTO class list - When doing a trademark search, you’ll want to know your product’s class so you can tell if you're rubbing elbows with a trademark holder.

    Don’t Call it That!: A Naming Workbook - Folks I trust have recommended this book.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    That's all I've got.

    I hope it's helpful.

    If you do wind up with any success because of this, I'd love to hear about it. myfirst@lastname.com or @pieratt

  • Using Your Brain as a Designer

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    Originally posted on Atomicdust's blog.

    “I really like it.”

    Probably one of the most important things I learned in design school, and subsequently in the working world, is that “liking” a design is not sufficient enough. That’s what separates art and design; art is subjective, design is communicative. It’s also, like Atomicdust Creative Director Mike Spakowski often says, disposable. Design always has new trends and technology always has new devices. The only thing that seems to have any longevity is the content behind them.

    It makes sense then to design around the message. After all, the purpose of any design is to remove obstacles and make it easier for people to understand a specific message. I am as guilty as any designer when it comes to getting swept up in the romance of making something look cool, but here are some things that help me keep a focus on the real purpose of what I’m making:

    1. Understand What You’re Trying to Say

    It’s surprisingly difficult to communicate something, when you don’t know what that something is. It’s your job to be a translator of sorts, explaining broad ideas and feelings in simple visual terms so you should probably know what those broad ideas and feelings are.

    2. Focus Group of One

    Chances are the people you are talking to are actually people. And what luck, you’re a person too. Test your design on yourself. Would you really read that chunk of text in the corner? Does that button actually make you want to click it? Does this piece of marketing accurately communicate the right message?

    3. Be as Genuine as You Can

    There’s a lot of marketing in the world and we’re bombarded with it every day. Subsequently we’re starting to automatically rate things as believable or unbelievable and that determines to what we’ll give the time of day. Avoid making outrageous claims, or implying that stock image perfection is exactly what you’re selling. Where does your design piece rank on the believable scale?

    4. Now, Make it Cool

    You’ve got the basics of the message, it’s a functional piece, and your tone is believable. Here’s your chance to flex (within reason) your design skills. Half the fun of being a designer is creating something that communicates a message and makes people say, “I really like it.”

    - - -

    Beth Porter joined Atomicdust as a design intern in 2011 and has been designing there ever since.

  • Toronto Edition: In 20 Words or Less What's Your Creative Philosophy

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    In 20 words or less, what's your creative philosophy? What a great question that surely would generate some very creative responses. The SF Egotist first took to asking San Francisco based creatives that very question, the response was a wonderful glimpse into the thought process of some very talented creatives.

    We decided to take the very same question to Toronto creatives, in 20 words or less, what's your creative philosophy? What they shared gives us a look into the thought process of some extremely talented individuals. Take a look - tell us what you think and if you have a creative philosophy of your own share it in the comments.

    "Love what you sell.
    Then be honest with yourself about
    the human emotion why you love it (greed, lust, etc). "

    - Kevin Drew Davis
    Chief Creative Officer at DDB Canada
    ,


    "Don't be bitter.
    Be
    Better."
    - Andrew Simon
    Chief Creative Officer at Cundari Advertising


    "Exhaust all possibilities when you create and craft.
    There’s no worse feeling than, in hindsight,
    wishing you’d done things differently."

    - Allen Oke
    Executive Creative Director at TBWA\Toronto


    "Read everything. You'll find what you need when you need it.
    Travel everywhere.
    It's a great punch in the perspective."

    - Barb Williams R.G.D.
    Creative Director at RAPP Toronto


    "2 litres of magic,
    1 cup of cultural tension,
    1 cup execution."

    - Carlos Moreno
    SVP, Executive Creative Director at BBDO Toronto


    "Put energy into work that you believe in;
    find collaborators to vibe with,
    then believe in those people over product."

    - Kai Exos
    Executive Creative Director at SPOKE Agency


    “If you throw someone ten tennis balls,
    they’ll likely be able to catch only one.
    Throw one. Make it count.”

    - Fabio Orlando
    Chief Creative at Tag Idea Revolution


    "Spend weeks researching, experimenting,
    agonizing over an idea...
    then tell everyone it just popped into your head."

    - Jordan Foster
    Creative Director / Partner at six01


    "If the brief can't be
    Delivered in haiku form
    The suits must go back."
    - Suzanne Pope
    SVP, Creative Director at Sudler & Hennessey


    "Think with the mindset of a consumer
    and create
    with the imagination of a child."

    - Gary Watson
    Executive Creative Director at Capital C


    "Make sure your work has a pulse,
    and always remember,
    lions don't lose sleepover the opinions of sheep."

    - Anthony Wolch
    Executive Creative Director at Entrinsic


    "Simplify the complicated."
    - The Toronto Egotist

  • When Brand Building Becomes Personal

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    Jared Dunten is a lot of things. Copywriter. Artist. Father. Husband. Paraplegic. Fighter. That last one probably should have come first.

    In 2000, Jared dove into the Rio Grande, on the Texas/Mexico border. He woke up days later in a hospital 400 miles away. He’d broken his neck and injured his spinal cord.

    Doctors said he’d be lucky to breathe on his own again. Walking? Best to forget about that. But the doctors underestimated him.

    In the 13 years since the accident, Jared has been fighting his way back, starting with breathing on his own. Then months of rehabilitation. He returned to Austin, resumed his job as a copywriter at GSD&M. Became an accomplished painter using only his mouth. Got married. Had twins.

    All the while he’s been fighting paralysis, and fighting the notion that he and others with spinal chord injuries will never walk again.

    He’s become an advocate and activist by doing what he knows best – building brands – taking the skills he learned in the advertising world and applying them to his fight. He started with Will Walk www.willwalk.org, a foundation which uses art and film to create awareness about paralysis.

    And he’s not doing it alone. He’s pulling in people from other areas of the industry to help him create and promote this “brand.” The Butler Bros., Marty and Adam, are longtime friends of Jared. They both had large-agency gigs but left ten years ago to explore more innovative ways to tell brand stories. www.thebutlerbros.com

    They’ve applied their unique approach to a film that uses Jared’s story to encourage people to be more vocal about spinal injury research. See the trailer here: http://bbros.co/willwalk

  • Agency Insider: Kaleidoscope

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    "Agency Insider" is a series of articles about Chicago Agencies from the people that work in those agencies.

    Creativity has always been and still remains the foundation for innovation. There’s an increasing amount of research that points to the fact that breakthrough solutions come from people innovating together - challenging and building on each other’s perspectives, insights and thinking. At Kaleidoscope, a world premier integrated design and realization agency located off the beaten path in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, creativity is a premium. The agency harnesses thinking from all of its team members – strategists, designers, engineers and technical experts - throughout the entire design process. The combination of unique perspectives fosters innovative thinking to develop simple solutions. The breadth of experts also makes it possible to address challenges holistically, identifying potential speed bumps and correcting them early on versus stage by stage.

    Occupying a 27,000-square-foot office loft, the agency has an expansive open floor plan with workspaces that lend themselves to multiple areas of expertise and disciplines - brand strategy, ideation and innovation, identity design, graphic and structural packaging, product design, design implementation and prototyping.

    The agency uses an insight-driven and Co-Creative approach to guide innovation and design, allowing them to strategically position brands for maximum impact and deliver true relevance and value to consumers and end users. Recently, Kaleidoscope decided to shake things up and is in the process of reconfiguring its office workspace to further support its Co-Creative working model, which embraces the synergistic collaboration of its multidisciplinary teams, client knowledge and consumer perspectives to solve problems and uncover opportunities.

    With design thinking, creativity and innovation being a priority for the firm, it’s no wonder why Kaleidoscope’s executives, Gary Chiappetta and Bert Hodapp, are investing in resources that can up the agency’s capacity to innovate by fostering a more open and collaborative environment. The right workspace can help people collaborate, share knowledge, learn together and build networks of trustful interaction - the activities critical for solving big design and branding challenges that the agency is
    faced with every day from its client list of leading CPG’s, niche and startup brands alike.

    Some of the spatial design principles the agency is employing include:

    Flexibility & Collaboration

    Co-Creative teams require a shared mind. Individual insights need to become group learning and memory — the sooner, the better. The history of the project needs to be readily available to reduce unnecessary backtracking and errors. A mix of fixed and fluid architectural elements like semi-permanent walls and movable partitions allow for this type of flexibility as does mobile furniture. Kaleidoscope houses “war rooms” where teams and projects can live throughout the duration of a project.

    Foster Innovation

    Creating something new is fundamental to all branding and design work that comes through the agency, and stimulating, engaging spaces can jump-start and sustain creative thinking. Kaleidoscope capitalizes on the already abundant natural light that pours through large windows with cityscape views.

    By supporting all the modes of work from design to implementation, every square foot of an innovation space can become an efficient workshop for new ideas, even the copy machine or the kitchen. An abundance of informal gathering areas including an open kitchen and retro diner booths as well as a plethora of white boards can be found throughout the space. Social capital builds trust, which is especially important when teams are doing intense work, so it’s important that these more informal spaces exist.

    Mirror Agency Culture

    A well-defined identity and culture provide reassuring context and meaning to both internal and external stakeholders. Having a great space can help retain the best employees and attract the best talent. At Kaleidoscope, the space authentically underscores important values and processes like Co-Creation reflected through its open floor plan and iteration realized by its “write on the walls” approach. The loft space, which includes exposed brick, metal piping and wood-beamed ceilings support the work/play vibe the agency cultivates. Each day when employees enter and leave, they’re reminded that the responsibility to be great is shared.

    About Kaleidoscope

    Kaleidoscope is the world premiere integrated design and realization agency headquartered in Chicago with locations in New York, UK, and most recently, Los Angeles. Kaleidoscope’s multi-disciplinary teams believe in Co-Creation or collaborative partnership with clients to apply insight-driven design strategies to brand communication. Iterative Design Thinking®, the agency’s proprietary approach to design, includes the use of Rapid Ideation, Iterative Prototyping and Rapid Research to quickly gather and build on feedback from key stakeholders and consumers, bringing innovative ideas to market.

    Kaleidoscope specializes in the areas of brand strategy, visual identity, product design, structural and graphic packaging design, packaging innovation and realization, which encompasses design implementation, artwork production and prototyping.

  • Dear Jr Creative, Earn Your Place. You’ll Be Better For It.

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    Dear Jr Creative,

    I’m a firm believer in earning your keep, starting from the bottom, doing the less than desirable well, before moving up.

    Prove yourself on what seemingly matters little, and people will notice. I promise.

    At the very least, I promise I’ll notice. Because it’s the unorthodox grind of a route I took.

    I was a rich kid from the suburbs. I was embarrassed by it. I hated it. It was a 90’s thing.

    In High School, and in Gen-X “rebellion” against my white collar family, I worked for the Las Vegas Water District doing underground construction.

    I dug ditches and changed water lines during the Vegas Summer for 8 dollars an hour. Not desirable work. And the guys I worked with could smell the rich kid on me. They busted my balls mercilessly for it.

    I dug the shit out of those ditches. I loved it. I used my hands. I used heavy machinery and pneumatic tools—I drove a dump truck (which is awesome by the way).

    All I wanted was the respect of these old guys changing water lines in the desert. Dudes that worked so fucking hard. For so fucking little. To feed their families; their addictions; their gambling debts.

    Eventually, I’d earned a bit of respect.

    I worked hard…”for a skinny rich kid.”

    One day I mentioned to the crew lead: “Fuck it. I like this. Why not full time?”.

    He pulled the truck over to the shoulder of a mountain road, heading North towards Mt. Charleston, looked deep into my face, “Every single one of us would give the world NOT to be here. Stop your blue collar charade. Go to school like you’re supposed to. Get out of this shit.”

    So I did.

    That was my last of three summers working for the water district.

    I went to school for business. Marketing & Advertising to be exact. Which, aside from teaching me some business basics, really just help develop my aptness for bullshit.

    Luckily for me, somewhere along the line, I learned a real skill and about this thing called the “Internet.” It was a place I could upload the photos I was taking (and developing in a darkroom, btw). I learned some Photoshop and HTML skills because of it. Eventually, I started freelancing: horrible graphic design and web work. Whatever I could get—fucking rave fliers, man. I just wanted to learn. The beer money was the gravy on top.

    My first “real” job out of college was resizing graphics for an eCommerce company. I showed up for the interview on my skateboard, handed the HR lady my resume and said, “I’ll take anything. I know Photoshop. Here’s my book.” I didn’t even know what a “designer” was. But that’s why I was there. And by no means was I a designer; Photoshop monkey…maybe.

    Ninety people had been laid off a month prior to me being brought on. I was the first hire after those layoffs and in the eyes of everybody…I was “that guy…”

    I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Where I belonged.

    The only thing I had going for me was a fear of “sucking.” And for the record, I sucked. (Certainly compared to the kids I see today).

    “…good enough to resize graphics” was what I overheard the Creative Director say, just around the corner.

    So I resized graphics. I resized the shit out of graphics, learning to code HTML along the way. I unlearned what I learned in business school. And learned…business. I developed site and page concepts for fun. Always showing my boss. Wanting critique. Always trying to get better. People noticed. He noticed. I gained more and more responsibility and more importantly, trust. Never begging for more money. Just wanting to do more work, better work.

    To not suck.

    Eventually, I took over as Creative Lead. I redesigned both KBToys.com and eToys.com. Enterprise level eCommerce stuff. Real businesses, making real money. I thought the designs were pretty damn good for the early 00’s. Some of the first .com’s to switch to 1024x768. We won some eCom industry awards. It moved product. I thought I was hot shit.

    I was far from it.

    Fast forward a decade and I’m blown away by the level of talent that’s out there. Kids today come out of school with so much fucking skill it’s crazy. But with all of that skill, in so many, there is equal-to-more parts hubris. An entitled attitude that seems to expect everything for nothing.

    Somewhere, along the lines, we (everyone) got sensitive. We started giving trophies for last place. People forgot how to take criticism. We started (and continue) to want to spare people from the realities of what it really takes. Close counts. Thanks for trying. Better luck next time—even worse—Fail Harder.

    I hate this phrase more than anything.

    “Fail Harder” is a manifesto for the delusional, the lazy—the lotto dreamer.

    Celebrating failure is a cop out. Be pissed that you fucked up—when you lose. And know why.

    Fail “Smarter” maybe. But failing hard is for losers.

    Industry-wise, we covet the idea. Not its realization, it’s viability.

    “I want to be an AD. But I don’t write and I don’t design. I’m an idea guy”

    “No, no, no, i’m a UX guy. I don’t do wires and I don’t do finished design. I just explore interaction concepts.”

    “I want to be a CD. But I don’t like talking with clients.”

    “My new Web 3.0 business concept doesn’t have a revenue model—it’s like Instagram but with animated gifs of kittens.”

    Ideation in a clientless vacuum; devoid the realities of real life (inside an agency or any company for that matter). Feasibility. Budgets. Client bureaucracies. The fact is that big ideas take time to sell. They die. They have to be reborn. And that it’s your role to breath the life back in. But only if you really give a shit.

    The “idea” is the tip of a gigantic, shit stained iceberg of work. And if you aren’t ready for what it takes, or worse, you think “that it’s someone else’s job” to push your idea from ether to reality—reconsider your profession.

    My advice is simple: don’t be the entitled kid. The kid who over indexes in ambition but lacks any real passion—any real drive other than a new title at a new agency.

    Be the kid who wants to learn even when he doesn’t have to—the designer who wants to learn to write, to code, to understand business because it makes the design better.

    Don’t be an industry douche. They call themselves ninjas or gurus…even evangelists. They’re the ones who will tell you, to your face, that they are smarter than the other guy. They’re the ones who have stopped reading by now.

    Don’t be the kid who hops around. Don’t be the kid, who, when given the chance, will opt for the bare minimum. Who scoffs at perspective. The kid who will jeopardize the team to spare his fragile ego. The kid, who, when faced with a situation that gets difficult, says “I’m too good for this kind of work. I deserve better.”

    Nobody deserves shit. Until you do. And even then, never admit it.

    I’m now the old guy. I get it…

    I’m not saying you need to go out and work construction. But it’s good to know where you don’t want to be. And understand why.

    I know I don’t want to resize graphics anymore. Why? Well…because it sucks.

    But I’ll still dig the shit out of a ditch.

    - Dave

    I should note, that my teen “rebellion” against my Father was laughably ironic. My dad was blue collar. A cowboy who changed tires on big rigs before finishing college and becoming who he is today.

    Behind my teen angst, unbeknownst to me all that time, I was trying to be just like him.

    What a silly little rich kid.

    David Snyder is Executive Creative Director at Firstborn. Living in Brooklyn. He likes progressive thought, design and technology. He eats and libates well. This editorial original posted on Medium.

  • Strategizing is for Prom Queens

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    I hear the word “strategy” thrown on just about everything. Like rhinestones on a South-Texas-prom-queen’s dress, “strategy” is too often a cheap and easy bedazzle on everything from PowerPoint slides, to someone’s superfluous commentary in a meeting that is already running too long with too many attendees. Anymore, in my day-to-day, Strategy is quite the loose little buzzword.

    Often, it is a noun, as in “brand strategy” or “I am a strategist." Sometimes it is an adjective, as in “strategic vision” or “strategic insights." Also, as an adverb, such as “strategically developed” or “strategically placed.” And let's not forget it as a verb, as in “strategize” (which for the record, makes me want to punch the speaker in the nose every time I hear it).

    And that isn’t to say that I don’t use the word often myself. But I used to accept the word at what I believed was its face value — a sense of something great and purposeful. A sense that when I heard “strategy” — I knew we were talking about the key to winning whatever was at stake, the secret sauce critical to achieving the mission. I knew we’d be talking about something tangible, and most importantly — something actionable. (Strategy is, by definition, a military term that, in a nutshell, means using your brains and your guts to not only stack the odds in your favor, but empower you to make the right decisions when confronted with any obstacle.)

    Now, given the bedazzling trend, I’ve made it my personal charge to pay much closer attention when the word “strategy” is presented. Analyzing it quietly in my head, from every angle. Challenging my own application of it constantly. Because the real disturbing trend, is not that the word gets overused, but rather that the very concept of strategy has become a crutch. A well disguised excuse NOT to act. An exercise in lengthy requirements-gathering to plan for problems and scenarios that don’t yet exist. A perceived need to create a long list of tasks for what should happen in the future, when instead we should be driving for real feedback via iterative launches in the present. I see terms like “strategic goals” and “strategic vision” plastered across PowerPoint slides, and the actual bullet points associated with most of these goals and visions, amount to little more than minute tactics positioned as passive options to explore. Presented in the context of “we are working on,” or “working toward,” or “think there is great opportunity within this area.”

    And with that lack of conviction, certainty, drive — fucking nothing can be won. It’s all a lot of bling with very little bang.

    So here is what I'm really driving at — let's all of us in the industry be more thoughtful with strategy. That when creating, executing, presenting or thinking about strategy in any context, let’s be critical of ourselves, of our interpretation of strategy and when/how/why it matters or is applied. As an example, do we sometimes create formality where it isn’t warranted — like laboring over a “social media strategy,” when maybe all we really need is to just be social? Or when our strategy feels like it is a moving target, and people struggle with how to articulate it — should we check our premises? Are there assumptions at play that have been driving a weak, obtuse strategy? And if the goals are ill-defined, then no amount of “strategic planning” is going to get us anywhere, even if we wrap that anemic goal in a shiny label called “strategic vision.”

    Diamonds are a girl's best friend for a reason — because they have real value. The real, lasts-for-a-100-years-and-cut-glass kind of value. Fortunately, making sure your strategy has actual value is really pretty simple — just ask yourself, is your strategy something your team can:

    • Articulate without a slide in front of them?
    • Apply in any given situation?
    • Execute against to deliver desired results?
    • Feel empowered and confident in so doing?

    This piece is cross-posted from The BRAT Blog from The Aha Method — a company that coaches teams around a better working dynamic.

  • “No gays please, we’re advertising.”

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    Advertising is a pretty progressive industry. We like to think of ourselves as an enlightened bunch. Some of our best friends are gay. Hell – some people in advertising are actually gay. Seriously. And yet, we all seem reluctant or incapable of portraying same-sex lifestyles in our work.

    There are gay creatives, planners, producers, directors, clients and actors. And yet in adland, it seems gays don’t need mortgages, don’t drive cars, brush their teeth, play bingo or use low-fat spreads as part of a calorie-controlled diet.

    There’s no question we should include ethnic minorities in our advertising. Who would even dream of digging their heels in to preserve an all-Aryan cast? We’ll feature empowered women. Strong-willed kids. And moonwalking Shetlands. But where’s even the token homosexual? They can’t all be at G.A.Y. screaming for a Kylie encore – or in hiding, surreptitiously unpicking the very fabric of our society.

    Did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s child-catcher change tack and start prowling the streets playing Barbara Streisand from a float pulled by French bulldogs, loaded with rainbows and glitterballs?

    Dropping the G-Bomb

    Benetton have deliberately courted controversy over the years – some executions playing ‘agent provocateur’ with same-sex relationships as their political football. But why can’t gays feature in ads because they’re normal consumers who just happen not to be heterosexual?

    Look, it wouldn’t take much to stand out a mile in the UK straight-acting ad-scene. Feature gays. Leading normal lives. Arguing over dog food, trying out sofas, comparing their car insurance, living out their later years with a private pension.

    Ikea ran the first gay commercial ever aired on US television in 1994. It ran for a few weeks until there was a bomb threat at one of their stores and was subsequently pulled. Have we moved on since then?

    It must seem alien for gays to see themselves represented in TV shows and films but have their very existence given the cold shoulder when the ad break arrives. The few examples I’ve seen just use homosexuality as the rug-pull, the reveal, the joke. “Oh I get it, she’s actually a lesbian.” Gag, packshot, endline. Cheap.

    JC Penney vs One Million Moms

    JC Penney in the US used Ellen deGeneres to front their campaign which led to a storm of protest spearheaded by a Christian group calling themselves One Million Moms. They wrote, “By jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon, JC Penney is attempting to gain a new target market and in the process will lose customers with traditional values that have been faithful to them over all these years.”

    So far, so predictable. But two silver linings emerged:

    1: One Million turned to be a tiny fraction of that figure.
    2: The backlash spawned its own backlash. The #StandUpForEllen campaign gained 50,000 signatures almost overnight and helped prompt JC Penney to er… ‘come out’ and say Ellen was their perfect brand ambassador.

    In that distant land called real life, gay marriage is here. The Prime Minister – a Tory – is pushing for more rights for gays. And who’s to say he’s wrong?

    Guinness made an infamous commercial portraying a gay couple back in 1995. It was ready to run, word got out, people were up in arms, the world was clearly going to end and the client lost their nerve. And in so doing, they compounded the very problem they set out to address.

    Is it time for another try?

    Papas and Papas

    One recent exception is a Mamas and Papas campaign in the UK for their Urbo buggies, featuring heterosexual mums and dads, single-parents and a genuine gay couple and their little boy, Blu.

    The press release states, “How We Roll celebrates the diversity and individualism that forms the makeup of the modern family, for whom parenting has simply become a positive extension of their current lifestyle.”

    There have been mixed reactions. On Netmums, some are highly supportive – “The world is changing and it’s about time all loving parents are catered for in adverts” – while others chime in with not wanting to have this sort of thing “shoved in my face.” Freud would have a field day.

    Even the gay community was sceptical. Were they being used simply as a PR stunt? Were the ads really running? It seems there are pitfalls and suspicion whatever your intentions.

    Creatives want to create. We want to invent brand new stuff, never before seen. And yet there’s this vast expanse of unexplored territory: overlooked at best, taboo at worst.

    It’s a rich, emotive area, surely. Love against all odds. Unconventional is cool, right? Overcoming prejudice, defying conventions, being true to yourself. You could have this space all to yourself. Column inches galore and plaudits for being progressive and well… real.

    It doesn’t have to be gratuitous. No need to shock. In a way, the most shocking thing is that one of the most enlightened industries in the land is lagging so far behind the real world.

    This post originally appeared on the DLKW Lowe blog >

  • "5 Paths To Doing Great Work At A Terrible Company" - Brian Millar

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    We’ve all thought it: If only I worked at so-and-so, my genius would be recognized and I’d churn out award-winning work. But you don’t have to work at so-and-so. Here are some workarounds to getting your best ideas realized right where you are.

    What can I say? I needed the money. My kids were small, my own agency had just ground to a halt, and I needed a job--tomorrow. The phone rang. A headhunter told me about a place that wanted me for a ton of money and I could start right away. The only catch: It was a dreadful, dreadful advertising agency. Walking into its reception was like entering a scene in a horror movie. It wasn’t blood on the walls that broke me out in a cold sweat; it was the ads.

    If you work in the creative industries, or you’re trying to break into them, then you’ve probably watched some industry legend swagger onstage to dish out career advice. Their life story almost certainly went like this: They got their first job at the hottest shop in the world. They kept working there for years earning the square root of nothing. Then they took a creative director role somewhere amazing, before setting up their own world-dominating company. Well, not everybody can do that. By definition, half the companies in any industry are below average. And somebody has to work at them. For a while, one of those somebodies was me.

    You will search in vain for that job on my LinkedIn profile; I don’t admit to ever having been there. But when I emerged six months later, I’d got some decent print work out the door and won them their first-ever major award. I’d also learned a lot about the differences between a good company and a bad one - they’re not what you might think.

    1. WORK AS IF YOU LIVE IN THE EARLY DAYS OF A BETTER COMPANY

    “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” These words are carved in stone on the wall of the Scottish Parliament. They’re also pinned up above my desk as I’m writing this. If you’re working in a dump, you don’t have to work as if you’re in a dump. Form a startup in your own head. Write a manifesto. Keep showing up for work in the same building, but follow the ideals of your invisible hotshop.

    Nancy Vonk is a partner at Swim, a coaching company for creative directors. She recommends creating your own “micro climate” within your company. “Another terrible brief? Find out the business problem. Pull together a group and brainstorm. Go for diversity--somebody who ‘isn’t creative’ from finance, an intern with fresh eyes and an inability to edit themselves. Even ‘terrible’ clients recognize and prize great ideas, in my experience. If going rogue means great work, forgiveness is usually a given."

    You’re not the only frustrated talent in the place. There will be plenty of recruits to your startup-within-a-terrible-agency. Find a few and you will already be working in the early days of somewhere better.

    2. GOOD COMPANIES AREN’T MORE TALENTED. THEY’RE MORE TENACIOUS

    Today, James Bond is the best-known fictional character in the world. How could you go wrong making a James Bond movie? Simple. Give in to every suggested improvement. That’s what happened to the first attempt to make a Bond movie. I can imagine the meeting now:
    “Bond is too English for our audience. Let’s make him American. ‘James’ is kinda stuck-up as a name. ‘Jimmy’ is more down-to-earth. The book character is a bit of a psycho. I know! Let’s make him smile all the time."

    Nod. Scribble. Nod.

    Watch this clip and see the difference a few helpful changes can make.

    3. “THIS SH*T DOESN’T HAPPEN AT DRO5A”

    There’s always somebody walking round every company saying something like this. They imagine a perfect office where folks just swan in off the street waving a checkbook and asking you to win awards on their behalf. Naturally, they have never worked at such a place, but their friend has. Don’t be that person.

    One day you will work somewhere great. And there will still be people walking round saying, “This shit doesn’t happen at Dro5a.” One day you may work at Dro5a. And I expect that exactly the same snafus happen there. When they do, I bet that somebody will say, “This shit doesn’t happen at Wieden.”

    The place where “this shit doesn’t happen” only exists in the minds of bitter people. If you must deal with them, then avoid thinking like them. It’s tempting early in your career to look cool and cynical. Nothing will turn you into a hack faster.

    4. MOONLIGHT

    David Ogilvy moonlighted. Many of his most famous ads were done outside of his day job. Sometimes he was paid cash. He boasted that his ads for Holiday magazine earned him some “magnificent china lamps.” If Ogilvy, a tony pipe-smoking adman with his name above the door of one of the biggest networks on earth could still bang out cracking work on the weekends, then so can you. For many years, an informal team of creatives at Ogilvy ran a whole national gym account in their spare time. I was one of them. I think ol’ Dave would have approved.

    5. YOUR BEST OPPORTUNITY IS SITTING IN FRONT OF YOU

    Co.Create recently published a list of clients that creative people most wanted to work on. From one angle, it was a disappointing list. Because it was a list of great brands. Where’s the challenge in working on a brand that somebody else has made great? When I started working on ads for IBM, technology advertising was a geek ghetto. The action was all in beer. It meant that there were no rules, few expectations, and if you did a decent piece of work, people sat up and took notice.

    If you come out of the elevator this morning and think, “If only I had an Apple brief I could do something great,” then you may have a long wait coming.

    Whatever you’re working on today, you have an opportunity to make it really stunning. And if you’re working on something that seems dull, then people should be all the more impressed when you nail it brilliantly. And if you’re being held back by the terrible place you work, then start up a new place in your mind.

    Head to your desk this morning as if you work in the early days of a better company. And I promise, you will.

    This article first appeared in FastCo Design.

    Brian Millar is strategy director at Sense Worldwide.

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