Concepting Greatness… (& where Spec Work Fits In…)

The contest culture has boomed with shows like The Apprentice or Survivor and other shows like Project Runway and Chopped for instance. The interesting wrinkle of this is given that they are shows (and even in other contests), there’s no need to account for the rights of the people involved. (Like creating a fashion line on Project Runway may mean it is owned by the show… I dunno). But my larger point is that in the knowledge economy, it’s important for designers to be conscious of the economic value of giving away work (I argue for a strategy like planned giving is better than giving every dollar away to every cause, etc.), pricing work based on copyright ownership, corporate size and use. An example of the retention of rights is that the ad agency for GEICO (The Martin Agency, I think) retained the rights to the cavemen and at one point, optioned them to a television show.

Regardless of how people felt about the spec work issue, I’d like to see designers thinking more about the possible value of copyrights of created materials, which may have little value in this case, but as an overall point is a point of entry for discussion in this enormously weighted, but perhaps undiscussed issue.

I ran by an RFP by an ad agency the other day where ostensibly the company would hire them at good money and the first thing they would do is hold a contest to design the logo for a company. Thinking about that i realized that many folks grow up with an eye to the ad world where the idea and art is used to “sell” the product and bring in the client. Of course, now we see that weekly with Mad Men and for those who know the agency background, we are accustomed to the notion of “paid-for” pitches. I think what designers need education on is the notion that they need to be more fastidious with their rights when entering contests here and yon.

I came away from the RFP thinking there is a number of camps where logo design (and good design, in general) exist. (Not counting the camp that doesn’t see the value of design or presentation, at all). There’s a commodity camp that feels design, printing, marketing et. al is good enough to be like everybody else and the type of business relationships those folks pursue are a confirmation of that thinking. I mean, most of the modern world recognizes the value, of say packaging, or letterhead on a minimally-functional level. This group doesn’t realize the gulf between one product and the next is very little nowadays. this group reminds me of Stalin’s famous quote: “Quantity is a quality all its own.”

A second group that recognizes that creating good design is worth it for the parties involved. But they aren’t sure why. Just make it nice, but can’t assess the value of those decisions. So, they think designers, printers, etc. are purveyors of “black arts” in that they go behind the curtain and make decisions that may or may not help the product or service, all in the interest of making it “nice”, but perhaps unconnected to its intrinsic mission. This group recognizes how much “nicer” nice approaches are, but doesn’t fully trust that the clarity of great design is fully absorbed in the product’s acceptance and clarity.

I think a third group is the conceptually-focused group that thinks that the details aim the design in a particular direction, a particular approach, or point-of-view. A mitigation of that approach weakens the conceptual perspective and weakens the design. Strongly addressing the design, by contrast, creates legendary approaches (or at least aims to) that aren’t always reflected in designs and strategies that part the Red Sea, but designs that clearly answers the question, closes the sale, or makes the point in a big way.

Now, not being the kind of “walk-on-water” designer who can do that everytime out, or what have you, I am constantly making the effort to not be in the first or second group and fighting to make my clients be in the third group with me, or finding new clients that want to be in that first group. What this means is less pedestrian approaches to design work. But more committed approaches… This approach takes the kind of commitment where the client tells me this version “sucked” or that is “conceptually off” to make the product, not just acceptable, but transformative. Transformative because transformative sells… big. Highly successful means much, much more than “okay”, so much so that “okay” isn’t really “okay” anymore. My feeling is that more often than not , contests promote one of the first two than the last one.

Googling Michael Schumacher and the Apple iPod and you’ll find tens of thousands more hits and followers than googling Jos Verstappen or Philips MP3 player. If the concessions to educating designers about the rights management of their work-product were made more often, we’d have an educated community on an issue such as this. Just a thought on the issue…


Which Ad Strategy Is Right For You?

EFI Group Logo Design

Working with an engineering group, I recently developed a new logo for EFI Group. The logo combines letterform and crosshair imagery to create a focus element on their principal market—industrial market engineering consultation and implementation. Many thanks to them for a great process and a special thanks to Rob Emenecker of Hairy Dog Digital for partnering with me on the project.

"Is flyer advertising dead?" No.

“Non-permission advertising” is dead more than anything else. Messages from people we “don’t know” or don’t “think we want to know” have a harder time making it because people are inundated with marketing messages and they must search for our “pre-approval” to gain access to our attention span. That’s what having someone introduce you to a person with a job or project is all about. “You are verified.” The whole concept of getting celebrities to pitch an ad product is based on the notion that there’s a split second brain response where we may “turn on” or “turn off” as well as the ensuing sense of comfort with thatfamiliar face (or voice) which helps people to stick with the message just a little longer. As for flyer design, design like so many other things is such a commodity today, to truly get consistent attention not only does the design have to be good and engaging, but it has to aim for being seamlessly communicative and transformative.

Question on LinkedIn: Are Brochures Still Worth Spending Time and Money On?

Brochures definitely have use, but that use has changed and understanding the change is key to properly using your budget. Once a client asked me this and I told them to “analyze their budget”. 10 years ago, a client would produce an annual report, overprint it like crazy, send it to a bloated mailing list that consisted of anybody who played any role whatsoever in their company. The waste was costly and not really sustainable. I mean, only analysts read the entire annual report. Take the part for us humans (summary, what we’ve been doing, etc.) and turn it into a brochure of half the length and a quarter the costs or put the reportage online. The best web strategy often has a confluence of the web and print. When the television reached critical mass, it didn’t eliminate, it changed the way radio was utilized in the household. Radio at the time was used for all types of programming but the advent of television made certain types of radio more useful than television by comparison. Similar with brochures. Brochures are useful but in particular in ways that the web or tv aren’t. For instance, running fine print on the web or tv makes the advertiser look like a scammer because the type is so small or on tv for so little time the inference is that it’s not there to read. We can’t curl up with the internet the same way. Brochures are of course still very portable and when done well can appeal to have a keepsake quality to its audience (like House Industries or VEER direct mail). Bottom line is each tool is the delivery of a message, not a strategy by itself. And it takes using them sometimes together to answer your individual needs.

Design Can Transform The Event …

After attending yesterday’s Tour Dem Parks, Hon! ride, and working the t-shirt table, I was pleasantly surprised by the people who were so animated about the postcard and shirt artwork.

The people’s energy was so good to see, because it provided strong validation that design can not only represent—but transform—the interest in event when design moves from being an afterthought to a main contributing factor in the event’s development.