Monday, October 15, 2007

As featured at Semi-Permanent ...

Please find here some colours, shapes and emotional turmoil all juxtaposed against the backdrop of an unforgiving consumerist driven society.

Or some pretty pixels, depends on your point of view I suspect.

To explain, I recently mistook myself for an artist and submitted some work to a publication in melbourne. I spliced together some collective thoughts over a weekend and then post-rationalised it as all good tortured geniuses do.

The concept was to represent three emotional states; love, truth and honesty. I was wondering why I'd chosen those themes until the song on the radio finished and the DJ said 'That was bananarama with the song 'Love, truth and honesty'. Man, the eighties are so inspirational.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the results ... And thanks to Kimberly Batchelor who drew the lovely flowers in the white background piece (it needed a feminine touch to validate the 'love' aspect. I haven't felt anything close to love since 1984 when my teacher Miss Jones whacked me with a ruler and I felt strangely happy).

Opps, I shared too much. Enjoy!

Christian Teniswood

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Designers like pretty pictures, not long texts

I was thinking about the possibilities of telling a narrative with only the simplest of shapes, two in fact, a circle and a triangle. Here's a few ideas I was playing with (and finally, I'm posting a visual element to this blog. The design gods will be happy).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

If good typography is like a good wine, are you making me drink cheap hooch?

Typography is the visual articulation of the spoken word. The typeface you choose has a voice that speaks in different tones and expresses different personalities. And like accents and languages, typefaces have subtle inflections and nuances that are distinct and unique. Some speak quietly and confidently, some yell from the rooftops and others dance naked in the rain. Determining what you want your brand to say and how it is said is the first step towards choosing a typeface that embodies those values.

The second part of selecting typography is to complement the brandmark or logo. I equate the experience to selecting a good wine to go with food, there are certain well followed precedents but it is also a reflection of personal taste. But this reminds us the brandmark and logotype are served together and intrinsically linked. It makes sense that the typeface should be integrated with or take some cues from the graphics (or vice versa). An organically inspired brandmark may recall a calligraphic, hand-drawn or humanist type style, whilst a more edgy mark may call for a contemporary selection. Some designers have their favourite five or six fonts that regularly appear next to a symbol but with the ever growing requirement for individual ownership of a mark, varied and custom typefaces have much to warrant selection.

Typefaces are also of different vintages and quality. Some are well made and have gotten better with age. Some need to be drunk right now because they'll have gone bad in a year and others were made in someone's backyard cellar with a strong lack of knowledge. My advice for this last category; Don't use these fonts, it identifies you as someone who lacks better judgement and was happy to accept a free bottle of peppermint schnapps rather than pay for a pinot.

The trend of neutralising the type (you could read this as using helvetica) renders a brandmark cold and impersonal. With the overabundance of visual identities in the marketplace and a recognised need to create emotive and ownable brands, typography needs to speak up for itself rather than looking back at us with disinterest.

Whilst it is a beautiful typeface, Helvetica is like weekend at Bernie's. It looks alive but when you check for a heartbeat, there's nothing. Not to say helvetica doesn't have a place. It works well when you need to let the graphics be the main focus. It's is the perfect social partner, standing quietly at your side looking handsome without saying anything at all. Your friends will nudge you and go 'Whoa, hot date. Where'd you meet?" It makes you look good just through it's presence. But this isn't the way you want your brandmark to act. Brandmarks need to have an opinion. Brandmarks need to be talking to everyone.

Using a custom typeface across a brand allows for recognition even when the brand is extended or sub-brands introduced. This is a compelling argument for using custom typefaces, as the increase in brand recognition is enhanced by an organisation being able to claim a unique ownership of the typography.

There are many cues to help you start selecting a relevant typeface. Is there a brand position or set of values to clue you in? If there is an existing symbol or logo, is it drawn in a distinctive style that could be complemented by a similar typeface? Are there some cultural, historical or locational aspects to consider? Ultimately you want the best typeface you can find for the job. Cutting corners is not an option. Typography enhances other visual elements and most importantly, highlights the content. As Bringhurst says 'Good typography is like bread; ready to be admired, appraised and dissected before it is consumed.' (every designer should read The Elements of Typographic Style)

Friday, July 20, 2007

What do you put in your portfolio? Ideas.

Q: What is the most important aspect for a design student to focus on when putting together their end of year folio?

Christian Teniswood (Design Director Futurebrand): It's a simple formula, substance and style in equal measure. Good thoughts well executed, or like McCann Erickson's tagline, a 'Truth Well Told'.

Some humour helps as well, you can't take yourself too seriously. Ideas that aren't a poor imitation of another artist. Demonstrate an interest in areas outside graphic design; architecture, photography, music, fashion, technology, cinema and other related fields. If I have to sit next to you each day, for months and years, you better tell me why you thought Akira was the best animation ever made and be able to back it up. Persistence, determination, intelligence and an easy going personality are traits I'm looking for. Happy to hear you subscribe to IDN and Graphik and can use every adobe product at a master level ... but let's get back to the idea that makes me think ... 'nice, I wish I'd thought of that.'

Naoto Ito (Senior Designer @ Cato Purnell): Be practical. A graduate folio is your asset to get a job in the real world. It's not for you to show off how good your photoshop skill is or how much rendering time you had on that 3d model. Choose your pieces carefully, don't cram too much (approx 10-15 pieces), they will not remember all of them. Speak confidently, understand your work and never ever undersell yourself! Lastly...a picture speaks a thousand words, believe in your work.

Cameron Hodkinson (Creative Director @ Aframe):I think the main thing that I'm looking for is a discerning eye. And no, I don't mean photographs of some jerks eye! I want the student to have the ability to be able to tell what's good and what's not, even if they're not quite able to technically pull it off. And I definitely don't want to see every slick photoshop pic they've ever produced. The ability to be able to tell what's right or wrong with a piece, or simply to know that something's not quite right, wins hands down every-time over technical prowess! ---> Disregard this rant, pretty off topic but rather true! Tough question though! A folio is so many things! Let me start by saying that anyone considering a career that requires a folio, really needs to see the new Transformers movie. Yes, yes, a film by Michael Bay - the guy who brought you Pearl Harbor, The Island, and The Rock. I know! Anyway, a folio should be like this movie because, believe it or not, it was kickass. A diverse range of simply executed and well planned ideas that work individually, and combine to create a damn good film. When I look at a folio, I want to see that a designer not afraid to try new techniques and explore new ideas. There really isn't any one thing that makes a folio good, it's a combination of things. Presentation, experimentation, inventiveness, individuality and originality. Don't try to mimic your favorite designer, absorb and regurgitate everything in a techni-coloured array of thoughts and opinions. Got to fly, but everyone should go and see Transformers. I was fist pumping and saying 'f*** yeah' the whole way through that movie.

Rofi Zaino (Design Director Interbrand / Futurebrand): Let's see... Focus on the big picture. The thing I'd look for in a designer is how s/he thinks about how he can solve the client's needs through his design. I'd say that good conceptual thinking would shine brighter than great craftsmanship. Now, coming up with clever ideas is great, but more importantly, s/he must show how the designs add value to the client's brand/business beyond just being clever.

Jimmy Yuan (Qube Konstruct): I think overall students project should really have a strong concept and ideas behind their design work. Of course the presentation and final execution & details are very important as well…  students should also have a strong folio layout, and try to be very different, creative and experimental. Mmm yeah that’s all really.

Paul Troon (Gollings Pidgeon):Don't print self promo's on toilet paper. You're sending the wrong message about your work and your inkjet printer hates you for it (I kid you not we received a toilet paper promo).

Sem Loh (Advertising / Design):Good design ends up in museums. Do good design.

The customer can have it in any shade of black

I recently gained some insight from overseeing some focus groups for a rebranding project that I'd like to share before I drink too much and damage the part of my brain retaining these thoughts.

Focus groups have their value. Sure, they're a powerful way to have ideas evaluated or test concepts, but more importantly they remind us we are not dealing with people like ourselves. This is important to remember. We take for granted that most target markets can think easily in metaphors, analogies and visual associations.

It's a refreshing reality check when you review a more 'blue collar' demographic and realise that the average joe doesn't think like you at all. Running some colour associations provided a very literal insight from the groups such as blue is the sky and green is nature. Nothing spectacularly surprising there but any other associations outside of those immediate links were found to be too complex.

For example, when I asked whether blue could be a existential metaphor for the collapse of modernism in a post-modernism content brought on by an intangible shift in cultural perceptions relating to bias derived from contemporary mediums utilising viral marketing techniques to infiltrate online guerilla tribes ... one of them clutched their head and dropped dead. Simple enough to me and you, but hey, not everyone grasps the semiotics of soap bubbles.

It reminds me that Tibor Kalman recommended learning all associative cliches you can simply because people respond so powerfully to them. Essentially, by over-intellectualising the issue with complex or slightly 'high-brow' design solutions, we sometimes alienate the very people who we are trying to reach. We are not designing for ourselves! (although this doesn't mean we should all start using comic sans, the font gods still get angry and make you do annual reports for the rest of eternity to repent).

It's also not to say we shouldn't continue looking for fresh and innovative new ways to communicate common ideas, but it is easy to get too clever and forget who we are talking to. If you were asked to design something for children, you would design appropriately and simply, so why is it we often design up when dealing with an adult crowd and expect them to match our level of understanding.

A good designer should always keep in mind the audience and design appropriately, in essence 'playing to their level'. You can still create beautiful design solutions that communicate a strong and easily understood message.

Another point I'd like to mention is the importance of noting the respondant's physical and emotional states during the time of testing.

I have found in particular, people under the influence of illicit drugs may skew your results. The example I'll discuss briefly here involved a number of young men aged between 18 - 25 who were participating in a focus group researching concepts for an existing product being rebranded.

Whilst the client and I sat behind some one-way glass, the moderator took this group through an introduction to the existing packaging before presenting a range of new pack options. Clearly stoned off their heads, I was forced to deem their colour choices invalid after they expressed a preference for tones that reminded them of food. One conversation went like this :

– I like the green pack
– Yeah, the apple green pack
– Yeah, yeah! It is apple green!
– Man, I'm so hungry right now
– So am I man, I like that pack too. I like the crunchy juicy apple green pack ... mmm
– Can we get some food?
– Yeah! Pay us in apples!

They may have won my respect and admiration, but unfortunately lost their chance to affect the data ... and when that happens, we all lose. Because the data comes first my friends ... the data must come first.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sonic branding : Turn it up to eleven

One of the most rewarding aspects of being in a creative field is integrating external interests into my design work. Creating music falls into this category for me. Sonic branding is currently receiving more and more attention as brands move further into the sensory arena. In the oversatured visual market, utilising more sensory paths establish a brand's positioning in the consumer's mind is essential. As Lisa Lamb, Head of Sonic Branding for Interbrand, pointed out, sonic branding allows ‘increased brand recognition across a variety of platforms, since people will hear things where they are not necessarily looking. One does not have to listen to hear, whereas one does need to be looking in order to see.’

The objective of sonic branding is to create a memory trigger, intrinsically linking a product name, service or benefit with a pleasant memory. This is done by identifying the strategic and emotive aspects of your brand that resonate with consumers, then building relevant auditory cues. The flexibility of sonic branding over visual branding can also be reflected in the style of delivery; for example if a retail environment identified younger consumers frequented the store in evening hours, in-store music could be more contemporary. Older consumers would be presented with a slower more mature mix. Customised to the appropriate demographic, the same ownable song or notes can be played in a rock, jazz, classical or funk style just to name a few without dilution of identification or brand association.

Sonic branding can incorporate an experience far broader than just an ‘intel’ style audio mnemonic as well. Environmental and workplace music, website/multimedia applications, advertising jingles, even ringtones and the vocal qualities of client facing personnel are all touchpoints that sonic branding can influence. Some aspects can be direct and powerful (eg the intel sonic brand) while others act as a peripheral note in your customer-experience offering (eg the background music played in Starbucks). All these aspects help to establish the brand personality and enhance the overall brand experience. As a starting point, three sonic touchpoints to consider for most brands are environmental, a sonic logo and brand vocal qualities.

We all know the power of music in combination with visual stimulation. Any cinematic experience is heightened by the combination of visual, auditory and emotional connections. You only need to turn off the sound when watching your favourite movie to see how much impact is lost. By using sonic branding as part of a brand's delivery we can help to create a more sensory experience for the consumer and ultimately, improve brand recall.

There are many applications for music in environmental settings. Research has shown that listening to music can improve working conditions. Baroque music (around 60 bpm is an optimal tempo) is often claimed to accelerate learning, reduce anxiety and improve retention of information. Binaural beats is an audio form that can alter the wavelengths in the brain and help induce relaxed and enhanced learning states. Using music appropriate to the demographic in retail environments can also keep consumers happy and aid in increasing sales. Happier more efficient workers, faster learning and consumer's buying more? We should all be paying attention.

Sonic Brand
In short, and as defined by Bill Nygren of Boom Sonic Branding, ‘A sonic brand is the aural equivalent of the graphic logo. A hybrid of voice, sound design and original music, the sonic brand works by harnessing music's power to trigger an emotional response.’ I couldn't have said it better, so I didn't. Probably the best known immediate example is Intel. With a product that lacks any visual appeal, the sonic brand of Intel has become it's most valuable commodity. Immediately identifiable in advertising and branding contexts, it shows how powerful an association with a recognisable melody can be.

The other exciting part of sonic branding are the available touchpoints a sonic brand can move across. From websites to mobile phones to television to radio and more, a sonic brand can stand alone or play happily in most mediums hand in hand with visuals. It can also be regularly updated for market relevance through style, tempo and other methods without changing an underlying melody or music scale.

Branding Vocals
The first moment a potential client walks into your office or reception area an impression is being made upon them about your company. Every time a salesperson makes a pitch they are representing the company's brand. And when an initial introduction is made, people will often form a first impression (in the first four minutes on average) that is difficult to alter. Vocal qualities that reflect a brand's personality and values is an area many overlook. A receptionist may be the first brand touchpoint they interact with. What someone says and just as importantly how they say it is integral to lending professionalism and credibility to an organisation.

Introductions, presentation skills and phone manner are all available for branding to name a few. For example, nearly all of us can recall a poor phone experience. Only recently I called a company to inquire about a product and was greeted with a single word 'yes?'. I was unsure whether I had even called the correct number and the disinterested tone of the speaker left an immediately negative impression of the company. More positively, I later booked a hotel and the difference in service was striking. The vocal delivery was considered and even, tempo was kept at a pace easy to understand and the tone was friendly. The sentence order was also clearly structured; company first, introduction by name, an offer of assistance followed by reassurance of a follow-up. A simple guideline that reflected the service orientated nature of the brand also created confidence in the organisation.

Sonic and sensory branding is upon us. Implement or miss it at your peril.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Those who cannot do, teach

Occassionally I make the mistake of looking at the local design discussion forums and even though I know it's wrong I can't help clicking on the latest brand critique post.

The wisdom imparted by most the keyboard geniuses is always enlightening.
- 'Ugly ugly ugly'
- 'I could do better'
- 'It's so 90's / 80s / last year'
- 'Classic design by committee'

Yep. If you're responsible for posting this type of dribble, you've more than likely identified yourself as a person with minimal understanding of brand process. A person who thinks that given twelve months on a project, you could have come up with a better brandmark, blissfully unaware the scope probably included competitive frame analysises, existing brand audits, mood boards, personality pieces, strategic positioning, brand architecture, multiple creative directions, refinement, testing, meetings, more meetings, more refinements, applications, implementation, a late night or ten and a few beers with pizza just to name a few phases. I suspect the closest many of these people have come to a large scale branding project is throwing eggs at Ken Cato's studio from the passenger window of their car whilst yelling 'Designosaur!' and thinking how witty you are.

The majority of posts seem to be whinging about design concepts, whinging about the clients, whinging about other designers and whinging why London didn't award them the chance to design the Olympics logo because they have a kick-ass folio. Does anything actually think for one moment these projects are as simple as sketching a logo lounge worthy mark and showing it to the CEO? (unless you can spin it in Flash, then it's a shoe-in!)

I'm first to encourage constructive criticism. Just take the time to understand what you're critiquing before you start firing aesthetic judgements at everything that doesn't resonate with your personal preferences. More often than not, it's the same people posting this stuff who then wonder why the profession struggles to gain respect when we attack each other from the inside out. It's the snake eating it's own tail. Until we start to address this disturbing trend we'll continue to be labelled as expendable mac monkeys who do logo design as our day job in between waiting for our indie band to get signed or have our grafitti artist career take off.

- 'Why don't clients respect me? I hate them'

Oh, here's a hint. Clients are running a business that in most instances makes a hell of a lot of money. More money than the average design studio. I'm guessing they're smart people who just happen to not interact daily with design theory. Listen to them, understand their business and stop trying to teach them about typefaces. That's not why they hired you. They hired an expert who is (hopefully) going to understand their business strategy and create a brand that makes it visible. They did not hire a stylist who throws a tantrum when they don't understand that vista is cooler than gill.

Yes, some will ask you to use Arial.
Yes, some will ask you to evolve the existing logo by 10%.
Yes, some will ask you to show them the logo 'in corporate blue'.
Yes, all of them will ask you to 'make the logo bigger'.

Knowing that those questions are coming (and will continue to come throughout your career) you better find a way to justify why it looks better in 100% cyan.

Advice? Ok ok. Just for an example, you could try relating the design decisions back to the brand personality. Show the client how typeface x embodies the brand values. Maybe you can pull out the competitive frame analysis board you had prepared and illustrate to them the market space they can own by differentiating themselves. Showing them that it is already flooded with competitor's blue logos and that their colour choice will dilute or strengthen their market position is a compelling argument.

It also works better than 'Because it looks good.' (We are not here to put lipstick on a gorilla, even if that shade of frosty pearl really brings out ol' silverback's eyes)

Hopefully we're creating a real brand that a business can align to both internally and externally. A brand that stands for something that customers identify with and that adds value across all consumer touchpoints. Remember, a brandmark is just an entrypoint into the brand and sure, it's the most important one but still one part of a bigger picture. It's an empty vessel (no matter how pretty) that needs to be filled with meaning. So I have to ask does anyone have something vaguely constructive or god forbid, positive to say? Can we move the arguments away from purely aesthetic criticism and discuss whether the brand is distinctive and sustainable. I suppose this is my impassioned plea to lift the profession's disapproving gaze on everything that is put under it's nose and one step forward towards industry respect. And if you're so intelligent with your brand advice, please, share your knowledge by posting something that resembles coherence on BrandChannel or some place with a little credibility. Maybe I should do that myself (otherwise I'm doing exactly the same - do as I say, not as I do).

What's that you say? I can't write more than sarcastic commentary? Damn straight. That's why I started a blog.

Design forever!

Technorati Profile
Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Graphic Design is not creative. It's a science.

I'm tempted to start this blog with something introspective (like a Calvin and Hobbes moment that catches you unaware) but probably better to dive headlong into the stuff that will spark discussion. So let me get to the point :::

Design is not creative. Design is a science.

De Bono stated creativity can be taught in steps through the practice of lateral thinking techniques. Altschuller recognised a similar pattern across a range of inventive solutions and subsequently developed a systematic approach to creativity based on his findings. Yet there is still the perception that the creative profession requires a unique way of thinking that only a select few possess.

We often overlook the importance of a set process to focus on the final result. The use of a systematic method not only breeds creative consistency, it can be your best friend in those times of high stress and looming deadlines, regardless how bad your hang-over is or whether you’d currently fail a urine test. These tried and true processes have designers like myself to achieve what we inherently consider good design on a consistent basis. Through a structured approach to design, my dream of leaving behind a footprint of award winning brand identities, modular systems, sketches for flying machines and the occasional fine art piece lives on.

In recognising this response to a creative process to stimulate ideas, I began to move away from my surrealist automatic drawing approach toward a formulaic sequence (developed over years of late nights and also yesterday whilst writing this article).

Not that there weren’t failed attempts. Initial experiments at establishing a routine for creative output had begun with a cappuccino, followed in rapid succession by two short blacks before hitting the sketchpad. This simple procedure did at times yield periods of design genius, but unfortunately also resulted in mind numbing clip-art stealing depression. I needed a progression that would be there for me no matter how low I may have fallen (and we’re talking gum on shoe low).

This is not to say I’m building up towards advocating a cold calculated approach, or daring to speak against the random bolt of lightning that strikes as you soap yourself in the shower. I fully encourage the complete immersion of the mind in random chaos (and the body in soap if that works for you like it does for me). But random chaos, the happy accident and any other aha! moments should be one step in a sequence or result therefore, and not a singular relied upon solution.

If you are relying on right brain thinking alone, you are under-utilising that other side of the mind your parents hoped would lead you to a medical degree.

Just think, with both sides working in unison, not only will you be able to think of the most brilliant, award winning, smile-in-the-mind type creative solutions, you’ll even be able to align them to your clients business values (and you thought the day would never come…)

So how do you develop a creative process for an industry that admires typographic self mutilation and third eye opening acid trips (when the damn cocaine just isn’t working)? Easy. Open up CorelDraw and get out your design-for-dummies book. This design thing ain't rocket science. It's about making things look pretty right?

I know, I know, you’re looking around the room to check your colleagues haven’t seen those words on your screen and a guide to step by step creativity. But here it is, without popular request and in all it’s glory, my one-two-three guide to creative genius.

1. Write down the core vision
This is the essence of a design (or brand) distilled into a single sentence. It might be as simple as ‘It’s all about sex’. That aside, it’s the post-it note stuck above your desk that is the concrete reference for each and every idea you create. You get to check anything you do against this driving statement at any time and if doesn’t in some form embody this core essence, you’ve gone a little too far off the track. Which is a good thing, in most instances, all you need to do is take a few steps back to find the breadcrumb trail again.

2. Immerse completely, rinse and repeat
New project comes in, and it’s something you haven’t done in a while. You need to get into the right mindset. Read every book, look at every magazine and talk to all the guys in the office with more experience than yourself (thank you Mr Janitor, you saved my ass again). Look at all mediums for inspiration; architecture, photography, illustration, advertising and movies to name a few. Limit the amount of other graphic designer’s work you look at as a project continues or it will start to subconsciously pervade your own designs. You want to absorb a spectrum of influences early and in one big hit to jumpstart your own thinking. Good stuff will stick in your mind, and inspire you to do even better.

For example, if you’re working on signage, look at every example application you can possibly get your hands on. Historical examples, the latest innovations, concepts, sketches and failed attempts. Then look at black and white photography of the naked form. For inspiration of course. Variety is the key, you’re not looking for trends but possibilities. You’ll probably see stuff you didn’t even realise was possible or applications that aren’t relevant but lead you to a new concept. Do the same for packaging, for annual reports, or for the logo that cheap Uncle Bob asked for (he’ll only pay you in grief and aggravation) but it’s family so do it, then tell him that when the time comes you’ll need him to do you a favour and kiss him on both cheeks. Then in three weeks time, ring him at 2.00am in the morning, breathing erratically and stuttering and say ‘Bob, it all went bad and I need that favour now. Bring your car and a shovel.’ He’ll most probably blubber something incoherent and hang up, but I guarantee he won’t ask for any more logos and you only have to dig one hole with your hands.

3. Brainstorm
It’s a cliché, but it’s a true and tried path to starting a job. You just gotta start and ideas will come (and when they don’t, do it anyway). Destroy that page with every thought that springs to mind. The reality is, you’ll pour out nine hundred and ninety nine ideas of pure rubbish. Absolute gabage. No really. It will be clichéd, imitative design that your old uni lecturer would have pulled out the red pen for. But after it’s on the page, it won’t appear in your head again. Then call it a day and go home. The good ideas will start appearing in the shower that morning and you’ll be desperately trying to draw them in the heat mist on the door with one hand whilst barely holding up your towel and your dignity (which you’ll let go of right when your partner walks in to see you naked and drawing strange symbols on the bathroom mirror. Design can be a lonely career, be warned)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

You think you're having a tough day?

As if the pantone swatchbook causing acid flashbacks wasn't enough ... my computer became self-aware around eleven this morning and doesn't like my design concepts.

And with my parole officer not letting me handle pencils, I'm forced to visualise by drawing shapes in the air in front of scared colleagues.

This career can be tough.

Which brings me to a more serious discussion. Presenting to clients can be daunting but presenting internally is at times just as nerve wrecking. I've done it so many times yet I still run the gamut of emotions when a critique session comes up.

It's hard not to let it get to you personally. You've put a little of yourself into the concept and to have it questioned, critiqued and pulled off the board for something else you swear was put up by mistake gets to most people. When it appears permanently a few weeks later in the studio portfolio, you feel you've failed designers everywhere who were looking for their own inspiration. Worse still, the design gods get angry and take away your ability to select good typefaces and colour combinations. Cursed, you roam the streets in search of booze and street art, hoping the old feelings will return. But I digress...

It's just business, yeah, but when you live this career twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, it's gonna hurt at times. You just gotta get excited about the next project, let go of the bad times and just remember those sweet summer days you and your concept shared together. The way I try to look at it, is that I have enough confidence in my abilities that those good concepts are gonna come again for the next project, and the project after that and the one after that as well. I can let a few slip between the cracks.

Maybe you'll be able to rehash it down the line for another job anyway, haha.

I'll leave you with a quote I read recently that really made me laugh. Not sure if it was the original source or not, but it was used by someone talking about the creative advertising industry:

'If you're not part of the solution, there's good money to be made prolonging the problem'.

Anyway, time to head to the bar. One or two drinks after a long day never hurt anyone (it's the ones after those that really do the damage).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Raw and Honest

An interview with graphic design Christian Teniswood

Who are some of the clients you’ve worked for?
No naming dropping here but big ones. The type that make students spit when they hear your name in sell-out disgust. But it was what I always wanted. I need to feel compelled to wear a suit to presentations. A bit of public speaking pressure and a thin tie bring out the best in me.

What should design students put in their folio?
It doesn’t really matter. I’d focus on your coffee making skills.

Anything else?
Oh, ok. Ideas. Ideas. More Ideas. Then a range of styles. Emphasise your design strengths. Don’t try to sell any poor imitations of the latest design trend. If you can’t do abstract 3D crystals with twenty five glowing layers of photoshop wizardry better than everyone else, then don’t show it. You are not Rinzen, you are not David Carson, you are not your khakis. You are the same decaying matter as the last fifty juniors who proudly showed up with a folio of cloned work. Unless you’re not. Then you'll be remembered.

What salary range should I be expecting as a junior designer?
That’s dependant on experience and the quality of your cappuccino.

Do you work long hours?
Think the eye scene from a clockwork orange. You do this job for love, not money. I walk uphill both ways to work, barefoot in the snow, just for the privilege to be in this industry. Someone is buying your ideas. Sure, they seem to come cheap compared to other career choices but it’s still the only thing I can ever see myself doing. Except for jelly wrestling, I could have been great at that. Damn trick knee.

Do you get to design much in your first year at a design studio?
On the good days the creative director will look at your best etch-a-sketch doodle and give you some feedback.

What was your first project as a junior designer?
It was an in-house exercise to develop a new 27th letter for the alphabet. I was asked to present my sketches to the team. I was full of enthusiasm as I pinned the work up on the wall in front of the assembled designers. The creative director then asked me to vocalize each so he and the excited congregation could better understand the concepts behind them. I pointed eagerly at each sketch and through lemon sucked lips vocalised my literary inventions. ‘Xerg!…sshdtx!…psssthx!…mthuph!….ghweghle!” I combined unheard before tones and flying spit into new worlds of alphabetic wonder. Saussure would have been proud.

As were the assembled creatives who were almost crying in an attempt to contain their laughter. ‘Well done’ said the creative director as he patted me on the back and handed me an etch-a-sketch. ‘You’ve earned this.’

How important are ideas?
Stupid question really. The more ideas you can have, the better a designer you become. What’s even more important is to never criticise an idea ever again, especially in team environments. Trust me, this isn’t easy. Your colleague shows you a mark that looks like a limping donkey in need of a mercy killing. You’re tempted to load your gun and say ‘Clipart might be free, but it’ll cost you your soul’ but instead (and for the rest of your career) you say ‘Interesting. Let’s keep it in the mix, and keep exploring’. He might come up with something better, or not, but his confidence won’t be dented and he’ll pay the compliment back the next time you proudly present your own struggling mule. The last thing any studio needs is fear of presenting ideas (you need lots of ideas to find a good idea, even more to find a great one).

Are the deadlines strict?
I don’t want to talk about it. We’ve lost good men to those ‘deadlines’.

Do you work with the latest technology?
Yes. The couches in reception impressively fold out into beds.

As a designer do you see the world differently to others?
I sure do. Where others see buildings, streets and corners I see strategic locations from which to launch water-balloons at unsuspecting passerbys. This is what separates us from the monkeys.

Is a career in design everything you thought it would be?
Absolutely. My children will be dentists, but this career is everything to me.

Is a little arrogance required to succeed in this industry?
I’m not sure. I don’t talk to other designers much, their lack of talent sometimes annoys me. I just focus on myself.

Other advice?
Be nice to each other. Backstabbing has no place in this industry. I’m going to steal an analogy used by Luke Sullivan in his fantastic book ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’ in regards to teamwork. Whether you’re the mac master, mac monkey or coffee boy (read junior designer) just remember it’s a three legged race. One falls, we all fall.

So work together and don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions from the guys you work with. We’re not here to practice the gentle art of making enemies (and coffee boys have long memories and a revenge list of people to crush on their rise to the top).

Thanks Christian
No, thank you.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A career in corporate branding

I vividly remember when a fellow student called me a corporate whore during my final year at university. I was so proud. My career advisor had told me I didn’t have the grades for corporate whoring, but with hard work and persistence I had eventually proved them wrong.

I’d struggled through my design degree cursed to keep my annual report fantasies to myself… whilst my talented but judgmental classmates used their dreads to paint with and repeatedly put acetate sheets into the photocopier.

My university lecturer told me after I graduated that he’d seen the corporate whore in me quite early. My persistent questions on what company we were designing for, what their brand positioning was and who was the market demographic being targeted had rung the warning bells with him. He’d often told me that there were studios other than Pentagram and Chermayeff and Geismar were not the rockstars I envisioned them to be. But I would not be dissuaded and to this day I’m glad I kept true to my course.

Having now been whoring for quite a while, I can share some of the perks of selling out:

1. You make enough money to spare some change when you see former classmates drawing in chalk on the sidewalk.
2. You can make up fancy titles for yourself like ‘Corporate Design Manager’ or ‘Branding Design Principal’
3. You actually get invited to the type of functions where you need to make up fancy titles.
4. You do design that people who are not also designers get to see as well.
5. You realize you can finally understand people with a marketing degree and their secret language of abbreviations.

There are cons of course that I should warn the weak and powerless about, dare they consider signing the contract held by the guy in red.
1. The body never adjusts to sleep deprivation.
2. Sometimes, late at night, you get an itch to do ‘real’ design.
3. Say goodbye to white space. It’s hard losing a friend.
4. Screen radiation is like a reverse tanning booth.
5. Stress makes hair fall out and there can be only one Sean Connery.
6. Clients don’t care whether you use a humanist or neo-humanist sans. You have to learn to cry on the inside.

This is an amazing career choice, for a relatively young but growing profession. The current crop of designers will determine the future value of it as a respected career path. We're all after profession respect for design but it will take time and a concerted effort. See you at the top people.

Friday, March 2, 2007

It's not life or death, it's more important than that

I still remember my first sports victory like it was yesterday. I was competing in the high school athletics 400m sprint, and upon hearing the starter's horn, I was off like a shot. Running like a greyhound after a rabbit, I quickly left the other runners lagging behind. As I rounded the final bend and crossed over the finish line, I raised my arms in triumph.

It was only then I noticed the starter waving me on. I walked over and asked what the problem was and more importantly, where I could pick up my trophy. It was then he informed me this was the 800m sprint, and I still had a lap to go. I had an important decision to make at that point but it came to me easily. Having already tasted glory that day, I discreetly stepped off the track to let my fellow competitors surge past. The dizzying heights of sports stardom were not for me alone, and I felt it only right to let someone else also touch the pinnacle that I had ascended.

I retired at the end of that year, much to the benefit of professional athletes everywhere, and decided to take my competitive spirit into the realms of graphic design instead. Now, we may call graphic design a career, or a profession, or even a lifestyle, but rest assured, this is a popular misconception. It's really just a game.

Design is a bit different from the usual perception of a sport though. We tend to wear our uniforms on our desktops, and our shoes are deceptively inappropriate for running in most instances (not that designers can't run, just yell 'free fonts over here' and watch them turn into cheetahs).

For example, designers appear to like friendly collaborative projects, but underneath that teamlike surface, there's a simmering competitive spirit. This can better be described as personal ego stroking or an opportunity to display your superiority. Every designer likes to impress their colleagues, but nothing brings a smile to the face like crushing an opponent with an award winning concept. Sketches for a brand identity can very quickly turn into a spaghetti western style showdown. "You laughin' at my logo?" are words you never want to hear uttered in any studio. I've seen blood on the walls once too often and other sights that no amount of scotch can wash away. Trust me, I've tried...images of our christmas party massacre are embedded in my psyche. And finding the senior designer mauling the PA half blinded me (helping her stretch out a cramp my ass).

Like any sport, design has its teams, clevery disguised as a studio outfit. The coach, often referred to as the creative director, will usher the team together to motivate them on the new project that has just entered the arena. You’ll often hear a stirring speech that suggests everyone strive to achieve a personal best on this new brief, especially as a poor result means a weekend training session awaits. The fresh faced intern usually stumbles in at the worst moment and gets selected for mascot duties. This normally consists of wearing a monkey suit and massaging the old veterans, but hey, you gotta earn your stripes no matter how ugly.

Studying your opponents is also a crucial requirement in being successful. A quick look at any recent work can often be an indicator of whether a studio is back in form, or struggling through an injury plagued pre-season. It's important to keep an eye on the competition, if you hear through the grapevine that Studio X has upgraded, is sporting new gear and recruited some top draft picks, they're gonna be running faster and jumping higher than before. How can you level the playing field after that? Well, it all comes down to training. And sabotage.

Nothing like sending a friendly email with porn attachment to your buddy at Studio X. Knowing his resistance level to such things is as good as his golf game, he's bound to save it to his personal collection without second thought. Thank goodness the moral judge in you has also sent an anoymous email to his boss. The explanations will keep him off the pitch for at least a week.

If sabotage isn't your thing, then it's back to training. Design is like a box of chocolates. The more you eat the fatter you get. And because we're sportsmen, we can't give up chocolate. That would be quitting. No, wait, got my analogies mixed up. What I meant to say is design is like a boxing fight. If you can't do the Tschichold shuffle, or the Bringhurst bob and weave, all you can hope for is to land a lucky Akzidenz Grotesk. So when your opponent can tell you where the umlaut in muller-brockman goes, you're in a world of trouble. It's all about setting PBs. Start exercising when time presents itself with a sprint column setting, a triple-jump of the ISO page systems and a jog through the humanist sans-serifs. Strong counter-punch concepts and design theory jabs are the only weapons that will hold you in good stead when you're up against the ropes being mauled by a young gun and his up to date adobe arsenal (hey, Illustrator 8 might not have everything, but it keeps me honest).

So keep your eyes peeled for the studios that are in form and setting the pace for next season. Each year brings a new group of young rookies hoping to knock the veterans of their pedestals and take their titles. Just remember to be a good sportsman and shake hands after the fight and when the ref isn't watching, throw in a low-blow.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sleep is like the unicorn; rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any

Phew, getting a bit late. Time to go home. Remember, it's all about balancing work and life. I mean this, you'll do better work on six or seven hours sleep and impress the creative director more than being found curled up under the desk in the morning. Plus who knows what photos the janitor takes of you while you are sleeping (well, I suppose you'll find them on the net soon enough). So get up, press the off button and turn your back on your brain sucking friend, the mac. He'll be waiting for you in the morning, trust me. He might say mean things and crash like a PC when that presentation is due, but he's hooked on you like a bad tattoo (who'd have thought flaming skulls would have gone outta fashion!) So get up and leave, unless it's waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye like mine does. Then you better get back to work. I mean, people are watching and you need to clock in at least twelve hours for professional credibility. Especially if you can't churn out the brilliant ideas like that guy who sits next to you and smells like incense and bongwater. That guy comes in late, spits out award winners and is gone by seven every day. Damn. Back to work.

Sick 'em rex

Ok, not a graphic design related story but I share it anyway to warn others of the danger

It seemed like any other morning, if anything it was extraordinary in being so ordinary. I'd awoken from a strange dream of leprechauns riding unicorns to the soundtrack from Grease, so the day had started off as most of my days had ... Except that I was running a little late.

I quickly prettied myself up in front of the mirror and dashed out the front door with barely time to wave goodbye to my teddybear. Running across the carpark toward the bus-stop I knew my timing was critical.

Across the overpass I sped, fearing to look up the highway and see Bus 961 preceding me. I danced down the stairs to the bus-stop to the startled amazement of several locals who were shying their eyes for some reason. I paused to consider their reactions before doing my fly up. Who'd have thought free-balling would be the first bad decision of the day?

Having under-estimated my superb physical condition, I'd reached the bus-stop early enough to catch my breath, with no bus yet in sight. Being quite over-heated and sweaty with my morning run, I walked around the edge of the bus-stop and stopped near the bin whilst fanning myself to cool down.

Thirty seconds passed as I stood on the spot before I noticed what felt like small electric shocks in my legs. I thought 'This is why I don't exercise. It hurts. I don't like it'. Still, I like to think my pain threshold is quite manly, so I stood still and ignored the little zaps that were coursing up my appendages.

I saw the bus come over the horizon and thought, 'about time, I need to sit down. These damn zaps aren't going away while I stand here.' In fact, they were spreading. I started feeling like I was tingling all over with painful little shocks, from my legs to my chest and neck. Even my nether regions were not immune. Ouch!

True, a strange reaction to the first exercise I had undertaken in three months but my own body turning against me in anger was nothing unusual. My brain reacted similarly to most of the exertions I tried to put it through.

So as I sat down next to an Auntie on a packed bus I noticed a small ant crawling along my arm which suddenly bit into my wrist with wreckless abandon. 'You bastard. Time to fly.' I flicked it off and noticed his brother was hiking up my shoulder. 'Oh, so you bought your friends? Now it's personal. Join your family in hell' I whispered as I flicked it onto an unsuspecting passerby.

It was then I started to make a connection.

Zaps all over body.

Crawling angry bitey ants.

Hmm. Could it be?

Worriedly, I began to massage my legs and thighs much to the horror of my fellow passengers who understandably thought I was touching myself. I stamped my feet and my fears were realised when a significant number of writhing ants fell out of my pants. Even in their death throes they were crunching their mandibles together in a last gasp effort to inflict more pain upon me. These were serious soldiers I was riddled with, kamikaze to the last! I started whacking myself all over, including places that no ant should ever venture near. Legs, arms, chest neck and nether regions were punched, whacked, grabbed and twisted. The auntie nearest to me actually began to try and squirm away in genuine fear. Some averted their eyes, thinking the strange foreign devil was experiencing a demonic episode. Still, there was little to do but bare with the pain until my final bus-stop appeared.

Faster than a speeding bullet I was off and into the Futurebrand office toilets, stripping down to essentials only (my socks of course) and vigorously rubbing myself all over (and not in the good way). Many ants died that day, and I still carry their bitey little scars on my body as I write this. Yet, as the general of the opposing army, I felt proud of my enemy's accomplishments. They feared not my size, or the thought of crawling into my underpants to fiercely bite at my tender spots. As Homer Simpson said in similar blissful ignore 'Ow. Oww. Owww! They are defending themselves somehow!'

Their queen would be proud. I will not stand near the bus-stop bin again.