Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The actualization zone.

You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the sign post up ahead, your next stop… (Screeching halt. Harsh interrogation spotlight ignites. Wait a minute, is that a two-way mirror?) – The Actualization Zone. 
There's a thick line between introspection and actualization. At some point we have to leave concept land and move into strategic plan territory, a.k.a. reality. (If you listen closely you will hear a sad trombone when this transition occurs. Somewhere in the world a creative inexplicably spills coffee on his ironic t-shirt).

I spend a lot of time thinking about thinking. What if? Why? How the hell did I get on this tangent? Do I really need another coffee? (Yes). Sometimes the more I try to figure the answer out, the more I realize it's far too crafty for that. There isn't one neat and tidy answer. At least not with life. I'm not going to have an epiphany one day and realize that the answer was with me all along. Life is a series of events woven together over time. Joy, fear, light, dark, hope, despair… Sometimes we choose the material. Sometimes it's chosen for us. Either way, the threads wrap around us and become integral parts of who we are.

Do we think or do we just do? Instinct or probability? We can choose to apply reason and anticipate outcomes – or we can just simply navigate the course, one actualization at a time.

[Intro from the Twilight Zone.]


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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why you should apply for Next Creatives. Now.

Your book. Your ability. Your connections. After years of school and work experience, it all comes down to those three factors. The Next Creatives portfolio program is an opportunity to build all three in six weeks. So throw out your sense of entitlement, roll up your sleeves, and commit to some good old-fashioned hard work. Seriously, you're not too busy, and it's worth it.

So here's the part where I go into the "back in my day… walking uphill both ways, barefoot in snow, etc." speech, right? Okay, maybe a little bit. I did a portfolio program in Minneapolis which was the main reason I secured a job in my industry before I graduated. Let's just say when you know Joe Duffy is going to look at your portfolio, you step it up. On top of that, I had a really competitive class. Most of them ended up in Minneapolis, Chicago, and beyond (ever heard of Droga5, Razorfish or CP+B? Yeah, that's what I was up against.)

Not only does Next give you one-on-one insight from three of the most respected creative directors in the region, it gives you a chance to see what your peers are doing and compete. Maybe even find a partner that's as driven as you are (crucial in your quest for ad industry world domination). Then there's the networking, if all that wasn't enough.

As they say, you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. If you're happy with "comfortable and safe," go ahead and continue along your current daily routine path (did I mention that path could be mired in cobwebs and intense malaise).

However, if you are passionate about advertising and want a chance to do something remarkable with your career, apply for Next. Who knows, you might get a sweet new job out of the deal. It happened last time, it could happen again.

(Do your future self a favor and apply.)

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Think design and get lost.

We need to think differently. Become observers and problem solvers. There's no such thing as coasting anymore. Company cultures must foster continuous innovation. We need to embrace what IDEO calls design thinking:

“Design thinking is an approach that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods for problem solving to meet people’s needs in a technologically feasible and commercially viable way. In other words, design thinking is human-centered innovation.” —Tim Brown
It's more than just design, everyone needs to think like a designer. It's about stepping back, considering the experience, and empathizing. People tend to find their areas of expertise and build knowledge within those verticals. In his book Glimmer, Warren Berger agrees you should go deep, but he also encourages people to go wide. Cross over and explore new areas. He lists ten universal design principles that anyone can use. Bruce Mau recommends, “keep moving away from what you know.” His Incomplete Manifesto for Growth was written over a decade ago, but still holds true today.

Are creatives really being taken seriously? Do we have a place among business leaders and industry experts? Creativity has made its way out of the whimsical corner and into the forefront of standard business practice. Fast Company regularly promotes design. You can go to Stanford and get a degree in design thinking. Believe it or not, there is even an improv-based engineering course on the subject.
“Design is the human capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes.” —Bruce Mau
Berger, Bogusky, and Mau had a great design thinking discussion on Fearless Q+A. Some of their advice: Get lost on projects. That's when your attention level increases, you become alert, and experimental. When you're lost, do you panic? Or do you accept being lost and look for a window of opportunity. Sometimes we get so focused on the correct answer that we forget to ask the right questions. It's not the answer that's important, it's the question.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm not a writer, but I play one on my blog.

So what's the deal with an art director writing short (actually long) stories, making bizarre personal/ad industry connections, and offering strategic insight on a blog? Shouldn't the blog be filled with eye candy and abbreviated photo captions? Or random links to more obscure blogs. (Okay, maybe I have some of those). You would think that the blog itself would be designed, at the least. I mean really. (Well, maybe I'll get around to that someday).

Why do I write? Partly to download the ever-present conceptual noise in my head, but mostly because I enjoy storytelling. My family moved a couple of times while I was growing up, so I was constantly writing letters and keeping journals. Even more crazy, my oldest friend and I used to send a cassette tape back and forth (this totally dates me). We would record thoughts, come up with shows, and create fake commercials. She says she still has the tape somewhere. Lord knows what's on it, but I do recall it had some serious design flair.

As far as blogs go, it just depends what influences the authors most. For me, it's always been a mix of words, observations, and experiences. Anything that challenges what I know and forces me to think differently. Sure, I take in a lot of visual inspiration, but I try to make it my own. Starting with words allows you to stay in your mind a little longer without preconceived visuals. For example, consider the difference between reading a book and seeing its movie adaptation. If you're going to read the book, you should do so first. The movie will most likely fall short in comparison.

My design instructor once told us, in a very sage-like way, "before you can dance, you must first learn to walk." Visual elements were strictly prohibited my entire first year in the program. We only worked with typography, symbolism, and concept-driven ideation. It was like extreme Swiss design boot camp once you made the cut.

I have a huge amount of respect for "real" copywriters. Believe me, you can tell the difference. I'm sure my writing breaks official AP Stylebook standards left and right. Letting a predominantly visual person write leads to adjective-laden, over-descriptive, wordy chaos. (Case in point). They say every word should have a purpose for being there. You know, earn its keep so to speak. However, as an art director, I can't help myself. I heart excessive adjectives.

Creatives are required to be well-versed in many disciplines beyond their job titles, but most importantly, they must always be students. Constantly learning, observing, and re-articulating ideas in new ways. I guess my way just happens to be with words first, visuals second.

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