On art, ego, and appropriation

(I commented on a post by a friend on Facebook and felt a need to share – and expand upon – it here):

Art isn’t about the artist.

It is about how the piece affects the people who view it. If an artist doesn’t like another artist that is irrelevant to the work – and they’re missing the point of the exercise. Any artist who claims ownership of the meaning of a piece of art once it is out in the world is just an egotist – and any person who judges art because of the artist is an idiot. The power of art is completely judged by the viewer. It makes no difference if the artist meant something if the viewer is affected by it in a different way. That doesn’t make it a failure, it makes it personal – which is as it should be. It might not have been what the artist intended, but it enriched the emotional experience of the viewer’s life.

As far as appropriation is concerned, viewing art is inherently appropriation on a very personal level – you are taking a personal statement from the artist and making it your own. Subject matter that affects the artist, or that an artist wants to bring into the spotlight isn’t appropriation – it is a signal boost – and, once again, has nothing to do with the artist.

Why I like the new Google logo


I’m kind of glad that the New Yorker published this article lambasting the new Google logo as it helped to solidify my opinion on it.

I happen to like the new logo. It does what it needs to do from a design perspective. I don’t mean aesthetic, I mean design. It needed to be clean and easy to read on mobile, which is where most people consume these days; it reflects the new Alphabet corporate feel, which the former Google corporation needs to promote; and it is less unwieldy from a rendering point-of-view, which is important as bandwidth and processing power is precious. I’m sure a lot of people find it jarring, since the Goog didn’t prepare us, but I admire that they released it this way – they got the logo onto the site, several of their apps (although it would have been great if it were in all of them), and onto their headquarters building in Mountain View. Honestly, I think more people should be discussing the upcoming Verizon change (ugh) than this. I like that they are completely embracing the idea of design – this goes so much better with the new Material Design aesthetic than the old Google “Anti-Logo” did. It bodes well for design as a whole that the company that didn’t care one whit about what a thing looks like has realized that design can make everything more useable – both engineering-wise, and pleasure-wise.

As a side note: I just want to say: using the hipster Comic Sans hatred in design commentary is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is overused and needs to go away.

Why hire a professional designer?

I own an entire closet full of tools, from basic hammers and screwdrivers, to drills and circular saws. In theory I should be able to create just about any wooden object my family or I would ever need. Why, then, do I buy all my furniture from manufacturers who make these things professionally? Because I am not a carpenter. If someone came to my home and saw a table that I had built, it would be blindingly obvious. Said table would be structurally unsound and horribly finished. I don’t know enough about making a table, nor about what it takes to make it well. It would be an amateur job. You wouldn’t want it in your home, and neither would I.

A person can purchase the same applications designers used to create professional designs, but that does not make them a designer. Designers aren’t people who merely know the programs available for design. They are not trained monkeys who exist solely to push the correct buttons. Designers are professional aesthetes for hire… people who understand not only the “hows” of design, but the “what works” and “whys”. They have an innate ability to create – to merge word, space, and image in a way that compels.

If I tried to make a table, it would be have four legs and a top… and it MIGHT stand on its own. It wouldn’t be something people would admire, or to trust to do its job properly.

My dinner deserves more that that… and so does your business.

Don’t keep it a secret… (or, an addendum)

The most important part of hiring an outside contractor is communication. And perhaps the most important information that needs to be shared through this communciation is this:

When do you need it by?

It is at best silly (there’s no way for the contractor to plan his or her work flow – see this previous post) and at worst arrogant (assuming the contractor can just drop everything else to get to your job) to keep a deadline a secret. If you don’t know it that’s just fine, but be aware that if the contractor has a job that he or she HAS a deadline for, that project takes priority.


So if you want your job done in a timely and unrushed fashion, share your timeline with your contractor. It will reduce conflict and make for happier client-contractor relations.

Don’t fear the deadline.

As with just about everyone growing up, I feared deadlines. They felt like a great wall looming in the mist – something that would race up and slam into me. They crippled my creativity by lacing it with dread. I had yet to understand the great gift that a deadline gives a creative endeavor.

By setting a deadline, the creative worker gives him or herself a tangible goal to work toward. A deadline helps a designer structure his schedule, plan out the workflow of a project, consequently feeling less stress instead of more. Without a deadline, a creative person cannot help but procrastinate – whether it is because he suffers from the fear of the blank page (a subject for a future post) or because there is simply no reason not to go and do something else… something that HAS a defined finale (and a timely paycheck).

If I’ve heard this complaint from non-designers once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: “I hired a designer, but they took forever to finish the project.” To which I always ask, “Did you give them a deadline?”

Guess what the answer inevitably is.

Deadlines add structure and direction to your workflow. They reduce stress and make the client understand that they’ll get their work in a timely fashion. Even if there isn’t a press date or an event to work toward, deadlines are a wonderful gift that designers give themselves – and forces them to confront the blank page, work through it, and get the job done.

And done is always beautiful.

Same sh*t, different day… beware of overdoing it on social media.

These days I find there are times that I simply don’t want to open my Twitter or Google+ accounts.

I follow a few marketing people on both of these services and though there are some who are wonderful and incisive in their observations and choice of post-sharing, others are repetitive in their posts and self-serving in their content. They seem interested in merely boosting their own reputations and egos in a way that makes the rest of us feel like we are being forced to subscribe to a cult of personality. If you want to use social media as an outlet to boost your reputation and spread some well-earned knowledge you should feel free to, but be warned: the internet is a fickle place. Preen and strut at your own risk. If you have something important to say, say it. If you want to remind people of something you’ve posted in the past, do so, but space those reminders out thoughtfully. Just posting the same sh*t day after day (or even several times in one day) is just you trying to keep your name in the newsfeeds. You’re not sharing anything we’ve not heard before. Don’t alienate your base audience just because you fear being forgotten. We’re fickle but not so much that you will vanish from our minds within hours. You risk us thinking that you’ve not an original thought left and we’ll move on.

If you had something to say that was worth our attention, we’ll be grateful and remember you for it. If all you post are the same things over and over, day after day, you’ll soon find yourself un-followed, defriended, and… uh… anti-circled. You’ve abrogated your right to be considered an expert, you are now just noise. And all you’ll have left is your ego and a massive number of “followers” who have decided to ignore you but are just too polite to say so.

Why you (don’t really) hate advertising.

You hear this a lot: “I hate advertising.” Most of the time that opinion is based on either display (transit/billboard/etc) advertising or, even more often, online advertising. The thing is, you don’t really hate advertising. You just hate how it is done. Before I get into that can of worms and how ads can be done well and in a satisfactory way for all parties concerned, let me point out a benefit for the consumer who really isn’t interested in what you have to sell.

Advertising subsidizes content. Ads in newspapers and magazines pay for MOST of the publishing costs so you don’t have to. Subscription costs don’t cover all that much – which is how magazine companies can charge you those special rates of $1 per issue (if you subscribe TODAY!). The primary reason for subscriptions is to show the potential advertisers how many people may reliably see their ads in a given month (quarter, whatever). These subscription numbers help make a magazine (or newspaper, or website for that matter – although you can substitute “hits” for “subscriptions”) valuable to an advertiser and those numbers determine how much a publisher can charge the advertiser for the space. This also holds true for buses and bus shelters/subway cars and their stations/trains and train platforms, etc.. The ad space is rented from the transit authority by display ad companies who then rent the space to advertisers. This helps to keep your transit prices from shooting into the stratosphere because the transit authority can use that rent to offset the cost to the consumer. It isn’t a perfect system, but it does, in fact, make a significant difference.

Back to the potential consumer/client:

One major problem with online advertising is this: we get followed around from site to site with the same ads yelling at us to buy the thing we’ve already looked at.  That doesn’t really advertise anything. It is a nagging that can get really obnoxious very quickly. For example: I like taking photographs. I visit a lot of photography blogs, watch photography YouTube videos, and go to Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc. to price lenses and equipment that I could never really afford. The problem is, I then get followed around by ads from Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc. featuring the very same lenses that I was looking at. I already know what I want and where to get it. It is a waste of time and money for these companies to follow me around for a week or two telling me things I knew before the ads started. I was the one who started the chain of events by going to Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc. in the first place. I don’t blame these companies, for they have merely fallen into the online advertising trap and its lousy algorithm. But there is a solution to be found for this particular form of advertising. And it lies with the first retailer I mentioned. No doubt you’ve browsed something at Amazon and under the item you are interested in, there is a list of other things that people who have looked at this item have bought. This is the kind of thing that should be happening all over the net. I shouldn’t be seeing the same Canon 35mm prime lens following me around… I should be seeing the other things that people who have bought (or at least perused) the Canon 35mm prime lens or seemed interested in it.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the most basic problem of these ads – that you are being followed from site to site with the same ads from retailers that you already knew about. Other than retiring that kind of ad, I don’t really have a solution for that. I do, however, have a suggestion as to how advertising can be more effective yet less obnoxious.

The great thing about the older model of advertising, and what made it most effective, was that it was relevant to your audience’s interests. Local papers (or national papers with local sections) would make you aware of sales and services that you may need or may not have realized you needed or wanted until you saw an ad that a company or person placed. The ads were relevant to your locale and helped stimulate the local economy. Magazine ads would be relevant to the audience of a magazine (for the most part… personally I don’t much care for perfume ads in cooking magazines – I think it makes it hard to get excited about a recipe for pumpkin pie when all you can smell is lavender and musk). Ideally a space representative for a publishing company will target agencies that specialize in that magazine’s market and sell space to advertisers who are relevant. This helps the advertiser not waste his or her money targeting the wrong people. This is something that is woefully lacking in online advertising. You either get ads that hold no interest for you whatsoever, or you get ads that are so obnoxious about trying to sell you something you already know about that you get turned off by them. The algorithm controlling the placement of ads is lacking in human understanding – what makes a person respond to an ad and why it should be there in the first place. It is getting better, but it simply isn’t good enough.

We are, at first embarrassed and then annoyed at the person who tells the same story over and over. Online advertising in particular has become that embarrassing friend who is quickly sliding into (if it isn’t already there, considering the vitriol against the field you see online) being so annoying that you’ll soon stop inviting them to your parties.

People hate things that are obnoxious – you hate the jerk in the room who is spouting off their opinions at the top their lungs when you simply don’t care about the topic in the first place. Advertising has become really good at yelling, but is getting really bad at selling. It needs to re-find its center. A place where you can tell a person who may be unaware that you have a product or service they may need and not know about. A way to suggest to the consumer what company can improve their life or happiness with their wares without annoying the heck out of them.

We are grateful to the friend who helps us find something that makes life easier or increases our personal happiness. Advertising in its best form is that friend. When it is, you are happy that you saw that ad… so happy that you acted on its advice. That is an ad you DON’T hate. And if you see an ad that doesn’t necessarily interest you, you should still be happy it is there. It is making the magazine you are enjoying, the train you are riding, or the website you are reading that much more affordable. How can you hate that?

Design and ego.

Design is not a competition. It is not about ego. It is about doing the best job possible for your client. If winning a competition helps the client (or helps you keep your client) that’s fine… but it should never be the primary goal of the work.

I’ve both judged and won competitions, and, although it feels good to be appreciated, the platitudes I am most proud of are the surveys in which our ads were the ones that stayed in the minds of the readers over all others in that particular publication. It told us that we were doing the best job possible for our client.

And that, in the end, is the point.

(this post was inspired by a rather gloating post on Google+)

On borrowed interest

Borrowed interest adds nothing but confusion to marketing. If something doesn’t relate to your product, service, or company image, it doesn’t belong.

Borrowed interest belittles your product by showing that you have nothing to make yours the best of the lot and insults your true target audience by promoting fluff over substance.

Branding vs Marketing

This morning I read a point/counter-point style article that came my way via Twitter (thanks to @boxofnuts22) talking about the difference between branding and marketing. Here’s the gist of it:

The first person’s explanation was long and winding, full of MBA-style doublespeak and overly complex sentences. Boiled down he says that branding is company reputation and marketing is everything else – from logo design through advertising, etc.. The second fellow wrote short, simple statements claiming that branding was what makes you different from your competition, logo design, color schemes, etc.; and marketing is how you sell your company’s product or service.

Now if the description of the styles of explanation didn’t tip you off, second fellow is correct (I’ve no idea where the first guy got his ideas).

Branding is what helps the audience know who you are without explanation. It exists to make it possible, at a glance, for a potential client to say, ah, this is a Spacely Sprockets product, not a Cogswell Cogs one. It encompasses logos, color schemes, typeface choices, and the style that makes a company recognizable (think Apple’s simplicity and penchant for black, white, and aluminum).

Marketing is how you use your branding to get the message out there – whether it be advertising, PR, social media, etc..

Very simply put, branding defines the topic and marketing is the message.