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Wave Goodbye to the Old Kings of Creative


I started my career in the late 70’s as an illustrator, while I studied design. My first clients were those cartoon maps, posters to get into clubs and some books for FitzHenry & Whiteside aimed at children. I was successful to earn enough to live on but it was a bit hand and mouth compared to corporate design which I moved in to.

I won awards for designing logos, books and annual reports. I drooled over the paper samples the paper companies gave me. Getting a budget big enough to buy some incredible paper to make my designs shine through was fundamental. Getting a big enough budget to be able to print on a metalic or glossy finish would give my designs the finishing edge for victory.

You worked blind. You needed to imagine what it would look like as a finished product. There was no way of seeing it until it rolled off the press and the ink dried!  The absorbency of the papers would have an impact. I used to swap out the standard yellow for a fluorescent yellow when I wanted to give the colours an extra pop. I back filled black with 100% cyan. Another other trick was double printing black and mixing gloss and mat. On an annual report that was costing $250k to print I gambled on printing faint blue lines to help hold a metallic silver and dark grey over tint.

I remember another AD printing using a 85 dpi screen on heavy textured raw paper and having a font that had a .5 pt outline text to be overprinted on images. I cringed when I saw the comps and tried to tell her it would be a mistake. On a glossy cast coat paper at 200 dpi + it may have worked. Unfortunately for her, she was a Mega-Bitch. After working too many late nights and weekends as her junior-slave I gave up. What a disaster! I did have a small smile at seeing her comeuppance of not taking more care on how it was going to be printed.

Thee paper companies themselves sponsored a lot of the print awards. Coffee table books were huge sellers and you could make a name for yourself designing these.

Logos were big business. A 1/4 million for a logo? No problem. Top designers were almost Godlike with their name on the studio door.  G. Ryan Design. G was for Gerald my hero and boss. His collection of Jaguars was eye dropping and it was fantastic to work in an old warehouse in a crumby part of town with a 150 of the coolest hipster designers you could meet. The other thing to getting that award was hiring a top notch illustrator and again that was down to budget. It was a repeatable formula.

When it comes to design and print the budget to spring for innovative printing techniques and cool papers are almost everything for creating The Kings of Creative.

In the mid- late 80’s I got involved in adverstising. It was also about budget. Working with Pete at BBDO on the TV spots for Colubmia music we knew we were onto a winner when we were given carte blanche with a massive budget. The budget was so big we had a 32 piece orchastra to entertain us (and provide music) for 4 consecutive mornings along with our morning glory cocktails. We felt like Kings.

BBDO had the biggest brands (and budgets) and BBDO grabbed a whopping 40% of all the awards that year. The King pin of them all was Mike Rutherford, the CD. The parties for advertising art and directors were legendary. A lot of these would be hosted by photographers (we each had our favourites) and these would be filled with models, advertising execs, creatives and out clients of course. We used to use the company limo to run errands like pick up more sushi. Sandwiches yuck!

I was an Art Driector and very ambitious but I got a wake up call when I was told point blank by Mike, that because BBDOs biggest accounts were cars (Crysler), beer, sports shoes (Adidas) and computers (Apple, Hewlette Packard) I could forget ever working on those on the account of having breasts. Not that he would remember me by anything another other than the one with the tits.  The fact that I had already won an award for Hewlette Packard for some direct mail work did not count because that was when I was a designer and was not in the same league.

In advertising cars, beer, sports brands and tech products create kings because they have the biggest budgets and the noisiest presence.

Eventually I tired of 80 hour weeks and having team meetings at the Brass Rail (a strip bar in Toronto) on Wednesday afternoons watching the lap dancers writhe on the laps of my male co-workers and decided to go into digital. Digital didn’t exactly set the world on fire at first and was looked as career move DEATH . There were no awards, limited creativity and not a lot of clients.

To the creative minded and visionary digital with the constant change offers unlimited potential.

The world of digital is more complex and has become almost a game of two halfs. The first half is the agencies that have sprung up in the guise of marketing, communications or advertising and believe it is the message that matters. Content is king. The (content) message of course is about ensuring that bigger brands get an even bigger market share and consumers consume more. This still the the world of the Old Kings of Creative. The creative and art directors (mostly white males)  are still coming up with ideas for bog roll and winning awards (sponsored by companies within the same industry as their own). It is also not surprising that clients who give their creative teams carte blanche and healthy budgets also have a clear advantage over those less fortunate and having less scope.

The second half has been what is happening in the Enterprise Sectors – Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay… etc. The game changers. Here functionality is King. You cannot compare the success of Facebook (which is still a website) with a site for toilet paper. It is the game changers that have made the biggest impact. We would still buy toilet paper whether there was a website to promote a particular brand experience.

Now as the web has truly grown up it is no longer digital media. It is digital life. Functionality and experience are inseparable.

Creative now sits under User Experience in most of the bigger companies. Customer experience is also merging with user experience. The message is all about the user and bridging the gap between what the Brand or services deliver and what end users expect.

User Experience is not about coming up with ideas and throwing it to a wall to see if it sticks. User Experience is about applied insight and becoming the new R&D lab to test ideas and push innovation that predicts what users need.

It is all about performing research, analytics and analysis to deliver a great experience. I certainly for one am glad I am no longer working blind. The AD that did not forsee the 85 dip problem with a .5 hairline got sacked and rightly so. The design may have cost $10k to produce but the high volume printing would have been £250k+.

The old kings of creative are on the way out and so are the titles CD and AD eventually as
UX continues to evolve.

If you want to know who the new Kings are, it is the end user sitting in front of his Internet TV (or mobile, tablet, browser etc).