, ,

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).



Gorilla User Experience (UX) Using Axure

Experiments in attention and concentration show that when people are concentrating on something and doing a task they often miss other information.  This has big implications for UX design as well as collecting the requirements and running workshops.

Suppose you are running a workshop for a new retail site and you have a group of stakeholders in the room each with their own agenda. It is important to sketch out the end to end scenario first as a walking skeleton. This is so that everybody understands it as a single process.

This is often the situation where a product manager may have an objective of people browsing their products and hitting “add to basket”. For them that is where the journey ends. The shopping basket (funnel) is some else’s problem. But it is not. Statistics will show that it is the payment screen that is the most abandoned. Rarely do you see a product manager care about that.

Most UX people probably know the 200 lb invisible gorilla experiment. When people are concentrating on doing a task a 200 lb gorilla can literally disappear.

What it demonstrates is that people complete the task despite it. This also works in reverse.  Axure is my gorilla. I have used it workshops and have “live” mocked stuff up. The first part of the workshop I explain what I am going to do and how it works and what will happen at the end. It may seem strange to some people at first but as things get going no one pays attention to me they are all focused on the screen and completing their tasks as well.

The sessions still contain all the usual white boarding, post it sessions, sketching and open discussions. What I do is make sure that everything is captured so that nothing is lost. I do this by having some prep work done beforehand to allow me work in real time and turn the outputs into a clickable journey. The tarting up can be done later. After the workshop.

Generally 20-30% of all information from workshops is lost. Those photos of the post it notes boards are often missing key bits of detail. The flip chart scrawlings sometimes need a translator and are open to interpretation. Participants leave unclear whether the output was good or not until they see it later. By then their memories are subject to their view.

By capturing the information in the room I can play it back at the end. People can immediately see what was accomplished and reach conscientious on the value of workshop. Plus I will still have the original photos of all the boards and post it notes to add to the deck and show the process of getting there.

Just in case you do not know the Invisible Gorilla story, read more on


january 21010 632

Participatory Workshops Deliver Higher Value

Participatory workshops are not spectator sports. Participatory workshops are engaging, dynamic and are productive. At the end of the day there is something to show for all that time spent. Progress & value.

It is no wonder some people loath workshops. Sitting in a room for hours on end with a bunch of people not of your own choosing , classroom style, can be pure hell. The problem is that workshops often cater to the opinionated loud mouths who have read the book on assertiveness and have taken it to heart. They are the ones who want to stand at the front and be in charge or heckle from the back. In a workshop no one should be in charge. Moderate or guide, yes but that is different. At the end of the workshop this can result in negative feedback from some one who did not get their say and feels disgruntled.

Consider running workshops aimed at involving everyone and taking a more considered view. Look for innovative ideas to get people engaged.  Participatory workshops involve people and get them actively involved to foster real collaboration.

The principals are simple:

  • Seeing is believing, show rather than tell
  • If you must tell use stories, metaphors and anecdotes
  • Influencing instead of arguing or debating
  • Transparency to foster open discussions
  • Everyone has an equal say
  • Everyone is here for a reason
  • Suggestions are welcome and people are encouraged to speak up
  • We want questions as we seek to understand
  • We do not judge
  • Have fun


I use everything from white boarding to sketch pads and make extensive use of sticky notes. Later after a of couple initial workshops I may use clickable simulations and flows to project onto the white board and invite people to draw on top of it or fill in the blanks.

You can also consider projectors to project templates onto a white board from a tool like Axure to provide a talking point with a clickable simulation and capture feedback real time. Get people up drawing and filling in the blanks. Have people take turns presenting their ideas and thoughts and ensure everyone has a say. In workshops interactive tools can be used to great effect once enough initial information has been to bring the user journeys to life. Modifications can be made on screen during “think out loud walk-throughs”.

Activities for a positive outcome:

  • Plan the activities and get the materials – post it notes, white boarding
  • Create a “parking lot” to note ideas and issues not on the agenda for another time to keep the flow
  • Ask “what if” questions to get feedback from people who maybe less vocal
  • Break large groups up into smaller groups and assign tasks
  • Have other people take turns presenting
  • Have a goal and define what good looks like at the start
  • Allow people to take breaks to check messages
  • Capture the information and playback at the end to demonstrate what was accomplished
  • Feedback actions and plan the follow up activities
  • Ensure the right people are in the room – no spectators
  • Choose a comfortable and welcoming room
  • Establish clear goals and boundaries
  • Do not forget the biscuits 😉