My entire life, personally and professionally, has revolved around creative efforts. With two decades of experience, my work includes award-winning graphic design and art direction, award-winning and charting music production, published articles, a self-help book for creatives and designing a role-playing game.
My goal is to use my experience to lead in the creation of compelling communication products, to wed what I love with what others need, and to show others how they can accomplish goals they did not realize were possible.
Personal philosophy + design
"Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes and make them possible." -T.E. Lawrence
Below are some of my thoughts as they pertain to approaching design. While not exhaustive, they provide what I hope is useful insight.
Arbitrary creativity, while fun and a good way to learn things, is not what design, film or communication is about. Every element of a project and every decision should be seen as a tool of communication and therefore be properly motivated and well-informed.
How do you become properly motivated and informed? Learning a craft is really only a third of the battle. The other two thirds are having a vision (based on matching what you love with what others need) and knowing about the rest of the world. The more you know about people and the world then the more well-informed your decisions will be. Being creative without an informed vision results in noise rather than compelling communication.
The amount of money spent and number of people used on a project do not determine the quality of the approach, ideas or techniques involved. The Lone Ranger cost $225 million to make. All the money in the world can't fix the wrong idea. You need to ask yourself if paying for a company's rent, cleaning service, utilities, receptionist and superfluous team members is really going to achieve your communication goals.
I believe that everything we do, every choice we make, from holding the door open for another to trying to cure a disease, is an opportunity to make the world a better place for others. It could be directly or indirectly, in a large way or a small way, but we need to wed our passion and energy with what others need. Then, the more successful we are, the more we can help others, thereby enabling them to help others, and so on. In each project I look for three potential layers of benefit: for the audience, for the people on the team and for myself.
Dealing with obstacles
I am a firm believer in turning obstacles into opportunities, in turning adversity into advantage. When something does not go according to plan, you can either fold or realize that it is actually an opportunity to discover a solution that is superior to the original idea. How is this even possible? How is something going poorly a good thing? When you are forced to adapt, you are forced to reevaluate the goal and how to reach the pure essence of what you are doing. Reevaluating and simplifying, especially due to adversity, burns away all the fat that distracts from this true essence. That is how problems are actually opportunities. If you learn to see life this way then you'll be unstoppable.
The idea behind effective communication is to have a compelling or emotional impact rather than reason with people. Humans are visually stimulated emotional primates that naturally form social hierarchies. We want to feel comfortable about our place in that hierarchy, even if we are unaware of it or pretend otherwise.
This has nothing to do with reason. Communication is not about logic. It is about survival, just like everything else in your life is either directly or indirectly about survival. The way to action is not through logic, but through emotion and inspiration, and by acknowledging what we are as animals.
Finding simple solutions with this in mind is more important than being reasonable.
Knowing the audience and speaking their language
Time and again I see ads that are well-made but miss the intended audience, perhaps even resonating with people that don't need the content of the communication in the first place. I don't understand how this happens with a creative brief but it does. We need to identify not just the target audience for communication and action, but also the language of that audience and then use that language. By language I mean not English, Spanish or Chinese, rather I mean what is real and resonates with a given target audience. This leads to the next issue I'll address:
Designing for peers versus for clients
Another issue I see over and over is people designing based on winning awards and following trends rather than for the target audience.
Example 1, newspapers: Who still reads newspapers? Older people, right? Right. Does it make sense to use small, pastel fonts and graphics on newsprint that will be read by older, tired eyes? Does it make sense to use smaller type to allow for more white space for such eyes? Of course not, but that's what art directors do when they are trying to win awards. They are designing for their peers in industry rather than for their client or their client's audience.
Example 2, anti-DUI ads. Who drinks and drives regularly? Fools who are selfish and think they are immortal and that nothing bad will happen to them, and who think they drive great while intoxicated. These individuals do not speak a sentimental language. Does it make sense then to target this audience with sentimental ads about how drunk driving impacts others when they don't even care about how it impacts them and their friends? No, but it gets a great reaction when the client sees your work. It makes sense if it is combined with a larger campaign with peer and family pressure/influence to change behavior, but not on its own.
Example 3, promoting exercise among the least athletic among us. Who is not athletic? Various people, older individuals, perhaps individuals with disabilities of some sort, probably your average bookworm, right? Right. Does it make sense to motivate these people to exercise with ads that make them look foolish, making the target audience even more intimidated than they already are? Of course not, but being funny, ironic and clever is what you do to impress you peers instead of addressing your actual audience.
One more: Burger King. Everybody knows the ads with the crazy king with the mask running around. I love those ads, but they don't have anything to do with selling hamburgers. Burger King's revenue went down after this campaign had run its course. Meanwhile, the agency received accolades for their work. In other words, the ad agency did a better job of promoting themselves than the client.
My ideal is the recognition that film is not what you see on the screen but the juxtaposition of what is juxtaposed over time, recognizing that such is the essence, the soul, the animal that is film, with the goal of designing and capturing that total energy. I realize how goofy this sounds but the point is that there is so much more to be explored in film; it is not only about a hero or a ride, or shallow, garbage calories of all being loud, bright and fast. Film is compelling not only because we are primates that want to watch other primates, it is compelling because we understand changes in energy on a primal level. We have barely scratched the surface of what is actually possible.
Now take somebody like Michael Bay; I often hear people speak condescendingly about Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, George Lucas et al. They prefer Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Rosselini, (some of my personal favorites) etc. What these water cooler auteurs don't understand is that Michael Bay is a genius in his own right. In Transformers he has combined the otherworldly, insane, metallic, twisting kinetic motion of a reality forbidden to human knowledge and has combined it with ... a children's cartoon. I refer to the energy and aesthetic beyond the mere transformation of a vehicle into a robot. Love him or hate him, Michael Bay understands people as animals. That's genius, it really is. While I am not a fan of these films I respect what goes into them. You don't have to like his movies but the point is that there is room for more than one kind of cinema in the world. Not only that, but there is room for both examples in a single film. I aim to prove that, given the chance.
The idea that film must be either exclusively commercially accessible or exclusively poetic is not an idea to which I subscribe. In the same way that science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive ways to see the world, neither is film an exclusively commercial or artistic endeavor. The only reason it can't be both is if you tell yourself it can't be both and then not pursue both.
VR and film
I am not fundamentally cynical or anti-new things. I love that feeling you get when you see something that looks like something from the future of the Jetsons might be real. Having said that, there are some fundamental issues with combining film and VR.
1. The essence of VR is immersion. The essence of film is the cut. You cut cinematic material in VR and it breaks the immersion. I'm not saying people shouldn't try to make something work, but you're talking about two different mediums that are fundamentally different animals. Read on:
2. The fundamental problem is that if you give me the slightest ability to move or look around, then I want to be able to move around freely. Once people have a taste of freedom, they want more! If I can't then I am dissatisfied with the experience. If I am able to, then it is now a POV game over which I have no control (what a brilliant idea!) and no longer a film.
This reminds me of people complaining that "the movie wasn't exactly like the book." That's because they are two different mediums, just as VR and film are two different mediums.
3. Aside from glasses, contacts and regular watches, humans have generally and consistently rejected wearable technology. When you combine glasses with a computer, or a watch with a computer, you are providing a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. If people aren't going for Google Glass or Apple Watches then it is unlikely they will go for strapping a plastic bucket to their faces for two hours for an unsatisfying experience.
4. This leads to the next point: VR messes up the social experience. How do you enjoy an experience with others if you're plugged into a plastic face-hugger, trying to figure out what you're allowed to do or not interactively?
5. VR can be useful; I've designed VR interfaces. However, we need to remind ourselves, both as designers and as clients, that every new layer of stimuli divides the focus of the brain, which is bad for learning, communication and depth of experience. Doing it just for the sake of novelty is the same as eating empty calories; it feels great for a short time, but is ultimately unfulfilling.
6. Lastly, the issue of users reporting losing the immersive experience after some time with a headset. If the illusion is broken after months or weeks of use, and you already can't get what you want from a combined VR/film experience, then what is the point? I don't think one has to be a Luddite to ask such questions.
I try to stay above the fray of what has become a contentious, paranoid, insecure and sadly tribal United States and world at large. As someone who has been on both sides of the political spectrum, as far as "left" and "right" are concerned, I am inspired not by pointless tribalism but rather by where human organization goes from here. How does organization evolve from the nation-state as we understand it post-French Revolution? Are post-geographic states possible? What would they look like? What would be the ramifications of states existing based on ideas rather than on geography, and could they coexist with current organization? As the world becomes smaller and more globalized, we see fractures between people within defined geographic areas, while at the same time we see new extranational connectivity, like neurons connecting in the brain, between like-minded people with ideas that exist beyond geographic and political boundaries.
I believe that rather than describe the spectrum as "left" or "right" that we should recognize the existence of political spectra that are, unlike left/right, nonexclusive, thereby enabling us to focus on what we have in common and solve problems without compromising common sense. Being subversive and/or trying to smear those with different views causes more division, thereby making it even more difficult to solve problems, especially communication problems.
Film, design and politics, combined
I believe not in lecturing an audience but in giving an audience something about which to think so they can draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, I like to challenge perceptions but I disagree with being arbitrarily subversive, as that only drives people further apart.
Social media is real and we have to deal with it, for better or for worse. However, there are some realities we need to be straight about with clients. The truth is that there is no way to accurately gauge the effectiveness of using social media for advertising communications. There are two apparent reasons:
1. Bots. There are countless pages/views/activity with views, likes, retweets and other activity that simply are not real.
2. Even if the above were not an issue, there is simply no way to know why people make the social media choices they do. Why one person follows a page or a user may be completely different than why another follows the same. When you combine this across all users, and all those being followed, combined with inconsistent social media usage and engagement, what you have is pure noise masquerading as useful information.
We are supposed to believe that because we can look at statistics/analytics that the above is not true, so communicators will keep pushing social media use so they can benefit from the information as they see fit. If analytics were complete then there would be a way to measure the artificial activity versus the legitimate activity, but even if that was possible, you still have the fundamental problem of inconsistent social media use. Creating strategies based on flawed information at best and misleading information at worst will only hurt communication campaigns. We have an obligation to be straight with our clients about this reality because, ultimately, the better they do, the better we do. By insisting on dubious strategies we only undermine ourselves, our products and our credibility. I believe that, in the future, people will look back at social media as a massive digital sewer filled with, um, distractions. In the meantime, it's a real thing. We want to make content for it but we need to be straight with clients. Otherwise, social media marketing behaviors will not change and therefore social media providers will not change.
I've been fortunate to lead projects of varying size, goals and responsibilities. I try to treat each one differently in the sense that it is better to start from scratch than pursue a canned strategy just because it worked for something else.
Transactional leadership versus transformational leadership: I don't think this is always a black and white choice, nor do I have a preference. It depends on the size of the team, the time allotted and the goals. If you have many moving parts and limited time, and if you hopefully have a team of people that you've successfully put on the same page, you may lean towards transactional. However if you have a smaller team, perhaps one in which one or more individuals is wearing more than one hat, and is directly part of collaboration, then you can use transformational leadership not just as a way to get team buy-in but also as a mechanism for growth. If your job as a leader is not only to accomplish tasks but to look out for the well-being of your team, then you should be looking for individual opportunities for transformational leadership where appropriate.
A philosophy I've mentioned above and in my book, the three-layer benefit to the client, the team and to myself, is an approach that works for either transformational or transactional leadership. I would hope that a leader would look not only to get the job done but to see if something about that task applies specifically to the growth of one or more team members. People are not machines; they need to grow and the role of a leader is to not only enable success project to project but to simultaneously enable that growth.
I won't waste space repeating what you may have read or heard elsewhere but I'll focus on two key aspects:
Why: I always explain why something is happening, or being done, or being done one way or another, be it to the client or stakeholders, to an individual on the team or to the team as a whole. When you explain why, you are enabling people to understand the scope as well as individual roles in a project and to be on the same page regardless of project breakdown. This, in turn, makes it easier to communicate and solve problems even if they don't speak the language of the other disciplines. Always explain why.
Communication: Always communicate. Don't make assumptions about a role, task, goal or progress. Usually a project will have established intervals for updates. You may think you know what is happening, but skipping around or working ahead without communicating almost always causes problems rather than actually helping. I encourage people to communicate when there is a problem or setback. This is preferable to hiding mistakes and then making up for them because to do so would mean inaccurate logs and archival of projects, which will then provide faulty information when referenced for future projects. The less people communicate, the more assumptions are made, the more unknown unknowns compromise your project.