The Creative Process

Oh the creative process. I have to sigh before even writing this post because if you are a creative, then you can know the joys and woes that come along with the words “creative process.” I have often said that it’s a marvel and a curse. It’s a marvel that such a process exists where you start from nothing and in what seems like magic, something beautiful, wonderful, insightful, fantastic, and tantalizing presents itself and the world is saved once again (yes, it can totally feel like that).

The curse comes when that process betrays you. Each creative has their own process and they are as varied as there are stars above. But sometimes that process gets stopped or blocked. It is either someone else blocking our path because of budgets and asinine requests (insert the word “client/committee” here), which once you’ve been in the “creativity as a service” industry long enough, you kind of get the hang of dealing with them. But then what happens when YOU block yourself. When that innate part of you that you’ve always been able to call upon refuses to give you that spark of inspiration. Or refuses to run smoothly, where each step forward feels akin to running into a brick wall repeatedly. Oh yeah, it can feel like that. And mind you, all of this is taking place inside your head. Yikes…

But us creatives keep coming back for more. There are those of use who do turn their backs on their creativity and that spark because it’s too emotionally draining, but most of us keep coming back for more. We can’t help ourselves. To be without it would be to be missing part of ourselves. Plus, look at the tangible items that come from the creative process? Houses, planes, sculpture, spoons, posters, films, fashion, cars and the list goes on. Our world has seen some pretty freaking awesome things come from the creative process.

I’ve spent three paragraphs attempting to explain the creative process and didn’t even come close to it, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. But I came across a commercial for Dodge (It’s always the car companies. Damn them and their huge marketing budgets…) that attempts to show not only the creative process, but the process of specifically bringing a vision (car) into a reality.

So if you have a creative process, then you’ll definitely identify with the video. If you don’t have one, then you’ll get the most accurate version that I’ve seen of the creative process out there, even though it’s about cars. Enjoy!

The Hunger Games: A battle of the brands

The first movie adaptation of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins came out a little over 5 months ago, but I have put off watching it until now. I have read the books previously and I just wasn’t ready to let go of the image I had in my head to what competed (pun intended) on screen.

For those of you who have not seen this movie, it’s a gripping story set in an undefined period of time (Perhaps a statement about our future?) where there are 12 districts, each with a group of people with a specialized skill that exports a specific natural resource, such as fish or coal, to The Capitol. These districts were established after the people rose up against The Capitol (the richest and most well-to-do) and were subsequently defeated and restricted to these districts depending on how close they were to The Capitol (one being closest and 12 being the furthest away). To show tribute and how benevolent The Capitol was towards the districts (read: to keep keep everyone terrified from ever revolting against the government again), they hold The Hunger Games each year, televised to all the districts in real time. A boy and girl tribute from each district is offered up to compete, to the death. There can only be one winner. May the odds ever be in your favor.

While this book has many political undertones and at times isn’t as outlandish of a leap as it seems (Some of the events and actions sound eerily familiar to our current government), it is the intense branding that occurs for each set of tributes that really got my attention. Admittedly, when I was reading the books my branding strategy and graphic designer spidey senses were tingling, but I was so wrapped up in the story, I ignored them. But with watching the movie, since I already knew what was going to happen, I could focus more on the details.

As designers and marketing folk, we know that developing a brand is no easy task. There are a lot of factors to take into account, but there are some oldies, but goodies to always keep in mind: Know your product, know your audience, create a story, keep interest high, and be consistent. Most people would probably think that only products or technologies are branded in today’s market. While the world may have the most interaction with product branding, branding also occurs for people. Think about any of your favorite athletes, musicians, or politicians. Certain words or actions probably come to mind when their name is uttered. Those same words also probably come up for everyone else who thinks about them too. They have created an “image” aka brand for themselves. The Hunger Games makes good use of creating an “image” for each team of tributes.

If we had to break this down, Katniss and Peeta are products that are launching to the public (The Hunger Games). Haymitch, the always inebriated, disheveled, and previous winner from The Hunger Games is the branding strategist (mentor). He certainly knows his audience, The Capitol members, who love a good story as much as a good kill. They’re flashy, over the top, but with money to burn. But convincing this audience to act as sponsors (read: buy the product) is the difference between life and death. Tributes from other districts are branded as “Professional Tributes” or as sweet and adorable, in the case of Glimmer from District 1 (She’s actually a sadistic girl that laughs as she kills other tributes. Ugh).

Haymitch Abernathy

The Capitol People

While Peeta understands how to play the game (of branding), Katniss really struggles with being branded. Haymitch tells them that they need to be gracious, pleasant and to sell a good story. After their mentoring (aka branding) from Haymitch they are ready to face their audience. Basically the product is launching to the public. To garner interest, Peeta and Haymitch create a story that Peeta and Katniss are star struck lovers doomed by The Hunger Games. Haymitch even goes so far as to say, “I can sell forlorn lovers.” Ever the seemingly sleazy ad man.

The next part of a good brand is keeping interest high with your audience. If you don’t give them anything to pay attention to, they’ll just move on to the next interesting brand. This is best shown while The Hunger Games are in full swing. While Katniss is slow to play the part of forlorn lover, she slowly starts to see that to survive she has to sell her and Peeta’s brand to the sponsors. Get them to believe in the story they’re telling. She helps heighten the story by giving several PG kisses, snuggling in a cave and risking her life to save Peeta’s. Peeta held up his side of the brand by telling the audience/Katniss how long he had loved her, even back when they were in District 12. The Capitol ate it up with their expensive silver spoons.

The being consistent part of their brand really comes in Book 2 and 3. So we will see if the brand of Katniss and Peeta as forlorn lovers who survived stays true or if they end up needing a rebrand (I’m not giving the ending away!). Either way, the proverbial wool wasn’t pulled over this designer’s eyes! Sneaky branding!

Paper because…

As I was thumbing through my newest installment of National Geographic I came across the most intriguing ad. Being a graphic designer in marketing, I tend to look at the ads, even when I would rather ignore them and get to the good facts about some bizarre island that can’t be found that breeds a type of bird that has never been seen but that likes to sleep upside down. I truly love National Geographic. But I digress. I came across a rather simple, but colorful ad that with two people looking at a map, clearly dressed for the outdoors, with a headline that said, “Paper because a lot of places worth going don’t get a signal, and hopefully never will.” Whoa. That was simply my first reaction. I just couldn’t believe that here was an advertisement that wasn’t directly trying to get a graphic designer or office interested in their paper products and more importantly, it wasn’t in an industry magazine such as HOW, Communication Arts, etc. I was thrown for a happy loop!

As the shock finally wore off, I saw the logo in the bottom right hand corner. The ad was for Domtar Paper (here). Admittedly not my favorite paper company, but dang it, if this ad wasn’t turning my thoughts around. So as usual, I donned my research hat and starting poking around trying to find out more and Domtar was completely prepared. The ad I saw was only one advertisement of a whole campaign to battle the “go paperless” statement that seems to appear on anything paper or that could appear on paper, such as emails or bills. Well, no wonder. The “go paperless” campaign has been put forth by technology based companies to push their products, so it was only fair that the paper companies have the same chance to fight for their products. I applaud them, especially with something so creative. They have made Paper an entity on their site. There is even a letter from Paper to the audience, reminding them about how many great times they’ve had together and that they’ve been together for so very long. All very true statements.

Their website goes even further than just helping their audience fall back in love with paper. They have made some very poignant and rather socially pointed ads (see here) showing how leaving paper behind and going completely forth with technology based forms of communication might indeed be hurtful to society, both socially, historically, financially, and environmentally. Then, making sure that they’re not getting too serious with their cause, they have made some very funny short videos (see here) likening paper to drugs, what would actually happen if paper was rationed, and then taking it even further that is the world goes completely “paperless” what would you use to…um…take care of things in the bathroom.

Here is one of my favorite videos…

It is no secret that I love paper. For years now I have been collecting everything printed ephemera from books, menus, postcards, gift tags, signs, and just sheets of paper from around the world. It’s a fascinating concept to me that something that is so seemingly fragile can last for a thousand years. I recently heard a startling fact that the Library of Congress put forth. They stated that in 100 years all of the current, digital archives that they have will be corrupt and no longer useable. Say what? Yet the Gutenberg Bible, which is not even the oldest form of paper in archive currently is 562 years old (give or take a decade) and is still in near perfect condition. Hello people??? I’m not sure we need much more proof than that that paper is not something we should be getting rid of anytime soon. How are people, 500 years from now going to know what life was like during this time if there is nothing to find? I’m just not entirely sure we’re completely thinking to our future with this “go paperless” concept.

Now before I get an onslaught of comments about being environmentally friendly, and recycling, and not wasting, I completely agree. We as society need to be responsible paper users. Do you always need to print that email? Probably not. If a child makes one small mark on a paper, should they just throw it away and start over? Nope, just turn it over or heaven forbid you erase the mark with an eraser. On a pencil. Remember those? Anyways, that’s a whole other irk of mine. There are ways to continue to use paper and trees and be responsible about it.

So in a world where the pressures to completely forget about paper, I truly applaud Domtar Paper for attempting to inform, raise questions, and entertain me with their new campaign. They can count one more among their supporters. My name is Abigail Steinem and I’m a paper lover. Hail paper!

You know you’re a graphic designer when…

Throughout my years on this path of becoming a graphic designer, the title of this post has come up many a times. It usually has to do with noticing something that no one in their right mind would notice. Well, other than a graphic designer. We can’t help ourselves. We went to school, art school in general, to view the world differently. I remember my college drawing teacher saying that he wasn’t teaching me to draw. He was teaching me how to see. That truly struck a chord in me and has stayed with me since. Now, every time I see something that perhaps someone else wouldn’t notice, well I simply know that I worked really hard to view the world this way, so I damn well better appreciate it. Knowing that makes the story below seem a little less crazy and more so, just who I am…along with the thousands of other designers out there.

The other day I was looking online at watches. I finally decided that my phone was just getting entirely too cumbersome to cart around at all time, never leaving my side, just so I could know the current time. Having it in my back pocket also made me feel like I was walking lop-sided, so the search for the perfect wrist watch was on!

Being the visual person that I am I searched the internet by clicking “images” on google and then going to the websites to find out how much they were. Well I just kept searching and searching but nothing was working: the band was too wide, the wrong metal, too big, too small, just plain ridiculous looking, and the list went on and on. It was driving me nuts!

So I really made myself stop and try to figure out how I was evaluating these watches and it hit me: I hated the numerals. Some looked too stately, others looked too ornate, and others didn’t even have numbers. Dots or Disney characters apparently can represent numbers now. Don’t even get me started on digital watches. I knew I was hosed. How was I going to find a working watch that had beautiful old-style numbers, or a watch that effectively used the space within the face of the watch to fill in with numbers?

While I currently have no watch and no plans to become a master clock maker to rectify my situation, I invite you into my world, where I view things a little bit differently. You’ll never pass by a jewelry/watch counter or take someone’s hand the same way again. You know you’ll just have to look and see what their watch numerals look like. But don’t worry…You’re not alone.

An absolutely beautiful example of an antique pocket watch. Look at those wonderful numerals!

Do the numbers really have to be that many sizes? I just feel dizzy…

An attempt at classicism, but the Roman numerals are rounded at noon. Just awful.

Perhaps you need no numbers at all? If I knew what time it was, I wouldn’t need a watch. It’s almost like they think they’re too cool for numbers…

Can you say yawn? I’d fall asleep from boredom before I could even calculate the time.