Archive for the 'Something I saw made me think' Category

On the ethics of drugs

I’ve just finished watching Channel 4’s excellent 3 part program Our War on Drugs, a comprehensive study of the current policy on drugs by Angus Macqueen. In it he argues a case for the legalization of drugs, making the point that 40 years of zero-tolerance has simply failed. The supply of drugs has not been halted or even slowed slightly and the demand is rising. The people who are most effected by the drugs trade are the most vulnerable in society and they are being hung to dry while those who are actually profiting from it big time are, by and large, getting away with it.
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It’s all bin happin’

Norfolk has a slightly undeserved reputation for being a little bit backward, but I can tell you it’s all been happening in Norwich recently. Norwich City, Delia Smith’s beloved Canaries, won promotion to the 1st Division of the English football recently and as I walked back through the city tonight I came across a mass of yellow and green awaiting a bus full of the players carrying their hard-won trophy. I hung about for a bit to see them very slowly drive past, because, even though I don’t follow or really care about football, I do love a crowd and a spectacle. The atmosphere was almost carnival with kids on parents shoulders and hawkers, who appear almost magically where ever people gather, flogging everything from whistles to banner size flags.

This month of May is the Norfolk and Norwich Festival with a whole ton of events across the city, including classical music, family theatre, contemporary dance in a temporary hotel erected outside the Forum and a fantastic circus act, La Vie, in a beautiful tent, which I had the utmost pleasure in attending, and which I whole-heartedly recommend anyone going to see if they get the chance. There’s also an ongoing Norwich Fringe with smaller, more unusual artistic-type happenings, full details here.

Norwich is bidding to become the City of Culture in a few years time, and it is a young, artistic, if slightly quirky place. Recently Bristol has become recognized as a pretty trendy and upcoming town. I would say, that if Bristol is the new Brighton, then Norwich will be the new Bristol.

Farewell to the Brewery Tap

The news was announced,
as most things are today;
messages on facebook,
digital voices loud with dismay.

‘I can’t believe it’s gone’, they said,
‘we love you R I P’.
‘The snakebite’s what I’ll miss most,
pints one pound fifty pee’.

I remember gigging there,
when I was in a band.
Five of us took to the sweaty stage,
guitars in sweaty hands,

And seeing the rowdy crowd,
of kids ranged down below,
a fiery sense of pride that they,
had come to see our show.

How we miss the heady scents,
the beer and hash aromas,
the pinpoint lights of fags held up,
drug-induced comas.

But the diggers have torn the roof off,
exposed the wooden floor to day.
I’m almost moved to write a song if I,
only had somewhere left to play.

They’ve knocked down the Brewery Tap in Oulton Broad. If you don’t know where it was then you probably don’t care.

This is the Man I want to be

French Connection bag

Bloomin’ heck I’ve been seduced, seduced by a website. Like most creative professionals (I’m guessing here) I consider myself pretty resistant to advertising, but on this occasion I’ve been suckered in good and proper and I’m not even sorry. Just which adverts am I blithering on about? French Connection’s new direction ‘This is the man’, that’s what.

Now in my defence the tv ads and posters are pretty rubbish, looking a bit like a posey perfume commercial than the kind of thing that would normally appeal to me. The rebrand got a good old slating on AdvertAnon, although I think they were more angry with Fallon than the actual work. But they’ve got me through other channels, those wily branding types. The whole ‘This is the man’ concept has been expanded completely across the French Connection brand, including a ‘This is the woman’ side for female fashion. It’s a total refresh, and about time too. I always thought the FCUK thing was a pretty cheap joke and not a very good hook to hang a clothing label on, and the less said about the ‘Fashion versus Style‘ theme the better.

But I was introduced to the brand through a blog site that the esteemed Poke London have set up, Manifesto. Whilst this site is being used to push their products, it’s also being used to push the new brand values. The tone is off-beat and irreverent and I really quite like it.

“Men have lost the ungentle art of manliness. The man in the street doesn’t know what to bring to a knife fight. He gets nervous around large fish. He can’t tie a full Windsor. It’s time to man up.”

This also means they (the nerds behind the site) have been getting involved in social media, and I have to say they’re doing it very well. They’ve jumped on board the Chat Roulette band-wagon by laying down the challenge of ‘charming a partner’, a pretty topical throw-down given that Chat Roulette is gathering more coverage. French Connection have also, quite oddly, got involved with the new film Kick Ass, a quirky and violent spin on the super-hero genre. It’s this ‘added brand value’ that does it for me. As I learned in that brand workshop the other week, the successful companies are the ones that don’t just embrace an idea, they build their whole company around them.

All this along with some really slick identity and packaging graphics has led to me going out deliberately to shop at French Connection, something I can’t recall a clothing brand ever making me do before. Maybe it’s the aspirationally-bearded chap, maybe it’s my unspoken desire to smarten up and look presentable, but I’ve really bought into the whole brand experience. They’ve got me good.

Brand Leadership Workshop

When I was at uni, I thought of branding as a dirty word, probably from reading too many copies of Adbusters, plus that trusty design student bible No Logo. Post-graduation I’ve mellowed in my opinions a bit more, a dose of real life not quite extinguishing, but at least tempering my poltical fire.

This week I was lucky enough to attend a workshop/lecture on ‘Brand Leadership’ by Robert Jones of Wolff Olins fame, and I definitely learnt a thing or two about what exactly the term ‘brand’ means in contemporary business practices. There was a lot to take in, including numerous diagrams, but for I think I managed to grasp hold of a couple of points amidst the wave of information.

The brand is no longer an image that a company creates for itself and then throws at it’s consumers, it is being created the other way round, the consumer’s perceptions of the company form it’s brand, through the way it’s discussed, dissected and used. A business can build itself around a core ideal, but no-one is fooled for long if a business doesn’t live up what it’s brand purports. This is the age of accountability, which has a nice, t-shirt, friendly ring to it.

To extend this thought; a brand becomes not something that a company manufactures around itself, but rather the central philosophy on which a business is built. My brain is hurting already, so time for a diagram.

I could explain, but as I wasted so much time adding pictures of dinosaurs, teddy bears and business-guys-looking-aspirational, I fear I’ve forgotten myself.

Basically to consider ‘branding’ as just something to be tacked onto the product is missing the whole point . A real sense of value, not necessarily monetary, can be added by giving ownership of the brand to both consumers and employees. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, the notion that brand value is worth more than a money-spinning scheme. When Robert was describing the way Wolff Olins helped Mercedes to set up a driving school, the idea being to enhance their reputation as the company that understands about cars and car drivers, an accountant at another table exclaimed “the revenue streams can’t be very big!”

Are brand-led companies ‘better’ than money-led companies? That depends on what the brand values are I suppose. Virgin, Ikea and Innocent and are examples Robert used as evidence of successful businesses built around strong ideas. For me as a designer the lesson I’m choosing to take away is that creating a brand is not something that can be done in isolation, I can’t just be making pretty marks on the screen. A truly successful brand defines what it represents, be it a business, a product, or even a city.

Freedom isn’t free

I blimmin’ love the internet and what I most love about it is that’s free. Well obviously apart from the cost of the broadband and the phone line and having a computer to access it on. It is actually free to use in the library, but they’re pretty restrictive on what you can go on. Trust me.

The web itself is a bit like a library, except it’s the greatest library in the world, with every book ever written, plus every song, every film and every photo too. And it’s all pretty much freely available, unless you happen to live somewhere like China, with it’s state-controlled content access. And with Google recently pulling out of the country, it looks like the internet will become even more restricted.

There’s been rumblings in the blog-o-sphere (I love that phrase) in the UK recently over the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill, a raft of reforms which it’s feared will be the first step to reducing our freedom to share online. The proposed introduction of a clumsy three strike rule for piracy offenders has been condemned as the government bowing to media corporation pressure.

We all expect everything online to be free and, unfortunately, that cannot remain the case. I don’t care whether illegal downloads costs Sony a million quid, but I am worried that there is an expectation for everyone to give away there work for free. Just as Murdoch is trying to make people pay for certain specific news online, so some artist’s feel that they should be charging people to view their work.

Illustrator and wit-merchant Kevin McCormac wrote very openly on his own site about the touchy subject of access to artist’s work online. His conundrum is that whilst he enjoys creating online comics, he gets no return on his time, other than positive feedback. I recommend taking the time to read through the comments on this article.

Hardcore internet crusaders will take the stance that the web’s founding principles are based on freedom of information for all. On the flip-side, why should artists be expected to make all their work available online for free, open to copying by unscrupulous types? Even assuming that people only want to look at your work to see how awesome you are, you can’t be expected to keep producing stuff with no recompense.

Adam Sacks, also tackled this issue, slightly more flippantly. Writing about his comic, Salmon Doubt on his blog, he rejoiced; “It’s not all bad though.  This finally gives me a way to monetize Salmon Doubts.  Lawsuits!”

Learning about Using about Designing (about Using)

Continuing one of my better ideas, that of buying myself a decent design book once a month, I’ve just received a copy of Jakob Nielsen’s seminal book, Designing Web Usability, here lovingly dropped on the floor amidst the general crap of my bedroom. This book is now 10 years old and apparently still very relevant. It’s not so much about web design as about, well, web usability, ie. how people use websites and how to change the way you (being the designer) address their (the user’s) needs.

I’ve been meaning to get this hefty tome for a while, it was recommended to me by web design supremo Susie White, but I’ve heard both good and bad things about Nielsen. His personal website is pretty anti-style and composed of pretty much just plain text, with hardly any design elements at all. From what I’ve read so far (the first 15 pages) he’s a bit of a Van der Rohe for the web, meaning he’s all about function over form. I’m a big fan of the content leading the design, so I think there’s a load of top stuff for me to learn within.