Nobody Likes A Quitter

Has anyone seen the newish online stop-smoking program campaign becomeanex.org? It’s a program designed to help you “relearn life without cigarettes.” I was drawn to it through banner ads containing quirky line art animations of smokers in trigger situations – i.e., out drinking, after a meal, celebrating…

In each 10-second animation there’s a surprising reveal of the cig behind the situation: the “celebrating” girl is surrounded by confetti and blowing a party horn. After a few honks you realize it’s actually a lit cigarette she’s blowing. The “after a meal” guy finishes his food and belches up a cigarette. Kinda weird – I like it!!  Continue reading

Useful + Beautiful

Pasta&Vinegar, a blog by Nicolas Nova, introduces us to a project by beste miray dogan called mapenvelop. The mapenvelop seems like an ordinary envelope, but the inside is lined with an image of Google Maps that highlights the location of the sender. The receiver not only sees the address, but sees the surrounding area with the help of Google Earth. Pretty awesome I’d say. Our visually demanding imaginations are fed with a view of the world from the sender, in a far off land or right down the street. We love to see paths connecting and the mapenvelop allows us to do just that.

Useful mailing + enticing imagery + connections + whydidntithinkofthisbefore = golden

Concept vs. character.

As far as most media are concerned, there seem to be two main categories of theme:

  1. CONCEPT
  2. CHARACTER

Concept is, as it sounds, a theme unifying around an idea. Concept has been the main, primary driving force in design and advertising since at least the creative revolution of the ’60s. The entire notion of postmodernism is just the idea of a piece of work becoming more important than the execution of the work.

Concept was really effective in the print-driven advertising world, where we had only one page to convey so much information against so much competition for attention. Compared to, say, a 10,000 word essay on Zbigniew Brzezinski, an ad had to be incredibly impactful and in contrast to its surroundings to stand out and get read.

In the past few years, however, familiar media have become much more idea driven. Maxim magazine, to use an extreme example, is 150 pages of pure concept. Even the editorial content is chunked down, optimized, streamlined, and simplified down to just the idea. Just the tidbit, none of the context.

Complicating that further is the web, a billion pages of ideas with no unifying theme, raw information with little relationship to any of the content on the page. A 100 word news blurb is set next to “phrases” representing navigation, ideas totally isolated in meaning connected only through the context of the interface. This is concept taken to it’s absolute extreme. The web itself is a concept, unviewable, unimaginable in any concrete way. It doesn’t even exist in any physical, relatable form. And it changes form in real-time, updating, shifting, transforming with every click. It’s nothing but concept.

So how does one stand out in this wash of nothing but pure concept? By standing in contrast to the surroundings.

The ideal web campaign is one filled with character.

The importance of theme.

As designers, we’re often faced with the challenge of finding a unifying theme or structure for our work. To say it poetically, the theme is waft on which we weave our art.

More frankly, it’s a crutch. A design project involves hundreds if not thousands of decisions. Space, color, scale, typography, heirarchy, tone. All of these decisions can be absolutely overwhelming.

Until you find a theme. The theme turns all of those decisions into just one simple question: Does this fit? It lets us use our brain in that lateral, complex, quantum way. We can immediately test any decision against that “feeling” of fit. It provides a compass, a grounding, a center from which everything can radiate.

In all of my experience, whenever I’ve been stuck or someone I’m working with is stuck, the missing ingredient is theme.

All of the upfront work in planning and consumer research and input briefs and brands statements are all about one thing: providing that theme.