on the shore of the ultimate sea

Archive for the ‘Big Ups’ Category

In Person: Story Hour

notes

A few weeks ago I was able to make good on a promise and participate in the second installment of the Design Museum of Portland’s Story Hour series. The premise is quite simple: a group of storytellers have a short period of time to tell a story around a specific prompt. There are a few constraints, though: the time period is very short, either four or eight minutes, and you get a single image as your background, no slides or other a/v trickery.

The theme was ‘invisible design’ and while a bunch of kind of pop-design podcast fodder (Can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?) came to mind I felt the constraints and format leant themselves to a little bit of meta tomfoolery.

So the whole thing was series of stories inside a talk inside an elaborate setup.

The effect was better experienced in person, but I’ll try to set it up here for you before sharing the substance of the speech.

The entire story was delivered as if I were reading notes off a sheaf of papers, and there were several references at the onset to visual aids helping me work in this unusual style. As the series of stories around the theme build, I begin to spread outward to talk about how this elaborate level of conscientiousness around how things are set up can ultimately deliver experiences that leave a real impression on people.

The big reveal was at the very end, when I turn my “notes” around and show they’re actually blank. The effect I was hoping to impart on the audience was one of “oh, he wasn’t reading from notes, he must have memorized it, that’s another level of invisible design that he’s incorporated.” I think there were a few clucks of understanding; to be honest, my heart was racing so much at flubbing a few final lines that I wasn’t paying total attention to the audience. But the overall effect was not, as was my fear, totally lost.

Despite the thematic around magic and creativity, there was no magic involved (unless maybe someone thought I erased the notes on the paper or wrote them in invisible ink). It was sheer, brute memorization. The short format (four minutes) and my tendency to want to pack these sorts of talks with information made it crucial that I get everything down to the second, timing-wise.

Suffice to say I rehearsed the shit out of this, in a bunch of different ways. I have talked in public in front of audiences probably 40-50 times a year for the last four or five years and to have a totally scripted thing that has to be super tight on time is one of the more challenging things tasks I’ve set myself.1

recordings

First, I wrote the draft. That took about a week of side-time. Then I went through proofs and made 3-5 paper edits to make the master. Then, I recorded myself speaking a version to time (four minutes on the dot) based on the final refinements. Then, I would alternate between a few elements: table reads, out loud, from the script; sessions where I’d listen to the recording continuously (riding my bike to work, or waiting for lunch at a restaurant); sessions where I’d listen and simultaneously copy the material in longhand. And lastly were sessions where I’d recite the speech cold, with no prompts, then listen and compare with the original printed draft. I have at least 15 of those saved on my phone.

I’ve never been good at memorizing, and respect that skill a lot in friends who can. (I am forever envious of one friend, trained in the classics, who has an enormous mental library of poems and toasts and whatnot.) I need musical accompaniment to make anything stick. And about 98% of my cultural HD is full of jingles and nonsense anyway. But somehow I managed to get through this with only a few flubs.

Anyway, here it is. Not sure if I want to do something like this again anytime soon but I done did it. And it managed (I think?) to be entertaining to the audience, and not just esoteric wank.

Here’s the background image I used:

parish_storyhour.001 (1)

 

I

I opted for the four minutes partly as a disaster mitigating strategy.

I’m here to talk about creativity but it could all go terribly wrong

Because normally my presenting style is clicking through slides, rapidly.

I would stalk around the stage and gesticulate and use clever Keynote builds and other slideware to keep your attention.

So I decided, with all these constraints, to be sure of my words, to write it down. <emphasize paper>

Because I just have this one slide. And it’s barely legible.

Whoops.

First rule of presenting, make the font big.

Fail part one.

That’s not my only problem.

I’m a poseur.

I’m not a designer.

I’m a writer.

I only discovered what a drop shadow was a few years ago when I wondered why my printed-out screenshots were black on the bottom.

And maybe my own design, of this talk, is no longer invisible.

‘Oh, ‘ you’re thinking, ‘he’s going to talk about how editing is invisible design’.

Fail part three.

Fuck.

 

II

Well, writing _is_ invisible design, that’s true.

Writers and designers, we’re cousins.

We both use craft to build worlds.

Some of you who appreciate vintage advertising will remember the Think Small-era Volkswagen advertising.

The layout was classic, a photo, a headline, copy.

But the art director saw the copy, and it was just a huge mass at the bottom of the page. So he used his X-acto to thin it out.

When his partner came in, he asked him to re-write it into the windows he had cut, and the ad finally worked, and is now famous.

Jason Fried, from 37signals, once said, ‘before you redesign, rewrite.’

This is fundamentally the same idea.

But there’s one step beyond this invisibility, beyond the craft of writing and editing: making it magic.

 

III

For my money Emily Dickinson is the greatest American poet.

<What was that? Some Emerson partisan there in the back?>

Almost all Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published after she died, and they’re all clean copies.

We don’t know anything about her process; her craft was fully invisible.

And so scholars, trying to understand her work, are puzzled by things like this. <point to screen>

This is one of Dickinson’s Master letters, surreal drafts written sometime between when she was 28 and 32.

They’re otherworldly, almost an alternate universe to her poems, written to a figure only known as Master.

We don’t know the identity of ‘Master’.

It is a mystery.

Is it a lover?

God?

The Devil? Was Emily Dickinson involved in some kinda bluesman-at-Crossroads-type deal?

True Detective stuff.

Because we all want to know what kind of shadowy power lurks at the heart of Dickinson’s art—worldly or otherworldly.

 

IV

To create something truly sublime, you have to include elements of magic, and conceal, and keep secrets—and reveal them, maybe—in addition to all the craft.

You’ve got to have some of that ol’ Razzle Dazzle—at least a little bit.

Joseph Conrad wrote something to this effect in an essay called “Fiction Is Human History”.

“All creative art is magic, is evocation of the unseen in forms persuasive, enlightening, familiar and surprising.”

In creating amazing work, you take the invisible and choose if, and how, it reappears.

And that’s the magic…

<reveal papers>

…that craft can make design invisible…

<reveal papers>

…but only creativity can choose how to reveal it…

<reveal papers>

…to set an audience on a course to their own creative truths.

<reveal papers>

 

  1. Yes, the famous “short speech” quote (“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”) whoever said it, was running through my head pretty regularly. []

Written by Nick

August 12th, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Catch up on the Cannestagious Podcast

We podcasted at Cannes for the second year running, all part of our #cannestagious push1, and Dan Southern and I had a lot of fun hosting. We typically would have a few Contagious folk and a few external folk join for each one, and discuss what went on that day at the festival.

The timing was a bit screwy—last year it was a ‘morning after’ timing, so we’d record the intro and outtro and get some juicy gossip in there, then play the segments recorded the preceding day.2 For those who might be interested in gear: we use a Blue Yeti mic attached to an iPad running Bossjock software to do all the cues, ducks, fades, etc. Typically afterward I’d clean everything up in Audacity and send it over to Soundcloud. The one and only DJ Tedward did some dynamite bumps and idents for us. Our audio booth? The world’s largest walk-in closet, in our villa, with duvets draped through the shelving to muffle echo.

I think we’re going to look into doing more with the podcast; key will be finding out how me in Portland and Dan in London can connect in a way that’s got some measure of audio fidelity. (The last phone-in interview, recorded off a conference call line, is crapola.) If you’ve got any idea, let me know.

Anyway, we had some fun interviews: Scott Galloway, Joanna MonteiroIain Tait, Nick Childs and Sir Martin Sorrell, and we had one kinda live-y podcast segment where we went cold calling with The Barbarian Group and Rood Studios.

Here’s the mighty podcast playlist in all its glory too.

  1. dig that amazing papercraft Cannes Lion! []
  2. The awards results are under embargo until like 9pm every night, so we can’t publish when we learn the results at the press conference in the morning. []

Written by Nick

July 2nd, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Agency: Rick Webb’s Manual

IMG_1927

When I had to report on every little coming and going in the agency world I learned real fast that Rick Webb was a great quote. He’s got a lucid brain that can make the complex pretty clear and cut through most any flavor of bullshit. Rick’s compiled the breadth of his experience at The Barbarian Group into Agency: Starting a Creative Firm in the Age of Digital Marketing, essentially Rick Explains It All.

It’s a must-read if you’re thinking of starting an ad agency, and it’s great information that might corroborate other prejudices or processes you’ve developed if you work with them already, either as a supplier or a freelancer. Give it to your colleagues—I know I’ve got a few destined for mine. And keep a highlighter handy.

The book is essentially a more buttoned-down version of the KLF’s “The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)” and if you followed all the instructions inside and were halfway decent at making ads you could probably succeed. The only thing missing, and maybe this is because Rick is savvy enough to leave room for a follow-up, is answering the question Why.

Why would anyone want to start an agency in 2015, when it’s easier than ever to build a brand from scratch, or take a novel technology to the stratosphere with free money from VCs? Maybe I’ll ask him and let you know.

Written by Nick

February 1st, 2015 at 11:56 am

Appearing in La Petit Mort: River Talk

rivertalk_petitmort

A few months ago my buddy Michael Ventura asked me to write an essay for his new publication, La Petit Mort. Just last week I got the glorious, big-ass newsprint edition and found my piece, “River Talk,” reproduced faithfully. The design looks great, the illustration I cooked up wound up translating well visually, and I’m really grateful to have been involved and appearing alongside articles ranging from an ethical look at slum tourism to a primer on how to eat clean while traveling. The essay’s mostly about fishing, so head over to Current Flow State to read the whole thing.

Written by Nick

January 20th, 2014 at 7:16 pm

PATRONYM teaser issue

Patronym

I’ve gotten a few questions about our holiday zine exchange and what I put together so I figured I’d post it here.

PATRONYM is a photonovella-style story about a rich industrialist’s last wishes in a post-famine world.

Anyway, enjoy it, complete with mock-inside-front-cover-ad, after clicking through.

Read PATRONYM

Written by Nick

December 28th, 2013 at 5:16 pm

The Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange!

contagious_zines

A while back I read a post somewhere, I think on the IDEO blog, about their experiment with a saddle stapler. There was a story about how they furnished an alcove at the back of the office, and put out the stapler, commonly used to make crude staple-bound zines, and lo, amazing rainbows of creativity happened.

We ain’t them, so I decided to steal part of this idea, with 100% more <shudder> forced creativity, and lo the Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange was born. Everybody had a few months to conceive and execute a zine, using the tools at their disposal, and we’d swap them at the end of the year.

Counting our own issues of Contagious, Most Contagious, and all the the client-commissioned stuff, we made probably 10+ print publications this year. But not everyone has the chance to get dirty with pagination, design, concept and all the other fun parts of making their own magazine. Hell, I’m an editor and I don’t feel like I always do.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was when we exchanged them today. Writers, sales folk, whoever, it didn’t matter. The publications were from the heart and fun, which is all you really need for a good zine.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Noelle: Drink More Whiskey, a primer on everyone’s favorite brown liquid, its characteristics and varieties, where to drink it, recipes, etc., with samples
Kyle: Pittie’ful Zine, a look at the pit bull terrier’s origins, evolution and characteristics, including info on pits in American history
Erin: les hashtags en francais, a study of this year’s top celebrity Twitter arrivals, with hashtagged critiques of their work in French
Arwa: Notes From Goats: A pun-filled literary magazine, as authored by goats (ie critique of The Great Goatsby)
Chris: A Hell of a Lot of Mice: Music and miscellany, including an article on Willis Earl Beal, photos from NYC venues and part of Chris’ top 52 albums of 2013 summary.

I did a short sci-fi photonovela called PATRONYM on the JP Morgan of the clone era coming to terms with his legacy.

Methods as far ranging as In Design and Comic Life and even old fashioned cut-and-paste and hand-lettering brought these to life.

Best of all, they really did what every good solo publication should do: convey something about the creator.

I was having lunch today with a guy who runs the innovation department at a really large package goods company, and one of the things he said stuck in my mind. “We have the tools,” he said, “we just don’t use them.” Sometimes you have to figure out a way to get people to use the tools.

Written by Nick

December 17th, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Contagious’ 2013 Cannes Lions Seminar

Well, back from Cannes, and after three days of not shouting in opposition to overloud, washy acid breaks at an expensive agency beach party my voice is almost returned to normal.

And after a year off I’m glad to say the world’s premier advertising awards show slash boondoggle is still going strong. One global network CEO we met estimates the Cannes Lions organization (which is for sale) turns all that delicious communications milk into €80m of net cream a year. It’s a really expensive exercise in ego validation if you see it that way, or a chance to give some ideas world-class recognition if you see it otherwise.

I’m not entirely jaded about it, but close. What keeps me from going crackers and retiring to a cave tends to be the stuff we do, and the response to it. Contagious events are a break from the norm of bizniz-led chest-drumming or celeb-puffing nonsense. We try to do stuff people actually get value from, entertainment value, or inspiration, and measure worth in that, not just in terms of the value derived by us through people talking about it or the fact we “got our message out.”

So its with great pleasure I present our seminar, sponsored by and created alongside Holler. Our cofounder Paul, James from Holler and Will Sansom worked pretty hard to make this come off as well as it did.((Meanwhile, I ducked all serious obligations and helped set up a Moth StorySLAM on the beach. To each according…)) And the gorgeous Scriberia animations didn’t hurt.

Seminar quality this year was spotty at best, and delegates, who paid (or their agencies did) $2,400 for a pass often had to wait over an hour for entry into the theatre. But our seminar won the popular vote to be broadcast live on YouTube, and was packed in the Palais. Invariably through the rest of the week when I was introduced someone would remember the session and compliment us. And that’s pretty cool.

 

Written by Nick

June 25th, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Gigs & Appearances: Advertising Week 2012 and Now / Next / Why New York

Ahh, Advertising Week. Because the day-to-day celebration of ad culture just isn’t enough.

I’m going to be speaking on two panels. I will plug them thusly:

 

GIVE TO GET: BUILDING BRAND THROUGH SERVICE INNOVATION

Mon Oct 1 2012 – 9:00 AM
B.B. King Blues Club

Putting service at the center of your brand may be the next evolution of your marketing; innovation through service design is what will attract customers, turn them into advocates, create buzz about your product, and save customers with whom you #fail.

 
PRODUCTS, PROCESS AND PROGRESS

Tue Oct 2 2012 – 12:30 PM
B.B. King Blues Club

“Brand-led development”, it’s a subject that’s currently on the tip of every marketer’s tongue. This lively discussion, hosted by The Barbarian Group’s President, Sophie Kelly, will explore the new imperatives that larger brand marketers need to adapt in order to effectively build, refine and optimize longstanding products.

 

Of course, if you’re in NYC October 9, you should be at Contagious’ bi-annual look at what’s important, Now / Next / Why. I’m heading over to London next week to speak at that installment, then back again to talk at the Stateside version. My topic? Sponsorship Activation & Amplified Live.

Sponsorship Activation & Amplified Live /
The time we spend interacting with entertainment is often precious and pure. Distractions are not necessary, nor appreciated. Finally, a new generation of brands is beginning to reimagine the art of sponsorship activation, justifying their ticket to the game not just with a bulging wallet, but with a genuine offering to enhance, improve and augment the experiences for fans.
Contagious will showcase how and why brands are adding value for fans, not noise. From Coca-Cola turning an exclusive corporate box at a football ground into a dormitory for cash-strapped fans, to Kopparberg’s music festival playlist app on Facebook, brands are making their sponsorship dollars work harder to become an indispensable part of the events they support.

We’re also debuting our take on Marketing as Service Design, something we haven’t talked about yet over here. Some of the elements we’ll be discussing at Now / Next / Why in New York on October 9 will come into play during the panels.

We do a special edition publication for Now Next Why, and we just put that to bed last week. It’s looking great. Give me a shout if you can come out, so we can say hi.

Written by Nick

September 23rd, 2012 at 9:57 am

Meat Sweats #1 arrives

Friend Krista Freibaum sent over her latest project, Meat Sweats, a Newspaper Club-stylee compendium of illustrations and comics themed around rad flesh.

Everyone’s got a page, with front and back cover from Anthony Sperduti. I enjoyed David Shamoon‘s history of drinkable meat and Zoe Turnbull‘s meditation on how her Brussels Griffon would taste. I’d reckon the latter would be stringy and probably best in a stew.

They’re Tumbrling around the web at meatsweatszine.com, though, format-wise, the mag itself is a sort of paper Tumblr. I’ve got an extra copy. Shout in the comments with your nastiest meat story and I’ll send it your way.

 

Written by Nick

November 13th, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Art,Big Ups,Mags,Mailbag

Applause: RDTN.ORG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In times of crisis like the world has been watching for the last week or so in Japan, our contributions to alleviate suffering will not entirely be counted in dollars. More and more the tools we build to help those afflicted return to a peaceful existence will be measured as essential.

I’m proud of some friends that joined together to build a hub for measuring the radiation levels in Japan, and hope their effort will bring calm to a few of the many lives changed by the crisis.

The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan has highlighted our collective reliance on trusted sources. With conflicting reports of radiation levels in affected areas, Portland-based Uncorked Studios has built a way to report and see data in an unbiased format. Inspired by talking heads on news programs who could at best speculate about the nuclear crisis based on the dearth of data, Uncorked decided to create a platform that will crowd-source data to individuals, volunteers, and experts.

Introducing rdtn.org, a website that aggregates radioactivity data from throughout the world in order to provide real-time hyper-local information about the status of the Japanese nuclear crisis. The site is not meant as a replacement for government nor nuclear agencies. Our hope is that clear data will provide additional context to the official word in these rapidly changing events. While the site will focus primarily on readings from Japan, it will also incorporate data from the West Coast of the United States, hoping perhaps to quell the fires of paranoia that stem from a lack of credible information about radiation, the jet stream and its potential effect on US citizens.

We welcome users’ thoughts on how to improve the site/functionality, and appreciate any insight or feedback that will provide a richer understanding of this crisis. We will continue to implement improvements and functionality as soon as possible.

If you are interested in contributing in an official capacity, either as a scientist, journalist, or member of a government agency, please contact us at info@rdtn.org.

RDTN.ORG.

Written by Nick

March 21st, 2011 at 2:49 pm