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Category Archives: rants


Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a comedy sketch show broadcast by the BBC from 1969 to 1974, was conceived, written and performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Little did they know how ahead of their time they were with their homage to SPAM, a canned & precooked meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation.

Revisiting this sketch this morning made me further appreciate the sketch’s melodious repetition as I deleted another 1575 Spam posts from my email box. If you get a lot of Spam, I highly recommend watching this video. It will ease the pain of dealing with this unruly menace. If you’re on a Mac, I recommend SpamArrest, which does a pretty good job of learning (with your assistance) what to keep and what to mark as Spam. Finally, if you’re eating dinner, I recommend feasting on anything other than SPAM…

Dave Fletcher is a Founder and Creative Director at theMechanism, a multi-disciplinary design agency with offices in New York, London and Durban, South Africa. He admits to having tasted SPAM as a youngster, but cannot recall how sick it made him.

About a year ago, an interesting advertising campaign was unveiled in the New York Subway system featuring a unique, if not overly complex logo, enticing viewers to travel the Bahamas. The logo featured several colorful & unusually shaped organic icons, visually representing the islands of the Bahamas. The logo and subsequent campaign did the job because I remembered it a year later.

Recently, during a morning overdose of caffeinated glee with Al Roker and the Today Gang on NBC, I noticed a television commercial advertising the joys of vacationing in Panama, with a very similar logo as the Bahamas design from last year. Some online sleuthing and closer observation revealed that the logos were practically “cut from the same palm leaf” – and featured not only a similar use of colors but a nearly identical typeface. One could argue that the Panama design firm chose squares instead of unusual organic shapes, but I would respond to that statement with a barrage of creative fists of fury.

This act of blatant thievery or “modest appreciation” is one of the reasons that the creative profession is suffering at the greedy hands of poor designers and overly convincing clients. I can’t begin to imagine what could have possibly convinced a self-respecting graphic artist to swindle the design style of another tourist destination when they knew that someone would certainly call their creative bluff.

There are many reasons why this is bad. Advertising message reception is a pretty quick event when you think about it – I see something pretty, then glance away and process it internally later. At a quick glance, this would make this new campaign less successful, since the viewer might actually believe that the Panama campaign is actually a rerun of the campaign for the Bahamas. The obvious reason is that the Bahamas logo concept was kidnapped by the Panama design team.

The moral of this story – although it still needs to be proven or disproven by the success of the new Panama campaign – is that when a client comes to you saying that they want a repeat of something that has been successful in the past like the Nike swoosh or a web site that works just like Google, they don’t want or need those solutions copied exactly, they likely lust after the success of the aforementioned solutions. In the case of this Panama/Bahamas debacle, the client probably saw the Bahamas logo and campaign, read about it’s success, and told a designer, “Make it look like that.” Unfortunately, this is an example of another client who is looking for glory without the commitment that the Bahamas campaign, Google, Nike or hundreds of other brands have made to their audiences.

Instant audience satisfaction can be achieved by a clever design solution, but originality designed to stand the test of time is what will make your client rich.

Anyone who flies inside what I’ve come to refer to as “mechanically–challenged, winged space parrots” – even semi-regularly – knows that the entire process of getting from “Point A” to “Point B” usually includes several points in-between and continues to devolve into a painfully demanding & hebetudinous operation. Whether getting to the airport only to experience the blitzkrieg of hundreds of hostile travelers trying to reach their destinations before anyone else; to the poorly designed automatic check-in kiosks; to worrying whether or not your regulation size bag will be squeezable into an undersized compartment above your head or forced below the plane because there simply are too many knuckleheads and not enough room. Worrying about whether or not you can bring a dollop of soap in a baggy, for fear that you’ll be forcefully held at gunpoint by security guards and trained attack wolves, makes the overall trip a consistently wearisome panic attack waiting to happen.

Thankfully, much like an Advil, cheerfully delivered by an enchanting Koala bear, Qantas Airlines is showing the obscenely wealthy that those headaches are over.

While on layover in Sydney or Melbourne, you me and the rest of the weariest travelers can merely dream of relaxing in luxury, nestled within the new Marc Newson-designed Qantas First Class Lounges. Designed like the futuristic lair of The Jetsons or James Bond, these fantastically designed chill-out spaces sport individual marble-lined shower suites, Payot cosmetics and Kevin Murphy hair products, as well as a library stocked with best selling books, magazines, newspapers and board games – all free for the price of a first class ticket. There’s also an ‘entertainment zone’ with plasma TVs and Sony play stations. A trip from Melbourne to Budapest will knock you back a little more than $14,000. Once again, great design becomes limited to only the people who can afford it.

But, for even that price, they are quite breathtaking, and give the “filthiest of the rich” an experience they are, I’m quite certain, already very used to: facials, internet, marble showers and plausibly, off-duty attack wolves that apply and lick perfectly posh and pedicured feet with all of the skin moisturizer and lotions airport security confiscated from my suitcase at the security check.

Rescue Internet Radio

April 01st, 2007  |   rants

from Free Press:

Online music is in danger. A recent ruling by an obscure regulatory board threatens to put independent and public radio on the Internet out of business.

The "Copyright Royalty Board" is dramatically increasing the royalties "webcasters" must pay every time they stream a song online. Public Internet radio like NPR is especially at risk.

The rules could shut down nonprofit and smaller commercial Internet radio outlets and force larger webcasters to play the same cookie-cutter music as Clear Channel. So much for new online alternatives.

Rescue Internet Radio—Sign the Petition:
http://action.freepress.net/campaign/internetradio

More

It’s official. We’re now dwellers on a quirky little globe where offbeat and talented graphic designers are gleefully given the keys to the pop-culture kingdom and clench them firmly between their ego and hind quarters. Such is the case with Lemon’s recent article and photo expose on graphic designer, Stefan Sagmeister.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve enjoyed hearing Sagmeister’s rapturous “I’m a little awkward with English, so let us giggle together…” mutterings at several design conferences du jour. About 6 years ago, he also turned his snout skyward to the concept of profitability and business in general through the brilliant PR play — “I’m retiring.” — implying by such an announcement that his absence would actually leave a gap in our simple and mediocre graphic worlds. However, shortly after his retirement ended (a year later) an excellent tome about the fella’s work was released, showing us all that his “retirement” wasn’t actually a real “retirement” at all (it was really book writing time). In the end, Stefan’s “adieu” was nothing more than a calculated PR stunt. He subsequently utilized his “triumphant return” to graphic design as a means to tour the design conference circuit, reminding us all once again (in case you missed it in Ad Age or on the lips of any creative magazine editors’ lips that he had had retired for a whole year) and delivered a speech about the joys of a year off — a patronizing speech — which reminded more than a few designers (myself included) that “famous designers” clients’ are stupid enough to wait for genius. Oh, and he also had that pretty new book to sell…

While throughout his career, his work been praised by several magazines and graphic tomes, in the latest issue of Lemon, Sagmeister is granted a level of sainthood usually reserved for the likes of Reed, Jagger and Byrne: three of the artists for whom he’s produced some interesting work.

I have always enjoyed his work and more importantly, the work of those who influenced him. It just seems to me that there is an odd shift that’s occurred in the creative profession where too many of us have become bedazzled by any designer thrust into the spotlight by your design magazine of choice. It happens every 10 years or so, first with Paul Rand and David Ogilvy, later with Pushpin wondertwins Glaser and Chwast, and more recently with surfer turned designer David Carson and Sagmeister. The list of talent is endless, but if it sounds like graphic design’s personalities are becoming more like our favorite TV reality star personalities, you may not be far from the truth…

In other words, any magazine like Lemon calling a very talented designer like Stefan Sagmeister a “hero” is pushing it. Adding a photo exposé of Sagmeister as James Bond surrounded by adoring women is berserk. If the act of being worshipped instantly makes one into a hero, we all need to reconsider what breeds the Saint. Most of our self-imposed stars are talented personalities, not superhumans.

I suggest that we all begin to look inward for our “hero” and outward for affordable fuel to keep our internal fire lit.

Wolfgang Yuck

February 23rd, 2007  |   print design, rants

I am consistently left with my yapper agape by what our fellow professionals and creative types will do to earn some extra “green” at the cost of their hard-built identity. Brands take serious effort to build, and only through time (and with enough money to help get the name out there), will the client see the fruits of their labor pay off with recognition. Personally, I’m the sort of humanoid that is happy to present myself to the world through the best work possible, and would never stoop to the level of off-shooting a company called “theCheapanism” for example, that would hock pre-made web templates or visual solutions for modest prices.

However, such was the case with a Master Chef that I admired from afar named Wolfgang Puck, who apparently has the free time to create pre-wrapped lunchtime yummies for the masses at the Jacksonville International Airport. Now keep in mind that I’m not foolishly believing that the “Almighty Wolf” Himself prepared these sandwiches for me all by himself (I’m sure spends his free time hocking his knives and spices on The Shopping Network), but he’s certainly not shy about plastering his most important asset — his name and his brand — on a chilled kiosk, and poorly saran-wrapped sandwiches by which his foul foodstuffs were being pedaled for 9 bucks a piece. While I realize that simply the name “Wolfgang Puck” itself should aurally emphasize the quality of the famous chef, I would expect that with one of the most powerful names in “Chef-Ville,” the food would at least be magical if not euphoric in both presentation and flavor. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that my pre-wrapped feast of a chicken sandwich with mayo, lettuce and focaccia bread tasted no better than a generic sandwich with the same ingredients sold for 4 bucks two kiosks past the airport CD peddler.

It begins to beg the question of what branding really means to someone like Puck and his marketing minions. When you combine tasteless presentation with equally tasteless food, does it defile the very essence of the brand it took years to build? Does it hurt the ambitions of future superstar-turned cash machines like Paris Hilton or Emeril? Or will it simply inspire folks like David Carson and Stefan Sagmeister to pedal pre-made graphic design work to an audience of new time-fearing and hungry clients? If Puck can do it with his reputation firmly etched in our psyche, why not?

In the end, I got a free bag of jalapeño-flavored chips for my 9 bucks wasted. Crunching the spicy treats actually helped eradicate the foul taste of the chicken crapwich from my taste buds. So, things could always be worse…

After a short flight from icy Newark International Airport to balmy Jacksonville, a car pulled up in front of the pickup area commandeered by none other than Carl Smith, Search and Rescue expert from nGen Works, a legendary web standards design firm in town. I knew immediately, even though this meeting was prearranged weeks in advance, trouble would certainly be found with the nefarious Mr. Smith. After a swift, yet jaunty punch in the face from Carl (“Why, Carl, why?” I muttered through a mixture of tears and blood. Smith chuckled, “Because I love you man…”), my modest OGIO suitcase was heaved into the trunk of his mighty 4-wheeled steed and we high-tailed it to Destination 1: the Hampton Inn on 1331 Prudential Drive.

The welcome I received at the hotel was unexpected as a bevy of small, and highly unpleasant proboscis monkeys (a delicacy in the local restaurants) dressed to the nines in nothing more than Fluevog sneaks and nGen t-shirts, snatched my luggage and proceeded to drag it safely to my accommodations in the penthouse suite. Carl laughed, as this was another prearranged surprise, and he threw two bananas to the apes, who fought over the fruity treats while Carl once again, delivered a powerful punch to my face. “Good to see you, man,” he chortled. I teared up again, but wouldn’t respond…

Once inside, Carl spoke of my mission: speak on a panel with Klaus Heech – Owner/Art Director of Juicy Temples in Orlando, FL, and Jefferson Rall – founding principal and lead creative at TurnWest Collaborative in Jacksonville. Klaus is a gigantic man with equally gigantic creative skillz and Jefferson is a bit of hometown creative celebrity, signing autographs, kissing babies and alligators at every corner.

But first there was the business of meeting up with two of nGen’s ninja-like henchmen (Travis Schmeisser and Joey Marchy) and discussing both the state of the creative union and bands unbeknownst to anyone the pop music world, over several pints of Dos Equis and a delightful shrimp salad feast at a local 5 Points watering hole. We laughed, wept like children and parted ways all threatening to “see each other tomorrow” at the nGen Creative Bunker in the heart of Jacksonville. In true ninja fashion both Travis and Joey disappeared behind a puff of mysterious green smoke and were gone. I had no idea, but could only fear what would come next…

I could hear Carl’s car honking and startling the guests at 9:01am on the dot. As I pushed my way through the furious guests that had gathered around his vehicle, I remembered Carl’s instructions from the previous night like a terrifying childhood nursery rhyme: “If you’re either 1 minute early or 1 minute late,” Carl remarked, “you’ll get another ‘happy punch’ – this time in your eye.” After Carl finished tying his blindfold tightly around my head googlers, he reminded me that “if I removed it, he would ‘kill me’.” I shivered, as the car travelled at breakneck speed through the streets of J-Ville, into the dark heart of nGen’s Secret Lair. They locked me in the bathroom with my laptop, reminding me that if I complained, they would all make sure I never saw the sunlight again. My fingers tippity-tapped at the keys, sending out several distress emails, which I later found out, were all not only intercepted by the nGen team, but also sent to everyone they knew in Jacksonville with “LOL” in the subject line.

“It’s time to go Monkey Boy. Monkey Boy speak now,” chortled Carl, as his henchmen (including Bruce Cooke and Varick Rosete) pointed and made hissing ape noises. Again, I was blindfolded and taken (this time at gunpoint) to the River City Brewery for the panel talk to members of The Jacksonville Marketing and Advertising Club. I thought about leaping out of the car on the way to save myself from Smiths’ torturous ways only to remind myself of the live alligators that roam the streets of Jacksonville, feasting upon the tourists. I stayed put, now firmly bound with piano wire to Carl’s baby seat. The only thing I can remotely recall is Smith’s diabolical laughing the entire ride, occasionally drowned out by AC/DC pounding from the car speakers in mono.

The River City Brewery is located downtown, and while the sun was burning brightly in the sky, I found myself fighting to keep my composure during this ride. We arrived and after a brief introduction to Klaus and Jefferson, I was told by Carl to “speak when you are spoken to and I might not pour hot oil on your face.” I obliged.

The panel discussion was a delightful experience, with the three of us trading creative blows while Carl ran the show like a Russian ringmaster with trained grizzly bears. The audience asked questions and we responded in turn. In my newly elevated and wily state, I muttered “The Big agency model is dead” (more on that in a future post). Carl’s black eyes lit up and the captive audience (Carl had not only locked the doors, but he also had fastened prisoner bracelets to each attendees ankle) gasped. The panel discussion was truly a delight, and when the salad forks stopped being thrown at our heads, I ceased my Carl-induced weeping.

Next, we travelled like a merry band of rogues to Flagler College. On the way we spotted two tourists being devoured by what could only be described a perverse mutated half alligator half wildebeest. We pointed and chuckled like old pals. “It’s the way it is around here, Dave,” remarked Carl. “And if you keep looking at me, I’ll feed you to them next.” I turned away and choked back the tears…Again.

Flagler Beach is like combining the attraction of surf culture with the quaintness of an old Mexican town – with Pirates. We met Randy Taylor, one of the instructors at the college who is not only in charge of training today’s creative youth at the wily art of client interaction, but he also hangs his hat on a massive ocean cruiser that he calls home.

In a move that could only be described as foolhardy, I left my camera back at the nGen Compound, missing out on capturing much of the beauty that is Flagler. The architecture is quite breathtaking – with Pirates. It also happens to be Jeffersons’ alma mater, so we were treated like kings of yore and practically given the keys to the Dean’s dressing room. The four of us chatted with captive students (Carl used the same technique on them as he did earlier in the day at The Brewery) and found ourselves fast becoming friends. We feasted on beer, mead and more shrimp at another local watering hole and discovered that we all had many yarns of client successes and nightmares to share. In an astonishing surprise, my fellow dread-pirate pal Mike Rutledge, now schooling the students in the ways of “The Creative Force” at the college, showed up wearing a parrot on his shoulder and grasping a tanqueray and tonic in his hand. We spoke briefly about bars, beers and bears.

Moments later I was safely back at the hotel Hampton, my oasis away from the Flagler oasis with little knowledge of how or why I was here. I’ve heard of Carl’s memory altering tools, but never thought he would use them on me during our feast at Flagler. While the majority of this tale is likely a farcical memory implanted by the diabolical Mr. Smith, I still believe that my work in Jacksonville is not done. Someday soon, I will return — armed with alligator repellent and a hockey mask to deter the clobbering fists of Carl Smith…

Dave Fletcher is a Founder and Creative Director of theMechanism, a maxi-media firm in New York City and London. He hopes his memory of the event serves him correctly, and promises to write another entry about the Jacksonville trip as soon as Carl Smith’s memory altering chemicals wear off.

Caution: Can Contains Stupid

December 15th, 2006  |   rants

Arizona Energy Drink canAbout 5 years ago, I spoke at the HOW Design Conference in Orlando on the topic of “Good Examples of Bad Design.” It was a gratifying experience to be speaking at the same conference that in it’s history featured such luminaries as Glaser, Carson and Mok, and from the reaction of the crowd, my endless chattering onstage about lousy design clocking in at somewhere around 50 minutes, was well-received. So, apparently I’m an “expert” at sniffing this kind of stuff out.

I occasionally indulge in energy drinks — usually as a nectareous reward for my jaunty morning runs around Prospect Park in Brooklyn — and my racing heart and instant case of the jitters on the subway is hardly a pleasing after-effect of my eager slurpage of this caffeinated nectar of the hyperactive gods. I passionately search for alternatives to Red Bull because if they still can’t manage to pull their package branding together with their cartoonish television ads, I refuse to support them. It’s my “creative civic duty”, or so I’ve convinced myself anyway…

This morning, as I was browsing the available energy gulps behind the frosty glass at the bodega — skimming past several fiendish looking, yet interestingly designed cans of mighty “Crunk Energy Drink” — my eye-googlers spied one of the most undesirable energy drink can designs I’ve seen.

This performance potion, disguised to be what resembles a health elixir and a death tonic at the same time, intrigued me enough to buy it simply so I could have a rant.

Now, why some nice tea company would try to make their performance drink look like capital punishment in a can by featuring the word “Caution” in the most visible section above the logo is a shock — but I’m sure that there were several marketing geniuses who fought the owners of Arizona drinks — eventually getting their way, in a vicious battle to preserve “creative irony.”

You can decree that it worked — that it intrigued and seduced me to purchase it — but I’d say the reasons for my cash acquisition hinged somewhere between terror, amusement and simply doing my civic duty to keep a drink, openly disguised as a poison, out of the hands of some maniac high school kid looking for a morning rush. The hearty fluid inside the “Caution Can” met its untimely demise by way of the sewer drain on the corner of Fulton and Clinton Ave — to likely mutate and fuel a generation of super rats to wreak unholy havoc on the city sometime before the shopping season is mercifully over and the real nasty snow begins to fall — slathering Brooklyn with a coat of fresh slush and preventing me from taking my morning park runs until the global warming-induced thaw, sometime in July.

Dave Fletcher is a Founder and Creative Director of theMechanism, a maxi-media firm in New York City and London. He finished two cans of blissful Crunk Energy Drink in preparation for this rant and has been repeatedly clutching at his heart like Fred Sanford since the second paragraph.