October 29 2015
Continuning our discussions around craftmanship, Designer turned Senior Account Executive, Calandra Pavey makes a case for the humble pen and paper.
It is true that modern design studios depend highly on their software when it comes to creating finished, polished creative work, and that the use of digital tools presents a wealth of possibility when trying to create bigger and bolder concepts. But so many of these concepts still start with someone sat in front of a sketch pad with a marker in their hand, or a group gathered around a table scrawling on flip charts and sheets of paper. This process presents ideas in a format that is loose and adaptable, it opens the door to alternative interpretations, sparking ideas that can grow organically into something brilliant.
By delving a little deeper into of the work currently being generated by creative types, one can often find that lying in their foundations is a tiny doodle on the corner of a napkin, or a scribble on a beer mat. Some of the world’s most highly recognised brand identities started with a sketch. The iconic Starbucks logo started life as a doodle inspired by a wood cut of a Norse two-tailed mermaid.
Whilst social site Pinterest took pencil in hand to modify digital fonts with soft, appealing curves and unique characteristics.
Even when considering today’s animated blockbusters, the majority have fully embraced digital software in order to create masterful pieces of film. Yet some of today’s most beautiful and loved animation is still generated from an infrastructure of sketches. The work of Hayao Miyazaki is an excellent example, with films such as Spirited Away, almost entirely drawn by hand, only using computers to enhance and edit. There is a distinct element of charm within these films, seeing the original sketches that lie beneath every frame is something to marvel at, bringing complete understanding of the craftsmanship and level of detail that enabled its creation.
Drawing can be done anywhere, with anything. If a brilliant idea is sparked on the bus, an old receipt and the stub of a pencil will suffice, allowing that idea to take shape and then later, be explored and expanded upon. Sketches are so often fueled by excitement, passion and urgency to get that abstract idea out of the head and into reality as soon as possible.
Picking up a HB and scribbling on a piece of paper allows the creator to project an idea directly into the minds of others and there is something quite magical in seeing a person’s innermost thoughts flowing out through their fingertips onto paper – that urgency and excitement lost when the idea is locked down and the mouse starts to click.
As technology and software continues to evolve at an impressive rate, it is an increasing challenge for creative types to retain the skill of hand sketching with the question of its necessity arising more frequently. However the value of the craft cannot be brushed aside. The speed at which sketches generate ideas, the open and inclusive nature of a drawing and the sheer sensory enjoyment of putting pen to paper are characteristics that, so far, cannot be matched by a computer.
October 28 2015
Zak Boukerrou, True North's Strategy and Communications Placement, is taking three months out of his PHD in Biochemistry to work alongside us on brand and communication projects. Here he begins to explore why this is so important for the future of science.
Science has been key to advancing our quality of life, from great technological advancements through to treating human diseases; it has played a vital role in the human existence. Hence why communicating the impact science has to the general public is essential to its progress. Whether that’s alerting people to the threats of climate change or inspiring future generations to follow a career, effective and engaging communications is vital in any new discovery or development.
The value of communication in science is not a new idea. During 19th century there was a big drive to make science more accessible and popular to the public. The Royal Institute in London was founded in 1799 not only to provide a collective platform to pursue new discoveries but to educate the British public through a series of lectures. It was where Humphry Davy showcased laughing gas to the delirium of the audience who tried it. And where, in 1825 they had the idea to target their lectures during term time holidays to make it accessible to younger audiences. Henceforth, the famous annual Christmas Lecture, merging science and entertainment, which made it engaging, inspiring and most importantly informative. The value of which captivated the BBC who have been broadcasting the event since 1966.
Public engagement remains as vital as ever today with an added emphasis on social and ethical issues. The British Science Festival takes place every year for four days; showcasing events ranging from the discussion of core science to exploring the role it plays in society through theatre performances, having previously been a platform to announce major scientific discoveries. There are also opportunities to get the general public to contribute to scientific research. Mobile apps such as the Great Brain Experiment, created at the University College London, allows the public to contribute to neurological research through a series of mini-games gauging mental health and agility.
There are also initiatives in order to encourage more young people to take up STEM subjects post 16 years. From the late 1980s to 2004, the number of students taking up STEM subjects post 16 years fell greatly but has since been rising. Yet there is still more to be done to convince young people that science is a viable career path and programs such as Your Life and STEMNET are helping to do just that.
In spite of all this, public engagement is still seen as more of a side-project or a hobby rather than an integral part of science. This is due to a greater focus for scientists to ‘publish or perish’ and engaging with the public is seen as unrewarding financially. Wellcome Trust, much like previous examples is trying to change this, and has recently begun providing financial support to public engagement projects.
Engaging the public to science is important in influencing government policy, with regards to our health, environment, and inspiring a new generation of scientists. Without getting the general public onside, the understanding of the key role science can play will get lost and with it, its potential benefits.
October 22 2015
Designer, Adele Littler, looks at the value of brand for small businesses retaining traditional craftsmanship in a mass-produced world.
Once upon a time the power of a small business was limited. Primarily because of reach but also because of a culture built around association. There was an idea that by wearing or owning a particular brand you would have an instant association with it’s gravitas or values. Today, however, the lines have blurred and the scales have tipped from the importance of a logo to the integrity and quality of product. It is here where small businesses come in. They’ve always been around, producing thoughtful and unique products but they were often handicapped by a poorly crafted identity produced quickly in word or at the local printers.
In recent years, the gap between the brand of a multimillion-pound organisation and that of a few person strong business has started to close. Perhaps this is to do with small business owners wising up to the value of branding or maybe it’s to do with the design community championing like-minded craftsmen. It’s becoming more common for agencies and designers to take on jobs that have little financial benefit in favour of creativity. When working with established brands there’s normally a large portion of the process that’s set aside for insight. Time to delve into a brand and try and understand what’s at its core. With small business that never gets lost, that integrity and belief is already there so the branding becomes a personal process. Some of my favourite brands are no bigger than a single shop but with the help of honest branding and affordable platforms such as square space they have the power to cross oceans.
With that in mind, I’ve chosen a few retailers that are all about craft, the brands that drive these business are in my opinion what good branding should be: it’s simply a vehicle to tell the world about what they’re made of. There is an association or even a culture around these brands but it’s no longer about owning something because of its logo it’s about owning a lovely hand crafted piece of design that will last a lifetime.
Raleigh Denim is a Jeans retailer based in New York. These guys and girls are very passionate about jeans. All of the jeans are hand crafted using old school machinery. Just watch some of their videos and you will quickly come to appreciate the thought that goes into their products.
Shinola was created for much the same reason as all my examples, to bring back hand crafted manufacturing. Specifically to it’s home town of Detroit, where it has a factory employing a full fleet of makers and doers. Much like Raleigh Denim the branding is used as a platform to showcase their crafted wares through a series of short films.
Best Made started out with the sole purpose of making design conscious axes. After only a year of trading they branched out and took everyday outdoor items and re-imagined them. The branding again is all about championing the quality and beauty of the products.
Finisterre is a slightly different example in that it’s taken what could been seen as a negative and turned it into something desirable. They specialise in cold weather surfing and outdoor apparel. They are a British based company that collaborate with home grown manufacturers to create products that combine traditional techniques with innovative technology to create desirable necessities. There brand film is one of my favourite brand videos, some how they’ve taken the cold British weather and made it desirable.
Hard Graft is another British based company. They specialise in leather and felt goods from key belts to travel bags. Again all there products are designed with thought and made to withstand the everyday wear and tear they were intended for. The branding in a way reflects this it’s tough and robust but at the same time crafted.
October 20 2015
Last week we published an article about not-for-profits surviving in a competitive sector. This week, Designer Sarah Hardman, looks at five diverse examples of charities who have used innovative methods to communicate a message and stand out from the crowd.
SCOPE ‘100 days 100 stories’
Scope is a charity that exists to improve the lives of disabled people and make the UK a place where there is equal opportunity for everyone. Their ‘100 days 100 stories’ campaign focused on getting people thinking differently about disability, understanding better the big and varied issues disabled people face. Each day for 100 days, across digital platforms, Scope shared stories from disabled people and their families. The service user was at the forefront of the campaign, empowered to tell their own story, in their own words, rather than someone speaking on their behalf. Hearing fascinating, moving, yet quite often distressing stories directly from those effected resonated far more with people, provoking an overwhelming response and surge in public support. I loved how the campaign gave a voice that hasn’t previously been heard…and people listened! Connecting to people in a direct and personal way the stories challenged attitudes and perceptions in regards to physical disability and people not only engaged with it, but shared it. The campaign was a huge success and a powerful example of how a charity can raise awareness, communicate need and change attitudes through firsthand, authentic storytelling.
WATER AID ‘The Big Dig’
Water Aid is an international charity that transforms lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation. A testament to how social media has revolutionized the way a charity can connect with their supporters, Water Aid’s campaign ‘The Big Dig’ used these platforms to help raise money and bring clean water to thousands of people in Malawi. To communicate the impact of donations, supports could follow progress of the well in real time on the blog, instagram and twitter. Having access to true stories, first hand from the frontline meant supporters could ‘be there’, connected and close to the community, following day by day and seeing progress. People gave their socks off in response to seeing where their money was being spent and the positive, immediate impact it was having. The donor was connected to their donation, increasing supporter empathy and engagement, building trust and impacting loyalty in the long term. A beautiful example of communication and how it can, if done well, build a lifetime of engagement.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (& TINDER) ‘Make the choice’
International women’s day was the optimum time for Amnesty International to launch a takeover ‘Make the choice’ campaign on the Tinder app, explicitly highlighting their work for women’s rights. Many women across the world don’t have the power to choose how they live their lives and Amnesty International wanted to communicate this issue in a modern, relevant way to gain support of women. Amnesty recognised that Tinder was a fantastic platform to communicate their message, it’s one of the most popular social sites amongst 18 to 34 year olds, with a growing user base of over 600 million people, and a place where millions of women engage and make their choices every day. Amnesty shared profile pictures displaying messages such as, “Not all women have the power to choose like you do” and “You pick your partner. Many women aren’t given the choice.” As females flicked through they were presented with the profile to the website and asked to sign up and show support. It was a campaign with impact, connecting directly with individuals. It’s interesting to see how Amnesty engaged with an audience they don’t often capture the attention of. Although not a traditional medium or marketing tool, this relevant, brave and poignant campaign reached far and wide, stirring up, generating engagement and encouraging action.
CHARITY MILES APP
Charity Miles is a free app that allows you to earn money for charity whilst you run, cycle or walk. As you exercise the app tracks your distance and for every mile Charity Miles donates money to the charity of your choice. You, the user, become a sponsored athlete by simply sharing your achievements on social media. You won’t change the world with the amount you’ll earn (just a few pence per mile - probably equates to the calories burnt off...or lack of), but if you exercise anyway, you may as well help charities along the way. It is a simple app with a simple idea that can be easily integrated into your usual daily routine.
ALZHEIMER’S AUSTRALIA ‘Courageous Conversations’
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, which probably adds to our tendency to avoid the subject. Alzheimer’s Australia have done a huge work in raising awareness and making dementia a national health priority. As part of that work they have released a new short film series featuring people living with dementia, talking frankly about their own experience. They talk about the good, the bad and everything in between, educating people and hopefully throwing any misguided perceptions out the window. In a similar way to the scope campaign, it has a power in that it lets those with first hand experiences speak for themselves. Reading some of the responses to these videos it becomes clear that people have been moved to address the issue, successfully starting conversations and opening the doors to talk about a subject previously so under the radar.
October 19 2015
In honour of the latest album release from New Order, Strategy and Communications Placement Zak Boukerrou, explores the difference between brand and bands.
Last month, New Order released their tenth album Music Complete, which was met with critical and commercial success despite the absence of arguably one of the most recognisable members, bassist Peter Hook. In spite of this, the album stayed true to form in every other way, with a cover composed of vivid arrangements of sharp lines and bright colors, designed, as per, by Peter Saville.
It is not the first time New Order has had to cope with a loss of a band member. When Ian Curtis died during their days as Joy Division, the band re-invented itself. New Order, with their new dance-orientated sound, pushed their music in a different direction. They rebranded with a new sound and identity.
In most cases bands chose not to change after experiencing a loss. The Who, Pink Floyd and Queen have all lost key members who have helped shape their sound but are still selling-out stadiums to this day. This raises a question about brand being bigger than the band.
One brand that remains particularly strong, despite the band breaking up in 1970 along with the loss of two members, is The Beatles. The simplistic but highly recognisable logo, originally appearing on Ringo Starr’s drum kit during live performances, still endures. Now, however, it has become part of a musical experience, contributing to Liverpool’s tourist economy and the pockets of memorabilia manufacturers.
Brand is not just confined to artists within the music industry but also serve as a tool to help fuel a new music movement. Manchester’s Factory Records, led by the late media broadcaster Tony Wilson and a creative team involving Peter Saville, was one of the first to exploit this in the late 70s, going on to set the tone for the ‘Madchester’ scene in the 80s. By then, Factory Records had helped place Manchester as a cultural music hub, one that produced a distinctive fusion of post-punk, psychedelic rock and electronic dance. The branding that helped convey the style of ‘Madchester’ music ran from the album covers, such as New Order’s Technique, with its psychedelic imagery, through to the iconic Hacienda club, which was promoted by iconic posters harboring yellow and black stripes in accordance to the site’s industrial interior décor.
Despite the changes in the music industry over the last ten years, brand is still as relevant as ever, particularly in a commercial sense. Music artists are increasingly associating themselves with brands. This was the case with Mark Ronson’s partnership with Coca-Cola during the London 2012 Olympics. Coca-Cola has also collaborated with the Universal music label and Spotify in an initiative that uses the soft drinks global reach to connect more people to music.
The role of brand in the music industry should not be underestimated. It can be used as a platform in which to enhance the music experience or help sell a distinctive style of music that can inspire people. Music can move, but it is brand that starts a movement.
October 14 2015
When the Harvard Business Review coined the ‘Experience Economy’, it signalled a period of economic transition: the move beyond the ‘Service Economy’. Services had evolved to such an extent they became increasingly indistinct from each other, and thus commoditised.
To this end, the Experience Economy is one in which service providers add value and differentiate themselves once more. They make the transition from selling services to staging and creating memorable ‘events’ for their customers.
The memory of, and association with, that experience, then becomes the product being sold. And critically, customers are willing to pay a premium for it. In this setting, brand is commercially more important than ever.
Why? Because brand strategy is a crucial business transformation tool when making the transition from a brand providing services, to selling experiences of the brand itself…and charging a premium to do so.
For example, Starbucks have managed over recent years to create an ‘experience’ around the everyday coffee. Pizza Express sells ‘conversations’ not pizzas. Manchester United, Disney, the V&A — each of these organisations have recognised the power in identifying, defining and consistently executing the brand experience they are selling, and have experienced the commercial benefits of doing so.
Regardless of which sector they occupy, organisations that have become highly successful brand experiences share some interesting traits. These organisations invariably recognise brand strategy as a boardroom issue, which can genuinely grow the bottom line and improve business value.
As such, brand strategy is no longer confined to the remit of just the Marketing Department, it is recognised as a transformation tool which is integral to the business strategy.
So at Manchester United, Disney, V&A, Starbucks and so on, conversations about business strategy will be in large part conversations about brand strategy, how the brand experience can manifest itself, and how it can influence all aspects of the business. In turn, it will drive revenue, improve business value, engage new audiences and create new revenue streams.
The Experience Economy nevertheless has to contend with other pressures, with the customers being in charge of your brand like never before. Your brand experience must be truthful to the reality, as consumers will communicate their experiences instantly and visibly over social media.
In this environment it has never been more important to reflect an accurate picture of the brand experience you offer — because the truth will out like never before.
Our advice? Invest in identifying, defining, delivering and actively maintaining your ‘true’ (and differentiating) brand. And we mean across the board, in everything you do, to a targeted audience.
Don’t market a loose promise, rather, In the world of branded experiences, coherent, accurate visions are king.