Being one of fifty people chosen to celebrate D&AD’s 50th Anniversary with an Annual cover design is good for the ego.
What a great list to be on: Terry Gilliam, Sir John Hegarty, Bob Gill, Wim Crouwel, Sir Paul Smith, Phillipe Starck Neville Brody, Dave Droga, etc.
Then comes the anxiety: “What the hell am I going to do? The results will be very public and I’m up against 49 of the best people in the business: Terry Gilliam, Sir John Hegarty, and Bob Gill …top ideas bloke, Wim Crouwel, Sir Paul Smith …brilliant, Phillipe Starck …he’s great, Neville Brody and Droga 5’s emperor, Dave Droga.”
Let’s have a look at the brief, maybe that will reassure me:
“The Power of Creativity”; Nooooooooooooooooo!
What does that mean? “The Power of Creativity”? That’s it?
Brilliant, so the blank page I start with is even blanker than usual.
There’s a common misconception that creative people want absolute freedom.
If your target doesn’t have any edges how do you know where to aim?
Cigarette advertising became the our industry’s most creative category only after the Government laid down a whole bunch of tricky hurdles creative people had to overcome.
Having a problem really helps you focus.
‘The Power of Creativity’ What problem am I trying to solve?
After a few aborted attempts to think of an idea, I call D&AD to help me understand the ‘brief’.
D&AD Bod: ‘You don’t have to think of an idea if it’s too hard, you could simply sign a piece of your work and that could be your cover!’.
True, if I wanted to look like a pretentious, self obsessed twat I could simply sign a piece of work, but that’s not the vibe I’m after on this one.
Okay…calm…it is what it is.
I’d designed a D&AD Annual before, it involved lots of fancy foreign designers, printing on silk and lenticular panels. I wanted this one to be simpler.
I wanted it to be very me.
So how do I do that?
I guess the only way for it to be “very me” is to be very revealing and honest.
The younger me would have been too concerned about what my cover ‘said’ about me to risk being too honest or revealing.
But I think worrying about others inhibits creativity.
In the past I’ve worked with creatives, sometimes very good ones, who would avoid any brief that didn’t look like it would yield gold.
Consequently they’d make only one or two ads a year.
I used to think it was a real shame, because they were smart and could’ve produced so much more.
To them, it was quality control, if they didn’t do anything bad then people wouldn’t think bad of them.
Just have a go!
Even if you didn’t win an award you’ll have gained something; knowledge, an insight, a relationship, who knows? Also, there’s a possibility that you were wrong, that unpromising brief might lead to something great.
So, what do I put on this cover?
I spent a month or so going around in circles.
I’d have a half idea…then bin it.
I’d think of a terrible idea…then bin it.
Another half an idea…another terrible one.
It was fantastically irritating.
But, the brain works in mysterious ways.
It occurs to me that this frustrating process IS the idea.
Showing a stream of consciousness where I get irritated by the fact that I can’t create an idea would be a great demonstration of ‘creativity’.
Also, I hadn’t seen it done before.
So on a plane to Vienna I wrote whatever came into my head.
Occasionally I would get distracted and my mind would wander, those distractions and wanderings got written down too.
Two and a half hours later I had over a thousand words.
I was lucky I had so many words kicking around my cranium that day.
Although, to be fair, these words weren’t carefully chosen, logically ordered or ordered at all, it was just an unedited splurge.
I thought I’d write what’s true, be uninhibited, and review it later to cut anything embarrassing.
Reading it later, I realised I couldn’t cut anything out, not because it was all so good, but because it was true.
If I polished and fiddled it may not feel like a genuine stream of consciousness, it needed to be raw and a bit random.
I liked that it was full of stuff Creatives often hide, it reveals to non-creatives the ugly side of creating; the bad ideas, overt egotism and plain idiocy.
But bringing ideas to life is tricky.
Woody Allen says that his films are at their best before they are filmed, that what ends up on the screen never as good as what was in his head.
For me, turning a doodle into something finished is one long decision-making process.
The more I question myself the more decisions I’ll have to make, the more decisions I make the better chance I have of executing something well.
The best ads can’t be separated into idea and execution, they are one in the same. “Form follows function” is the popular way of saying it.
But how do you know whether your form is following your function?
You break an idea into as many pieces as you can and question each against its function.
Eg. If you have a brief to restore credibility to Morgan Stanley, after they’ve just mislaid £4bn of someone else’s money, a typeface like this probably isn’t going to do it:
The first problem: Word documents are portrait, the book cover is landscape?
A stream of consciousness shouldn’t be broken, a continuous block looks more like a stream, columns of text seem a bit too formal.
We’ll wrap it around, it doesn’t need to read down.
Problem two: Wow! It looks so boring! Who’s going to read over a thousand words of 10 point type?
I still haven’t read the text on the back of the 1997 annual because it looked so dull.
(I have now Will, very charming.)
How do I make it look a bit more interesting?
I need a bit of colour.
I don’t want it to look too designed, so I place coloured bars asymmetrically over areas according to that specific emotion:
It looks cool, like a piece of abstract art, but the words have become secondary, and the words are the idea, who’s going to try and read that?
It needs more order.
I make the strips parallel and to offset this more formal look I use handwriting.
I tie together the D&AD branded areas, (yellow), with my strips: ie, “I can basically put what the hell I want on the front cover of… (their type) THE D&AD 50th ANNUAL“.
The ending of the text seemed a bit limp. It didn’t feel like a full stop.
I remembered seeing a documentary where Martin Scorcesse explained the story of his underrated film ‘After Hours’.
Stuck on how to end a film where a man is bounced through a series of unpredictable events in a single night, he asked a friend, the great British Director Michael Powell, if he had any ideas.
“It’s obvious dear boy…end where you started, drop the main character on the exact same spot on the same street where his adventure began. It’s a perfect circle.”
If it’s good enough for Marty…
The handwriting under those strips is just too hard to read, and the words are the idea.
I need a font, for legibility.
I play around in search of an appropriate one:
I settle on Pennsylvania Bold, it’s typewritery so doesn’t look too designed, and being a little condensed means it’ll come up big, which will help legibility.
I choose bold because it’ll take more colour:
The most readable yet.
But who’d want to?
It looks too clinical, as though a computer just spat the words out, the very opposite of personal.
Keep the coloured type, but bring back handwriting to give it more humanity:
It’s easy to read but feels fake.
I realise why, it doesn’t make logical sense to keep changing pencils with every emotion?
“Ooh I’m feeling egotistical, where’s that green pencil?”.
I know people don’t think about the meaning of graphics and ideas a great deal, but they can feel when something is not right, fake.
Ok, handwriting is good because it’s honest, but should be black.
The emotional code needs to be scribbled on, like schoolwork being marked.
It’s a better representation of the process – it looks like its been assessed after it was written, then evaluated.
It also looks very human.
The bell rings.
I’m out of time:
It was chosen as the official 2012 cover.