Not long after setting up DHM, we got a call from Media Guru and all round clever clogs Mark Palmer asking whether I could help The Economist out with a presentation.
Of course, they’re The Economist.
Essentially I put together a fancy looking power point presentation for them to present to different parts of the world.
Titled ‘The Ideas People”, it set out the argument that The Economist wasn’t a dry factual business publication, it was stimulus for creative minds to generate ideas.
I used the universal, possibly clichéd symbol for an idea, the lightbulb.
It helped unify the presentation, and made complicated words and charts simple and charming.
Here are some of the slides:
We waved goodbye and they went off happily to share their presentation around the globe.
Six months later they call up “Hey….That presentation went down great, could you do us some ads on the same subject?”
“Of course, you’re The Economist.”
At the time, the famous old red style was being replaced by a brand new shiny black style.
I thought we’d better tie it into this new style.
At first glance, I liked it.
It’s always bloody tough replacing famous campaigns, and this looked clever cool and modern.
But the more I tried to break it down and try to figure out how it worked the more I worried about it.
It wasn’t fish nor fowl.
It didn’t have big powerful headlines like the famous red ads, and it didn’t have visual ideas.
As someone who used to creative direct the previous campaign it felt like people had written to the previous campaign only to discover their ads had been given to some skinny-jeaned Hoxton types to add some pictures.
The result was that the pictures didn’t seem to be imparting any information, they felt like a whimsical adjunct to the headlines. In some cases just making them difficult to read.
There’s nothing wrong with that, I just prefer things that are clearer, if the picture doesn’t have a role bin it.
So I briefed out creatives: “I want pictures that say The Economist helps you have ideas. No words please.”
The beauty of having such a focussed brief is that it means you get a lot of ideas handed in.
These are the ones I picked.
IDEA: Reading The Economist helps you think of ideas.
PICTURE: Someone reading a copy with a lightbulb going off above their head. (Very basic and a bit obvious, but very clear.)
The envelope from the illustrator arrived with a first rough, but the idea must’ve fallen out on the way over, because I just couldn’t see it?
Also, it didn’t feel very ‘Economisty”.
We tried another illustrator.
They lost the idea in exactly the same way. Spooky.
We got a new one, Noma Bar.
I’d wanted to work with him for years.
I’d tried and failed to track him down for Merrydown after seeing a little illustration of his in The Guardian.
He sent in a bundle of ideas.
They were all good.
The issue for me was trying to hold onto the idea being communicated and not get seduced by the cool illustrations.
Take this one, it’s probably better looking than the final one we used, but do you get the idea from it?
Same with this, it’s a bloody clever twist; the bulb being the head, but I don’t think anyone would get the idea.
This one was nearer.
Again, I thought it was clever, but worried the face would distract from the very simple, basic idea: You’ll think of ideas when you read The Economist?
No face and turning the bulb the right way up helped.
I increased the dead black space around the illustration to make the ad stand out more.
IDEA: The Economist will set your mind racing with connections.
PICTURE: A copy of The Economist with a mind map coming from it covering a boardroom table.
The first rough.
Now I must point out that I like to give people enough freedom to re-imagine an idea in a way I might not have thought of.
It’s like Film Directors, if they cast well, they don’t have to direct as much.
So I figure I’m picking an Illustrator Photographer or Director, I’m buying into their world, shouldn’t feel constrained.
Sometimes I don’t even give Photographers or Illustrators layouts, I just describe the idea, that way they can imagine it picture the idea the best way they can imagine it.
But sometimes you have to say thanks for that, it doesn’t work, I want you to now do it exactly like this.
So as much as I liked the look of the illustration above, the idea wasn’t really coming through, it needed to be much more tabley, more mind mappy.
The second attempt.
It was definitely tablier and mind mappier.
But the idea still wasn’t coming through clearly enough.
Firstly, because the mind map was 3D it didn’t look like a mind map.
Secondly, it didn’t feel as though the thoughts were coming out of The Economist.
Bit of a weird table though? Maybe we should cut a chunk out of that big blank bit at the end?
That’s it. Colour it in!
IDEA: Be switched on.
PICTURE: Replace the red bit on a switch with a logo.
The first rough looked good but didn’t feel switchy enough. Too oblong.
(Perhaps that’s the shape of the switches in his country?)
Better, but the actual switch, button bit looks too small.
Also, aside from whether it’s technically accurate, this would make the logo too small.
Let’s simplify the switch by losing the fold, and make it bigger.
IDEA: The Economist sparks ideas.
PICTURE: The Economist logo as the spark jumping from one connection to another on a spark plug.
The first rough looked great, very graphic.
But shouldn’t we zoom in to the idea bit?
Looks nice and graphic, but shouldn’t we zoom in to the idea bit?
And isn’t that spark a bit big…for a spark?
IDEA: Er…The Economist creates ideas ?
PICTURE: Idea shaped bubbles coming from a bubble blowing instrument(?). (Not the best.)
IDEA: Syphon ideas from every issue of the Economist.
PICTURE: The contents of The Economist being poured into one end of a funnel and lightbulbs/ideas coming out the other.
A whole bunch of interesting graphic interpretations came in.
In the end we plumped for the curvy, rainbow like one.
It felt more upbeat and dynamic.
IDEA: The Economist helps you think of unique, money-making ideas.
PICTURE: Replace thought bubbles with copyright bubbles.
First rough. Yep, that works.
IDEA: The Economist attracts ideas. (I thought we were saying it generated them? Oh well.)
PICTURE: The Economist as bait, the ideas as fish.
IDEA: Surprising ideas come out of The Economist.
PICTURE: An idea springing out of a Jack In The Box.
Why is the bulb grinning insanely…more to the point, why has he, I mean it, got a face? It doesn’t look like an idea bulb with a face on it. Rub it out.
IDEA: The Economist helps you make connections, which leads to ideas.
PICTURE: A dot to dot drawing of a lightbulb next to a red pencil.
For some reason, the mad cap illustrator drew the pencil being held by a little brain? cloud? Marshmallow?
We decide to keep Marshmallow Boy, he was just so cute, but insist on the dot to dot drawing being on paper.
IDEA: The Economist makes you brighter.
(Whoa! that’s a bit off brief isn’t it? I thought this was about idea generation?)
No illustrator required.
IDEA: The Economist is like mind fertiliser, it’ll help you grow ideas.
PICTURE: A plant in a pot with idea/bulbs growing from it. The logo is on the little dibber thing that tells you what the name of the plant is.
“Bit realistic isn’t it? The bulbs look like they are made of glass?
This is an analogy, metaphor…it’s not real life.”
“The pot and dibber thing are there, which is good, but make it more diagrammatic.”
“Better, but go even simpler…like a diagram – flat colour, simple”
“Great…good be by the way, TOP BEE!…Maybe lose the currency symbols and make the pot 2D, like a diagram”
Putting this stuff together, it’s a good reminder that however good an illustrator is, you have to constantly check they don’t stray off into creating a nice picture, rather than interpret the idea.