THE ECONOMIST: Idea generator.

Not long after setting up DHM, we got a call from Media Guru and all round clever clogs Mark Palmer, he asked whether I could help The Economist out with a presentation.
Of course I could, they’re The Economist.
Essentially, I put together a fancy looking PowerPoint presentation for them to take around 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 turned complicated wordy charts into simple, charming visual ideas.
Here are some of the slides:18-19ation-1.jpgthe economist ideas people presentation-68.jpgthe economist ideas people presentation-31.jpgthe economist ideas people presentation-26.jpgthe economist ideas people presentation-16.jpgWe waved goodbye and they went off happily to share their presentation around the globe.
Six months later they call up ‘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.20_01769_002_Econ_Dissection.jpgthe-economist-world-revolves-small-46627.jpgthe-economist-worst-thing-print-36972-adeevee.jpgthe-economist-left-in-the-dark-small-29953.jpgimg200710252311303.jpg4f7b513d045287875d7dacf6d3a677dc.jpg
Reluctantly, I thought that whatever we came up should be in this new black style rather than the previous, more famous red. 
It’s bloody tough to replace a famous campaign, and at first glance this new campaign looked clever, cool and modern.
I tried to figure out how it worked, but I found it was neither fish nor fowl.
It didn’t have big powerful headlines like the famous red ads, and it didn’t have visual ideas.
I’d had a spell creative directing the previous campaign, and these lines felt like the writers were writing for the red campaign, only to discover later that their words had been given to some beardy Hoxton types who’d added some funky black pictures.
The result was that the pictures took up all the real estate but didn’t actually communicate anything, they were like a whimsical accompaniment to the headlines.
Or worse, just making the words difficult to get at.
We couldn’t ditch the funky visuals because it wouldn’t feel like the new campaign, but I wanted it simpler.
I briefed the creatives: ‘I want you to draw pictures that say ‘‘The Economist helps you have ideas’’. No words allowed.’
The beauty of having such a focussed brief is that you get a lot of ideas back.

copyright c stamp copy.jpgeconomist star.jpgglobal currency.jpgthink inside the box copy.jpgoriginal three step.jpgeconomist paint by numbers.jpg
I said no words.

I like to give illustrators, photographers and directors freedom to interpret.
I’m buying into their world.
Sometimes I don’t even give them layouts, I just describe the idea, that way they can imagine the idea it their way.
Alfred Hitchcock said ‘If you cast well, you don’t have to direct actor.’
The down-side is that sometimes I get back results that I don’t like.
And to avoid finances and timings spiralling out of control I have to switch from ‘do it completely your way’ to ‘thanks for imagining your way, it doesn’t work, now I want you to now do it exactly like I say.’

(a). (Agency rough.) 0. 'Mindmap' The Economist, DHM.jpgILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:The Economist  %22Head%22Oops, the illustration looks cool, but the idea has been lost.
ILLUSTRATOR’S 2nd ROUGH:2. 'Mindmap' The Economist, DHM.jpg

Better, but the idea still isn’t coming through clearly enough.
Because the mind map has become 3D, so didn’t look like a mind map.
Plus, the ideas didn’t feel as though they were coming from The Economist.
3. 'Mindmap' The Economist, DHM.jpgMuch better, weird table though? Maybe we should cut a chunk out of that big blank bit at the end?
4. 'Mindmap' The Economist, DHM.jpg
That’s it, colour it in!
6. 'Mindmap' The Economist, DHM.jpg

(b) (Agency rough.)0. 'Reading Light' The Economist, DHM.jpg

ILLUSTRATOR’S FIRST ROUGH:1. 'Reading Light' The Economist, DHM*.jpg
Boy, that’s been ‘re-interpreted’.
The idea has been discarded.
Also, it didn’t feel very ‘Economisty’.

A DIFFERENT ILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:1. 'Mindmap' The Economist, DHM.jpg. She ignored the idea too, in an identical way. Spooky.
We got yet another illustrator; Noma Bar, 
He sent in pdf full of ideas.
They were all good, but they weren’t conveying our idea.
Take this one, it’s probably better looking than the final one we used, but do you get the idea from it?

1. 'Book Reader' The Economist, DHM*-02.jpgSame with this one, it’s a bloody clever twist; the bulb being the head, but I don’t think anyone would get the idea.

4. 'Book Reader' The Economist, DHM.jpgThis one was nearer.
Again, I thought it was clever, but worried the face would distract from our simple idea: ‘You’ll think of ideas when you read The Economist?’
6. 'Book Reader' The Economist, DHM.jpg

(c) (Agency rough.)0. 'Spark Plug' The Economist, DHM.jpgILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:1. 'Spark Plug' The Economist, DHM.png
Looked good but didn’t feel switchy enough. Too oblong. (Perhaps that’s the shape of the switches this illustrator’s country?)
The Economist %22Light Switch%22 Rough 2-01Better, but the actual switch, button bit, looks too small.
Also, aside from whether it’s technically accurate, this would make the logo really small, let’s make it bigger.
The Economist %22Switch%22

(d) (Agency rough.)0. 'Spark Plug' The Economist, DHM.jpgILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:The Economist  %22Spark Plug%22 2 RoughLooked cool, very graphic, but shouldn’t we zoom in to the idea bit?
And isn’t that spark a bit big…for a spark?
The Economist, %22Spark%22

(e) (Agency rough.)
0. 'Bubbles' The Economist, DHM.jpgILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:2. 'Bubbles' The Economist, DHM
Cool, much better than ours, who needs a hand taking up all that space? What does it look like in black?
3. 'Bubbles' The Economist, DHM8
Looks good, maybe we should simplify those bubbles; too many and too much overlapping.
FINAL AD:5.. 'Bubbles' The Economist, DHM.jpg

(f) (Agency rough.)0. 'Funnel' The Economist, DHM.jpg
In the end we plumped for the curvy, rainbow like one, it felt more upbeat and dynamic.
FINAL AD:2. 'Funnel' The Economist, DHM*.jpg

(g) (Agency rough.)0. 'Copyright' The Economist, DHM.jpgAlthough it was all words, there was an interesting thought there.
How do we make it visual? 1. 'Copyright' The Economist, DHM.jpgILLUSTRATOR’S FIRST ROUGH:2. 'Copyright' The Economist, DHM.jpg
Great, like the addition of extra men like they’re on a train.
But perhaps only one should be thinking copyright bubbles, to make him appear special.
3. 'Copyright' The Economist, DHM.jpg

(h) (Agency rough.) 
0. 'Hook' The Economist, DHM.jpg
ILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:1. 'Hook' The Economist, DHM.jpg
Simple, but the bulbs aren’t fish-like enough, they should swoop like a shoal, not hover.
2. 'Hook' The Economist, DHM.jpg

(i) (Agency rough.)
0. 'Jack-In-The-Box' The Economist, DHM.jpg
ILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:1. 'Jack-In-The-Box' The Economist, DHM.jpg
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.
FINAL AD:2. 'Jack-In-The-Box' The Economist, DHM.jpg(j) (Agency rough.)0. 'Dot To Dot' The Economist, DHM.jpg
ILLUSTRATORS 1st ROUGH:1. 'Dot To Dot' The Economist, DHM.jpg
For some reason, the mad-cap illustrator drew the pencil being held by a little brain, cloud or marshmallow?
We decide to keep Marshmallow Boy, he was just so cute, but insist on the dot to dot drawing being on paper.
2. 'Dot To Dot' The Economist, DHM.jpg

(k) (Agency rough.)
I like it but question whether it’s about idea generation. It’s not, but we do it anyway.
The Economist %22Brightness%22

(l) (Agency rough.)
0. 'Plant' The Economist, DHM.jpg

ILLUSTRATOR’S 1st ROUGH:2. 'Plant' The Economist, DHM.jpg
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 Economist %22Bulb%22 SketchStill way too real!
ILLUSTRATOR’S 3rd ROUGH:The Economist  %22Bulb%22 Rough, 6The pot and dibber thing are there, which is good, but make it more diagrammatic.
The Economist  %22Bulb%22 5 RoughBetter, but go even simpler…like a diagram – flat colour, simple.
We switch to a more graphic illustrator.
The Economist %22Plant Pot%22 Rough-01Much better, nice bee! Maybe we should lose the currency symbols and make the pot 2D, like a diagram.
The Economist. %22Plant%22JPG

Putting this stuff together is a good reminder that however cool an illustrator is, you have to constantly check they don’t stray off your idea and into just creating a cool picture.



4 responses to THE ECONOMIST: Idea generator.

  1. DM says:

    These posts are fantastic-the details and visual ideas are a great inside look at great work rarely seen

  2. It floats says:

    sweet process tips. the light switch and fishing ones come out on top for me. they’re nice to look at and leave a few subtle dots left for the viewer to connect. tks

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