October 8, 2008

Moral Decline

Perhaps my brain is interpreting things based on the fact that tonight is the night of Yom Kippur (Jewish holiday of introspection and repentance) and I am feeling morally accountable for the work I do or what I read in Ad Age this morning is really, really scary.

Nat Ives at Ad Age wrote an article about Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt and his comments about the the internet becoming a “cesspool for false information.”

Schmidt’s solution to the problem was the following:

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

We all know that Google’s agenda is to sell more ads, but to go as far as saying that the entire web should be a giant virtual Times Square, filled with brand controlled content is a bit disturbing.

Brands control network television, since the early days it was the brands who sponsored the shows that dictated content based on how they wanted it to align itself and its products with its consumers. We all know how wonderful an example television is on our society, its like one long commercial.

But the web?

Our sweet autonomous web, the space we all go to for choices, for voices and for original thought.

Imagine the web controlled by the major brands, that is scary!

Schmidt went on to say that the future of quality editorial is, moreover, hardly certain. "It's a huge question in the world," Mr. Schmidt said, "particularly in the United States."

The CEO of one of the most or actually, the absolute most influential and powerful media companies in the world suggests that quality editorial is “a huge question” and “uncertain” while brands are thriving and alive is a really sad outlook if you ask me.

As we stand on the brink of a collapsing economy, we should be embracing real substantial thought and culture and not brands.

During a time of instability, its the editorial that should be thriving. Ideas, comments, theories and thoughts should be growing in the fertile soil of uncertainty helping to deliver us from the mess we put ourselves into. Over consumption and unrealistic economic outlook. We should not be feeding the addiction but treating it. An even balance of truth and honesty.

Creativity and original thought thirsts for inspiration. It yearns to be nurtured until it is distilled down to it's most simplest form. It's of the few forms of expression that is loudest and most powerful when expressed in it's most basic and uncensored way. It spans the masses and speaks volumes. The web gives us this freedom and by handing it over to brands because Google wants things more relevant is creative suicide.

Schmidt went on to say that branding, on the other hand, may be an essential element that helps people navigate the world, he said. "Brand affinity is clearly hard wired," he said. "It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component."

If we follow Schmidt’s direction on how to navigate the world based on brand affinity, we are all doomed for destruction and the complete failure of mankind will be upon us.

Google just got scarier.

October 4, 2008

Oldy But Goody

A very wise man named Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (also known by the acronym RAMCHAL) who lived between the years of 1707-1746, penned a book called The Path of the Just. In that book he wrote an elaborate introduction that started off with a very wise piece of advice, he wrote:

"I have written this work not to teach men what they do not know, but to remind them of what they already know and is very evident to them, for you will find in most of my words only things which most people know, and concerning which they entertain no doubts.

But to the extent that they are well known and their truths revealed to all, so is forgetfulness in relation to them extremely prevalent.

It follows, then, that the benefit to be obtained from this work is not derived from a single reading; for it is possible that the reader will find that he has learned little after having read it that he did not know before.

Its benefit is to be derived, rather, through review and persistent study, by which one is reminded of those things which, by nature, he is prone to forget and through which he is caused to take to heart the duty that he tends to overlook."

I had written a blog post last year that I feel is very relevant to post again but introduced with these very wise words from the Ramchal.

A very honest and very smart person asked for some help with cohesiveness of the production team at a pretty big studio.

I was really pleased to see that someone cared enough to seek outside help in making the team better, this person really cares!

Hats off to you buddy!

You know who you are!

Below is my response...

I'm sorry to hear that the team is having cohesiveness issues, that is really a major work flow problem.

I faced this issue at some studios that I had worked in and was able to help solve some of the issues by restructuring and better defining roles and responsibilities that both empowered people and made them very accountable for their specific roles.

Team members need to clearly understand boundaries and where hand off points are and when to come in (many times without being asked) and help out.

There needs to be chemistry amongst the team that is based on trust, ultimate trust is what will allow people to go into a project with the best attitude and wanting to give it their all.

Apathy is our cancer and when you have members of the team who have their minds on other things or simply don't care enough to perform on the highest level then you will see that the quality of the work suffers and that every project becomes a nightmare.

That is one reason why I am so against a revolving door policy where designers and developers come and go, a team needs time to grow.

Members need to know the others through and through, its not all business, its a creative field that requires everyone knowing what is in the head of the other.

Producers need to gauge every team member and then deal with them accordingly, sometimes talk out of both sides of their mouths in order to please everyone and get everyone to perform at their very best. No different than a sporting team.

1. How is your current creative team structured (ECD, CD, Senior AD, etc)?
The Creative Director sets the overall tone of the project's design phase he or she makes sure everything is tight and on brand and can be executed from a technological standpoint> The Art Director dictates the specifics and execution> The Developer works with AD on motion and look and feel> The Producer has final say as to what client will see.

The Producer IS the client and should understand how to look at the project through the eyes of the client and help anticipate any issues that may arise.

I hate sounding biased but the producer has to be able to explain to the creative director what the client expects and the CD has to fit that into the overall vision of what is being produced.

I have produced what would have been award winning sites that have never seen the light of day simply because what was delivered was not what the client wanted and the CD or AD didn't want to budge...

You learn your lessons...

Ultimately the client is in charge and the team needs to understand that. The team is somewhat sheltered from the client so they need to trust that the producer is making decisions based on the best interest of the relationship and that everything pushed back on will benefit the relationship and ultimately lead to more business and at the same time not sacrificing the quality of the work produced.

2. Are your teams assigned to a particular account / client or do they
work on pretty much everything?
Teams are assigned based on availability and yes pretty much work on everything, only places like RGA and AKQA have the ability to have special teams for special projects.

Smaller shops MUST cultivate their talent and must evenly distribute the work. I knew one producer who would only give the best projects to who he liked working with the best, that is not going to benefit the studio, everyone should have a chance to raise their abilities and grow as a professional.

Again it is all about trust. I have always been pleasantly surprised at how amazing a young art director or junior developer will come through it you give them the chance.

3. How do you guys handle work flow, meaning once a big project gets in the pipeline, how does it start and finish? Is it talked about amongst the
group or just given to a random designer / AD?
The project is ideally give to those best suited in terms of skills and expierience, however smaller shops must rely on available resources and don't have the ability to shuffle things around mid project.

Typically 2-3 design directions are submitted, the client chooses, winner stays on as Art Director - it is given to the available resources.

There have been cases where certain people MUST be added to the mix, at that point special decisions must be made. But again, try to trust and get people to expand themselves as professionals.

4. How do you guys share ideas amongst the team as far as where you want
to go or do as a group / company?
Drinking beers, having lunch, talking openly and always listening attentively and allowing everyone to have an equally loud voice.

There needs to be a collective consciousness developed, no one will ever always agree however people may give in at certain times knowing that it is the best solution for that particular direction.

The group must have equal say, if there is someone who is part of the group that time and time again is shunned or one person who dictates all then that person doesn't belong.

Leaders should be established and I do believe that they naturally rise to the top.

Follow those who are passionate, those who really believe.

The company must represent the common collective, not some facade, it will show through eventually.

5. How do you guys share what your working on? Do you have a weeekly /
monthly type meeting to discuss what everyone is involved in?
You must encourage people to get up and walk around, to ask "hey, whatcha working on?"

To involve people in various capacities and to force people to talk about what they are up to and if any issues have arisen and how did they solve it.

People need to speak up, think out loud and present ideas and issues to the group. Its a matter of getting others involved.

I would sometimes bring people over and say, "hey, what do you think of this, i know your not on this project but i need an outside opinion?" just keep the gates open be a catalyst for chatter, IM links and progress it only takes a second.

6. How do your communicate as a group as far as creative ideas / workflow
is concerned?
Assemble the team to talk about upcoming possible projects, look over RFPs, specs, ideas, as a group bring paper, pencils, and blocks and toys to the table, let people think out loud write everything down.

Pose imaginary problems and let the group solve them. If we were to get such and such project, how would we attack it?

Ask questions that get people to think. Groups become very stale if they dont engage in strategic thinking.

If there is a project that is particularly impressive done by another company, get together and ask how WE would have done it. This will not only provide ammunition for the next pitch but also grow the team as a single thinking unit.

7. What do you do for fun as a group?
Do lots of drugs! ... just kidding, DO NOT DO DRUGS!.... same as everyone else, Beers, BBQs, dinner... go to a museum, take cameras and snaps pictures, talk about what you would do with these assets, how you would animate them, design with them, go out and get inspired together.

Movies, shows, etc... try to always get the group to think at the same time, train them and you will see that when the time comes the ideas will flow like one single river.

8. Do you guys meet every week to discuss whats going on in the industry?
Unfortunately no one does this, I try to do this but people tend to not care or be too busy.

I would shoot everyone links all day long LOOK AT THIS LOOK AT THAT!

I was annoying but it works, this is a MUST, there has to be some small sense of competition as well as what others are doing.

It should inspire a person to see what someone else in his field is producing. I will typically send out 25-30 links a day for people to look at, i will force them to comment just so that I know they saw it and "got it".

I think its important to keep the rear view mirror focused all the time or you will get lost. The industry is the body and we are just one organ. Be aware of the body and the role you play.

A company should know who they are.

9. Do you meet weekly for creative / status meetings?
We used to and found it was not productive... as long at it is productive then yes every Monday pep talk, or Thursday night beer and review.

It should be something that is done all week in smaller chunks and then one quick review where everyone is more or less already familiar with what they are looking at.

Many times we would do this and people were like "WOW I didnt even know we were working on that!" and once we even won an award and someone said to me "Wow we did that!" so there should be a general awareness of what is going on at all times.

10. How is it handled when an artist / team does an AMAZING job on a
project and the client LOVES it, do you get a bonus, a day off, etc?
UHHH NO! thats your job!

Bonuses should be for production over a year.

Why should someone be rewarded for something that is expected of them.

I would say bonuses should go to those people who went above and beyond the call of duty as well as those who have performed on a consistently high level all year.

Beside the obligatory Christmas bonus I think that extras are a good way to motivate people but not for every little thing. If a team is in sync then maybe send them all out for beers on the shop or sushi make the reward a team thing as well.

11. If there is anything else you guys think could possibly inspire us a
bit, or perhaps put us in the right direction, please write down.

Love what you do and realize that as a team your creating things together.

Like parents you are partners in creation.

Dont fight the differences, embrace them, love what the person brings to the team and forget the petty bullshit.

Realize that anything less will only hold the project back and the end results will be less than expected.

Want to win together, individual accolades are lonely and somewhat hurtful, a team is a team, no one person is greater than the whole team.

Give everyone, even interns an equal voice, hear it out, if it sucks then thank them and keep moving, if its great make sure you tell them that.

Go into projects excited, producers should build a sense of positive excitement and not anticipate the worst. Many people produce from fear and expect something to go wrong at any minute, those people are the worst leaders, be mindful but be positive, if something does come up it is not the end of the world, try to be flexible and make the adjustment where needed and move on, don't let it break up the team with accusations and finger pointing.

If someone falls then everyone should help them up.

Jealousy is cancer.

Disrespect is a disease.

Not everything will be a GET THE GLASS but the effort put into it should always shine through.

Even bad designs can be redeemed with effort and passion.

The client sees all of this.

Even over the phone the client listens to the tones, to the words used.

When the client feels safe then the shop gets more work, when the clients feel that the team is on the same page and all the gears are moving at the same time then even if the project fails the client knows that every effort was made to make it a success.

Care about shit, just care, give it more than a second or two in thought, really be honest with yourself and others and make sure that you never ever compromise your standards, your ethics and your beliefs.

Oh have TONS OF FUN!! really! not foosball table fun, i mean really have fun! Love what you do and do it hard!