change, challenge and creativity…

This was an article I wrote earlier this summer and was first published on City To City, a network of people who bring their experience, ideas and hopes to develop connection, innovation and transformation in the place where they live

Art can often be seen as society’s essential irritant. It can challenge our ingrained perceptions, create emotional responses or stimulate different senses and initiate debate that often transcends our rational understanding. All of which can be really good for us, if we embrace the challenges it can present.

One of the greatest attributes of the human mind, is being able to connect invisible dots, or to take creative leaps in the dark to explore or even create new ground. As Henry Ford famously once said ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ To me this is a great definition of binary thinking, humans acting like computers. Computers are tools, humans are individuals. The human thought process needs to be unshackled from a status of ‘what is’ to one of ‘what could be’.

beware of artists…

beware of artists…

I remember seeing and experiencing for the first time the ground-breaking conceptual sculpture ‘An Oak Tree’, by  Michael Craig-Martin, in London’s Tate Modern gallery. It was unlike anything I had come across before and I was transfixed. It was a pivotal moment for me in trying to develop my creative thinking.

For those that may have not seen the work, it’s a plain glass of water sitting on a glass shelf 253cm above the ground, with some supporting text mounted on the wall below it. The question and answer format of the text describes changing ‘a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water’, and explains that ‘the actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water’.

At first sight you might feel conned! It really is a glass of water on a shelf – it is most definitely not an oak tree! This is the mind in ‘comfort thinking’ mode. However, push past first impressions and read the accompanying text and see if your perception changes … Craig-Martin considered ‘the work of art in such a way as to reveal its single basic and essential element, belief that is the confident faith of the artist in his capacity to speak and the willing faith of the viewer in accepting what he has to say’ – so if you have faith or belief, anything can be possible. A glass of water can be an oak tree!

You may agree or disagree with the artist, but it has opened a new dialogue in your mind to think about new possibilities, and that is something which is both vital and profound.

My professional creative work is all about generating new ideas, exploring new ways of thinking or approaching an existing problem. For any creative currency to be valid, it has to be challenged. For me it is vital to approach problem-solving from multiple, sometimes contrary, directions, if I am to produce solutions that attempt to rise above stock responses. However, relying solely on an existing reservoir of accumulated ‘comfort zone thinking’ knowledge, the pool of resources I can draw on is fairly shallow and prone to quickly drying up! To avoid this, new experiences, challenges and knowledge need to be embraced on a daily basis.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious - Albert Einstein

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious – Albert Einstein

It is hard to be creatively inspired in isolation. Hence why I love working collaboratively with different people; clients, coders, printers, team members, etc. Generating an initial concept is comparatively easy, but sometimes it is all too easy to get seduced by your own ideas. Having alternative input and critique is really important to help shape and bring about a more focused solution.

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people with common interests does not challenge ‘comfort zone thinking’ or free the mind from a state of creative inertia. So instead of surrounding myself with the familiar and comforting, I try to embrace change or challenge as part of daily routines. This can be as simple as just choosing or taking different routes instead of familiar journeys. Limitation can also be a great way of providing self-initiated challenges. For example, I recently purchased a new Nikon DSLR camera, and deliberately opted for a 50mm fixed prime lens rather than the general-purpose zoom lens I have always previously used. Quite literally, I will have to change my perspective when taking pictures now! The ‘limitations’ help to push me to think more creatively about the type of shots I can and cannot take.

I also try to allow my passionate curiosity to get the better of me as it often opens the mind to different perspectives or viewpoints. Spending time with those involved in activities outside of my particular sphere of operation, or from different cultures or backgrounds, can bring huge insights and act as a real breath of creative fresh air. I recently attended a PechaKucha night at the De La War Pavillion, where speakers’ topics ranged from The Art and Neuroscience of Lucid Dreaming to Cool Knots, with lots of variety in between! These topics, although random to me, really inspired my thinking on my own current work projects.

the Art Deco magnificence of Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion

the Art Deco magnificence of Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion

Imagine the possibilities if painters mixed with scientists, photographers with mathematicians, linguists with engineers, musicians with sociologists, etc., or better still, they all mix together to work collaboratively on a project! The outcome might initially be some kind of chaotic, creative cacophony! It would be very challenging to manage, but points of difference and commonality would soon be discovered and explored. Creative ideas would soon come to the surface as new thoughts or ideas were considered. Each discipline would be able to offer a unique, external objective perspective by simply asking ‘Why not?’. This in itself can bring a huge release, as accepted traditional ways of thinking within a field are challenged and developed further.

I believe this would resonate with some of the principles of Walter Gropius’s hugely influential Bauhaus School of Art in Germany (1919–1933), a form of education that has proved to be hugely influential ever since.

Often comfort zone thinking is a self-imposed type of mental restriction that we create within our mind. It gives us safe boundaries, a sense of comfort, but beware, these boundaries eventually become a creative prison and ultimately, the death of an inspired mind!

the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure…

the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure…

In the words of writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer from his book/film ‘Into the Wild’.…

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun



Happy 30th Mac – my personal reflection on the computer that said ‘Hello’

Happy 30th Mac! On January 24, 1984 the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh. With a gigantic 9-inch monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and 128 KB of built-in memory, the computer could be yours for the low, low price of US$2,495 dollars. Today marks the Macintosh’s 30th anniversary! 

OK, so I’m not going to get into that perennial Mac v PC debate, life is way too short for that! Love or hate them, from my personal perspective, the Macs simplicity transformed not just the way I worked, but also the type of work I do! The Mac interface and way of working, took my everyday tasks and gave them familiar metaphors, but in a computer context. This computer context was both invisible and accessible at the same time. Suddenly it made sense, The Mac was a useful creative tool, it was a digital drawing board with a set of digital pens and compasses, this I could understand and work with!

Happy 30th Mac - On January 24, 1984 the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh.

Happy 30th Mac – On January 24, 1984 the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh.

My initial introduction to computers was during the early 1980’s was just so far removed from this! I still to this day remember being in a computer lessons finding out how to write endless lines of DOS code just to get a rather uninspiring X drawn in green type on a small dark computer screen!

Computer says no… no, no, no!

Computer says no… no, no, no!

If this was what the future of ‘computing’ was all about, you could count me out – I would much rather stick with my trusted Rotring pens and Ecobra compasses thank you very much! Working with these tools seemed way easier…

My now classic ‘retro’ Rotring isograph ink pens

My now classic ‘retro’ Rotring isograph ink pens

What now seems antiquated and obsolete, were my high-tech ‘tools of the trade’ back in the mid 1980’s!

My now classic ‘retro’ Ecobra spring bow compasses

My now classic ‘retro’ Ecobra spring bow compasses

However, for someone like me who saw little use for computers in my line of work, this was all about to change in a very dramatic way! In 1984 Ridley Scott directed the now classic a big-budget (US$900,000) television commercial to launch the Apple Macintosh computer…

The so-called ‘1984 advertisement’ was given a showcase airing in the United States on 22 January 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII, alongside screenings in cinemas. Some consider this advertisement a ‘watershed event’ in advertising and a ‘masterpiece’ The advertisement used its heroine (portrayed by Anya Major) to represent the coming of the Macintosh (indicated by her white tank top adorned with a picture of Apple’s Macintosh computer) as a means of saving humanity from ‘conformity’ (Big Brother)

Another of Apples classic ad campaigns in 1997 praised those that stood out from the crowd and dared to ‘Think Different’ – it’s slightly ironic that now some 30 years after it’s initial launch, Apple products are now the more mainstream devices with the ubiquitous presence and success of their iPhones, iPads and their range of different Macs – so whose crazy now?

Happy 30th Birthday Mac – one of my favourite creative tools (after my pencil of course!)…

Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as ever, it is always much appreciated! Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments you might have on it…


is taste the death of art?

Working in a ‘creative’ role, the line between objectivity and subjectivity can sometimes become a little blurred when trying to create innovative solutions for clients. We all have our own inbuilt perceptions (or prejudice) of what is or is not appropriate or ‘stylistically’ suitable as a particular response to a design brief. This could be termed as our own particular design ‘taste’, and is something that needs to be both fought against, and at the same time grown, in equal measure as we learn to develop our own individual creative sensibilities and understanding.

Pablo Picasso – Mandolin and Guitar

Pablo Picasso – Mandolin and Guitar

Pablo Picasso famously declared that ‘Taste is the enemy of creativity’Pablo Picasso

To be free of the constraint of taste, is a noble aim, as it opens wide the gates to new creative possibilities and opportunities. Of all the things I learnt whilst studying my BA (Hons) degree in Architecture, the issue of taste was probably the most vital and longest-serving lesson of all!

One of our projects during the second year of the course, was to study the work and a particular building by a specific Architect for a two-week period and then give a presentation about it at the end. We were divided up into small groups and allocated a different Architect to each group. Our group was given the Azuma House in Osaka, Japan, by self-taught Japanese Architect Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando – Azuma house

Tadao Ando – Azuma house

My heart sank! For me at the time this was exactly the type of Architecture that I really had very little interest in or time for. On the surface it appeared to be cold, sterile, and utterly un-appealing concrete box. However as we had no choice or alternatives, this was the Architect/building we had to study for what could have been the longest two weeks of the course for me!

However, through the studying and drawing of the building, looking into Tadao Andos ideas, the culture, the society, the materials used and all the different factors that went into the deign of the building, I had an epiphany moment!

Tadao Ando – Azuma house 3D section

Tadao Ando – Azuma house 3D section

Through the enforced period of study of the Architect and this specific building, my personal perspective and understanding of Tadao Andos design rational changed. Armed with a greater understanding of what he was trying to achieve, my point of reference/perception changed, allowing me to more see the reasons for why the building was how it was. This helped change both my intellectual understanding and emotional response to the building. Instead of rejecting it out of hand, based on my limited knowledge, I now had a way to access its ‘language’, which then brought me to a position of appreciation and dare I say, even a love for it! Oh how fickle our emotions can be!

So now when I approach a design brief or problem, I find it exciting to start with a clean sheet of paper with no preconceptions of what can or cannot be brought into the mix or used as a source of inspiration. I love to embrace the challenge of learning things from unexpected quarters, so that I can bring a fresh perspective into my work.

Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as ever, it is always much appreciated! Please feel free to share it with your friends, and add any thoughts or comments you might have on it…


Is it time for brands to wake up and smell the coffee?

‘Branding’ can often be seen as a rather dry, restrictive and all embracing term to cover any aspects of a organisation or companies presentation. However, in reality, branding can bring a vitality, energy and vigour to a brand that can go so much further than this perception!

When people think about branding, it conjures up definitions surrounding correct logo usage, clear space allowances, colour pallets, typography styles and fonts to be used, tone of voice, photographic style guidelines, various examples of do’s and don’ts, etc. etc. – but even within the most biblically proportioned set of brand guidelines, you don’t often see a section dealing with ‘Brand Smell’!

Thomas Cook Signature ‘brand for breakfast’ – Brand Guidelines. Simplified

Thomas Cook Signature ‘brand for breakfast’ – Brand Guidelines. Simplified

Even in the Thomas Cook Signature ‘brand for breakfast’ brand synoptic guidelines I produced for the pioneers of travel holidays some years ago, there was nothing mentioned about brand aroma. Although I did suggest it at the time, that it was something that could be incorporated into their retail outlets – however I might have been just a bit ahead of my time with that suggestion unfortunately!

There are five main traditional human senses; Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell and Touch, so as it is clearly one of our primary human senses, maybe a bit more thought should be given to it within a branding context?

Smell or aroma is a very powerful, persuasive and evocative sense. To the point where today there are even dedicated aroma retailers! Here you can purchase such things as ‘sensory ambience kits’ for example, to help sell your house!

Nothing beats the aromatic smell of freshly baked bread!

Nothing beats the aromatic smell of freshly baked bread!

The Sell-A-House Kit features two atomisers of fresh bread aroma and fresh coffee smell, two of the most commonly thought of aromas that can help create an ideal sensory ambience.

The love hate aroma of freshly brewed coffee

The love hate aroma of freshly brewed coffee

However in terms of ‘brand aroma’, has the evocative power of aroma really been harnessed to its full potential, or even really been properly looked at yet?

The retail chain Lush has a distinctive, naturally occurring brand smell or aroma from its fresh, handmade cosmetic products that pervades the streets outside of their stores. So that often before you are even aware of the stores actual physical location, your sense of smell informs you they have a retail outlet in the nearby vicinity. The ‘brand aroma’ of Lush therefore generates a 4D experiential brand awareness of the companies products to a much wide audience of potential customers outside of the confines of their physical stores.

To a similar extent, these principles of aroma extend to many different types of business or organisations such as bakers, florists, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, offices, airports, supermarkets, shopping centres, etc. or even to the more nostalgic aromas that are often associated with bookshops, museums, sweet shops etc.

OK, Lush might be considered a fairly overt example, and you may think that a brand aroma does not really apply to all organisations? How can a brand aroma work in a more traditional office environment? Easy. All built environments have an inherent aroma, be it good or a bad. Just as positive aromas can generate positive reactions, negative aromas can do exactly the opposite!

So controlling or creating these brand aromas is often down to you. The choice of whether or not to have fresh flowers in reception areas, the choice of different natural or man made materials used in furnishings or fittings, having planting as part of the spatial layout of offices, positioning of any catering facilities, right down to the nitty gritty of simple things such as automatically timed air fresheners in WC facilities, choice of cleaning products, hand wash etc. all contribute to a buildings overall aroma.

So maybe it is time to get creative with your brand aromas!

Thanks for taking time out to read this, it is much appreciated! Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments you might have on it…


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Thought is action, action is thought…

It’s funny how something as seemingly innocuous and mundane as the action of going for a walk, can in fact be the perfect stimulus for developing new ideas.

I think it must be something to do with being outside the comparative constraints of a built environment, and being in the open expanse that exists away from the office studio desk. The difference in the spatial dynamics can really help liberate the mind and thought processes therein!

Thought is action – action is thought

Thought is action – action is thought

I’m lucky enough to be based near the sea, so it does not take too much encouragement to go and get some exercise (mental and physical) by going for a walk by the sea. The physical benefits of doing this are obvious, however the mental advantages are not always so apparent, but for me, it is probably the most important aspect.

I’m often working on a series of projects for different clients, and the single common denominator between them all, is that invariably they all require some form of inspired creative thought to bring them to life.

Despite common misconception, not all creative work starts with that fabled single ‘eureka’ moment of design inspiration. More often than not, generating ideas or different solutions can be a process consisting of many varied and seemingly unconnected ‘dots of experience’, insight or awareness that have been built up during your daily experiences, sometimes over a number of years. It is only when these dots are later brought to mind and joined together, that sometimes a pattern begins to develop – a sort of creative chain reaction if you will. From these humble beginnings, creative ideas begin to form and take shape and can become more of a tangible reality.

Recording ideas as thoughts/sketches/words is a vital part of the creative process – it’s a form of ‘physical thinkig’

Recording ideas as thoughts/sketches/words is a vital part of the creative process – it’s a form of ‘physical thinking’

The sketches above, although not prize-winning by any stretch of the imagination, captured some of the initial thoughts/development of a direct mail campaign for a client to gather customer feedback on a particular offer. This concept was based around the notion of ‘a penny for your thoughts’. The scribbles show the idea of using a folding circular direct mail item, that features a large picture of a 1p piece as the front hero image, and how other key information could also be displayed within the circular format.

The one bad things about ideas, is they rarely occur to order! More often than not, they can occur in the strangest or sometimes the most inappropriate moments (the shower, when you are trying to go to sleep etc.)! Hence why keeping a sketch or notebook handy at all times, is such a vital piece of a creatives tool kit.

However, there are many other, more technologically advanced, ways of recording and documenting your thoughts as well which I also find really helpful. My iPhone allows me to capture photographic images, text or voice recordings, so it makes it really easy for me to capture my thoughts wherever I am. One of my favourite apps is Evernote as it allows me to not only capture the idea, but to also to tag and categorise it, which can then be really useful later on if I want to search back through various connected concepts or ideas.

You often don’t know when inspiration can occur, but when it does, it is vital to note or record it in some form. This way it makes it far easier to keep track of the ‘dots’ that I come across in my daily experiences. These ‘dots’ may sometimes seen inconsequential at the time, but they can turn out to be the starting point for the next greatest idea I’m searching for…

Thanks for taking time out to read this, much appreciated – Chris@passion4

This could be something of pinterest to you…

Here at Passion 4, we have a fairly wide ranging and eclectic mixture of interests and things that inspire us, so what better way of collecting them than having a digital scrapbook, to not only store them all in, but to find even more sources of inspiration! Lets be honest, you can never have too many sources of inspiration in your life now can you!

We often collaborate and share ideas or research in Evernote, (there is a good review about Evernote on but for a more public sharing digital scrapbook, we use Pinterest to bookmark some of our interests.

So far on our various Pinterest boards we are covering our passions and interests in…
Architecture, Technology, Inspiration, Design, Furniture, Illustration, Automotive, Photography, Words, Products, Prints and posters, the environment and ones to watch.

Pinterest – Passion 4 pins

Pinterest – Passion 4 pins

Have a look at our various boards and let us know what are your favourites? We are always adding more, so make sure to follow us on Passion4pins