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



everything says something – the secret arts of communication…

Communication is the lifeblood of human existence. The quality of our ability to communicate effectively, has shaped the development of the world as it stands today, so really, it’s a pretty big thing! In todays digital world, there is a vast plethora of ever-increasing forms and mediums for communication (Snapchatwhatsapp, twitter etc.) that have moved things on from the dizzy days of the humble ‘mixtape’ as a form of personal and intimate communication!

the classic ‘mixtape’ was all about communication

the classic ‘mixtape’ was all about communication

communication | kəˌmyo͞onəˈkāSHən |
the imparting or exchanging of information or news: the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings: social contact: means of connection between people, places or things: a communications network.

Communication takes place at both macro and micro levels. On a personal basis, the very essence of who we are often communicates far more eloquently than anything we can ever say or do. We are in fact the walking talking embodiment of our own ‘brand’. Sometimes communication gets masked, renamed or dressed up in fancy buzz words, but this tends to simply add layers of unnecessary complexity, to what is in essence, a very simple thing. We are our own brand. What we say and do communicates this to all we come in contact with.

In marketing and advertising, companies want to tell (bore!) people every little tiny detail about their product. I think they often labour under the belief that people buy their products based upon these tiny details? They don’t. The details may reinforce their emotional desire or need to justify their purchase after the decision has already been made in their heart. With most things, you have a 3-5 second window to grab someones attention with your message, so the ‘hook’ needs to be clear, concise and one that emotionally engages the audience. When a message is simplified, the power and impact of the communication is often exponentially increased, Apples iconic and hugely successful 1999 iMac ‘Yum’ Poster is simplicity personified!

Apples iconic 1999 iMac ‘Yum’ Poster – simplicity personified

Apples iconic 1999 iMac ‘Yum’ Poster – simplicity personified

‘The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate’
J. B. Priestley

One of the most vital aspects of communication is understanding that it is a two-way process. It should not be a dry monologue, it should be an interactive and engaging dialogue where listening is probably the most essential ingredient.

The Chinese verb ‘to listen’ is interestingly made up from five different Chinese characters – Ear, You, Eyes, Undivided attention and Heart. The fact that it is made up of these different aspects tell us something significant about this multifaceted component of the communication process.

to listen requires more than just your ears

to listen requires more than just your ears

The absence of ‘listening’ is most easily demonstrated in poor examples of customer service. Here the vital aspect of the communication process is not just about passing on good news, or dealing with happy/satisfied clients, more often it is dealing with situations where things have not gone as expected or desired! People can actually deal with hearing bad news, in fact they can be more easily placated simply by keeping them in the loop at all stages as to what is actually going on. Often the biggest frustration of rail commuters if there are delays or cancellations, is not necessarily the delay itself (although this does not help), it is the simple fact that they are not properly kept informed of what is happening. If the rail companies listened to what their customers were actually saying, the quality of their customer service could be greatly improved!

The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.
Sydney J. Harris

As in life, communication is a central component of doing business, but it often gets renamed (or hidden/confused) as dress code, customer service, advertising, product design, branding, marketing, interior design, social media, customer experience, sales, user experience etc. etc. If you don’t recognise these terms as some of your primary sources of business communication, then it could be that you are not in full charge of the messages you are inadvertently communicating as part of your everyday activities?

Everything is connected, everything is reflective, and everything says something about you or your business…

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak – Hans Hofmann

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak – Hans Hofmann

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


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…


Media of mass distraction

With a seemingly constant and ever evolving stream of new emerging technologies, constant communication and multitasking are the de facto standard of our daily lives and modus operandi.

Today you can do more with less, run a multi-national business from the palm of your hands, work remotely, collaborate across continents, trawl a global repository of mankind’s collective learning whilst sitting on the beach, communicate instantly around the world, capture images, sounds or video whilst out and about as part of our everyday lives – we truly do live in an utterly amazing time in human history!

impossible just shows a lack of imagination

impossible just shows a lack of imagination

However, the class A drug that technology so often proves itself to be, can carry its own high price of addiction.

One evening as my family and I were all together watching a film on TV, I chanced to look around and see that as well as ‘watching’ the film, some were working on their laptop, some checking emails on their iPad, whilst others were texting and tweeting on their phones. So instead of simply engaging with a single source of entertainment, we were each multitasking and utilising different technology devices at the same time. We each had the ‘need’ to consume multiple media streams at the same time with an insatiable appetite that technology is only too ready to support.

I had to smile at my techno addicted family!

Technology is so often touted as the means to bring people together, but in many ways, it can end up separating us from the very essence of what it is to be human. To have and develop meaningful shared emotional resonance between individuals, bringing us together in different depths of relationship with each other.

Liking a status update and adding LOL does not quite have the same degree of connectivity, sometimes we may need to just stop, unplug and take a digital detox if we really want to share and connect with those around us!

Social media feeds like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest etc. all encourage us to record, capture and share moments of our lives with those we know (and often those we don’t!). So at numerous events ranging from concerts to funerals, people are all too readily capturing or annotating their experience of the event, ready to share with the world.

We have become obsessed with trying to capture the moment as opposed to actually really soaking up the fullness of the reality of the live experience. The irony is that in trying to record the experience, much of the time we become so engrossed and obsessed with the process of capturing this unforgettable event, that we actually miss the first hand, first person human experience of actually being there at that precise moment in time.

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”
Buckminster Fuller

Human beings have a multitude of built in senses that normally don’t need to be downloaded from an App Store and installed. Capturing it for prosperity is all well and good, but genuine, deeply felt experiences are best captured by the ‘technology’ that we already possess in the form of our human senses. Often the real physical experiences and memories are the ones that truly last a lifetime, everything else is merely fleeting digital detritus.

Where these senses are damaged or impaired, technology plays a very important role in helping to offer substitute solutions to aid peoples everyday experiences. However, some new technology now seeks to both mimic and improve upon the existing human ability to experience, comprehend and respond to external stimuli.

The advent of emerging technologies such as Google glass the technology looks to augment our normal physical reality and experiences with an interactive digital overlay. It is like being able to get an upgrade to Human 2.0! This is where the boundaries of technology and emotional experience blur. For some, the possibilities are limitless, for others, the implications could have a more scary sci-fi connotation as in cyborgs from Terminator or the Borg from Star Trek.

Don’t get me wrong, technology is great, but it’s no god that should be blindly worshiped!

Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as always, 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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