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…


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…


don’t just like it, LOVE it!

Andy Warhol was clearly a visionary artist and thinker… but did you also realise he could see into the future too!? It might be very easy for his other more noted art work to have overshadowed this ability, but the fact is, he saw into the future and summarised one of todays primary social media companies (Facebook) raison d’être very succinctly…

‘I think everybody should like everybody’
Andy Warhol

Is ‘Like’ a meaningless default emotional response?

Is ‘Like’ a meaningless default emotional response?

Or, is it that Facebook is simply trying to bring to life one of Andy Warhol’s philosophies…

‘During the 1960’s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered’ – The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

It appears that Facebook and marketeers worldwide would want us to believe that as individuals, companies or even international brands, the ultimate emotional response to elicit from any given item or event, is to simply ‘like’ it. In this ever-expanding age of social media, ‘sharing’ and ‘connecting’ seems to be the primary goal and buzz that companies and brands often aspired to, but is simply being liked by as many people as possible, sufficient an emotional response or interaction to aspire to?

is like the emotional response to aim for?

is like the emotional response to aim for?

‘It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.’
Andre Gide

The word ‘like’ to me, is at best bland, at worst, often wholly inappropriate in the social media context. At Passion 4, our ambition for any work or project we are involved with, is that people totally love it, rather than just simply like it. If our ambition was just for it to be liked, it would be setting our bar of ambition pretty low!

nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion

nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion

‘Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion’
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Having a passion for what you do is a vital driving force if you want what you do to avoid falling into the trap of bland mediocrity. Sir Jonathan Ive recently owned up to an Apple secret;

‘We absolutely don’t do focus groups. That’s designers and leaders abdicating responsibility. That’s them looking for an insurance policy, so if something goes wrong, they can say, well this focus group says that only 30% of people are offended by this and, look, 40% think it’s OK.’ All a focus group guarantees, is mediocrity’

Mediocrity is the enemy of creativity, it lacks ambition. It avoids taking risks, it fears failure rather than embracing the lessons it can bring. It adds unnecessary layers of complexity by trying to please everybody. Creativity however is refreshingly simple!

‘Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity’Charles Mingus

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


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Would having less, make you more creative?

Recently I was looking at a UK designed brochure that had been recently translated and reproduced in Chinese. It was really interesting to see something that on the surface seemed so familiar, suddenly appear so unfamiliar.

As I was casually flicking through the pages, I was suddenly aware of something that, to my shame, should have probably been blindingly obvious, but the typeface used had no visual differential between uppercase or lowercase, all the characters were of the same height. I had just never really noticed or been aware of this previously when looking at translated material, or when looking at design that used Chinese type.

Despite my linguistic ignorance, I have had a long-standing curious fascination with Chinese and Japanese pictographic styled text. To me, it has an instantly appealing graphic and emotive nature to it that is hard not to be fascinated by!

The Passion 4 logo in Traditional Chinese type

The Passion 4 logo in Traditional Chinese type

OK, so my mini Chinese typographic epiphany set my mind thinking. How would my approach to typographic design change, if the whole western concept of upper and lower case type was removed?!

The use of upper/lower case type can often be a key (western design) element in creating an interesting distinctions in type design or in creating logotypes, but would not having it as an option at my disposal, force me into thinking in new and different ways? Would having less, actually make me more creative?

This is why I liked to be creatively and in this case, culturally challenged, it helps to develop the way you think or approach problems from a whole new perspective.

It brings it home that design is often not such a universal cultural language. What resonates in one culture, could easily be seen as being odd, irrelevant, ignorant or even offensive in another. Greater cultural understanding and awareness can bring a richness and diversity to our design.

Some interesting Chinese typeface facts/differences…

  • The English alphabet only has 26 letters.
  • The Chinese language has over 8,000 individual characters, of which about 3,500 are most commonly used.
  • Chinese typographers, would not only need to design 26 alpha characters, but would also need to create at least 3,500 Chinese characters and their traditional/simplified equivalent.

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


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PS; With the Passion 4 t-shirt design shown above, I have to give a big thanks to my Taiwanese friend Asha for helping my understand a little more about Chinese type!

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

To make a big improvements, start with the small things…

‘A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step’
(1904 – sayings of Lao Tzu)

The 2012 Olympic legacy can be sporting or personal, what will it mean to you?

The 2012 Olympic legacy can be sporting or personal, what will it mean to you?

Quite a famous saying; so famous in fact that the principle it tries to convey, can easily be overlooked or simply taken for granted. Big things rarely happen overnight, it is normally a case of building on a series of smaller steps until the bigger end goal is finally reached.

Now that both the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are sadly over, it struck us just how much creativity and business both have in common with sport. In particular, we were fascinated by the transformation of Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic cycling teams over the last few Olympic games.

Much of this transformation has been credited to TeamGB cycling performance director Dave Brailsford who has championed the phrase ‘The aggregation of marginal gains’.

By this he was referring to the concept of taking 1% from everything you do; and then finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do.

Marginal gains have resulted in massive performance gains by Team GB’s Olympic cycling squad

Marginal gains have resulted in massive performance gains by Team GB’s Olympic cycling squad

It sounds very simply, and possibly not that much of an inspirational target or mission to try to achieve? But it is in this simplicity, that the brilliance of Brailsfords mantra lies. Rather than set potentially unrealistic or unachievable big figure performance gains, this approach gives a much wider range of achievable (and thus more motivational) targets.

It also opened the focus up on to every single aspect of what the team were doing, from the obvious to the not so obvious. Nutrition, training, technology, clothing, components, processes, strategy, etc. Each aspect was scrutinised and examined in microscopic detail to see if that 1% gain could be found and built upon.

The resulting tiny percentage gains, although on the surface may seem insignificant in themselves  cumulatively they can add up to large gain – potentially a race-winning, or record-winning, gain. If the results of Team GB’s cycling Olympic champions are anything to go by, this very inspiring, yet simple philosophy has already brought a lasting transformation.

This fascinated us, and we could not help but wonder if the same principles could also be applied within the creative and business environments as well? Surely there is always plenty of opportunity to make 1% improvements in all that we do?

Post Olympics, the talk is now all about creating a ‘lasting legacy’ from the games. This can be taken to mean many things to many people, but from a business perspective, the Olympics legacy for us, is to take on board Dave Brailsfords phrase ‘The aggregation of marginal gains’ so that in all that Passion 4 is involved with, we will continually seek to make small improvements in every single aspect of all that we do…