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Archive for the ‘style’ Category

When Yves St. Laurent died yesterday, we lost not only one of the world’s greatest designers, but also one of the world’s most visionary and honest business leaders.

His passion for his work, for his designs, and for the people for whom he created clothes and accessories won over greed and the mad thirst for double-digit growth that so many companies are plagued with today. When other couture houses tried to impress with gimmicks and flash, he stayed true to simple lines and understated elegance. While other couture houses obsessed about fashion, he simply focused on style.

Yves St. Laurent never sold out. You won’t find the YSL logo on cheap sunglasses or bullshit leather iPod cases. Yves St. Laurent refused to let his house fall into the massclusivity trap.

Massclusivity (mass exclusivity) is what you get when a premium brand like Gucci or Louis Vuitton starts making cheap crap to cater to a younger, broader and usually less affluent audience. This can seriously lower the value and relevance of a brand, but it makes sense if you’re looking to cash in on your brand’s earning potential. Once you capture market share and get into the malls and less exclusive retail properties though, it’s tough to get your cream-of-the-crop status back. That’s difference between houses like Dior, Yves St. Laurent, Hermes and Cartier vs. Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Ralph Lauren and now Gucci.
A lesser designer would have plunged Dior into chaos back in the sixties, and the Yves St. Laurent brand would have never turned into the cornerstone of occidental style that it is today.

A lesser man would have turned Yves St. Laurent into a Dillard’s or Macy’s brand. He understood the value of a strong brand. He understood the value of absolute quality. He understood the value of staying true to his vision and ideals.

He was one of the greats.

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Come to think of it, let’s just call movie critics as a whole “morons.” How about this: Go see movies for yourselves, and make up your own minds as to whether or not they pushed the right buttons for you.

But back to the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer: You may hear or read a lot of bad reviews about the film. Things being said will fall along the lines of…”Too cartoonish” or “too C.G.I.-looking,” or the most annoying yet “looks more like a video game than a movie.” Bleh.

Not to mention the fact that by catering its marketing to a VERY young audience, Speed Racer may not reach its audience and fail at the box office… which would be an awful shame, because it is actually a VERY good movie. You just have to a) completely embrace its style, b) leave your adult brain at home, c) embrace the insanely bold use of the medium, and d) understand the level to which this movie elevate the source material.

Yes, the movie looks like a video game in the sense that it looks nothing like our world. This may be one of the most colorful and purposely artificial movie you’ll ever see. The look of the film, with its unapologetic overdose of bright colors, its unbelievably blue skies and the very unique artificial look is part of its genius.

If you don’t like the look of movies like “Sin City,” “Moulin Rouge” or “300,” the visual style of Speed Racer may not be your cup of tea either. If, however, you can appreciate a unique visual style that successfully bridges the gap between the original source material and the movie adaptation, you can easily look at Speed Racer as an art film – which it so clearly is.

The movie is completely over the top in every possible way. As a matter of fact, I would go as far as to say that the film is completely ridiculous. From the laugh-outloud chimp kung fu fantasies to Racer X punching another driver in the face while both cars are performing insane side-flip maneuvers at 500 kph, the movie completely embraces its cartoonish high octane nature – which is precisely why it scores. The Wachowski brothers obviously didn’t hold back here – and actually went above and beyond what lesser writers & directors would have created. This movie is as far out there as it could possibly be, and it is refreshing as hell to see a movie so uncompromisingly edgy and full of child-like enthusiasm.

Surprisingly, Speed Racer is absolutely not a brainless visualfest. The script is surprisingly solid, and the actors absolutely kick ass. Just as Robert Downey Jr. elevates Ironman through his inspired portrayal of Tony Stark, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman infuse the movie with perfectly metered and stunning performances during key scenes late in the movie. These moments are absolutely priceless bits of movie-making and bring unexpected depth to an otherwise escapist underdog movie. Matthew Fox shines as Racer X, Emile Hirsch is completely believable and endearing as Speed Racer, and I must say that Christina Ricci is actually pretty hot as Trixie. The kid brother and the chimp are at occasionally annoying (probably not to an eight-year-old though), but overall, they made me laugh alot more than I care to admit.

The Brandbuilder blog isn’t a movie review site, so I’ll stop here… but I didn’t want the bonehead reviews I’ve read today to negatively influence any of you – my readers – when it comes to this movie. Speed Racer is actually a work of genius. Most people probably won’t get why or how, but then again, edgy doesn’t appeal to most people. The masses will most likely look at Speed Racer purely as an over-the-top cartoonish movie version of a bad 1980’s anime series, aimed at pleasing little kids… but it is on every level an entertaining art film that blends stunningly rendered visual effects, lots of action, superb casting, solid character development, impressive acting, some pretty funny stuff, a classic underdog story, kung fu and chimp humor to create a very unique package.

Mark my words: This flick is nothing short of a classic.

Even if you end up hating Speed Racer, you should go see it – chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Bonus: Check out this article about the film’s technical aspects in Wired.

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Every once in a great while, I cave in to common sense and take a sick day. This was the case today. I rested, I slept, I drank soup and tea,rested some more, and worked my way through a giant box of tissues. The result: This completely derivative post. Read it, follow the link to the original piece, and chew on this idea for a while. In the process, give some thought to the role of design in product development, art, publishing, software, websites, logos, advertising, entertainment, fashion and retail spaces.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new become threatening, the old reassuring.”

– Paul Rand

Design is such a multi-layered practice that it’s often difficult to define. That being said, I believe that the word “design” is increasingly confused with “style”. For example, to most “I like the way it’s designed” means that they like the way that something looks.
The visual aspect of what we do is highly important, and style has a place in that. For
example, if we want to connect with a particular audience, employing a style can sometimes be helpful. That being said, it seems that style often leads efforts. We have to break this habit.

(…)

As soon as a particular style is hot, legions of designers reverse-engineer the treatment, and imitate it until it’s everywhere.

The challenge here is that as we are bombarded by these styles, designers, by their own accord and that of their clients and peers, gravitate towards reiterating whatever the style-du-jour happens to be. (Think of the swoosh logos of the late 1990s.) It’s easy to do, the pay-off is immediate, and for a short while, one’s portfolio seems deceptively strong. Most times though, this work is void of the research, strategy, and logic that are necessary to do something effective. As a result, it’s in fact a big pile of shiny bullshit.

In turn, we’re left with scads of generic work that doesn’t hold-up for any length of time. There’s no design there, just polish that quickly tarnishes requiring another coat. In the meanwhile, budgets are exhausted, clients are left to with an out-of-date

“look”, and designers are seen as stylists: kooky kids who like to do fun, pointless things. At the risk of being melodramatic, I believe that this approach diminishes the value of our industry and limits our opportunity to contribute to higher-level discussions.

I’m a believer in what I like to call “hardcore” design. This is design focused on results. It can employ any of a multitude of treatments. It’s not personal in nature, unless this is in fact necessary. Hardcore design is driven by insight, strategy and purpose.

This kind of design forces us to see ourselves as intermediaries, who facilitate defined outcomes. To do this, we consider and weigh business, marketing, communications (and other) challenges, and work to resolve them through design. The end-result doesn’t have to look good, even though it might, but it absolutely must work.

For hardcore designers, “does it work?” is the one question that must be obsessed over. Really, this should be the case for any designer anyways; not whether it looks cool, and not if it can win awards. Hardcore design is about taking away the cute, fluffy stuff, and concentrating on what is actually accomplished.
This kind of design typically doesn’t get its due. Many call this work “corporate” (in the pejorative sense), implying that anything “corporate” must be soul-less, bland and the polar-opposite of what we like to think of as creative. This perspective is simplistic and out-of-date. Apple’s marketing is highly corporate and perhaps one of the most stand-out examples of using design to connect with an audience.

The challenge in establishing an effective design solution that reaches a broad audience is in no way less difficult or creative than making work that is personal in nature. In fact, I’d argue that it’s typically much more challenging, as it requires one to dissociate with personal perspectives, in an effort to understand the situation from a more pluralistic standpoint.

Not doing so is, in my mind, what derails so many design efforts. Clients and designers equally fall into the trap of bringing personal aesthetics (that have nothing to do with the task at hand) to projects. As a result, we see lots of pretty, ineffective “design” out there.

(…)

Style will always be there, and it’s for us to employ, just as we would any color, typeface, written approach or photographic direction. And that is just it: it’s a device, and we too often let it drive the effort. You may disagree with me here. You could (rightly) point to a number of groups and individuals who place the same premium on pragmatic design as I; nevertheless, I argue that these groups are in the minority, and that this represents an imbalance in the quality of design actually being delivered.

We have to get our collective heads out of the sand. Everything we do must be held to a higher-standard. Read the entire article here.

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This month’s BrandingWire exercise takes us to the IT world. The following brief maps out our little strategic challenge:

Company Description:

We are a small company based in Canada. We do just about everything IT: proactive work (such as network maintenance), monitoring of critical systems, emergency work (IT fixes, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), new user set-ups, procurement of hardware and software (at a discount through our top vendors), consulting work (which can be anything from upgrading all 100 of your Windows computers to Macs, or something simple like what open-source software alternatives would we recommend instead of Photoshop).

We are also offering services in a new area called Green IT. It is all about transforming the way IT is used to help cut down on energy use and waste. Solutions could include datacenters with virtualized servers, remote access of datacenters (to keep the systems in a stable environment), or sending software electronically to eliminate packaging waste. We want to get more into this area!

Target Customers:

Small to medium sized business in our city and the surrounding areas. (Note: we do provide support to branch offices of our customers across Canada.)

We seem to attract a lot of non-profit (environment, research, health) and financial/accounting clients. I believe we aimed more for non-profits when the company was first started, both because of the President’s contacts in that sector and also because they easier to access than other businesses and they have formed a tight knit community in our city. The issue with non-profits is that, because of their tight usually government-controlled budgets, we’re in a constant struggle to get paid for our extensive work.

Our clients are typically not technically-oriented. Companies are both B2B and B2C, ranging in industry from financial and accounting services to commercial real estate, health care services, non-profits, and some retail.

We’d like to aim for businesses with younger staff that understand technology and can appreciate the need for IT, as well as the critical nature of technology services in relation to their business operations. But it has proven to be hard… which leads me to…

Biggest PR/Marketing Challenge:

We charge hourly for consulting, project hours and support time; the hourly price is lower with a contract than without a contract, where we would come out and do things on a case by case basis. It’s difficult to convince SMBs that our services are worth the amount we are charging – however, to draft a legal document, they’re more than willing to a pay a top notch lawyer $500/hour. If your IT services – your computers, your printers, your network, your data – are done incorrectly, you’re out of business. Customers view IT issues as a pain (ie. my email is down again) instead of as a critical part of their business (ie. without IT, we can’t function as a company).

Customers just don’t always understand the value of IT services.

Our monthly support contract covers just about everything “IT”. Then on top of that, say you’ve signed up for a 10 hour contract for support – we don’t just send a bill at the end of the month: we send you a full report of every single minute of work that was done for your company and what was accomplished. We log every incident and track all time and documentation within our Helpdesk. And because we’re a small company at heart (growing now; we’ve doubled our size in the past 2 years), we do give great customer service – our clients know us and they know if something goes horribly wrong with their email at 3 in the morning, they can reach us with one phone call.

Main Marketing/PR Goal:

1. Help our current clients understand why our services are worth the price tag. This may be an inherent problem in the industry (it’s known that IT is on average never properly budgeted for), but EDS and other huge IT corporations don’t seem to have a problem. We want them to see us as a partner for their business, not just an “IT repair service”.

2. Bring in clients who understand the importance of IT services already, and get them to pick us above our competitors for our value-added work.

How we would like BrandingWire to help us:

I feel like we’re too entrenched in the technology/service provider perspective to understand how our clients and potential clients really see IT. Hopefully BrandingWire can help us see our company from a purely marketing perspective. Our company is great – we just need to get that idea out there to our current clients and to those that have yet to hear about us.

1. First things first: Build a KILLER website. Make it fresh. Pick crisp, bright organic colors. Give your website a color scheme and structure that convey the fact that by hiring you, your clients are hiring the very best in the business and their lives are about to become a whole lot more pleasant. List the menu of services clearly on the main page, but keep the text areas to a minimum. Take some pointers from luxury consumer goods websites. Think fashion-oriented brands. Look at your competitors’ websites, and do the EXACT OPPOSITE. You don’t want to distract your potential clients with a whole lot of boring copy and overused keywords. Instead, please their brains with clean structure and appealing colors, while giving them an uninterrupted list of what you will do for them. (Then make it super easy for them to navigate the site and find out what your story is on their own terms.)

Your objective here is to a) differentiate yourselves from the hundreds of other typical IT companies out there that all look, sound and feel the same, and b) inspire not only confidence, value and professionalism, but excitement about your company. (We’ll come back to that.)

2. Don’t just present yourselves as an IT company (the answer to IT problems). That’s already implied. Everyone gets it. Instead, take it a step further and present yourselves as the answer to other IT companies. Be easier to work with. Be less geeky. Be less boring. Be less in the way. Become every mid-sized company’s “no hassles” IT partner. Don’t hesitate to tell your potential clients “Look, you don’t need to worry about the IT stuff anymore. We have it handled. Go take care of your business. ;)”

It probably wouldn’t hurt to schedule regular meetings with some of the principals to make hardware and software recommendations, but be careful not to turn into salesmen. Be advisors. This type of endeavor can’t be self-serving, or it will backfire. If you want to be seen as more than an IT repair service and more as an IT partner, become more involved in the shaping of your clients’ tech infrastructure.

3. Always keep it simple. Use words everyone can understand. Don’t bore anyone with unnecessary details. Be relevant. Be geeky, but only minimally so.

4. Understand your clients’ business, and help IT truly become an active part of it. The problem that most IT firms wrestle with is that they appear to only focus on IT. That’s bad because IT is a weird, geeky, necessary-evil kind of thing, and that makes you a weird, geeky, necessary-evil kind of service. In order to be effective and not seen as merely IT repairmen, you have to change the conversation. You have to distance yourself from the IT conversation. You have to help your client change its relationship with IT.

For starters, you have to understand how your clients use technology at every level of their organization. I would suggest interviewing employees in every department, and finding out what works for them and what doesn’t. Understand their struggles with technology. Listen to what they want and what they wrestle with. This humanizes the technology. It helps turn the conversation from “what happens in the server room” (which is irrelevant to most people in the company) to “what I do when a customer calls and I need to pull up his account” (which is pretty damn important to everyone).

Then, give them what they want, and fix what they wrestle with on a daily basis. If you can fix human problems that relate to technology rather than simply fixing technical problems, you will become their IT partner forever. Most IT companies claim to do this, but they don’t. (I have never known an IT company that even comes close to doing this.)

That requires a different approach from Day 1: It forces you to make interface assessments throughout the organization and look at potential IT problems from both a human and an operational perspective rather than a purely technical one.

Fixing IT problems in a human and an operational context, has a lot more value to a company exec than fixing a problem that he/she perceives to be purely IT-related (too complicated,too out-of-sight, and too expensive).

As a bonus, your techs will seem more human and more helpful… instead f the typical “who’s that dude?” “Oh, I think he’s one of the IT guys” conversations I’ve been a part of my entire career.

IT management is not something that happens in the back after everyone goes home. That’s what you need to get through to your clients. IT is an integral part of their business like Marketing, Finance, Sales, Purchasing, etc. Help integrate it into your clients’ company cultures. Make it not be an alien, complicated thing.

Don’t feel bad: Marketing departments working for most engineering firms have similar value-related problems.

5. Definitely push the Green IT angle. If you can show clients that the Green IT program will save them cash and earn them good karma points, you’ll have something very valuable to offer. If there is already an industry-wide program with its own logo, display it on your site, all marketing collateral, and even your invoices. If there isn’t one, have a graphic designer create a logo for you, and propose to national and international regulatory bodies within your industry that it become the mark of Green IT initiatives. The objective here is to give clients a visual cue they will either recognize or want to inquire about.

6. Become friends with your best clients. Join the same organizations they belong to. Let their professional and social networks become your networks. This is the best way to grow your business in an environment which will value you as more than just an IT repair service.

7. Publish articles, white papers, how-to guides, etc. Help sponsor or organize tech-related conferences or seminars. Sit on tech-related boards. Work with local universities and other educational facilities. Become an IT authority in the business world. (Become more than just an IT company.)

8. If you don’t have one already, create a simple menu of services relative to client company size, level of need, and budget limitations. Limit it to 3 or 4 levels. Keep it super simple. (A la carte services work too, but if you can create easy-to-understand packages, you will simplify the client acquisition process.) The kinds of companies who select menu-style services won’t be your best clients, but they may become so once they get to know you and start asking for more custom services and a greater level of attention.

9. Make your brand of IT sexy. Don’t laugh. I’m serious. Shake the geeky image. You’re in the high-tech business, and you’re at the very top level of it. Act, look, speak and work accordingly. Drop the boring golf shirts, the droopy socks and the cheap sneakers. Get better haircuts. Hire a fashion consultant if you have to, but find a way to make your team look good, act cool, and look like they just flew in from Madison Avenue – not the local GameSpot store.

That’s right: I’m talking about an IT makeover here. (Hey, you’re tired of being treated like IT repairmen, right? Change the way you look and act, and the way people perceive you and treat you will change accordingly.) It sucks that looks matter, but welcome to the real world: The way you present yourself does indeed matter.

The sad reality of the world is this: Nobody cares what a nerd has to say, except perhaps another nerd. Think back to high school. College, even. Watch what happens to nerds in politics. Watch how differently people are treated in retail outlets, board rooms and at a doctor’s office based on how they look and carry themselves.

I have spent years watching IT guys, salespeople and execs from other companies walk in and out of meetings, and let me tell you: Smarts, knowledge and ability aren’t enough if you don’t first project confidence, cool, and a bit of style. Shake up the stereotypes. As a matter fact, shatter them. Present yourselves as cool guys who happen to be IT pros, and you will find that most people in your client organization will be a whole lot more willing to listen to what you have to say than if you looked like every other computer nerd they’ve watched walk through the door.

That’s it for me, but feel free to read the rest of the BrandingWire team’s recommendations here.

Have a great Monday everyone. 😉

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