Now That We Understand Eachother, Let’s Work Together

April 16th, 2013 by Wes Jones
Any successful partnership is much more than showing up and doing the work.  Here's how to make it last.

Any successful partnership is much more than showing up and doing the work. Here’s how to make it last.

All that matters is the quality of the work.

That statement is untrue.

Usually when someone is looking to hire creatives for a project they end up choosing the team based on the quality of their work and their presentation. Even after the account has been open for a while they still say that it’s the work that matters. Yet more than any other reason these partnerships end due to a breakdown in the relationship.

We understand now that creatives want to create work that pushes boundaries, and that companies/brands want work that leaps past their competition and positions them higher than they were before. And while on paper they are on the same page, there is often more that goes into it than just agreeing on the final outcome.

So how do we get there?

In order to reach the level of creating brilliant work that’s ahead of it’s time you have to focus on the relationship. Great work will get business, but the relationship will keep it. This isn’t a relationship as in going out for lunch and having a great time; though that is part of it. The sort of relationship that this needs is one that’s focused on building trust. One where you ask the right questions, fully understand the company and its culture, meet deadlines, manage expectations, and above all take ownership of what you do.

People will often take less talent, as long as you are easier to work with.

Getting there takes time, but once you do you’ll realize it’s no longer two sides at work. Rather it’s a team, and when one wins, everyone does, and when there’s a mistake they’ll work together to figure it out. When there’s trust on both sides the ability to take risks and the desire to do great work will flourish.

The Creatives Are Saying ‘Forget It’

February 28th, 2013 by Wes Jones
What do you do when you're told to go break all the rules?

What would you do when you’re told to break all the rules?

‘It makes so much sense that it would be criminal to ignore it’.

That’s what a creative thinks when they’re pitching an idea. They’ve had to understand their clients business and industry better than they do so that they could come back with an innovative way to position the business even higher. A commercial, an event, a print ad, or a cross-platform campaign, they are sure what they’re putting forth will garner the attention it deserves. And most likely it will, and the business people should be more than thrilled to get something of such caliber.

Yet that’s usually not the reaction the creative team gets. More often than not they’ll get torn apart, questioned on irrelevant details, and told that they just do not understand the problem trying to get solved. Worse yet, they’ll be told that they don’t know how to do their job, and in their place, the business guys themselves sat down and came up with a few ideas of their own.

Basically, we no longer trust you know how to do your job so we’ll show you how it’s done.

The issue here isn’t that the creative team is incompetent, or that the business team is so single minded they cant understand what is going on. Rather it’s a disparity over what someone asks for, and what they want to get. A business will come to the creatives asking for an innovative, cutting edge, even dangerous way to further their brand, giving the creative team license to push the boundaries and break the rules. And that’s exactly what they will get. However, that’s not what they expected. When they asked for something that broke the rules, what they really wanted was something that broke the rules within their comfort zone. Something that was still safe enough that they wouldn’t have any doubts about it.

In fact it may be better for the business to create their own ad’s, they wont get anywhere with them, but atleast they’ll like them.

This is when creatives start to get fed up. They understand that to push the boundaries, and work on the edge that you have to be bold and go places that others haven’t been before. So when a company comes to them asking for that, they deliver it. Then when they’re told that’s not actually what they wanted, and that you can be a bold as you want but you have to stay within this box it no longer makes sense to them what they have been hired for.

[After getting both sides of the story, I’m going to start getting into how each side can begin to understand the other, which ultimately benefits each side and results in a better product.]

The Suits Are Scared (Of You)

February 13th, 2013 by Wes Jones
'They feel more comfortable driving 120mph down a desert highway than ditching it early for a side road.'

‘They feel more comfortable driving 120mph down a desert highway than ditching it early for a side road.’

The suits, the business people, they are scared to work with you. You, the creative. The one with the ideas and the ability to see things that weren’t there before you showed up and threw something on the board that no one else could have ever thought of. Though to you it was like anything else, the same as you got ready in the morning. Being the generator of ideas and innovation is what you do. You don’t see the world like everyone else, and you know it, and you know that it puts you in a very powerful position. One that lets you shape the way people move, and interact, and go about their lives, and to everyone but you it scares the hell out of them.

Especially the business guys. They are the ones that show up every morning 5 minutes early and stay late when they know they should. They have a rule book, and they do all they can to make sure they abide by it. And when someone comes in front of them and starts showing them ideas and ways to do things better that don’t align with what the book says, fear starts to creep in.

It’s like driving on a desert highway, and there’s only one way to get to the end of it. (So it seems).

They see you as some flighty artist who jumps from idea to idea only to end up using the first one you came up with after doing 3 weeks of extra work. They cannot understand how you operate. They rely on hard numbers and ‘ROI’ to guide them to their end goal, and when you come in and say, “well were not entirely sure, but I think we should try this”, they have no way of understanding your position and reasoning behind what you think is the best course of action. ‘Not being sure, and thinking you should try something’ are the exact things that keep someone from excelling in the business world as it shows a sense of insecurity and lack of confidence in ones ability. However for a creative to be bold and dance on the edge they must rely on following the ideas that they’re not sure will work out and what will happen if they try them.

The business people know they need you (the creative), but they hate the feeling of giving up control to someone who can’t fully explain why they should do something other than that they feel that it is the right thing to do, and that reason alone is why business minds fear working with creatives.

Next Week: I’ll show the other side and why creatives are afraid to work with the business people… After that I’ll be following up on how each side can better work together by opening up new avenues of communication and being able to see things from the opposite perspective.

Getting People To See Your Vision & Selling Big – It’s All About Persuasion

January 30th, 2013 by Wes Jones
Like riding a bike, persuasion isn't always about persistence.  A little strategy can go a long way.

Like riding a bike, persuasion isn’t always about persistence. A little strategy can go a long way.

Persuasion Stigma
When you hear that someone is trying to persuade someone else, the idea that they are trying to deceive or pull the wool over the others eyes is the instant response. That the person doing the persuading only cares about their secret agenda and is doing anything possible to make it happen.

From that I don’t think anyone would really want to be labeled as a great persuader as it seems to mean that the person is there just to deceive instead of help, and it’s why marketing and advertising get a bad rap. It’s aimed at making people do things that they never would have thought to do before.

What’s The Point?
But let’s think of this. What’s the point of even talking? Ya, sometimes you can just be spending time and hanging out. But really, nearly every conversation you have is initiated so that you can get something from someone else, or that they can get something from you. And no matter what, the only way you’ll be able make that happen is if you know how to persuade.

Marketing and advertising speak directly to the consumer telling them that the product being offered is something they need and shouldn’t live without and that it’s surprising enough that they’ve been able to survive this long without it. It’s entirely based on being able to communicate those natural benefits in a way that make people believe that it is right for them.

Though people like us that create the content, the point of communication between the product and the consumer isn’t what we need to focus on. We should know that when we get to that point that we’ll be able to handle it and make effective pieces of advertising. It’s what we do.

Let’s Talk About What Matters
What really needs to be our focus is the communication between the, us, the creative side and the business side. We both want to see the same outcome, but we often see getting there in different ways, and I want to start bridging that gap.

What creatives need to learn is how to communicate effectively with the business people by learning to understand their problems and knowing the questions that need to be asked so that we can go into a project fully knowing where the boundaries are and where we can push them.

Often this point of communication between creatives and business people can have each side feeling like they are banging their head against a wall, but as Mark Goulston said it best…

You just need to find the loose brick.

I want to show you the ways you can use persuasion find that loose brick and then how you can use those same techniques to start pitching bigger projects and work alongside the business people and push the boundaries that lead to more effective advertising.

Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting on how you can move people from indifference to buy-in to happily continuing to do whatever it is you persuaded them to. Sign up on my Email List, for more insights and techniques, along with following me on Twitter and liking my page on Facebook.

How Soft Are You?

January 18th, 2013 by Wes Jones
Would you be ready to improvise if something didn't go according to plan?  Here's what to do to make that possible.

Would you be ready to improvise if something didn’t go according to plan? Here’s what to do to make that possible.

How soft are you? Really, I’m interested in knowing.

I’m not talking about how many times a week you work out or anything like that. That’s not what I’m getting at.

I talk about being effective vs. being efficient, and the true costs of working in a creative field, and here is another way you can be more valuable.

I’m talking about Soft Skills. The skills that may not be your strong point, your true bread & butter expertise, but the ones that compliment it. You probably won’t be able to pull off an entire project with them, and in fact they may just be a very minor and surface knowledge. But the point is that you have them, and that by being able to reference them you will be able to offer insight into other projects.

Everyone is going to have and interest in one particular field that makes them unique. One certain set of skills that they have a deep knowledge and understanding of. They can ‘own’ those aspects of a project, and that’s what makes them an effective team member. But that’s not where their value comes from. Their value comes from their soft skills. The things spread out on top that they can dip into to provide more knowledge and an added perspective.

Look at it this way as, Tim Brown, described it best. You want your skills to resemble a ‘T’ shape. A wholesome understanding in one area, the ‘I’ part. Married along with a broad base of knowledge in many other areas, the ‘-’ part.

Having these layered skills is all part of being ready and agile when a challenge is presented. It’s like how any stage actor has to be ready. They can prepare all they like, but once they walk through the door they could throw out the script because anything can happen. Only the ones with a keen sense of awareness will be able to adapt and walk away knowing that they owned their performance.

You can see from this that just the ‘I’ part alone is useful, but it’s with both that will make you indispensable. So when it comes down to it, it’s the ‘-’ part that really makes you valuable.

Interview With Designer & Critic Richard Baird

January 14th, 2013 by Wes Jones
I talk with designer and critic Richard Baird about social trends and what its like translating skills across platforms.

I talk with designer and critic Richard Baird about social trends and what its like translating skills across platforms.

Wes Jones: Hey Richard, thanks for taking the time, I’ve been looking forward to talking with you as I think you have a unique position in the design/branding industry and I’d like to know more about it.

For those who don’t know though, let’s start with who you are and what you do?

Richard Baird: Hi Wes, my name is Richard Baird and I’m a British freelance designer and design writer – currently living in Prague – who specialises in the development of visual identities and packaging. I’ve written for Design Week, Brand New and Computer Arts, have an ongoing role as a critic for The Dieline, write daily reviews for my blog BP&O and curate articles for the student and young designer resource Design Survival.

WJ: Very cool. Now I know you began by studying furniture and product design, what led you there? Did you see it translating into what you are doing now? (If so) When did those links start forming?

RB: Design for me emerged as an interest in secondary school with what I perceived at the time as a 2d/3d conflict, enjoying both graphic design and design technology in equal measure. When it came to university I simply allowed the course, related opportunities and preferred location to settle the issue. This lead to four years of furniture and product design. There was a bit of a crossover in the branding of the final degree show – where I managed the visual identity and print work – but nothing formally educative, this did however reignite my interest in the discipline.

Following university I freelanced as a designer at a small furniture business. Its size and the entrepreneurial spirit of the owner provided me with furniture, brand identity and packaging design opportunities – all of which were self directed – from which I built a portfolio – again these weren’t educative with a fair amount of trial and error but did provide me with a period of paid, practical experience.

This commercial experience and the appreciation of materials, processes and cost I gained within a furniture design environment has certainly benefitted me now as my projects are a little broader, but to begin with I honestly felt I was learning to be a graphic designer from the ground up.

RB-ZS

WJ: How do you feel about taking a direct, more formal, route to a creative career, or approaching it in a non-traditional way? I can see advantages to both, but from someone whose done it, what was your experience?

RB: Both routes are clearly viable. I’d say a formal education will get an aspiring designer up to speed a lot faster than learning on the fly and will certainly help to avoid making any costly mistakes. For me education is now more of commercial enterprise that overpromises and takes advantage of people with an interest but not the ability. If a designer chooses to go straight into freelancing and learn on the job they’ll find out pretty quickly whether or not he or she can make it work commercially. If I was to start again I’d be on the look out for internships rather than University courses or freelancing.

WJ: What is it about design that keeps you inspired and engaged with what you’re doing?

RB: Its very cyclical nature, the patterns and reoccurring tools of communication and the way these are adapted into new environments and their frequently compounded, distilled or reinterpreted nature. Writing about design on a daily basis really brings these to light and allows me to build a kit of communicable cues that cover both digital and physical brand interactions.

Richard writes for The Dieline, the leading packaging design website, where he breaks down the design and branding that go into each product.

Richard writes for The Dieline, the leading packaging design website, where he separates the good from the bad, and breaks down the design and branding that went into each product.

WJ: You wrote a great article (Helvetica v. Lobster) about following trends vs. designing for longevity. What sort of things were you seeing that made you realize this was happening, and what do you think will be the result of it in the future?

RB: I now live in the Czech Republic, a country I’ve found isn’t really at the forefront of graphic design, seeing the obvious proliferation of one particular typeface in this part of the world across a broad variety of contexts really got me interested in what influences saturation, how this effects communicative value and how I should respond within my own work.

The black and white of it is either a world of pure information or one of communicative confusion, the reality is that we’ll continue to exist in the grey. A place of functionality and beauty – created by the educated and principled but also one of visual noise and incoherence – the result of a rise in the underpaid, and under-skilled, the perceived accessibility of design and the increasing price of education. The trend for more expansively ‘designed environments’ (large-scale identities that take advantage of a convergence of art, craft and architecture) will hopefully lead to less noise when journeying between ‘brand destinations’.

WJ: What really strikes me about you is that while you are a designer, you are also an editor and critic on The Dieline. I’d love to know more about what it’s like being both a designer and then also being on the other side of it as a critic?

RB: It’s perhaps been the smartest career choice I’ve made, without an educative background in packaging and identity design looking at every piece of work from an analytical stand point – attempting to understand exactly why each decision was made, much like reverse engineering – has really helped get me up to speed and foster an acute and enquiring mind.

This analytical process typically unearths key communicative tools that underpin most pieces of design. I believe that once you have and understand these tools and their origins you can remix and cross pollinate them while retaining communicative effectiveness. It’s this appropriation, compounding and reinterpretation that I believe leads to originality, if you don’t understand them they’ll be ineffective or abstract.

WJ: I know everyone says that they are their own worst critic, but how has writing for The Dieline and your blog BP&O affected and influenced they way you approach your work when you start a new project?

RB: Simply looking at the work of others isn’t enough, the search for inspiration tends to be an aesthetic exercise rather than the pursuit of understanding, interpretation and reinterpretation. I’ve consciously chosen to split my working week 50/50 between design and writing. Contemplation followed by written review has allowed me to absorb a lot more practical information than perhaps formal education may have done. It has also encouraged me to develop a clearer and tangible design process built around my own philosophies that aim to provide clear communicative rather than superfluous value to my projects.

RB-MP

WJ: You describe yourself as a minimalist when it comes to designing. What sort of process do you have that you use to keep the end product inline with your vision?

RB: I wouldn’t describe myself as a minimalist (my website simply outlines my interests) I am however very keen on developing my own philosophies. Presently I’d say I have a reductionist approach. This involves a strategy that aims to understand and draw together key values and communicative goals, that distills these down into simple and relatable ideas, assigning visual cues and executing these across a variety of assets. I’m always striving for a visual purity by stripping away any unnecessary embellishments, this doesn’t necessarily mean the solution will be minimal – it could very well be rich and diverse – but will ideally be cohesive and clear.

WJ: Do you have any personal projects that you’d like to tell about? Or what can we expect to see from you coming up and what kind of work would you like to be doing more of?

RB: My time, when not designing or writing for The Dieline, is largely spent on my blogs BP&O and Design Survival which I hope to continue to grow throughout 2013, I also hope to continue to work with small businesses and expand on my design philosophies through new articles and fostering relationships with designers and agencies.

WJ: Perfect! This was great, thanks Richard.

For more on Richard and what he does follow him through these channels: Facebook, Twitter, his blog BP&O, and his other blog Design Survival.

Shooting Club Monaco for the :15 Project

January 11th, 2013 by Wes Jones

BRAND // Club Monaco

I’m a fan of Club Monaco. Their clothing is always sophisticated and contemporary, but it has an edge to it that is hard to define. They make it very clear that their direction treads off the standard path and dabbles in a more avant garde aesthetic. It’s because of this position that makes Club Monaco a fun brand to work with and tailor a commercial for because there is some constrictive freedom in the creative direction.

Ensure that the piece is well defined and has strong character, but break the rules.

This is the kind of work I like. Dress everything up to the nines, and then turn it all on its head and see what comes of it.

Concept
The book On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a favorite of mine and when I heard the monologue in the trailer I knew it fit the Club Monaco aesthetic perfectly. To live for yourself and make a statement. This idea translates so well across each medium that it was a very easy choice to put them together, which made the shoot pretty straightforward.

Production
It was very run-and-gun style. I had scouted a few locations earlier in the day and I wasn’t 100% confident in them, but figured we’d be able to make it work. Lucky enough on my way home I spotted this location from the road and decided that when we went back to shoot we would go there first to check it out and see if it would work, and if not we would head to one of the other ones.

When we got up there it was perfect. Exactly how I envisioned the final location to look. Long, open views, and up high. A perfect visual to compliment the dialogue.

From there we jumped out and got all the clothing and set design worked out quickly as the sun was setting fast. Ran through a brief description of the look I was going for. A longing and desirous look, but defiant, that you’re in charge and that you make the rules. From there I let it roll, making small adjustments and direction as I saw the images we were getting to better polish the look, and ensuring we were getting a variety of different shots that we could use for the edit.

I couldn't have asked for better light on the day that we shot.

I couldn’t have asked for better light.

Thoughts
Everyone involved had a great time and a major thanks to my friend Lucas for stepping in front of the camera. He killed it. I’m happy we went into this first one with a relatively simple list of requirements. A lot of things can get easily overlooked when you’re in the moment and everything needed to be done 5 minutes ago. It goes to show just how important all of the pre-planning and logistics are to a successful shoot no matter how small it is, and the importance of these things only get multiplied as the scope and ambition of a project gets bigger.

I Want To Hear From You
I’ve got a couple ideas ready to go for the next one in the series which I’ll get ironed out in the next week, but first I want to hear from you.

What do you think of this piece? Does it work? Would you have done anything different? Most importantly how does it make you feel? Leave a comment below, I’m interested.

Introducing the :15 Project

January 9th, 2013 by Wes Jones

15 Project Photo

Idea
Develop and produce a series of :15 second commercials.

I’ll pick the brands, shoot the media, do the edit, and put the finishing touches on everything. I’m going to see each one through so I can get the experience of what a full commercial shoot would be like and what sort of problems I can run into and how to avoid them in the future.

Why 15 Seconds
Doing a commercial in :15 seconds is hard. It’s hard because you have to figure out how to distill a full brand identity and story down into those 15 seconds. You don’t have time to develop an over-arcing narrative. You get one shot at it, and you have to make sure that whatever you’re showing resonates with the direction of the brand. Much of the success comes from the detail and planning work prior to the actual shoot.

Content
This is the fun part. I’m going to share everything I have for each shoot. The initial idea, the sketches, the storyboards, the behind-the-scenes, everything. I want you there in the trenches with me so you can also get a feel for what shooting something like this would be like.

Some of this will come before in the planning stages so you can see each step happen as it develops through to the final product. And others will be after, so you get to see the polished look and then dive into how things were made.

Details
I want to have 5 of these done by mid-May, so that’s about one every 3 weeks or so. I’m not giving specific dates for these as a lot will depend on schedules and availability outside of what I can control, but they’ll be pretty consistent with the 3 week time frame.

Let me know any brands or ideas you think would be fun to work into this project by leaving a comment. Also, if you’re interested in being apart of one of these shoot me an email at Wes@JonesWes.com

Start Saying No!

January 8th, 2013 by Wes Jones
Saying NO has more power than saying YES.

Saying NO has more power than saying YES.

No, No, No, and… No!

I’m making that my new favorite word.

One thing I hate doing is making plans fully knowing that I’ll never follow through.. I have too much going on, I already had plans or something else came up, and sometimes I just don’t feel like it. It drives me crazy and is something that I realized I need to work on.

No opens doors that yes would have kept closed.

First I thought that every time I said yes to something that no matter what, I would ensure that I did it. That way I’d never have to make those empty promises that were broken before they were made. And on top of that I’d get out more and experience different things.

But I realized that there are those things I just don’t want to do, and those were the plans I was backing out on. I wasn’t interested, and invariably I wouldn’t put the energy into making it happen. And that’s when I realized all I have to do is start saying NO.

It’s gorgeous. By saying no, you never have to worry if you have time for something, or how you could fit it into your schedule. You only do the things that interest you.

No offers immense freedom. By saying ‘yes’ to too many things you limit yourself so that when something interesting comes along you don’t have the ability to take advantage of the opportunity. You already have too much going on. Saying no solves that problem. It puts you in control of what you want to put your energy into and the results that you want to see.

Think about how this could affect your creative work; the things you though you didn’t have time for. By doing this I’d bet you’d be able to free up more time to work on the things you would rather do. Use the same strategy of saying no for choosing your clients too. You are just as much involved about picking who you want to work with as those that are hiring you. Stop working on the projects that don’t challenge you, the ones that don’t dance on the edge. Forget them and start putting more energy into the ones that do.

The one thing about saying NO, is that everything you say YES to requires nothing less than your full focus and energy. And then some.

What Is A Brand Anyway?

January 2nd, 2013 by Wes Jones
A brand needs to be more than just a maker of products.

A brand needs to be more than just the products they make.

A brand used to be just the company behind a product. A name for the place that someone worked at.

The brand was almost separate from what was being sold. It was the controller for the product and a conduit for the company to project their message. A brand had no personality.

Now a brand has to be much more. Rather than the communication between a brand and its customers being a one way interaction. It is now an active conversation between the brand and those who support it.

A brand is not only defined by what it says it is, but also by how others perceive it.

With so many products saturating each market, the consumer has a number of options that they can choose from to satisfy their need. The brands that are able to actively engage their customers in more ways than just with their product are going to be the ones who win out.

A brand can no longer shout their message to the masses and hope it sticks. What a brand needs, and what they have to rely on are their Brand Ambassadors. Those people who feel a close connection with what the company stands for, and the mission it has. These are the people that will spread the message of the brand, and will ultimately build up its customer loyalty.

Just as you’re more likely to trust what your friend has to say than the crazy guy who’s shouting at everyone on the street, the same goes for a brand. People are going to trust who they know, and if they sense that a brand is only fronting their message for some other motive they’ll be quick to find something they feel is more authentic.

They want to feel that who they are buying from understands who they are and what they need. That they agree with on the same things and feel as if they could help eachother. That the brand needs them as much as they need the products. They want to be able to have a conversation with the brand, than be talked at.

They want to buy things from their best friend.