IT’S A STORY OF DECEIT, INTRIGUE AND HIGH-LEVEL SHENANIGANS…
I blame Bill Gates. Someone has to be responsible.
Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, Helvetica was one of the most popular typefaces around – it had the lot: style, class, elegance.
Helvetica was probably the first universal typeface and could be spotted in most environments from big businesses to transport, to clothing and then to luxury brands. A film was made detailing its popularity and usage. Helvetica was voted “Best Font of All Time” by a German foundry. Everyone was happy. Well, almost everyone: a predator was lurking…
The Microsoft Corporation needed an alternative to shelling out licensing fees for using Helvetica on their Windows Operating System. So, in 1990 the font Arial was born as an alternative – some would say imitation – to Helvetica. While the two fonts look similar, there are subtle, but key, differences. The clincher however was that the font characters for Arial were exactly the same as Helvetica’s, meaning one could be substituted for the other with minimal risk of text reflow. That move was not well received.
Here’s the paradox: Helvetica is popular and people love it; Arial is more popular and is loathed. It’s all about the “imitation” factor – you would be amazed at the bad blood that can be generated within refined typographic circles about “clone fonts”. As a taster, go to You Tube and enter “Font Fight” by “College Humor” – it’s a stand off between two rival gangs (Helvetica v Arial) and respective hangers-ons . Arial is now probably the most widely used and second most derided typeface in the world. Arial is everywhere, there is no escaping it.
The Medium Is In The Message
At ICP I work on the Avon account and use Arial all the time. The fonts’ weakness and pervasiveness is its strength. Our need to create text in a myriad of foreign languages – Turkish, Greek, Czech, Serbian, Russian, and many more – with the associated accents – calls for a typeface that covers all bases. If a foundry is going to cut the necessary accents for such wide use, they need economies of scale. That calls for Arial. It might be derided, hated by some, but we cannot do without it.
I suppose I am what you might call a Type Geek. No trip on the Underground is complete without me taking an opportunity to admire the classic quality of the fonts on tube maps (Johnston Sans); a trip to the City of London leaves me marveling at the refined street signs (Albertus). Equally a trip to upmarket High Streets leaves me scratching my head at what “Patisserie Valerie” were thinking when they commissioned their art nouveau style (Arnold Böcklin) for their branding; it might look odd, ugly even – but it is distinctive.
To borrow a famous phrase – The Medium is the Message: How type is used says a lot about a company or organisation and the message it seeks to convey. EasyJet, for instance, and their use of Cooper Black: The font might not be everyone’s cuppa’, but it has a certain retro, even kitsch, appeal. When combined with its corporate orange colour, (PMS021C) you are left in no uncertain manner who are you dealing with and what they are trying to say – “We’re fun and friendly. So, hey, let’s fly to the Costa Brava”.
So, if Arial is the second most hated font: what is number one? That’s easy: Comic Sans. It’s more a case of the font’s inappropriate use, such as on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. It might be suitable for a child’s party invitation, but not much else. There has been a campaign to have Comic Sans banned. The argument being that a typeface should match the tone of its text, and that its misuse is a disservice to the art of typography “analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume”.
Endless Fonts To Choose From
The assembly of type used to be the preserve of craft professionals. Type was assembled in large frames; It originating from large cumbersome trays or racks, each containing lead characters in a given size and style. If the size was not correct, or typeface not appropriate, well it was simply a question of starting again. Those days are long gone and an operator has immediate access to thousands of fonts to choose from – and the choice can be bewildering. In typography, as with any form of design, there is no absolute right or wrong, it’s about what works. If you are producing for a solicitor or Accountant, you are probably going to need something conservative and respectable: Bembo or Baskerville for instance. A building company needs something solid and sturdy, Rockwell or Stymie perhaps; whilst a tech company might need something with sleek, geometric lines: Syntax or Futura perhaps.
The options can be endless – baffling, but there are some universal truths to fall back on. Your starting point will normally be: serif or sans serif font? Serifs are small lines attached to the end of a stroke of type characters , Times Roman is probably the best known example of a serif font (the bookseller Waterstone’s use Times Roman with a large serif “W”). Arial and Helvetica are sans serif fonts. Sans is French for “without” – so sans serif, translates as “without serif”: get it?
Generally speaking, large blocks of text call for serif fonts –refer to a long newspaper article or novel and you will see what I mean. The rationale being that the serifs aid the reader’s eye and leads to increased concentration; Sans serif fonts are felt to have too many similarly shaped characters. The reverse is true for smaller items or headlines, which normally use “sans” type. Sans serif is trying to grab your attention, while the “serifs” are designed to keep you hooked. That’s the theory anyway, but if all else fails, you can also fall back on hardy perennials – Times, Helvetica or even, dare I say it, Arial. But not Comic Sans. Please.
In the world of visualFX, online editing, motion design and what I playfully refer to as ‘colouring in’, the Smoke is an all in one TV post production ‘know it all’ tool… and just like smoking a cigarette, it can be harmful to your health – Late nights, technical bugs and the indecisive creatives that crowd the suites can all lead to heart disease. #notafact
I was first introduced to the Smoke whilst working as a runner, also known as a tea/coffee maker and/or person to be shouted at, at the children’s TV production company Ragdoll Productions. The company, founded by the ‘grandmother of UK children’s telly’, Anne Wood, is responsible for award winning shows such as In The Night Garden, Brum, Rosie and Jim, Abney & Teal and Teletubbies.
Moon Man Dan
With ‘cutting my teeth’ in the crazy world of children’s tele, I found my passion… and it lies in bringing content to children. I setup Pickled Pepper Productions in 2012 which brought a team and myself together to produce a concept animation named Moon Man Dan. If you haven’t heard of this ‘yet to be awarded’ miracle of entertainment, it is available as an iPad App and animated film here:
The smoke system has been essential in the Moon Man Dan journey. Firstly, its sheer power and versatility. Secondly, the people you meet along the way. 9 out of 10 Smoke operators are great people. #fact
Learning The Software
A colleague, Anthony Brownmoore now of BlueSpill, London was keen to teach me the software. At the time he was bringing together images of Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and many characters whom if you aren’t aware of, ask the nearest four year old.
My time whilst learning the Smoke was spent backing up the computers and keeping a handle on the general maintenance of the machine room, the ‘tech hub’ of the post production facility. It was during this time as an ‘assistant’ that I learned in-depth the different methods of TV data storage – HDCAM, HDSR, DigiBeta and tapeless formats.
During the early days of my career, I was fortunate enough to have spent 8 months on location; my journey to the Smoke had seen me experience first hand the workings of ‘shooting for FX’. On location green screen, blue screen, motion control cameras and studio shoots were an every day experience – where a sponge like mind definitely absorbed and enjoyed a lot of it. Not earning much money (literally minimum wage) and working many long days are some of the most memorable times of my life.
Over time, I had watched, worked and interacted with these rather strange characters and after the shoot I found myself back in the post production studio. It was an amazing feeling to be allowed a continued part in bringing these characters further to life. Knowing that my hand could have been the last to have played a part in the shots final hours was the drive to stay late and learn.
So, what is this Smoke?
The Smoke is a software package and at first glance it takes you into the complete unknown. It plays with your insecurities as a budding operator and questions your methods. All that may have been learned in past software packages, such as Adobe AfterFX or Discreet’s Combustion is still very much valid,
but the Smoke lures you in. It walks you down a path of complete nervousness with nonsense menus, swipe gestures and FX nodes. Finally, it throws you into the compositing abyss where only screams of “why wont this work!” and “This is so easy in AfterFX!” echo the corridors.
Knowing the software now, it is understandably complicated. It is used as a powerful tool for both compositing, fast re-versioning edits and ‘wowing’/confusing (delete where you feel appropriate) your client. It can produce results fast and once ‘cracked’ an operator never simply operates the Smoke, they perform with it.
Central Asia, late 80s. This was an environment of uncertainty and fear of future as the region was gradually declared independent of the USSR.
One would think being released after almost 70 years of repression and unprecedented control would be welcomed with open arms and celebrations. The reality was quite the contrary as the general public did not know what this was. From previous experience, any major political change would mean more repressions and examples to be made to show who is in control, however, this time people could feel something was different. This was not a typical calm before the storm, it was just… not being needed anymore and forgotten.
No Thoughts Allowed
I am not sure about my other “comrades”, but I owe this brief crisis a great deal on how it would shape my future. In the West and East, people have an image of the Soviet Union as grey, standard four story flat blocks with windowless concrete government buildings; communists withno religion and tradition, that know only to worship their seniors and work like zombies with obedience. Well yes, it probably was like that as I grew up myself in a grey four story flat, but as I did not experience it myself, I don’t know how people lived before the independence. I remember my parents mentioned a few times to me that whatever ideology was creeping in my head had to stay there. Your tongue and limbs had to do what they were told. They might have been talking about Stalin times, so I am not so sure if it was anything similar to the ‘Iron Curtain’ we all know about. All I know is that thanks to religion, tradition and knowing who you are, where you come from is not so easy to forget. You can make your own mind up on this.
Introduction To Individuality
In any case, people started to revive their religion and tradition. No longer was there a communist idea of being the same as everyone else in every possible way. People started to diversify and have thoughts that they could action upon. Some people liked to work and study, while others liked to stay at home, drink tea and go for a Friday prayer. This allowed me to see both sides of the coin, as if I was sitting on the Berlin wall. Crumbling soviet buildings still remain, but now only serve the purpose of being a reminder of the past. To me, they are like a smoked cigarette forgotten under the sofa. Dirty, but no one bothers to clean it and pretends like its not there.
Individuality Meets Technology
I loved paintings as I grew up, but could not paint myself. I knew the techniques, however, my hands were telling me off every time I picked up a pencil. So until the age of camera phones arrived, I only had my paintings inside my head. Now, I am in London working my way through capitalism, making a living, the same as everyone else. I still had a huge interest in photography when I came to London, so I started to save money to help buy my own camera and started to research different styles that would suit me. After some time, I realised documenting ordinary life was the best way to go and improve my skills. You probably realise that I’m talking about street photography. But am I? Is there a real definition? I think it is impossible to define street photography, because, it’s about what thoughts, ideas and emotions you have in your own head. Now, if you have never taken a street shot, then you might be thinking I’m mad. Yes, you have to be a bit mental to take street shots. Bear with me and I will explain. Second post to follow this week.
How has technology affected my role in advertising?
I thought about this question and thought how the role of a Project Manager has diversified over the last ten years. Nothing stays the same over time, but the fierce rate of change and subsequently the variety it has produced during this time has been remarkable. Progress is a nice word to describe the changing of things over time, but I’m not sure this is always the way. Fourteen years is a long time. I joined my first agency in 2001. The world was very different place back then. Apple were only selling laptops and desktop computers, the iPod release was still months away and terrorism at that time was monopolised by the IRA . The atrocities of New York had not yet shaken the world to its core and irrevocably changed it.
Then & Now
Creative services back then, project management now, was very much in keeping with the times. In a word, it was much simpler. One person looked after briefing, trafficking the work through the creative department, producing a creative master and then fulfilling the production schedule./deliverable. Digital advertising was a very niche industry. The dot com bust of 2001 created a world of sceptics to its impact with consumers and its possible longevity. Technology had not yet taken a grip on the creative services department. The digital job bag was a pipe dream. Fast forward six years and the birth of the iphone would change advertising like never before. Agencies, third parties or otherwise, would have to rethink their structures and strategies. Since then, the term integrated has become synonymous with technology, embracing agencies willing to fulfill creative areas in every medium available. The iPhone allowed brands to talk to consumers directly, personally, consistently and in a bespoke manner that hadn’t been seen before.
New Role Requirements
Since this time, the role of the Project Manager has been forced to change. The role has been broken apart as the industry now seeks to find experts in different areas of the PM spectrum, to look after each aspect of the creative process. Digital project managers are as ubiquitous as Print ones and traffic managers are now a regular sight in most agencies. Add that to production managers on both digital and print and the creative services role of 2001 and you now have three people doing the same role. This all in a time where the recession is still impacting the decision making of businesses globally and unemployment is still at record levels. Technology has been the driving force in the changes of all aspects of advertising. From communication, to advertising mediums and printing, the entire industry has been revolutionised. Business strategy has been most affected during this time. The recession has even greater influence as technology has offered cheaper solutions through the birth of new mediums.
Saying Goodbye To Print
Although print is still the basic requirement for any agency – traditional or integrated – it is diminishing more and more. Budgets are decreasing and a traditional press presence is not the foremost medium for brands to speak to customers.In fact, it is becoming fashionable for brands to avoid press advertising. Not only does it bring down production costs, but also allows a brand to be perceived as modern and forward thinking. As part of social media, Twitter now has the same feel as the Sunday paper, except it’s every single day, all because writers have a platform to reach out through phones, tablets and computers. The need for print advertising is far less than it was even five years ago. In its place, social media savvy project managers are appearing and being deemed just as important for a role that was not even available in 2010, as a PM with 30 years’ experience of print only traditions.
The Effect of Technology On The PM Role
Technology has had a huge influence on the advertising industry. In Project Management we have felt that change more than most. In a time where everyday life is being made more and more simple and easy by gadgets and gizmos; I can’t help looking at how my role has changed and think that maybe we should strip it right back and go back to the days where a Project Manager was a Project Manager, no matter where you went. However, if you want to name your version of a Project Manager in any advertising field, the skill sets will be similar if not identical and the problems will be likewise. Ask anyone now what a Project Manager is in advertising and there appears to be an infinite number of answers readily available. Project Manager, Digital Project Manager, Production Manager, Creative Producer, Traffic Manager and the list goes on. Fundamentally, the roles are the same and the skill set can be applied across all. The biggest differentiation is the moment in the process that the manager enters and technology they are governed by, either creatively or by process. Technology is both creating and killing Project managers simultaneously. It’s better to be versatile than face becoming a dinosaur and much like the meteor that destroyed them. Technology is travelling at an incredible rate.
The arrival of the PC on the Beara Peninsular, the struggles of a picture researcher before Google, and finally, Do Americans know what Artichokes look like?
This musing will not give you any insight into technology, as the series proposes. However, while I was reflecting on my friendship with Indra Sinha described in a previous blog, this memory came back to me.
Indra had decided to take a holiday in Ireland.He was aware that I regularly spent time in Kerry and Cork in the southwest and always came back to the agency with wonderful, if not a little blurred memories. I suggested he should meet close friends of mine who were living on the Beara peninsular in South West Cork. I was sure they would enjoy each other’s company. He came back full of memories (possibly hallucinatory) of surreal conversations ranging across many subjects, fuelled by helpful stimulants and I believe gave him food for thought for his book The Cybergypsies.
An Introduction To My Friends
The events I am about to describe exactly demonstrate why I have such fond memories of this enchanted place. My regular visits to the area were to see my young daughter. Through these visits, I got to know and became very close to Tony and Christa, who gave me a roof over my head and a support system. They were the most eccentric couple I have ever met and I thought would be perfect company for Indra.
They had 5 children, a donkey, no electricity, rudimentary plumbing, a phone that worked occasionally and a car that functioned even less than the phone. Tony spent his time on a number of pet projects, but was slightly inhibited by the lack of any means to communicate his views. He felt art had been too commercialised and was keen to promote a year where it was banned entirely. He made his own contribution to this endeavour by taking down all his pictures and locking them away in one of his outbuildings.
Even in those days, he was keen on green and regaled all the locals to support environmental issues. He was particularly keen to promote ethical fishing and strict quotas. The local fishermen were unsupportive. He was vocal regarding his disquiet about the establishment, church, politicians, schooling and the police. He had problems with American foreign policy and EU meddling in Irish agricultural policy, particularly unpasteurised cheese. And he didn’t like mussel farming in the Kenmare estuary. I didn’t think we was doing a very good job of merging quietly into the local community..
He also had two commercial enterprises. He ran astill up in the mountain’s and sold his Potcheen (see picture) to the deputy bank manager in Castletown, Berehaven. He also had a greenhouse nestled away on his smallholding, where he grew a crop of plants which helped him relax. He then branched out into another agricultural enterprise. This is where I came in.
The discussion went a little this this:“John, I have established a new enterprise; The Allihies Globe Artichoke Co-operative Society and I need your help.”
“What’s it going to do?”
“Grow and sell artichokes, initially locally and if successful across Europe.”
“Who are your partners?”
“I haven’t got any.”
“How can I help?”
“You’re in advertising and I need a campaign.”
“Have you got a budget?”
“No, but I like the idea of Gorilla marketing that you mentioned to me.”
“I thought we could put posters up on the telegraph poles around the Beara Peninsular. I think we need to keep it simple. Just say ‘Globe Artichokes for Sale’, with an arrow pointing left at 200 meters.”
Putting together the artwork for his poster when I got back to London was easy, apart from sourcing an image of an artichoke (particularly with no budget) and decades before Google images. I chanced upon the Readers Digest Gardeners Year tome in the agency library, and there it was.
First & Second Version
Next to the gardening book was another Readers Digest publication on the fishes of the World. To ring the changes, I introduced another graphic using the same copy, printed 200 of each version and dispatched them to the Beara Peninsular.
On my next visit, we discussed the campaign rollout. The findings were as follows:
Tony posted the first version and added 3 of the second version, all around the peninsula’s telegraph poles. Not one artichoke was sold. The crop was consumed by the family.
The alternative version, in today’s terminology, went viral, with visitors and the locals discussing at great length in the pubs – over a pint or two of Murphy’s – what the strategy behind the imagery was meant to convey. Popular opinion decided it was subliminal advertising.
The remaining 197 copies were stocked by the local arts and crafts shop and they sold out over the summer season. At 20 punts each! The gallery owner said they were mainly purchased by American visitors. After the gallery owners commission, Tony had a nice little windfall. With the proceeds of his art sale, he bought the first PC in private hands on Beara and joined Indra as a cyber gypsy.
So much for the over commercialisation of art. Needless to say, his pictures are back on the wall.