The genie is out of the bottle. Anyone with a phone can take pictures that look like they should be hanging in the Museum of Modern Art right next to the Ansel Adams and Irving Penn’s. Right?
Kind of right. And herein is something to try and understand about what all this new technology is doing with art and craft. Let’s look at the good news. Zillions of junky snapshots that would never be looked at of Uncle Tim or Aunt Betty or your workmates from that job five years ago are now bearable to look at due to the range of filters, cropping devices, and looks you can get digitally.
The bad news — they are still dumb snapshots of those people. Or places.
And here’s the big news. Technology gives everyone the ability to do B or B+ quality work with no work at all. But it doesn’t give them the ability to do A work. That still takes some guts and heart and soul. Some forging into the new, rather than just borrowing polish from the old.
So, what we have is the visual arts version of a dishwasher. A dishwasher is a machine that makes life better by making sure lots of dishes are really clean. Instagram is a tool that makes sure that lots of snapshots look ok. Maybe even better than ok.
Life’s better. Great. But for those who really want to push it and take it to the limit, Instagram ain’t gonna do it. Forging into the unknown, getting out into the street, messing up your mind with the stuff of life — that will.
Just ask Kodak.
I had a technology related kerfuffle last week and lost an entire post to this blog. Some of you got to see it, my comparing Churchill’s speech to what it takes to make a website score big. But most of you missed it. Because, well, because of technical difficulties. That post just got eaten, plain and simple. Yes, WordPress did get back to me with an e-mail from customer support — and I tried what they said, and all that was left of my Churchillian post was a couple of shreds.
Which led me to thinking — as much as we think we’ve got this Internet thing down, we are still in the dark ages. Remember when TV’s sometimes used to have coat hangers draped in tin foil sticking out of them in an vain effort to grab a fuzzy image of Johnny Carson? In many ways, our technology is in the same place. Too many passwords. Or not enough. Dropped calls. Apps v. sites. Streaming v. writing. And consider the government trying to collect tax from cloud-based retailers? What’s that going to do?
Subscribe? Free? Open platform? Closed? Steal? Borrow? On-the-go or on-the-couch? Just remember, we are all still making it up as we go along.
And pass me the tin foil.
(p.s. — perhaps someday I’ll recreate the Churchill post — how very analog of me!!!)
To make a website that works, make sure it’s a robot. I don’t mean one of those Robby the Robot type things, though that would be pretty cool. I mean a machine that does cool stuff for your users that they can’t get anywhere else. And to make that even more challenging, that cool stuff needs to be defined in a super-simple, super-clear way. Consider (and try and link the game-changing website/app to the robot…)
* Get every book in the world.
* Get every song in the world.
* Book every flight in the world — for whatever price you want, cheapest to most expensive.
* Get every cool art movie in the world.
* Get the exact recipe you want.
* Get tons of cool information on anything you want instantly from anywhere.
And so on. The promise is big. It’s simple. It does a ton of heavy lifting for you you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, unless you happen to be the President and he probably couldn’t have gotten all that stuff either.
So, make sure your site or app is a robot. And it doesn’t even have to make funny sounds like “bleep blip Zweep…”
Think about it. The minute somebody tells you to “think outside the box” they are telling you to do what everyone else is doing. To be “creative.” What box? What box would that be? The box that about ninety seven billion facilitators and coaches and brain jockeys have been screaming to you about as long as you can remember? To be more CREATIVE!!!???
As they say, “fuggedaboudit.”
Think INSIDE the box. You’ve got a problem to solve. Just make stuff. Let me repeat that — JUST MAKE STUFF. In fact, I think the very word ‘creativity’ is poison. “Hi Fred, I’d like to show you our creatives.” BS. While we’re at the task of getting rid of thinking outside the box, we should banish the word ‘creativity’ too. We should change it to ‘making stuff up.’ The only way humans can truly be ‘creative’ is by giving birth. And only roughly half of the human race is capable of doing that! (Thanks mom!) But think of it. If we changed the name of, say, The Creative Director to, say, The Making Stuff Up Director, we’d have a lot more fun and probably solve a lot more problems.
Was Steve Jobs creative? Did he think ‘outside the box?’ Hell no. He just made stuff up — and made sure others did too. If it was cool, he kept it. If it sucked, he let you know about it and he threw it out. As for ‘the box,’ he chucked that puppy right out the window. He thought under the box, over the box, he blew up the box, he made the box a ball, he just MADE STUFF.
So, stop thinking outside the box. Just love the problem you’re facing and start making stuff up.
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Back in the mid-90’s, when my agency was agency of record for Lands’ End, we were wrestling with getting the ‘vibe’ of this billion dollar entity onto the Internet. I was lucky enough to be working with a great team in Dodgeville, and I was also lucky that, while not in a day to day capacity, the founders of the company — Gary Comer and Dick Anderson — were still paying attention, close attention, to the doings. (As someone once said, “attention must be paid.”) At any rate, these two giants, who had emerged from Y & R Chicago to take a boating gear company into the stratosphere of content meets commerce, were worried. They knew that print and catalogs and copy and facts were “warm,” and they were faced with this plastic and glass box, a box that didn’t do a heckuva lot with type or layout either. I, being a child of Steve Jobs (just an expression of phrase — I wish!), was taken, smitten, drinking the kool-aid and just about everything else about the box. But these guys were worried. Had pause.
And this stunned and impressed me. They recognized that something vital was at stake. While not McLuhan-ites, as far as I know, they knew that a “warm” media form was being traded in for, or morphed into, a “cool” form.
So we worked at it. We built early ‘dressing’ avatars, we had some of the first ‘live chat’ features on the web — realizing that those good old alfalfa of the earth phone operators from Central Wisconsin were gold. We questioned every which way we could add some pulse and life to the cold plastic eye (as I put it) sitting on the desk.
Dick and Gary may have passed but their concerns and their legacy live on. UX and metrics are all well and good, but we are still dealing with a very generic device. The task at hand — how to ‘warm it up.’ Account planning can help. Good writing can help. Simplicity can help. But most of all — heart can help. It’s an ongoing, never ending battle.
I wish computer screens were on paper you could fold up and put in your pocket and then throw away. Maybe there’s a super secret project left over from Mr. Jobs that they’re working on in Cupertino to do just that.
I wouldn’t put it past them.
Have a warm weekend.