Update In process 21/11/2020..
I’ve always loved demo tapes. Bands working through their ideas in raw form. The grit, before production value masks the original concept, the banter behind the scenes, the mess-ups, and changes along the way all captivate me. Same with architecture. To me, most buildings look better during construction.
Seeing shapes take form, encased in scaffolding, covered in cables, boards and ladders sparks my imagination. It’s why the Centre Pompidou is one of my favorite buildings.
It’s why I love the work of Christo and Jean-Claude. And it’s why, as I kid, I preferred throwing the clay on the potter’s wheel, hearing the thump, seeing the splatter, and feeling in my hands to what actually came out of the kiln.
Yet, when I started in my profession, brand-building, I didn’t bring these influences into my work. Initially, I focused on getting things just right. Consistency mattered. Finished work mattered. Executing flawlessly mattered. I sought perfection in my job, and then in my free time relished the messy stuff.
Eventually, this changed. I began to bring the mess to the work. I let what influenced me influence how I worked and what I made. I used what makes me tick to help make brands tick. And in doing so, my work became more unique, relevant, and it performed better. Now, I put a part of me into everything I do. It turns out, developing powerful ideas isn’t done through a rational linear processes. It requires letting yourself into the process and bringing in your personal experiences. It’s even better when you can draw from a wide variety of personal experiences, including ones that may, at first glance, seem unrelated to the work at hand.
Here’s an example of how I weave seemingly unrelated influences into my work. I’d long admired the letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol, briefing him on cover art for one of the Rolling Stone’s albums (it didn’t get made, though Warhol eventually did the Sticky Fingers album art).
I loved the creative freedom the open brief offered. Mick literally states “I leave it in your capable hands to do what ever you want”. I admired the level of trust between the artists and found it moving and memorable. Unbeknownst to me at the time, many years later I’d bring it into my own work.
When I launched the Adobe Remix Project in 2013, Mick’s letter was my source of inspiration. I briefed a number of artists to hack the Adobe logo by stating ‘do whatever you want”. I simply asked them to document the process. To capture the mess, the experimentation, the trials and tribulations and tell the story behind the work. Bringing my influences into the workplace resulted in a powerful community-based platform for the brand. One that’s still going strong to to this day!
Now more than ever, people crave the real, the raw. They want to help shape outcomes rather than see grand reveals of finished work. Audiences want to participate in the process of brand development, stand on the scaffolding, listen to the demo tapes, and throw the clay on the potter’s wheel with us.
My influences aren’t just an avenue for me to be more authentic, they’ve also become a critical part of how I build brands. Like the Centre Pompidou, inviting people in to expose what’s inside, to see the guts and process, has become essential to shaping brands today. In a world of disinformation, including customers in the process — mess and all — helps introduce greater transparency, demystify a brand’s motives, and turn customers into advocates that define the brand.
As you think about your own influences, how can you use them to be more authentic in your work? How can you open up and expose your company, brand, or project’s processes? I’d love to hear about it.