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CD of the Week

A couple of weeks ago, the suits here at AMD World Headquarters saw fit to upgrade my work-issue computer—a “gently used” 1983 Commodore 64 they assured me was all a writer really needed—to a screaming fast, drop-dead-gorgeous MacBook.

So, with 250GB of hard drive space to play with, my thoughts naturally turned to how much music I could load into my iTunes library. Which meant repeated trips to the cavernous temperature- and humidity-controlled CD storage facility located 30 feet below the surface of my back yard, which, in turn, led to today’s post: the first in an ongoing series of music recommendations.

Thelonious Monk
Live at the “It” Club

Recorded over two evenings in the fall of 1964, this double album shows Monk, along with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Larry Gales (bass), and Herlin Riley (drums) at their creative apex. The set is a mix of originals and standards, the latter including a 12-minute “I’m Getting Sentimental over You.” The sound is great, the playing superb, and the price—$16 and change at Amazon—hard to beat.

Because It’s Friday…

…I bring you the 100 coolest sports logos of all time. And, as a bonus, an infographic explaining how smartphone users see each other. Enjoy.

Out with the Old, in with the New

We’ve had the good pleasure of working with the local accounting and advisory firm LeMasterDaniels since late 2006. This Monday, they officially became LarsonAllen, the result of an acquisition by the Minneapolis-based accounting firm. Working in conjunction with LD’s talented in-house marketing group, our work has included a new logo, stationery system, brochures, advertising, a major revamp of their website, and a host of miscellaneous projects—none of which consumers can see today.

I’m reminded of just how fleeting design can be. Much of our work is intended to be temporary. Some things are meant to last just days, others several months, years, or maybe decades. But most of it—sooner or later—becomes ephemera. You get use to seeing your work disappear over time. So the most you can hope for is that it has served its purpose: to educate, inform, persuade, and ultimately help build a credible and relevant brand. Through the collaboration of many individuals and partners, I believe we did just that. Perhaps in a small way, we even helped make LD more desirable for acquisition so that it will continue to serve this region with even broader expertise.

Can you imagine the fire-sale prices on all those LeMasterDaniels-branded polo shirts, golf balls, coasters, cups, and caps?

On This, There Can Be No Debate.

Elmore Leonard doesn’t see the point of eBooks. As far as I’m concerned, then, that ends the discussion.

Ewww

“In crucial cases,” wrote Leon Kass in response to cloning, “repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason’s power fully to articulate it.” What Kass calls the “wisdom of repugnance” is more popularly known as the “yuck factor”—and it pretty much captures my response to, say, Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds. Or the oeuvre of Michael Bay. Or, for that matter, this.

Why Spec Work Is a Four-Letter Word

These days, it seems that every other Request for Proposal is asking for speculative work. We enjoy receiving RFPs as much as the next firm; we just don’t think requiring creative companies to provide specific recommendations to a prospect’s marketing challenges – based on information gleaned in an RFP – is fruitful. Or ethical, for that matter.

I recognize that developing free creative ideas is, in fact, expected in some parts of this industry. Especially when millions of account dollars are at stake. But most local Requests for Proposals are measured in thousands of dollars.

When a proposal recipient is required to demonstrate creative abilities in order to solve a prospect’s particular needs – as defined by the RFP – it’s called spec work. Spec work might include sharing specific strategies, ideas, concepts, or designs. This practice is something that the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), comprising over 22,000 designers from more than sixty countries, strongly opposes. So it’s not a personal thing.

Unfortunately, all the information required to thoughtfully respond to a specific marketing challenge is never provided in an RFP. Which means any firm that chooses to participate in this process is simply offering up superficial solutions. They may look fine on the surface, but they’re never going to get at the real problem. Some firms think that by asking follow-up questions directly to the prospect you can overcome this information deficit. But you can’t. And then, of course, the RFP authors – to promote the idea of a reasonably fair process – invariably share their follow-up answers with all recipients. You can see how it starts to get a little murky.

Even if an RFP did provide all of the information needed to arrive at creative solutions, the firm willing to spend the most amount of free time developing their thin ideas generally wins out. Now I’m all for firms demonstrating passion (and hard work) to garner new business. But do you really want to hire the firm with the most amount of free time on its hands? If I’m on a selection committee, I’d simply be looking for the best firm to handle my project – which is usually a very busy one.

Those in the position to develop and write RFPs need to rethink their intentions. You don’t need to see spec work to find the right fit. You just need to trust the right process. Respondents should be asked to demonstrate how their collective experience, knowledge, and approach to your assignment will benefit your project. Asking for schedules and costs is perfectly acceptable, which is why a Request for Qualifications is a better approach. Once you’ve short-listed firms, invite them in for one-on-one interviews. Then ask the right questions of each firm. Good firms will also take the opportunity to ask questions of you. A clear favorite will emerge – and with a working relationship already established.

I’m not sure why companies continue to ask for spec work. I’m guessing it’s mostly because they don’t know any better, not because they’re intentionally trying to treat creative folks like prostitutes (come to think of it, I’ve heard that even hookers negotiate their fees up front). But no matter the reason, the result is the same: they’re selling their projects short and thereby compromising outcomes.

I also don’t understand why creative firms in our community continue to respond to and embrace this unethical practice. Maybe offering eye candy is the only way they can win business – by outdoing their competitors. But you should be looking for firms that can outthink the competition. Then, and only then, will you see results.

How Design Can Make You Thinner

A designer friend of mine recently called this video to my attention. It reaffirms the value of design in the realm of public spaces.

It’s amazing how a really fun concept can influence people’s behavior. Take a look—I think you’ll find it interesting: Staircase vs. Escalator

Express to Brighten Beach

Gothamist has photos of typos in the New York City subway system. I used to get all smug and superior about such things; now, I just take solace in knowing that far more people will read the “Brodaway” sign than will ever see my mistakes.

I Could(n’t) Care Less

That there exist people who actually debate this issue (and others just as obvious) continues to amaze me. But there are, in fact, plenty of folks who sincerely believe that usage standards should be determined by mob rule, so I’m not particularly surprised.

For the record, it’s “I couldn’t care less.” And yes, you should care.

The Past Was in Color

Terry Teachout writes about the gradual change from the “clean, crisp surreality of the monochrome image” to full color—and its unintended consequences.

Related: turns out the Russian Empire was in color, too.

Quote of the Week

“More than ever, it’s beauty, delight, and amazement that separates rapidly commoditizing ‘product’ from stuff that’s treasured, adored, loved, and envied.”

Brought to you by Umair Haque over at the Harvard Business Review‘s blog.

There’s a Word for That

My 13-year-old niece called last night to ask me if I knew the word for the dot that appears above the lowercase “i” and “j.”

“It’s a tittle,” she managed to say between giggles. “Tittle.”

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. After all, the French have a word for a man who rubs up against strangers in a crowd (frotteur); the Germans call the space between things Zwischenraum; wabi is the Japanese word for a flawed detail that creates an elegant whole.

There’s even a Scottish word for the act of hesitation before recognizing a person or thing: tartle. Which means that, when I’m asked to read from the eye chart during my next visit to the optometrist, there’s a chance I’ll tartle at the sight of a tittle.

I can’t wait.

Back from the Grave

It’s not often that the last word goes dark for a five-day stretch. But when we do, you can be sure we have a darn good reason.

Since Friday, I’ve been laid low by some variation of the plague; without my ever-vigilant presence at AMD World Headquarters, CK has been forced to actually, you know…work, which prevents him from posting. Yeah, I know, you’d think Shirlee would’ve taken up the slack, but writing is anathema to her. Which is fine, since if it weren’t for Shirlee you wouldn’t be reading this blog at all.

Fear not, fair reader. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming before you know it. Until then, enjoy a list of the world’s worst beers. My favorite comment? “This beer smells like Nebraska.”

What a Difference a Letter Can Make

People often wonder why we writers obsess over phrases, cadences, and the like. They don’t understand when we say that the rhythm is wrong or when we point out, as Mark Twain famously did, the difference between the almost-right word and the right word.

Well then. Here’s a situation in which the absence of a single letter provides an altogether different meaning:

This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men.

The Gap in GAP’s Logo Decision

Interesting. It appears that public outcry can change the minds of branding experts very quickly.

I’m not here to defend GAP’s new logo design (or, maybe I should refer to it as the old one, or the one that didn’t take). I’m pretty neutral on the original logo, but it does seem to have a little more personality than the latest version. And I certainly would never bash the use of Helvetica in the new logo (the font they’ve been using in GAP campaigns for quite some time).

But what I find curious about this matter is that the ill-fated new logo was most likely the result of a well-thought-out strategy for change by some smart and experienced branding folks. I can’t imagine a new logo for a $15 billion company being created in a vacuum. On the contrary, I would assume it was the result of some serious thinking, exploration, and scrutiny. Maybe even some user testing. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the brand underpinnings by which it was created can so quickly give way from the weight of public opinion (some of them are even GAP customers). It’s as if the premise for the new logo design never had merit to begin with.

Now I know that the kind of attention this logo received was nothing short of overwhelming (and nothing new for consumer brands changing long-time logos), and it would have been difficult for the VPs overseeing this endeavor to ignore the blogosphere, but it’s very disappointing that the public – in part made of up of us know-it-all design professionals – can reduce a process into a popularity contest. In GAP’s most recent press release, it states apologetically, “We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community.” Whatever.

I would have been more enchanted with the GAP brand had they stuck to their guns on this one. Hmmm…I wonder what Steve Jobs would have done in this situation?

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