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Rise of the Machines


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Rise of the Machines


Rise OF THE machines
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Elon Musk voiced his opinions on AI via Twitter last week, stating that ‘Competition for AI superiority at national level will most likely cause WW3’. With Putin’s comments that the nation that leads in AI 'will be the ruler of the world’ you’ve got to start to wonder… how much do we really know about it.

Timing couldn’t be better to attend the 'Rise of the machines’ event, hosted by our new client The Crowd.

For me, I instantly think of the Terminator and as I run over to the Institute of Charted Accountants Sarah Conner style, I am greated by warm smiley faces and not a robot in sight. Ok, so my gut feel may have been wrong. Without probably realising, we’re already using AI in our daily lives. Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, already secure a commonplace within our homes.

Key speaker Sean Culey, states that by 2020 we will spend more time talking to AI devices than our partners. A scary thought maybe for our children, can such technologies teach the art of good manners and day-to-day skills?

Which then poses the question: will there be the requirement for day-to-day skills, when machines and robots can perform some industry roles faster and more cost effectively than the human race? Organisations are already starting to change they way they work when recruiting employees vs bots.

We know technology is advancing at such a speed:

The telephone took 75 years to reach 50 million users

Radio - 38 years

TV - 13 years

Internet - 4 years

Facebook - 3.5 years

Angry Birds - 35 DAYS!

And the development pace of AI is moving quicker than we can regulate it, cars are driving themselves, but who’s insuring them?

There is a huge media focus on job loss, but with bots we will have the ability to give children all over the world a chance at an education. So there are definitely pros and cons.

Is this going to be the death of the world as we know it, or open us up to endless possibilities that the human race simply cannot achieve?

 

Katie Moore, 15th September 2017

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The Return of the Sketchbook


The Return of the Sketchbook


THE RETURN OF THE SKETCHBOOK
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Over the past two years, I have filled over 21 sketchbooks with my views of London through the medium of pen and ink. They have become my diaries, my unique memory of people and places that are indelibly imprinted in my memory. I have a theory that when you take the time to look at something and then interpret that scene onto paper through drawing that it slips into a storage vault in the brain that logs all of the details, the weather, music you were listening to and how you were feeling along with an immense amount of detail.

I'm listening to Ruby Wax's excellent book 'A mindfulness guide for the Frazzled' on the Audible app on my iPhone at the moment (I've discovered audio books are much more than a distraction for kids on long journeys in the car and well worth a try) and it's really making me think about how I think.

I'm sure that's what Ruby is hoping for and she wouldn't really be doing its job if she didn't get my grey matter quivering I guess. She paints a picture of a society on full tilt 24/7 and our minds struggling to keep pace with the sheer volume of our lives. It's certainly something I can relate to...packing everything into a super busy London life with very little segregation between home and work life (I will confess I do like it that way). But I do recognise that this constant noise can get too much.

I've heard about mindfulness before and haven't really given it much thought (see what I did) and the more I read about it, the more I think that the sketching I do is active mindfulness. It's really about being in the moment and doing one thing thoughtfully and being very much in the present. It's very difficult to do anything else other than sketch and focus on the interpretation of what I'm looking at onto paper via pen.

The sketching is also helping me to take more notice of everything around me and this translates nicely into business. I now find that I take more notice of detail in meetings (those of you who know me will recognise that as not one of my strong points) and I'm definitely listening more. The act of slowing down to focus on one thing is helping to train my brain to do the thing I want it to do. 

The sketch at the top of this post was drawn when I found myself running, unusually, 15 minutes early for a meeting. Of course there are emails to catch up on. Of course there are social feeds to look at and comment on. But I chose to pack those away for later (after quickly scanning the emails for urgent requests obvs) and pick up my pen. The result was a quick and enjoyable sketch and a remarkably clear mind for the meeting. I found myself able to contribute effectively to the meeting and more importantly, listen carefully to what the client was and wasn't saying.

I'm thinking of running a sketching event for business folk who are looking to find some space in their frazzled brains via the sketchbook. It's controversial but it has certainly worked for me. Let me know if you're interested and I'll get in touch.

 

Phil Dean, 4th September 2017

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Bravery Exists


Bravery Exists


BRAVERY EXISTS
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The studio smells clean, but not clinical. Modern with relaxed lighting and a cool ambience. Rap music booms somewhere in the back. It speaks of an alien culture to me, another world. A studious thrum fills the air, a high-pitched chatter carefully marking ink on skin in the background. Business-like.

I ask for Gold Frank, we wait and a head pops up. 'Can I help?'

Introductions commence, with the connection of a mutual friend. Perching on the edge of a pool table we talk about script, freehand, 'On the day we'll just do it' he says. Trust, I think. Stripped off, a bicep exposed. Silently impressed. My card is marked, deposit is left, the flash just a memory.

So my first tattoo, a swift decision made after a long gestation. Wednesday arrives, but the nerves don't. A late appointment gives my mind plenty of time to work its magic, to no avail. In the pre-sitting interview, we discuss what I want and where I want it. He gets down to sketching it out on paper. Freehand curves, traditional methods. Brush pens, red, orange. Biro sharpens the image, tight curves are carefully but swiftly drawn, transferred on to carbon. Transferred onto my skin, it feels cold and smells of alcohol.

The preparation of the equipment takes some time. Meticulous and clinical. The method is reassuring and fascinating. Pots of ink set in Vaseline anchors, needles cracked out of pristine packets, bright shiny heads, diamond textured glint in the light.

Lying on the bed, the cold vinyl against my skin, I remark on the chilliness of the surface. 'You'll soon warm up' comes the knowing reply.

Clingfilm wraps the resting pad and the silence in the studio, before the needle starts, is heavy with anticipation.

'This your first?' he asks,

'Yep, any tips?'

A pause 'Just lay still'.

He begins his work, under the lights. I focus on the leaves barely hanging on to the late autumn branches outside the window. It's hard to describe the pain, so conscious was I dealing with it at the time. I can see why people get addicted to this pain: it ebbs and flows, stops and starts; it scratches, burns, sears and tickles. The artist is expert, moving quickly, wiping, seemingly aware of pain thresholds.

I lose track of time; the two-hour session is a blur of concentration and realisation that my skin will never be the same again. The bare bones of the script is worked on and the design takes shape,

'I'll do whatever I think when I'm doing it, see how I feel' he'd said. There is a bond of trust between artist and sitter, and unusually for me I am quite relaxed about the end result. It's out of my hands and I quite like that freedom.

My left eye waters with the pinching pain, palms sweat coldly. He was right…I did warm up. During cool interludes, I steal brief glimpses of the emerging ink amidst swollen red flesh and smeared blood. I have pins and needles in my right arm, quite literally and in turn, loud rap music throbs in time with the dancing of the needle. The main outline was the hardest to bear, the shading a breeze by comparison and at last came the fine detailed work which brought another dimension to the pain, exquisitely short and sharp.

And then, at once, he was finished. Seemingly satisfied with his endless filigree of curves, the artist sets down his needles, cleanly wipes the inside of my arm and invites me to take a look in the mirror. I'm elated — the complex and delicate artwork serves its fleshy canvas properly. Photographs are taken, iPhones at the ready, Instagram images posted.

The vast inky wound (for it is so) is wrapped in cling film and taped top and bottom with masking tape. The instruction is to slather the tattoo in Bepanthen (nappy rash cream, finding a new market clearly) and keep it out of water. I tentatively pull on my jacket; the tight leather sleeves make me wince. The balance is paid, a handshake and I'm out of the door into the darkened streets, drinking in the cool autumn air.

 

Phil Dean, 8th August 2017

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Building a powerful retail brand


Building a powerful retail brand


Building a powerful retail brand 

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The shopper has never had more choice. They can choose to buy a product anywhere, at any time and at the lowest price. And it’s in this world that branding has never been more important. 

Recent statistics from the US show that Apple’s retail stores are the most successful on the high street, with seventeen times more sales per square feet than the average retailer. The data, which excludes online sales, reveals that Apple achieves more than double the amount of sales per square feet in the US than the runner-up, Tiffany & Co, who ranks second on the list.
 
It isn’t a coincidence that Apple also tops Forbes' annual study of the most valuable brands in the world for the seventh straight year, worth $170 billion. Its brand value is up 10% over last year and represents 21% of the company’s recent market value of $806 billion.
 
It can be hard to relate to a behemoth like Apple, but the fundamentals remain the same. A good brand sits behind everything you do, and it’s not just about your logo. It is far more useful to use the word reputation instead of brand — it will help connect with the shopper about how they relate to your products and service. 
 
It starts with a simple question: what do people think of your brand? This will give a retailer a point A on the journey and the point B will come from understanding what and how you want to sell. 
 
The goal is to create a simple, potent brand idea for that can be executed with confidence and creativity in everything you do. 
 
Great brands understand the customer better than anyone else and solve a problem they have. This can be achieved best when a simple, compelling idea sits at the heart of the business — an idea that can be brought to life at every opportunity. 
 
At its core, a brand is a promise to its customers. Not just tangible products and services but emotions and feelings. And it’s customers that inform the strategy. Brands are built by consumers not companies, and the way a brand is perceived defines it. 
 
Design agencies encourage retailers to develop a brand persona and it’s useful to think of your brand as a person and how it interacts with the shopper.
The brand persona from appearance to personality is what customers will judge you on. 
 
A brand is made up of intangible and tangible. It goes beyond the logo, messaging, social media and adverts. The consistent communication of the brand will shape perceptions but if just one element is out the whole brand will suffer. 
 
How do great brands behave? 
 
Great brands are simple. They understand the consumer and how their brand is perceived and jump at every chance to bring it to life at every touchpoint.  
 
Based on the brand promise, expectations are set, and people assume expectations will be met. If your brand doesn’t meet expectations at every interaction, people will be confused or disappointed. This understanding should drive investment in training and systems to deliver impeccable service every time. 
 
Branding in retail continues to evolve in-line with the changing consumer experience. Embracing technology and sensory experiences is important. 
 
Personalisation will be a key driver of branding over the next five years. Online, customers expect a personalised experience based on their shopping habits. How can you bring an element of that into a retail space? Can you capture their data and send them something personalised? Can you take the idea of loyalty card and make it personal their experience?
 
It’s not just about digital, don’t forget the important physical touchpoints of your brand. In a retail space pay attention to your signage, your windows, your messaging, your point of sale. It’s all part of the experience so don't get carried away with social media and your website. Make sure they all work well together.
 
The businesses that thrive in a constantly evolving market will invest in their brand and recognise they need a laser focus on their purpose. 
 

Phil Dean, 12th July 2017

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One Year


One Year


ONE YEAR 

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Certain is officially 12 months old today. We kicked off proceedings on the first of July 2015 but back then there was only me on board officially but gradually the team grew as people became available and before we knew it, we started building a proper business.

We worked in our spare bedrooms, on our kitchen tables and in the coffee shops and hotels of Shoreditch. We even worked in a temporary treehouse structure in Hoxton Square, beset by homeless folk sheltering beneath (don’t ask).

We looked at office after office and realised that our original budget wasn’t going to stretch to the kind of office we needed to convince people we were serious. All the time early briefs were dropping in and we didn’t even have a full time creative director. But we got by and in time we sorted an office out in Shoreditch and bit by bit, things started to gradually come together.

The office was still occupied so we weren’t to move in until August and to say the first month was ad hoc is an understatement. We’d started a business and the work was coming in -- before we were really ready for it, but we were thankful at least that we were off to a flying start.

We thought it important to officially but quietly mark the first 12 months but with our eyes firmly fixed on the next twelve months and beyond. Our first year has been truly amazing and if you don’t stop to think about it, you just crack on and think about the next job.

The Certain team has doubled to a core of six people on and off over the year, with a multitude of freelance talent along the way. We’ve learnt a lot and made a few mistakes, but that’s what it’s all about.

We’ve done some OK work and some beautiful work (like you do in start up mode) but, most importantly, we have developed some fantastic relationships with like-minded clients who will be able to help us all grow.

I have to pinch myself to remind me that this business didn’t even exist twelve months ago and I’m incredibly proud of the effort everyone has put in to take us all forward to the next level – whatever and wherever that is.

Phil Dean, 1st July 2016

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Brand Guidelines


Brand Guidelines


Brand Guidelines

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Straightjacket or Launchpad?

 

I saw recently that NASA re-published their original brand guidelines from 1976, much to the delight of brand geeks everywhere. It’s an extensive and lavishly produced document that paints a beautifully detailed picture of one of the world’s most iconic brands.

Leafing through it, the NASA brand guidelines definitely come from another era. They hail from a time when brand guidelines were a real ‘thing’ — a book, a folder, a ring bound extravaganza, in a box, etched on a copper tin…you get my drift.

Of course the NASA brand identity is a design classic and in turn the guidelines for this timeless brand have become a classic themselves, so much so that the original has been reprinted in 2016 to rave reviews. But I can’t help but think as I coo over the badge design section or marvel at the aircraft logo application section that we will never, ever see its like again.

There was a time when a brand guidelines project was the magnum opus every design company aspired to. Every designer has his or her dream job and brand guidelines were usually it. As a young designer I would pore over expensively produced brand books and yearn to get a guidelines book under my belt. But guidelines were always hefty tomes and a big investment which meant the , London specialists bagged them all and kept them out of the reach of smaller design companies.

If designers loved them, then make no mistake, clients loved them too. A robust and lavish guidelines project was the sign of a thorough (and expensive) brand development process, an indicator of leaving no branded stone unturned, a badge of honour for client and designer alike.

Looking back on it, I now think that these publications are a version of the brand preserved in aspic.  Rules set out, sat on a shelf, gathering dust. Job done. And that was the problem with brand guidelines back in the day: they instantly became historical documents.

In recent years, the pendulum has swung fully in the opposite direction. We increasingly began to see less appetite for these grandiose guidelines projects, clients preferring instead to channel design budgets into customer-facing materials.  Increasingly guidelines were overlooked and sketchy PDFs were the order of the day.

But the need for robust guidelines hasn’t gone away. In the age of fast moving brand content and constantly evolving brands, one could argue that they are needed now more than ever. I believe the guidelines that we need in this day and age should focus on how brands behave across the proliferation of content and channels.

Brand Guidelines have to be a living, breathing thing that is agile and fit for purpose. They have to work for a wide range of agencies too: brand, advertising, digital, social, content…each needing their own take on the brand and each with different levels of understanding of brand.

As a creative agency we always find it more interesting when guidelines set a tone and advise as opposed to dictate. Good clients know that if they work with good agencies that they’ll interpret rather than follow slavishly and controversially the brand becomes stronger for that. We’re often poacher and gamekeeper in the brand guidelines world and I like to think we know how to create effective guidelines that will function and we know how to use guidelines both responsibly and creatively.

The brand guidelines we recently produced for Sky (digital format of course) contained the building blocks for the Channel brands Sky Arts, Sky Living and Sky Atlantic and presented brand assets in a logical way without getting in to too much granular detail. We knew this document would continually evolve so the most important thing is to create a framework so the content can change over time.

The role of the document is to inspire creativity for the brands it portrays and not be a straightjacket for ideas.

Ultimately, the best brand guidelines are ones that cultivate fresh thinking whilst at the same time hoodwinking creative into their way of thinking so you get the best of both worlds: a cohesive brand identity that is constantly innovating.

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Street Art


Street Art


Street Art

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I remember vividly sitting in a geography lesson and debating graffiti. Whilst one half of the class argued it as vandalism and lack of respect for communities, the other defined it as street art and creative exploration of public space.

It seems this argument is still going on almost a decade later. What exactly is public space, who owns is, who has the right to adorn or deface it? These are all questions that many people are still asking, but regardless of the answers, street art has seen a predominate rise in popularity.

What began as mainly synonymous with ASBOs and law defying youths, in fact grew into a politically fuelled art form. Anti-establishment, politics, culture and ethics have been explored and brought to our attention by artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey- and to huge demand by the public. Their works are some of the most reproduced and iconic to our generation. From being the on the covers of magazines, T-shirts and pretty much any printable surface- we have been inundated.

But now it is hard to imagine a city without street art. From London, to Barcelona to New York. Street art is everywhere and has become intrinsic to the make-up of diverse cities. It is no longer seen as a nuisance but instead we feel empathy towards it- it displays the character of communities.

Incredible projects have been set up worldwide such as ‘The Wrinkles of the City ‘in Havana which sees street memorials of senior citizens who have lived through the Cuban Revolution erected across buildings.

The public and artists are able to bypass galleries and auction houses to freely participate in the art world- which has so often been accused of as elitist.

The streets of have become interactive exhibitions as our daily commutes are made far more exciting with ever new street art popping up.

Love it or hate it, it cannot be denied it provides intrigue and points of discussion across such a broad variety of topics.

Image courtesy of The Wrinkles of the City.

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Album Artwork


Album Artwork


The rebirth of the album cover

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 I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the album cover.

 There was a time when the album cover was as iconic as the music it represented. The twelve inch square artwork was a real thing and by that I mean something physical to be carried around, flaunted even.

 Album covers were accessories in the sense it spoke about the individual: how cool they were, what they knew, who they knew. I talk about this in the past sense because it seems so far away from the relationship with album art that music has today. It’s not that album art has become less interesting, in fact far from it, it’s just become less important in the process of listening to music.

 There was a time when I’d sit with headphones on, listening to a vinyl album, on a turntable, reading the lyrics on the inner sleeve and admiring the album cover. Then there was the smell of the inside of the cover: a unique combination of paper, ink, board, varnish and vinyl. A heady brew that added to the music.

 Of course technology marches on and anodine CDs in clear plastic jewel cases became the norm and we all rushed for pristine sound and smaller format, we lost something along the way. The booklet inside the case was, by and large, standard format and apart from some creative exceptions, it was a mass-market product. The album cover was still important whilst music was still a physical thing that had to be picked off the shelf and put on a counter.

 Over time CDs made way for digital downloads and gradually the album cover was diminished. Although it became an image on an iPod or computer screen, the album cover was still important to me, the collector had to make sure that the non-physical covers existed somewhere. Streaming has reduced the album cover’s impact further: the result of a search box click on a tablet or smartphone.

 The album cover is dead. Or is it?

 Vinyl is making a comeback, not just with the cool kids but people who remember it first time round. For these music evangelists, vinyl is about warmth and authenticity, music as it was intended to be heard. Album covers in record shops have real power too, we have been so used to seeing things getting smaller and smaller, it’s genuinely amazing to see a large format cover. Designers have re-discovered the format and creating album covers that truly explore the format and the relationship it has with our psyche.

 It seems to me that this is a discussion around content creation. The album cover design is unique content, created specifically to amplify the effect of the music beneath, and the format in which this content is consumed is multi platform: cardboard sleeve, CD case, digital jpeg, record store poster, band t-shirt or live performance. Its almost, the more formats the cover is seen in, the stature of it grows. Ironically, the diversification and fracture of the music industry has given the album cover a new lease of life.

 There is an argument to say that in the current perilous climate for the music industry that the album cover has become even more important than it once was. Bands are brands after all and their album covers, in whatever format, are one of the few touch points to engage their audiences.

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Noma


Noma


Noma

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I have no idea how to set about writing about the best restaurant in the world. My usual ramblings work very well for the majority of restaurants but when we go somewhere special, I find I have to raise my game somewhat. So when one of my long-standing ambitions of getting a reservation at world-famous Danish restaurant Noma actually became a reality, I was already quaking in my boots about how I’d write about it. I’ve chilled a bit since we went there and time has allowed me some perspective, which has helped me get my head around how to review the experience.

After our trip to Noma, I was reflecting on the brilliance of it all (there, I’ve spoiled the ending) and it was not just about the food but it was about every detail of the entire experience as most restaurants are. I thought that would be a useful way to structure my thoughts on Noma.

First of all, booking a table. We were in town for one reason and one reason only—lunch at the iconic Noma. A lunch or dinner reservation is a rare thing of beauty and even the locals talked enviously of not being able to bag a table. My wife’s perseverance paid off and the table was booked three months in advance when the booking window for our planned trip opened. We booked our trip around the reservation – top tip: don’t try to reserve a table around existing travel plans, it will result in you eating elsewhere.

Secondly, the city. Copenhagen is a very cool city. I’d not been before so everything was fresh and interesting in only the way a visit to a brand new city can be. Just a relatively short half hour hop across from the UK, there’s a lot to like about the city. It has the edgy hipster districts that were plagued with drugs and sex workers only a few years ago, it has wide-open plazas where the cooling autumn winds whipped around. Copenhagen’s rich history as a port clearly delivers diversity and an outward facing vibe that’s hard to pinpoint but is abundantly in evidence.

Next, the restaurant. As you’d expect, Noma resides in the cool river waterfront district – where else would one of the world’s most individual restaurants be situated? Majestic restored grain warehouses litter the waterfront with an easy mixture of business, residential and bar & restaurant. Noma sits in a tall stone built warehouse overlooking the main waterway and was a short walk from the local metro stop. As we stopped outside to take the perfunctory selfies outside the restaurant sign, a member of staff dashed out and offered to take the photograph for us. This deceptively small piece of customer service set the tone for what was to be the best lunch of our lives.

Now onto the service. We were greeted by seemingly dozens of members of staff who greeted us on our arrival – chefs, waiters, sommeliers, and kitchen staff. This was another relatively small touch but we were made to feel really welcome and I’ve never encountered that anywhere else at all. The atmosphere in Noma is relaxed but below that cool demeanor beats an engine of epic efficiency and power. We’ve dined at Michelin starred restaurants before but the difference here was the lack of pretentious behavior by the staff, or indeed by the food. Service was immaculate: attentive, unobtrusive, knowledgeable, humorous, humble, stylish and above all, really on it. We felt immediately at home and this set the tone for the rest of the meal.

All well and good, what about the food? I won’t bore you with endless descriptions or photographs of the food and drink but trust me when I say it was the best meal of our lives – and the most expensive. But it was absolutely worth every single penny.

Of course there were ants used as seasoning, foraged seasonal Nordic ingredients, exquisite execution, immaculate presentation, informal discussions with the chefs, no meat served whatsoever during lunch, outrageous combinations, ridiculous simplicity, ingenious wine pairings, ambition and humility. Rarely has restaurant packed so many genuine moments of joy into one sitting. This was food that took us on a journey of taste, exploration and enjoyment, never once serving a plate that wasn’t on brand or in line with the overall vision. I’ve never heard Rene Redzepi deliver his vision but I left the restaurant feeling like I know exactly what it is and I’m now a fully signed up member of the Noma club.

An extended tour of the kitchens and ‘backstage’ areas was even more revealing: 38 chefs from around the world diligently prepping dinner service, an experimental lab devoted to innovation and food ingenuity, a solitary chef manning the barbecue cooking only leeks, cheery hellos from everyone (and I mean everyone) we met, a hydroponic indoor garden devoted to growing herbs, a chance encounter with the man himself and a palpable sense of excitement and opportunity.

So is Noma worth the cost and the effort? Absolutely. Would we do it again, given the depleted nature of the bank balance post visit? Without question. One of the great pleasures in life is to come into contact with experts, those who have put the perquisite 10,000 into what they do (according to Mr Gladwell anyway) and have become leaders in their field. I knew the moment we walked into Noma that we were in the presence of such people and what an absolute joy it was to experience it.

Image credited and courtesy of Anton Sucksdroff

 

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Diverse Interpretation


Diverse Interpretation


Diverse Interpretation

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As the winter chill descends and day light hours are even shorter, we here at the office were in desperate need of something to lift the ever encroaching winter blues. Now don’t get me wrong, we are all for getting into the Christmas spirit but forest greens, Rudolph red and baubles just weren’t cutting it.

Enter our week’s theme: TROPICAL

The themes primarily give our social content an overall coherent aesthetic and meaning from week to week, but we have also found it a great way to encourage sourcing new artists. Yet what has been most interesting is the way in which each of us interprets each theme differently.

Fresh from a trip to Colombia, tropical in my mind encapsulates all things bright, vibrant, and heavily influenced by Caribbean culture- artists such Sarah Illenberger (featured photo) as Ciara Phelan  instantly sprung to mind.

Yet while I was running wild with neon flora and fauna, my colleague Chloe suggested her favourite artist David Hockney and his painting 'A Bigger Splash'. It struck me how different our interpretations were and as such our associated artists.

I began to wonder why? Age, experience, taste, culture or just our mood at the time.

It seems interpretation and the way we carry it out, either literal, logical or sometimes nonsensical is something so fundamental to our identity that we will never fully see the world the same as someone else.

And it is through this difference that diversity, new ideas and new beginnings are created.

It seems only fair then to hail ‘diverse interpretation’ because without it, it would be a pretty bland and boring world to live in. 

Photo credited and courtesy of Sarah Illenberger.

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Art and Craft


Art and Craft


Art and Craft

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I’ve been talking about the iconic Chinese artist Ai Weiwei a lot recently after seeing his show at The Royal Academy in London. Rarely is an art exhibition so blisteringly political yet spellbindingly beautiful — and the dissident artist really pulls it off.

To simply look at his art is to only scratch the surface of the layer upon layer of detail carefully built into every artwork. The exhibition is transformed by an essential commentary delivered by headphones and iPod which explains the thinking behind each piece and the how the idea is realised. This seamless and fully integrated use of technology delivers real depth and insight whilst the art never releases its firm grip on your throat.

Without exception, Ai Weiwei’s works are impossibly brought to lifein the galleries of the Royal Academy. Not only is the original art breathtaking in concept and realisation, but the transporting of the work from all over the world and re-creation in London is a feat worthy of a show in itself. I’m fascinated by art that requires huge levels of skill and technique to bring the artist’s vision to life.

Wewei has an army of technicians who work with him to perfectly realise his vision and its flawless execution is essential to the integrity of the work. Often the beauty and perfection of the artwork creation IS the art in itself. Weiwei loves to play with the notion of what art actually is, challenging our preconceptions around painting, sculpture, performance and even furniture as art. I was deeply engaged by the process and struggle each piece of art entailed and in many cases the process of realisation is part of the work too. By integrating traditional Chinese craftsmanship with modern innovation, Weiwei’s works are at once timeless but of the moment.

The exhibition is an art blockbuster of epic proportions but for me it’s all about simple, determined ideas that are well thought through, brought to life by astonishing craftsmanship and beautifully staged.

Image courtesy of The Guardian.co.uk

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Print is NOT Dead


Print is NOT Dead


Print is NOT Dead

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The arrival of the new iPhone 6s caused a fair amount of buzz in the office. One by one new phones arrived; photos, apps and numbers were transferred and everyone began the process of uncovering its new features.

It was however the arrival of another item that really had me in awe- The G F Smith paper sample pack. Calling it a pack really does not do it justice; it is more a beautifully compiled book filled with an assortment of varying colours and textures.

This was my first handling of a paper sample, and while I loved it, there was talk of previous preferred ones- so I am sure over the years this pack will be surpassed by many others. However what will remain constant is the beauty and significance of paper and print itself.

Where we live in a world so dominated by technology; I Phones, Laptops, Tablets, kindles- it is so easy to forget and not appreciate print as an art form. Yet I was as captivated flicking through each page as I am when scrolling down an Instagram feed. It provided me a rare 10 minutes when I was not fixated on a screen and instead was able to grasp, and feel the real weight of an item that we come into contact with every day but never fully appreciate. What strikes me is that the claims of print “dying” aren’t just made in the creative industries; they span across so many sectors.

In my first year of university I wrote an essay for not only a geography module but also a sociology module on whether print would still exist in 50 years. The answer in both cases was yes.

Technology inundates our lives, yet it has such a sporadic and fast nature whereas print carries a longevity and a strong sense of certainty that we as people need to ground us in the hectic world we live in. A loving email is incomparable to a hand written note from a loved one; the ability to see a person’s character and nature in their handwriting is something only paper can convey. Buying a new EBook is nothing compared to getting lost in a book shop for hours. Nor can swiping through the news on a tablet compete with the feeling of settling down on a Sunday to read the newspapers.

Yes I was excited for the new IPhone, but unashamedly, I was more so when holding my shiny new book of paper. So in all answer to all of those thinking it, NO print is not dead.  

 

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The 3 Ages of Millennial Advertising


The 3 Ages of Millennial Advertising


The 3 Ages of Millennial Advertising

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Have you noticed how our advertising goes through shifts? I think of these phases as the ‘ages of advertising’, and it feels like there’s a new cultural shift coming our way soon.  

2005 – 2010 The age of irritation

As we made our way into the noughties, brands from every sector set out to give us ads that would stick in our minds through distinctiveness (read annoyingness). And so the mid noughties gave us the ‘age of irritation’, epitomised by the runaway meerkat success. Characters popped up left, right and centre, with increasingly bizarre and distinctive characteristics. Calm down dear, it was only an Opera Singing Meerkat in an immersive illustrated world.

2010 – 2015 The age of storytelling

By 2010 things were changing. People wanted their advertising to be a bit more grown up and frankly they needed a bit of escapism. John Lewis led the way, honing the art of wrapping us in a feel-good ad blanket, and the ‘age of storytelling’ was born. Everyone wanted a slice of the pie and the winning formula of acoustic cover track + nostalgic edit became highly ubiquitous. We still see examples of this style today but it’s starting to feel a little overdone and generic. So what’s next?

2015 onwards – what’s next?

Watch back / streamed TV and content culture is rapidly changing how we consume advertising. Consumers will have more and more opportunity to opt out, so the challenge to brands will be to keep them hooked for long enough to watch. To do this we predict advertising will become increasingly powerful and meaningful.  

We suspect the next big trend will be the ‘age of social consciousness’. The campaigns everyone is talking about this year are the ones that challenge our place in the world and make us think. Save the Children’s ‘just because it isn’t happening here’ video campaign tapped in to the wave of support for refugees on social media at just the right moment. And Always delivered theirLike a Girl’ campaign, creating a big social statement that captured the new feminist zeitgeist perfectly.

But how far are brands going to go? Some sectors and brands will be better positioned than others to deliver a right-on message with a fast enough turnaround to feel culturally relevant. We reckon that by 2020 we will see the rise of CSR to the forefront of campaign thinking. Watch this space…

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The Art of Slow


The Art of Slow


The Art of Slow

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In January 2015 I decided to get my sketching mojo back and start drawing again. I’ve been sketching on and off since I was at Art College and in recent times, haven’t picked up a pen up anywhere near enough, so I decided to sort it out.

My tried and tested strategy is to get the kit right—new tools always excite me and are essential for me at the outset for me to stay the course. I bought a classic Moleskine sketchbook with heavy weight (off white) drawing paper of and crucially in a size just over A5, large enough to capture a decent canvas but small enough to tuck into a bag.  Pens were next and they always get me excited: Pentel fine liners, Edding 55 fibre tips and Pentel Signpens, all standard issue for designers. I thought I’d push the boat out with some Faber Castell brush pens too—all bets are off at this stage and using a new pen can often inspire me as much as the subject.

Subject matter was the next consideration. Sketching is like a muscle that needs exercising to grow it and then when fully pumped it needs plenty of reps to keep it up to scratch. So where am I constantly exposed to countless, interesting scenes? Living in East London, I do frequent a lot of bars and restaurants and that seemed like the perfect place to start. In truth it’s not too obtrusive and is often a starting point for conversations.

I’ve had a proper go over the past 9 months and am now onto my sixth sketchbook and I’m really getting into a groove. Sketching is certainly habit-forming and taps into my obsessive-compulsive nature with a desire to collect (scenery in this case). It’s rewarding also to sketch what I would have otherwise shot on my iPhone (I Instagram my sketches funnily enough). My first few sketches were a bit clunky but I was determined to just draw and create without worrying about the outcome. I have learnt over time to crack on with it and not get too anxious about what happens.

I have found that my eye is getting better and better and each sketch is a reasonably faithful representation of the atmosphere of the subject matter: calm, chilled, hectic, noisy, quiet, relaxed, full on. Of course no one ever sits still or poses, so it brings huge challenges for me as faces were never my strong point, but either way I just draw.

What I’ve found sketching around London is that time spent with a pen and sketchbook in hand is time profitably spent. Although I’m a fairly fast worker, each sketch takes around half an hour or so and this time is precious. The world slows down whilst I capture it: busy street scenes with bustling crowds, glorious cathedrals, iconic skylines or people enjoying a pint.

In our age of Instagratification (made up marketing word alert), it’s rewarding to slow it down a little and let the pen and paper interpret our lives. In an age dominated by the digital image there is real pleasure to be had in analogue mark making.  

 

 

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Say My Name


Say My Name


Say my name.
(Or, put a Saturn ring on it)

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At the moment we are deep into the perilous exercise that is brand naming. I’m sure it was never this difficult. A few rules still apply though. Such as; the name has to capture the heart of the organisation, be memorable, easy to pronounce and crucially, not take you to a dodgy website when you mistype it into your browser. But this is the kicker, the internet. That elusive ‘.com’. With such a magnitude of apps, websites and small brands popping into existence every minute and amid an ever evolving language it’s very difficult to nail down that ‘Available’, perfect name.

It was at this time that I stumbled across the International Astronomical Union’s competition to name 305 well characterised exoplanets and their host stars. The Union’s, ‘NameExoWorlds’ contest democratises the process of naming by crowd-sourcing names from the general public.

A great way to encourage engagement with science and allow individuals and groups to share their ideas. The naming panel then act as a voting filter to pull out any ‘Uranus’ style clangers and give an objective viewpoint on the exercise.

This gives me some perspective on our adventures in naming.

A brand name is for life, but a planet name is for eternity.

Thank you all inhabitants of Uranus.

 

Image courtesey of nasa.gov

 

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Foodie-Nista


Foodie-Nista


Foodie-nista

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Food, Food, Food. I mean forget fashion week, it’s food that’s on everyone lips at the moment - quite literally. On Wednesday Steve and I travelled up to Hull, which ok was not quite the Jardin Des Tuileries, but I felt just as excited about our food styling shoot as I did reading about this year’s Fashion shows. And I’m not alone in saying I love food; eating it, reading about it, hunting it down. The food world is changing. It no longer takes a certificate from Le Cordon Bleu, or regular visits to Michelin starred restaurants to make you feel that you are part of the scene.

Unlike the fashion world, food is losing the elitism and exclusivity that it once held. Because let’s face it, where the fashion world may crave the perfect ‘scallop hem’, many more of us just crave a scallop…fried in butter. Food is a basic necessity that unites us, but it has also become an incredibly fashionable industry. 

In my eyes the liberated food movement has gone hand in hand with the rise of social media. You no longer need a publisher to get your recipes out there, you don’t need to be trained in knife skills, and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been to Leith’s (because really who can afford £820 for a one week course)!?

No, we have thrown a big two fingers up to that kind of posh cooking. It’s goodbye to Julia’s “Mastering the Art” and hello to the likes of you and me – clocking up the literal likes on Instagram. Take Ella Woodward or as most people know her @deliciouslyella. After developing a rare illness in 2011 and deciding to make some serious life style changes, Ella put finger to keyboard and began to blog about her new food life. 4 years and 582k Instagram followers later, she also has a new cookbook, a telegraph column – and perhaps most importantly a place in many people’s hearts.

Similarly Mark and Michael of @symmetrybreakfast were just two guys from Hackney. But since moving in together and sharing their aesthetically incredible breakfast images, they have generated a huge 400k followers in just over two years. It is an Instagram account so beautifully dedicated to “world foods, culture and design aesthetics” that it has sparked a worldwide trend of food symmetry that has become synonymous with them, and highly influential in the foodie world.

Even the once formal restaurant world is loosening up, led by the rapid increase of semi-permanent restaurants, pop-up food stalls, food markets and events. With the power of twitter and Instagram, food events can be shared to thousands of people in a millisecond, which completely revolutionises the way we look at marketing strategy for even the most premium food experiences.

This new found democratisation of food means that it is now part of many more people’s lives. We are all invited to the foodie fashion party, and our collective contributions have had some amazing results; aesthetically, creatively and geographically. It will be interesting to see whether in coming years the rise of the fashion bloggers will pave the way for a more democratic and creative fashion world as well. For now I’m left to wonder, am I a passionate foodie because I truly love food, or am I just another foodie-nista?

 

 

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Digital Stories


Digital Stories


Digital Stories

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Recently an interesting thing happened to me. I woke up to find I had been trolled. My first thought - how very modern. My second, how do I shut this thing down?

The story begins at my wedding in 2013. Two years later someone happens upon our photo on a blog, and it's used to fabricate a story about our mixed-culture wedding day that begins circulating at breakneck speed. 1,200 shares and over 700 comments later, we finally managed to get our image removed, although even without it the story went on to be shared, many hundreds more times.

The experience made me wonder – who does digital content belong to? And does it matter that many of the stories we consume online aren't  even true? It’s a harsh reminder that shareable, relevant content can be created in minutes, from absolutely nothing. Rather a lot of smoke, without any fire.  And it makes for a brave new world, for us as people, but also for companies and their brands.  

You never know when a bad customer service email or a candid snap in-store is going to go viral. People make and break brands in the social media battleground, where one-sided experiences are presented at face value with little context. Absolute truth, it seems, doesn’t matter a great deal – a good story gains traction when it's told at the right time and in the right place. 

Brands need to keep a round-the-clock watch over their channels, as a smart, timely retort to a negative story will win the day every time. In fact, this fast and fluid world is a great opportunity - if companies can just be agile enough to keep up with their consumers.

Our insatiable appetite for digital stories shows no sign of waning, so for now the way forward is surely to feed the content beast with really good stuff, before someone else gets in there and fills the gap for you. Brand teams and their agencies need to be owning this space, telling authentic stories that are bigger,  better and more shareable than the rest of the noise out there. Seems to me, that’s the only way we can slay the trolls and all come out triumphant.    

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Spitfire


Spitfire


Spitfire

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I've always been a little obsessed by the aircraft from the Second World War. As a child in the early seventies, the war still loomed large, after all it was only 25 years since the war had ended. Every boy my age loved the British planes and the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster held a legendary status and we furiously built Airfix kits day and night to prove it.

This year's Battle of Britain commemorations have brought these feelings flooding back and a recent trip to the Royal Air Force Museum has re-kindled my love of Britain's finest flying machine—the Spitfire. And seeing a squadron of these magnificent machines flying over central London last week gave me goosebumps and oddly I was almost moved to tears. The ragged roar of the Rolls Royce Merlin engines in sync with each other was thrilling beyond belief and I guess the boy from Leeds in 1970 would probably have cheered. Well I nearly did.

It's well over two generations ago and the memory of what the pilots achieved in the Battle of Britain changed the direction of the war and the machines they flew (Spitfires and Hurricanes of course) were pivotal in the outcome. I've always felt that the Spitfire was a beautiful design classic, worthy of a place alongside the all time greats. Talking to my daughter recently, she is working on a project on its designer RJ Mitchell and I have to confess a touch of jealousy, I'd love to do a deep dive into the origins of the aircraft and the attention to detail it required to get the most influential aircraft of the second world war airborne.

RJ Mitchell died before the the war started and never saw his beloved Spitfire in action, nor did he see how influential his aeroplane would be.

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Business Card Power


Business Card Power


Business Card Power

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I'm a big believer in the power of the business card.

I realise this may peg me as a touch old school, especially in these days of blink and you'll miss it digital trends, but I don't care. A business card is still one of the few physical brand touch points that remain in the business to business world that speaks volumes about the business it represents. A beautifully considered business card can elevate the smallest business to the same stature as bigger companies—and often beyond.

Talking to some young digital dudes recently (who have never had and never will have business cards) I realised my thinking isn't widely held in Shoreditch circles, but I think they are missing a trick. At an event recently, my new business cards did exactly the job they were meant to do: raised eyebrows of approval, made our brand a reality, the thick card delivered credibility and ended up in a decision-maker's breast pocket.

There's nothing nicer that a new set of business cards too. The smell of the ink on the paper and the realisation that the new thing you've embarked on is actually real, and I'll confess I have a little stash of old business cards from previous roles in my drawer somewhere. As a designer, I always loved the business card brief and I'd dig out the Graphis annuals to get the creative inspiration going. I'm glad to see the craft of good business card design has never really gone away.

I never take it for granted that as a design business, we have control of our business cards. I've lost count of the number of clients I meet that eye up our cards jealously and bemoan their business' lacklustre approach to business card. It seems the procurement teams of large corporate businesses have perfected the online ordering of poorly printed flimsy cards where it's all about the cost and nothing else.

I'll still fly the flag for the details that matter: the subtle foil or tactile emboss, the toothy paper that holds the ink sensually or the special colour when four colour process just wouldn't be good enough. These are the details that I believe speak of the care taken with even the smallest brief that always filter upwards into the larger projects.

 

 

 

 

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Taking time, Making Time


Taking time, Making Time


Taking time, making time
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Everyone’s in such a hurry these days.

You rush to work at breakneck speed, buy a few bits on your mobile on your way into work (same day delivery, naturally), your barista apologises for the unacceptable one minute wait in the latte queue, and you’re already logged on and reading mail all before you even get to your desk.

Obviously we love today’s technology, we live by it. It makes everything so much better, and …well, faster. But I think what’s coming next is a pause. Just like slow food was to the fast food movement in the 80s/90s, it’s becoming clear that the next big trend is going to be a ‘slow life’ antidote to the fast life of today. Curating occasional pauses, in an always-on world.

The leisure industry have seen this one coming for a while, with the increasing popularity of tech-free resorts where the self confessed addict hands over phone, iPad and laptop at reception and goes cold tech turkey for a week.  And self-help books aplenty have sprung about to stop us from drowning in the whirlwind of speed and information.

So what does this mean for the creative industry? I think it means taking time out in order to stay relevant. Taking your client for a coffee and a wander around a gallery, rather than sending them yet another email. Popping out to see what’s happening around the block rather than having lunch at your desk.

More often than not even the greatest digital ideas are those which translate real life moments and emotions in a way that feels truly human, and timeless. We’re in the unique position today of being able to make a local experience national, or even global within hours. We just have to take the time out to discover the stories that are happening all around us. Look outside the train window on the commute, glance up high as you pass a tower, run about in a park for a while. Take five right now and nip outside, let’s face it you never know what you might find out there, IR.   

 

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Certain Happiness


Certain Happiness


Certain Happiness
Friday 21st August 2015
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So finally we are up and running. The website is live and we have a web presence that hints at things to come.

We first started talking about setting up an agency in 2014 and it's taken until late summer 2015 to get things off the ground. I like to think that things that take time are worth waiting for, although in the overall scheme of things it's actually taken no time at all. Certain was born out of a need to do things our way, not following the conventions of existing agencies. That's not to say that these businesses were doing things the wrong way, it just wasn't our way. So we decided to put ourselves to the test and set up our own shop.

Sitting on a roof terrace in Shoreditch on a sunny Friday morning in August seems like a good way to start our journal. The overground trains rumble past and the sounds of construction echo around the steel valleys of the city creating a perfect soundtrack to our adventure. The first entry into any journal is always the hardest as is the first sketch in a book or the first words of a conversation but the purpose of this section of our website is to create a window into our world: what gets us excited, what are we thinking about, who do we love and even what's keeping us awake at night.

We are 100% in start up mode right now.  So juggling live briefs (which is amazing), trying to sort our brand out (hope you like it), buying cost effective furniture (IKEA) and wrestling with slow broadband are just a few things occupying our day to day.. On top of this, we're looking for like minded people to share our journey. Of course we're seeking clients and brands that share our outlook but we're also looking for smart, creative and ambitious people to help us get where we want to be. If you're a graduate who wants to get a taste of London agency life, get in touch, if you're an amazing creative then come and hang out with us. The more the merrier.