Monday, January 29

Selling Sausage: Marc Gobe

Marc Gobe likes to be called a “conceptual provocateur,” which he defines as "a mind that never rests, that never stops seeking ways to look at things from a new and totally different point of view." He has a lot of interesting ideas that come from his stream-of-consciousness approach, but the one I read in Communication Arts, yesterday, is baloney.

That is what happens sometimes: instead of finding stream-of-consciousness inspiration, we end up selling baloney.

Gobe writes that the designer is the mirror image of the consumer, calling it a revolutionary idea, but mostly, it seems, it's revolutionary because he claims it is his idea. He says that designers are the consumers, understand visual communication better than anyone, and basically, if the researchers would step out of the way, then designers could reach down deep and pull out innovation to jazz up those brands. (Not surprisingly, his design firm, he says, fully endorses this approach. Eh hem, it would be a shocker if it did not.)

Sure, everybody in the industry "feels" this way from time to time: free the creatives from the shackles of research, give them unlimited access to the consumer, and add more weight their opinion, because, after all, they are consumers too. But just because we "feel" this way, doesn't make it so.

Case in point. How many professional organization meetings have we attended when one person floats an event idea, a bad one, but inevitability, someone else on the board says "Ooooo, that's a good idea ... I would go to that" despite the fact that it flies in the face of everything the organization knows to be true from its own member research. The logic: board members are members too. When the event flops, everybody stands around scratching their heads wondering what happened.

What happened? Simple. They fell into the trap that board members are the mirror image of members, despite the fact that there are fundamental differences between them. Board members and members are different audiences because one is engaged while the other is optionally engaged. In business, we often remind clients that no one is more interested in their product than they are. In other words, once you're engaged, you're automatically different than the target audience.

The same holds true for designers and other commercial creatives. Sure, some will find brilliance by becoming emotionally engaged by their own perspective and ego similar to artists like Paul Guanguin. But like all great philosophical approaches to art, design, and even business, there is another direction that's given less attention but has a superior effect. Staying with artists as the analogy, it would be the path taken by Michelango.

Michelango understood that if you destroy the ego and view the world as a third-party observer, looking not for that not-so-elusive emotional jazz, but for the truth, inspiration will flow through unencumbered and touch a greater audience. Right. Take yourself out of the equation and you'll end up with better design. Likewise, you'll end up with better communication that achieves the only real result: changing behavior.

Besides, when designers are given the shot to be the consumer, something else happens. Not all, but most fail. For evidence, look at the abundance of overproduced Flash-heavy agency and design Websites out there and you'll see what I mean. Their self-promotional work has more consumer appeal to their competitors than it does to the businesses they hope to win over.

Denis Du Bois with P5 Group Inc. in Seattle made the case nicely. He didn't have an article in Communication Arts like Gobe did, but he did send in a letter critiquing that designers are becoming too addicted to Flash. While I'm not a fan of the P5 Group Inc. Web site (that's okay, I'm not a fan of mine yet either), I am a fan of this thinking: "When our only tool is a hammer (Flash), every problem looks like a nail." Now only if he would concede that budget has nothing to do with whether or not you can make great communication, we might be friends.

Anyway, here, I'll give Du Bois what he asked for that Communication Arts didn't deliver and also illustrate my argument against Gobe's notion that all designers should be counted as the ultimate consumers (nor do all of them have intuitive superiority). ScuderiaO2 produces an simple, probably cost-effective design Web site that seems to appeal much better to its business target audience than most agnecies without any Flash whatsoever. Smart.

In conclusion, let me clarify a few things so there is no confusion: Flash is cool and works for a lot of products and companies (just not all products and all companies); Gobe has floated some great ideas before (but he's not as innovative as he thinks by feeding designer egos this time around); and Du Bois seems like a nice guy with some smart ideas (though I hope he abandons the "it's all about the budget" excuse). And ScuderiaO2, well, I'm still learning about them ... there seems to be a lot to be liked ... they seem like the kind of folks we would like to work with. But then again, we like everybody. Grin.


Rich on 2/2/07, 2:03 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

Brand Noise likes Gobe, saying "he tells it like it is." I see the same interview and wonder if Gobe only "tells it like he wants it," preferring brands that appeal to him but maybe not you. Hmmm...

Andjelika on 3/19/07, 2:50 PM said...

Designers are artists. And artists tend to buy little else but art. Therefore giving them decision power on what should be designed for a consumer gives us shoes that look great on the shelf, but blisters if worn for longer then 10 minutes and leopard print everything.

Rich on 5/1/07, 4:31 PM said...

Hey Andjelikam,

I don't know how I missed your comment; it must have been before I added notifications. Very clever.

Thanks for dropping by. Hope our odd little city of lights is treating you well. — Rich

Blog owner on 7/5/07, 2:37 PM said...

Thoughtful post, thanks. I'm on two of those Boards, and you're so right about the false sense of audience representation.

It's the egg-and-bacon syndrome: The chicken participates in breakfast, but the pig (like the Board member) is committed.

I don't quite understand your reference to budget and great communication, so I'm not sure whether I'm ready to concede -- or I already have. How do you judge great communication?

Art should be judged by artists. The difference between art and design is that design has a job to do, with a deadline and a budget. Should design competitions be judged by designers?

An entry might be great communication, but how can we tell? Award-winning self-promotion and Potlatch brochures say nothing about a designer's ability to understand a client's value and communicate it to their audience profitably.

Clients, as paying judges, should exercise design skepticism. Push back when a design doesn't seem right. Often it's the agency's favorite because it will win awards or look good in a portfolio.

Likewise, don't be seduced by a shelf of awards. The greatest awards my firm has are our repeat clients.

And I'm not a fan of our web site, either... yet. The redesign, as you've probably guessed, will not be Flash.

Anonymous said...

Gobé is a fraud and a plagarist and hasn't had an original idea in years. I've never heard or read such nonsense as I have in Brand Jam.

Just take a look at the work he has done over the last year... Payless Shoes! Case closed.

Rich on 10/16/07, 11:03 AM said...

Hey D,

Sorry about missing your comment. This is an older post and I must have missed the prompt.

My point was budget has nothing to do with great communication. If you want evidence ... Bud TV.

For $30 million, they averaged around 50,000 viewers. That's abuot $600 per person per month.

Ouch! Budget has nothing to do with it. Ideas born out of strategy (those that lead to outcomes) are the deciding factor. Period. Loved your comment.

All my best,


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