An Enduring Testament to Noteworthiness

You might know it as a Hollywood landmark and an official Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument. The cylindrical mid rise peeks over the shoulders of DiCaprio and Pitt in Tarentino’s latest movie. And whether intentional or not, the Capitol Records building visually suggests vinyl albums stacked on a spindle.

The 63 year-old building’s architect Louis Naidorf repeats his protest that such an allusion was never his intention in a recent Billboard interview. His bosses didn’t tell him who the building’s namesake company would be; the then 24 year old Naidorf was simply told to design a 150 foot tall, 13-story building on Vine Street with work spaces of equal size and no corner offices. When Naidorf eventually learned the principle tenant’s identity, he worried his design might be considered a cheap, gimmicky stunt.

And at first, it was. The Capitol Records people initially passed, wanting a more traditional, rectangular building. But here’s where the story really resonates. Naidorf says the other tenant of the building, an insurance company, argued for his singular design. He recalls them advising the Capitol Records team “You’re not on Hollywood Boulevard, you’re up some damn side street and you’re only occupying half of the building and leasing out the rest. People won’t laugh at the building, but they will notice it and that’s damn good for leasing. Do the round one.”

“People won’t laugh at the building, but they will notice it and that’s damn good for leasing. Do the round one.”

Getting noticed rarely comes from expected solutions; noteworthy ideas spring from the new, the novel, the innovative. And anything new, novel, and innovative introduces risk.

Happily, the insurance execs recognized this and had more trust in Naidorf’s idea than their hepcat record label counterparts. They saw it wasn’t truly risk, but rather uncertainty. If Naidorf’s design came together, they would be leasing office space in a hot property everyone would recognize. And to them, that sounded good.

In the creative world, where ideas are the only currency, not pushing for the new, the novel, and the innovative is actually a far greater risk. Because safe thinking leads to the absolute worst outcome of all: disinterest. No reaction is more soul crushing than “meh.”

Naidorf set the rooftop tower off-center to further distance his design from stacks of wax.

With his very first professional project, Louis Naidorf crushed it. Looking back on his long and successful career, he seems to recognizes that. “It’s a sweetheart. I like the building. Sixty seven years is a pretty long time for a design to hold up.”

It certainly is. Your idea literally changed the landscape Mr. Naidorf. So glad they went with the round one.

Some Simple Positive Impact from Design

It seems to me, the least you can do as you bump along through this world, is try to create some positivity and enthusiasm so that wherever you pass, you leave smiles in your wake.

This design for a child’s bike tire literally does that: playfully, effortlessly, continuously.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Titled ‘Spread Your Love’, this design comes from Hamed Kohan of Iran, and it earned him a place on the shortlist of design entries in a recent designboom competition.  If you’ve never heard of designboom, they are worth checking out regularly.  Basically, they are international design nerds with a deep, deep website that covers most every aspect of that art.

Every design, from the pragmatically functional to the most ludicrously fantastic, creates a language of its own.  Apple has long exploited this to differentiate and enhance their brand, to the point that their product and packaging design alone generate spirited and widespread discussion.

As marketers, we rarely get to impact design, and yet it is crucial to any brand’s voice…even the sweet, chuckling little girl’s laughter of this sweet bike tire brand.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


When Good Intentions Lead To Bad Design

Look, I’ll cop to it right off the top: I think the International Olympic Committee is comprised of spoiled, pretentious ne’er-do-wells and hypocrites who posture about global harmony as they puts cities around the world through all sorts of demanding, self-indulgent histrionics as each vies to win the ‘honor’ of hosting an event that will inevitably bankrupt their civic coffers.  But hey, that’s just me…

The Olympic Spirit itself, as first outlined by that French dreamer Pierre de Coubertin, actually is a wonderful celebration of shared humanity and cooperative goodwill.  And it is that notion of ‘shared humanity’ that inevitably does find it’s way into the games, despite the hyper-commercialization and the partisan judging.

Starting with the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, Olympic host cities introduced mascots–critters emblematic of each locale with a hopefully global appeal.  To encourage universality, they are never human since we would inevitably assign them a race, and thus compromise their universality.  So we’ve met jaguars and dachsunds, beavers and bears, eagles and tigers.  All was fine, until the Atlanta Summer Games of 1996 introduced us to “Izzy”–an amorphous, computer generated…thing.  And we’ve been on a slippery downhill slope ever since.

Chicago Advertising Element 79 Dennis RyanWhich leads to these two unfortunates; the London 2012 Summer Game Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville.  Despite their slapdash hideousness, a team of well-intentioned designers slaved over their creation, as witnessed by this post which explains the meaning behind their various design details (ex: they each have one eye, not to reference some homicidal, Cyclopean giant released from the pit of Tartarus, but rather to exemplify ‘focus.’  Seriously.).  It’s hard to imagine something could supplant the recent Tropicana misfire as so readily emblematic of god-awful design, but these truly do.  The creative team’s conscientious desire not to offend has led to these mystifying, unapproachable playthings that are inherently offensive; looking at them, you can’t help but feel there must be something you don’t get, some meaning behind their aggressive oddity.

Please.  Let’s give design back to the designers.  Let’s take off the committee handcuffs and look to be inspired.  Too many cooks ruin the soup.  And Wenlock.  And Mandeville.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


One Simple Root of Good Design? Doing Something About It.

“Design” is a discipline too many people consider the sole provenance of excessively gaunt types with severe architectural glasses and a proclivity for words like “neo-dadaist.”  Which is really too bad because trolling design-oriented websites can be a wonderfully energizing experience.  Graphic design, product design, landscape design–there are many variations of this discipline to enjoy, each redolent with examples of innovative, exuberant or just plain smart thinking.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan Which brings me to this blog post on a terrific website that celebrates packaging.  This item showcases a beautifully-simple innovation for wine labels: a tear-off section containing the wine name and vintage designed specifically “To Remember.”

Finally.  A simple solution to something I imagine is a pretty common problem.  I mean, I don’t pretend to know good wines.  But every now and then, I try something and really like it.  Unfortunately, most of my mental hard drive is clogged with performance-sapping inanities like plot synopses for Our Gang episodes and the complete lyrics to Paperlace’s “The Night Chicago Died” so I can rarely remember any specifics about the wine the next day (come to think of it, the wine itself might also be at least partly to blame for that).

Either way, some clever people at Collotype Labels developed this Wine Find™ Removable Reminder and niftily solved my problem.  Or at least, they would have if I drank Oxford Landing Shiraz from South Australia.  But the point remains: these designers recognized the problem–or as modern brand managers prefer to say, ‘the opportunity’–and simply did something about it.

Funny how the first step to doing something good is simply to do something.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Web Giveth. And Giveth. Until Tropicana Taketh Away.

In today’s New York Times, Stuart Elliott provides the back story on Tropicana’s ill-received packaging redesign.  This issue first came to my attention back around the New Year when my wife spotted it in our local grocery store and succinctly opined “Yuck.”  I knew right then they were in trouble…

The Old...  The New...  The Old, Now New.

The Old... The New... The Old, Now New.

Anyway, this story once again highlights the unprecedented power that access affords today’s consumers.  Through blogs and emails, Tropicana fans demanded the return of their familiar package and it’s easily-recognized-on-a-crowded-shelf Straw In Orange brand symbol.  They also didn’t shy from critiquing the ‘generic store brand’ feel of the rather flat new graphics.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, let me admit that I worked on this brand through a string of division President’s and CMO’s from 2001-2008, and that further, I’m not much of a fan of Pepsi’s recent and pricey product redesigns—with the notable exception of a much-improved Sierra Mist.  However, I kept my opinions to myself while a groundswell of others apparently didn’t.  And so, mere months into this very expensive process, Tropicana recognized the wisdom of embracing this public feedback.  And good for them.

Interestingly, their President, a UK transplant named Neil Campbell, cites the negative response from their most loyal consumers as key to the reversal, admitting “What we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers have. That wasn’t something that came out in the research.”

Of course it didn’t come out in the research.  Any practicing creative could tell you that.  Those of us who make a living dreaming up ideas quickly grow skeptical of the dodgy pseudoscience behind market testing and the mystifying faith too many clients put into their measurements of consumer opinions.  Somehow, this entire industry built its metrics around what people say, often in public among a group of peers.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but people lie.  We all lie.  We lie all the time, for reasons good and bad, but the inescapable fact remains you can not put all of your faith in the veracity of peoples’ words and what they claim in a focus group.

Happily, the web’s mighty data engine now allows us to measure what people actually do and how they act in the real world, as opposed to the often groupthink statements they make while being interviewed in the windowless confines of focus group rooms. 

So while many will recognize this Tropicana incident as yet another cautionary tale about the ever-expanding role consumer influence has on brand marketing, we can also take away another critical lesson: we need to update our testing methods to take advantage of our easy-access to the real world, behavior-based data all around us.

You want to determine the relative merits of two marketing approaches?  Don’t make some mock-ups and hold a focus group–create rich media banners of both of them and run online test markets and see which one performs better out in the real world.  This type of production costs very little—and unlike animatics, the creative materials actually drive sales as they’re being tested.  Imagine that: faster, cheaper, and more accurate testing awaits all of us online…

Why exactly is anyone still debating this?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Thanks for Reading This Blog, But Go Here Instead…

Admirably Old School  

Draplin Design Co.: Admirably Old School

Seriously, surf over to the Draplin Design Co. website and you will not be disappointed.  Aaron Draplin is a compulsive blogger and designer with a strong bent for mid-century American graphics.  I’ve visited his site daily for months, compulsively reading his opinionated ramblings and perusing the odd ephemera uncovered by his rabid curiosity.  I look forward to every new post.

It’s remarkably powerful, the relationship between inspiration and ideation.  Everytime I drop by, his offbeat images spark my imagination. For instance, one of his links led to this stunning image.  Another led to this remarkable Flickr collection of shots of an old Kansas City Star newspaper press.

Which got me thinking how easy and fun it would be to assemble a collection of the most oddball hairstyles ever captured by film or pen and post them as a Flickr set provided by Supercuts.  It may never gather a huge audience like a TV spot, but it could earn a cult following.  And unlike TV, it costs virtually nothing.  As does a YouTube page, a Wikipedia entry or any of a hundred other new media opportunities.

In our Web 2.0 world, these kinds of innovations will grow increasingly critical to maintain meaningful engagement with our far-flung consumers.  Keeping a watchful eye on some of the most accomplished and interesting creative minds working the web today makes it far easier to integrate these ideas into our daily worklife. 

So thanks Aaron.  Wherever you are.  I’d really like to meet you someday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79