This post will be a little tangential, but bear with me.
So today, I’m sitting in Design History class watching Art & Copy for probably the 6th time. [If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s a documentary about advertising. It’s really much more interesting than it sounds. You can watch it free on youtube. If you care about art or design at all you’ll probably enjoy it.] I think I had an “A-HA” moment. Not “take on me” but an idea about my career in design. Lately I’ve been looking down the throat of an internship hunt, and in the process realizing that I don’t fit the mold of any of the internship positions that my educational track mandates. It’s been a great source of stress and driven me to do a lot of soul searching on the topic of “what am I good at”. After hearing David Kennedy [of Wieden+Kennedy, the design firm that hosts the “basket” as seen in portlandia] say that he hated advertising and the love/hate situation he and Dan Wieden had with the advertising were what drew them together forming the firm, a light bulb went off for me.
I’ve traditionally hated the idea of advertising. It seems manipulative and dirty. It causes people to do things that aren’t good for them. ..and lets not get started on child targeting advertising. I’ve always felt, rather unfortunately, that I am built for such work. I’m fascinated by social science. I have a good working knowledge of human cognition and how it relates to design and persuasion. I’m also a pretty good communicator and have an ability to distill ideas down to easily manageable nuggets. These strengths aren’t yet doing a lot for me in Industrial Design and Interaction design. Well.. they are, but not enough to give me leverage over my competition. I’m currently going through an entrepreneurship certificate program, another area that I have some negative opinions on, and seeing my skills working in that arena as well. Seeing these guys with the same concerns I have, and managing to move forward in spite of them was kind of inspiring. Rich Silverstien and Jeff Goodby had some good things to say as well. To paraphrase, it’s not crappy when it’s done right.
Ok. Time to jump the tracks.
All this thinking about advertising reminded me of the excellent Bones Brigade documentary that Lauren and I watched on Netflix a while ago. Aside from being a really cool story about a team that really defined the sport of skateboarding, this film covered some of the art behind the brand. At the time, skateboard ads were this bland, pseudo-sporting goods style that showed average kids in full on, ugly colored safety gear. Bones Brigade brought in this artist called Craig Stecyk, who started doing all this off the wall (sic) design for the print ads. Most didn’t feature skateboards at all. They had fire, taxidermied animals, etc. To paraphrase the explanation given in the film, they were selling ideas, not skateboards. Such a great commentary. It was so amazing to me to learn the genesis of this style of art in advertising. I was not a skater growing up, but I rode BMX, which experienced a similar, but not as pronounced change in advertising. This kind of art was ubiquitous to me in my semi-suburban, 90’s highschool years. I remember seeing art from skateboard magazines early on. It seemed so acceptable even though it was kind of out there. I remember one particular Toy Machine ad that had little claymation figures that I tore out and saved. The disruptive format that Bones Brigade put out there is still in use today.
So, anyway.. where I’m going with this is that this film is great, especially if you grew up in the 90’s and had exposure to skateboard culture. I really love being able to trace ideas back to specific points. This is the most solid example of that that I’ve encountered.