January 5th, 2022 by Helen Webber
December 1st, 2021 by Helen Webber
Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s epic 7-hour Disney+ documentary, made from 60 hours of beautifully restored, fly-on-the-wall footage originally shot in 1969.
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the music – and putting the drama, politics and social history aside – it offers an unparalleled immersive window into the creative process of one of the world’s most successful bands as they write, rehearse and record new material.
While there’s a lot to take in, here are eight key points about creativity that were reaffirmed for me by the film.
1 Get the environment right
Don’t be afraid to go somewhere else entirely if the creativity isn’t flowing. Get Back begins with The Beatles working on initial ideas on a huge set they rented in Twickenham Studios since the original intention was to perform new songs there as part of a TV special. However, it’s clear after a while that the space just isn’t working (Ringo later refers to it as “too big”) and so partway through filming the whole production relocates to Apple Music HQ in London’s Saville Row. Here the group immediately seem more comfortable making music. Never underestimate the importance of place in what you produce.
2 Find a way to document ideas
There’s one sequence* during the seven-odd hours of footage where Lennon and McCartney get into a tangle over the correct order of parts in a new song; finally agreeing things would be easier if they wrote it all down. It may hark back to the duo’s early songwriting days when they didn’t write things down on purpose: the thinking was that if they couldn’t remember a new song the next day then it wasn’t memorable enough to be a hit. But what you do notice is that as soon as they begin recording songs onto tape at Apple and listening back to them, they get a more concrete sense of what they’ve created, what’s working and what isn’t. Finding a way to document ideas or record creative progress – whatever form it takes – makes it much easier to improve.
*Ironically I can’t recall which song this was as I didn’t write it down myself…
3 Everyone feels intimidated sometimes
A period of success can result in creative egos that get in the way, so it’s reassuring to hear a multi-million-selling group talk about other musicians they consider more talented than they are, as well as bands of the time with better songs than theirs. At one point Peter Sellers turns up (working on a movie project with Ringo), and the members of the biggest band on the planet don’t seem to know how to connect with a fellow celeb; leaving him to awkwardly wander off after a while. My take home was that even those considered at the very top of their creative game are subject to the same insecurities as everyone else.
4 Make room for the mundane
In today’s era of on-demand global entertainment choices it’s easy to forget that, here in the UK, the collective evenings of the nation were once shaped by the schedule of just three television channels. And the Fab Four were no exception. For all their superstar friends and party invitations, we still hear them come into their workplace in the morning and discuss what was on TV the night before. “Did you see that sci-fi on BBC 2 last night?” asks George before going into a lengthy description of the plot. But in the ordinary they still find inspiration to create the exceptional: Harrison arrives one day with the beginnings of a song called I, Me, Mine with a melody inspired by the incidental music from a film he’d watched the previous evening, played by an Austrian brass band.
5 Know when to stop
Tempting as it can be to smash through a project, especially when you’re on a roll or, more often than not, up against a serious deadline, it’s just as important to take time out. Yes, a break can be about tired people having a rest, but there’s also the need for creative types to ‘refill the well’ with other activities and time away. Even when faced with a seemingly impossible live performance deadline the band draw a line at working every day of the week. By insisting “I’m happy to work Saturday but not Sunday too; you need at least one day” McCartney is protecting his bandmates and the quality of their music.
6 But also, never stop
We see McCartney playing the same basic riff over and over again while Ringo listens and yawns. Other parts are added as it’s revisited during the sessions and the riff magically grows into the title track Get Back. As well as illustrating McCartney’s work ethic, it’s fascinating to see one of The Beatles’ creative techniques firsthand: rather than waiting for the right lyrics to magically appear, fully formed, or halting the process they preserve momentum by singing headlines from the newspapers lying around or even gibberish. At another point Lennon helpfully suggests to a stuck Harrison “just sing cauliflower”.
7 Take time to play
For many years 1969 was seen as a fractious period in Beatles history that led to their demise, but Peter Jackson’s cut reveals a lighter side to events. Even among the boredom, obvious frustrations and, at one point, Harrison actually quitting the band, there is evidence of much fun being had. Whether it’s singing entire songs in comedy voices, Lennon’s quips or McCartney’s young daughter imitating Yoko Ono screaming into a mic, the ability to laugh together remains a critical part of being in any creative team.
8 Let things evolve
Uncertainty is ok and you may end up in a completely different place than you envisaged. The early song idea we hear Lennon strumming in the sessions with the lyrics ‘On the road to Marrakesh’ eventually becomes Jealous Guy from his 1971 solo album Imagine. Even the filming itself originally began with the intention of creating a TV special and concert before it evolved into a documentary film and rooftop concert. And while you choose where to stop, nothing creative is ever truly ‘finished’, as Harrison says about the Beatles songs – when we play them live, we change them…
Of course, everyone will take something different from finding the time to watch Get Back. At the very least you’ll gain a new perspective on the music that these people, still in their twenties, created over 50 years ago and how, when they really needed to, they came together.
To see the part that creativity plays in every Future Positive project you can access our 3-step approach here.
Image generated using artificial intelligence at Wombo.Art using ‘The Beatles and Creativity’ as a prompt
October 8th, 2021 by Helen Webber
Tired of the same old seasonal soundtrack? At Future Positive we’ve chosen some alternative Christmas music playlists compiled by Spotify users. From Brass Band to Bossa Nova — our gift to you is a range of styles to freshen up your festive listening.
DAY 24: Trap (NSFW) – If your Christmas is all about the bling then this selection of remixes and reworkings should be right up your street
DAY 23: Tijuana – Can anyone else hear trumpets? This playlist adds a decidedly-kitsch sound to your musical mix that’s as 70s as a polyester space hopper
DAY 22: Reggae – Let the sunshine of Jamaica warm those chilly December days, as the Rastafarian red, gold and green replaces gold, frankincense and mer..mur..er, the other one…
DAY 21: Punk (NSFW) – Feed your inner rebel by pogoing around to these spiky seasonal numbers. And remember, it’s not everyone that can pull off accessorizing with safety pins.
DAY 20: Peaceful Piano – If you’ve ever wanted to have your own private pianist then this playlist is just for you. Now sit back and sip a sherry as they tinkle their ivories enthusiastically in the background
DAY 19: Orchestral – Christmas gatherings can be a tight squeeze at the best of times, without having to find space for a tuba player. Thankfully the whole symphony orchestra comes packed into this seasonal playlist
DAY 18: Metal – If you prefer your Jingle Bell Rock with an extra portion of rock, how about a little Twisted Sister with your turkey? Just make sure you turn your speakers up to 11
DAY 17: Lo-Fi – In contrast to the standard fare of polished Christmas pop songs, this playlist serves up a selection of crackly, slightly wonky and more laid-back tracks
DAY 16: LGBTQ+ – This Christmas why not invite everyone along to celebrate their individuality under one giant rainbow banner of awesomeness? We’ll bring nibbles…Click for your fabulous festive LGBTQ+ playlist.
DAY 15: K-Pop – Proof that you can Christmas-ify just about any music with a sprinkling of sleigh bells and chimes – it’s a tried and tested festive formula. Click this link of a K-Pop playlist of seasonal songs.
DAY 14: Funk – Keep the central heating switched off this Christmas. Instead invite James Brown and his Famous Flames around – they’re scientifically proven to keep things toasty. Here’s your Funk Christmas playlist.
DAY 13: Elvis – Aside from the three kings of the Christmas story, for some there will only ever be one true king: Mr Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll – click to open today’s Graceland-laced Spotify playlist
Day 12: EDM – Who said the festive season has to be a sedate affair? Try some banging beats to add a club vibe to your Christmas festivities – start listening to your Electronic Dance Music playlist here
Day 11: Dubstep – It’s often said that Christmas just isn’t Christmas until PhatCat drops their Trap Remix of Sleigh Bells. Click to hear your Dubstep Christmas playlist
Day 10: Crooner – Clear a space around the Christmas tree and stand well back: it’s time for these cats to start swinging! Enjoy your Crooner Christmas playlist at this link
Day 9: Cosy Jazz – Switch off your mobile as you settle gently down onto a mince pie the size of a beanbag, accompanied by a dollop of the smoothest jazz… click to open your Spotify cosy jazz playlist
Day 8: Country – Swap the Nativity for Nashville and suddenly the holiday season becomes a line-dancing, six-string-strumming extravaganza… here‘s your Country Christmas playlist
Day 7: Chip Tune – A seasonal salute to the original 8-bit generation and anyone that’s ever had to wait an hour for home computer games to load from a tape deck…your chip tune Christmas playlist is here
Day 6: Celtic – Imagine the sedate ‘I Saw Three Ships’ reimagined as a foot-stomping, fiddle-driven jig, and you begin to appreciate the unique character of your Celtic-style Christmas playlist
Day 4: Bossa Nova – Ready for a slice of seasonal samba? Serve hot, followed swiftly by Brazil nuts
Day 3: Blues – If a freak meteorological event results in a Blue rather than White Christmas, you can still console yourself with the perfect soundtrack…
Day 2: Ambient – Bring the words ‘calm’ and ‘Christmas’ closer together with these atmospheric, laid-back seasonal tracks.
Day 1: Acoustic – Get ready to unplug everything (except perhaps the kettle) as you enjoy this electric-free selection of Christmas songs!
August 24th, 2021 by Helen Webber
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an adage in many languages, a lofty way of saying that complex ideas can be better conveyed by a single still image than a long stretch of words. For a visual person like me, – phew.
While I myself am a champion of this saying, it was first coined back in 1911, when the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club held a banquet to discuss journalism and publicity. In an article in The Post-Standard covering this event, the author quoted Arthur Brisbane as saying “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”
Roll on 110 years and it’s not just me that prefers pictures to words. Turn on any device or social media app and our reliance on using a picture to convey a story or a message has been boiled down to something most of us could never have predicted – the worldwide phenomenon of the emoji.
From hearts to worried faces, and every weather and alcoholic beverage symbol in between, having a chat with your mate (or a colleague) has never been easier.
A joke shared 😂, a presentation delivered 👌, relationships formed ❤️, emojis are on hand to help us react in this fast-paced world with little more than the tap of a key.
Now happy icons are not a new thing. The first smiley face was designed in 1963 by Harvey Ball, an American graphic artist, to raise the morale of employees at an insurance company currently feeling fatigue of the courts 😔.
The smiley face was then hijacked by the American counter-culture of the 70s, before crashing back into the popular consciousness of the acid house scene in the late 80’s. Even a chap called Pac-Man got in on the action.
But SoftBank, known as J-Phone at the time, released the SkyWalker mobile phone in November 1997, with the world’s first known original emoji set designed by Shigetaka Kurita. This set included 90 distinct emoji characters, among them one of the most iconic to date; the humble poo 💩. These emoji designs heavily influenced Apple’s original emoji alphabet and those we all use today.
In 1999 Kurita went on to to create 176 more characters and was challenged to keep these within a 250-max limit of software restrictions at the time. Conveying such an expressive set of emotions in a short way within these limitations was a truly impressive achievement.
Big brands are now using emojis in advertising; we use them to communicate quickly in Teams meetings; and even clients react to work with a thumbs up or a clap mid presentation.
Beyond the ease of showing an emotion, immediate praise and the humour of a cleverly timed eggplant 🍆, this ever-evolving language has also been a rich source of ideas for groups and organisations. It’s becoming part of a more widespread conversation to tackle taboos around gender, discuss race, and raise awareness of endangered species, with the inclusion of skin tones, lgbtq+ representation and even animal welfare icons.
This modern style of semiotics pays close attention to how the icons are used to impart meaning to their intended recipients (be it humorously) effectively, and emotionally. Shigetaka Kurita’s emojis have become powerful manifestations of the capacity of design to alter human behaviour. Another excellent example of making the complex more compelling.
Now with 107 new emojis scheduled for release in 2022 (taking the alphabet to a whopping 3,460) the artform looks unlikely to disappear into the shadows. While some might herald this as a new age in copy, others might argue we’ve done nothing but come full circle – utilising nothing more than very modern (and yellow) hieroglyphics. Whether you ❤️ them or really couldn’t give a 🐀🍑, I think we can all agree, Shigetaka Kurita deserves a 👍👏🎉.
July 5th, 2021 by Helen Webber
At Future Positive, we’re here to make the complex more compelling, and we’re always looking for ways to go about it. One of our favourites is PechaKucha (not to be confused with a certain yellow Pokémon).
Literally translating as ‘Chit Chat’ in Japanese, it was created in 2003 by a Tokyo-based architecture firm. It was initially intended to attract people to an event space aimed at sharing designers’ work and ideas who wanted to ‘show more, tell less’; but that was just the start. Since then, it’s grown across the world, with more than 50,000 people presenting at over 1,100 global PechaKucha Nights every year.
The format is simple; you present 20 slides with 20 seconds of commentary per slide – meaning the entire thing is never longer than 400 seconds – about the time it would take to brew a stovetop espresso (Rich is fancy) or eat 40 biscuits (Craig’s a pro).
It’s used for comedy, for learning and, increasingly, for business. So what can we learn from its success and how do we use its principles in our own work?
- Humans are changing
A study conducted by Microsoft in 2018 found that the average attention span of a human had shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to only 8 seconds in 2018*. (To put that in context, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds). This means that long-format, copy-heavy content is increasingly moving down the priority list. And yes, we get the irony that you’re reading this in a blog. If you’re still with us you’re already beating the fish! The unstoppable rise of tech and media overload means we’re constantly visually over-stimulated: we’re all guilty of a bit of doomscrolling whilst watching TV.
PechaKucha dictates just one image per slide – aiming to really pull focus and communicate a single thing in a memorable way. We often use this technique when presenting creative ideas; having just one point to absorb at a time creates an instant connection. And it allows the recipient to listen to the narrative without being distracted by the need to focus on every detail of your busy slide. Which leads us to…
- 1 picture = 1000 words
According to Nielsen Research**, 38% of brand recall, 23% of brand awareness, and 25% of purchase intent result from video impressions that are less than two seconds long. With a bit of focus, it’s possible to make a huge impact in a short time, and using visual shorthand is key to this success.
We tie our creative thinking into recognised characters and concepts to help our clients instantly understand what we’re trying to get across. Through the use of moodboards and photography, the imagery can evoke emotions that we then back up with the narrative.
In PechaKucha, with just 20 seconds to get your point across, you don’t waste time having to explain something that people already understand. Instead you can use the time available to explain the new concept or information you’re trying to communicate.
- It’s about time
How long do you normally talk about your slide? One minute? Two? Talking for exactly twenty seconds is tricky! Practicing your narrative and timing yourself is essential to a successful PechaKucha, so you can cut any waffle and get to the point. It’s also a great idea to have both a ‘core’ set of content and some additional backup content, so if you’ve gone too fast you have some extra to add in, and if you’ve gone too slowly you have bits that you can easily cut out.
Sometimes when we present ideas we don’t say anything at all – simply letting the audience absorb the content themselves. After all, you’re not always around to talk potential customers through your marketing communications, so making sure it’s strong enough to stand on its own is a great discipline to get into.
For some great examples of PechaKuchas or to find out more, visit www.pechakucha.com (we’re a big fan of Feeling PhiloSLOTHical) and if you want to hear Helen’s PechaKucha on Why Ponies are Awesome, Craig’s Top 20 Biscuit Countdown, or help applying PechaKucha principles to your own campaigns just get in touch.
June 4th, 2021 by Helen Webber
So, the Future Positive team asked me the following about my creative process:
“Craig, how on earth do you go about distilling all of the complex information we give you and ultimately end up turning it into a beautiful new brand?”
Allow me to take you on a journey…
Ok. So, I’ve got the project keys from the client. The team have filled up my fuel tank/charged up my EV battery with briefs and a dozen or so reference links. Now it’s up to me to decide which direction to travel to arrive at the final destination and deliver the goods.
The ‘goods’ in my case are usually the visual components of a new brand. Often appearing deceptively simple from the outside, they accommodate a lot of information such as brand purpose, values, mission and customer requirements.
So where exactly should I start? What’s the best route this time? How do I turn all of this into shapes, colours, fonts? How will it animate? Will it use video? Can it change the world?
Firstly, I don’t panic. It’s a fairly long but by now familiar road. I begin by packing some snacks; making sure I have a ‘map’ and estimating the journey time as I plan out my trip; not forgetting the importance of making time for a few carefully orchestrated breaks on the way.
Thankfully I’m lucky enough to work with a very experienced and strategically minded team. They do a lot of research and, more importantly, hold workshops and group sessions with clients where I end up doing a lot of listening.
And here’s the key, I listen. I listen to the client. I listen to my team. I make it my business to understand as much as I can about their goals, their products and services, and their end users.
While everyone has their own path, here are my next steps:
Imagination: I tend to keep away from screens and get quickfire ideas down on paper. Throughout the meetings, I take notes and sketch freely. Remember: your pad is a safe place where the pages don’t judge you (that comes later). I don’t overthink it at this stage. I usually include these initial sketches in presentation decks: this is the ‘spark’ – even if it does end up evolving into something completely different. At this point I don’t get stressed out about typography, colours or imagery; they can feature further down the road, once the engine is really warmed up. I try not to limit my approaches early on. Instead, I prefer to challenge myself, take multiple paths, and see where they take me. You risk getting lost. Taking a one-way street. Ending up in a cul-de-sac. But it’s all part of the journey. Soon you find an open road, and when you do it’s time to hit the pedal. Roll down the windows and crank up the music…
I then try to immerse myself into the customer’s world as much as possible. When working on a project with Fender in my pre-Future Positive days I took my team along to the studio. There we forgot about the task at hand for a while – trying out guitars instead to experience that feeling the customer gets when first picking up an instrument.
And before developing the brand identity for Yukan Canoes, I headed down to the river to get inspiration from the different craft on the water and the natural surroundings. It gave me a sense of the culture and the customer. With an understanding of the craftsmanship and the products, I was inspired to incorporate the grain of marine ply and the construction techniques in the making of the logo. (www.yukan.co.uk).
Experimentation: Once I have an initial set of ‘sparks’ (or spark plugs, to continue our analogy), I move over to the screen and continue experimenting to see how robust and applicable they are.
It’s a time to play and escape the feeling that you must create the final brand identity at this point. And while none of the initial routes should be dismissed at this stage, it soon becomes clear what’s working and what’s not. You learn how to tell a dead cert from a dead end.
Personally, I create mood boards for everything: colour, typography, illustration, imagery, even animation and motion. This is about more than meeting requirements: it’s a great place to show clients and the team something they haven’t seen before; a new place they can take it. Of course the client can always say no to your idea of a 20ft neon sculpture that wraps around their HQ. But at the same time they might see something in it that inspires a new idea.
Once these ideas start gathering momentum, I let them fly and see where they go, giving myself enough space; knowing that inspiration will flow and the ‘magic’ will materialise. At this point if a creative block does appear I go and do something completely different. Pruning the bonsai. Playing the tuba. Milking the cat. It’s true that ideas often present themselves when you’re not looking for them.
I’ve learned to be confident enough to ask for longer if I need it: you have to be happy with where you’ve got to before you present it back. And just like a journey it can take time to get somewhere great.
Presentation: When presenting work, I like to give the client at least three routes to choose from. As a rule of thumb, the first one should at least meet the brief, whereas the others can be more disruptive and push the boundaries. It’s important to challenge the market as you never know how adventurous or ambitious a client will turn out to be, and often they don’t know until they see it. From a visual standpoint you’re looking for immediacy, clarity and punch, so the simpler the better, but it pays to be bold and to try and be different.
At this stage, we’re still collaborating, working with – not just for – the client. Their feedback is crucial, as well as input from the rest of team, so a big part of the presentation stage is listening again.
Evaluation & Verification: After pitching or presenting any creative work the first thing we do is to re-group as a team. Hopefully we either have a chosen creative route to develop or a clearer direction on where to head next. For me this is where the crafting happens: I close the workshop door, sharpen the tools, flip down the visor on my welding mask and get busy. Of course I step out occasionally to run the work past my colleagues and make sure everyone’s 100% happy before we present the finished brand creative to the client.
Having confidence in the work also plays a part. I remind myself to relax and enjoy presenting, after all, a lot of teamwork has gotten us this far. Good or bad, all feedback is fuel: you may have missed a more scenic route, or it may lead you on to somewhere entirely new. Just make sure you enjoy the journey – from experience it always makes for a better result.
If you’re looking for ways to make your complex more visually compelling take a look at the BEAUTIFY service from Future Positive.
May 14th, 2021 by Helen Webber
The first picture of earth from space was taken by accident. It was captured 65 miles above the planet’s surface on Oct 24th, 1946, from a V-2 rocket as it fell back to earth. When the film was recovered from the desert floor, the grainy black and white image gave humans a brand-new perspective on the place we’ve lived for around 300,000 years.
While the rocket was meant to capture images looking out towards space, the shot became the first in a series of captivating portraits of our planet. Now retired, NASA’s former chief historian Bill Barry remarked, “During almost every mission we turn around and take a picture…there seems to be an irresistible tendency to look back at home.”
Today aerial and satellite images are part-and-parcel of our everyday lives: from keeping an eye on approaching weather fronts to checking out what’s in someone’s garden on Google Maps. The ubiquity of these images means they’re no longer the front-page news they once were.
Matt Manolides, Technical Program Manager at Google Maps explains that the company completes the mammoth task of replacing its photos of the world’s major cities every year. “We aim to update satellite imagery of the places that change the most. Our goal is to keep densely-populated places refreshed on a regular basis to keep up with a changing world”.
Yet while the images may now be commonplace, there’s still something compelling about adopting this top-down perspective. Their beyond-human scale means that the complexities and details vanish, and even the largest surface features are reduced to patterns. And it’s the new ‘visual shorthand’ that these patterns create that allows us – thanks to science – to derive meaning.
For example, satellite mapping based on images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 11 allowed the British Antarctic Survey team to discover 11 new emperor penguin colonies – 20% more than they’d previously thought. While even the largest colonies are too small to be seen in satellite images, it was the giant stains that their droppings leave behind on the ice that made them easier for scientists to spot.
A few years back we worked on a satellite services-based project focused on the emerging field of precision agriculture. Improving how existing land and resources are used will be vital to help feed the planet’s rapidly growing population. While farmers have used satellite images of fields since the early 1970s, the new emphasis is about integrating high resolution satellite-based information directly into everyday operations.
Again, it’s the patterns that emerge from this birds’ eye view data – both visual and numerical – that allow machine learning systems to instruct automated equipment, accurately calculate yields and monitor crop health down to the level of individual plant.
So given the right perspective a picture can paint a thousand words. And it doesn’t always have to originate from orbit.
If you have something complex you need to communicate, Future Positive can help you capture it in a single hero image using our VISUALIZE service. Just without the penguin poop…
April 22nd, 2021 by Helen Webber
Since its introduction in 1931, London’s diagrammatic underground map – based on an electrical circuit diagram – has since become a true design classic; imitated, parodied and emulated across the globe.
Having spent almost 20 years living in London, the mayhem and madness of commuting became part of my everyday fabric. Be it freewheeling down Kingsland Road on my fixed gear, the bristle of nylon against my elbow having scored a rare seat on the number 38 bus, or the cosseting silence of the Tube – a place of forced contemplation: headphones in, book out, eyes down, do not enter conversation or do so at your peril.
But with my daily commute came a strange affinity and friendship built over time with a reliable and trustworthy friend: the Tube map and its magical knack of transporting you wherever you need to go in the blink of an eye. During years of underground travel in my good-for-meetings/good-for-style trainers, a mere glance at Harry Beck’s inspired Tube map would get me where I needed; avoiding getting lost and visiting the dusty information desk.
Cramming in an incredible 270 stations, those 11 Tube lines have trains traversing an average distance of 76.4 million kilometres a year. Harry Beck’s map is both a fully-functioning and iconic marvel in equal measures.
Harry’s achievement of producing a map for an underground system now used by billions of shuffling Londoners (and tourists) each year was, and is, probably one of the most revolutionary and inspirational pieces of design ever created.
Since its introduction in 1931, London’s diagrammatic underground map – based on an electrical circuit diagram – has since become a true design classic; imitated, parodied and emulated across the globe.
It’s also gone on to shape the capital itself – providing colourful access to one of the greatest, most diverse and exciting cities in the world.
While Harry’s first map may have evolved, with additions from numerous contributors over the years to bring the information up to date, the artist’s signature remains firmly his.
From Epping to Ealing, Edgeware to Morden, Heathrow to Cockfosters and everywhere in between, its famous underground lines now transport tourists, fun lovers and locals to the best (and, no doubt worst) of what London has to offer, all via a well-orchestrated code of curved, coloured lines and strategically-placed stations.
Notoriously, the map is not to scale, but somehow the journey distances feel irrelevant. Harry’s triumph has been to take one of the world’s oldest, most complicated transport networks and transform it into a thing of beauty, making the complex not only compelling but exciting; guiding you through the nation’s vibrant capital with relative ease.
The result is a truly exceptional travel guide. An unflappable, steadfast and reliable friend that I know like the back of my hand.
Craig Brooks is Art Director at Future Positive – helping clients to BEAUTIFY their brands and campaigns.
September 23rd, 2020 by Helen Webber
Do you have something complicated to communicate? While it sounds counter-intuitive, simplification isn’t always the answer. When you need to preserve key details and can’t risk dumbing things down, how you structure your content can help get people on board: it’s where classification trumps simplification.
Take chemical elements for example. At the height of the scientific revolution taking place in the 19th century, one new element was being discovered every year. From helium to calcium, how could all these substances with vastly different physical properties be brought together and expressed in an engaging way that would be meaningful to the emerging fields of science?
Bringing something new to the table
Building on the thinking of other 19th century chemists, Siberian professor Dmitri Mendeleev found that by arranging elements based on their weights and behaviours they naturally fell into family groupings with shared similarities. The result was the periodic table; an incredible amount of scientific knowledge contained within a single grid: value made visible.
(Just as Paul McCartney was said to have ‘received’ the classic Beatles song Yesterday fully formed in his sleep, it’s claimed that the complete arrangement of elements in his periodic table appeared to Mendeleev in a dream. Sounds like a great excuse for napping at work to us…)
Compared to the graphs prepared by his contemporaries, the periodic table was visually dramatic but universal acceptance wasn’t immediate. Mendeleev was dismissed by critics for predicting that the gaps created by the pattern of his table meant that there were still additional chemical elements yet to be found. He was later vindicated by the discovery of germanium, gallium and scandium. And today the periodic table is one of the most iconic pillars of scientific education.
There’s no denying that Mr Mendeleev liked a bit of order and organisation. In fact, he’s also credited with introducing the metric system to the Russian Empire.
Create your own one-page wonder
So, the next time you have something rather technical you need to communicate to others– a technology, a service or even your entire business – don’t start by stripping out components. Instead, take a leaf out of old Dmitri’s book and dream up a logical way to group and layer your information so that it fits onto one page. The result is a visual reference that will keep all your messages and communications consistent. Sound impossible? Here’s a single-page framework to help your thinking.
And if you still need a hand to corral complexity into shape there’s always the CLASSIFY service from Future Positive.
June 10th, 2020 by Helen Webber
I am not a religious person, but the line “In the beginning was the word…” from John Chapter 1 of the Bible has always had a special resonance for me; ever since standing behind a lectern taller than I was aged 11 to deliver the first reading at a school carol service.
Choosing our words with care was and is critical.
Even in today’s digitally driven, image-obsessed era, it’s still the words we listen to and the headlines we read that shape our beliefs and choices. They build our confidence. Words make things happen. And the use of words has never been more important.
From a marketing perspective one of the key roles of marcoms professionals is to deploy words to generate confidence in a product, technology, organisation, service or person. Building confidence is what we do. And, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, confidence means: “certainty of a proposition or assertion, sureness with regard to a fact”.
To repeat: sureness with regard to a fact. Therefore, whenever we attempt to build confidence within others, we take on a great responsibility. Incumbent on us is the foundation of facts – for confidence to be legitimate – and the facts must be, well, factual. This is a maxim: confidence in any product is underpinned by the veracity of the facts that back it up, so we must choose our facts wisely. There are always alternatives.
Without this connection to a rational and measured reality, the building of confidence plays a darker, more sinister role. This is the ‘con’ in confidence: the confidence trick. This is the confidence built by the timeshare salesman – all promise and no delivery. It’s no surprise then that this is where the term ‘con’ has its roots.
Con (adj.) “swindling”, 1889 (in con man), American English, from confidence man (1849), from the many scams in which the victim is induced to hand over money [or other property such as loyalty or belief] as a token of confidence. Confidence with a sense of “assurance based on insufficient grounds”.
While great marketing generates a sense of assurance based on ‘sufficient grounds’ a great confidence trick is only a hair’s breadth away, generating ‘a sense of assurance based on in-sufficient grounds’.
These days we are all mobbed by words – beamed at us from multiple angles via a myriad of channels. In an age of hyperreality, facts and reality itself are difficult to discern. The message itself has become our reality. Every area of life confronts us with competing assurances demanding our attention and cajoling us, building our confidence to act – enticing us to make decisions one way or another.
The moral of this etymological tale? The responsibility rests squarely on us all to assess marketing’s facts as deeply and rationally as possible – whether we’re building confidence within others or building up our own confidence.
As both message makers and message receivers it’s our obligation to guarantee that the resulting confidence is based on as much fact as we can gather, and that those facts represent reality and have a substance to them way beyond any attention-grabbing headlines. Our confidence must run deep.
From experience I’d suggest that building confidence better than the other guy is a competitive advantage. But I also propose that not all confidence is created equal. Not to put too fine a point on it but when the resultant confidence has little connection to facts and reality then evil creeps in.
We all need to work hard to be sure we can discriminate good confidence from bad. As the saying goes “if it is too good to be true – it probably is…”
– Andy Graham
If you’d like to explore these ideas further or you’d just like to reach out, you can always get in touch with our team by emailing email@example.com
Many thanks to Online Etymology Dictionary https://www.etymonline.com/ – a great resource for all lovers of words
What hasn’t changed however is today’s intensely competitive environment. Online platforms and digital channels now allow B2B competitors from anywhere in the world to rapidly set up in your space, create some noise, offer your customers attractive deals and walk away with the business.
In fact, in its 2019 survey of Small and Medium Enterprises1, the UK Government found that the single largest obstacle to business growth is now competition in the marketplace reported by 46% of participating organisations. And with stricken economies keen for growth, international competition is only likely to increase.
When it comes to your brand and marketing, inactivity leads to invisibility.
So, until the economy is back firing on all cylinders it’s time to look at where your team can make some quick wins.
1 Reflect their new world
From the largest multinationals to the smallest microbusinesses, organisations across the board currently find themselves navigating a very different landscape. Any sales strategy based on business plans drawn up just a year ago may suddenly seem impractical or unachievable. Potential customers may have reduced capabilities. Holes in their supply chain. To avoid obsolescence, they may even be considering reinventing how they do business.
So rather than marketing yourself as you’d planned, revisit your messaging and make sure what you say now is aligned with their new priorities, themes and directions. Showing empathy in communications means they’re more likely to be well received and will put you in a more favourable position when the time is right.
2 Speak their language
Having worked closely with business-to-business brands for almost a quarter of a century it’s surprising how many times this one still crops up. It’s especially rife in technical fields where acronyms and jargon abound. While this may be fine when used in datasheets, elevating this language to prospect-facing content risks losing its immediacy. It also places an unnecessary cognitive strain on the reader or viewer having to ‘decode’ your content.
Instead use more everyday conversational language. After analysing over 5 million emails Boomerang found that those written using more universally-accessible language had a 36% uplift in open rates2 compared to those taking a more high-brow approach.
So write for real people, not robots. Be sure to use the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ in headlines to help draw readers into your world. And, regardless of how technical the subject matter gets, focus on communicating the emotive end-result that your products and services deliver: the human why behind what you do.
3 Make your valuable visible
With headcounts cut and resources stretched, the days when potential customers had to do all the legwork are long gone. They need to see at a glance not just what you do, but what you can do for their organisation. What makes you the best fit? It’s never been more important to make your brand and its offer relevant to customer businesses.
Think about how you can capture this in a nutshell. Can you put together a new (jargon-free) proposition that sums up your true value to customers in a few well-chosen words? An infographic focused on the right points can add visual impact. Quotes from customers about what you helped them achieve will lend an authenticity. Using the carousel format on a company LinkedIn post is an engaging vehicle for your new, improved content.
Oh, and whatever you create make it easy to share. In our experience if you save potential customers time they’ll thank you for it.
If you’d like to explore these ideas further or you’d just like to reach out, you can always get in touch with our team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org