insights, ironies and idiosyncrasies in communication and design

from the wide, wide world and the world wide web

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

Christmas messages are often the bane of Christmas – dull and predictable in both content and delivery and only usually surprising in what they omit rather than what they contain. This year, thanks to Channel Four, and the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the whole affair has been fraught with controversy.

This post is the closest I’m going to get to one – this year or any year. And it comes in the form of a book review – a first for THWC.

I spotted In Praise Of Slow gathering dust (appropriately or not) in the bargain basement of my local Kinokuniya on Christmas Eve – oddly only days before the universal truth that is the headline of this post was passed onto me by a journalist and spiritual commentator friend of mine, Bevan Powrie. In doing so he had inadvertently lead me to the book – during what I felt like was an episode of his biurnal recurrence syndrome, but which he assures me was pure synchronicity, albeit a strong case of.

What compounded the oddity was that though this title is a long lost cousin of a family of exposes that I have read (including No Logo, Fast Food Nation, Authenticity and Blink) I’d never even come across this title, not even once, though it was written over four years ago. I guess I am just, er, slow. And I was about to see why that wasn’t a bad thing.

Though I find the existence of this collection of tributes to steady social revolutionaries (that denounce haste rather than pace and whose MO is about finding tempo giusto) more interesting than the actual book or its contents, my initial contention was, rather ironically, the book’s pace.

Stretching three points over 250 pages seemed a little gratuitous; the leisurely examples unnecessary, but I guess that’s Honore’s point – perhaps the very intention of the book is to encourage (read: force) the reader into long, drawn out appreciation.

Slow is also padded for another reason – to sell – but I would have paid more for an abridged version. [Interestingly enough, Honore almost anticipates (foretells) this.] Sidestep the filling if you like and the introduction and the conclusion go some way to telling his story.

In all fairness he does give the reader a pointer – but unfortunately it doesn't come soon enough. The chapter on reading slowly came, for me at 200-odd pages in, too late in the book – as I was already whizzing through the thing when it flagged me down. (Perhaps I'd be better off with Gleik's Faster. )

In spite of my initial criticisms though there are a number of profound insights within the pages of this text – along with of course understanding the how and why of Bevan’s message. And it wasn’t that the clock, rather than the steam engine or the Spinning Jenny, as my history master had me believe, was the single most important invention/fulcrum of the European industrial revolution; nor that time is the new money, the new currency of the 21st Century (apt though that it is as we collectively mourn the death of the dollar); more that in using time and speed to hide from death, we divide up time in such a way we become more acutely and bitterly aware of our end. 

This is as fundamental as a message can get. 

Whether you're manically scouring the shelves at Woolworths or crazily shopping online there's something in here for you (somewhere) – though I wouldn't necessarily rush out and buy a copy.

Sunday, 21 December 2008


We're all in the serious economic mess we're in right now because of the gravest piece of miscommunication of our generation. We trusted in the equity and value of the biggest brand of them all – the US dollar – and it was lying all along

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Don't just do something, stand there.

The vacuum of collective global anxiety has been filled to the brim by such colossal economic worry that our terminal fear over our environment it seems has been entirely displaced – even though the two issues are of course inextricably linked (by oil for one at least) – but the news is though that that has all changed now and in the shape of CNBC's Green Your Routine campaign hope has sprung forth.

And what makes this piece of communication so special is not just that the message is deadly simple or that it's based on a killer insight, but that it's totally indelible and entirely alive and well and living in the solution. (All valid additions to Scamp's slogan list.)

So like the campaign I'm praising, I'm going to big up the solution (in my title and image, which is quite a departure from the initial sketch that was this post originally – a bitch about another campaign, Think Green).

Firstly though, Think Green – a campaign that my friend and fellow blogger, Charles Frith has already made reference to astutely (here) – and a campaign that is the antithesis of GYR. It's a trendily-designed but ultimately wayward piece of rubbish with a core proposition that is dead – because asks it's audience to think and not act. The one execution I saw started with a vague comparison (that a large tree was equivalent to a 12,000-BTU air conditioning unit) before then limply moving on to suggest the reader plant trees. There is such a massive gulf between message and action (unless it was an ambient piece of course and I missed a dozen spades and a pile of earth and a packet of seedlings), that the thing must have just been conceived to earn the brand behind it social credit. (Ads from self-serving brands posing as concerned corporates may quite possibly be part of the reason why the green cause has trailed off.) Ironically, this is a total exercise in wastefulness.

Back to (part of) the solution. It's clearly in everything we do – as GYR tells us – but perhaps it's also in what we don't do. Perhaps the earth is telling us something and the economic headlock we're in is the earth's way of keeping us from doing too much. Perhaps we should be doing more by doing less.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Another one bites the dust.

I try as I can to keep the focus of this blog and not get drawn into other spheres of debate, but when into the arena of lies and skullduggery that is politics blasts its truthful way a piece of communication most apt and cutting I can no longer refrain – even if I'm about two years late in taking note.

As yet another Thai prime minister is jilted, reminded I am of the poignant and powerful imagery of Thai Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda. On the eve of the 2006 Coup d'état, Prem revealed piecemeal in an interview to the Far Eastern Economic Review the elements of an analogy that explains part of the paradigm that is the constitutional monarchy of the Kingdom of Thailand. (And one that shines a great amount of light on the response – or rather lack of – to the recent airport siege.) In this revealing interview, Prem likens the Thai prime minister to a jockey; the Thai government to a horse and in doing so shows a deep and true understanding of his brand, Thailand, an understanding that most brand managers in this part of the world can only dream of.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Media agency Sybolix's graffiti campaign for Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother – which uses cleaning fluid and water as an alternative to paint – truly caught my, er, eye. And not just for its carbon-friendly formula.

Smudged out of underpass tile grime, this work is both fresh and on-brand, and will hopefully set a precedent for ad agencies (and clients) all over, showing as it does that digital isn't the only alternative to paper and ink. (An approach Stefan Sagmeister has of course pioneered in advertising's sister industry of graphic design.)

It is, though, the low production cost that makes the work really such groundbreaking stuff. And if Happy Thought feels the piece's impermanence fails to justifies its price tag, I can only think that Sybolix must have charged real big for creative. (And fair enough, really.)

As for its ephemeral quality, I'm convinced the buzz such killer work creates far outweighs its fragility. And anyway, if the piece suffers from brandalism as this Sony work did, it's not like it's hard to reproduce or to find another dirty wall, now is it?

Friday, 5 December 2008


It's not just local councils who police the canvas of the streets; the underground's at it too – with a war on branded street art. Just try to get under the radar and become sub culture and you enter a world of apparently more genuine and authentic communicators intolerant of the empty promises of marketing, where Sony stencils like these get obliterated in minutes. 

If only the same forces exercised such power and taste above the line.