Saturday, December 31, 2011

Facade and Edifice - Visual Language

Given the recent present-buying season, it seems appropriate to wrap up 2011 with some reflection on brand and marketing. This may be a slight departure from our usual tech-art speak, but it's related to design (yay design!) and fits the bill for horizon-broadening homework.

The above image is of a Tivoli Audio radio. We'll come back to it a bit later.

I love marketing. It's some fantastic stuff. Through the right techniques, an ad can switch your interaction with a product from a logical analysis to a deeply emotional response. The most common way this happens is through association of a product with a lifestyle or social status.  already discussed this subject at length. The tone of said article, however, annoyed me a bit. It seems to suggest, "isn't it pathetic that people fall for this" and "aren't these social constructs sickening?" Primarily the author underlines the flimsiness of the thought process that might lead a reader of the Economist to buy a $100,000 Patek Philippe watch. Yes, such a decision is likely irresponsible for most readers. The assertion, however, implies something interesting about the actual value of said watch, namely that brand doesn't actually add any. But what is value?

Today I went to the Natick Collection with my parents, an upscale mall roughly 40 minutes outside of Boston. While browsing, I found myself inexorably drawn to a Tivoli store containing the product pictured above. I was not drawn to this radio because of the quality of the sound (I had not yet heard it), nor was I drawn to it due to my pressing need for a new radio (Millennials need radios like snakes need socks). I was drawn to this store because the product suggests ironic appreciation of retro-trappings and elegant design. It wasn't the product, but everything else in our culture the product suggests that I wanted to buy. Retro suggests a quirkiness, a certain against-the-grain attitude that hipster meccas like Urban Outfitters have been cashing in on in a major way. Even recognizing that this is the case, I am happy to lean into this perceived image for one reason: others will make the same cognitive leap. It isn't merely a perceived value in my head, but a social trope that will illicit similar reactions in anyone who is similarly suspended in young American culture.

To wheel around back to my thesis, buying a product because its image and associations change how people interact with it isn't imagined value, it's actual and important value. It's value tangible enough that companies spend the majority of their revenue to obtain said value. It's the same sort of value that makes film,  game, and advertising actual art. It's the thing that determines the success or failure of any artistic or commercial venture: context.

Edit: I have to add an awesome bit of copy that I just found. Since looking at Tivoli, wooden clock ads are coming my way. This one from Areaware is great:
"Remember those faux wood grain GE flip clocks that sat on every bedside table just a couple of decades ago? The Alarm Dock uses a nostalgic product language to meet the progressively thin and disappearing profiles of consumer electronics. It is at once a critique and an accommodation to new technology. Place an iPhone or iPod Touch running a flip clock app onto the dock, and see an iconic and meaningful form return to your nightstand, mantel, or shelf."

Remember a couple decades ago? Do you love "nostalgic product language?" How about finding "iconic and meaningful form" for your nightstand, mantel or shelf? Dang, these guys are good.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Onward and Awkward

Happy Holidays! Though belated, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.

I've gone through a few goodbyes recently that I wasn't expecting nor prepared for. Comings and goings, however, are by their nature subjective. No story has truly ended to all of the players. Ultimately, I have confidence that everyone involved will go on and continue to do great things. Doors close, windows open, and those with wisdom find the way forward. As Einstein said, "in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

I used much of this past holiday to reset. I've never been one to sit idly for too long, however, so resetting has given way to new projects. I'm practicing C++ with a calendar program (good regex practice), painting some 40K minis on commission (slowly), and catching up on some C.G. Jung. Joseph Campbell was my introduction to Jung, so it's only fitting that he edited the collection I've chosen to review: The Portable Jung. Any fiction writer would benefit from this book. The insights into the human experience, the resonance of childhood, the shared symbols of mythology, feel strikingly true and powerful. Once I finish with Jung, I plan to move on to Marie-Louise Von Franz's The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Yeah. We're gonna get all archetypal up-ins.

At work, I've been thinking about the problem of balancing planning versus implementation. I'm a big fan of "failing fast:" don't worry if your solution is optimal. Implement, see where you erred, then correct. This mentality saves you from the trap of indecision and infinite postponement of implementation. The problem is that, honestly, I'm not the best implementer. I'm focusing on improving my CS chops because I tend to get muddled up on syntax and data structure. I may be working towards failing fast. Until then, I have faith that proper planning and support of my team members will carry us through. As we've said before, weighing principle versus pragmatism will lead you to the best solution.

I've gotten some very positive feedback regarding my Maya 2012 review in Game Developer Magazine, which is fantastic. I hope to find more writing opportunities soon. Speaking of opportunities: if you are a talented Maya Character Rigger and are looking for work, please let me know! Riot Games and I would very much like to hear from you. :)

Cheers, and here's looking forward to the new year.