Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Fat Nation

"I've seen the future, baby.
It is murder..."
- Leonard Cohen, The Future

Future Pundit posts on a topic of mass proportions - obesity in North America.

I have been following the fat crisis for awhile now, not only from the angle of health care costs but also from the perspective of culture and the body politic - and further still, to that of business and marketing.

I expect that there will be more diet fads and cosmetic trends. Quick solutions have been around for the past hundred years, but what is really intriguing is the concept of altering genetics in order to produce a leaner, meaner human body. Talk about ease! You won't even need to work up a sweat.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with design, but what is more instrumentally well designed than the body? By extending the life and general make-up of the human body, we must consider how free will will be affected when will our physical self will be a composition of 1/2 nature, 1/2 laboratory. Intriguing.

We may just see an end to the diet industry some day - but it may not be in the form we like. When the message is eat more and an abundance of cheap food is at our disposal; and the standards of beauty are counter to the bodies we are producing; and the economy cannot withstand the cost of keeping obese people alive, it will come down to A) Personal Lifestyle Choice or B) Genetic or Biological Intervention.

Educating people and curbing the food industry will be too costly. Will power...we know how well that has worked.



Art in the Hands of the People

I wrote about this over here....but see that the story is spreading like wild fire.

The topic, it seems, is relevant to bloggers. We compose the same argument - us against real journalists - in who should have the power to be prolific about relevant occurrences.

In this case, art in the hands of someone not yet deemed an artist. Old story and even older conversation.

100 Bloggers takes the first argument and makes clear what is occurring - old forms of conversation control are diminishing...

Back to the long weekend. Discuss.


Reframing Freedom and The Big Bad Wolf

Over at BLANK, fivemcclungs uses a popular fairytale as an allegory for the fate of many hapless designers. That lure of "stable paycheck, cushy firm" calls us in its sticky sweet voice, then ten years later we're left to wonder who we serve and how we got so stuck along the way.

I use this example and take it further, as I think it applies to every one of us.

There are some people who enjoy the corporate setting - swimming with sharks, playing the games, never taking it personally. They are the successful 5%.

Then there's the rest of us. We struggle as entrepreneurs and as employees, craving an ideal of "freedom," chanting the popular mantras of the working stiffs - "TGIF" and "Retirement or Bust."

But how sad.

No matter what your situation in the employment world, there is no such thing as freedom. That is the hard, cold truth.

We hear this statement from our friends who work for big companies:

"It must be so great for you - working for yourself. You have the freedom."


The fact of the matter is - we ALL have people who depend on us. That is a part of being a healthy individual, a part of a community. To varying degrees, our responsibilities are important to the livelihood of others. We must work. We must contribute on some level.

I don't know anyone who runs their business from a laptop on the beach, unless you're Richard Branson. Learning to reframe our North American concept of freedom is an important part of creating a career in which we thrive.

Responsibilities don't have to be the enemy. They develop us and give us reason to help one another.

That is not to say "buck up." If you are miserable in your current field, reevaluate - and fast.

Just remember that no employment situation is without its unique challenges and rewards. If you are not finding your happiness in any career, perhaps its time to consider if whether or not the "Wolf" you fear is within you.


A Little Disturbing....

Just try and look away. I particularly enjoy the Emm-Jay.

Is Advertising Broken?

The New Yorker's article on the rise, fall, and reconstruction of advertising is really thought-provoking....

In many ways, the advertising business in the early twenty-first century would be unrecognizable to the generation that once thrived on Madison Avenue. The traditional assumption, as Keith Reinhard says, was that advertisers chose the time and place of a “one-way show-and-tell” ad. The consumer was a captive audience. Today, advertisers chase consumers with a certain air of desperation. “It’s not just about looking pretty anymore,” Linda Kaplan Thaler says. “There are all these beautiful products out there. You need a lot more personality to get the date.”

Because the audience is increasingly fragmented, advertisers have found other media—from the Internet to “guerrilla marketing” tactics, such as using the foreheads of college students (Dunkin’ Donuts paid for that privilege). Ads are increasingly showing up in movie theatres; last year, the Cinema Advertising Council generated three hundred and fifty-six million dollars for theatre owners—thirty-eight per cent more than the year before. Jack Fuller, who, until the end of 2004, oversaw twelve daily newspapers as the president of Tribune Publishing Company, says that his company was among the first to print newspapers zoned by neighborhood. “The answer to fragmentation is, quite simply, to adapt to changing circumstances and compete hard against all comers,” he says.

There are two arguments at work here -

1. The campaign to make really great, useful products that sell via word-of-mouth (Ipod as an example)
2. A traditional gang busters ad approach - saturating the senses of the consumer to the point of convincing them to buy (SUVs, Aflac, etc...)

The problem is that both work. One may be more noble than the other, but the second approach still works and is very much being utilized.

So where is the divisiveness coming from? It's internal.

There have always been ad critics, consumer watchdogs - and consumers are still busy being consumers. They are not the current threat. So what is going on? It's the people we work with every day. It's a dialogue of internal conflict with agencies shifting and crumbling.

This paranoia of self importance in the ad world is really fascinating...
Will advertising eat itself?

Before I forget...

Wayne over at Blog Business World has some useful and informed things to say about SEO and blogging. If you are new to this, or just want to build more traffic to your blog, I really recommend his blog - lots of helpful tips!

Thanks, Wayne!


A Sense of Place

I spent a good deal of my childhood moving around with my family. At the time, my father worked on pipelines in the West, so we were often in a transient state - moving back and forth between California, Nevada, and Utah.

I distinctly recall my toddler years being spent running around Circus Circus in Las Vegas - my great aunt's watchful eye on me and her customers. Overall, it was a magical place to spend my days while my parents were at work.

By age 4, I was uprooted again and living in Orem, Utah, parts of California, then Provo, Utah, then back to Indiana.

Being nomadic as a child gave me an appreciation for travel as an adult, but it has also inspired an appreciation for things that hold a sense of permanence - like old growth forests, turn of the century cemeteries, and old homes.

In our memories, we hold special places for the sights, smells, tastes of childhood. The "designs" of our growing up - the familiar that created a sense of place, of identity.

As I was perusing a website devoted to some of the touristy aspects Utah, I was immediately reminded of small moments of pleasure: trips to Bridal Veil Falls, spotting Robert Redford at Sundance (watching my mom dote on about some blonde guy who, as far as I was concerned, was cutting into my sledding time), block parties with very musically inclined Mormon families, etc...

I have contemplated returning to the area to see if I could spot my old house, favorite park, the Falls, but I am unsure. There's something comforting in those memories, a permanence that would surely be eradicated if I went there as an adult. I would likely not recognize the city, the old neighborhoods.

The designs of place we create and hold captive in our minds are sometimes more important that the reality of what these places hold today. Identity is formed from these moments of "home."

When I think of Vegas, I don't think of the high rolling, party town of commercials, I think of me as a three year old, running around with a stuffed tiger at Circus Circus.

Can you imagine the pure power of advertising when we can locate and pander to individual memory design.... eerie. Now I am sure some of you are making note of my childhood memories. Don't even try to sell me your EBayed Circus Circus paraphernalia....


Friday's Meltdown

CALVIN: You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
HOBBES: What mood is that?
CALVIN: Last minute panic.
-- Bill Watterson (b. 1958), Calvin & Hobbes

Everyone I know is suffering from life burnout right now. Like most professionals and entrepreneurs, we are overwhelmed with not knowing our limits. Maybe because limits seem negotiable - we continue to push through them, right?

Sometimes you have to step back from your enthusiasm and start "budgeting" your time and energy as you would your financial resources.

Before I head out for a weekend of painting the new abode, (anyone up for a painting party - beer and pizza included?) I will leave you with this energetic mix for your auditory pleasure.

Have a great weekend!

Get Your Painting Arm Ready Mix

*Disclaimer: These files are for sampling purposes. I encourage you to go buy the albums if you like what you hear.

Jeremy Wright Unfairly Held at US Border

Canadian Blogger Jeremy Wright Refused Entry at US Border

BL Ochman reports on the unfortunate but typical mistreatment of legitimate Canadian business persons at US borders.

Border guards need to be clued in to the fact that not all of us work in traditional professions.

These types of inappropriate misuses of power happen all the time at the US border. As a US citizen I am deeply ashamed.


You Say Relationship, I Say Projection

The definition of relationship is much broader in scope than it ever was.

When we discuss relationship now it can be

consumer + product = relationship
citizen + nation = relationship
husband + wife = relationship
employee + employee = relationship
competitor + competitor = relationship
blogger + blogger = relationship
actor + audience = relationship
teacher + student = relationship
land + inhabitant = relationship.

Hyperdictionary defines relationship in the following ways
[n] a relation between people; (`relationship' is often used where `relation' would serve (as in"the relationship between inflation and unemployment") preferred usage of `relationship' is for human relations or states of relatedness; "the relationship between mothers and children"
[n] state of relatedness or connection by blood or marriage or adoption
[n] a state of connectedness between people (especially an emotional connection); "he didn't want his wife to know of the relationship"
[n] a state involving mutual dealings between people or parties or countries

What has changed in the new definition is that the reciprocal party need not be human, or even living for that matter. I wonder how this has eradicated the strength of meaning of the word relationship. Has it created a superficial context?

In its pure sense, the use of the word 'relation' to discuss two entities in comparison allows for inanimate objects. However, 'relationship' denotes that there is a shared connection between two entities. If that entity is inanimate, there is no sense of anything shared, so much as there is a reaction and formulated association on the part of the living entity. The "thing" doesn't have relationship.

Enter product marketing...

How do you define relationship? How has your vision of relationship changed?


New York Times Information Death Grip

Bloggers have a lot in common with street artists or graffiti artists. In a backlash against media and high art venues, street art has made its presence known in sometimes the most unsightly ways. The human voice cannot be stifled. Folk art, folk stories, songs have been passed down from generation to generation.

In the same way, bloggers have dismantled walls long ago erected by information monoliths. That's why I am not surprised or impressed about whether the New York Times will start charging for online content. Collective bloggers are discussing ways in which they can also get a piece of the pie and restrict access to recent posts for subscription holders.

I believe what's occurring in the information ownership shuffle is that traditional institutions are becoming irrelevant. Learning is not irrelevant - making information only accessible to a few is.

I challenge bloggers to not go the way of the Times and start charging for their information. I would be worried if I didn't intuitively know that something else will come along to overthrow the confines of restricted access information....Give us time.

I Can't Believe I Missed This...

Ground breaking study shows direct relationship between use of design and corporate financial performance

A new study published today (Thursday 4 March 2004) has demonstrated for the first time the direct relationship between the effective use of design and financial performance.

The study, which examined UK quoted companies over a ten-year period between 1994 and 2003, found that a group of 63 companies identified to be effective users of design outperformed the FTSE 100 index over the full period by 200%, and also surpassed their peers in the recent bull and bear markets.

David Kester, Chief Executive of the Design Council, which funded the study, said: 'The research shows that design is an important indicator of good management, and that this feeds directly through to the financial performance of these companies. Any investors who backed this group over the last ten years, through the bull and bear markets, will have seen a consistent and significant outperformance in their portfolio versus the FTSE All-Share index.

It would be cool to find a similar study of North American brands...anyone?

To steal Jon's great summary of what void marketing fills -

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the human mind. Where there is a lack of information, the imagination will rush to fill a void. ~ Carl Jung

People prefer to be able to explain things, they want a logical explanation for everything that occurs. That includes all the details about the goods we purchase. If you don't provide people a story, they'll make one up - and more than likely, it won't be as good as one that you could come up.
I believe this study attests to the power of symbolism and story in creating your brand... Anyone care to throw out some examples of N. American companies that have successfully harnessed design?


Jetsgo - Making a Bad Situation Worse

Canada's Jetsgo shuts down, stranding thousands

Canadian low-fare airline Jetsgo suspended operations without warning Friday and said it would seek bankruptcy protection.

The action, which occurred at the start of the March vacation break for many colleges and universities in Canada, stranded an estimated 17,000 passengers, according to wire service reports.

After the pre-Spring Break bomb dropping - NO FLIGHTS, Jetsgo continued to make things worse by using the formula of the defensive:

1. Not acknowleging problem
2. Dropping the ball at one of the worst possible times
3. Doing nothing to repair the damage
4. Dodging accountability

"I'm travelling with my baby, and there were absolutely no provisions made and no one to call. Even if they had provided a shuttle back to the hotel, a cup of coffee, something!"

Some observers didn't hesitate to use the ''f'' word, either, given that the airline was reported to have been still selling tickets Thursday at 11 p.m. - only an hour before it officially ceased operations - and was ready to file a 29-page petition for bankruptcy protection at 8 a.m. Friday.

"I'd say that's fraud," said Dayle Roberts, Packalen's mother, still trying to make her way back to Toronto yesterday and facing another deserted, former Jetsgo check-in counter - this time at Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.

"It's morally wrong," Roberts said, "and I don't think the government should keep giving this man a chance. It's underhanded and he's lying to the public." more...

Further to doing the very least they could do, Jetsgo went on to dig the hole even deeper...

Jetsgo blames WestJet, alleging espionage

In its court filing Friday, Jetsgo said it was doing well until rival WestJet allegedly got into its computers in 2003. Jetsgo filed a $50-million suit against WestJet for corporate espionage last fall.

It also said WestJet's move from Hamilton airport to Toronto's Pearson airport had "a devastating effect." more...

The mismangement of the disaster is ridiculous. Hopefully, this situation will provide a good example to other struggling airlines of what not to do.


Bruce Mau and Design as Social Change

There's an interesting article on Bruce Mau's exhibit, Massive Change in this week's Now... The article is more of a criticism of Mau and his use of social commentary to promote his brand.

This got me thinking about all of the discussions we have as marketers about the philosophical layers of business and advertising in society. Are we attempting to manufacture meaning to promote our own profession or brand? It seems what Mau is doing is exposing design as a tool of social change while promoting his own design firm.

This argument goes to the root of what emotion or spirit can be assigned to a task used to make money. This is the root of marketing criticism to date, and why ethics are constantly being deliberated in the "selling arena."

I have to ask, is what Mau's doing so wrong? He is contributing to an important conversation - should he not be making money through this conversation?

I do agree with the author that Mau has evangelically held design in a grandiose light. It is just a tool after all. The people who orchestrate and invent and participate are the key to real change and successful conclusions.

So why are we so desperate to assign spiritual meaning to what we do?

'Meaning' in society was never so argued as it is argued today. The fact is, meaning used to be assigned for us by rigid religious and class structures. [see Malaise of Modernity ] Now we are faced with recreating meaning - largely through product.

Marketers are the new evangelists. For Mau, meaning of religious proportion rests in design.

If meaning is up for grabs - who decides what the benchmark is?


On Writing ...

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.
-- H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

Sometimes, no matter how much you love to write, the spark just doesn't happen. On those days, my life goes a little something like this...

5 cups coffee + keyboard + enthusiasm = first draft
first draft + editor = writer kicking chair
kicking chair + cussing = mildly sedated writer
2nd draft + edits - original enthusiasm = well crafted article
finished article + editor = writer with deranged expression = wrap-up = 5 cups of Sleeytime Tea to take the edge off

Next day ... Begin again...

Nonprofit Interview

In a previous post I challenged other business professionals to become more involved in charitable giving. A part of the challenge was to seek out a favorite charity or a staff nominated charity and conduct a simple interview in an effort to learn more about the organization and how they could get involved.

I've learned that there are communication barriers between nonprofits and for profits, so I thought this might inspire dialogue between the two groups. For nonprofits, this is a great way of gaining sponsorships. For businesses, this is an opportunity to increase feelings of good will and community involvement.

My choice was Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada ( .

Describe your organization - programs, people, brief history, how you got involved:

Zoocheck Canada is a national animal protection charity established to protect wildlife in captivity and in the wild. Zoocheck started in 1984 with an investigation into conditions in the zoos of Ontario. In 1988, Zoocheck became a formal organization with a board of directors and achieved charitable status approximately one year later. Since that time, Zoocheck has expanded its scope and now conducts campaigns to protect wild animals across the country and internationally.

I conducted the initial investigation that led to the creation of Zoocheck, so I have been involved from the first day.

What are some of the challenges you face in reaching program goals?

One of the biggest problems faced in reaching program goals is lack of funds. Conducting consistent, long term campaigns requires both staff and resources. While some campaigns can be conducted on a shoe-string budget using volunteer labour, conducting hard-hitting campaigns that can influence government and industry are difficult and expensive.

How do you deal with these challenges?

So far, there has been no satisfactory solution. While Zoocheck Canada does it's best to raise funds and support, doing so is difficult for a small organization. Raising support is time consuming and expensive.

What do you think businesses can do to help?

Businesses can help organizations like Zoocheck by assisting in fund raising initiatives, sponsoring campaigns and publicizing their various activities. Sponsoring specific projects or campaigns, and not shying away from initiatives aimed at achieving political change, can make a world of difference. Smaller businesses can supply reduced rates for services or gifts in kind. Helping is really limited only by the imagination of the people involved.
I'm interested in hearing from anyone else whose business supports a nonprofit and what you have done to be involved in your community...


Rekindling the Passion

We've been in a perpetual state of creative frenzy since January. This is not to say I have reason to complain - it's a blessing, but that blessing has come at a time when we are short-staffed and juggling numerous personal projects. Isn't that the way life happens?

Part of our job is to help bridge the gaps between intention and message. The problem solving, pragmatism of our team in not without its cost on creative levels. Ideas don't just churn out on a conveyer belt and so it is exceptionally important to take precautionary steps to make sure burnout is kept at bay.

Burnout happens for everyone at one time or another. It is a necessary right of passage for most of us in the creative biz - even a form of subtle bragging - the geek speak equivalent of benchpressing the most weight. One geek to another, "I stayed up for 48 hours coming up with this concept and was hooked up to my caffeine IV."

Like the fickle fun of a new relationship, creative passion waxes and wanes. And every designer out there has their MO for keeping ideas fresh. Some people are easy to ignite; others, not so much... You're either cataclysm or a slow, steady burn, it seems.

Part of managing a team of creatives is understanding the differences in how people become re-engaged in the process. The WHYs or WHATs that make people passionate are less important than the hows. Hows require a holistic look at the person: what starts their individual fires burning.

I'd venture to say all of us, whether we must motivate ourselves or staff, have to work on the slow, steady burn. The quick flick snuffs out as quickly as it came. The slow, committed passion is what's important.

I'd like to know, what do you do to keep creativity alive?

Award Winners

We won some kinda Problogger award. Being an underdog, or in this case, underblog is a good thing. I spit on your Oscar.



Random Quote and Question, Part Three

We become what we think about all day long.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

What I think about: creativity, joy, connection, family, success, love? Am I expressing these thoughts in my professional life?

What I think about: difficulties, miscommunication, lack of _______? Am I expressing these thoughts in my professional life?


What thoughts consume your day?


Link Me

Johnnie and Jennifer are puzzled by the process of blogrolling; the decision to link to another can be flavored by reciprocal guilt or sincere admiration. Either way, blogrolling seems a little too exclusive or random for my tastes.

Not to mention, some of my reads are not necessarily those of the rest of the office, etc. or have anything directly to do with business, marketing, or design.

Instead of listing liberally, it's often a good idea just to list those blogs that are in the top 10-20 list and simply allow public access to the aggregator for those who want to peruse the entire list of reads.

Problem solved. No one left out. Now to dismantle my list...


Enneagram Type

I love these tests...Looks like I am a Five. Scary.


...snitched from Colin at Empowerment Illustrated.

What are you?



Since I am always dissecting campaigns and brands I dislike, I thought I would show my vulnerable consumer side and confess to you how much love I have for Harley-Davidson.

Yes, it's true. It is close to being a sickness, that's how 'on' I am about Harley's brand.

Part of the Harley-Davidson charm is the great way they rally their customers - How many of us would get a tattoo of our favorite brand of clothing or kitchenware? Harley permeates customer loyalty so much, they have created an almost fantasy-like lifestyle. This is the stuff dreams (i.e. brands) are made of.

The Harley-Davidson brand conveys rebellion, freedom, independence, individualism - characteristics normally associated with anti-consumption. But Harley has turned their flavour of rebellion into die hard, cult-like brand loyalty.

Their Mission Statement, in my opinion, is too modest:

We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments.

Would it be too much to say that they have created a pseudo-lifestyle? How about, they've encouraged a break from society? A rebel call to freedom? I don't know. I have talked to some Harley enthusiasts, and to them, riding their hog is the only thing worth living for - seriously.

I must say, there is something appealing about that stripped down, ass kicking brand that even the most cynical among us can get behind.

I admit it, I wouldn't ride on the back of any other bike.


Ah ... the life of the incredibly rich

Branson and team from Virgin Mobile Canada launch new wireless service


Marketing and the Reconstruction of Values

I have written a lot about advertising and ethics. I have slammed numerous ads for their obvious objectification of women, mostly, or the way they misuse emotional connection to sell products. I am still standing firm - I do believe it is possible and necessary to bring ethics (dare I say, morals) into the discussion.

Marketing relies heavily upon other studies: sociology, anthropology, psychology, statistics, philosophy, etc. Coming from some, you'd think marketing invented the other areas of study, and not the opposite.

One marketing friend of mine, when asked about current trends, replied, "It's all about selling, Aleah. The trends may change - but it really is quite elementary. Don't make it harder than it should be."

I agree. Principles of marketing are amorphous. When people refer to marketing methodology, what they are often referring to is sociology or psychology - glamorously wrapped in new garments. Is selling just selling? I'm sure some would argue otherwise.

When someone challenges the idea of marketing's misuse, I am pleased. Pleased in the sense that people can and do figure out that - regardless of the promises - at the end of the day, it's about need or want, or both.

I want someone to really understand the need for our services. I don't want them to think that our designs will make them sexier or make them more lovable. Design has purpose. Design solves problems (as Rick will discuss later). Design gives presence. But I would never expect it to change your life in a spiritual or emotional sense.

I could say something grandiose about it - but I choose to bring my values (in this case, honesty) into my practices. That isn't esoteric. In fact, I'd venture to say that I don't want our services to give you spiritual or emotional meaning. (GASP!) I think the concept of meaning is grossly misused - precisely by people in this business. If the benchmark of meaning is set at using great shampoo or driving a certain car, that benchmark needs to be reevaluated.

This all sounds fairly negative - but it isn't. This is the beginning of a new consumerism, I believe. I do value our creativity; our team; our clients. I am always grateful for the rewards of doing a job well done. I recognize pride in work as in personal life. I witness client satisfaction with the product - and know that we did, in fact, solve a problem for their business or organization. This is a fantastic feeling - and an honest transaction.

I don't deny the fact that our society has become lazy - absorbing false messages about product without question. But there are small eruptions occurring all the time. Blogging is a great vehicle for this. Change is like pushing a boulder up a hill - it doesn't happen without the steady and consistent effort needed to push - but it can be done. Consumers will change. Marketing must change to meet a more informed, more vigilant market.

Are you ready?