Incite by Design

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


Environmental pot-pourri

In honour of this month being environmentally friendly month, may I present this list of earth friendly links:

Scientist, environmentalist, and finalist for the greatest Canadian, David Suzuki has finally added an autobiography to his enormous list of published works. The logo on the Suzuki foundation website is fantastic too.

Try finding a place to build one of these puppies in Toronto. Be sure to use reclaimed wood

Tree Hugger has a great blog about all things eco-friendly

A personal favorite, Natural Home and Garden Magazine has all the information a home owner needs to live a sustainable lifestyle.


You can lead a beluga whale to water...

Well, this graphic designer has decided to tackle a bit of marketing. Remember Raffi? The beloved performer behind Baby Beluga, Down by the Sea, Bannana Phone among others? Well, I was watching CBC News Sunday, minding my own business, and there he was.

From The CBC Sunday Website:

The singer known as Raffi has sold a record 15-million children's albums. But now he's going after a grown-up audience. As Sunday's Peter Wall discovered, Raffi's choice of genre is more than a bit surprising.
And the genre? It’s rap.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

Ready? Ok. Now with this new album (titled Resisto-Dancing, by the way) Raffi is attempting to speak out to the generation which comprised his original fan bas (those who would go to his concerts as children when Baby Beluga was first released.) He is trying to promote a new project of his called Child Honouring, aimed at changing the way society acts in regards to its children.

Problem is, it’s awful, not just in theory, but in practice too. They played some of it on the CBC Sunday show, and as much as I love Raffi, the man simply isn’t gangsta.

So what if rap was indeed the favoured music of this target audience? Theoretically, by knowing his target audience, Raffi should be well on his way. The problem is, Raffi seems to have forgotten who he is. Raffi putting out a rap album is so contrary to his nature, it’s like…advertising an SUV as being a great outdoorsy vehicle, or maybe promoting an oil and gas company as being environmentally friendly, or claiming a fast food company is healthy.

Wait a minute, I’ve seen those things happen. Of course the audiences didn’t buy it, of course there was rampant criticism, but they still continue today.

So what is the moral of my tale? You may want to target rap fans, outdoorsy people, or people concerned with the environment or their health, but unless the new image is complimentary to your current brand, message or product, get ready to fail. Raffi would have done better if he’d produced the album with another vocalist, and avoid contributing his own vocals. Or, he could always have released a folk album for adults.


Baskin Robbings...



Baskin-Robbins recently joined the world of the Dunkin' Brands, Inc. family of companies, and consequently has rebranded again. Dunkin' Brands was acquired by a U.S. investment group Bain Capital, Thomas Lee Partners and the Carlyle Group.

As seen in the press release:

CANTON, Mass. (December 12, 2005)-- Earlier today, a consortium of leading global private- equity firms consisting of Bain Capital Partners LLC, Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners LP announced that it signed a definitive agreement to purchase Dunkin’ Brands Inc. from Pernod Ricard SA for $2.425 billion in cash. Together with the new ownership group, Dunkin’ Brands is affirming its commitment to continuing to build the company’s Dunkin’ Donuts, Togo’s and Baskin-Robbins brands through an aggressive expansion program across the United States and throughout the world.

Bain Capital, the Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners have extensive operational expertise, including substantial experience in financing and executing investments in the quick service restaurant, food and beverage, and retailing industries. The firms also collectively have a history and experience of partnering with superior management teams to own, nurture and grow some of the world's greatest brands.

Some of 'the world's greatest brands’ should have consulted a few more committees. The logo is hardly an improvement, and even though ice cream is fun, there are certain lines that shouldn't be crossed. The type is very unsettling and borders violent with the sharp edges of the letters k and n. This bizarre combination seems the like the strange love of century gothic, futura, kabel, and a little funhouse. Although I can see the rationale behind keeping the ‘31’ in the centre, I find its incorporation into the capitals ‘BR’ crowded, and not entirely obvious. Because of their proximity, I find that the completion of the BR overpowers the 31 itself. At least we can take solace in the fact that this affected the Canadian franchises as of yet.


Darkness reigns no more

I packed an enormous lunch today and my usual book wouldn't fit in my purse, so I grabbed a Metro (a free daily commuter paper in Toronto) to read on the subway and keep my boredom at bay. There, on page 15, was an article about new subway advertising being launched in Toronto this fall.

Essentially, it's single images run through the tunnel, so that as the train passes with viewers inside, our persistence of memory causes the images to animate into a moving image (like the way frames of film work, or a flip book). Check it out at the Submedia website.

Now, being a regular commuter myself, I have found the subway to be a real dead-zone. I often forget my book, then rush past the free dailies, failing to snag one before popping through the turnstile and onto a train. That's when I find myself caught for the next thirty minutes with nothing to stimulate me but the paltry few poster ads which I have read (and mentally critiqued) about a thousand times before. So what do I do? I stare out the window, into the black void of the tunnel or back at my own reflection. For thirty minutes.

Now, I love ads. I love the camera work (either still or moving) I love the animated logos and I love the typography. Even when it's bad, I enjoy tearing it apart, finding the kernels, and mentally rebuilding it. Now, I truly hope that advertisers using this medium won’t simply treat it as another single plane field like a television set, but instead choose to make use of the space, crossing from one side of the train to the other, or referencing the tunnel in which the ad lives.

But hey, I’m just happy I won’t have to stare at the back of someone’s head for half an hour.


Das ist über-geek?

There's been a trend lately in the arena of geek as chic. It seems the latest marketing trend in television advertising is the guy with a European accent trying to be cool, and being very uncool.

We started with the ING direct guy -- nothing terribly funny about him -- but he personified a stereotype of the eastern European. He wore a suit, got down to business, was stoic and dignified. Slowly, we saw things like the Ikea spokesman appear, who got more and more self-deprecating with each successive commercial, or how about Yaris the eccentric uncle in a velour suit used to sell Toyotas? or the old Toronto water pollution ad featuring eastern European scientists playing beach ball?

Enter Volkswagen and the un-pimp your auto commercials. It is the supreme example of the uncool as cool. But why are they funny? In the immortal words of the great Krusty the Clown "the pie-in-the-face gag only works when the sap's got dignity." It's because of the stereotypes of stoicism and dignity that the accent carries, especially when paired with a three piece suit or a lab coat, which makes it funny. It’s not a terribly flattering (or complete) picture of Eastern Europeans, but at the very least we’re finally shaking the ideas prevalent in WWII and the Cold War. However, I have to wonder why playing on these stereotypes is any less disturbing than exploiting any other geographic stereotype.

And on that last note, am I really the only one who finds the YOP commercial (with teens singing along to a Caribbean song, with grossly enlarged lips) deeply offensive? How is it possible that in this day and age, someone can get away with utilizing prominant negative perceptions of people of African decent?


Selling Short...

With such an increase in the stock photography market, as seen in this months Applied Arts, The Stock Market, one has to wonder how this trickles down to the design world. Of course images are more accessible and cost effective, but should that always be the bottom line?

The fact is anyone can purchase these images if they are so inclined. The definite decrease in prices, or alternatively all encompassing membership fees, truly lessens the quality of the imagery process. Photographers are forced to shoot stock or starve, and all the while these embarrassingly low prices are very public, so much so that it cheapens photography overall. I for one don’t think these prices should be available for all to see, especially those who employ designers and photographers, thinking that the creative process can be purchased for 1.99 US$. Should we as ethical designers really encourage the extinction of photography, and intern the integrity of design?

This also sets up “the rollover” of costs of imagery and supporting materials, because they can now cost virtually nothing. Soon enough, imagery will literally be cents, and we will be working on spec, it all frightens me.