So what do all the social networks have in common with each other (save for Twitter) and what do advertising agency Jung von Matt, Twitter, and the games of Mafia Wars & Farmville from Xynga have in common? Easy. They all have a Creative Director, and the other sites don't. Only one of the social networks states a Creative Director, and that's Twitter. That's the difference. Communication by means of visual, as well as linguistic direction. In fact it is estimated that 65% of people are visual learners, far dwarfing other styles like aural, kinesthetic and varients - and it's a reasonable bet that that number came from a study of western learners only - so it could be even higher in Asian cultures. Like Hugh MacLeod and his simple cartoons with only a few words. The visual often completes the sentence. With Twitter, one little word and one little bird set the world a Tweeting - Friendster, although not specifying a Creative Director shows its visual understanding possibly as their Asian head, Ian Stewart, brought a career in youth marketing including Coca-Cola, Ogilvy and MTV along with him to the job and their Head of Brand of Brand Experience, Ben Dunn, spent time at WPP' branding consultancy and enjoys film making and photography in his spare time. As far as the other services, careers in IT, Venture Capitol and business tend to dominate. A distinct design and visual direction is definitely lacking.
So what exactly does a Creative Director do? After seeing a television commercial I had done on national TV one day my father queried, "So you're not the actor, you didn't do the voice-over and you didn't shoot the film. What did you do?" I tried my best to explain to him that I had thought of the idea based on solving a business problem, but to him that didn't seem like much work, and that I had walked it all through the hundreds of people from the client and agency hierarchies to storyboard artists to producers, film crew, actors, music people, editors and - by then his attention had turned to other things. My dad is an engineer, and trying to explain the birthing of things like commercial artistic expression to an engineer can be, well, like trying to explain engineering to a commercial artist. And that seems like where a lot of the web gets its feet stuck these days. Technical people, business people, writers and designers don't exactly hang out in the same bar do they? Maybe only in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Stanford they do - or at Nintendo in Redmond, Washington.
And so that's where I wanted to look today. At instances where the combination of logic and creativity, solved a problem and illuminated a whole new landscape that had maybe not been seen before. A landscape of behavioral, written and visual communication with the emphasis on visual. "Take a point, stretch it into a line, curl it into a circle, twist it into a sphere, and punch through the sphere." - Albert Einstein's visual attempt at realizing a fourth dimension. Recently, Mark Pincas of Zynga mused that we were only 10% of the way into the digital revolution - about the same percentage of brain power Einstein thought most of us were using. I think they both just may have been correct.
Although it's not on his name card, Steve Jobs is essentially the Creative Director at Apple. It started with his early learning and subsequent love of calligraphy and typography in college - by accident as he tells it. And look at how that tiny kernel of design embeds itself throughout the entire company today. Biz Stone of Twitter is pretty much a Silicon Valley legend. He can call himself anything he wants but he chooses Creative Director. He also helped to create Blogger, the program that is now bringing you this story, and Obvious, the think tank that created Twitter. He began in business by dropping out of art school and becoming a graphic designer at Little Brown and Company in Boston. And over at Zynga Games, they began after securing $28 million in funding by appointing Electronic Arts Chief Creative Officer Bing Gordon to the board.
So where do we go now?
At The Richards Group in Dallas Texas, we all learned about the giants in the communications business through a Wall Street Journal series that profiled the tops in the business called Creative Leaders. These were Creative Directors who significantly impacted the business of communications. That's why WSJ was profiling them. As a punk art director, I had to retouch Stan Richards' photo for the full-page spread at lunch one day, uhh, with an Xacto knife, trimming down his earlobes. Ha! I have had the good fortune to have worked directly with seven of the entire series of less than 90 - you do the math - including, Ron Anderson (CD at Bozell), Gabe Massimi, (CD at Earle Palmer Brown, D.C.) Cheryl Berman, Ted Bell and Rick Fizdale (Cheryl ran McDonald's, Ted was President and hired me, and Rick was our CEO at Burnett), Stan (The Richards Group is now the world's largest Independent advertising agency.) and Bill Westbrook (Bill was CD at Earle Palmer Brown. He would go on to be CD at Fallon, and I would see him later at the McDonald's worldwide convention in New Orleans before starting my own company in Korea.) The only person I think WSJ missed was Michael Conrad, our global CD at Burnett and founder of Michael Conrad and Leo Burnett in Frankfurt (Michael sent me to Korea in 95). The actual WSJ ads were different in reality than you see here in that each ad featured a rather large portrait of the subject and much smaller copy. But during my time in Dallas, I was influenced, not only by Stan but by a host of other luminaries in the profession including Don Sibley, Rex Peteet, Woody Pirtle and Fred Woodward. All wonderful designers and Creative Directors.
And so it is with Fred and his contribution to media and the visual arts that I look at the business that he described as being so much more of an art than a science - but realize that it is, in the end, a business. In Dallas in the mid-80s Fred worked as the CD for 'D' magazine. the city monthly. Then for Texas Monthly and eventually for Rolling Stone (He is currently CD at GQ). Rolling Stone was an icon for us. The image of an unruly child, finally grown up, but still unruly. Each month, or every two weeks in Stone's case, Fred would shine a light on a world which was just fleeting by. In art, in pictures, in designs designed to leave an indelible stamp on our psyche as the hours ticked by. Fred duly documented and heralded the little moments that made our lives worthwhile. Someone close to me said recently, "But David, you've done the most in your career, you've made the top", but I can tell you, when you have the images that Fred gave us every couple of weeks, you just sit and wait for more - and try to do more. And that is one thing that social media lacks today. Ownership. Who can tell me today, what the Tweets meant yesterday? Who can give me a look and feeling into what's going to be happening in two weeks, or a month? I believe, only imagery and creative direction can. Creative direction of timeless magnitude. The design of a sociological physicist with the power to stop the hands of time, and tell us all what it means. And who am I to predict the future of social media? Well, I'm not sure I want to predict it as much as I'd like to give it some direction.
How is it that magazines like Vanity Fair and GQ have circulations of only just a million or so, yet they have Creative Directors and 4 of the top 5 social networks, with up to hundreds of millions of members don't? Aren't the social networks really the magazines of our time - all be they with user generated content? What seems to be missing in social media management today is a sense of really looking at their members as readers as well. Consumers of a communicative product. The same as people consume magazines or TV. I want someone to stop the Twitter, to pause my Facebook and give me an idea why I've LinkedIn to Xing for the next round of battle. I want to stop, if only for a second, to revel in the majesty of just one moment - a single Tweet. Even if it is not my moment. Just so I can have some idea of what is going on. And that can be done, in pictures.
Korean artist, Paik Nam Jun, famous for sculptures with 100 TV sets each playing rapid-fire video, coined the term "Information Super Highway" in the 1970s. His idea was that media was becoming so plentiful and so fragmented that soon people would just not absorb anything after awhile. After a while, it would all just be high-speed wallpaper. And that's where I feel the social networks may be headed. Without packaging, reforming and refining some of what's going on I fear the social networks are doing both themselves and their readers a disservice. For all the information they get in, couldn't they give something back and get something in return again? I sense it's very possible.
With the coding from a certain set of parameters of member input data, keyed to corresponding visuals such as women, men, sports, music, etc. Facebook could essentially, with art they already have, spit back a film not unlike the Paik Nam June piece above. Interesting? It very well could be, and entirely user generated and constantly updating. A running documentary that is never twice the same and constantly changing. A visual document of what is happening. Yes, in the world of bits and bites it will be subject to algorithms and matrices that will try to underlie and monetize what it is, but I can live with that, for with just one simple picture, or a whole shitload of them, it could all make sense and send the bean counters home another day to figure out just how we turned commerce into art and back to commerce again.
Visual stimuli can also be used to gather psychographic and behavioral data to match a service's demographic data thereby giving advertisers and recruiting firms a much more interesting picture of the people they are really talking to.
For the entire series click here:
wHAT's wRONG wITH mY sOCIAL nETWORKING? I: Well, visually it sucks for starters...
wHAT's wRONG wITH mY sOCIAL nETWORKING? II: How smart design & Creative Direction can build Social Networks
wHAT'S wRONG wITH mY sOCIAL nETWORKING? III: Nothing Much Happened In München Today VII