LEON JACOBS

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The end of bullshit

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Advertising's obituary has been written many times. In fact, if The Google is to be believed, more than 1 billion times.

And who can blame the gloom sayers? Advertising is a business in serious trouble. Like other middle-men, the internet has made the gap between supply and demand so short the man in the street can get the best deals on anything from travel to property with a simple hop, skip and a click. No mess, no fuss and certainly no agents required.

For decades, the advertising business got away with murder. A lot of work it produced was based on instinct and gut feel. And lucky for the great agencies of the 70s, 80s and 90s, they were driven by great maverick thinkers who could create magic work based on their gut instinct. I am thinking of the great creative directors of the ilk of Arden, Hegarty, Clow, French, Saatchi and Sinclair. To name just a few. But really, the greats were only a few. Many, many more impersonators have been seated at layout pads and fed absolute schlock to unsuspecting clients.

And these clients have been growing restless. The adage "half my advertising budget is wasted, problem is I don't know which half" is said in jest. But in the tail of satire there is always the sting of truth. 

Now, let's just cut to another parallel industry for a moment. Journalism. 

Every four years, the US media machine goes completely bonkers in following the pursuit of those who wish to become the leader of the free world. And again, this year, some wild claims have been made. So much so that most Americans (and the world) went to bed on November 6 thinking the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would be "too close to call." One or two "data nerds", notably FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, steadfastly predicted an Obama landslide and their final prediction tipped the incumbent to a 90% chance of winning.

Mr. Silver was not even close. He was dead on. On the money. 100% strike rate. So much so, that Jon Stewart crowned him "Lord and god of the algorithm."

Nobody can ever underestimate the earth quake that hit political punditry. All those countless hours of talking heads on TV, banging on for hours, speculating, flattened by a solid 9 on the data Silver Scale of finely tuned spreadsheets and math. 

Now, let's cut back to Madison Avenue. What can agencies learn from what happened to journalism, what clients want from a creative partner and the rise of the numbers?

This: That the three remaining forces in advertising is

  • Data - see above
  • Design - the outward shape of insight
  • Delivery - design made real

An agency that has tight control over these three Dees and know how to chain them together will be able to use the power of the numbers to create unbelievably good work. Lots of Nate Silvers, feeding real insight from real numbers of real consumer behaviour and needs to creative professionals who are geared to deliver their designs in what format the data suggests.

In the same way that FiveThirtyEight destroyed the pundits, this approach will bring an end to the bullshit in our industry.

The age of data, metrics and the internet does not hail the death of this business, but the resurrection thereof.

A note on Apple's design direction

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Why did Scott Forstall have to be shown the door at 1 Infinity Loop? Because he was relying on Apple Maps. Or so the joke goes. 

Why and how he found the door is immaterial now. Much have been said about Apple's tendency to favour skeuomorphic design, but the fact is that the proponent of faux leather and torn pages are spending more time with the little Forstalls and the Prince of Industrial Design is holding the stylus over future Apple UX. 

The head of Sir Jony Ive

The head of Sir Jony Ive

Now that he is guiding both the hardware and software look and feel of Apple's products, what could, and should be going through his mind now?

The interface of the new podcasting app on iOS.

The interface of the new podcasting app on iOS.

  • Apple's UX has lost the element of surprise
    Since the Jobsian revolution at Apple, the shift to OSX and the advent of iOS, Apple's interfaces had an ability to surprise and delight you in the most pleasant ways. I will never remember the first time I discovered that the dock could magnify under a low-flying cursor. Or the way the screen rippled when you dropped a new widget on the dashboard. These days, there is nothing to delight and surprise the little kids in us. However, the same is not true for the hardware. The feel of the devices themselves have a way of bowling you over on first touch. It is what I'd like to think of as the intangible tangible. And it is the thing that makes reviewers write: Don't poo-poo this device until you've picked it up. So, step 1: Bring the magic back
  • There is a place for skeuomorphic thinking in UX design
    I guess people do like to see familiar conventions from the analogue world in their digital worlds to help them understand what things do. I guess this is what made Steve Jobs favour having skeuomorphs in Apple UX. Take the new podcaster. It gives you a sense of the type of content that you would consume on podcasts and the element of surprise is in there. As the recording progresses the tape on the left reel reduces and the tape on the right increases. Delightful. It's the same delight you feel when peeling the page up in iBooks to make one feel like you are living in the future. But a rubbish faux leather bounder on my contact book? Or a torn pages? No, thank you.
  • The hardware and software should be more integrated
    I was playing with a colleague's Samsung Galaxy Note a few days ago. It does something really simple and cool. When you take the stylus out of the bay, the device immediately switches to its note pad app. Because, surprise surprise, when people take the stylus out, chances are, they want to take a note. This is delightful and surprising and the kind of stuff Apple used to be known for. Take note, Sir Jony. 
  • More integrated design
    It is time for Apple's UI elements to follow the same design convention as the its famous hardware. The same clean lines, the same curves and the same use of translucency, reflections and glass surfaces that make so many of Apple's products end up in design exhibitions and art museums need to make themselves know in the UI. It feels too often that there are two different design philosophies at play right now. If the hardware looked like the software, we would see fake wood veneer instead of aluminium. And we can all imagine how crazy that would be.
Apple still has the momentum to capture what makes it a maker of great products. It just needs to dig inside itself and make it shine. On the outside, and the inside.

A note on Europe

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Everything in life is driven by purpose.

The most successful companies thrive because they seek their purpose, not profit. Their profit is a byproduct of the pursuit of their dreams.

This is true for individuals. Companies. Countries. Continents.

What is Europe's purpose?

China and the US has a purpose.

Even Africa and Latin America have their development agenda.

But what is Europe's story?

It is the lack of a European narrative that is responsible for its slow decline into oblivion.