Thursday, 29 January 2009

Superb playlist...

Loving the new Free MP3 Music Culture Magazine: Phlow. Their playlists rock.

A Woman in Winter

Hey may as well post what i've been up to in both my graphic design and creative writing courses...We were tasked with writing a 250 word poem/prose piece titled: A Woman in Winter.

I have no idea how I got here. Waiting in the middle of a car filled with random paraphernalia. Books on self-help and Spinoza litter the back seat, dog-eared and curling, piled on top of a red and gray checkered blanket covered with dog fur. Empty Dunkin' Donuts Styrofoam cups lie on the wet plastic floor, pink lettering revolting against the dim and monotone cold. My breath reveals traces of memories in the frosty windows; crooked hearts and faded names. The battered cassette player still manages to sputter out almost recognizable (if I was only so lucky) Christmas songs. The static-filled voice of Nat King Cole envelops the car with a type of melancholy that can only exist during this season. I quickly change the station. The car smells like stale cigarettes and old stories. I don’t know what it is about the holidays that brings you back to a place in time that no longer exists. People become secret conspirators in their own deception, seated around tables heaving with dishes no one will finish. I’m no different, sitting in this make-believe version of a romance that has longed stammered and failed, like this car’s heater I am left with a bitter chill I just can’t shake. My triple knitted wool sweater provides no insulation from winds that rattle glass, making strange tunes out of inanimate objects. The cold has a way of seeping inside you and settling in the very marrow of your bones.

The High Street Project

Gosh! It has been a few days since my last blog post (err Monday) and even though I may be the only one who notices (hey it's cool, no self-pitying undertones, just stating a perhaps obvious fact), I've missed it. I'm really enjoying getting into the flow of blog snippet creation. Anyway, I'm back in the saddle.

Went to my third graphic design class on Wednesday night and was given the following brief (in sum):

You are asked to design a branding concept for a new retail outlet. You will need to come up with a name, logotype, a color palette and an example application (e.g. Retail bag).

Please choose one of the following:
Gadget shop for Technophobes
Haute Couture Children's Fashion Boutique
Men's cosmetics shop
MP3 music shop
Toy shop for the elderly
Garden shop for urbanites

So the best part of the class occurred on the bus, where I had a mini-brainstorm session. I must have looked really funny sitting crouched in the back seat with a pen in my mouth and weird look on my face (but I'm sure stranger things have happened in London). I don't know where I'm going, but it sure is fun. I've posted the idea seeds here. I will flesh out the concept over the weekend and blog the developments.

I've also posted a shot of my classroom at St. Martins (my teacher was changing into bike gear behind the blinded door (and i awkwardly said that I wasn't looking while the camera was clearly pointing at the door. In a sense I was gauging the frame more that the contents of the room;).

How would you respond to this brief? Any takers? I'm happy to post it in its entirety if anyone wishes to attack the brief...

Monday, 26 January 2009

The urge to personify

I have been watching the Dog Whisperer (no comment) and it's funny how people humanize their pets. The major issue that crops up in every show involves human beings, not their dogs. People treat their dogs like people and that messes these mutts up. Watch out this is coming from left field - and so it is with brands. Brands become 'personalities', acquire attributes, a look and feel, a 'voice'. They become a collection of our ideas about what they are, while we co-create and sometimes validate this experience. If we can start telling stories about brands, we know the brand and ad folks have stumbled on a powerful cultural idea. A great brand becomes a part of our collective identity, a stitch in our cultural fabric. How they are created and built has changed dramatically. So here's to the human impulse to attribute meaning to this world in all its variety and contradictions. I'm a sucker for a good story.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Restaurant

The door swings open and close
people revolve around one another
the scent of juicy burgers, hand-cut fries
and strange assortment of diner specialties
malteds, Black Forest Cake and pickles
sashay and twirl filling the space
the menu's a book
bible for the epicurious
stacked like pancakes, pages curve and shine
curve and shine
covered in sheets of transparent plastic
to avoid the fate of the table cloths
that cringe at the scent
of freshly roasted coffee
scarred, marked
with rings of brown designs
left with traces of breakfast #5
pink stains freckle the fabric
like the sun touching a susceptible redhead
holes poked by over enthusiastic toothpicks
unknown patterns begin to form
from buttery mash potatoes that missed their mark
abstract artwork revealed
as people stare into the stains
each meal an imprinted memory
greasy yellow hoops
contain late nights of stumbling and giggling friends
ensconced in favorite corner red booths
surrounded by silver bars that cradle like a poster bed
omelets secrete swiss cheese
trying to escape yellow folds
first dates drink milkshakes
nervously spilling frothy cream
another spot
until dots meet and disperse
spreading across patchwork material
a rich tapestry of existence
moments locked in time
that dance and hum to the beat
of a small mini jukebox
Madonna on sale for 50 cents
Borderline wafting through the slow moving fan blades
hum and swoosh
whiz and turn
quietening the pain of stains
suffered by once white fibers
reduced to a faded melody by bizarre shapes and colors
material covers every dining room table
all elements changed, touched
the dirty, sweet, messy, beautiful, strange
fabric of life

Thursday, 22 January 2009

My most intimate conversations...

...with my husband

Through the peephole

I have been thinking a lot about meaning (huge topic I know), and lately I feel like I am on a personal quest (I am preoccupied with these thoughts) for meaning in my life. What am I meant to do? What unique skill do I possess that I can give to the world? I came across an interesting piece (somewhere here) that basically summises that everyone's individuality, that singular voice, snowflake pattern, fingerprint, is what we can contribute.

Some of the most beautiful art allows me to put on someone else's glasses, but the view that I observe will be distorted and altered by my own, creating a whole new and distinct experience. What fun.

I love peepholes in the wooden barriers at connstruction sites. The destruction or restruction is camouflaged and masked from our view by immense wooden walls and barricades. Except there exists one thoughtful consideration: the small and perfectly round hole that you can look through. Of course the view is limited. It only allows for partial sight and literally frames our experience of the site/sight.

Kind of like the universe.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

All aboard...

The inauguration speech was powerful and moving (not that I expected it to be anything but). The tough part will be moving into action. Being aware of expectant societal pain points and experiencing them are two disparate things. I am over the moon that he is at the helm and I do firmly believe that 'yes he can'. But it is not going to be an easy ride.

Brands have either sported their support [I can somehow believe that Ben & Jerry's 'Yes Pecan' wasn't just a sales ploy (I said just)] by donning red, white and blue and employing visual and verbal expressions that capture the mood of change or even by building a version of the Oval Office...but yet were seemingly quiet at the inauguration, expect for the star studded support that ushered in this new dawn. There is something strange about this mix of celebrity, fame, brands and presidency.

How will Brand Obama fare on the arduous road ahead?

Planners in digital space

Are planners set to become method actors in the digital space? As research moves closer to the immediate, to smaller chunks of consumer analysis and interactive conversations with key audiences, will planners get deep under the skin of their 'studies'? Perhaps it is this kind of movement that will break or at least blur the lines of creative/strategy and help clients offer services that people really want and need. Take the great example of Kraft and their recent iPhone application. The iFood Assistant was deemed so useful by their target consumers, that they were willing to pay 99 cents for the advertisements. Well of course that was part of the package, but what they got in return for sitting through the ads were recipes and shopping lists that helped consumers make dinners faster, easier and more convenient.

How are you mirroring people?

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Captain Crunch

Credit crunch, economic downturn, financial crisis - terms tossed around a lot in the media and at various dinner tables, haunting us like indecipherable shadows, steadily present and noticeable in our peripheral sight.

I've certainly been thinking about the changes that we may witness in the coming years. Like a pile of clothing in a dorm room, once I get through the first layer of thoughts laden with fear, I actually come to some positive conclusions.

Something needed to give. Reckless and rampant spending coupled with consumerism as paradigm of the decade (if not longer) has eroded our environment and quality of life in so many ways.

The professional side of me, the sales person (my profession boiled down to its purest form), worries, but only for a few minutes. Behavior will change, but people will buy products and services embedded with value, meaning, and perhaps a different type of utility.

The possible implications of the dramatic systemic turns and twists (a system configured and set in Bretton Woods (and prior) are deep and varied (depends on how riotous your imagination is...). I've heard people murmur about the end of currency as we know it, or back to barter. A tad drastic perhaps, but one thing is sure - we will witness the onslaught of a huge shift in consumer behavior. Consumers will start reconsidering everything they do/buy/desire.

I believe that several trends will impact people’s routine behavior and choices:

1. The New Frugality: Jobs are no longer secure, house prices are plummeting and consumers are on the prowl for ways to curb their spending. 2009 will usher the dawn of a new era of austerity.

2. Local Movements: The local context will become increasing important to consumers that are looking for bargains, cheap eats, comfort and affordable city leisure and travel activities.

3. Institutional Distrust: Survey evidence from Future Foundation suggests there were high, underlying levels of consumer dissatisfaction. More than 40% of people agreed with the statement “Most companies are not fair to consumers”.

Consumer behavior will shift, but not everyone is going to be simply looking for bargains. People are re-evaluating their values and personal systems and some will find the fun in frugality. People in varying social and political situations will respond differently, with outlook, circumstance and mindset strongly influencing their responses.

But what is the personal impact on our lives right now? How are behaviors changing in the immediate?

Based on an initial review of reactions to market shifts, I've noticed three emerging consumer profiles:

1. Bargain Hunter (Cut-corner Sally): Ordering takeout rather than going to restaurants, Primark and thrift shoppers, taking the family camping in Wales, making lunches for work, basically cutting costs wherever possible.

2. Fun ‘Austeres’: Shopping in their closets, buying like a ‘chef’ – finding basic ingredients and cooking from scratch, turning to green products (boots made from plastic bags), renewed interest in arts & crafts, nights in with friends (wine, board games and home cooked dinners).

3. Frugal Fakers: seeking high style on a low budget. They uncover affordable UK getaways, cheap eats and other budget tips and tricks (home-made masks and facials, half-price lunches at Ramsey’s, taking advantage of high street sales (75% off at Selfridges).

I'm of course, just tossing around some disparate thoughts on deep systemic shifts.

But I'm really curious to know: has your behavior changed? Are you doing anything differently?

Underage aches

Booze, ecstasy, karaoke, firecrackers, pub brawl, sex, an exposed dog are just some of the rip roaring backdrops to the new season of Skins. Hell of a hang-over must ensue (i forget they're teenagers;).

Liked their previous social media approach (wonder what they're going to be up to this season?)...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Sew what?

I've been thinking about how digital communications and platforms will influence and shape our physical language and interactions.

lol et company have already crept into our speech (luckily not all of us). But what are some of the less obvious ways to observe this influence?

I came across an interesting example of these digital manifestations in Ginger Anyhow's embroidered text messages that succinctly and humorously tell the story of a relationship, employing of course, bite-size messages, which leave a healthy amount of space for interpretation and imaginative wanderings (i like that effect).

(I have been fighting all temptation to use sewing adjectives;).

Do you have any examples of this convergence?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

the more things change...

Interesting short piece in The Atlantic about the changing face of America (and the Bush country Obama is inheriting).

Heartfelt goodbye

Overshadowed by Gaza, I only heard the news of Lasantha Wickrematunge's death today. He spread-headed freedom of the press and unbiased reporting of the civil conflict that has burdened and corroded Sri Lanka for over 25 years.

This discovery of my former editor's assassination was gut-wrenching. I only worked at The Sunday Leader for a brief period of time, but count myself fortunate to have known him.

He was acutely aware of his imminent death and wrote an eloquent piece not only the plight of free media in Sri Lanka, but of the country itself (here). I leave you with an excerpt:

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted.

Rest in peace Lasantha.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Saying no to boxes (& other category defying stunts!)

Sometimes it's frustrating having a diverse and eclectic background. I have been thinking this thought since I was a kid (dreaming about my cousins' life in Long Island; marveling at their special cereal drawer that actually contained a range of breakfast delights from Cocoa Puffs to Frosted Flakes. I thought it was just amazing (along with their Fruit Roll-ups and pre-made Caesar salad dressing). I woefully compared that to the Quaker Oats that sat on the top of a metal shelf in my Pop's loft on the Bowery). Can you believe I actually wanted to be named Jennifer at one point (this coming from the girl named Pia who went to 4 different elementary schools and 4 high schools)? Desperately seeking whatever I assumed to be 'normal' at the time.

Fast forward to today. I currently work as a Creative Strategist/Copywriter at a brand-centric comms agency. I am hunting for 'fits' and sniffing around attempting to put my finger on the pulse of my career's evolution (where I want to go and how I intend to get there). History has repeated itself. In the past 7 years I have worked in 4 countries, from Sri Lanka to Bahrain, producing documentaries, writing headlines, developing brand personalities, copywriting and providing creative direction across diverse mediums. Sometimes I wonder if this diversity works against me or in my favor? I am definitely not easily categorized or compartmentalized. I've traveled on a winding and tortuous road.

Looking back I've loved the strange backdrop. I continue to challenge myself, morph, adapt, learn and grow into the person (and professional) I want to become. That idea keeps changing too. And ultimately, the right fit or part will be one that appreciates and values these attributes, this rich history.

But I have to admit, every now and then I look over my shoulder, unto the clear and manicured lawn (you know exactly where you are, what the inside of the house might look like, exactly what to expect and most probably can accurately guess what's coming) and wonder what life is like on the paved side.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Top Dog

Great way to entertain and get the point of VW 'confidence' across beautifully. The dog's humming/mouthing the words (in the store) is one of the best parts (really humanizes the pup). I'm surprised it was banned. It's amazing what trained dogs can do (just because it was its head and tail down doesn't mean it was abused). Rock on DDB.

Escape Artists...

...we shut down our Macbooks, ignored the downright woeful economic news from ballooning deficits (a Congressional Budget Office report put the federal deficit at near $1 trillion) to the 30,000 American job cuts during the past 10 days, and pushed our two couches together to veg and escape into a Bollywood movie.

Yes, perhaps it takes a certain acquired taste to appreciate these flics (one that I have cultivated while living in Sri Lanka and traveling throughout India); but there exists a real sense of fantasy (reoccurring theme in this blog I know) and other worldliness in these films.

Jodhaa Akbar
(the one we watched last night) is a film that highlights a positive point in historic Muslim-Hindu relations by relaying the story of the love between a Rajastani Princess and Mughal Prince (circa 1555).

So travel with me on the escapist route. Bollywood movies are just one stop on the journey (try it out, you may just enjoy it). (And based on what I just saw about being a Bollywood extra - perhaps watching is better than participating;)

What are some of your pit stops?

Friday, 9 January 2009

Happy Friday folks...

These new ecards sites rock (image above from eecards - they're great but i still haven't found the right audience for the humor (except my buddy JC;).

Check out Rattlebox too.

Here he comes to save the day...

I love Spidee's (one of Obama's favorite superheroes) show of support.

The expectations set upon him (I mean he donned the cover of Marvel!) must certainly weigh heavily on his shoulders.

He is only human (but I must admit I hope he can perform some mutant tricks to help get us out of this global quagmire).

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Portfolios & 'Brand Me'

I love Christopher Doyle's portfolio. Whether he meant to sell himself or simply had his fill of identity projects and decided to create his own guidelines in protest is perhaps irrelevant (it's not the fallacy of intent but the elicited response of the viewer/reader/audience that counts in my book). But from my point of view he has defined himself - his humor, approach, style, skills, capabilities, and personality to a certain extent. (Christopher Doyle is a Sydney-based designer working at the Moon Group). I think it's brilliant.

We finally (Art Director & I) finished our portfolio. We attempted to strike the right balance between humor, expressions of identity and experience...

Download Christopher Doyle Identity Guidelines here.

Happy to provide my portfolio upon request;)

The Zeitgeist

I’ve been haunted by thoughts of how the visual and verbal unite to convey powerful messages dripping with meaning. They wander into the realm of personal projects (I've been toying the idea of creating a book that juxtaposes photography/imagery and prose/poetry to evoke the same feeling, emotion, and experience) and even professional aspirations [when you’ve gotten to the crux of the strategy and are able to develop persuasive ideas expressed through imagery and copy that reach into the consumer and pull out his soul (okay I’m going a bit too far but its fun)] and lately have been front of mind.

Design & copy – will this be the way we communicate moving forward?

It’s nothing new, hieroglyphs, the formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians combined logographic and alphabetic elements to communicate. Storytelling combined with music and performance before it became strictly copy, and now everyone plunges into one screen or another. Our appetite for fast-food bites of expression, which enable us to absorb and comprehend information quickly is growing rapidly.

Technology has changed the way we digest and imbibe information, from texts to the news. The Daily Beast is an example of a beautiful traditional media traversal into the digital space performed by none other than Tina Brown. Even Gourmet presents its predictions quite evocatively using a slide show.

Design and communications are fast becoming one and expressed in a variety of ways, and is immensely fascinating (to me).

Museum exhibitions, such as the Biennale in Venice (check out Emily Prince’s moving work below. Her portraits of soldiers that died in Iraq coalesced to form the map of the USA were profoundly moving. The sketched images and personal life details listed underneath gave a real sense of the lives and individuals lost), graphic novels, gaming narratives, film storyboards and of course advertising all employ this language.

I hope to continue to learn its curves and dimensions. Fluency comes to those that can mutate, experiment and be a part of the change.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Storytellers - a dying breed?

While I was undertaking my Master of Science in Global Affairs at NYU and covering topics that ranged from crisis negotiations to developing countries in the political economy, all I wanted to do was escape into a great story.

Battlestar Galactica quenched my thirst for the fantastical, but I remained hungry. I was hunting for a good translation of Arabian Nights (but too many people told me that the English version missed a few beats and was far from exact). So years later I stumble upon The Hakawati, and I am enthralled and enchanted by this book! (I am still in the midst of it).

Al-hakawati is a Syrian term for a poet, actor, comedian, historian and storyteller. Its root is hikayah a fable or story, or haka, to tell a story; wati implies expertise in a popular street-art.

There is something magical about the live performance of storytelling, an art we still practice on children, but deprive ourselves of as adults. (I'd love to sit in a little cafe and listen to old tales of love, betrayal, adventure and war weaved together like the patterns on an antique Arabian carpet).

Miguel Piñero, co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café ignited spoken word in NYC through melodic and rhythmic poetry (often unleashing politically charged expressions of protest).

Since then, many masters have taken the stage, but not in the cliff-hanging, old fabled Hakawati sense. (We went to see Saul Williams at Cargo in London and he blew us away. Even I popped my spoken word cherry in NYC on 1 January 2000).

New Advertising, at its best, helps tells the story of our culture. Has the Hakawati evolved into the modern communications professional?

As I was pondering all this, I came across this event tonight, so I will check out a Western Hakawati (the beauty of synchronicity).

In a time of market crashes, recession, job cuts, mortgage crises, nightmares in Gaza, etc., etc., I think we could all use some bewitching and engrossing stories. What do you think? What stories are you telling or reading? What's your escape?

Rabih Alameddine starts the novel with: "Listen. Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story."

I'm all ears.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Opening doors (or just hanging on them?)

It's not always about opening doors. It's knowing which ones to open while standing on a bizarrely patterned and nostalgic (wistful of a time long past) carpet and looking out onto an endless hallway (imagine a generic Hilton Hotel with bad paintings on the wall) of door options. All with ominous numbers that are slightly unhinged (perhaps I am taking The Shining metaphor too far).

It is about knowing which door to open, otherwise, you may spend countless hours (and precious time) rudely interupting various hotel room scenarios (government officials in compromising positions, mirrored coffee tables, strange dances and acrobatics, exotic perfomances, and other riotous acts), while desperately seeking the rooms that hold the magic of your potential (and contain a tailored blend of possibilities)

So having a sign on the doorknob is quite helpful. But you have to be on the look-out for the signs, and hopefully they'll be as nicely designed as these ones (Creative Review compiled a beautiful booklet showcasing hotel doorknob signs).

Sunday, 4 January 2009

general observations before agency life

I was going to write a post about the year ahead in the world of brand communications but realized that I am about to start work tomorrow. I will enter the busy, productive, boiling phase (and exit percolation mode). So, the next couple of posts are random thoughts on well, ice boxes and shoes. Before I begin, in homage to the advent of 2009, I'd like to share one of my favorite fortunes and mantra for the new year:

Worn-out heels...

I've noticed that I've always worn out the back of my heels really quickly. Which is alright when you live in a country that values the old and doesn't make repairing something more expensive than buying a replacement (not to mention how this waste culture affects our environment and creates disastrous Primark habits).

But I am coming from a more self-centered place - I don't want to spend £8 to fix each pair of shoes when in a few weeks time they will be gnawed down to size again. So I just suck it up and hope that most don't notice, and most importantly, that I can walk without tumbling to the ground or falling off curbs.

But alas, I am going off on a tangent.

My worn-out heels I've realized, are a reflection of my personality. I hit the ground running. I walk hard and with a sense of conviction and determination (which perhaps makes the heel scuffing worth it?).

So here's to many more pairs of run-down shoes in 2009.

Revelations found in...refrigerators, medicine cabinets & grocery baskets?

It's funny where small pockets of expression can be found.

Can you guess what this is?

Upon closer inspection, or a different viewpoint, my fridge is revealed. My father also decorates his fridge and the collage pieces together different parts of his life - postcards from friends, remnants of voyages (Peruvian rug cut-outs), black and white portraits of my grandparents...

I wonder what our fridges say about us? What they express about what we love to gaze at or lose ourselves in. I did the same thing at work on the door behind my desk (not ideal I know, but I didn't have a lot of options). I can swing around and just daydream, staring out into colored space.

Perhaps fridges are also like medicine cabinets, or baskets at grocery stores, or Amazon purchase histories, and my personal favorite, windows with drawn curtains (I love looking into people's homes to see what they're like; what paintings they have on their walls, what color couches, photographs?) Perhaps searching for that red thread, the common denominator that we share. Piecing together parts of people and humanity one fridge at a time;)

Thursday, 1 January 2009

In with the new

The first day of a brand new spanking year - 2009! I love New Year's day. It signifies new beginnings and wonderfully lofty and ambitious goals. This year instead of starting with resolutions, I began with goals by defining what I would like achieve by this time next year. Drum roll...

1. Career development/progression: a golden career path that puts the ladder against the right wall (wink to Covey).
2. Personal & professional development: courses ranging from graphic design to writing to photography to digital skills to only not educate and expand knowledge base but to create rhythmic habits.
3. Travel: go to interesting destinations - Turkey, Romania (where my great-grandmother is from) and Egypt (plus weekend journeys to explore places we'd imagine ourselves living).
4. Create a rhythm: a productive, creative, healthy, satisfying daily beat that is born out of habit.
5. Personal Projects: by the end of 2009, I'd like to have completed two personal projects - a storyboard narrative (visual novel), a webzine, a book written and designed by me;), or a photography/poetry/prose book.
6. Discovery: explore London, listen to new music, go to shows, theater pieces, gallery exhibitions, etc.
7. Spirituality: find a path to the universe that regularly puts me in touch with this force.
8. Community: reinforce existing friendships and expand network.
9. Creative co-conspirators: an extension of community with a particular focus on artists, prospective partners and collaborators.
10. Health & well-being: at the end of 2009, I'd like to be in great physical shape.

After I fleshed these out, I then wrote down the resolutions, aka tactical activities, that would help me achieve these goals.

What are your resolutions or goals for 2009? What are you after?