Tough Room





This is an old "This American Life" about the writing room at The Onion. I was reminded of it the other day at work. It is an excellent example of the creative process at work and a pretty funny behind-the-scenes look at one of the most consistently funny publications in the country.





72U Summer Session

Our friend, Maria Scileppi, says 72U is "looking for Wonderful Weirdos." The application deadline for the program's summer session is February 10th.



Chip Kidd Wisdom

If you haven't watched Chip Kidd's TED talk, take 15 minutes to do so.

Here are the Cliff's Notes.

"Inflatable Trans Ams and Stained Glass Backboards" or "Have An Idea That Forces You To Learn Something New"


I love to see side projects in someone's portfolio. Granted, they need to be interesting and well-done too. Bad poetry doesn't score many points. But good side projects show what you're capable of with no restraints. How far you'll go to make something cool. How big of an itch you have to just create something new in the world.

About six months ago, we hired this guy. His name is Guy. He's a great advertising creative, but beyond that he has a whole life as an artist. He has two portfolios, one for advertising and one for his art. Here's his art portfolio. For the inflatable Trans Am idea, he had no idea how to make inflatables. He just had the idea, then he started calling people to figure out how to make it happen. The end result is pretty bad-ass.
Guy Overfelt, untitled
(his 1977 Smokey and The Bandit Trans AM as an inflatable) 1999, 2009
inflatable nylon and electric blower
54H X 204L X 84W inches


Another friend of mine recently started a side project (obsession) that required him to learn a new craft of his own. His name is Victor Solomon. I know him because he used to do some freelance editing and the occasional shooting for us. He had an idea to do basketball backboards made out of stained glass. A comment on the deification of athletes, the spiritual nature of sport, something like that.

When he had this idea, he knew absolutely nothing about stained glass other than that he liked how it looked. So he did some research and did an apprenticeship with some master stained glass dudes down in San Jose. It takes him around 100 hours to make a backboard, but man are these things cool. And as he's just starting out, his craft is only going to get better.

See more of his backboards at literallyballin.com.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. The only ideas that matter are the ones you care about enough to actually bring into the world. Pick the hard ones--the ones that you don't know how to make. Let your passion to see it realized be your fuel. Make yourself learn something. In the end, you'll have created something in the world and in yourself.

How to Write for Television (When You Have Never Written for Television)

If you want to concept TV commercials, you've got to start with premises. Do not write scripts. Let me explain...

Forever ago, I did a summer internship at GSD&M in Austin, Texas. I was in between semesters at the VCU Adcenter (before it was the Brandcenter), and I was excited not only to be at an agency that had been all over the award annuals, but to be partnered with a classmate of mine who was a fantastic art director. It was going to be a very good summer.

That first week, we were given a chance to write TV commercials for Chili's. Yes, the Chili's of Baby Back Rib fame. Our first year in school, we had worked on lots of print campaigns, but had never worked on TV. (This is before digital was even a thing. Web banners weren't even a thing. Like I said, this was forever ago.)

So we sat down and spent days concepting. We came up with a story about an Amish boy. We had another one about a kung fu master and his disciples. We had one shot from the point of view of a bird. And we crafted each script in detail. We argued over dialogue for hours. I thought the Amish boy should say, "Yea, verily," because it sounded funny and biblical. My art director thought he should say, "Even so, mother," because it made more sense. This went on for days.

Finally, we brought five or six scripts in to our creative director. Who killed them all. Welcome to advertising.

So we came up with five or six more scripts. And we agonized over dialogue and descriptions. Again, we showed them to our creative director. Nothing.

We were feeling disappointed and a little bit of pressure because we knew that the interns VCU sent to this agency the year before had actually produced a commercial for Pennzoil. That's insane. Summer interns producing a TV commercial? But it happened. And we wanted it to happen for us, too.

But it never did. We had a fun summer. But we produced nothing. (To be fair, the idea that interns would produce anything other than spec work is a little unrealistic. But we didn't know that.)

On the last day of our internship, our creative director gave us an evaluation. And we were shocked to hear that it wasn't so hot. He said we came in with five or six scripts a week. According to him, the team that had produced the Pennzoil spot last year came in with 100 ideas the day after they were briefed. Maybe 100 was an exaggeration. But it was certainly more than five.

It took me the better part of my career to learn that there is a difference between writing premises and writing scripts.

A premise is a short two to three sentence blurb about what the spot's about.

A script is a crafted document that tells you exactly what happens in the commercial.

A premise is loose.

A script is tight.

You can write 100 premises in a day.

It might take you an entire afternoon to write a decent script.

A premise is something you jot down as a potential idea.

A script is an idea you begin to craft.

So if you have the chance to write TV scripts. Don't just start writing TV scripts. That's like crafting the body copy for a marker comp. Start with a premise. And then come up with another. And another. And another.

A Short Lesson In Perspective


You may have seen this post from Linds Redding floating around. It's gotten a fair amount of much-deserved press. It's important, much more important than most of the stuff we post here. When you have 5 minutes, you should read it.

A Short Lesson in Perspective

How to Pick a Portfolio School - Updated

A couple summers ago, Ashley Sommardahl from the VCU Brandcenter wrote a great post titled "How to Pick a Portfolio School." It's been updated to reflect their current numbers. Obviously, Ashley's biased. But the numbers are what they are. And if you're serious about a career in advertising, you really have to consider VCU.

David Oakley's Why Is Your Name Upside Down?



We have a list of books we recommend over there ----> on the right side of the page. Lots of stuff that might inspire you or make you a better creative. Here's one that might do both, and will get you excited to be in an industry as fun as ours. Why Is Your Name Upside Down? Stories from a Life in Advertising by David Oakley

Oakley is the president and creative director at BooneOakley, a small independent advertising agency in Charlotte, NC. It’s a really good shop with nice, talented folks. Full disclosure here—I’ve met David and many of the people there, so I’m probably a little biased. Even so, I laughed much harder at this book than I thought I would. After 15 years in the business, sometimes reading books about the industry feels like, well, work. This one feels more like just grabbing a beer with a dude who tells really good stories.
BooneOakley opened with a ballsy, attention-grabbing stunt. During the 2000 presidential race, they ran a billboard that said “Gore 2000.” But what it showed was a photo of George W. Bush. Calls from the media started immediately. All the big names wanted to know who had screwed the pooch so badly. CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX. Oakley even received a call from the Vice Chairman of the Republican Party. Only after a few nervous days of incredible publicity did they reveal the punch line: the board was for 123hire.com, with the copy: “Today’s job opening: proofreader.” A really simple prank that turned a local billboard into national media coverage.
bush1
That is the M.O. of Oakley—he likes to take risks, make his clients famous and have fun doing it. Some of the stories here are how some of BooneOakley’s best, most over-the-top ideas came to be. Some are stories from the trenches of running a small agency in a small market. And some are personal stories from David, how he got into the business, how he met his wife (who also works with him), a few other random but always entertaining stories from his past. If you were to cut a trailer for a movie version of this book, you’d see a giant muffin fall on a car, a professional golfer tee off on a biscuit, a Silence of the Lambs basement moment as Oakley tries to buy a ping pong table for the office on the cheap, a client fired via tweet (don’t we all wish sometimes), a condom on a dog, a pole dancer, a live earthworm eaten by a human, some terrible golf, Celine Dion, Roseanne Cash, a kidney stone passed and what is certainly the only sex doll thrown from a rooftop during a new business pitch. And that would just be the 30-second cut of the trailer.
You don’t have to be in advertising to enjoy these stories. But if you are, you might actually learn something while you’re laughing your butt off. There’s a method to Oakley’s madness, and he drops some important lessons along the way. Even his craziest stories have morals to them. Well, most of them do. And you’ll be treated to some delightful writing, such as this: “Our moods were swinging like a pair of donkey balls.” (Surprising, visual, simple—everything a good simile requires.)
The stories are so random and improbable that you know they’re true. Advertising is random and improbable. I’ve had many moments in my career where I’ve stopped to look around and wondered, “How the hell did I get here?” I could totally relate. And what comes through more than anything is that Oakley is a guy who loves what he does. He loves the people around him, and he’s built an agency, a body of work and now a book that shows that advertising can be a blast. It should be, if you’re doing it right. And he shows that, despite the rumors, there are some really good people in this industry.

The Third Shoe


Yesterday I was having lunch with Tracy Urquhart, our awesome creative operations manager, and I was talking about being disappointed when creatives take my direction exactly and bring nothing else to the table.

Tracy said that one of her first jobs was selling shoes for Nine West. When a customer asked to see a shoe in a certain size, she would bring that shoe in the size the customer wanted. She'd also bring a second pair that was similar, maybe a slightly different model or different brand. Then she'd bring a third pair. Something else completely. Something surprising. Something the customer wasn't asking for at all. But maybe--based on a hunch, something they said, maybe based on their style--something the customer would really love.

This is a perfect metaphor for what we should always be doing. Whether you're addressing feedback from a creative director or client, bring what was asked for. But don't stop there. Is there another way to do it? Maybe the direction was to emphasize a point more in the voiceover of a spot, but there's a better way to solve that same issue visually. What other ways can you solve that specific problem?

But don't stop there either. What else is there? How can you completely turn the problem on its head? What can you do that's radical and surprising? What is your gut telling you? It may be completely wrong. That's fine. You've already done what's asked. But there's a chance that third shoe just might just be more spectacular, more right than anything.

An Interview with Andrew LeVasseur, Head of Experience Design at VCU Brandcenter



At the VCU Brandcenter’s annual recruiter session, there’s a small group of tinkerers and builders and mad scientists who sit in the same room as art directors and copywriters, but kind of off to the side. Instead of ads, their tables are littered with drones and robots, hacked toys and games, tablets with app prototypes. Tangible things, things they’ve actually built. They are a new breed, a new creature in the industry. Until now, they’ve been called Creative Technologists.

I love talking to them about their work. I have a whole different set of questions than when I talk with the art directors and copywriters. Things like “What the hell is this?” “How's it work?” “How did you make it?” “What's this button do?” “Have you patented it?” And, usually in the back of my mind, “Wow, is this even advertising?”

This track—Creative Technology—has just been renamed Experience Design. We caught up with Andrew LeVasseur, the head of the Creative Technology/Experience Design track to get his take on VCU Brandcenter’s approach to technology and user experience, the future of the program and the reason for the name change. 


What’s your background? 
I have worked for top agencies like Razorfish (Seattle) and The Martin Agency (Richmond).  I have also launched and helped grow multiple start-up companies. My brand credits include Barclays, Best Buy, Capella University, Capitol One, Harrahs Entertainment, Hawaiian Airlines, Holland America, Microsoft, Michelin – BFGoodrich, Verizon FiOS, Weight Watchers, among others.
My focus areas include brand strategy, user experience design, information architecture, interaction design, software, information systems and process design, technology and new media, applied research and analytics.

What’s your role at the Brandcenter? 
I joined the VCU Brandcenter as an adjunct in 2009 where I played a large role in establishing the Creative Technology track (a precursor to the Experience Design track). As head of the Experience Design track, I help shape the vision, curriculum and course content.  As a professor, I teach multiple courses focused on strategy, design and technology.

Why the name change from Creative Technology to Experience Design? 
The Creative Technology track has successfully been in operation for 6 years and the name “Creative Technology” has served a specific purpose for the times we were in.  We’re renaming the track to better align with the direction of the industry, the career opportunities for our students, and to reflect more specifically the titles and roles our graduates are assuming in business. 

So what does an XD student do? 
Experience Design students concept, design, prototype and build ‘experiences’ that push the envelope of what is technologically possible.

While at the VCU Brandcenter, Experience Design Students will:
·       Study new and emerging user participation platforms like digital, social, mobile, and experiential (IoT). 
·       Identify new and imaginative ways for brands to engage with users across platforms. 
·       Design ads, interfaces, apps, wearables, robots, flying machines...things yet to be imagined.
·       Balance strategic, tactical and technical project demands to bring ideas to life in both form and function.

Here is the Fall 2015 Course List:

Semester 1: Business of Branding, Creative Thinking, User Experience Design, Physical Computing 1

Semester 2: Strategy & Design, User Participation Platforms, Visual Storytelling

Semester 3: Creating Gravitational Pull, Experimentation, Physical Computing 2

Semester 4: Innovation, Persuasion, Indivituation



What kind of people are you looking for in XD? 
We accept students from very diverse backgrounds and believe that the more variety in experience, capabilities and skills make for richer collaborative design.  That said, we want students who have a passion for business, design and technology, and who are: 

Culturally-Curious/Tech-Forward:  Are you fascinated by the world around you and the impact of
technology and new media on culture and people?
Creative Problem Solvers: Do you see challenges as design opportunities and have the capacity to
find creative design solutions? 
Interdisciplinary: Do you possess a combination of business, design, and technology
experience?  But want to develop a deep specialization and practice in experience design. 
Productive Team Members:  Do you welcome new ideas and play well with others? 
Thinkers + Makers: Are you equally comfortable developing concept, design, and prototypes?  
Strategic, Tactical and Technical: Can you address the strategic, tactical and technical challenges
that come with any complex design project?

If this sounds like you, we're still accepting applications for Fall 2015

How about the students graduating. Can you describe their skills?
Breadth and Depth. You’ve heard it before, but the industry requires talent that gets the big picture, but also brings something unique and differentiated to the creative exercise.  We focus on developing talent that has strong foundation in concept and craft.  Dependent on their unique ambition and interests, our students also develop an area of specialization while at the VCU Brandcenter. For some XDs, it is user-centered design and related UX disciplines (UI, IA, IxD, Front end-development).  While others are passionate about concepting, designing, building and trialing new experiences that push the envelope of what is technologically possible.  While other students are focused on the production of dynamic multimedia content for new environments.  There are so many emerging opportunities out there, that we leave it up to our students to shape their own views and invent their own visions of the future.   

See the portfolios of current XD students and the current student showcase.

Where are some of your graduates working today? 
Since we started, we have placed upwards of 100 CT/XDs.  Our graduates are in high demand and have gone on to work in the top agencies, client-side, and in successful start-up companies.  They work for global brands, on award-winning work, and some have been recognized as leaders in our industry.  Our graduates operate under multiple titles in the industry (and this is a good thing).   

Any predictions on where this track is going? 
This track is uniquely positioned within our curriculum to be looking upward and outward to what is new and next. What are the trends impacting our industry, where might we experience disruption, how does that point to new opportunities for brands, and what capabilities and skills will we need to develop to lead the creative industry?  That is why we will need to constantly evolve, question our assumptions, and expand our base of knowledge and ability.  It is also the same reason we are hard to define.  That might not be a bad thing after all.

In the spirit of change, I’d love to hear from you. alevasseur@vcu.edu





The VCU Brandcenter Master's program, part of VCU's School of Business, has been recognized by Creativity Magazine, the 4A's, Ad Age and BusinessWeek as a top graduate program in advertising, marketing, digital media, and design + business.  

The Brandcenter is known within the advertising industry for its intensity, and the students who graduate from the program earn valuable real life experience to develop brands on a global scale. 

The VCU Brandcenter is more than a portfolio school. Students earn a Master’s of Science in business that complements their portfolio of work. This portfolio could contain ad campaigns. It will definitely contain strategically thought out and creatively conceived solutions to business problems. Brandcenter students concentrate in one of the five tracks. They study within their given track, as well as collaborate with all tracks on team projects that culminate in presentations to their faculty, peers and often real world clients.