Horror stories at Shoreditch Town Hall

Spider's web pic D&AD

Spooky spider’s web projected on the ceiling of Shoreditch Town Hall

It was the day before Hallowe’en – a suitably sombre evening for a night of horror stories hosted by D&AD. Shoreditch Town Hall was packed with people keen to hear terrifying tales of screw ups from ad industry insiders.

Here are five things I learned.

1. “The key to brilliant work is to have no fear.” Laura Jordan Bambach, D&AD President.

2. The best way to pacify an angry bull when filming a butter commercial is to stroke its balls. For two full days. Jane Gershfield, Executive Producer of Great Guns production company.

3. Make sure your website builder doesn’t use unregistered software for your site for Nissan at the 02. After 30 days, your site will stop working. Matt Wade, Co-founder of Kin interactive design studio.

4. “If you’re not suffering sleepless nights, bouts of nausea and self-loathing, you won’t do your best work.” Alexandra Taylor, multi-award winning art director.

5. The trick is to be scared and confident at the same time. As Mike Tyson said, “Before the fight, I’m scared to death. The closer I get to the ring, the more confident I get. Once I’m in the ring, I’m a god.” Sam Ball, co-founder of creative agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine.

Thanks to D&AD for a scarily inspiring evening. The conclusion? If you’re not scared, you’re not doing it right. And the path to success is littered with screw ups, so you may as well (wo)man up and enjoy the journey.

How sound can tell a story

What can creatives learn from the way that Jacques Tati uses sound in his 1958 film, Mon Oncle? As someone who works with words, sometimes it’s great to come across storytelling that does away with them altogether. This article, written for a 26 / D&AD project, The Story Works, reveals how sound tells a story in Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati.

Jacques Tati investigates bouncing crockery in Mon Oncle

Jacques Tati investigates bouncing crockery in Mon Oncle

I love Mon Oncle. I love the way that Monsieur Hulot ambles through this 1958 film, with his pipe, his too-short trousers and his billowing mac, trailing chaos in his wake. I love the way he’s at home in the shambolic old district, but a flounder out of water in the modern world.

But most of all, I love the way that Jacques Tati (who directed and starred in the film) tells the story through sound rather than words.

So here are some of my favourite sounds from Mon Oncle, together with some thoughts on how they tell the story.

The kitchen that bites back

M Hulot is visiting his sister and brother-in-law, M and Mme Arpel, in their immaculate modern house in the suburbs. In contrast to the animated market in the old district, Mme Arpel’s buzzing, bleeping kitchen has all the charm of an operating theatre. The cupboards are booby-trapped and every appliance produces sound and fury but little that you’d want to eat. The machines have got the upper hand, but they can’t boil a decent egg.

The manic lawnmower

As Mme Arpel tells her husband that M Hulot needs some order in his life, we hear a rhythmic ticking, like someone cutting daisies with tiny scissors. The couple look out from upstairs and see their imperious blonde neighbour manically pedalling a lawnmower in ever-decreasing circles around her miniature lawn.  The insistent, repetitive clack of the lawnmower tells us that there’s madness in her method.

The fish fountain

Mme Arpel activates her metal fish fountain to greet important guests. We hear the ‘buzz-gurgle-buzz’ motif as people ring on the intercom, the water jet starts and the garden gate opens. She turns the fish off when a carpet salesman appears at the gate. She then frantically turns the fountain on again when she realises that the carpet salesman is actually her neighbour waving a poncho. During a tea party, M Hulot breaks the fountain and the genteel afternoon disintegrates into chaos as the fountain springs a leak and spurts gravel over the guests. Mme Arpel’s attempts to control  her environment are outwitted by M Hulot and a big metal fish.

Sausage pipes

M Hulot is given a job at the plastics factory and asked to keep an eye on a colleague’s machine. Soothed to sleep by the rhythmic roar and slow hiss of the production line, he wakes up to find tubes snaking across the floor. The machine judders, hiccups and starts to disgorge pipes that bulge with air pockets.  It then shifts into a pop-pop-pop rhythm that produces a stream of sausage-like links. Rhythm and efficiency reliably dissolve into disorder whenever M Hulot appears.

Tip tap tip tap

Throughout the film, the ordered ‘tip tap tip tap’ of efficient feet contrasts with M Hulot’s meandering, often circular, lope. A secretary’s heels resound sharply along the corridors of the plastics factory as M Hulot marks out a conga of white footprints across the floor. The Arpels tip tap precisely along the paving stones in the garden while M Hulot teeters on edging stones then sploshes through a lily pad into the pond. Life in the modern world is all time and motion, but M Hulot meanders along to a different beat.

Devilish gadgets

Towards the end of the film, gadgets take over at the Arpel household. M Hulot’s nephew Gérard can’t be heard over the self-propelling vacuum cleaner, whirring kitchen gadgets drown out M Arpel and a shaver as loud as an aircraft silences Mme Arpel.  The family are alienated from each other by deafening labour-saving devices which eliminate all chance of human communication.

Lessons from Mon Oncle

  • Milk sound for laughter. As David Lynch said: “For Jacques Tati, every sound effect is an opportunity for humour.”
  • Dialogue’s over-rated. M Hulot mumbles and mimes his way through this film, telling brilliant jokes without saying a word.
  • Don’t talk, bark. “Dogs are marvellous comedians,” said Tati.  Like children and M Hulot, they represent freedom and chaos, and their barking underpins some of the best bits of the film (eg the genius ‘moonlit eyeballs’ scene).
  • Sounds reflect personality. The boss is an uptight ticking clock, Mme Arpel is an overpowering robotic vacuum cleaner and M Hulot is a canary that whistles in the sunshine.
  • She who laughs loudest won’t be invited back. If Mme Arpel ever invites you to tea, don’t laugh too loudly or take plastic flowers.

What else can I say? Watch Mon Oncle. Add your own laughter track. And listen to Tati as he tells a story without words.

D&AD Writing for Design Awards 2012

In the mix: colour, film clips, tomato sauce, magic and Martini soup

On Monday this week I spent the day at Olympia judging the Writing for Design category at the 2012 D&AD awards. It was a privilege to be involved as a first-time D&AD judge and I was in great company. The jury included some of the best copywriters around, as well as Chris Doyle, a designer who created a stir by producing branding guidelines for himself back in 2008.

Beneath the great steel and glass arches of the hall, trestle tables were laid out to infinity, covered in work sent in by creative professionals from around the world. Favourites from other categories included posters for Kids Company, a watch showing Indian time (there were only four hours marked – 3ish, 6ish, 9ish and 12ish), and an extraordinary old-fashioned wooden box containing typesetting materials / branding guidelines.

We started off with 74 Writing for Design submissions – everything from posters, brochures and web content to place mats and packaging materials – and ended up with five winning entries that will appear in the prestigious D&AD Annual.

From a bloodbath to a longlist

Nick Asbury has written a brilliant description of every stage of the judging which demystifies the process, so I’ll leave it to him to explain how we got beyond the bloodbath stage and reached consensus by the end of the day.

In-book winners

So here are the five winning entries, with a quick outline of why I thought they deserved to join the best of the year’s creative output in the D&AD Annual.

  • Holiday card by Pentagram Design for Pentagram Design. Writers:  Naresh Ramchandani and Tom Edmonds. This little book made everyone smile. Choose a coloured page, tear open the perforations and read a description of how that colour relates to you. Olive green is the colour of déja-vu, canary yellow denotes mindless positivity, while pink means you’re laughing on the outside, crying on the inside. The copy and design echo each other, with ‘ME’ reflected as ‘EM’ on the opposite page of purple, the colour of self-obsession. This was funny, clever copy that prodded and tickled you in unexpected directions. By the way, the last pages we opened were maroon (for long-repressed rage) and brown (for indifference). This entry is nominated for a Yellow Pencil.
  • byvariousartists.com by Various Artists for Various Artists. This website was a bold move for a new Manchester-based creative agency with no portfolio to show. As a web content writer, the black cloud of SEO constantly hovers over your head, impossible to escape. So I loved this site, which dodges all keyword concerns by highlighting ‘this’ for every link, seasoned by an occasional ‘that’.  Each link takes you to a well-known film or tv clip. Various Artists promise to make you feel like Meg Ryan in the famous deli scene in When Harry Met Sally, but never like Steve Carell shouting ‘No, no, no!’ in the American Office. The pared-down editorial style is matched by equally sparse design: a one page site with plenty of blank space and just a changing background colour to alter the view. Concise copy, a daring approach and a distinctive voice were the winning factors in this entry.
  • Little Chef by Venture Three for Little Chef. As a brand, Little Chef has flip flopped between appealing to truckers and snail porridge aficionados. The placemats in this submission see a return to the middle ground, aiming at families and stressing straight-ahead food credentials, such as the use of free range eggs. One mat apologises: ‘Sorry sachets – we only use Heinz bottles’ then recounts the sad tale of an exploding sauce sachet. ‘Now look what you’ve done. Don’t worry, it will wash off.’  The copy hit its target perfectly: conversational and chatty without banging on or becoming twee.
  • The Great Blandini by Interbrand Sydney for Steve Bland. Writer: Mike Reed. The Great Blandini was in-book in this category last year for a series of posters and business cards, and the jury felt that this year’s entry deserved to be in-book too. This little booklet, beautifully produced with trailing hand stitching, shows how The Great Blandini can ‘unlock many fascinating phenomena of the famous Photo-Shoppe’ using sleight of hand and magical skills. The copy carries the conceit through consistently and with charm, as spidery handwritten inky text extols the merits of ‘Shadow and Highlight’ to ‘transport a subject from light into darkness’. It also features a great picture of ‘the gentleman transformed into a lion’.
  • William Grant & Sons Brand Ambassador Handbook by Here Design for William Grant & Sons. Writer: Lisa Desforges. I admit I was envious when I saw this entry – both for the quality of the writing and for the lavish production of the 144 page cloth-bound book. Stylistically, the handbook takes after a Victorian etiquette guide, dispensing advice and cocktail recipes for the travelling Brand Ambassador with grown-up wit. If you want to stay sober, why not try Martini soup? ‘Order a MARTINI then order the soup. Slosh the martini into the SOUP. Leave the soup.’ The mysterious inscription on the cover – ‘Correlated courses in woodwork and mechanical drawings’ – also means you can read the handbook incognito on the bus and no one need know you’re an undercover Brand Ambassador.

What’s next?

Yellow Pencil winners and details of all the writers will be announced tonight – Thursday 19 April. Meanwhile:

Oh, and do add a comment if you like.

A bouncer, a cat and a dog lead


Man holds a cat on a dog lead

The odd couple

Why is this dodgy-looking bloke holding a cat on a dog lead outside what looks like a club in Berlin in the 1980s?

As part of an ‘archive dive’ project, the D&AD asked people from the 26 writers’ collective to write about previous award winners. I could choose any winner that began with ‘F’ (a very fine letter).

I chose this intriguing picture which won a photography award for a brand called Fressnapf. Here’s the blog piece I wrote for the D&AD about my discoveries.