Communicate with certainty
and your Voice will be heard.

Author Archives: Dave Fletcher


489355423

By 1995, David Carson was the poster boy for an avant-garde and increasingly, subversive direction that graphic design was headed. He had built a global following of design school kiddies by bucking the traditional “ad-man” approach previously taken by Ogilvy, Burnett, Brownjohn and others with regard to clever, effective and readable advertising. Much like the controlled chaos of the Deconstructivists before them, in the cyclical karmic wheel of creative expression, Carson (and arguably Segura, Brody and others) had taken accepted graphic design in a direction that tore up the rules and started over. Their sauce was the gateway drug for Sagmeister and his ilk in later years.

I recall attending a HOW Conference in Monterey, California, where Milton Glaser, Bob Gill and their colleagues were publicly seething at Carson’s new found popularity. These arguably brainer, and certainly more seasoned road dogs of the graphics industry, were, for the first time, being ignored by the graphic masses for a new, hot little surfer boy (who openly admitted he just fell into the industry like like a leaf into a big pond of ducks). There were lines around the block to have his new book, “The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson“, signed by the man himself.

For the ad-men, this was a moment of reckoning. At the Monterey HOW Design conference, Glaser was very publicly rushed off to a hospital due to a heart issue, Bob Gill was more vicious and crabbier than usual. The unsuspecting rock stars of the past were now being exorcised by the new punk regime. The Sex Pistols were coming – and there was nothing that Jethro Tull and Yes could do about it. A creative tool called the computer, had replaced hand-cut rubylith and type.

Digital printing would slowly all-but-kill Gutenberg’s printing press as a cheaper solution to your printing press expert, who was always there on press to get your colors just right. The industry of graphic design was becoming cheaper. We began to believe “shitty” was acceptable, and various economic factors and corporate budget cuts didn’t help matters either. Software took away the human touch, tablets would later take away the notepad, and being digital began to slowly take root – a fungus to wash over the senior graphic Luddites, like a creeping red tide.

A dear departed friend of mine once quipped, “What happens when everyone has a website?” Now that’s a bit naive, but I get his point. While the convenience of smartphones and tablets has pushed us into a post-PC world, where expansive experiences are more desirable and useful than a website. Websites, by definition, are just a group of connected pages regarded as a single entity, and they are practically free if you look hard enough. The modern digital branded experience is much more.

Mobile devices and likely the upcoming wearable industry will continue to steadily infiltrate and replace the experience of a single website for an organization and brand’s digital expression. In recent years, the concept of social media has raised the stakes by creating two-way conversations in real time with real expectations from your audience. We prefer to not be removed from experiencing one form of entertainment or educational media to sit down at a computer and look up a website. We want to experience all things collectively and collaboratively with our friends, and the distraction of a website, as we once knew it, is not nearly complex enough to satisfy our desires.

…Back to Carson and the End of Print. He later claimed that he wasn’t trying to infer that the print industry was dead, but those who had just raised the flag of technology and the new coming internet revolution didn’t care. His mostly unreadable style and grungy approach to design was necessary. It rocked the industry boat – and as music, fashion and entertainment fell into line – it forced the rules to change. The web would later become a viable and uniquely positioned means of both creative expression and a way for businesses to connect to consumers in sometimes profound ways – the world’s most accessible art show and trade show under the same roof. The Nerds had their revenge while the ad-men were left to their martinis, suits and stories.

The Mechanism recently retired the word “website” from our vocabulary. It’s too close-minded and obvious a concept to exist as an agency without discussing the future of an integrated digitally-branded experience. In fact, we were 13 years ahead of our time when we started The Mechanism and used “From Media to the Medium” as our tagline. We believe that a website has always been a thread in the expanding tapestry of brand expression. We understood from the start that everything begins from the brand outwards, and given the technological tools that were available then (and are available now) the implementation of an idea in any Medium wouldn’t be the problem – it would be the enormous and interconnected creative collaborative that would be required to see through the changing variety of media delivery mechanisms.

The “website” as we all know is less important than what’s coming next. Website development was the catalyst, a “blip” towards an interconnected omnipresent, ever-communicating “Singularity“. We will soon live with systems that plug into an artificial or ambient intelligence to manage your life, curate your interests, drive a vehicle, keep track of your day to day travels and never force you to remove yourself from an existing experience to use a website to research what the Network will already know you’re looking for. The next generation will be the “Mighty Untethered”, ubiquitously connected to a Universal Machine. You and your friends and colleagues interests will be part of the system, and as they change, so will your personal experience to match your tastes. Diseases, dangers, economies and civilizations will be repaired on a global scale due to mass shared information and the artificial intelligence to be gained from it. Privacy will continue to suffer, but it has since the first time you signed up for a college loan.

Web developers, this is your moment of reckoning. When nearly everyone can make a peanut butter sandwich, it’s not just time to suggest a banana – it’s time to introduce it to the 10,000lb gorilla in the room.

Sitting on the couch, plugging-in and tuning out, growing fat, eventually growing tentacles and remembering what it once was like when we were knuckle-dragging Homo sapiens is a possible future. Or hopefully, our wearables, implants and attached digital devices will feature new, usable interfaces and non-intrusive experiences enabling us all to once again perceive the world around us with better clarity and understanding of the human experience.

The Web is dead, long live the Medium…

massimo

A designer has just left us with an amazing legacy of creativity and clarity. The great Massimo Vignelli (January 10, 1931 – May 27, 2014) has died at the age of 83.

The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design. – Massimo Vignelli

A massively influential designer and one of the last true great creative thinkers, I had the good fortune to have a brief correspondence with Mr. Vignelli back in 2002. I was putting together a presentation entitled “Good Examples of Bad Design”, to be delivered at the HOW Design Conference in Orlando. He reached out to me, presumably out of curiosity and delight in the subject matter. He told me quite simply, that he was looking forward to my presentation. It meant the world to me and I’ve cherished this memory even as the archived bits of the conversation have faded from my hard drive.

Michael Bierut from Pentagram produced a short video about Massimo’s approach to book design. In a world that is quickly becoming digital, it’s worth watching to learn (and hear) a few insights from one of the masters. The creative world was a much better place with him in it.

Massimo Vignelli Makes Books from Pentagram on Vimeo.

Also, to catch up on the legacy of Mr. Vignelli – check out this link.

electric-car

Small wins.

The Danish Energy Agency allocated EUR 4 million for public and private electric car projects. This will bring 1500 new electric cars to the streets of Denmark in 2014. With about 6 million people, they are approximately 1.5% the population of the US.

Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom of 700,000 people, measures progress by the gross national happiness index. They also export 72% of their electricity. Nissan is helping them to build a complex infrastructure for charging their whisper-quiet Leaf electric cars.

Electric cars are so smooth, nimble and silent – you don’t even hear them coming.

In the United States, we have oil lobbyists fighting against the existence of electric cars to their last breath, all part of our historically vaudevillian political system where money and power are sadly trumping progress. Getting these jackals to finally back off enough to even allow rational conversations about electric cars will require such a widespread public demonization of oil, that cowboys will have to kneel before the masses and swear that Texas tea is really made from fresh butterfly milk.

Remember, the United States (and arguably Canada and South Africa) has Elon Musk, the baddest-ass electric car maker in the world, headquartered right in Palo Alto. A ruthless innovator, rocket launcher and inventor like this hasn’t been seen since “The Great and Powerful Jobs”. And what do the bureaucrats do to Musk through lobbyists and political baboonery? They tar, feather and shit on him. He’ll eventually take his magic ball and teleport to another playground. But, we’re too busy punching the nerd in the face to notice that we’re actually slugging an invincible warlock.

And such is our system. Obese and overwrought with so much rotten sausage that if we keep it up, we are likely to fall behind even the developing world in a generation or two. By the time we pluck our heads out of our own posteriors and realize that politics ain’t reality tv, it’ll be too late.

To get electricity you have to start with an alpha particle.

You want electric cars? You might have to travel to tiny Norway. In March 2014, Norway became the first country where over one in every 100 registered passenger cars is plug-in electric. Among the existing government incentives, all-electric cars are exempt in Norway from all non-recurring vehicle fees (including purchase taxes – which are extremely high for ordinary cars), and 25% VAT on purchase, together making a whisper-quiet electric car purchase price competitive with conventional cars. Take that oil lobbyists…

You want your government out of net neutrality? You might have to go to smart, little Brazil for internet freedom. Remember, when you disrupt the flow of free ideas by allowing money to clog the pipes, you’ll have such a backlog of slime that you’ll need to hire Godzilla the plumber to clean them out. And as we all know, Godzilla makes a big mess.

when you disrupt the flow of free ideas by allowing money to clog the pipes, you’ll have such a backlog of slime that you’ll need to hire Godzilla the plumber to clean them out.

It’s also why a small agency wins. Small is nimble. Nimble is smart. Smart is quick. And assuming the person at the top of a small agency is open minded and searching for a future not caught in the past, then the possibilities are endless.

Made in NYC? Yea, I’ve heard of it – The Mechanism helped to write that book for the past 13 years. We’re nimble, speed-hungry, cockroaches, nestled in the bowels of New York City. We’re surviving, and we’re whisper-quiet.

And you know what? You never hear us coming either.

480153805-2

A marketing revolution occurs every time a meme is discovered.

If you blinked, you may have missed that for the moment, it’s all about health-related wearables. Generation X not only wants to, but firmly believes that we can live forever. Ask Ray Kurzweil, an elder statesman of futurism and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines, and The Singularity is Near, with the help of our machine overlords and a nice regimen of pills, we’ll soon be downloading our brain into the Universal Mind. Health wearables, in their current state, are the perfect snake oil to market to a generation hell-bent on avoiding purgatory. It’s Terminator X. And it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Data is King – the device is just the royal messenger.

If you asked me two minutes ago, I would have said that one way Apple could save itself from inevitable obscurity (high-noon is coming for Apple under the marketing machine of every other tech company that wants to destroy them for the simple reason that Steve Jobs existed and pissed them all off) was not even to bother releasing a digital watch. They needed something “bigger,” but still in the spirit of a wearable. A watch or wearable for checking email, or knowing that your mate is drunk texting you at 2am (in my opinion) was already existing quite comfortably in the realm of Samsung and a dozen other crowdsourced devices. However, give me a discrete and clever device that is plugged into the cloud by transmitting my health information and data in real time to be compared against the rest of the planet – well there’s something that I can get behind. Smart, predictive medicine and fitness – imagine how much that would help our race to fill up the overcrowded planet even quicker!

Wearables DevCon is happening in San Francisco in March, so it seems that all Apple needs to do is fart an idea into the wind (Note: I’m not insinuating that Apple invented the wearable industry, it’s just that Apple has been teasing the idea of a watch for so long that they’ve become the boy that cried werewolf), and the world’s innovators now proceed to leapfrog them rather than wait to build on their platforms. It makes for a real mess when it comes to products. Too much competition eventually becomes unregulated noise, and too many unregulated products rushing to market will kill the market before it has a chance to blossom.

I discovered this on a recent trip to Best Buy. I was there to observe a business model rolling under itself – a library of tech that is filled with browsers but very few buyers. It turns out that Best Buy has an entire aisle dedicated to health wearables – each device more specialized and useless than the next. Nothing on the shelf fully grasps the concept of a health ecosystem, because they are the shoddy output of mindless corporate meetings called to simply “Market to the Meme.”

health-devices

If Apple gets the health wearable right, they could dominate, but the domination will come from the thoughtful integration of the device into iCloud. Google had a health cloud product (Google Health) many years ago, but unexpectedly shut it down due to a shift in the wind, like many of their other products. Think of how ahead of the game they could have been with the release of Android Wear. Right now, some executive who made that decision is hiding under their hydroponic desk chamber – because they could have been light years ahead of Apple.

With Healthcare like every other industry, Data is King – the device is just the royal messenger.

So a successful launch of iWatch (don’t get me started about how perfect that name is for a device which keeps an “eye on your health and well-being”) would require the following:

  • Data infrastructure – The means to record personal Health data safely and securely. iCloud is already in place for that.
  • Automatic sync – A device which reports automatically to the cloud – we’re all too lazy to sync our devices. Ask Nike how many people sync their Fuelband a month after putting it on.
  • Price – The price point has to be fair for this as well, because the more people using it the better. It should be released as a discrete necessity, with the basics included like heart monitoring, steps taken per day, and calories burned.
  • Open source development – A means to use the data and present info graphics and tools for individuals. Apple got it right with iOS and the App Store. Not everyone will be a runner, but a running app, a weightlifting app tracking reps, weight lifted, a pill taking app that reminds you when to take them, etc. — all will be part of the health ecosystem with the right developers making money for their hard work.

Due to their formidable marketing prowess, the first loud shot has been fired by Apple in the healthcare and fitness revolution with the announcement of Healthbook. The only question is how thoughtful, nimble and careful they can be anymore when the snarling wolves are at the back door of their spaceship — and they’re all wearing Samsung watches on their paws… Integrated neatly into their own proprietary healthcare ecosystem.

The Wild Hunt

January 16th, 2013  |   Conferences, inspiration

toolbox

Nearly 20 years ago in Monterey, I met David Carson at a HOW design conference. At conferences that followed, I found that he was always up for a conversation over a beer, providing that I picked up the tab. While that seems like a very elitist behavior to leave a young designer with the burden of paying for his beverages, I didn’t mind. I was impressionable, and enjoyed the fact that I could have a yearly chat with someone I considered a design hero.

Now, one of the things I learned from Carson was a list of the two items that every designer should carry at all times. I have eagerly shared this advice with designers whom I’ve had the honor of speaking with over the past 10 or so years as a lecturer at conferences and events. These items are: a camera and a sketchbook. You can add your own elements (a pencil, marker, pen or brush is obviously important and food helps) to the “toolbox”, but the importance of what I learned from that simple and now obvious and likely unintentional “advice” was that as a designer, part of our job is to DOCUMENT. Whether by collecting printed doodads and trinkets from our travels or simply to photograph or sketch the things that we haven’t seen before, we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration.

…we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration

Fast forward to 2013. In thinking about those years past, I realized this morning that my recollection of conversations with Carson may be foggy. Sometimes we only remember what we want to remember – the good stuff, the takeaways of past experiences. Regardless, we now live in a world where digital devices allow us to capture – in increasing quality and seemingly unlimited quantity – our surroundings. Maybe it’s easier to only have to carry around one device to photograph, write and capture life’s experiences – or maybe the omnipresence of these devices, lessens the actual experience itself. Rather than simply experiencing life as it happens, perhaps we are now constantly on the wild hunt for stuff. We miss details while searching for things to happen.

Possibly the best experiences happen when we’re not looking for them. In 1996, David Carson was sitting at the bar in Monterey, California, at a design conference holding court with some young impressionables like me. I joined the conversation and stayed until everyone else was too tired or drunk to continue. I never took a picture, sketched a sketch or saved an item to boost my memory of that evening. Maybe he told me to carry a camera and a sketchbook with me, or maybe I made that connection from something else he said. The point is that it doesn’t matter. The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date.

The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date

And if I ever see David at another conference, I’ll once again listen more than speak, casually mention my point about the brain, and in the end, maybe let him buy me a beer.

Unless you’ve been living under a clump of moss, you are undoubtedly aware that Apple supremely failed with their iOS Maps application. Judging from the all-out thermonuclear war that followed from the press, Droid devotees and occasional smartphone Luddites who clench their Blackberry like grim death – this was a long time coming. Like slobbering hyenas waiting for a magnificent antelope to stop one too many times to defecate in the jungle, everyone seems to be relishing this opportunity to eviscerate the tech giant for releasing and (some say) arrogantly replacing a vital part of any smartphone’s delicate ecosystem – the almighty mapping system. In fact, the reason this is so troubling, is that Apple, in releasing poorly rationalized software, has betrayed their brand’s essence.

It makes “antenna gate” look like a rampant case of hiccups at a leper colony.

Apple brought this vitriol on themselves, by almost single-handedly ushering in the pathetic age of the “legal patent screw-fest” – where every entreprenneur who thinks they might have a brilliant idea will immediately discard it (opting rather to take a nap in their parents basement), in order to avoid the unholy wrath of lawsuit-hungry corporations.

The snark was particularly squalid in both the press and the endless comment trails from the merry tribe of Internet baboons who deem it necessary to flip every opinion piece into their own bully pulpit for personal political or technical vomit. On the corporate side, Motorola instantly added fuel to the fire by commandeering the #iLost hashtag quicker than a beard grows in Williamsburg. Samsung has commercials poking fun at people waiting in endless iPhone lines as a response to Apple reportedly penning an internal ad poking fun at an apology requested in a UK court over a Samsung verdict. Screw all of these corporate knuckleheads – it reeks like a public tiff over Bieber tickets between the rich high school cheerleaders that everyone hates yet desperately wants to date. The intended audience this bile is aimed towards will soon move past all of the silliness. To teach the corporate executives approving this creative pap a lesson, shareholders should be cashing in their stock. In the end, innovation is the new loser, not a person buying a gadget.

While I’m not forgiving Apple for their transgressions, if a particular CEO was still alive, one could postulate that the Maps disaster might not have even happened. This major mistake occurred under the watch of a supply watchdog, not a creative visionary. Mr. Cook and many others who didn’t program the application would have likely been burned at the stake on YouTube live in Cupertino if this had transpired under the watch of that turtlenecked angel in black, Steve Jobs.

TomTom (one of the companies that Apple uses for the maps portion of the Maps app) had already been publicly humiliated (Google search “blame TomTom” and see what comes up). Everyone from the CEO of Waze to the entire country of China is having a field day with this company right now. TomTom has fired back, understanding that their 20 years of respect in the business will likely be questioned because of the Maps fiasco, noted the fact that Apple is using data from at least 2 dozen other partners.

They should have released this new piece of software alongside Google Maps and challenged their devotees to make it better than Google.

Aside from arrogantly pushing a fully unfinished and untested product to the masses, Apple made a seriously shortsighted and future backwards error. They should have released this new piece of software alongside Google Maps and challenged their devotees to make it better than Google. We’ve all heard the spin: There was a month left on some corporate contracts between them, and yes, the word on the street is that everything fell apart because of Google’s refusal to integrate turn-by-turn directions, but in the end the Maps application should have focused heavily on crowdsourcing out of the gate. The interface of the application should have made it overwhelmingly simple for the audience to correct mistakes in maps. Apple could have spent some of the zillions that Jobs said he would use to destroy Google and really buried them by empowering their users to make the Maps application a truly socially aware product (or at least feel part of the experience by building reputation capital through linking the geo-coding aspect of their photo libraries, commenting or at least connecting with other map users like Waze does). And please don’t tell me that crowdsourcing Maps was always the plan, because the suggestion box is currently buried in dark gray on the interior screen of the Maps application. My guess is, if Apple doesn’t just eventually shelf the entire app (like Ping, a coincidentally excessive and uninformed social media failure from Apple), and it’s shareholders don’t force Cook himself to crawl on his hands and knees to Google’s office begging them to build an Apple Maps app (spoiler: Google says they refuse), the next release’s interface should focus heavily on a crowdsourcing component.

The only trouble is crowdsourcing takes time and interest from the audience to reach an increasing level of perfection – both which were lost on this highly touted app’s speed to market. Launching a lousy app was stupid. Replacing Google Maps with this “not-ready-for-prime-time app” is reprehensible.

Unfortunately, it’s likely too late. In fact, people may look back at Apple in a couple years and point to this moment (much like a certain presidential candidate), as the time when due to arrogance or sheer stupidity – shit went south. I don’t doubt that Apple might be able to recover, but I don’t think that they have a big and vicious enough honey badger running the company anymore to savagely beat the entire planet into willing submission. The bad vibes, not the press, are enough to begin pushing a small percentage of Apple’s globally small, but passionate mobile user base toward what is finally becoming an excellent alternative OS by virtue of customization alone. And since Apple has staked it’s entire future on the inevitable mobility of computers, and not the desktop computing machines that drove a stake into Microsoft’s dominance, this is a very, very… very catastrophic event.

The problem with Android phones is that the OS resides on inferior components. Apple’s advantage remains that the device’s quality is married to the OS. Apple used to preach this in their branding – the sexy machine married to the equally sexy interface. Now they supremely screwed that pooch, and I fear that they will not fully recover.

Word to the wise: Never, ever, ever betray your beloved brand essence. Especially when the road back to the top has a stream of venom waiting for you – flowing right down the center.

Listen to the accompanying podcast of this post:

Play

The Mechanism brings a unique perspective to interactions with our clients and team. This frame of reference was recently clarified during a conversation with a colleague from a previous job. The two of us have been in the interface industry, arguably since it began in the early 90’s, giving us a different outlook on the design and interactions with clients which produce enlightened creative solutions.

He said, “Dave, we understand the concept of being Digital, while we each possess very Analog dispositions.”

I know what he meant. He was referring to the fact that we had grown up and lived in a world that was once not Digital. We both understood what communication was before personal communication devices. We had experienced the multiple connection revolutions of the 90′s, when mobile networks made it affordable to evolve from a device called a “Pager” to a “cellular phone” to “Palm Pilot” to “smartphone”. We understood what it meant to spec and order type before we became typographers and we knew how creative solutions were delivered to clients before the computer became the tool that turned everyone into a graphic designer. Rather than standing by complacently observing a communication and creative revolution take place in our lifetime, – we had both chosen to become “Digital” as our lifestyle and profession, yet brought all of the foresight and understanding of what it meant to be “Analog” along for the ride. It’s a rarity that we avoided becoming Luddites or at least individuals that stopped thirsting for the continual influx of wired knowledge, advancing us to become more Digital creatures, while simultaneously holding on to what it meant to be Analog human beings.

It’s a rarity that we avoided becoming Luddites or at least individuals that stopped thirsting for the continual influx of wired knowledge, advancing us to become more Digital creatures, while simultaneously holding on to what it meant to be Analog human beings.

This is an interesting perspective for many reasons, but I believe that my colleague also inadvertently hit on why perhaps, The Mechanism has managed to grow as a collaborative and successful digital agency for 11 years.

Being “Digital” forces us to understand how all User Experiences best translate across myriad devices. Programmers in the Digital space must know the solution before the client even asks the question. It’s also vital that “Digtalists” are generating The Wave and not simply riding it’s crest – which is why people that work at The Mechanism are expected to stay ahead of future programming and technical trends.

Being completely Digital, however can make us all a bit apathetic. Communicating with only a buffer of pixels between two human beings breeds misinterpretation.

The human component vital to conversation tends to curtail any miscommunication or misinterpretation that occasionally occurs within the singularly Digital realm.

As soon as you incorporate the concept of being “Analog” – or what I believe is an organic and human component to how we actually do business – that’s when you have something really special.

Despite our swift evolution to being Digital humans, we still perceive the world in Analog. Everything we see and hear is a continuous transmission of information to our senses. I’m much more comfortable walking up to someone in the office to discuss an interface or design solution than to carry on a conversation through Skype (no matter how many “(mooning)” emoticons I can successfully squeeze into a single chat).

The human component vital to conversation tends to curtail any miscommunication or misinterpretation that occasionally occurs within the singularly Digital realm. And that goes for clients as well – while I happily communicate using email or other means of digital services to solve problems, I am best suited (as humans all are) for natural, face-to-face interaction. Until our facial expressions and body language are translated in the Digital realm via real-time color, patterns or background sound recognized by your digital communication device, we won’t begin to scratch the surface of everything that Analog communication can accomplish.

In his statement I alluded to above, my friend Jon touched upon the core of what truly can separate a great technical or visual agency from a simply great agency, period. I’d much rather work with clients that I could sit down and have a drink with after work, than simply shift pixels back and forth with. While I rarely get the chance to spend this kind of quality time with clients, it remains the core of what makes us all beautifully vulnerable and what keeps me striving to hold on to Analog traits in an increasingly Digital reality.

Notably this minor revelation occurred between two humans, born Analog, reared Digitally, both communicating without filters over a couple beers at a pub.

More importantly, no “0′s” or “1′s” were harmed during our conversation.

If you think the Mayans and their wacky prophesies are a “Gas, Gas, Gas”, then you’ll also be undoubtedly impressed by my recent conclusion… I hereby decree that we’ve come to the point in our evolutionary slog from amoeba to bigger, sloppier amoebas – that human beings must universally hate each other.

The Emperor of the Sidewalk

What else could rationally explain the malaise and disinterest that slips over us, whether we’re on the subway, in our vehicles, sitting in our offices or in our living rooms? We don’t communicate face-to-face anymore. And the lessening of any primordial desire to do so can only indicate that we despise each other so much, that we’d rather become lost in our small selves than actually be part of society at large.

Thanks to powerful little smartphones that entertain us significantly more than another human ever could, we tragically meander through life shackled to tiny devices that really don’t love us (no matter how many times Siri tells me she does). With our newfound ability to fully check out of society, we no longer have to even acknowledge the poor buffoon sitting next to us on the subway who simply wants to use his vocal chords to connect with a fellow human by uttering some reverberating jibber-jabber through the twin infoldings of mucous membrane stretched horizontally across his larynx.

Where neanderthals used to enjoy each others’ company by carelessly uttering nonsense about their meaningless lives and pursuits, now thanks to some noise-cancelling Beats and Vimeo, our private entertainment bliss is endless. Put your head down, tune out and bury yourself in bright, sparkly pixels. Enjoy the blissful ignorance of your surroundings.

I am the magnificent Emperor of the Sidewalk. Don’t mind me, I’ll be that asshole typing a text message while walking headfirst into a monstrous, deadly bear…

Dave Fletcher is the Executive Director at The Mechanism. No humans were ignored or harmed during the creation of this piece, despite the fact it was written on an iPhone during a subway ride. Dave has never texted while walking, running, driving, walking into bears or thinking about Mayans.

Original Mojo

November 11th, 2011  |   The Event Mechanism

I forgot my razor.

And by razor, I don’t mean a Motorola RAZR, the now Jurassic ‘flippity’ phone from Motorola in 2004 (I never owned one). I forgot a shaving razor, and I was now officially nestled inside the compound of the JW Hilton Hotel, smack dab in the middle of Mickey’s real wild kingdom – Orlando. I was in a Homo-Sapien-manufactured floating oasis surrounded on one side by the Grand Lakes (likely filled with revenous prehistoric gators, or at least Walt-influenced animatronic versions), another side by lush golf courses (filled with hungry prehistoric golfers…or at least Walt-influenced animatronic versions) and on the other two sides by miles of sprawling Disney highways, carbon-copy houses and venomous marshland.

I stumbled through the hotel with my backpack, freshly-pressed suit and suitcase filled with enough electronics, shampoo and styling liquids that two years ago would have put me in a prison cell at the local airport. The location of the 2011 PRSA International Conference was a veritable oasis amid the surrounding arid quagmire and if required, my now four-day-old beard growth would either have to do, or I would be forced to trek a mile in both directions to locate a drug store filled with the necessities that you simply couldn’t find on my new artificial campus for the next four days and three nights – outside of the manufactured and pristine womb of the hotel into the void of reality…

Dave Fletcher speaking at the PRSA International ConferenceI was in Orlando to perform my song and dance about mobile technology – a presentation that was several months in the making. The trouble with speaking about a volatile subject like mobile technology is that by the time you’ve completed any draft of the presentation, some tablet or phone maker has dropped another law suit on another tablet or phone maker, rendering research not only suspect, but shifting the point of your presentation in an entirely different direction.

As smart mobile devices grow in global ubiquity, the two 800lb animatronic apes in the room (iOS and Android) have become increasingly similar on the surface. So similar in fact, that while Apple pioneered the organic inertia-guided sliding grid structure now associated with touch-screen smartphones, Android has based their overall touchy/slippery UI on the same structure – at times – right down to the curved buttons used to launch applications. Apple recently parried by stealing the sliding “Notification Center” for iOS 5 from Android. Watching these two companies fight over who can steal and subsequently spend heaps of money to sue and counter-sue each other is like observing two rodents fighting over a foam cheesehead hat. Neither understands that the prize they seek will effectively nourish either foe in the long run.

Some manufacturers have tried originality (Nokia 7600, anyone?) and failed – not just because the location of UI elements could probably cause arthritis, but because the masses have grown increasingly comfortable with conformity and less interested in the originator of the project or aesthetic providing they can have something reasonably similar and affordable. There will always be loyalists in either camp, but the truth is if you stand back and squint, a Motorola Droid 2 looks just like an iPhone, but at a significantly cheaper cost. You can do the same with the surge of tablets that have flooded the market. Once the Android system actually works with as much charm and stability as the iOS counterpart, why would someone pay for either an iPad or iPhone? While quality and aesthetic might be thrown around in that debate, the truth is, the majority of people don’t care as much as you think about this stuff. They care about feeding their family, and if the best way to get what the cool kids have is to buy a knockoff, they will.

Sadly, it’s becoming difficult to tell the difference between the two Kongs, with both operating systems vying to be King but losing sight of the innovative spirit that spawned the original. Microsoft thought out of the box, and while I don’t anticipate that the Windows 7 phone will make a dent in either global Android dominance or iOS subtle innovation, they certainly created something that was uniquely different from the competition.

With all of that said, here’s what I do know…

Walgreens is not a trek to be made in fancy speaking boots and jeans at 5pm in Orlando.

hotel mapBut that trek was exactly the challenge I took upon myself a few hours after arrival. This area wasn’t made for a New Yorker – used to subways, non-animatronic oversized rodents, and proper cross-walks between sprawling highways. After walking about a mile to the nearest drug store (as seen in the above map) in a suit jacket (wardrobe FAIL), I discovered that the 6 lane highway that I needed to cross, had no cross-walks. A daunting highway flaw in my opinion, and once I realized that the majority of actual travel in the town that Mickey built, is done in air conditioned ozone depleting vehicles – my Frogger skills kicked in and I lept across the highway in a heart pounding and perspiration-inducing trot faster than you could say, “Hi-diddle-dee-dee.” Once inside the drug store, I gathered my necessary bounty and waded through vicious locust swarms, swamps and skunk ape traps back to my hotel, settling down with wet shoes and a soggy disposition at the lobby watering hole for some locally brewed beer and sushi.

hotel mapThe next morning, attendees of the PRSA International Conference were treated to the double play of CNN’s Soledad O’Brien’s tales of news storytelling and Dr. Peter Diamandis’ musings about space travel and prizes. Other bloggers surely have covered both Keynotes ad nauseum, so I won’t bore you with my personal opinions on either of their presentations other than they were both delivered with professionalism and wit. Not many people know that The Mechanism designed two versions of The X Prize online – leading right up to Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne prize-winning flight on October 4, 2004. It was good to spend a few choice moments reminiscing with the good Doctor after his talk, and one of the reasons I wanted to be at the conference this year.

In preparation for my talk “Maximizing Your Mobile Mojo: Making the Most of the Portable Web,” I poured over years of data, deciding that individual data points are merely points that we need to connect. Surprisingly every time I settled on one bit of data or another, I would be sideswiped with some new finding or data that contradicted everything that I had already learned, in other words, this industry is moving faster than Kali River Rapids, so if you want to take a snooze, you’ll likely lose.

I’ll likely prepare a more glorified recap of my dog and pony show as we draw closer to my next one, which at the time of this writing looks to be for the PRSA Greater Fort Lauderdale Chapter in mid-January. Thanks to Kenneth Ma for the gracious invitation. I’m truly looking forward to it.

I’ll leave you with a fact that you might not know. You can’t buy gum in the Orlando airport. Anywhere. Look for it next time you are there, as the terminal has more places to buy artificial reproductions of mouse memorabilia than most malls. If you’re caught chomping on it, expect to be brutally assaulted by the ambassador of Orlando, Sir Mouse himself – or perhaps an animatronic version. The kids don’t care, as long as he’s big, smiley and has a pair of those silly red underpants with giant buttons pulled up to his armpits.

We’ve become accustomed to accepting pale imitations of originals. Me – I’ll take a floppy shoe-wearing furry genetically-altered rodent with red shorts and a dopey friend named Goofy over the foul hordes that hungrily size me up on the subway platform every night on my trip home from The Mechanism’s NYC Creative Bunker.

But, who really knows the difference anymore?

Dave Fletcher is the Founding Partner of The Mechanism, a brand-focused digital agency with offices in New York, London and South Africa. He wants to thank Albert Chau, the photographer who sent over the photographs from the 2011 PRSA Conference and the fine staff of PRSA for a grand old time in Orlando. Dave carries an Android phone with him wherever he goes because he’s disappointed that an iPhone5 hasn’t been released yet. The good news is his 2-year old son knows an original from a shameless copy. He won’t touch a Droid for his long excursions into Angry Birdland. He’s an iPhone man all the way. Hope springs eternal…