How to brief a creative person ~or~ Making sure you get what you deserve.

Briefs are like design books. Most creative people love receiving them, but they don’t read them much: they flick through them for vague inspiration before running off in the direction their heart/gut tells them to go.


But don’t let that dissuade you from writing one, because they’re massively important. Not just to guide the creative process, but to also help solidify your own thinking beforehand. Plus, when push comes to shove, it will be the lighthouse everyone looks to when they’ve all (yourself included) lost their way.

There is no ‘one’ perfect way to brief. Every advertising agency has a different template. But there are a few signposts you need to lay down to ensure the end result is right.

First of all, and this is the hardest part of the process, get rid of any preconceived notion of what the end result will look/sound/feel like. Just forget it. It will cloud the way you brief and it will cloud the way you respond to the work.

Step 1: Define what you want to achieve: Are you looking to build awareness? Are you having a sale? Are you launching something new? Whether you’re fulfilling a function or aiming for double-digit growth, put it down on paper and share it.

Step 2: Define the parameters: Who is the target audience? When do you need it by? If you’ve already booked the media, what’s the schedule? What’s your production budget? All these things will be factors that will affect the outcome. If you have the information, it’s best shared with those that need to know from the very start.

Step 3: Set the tone. If you’ve got an established brand this will be a walk in the park. If you’re starting from scratch it’s a process that really needs to take place separately. If you don’t know how your brand speaks to its audience, you really shouldn’t be advertising until you do. Taking the time to create one not only helps focus your communications, but can increase your effectiveness exponentially.

Step 4: Define how you will measure success. Separate from Step 1, this is more about what you want the target audience to think/feel/do once they’ve seen this piece of communication. Is it even measurable? If so, it’s good to set a target for the creative to aim for.

No offence, but this isn’t what success looks like to normal people. 


And despite all this required information, try to keep it short and sweet.

But what about the ‘Unique Selling Point’, or the ‘Single Minded Proposition’? These are ‘nice to haves’ but not essential. Besides, if you’ve got people writing those things for you, you don’t need to learn how to write a brief.

So there you have it. In short, know what you want to achieve, define the parameters, set the tone and define how you’ll measure success.

Start with these steps and an open mind, and your creative suppliers will thank you for it.

agIdeas 2013 – a conference in tweets.

agIdeas 2013 – a conference in tweets.

Over three jam-packed days, 40 of the world’s leading designers and creators gave us their insights into how to become a great designer. There were three commonalities that revealed themselves during the conference: design is empty without context; hone your craft skills and empathise with your end user.

Let’s Start With Day One.

    1. #agideas2013 now that’s 500 years of design experience standing on stage right there @agIdeas
    2. Neville Page (@nevillepage) talks creature design, working fast and drawing. It’s easier to sell a design to the client when you can show its emotion at play.
    3. The ultimate in design context – Nadine Chahine (@arabictype) talks about the redesign of Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper and the font they commissioned her to create.
    4. #agideas2013 Claire Kahn from Wet shows us her fountains. One looks like synchronised swimming made from water.
    5. Lighting departments now control back drop video screens. #foreheadslap of course. Great insight @paulcollison #agideas2013 @agIdeas
    6. Paul Collison – “being creative isn’t a licence to be flaky”. Turn up on time wearing the right footwear. #agideas2013
    7. Can I replace my body parts? @OronCatts is out there. Lend me your ears. #agideas2013
    8. #agideas2013 “sometimes the rules are the mistakes” -Heribert Birnbach
    9. At the end of Day One, there’s plenty for the organising team at The Design Foundation to be proud of. The day has run smoothly and there have been plenty of educational insights for experienced and aspiring designers.
    10. Congrats @kristinmccourtie (not on twitter) @kazsorensen @LeniKaponis @sampaverd on massive 1st day of Forum. @agideas rocks! #agideas2013
    11. agIdeas Business Breakfast – early Day Two.

      No rest for those seeking inspiration. agIdeas business breakfast presents design researcher and thinker Dan Formosa followed by the man who helped reinvigorate Teague design, John Barrett.

    12. Don’t design for ten thousand people. Design for ten of them. Much harder but results are much better. @danformosa #agideas #breakfast
    13. Think about the relationship the thing you’re making is forging with the user. That’s where you’ll earn your 5 stars. @danformosa #agideas
    14. “It’s personal relationships” says @danformosa “treat them like you’re dating” #agideas #breakfast it’s all about getting five stars online
    15. @J_Barratt from @teague1926 talking about work for Boeing. They make full-scale model planes! “Designers need to get tangible” #agideas
    16. After getting up early to speak at the breakfast, Barrett was also the last speaker on that day at 6pm. Totally different talk but same level of insight.
    17. 2000 people in the auditorium, end of a long day. No fidgeting to be heard. @j_barrett awesome presenter #agideas2013 #agideas
    18. @j_barratt keep a compact core team, define small number of goals, do prototypes, keep you design team close, always have a plan B #agideas
    19. “Taking risks with people builds loyalty” – @j_barratt from @TEAGUE1926 #agideas #agideas2013
    20. “I’ve spoken at a lot different conferences, but the diversity of #agideas is like nothing in the world.” @j_barratt Teague #agideas2013
    21. @danformosa says establish trust by doing more quick iterations in the drafting process. @j_barratt says “shut up and listen” #agideas
    22. Day Two

      First speaker on Day Two of the conference is poster genius, Alain Le Quernec. It’s obvious that english is his second language but it really doesn’t matter for this expert in visual communication.

    23. Alain Le Quernec knows 2 or 3 things: 1. reflect what is happening around you, #agideas
    24. #agideas Alain Le Quernec me:my client
    25. Alain Le Quernec they are not real posters if they’re not in the streets #agideas
    26. Alain Le Quernec – clever#agideas
    27. Alain Le Quernec – the Kleenex logo – use it throw it away – perfect for a truly famous client – let the client be the famous bit #agideas
    28. @davidnobay “what would have been helpful when I was nineteen?” What you think is great may not be what your client thinks is great #agideas
    29. @davidnobay “the most important thing about the relationship with your client is trust.” #agideas
    30. Diabetic jewellery. Empathy at work. Leah Heiss. #agideas
    31. How do you design? Empathise with the end user – walk a mile in their shoes. Leah Heiss #agideas
    32. Reiko Sudo – half of design is using the right material. #agideas
    33. Design is a service. @janvanschaik and his adventures in Mildura. #agideas
  1. @chris_khalil from News Corp talks UX – rational and emotional come together to make engagement. #agideas
  2. Ian Anderson from Designers’ Republic.
  3. Ian Anderson – create a piece that resonates through time, great. create design that WORKS through time – genius #agideas
  4. Ian Anderson – if you work for money you end up with a tongue as brown as it can be. #agideas
  5. I’ve never seen a really good designer who is really rich – Ian Anderson #agideas2013 #agideas #CheerUpIan
  6. Eve Clone Series / Lin Pey Chwen / Taipei MOCA
  7. Eve Clone is an attractive and dangerous woman – just like the technology around us. Pey Chwen Lin #agideas #agideas2013
  8. @voice_of_design battle the “same same” Shatter the rhythm of routine with relevance. #agideas2013 #agideas
  9. Don’t risk unless you’re prepared to die every so often. Then pick yourself up and start again. @voice_of_design #agideas #agideas2013
  10. Awesome work, @voice_of_design #agideas #agideas2013
  11. Day Three

    We were all designed-out. Or so we thought.
  12. Build a font from a bridge. @Spin_TonyBrook #agideas #agideas2013
  13. “Even when you’re busy, give yourself an hour of play. Because design is PLAY.” @Spin_TonyBrook #agideas #agideas2013
  14. George Poonkhin Khut different approach to interaction. Use your heart to change the display #agideas #agideas2013
  15. Rest & digest. Fight & flight. “too much time with an interface transforms you.” George Poonkhin Khut #agideas #agideas2013 #hypercard
  16. ‘6 breaths per minute is the sweet spot in many different traditions.’ KhutAmazing thinking on computer interfaces. #agideas #agideas2013
  17. Creation thru destruction. But construction informs result. Interesting oxymoron @_DION_LEE_ #agideas #agideas2013
  18. “Fashion is change. Reacting to what worked & didn’t. So there’s always experience in a collection” @_DION_LEE_ #agideas #agideas2013
  19. Seasonless approach to fashion marketing because there is no geographic context on social media@_DION_LEE_ #agideas2013 #agideas
  20. Context makes my brand unique@_DION_LEE_ #agideas2013 #agideas
  21. It’s hard to talk about design without talking about business-the product needs to be relevant to exist
    @_DION_LEE_ #agideas2013 #agideas
  22. The people who do well in design are constantly creating. Fear and self-doubt drive creativitySoren Luckins #agideas2013 #agideas
  23. Who do we design for?Greed, humanity & your family. The dynamic tension of the three. Soren Luckins #agideas2013 #agideas
  24. Curiosity – to create new you need to be soaking up new.
    Soren Luckins #agideas #agideas2013
  25. Smaller cities are conducive to serendipity.@petaheffernan #agideas #agideas2013
  26. The light on the hill.Again, the designer’s message is CONTEXT IS A STRONG SOURCE OF INSPIRATION.@petaheffernan #agideas #agideas2013
  27. The more interest you have, the greater your insight and the better your work will be.@petaheffernan #agideas #agideas2013
  28. Moooo.Daydreaming is fundamental to the design process. It’s not madness.Robert Foster #agideas #agideas2013
  29. @aurora__design fear and a capacity for obtuseness. That mismatched pair are a great couple of mates for the creative. #agideas2013 #agideas
  30. Robert Foster (with a small factory in Queanbeyan) agrees with the mega-design co @TEAGUE1926 – prototype, prototype#agideas #agideas2013
  31. Portraiture is about who we are.A different approach?Christopher Chapman #agideas #agideas2013
  32. Stony Cherng
    A designer who draws inspiration from her own world.
    #agideas2013 #agideas Should be subtitled CONTEXT
  33. Stony Cherng shows us how designers must be magpies and collect from everything and everywhere. #agideas2013 #agideas
  34. “Why not?”The challenge isn’t to find the answers. it is to find the new questions.@AndyStalman #agideas2013 #agideas
  35. It’s the “top of heart” not the “top of mind” anymore.@AndyStalman #agideas2013 #agideas
  36. Bon Jovi kick off from Sonia Payes #agideas2013 #agideas
  37. I don’t just click and walk away. I connect.Sonia Payes #agideas2013 #agideas
  38. Are we building for building’s sake?Sonia Payes #agideas2013 #agideas
  39. First things first.
    We’re not in business to make money. We’re in business to help people.
    @vincefrost #agideas2013 #agideas
  40. Too often design and advertising work for charity for their folio. Instead they should help. @OzHarvest
    @vincefrost #agideas2013 #agideas
  41. All the speakers are like living versions of their work.@kitweb #agideas #agideas2013
  42. And then Gemma O’Brien hit the stage. A rock star in the design student community, she was like a breath of fresh air. I got her twitter handle wrong, though (as she politely informed me a couple of days later). Her real handle is @mrseaves.
  43. Just draw, says Roger Dean.Someone’s listening, Roger.#agideas #agideas2013
  44. “If you can defend a space you felt good. If you can’t, you feel bad.”Roger Dean #agideas #agideas2013
  45. “Where do my ideas come from? When I’m sitting calmly they come from over here.”Roger Dean #agideas #agideas2013
  46. Hope is critical to the creative process.Roger Dean #agideas #agideas2013
  47. Presenters clearly love it. They’re all on stage watching the summary of the three days #agideas #agideas2013
  48. Foyer Action

    But agIdeas isn’t just about sitting in an auditorium and listening to a collection of monologues. This is the conference that prides itself on having its speakers available for dialogue in the foyer. It turns out that they’re all up for a chat, too. Apparently they’re all into design.

  49. @nevillepage sharing his time with students at @agideas #agideas2013
  50. @Spin_TonyBrook checking out the bookstall in the foyer. #agideas
  51. Sharing her wisdom with conference guests in the foyer at #agideas @arabictype
  52. Alain Le Quernec shares his thoughts with a conference visitor in the foyer. #agideas #rockstars #greataccess
  53. @janvanschaik talks boganistas and possibility of design with guest in the foyer. #agideas #talkwiththestars #foyer
  54. Ian Anderson Designers Republic walks thru foyer #agideas2013 #agideasDoesn’t look that miserable.#CheerUpIan
  55. John Crawford checks out his work turned into fridge magnets. @agIdeas #agideas2013
  56. I’m at @agideas #agideas2013
  57. the end.

Day 3 of a design festival through the eyes of a writer who wasn’t there ~ agIdeas 2013

It was sometime during Pey Chwen Lin’s talk yesterday that I started feeling uncomfortably warm. By the train ride home I was shivering, and by the time I woke up on Friday morning, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to day three. So, here’s day three of a design conference interpreted by a writer through the notes and tweets of people who were actually there.

A font built from a bridge.

A font built from a bridge.

First speaker walks out and I’m already seething. I really, really really, wanted to see Tony Brook. As a ‘non-designy-type person’ his work really appeals to me. That’s not meant to be offensive. What I mean, is it’s clean, simple and it all works. There’s no bullshit. I get the feeling the man himself would be similar. Plus, he called his studio ‘Spin’ because he loves cricket. I wonder how close he came to calling it “Left-arm Chinaman’? Anyway, if I had have been there, I would have heard him speak of his work and offer up a great piece of advice regarding ‘inspiration’: It’s not where you get it from, it’s where you take it to.

Artwork created with biofeedback from the audience.

Artwork created with biofeedback from the audience.

George Khut could very well have been Friday’s Oron Catts: that guy you hadn’t heard of but blew your mind. Heard of biofeedback? Get your head around it. It’s awesome. George has already developed a game/app for hospitals that calms the player/user down as they use it. George’s presentation was a visual representation of the crowd’s feelings on a screen. It was confronting, beautiful and I’m super annoyed that I missed it.

Unique perspective is your point of difference.

Unique perspective is your point of difference.

I don’t know much about design, but I know even less about fashion. So 20 minutes with Dion Lee seems like it would have done me the world of good. Dion waxed lyrical on the importance of fabric choices (mesh, rubber, vein-like structures, thermal imaging in 3D) although visualising a concept always comes first. “Be honest with yourself to have a unique perspective”.

Soren Luckins is the Design Director of Büro North. He looks like he’s got a bit of swashbuckle about him. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm or deny this. He asked the crowd “Who do we design for? Greed, humanity or family?” Which is enough to put any crowd on the back foot. But that’s exactly where Soren likes to be. He shared with the crowd that fear and self-doubt make him a better person, and while he’s an optimist, failures and future challenges push him forward.



Gliding onto stage next, oozing class, came Peta Heffernan, Architecture and design eating out of the palms of her hands. She introduces us to Liminal Studios in Hobart and firmly agrees that answers arrive only if we collaborate and then outcomes often feel like magic. So I’ve got a mental image of her as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North from the Wizard of Oz.

The ladies love a man who can operate serious machinery.

The ladies love a man who can operate serious machinery.

I know quite a bit about the next speaker, Robert Foster. See, I told my wife to bravely carry on without me and go to the Gala Dinner on Friday night. She had quite a big chat to him. Robert Foster is a silversmith who’s acclaimed studio FINK delivers works that sit comfortably alongside Stark and Alessi. Robert Foster is so talented. Robert Foster is so amazing. He’s a free living daydreamer who believes new ideas fuel the mind. Yeah, I’ve got my eye on you, pal.

There's more than one way to paint a portrait.

There’s more than one way to paint a portrait.

Someone who definitely won’t try to steal your wife while you’re on your death bed is Chris Chapman. As senior curator at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, he took the audience for a platonic walk through the rooms he’s put together in Canberra. If there’s one thing he wanted the audience to get to know intimately, it was the architecture of the gallery and the element of human scale which augments the audience’s pleasure. I’m told he made the audience feel at home and comfortable, like a true friend. Nice one, Chris.

Strong design.

Design that sings.

Stony Cherng burst onto stage amidst dry ice, ceiling fans and backlit venetian blinds and burst into song. Before the last note had hit the back of the Plenary, the audience were on their feet cheering wildly. Following the tweets from home, I did a search on the iTunes store. Nothing. I tried YouTube. Nothing. Turns  out she’s a better designer than she is a singer. Her style is clever, well-crafted and leaves you thinking ‘I wish I thought of that’. Just like her intro.

I knew something was up when I was tweeted a hug by a colleague. According to ‘Branding Expert’, Andy Stalman, the amount of gratification we get from social media, devices, etc is the equivalent of eight, six-second hugs. No wonder people are roaming the streets holding their phones rather than their significant others these days. Anyway, from the notes of others, it would appear that Andy was today’s speaker that missed the brief. Turning his talk into a big pep talk with audience participation. “Who’s in the centre stage of this era? ALL OF YOU! Don’t be afraid to be a superhero no one has heard about. New ME is WE. etc”

Bon Jovi fans are everywhere.

Bon Jovi fans are everywhere.

From hugging to listening to Bon Jovi, ‘It’s my life’ and a time-lapse of raw shots from Papa new guinea, Japan and China by Sonia Payes. Sonia lives and breathes photography, she’ll put herself in front of anything with an attitude. As long as she’s there with her camera she’s happy. Beyond the camera she experiments with digital mediums, processing and 3D. As we’re immersed in her depth and raw passion for photography, she educates us how pollution can work as a filter and effect rather than a photo of landscape. Her photos left you feeling as though you had met the subject and knew something they maybe kind of didn’t want you to know. Sonia explains, “I can do that I’m an artist, not politician.”

Vince Frost was one of the major draw cards of this year’s event. Once again, majorly cut that I missed him. If you’re reading this, he doesn’t need an introduction. As a designer he’s done it all, and today he spoke of how he’s using his powers for good. OZ Harvest, one of his current clients, rescues excess food and delivers it to those in need. Today’s Frost Design is all about giving from the heart, helping people to be better at what they do. There’s a focus on generosity. Giving to those who truly need your help. Clearly he’s won at design and now he’s angling to be the next President of the United States.  I’ll vote for him.

Come out of the cave, man.

Come out of the cave, man.

There’s something about the last grouping that seems to always throw up an unexpected hit. In my notes, this sentence leaps out at me. Kit Webster: a man who once called himself a hermit has now taken video, sound and mapped out lighting to a new level.  Words like compelling, spectacular, sensory, woah, and a few others that are a bit sweary were used to describe his work/presentation. Hands up who missed it! <waving>

Typography, not topography.

Typography, not topography.

If anyone was waning and daydreaming of the bar, Gemma O’Brien soon woke and sobered up their thoughts. Gemma burst onto stage in a bubble of energy that didn’t seem to stop. Ever. She’s probably still going. Talking about how she was discovered on social media and flown to Berlin to talk about her all over font body protest against graffiti art. She’s probably still effervescing of all the fonts she’s designed commercially since. She wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, but a fire hose of confidence. The kids loved her.

"Just draw" he said. Someone was listening, Roger.

“Just draw” he said. Someone was listening, Roger.

Roger Dean. A drawing legend who deservedly teased the day out just a little further than scheduled. He reminded the audience early in the piece to draw and take your sketch pad everywhere. As the talk augmented to a display of genius, you apparently just had to glance to room to see more emerging talent busily drawing. He effortlessly talked through slide after slide pointing out sketches that took him ‘20 minutes’ which looked like a good days work. Truly timeless work of an artist who’s drawings, font’s, album covers will be world renowned for decades to come. And a fitting end to another quality chapter in agIdeas history.

Day 2 of a design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas 2013

Day 2 begins at 5:45, which is inhuman. Soon enough I’m off the train, caffeinated and hob-nobbing at the Advantage Business Breakfast. Thankfully, bacon and egg rolls are in abundance. Normal service resumes.

Dan Formosa’s opening talk was first class. He was engaging, insightful, took us on a journey and made an impression on everyone. He reset the bar for the remainder of the speakers for the rest of the conference. So many pearls of wisdom: don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’, ‘People don’t buy your product, a person buys your product’. So many workable answers to our problems: ‘It’s personal relationships, treat them like you’re dating.’ You just wanted to wrap him up, stick him under your arm and run away so no one else can benefit from his genius but you.

At first, I couldn’t place John Barratt’s accent and it distracted me. Then I realised it was trans-Atlantic Novacastrian and slapped my forehead for not picking it sooner. John works at Teague. A massive industrial design company that only has about 20% industrial designers on staff. Makes sense. Well, everything else he said did. No matter how big your project, get a small, core team to run it. And he knows big projects. Like, $200,000,000,000.00 worth of big. He also told us designers need to get tangible early in the process. Handy.

Both mornings before the ‘big show’ we’ve been treated to the musical styling of an up and coming band (Rebirth/Red Leader). I neglected to mention this yesterday. Today’s group, made me feel like I was at a Spandau Ballet concert. But in a good way.

Notre premiere presenteur, Alain Le Quernec, didn’t suffer from English not being his first language. In fact, he used it as weapon. I don’t know how you say ‘brevity is wit’ in French, but I’m pretty sure he does. He proudly proclaimed not to be ‘a reference or an example’, then proceeded to show us time and time again exactly the opposite. He had us eating his political, cultural, social communication out of the palm of his hand until we were full.

Second up was a man I’d been looking forward to hearing from ever since the speaker announcements were made so I’m probably going to be unduly hard on him for missing the brief. David Nobay from Droga5. ‘Nobby’ is one of advertising’s better-known characters, and for good reason. His work proceeds him, as does his ability to get the best out of those around him. The guy wins awards for breakfast, but I’m not reviewing his work, I’m reviewing his talk. Nobby took it upon himself to give the students in the room a ‘pep-talk’. This included telling them that there were already too many people in the industry and illustrating his points with clips from MadMen. It would have been great if he gave us insights into how we can overcome all the problems he brought up and gave us a better insight into what he looks for in people, but unfortunately he didn’t.

To whoever tweeted about the lack of female representation on the speaker list, Leah Heiss should have put your mind at ease. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. With agIdeas now falling under the Victorian Government’s Design Matters initiative, Leah stood confidently on stage and showed us precisely why. With a range of inspired, functional jewellery designs that administer medicine, monitor arrhythmia, project allergy information and more. Reducing the necessity to lug around cumbersome, embarrassing equipment in the process. Leah told us she’ll work with anyone, micro-biologists, nanothechnologists, designers, and pretty much anyone else who she can learn from or be inspired by. The collective subconscious in the room said “You can work with me” in unison.

After a quick break, the affable Simon Rippingale took us through the process of ‘getting a project off the ground’ while telling the story of how we got his latest animation “A Cautionary Tail” realised. “A Cautionary Tail” was written by his creative partner while holed up in hospital for a year (echoes of @FullSickRapper). Stylewise, it uses live, filmed sets with 3D animated characters. The results, that we saw, were stunning and clearly painstaking to create. Somehow he managed to get it voiced by Barry Otto, David Wenham and Cate Blanchette. Impressive. Inspiring. Informative. Everyone is barracking for it to be a success. Look out for it on ABC later this year.

Ok, so I met Jan Van Shaik (from Minifie Van Shaik Architects) for the first and only time on Monday night. After a few beverages we had a chat. Despite only meeting him once, I will trust him to the ends of the earth and back. I mean, you’ve got to trust a man who loves his mum so much to walk out onto a stage in front of 2,500 people, get them to stand up and sing her (hi Catherine) Happy Birthday. Jan’s talk was a great balance of information, aspiration and detail. The only thing that could have improved it was if he’d successfully organised a Kickstarter project to fund a group purchase of that art deco former hospital in Mildura. Maybe there’s still time…. I dare you.

Reiko Sudo, founder of Nuno Corporation and Nuno Works is a worldwide authority in textiles. The time and effort that goes into her work, is reflected in the exquisite results. I couldn’t even begin to describe it. Simply go to and feast your eyes. Despite not being particularly fluent in English, it was easy enough for Reiko to let her work do the talking. Simply breathtaking work.

After lunch, Ken Cato announced the winners of NewStar. Again, the ladies shone out (apologies for not getting names: I think there was a Grace? and someone from New Zealand) Anyway, congrats!

Then Kane Hibberd filled the breech after the unfortunate passing of the scheduled speaker’s mother (condolences to Mr Mott and family). Kane is a rock photographer who likes taking photos of guys covered in ‘shiz’. His talk was a refreshingly candid study in believing in yourself, following your dreams no matter how shit people say you are to your face. He shoots promo shots for bands in unique ways. It made for a ripping yarn accompanied by some very interesting visuals.

Chris Khalil came out next to take us on a half journey/half lecture on the world of User Experience. Like Kirsty Lindsay yesterday, Chris told us that if people don’t notice what he does, he’s doing a great job. It must be a bugger for his boss to give him performance reviews. Still, it was a good peek behind the curtain as to why news sites lay things out the way they do.

Ian Anderson followed Chris. You could see a good percentage of the audience sit a little further towards the edge of their seats. Despite still having tickets to sell for his ‘Up And Over Down Under’ Workshop this weekend, he was definitely not on a charm offensive to win over those umming and ahing over going along. Ian grumbled, grizzled and swore through his set. He’s no arse-licker is Ian. There’s no such thing as a good, rich designer too. Maybe it’s his thing? Maybe the fact that he earned the Twitter hashtag #CheerUpIan during his talk will please him. His PR shot (a close up him casually giving a two fingered salute) would suggest as much. Not knowing him from a bar of soap beforehand, I saw him as someone I’d probably love to have a beer with, but wouldn’t cross the road to be inspired by. Still trying to figure out if his parting slide “Don’t be a cunt all your life” was ironic or not.

Taiwan’s Pey Chwen Lin has created a really interesting hologram based installation piece known as Eve Clone. She took us through the process of bringing the concept to life – which was kind of interesting. Then she went deep. She started talking about the planet and how we’re stuffing it up (which I’m totally cool with). And this all led into what Eve Clone was all about. I was kind of expecting a half-baked concoction that was tenuous at best. What we got was so good it was scary. From memory, Eve (the first woman) Clone (technology) represents the lust men have for technology, and their desire to advance it, be with it, and use it to the sake of everything else. Her eyes follow you around the room at all times. The explanation had one absolute effect – All the guys who were live tweeting, quietly put their phones down. Bless.

By this stage of the day, you need something refreshing. The guys from Voice design delivered. So confident were they in their ability to cut the mustard as designers, they started their business fresh out of Uni. Their theory was, you’re not born with it, you learn it, work hard and earn it. From the looks of their work and their shut-up-and-do-it attitude, they’ll do just fine.

Last up was John Barratt. I’ve already sung his praises and he carried on well in the face of a couple of technical difficulties. The big difference between this talk and this morning was it gave us an insight into how his career started and subsequently took off. It’s all about trust.

I trust, we’ll see some more brilliance tomorrow.

A design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas Design Forum Day 1

agIdeas has a reputation for bringing together a top-notch line up year-in, year out. In his opening address, Ken Cato beamed that this year’s speakers were among the best collection ever. Looking through the list, it was hard to agree. Not from an informed perspective. I simply had no idea who most of these people were. I sit here now, at the end of day 1, with a greater understanding of what all the fuss was about. For the purposes of science, I took no notes. This is all from memory. Hopefully it reveals who and what made the most impact. I will be, however, referring to the agIdeas program to inform me of the correct spelling of all speaker’s names.

A quick sketch from Page.

A quick sketch from Page.

First cab off the rank was Neville Page. He pitched himself as an Industrial Designer. Yeah, ok, sure, if coming up with the massive ‘labia monster’ (his words not mine) from Prometheus is now considered ‘Industrial’. He was confident, articulate and clearly massively talented. Neville managed to mix in some good advice while giving us a great insight into how he works. Basically, grab a plucked chicken, take a photo of it on Photobooth. Use a few tools and filters and voila – terrifying space monster. Genius.

Creating an Arabic font that works in harmony with its Latin counterpart.

Creating an Arabic font that works in harmony with its Latin counterpart.

Nadine Chahine was disarming, charming and brave. Probably too soon to make jokes about the Boston Bombing, but it kind of seemed ok in context (an Arab being thankful it wasn’t one of their own). Nadine’s love and work is typography. Specifically, creating complimentary Arabic and Latin fonts. She’s clearly technically excellent, driven and was one of few speakers today who didn’t hide behind the lectern.

A man who likes his work to speak for him.

A man who likes his work to speak for him.

Andrew Ashton came out with something on his jacket. It looked like bird poo. It was a painted on Australian flag. I reckon if anyone wanted a ‘do-over’ today it’d be Andrew. As one of Australia’s better known designers, his content was great. Possibly too great. But his presentation was disappointingly lacklustre. Read off a script, fumbly, awkward. Clearly he’s done this before as his presentation suggested he’s talked at a few forums. Willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just had an off day.

It's all about the dance.

It’s all about the dance.

Rafael Bonachela was born to dance. So he danced. Then he danced some more. Then he started choreographing other dancers. Then he danced into our lives for 20 minutes and made us all really happy that he started dancing all those years ago.

Cool like a fridge.

Cool like a fridge.

Aaron Hayward from Debaser reminded me of Tony Hawk. An effortlessly cool guy who is awesome at what he does but carries not a single pretention about it. He flicked us through his impressive back catalogue of album artwork, gave us an insight into his influences and work methods and then kind of floated off to go and be effortlessly cool somewhere else. #mancrush.

John Crawford knows that he's welcome in Melbourne.

John Crawford knows that he’s welcome in Melbourne.

John Crawford is a different kind of cat. He’s a Kiwi. He’s a photographer. He loves light. And he loves boobs. Ok, maybe he’s not that different. But we’ve been getting to know his work ever since the promotional material for agIdeas 2013 first appeared. He’s the guy who takes photos of words on gravestones. He also takes photos of aerial nudes, landscape nudes and a few other kinds of subject matter that may or may not involve nudity. Quirky. Interesting.

The fountains of Wet.

The fountains of Wet.

By the time Claire Khan hit the stage, my brain was feeling very full. So I’m not sure how much involvement she had in all the work she showed. But if she had even a tiny bit to do with any of it, I can see why she was here. Claire works for Wet. They do amazing things with water features. Not your garden variety type of fountains. The kind that sit out the front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In fact, Claire poignantly posited that the Bellagio fountain is the only real bit of original creativity on the strip. You’d think anyone with that on their CV would be full of beans. Or maybe she was just way too dry for a crowd with lunch on their mind.

After lunch Christian Van Vuuren came onto the stage and apologised for being there. He took us through his journey from being an advertising executive to a Fully Sick Rapper and Bondi Hipster. It was a great, uplifting story of how creativity and positivity can help the healing process. Then he gave us a lecture about doing work for passion instead of a paycheque (cough cough The Iconic commercial cough sellout). Still, bloody great chat.

Still, the tapestries were beautiful.

Still, the tapestries were beautiful.

You’ve got to feel for Antonia Syme. Some genius in scheduling put Australia’s highest authority on tapestries on after the Bondi Hipster guy. Still, she ploughed on. And the more she stuck to her guns, the more she drew me in. By the end, I was mentally measuring up my walls for a woollen hanging. Antonia was a study in presentation skills. Firm, to the point, authoritative. I learned a lot. Yet, at the end of the day, she was talking about tapestries after the Bondi Hipster guy had talked about surviving TB with a Macbook Pro. Hiding to nothing.

And he wears proper shoes.

And he wears proper shoes.

Paul Collison did the lighting for the Beijing Olympics and the Melbourne Commonwealth games – among a billion other things. Unfortunately for him, the two things that are sticking with me after his talk are his time as the sound guy on Here’s Humphrey, and his recent ski trip to Austria (and the $100 bucks he won off his mate for putting the photos into his presso). Actually, there’s another thing. He gave a couple of sterling pieces of advice, including this gem: ‘Being a creative person isn’t a license to be a flake. Turn up on time. Wear shoes.’ Listen up kids.

A beautiful Holden interior.

A beautiful Holden interior.

Kirsty Lindsay makes Holden cars look beautiful. Wearing a bright pink pashmina thingy, she said ‘if people don’t notice what I do, then I know I’ve done my job’. Well, if you keep wearing that thing, people will notice everything you do at all times. But seriously, she had a point. Her job is to make the interiors and detailing of the car sympathetic to the overall concept of the car. So if it’s right, it’s seamless. If it’s wrong, it’ll stand out like a bight pink pashmina on a red background.

It's no Dirty Old Town, but my five year old loves it.

It’s no Dirty Old Town, but my five year old loves it.

Shane MacGowan is a drug-addled, toothless singer from the UK. Shane McGowan is a brilliant illustrator from Australia. Being a Chris Taylor, I know what it’s like to have people more famous than you with your name, so I think I connected with Shane on a deeper level than most. The main things I got out of Shane’s talk was that you need to know what you love, love what you love, don’t be afraid to walk away from what you love and make sure you adapt what you love when the things you should love change. Lovely.

Someone should tell Chopper.

Someone should tell Chopper.

Oron Catts. Ok. So. Um. Wow. If Oron was wearing a lab coat, like most scientists do, had an assistant with stitches in his face and a limp, and the stage lit up with lightning to illustrate his points – no one, and I mean no one, in the room would have batted an eyelid. Oron has been trying to make synthetic meat for a while. Oh, and soon we’ll be growing watches in a petri dish. Apparently. This was exactly what the crowd needed towards the end of the day. Fascinating, mind boggling, out of your comfort zoning, über intelligence.

A Birnbach poster.

A Birnbach poster.

Heribert Birnbach knew his crowd. He started with a dragon reference. So every Game of Thrones loving attendee’s ears immediately pricked up lest he begin talking about Winterfell and the Dothraki. As a non-native English speaker, I was genuinely impressed with his command of the language. Successfully navigating his way through a couple of giggle-worthy puns. He showed us a great selection of his design work from over the years. It was all cool.

Great day 1. I better go to bed so I get up in time for breakfast.

Ripping off the brand-aid ~or~ saying goodbye to an old friend.

Shabbadu_logo NEWsmall

I buried an old friend today. Or, if you want me to turn down the melodrama a notch, I signed off a new logo for Shabbadu. While it was an absolutely necessary thing to do,  it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  And here’s why.

1. I liked what we had. 

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I didn’t actually hate what we had before. Mainly, because I created it. Sure, I have no design training or skill, but that didn’t stop me when I was all excited about my new business seven years ago. And it took me ages! Well, ok, it took about 20 minutes. Still, I thought it was unique and special, and it did the job.

2. It’s a big investment.

Rebranding costs a lot of money. And it’s not just designers fees, you change one thing you’ve got to change everything. And you’d better change it all at once too or else. Bah! Too hard. Can’t I just get away with my old tracky dacks, I mean logo, for another few years?

3. I’m not the best judge of art direction/design.

I think the saying is ‘pearls before swine’. Despite my years of experience in advertising, I’ve always been a ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like’ kind of copywriter. Which is fine when you’ve got a talented, understanding art director by your side, but it’s a different kettle of fish when a) you’ve got to brief the thing in, and b) when you’ve got make a decision at the end of it all.

Basically, I found myself thrust into the role our clients find themselves in more often than not. Suddenly, I had to be making calls on stuff I really didn’t feel qualified to make calls on. At least not with any authority or accuracy. And, I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed to be changing anything in the first place. But I was lucky. I had a team around me that I trusted, and my designer provided enough evidence of industry and support to make me feel comfortable with their suggestions.

Emotions aside, the time was right for a new logo for Shabbadu. The business I began seven years ago is worlds away from the one we are today. One of the key differences is I’m saying we, instead of me. Suddenly, it’s not just about what I like. Breathe, Chris. Breathe.

We’ve all been guilty of being hard on clients for umming, ahhing, and rejecting perfectly good work for seemingly no reason. This experience will hopefully colour these situations for me in the future. I’ll be more understanding and appreciate that while we might just think of it as another chance to move the brand forward into a new and exciting future, for our clients it might represent the nadir of an existential crisis where they begin to question all manner of things about their life, past and present.

Still, onwards and upwards.

logo white and red on grey

Extremes and Modifiers ~ or ~ The writer of this post is a moron, according to some.

Politics is hard to follow. In Australia, it’s hard to follow without repeatedly slapping yourself on the forehead. It’s been noted that it’s regressed into a tribal sporting contest, where fans of each side follow their ‘team’ with blind fervor. But when the personalities and policies fail, and we’ve all tuned out to what the politicians say, there can at the very least be education and entertainment in following ‘how’ they say it.

This doesn’t refer Paul Keating tearing strips of the nearest boxhead, desiccated coconut and painted, perfumed gigolo, but more so the empty rhetoric, pre-prepared party lines and obfuscation we’ve become accustomed to.

The 24-hour news cycle and the need for short, sharp political point scoring at every opportunity has given rise to another linguistic art form: the extreme and modifier.

While the extreme and modifier sounds tough and rugged like a ‘thrust and parry’, it’s more like poking your tongue out at a caged bear. You might feel tough while you’re doing it, but ultimately, it’s pointless.

Let’s look at an easy one to begin with. This is a mild example from Bob Carr, speaking about the James Ashby/Peter Slipper affair. Now, you may recall that in the early days of this scandal, the government was doing its best to discredit James Ashby and tentatively stand behind the man they installed as speaker.

“This Ashby seems more rehearsed than a kabuki actor.”

Key word here is ‘seems’. If he had said ‘This Ashby is more rehearsed than a kabuki actor’ he’d clearly have been sued. After all, he seems to be quite the litigious type.

And to prove that neither side of politics is immune to the old E&M, here’s a no brainer from Tony Abbott. He memorably blessed us with this pearler:

“Work Choices, it’s dead, it’s buried, it’s cremated, now and forever…” (iron clad extreme) “…but obviously, I can’t give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation.” (rolled gold modifier)

Julia Gillard is a master of pretty much all forms of political rhetoric. So it should come as no surprise that she’s a deft hand at the extreme and modifier. But this example is pure genius:

“A complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, and his sister said he’s a crook and rotten to the core…”

This was her description of former AWU union official Ralph Blewitt. Pretty stern stuff. Plenty of slander going on there. Of course, until she added the all important “…according to people who know him.”

All great examples, yet some are subtler than others. But in the race to make a point when your sound bite needs to fit into a tweet, they’re becoming more and more prevalent in everyday poli-speak.

Keep an ear out for a few old favourites like these; “We could be forgiven for thinking…”, “Is behaving like a….”, and “Another example of the kind of reckless behavior this lot are famous for.”

With a good few months to go before the election, tune in whenever you hear a politician speak and see if you can catch them rolling one out. Question Time is rife with them if you can stomach it.

In the meantime, try slipping a few into everyday conversations. Instead of saying you’re tired, you’re ‘partially exhausted’. You’re not a bit light of funds, you’re ‘borderline insolvent’.

It’s fun for the whole working family, according to some.

Like, like, like, donate ~ or ~ The clever way that GetUp uses Facebook

If you want to be cynical, charities work on a simple model. They point out a problem, and then use a mix of guilt and sympathy to get us to donate. “Look at this problem. Isn’t it terrible? If you give us money we’ll do something to fix it.” Basically, it’s a kind of outsourcing.


Now you don’t need to feel hopeless or useless in the face of human suffering. You’re doing something useful: you’re paying someone to fix it.

At some point political activists realised that this was a model that could work for them. They don’t ask us to man the barricades anymore. Instead they get us to pay them to man the barricades on our behalf. The buzz phrase is “outsourcing our activism”. Now we see it all the time.


The whales are in danger from the Japanese? Give money to Sea Shepherd. The wilderness is under threat from big mining? Give money to The Wilderness Society.

This model has an inbuilt dilemma, though. To keep us engaged as an audience, they need to make us continually feel like we’re doing something useful. BUT they can only ask us for money so many times in a year before they piss us off. So they need to give us something else to do that we’ll find meaningful.

The problem is, it’s expensive to keep finding “meaningful somethings” for us to do. Plus, it’s even more expensive to spend the time to package them in a way that makes them easy to act on.

This is where GetUp’s work on Facebook is so clever.

Yes, they’re still doing their standard “we’ve got an ad and we need money to publish/broadcast it” campaigns, like this one that raises funds to print a newspaper ad in February:


But these campaigns are only run infrequently so they don’t use up their community’s “donation” energy.

Most of their campaigns are from a second tier. And this tier, while providing us with “meaningful somethings” to do, has cost them little more than a couple of emails to produce. How have they done that? They’ve been very clever and outsourced both their production and the activism. Like with this post here.


The basic model has been kept the same. “Look at this problem. Isn’t it terrible? If you give us money we’ll do something to fix it.” They’ve just replaced “give us money” with “click on this link” and outsourced “do something to fix it” to another organisation.

The post hasn’t cost them anything to create because it’s been organised by the MEAA. GetUp isn’t responsible for delivering on the promise: that’s the MEAA’s job too. Plus, because the call to action is “Join” GetUp aren’t using up their community’s “donation” energy even though they are providing their followers with a “meaningful something”.

If the model works so well for GetUp, it begs the question: how can the rest of us use it?

Oh no, someone’s asked me to write a blog post ~ or ~ How to write a blog post if you’re not a writer.

Sooner or later it happens to everyone. We’re all being asked to write blog posts for someone. Why? Because search engines prefer sites with new content over sites with old content.

Those of us who work with words for a living are happy to punch out a five hundred-word rant on any topic you care to mention. But most people would prefer to stand in a crowded train carriage at peak hour with a stage-two hangover.


Of course, you could just hire a reasonably priced copywriter (cough) to write your blog for you. But it’s only a blog piece. Why don’t you just grasp the nettle and write the thing yourself? It’s really not that hard.

Here is an easy step-by-step guide to help you write a short piece you’ll be happy to link to on Facebook or Twitter. You might even send it to your Mum when she asks you how work’s going.

 Pick your subject and your topic (not the same thing).

What’s the thing you’re pretty good at that most people don’t really understand? That’s your subject area. Now pick your topic. Your topic is the thing you’ve got a strong opinion on in your subject area, the thing you like to talk about when this subject comes up in conversation.

It’s even better if your experience in the subject area means you can provide your readers with some real insight that they can’t get elsewhere.

“The great thing about audio production [subject] at the moment is the improvement in technology. You can capture a studio-quality recording while standing in an alleyway [topic].  The real challenge now is stopping the audio from sounding clinical or lifeless [insight].”


Make it interesting.

It’s the Internet. No one wants to read anything long or boring. Write about your topic like you’d talk about it at a dinner party. Simple, short and if you’re going to use jargon make sure you explain what it means.

Add in some images.

The Internet is a visual medium. Illustrate the points you’re making with pictures.

Don’t post it straight after you’ve written it.

Once you’ve finished, let it sit for an hour. Maybe even overnight. Then re-read it. Make sure it makes sense. Get someone else to have a look at it and ask them if they understand what you’re trying to say.

Then do a re-write. Why? Because every first draft needs work.

Remove all the first person personal pronouns – the I’s and me’s, the we’s and us’s. Then see if you can say what you’re trying to say with less words.

One last point…

You don’t have to do all these things at once.

This is the reason writers carry notebooks. Coming up with a topic you’re happy with, thinking of sentences that neatly capture a particular thought, crystalising an insight – these things usually happen after you’ve thought about your subject, jotted down some notes and then started doing something else.

Then, once you’ve finished and it’s posted, send a link to your Mum. She’d like to know what you’re up to.

How to make Google ‘like’ your website ~ or ~ Why good copywriters are a vital part of SEO.

Google cares about three things in a website:

Is this website relevant?

Is this website popular?


Is this website current and up-to-date?

SEO is really about convincing Google that your website is all three. If you do it successfully, you’ll end up on the front page of a Google search.

There are a few basic rules.

1. Convince Google your website is relevant.

Here’s an important insight into how the Internet works: the words that people type into search engines are not the same as the words people write on their websites.

You can use this disconnect to convince Google your website is relevant. It’s a three-step process.

  1. Find out which words and phrases people commonly type into search engines when they’re searching in your specialty area: the “keywords”.
  2. Go through these keywords and phrases and select the ones that describe what you do best that aren’t being used by other websites.
  3. Use these keywords on your website.

Then when people search for those words and phrases, because no one else is using them, it helps your website come closer to the top of the search results.

This leaves you with two challenges: find the right keywords and then weave them subtly into the copy of your website.

How do you find the right keywords?

The “commonly searched for” part is easy. Lots of places on the Internet will tell you that for free like Google’s Trends. The challenge is finding the words that no one else is using. There are freebie tools such as Adwords Keyword tool to help you with this, but they’re not designed specifically for website keywords.

So you’ll get no more than a “close approximation” of what words will work for you. They’re better than nothing but nowhere near as accurate as paying an SEO specialist to use their sophisticated software to provide you with the good stuff. 

How do you weave the keywords subtly into the copy of your website?

Hire a good copywriter.

2. Convince Google your website is popular.

Now your site has all the right keywords on it. So do twenty others. Or fifty. Or a thousand. How does Google decide which of these sites goes on the front page? They choose the site that’s most popular.

How do they determine if your site is the popular one? They look at how many other sites have linked to yours. The jargon term for this is “link juice” as in “wow, dude, your site’s really popular. It must have a lot of link juice.” If your site’s got the most link juice it becomes the site with the best search result.

I know. Link juice: it’s gross. This is what happens when you let engineers have access to the dictionary without proper supervision.

How do you get link juice?

There’s a good way and a bad way. The bad way to get link juice is you pay some guy in India or China who owns a link juice farm (I’m not making this up) who will provide you with as much link juice as you’re prepared to pay for. Google do not like this. This is not how they think the Internet should work. Someone is getting rich from search and it’s not them. If they catch you (and they will) you suddenly won’t be appearing on their search results anymore.

The good way to get link juice is to create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everybody likes to quote on their blog or post on Facebook and twitter. Google likes this.

How do you create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everyone likes to quote and create links to? Hire a good copywriter.

3. Convince Google your website is current.

Congratulations. You’ve got a site with all the right keywords and a lot of link juice. And so do thirty other sites. How does Google choose between you? Currency. They look to see who has got the most up-to-date content on their site.

This is why we’re all writing blogs now and Sally is hosting this one on her directory. Hi, Sally 😉

Of course, any new bit of content on your site adds to your currency, but this is where rules one and two come in again. Is this new content relevant and popular? Is the content full of keywords and phrases that are frequently searched for but are not frequently used on other sites? Is the content of sufficient quality that people will link to it from their highly regarded websites (think government or higher education), their blogs or post it on their Facebook or Twitter accounts?

How do you continue to produce new content that’s relevant and popular?

Hire a good copywriter who understands SEO.

Muchos gracias to Chris Talbot from The Reactor Digital for being a SEO Yoda and fact checking.