Loving the aliens


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Richard Seymour believes that marketeers are missing out on an astonishing creative resource... because they don't understand it.

For more information, go to seymourpowell.com

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Loving the aliens

  1. 1. Loving the Aliens Richard Seymour believes that marketeers are missing out on an astonishing creative resource…because they don’t understand it. In the Beginning, there were who can see the whole issue at once without Actually, you’re doing all this ‘research’ factories. And the factories losing sight of the individual steps necessary because you’re expected to prove that you’re made things for us to buy. And to achieve it. Someone who understands that doing the ‘right thing’. If you don’t have that the people in the Factories who people buy things that they find attractive and Excel spreadsheet to tell you that Design A or decided what we should buy compelling, and continue to use things that Communications route B is the right strategy,(and therefore what the Factories should have relevance to their lives and provide joy then the Boss won’t let you do it.make) were the Boss and the Boss’s wife. in the process. He then gets someone else’sAs the 19th Century rushed into the Industrial Factory to build it to Apple’s spec. Just like Is that because he doesn’t trust your instincts?Revolution, no-one had yet heard of Brands, Nike does. Or probably your most ferocious Or is it because you don’t trust your instincts?or Brand Managers or even designers. competitor, whose brains are here, Many of the corporations we work with useProduct Brands were normally the Boss’s but whose production is probably in the Far consumer research in this way: they askfamily name, or the name of the Factory. East. people who don’t know, to tell them what toNo Brand existed without a Factory or a And guess what? He’s never asked a single do. In many cases, spending up to ten timesWorkshop. No-one knew what consumer person what they’re going to want. Because as much in these so-called validating researchresearch was (unless it was the Boss asking he knows two things you don’t. Firstly, he phases as they do on the design itself. Andhis wife’s opinion). Products were engineered knows that people haven’t the faintest ideas usually taking up much of the developmentby engineers. Design was what colour the what they’re going to want, so there’s no point network’s time-to-market at the same time.product was. in asking them. And secondly, he knows it’s The only people I know who really know whatAnd the Product was something you needed. his job to imagine the future…and then create we’re going to want in the future are people it for us. who live there.So who told the Boss what we all needed? And just like Edison and Dr Marten and Mr Designers.A small group of brilliant employees, usually, Hoover, he doesn’t wait for permission (or aplus some of his trusted peer group at the When a product designer sits down to his competitor getting there first) to tell him whenclub (oh, and his wife….). pad, or mouse or whatever, he has to be a to do it. minimum of two years ahead of today. If heEdison decided we needed electric light. Tesla Who gave Jobs permission to re-invent the isn’t, he’ll create something that’s 2 yearsdecided we needed alternating current to music industry with iTunes? Nobody. He just out of date when it finally arrives on shelfmake it work. Singer said we needed sewing did it because he knew he could and that we’d or in the showroom. So he ‘projects’ in amachines. Hoover thought vacuum cleaners love it. way in which you can’t. That’s why he’s amade sense and Mr Tate and Mr Lyle thought designer, not a marketeer. He’s an empath,you’d enjoy refined sugar to bake with. When Apple gets close to a product launch someone who absorbs human mores and style decision, Jobs and his few trusted colleagues and excretes relevant solutions. That’s whatStrangely enough, 150 years later, the likes of sit around a table and look at what they’ve drew him to apply for design at University, notthese visionaries are still amongst us, but they done. They then ask themselves “is it Cool?” Physics. If he’s good, he’s probably workingdo something different now. If the answer is “yes” they launch. on products that may be 6 or 7 years ahead of now, because some products, like carsThey don’t build factories….. That’s it. or telecommunication devices, are plannedSteve Jobs of Apple is one of those beings. that far ahead. Not designed that far ahead, Good old-fashioned 19th Century Marketing.Autocratic. Visionary. Humanistic. Brilliant. necessarily, but planned.CEO. When you started as a marketeer, you Long-term design strategy and short-term probably saw yourself at the hub of theBut he’s something else as well, which you design implementation. Communications and Product apparat,didn’t know. Briefing and receiving the creative agencies These businesses have a ‘thousand yard to provide the ideas for the ads and products, stare’, which lets them lead what is going toHe’s a Designer. and then taking the ideas and presenting them happen themselves, whilst giving them theNot a bloke with flowing locks and a pink tie to the consumer at every verse end to make time to do it properly. While you are staringwho calls everyone ‘dahhhhling’, but someone sure that ‘you’d got it right’. into the next couple of years and trying
  2. 2. Loving the Aliens (cont)desperately to deliver the goods that fast, going through her daily cleansing routines, or in freeze-frame from within, like watching anthey’ve given themselves the luxury of time preparing a meal, or a guy getting into explosion on film, slowed down to a singleto get it right. his domestic stair-lift. That’s not where the frame a second. magic lies. It’s in what the designer sees inYes, they started earlier. this material that’s so amazing. When a designer as good as Steve Jobs, or many of the people you have at your disposalIf you look at what a competitor is doing by Because that’s what a designer does. for that matter, provides what seems to youreacting to what they’ve just launched onto to be an answer they have just plucked outthe shelf this season, you’re looking into an Paul Smith, the brilliant British fashion of thin air (and therefore, highly subjectivearchaeological dig. What you can see is what designer once explained this to a friend, when and untested), you are naturally suspicious ofthey were doing, up to three or fours years asked where he got his ideas from; “You and I their conclusion, and then go about trying toago. If your product development cycles are could walk down the street together and look research validity into it or out of it.any more than 3 months long, you DARE not at the same things” he explained “but I’d SEEreact to what you see launching around you, ten times more than you would”. Basically, you don’t trust him, or his damnbecause you’ll be hopelessly out of date by wizardry, do you?the time you get your retaliation in. This wasn’t an idle boast; by the way, it’s probably the clearest depiction of the creative If you buy a really good designer into yourWhich brings us back to 19th Century process at work that I’ve ever heard. What programme, you’re actually getting the mostMarketing and Steve Jobs. Paul didn’t explain, was what happened next. extraordinary thing: an object that works backwardsWhere did Edison, and where does Jobs, get The designer’s brain isn’t the same as yours.their perspective on what we’re going to need You like ‘innovation funnels’, or Gates, or The designer’s mind can deliver the correctfrom, other than constantly living in a world Steps or other, linear processes that narrow solution up-front. But he’ll then have to go‘that is going to be in their jobs? down your options in a logical way until the through interminable post-rationalisation to answer drops out of the bottom of the funnel prove it. It’s like getting Paganini to run aBy looking carefully at what is going to be or whatever... virtuoso arpeggio while you keep stopping himtechnically possible whilst watching the saying “Well, I quite like it, but what will the‘emergent behaviour’ of the human organism. If that worked, then you’d always be creating consumer think?”Not ‘asking people’, by brilliant new products.the way, but watching the Jobs and his colleages But it doesn’t. Trust me.animal at work. sit around a table and Get design into your marketing long before And you’re not.At Seymourpowell we havea division called SPF, or look at what they’ve done. you think you should.Seymourpowellforesight. They then ask themselves The designer’s brain Let the designer’s brain help you jettison works in a non-linear, the bundle of prejudices that is usually yourYou could call it a research “Is it cool?” seemingly chaotic fashion creative brief and replace it with a series oforganisation, because it If the answer is “yes” that, if you could see into clear questions about what is really needed. it, would scare the crapobserves emerging trendsin technology, culture and they launch. out of you. Study emergent behaviour in your target market through the eyes of someone whotechnology and, at the same time, looks can really see. Driving through Mumbai is almost directlyfor the new, emerging coincidences that analogous to this process. If you get in a cab Trust their instincts. And then begin yourprovide the raw material for new ideas. and belt through the city to the traffic lights, project.You might call the ‘people watching’ part of you’ll notice a number of things: the first isthis process Ethnography. that two conflicting lanes of traffic will appear Use the Force, before that to pile into one another relentlessly, sounding impudent, driven competitorWe call it the Conceptual Nursery. their horns and leaping from brakes to throttle with no factory eats your lunch. in a mad, Nihilistic waggle dance. The secondThis is where the future really lives. But SPF’s thing you’ll notice is how few of these vehiclesstaff aren’t researchers, or anthropologists, or actually strike each other, and the third thingtechnologists.They’re all designers. Designers that you’ll notice is that you generally getwho have turned to the Dark Side: the through this teeming conflagration unhurtobscured pathway to the future. and unusually rapidly.If they weren’t outputting their work as dossiers When this first happened to me, I lookedor reports or compelling visual evidence of quizzically at the Indian Physics major sittingthe animal at work, they’d be turning it into next to me in the cab, and he replied:product designs (which is what the rest of usdo). “It’s a System, Jim, but not as we know it!”If I showed you some of their video work done This system, in the designer’s brain, lets himrecently, you might throw the entire issuesee nothing unusual at all. You’d see a woman up in the air simultaneously, and then view it The shape of things to come