• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Remember how it felt the first time you held a new iPod or iPhone? Remember the delight you felt with every detail? The texture of the metal; the precious curve of the housing; the precise click of each button? I doubt I’m the only one who thought these angelic details made those little devices from Cupertino feel perfect – not just good, but perfect. At Apple, they call this design ethos making something “insanely great.”
I call it making something way better than it has to be and Apple isn’t the only place you can enjoy the benefits of fanatical attention to detail. You can hear it in the slam of the door on a new Audi. Feel it in the delicious weight of a Waterford crystal glass. Or hear it in any Beatles song. (Sue me. I still love ‘em.) All these things are made way better than they have to be.
As we begin to discuss the crafts of writing and art direction in more detail, I want to impress upon you here the importance of doing work that is insanely great; of employing these crafts to the very best of your ability. Because in the end they are all you have at your command to get a reader or viewer to lean in. And this leaning in is the ultimate goal for any artist, especially us advertising artists.
Let me describe leaning in this way: Over the years I’ve judged many advertising award shows and for the print portion of these competitions, thousands of ads are laid out on a series of long tables. The advertising judges (usually slightly crispy from the carousing in the bars the night before) wander up and down the aisles looking for work they think worthy of recognizing and reprinting in the award annuals. During the many times I’ve watched the judges judge, I’ve always seen a magic little moment when the judge stops, bends at the waist, and leans in to more closely study a particular piece. What is it, I wondered, that made the judge lean in?
Over the years, I’ve come to believe the operative element is subliminal; not subliminal advertising the way Vance Packard complained about in his conspiracy book The Hidden Persuaders. No, the operative element we’re talking about here is subliminal quality. The very word sublime helps explain my point. “Limen” is Latin for threshold. Below the threshold of awareness. We’re talking about baking quality so far into a thing that people who look at it perceive this quality subconsciously. They know they’re looking at something of quality before they’re even conscious of it because when a thing is made way better than it has to be its quality comes off of it in waves.
In his marvelous book, Paste Up, my old Fallon friend Bob Blewett agrees: “I believe the effort and struggle to create simplicity and grace live on in the work like a soul … and as the ad leaves the agency, your effort and care stand over the ad like a benediction.”
Blewett’s benediction is the force I’ve been getting at here; the force which makes someone lean in to study whatever it is you’ve created. There’s no shortcut around Blewett’s requirement; it takes “effort and struggle to create simplicity and grace.” It means sweating the details of whatever ad or script or site you’re working on and going to any length to get it right, and then going beyond that. It means not letting even the smallest thing slide; that if a thing bothers you even a teeny bit, you work on it till it doesn’t bother you and then you keep working until it actually pleases you.
I forget where I read this metaphor, but what you get for your trouble is like the difference between a regular drinking glass, a good one, and Waterford crystal. A flick of your finger on the first yields a “tung.” A wine glass might give you a “tang.” But only Waterford will give you that unmistakable “ting.”
Tung. Tang. Ting. Don’t stop until you get to ting.
This extra effort is how all of life’s pursuits are turned into art; yes, even advertising. An old man from Bali once patiently explained to an anthropologist studying his culture: “We have no ‘art.’ We do everything as well as possible.”
This unwavering attention to detail will not only improve your craft and improve your client’s fortunes, it will improve you.