Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Tim Burton in predictable-shoehorn-land


Oh, look, it's an eccentric children's character rendered surprisingly terrifying! Blimey! I'd never have expected this! Unprecedented! IT'S GENIUS!


'You do rather wonder if the Disney executives knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when they hired Tim Burton, the maverick mastermind behind Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride, to take on Lewis Carroll's famous tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a classic of children's storytelling since its publication in 1865.'


I beg to differ.

Because, just from reading the statement 'Tim Burton to direct Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', I reckon I can imagine bloody exactly what it's going to be like. And – you know what? – I imagine the Disney execs could, too.

It's going to be a shoehorn-fest in which Burton predictably whips out his sinister, wide-eyed, pocelainishly airbrushed and corpsily desaturated filter and applies it – without any real consideration for the subject matter.

Take Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Actually, don't take it. Shun it. Because it was a SHIT remake. It didn't make any bloody sense. Not in a surreal, cool kind of way. In a that's-actually-deeply-implausible-behaviour-in-a-psychological-sense kind of way.

It was like seeing someone strip to its scaffolding – say – the Taj Mahal, and use said scaffolding to build a replica of the sodding Gherkin. Some stubborn fucker who refuses to acknowledge that it does not bloody well fit.

And now, Taj Mahal 'reinterpreted', he's off to take on the Great Wall. Which he's going to remake as ––––– THE GHERKIN!

[Audience gasps and applauds wildly]

See, I wouldn't mind so much if it weren't for the fact that both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the works of Lewis Carroll are bloody good in the original. The Alice books are incredibly clever in places, rather subtle, deftly poised. They do a brilliant job of portraying the logical illogicality of dream states and the way in which the bizarre may seem utterly normal when one sleeps.

BUT BURTON'S GOING TO TRAMPLE ALL OVER THAT, BECAUSE HE IS INCAPABLE OF MAKING ANYTHING SEEM NORMAL.


Oh, look. A bit of crumbling gothic masonry with mistily silhouetted trees and climbing foliage. Burton's really going to take us by surprise with this one!!!!!!


Okay. So a great artist has a recognisable voice, and it's only to be expected that there be similarities between his various works. That's okay. The Intellectual Hooligan does not mind that.

But, you know what? I'm pretty sick of people going on about Tim Burton as if he were some kind of trendsetter. Some 'maverick'. Some scythingly unpredictable force of novelty. Okay, so when he did Edward Scissorhands, this kind of thing was remarkable. But now it's getting really, really, really tired.

It's as if James Joyce, after writing Ulysses, then wrote Ulysses 2, 3 and 4, chronicling the next several days of Leopold Bloom's life. Maybe each one constructed around the narrative of a different classical epic.

Hell, even Samuel bloody Beckett (whose whole oeuvre was pretty much based on the notion of insulting his audience with overt reuse of tired material) exhibited more imaginative variety than this. AND HE WAS ACTIVELY TRYING NOT TO.

So, Guardian caption-writers, please pause before you presume that any of this 'exciting' new artwork will seem remotely surprising to us.

Because it bores the crap out of me.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Colour psychology fail: the traffic warden

So – why was I yabbering on about colour psychology, yesterday?

Here's why.


Yes. A traffic warden (notice how I've managed to photograph him next to a parking meter? Appreciate that, do you? DO YOU?

Now, a traffic warden's job is a tough one. Well, I imagine it is. I wouldn't know. I'm a sodding graphic designer, aren't I? Cushy.

A traffic warden must contend with uppity motorists (= bastards). He or she must project authority and demand respect from those whose inclination might be argumentative, disparaging – violent, even.

And he or she must do this without the implicit power (and menacing truncheon) of a police officer.

So why – WHY – have Oxford's traffic wardens been given a new uniform that with – as its centrepiece – a bloody primary school jumper?

Compare and contrast with the following:


(Not the best picture – but you'd be surprised how hard it is to find images of uniformed police officers who aren't either (a) clad in fluorescent yellow or (b) holding a turding great gun. Sign of the times, eh?)

Anyway, notice how the dark, dark blue (almost black) of the policeman's uniform makes him seem solid, serious, stern, authoritative. It's a strong, commanding colour – exuding seriousness and formality.

Now look back at the traffic warden. That was emphatically not a good colour choice, was it? A relatively small colour shift from navy to royal (approaching electric in its vibrancy) blue has totally changed the effect of the uniform. It has become somewhat cartoonish, cheap, attention-seeking. Beacon-like. And – yes – like a prep school.

It is in no way authoritative.

Complete with all those straps and walkie-talkies and electronic gizmos (and not helped by the bagginess of the garment itself), the effect is almost clownish.

I can just imagine that someone in Oxford City Council (or whichever body is in charge of traffic wardens) thought that navy was 'a bit boring' and thought it'd be fun to brighten things up a bit. Some meddling arsehole who thought he (bet it was a he) knew better.

He did not know better. He has just made the life of Oxford's traffic warden's even more difficult.

Actually, y'know what?, I bet it was the guy second from the left in this photo:


Thursday, 18 June 2009

Colour psychology vs chubby middle-manager

A lot of the work I do is graphic design.

Now, it's my sense (forlorn and cynical being that I am) that lots of people misunderstand the job of a graphic designer. Lots of people think that it is our job to make things look pretty.

Okay – you may say that our job is to do whatever our client tells us to do. But I'd counter that with, well, why the hell did our client need to hire us in the first place, then? Monkeys are a hell of a lot cheaper.

(Er, actually, it seems that they're not)



Anyway.

I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked by a colleague or client to change colours in a design-in-progress.

'Oh, I don't really like that orange,' they'll muse. Or, 'I think that logo would look better on blue instead of green.'

You can see where this is going. Show me a colour and I'll show you someone who doesn't like it or would prefer another. If we start down this road, we end up with a product that is customised to the aesthetic taste of this one person.

That's a bad thing.

Because colour (just like written tone, typeface, choice of images...) is a communication tool. The colour choices one makes have an enormous effect (whether conscious or not) on the viewer.

Just as you wouldn't (please, please, God, no) print a murder appeal in the hideous comic sans font, so you wouldn't advertise, say, aromatherapy massages on a bright red and yellow background.

Them colours ain't very relaxin'.

Such obvious cases are all very well – so much so that almost anyone with half a brain grasps them instinctively.



Case study: Chubby, Nervous Middle-Manager

The problem tends to emerge when there's a disconnect between client/colleague and audience. When the person who's suggesting changes to a design is fundamentally different from the audience for which the design is intended.

Imagine, if you will, a chubby, nervous middle-manager in his 50s commissioning a flyer to attract 16-20 year-olds to an activities day his disgusting panini-manufacturing company is sponsoring.

Chubby, nervous middle-manager doesn't have a great deal of imagination, perhaps. He's outside his comfort zone with regard to mass communications, which only serves to exaggerate a tendency towards micro-management and risk-aversion.

A recipe for design hell.

Chubby, nervous middle-manager will, I guarantee, tremble with horror on seeing whatever design you might put in front of him – no matter how well-thought-out and customised to its audience.

He will proceed to dismember it with a series of requests that are geared towards making the design more to his own taste. More like something he recognises and is comfortable with. We're talking underlining. Pastel shades. Conservative colour palettes.

If you're particularly unlucky, he may even start suggesting that you add clipart.

The risk in such a situation is that we end up in a 'taste-off' – whereby clients and designer alike argue for their own aesthetic preferences. An argument in which, clearly, nobody's going to triumph.

Thank god, then, for colour psychology.  <--  Go on, read all about it.

Visceral responses to colour are hardwired into the human brain in much the same way as responses to, say, Dale Winton.

Different colours have different effects on brain function: emotion, mood, even concentration. There's actually science (y'know, Science ...) to back this up.

So when chubby, nervous middle-manager suggests mauve instead of magenta, one's only chance of avoiding aesthetic impasse is to talk colour psychology. To give reasoned arguments to justify the colour choices one has made.

Why am I telling you all this, anyway – neurotic designerly self-justification aside? Well, I thought I'd give you some background to tomorrow's post, in which I propose to show you how – in the world of colour psychology – even a relatively subtle shift of hue can have glaring effects.



NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL A CLIFF-HANGER.

Tune in tomorrow, won't ya?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Resignations: Hutton, Smith, Blears, Flint ... and a potato

Stand a potato in the middle of a patch of gravel. Lie down on your stomach. And stare hard at that potato. Stare really, really hard. Until that potato becomes your world.

Presently, see how magnificent that potato appears. See how it towers majestically above the pebbles and detritus amongst which it is placed. See how boldly admirable it appears, how assertive, how iconic.

Now stand up. Look around you. Gaze up at the sun, the sky ... Buildings, trees, cars. Look back down at your potato.

NOT SO BLOODY IMPRESSIVE NOW ARE YOU, SPUDFACE?



The above was a metaphor. 'No! Not a metaphor!' you may cry. 'That dastardly Intellectual Hooligan! I thought potatoes and gravel were finally getting the blogged attention they so clearly warrant.'

Sorry.

But a metaphor is what it was.

This week we have seen resignations from UK politicians John Hutton, Jacqui Smith and Margaret Beckett. All of whom have bafflingly triangulated themselves into an open septic tank by resigning in support of Gordon Brown (to borrow Simon Hoggart's phrase).

Guys, guys ... You can't actually do that, you realise? It's like professing your deepest respect for your next-door neighbour whilst simultaneously squatting down and turding on his front lawn.

High-minded commentators might call this 'cognitive dissonance'. I call it lawn-turding.

Margaret Beckett, Jacqui Smith, John Hutton: lawn-turders, the lot of them.



I'm not even going to elaborate upon the useless Geoff Hoon, who mercifully slithered away with scarcely a whisper.



Instead, let's turn to Hazel Blears. Who has managed to bolster her expenses-fiddling credentials with generous lashings of spite, arrogance and petty-mindedness. Way to go, Blearsy. You really upped your political stock with that'n. Wearing your stupid 'Rocking the boat' brooch when you went to hand in your resignation.

Stupid.

Did you think that made you look 'fun' and 'quirky'? It didn't. It made you look like an idiot. Clunkingly self-referential adolescent gestures ≠ a massively effective means by which to give yourself the appearance of stature, dignity and statesmanship.



Then there's Caroline Flint.


MP, midwife, wiki, minister for Europe or sexy?
Vote with your Google searches.

Caroline Flint whose top 5 suggested Google searches (based on the searches people most commonly make) are:

  1. caroline flint mp
  2. caroline flint midwife
  3. caroline flint wiki
  4. caroline flint minister for europe
  5. caroline flint sexy

So there we are. Epithets to die for, one and all.

Anyway, here's an extract from her resignation letter:

'Several of the women attending Cabinet – myself included – have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing.'

Oops. That was a really stupid thing to write.

And on an important issue that really doesn't need an inept mauling like the one you've just given it.

I'm absolutely not saying the allegation is false. It may well be that Flinty has genuine grounds for grievance – and if she does, this should be rooted out. But – strategically – the way in which she raised the issue was very, very dumb.

There are plenty of dolts who'll characterise women as impulsive and overemotional ... and that resignation letter is grade-A fodder for such people. DO NOT FEED THE DOLTS.

Yes, I can well believe that Brown's cabinet is exclusive – and that, if one is outside the influential clique, it could be pretty frustrating and demoralising. But it's quite a leap to pin one's sense of ostracisation upon one's gender. It implies a chip-on-the-shoulder, an axe to grind. DO NOT FEED THE DOLTS.

And I emphasise again: there may be an anti-female agenda – I certainly wouldn't discount the possibility. But unless you provide evidence or explanation (in which case, this should surely be at the forefront of your resignation letter, not merely tossed in incidentally), you radically undermine your cause, and look paranoid, insecure, hysterical, vindictive. More qualities that don't exactly boost a politician's stock.

Oops. Not such a sharp Flint. You ain't startin' no fires.



So, now the potato. My near surnamesake, James Purnell. Who, implausibly enough, actually looks bold and statuesque – relative to the gravel in which he finds himself.

Potato.

It's not as if his resignation was particularly classy, particularly whupp-ass. It's just that he – apparently uniquely – managed to do it without either implicit self-contradiction or explicit making-himself-look-stupidness.

So – well done, Jimbo. You are the Intellectual Hooligan's Political Potato of the month.

Enjoy the accolade, won't you?

Marketing genius indeed

Matt Sellwood writes great blog posts. Sometimes challenging, sometimes amusing, always interesting.

As I doff my e-hat at him, though, I'm simultaneously swiping the photograph you'll see below from his latest post. This is because it fits too, too well into a series of ninja marketing coups that the Intellectual Hooligan has been documenting for some time.


Speaks for itself, really.

Oh, and – while on the subject of Mr Sellwood – you should check out the man's Facebook group. He's standing as the Green Party's candidate in Hackney North.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Favourite Phone Conversations

Everyone likes a good phone conversation. Few things get the blood pumping faster.

As a big-shot design operative, the Intellectual Hooligan does his fair share of wheeling – and the odd bit of dealing – with members of the Gutenbergian profession. That is, the fine men and women who take the images on my computer screen and convert them into lovely shiny (or, indeed, tastefully matt laminated) printed products.

And nobody likes a printed product like the Intellectual Hooligan.

(Okay, maybe not all of them.)

Anyhow, through my designery antics, I've come to meet and correspond with a fair range of print professionals. And have found these people almost unfailingly pleasant and helpful.

I say almost unfailingly.

Because, not many days ago, I received an extraordinary phonecall from one gentleman whose printing services I had (on a couple of occasions) previously employed.

He came straight to the point.

'I'm really concerned that we may have lost your business.'

I like phonecalls that start like this. They're almost inevitably going to be Lots Of Fun. Considering the fact that, yes, the printer in question had lost my business, I was at something of a loss as to how to respond. I plumped (masterfully, in retrospect) for:

'Oh?'

He plunged onward.

'I mean, we haven't heard from you for ages. And I'm wondering, are you busy? I know you've got work on. So I'm wondering why we haven't heard from you.'

Whoa boy! Whoa!

'... Because I know the work we've done for you has always been excellent quality, and we've never let you down or missed a deadline.'

Me: 'Um, well, actually, you have.'

This led into a little reprise of a job (the last job for which I used these fellows, coincidentally enough) which ended up being delivered two days after the event for which it was intended. Which came under the category of both 'letting me down' and 'missing a deadline'. But, of course, who am I to categorise?

'I know [my colleague] called you about that job and I was under the impression we'd sorted it all out.'

'Um ... no ... I don't think I ever heard from [your colleague].'

'Well she assures me she called you.'

'Um ... I assure you she didn't.'

'I have her here and she says you discussed this.'

What the fucketty-fucking-fuck? Are you actually accusing me of lying, here? Is this part of your ninja win-back-my-business strategy? Because here's a sodding newsflash. Even if I were lying, for no discernible personal gain, so presumably just for a laugh – which I'm damn well not – but even if I were – what precisely are you going to do about it?

Spool forward a minute or two in the 'conversation'. A new tack:

'I know you're currently using [competing print firm]. I know [competing print firm]. We're cheaper than [competing print firm]. And our quality is just as good.'

Now here's where we hit another problem. Because, my friend, your quality is nowhere frigging near as good. You are a cheap printer, yes. But you are cheap for a reason. I don't criticise your quality, because you are cheap and you are (with notable exceptions as aforementioned) fast. And I know that cheap + fast is not an equation that generally = high quality.

So we run into problems if you tell me that you are high quality. Because you're not. You are really, really not.

However. You are a printer. That is your trade, your passion, your skill. How on earth am I going to contradict you on this point without causing mortal offence – and setting you even more haywire than you are already?

Such were the thoughts whirling around the Intellectual Hooligan's head. How (I wondered) am I to register disagreement yet avoid insult? There must be a perfect response – an eloquent, supple comeback (the kind of which you know me to be a master) with which I may neatly escape this predicament ...

... Come on, O muse of the conversational gambit. Do not desert me now!

... Ah!

Got it!

Perfect!

'... Um ....'

Exasperated though – in spite of my finely-delivered rejoinder – our man took the conversation a couple of steps further – veering into truly bizarre and questionable territory:

'I mean, I know from having met you that you're not the type who'd go informing other suppliers about competitors' prices and undercutting them. Because there are all sorts of legal issues with that.'

I'm sorry?

I'M SORRY?

But was that supposed to be a threat? So ... just let me check (because I'm making notes of the points we've covered so far): you not only accuse me of lying, but also imply that I am engaging in shady business practices to your detriment?

Cripes, you're really bringing me round, here.

'... If you look at it from my perspective, what do you see? You do good work for a client, you really put an effort into helping them out, and then you just don't hear from them.'

I'm sorry, mate. But did we go on a date, or something? Maybe I oughtn't to have sent you those roses, back in February. I can see that I led you on unforgivably. And I have betrayed your trust – your loyalty – your (I think it not bold to use this term) your devotion.

It was terribly wrong of me. I see that now. How heartless!

While you were sitting, watching the phone, aching with misery, I was gaily cavorting with another printer. O what fickle, fickle man am I! O wretched cur! O thing most unworthy of printer's love!

Where did I put that cat o' nine tails of mine? I feel a self-flagellatory impulse coming on.

But ... hold on ...

WAIT ONE MINUTE ...

Didn't we pay you? You nasty, belligerent, tactically clueless, turfbrained dolt. Am I not representing one business and you another? Was this not, in fact, an entirely FUCKING BUSINESS DECISION?

ARE YOU FUCKING MAD?

Do you think that you are going to come within Jupiter's breadth of persuading me of anything aside from your own instability as a human being by speaking to me in this way?

Do you think that if you say things that are manifestly ridiculous with sufficient aggression to somebody who wishes to converse on polite, non-confrontational grounds, you are going to win just because they aren't coming out and telling you that you're acting like a pillock?

Do you think that, if you keep overriding my explanations and reasoning and presenting me instead with downright falsehood that I must either accept or flatly contradict, you are somehow advancing your cause?

Do you think that, because I'm not going to get into a massive argument about this, you're onto a winner?

Do you think that, when I put the phone down on you at the end of this conversation, I'm EVER voluntarily going to contact you again? Let alone give you any business?

Do you want a clue on that last one?

YOU GHASTLY, IDIOTIC, MYOPIC TURD.

(Which is, of course, exactly what I said.)

Monday, 1 June 2009

Uncovering the Hooligan's Political Stance -- and your own?

Well ... In a few days' time (on 4 June, to be precise. And y'all like a bit of precision, don't you?) those of us that live in the EU zone have some elections.

In principle, the Intellectual Hooligan likes a good election.

(In practice, he tends to discover, too close to the time, that he's failed to register as a voter, or some such piffle. Details schmetails.)

So. Democracy. Yeh. You should vote. If you want to.

(As you can see, I'm something of a 'get out the vote' supremo.)

Anyhow, my internetty travels brought me into contact with a fine and politicogeekily entertaining site that allows you to find out which party most closely matches your own views. It's called eu profiler. And I recommend it if you:

  1. like filling in surveys
  2. like seeing graphs and charts representing yourself relative to other things
  3. want to find out exactly how much clear blue water lies between yourself and this bunch of despicable bastards
  4. aren't sure what the various political parties actually stand for. Or what you actually stand for. Or what anything actually stands for.

Go on, do it.

So (I can tell you're all burning to know) – what were the Intellectual Hooligan's results?

Oh, alright, since you insist...

First up, here's a graph showing where I fit into the political landscape, relative to the UK parties. I notice I've found myself a nice little niche, unoccupied by anyone else. Perhaps this means I should start up a party of my own?


I'm slightly troubled, however, that the only party that falls within my ellipse should be the Conservatives. Hmmm.

... But fear not. Because the ellipse lies. Lying bugger. And, as the following chart demonstrates, my views most closely correspond (marginally less chillingly) with those of the Liberal Democrats:


All very interesting.

I'll tell you, though, what is most interesting of all.

You see, the above results confine their matching to the UK parties (sensibly enough, since these are the ones for which I could actually vote. Were I (ahem) registered to do so). However, the site also has an option to match one's stance to all EU parties.

And guess which one is in 100% slap-bang exactly [that's statistical terminology, there] the same position as your favourite Hooligan?

The Communist Party of Luxembourg.

FVCK ON!



Anyway. I'd like y'all to do the test. And I'd like to hear where you, my dear blogprodders, feature in the political spectrum-that's-actually-not-a-spectrum-because-it's-more-like-a-scatter-diagram.

That's the comments section down there at the bottom. You know what to do.

(Don't you?)

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