I recently discovered an interesting article on WIRED.com, playfully titled: Inside the Campaign to redesign SF’s suck-tastic flag. Roman Mars, an american producer and host of the 99% Invisible podcast series, had broadcasted a TED talk documenting his distaste for San Francisco’s flag. He has now created a campaign to redesign it.
So…how bad is it?
Well, it’s not great. Some could view the brown phoenix rising from the burnt ashes, bordered by a thick mustard yellow frame as intentionally bad in an attempt to be ironic, but sadly I think the design is genuine…and ugly. As an Australian newcomer to this northern Californian city, it made me wonder about a new design: how would you even begin to encapsulate the identity of a city that prides itself on innovation and progressive thinking?
With the entire world keeping tabs on Silicon Valley’s consistent creative output, San Francisco can comfortably claim title as progressive city. The startup community, alongside the bigger names of Google, Apple and Facebook work happily side-by-side in the 46.9 square mile area.
Also noteworthy is SF’s support for the LGBT community. It was one of the first cities in the Unites States to foster political involvement and activism in the late 1960’s. The iconic rainbow flag (proudly worn and shown all over the US after last Friday’s Federal ruling for Marriage Equality and the weekend’s PRIDE festivities), was created by local resident Gilbert Baker, says another WIRED Article : Here’s where the Rainbow Flag came from. The rainbow flag has now spread to become a global symbol for LGBT rights and sexual equality, emerging from humble, yet conceptually valid, beginnings in an attic of the San Francisco Gay Community Center in 1978.
This iconic flag rose from a time of heightened political power and post-war inquest. It served a specific purpose to unite a community that needed to gain recognition and respect within a society that offered none.
Roman Mars’ latest endeavour to re-design the SF flag is born from a less specific need, and warrants a discussion about format. After all, a flag proves to be a limited amount of real estate to accurately and visually represent a city associated with so many niche communities, each aided by technology, design and innovation.
As designers, we often face a similar question when presenting new identities to clients. We believe that a single logo cannot communicate every aspect of a brand. This process is instead an accumulative one achieved through multiple channels of messaging, photography, color and other visual and tonal elements that bring a brand to life. The end result is a sum of parts that contribute to a bigger, brand driven picture.
Perhaps then Roman Mars’ solution to San Francisco’s flag is a simple, yet complicated one : Don’t redesign the flag, rethink it.
A bigger and more generous design system could be a much better fit for San Francisco, considering its innovative history and application for new technology. More of a holistic branding exercise than anything, San Francisco could pull its range of incredible resources to create something bigger, better and more unifying than the effects of a single flag. An accumulative effort from the design, tech, engineering and communications industries could initiate a big discussion surrounding the idea of identity on a global scale.
Regardless of the outcome, the undertaking and process itself would have equal gravity in setting a new precedent for municipal decision making. So, in true San Francisco spirit, our approach should be diplomatic, inclusive and crowdsourced… of course.
Last week I attended a consumer electronics speaker series hosted by Shasta Ventures and Hub Strategy + Communications. During the Q&A, a woman stood up from her chair and directed the last question of the night at the panel: how and when do you shift marketing efforts from early adopters to a greater mass market?
This question reveals an interesting and prevailing belief in Silicon Valley. Start-ups view the Bay Area (and maybe New York and Seattle) as a wellspring of early adopters. Read: people who eagerly scan technology blogs for the latest and greatest software releases and hardware launches.
In many ways, this belief is grounded in truth. The techno hubs of the world are full of passionate, intrepid tech buyers willing to make riskier purchases. They don’t need lengthy consumer reviews to buoy their decision to click “Buy Now,” nor are they put off by a waitlist or pre-order form. These are the people that catapult fledgling companies into popular awareness, evangelize ideas and legitimize new categories.
So why are early adopters a myth? Because for the most part, they are one-dimensional portraits. The truth is, if a start-up builds it, they may not come. Even early adopters.
Early adopters also need a good reason to buy into an idea. From a brand perspective, we need to knock down the invisible wall in peoples’ minds between early adopters and the mass market. Early adopters are more than young to middle-aged men sitting in front of Apple products. Their reason for existence is not just to buy more, buy everything, buy the latest. Early adopters are people, just as all consumers are people. They have families and foibles. They lead busy lives. They care about what their peers, husbands and girlfriends think of them.
While they may be more willing to give your company some slack when they experience a bug, they don’t buy products just because they are forward-thinking. They buy forward-thinking products from the companies that paint a narrative around why the product is something they should want as a part of their lives.
My answer to this woman’s question would be this: establish the reason your company exists. Find a position that makes you different. Create a story which people can believe in and connect to. And stick with it throughout your marketing program. Chances are, a compelling brand will mean as much to an early adopter as a homemaker in the suburbs.
I have a rather interesting job; I’m a Senior Creative Technologist. It’s one of the newer titles in the field of design and development. Simply put, a Creative Technologist is a developer who understands design and the creative process. I believe that coming up with really unique web solutions requires not only understanding what’s possible, but also how to convey the intent of the client in a forward-thinking way.
A Creative Technologist helps to formulate ways to uphold, improve, and hone the integrity of a design from a programmatic and imaginative perspective. We work alongside the Creative Directors, Strategists, Copywriters, Digital Design Directors and the rest of the digital department to create works that are not only fresh, but also intelligently conceived and built.
A key component to the effectiveness of this role is flexibility. When I’m involved in helping figure out design technicalities, it helps in the development of a strategic game plan for writing solid code. Designs change and code needs to be written in such a way that allows for adaptability. Being able to have foresight in the creative process helps to accomplish this.
Design shouldn’t be conceived in a black box. Creative Technologists understand that how something operates on the inside influences how it appears on the outside. As the field becomes more complex the creative possibility become greater. Creative Technologists bring clarity to this complexity, they help to bridge the gap between the seen and the unseen while also helping to communicate new possibilities for creative expression. I’m excited to see more agencies start to hire people in my role.