From XLR8R comes an awesome interview with DJ Spoko in his South Africa tin shack studio. The words are cool, the pictures are just sick. Growing up in the rural township of Atteridgeville, he developed his own music style dubbed “Bacardi House.” No cheesy tropical bass drops here, DJ Spoko serves up African infused minimal house.
I grew up in the Black Forest. It sounds bit like a joke. The land of cakes, ham, and cuckoo clocks – it’s just not a place real people come from. By German standards, the region is crazy rural. It takes forever to drive across its narrow valleys and steep mountain passes. Globalization seems like a very theoretical concept. But don’t be fooled, these sleepy villages are an economic powerhouse.
Back in the 80s, Steve Jobs traveled to the town of Altensteig to meet with Hartmut Essslinger of local design firm frog, who would go on to design the Apple IIc. Today, hundreds of mid-size companies, the so-called Mittelstand, make highly specialized equipment for the world. Headquartered in places like Schiltach with offices in Dubai and Tianjin, China. Yet, all these global ambitions don’t seem impact life too much. It’s as if all foreign ideas and experiences are left behind on airplanes.
I grew up here, but I still can’t understand the dialect. It’s practically incomprehensible for outsiders and sometimes changes from town to town. As a kid, my mom would send me to the neighbor’s farm to pick up milk. I was terrified because the lady of the house loved to chat, but I simply could not understand what she was talking about. We keep a solid diet of smoked meats and chase away winter by dressing up in terrifying costumes.
In recent years, this fierce hyperlocalism started to attract young chefs and artists in search of unironic authenticity. The New York Times even published a story titled “In the Black Forest, Tradition Updated.” Obviously, this way of life is not for everyone. It’s most certainly not for me. But in this day and age, the Black Forest might be the perfect lesson on how to embrace the world without becoming homogeneous.
Recently, I’m reading more and more that we need to move from experiences to engagement. According to some folks, experiences are passive while engagements are active and therefore better. I believe that this notion is fundamentally flawed and suggests some confusion about what those two actually do.
On its face, engagement doesn’t mean much. We can engage all day long, but does anything actually happen? The gold standard for engagement are still online communities and comment sections. Have you recently looked at a typical CNN comment section? Shouting, insults and hatemongering; everything but a thoughtful discourse. I’m certainly engaged, but I’m also stressed the hell out once I’m done. Of course, there are plenty of positive examples, like Coke’s amazing Chok! Chok! Chok! campaign in Hong Kong. But what made the campaign so successful? Was it engagement or experience? Probably both. People could have engaged by simply shaking their phone. But what made the campaign so successful was all the other stuff: Kids met with their friends to shake phones together. Families hosted parties leading up to the 10pm TV ads. And most importantly, it was a completely novel, well, experience.
So, what exactly is an experience? In theory, it’s simply an event we encounter. But in reality, experiences are events that create emotional reactions, events that create memories. From a branding perspective, we can assume that, maybe with the exception of Ryanair, we all strive to create positive experiences. In other words, we are creating positive memories associated with our brand. In doing so, brands become active agents in people’s lives. On a philosophical level, this means a lot to me, since I usually care about the products I’m working on. Conveniently, it also means that people want to come back to your product.
To sum things up, I’m not arguing that engagement is bad. Nope, it’s great! But in order to be effective, the engagement should be a positive experience. For me, the goal is always that customers walk away with a smile. It’s like the frosting on top of the cake. Or in my case, the oh so delicious spicy sauce on top of the chicken.
Thanks to Detropia, the internet is all about Detroit these days. Sadly, a lot of the blogging still focuses on ruin porn and how effed up the city is. I would like to remind everyone of an important fact: There are still people living in Detroit. 800,000 of them. That’s a lot of people. There are still kids growing up in Detroit. Kids that go to school, dream about the future and play basketball.
The Detroit I got to know is a city of proud and caring people. A city that went to hell but never lost its hope. A city of character, creativity and delicious food. Maybe you should visit in the spring when wild flowers bloom on empty housing lots to cover the city like a colorful blanket. Come and try awesome chacuterie from Porktown and see live jazz at the legendary Café d’Mongo’s. While you are there, you can even take a picture of an abandoned factory. It’s OK; ruins are a part of Detroit. But they do not equal Detroit.
Detroit hustles harder.
I just received a lovely edition of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London in the mail. It’s part of a series of Orwell classics that Penguin rereleased with beautiful covers designed by David Pearson. 1984 certainly wins the creativity price with a plain cover and blacked-out title. That said, I really love the detail of Down and Out.
Not long ago, I refused to buy Penguin books. The quality was just complete crap. Which is ironic, considering the company’s history. Sir Allen Lane started Penguin precisely because he disliked the poor quality of paperbacks found at his local train station. So, he began publishing well-designed books of literature for the masses. As the company grew into a global publishing powerhouse, profitability became the sole objective and graphic design was considered an unnecessary expense. As soon as head designer Germano Facetti left the company in 1971, quality just went to hell. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but it looks like they are finally returning back to their roots. Over the past few months, Penguin came out with a whole bunch of amazingly designed books. I mean, Down and Out has a letterpress cover!
Now, there’s an important point to this story. Publishers are constantly freaking out because they still don’t know how to deal with digital. Will print die? I don’t think so. People will always love the tactile experience of reading a book. But here’s the thing: Digital will be a commodity while print will be a luxury. Just look at vinyl. LP sales have increased by 17.7% last year and most of the buyers are millennials. You consume everyday music streaming, but when you really really like a record, you will buy the vinyl. Same holds true for books. Once you saw the cover for Murakami’s 1Q84, you just had to hold it in your hands. You just had to own it. People just had to see you with that book! Publishers can survive the future, but they won’t do so by competing with digital. Instead, they must focus on stuff that digital cannot offer. In the end, hiring an amazing graphic designer might just be the key to profitability.
The other day I had to write down my favorite three brands. They are Muji, Nike and Tablet Hotels. It was not until I looked at the list, that I realized that all three are hardcore lifestyle brands. Which made we wonder – what is it about lifestyle brands? I think it all starts with the fact that I don’t really like stuff. It’s a well-known fact that experiences make you happier than products. A good lifestyle brand turns a mundane product into an experience. An object is no longer just an object, it becomes part of a narrative. Nike is king of this. Each product comes with its own universe and you feel awesome to be a part of it. From this perspective, a lifestyle brand is not just a fun marketing instrument. It actually allows products to make you a little bit happier. And that’s pretty damn amazing.