A case for conceptual thinking

February 1, 2016Content marketing

By Liam Gardner – Designer

For over 20 years, Stefan Sagmeister has been at the forefront of design thinking, practice and execution. His meticulous approach to problem-solving and renown for not suffering fools gladly, leaves him revered as one of the most influential designers of our generation.

Speaking at Vivid Sydney back in August 2015, Sagmeister coined the phrase ‘psychotic sameness’; a phrase that resonates with me as much today as it did then. Many agencies and brands are too often happy to maintain the status quo with the content they are delivering, seemingly stuck in an appeasement cycle rather than looking to take a risk and raise the bar.

Sagmeister went on to illustrate his point using the beautiful example of the Moscow metro stations (bear with me). Metro stations are traditionally stark, dreary places with stringent architectural consistency across each station with the signage on the walls the only indication of where you are. The Moscow Rail Council commissioned different design teams for each station, opting to preserve the originality of each station. As Sagmeister said, the Moscow train network is the only one in the world whereby tourists actually consider each station as an attraction as opposed to merely a way to get to one.

Sagmeister has no reservations in declaring he, too, has to stop himself from falling victim to the status quo. His answer is to constantly seek new environments and place himself in unfamiliar scenarios. Furthermore, he completely shuts down his New York-based studio once every seven years to take a 12-month sabbatical. Admittedly a seven years on, one year off model at agency level may not be practical (imagine!), but there is serious merit in the idea of removing yourself from the problem in order to get closer to it.

“But who has the time for that?” I hear you screaming. Yes, when budgets and deadlines are tight it does seem a somewhat romantic idea to take a step a back and lead with a conceptual approach to a project as opposed to the ‘churn and burn’ of agency life we have become accustomed to. However, this is where brands can distinguish themselves from the competition and have their content or activations recognised as the new benchmark.

Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) says that now is when we will witness some of the greatest content marketing failuresof all time and some of its greatest successes. For a large part, I think it will be the willingness of brands to invest the time in conceptual thinking and practice that will make or break a campaign.

If you take nothing else from this, just remember the wise words of Major General Frederick C. Blesse in 1955, “No guts, no glory.”

(Image source)



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