Join Petrula Vrontikis for an in-depth discussion in this video Panel discussion and Q&A, part 2, part of Real-World Design: Live Presentations from Creative Leaders.
(upbeat music) - I mean, I think that one of the issues that we're going to be confronting is how can you start to develop whole systems that make people's lives better rather than distracting them from what's wrong with their lives.
And I think that we've been in a period of not just, you know, abundance, but plenitude. So, I've been thinking about how do you do info triage? How do you create ways to organize your life so that you don't feel totally inundated. Because, let's face it, if you spent all your time in the media sphere right now, you'd be pretty certain that the day after tomorrow you were gonna die of Ebola. You're not.
Someone here will work you to death. But you will not die of Ebola. You will bleed from your eyes, but only because you've been up for 24 hours. (laughter) Alright? And so, I think that we need to have ways of mindfully downloading and meaningfully uploading. This is something that comes from all kinds of different spiritual traditions. I'm not particularly spiritual, but I've been drawn to thinking about how people, over thousands of years, in multiple cultures, have come up with their own technologies of controling what comes in and what goes out.
And I think that we have that in plumbing. Right? (laughs) We should be able to have that in information design and entertainment. - So I strongly feel that, I think Google kind of missed the boat. But I think Apple's gonna nail it, the wearable, optical display. That's a transparent overlay of your life that makes everything easier. It's just the next logical step. So I think that's... We all should be designing for that now, because that's gonna look great in your portfolio when the eyeglasses come out in a couple of years.
It's inevitable. It's gonna happen. So, Google Glass, it's not a good product, but Apple will nail it. (laughter) - Invest now. (laughter) - Did you want to talk about the next, next? - I guess my view on the media stuff, I feel like I've... I'm in meetings all the time and people talk about new media. I guess my point of view on that stuff is that I'm, I don't think I'm the best one to guide us to the new media.
I listen to it. My opinion of it is there's a lot of great stuff on the horizon, and you hear about it all the way from the Glass to, there's a lot of other meetings I've been in with people and Cupertino, and tech companies. I think it's really when it starts to become sticky, and that's the thing, when people sort of glom onto it, a little bit. And you never kind of know, really, what it's going to be.
I think that for everyone in this room, that is in creativity and design, it's nice to think about those things, and to keep your eye on them, and when they start to emerge, and become sticky, is really sort of dive into it. - Oh, that's interesting. Really, I guess the core of it is I try to provide them with good work, and work that makes them happy.
I think that we, I'm very fortunate to have a lot of really talented people that work with me. And they're always, more so than money, their happiness is sort of backed up with the next project on the horizon and the next challenge. As far as my interaction with the developers, I look at all the people that work with me as artists and I really try to bring people that are unique to the company and I really feel that we have some of the best developers in the world.
The best designers in the world. We've had the luxury of wining hundreds of awards, from Emmys to Lions, South By we cleaned up recently for stuff. I think it goes back to projects that are really fantastic to work on, and that is truly what make them. When I walk into the area that they're working on and I don't always have time, but I try to sit down and go hey, what are you working on? Some of them, I know the projects that they're working on because I'm deeply involved with them.
But others, I don't. So I try to give them the support that they need and listen to them, the tools that you need. You know, you mentioned Gmunk Bradley. They're all... Gmunk is an amazing artist. He does installations, graphic design, he's world renowned for what he does, and again, it's just putting opportunities kind of in front of him, that he-- - It's not just opportunities for the projects, it's opportunities to collaborate with other best people, and for somebody to be your advocate that really can sell that to the best companies that are going to be able to utilize it, and put it out into the world.
Then the next, even better project, comes along. So it's a lot more than just money. It's a lot about being able to exercise your craft in a way that has all the potential possible in it. - This ecosystem, this climate for us, is changing now. When I first opened Tool, which was almost 20 years ago, the first year's worth of work actually came from the ad agency I worked with, at Goodby Silverstein.
They just fed me work, and I went and did it. I'd say the next 10 years was all, about 95 percent, work that came through advertising agencies to us, and we are a production company. I think that one of the big differences between a production company and an ad agency is an ad agency has clients that have sort of signed up with them for a long period of time. Usually three years, five years, two years, that kind of thing.
And the ad agency sort of makes a promise to them that they wont take what the client would call a competing brand with them. We are sort of more mercenary, or I guess whores even. (laughter) We'll, I'm doing a job for Microsoft, two days ago, and I'll do a job for Apple. They're competitors. I was in a meeting, before this, for Volkswagen, that I'm shooting commercials for, and I just shot stuff for GMC.
We take things on as projects. What has really been changing, in the last five years, or so, is brands don't really have an ad agency, there's a term, AOR, which is Agency of Record, so for a long time, Pepsi's AOR was BBDO in New York. And that's who did all their branding, all their marketing, all went through BBDO. Whatever media it was going to be on.
Well now what's happened, is branding, really Coke was probably one of the first big ones to start this, Coke said why should we have just one ad agency? Let's have two, three. Let's go directly to artists and do things. So I would say now, at Tool, about 70, maybe 65 percent of our business is through advertising agencies, and 30 to 35 percent is what we call brand direct. The Airbnb thing that I was just up with, it's, the brand hires us.
The other thing that's happening, especially in the newer media stuff, is we are the people that actually execute that. The ad agencies don't execute that stuff. So, a lot of the brands would prefer to talk to the people executing it. Doing the coding, doing the designing with that stuff. Things are definitely in flux. There are very few brands left that just have one ad agency that they go to.
Some have multiples and some just go right to the artist, like ourselves, in production. - I think that when you're looking for a job, especially right out of school, your title that you put on your resume doesn't really matter so much as what's in your portfolio. - (Voicover) Right, absolutely. - So do stuff in your portfolio that you want to do in real life. Not that this isn't real life, but in the real world. Right? So if you wanna do web and mobile stuff, make sure you have amazing web and mobile stuff in your portfolio.
If you want to do books, then make sure you have an amazing book in your portfolio. If you wanna do all of it, have it all in your portfolio. So, I think your portfolio speaks volumes about who you are and what you're gonna produce. That's one really powerful thing about the program here, is that you guys all end up with amazing portfolios, right. You spend lots of time fine tuning them, Trula helps you weed out all the bad, fine tune the good. So that's one really powerful image you have. Don't worry too much about what a title says. That's gonna get glossed over, they're gonna look at the work. - Yeah, and the title will change and you'll come in to do whatever it is that whoever hires you wants and needs you to do.
So, whatever it says on your resume, or your cover letter, well that's kind of meaningless. You want to get the foot in the door and then start working. I mean, I think you can get away with putting almost any slug there. If you want to do transmedia designer, fine. Media designer, designer, maker. - No, not just designer. - Yeah, I mean I guess, I guess you need to really think... I guess you can't really do that anymore. (laughter) But um, yeah.
Come up with a new name. - The title is what you're gonna get once you get the job, right. That's gonna be your title. So, you know, you can brand yourself however you want, but really it's the work. I think it's the work that matters. - The hardest thing about writing a book is sitting still. (laughter) Really, and the internet has been a disaster for my writing. (laughter) Because I can't tell you yes, how many meme generators I've looked at.
How often I'm on the Onion going, this is really funny, but I'm supposed to be writing. Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita, and many other brilliant books of the 20th century. He taught at Cornell for awhile until he wrote Lolita and could tell every university to just go away, because now he was a world famous writer. When he taught at Cornell, Cornell is in a beautiful place. It's a little bit like this. It has deep gorges, and he had an amazing view from his office.
People would come in and say it must be so inspiring to look out that window while you're writing. He had a thick Russian accent and he hated people, much more than I do. (laughter) and he looked at them, and he would say (with Russian accent) "but of course when I am working, "I pull the blind." Right? He also had other such things as "I would rather show my spittle on a plate "than a first draft." You know, so writing a book...
What is writing a book? Writing a book is a long slog. It really is. At least the way that I do it. I read about a woman today whose making a lot of money, more than a hundred thousand dollar advance, for writing fan fiction on the web about sleeping with Harry Styles, from One Direction. One Dimension? One Direction? - (Voiceover) One Direction. - I don't know, One Direction, all right. (laughter) Never slept with them. (laughter) I was fascinated in the end, like at first, I just want to bang my head against the wall, when I read something like this, but actually it was kind of a sweet story.
She graduated from high school, married a marine, he went off to war. She was bored, she started reading fanfiction, and then she said that the only way she knows how to right, is social. So she started to put... And I thought to myself, this is someone writing exactly, exactly opposite, like Bizarro world opposite, from the way that I do it. But, I actually kind of admired her by the end of this story. I still hate her, but really admire her.
I just sort of felt... And the real risk was being taken by the publisher who's taking all this stuff that was... She had 15 million discrete hits. A lot of people like Harry Styles, apparently. Basically, I think what she was doing was actually a form of and expanded, novel length meme generator, on some level. She had lots of interpersonal relationships. That's not the way that I write, but the way that I write is probably not the way that you need to write.
You need to look at somebody like Tao Lin, who's a novelist, who's really, deeply involved in these kinds of things. If you want to look at an academic my age, who I think understood things very well, you can look at somebody at USC, Henry Jenkins. Henry's been on Twitter, and Henry has been blogging, and Henry's been going to Comic Con, forever. I really admire the fact that Henry does that.
I don't agree with a lot of what Henry says, but that's not his job, to write things that I agree with. I think he's done a wonderful job building and audience. I think that's, if you want to know what worries the hell out of me right now, it's that my way of writing books is not helping me build an audience. I'm trying to figure that out. I've sworn to myself that I'm not writing another book of media theory without doing that audience building first.
So that's why I love listening at... You know I'm learning as much as you guys are from listening to people like this because that's my next challenge. - I have a 12 year old daughter that plays soccer very well. We got invited to go to USC and talk to the men's soccer coach at USC. It was very interesting.
One of the parents there said what should I be working on with my kid and the coach said, what I look for is someone that does something, one thing, incredibly well. I thought to myself, that's interesting. A lot of times, at Tool, I look for somebody that does one discipline incredibly well. Then what I try to do, is bring up their other skills up to that level.
Whether it's design and typography, whether it's coding, whether it's directing, whether it's visual stuff, whether it's comedy, I try to look for... We had a conversation today in my office, we were looking at new directors that want to come to the company, and you're really looking for those one or two pieces that are just amazing. That I'd be happy to go show our clients and say hey, look at this piece.
It's difficult because we have so many different types of people that work at Tool. All the way from live action directors, to interactive directors, to designers, to people that do coding, producers. I really look for something that they do that's outstanding. I think that we were talking about transmedia, as far as the title, I don't really care what the title is.
I look at the body of work that they've done. I talk to them about the work, and the thinking that's gone in behind the work. I also hope for, I hope that their personality is collaborative. And that they work fairly well with others. I've worked with a lot of artists over my lifetime now, and I know some of them are challenged in that way, socially.
On the truly exceptional ones, you try to put them in an environment that works well for them. But that's the other thing I look for, is that they are willing to work very hard, that their personalities are collaborative. I think that it's come up a number of times here, especially going into new media. It takes so many disciplines to really execute it well.
You are gonna end up working in a team, and with a team. It's being open to ideas and listening to those ideas, and contributing in a very team-like fashion to get it done. I think that it's having those couple of pieces... Sometimes it only takes two or three pieces that are truly outstanding. It's great if you have this big body of work, but sometimes it just takes one or two. - You know in management theory, they talk about the T.
The T person. That's somebody who goes very, very deep, but also goes very broadly, and they say that it's the unfortunate thing, that it's much harder to figure out what you can go deep with after you've gone too wide, and that it's much easier to develop people into that T that you're looking for when they have that real core competence. Then you can build other things around that. I think that is what we're often looking for when we want to work with somebody young, that we think is going to move sort of up and sprout.
If that isn't too vegetable, in terms. - It's interesting, is we go back to what Erich was talking about in his presentation, that the core of this is this really incredible craft and design, and formal skills that have kept a level of excellence in your work, whether, it's a film, or whether it's a media project, or whatever. So that's, I think that is what we're trying to do here. - Absolutely. I'm a huge fan of craftsmanship and design.
- Okay, let me think of how I... - (Voiceover) There's one question. - Yeah I know, get to that quickly. I think the easiest decision was to start the company. I think looking back on it now, it's like, oh my god. I was fucking crazy to do it. (laughs) You know, I was five years out of school, I was younger. I didn't have a bunch of fears. I didn't have kids.
- (Voiceover) It's unconscious competence. - Exactly, that's what it is. (laughter) I'm just trying to think then, to sum up all the struggles over the years. Every day, I mean literally today, there's hurdles. We were talking before, we never had, they never had a business class here, when I went to school. We were talking about that earlier. It sort of forced me into being a business person, also.
I own the company and run the company, as far as my business skills go, I think they've gotten very good over time, just because I have to. I think I look at business, the thing that drives me, is making cool stuff and interesting stuff. That's the big motivator for me. I look at business like, as long as there's more money coming in than going out, we're good.
(laughter) There are other people that own production companies that look like business people or sales people and they look at things differently. They want to meet certain goals, and things like that. My goal is I want to do more interesting, better stuff. I want to create stuff that people look at it and go holy shit, that's fucking cool. I mean that is my motivation.
I surround myself with the very best people I can get. I truly think that the thing that keeps them there is the desire to be a part of this company and to that type of work. I know that almost anyone at the company could step out of that company and make twice what they make at Tool. But I think that it's having the support of Tool, it's putting the work in front of them that is really great opportunities, that help keep them there.
I know that in the future, I'll have challenges, and I'll... You know the other thing is, I really don't have a fear of failure. I try to teach my kids that, but I just go for it. - I have one last question for Peter about a concept that you had brought up a while back called having the future be your client. - Yeah, I think that's something that I developed here.
You know, designers always have pro bono clients, and it's really important. But the really interesting thing about a pro bono client, right, like a Heal the Bay, or like somebody whose doing like a cancer organization, or take your pick. Or, homeless shelter. The problem is, that they generally don't tend to let you do your best work, because they have really limited budgets and when you go to somebody truly evil, like BP, like they have endless amounts of money to do things, and like, if you don't do something good, they've got 40 other people.
So I started to think about, what if you take the future on as your client, and accept that the future is going to be as cantankerous a client as any other pro bono clients. But, you're just gonna do that and you're gonna assume that some of the work... Because when you say take the future on as your client, well then you've got to invent Google Glasses. Well, not really. Because, the future can be just as constrained as Heal the Bay. So, I think that what you want to be able to do is to think about what it is as a part of your practice that you can do to inspire yourself, to inspire people who look at what you're doing.
That's where the collaborative aspect comes in. I mean, when you make something that's good, or something that has that affordance in it, maybe somebody else can go and run with it. So, I do feel that we've been a little bit constrained in our visions. As much as I love apps, I have to agree with Neil Degrasse Tyson that sometimes the solution isn't just a piece of software. Sometimes the solution's a lot deeper and a lot richer, and I think that we've got a remarkable opportunity when you've got people with these kinds of talents in the room, the future needs you.
Someone will or will not thank you someday. (laughter) - Okay, on that note, I'd really like to thank Peter, and Dave, and Erich for helping us understand more, the power of media. Thanks. (applause)
The second round of the series, recorded in late 2014, features Erich Joiner from the design firm Tool, Dave Bullock from the crowdfunding site CrowdRise, and Peter Lunenfield from UCLA talking about the power of media in design. The first panel features the 3x3 group: YO | LAI | DO event, featuring Yo Santosa (Ferroconcrete), David Lai (Hello Design), and Chris Do (BL:ND). This transmedia trio presents projects from the fields of branding, web, and motion design, touching on the challenges of running their own firms and the importance of story, inspiration, and constant evolution.
Art Center professor and lecture series leader Petrula Vrontikis guides both panels in round-table discussions about managing client expectations, overcoming professional uncertainty, and much more.