I just now saw an article from AIGA Eye on Design called All Advertising Looks the Same These Days. Blame the Moodboard." You can (and should read the article here.)
I've been thinking about the "sameness paradox" since about 1972 when I entered high school. At the height (or depth) of America's war against Vietnam, many of the bastions of conformity were being attacked.
Though my parents had sentenced me to an elite private school, they had eliminated their dress code. Life was now anything goes.
Except anything didn't go.
Freed from all constraints, everyone dressed the same way. Everyone wore jeans--bellbottoms. Almost every day. And whatever sort of sneakers were hot. And a wide belt with hundreds of belt-holes like some sort of bandolero.
Even though I was very young, and decidedly not in advertising, I wrote a line for myself. "Jeans are the pants everyone wears to be different."
I saw the same sort of conformity in college. All these people who rebelled against joining the army acted as if they were in the army.
I saw it again when computers hit our desktops. There was a dopey "insouciant" typeface. I called it the font everyone uses to be different.
cAnd when Microsoft introduced its color palette, I repurposed that line again. The colors everyone chooses to be different.
I want to tell you about my friend and partner, Sid Tomkins. Sid is a pro. And his definition, and mine, of a pro is anyone who works virtually around the clock so they can be better than anyone else.
Pros might look at last year's Annuals to inform their design sense. But they don't stop there. They're busy looking at incunabula. Boxing posters from the 1950s. Record covers from god knows when. Woodcuts, gravestone rubbings, marginalia and more.
Pros visit museums, walk their cities, flip through magazines, and the web. Pros meet people and they have a giant data storage system that stores all these inputs. The pros I know, like Sid store more in their personal data systems than the IRS could store on 100 Clouds.
When I started working with Sid, I told him how I had a giant corrugated moving box full of thousands of sheets of paper. Ads, articles, funny headlines, jokes. Things that look at a right-side-up world in an upside-down way. And others that look at an upside-down world in a right-side-up way.
I've been keeping this box for 35 years. I've carried it into and out of 15 agencies. Its randomness and serendipity is its beauty. You can go looking for something, but you'll likely find something else, better.
I was pretty impressed with myself.
Sameness has always been and will always be the enemy of getting noticed.
I like to say "the world is Times' Square now. How do you get noticed in Times' Square?" Even watching four minutes of the Knicks last night, I counted ten or 12 logos on the screen and on the players' uniforms.
Sameness is death.
Pros are life.
And with every breath and every movement and every synapse they stretch, pull and accentuate the differences they see, find, stretch and learn from.
Like I said, meet Sid.