I love naming. It’s one of the best bits of my job as a writer. Whether it’s coming up with what to call a five-star spa or luxury hotel, or, most recently, a new dairy product and a retail venture brand, the process is fascinating and definitely fun.
So why am I finding it so hard to find a name for my (imminently-arriving) baby? I’ve spent the last seven months pondering the problem, and now the deadline is looming, the client is expecting my best work and I’ll have to live with the choice for the rest of my life. It’s the single most stressful part of being pregnant, so far. I need Greg Taylor, our Brand Provocation Director, to sit me down and workshop it out for me.
I’m at the point where the Wombles’ method seems perfectly sane. The original Wimbledon eco-warriors would go to Great Uncle Bulgaria, who’d pick a name at random from the index of his world atlas. Hence brilliant names like Tomsk, Orinoco and Tobermory. (I actually did this, and I came out with Honolulu. Hmmm, potty training jokes instantly spring to mind.)
If you’ve read Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics, you’ll be familiar with the idea of nominative determinism. In other words, the theory that your name plays a part in your future success. The book labours the point that educated, successful white people name their children differently to low or no income black parents. So really, names only indicate where you come from and therefore where you’re statistically more likely to end up, rather than your name being the instrument of your fate.
I can’t help feeling like names are a bit more powerful than that, though. Names are stacked with meaning. And we, as humans, are meaning-seeking creatures. We always have been, from the ancient Romans auguring the future in the intestines of a bull, to our hopeful watching of the skies for signs of a sunny day to come. I’m guiltier than most, looking for and finding meaning in everything. Every name I suggest to clients has to be rationalized with multiple layers of clever connotation. So, naturally, my firstborn’s first name has to be rich with meaning.
My own name has a surprisingly unpleasant meaning. Rebecca, it turns out, means ‘noose’ or ‘snare’. (Perhaps this explains why, in my late teens, I styled myself as ‘the ultimate mantrap’, with limited success. I was Pamela Anderson without the boobs. And what’s the point in that?)
I’m sure my parents had no idea of this unsavoury significance. They didn’t have the Internet (imagine!) and nameberry.com – much less momswhothink.com which has lists entitled Baby Names for Future Morticians, Future Televangelists and Future Truck Drivers.
So I’m feeling overwhelmed by a morass of baby name information. I now know, too, that, celebrities get it wrong all the time! Do you think Tom Cruise has any idea that the issue of his loins (sorry) Suri, doesn’t just mean ‘princess’ in Persian or a Yiddish ‘red rose’. Take her to Punjab and she’d quickly learn her name means ‘pig’, and ‘pointy nose’ elsewhere in India. To the Japanese, it would turn out he’s labelled her a ‘pickpocket’. Nice one Tom.
I know this is a problem for writers in other branding design agencies. Someone in Ghana has to live with their grand opus, Pee Cola. A naughty Norwegian came up with Aass Beer. Even less appetizing is the origin of Coca-Cola’s rival – did you know that pepsin is a digestive enzyme? Tasty!
Some brands arguably get it right in Freakonomics terms. It’s common knowledge that Amazon, named after the world’s biggest river, expresses the Jeff Bezos’ similarly vast ambition. And that global dominator, Nike, has the goddess of victory as its namesake. But did you know that the name Yahoo comes from Gulliver’s Travels? Founders Jerry Young and David Filo felt these foul and filthy sub-humans accurately represented themselves far better than their original brand name: David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web.
And Starbucks, rather strangely, was called after the cautious chief mate in Moby Dick – perhaps because he was the only one to stand up and say it was insane to want revenge on an animal. Does he stand for quiet courage and steadiness? In fact, the founders wanted to name their coffee behemoth after Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, but it was rejected. It’s hard to imagine a Pequod Mobyccino.
So my search for the ultimate aptronym continues. I want the name to be apt, almost to a Dickensian degree. I don’t mean, literally, Pumblechook or Pip, but just a name that fits, that resonates, that creates that elusive smile in the mind. No pressure then.
Perhaps, like Nike and Amazon, I should just focus on what I wish for my baby. Felicity for happiness. Valentina for love. Or – my favourite – Algernon for a luxurious moustache. Here’s hoping for a boy then…
What is it about the enduring star shape that designers love? I have to raise my hand and admit I have created identities in the past that use this humble shape to tell a story.
It’s interesting, when recently drawing with my daughters, I noticed that a star is actually quite hard to get right. Circle no problem, square easy peasy, but the star demands accuracy and geometry to master.
Maybe it’s the fact that the star appears in the extremes of our world – from the far away galaxy, to a star fish in the deepest ocean chasm – that makes this shape an intriguing and precious graphic symbol. The shape doesn’t even demand detail, in the examples I have picked out it’s merely a flat basic colour, no frills or effects.
It’s a shape that jumps effortlessly around our graphic world, from flags, religion, military power and war, to luxury, tattoos and packaging, not forgetting fame and celebrity. It’s universal, it’s versatile, it’s iconic.
Or maybe it’s because I really really wanted a gold one at school that I love ‘um so much…
In the short time I’ve been in Asia, I’ve come to appreciate colour in a whole new way. Where in the West we tend to associate colours with functional or emotional attributes (eg, red for stopping power, blue for being trusted), in Asia, colour is invested with a much deeper significance. Each one has a different story and meaning behind it, which gives a unique insight into the culture at hand.
Thailand is an interesting example. Many foreigners are a little taken aback to find that everyone, from kids to businessmen, tend to wear yellow on a Monday. Colour plays a significant role in Thai culture, with each day of the week associated with a specific one. These associations come from ancient beliefs that still hold significance in modern day Thailand – many believe that wearing the colour of the day will bring them good luck. Yellow is considered particularly auspicious … according to Hindu myth, the god Phra Isuan captured 14 angels and turned them into powder. He wrapped this powder in a yellow cloth, sprinkled holy water onto it and turned them into the yellow Moon.
These days, wearing coloured t-shirts is more likely to display loyalty to the reigning monarchy. For example, the Thai’s much-loved King Bhumibol happened to be born on a Monday – so since 2006, Thai people have worn yellow shirts every Monday as a sign of love and respect. Following a three week stint in hospital, the King emerged wearing a pink shirt and blazer. The media and retailers picked up on the trend, and a shop owned by the Crown Princess sold out of 40,000 pink shirts in one month alone. Yes, the colour pink became the new yellow in Thai fashion…
An American chewing gum company didn’t have as much luck when they launched with green wrappers in China a few years ago. After a period of no sales, they discovered that green has very negative connotations. The colour is associated with infidelity – a cuckolded man is shown wearing a green hat. Needless to say sales significantly increased when they changed their wrappers to pink (Surya Vanka, University of Illinois), which is much more positively associated with good luck.
A Japanese manufacturer shared a similar fate when they tried to sell black scooters in India. While black is considered stylish and sophisticated in Japanese culture, in India, it’s regarded as inauspicious, negative and represents a lack of desirability. It’s no surprise, then, that not too many mothers were keen on their sons driving ‘death’ scooters! Again, sales improved significantly when they removed black from their colour palette.
So as these colourful tales suggest, it’s important to understand the stories and meaning behind colours within Asian societies. They give an insight into the unique perspective of a particular culture. They also illustrate the need for major consideration when choosing the colour palette for a brand or product than may be necessarily needed in the West. Because in Asia, a colour isn’t just a colour, after all…
I’m a gamer. There, I’m out, ok? I’m not into the mindless combat sims that are released year after year like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2. No, I much prefer unique, interesting and original stories I can shape.
Ever since I first got my hands on a computer I’ve been into video games, but it wasn’t until Sony launched the Playstation that it became cool and I considered myself a gamer. Maybe I just needed a brand I could stand behind, but back in 1995 the Playstation was fresh and original, and I loved it – I loved it so much I bought into the next 2 iterations of the console without even thinking about it.
This year in February, Sony revealed its plans for the future of gaming and gave it a name (drum roll) …the ‘Playstation 4′. My immediate reaction was ‘oh… so what’s new?’, ‘what’s the compelling reason to ditch my Playstation 3?’. Sony went on to talk about social gaming and a gamer-centric strategy – all well and good but it didn’t sound new, it sounded more like a sequel.
Sequels are rubbish, everyone knows that. Well ok, there are a couple of notable exceptions; The Godfather 2, The Empire Strikes Back and Toy Story 2, I’m sure you have you’re own favourite sequels but these are the exceptions to the rule, mostly I would argue that people prefer originals.
So why are sequels inferior to their predecessors? Because usually they are retelling the same story – ok maybe it’s a different setting or a new character is introduced – but largely it’s the same. Hollywood seem to have got wise to this. Look at the trend for rebooting rather than endlessly churning out sequels to say Spider-Man. ‘Rebooting’ a franchise is effectively making a sequel seem like a new film again – very clever.
This brings me onto the iPhone. Each year from Apple we get the predicable roll out of first, say, iPhone – technically already a sequel – and then along comes a ‘new’ iPhone 4S – the sequel to the sequel – not quite as sexy is it? Sites are already predicting the arrival of the iPhone 5S but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it materialising under that moniker. The reboot trick has not been lost on Apple – iPad 3 anyone? Nope? How about ‘The new iPad’?
So in my view, Sony would have been better taking a leaf out of Hollywood’s book (or should that be script) and rebooted the Playstation brand. Because no matter how much gloss and high-end specs you provide, it’s really just another sequel…
I am messy. Maybe messy is the wrong word… not tidy I think is better, it doesn’t carry with it the same smelly connotations. My brain is quite skittish and random, lots of collisions of ideas and synapses firing all at once all trying to be heard. So, naturally, that spills over into the real world. Take for instance my desk at work:
As you can see it is not the tidiest of places. I like to think it is a visual representation of my creative mind, and I like to say that you can’t trust a creative who has a tidy desk. I’m sure someone very wise has written a few books on the matter. But as I look around the studio I can see that this is not the case. So I decided to do something about it. I ordered this little guy:
I felt so proud. Here I was, noticing a problem and dealing with it. When it arrived I was beaming all day. I asked people to come over to my desk in the hope that they would spark up a conversation about my new desk accessory or how my desk had changed from being cluttered to the most sparkling display of organisation anyone had ever seen! But, there was a problem. This is what my desk looked like a week later:
Now the desk tidy had just become part of the mess. If anything, it reduced the area I could use, compacting the mess into a smaller space! I realised that maybe a desk tidy was not the answer.
I took to the internet to see if people could help me. Seeking counsel on Facebook for this kind of thing is odd, so I jumped on Tumblr. That’s where I found Tomas Kral. A man with the same problem as me, but with a different way of dealing with it. To him being messy was built-in, like breathing. He just did it. He couldn’t change, not now. He was in his 30s and old habits die hard. So he embraced the mess. He saw the work area and his untidiness as a conflict with the clarity of his creative thinking. So, rather than ignore or control it, he embraced it and designed a table that worked for him:
Artist Phil Hansen also faced and embraced a conflict in his life… one much more serious. When he was 17 he started developing a tremor. Now, that’s a pretty shitty thing to get if you’re an artist. At first he chose to ignore the tremor and started holding his pencil and paintbrush more firmly. And when the tremors got worse he held them harder still, until he found it difficult to hold anything at all. Then, at a visit to the doctors, he received the worst news he could get – he would never have full use of his fingers and his tremors would never go away. His doctor then imparted some knowledge that changed his life forever – Embrace the Shake.
This conflict of perfection vs imperfection was no longer a barrier, but a creative springboard! Now no picture was too big, no canvas too strange and no utensil too abstract. From art designed to not last, to a painting painted using only karate chops, he embraced his conflict and created works of art he couldn’t have imagined back when he was 17, when he was desperately trying to ignore the problem.
All the best stories in life have conflict, whether its guy vs girl, man vs the world, even man vs internal struggle – every compelling story has conflict. It’s only when we face and embrace conflict that we get to truly original and truly creative design executions.