Wednesday, June 5, 2002

A Blueprint for Innovation

The cover of The Art of Innovation, by Tom KelleyIt can be argued that IDEO is the world's second leading design firm (do we really need to tell you who's first?). Their contributions to design include the the Palm V, a self sealing water bottle for bikers, improved medical equipment interfaces, and the Apple mouse.

I first discovered IDEO while working on my senior thesis late at night. On Nightline, Ted Koppel gave the firm a unique assignment: Design a better shopping one week. I was so intrigued and impressed by the wide variety of people, the encouragement, the atmosphere, and the raw creativity that I prepped my resume and portfolio before I went to bed. Obviously, I founded Cloudjammer instead, so I won't go into my rant about how irritating it is when people don't call back...

A sample spread from chapter 1, A sample spread from chapter 2, The Art of Innovation: Lesson's in Creativity from Ideo, America's Leading Design Firm, by Tom Kelley, an IDEO Partner, give us a much anticipated window into the thinking and methodology behind this creative powerhouse. With the same simple and thoughtful approach IDEO pursues in their final products, they deliver a book that is both delightful and simple. The book shows us how to build Hot Teams, how to create great products, and (in a chapter which should be posted on the bulletin board of every would-be innovative firm in the country) how to guide a successful and productive brainstorm.

This isn't a how-to or Dummies book. It's short on the much despised bullet lists and is thankfully absent of business-speak. What it does feature is great stories about how problems were tackled and creatively conquered. It's really quite inspiring. I wonder how much of a coincidence it is that only a few months after I read this book Cloudjammer opened it's full-time doors. fb

When I Grow Up I Want to be a Dark Lord of the Sith

Bounty Hunter Jango FettJedi Master YodaThe logo of the Republic, and eventual symbol of the evil EmpireSo let's go ahead and get one thing out of the way. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was a pretty good, fun film. Jar Jar aside, the film simply couldn't live up to 25 years of eager anticipation. Likewise, is has been said that Episode 2: Attack of the Clones features flat acting and uninspired dialogue. In fact, some have been so bold as to claim the film is all about the special effects!

Well, the acting was a little flat and the dialogue was a little uninspired. Take Harrison Ford out of any of the previous trilogy and you'd get the same result (an acting prodigy Mark Hamill was not). And, well, it is all about the special effects. It always has been. Giant space slugs, Imperial walkers, and lightsabres...oh yeah.

What Episode 2 – the second prequel and fifth Star Wars film to date – gives us is a fun and delightful space epic describing the height of Anakin Skywalker's Jedi career and his first missteps down the path of the Dark Side. What the film also delivers is a most unexpected reaction: We root for the bad guys.

I was born two months before the release of Star Wars (now commonly called, Episode IV: A New Hope). My father and I raced all over Charlotte and Atlanta to collect the complete trilogy once we got a VCR. Now that I have a DVD player, I suffer the greatest frustration at Lucasfilm's hesitation to release the original trilogy on disc. Through it all, we rooted for the Rebels and their fight against Darth Vader, the Emperor and his evil Galactic Empire. The thrill of watching the Deathstar explode, twice, still hits me every time I watch the films.

Now the very same Darth Vader and those very same stormtroopers are...heros? With delight, I watched young Darth Vader – Anakin Skywalker – fight the evil Count Dooku. I watched an army of stormtroopers save the Jedi from certain slaughter. It was awesome.

Certainly some genuine bad guys remain for us to revile. Boba Fett, and his father, Janga, remain squarely fixed on the side of evil (however cool they might be). This father-son duo were one of the most anticipated features of Episode II. Unfortunately, father-like-son, certain doom was predetermined for both of them by their faulty jet-packs.

Regardless of what you think of the film, whether you've seen it or not, the two-and-a-half hour special effects bonanza is worth if for a mere minute or two of precious screen time at the finale. You've probably heard of it. Yoda kicks butt. A lightsabre wielding two-foot green computer-generated muppet versus the six-foot Count Dooku is one of the best and most unexpected action scenes to grace the silver screen in years (and, of course, we're not biased in any way).

As designers, we could hardly let this editorial slip through the censors without pointing out an item of special delight. There is a branding element to Star Wars not often commented upon: Imperial logo design. It's true – the evil Empire of the original trilogy had a logo. Look on the sides of the walkers and Tie'll see it. The delight comes in Episode 2's revelation that the very same logo, a symbol which stands for the greatest wickedness and dread, is the very same logo of the Republic. Like the Roman eagle changed from republican symbol to imperial standard, the Empire of Star Wars rides high on the branding of it's preceding Republic. We loved it. It's more sinister than Enron.

So get out there and watch Episode 2. it really is a fun film. It may not compare to Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but it certain does justice to Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Besides, it's worth it just to see that little green guy fly. fb

The Perfect Fusion of Audio and Video

Music is a big part of the everyday environment at Cloudjammer Studio. It's the constant background noise you hear when we're on the phone – it's the loud pounding rhythm's we're jumping around to when we get a new client or finish a website. Lately, we've been enthralled with some new Internet radio stations (Beethoven Radio and XTC, in particular) and the sounds of Simon and Garfunkle's "The Boxer".

In this day and age music is not simply about sound. MTV took care of that more than a dozen years ago. The truth of the video phenomenon is that most music videos fail to either capture the spirit or quality of their associated audio tracks.

Enter The Chemical Brother's single "Star Guitar" from their newest album Come With Us.

For those not familiar with the electronica artists, The Chemical Brothers are another fine example of history majors changing the world. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have been making music for a dozen years, releasing albums since 1995, and they even won the Grammy for their instrumental dance track "Block Rockin' Beats." But the British duo may have finally played the audible part of the best music video of all time.

Video director Michael Gondry, a man who has worked wonders in the past for Daft Punk and recently did some amazing work with LEGOs for White Stripes, worked visual magic for the video "Star Guitar."

"I was on a train trip with my girlfriend and I had shot some video and played this track and it went so well together. The idea is of a journey, escaping something and always moving was in the track. The beat is strong and each element corresponds to a different note in the song," says Gondry.

The video illustrates a journey as seen from inside a moving train. The 4/4 time layered techno track is reinforced by the passing scenery. "Every sound from the track will be illustrated by an element of the landscape that appears each time that sound is heard. As the song becomes more elaborate, we will create a more and more complex landscape."

To create the elaborate visuals in the video, and to sync them exactly with the audio track, Gondry took 20 hours of DV footage at various times of day over the course of 10 train trips through rural and urban France. The video was then processed and matched with the music over a two month period at the director's brother studio, Oliver's Twisted Laboratories.

The end result is a masterpiece of visual and audio fusion. Smoke stacks appear in time with keyboard trills, the railroad tracks narrow to convergence as the audio winds down, the sky changes from day to night with changing octaves, and individually computer generated townspeople represent different musical notes.

You can watch it over and over again and see something new. Of course, we're perfectionists at Cloudjammer so we took special delight in the detail given to the visual work. Watch the reflection in the train's a perfect match for the scenery. In fact, the final product is so convincing that an associate of ours watched the video and asked how they could have possibly recorded the music before making the video. fb