BBC Proms 2011: It’s all about the brochure

If you’d have asked me a few weeks back – as a number of people did – whether I was looking forward to the summer I would have sighed and said ‘no’. The inevitable retort would have been ‘But what about the Proms? I thought you loved the Proms? Don’t you?’

Don’t tell Radio 3 Controller and BBC Proms Director Roger Wright but I was actually fearing it. In previous years the mere thought of the forthcoming season enlivened dark winter afternoons whilst I sat staring as the miserable A40 out of my office window. This year I noted I didn’t have that sense of abandon.

What was wrong? Had I fallen out of love with the Proms? Had I seen it for what it was? Just a series of live broadcasts over a series of consecutive nights, all broadcast from the same venue and all branded with an instantly recognisable name?

Proms Brochure 2011

Now I look back on the first few months I can see there are two reasons for not having got wildly excited early on as I have done in previous years. The first is very simple. I haven’t made any plans to make any videos. Over the past four years the Proms hasn’t just been about music but producing material to encourage other people to embrace the season. It’s been heartfelt. Sincere. Genuine.

It’s also helped develop my rather obscure on-screen presentation skills (no surprises that the BBC Academy won’t be offering face to face training based on my particular style) and slightly anarchic approach to production. It’s also provided me with hands-on experience on how to persuade people to do things for no money, just for the sheer joy of … working with me. You see the challenge. (Such a shame I didn’t highlight all of this in one of those really important ‘meetings’ I had the other day – no matter.)

But after four years of doing those things in my free time, what’s the return? What have I gained over and above acquiring new skills? Should I have expected a return? Should it have opened doors? Is there really any point in investing further time and effort, thinking of and developing ideas if I’ve rung this particular rag dry?

I’m not complaining. I’m pointing out the thought processes since January. About the BBC Proms. And, thinking that against the backdrop of severe cuts at the BBC and most markedly online brought me to the second reason. If the outlets are being reduced – if online is no longer the experimental playpen I’d once seen it as (and persuaded a great many long in the tooth naysayers it was) did producing short online videos seem like an example of bloated production at a time when we’re meant to be cutting back?

Proms Brochure 2011

The BBC Proms stretched out like a massive headache. A rusty bandwagon I didn’t want to get on. Maybe it was time for a break. Maybe it was to look for a job at BSkyB instead. Or ITV. Or maybe I should just abandon the BBC completely and go open a sandwich bar somewhere in South East London somewhere. I do often have these thoughts.

And yet coming out of all of that there’s a third ‘bonus’ reason not to do video. I never wanted to work in TV anyway. I always wanted to work in radio. Speech radio. I wanted to get other people to talk about the thing I love. Radio is cheap. It’s also self-sufficient in production terms. I can just get on with it.

I’ve spent two and half years working with journalists on a journalism learning website. Some of the principals have rubbed off. Not least the notion that to get on in this business you have to keep the production wheel turning. You have to constantly demonstrate passion at the BBC. “Don’t leave anything at the door,” like man said late last week before the interview actually began.

And then … less than a week ago … I caught sight of something buried on my to-do list: email Proms Director Roger Wright’s assistant.

“I figure space is at a premium this year, but is there any chance I could get an invite to the Proms launch?” Roger Wright’s assistant was – as ever – utterly adorable and pointed me in the direction of the person who had all the power (not Mr Wright, as it happens). That lady issued a warm invitation and offered up some other interview opportunities which – if I was interested – probably warranted further discussion in the Proms office with one of her communications assistants.

Which is how I ended up in the BBC Proms office a few days ago. Unexpectedly. Talking about the season. Doing the journalist thing. Planning stuff. Arranging a few interviews for a podcast. And spying a pile of brochures in a box. All fresh, crisp and clean. Untouched.

“You can have one if you promise not tell anyone what’s inside,” said the publications manager as he started showing a now familiar film about his work from a few years ago to a colleague sat beside him.

I hesitantly reached inside the box and retrieved one. Smooth under the finger tips. Dense. Brimming with words. Existing in its own cloud of inky goodness.

Proms Brochure 2011

With the brochure under my fingertips I’m reunited with the season. I’ve reconnected with the notion. Up until a couple of days ago the BBC Proms was just an opportunity for interview material. Now it’s a season. A season full of opportunity. Now I’m excited by it. I’m looking forward to it. And that’s weird.

That’s how unexpectedly committed I am to the BBC Proms this year. A photo-call, press briefing and an official launch awaits. And I can’t wait. And all it really took was a piece of print with a gorgeous design on the front.

Delicia Chocolate Packaging (via Keri Thornton // Graphic Designer)

I’ve enjoyed stumbling on Keri Thornton’s blog today (and too as a result). And in her latest posting she presents a smashing example of brilliantly executed (fictitious) brand design she’s recently worked on.

Her design stirs the heart. Possibly because it reminds me of the design work done around the Festival of Britain in 1950 which permeated so much futuristic design in British domesticity. The epitome was the atomic graphic – itself a sign of the bright future in the 1950s. In so much of Morris’ work, that futuristic iconography is often juxtaposed with elegant line drawings.

Similarly in Thornton’s brand design hooks into my perception almost rose-tinted view of the 1950s. The hand-drawn texture and delicate yet glamouress script of the product name reminds me of Holly Golightly’s donning her little black dress and pearls.

Quite apart from the design being used for chocolate bars, there is a delicious reliability about the finished look. I want the packaging. And fictitious as they might be, I want the product inside.

Delicia Chocolate Packaging It is two weeks today that I shall be leaving FIT and  New York City and going home to England for Christmas. I am very excited to go home, but first I must tackle my last two weeks, which could be described as the hardest run of the stretch so far…so much to do, hence why I’ve not blogged yet this week. Here are some images of my last packaging project – Branding and packaging for fictitious confectionery brand Delicia. It was suggested that w … Read More

via Keri Thornton // Graphic Designer

The Print & Pattern blog shows I’m not the only one with a weakness for 1950s design.

Free Thinking Festival 2010: Kevin McCloud

Kevin McCloud was speaking at the Free Thinking Festival this year in a lecture recorded for later broadcast on Radio 3. (I’ll let you know when it’s being broadcast, soon.)

I was meant to be tweeting during the event. What quickly became apparent during McCloud lecture was how difficult it was to tweet. Listening to him was akin to a specially extended edition of Grand Designs. The man writes beautifully and speaks even more eloquently. So much so that every single sentence is a 140 character tweet in itself. Little wonder that after a while I gave up, sat back and listen to what the man said.

And it was a convincing argument too. So convincing in fact, you’d be forgiven for wondering why it needed to be made at all. Doesn’t everyone already know deep down that mass-produced goods aren’t terribly good for our psyche. That cherishing those objects in our lives which have narrative, those which weather well and perhaps even improve with age is better for our soul?

His solution was simple. We need to return to respecting craftmanship.

His illustration – proof if you like – was simple: shopping promotes the production of dopamine, a short term mind-enhancing drug which temporarily makes has feel better about ourselves; investing time in craftmanship like extended periods of time spend making a sculpture promotes an alternative mind-altering and considerably longer-lasting drug – serotonin. Which would you prefer?

But there was a problem for me. McCloud’s is well-known for documenting the paths people follow in creating their dream homes. Grand Designs is about self-builds involving the kind of craftmanship he espouses. But they’re also projects which involve lots of money and considerable amounts of pain in the process for those pursuing – as far as I can make out – an extreme form of happiness.

During a short interview after his lecture, I asked him whether it was all really worth it. Just because you’re respecting the value of craftmanship in the end product, are the months of agony us viewers often derive a warped sense of pleasure in watching really worth it when the build is complete?

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Facebook “imposes facelift” ?

Maggie Shiels, BBC Technology Reporter based in Silicon Valley reports on Facebook’s recent supposed imposition of a website redesign on it’s users. Suitably motivated and annoyed users have set up a group protesting about the changes.

I’m one for gut reactions to things and when I read some of the user’s complaints about “having” to accept a site redesign and not being afforded the opportunity to still choose between the old one and the new one, I did start climbing the walls of my office.

I appreciate redesigns can be difficult for a consumer to muster, but designers like to change things. We all like to see things change so that new things can be brought in, so that new functionality might be introduced in the future. We all like to go through a bit of a redesign from time to time.

And there’s the thing. It’s just a redesign. You’ll still be able to contact your friends. Still be able to send out infuriating requests to all your other friends inviting them to install some pointless application in a bid to ascertain whether you think they’re your favourite pal or not / hot or not / rich enough / poor enough / ugly enough.

The irritating functionality remains. It just looks a bit different now. That’s all.