This early 20th century postcard producer, probably based in Europe, set his sights on making global sales in the most economical way. He only customized what he had to to appeal to customers from different nations. Unless you are a postcard collector, you probably were unaware that the comely woman draped in a flag wasn’t “loyal” to any one country. The postcard maker simply hand-painted different flags on her, leaving her face and pose the same. No extra photo sessions necessary, no finding models who looked British or Chinese. The postcard producer’s approach to mass customization was to standardize everything he could and keep differences to a minimum.
Years ago the CEO of a company I was working for was hospitalized at the time the board of directors’ group photo had to be taken for the annual shareholders report. Another executive who was roughly the same built as the CEO was recruited to stand in his place. Later a photo of the CEO’s head was pasted and airbrushed onto the stand-in’s torso. It looked okay, but anyone who knew the CEO found something about his pose unsettling.
For another annual report cover, we had a shot of a logging truck traveling on a freeway past a forest of gorgeous fall colors. Due to reasons I’ve forgotten, the photograph had to be flopped, so the freeway sign made it look like the truck was driving on the wrong side of the road. If I remember right, a print had to be made of the photograph so the retoucher could fix it, and then it had to be converted back into a transparency.
That was in the days before Photoshop. Because significant manipulation of a photograph was such a big deal back then, it used to be said that “the camera never lies,” Now designers are often overheard saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll photoshop it in (or out) later.” Photography has become an “impressionistic” art form. Seeing isn’t believing. Changes can be made in an instant on a computer by virtually any designer. The airbrushing and retouching professions have all but disappeared. Through Photoshop, a hybrid art form has emerged that is producing some incredible images. More and more, designers have assumed control of the photograph, and taken it out of the hands of the photographer.
This poster has a history that spans decades and continents. It started in 1952 when American photographer Harold Feinstein created a photomontage of Brooklyn’s Coney Island Boardwalk that looked like a music score. Sixty years later on the other side of the planet, someone at Havas Worldwide Turkey in Istanbul flashed on Feinstein’s photomontage while brainstorming ideas for a print ad for Acik Radyo, the only non-state-owned radio station in Turkey. Acik Radyo covers global social and cultural issues and airs all types of music from around the world. Its motto is “Open to all sounds of the universe.” Feinstein’s artistic photomontage perfectly expressed the theme “Music of the People.” The poster was a big hit and went on to win multiple prestigious international honors, including the Cannes Gold Lion and Epica Grand Prix award.
One of the most inventive and experimental minds in the arts, Vik Muniz has made portraits out of sugar, dirt, dust and chocolate sauce, and now he has made portraits out of photos. Based in Brooklyn, Muniz started out in advertising in his native Brazil, redesigning billboards for greater readability. After picking up his first advertising award at a black-tie gala, Muniz attempted to break up a fight between two gala attendees, and was accidentally shot in the leg by one of the brawlers. The shooter paid Muniz not to press charges and that gave Muniz enough money to move to New York where he took an interest in sculpture and photography. Muniz, who says he has an interest in making pictures that “reveal their process and material structure,” made this series of portraits out of old photographs and then photographed the portraits.
Since 1888, the National Geographic Society has explored the scientific and natural wonders of the planet in magazines and books that are now published in 39 languages. The yellow border that frames its magazine covers has been adopted as its official logo, but most readers have a clear impression of the kinds of photographs and images that they associate with the National Geographic brand. This print ad campaign for National Geographic Arabia certainly fits that model. Conceived by Classic Partnership Advertising Dubai with creative direction by Satyen Adhikari. the ads depict exotic far-off places on the planet to excite the viewer’s wanderlust. A closer look, however, reveals that the images are localized to appeal to consumers on the Arabian Peninsula. The creatures, people and landmarks shown don’t include anything from the United Arab Emirates that I can tell. There are polar bears, a gorilla, buffalo and dolphin, an Eskimo, American Indian, Spanish flamenco dancer and astronaut, and there’s the Hollywood sign, Easter Island statues, Taj Mahal and Leaning Tower of Pisa, but nothing that seems iconographic of the Arabian Peninsula. That makes sense since the local sights are not particularly mysterious if you happen to live there. The tagline, too, is quaintly translated as “Stay Curious Always.” Interesting how the ads for National Geographic Arabia are consistent with the global brand, but tailored for a specific market.
By Peter and Charlotte Fiell
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