RIP, Lou Dorfsman, American graphic design hero
Just found out through Jeff Fisher: Lou Dorfsman, who can legitimately be called one of the heroes of American graphic design, passed away aged 90 on Wednesday.
Dorfsman is best known for the CBS ident, and was its senior vice president and creative director of advertising and design.
Dorfsman grew up in the Bronx and wanted to attend NYU to study bacteriology, but the $300 tuition was too high. Instead, he took the examination for the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and won a four-year scholarship, graduating with top honours.
He met his wife, Ann Hysa, and long-time collaborator and friend Herb Lubalin—another design legend—while at the Cooper Union. His career began designing exhibits for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
From 1943 to 1946, Dorfsman served in the US Army and won ﬁrst and second prize in the National Army Arts’ Contest.
He joined the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1946 after leaving the army and worked with the network for 41 years. He began with CBS Radio, being promoted to art director in 1951, then became creative director of the TV network in 1960.
Dorfsman became director of design for CBS, Inc. in 1964, and vice-president and creative director of the CBS broadcast group in 1968. By 1978 his title was Senior Vice President and Creative Director for Marketing Communications and Design.
His love of design and type can be seen with what Dorfsman called the Gastrotypographicalassemblage, a 35 ft wide, 8 ft 6 in tall wall of wooden type that once graced the CBS cafeteria.
If you look through any book about American graphic design’s history, Dorfsman rightly earned his place.
At the Things to Look at blog, there are a few of Lou Dorfsman’s more famous works.
His effect on graphic design is profound and many of us of a certain age will have been inspired by Dorfsman’s work. I remember as a teenager looking through samples of his 1960s’ CBS work, including a fold-out brochure promoting advertising sales, and various programme ads.
To this day I probably unconsciously put some of these greats’ ideas into practice, and who better to learn from than guys like Lou Dorfsman, Herb Lubalin, Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Ed Benguiat and others of that world? Posted by Jack Yan, 01:51
The next General Election: humanism versus the technocracy
In this next General Election, I don’t hear a clear support for one major party or another. Maybe people know that I am running under the ticket of a small party, one that was last in coalition government some years ago, that they refrain from telling me their support for Labour–National. Or maybe there is no clear winner this time around: people might disagree with Labour, but they see how National has voted for exactly the same unpopular bills in many cases. They might want change, but then they see a lack of vision and leadership from Key–English.
Among the small parties, there was discord among the Greens when Mr Tanczos stepped down; and Winston Peters has had one of the biggest assaults on his reputation in living memory. United Future and ACT have remained fairly steady among their diehard supporters. Ditto with the Māori Party, which has been portrayed as the “kingmaker” in the next election.
So why have I, as a friend of mine who has known me for nearly 30 years asked me on Tuesday, would I run for the Alliance? I was, after all, approached by folks on the right, and yet I have chosen a party on the left.
Let’s say that I see people desiring change out there and they are not sure where to go. However, we know New Zealanders like, for instance, Kiwibank. The brand is strong, and people are cozying up to it, trying to co-brand with it. Labour stresses how it’s part of the New Zealand it wants—when in fact Helen Clark was dead set against the idea of a New Zealand-owned bank when Kiwibank was proposed by the Alliance when in government. Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party, which has nothing to do with the Alliance, recently engaged in historical revisionism about Kiwibank, taking credit for it at a time when the Progressives did not even exist.
The electorate seems to sense that Kiwibank and domestic ownership of a bank is superior to Australian ownership of a bank. Maybe it’s nationalism, maybe it’s pride, but New Zealanders are sick of seeing $3·23 billion in proﬁts head across the Tasman Sea via foreign bank ownership every year.
And only the Alliance has been ﬁrm on the creation and continued support of Kiwibank, as well as various other institutions.
I like that consistency.
But, one might argue, how does this all gel with Confucianism, which looks to western eyes more like libertarianism?
I believe in strengthening our economy and our education system and in narrowing the gap between rich and poor. The bigger the gap, the bigger our social problems. I have been very consistent in saying that.
Since 1984, the technocracy and its free-market ideas have shown that they have failed us. New Zealand is not in the top half of the OECD, which is what Labour promised in 1999; our education system discourages students through its high fees; and the gap has been widening so much in New Zealand that the number of food banks has increased ﬁfty-fold.
We are eight times more likely to be murdered today than in the 1950s.
We’re not going to get anywhere near Confucianism by pursuing policies that rob New Zealanders of their dignity, by turning them into cheap labour for foreign companies who take their proﬁts offshore, or by collapsing the education system through lack of funding or the encouragement of regurgitation.
And the only way I can see repairing that is to look at the opposite of technocracy: humanism.
I think some of these comparisons about “left” and “right” are no longer valid anyway. What are left- and right-wing in 2008 when Labour and National are the same party, plus or minus 10 per cent, both pursuing the same technocratic policies that got us into this mess?
The choice New Zealand has to make is whether the party that will lead this nation will look disheartedly at individuals, or compassionately at them.
The technocratic method is to keep liberalizing our economy, which as an idea does not offend me—but the danger is that we, as a nation, have not been able to take advantage of this, save in a few select industries. The last 24 years have shown this. It comes at the cost of New Zealand jobs and our chances of keeping proﬁts here to be used to develop more new enterprises. Pursuing a free-trade agreement with Red China, a country known for human rights’ abuses, is merely another part of the technocratic principles of Labour–National (both supported the deal).
The humanist method is not necessarily to become socialist, but to put people and their well-being ﬁrst. A humanist might not have pursued a free-trade deal for both moral (Red China’s record) and economic (domestic jobs) reasons. A humanist looks at actions and consequences, not a blind following of the mantra pursued by everyone from Robert McNamara through to Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.
It is the technocracy that has exposed us to the fall of the American stock market—now on two occasions (1987 and 2008)—and yet we refuse to lay blame where it is deserved. We blame it on the Americans when we could well have weathered it, had we been more sensible. We should have looked at economies which were not so subject to corrupt and questionable practices that the most recent crash has revealed.
Of course we need to develop our industries and our international trade. But if our trading partners impose double standards to help protect their industries, while strengthening others that are due to be liberalized, then why don’t we?
When things strengthen for us, when we know that we can then begin opening up parts of our economy. We need to develop new skills and new competences. We need to encourage them, because neither Labour nor National has put its weight behind small- to medium-sized enterprises—they have only encouraged the acquisition of the large ones by more foreign players, such as when Fairfax bought TradeMe.
The consequences of this have been so remarkably clear, but the establishment has too much to lose if it admitted to them.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, nor am I going to ask for your vote. I am, however, asking you to consider this General Election on the basis of humanism versus technocracy, and just look at where the gap between rich and poor is, or where failed policies of the last two decades have led us. This is all a matter of history and of record. And on November 8, you have a chance to make a real change for the betterment of our country. Posted by Jack Yan, 05:42
The Starbucks failed-technocracy theory
I heard about this one from the lovely-sounding Noëlle McCarthy on National Radio ﬁrst (more Irish lasses on our airwaves, please), crediting its origins to Slate columnist Daniel Gross. Most of you will probably have read the original by now: that there is an ever-so present correlation between how many Starbucks a country has and how deep it has found itself in the ﬁnancial crisis.
There are outliers, of course: Iceland has no Starbucks, and it has become one of the biggest indicators of ﬁnancial failure. Gross himself points out that Russia has only six. But the premise that he advances, slightly tongue-in-cheek, is tied more into the idea of the technocracy failing:
Having a signiﬁcant Starbucks presence is a pretty signiﬁcant indicator of the degree of connectedness to the form of highly caffeinated, free-spending capitalism that got us into this mess. It’s also a sign of a culture’s willingness to abandon traditional norms and ways of doing business (virtually all the countries in which Starbucks has established beachheads have their own venerable coffee-house traditions) in favor of fast-moving American ones. The fact that the company or its local licensee felt there was room for dozens of outlets where consumers would pony up lots of euros, liras, and rials for expensive drinks is also a pretty good indicator that excessive ﬁnancial optimism had entered the bloodstream.
Or, countries who put the quest for false growth ahead of their people and their culture, dismissing transparency in favour of short-term foreign capital, will ﬁnd themselves in more trouble when a ﬁnancial crisis hits. Posted by Jack Yan, 22:54
Gordon Brown moves Britain closer to Oceania
The use of Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 by UK PM Gordon Brown to seize Icelandic assets in the UK has been applauded at home, a political calculation by the former Chancellor to make himself look good to a nationalist audience. The ﬂip side of that is the people he targets: Icelanders are justiﬁably offended at being called terrorists.
Some are saying this is the end of globalization or even globalism as we know it; even though outside the ﬁnancial and political worlds people are still connecting with one another, regardless of their governments. And maybe this time, the citizenry will prevail in maintaining their contact with their friends and colleagues across the borders. And car nuts will still keep watching Top Gear, even if Jeremy Clarkson’s jokes about the Germans (ﬁrmly rooted in WWII) are steadily applying to more and more members of the British Government.
No everyday Briton thinks that an Icelander is a terrorist any more than those of us with Muslim friends would label them that way.
But governments still hold a great deal of power over their nation brands and the idea of a nationalistic Britain that acts in the name of terrorism and homeland security strikes me as Orwellian.
Iceland’s health minister, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, said to the BBC, ‘Gordon Brown made the calculated decision that to raise his ratings in the polls, it would be ideal to attack Iceland. This has been made very clear.’ It is the act of a prime minister who, only a few months ago, was seen as increasingly lame-duck.
In the comments one can ﬁnd this comment from an Icelander, Gunnlaugur Briem (not the typeface designer, as far as I can ascertain): ‘Our government said it would not assume obligations in foreign countries beyond its legal obligation of deposit insurance. It did say it would honour that legal obligation. In response, Brown guillotined our remaining functional, solvent and liquid bank—doubling our catastrophe and the damage to UK depositors, and scoring political points for himself. Brown notably did not seize JP Morgan’s assets in the UK in retaliation for the US government not assuming all liabilities of the failed Lehman Brothers [my emphasis]. Why not? Because the US is big and brawny, can seize British assets in return, and is not as easily viliﬁed as Iceland is.’
It would be wrong to judge the Prime Minister on a single policy, so another item of news, buried among coverage of the ﬁnancial crisis, gives cause for concern.
On October 5, the Murdoch Press reported that the government ‘will spy on every call and e-mail’.
The programme, which might total £12 billion, is already under way, with the ﬁrst billion already given to the GCHQ, the spy monitoring centre.
V for Vendetta, anyone?
Remember, in that ﬁlm (and I imagine the comics, which I have not read), these things started very gradually, and if we do not express our points of view, then we will lose the right to do so.
It was not that long ago that Britons thought the idea of identity cards were a symbol of a totalitarian dictatorship.
Now, under the Identity Cards Act 2006, they will be a reality—because, I imagine, the ﬁght against them was undertaken by too few.
Since government policy does drive a great deal of nation branding, Brown’s Britain is looking more and more like what the British once opposed, with an increasingly negative image abroad. Contrary to cool Britannia, there are plenty of expatriates expressing their dislike of the UK today with the disappearance of its values and freedoms. There are real reasons more and more Britons are emigrating to the antipodes.
For those of us in the Anglosphere, this is worrying, because being an Anglophone might be seen in upcoming years as a minus and not a plus.
I exaggerate for now, but with the US’s image in a less than stellar position abroad and some Britons telling me they prefer living in the US, it makes me wonder just how much further the British Government has declined in people’s eyes since my last proper visit there in 2003. Posted by Jack Yan, 00:13
A little late for McCain, but Karl Rove hits on branding techniques
I was reading Karl Rove’s commentary on Sarah Palin today and he hit upon a few things I agree with (you read that correctly).
McCain–Palin must deepen those doubts by pounding away on questions about Obama’s character, judgment and values. Drawing on Obama’s own record and statements, they need to paint him as a big spender, class warrior and cultural elitist; they need to say he’s never worked across party lines or gotten his hands dirty solving big issues. But the duo must also give voters reasons to support them. They must crystallize a positive, forward-looking vision so people who see Obama as unqualiﬁed have something to hang on to. It can’t be a laundry list of positions. McCain–Palin must offer a narrative about what they will do to help America see better days, especially on kitchen-table concerns.
This is a lesson that comes up in branding, a lot.
One of the necessary things we branding consultants always talk about is story-telling. There have to be legends in the company, things that become company folklore. The Murdoch Press has plenty of stories to tell, for example, about how one of its newspapers ran a piece about Elvis, coincidentally on the story of the King’s death. I still talk about the way the Lucire name came up, which probably paints to the way serendipity works inside an organization. TV3 probably has one on John Campbell’s tie.
Stories unite people, and Rove’s belief that the McCain campaign must give a ‘forward-looking vision’ and a ‘narrative’ come straight out of a branding book. Maybe one of mine.
Vision is important, and there have been other posts on that. But an easily grasped narrative goes beyond slogans. While the stories I refer to above come from the past, in an election campaign, candidates need to paint one about the future. We know the McCain legend of being a POW; we know Palin paints herself as a hockey mom. These form the background, but people need to buy into the sequel.
Especially when one campaign is less well off than another. The Republicans are being outspent by the Democrats, so a consistent, continuous story about how the McCain–Palin principles will, in short soundbites, rescue America can have a great effect against their opponents.
Big spending allows for promotions around the cult of personality; small spending needs cleverer ideas and stories are one of the better techniques open to supporting a brand. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:58
Merger and divestiture talk won’t save GM, Ford and Chrysler
It looks like the American Big Three are doing pretty much what I warned them against in my ‘Saving Detroit’ piece presented to the Medinge Group in August.
GM and Chrysler have had exploratory merger talks, while Ford may sell its controlling stake in Mazda.
They have cited dropping sales, caused in part by their reliance on trucks and SUVs in years past.
I can only say, ‘I told you so,’ when I warned of this exposure a decade ago.
The sad thing is that GM and Ford make excellent small cars—just that they don’t let Americans buy them. In the meantime, they get trounced by the Japanese and Koreans in their home market—even though they’ve paid for the R&D of models that Americans would love.
They needed to look at motoring commentators, examine the globalized tastes in small cars and learn to listen to their customers.
But this was all too hard given the arrogance of at least the Big Two, GM and Ford, which have managed to weather hard times in the past.
Their US operations have usually been mired in politicking and Ford, in particular, has often rejected the work of its Köln subsidiary for decades.
Chrysler, meanwhile, fell victim to German brand mismanagement under Daimler-Benz AG. As a US company, the lean Chrysler of the 1990s was a business darling because of its rapid R&D processes and its market orientation. It even understood its three brands very well.
Add to that the Americans’ obsession with short-term results—the problems that Medinge warned about many years ago, and which are also to blame for its ﬁnancial crisis today, and there are serious systemic issues to work out before things can come right for the Big Three. If they ever do.
Folks, it’s time to look more seriously at delivering the cars people want. Rehashing the 1999 Ford Focus isn’t a bright idea when the new (2005 and on) model’s available in México and most other countries on the planet. Savvy car buyers, feeling cheated out of the latest technology, are going to buy an import.
The fact is, Detroit can make good cars. It just needs to make more of the good cars that people are going to buy.
Chrysler becoming a GM brand—which is what a merger will result in—makes about as much sense as putting the British Motor Corporation and Leyland together.
Economies of scale will be lost over decades and the typical American corporate behaviour in merged automakers is to cut model lines. Chrysler itself knows this: it’s how AMC disappeared. And AMC itself was an amalgam of Rambler, Nash, Willys and Hudson (have I missed anyone?).
In the British case, the company collapsed in 2005, its remnants now the property of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. in Red China. Which means it’s a part of a communist state.
And Ford without Mazda might mean a return to a company losing some of its competences in platform engineering. This scenario is less likely, but Ford has enough trouble acting like a global company. Removing a Japanese arm—inevitable given NHK, another Mazda shareholder, wishes to sell its shares in the automaker—could only encourage Ford’s already infamous reputation of geocentrism.
Last month I said that the current E241 Ford Falcon will be the company’s last, with its Australian R&D centre likely to be responsible for becoming Ford’s post in the western Paciﬁc—effectively replacing the function of Mazda.
Responsibilities would include developing models speciﬁcally for the Asian market and, with less money to play with, the Falcon, smaller than the Mondeo in key dimensions anyway, will die.
It will allow for greater economies of scale with existing Ford platforms though, and if managed carefully, it might be the best thing to happen to the company—if it could get over internal politics.
Ford’s rapid departures of its Australian CEOs (two in seven months) suggest that politicking is alive and well.
The prognosis isn’t good for either GM, Ford or Chrysler.
Gradual, long-term visions were needed, and the examples were always there before us: Toyota and Honda.
Toyota makes unremarkable cars and GM and Ford have delivered better products. But the Japanese are on the pulse more in the US. Mention ‘hybrid’ and an American buyer is likely to think Japanese—never mind that the Honda Accord Hybrid could manage only 1 mpg better than its petrol counterpart.
Comparing product with product, it makes no sense that GM and Ford are behind Toyota—but looking at the philosophies, it is no surprise.
Henry Ford II’s decision to go public has come back to haunt the company, as it cannot implement a long-term solution without greedy investors demanding better and better returns achieved through greater and greater rationalization, to the point where the company would no longer exist.
GM isn’t immune from this, either.
It’s time to discuss things with not only the UAW, but shareholders, and say: we’re in this together, and the usual methodology as taught by the business-as-usual American MBA school isn’t going to cut it. Japan, Inc. 2; Detroit Whiz Kids 0. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:07
Nationality, natural-born citizens and the presidency
I now think Biden, McCain, Obama and Palin have had me direct a joke at them. I am an equal opportunity critic.
I like to think, therefore, that I can comment on certain US issues in a bipartisan fashion.
On a friend’s blog, I noticed she had republished, with permission, an article about whether Sen. Barack Obama’s possible dual nationality excludes him from the presidency.
I attempted to answer this myself in her comments because I believed the original writer may have confused domicile with nationality as concepts.
I am neither Cheshire nor North and it was 13 years since I studied private international law, which covers some of these ideas, so please take what I write below with a grain of salt.
Article II, section 1 has never properly been tested.
A person is born with a domicile of origin and it is usually that of his father, so Barack Obama is British from that perspective by virtue of pre-independence Kenya. But domicile and nationality are different concepts and I wonder if the blogger … has them mixed up. Your Constitution looks at nationality and not domicile, and there are a number of situations in the nineteenth century supporting that. I think we can probably omit the Kenyan or British connection as having signiﬁcance under these rules, but we should look at the Indonesian one.
As you’ve detailed above, we simply do not know what nationality Barack Obama held when he was in Indonesia. Was he there as a visitor, resident or national?
To be fair, we need to inquire brieﬂy into John McCain as well. He was born on a US base in the Panama Canal Zone to US parents. There is no question his domicile of origin is American. It is generally accepted that a US base is as good as US soil, though under public international law, I am not so sure. Regardless of that, it is likely he acquired an American nationality at the earliest possibility through his parents’ actions (e.g. registration at a consulate) and he has only ever sworn allegiance to the United States.
The words in the Constitution are ‘natural born citizen’. This was not a common term and still isn’t. [The Founding Fathers] never deﬁned it but because nationality was important to them, there is some strength for saying that they wished to exclude dual nationals. The problem back in those days was that countries did want to claim subjects as their own for two things: military draft, and for money (whatever they earned, countries wanted to tax) and it may have been preferable for a nation to have certainty over the allegiance of its subjects. …
But if they were silent, is there a clue in the Constitution itself? Can we say that because they didn’t say anything, they didn’t want this requirement to be stuck in 1787? I believe this is the case: that while the Constitution should be subject to very strict interpretations, what is not codiﬁed into it is meant to be regarded as living and moving with the times. These were smart guys, so if they wanted something to be strictly considered, they would have written it in. That is the beauty of this document: it is tight (on some things such as the separation of powers) and loose (on other things like how laws themselves work) at the same time.
If we go to Art. I, s. 8, Congress is empowered to establish naturalization rules, i.e. setting rules on what it takes to be an American national, and I believe the Founding Fathers expected these rules to change over time. It’s why they were not put into the Constitution itself.
That means we need to look at your immigration laws. Also, the idea of the birthright citizenship is well established in the US, and your Fourteenth Amendment is pretty clear in codifying that into your Constitution.
So in that real round-about way, we can conclude that Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States. We can conclude that John McCain is a natural-born citizen of the United States.
We’re only left with your original question of dual nationality, which we must return to your legislation with. Your Immigration and Nationality Act accepts dual nationals, and your Supreme Court has permitted them, too. So, after all that analysis, I personally would have to conclude that Barack Obama is eligible for the presidency even if he were a dual national [with connections to Indonesia]. Posted by Jack Yan, 09:44
I am a maverick outsider reformer
It’s been a while (a year?) since I gave a TV interview—the al-Jazeera spots don’t count because the question is prepared long beforehand and I have had a day (or days) to get ready.
Yesterday, Nick Wang ﬁred a few good questions my way, not just on the Republic of China’s anniversary but about my political candidacy, for both Sky TV and state television over in Taiwan.
Folks, I must have done a few Sarah Palins: providing a single answer without taking intermediate breaths.
It’s funny what happens when the camera goes on. And you feel compelled to give an answer because you have been taught that it’s courteous.
I have to say that was the ﬁrst time I was interviewed with my political hat on, and it was a bit weird.
I think the last time I talked politics on TV I was making fun of Sen. John McCain in 2006. (Who knew he’d get the nomination?)
I can talk all I like about publishing, branding and typography (with or without breathing) but these were new waters for me. I know my patch, I know most of my party’s policies, I know what some voters are thinking in wanting a change from the one party called Labour–National, but I can’t tell you who the top 25 of each party’s list are.
Eeriely, I am campaigning on being an outsider, a reformer, and not part of the Wellington establishment.
And you know, I actually do have a record of being a maverick. Posted by Jack Yan, 05:39
That was so twentieth-century
Today, a professor at the University of Auckland requested some images Lucire had on ﬁle (Jack Yan: the academic’s friend). I found them among email attachments from the third quarter of 1999, a period during which I received 60 attachments. That is not a typo: 60 attachments for the entire quarter.
Not including joke messages, the number for me personally was 1,349 attachments during the third quarter of 2008.
It isn’t rose-coloured glasses: life was simpler then. Posted by Jack Yan, 10:47
US Life on Mars might reveal more about 2008 than 1973
[Excerpted from Lucire] The American remake of Life on Mars airs on Thursday, the only new dramatic series ABC has this fall in the US.
I’ve been charting this remake for a long time on my personal blog.
Jason O’Mara, the American Sam Tyler, has refused to go 1970s with his hairstyle, while co-stars Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli and Jonathan Murphy (playing the American versions of Gene Hunt, Ray Carling and Chris Skelton) have donned more 1970s’ styles.
But does it matter that O’Mara didn’t go ’70s with his hair? Because it doesn’t look out of place.
Head out into the trendy parts of a lot of western cities, and you see hair that could have come forward in time from 1973.
Rhoda Morgenstern-style skullcaps appear a lot of places off the catwalk and in everyday wear.
Life on Mars won’t spark a ’70s revival in hairstyles or fashion, because much of it is already in vogue, and has been for a while.
What it might spark is social commentary, one thing that the BBC series was good at doing. New producers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec have been careful at preserving this element in the American remake.
While the 2006 original pointed out the differences in Manchester over the last 33 years, the American version might unwittingly point out the similarities.
There is an economic crisis, people are more paranoid, and the post-9-11 era has parallels with the post-Vietnam one.
The grittiness of 1970s’ cop movies aren’t out of place with the modern climate.
While Son of Sam isn’t probing the streets of New York looking for victims in 2008, the downbeat feel of 1973 might connect with the modern American audience more than the original did with British audiences.
Never mind those critics saying that a lot of the audience wasn’t alive in 1973: the social messages and mood may come across as very contemporary.
And just like in Britain, Americans might just see Gene Hunt as a more appropriate, no-nonsense type of cop than what the law would permit today. (Full post at Lucire.) Posted by Jack Yan, 12:04
Reader’s Digest shows overseas countries prefer Obama
The Reader’s Digest has revealed that of 17 countries polled about the US elections, 16 would like to see Sen. Barack Obama win. It polled 17,000 people.
Only the US was divided between Sens. Obama and McCain.
At the ofﬁce today: ‘Maybe these countries should get a say. America keeps poking its nose in where it’s not wanted.’
While I know we don’t have one-world government and national constitutions would prevent that, this point isn’t unique. I have heard it often enough, regardless of whether the president is Democratic or Republican.
Just as Great Britain has been forced to become a collaborative partner in European affairs since the decline of the Empire, perhaps the decline of the US’s soft power will mean a more even-handed approach to international relations in the next term, regardless of who is elected president.
We’ve seen the US rank very poorly in such scales as the Anholt Nation Brands’ Index, notably the cultural heritage measure, where it was at the bottom in 2005. In the 2008 summary of the top 50 nations, the USA does not even appear. (New Zealand should not be smug: it is 25th, one up from Belgium.)
By being more collaborative—which is happening, anyway, thanks to technology, and the diasporas in the US—the country could well improve its cultural measure.
The US’s weak culture, which its style-over-substance image propagates, especially through its television programmes and media, is perceived to be at odds with its hard power, including its military might.
The perception is not due solely to the Republicans, George W. Bush or Sarah Palin, contrary to what Democratic supporters are keen to point out. This takes years to earn and it has come through the abuse of globalization outside the political sphere as much as anything that successive White Houses have done or failed to do.
It may be crudely grouped with concepts of nation envy under the banner of anti-Americanism, which spurred everything from the terrorist attacks on the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000, during the Clinton administration, to 9-11 itself during the Bush years.
It is then no wonder the candidate who has best claimed the area of ‘Change’ so well captures the imaginations of nations outside the US.
The son of a Kenyan immigrant is perceived to be far closer in mindset to the citizens of 16 nations, some of whom might see themselves emigrate to the United States. The Reader’s Digest survey indeed reveals that many people still view the American Dream favourably, expressing a desire to emigrate to the US. This includes a majority of Indians and French surveyed.
They see the potential for an immigrant’s son to enrich a nation so that its might will be used for moral purposes rather than for its institutions—including oil companies. Sen. Obama may have been charged with lacking experience in foreign policy, but he is a man of mixed race, born in Hawai’i (itself a multicultural place), raised in part in Indonesia, and with close ties to his father’s homeland in Kenya.
The Reader’s Digest also points to largely liberal media—considerably more so than in the US—that have supported Sen. Obama consistently during his campaign. I can conﬁrm this positive spin from the countries where we have a presence, the US aside.
I wonder about how much we, as non-Americans, know. There are a lot of bad things about the US, as we have seen from the ﬁnancial crisis, that are systemic. The everyday American is victimized by corrupt institutions. Even those who have pursued the mantra of greed that Wall Street is stereotypically known for may have played their part unquestioningly, even without malice.
Can a president truly change that? Certainly, the 16 of 17 nations see Sen. Obama as an agent of change as far as US foreign policy is concerned. He has been marketed that way by many nations’ media. But of its questionable corporate behaviours (‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ as then-Gov. Clinton said on his campaign trail), is one better senator than the other sitting in the Oval Ofﬁce, never mind less than stellar choices for running-mates? Or is it going to be up to everyday citizens reaching out themselves, solving the world’s problems in spite of their political leaders? Posted by Jack Yan, 08:19
‘Kiwibank: gone by lunchtime’
That was great grafﬁti on the corner of the Terrace and Salamanca Road in Wellington today.
Despite National’s fuzzy explanations saying that the party will not sell Kiwibank should it get into ofﬁce, I reckon most Kiwis don’t believe them.
Nor should they have reason to.
For some of us, National’s obsession with privatization in selling off Kiwi interests to foreigners exceeded Labour’s during the 1980s in pursuit of creating a chasm between rich and poor in this nation.
It’s a pretty standard part of the Labour–National playbook.
And with this global credit crisis, it’s important to have banks in this country that are investing in the interests of New Zealand, not the whims of foreign shareholders. That’s why we need some banks that are domestically owned, trying to make a return for New Zealand interests.
The Kiwibank advertising on New Zealand TV screens at the moment, while corny, plays to patriotism, but the underlying message is far more important.
Foreign-owned banks in New Zealand such as the ANZ have made $3·23 billion off Kiwis last year, run so that their Johnny Foreigner shareholders can make money. Their investments are made to help foreign interests, not to help our own.
While I am a globalist at heart, recessions are no time to be wasting money abroad when we need to look after ourselves ﬁrst.
For one of the very few times in the last nine years, I agree with Dr Michael Cullen, the Finance Minister, when he says that savings do need to be built up domestically. I also agree with Australian PM Kevin Rudd when he says our current woes can be traced to a cycle of greed and the short-term vision of the American ﬁnancial system.
The latter has been a consistent theme at Medinge since its founding.
Meanwhile, I see that the Dow Jones has dipped below 10,000. A few years ago, I said that if the Dow ever got over 10,000, we’d be waiting for a market correction. For most of this decade I have felt like a complete moron making that call. But when the crap hits the fan, maybe I wasn’t wrong, or maybe I was plain lucky.
I don’t profess to know all the ins and outs of the stock market, but I do comment from my little corner and at some of the underlying forces.
In an age when rhetoric and style have become valued over substance and performance—something I have tried to redress through our companies and through the Medinge Group—creating growth from hot air couldn’t be a continuous venture. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:43
Switching to Firefox
Now that Mozilla has ﬁnally ﬁxed Firefox’s ligature glitch (present since version 1) after four years, I have a good reason to switch.
The problem has been around since Netscape ﬁnished its 4·7 browser, which was the original reason I switched to Internet Explorer 5. It was quite odd: IE had not been very good typographically up to that point, and I stuck with the Netscape series between version 1·1 and 4·7. It seemed Microsoft picked up the baton as far as good type was concerned, and I went over.
As IE grew clunkier, I discovered Maxthon, a Chinese-developed browser that had the engine of IE, but a sleeker, more compact front end. It proved far more reliable than IE, and I also felt some kinship that I was supporting Chinese behind the Bamboo Curtain. (The program was developed, in part, to stop Communist authorities tracing what it might deem as counter-revolutionary browsing back to citizens.)
Maxthon also gives me the choice of using the IE kernel or the Gecko one in Firefox, which is clever.
I haven’t tried that and I still support the Maxthon ethos, but I am switching over to Firefox on a trial basis to see how it goes.
One big reason was the repair of the glitch—where Firefox could not display ligatures or even quotation marks in the same typeface as the rest of the text.
The second reason was Digg. Digg seems to be very slow, for some reason, on the IE kernel. On Firefox, it is normal.
There are pages that claim that Firefox has automatic ligature support for certain fonts as well as kerning. I look forward to seeing how true those claims are or even how well they work (Ralf Herrmann indicates they’re still buggy). Up till now we have been programming in basic kerning via stylesheets at the Lucire site.
I may go back to Maxthon and run it with Gecko but I generally loathe changing program settings too much. It gives the bofﬁns a chance to wriggle out of their responsibilities of delivering good programs by blaming things on user modiﬁcations.
I have made one concession to IE, however: I have installed a plug-in which gives me that reassuring sound each time I click on a link. I know a lot of people hate it and I was initially taken aback when I switched to IE5, but after so many years I have become accustomed to it.
I’ll likely stick to this browser for a while, at least until they mess up the typography. Posted by Jack Yan, 23:08
Upgrading Wordpress: a piece of cake
It was my turn to perform a Wordpress upgrade on the Lucire ‘Insider’ blog today. It was amazing: it worked.
Normally I can break any computer program, just by following instructions. In fact, I did try an automatic upgrade plug-in for Wordpress which did not work (getting different results on the two trials), so I bit the bullet and did it the hard way—which turned out to be the easy way.
For once, the documentation was virtually perfect, apart from one thing which I was able to ﬁgure out.
More computer software and application developers should take a lesson from Wordpress on delivering decent programs and plain-English instruction manuals.
The only part that was slightly wrong on the page linked above was step 13 as it refers to Wordpress 2·5, rather than 2·6 (where there are three secret key lines). But when I investigated it, I easily found the lines I had to put in to conﬁg.php.
Admittedly, it took longer than I thought in deleting and uploading ﬁles but at least I didn’t delete the wrong ones. On that, the documentation was very clear, too.
If an idiot like me can upgrade Wordpress without calling a bofﬁn, then a lot of people should be able to. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:16
The Wallace & Gromit Children’s Foundation needs your help
I received an email from my friend Luke Nicholson, who is a Medinge Group member. Without going into the details, the Wallace & Gromit Children’s Foundation needs help. Ideally, the help of a large corporate sponsor who sees the potential of not only doing a good deed, but sees the beneﬁt of aligning itself with the internationally recognized and beloved duo of Wallace and Gromit.
On the Foundation: ‘Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Foundation is the only national charity supporting children’s hospitals and hospices across the UK. Established in 2003 it has raised over £1 million spearheaded by the famous duo Wallace & Gromit, with annual events such as Wallace & Gromit’s Wrong Trousers Day and Wallace & Gromit’s Great British Tea Party. A partnership with Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Foundation is a unique opportunity to work with an internationally acclaimed brand whilst making a real difference to the lives of sick children and their families.’
If anyone can help, please contact me through this site and I will make the connections. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:50
Sub-prime, explained by Bird and Fortune
Courtesy of Johnnie Moore, a referral to a 2007 episode of the The South Bank Show, featuring the two Johns, Bird and Fortune. The second part addresses the sub-prime mortgage crisis with a great deal of truth among the humour.
Posted by Jack Yan, 09:26
Global brands will emerge from the ﬁnancial crisis
[Cross-posted at Lucire] Now that the debate between Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden is over, the news is swinging back on to the discussions of the $700 billion proposed bailout by the US Government for its troubled ﬁnance ﬁrms. On Reuter today, experts are discussing whether this bailout signals the end of the US’s soft power.
I have put up a more detailed post elsewhere, because it is not the scope of a fashion magazine to have a full-on political and economic discussion. However, the idea of waning American soft power impacts on the fashion world.
I don’t think we’re going to see any change in the way brands develop and become part of the consumer market. The difference is that corporations in the Far East, south Asia and the Middle East are learning the same techniques in targeting ﬁrst-world and other western markets. Northern Europe and Russia are in a good position, too.
This means a very different landscape for brands in the 21st century.
It won’t mean that the existing brands we all know will change. They have tried to cement their positions, diversifying to cover as many markets as possible. But new brands will begin occupying our share of mind in years to come.
A few years ago I said socially responsible brands were the way forward. That has now come to pass. The next group may well be those that bridge that sense of irony of being non-American but using marketing techniques reﬁned in America. In other words, brands that portray a sense of being global and inclusive might tap in to the emerging Zeitgeist. The United Colors of Benetton, if you will, but updated and more widespread.
This potential trend ties in to some of the forces I write about on my work blog: ‘In a society obsessed with quality rather than meaning, people may well wind up apeing or become attracted to the metropolitan centres of the Middle and Far East, kids heading off on their overseas’ experiences to these regions because of the money to be made.’
This new obsession with places such as Doha, Dubai and Shanghai points to the same global mindset.
Another interesting force that will be unleashed with the ﬁnancial crisis is a backlash against globalization or, more accurately, the negative side of globalization, such as worker abuse.
I don’t know any of this for sure but I am hopeful in general. Perhaps I am a born optimist. ‘The best result of all the chaos is likely to be one that returns to basic principles, emphasizing why we have these systems in the ﬁrst place, embracing the idea of real corporate social responsibility, and removing greed from our list of ambitions,’ I wrote. The end result might, for once, be positive—because this time, there is greater sharing of ideas going on with the internet, and it’s no longer controlled or even dominated by an élite. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:22
After the bailout, the world could get better
Some experts are saying that the US’s inﬂuence in the world will drop because of the ﬁnancial fallout and the related, proposed $700 billion bailout of some ﬁnance ﬁrms.
But there have been signs of this long before the problems relating to Fanny Mae, Freddie Mac and others came to light.
Anti-Americanism was once primarily rooted in nation envy but increasingly it has come from a disagreement about its foreign policy. A great deal of this has been spurred by the media, especially in this country where Republican administrations tend to get a tougher ride. In recent memory I can only think of the 41st president’s term as being smoother among New Zealand media.
US experts generally believe that hard power—inter alia, military—will not be affected immediately, but soft power will. The idea is that other nations will not look to the US as a model for their economies or political structures.
And this is a pity. There is nothing wrong with the principles at their core, but there is something very wrong with the way they have been applied.
At the Medinge Group, the branding think-tank on which I am a director, this was a familiar cry when No Logo came out. Author Naomi Klein tended to dismiss the branding model altogether. We argued that the model was ﬁne, but it needed to be more humanist.
The issues relating to the US are very similar.
Democracy is the worst system, excepting all others, if I may borrow from Churchill. The ideas of self-determination might hold ﬁrm. Capitalism, however, has serious faults, and the most recent crisis can be traced to unprincipled greed in the system. The lack of social responsibility and a poor understanding of brands have, among many other things—the idea of creating endless growth in wealth without backing it up being one of those—damaged the goodwill in the system.
Branding is perhaps one way of at least re-educating people about the basic principles of the ﬁnancial system to invigorate passion and understanding of it. Without at least some acknowledgement of the ﬁnancial system’s faults, nothing will change.
Risk models such as Black–Scholes–Merton probably got us in to the 1987 stock market crash and have their part to play in the latest row.
As Nicholas Nassim Taleb pointed out in his book, The Black Swan, one had expected the model to be abandoned after 1987. However, institutionalization saw it continue to be taught and used as though nothing was wrong. It was bound to end in tears again years later because no lessons were ever learned.
This is why the bailout has its problems. While fundamentally I oppose regulation, it probably needs to come in if the main participants and institutions in the system refuse to acknowledge and address their faults. If, however, the bailout programme is weakened so that those at fault prevail, then it will only be a short-term ﬁx for the global economy.
The seriousness of the 1987 crash and its subsequent failure to address the ﬁnancial system’s faults don’t provide much faith.
From governmental levels there was no re-evaluation of the Keynesian model which has proven to be more secure in governing some economies. Instead, the west continued to pursue its monetarist goals.
There is much to commend a global economy if it ever reaches its ideals. This is where anti-globalization types are given room to come in, because the way it is run now, those ideals are far away. For the most part, globalization has seen an abuse of power, hard and soft. Statistics show that there is a rise in the standard of living in general, but that the rich are getting richer at a far quicker rate. The gap between rich and poor—which Norman Macrae (formerly of The Economist) and my friend Chris Macrae have said was mankind’s most pressing concern a few years ago—has widened. If it was the ‘most pressing’ mid-decade, it is beyond crisis-point now.
While the US military has, in some parts of Iraq, been greeted as liberators just as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, opponents are simply reminded of the globalized abuses. They couch their words in other terms, perhaps anti-war ones, but I believe fundamentally they are about the failed promises, the inability to deliver the ideals.
In the books I have helped author, Beyond Branding with other members of Medinge, and to a lesser extent in my own Typography and Branding, you will ﬁnd there is a lot of idealism that also warned against these problems. They are nothing new.
The very ﬁrst line in the Medinge manifesto of 2002 is, ‘Finance is broken.’
The way we valued ﬁrms, which was a major theme at our 2002 conference, was just one of the criticisms we had, because the accepted stock market ways made little sense to us. They were detached from the people they affected. And now it looks like we have been proven right, because people are hurting, more so than in 1987.
And the greatest proponent of the monetarist, failed-globalization status quo was the United States, which bears the brunt of criticism in its failure today.
Added to the anti-war brigade, many of which had crossed over from leftist and Marxist groups, the cries are greater now.
Once again the media have fuelled more of those cries.
Among those media are now additional networks that have gone global, such as Qatar’s al-Jazeera, on whose English service I occasionally appear, providing an alternative viewpoint to the Hollywoodized image of the US.
Qatar, and to a lesser extent, the United Arab Emirates, have beneﬁted from the positive image of their globalized companies without the negative side of employee abuse. Either these companies are performing morally and ethically, or they do a better job at hiding abuses in countries which fail to investigate them, but at this point the former appears to be true.
India is also surging ahead on these matters, though Red China has suffered from its problems with internal corruption and favouritism.
The great irony is that the successes have been propagated by branding methods that have taken many of the best lessons of the west, although ﬁnancially the state has a greater role to play in these economies.
These forces indicate that it’s not the end of western-style consumerism.
Secondly, it will still take a while for the US model to fall because the country remains inﬂuential; but as I said many years ago, the next generation may be perceived as good rather than great.
In a society obsessed with quality rather than meaning, people may well wind up apeing or become attracted to the metropolitan centres of the Middle and Far East, kids heading off on their overseas’ experiences to these regions because of the money to be made.
As a result of their exposure, the new model may be more of a balance between public and private involvement, as is prevalent in these regions, until the public side becomes burdened with the same institutionalization, croneyism and corruption that calls for deregulation become loud once more. (In Red China, of course, these calls are never heard.)
The previous Swedish system under the Social Democrats might be closer to this public–private balance, with corporations largely opting to be socially responsible and ﬁnding its government a willing ally in providing a stable society. When a country can have Absolut Vodka as a state-owned enterprises (a situation recently changed by the ruling conservatives), then it was evidence that a public–private mix could work. It could have been the country to follow and in some respects, its ideas can still be easily grasped by the occident.
The best result of all the chaos is likely to be one that returns to basic principles, emphasizing why we have these systems in the ﬁrst place, embracing the idea of real corporate social responsibility, and removing greed from our list of ambitions.
It ultimately begins with education but also the institutions setting a positive example, something they have failed to do.
Otherwise, this bailout will be just another thing we go through without any real result or change at the end. Change is not a buzzword for an election campaign. It must strike against croneyism and the real players behind the present distress.
What might emerge is greater diplomacy between nations, more sharing of ideas, and increased globalization in communications. This might prevent the blind “business as usual” order that we had in 1987. The US’s soft power may well be lowered but provided that sharing is real, aimed at people rather than the élite (or, better yet, driven by people rather than the élite), the next few years might be economically positive rather than the doom and gloom being predicted by some. Posted by Jack Yan, 00:43
NoteEntries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.
Individual JY&A and Medinge Group blogs
Earlier entries at the Beyond Branding Blog
DonateIf you wish to help with my hosting costs, please feel free to donate.
Copyright ©200210 by Jack Yan & Associates. All rights reserved. Photograph of Jack Yan by Chelfyn Baxter.