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.Net Article

I was asked to write a little advice piece for .Net Magazine this month. Here it is…

Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 14.50.15

And in legible form…

The Importance of the Pencil

No, not the Yellow ones that the D&AD gives out for flashy goodness. The ones that have lead in them and are available from all good stationers. Really? Why would you possibly need a pencil when you have Illustrator, Photoshop and all its fabulous filters? It ends up on a screen so why not start on one, right?

Wrong. Architects conceive whole buildings on napkins and receipts before thinking about CAD, Fashion Designers wouldn’t dream of lifting a needle and thread before repeatedly sketching out and refining their designs on paper and Film Makers plot out whole movies in storyboard form before turning on a camera. So why do so many web designers think they can bypass an essential, time honoured, problem solving technique and reach straight for the mouse?

At Franki&Jonny there are two things that have to happen before a site can be ‘designed’ (in the sense of moving onto a computer). A brainstorm, strictly away from the mac, where tech, design and admin come together to discuss the purpose of the site, the user journey and the ‘big idea’ should there be one – essentially refining the brief. Then there is a visualisation stage that involves scribbling, sketching, pinning up references – ‘feeling’ the site and the users’ journey in a physical way. We also rarely reference other websites at this stage (no macs, remember?), preferring to create mood boards, referencing art, illustration, shoes or cheese – whatever inspires us at that point. Typography, colour, mood, form should all start in the real world and keep a good designer in the realm of original thought.

All the templates, effects and filter options lurking within the walls of Adobe software can give the designer the impression that the answers to their problems are just a few clicks away. However, the computer is a tool. It does not solve problems for you and, more often than not without a clear vision at the outset, it will create them. We have all been there; pushing text and image boxes around a screen like a picky child trying to somehow make his dinner disappear without eating it. The solution is to step away – draw it out, cut it out, rip it out. Do whatever you have to do to figure out your direction before returning to the glare of the screen.

D&AD Article

This is an article I wrote for the D&AD University Network last month. I will be making regular contributions to this education resource in the coming months.
To Code or not to Code?
When I was 22 I quit my corporate print job at a reputable London agency in search of something beyond 8 Page Brochures and Quark Express. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew it had to be something different.
My friend, a Technical Consultant for the aforementioned agency learned of my desire to move on and invited me to work on location on a film set in Venice creating a website for the film maker Mike Figgis. ‘But I don’t know anything about websites, I’ve never designed one’ I said, in a bizarre attempt to talk him out of offering me a job in Italy for 6 weeks in the company of Salma Hayek and John Malkovich, to which he replied: ‘I don’t want you to know anything about websites, I want you to come up with ideas.”
8 years, one BAFTA and a load of FWA awards later that visionary programmer is my business partner and we run a niche digital agency specialising in Film and Entertainment clients. And we’ve never hired a web designer.
We are a design-led agency. We cannot be true to that principle if our designers are asking themselves ‘how?’ before they think about ‘why?’. It’s a case of being technically agnostic – we will design something first and then decide how to build it. If a designer isn’t concerned with the build it keeps the design fresh, appropriate and unaffected. An old creative Director once told me not to have ‘scissors in your head’ – cutting off ideas before they can even form, we feel that a little technical knowledge is just the kind of scissors he was talking about.
We therefore hire designers on the basis of their ideas and visual skills across any medium and pure coders with absolutely no ambition to design. Put simply we’re wary of the jack of all trades and master of none – the kids that do both tend to do neither well.
But how does that thinking sit with students? If they have a great digital idea should it stay as an idea until they can build it properly or should they have a go – cobble it together with Dreamweaver, Flash and a bit of help from a mate’s brother? Let’s face it aspiring creatives have to shoot their own photos and films, bind their own books, and find a million other ‘cheats’ to realise big ideas at education level so is digital any different these days?
Most probably not. I guess my fear is that a little knowledge can sometimes be a dangerous thing and whilst I would encourage emerging designers to engage with new media, to love it and to understand its power I would urge them to not to get bogged down in the technical details. Learn enough to get your idea working, if possible collaborate with a technical student the way you would with a photographer or an animator, get good advice and keep it simple. (And once you have done don’t put ‘proficient in Flash 10’ on your CV if you aren’t. )
I’d love to hear about innovative ways design students have realised digital ideas and how the industry can help guide the development of great cross-media designers without forcing them all down a half-coded fudge that leaves them confused and overwhelmed. Answers on a postcard. Or on the blog. It’s not about the medium, its about the message!


I'm Franki Goodwin, Creative Director at Saatchi&Saatchi London and Executive Producer at Western Edge Pictures. Please feel to have a good old root around my work below. Some of it has won lots of awards. Some of it hasn't, but I'm proud of every single one of these projects. Thanks for visiting, say hi at