Another Version of The Resumé

I had occasion to assemble another version of my resumé today.  This one plays up some marketing/advertising campaign work and lightens up on the exhibition work.  I also included some live links in the PDF to some of the things I’ve written – for Production Plus’ eZine Solutions By Design, for instance.  I haven’t written anything for Pro Plus since we parted ways in 2008 or so, but there are some fun articles there in the archives, like this one where I get a quote from Smokin’ Joe Frazier) and my theater reviews for

I really enjoy the process of putting together a fresh resumé.  It gives me a chance to revisit old work, re-evaluate it, think about what I learned from it, and how I can apply that to my work today.  Take a look at this one if you’d like.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them my way!  I welcome sound opinions and dialogue on anything I’ve designed.



Chicago Cutlery – Update.

Read the original knives post here.

I reached for a knife today to cut a tomato and came away from the block with the 62S.  It’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Chicago Cutlery 62S

It’s been pretty dull since it got here.

I’ve had trouble sharpening it, but I thought I’d give it one more shot today and see what happened.  Out came the whetstone; dutifully I set to grinding, then tried it on the tomato.

No change.  WTF?  I go back to grinding, pissed off a little, and I stop.  I feel the edge: dull.  Then I take one careful, slow swipe across the stone.

Zing! The edge is sharp!  Check out the 62S, cutting tomatoes LIKE A BOSS.

The 62S cutting tomatoes

Slowing down and paying attention FTW.

I learned something valuable today!  Turns out I had been grinding the blade away endlessly and not really noticing what I was doing.  One slow grind across the whetstone is all a good knife needs to get sharp.

Unleashed: by PETCO

This is Unleashed by PETCO, a store I designed for PETCO in 2009. One of the things I most appreciate about it is how fully realized it is. Nearly everything that Mike Lewis and I came up with was built and installed; we got the chance to reexamine every aspect of the retail experience and develop something that we both thought would really be a more friendly, pet-centric environment.

And away we go.

Begin anywhere. – John Cage

Hello, Internet users!  John Dalton here.  I’m a designer – mostly of museum exhibitions.  I’ve been designing things for 20 years solid.

Like many who pursue labors of love I’ve had to support myself while so doing, and in my early days compiled what one might describe as a stunning menagerie of jobs.  I’ve designed packaging to deliberately look cheap.  I’ve painted an 8′ x 8′ theatrical drop in a 6′ x 6′ room.  I once had an employer demand I print a slew of large-scale digital images out of a giant photographic printer that was not assembled yet. “We’ve got jobs due out of that thing,” he said, tight lipped and pointing at the printer and the team of German technicians congregated to assemble it.  “Get to work.”

I’ve hung EarthBall™ sized Christmas decorations from the ceiling of the Woodfield Mall with Bill Cusack. True story.

Slowly – over time, and amidst setbacks- this thundering herd of weird gained some shape.  Cool projects began to emerge from it; museum exhibitions, photo galleries, plays, movies, graphics, art installations, marketing campaigns, retail design.

This evolution continues. I’ve begun doing theatrical reviews, of all things. I’m developing an understanding of creative direction, and finding opportunities to step into that role.  Hopefully you get the idea. It’s been an eclectic, meandering evolution, catch-as-catch-can at times.

I’ve found it challenging to encapsulate all this in one website.  It’s a task I’ve long been dreading. Predictably, I’ve always wanted my website to be tremendously cool. As a longtime aficionado of teh internets, I have seen many a cool website. It’s daunting.  Call yourself a designer on the internet and immediately you’re in direct competition with Saatchi & Saatchi.  My last website was built in Dreamweaver, circa 2002; my internet manipulation skills were lackluster even then.

But I do consider myself to be a thoughtful designer, and over time I’ve developed a little toolkit of ideas to help me through thorny spots like this.  And I recalled something I read in Bruce Mau’s  Incomplete Manifesto For Growth; the quote from John Cage at the top of this missive: begin anywhere.

Cage’s continues (quote helpfully provided by Mr. Mau), saying that “…not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis.”  Most accurate.  I’ve not known how to begin this insurmountable task and it’s kept me paralyzed.

On the recommendation of John Cage and the urging of Bruce Mau, I’m starting now.  I will slowly build this thing.  Get my hands dirty and learn from the process, without really knowing what to expect.  I look forward to learning, and I’ll share my findings; optimally you’ll see the results here.  In addition, I’ll be posting portfolio pieces, observations, essays – whatever seems to be applicable to this labor of love, my career.

Serendipitously, Bruce Mau has chosen this maxim as his principal image for his manifesto page. It’s nice when things like that come together, ain’t it?  It seems an obvious sign.  Many thanks to Mr. Mau for his inspiration and example.

Begin Anywhere

Sometimes clues are in very obvious places.  I’ve learned a lot from his work, and I hope someday to meet him.

This is my website. There are many like it, but this one is mine.  Thanks for tuning in – or retuning, if you caught my last spate of blogging.  I hope to repost those here someday soon.  Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to where this leads. Please feel free to chime in, if you’d like. And welcome aboard.

The Elusive Brand Experience and How to Get It

I love this ad campaign. A simple idea, well executed. I ask a deceptively simple question: why is it so good?

Dentyne's Make Face Time Campaign, by McCann Worldwide

Dentyne’s Make Face Time Campaign, by McCann Worldwide

Designers are key players in the world of advertising. It’s where many of us make all our money. The giants of our field all won major battles in that arena: Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Tibor Kalman, to name a few. Though I would not presume to place myself in such august company, I have worked for commercial firms and wrestled with advertising work, branding, and experience design in a corporate setting. I’d love to say that I could come up with something as good as McCann’s “Face Time” campaign. But how would I do it?

My design approach is, traditionally, to let the content speak for itself. If I understand the material, then communicating it to an audience through whatever medium I’m working in becomes almost a transparent process; the job sometimes feels like it’s flowing out of me. But frequently in the corporate advertising world, there is no content, in the traditional sense. There is no script, as in theater or film; there are no curators, filling volumes with text about artifacts or ideas. There is only the product, and the company that makes it. Frequently, the folks from the company are looking to the design world to define and shape the substance of the experience. They understand who their target audience is, and all about their brand and product, but look to designers to craft the messages.

It’s not a step I’m accustomed to. I understand, at an elementary level, the message is that the product/service is the best and people should purchase it. But ads with copy like, “WE ARE AWESOME,” or “BUY OUR STUFF BECAUSE IT’S THE BEST EVER” really do not make it to the public eye anymore. Clients expect more from someone who claims to be a hotshot designer–and rightly so. Advertising is a competitive and subtle world; there are wonderful ad campaigns and brand experiences out there. I know them when I see them, and I admire the specificity of the message. So where does that message come from?

In my readings and research, I recently came across this quote.

The new medium of brand experience is now people, not television.
– David Dernie, In Exhibition Design

In one phrase, David Dernie both encapsulated and completed my unformed thoughts about what it means to, as the oft touted phrase goes, “build a brand experience.” For me, it goes beyond television, though it certainly applies. The thing I respond to in ad in any medium is how the people in them feel. The more specific the ad hones in on that feeling, the more effective it is.

Consider this commercial, long considered to be a watershed in the world of automobile advertising:

(For more about this ad, and the Nick Drake book that talks about it, see John’s comment below.)

The ad speaks volumes, and not just because of Nick Drake’s marvelous “Pink Moon.” The ad is incredibly specific about the product and the people who use it. The look the young man in the back seat gives the young woman as she silently watches the night sky fly by, wind in her hair; the flash of the backup light; almost iconic images. The viewer instantly understands what kind of party the young foursome is pulling up to–and why they choose to pull away. When viewed through the lens of Dernie’s statement, the reason for the ad’s success becomes obvious.

In this statement I find a key, also, to understanding why I get that feeling of the medium becoming transparent. When the story is strong, the tricks and skills needed to manipulate the medium fall away as the audience folds into the experience. Listening to Nick Drake for the first time, one rarely wonders what kind of tape it was recorded on, or what Drake’s tuning on the guitar is, or even how skillful a player he is; one listens to the song. Likewise with any good design experience; both for the viewer and the creator, the problems of the medium are all smoothed away. Television and film, in its best moments, no longer merely fascinate us with what they can do; skillful camera work, direction, scripting, combined with the audience’s comfort level with receiving information in that form, have made the television a frictionless conduit for story.

This touches on McLuhan’s signature axiom, of course, of the medium being the message – and might go a long way to refuting it. What happens to a medium when both public and designer are so familiar with it that its novelty, and all the tricks it can be made to do, has worn off? In the past decade, we have seen this happen. The internet used to be a place about itself; merely to have a website or be “be online” was enough of a statement. No longer; we are all so familiar with the medium that we can now push it out of the way and receive the messages.

So what makes an ad good? When approaching my next project, I will pull Dernie’s lens from my pocket and look through it for the people within it. They, after all, are the touchstone for understanding the brand experience. The closer I can get to communicating the emotions, the more specific I can be about them, the more successful the ad.