In the early 80's I visit a NYC ad agency and learn a thing or two about the writers and designers that create advertising.As a young-ish Miami freelance art director & designer I hired freelance writer Phyllis Simborg to work on projects with me. She was a semi-retired Madison Avenue ad writer who moved to the Kendall area in Miami in the early 1980's.
To say that she was an influence was a major understatement. When deep thinkers say that a picture is worth a thousand words, I came to learn that a good writer is worth a thousand pictures.
Heading to NYC for a New York Art Director's Club awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria (another Side Story for the future, which includes a hayseed in a tux from Miami), Phyllis offered to set up a meet & greet with Bill, a senior art director at a big Madison Avenue agency. She worked with Bill in the 60's and 70's on national accounts (Coppertone's "Got a Minute? Get a Tan", Tetley's Tea).
My frame of mind at the time was that there were New York creative people and then there were the rest of us, so this was a very big deal.
I figured that there were birthing chambers somewhere in Manhattan and that these NY creatives were wet nursed into the people that worked on Madison Avenue (this completely bypasses that I knew Phyllis was born in Indiana and graduated from the University of Missouri Journalism School).
Cabbing to the big downtown office building, I was greeted in the 35th floor agency lobby by Bill, who was as a regular guy as you could imagine. It's hard to imagine that he was the result of a vast wet nursing conspiracy (think: Matrix). We threaded our way through the narrow corridors of the agency, past executive offices, past the big bullpen of paste-up and production people, and finally, to the area where the art and copy people worked.
Bill's office was 10 x 10 feet or so. He pointed out that Phyllis had occupied the 10 x 10 office near his. Somehow they both rated windows. His office walls were plastered in ad layouts, color proofs, notes and a couple of family photos [nice looking family, BTW]. The smell of cigarette and cigar smoke was everywhere (as it was almost everywhere else those days, including airplanes and restaurants).
On this desk were markers, marker pads, pink message slips, notes to himself, and a half-empty cup of black coffee. There was a Mr. Coffee in the corner and a half-empty bottle of whiskey with a couple of shot glasses flipped on end on top of his flat files.
Phyllis stopped working in the 1990’s and passed away in 2002 on a Punta Gorda golf course. I have to confess that it took me many years to overcome my intimidation of her talent and personality. Her point-of-view was remarkable. She just looked at things differently. I’ve run into only a couple of writers that approached her skill and her ability to turn big ideas into very simple messages.
After thinking about my NY agency visit and my 35+ years of work since then, I’ve come realize that everyday there are great ideas coming from small offices. It often comes from one creative person with a strong point-of-view and a client with good instincts.
The point-of-view of the individual writer or artist makes all the difference. Creative people work everyday in big NY office buildings, in fancy millennial open-office team workspaces, or the quiet of home offices.
It's reassuring to know that we can still find common creative ground (and an outlet for our creativity) with clients no matter where we are (or they are).
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Just outside his door A/Es, media buyers, agency managers, and production people scampered around the floor. It was a hectic place. Bear in mind -- as hard as this is to believe -- that this was before e-mail, desktop publishing, Photoshop and InDesign [or was it Quark Express?], and word processing. Writers banged out their work on their IBM Selectric's. Layouts were sent overnight via Federal Express. Faxing was new. Nobody thought about cell phones, much less smart phones. Pagers were a decade away. The first Mac was a few years out. And, when I first met Phyllis in the early 1980's she was proudly lugging around an Osborne 1, produced by the Osborne Computer Corporation.
A Quora reader posed this question: "What is the significance of Google's logo colors?" I know the thoughtful people at Google would like the world to believe that it was a carefully considered and extensively curated. But I know that a designer -- probably in a small cubicle near a cup of coffee (but probably not a cigar) -- with an eye and admiration for primary color, sat in front of a monitor and cherry-picked colors until they thought it looked just about right. Then the designer came up with a simple narrative that could be sold upwards through the ranks. And, despite subsequent requests for variations from nervous superiors (which were delivered, of course), the final product doesn't look all that much different than the first iteration.