Listen to the dog’s bell

It’s the end of the summer approaching my 2nd year at Brandcenter & I’ve been meaning to recap the last semester. I just finished my internship and feeling kind of good and kind of scared about entering my last 30 weeks at the school.

The past spring I thought was going to be much easier than the fall, boy was I wrong. Everyone had told me the first semester is the easiest, you take less classes in the spring, don’t worry too much about it… What a load of shite. Last semester I did only take 3 classes but I had much more work than the fall semester, which is astonishing. I guess you can’t really understand what it’s like to go weeks working non-stop all day and all night without actually doing it. And I am well aware that it’s just going to get heavier. The thing is I enjoyed the spring a lot more than the fall because you could see everyone’s progress.

Our 3 classes were Craft taught by adjunct professor Amy Elkin, User Participation Platforms taught by Andrew LeVasseur, & Concept Development by the aforementioned Mark Fenske.

Craft was seemingly a more traditional ad campaign class. Every two weeks we were paired up with a different CW and given a brand. The first week we pitched different rough concept statements and ideas for cool activations to the class. Then the next week we presented one final idea that was more ‘crafted’ to show print examples, social, activations, etc. Whatever could best communicate our idea we could do.

The best part about this class was watching everyone else’s ideas come to fruition. You saw real improvement throughout the semester and it was inspiring. There was little much besides presentation and critique during the actual class time so I felt the most valuable aspects of it were that you got to see how everyone else thought and it was motivating. Each week someone would try something new or would make you feel jealous or would fail horribly (this would very much include myself). But it was great to see everyone going to bat with new work.

The only thing that I wish they pushed more in the curriculum was the craft aspect. It felt like we didn’t really talk too much in the specifics of art direction or really spend any time on how to get better ideas or bring in new ways of art directing a piece. Too many times I felt that we were obligated to make ads that lead with the copy, and not with the visuals. It’s something that I think Brandcenter lacks, there are so many great examples of visually led creative, it just wasn’t pushed as much as I thought it was going to be. I definitely wanted to do more in-class exercises specifically for Craft but to be honest we never really had enough time or energy.

User Participation Platforms was a less traditional ad class. It challenged us to come up with different ways of using brands to communicate with people. And a lot of the times those ways were not communicating to people but allowing them a venue for communication themselves. So much of where advertising was, was one person (the brand) talking to other people (consumers), and we needed to find ways where we gave the consumers a voice.

All of this is demonstrated in pretty creative assignments; designing a board game, creating super bowl ad extensions, connecting a brand with a cause, etc. The class is pretty interesting, you are teamed up in a larger group of 6 or 7 Art Directors and Experience Designers. Andrew also is an extremely helpful and nice teacher.

We had projects due every 3 weeks. Unfortunately, because the groups are so large and the pressure to produce book-worthy work so great, most students put this class on the back-burner. It often felt overlooked and underappreciated. I definitely can sympathize as it seemed noxious to continually propose hypothetical after hypothetical comp in presentations without actually producing something. At least in a print ad it is there, it says something or it doesn’t. Look imagine this city wide take over can’t you just imagine it? No.

There was no lack of produced work in Concept Development. That class was filled with AD’s and CW’s where we were to become performing seals. I would say 60%% of that class was lecture and 40% of it critique. Fenske was the dominating force of that class, often leaving me feeling so perplexed by his lectures and analogies yet equally impressed with his energy and vigor to come up with new shit to say. He has a strong opinion and doesn’t apologize for what he says but the bar he sets could not be any higher.

For the first 3 weeks of classes we had to produce 100 different bacon ads, each week. This was more or less the experience throughout the semester, we would produce a shit ton then when you didn’t think you could look at something a different way he would show you how-or make fun of you for not being able to. It was an invaluable experience because he stressed the importance and distinction between ads that were born to be ads and ads that said something meaningful to someone else.

It was quite difficult coming to class each week, working tirelessly producing your best stuff only to get ruthlessly skewered for not saying anything new. And trying to succeed through this process made you better, made you think of not making an ad, made you communicate an idea. It gave everyone standards through which we continue to judge work. I think many years from now I will look back on those lectures in much greater appreciation for what I have.

But I will say it was not without fault. For a few weeks we started making video ads and I think the students preferred this media change albeit short-lived. It was probably easier to create a bad video to pass the weekly assignment without as much effort as with a print ad and I think that’s what Fenske thought. Well we know what he thought, he thought we sucked. Which is what we thought, and it’s what helped some people get better.

I have never done as much work as I have in any class before that class and at the end of the semester I felt delirious. One of the biggest take-aways from last year was learning that I stunk. Or that I needed to stink to get to where I wanted to be. I wanted to see progress daily, when in fact I should have been thinking semesterly or something like that. You exhaust yourself putting in as much effort as you can each day and when you fail after that it can burn you out.

Another last point about expectations from Brandcenter, the professors don’t necessarily want to be your friend. This was something that I think I should have learned earlier on. Wayne and Fenske the guys who most students idolize, aren’t going to want to hang out with you. In fact, they are probably so tired of the immaturity of students that they will tell you this in a very brash manner. Some of the teachers are quite nice but don’t go in expecting or wanting them to hold your hand through this, do it for you.

The other week I was running outside with my dog, on a nice fall or spring day we can make it 4 or 5 laps on the trail before tiring out. I noticed something weird at the end of our 2nd lap, not only was she behind me but I could hear the bell around her collar start to soften. I kept going a little and it continued, I looked back and she was nearly walking and painting as if she was going to collapse. Duh, it was 95 degrees. I stopped there and brought her right to my car for water. I could have kept going in fact, I wanted to keep running. Who knows what would have happened.

Many times last year I felt that I was risking my body in almost a physically threatening point due to my want to produce and get better. It made my thinking worse, and often after a late night working I would not feel up to working out. I slid for the last few weeks getting worse and worse while the amount of stress and work piling up. You just aren’t nearly as efficient that way. Some goals for next year, don’t burn out-pay attention to the bell. You need to think smarter not just work harder.