Monday, June 21, 2010

A lecture (transcript) on Innovation given at Loughbough in 2003 by Harry Lyon-Smith

Jerry De la Famina, a New York advertising king, once said that advertising is the most enjoyable thing you can do with your clothes on.

I am quoting this, as it is one of the pillars of innovation to my mind…enjoyment that is….

When Andrew first asked if I might have a thought or 2 on the subject, it got me thinking about what makes for innovation.

And more particularly, as an agent representing many brilliant visual innovators.

I came up with a cocktail of things that I have broken down into 6 areas than can play a role in all innovation, some of which we have brought to bare in keeping the agency on top of it’s game.

They are:
Desperation and desire,
Harnessing Technological Advances,
Enjoyment of what you do
Hard work,
Good Luck
Inspiration and creativity.

- Desperation. Comes in lots of different shapes and forms. But usually a desperate desire to succeed, or a desperate need to survive.

- Technological Advances: Technology changes all the time and sometimes it works for you and sometimes against you, but it has to harness it.

- Enjoyment: If you enjoy what you do then one’s mind is striving to improve it and thus make it more enjoyable.

- Hard Work: Work is a funny word….it has lots of negative connotations. For the people who enjoy what they do it is not Hard Work, it is often more fun than fun (Oscar Wilde I believe)

- Good Luck: I am a believer in making good luck happen in the main, but I also know that out of the blue doors swing open in life. It is what one does with that opportunity that makes it into Good Luck.

- Inspiration and Creativity: you have to have the idea, form it and then you have to make it work well.

I would like to talk about a few of the things that we have done over the last 10 or so years.

They cover:
Our website,
Our international network of agents,
The rise of animation and 3D in our market
and how we see the future


In the Mid 90s the agency, then called The Garden Studio, decided to create a CDrom of all our artists’ portfolios and to send them out to clients.

The driving force was the desire that John Havergal, my then partner, and myself had of making the distribution of our artists’ portfolios very much more efficient both for our clients and for us.

We were fed up with couriers and dispatch departments etc. Sometimes half our working day was managing the flow of portfolios around the place. It was very expensive and a tedious task.

We were very early to do this CD and particularly as we were showing so much of each artists’ work, which could be up to 50 images.

Greatly helped by the publisher of Contact we set about scanning the portfolios and integrating them into the software that we were using.

It took a very long time and was an expensive exercise that the agency largely bore. It was a revolutionary approach to promotion but was a risk that we felt we had to take.

In the end it was only a qualified success…the technologies were fairly clunky by today’s standards and the images not as sharp as the then buyer were used to.

It was also new and buyers were not instinctively going to their computer to source an illustrator. Print was still the first point of call.

One has to remember that there was not the visual familiarity of screen-based presentation that we have today and given that the most commissions were for print, directories and traditional portfolios were favoured.
It was however a signal that change was on the way.

In 1997, after John had retired and we had changed the name to Illustration, the internet was looming large. 

We were producing another CD in conjunction with a promotional book and it seemed a very obvious evolution to put all the portfolios onto a web site that could be kept right up to date.

Print and CDs were history as soon as the ink dried and one had to wait another year to show off what was the latest work.

We acquired the url and linked the CD to the site. The internet was slow by today’s standards, but we still very quickly got a lot of users and work started to come in from it.

Since then it has become our main shop window and over 80% of inquiries and jobs involve the site in one way or another. 50,000 user sessions per month are currently being recorded and it grows all the time.

Recently we have made some fundamental evolutions to the site. There are 2 visible changes that have greatly enhanced the facility of the site: Firstly has been the introduction of a homepage for each illustrator.

 It is an introduction to the artist and a starting point for they’re on line portfolio, animation portfolio, stock collection. The aim was to give a greater platform for the individual, both as a creative and as a personality.

The Second change is the Hi-Res portfolios.

Would it not be fantastic if 100 buyers (I exaggerate to make the point) from around the world could download a portfolio of an artist all on the same day for their presentations and reference?

We found some software that would encrypt pdf documents to the same level as credit card transactions, so they were only printable…. we had a copyright sign etched onto the images and produced a common layout.

The programming evolved at the same time as the job of collecting together hi-res files of everyone’s work. Many digital artists had this already but 6 months were spent scanning the more traditional portfolios.

It was soft launched in January and we are now beginning to push it more and more. It is being used increasingly and we are enjoying generous feedback.

Behind the scenes there have been some equally important developments. We had reached a point whereby most of our artists were comfortable with the computer and internet.

As a way of liberalizing the portfolios from solely our input, we created a gate way and a management area that both artist and agent could edit the content of an individuals site.

New images can be loaded, the homepage changed and with the help of a counter we can see which images are most regularly looked at.

We are bringing a little more science to the game which I hope will be of benefit to the user as well as artist and agent. The great thing that we are seeing is the improvement of the work on the site. Because there is more involvement by the artist there is greater input and results have been very exciting.

We are seeing more traffic and are showing everyone off better than ever.

Soon we will be incorporating part of our Job Management System on to the site. This is the software that we have had developed some 10 years ago that enables us to track and manage jobs.

The new version will enable the agent to be anywhere and up to date with all jobs, enquiries and emails, because it will be on the net. It will also work on PDAs.

This will improve our admin even more. The artist will be able to see their current workload and statement of amounts owing. And Clients will be able to see their account online having received the invoice by email.

The network of affiliated agents around the world.

In 1991 it was thought appropriate I should go to Paris and rep our artists to the ad agencies for a week.

“Bonjour j m’appelle Harry et je voudrez present le portfolio de tres bon illustrateurs anglaise….. you can tell that my linguistic skills are not that great, but I did get in to see about 30 agencies and having put up with my shocking French presentation the artbuyers would invariably say, in near perfect English, that I needed to have a French rep.

The Name Marie Bastille kept cropping up as an agent who represented Uk artists, so on my last day I went to see her and it was agreed that she should represent the agency in France.

This worked well and we started to see if there were other agents in other markets that could help us build a more international client base.

In Hamburg we found Corinna and her team. They have been a great partner and have been very in tune with all our evolutions over the years.

The most important market in the world has to be the States. We had a rather poor start there in 1998, with one rep who shall remain nameless. The majority of our site traffic was from the States and we were baffled by the lack of enquiry.

It was badly managed and I am afraid some of the inquiries that were for us were either never acknowledged or passed to other US illustrators on the pretence that we were expensive.

3 years ago we left that set up and started our own shop in New York. The email and phone numbers on the website went to Carole Faulkner who became a super agent and was great all round.

The jobs almost immediately started coming and over 2 1/2 years built to be come an important part of the business.

Very sadly Carole tragically died in her sleep last month, proving to be the blackest of black times for the agency and for me personally.

I won’t dwell on this awful time, but to say that Maria Cardelli has taken on the role and is proving to be wonderful and I am confident will build on the bedrock that Carole established.

The network covers Japan, Singapore and Australia as well. Collectively we all learn from each other. It is of course beneficial to business but also makes the job more interesting for us all.

Animation and 3D.

About 4-5 years ago Bill Greenhead started making animation sequences of some of his characters and stories.

Here is an early one…..

They were great and it was going to be important to try and find a market for this new side to his work. At the same time we were joined by a group that we call Spark. They were creating animation and incredible 3D virtual photographic images for hi end advertising and broadcast clients, as well as games and flash work for others.

Here is their current show reel

This all seemed a bit out of the normal loop of our practice so we set about creating a new platform to promote this strange new world. IllustrationRGB (now )took shape as a sister agency to illustration Ltd. Show RGB site

The feeling was that a new market was coming our way.

What with the expansion of the internet, coupled with software and hardware that was both affordable and usable by individuals, there was soon going to be a sizable market for independent animators working by themselves or in small groups.

They would not necessarily be competing for the same market as production houses, but for web content, promotional video, and some broadcast programming.

This was all happening at the height of the internet boom and the feed back that we were getting led us to believe that we were all going to be squillionaires in no time.

As it happened the bubble burst and things rather slowed up.

However more and more of our illustrators were creating animation work and as time goes by we are doing more and more animation commissions. A lot comes from the educational market, as well as web designers, advertisers and broadcasters.

We now have a very powerful team of brilliantly creative animators, with a very broad range of skills.

We are developing our RGB site so that it can be self managed by those on it as well as ourselves. We are introducing some new codec later in the year that will enable large movie files to be streamed over the net and give a far better show.

My point in showing this is that if this is what little old illustration ltd is planning, think what the web will become soon when technologies like this is mainstream….it will become a broadcast medium.

The Future.

Looking round corners is a high-risk task and in the main I would suggest that one should closely follow a market rather than try to anticipate it.

One thing that I am sure will dictate our market to a great degree is where our work will be seen. Currently it is primarily in print but with an increasing amount on computer screens and a small amount on TV.

I believe we are seeing the beginning of an explosion of wireless personal screens. Compaq computers have started with a rather bulky computer they call the Tablet, which can be written on as well as be used as a normal computer.

Imagine a fold up screen that will fit in your wallet. You can write on it, phone from it, do all your computer tasks on it, read books and newspapers, watch TV, play games etc etc all in real time….

I would suggest that this is only 5-10 years away and main stream in less than 20 years. This is where our work will be seen.

Print is going to be around for many decades and probably forever, but for many things costs will drive many printed productions onto the screen.

Many illustrators are developing great skills as animators as well as their traditional 2D and 3D work. I see this as useful now and much more so in the future.

The danger is to see it as a threat. It is not, it is an opportunity for our industry, this is an extract from an article I wrote for Images 3 years ago on the next 25 years and I think still holds true by and large….. 

“it is a future where the illustrator will become a key supplier of visual content in all medias to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in the role to date. The work will be much more widely seen and appreciated, giving a greater acknowledgement and public awareness to the genre.

Illustrators will be consulted and play a fundamental role in the direction and production of content, be it TV, websites, presentations, publishing, ads and graphics.”

I said at the beginning that we represented many brilliant visual innovators.

Whatever technology throws at us,
However work is created
Whatever medium it may takes,
the one thing that will never change is individual creativity.
It is from this source that we will always see the greatest innovations in our industry.

Thank you

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