Posts by author: joel

Gmail inbox

Gmail logoVery bizarre. My Gmail inbox felt unwelcoming, almost macabre this morning. Took me a while to realise that for some reason the Google logo at the top left had become a black-fingernailed version of its formerly childlike self. No more proof needed of the impact of colour on brand identity! Still can’t work out why this has happened though.


CBS Outdoor campaign 2012

I like the visual appeal of this poster campaign running on the Tube at the moment. Silhouettes of animals made up of little London landmarks. However, it makes no sense to me that it’s a campaign for CBS Outdoor, with the head-scratching strapline “Outdoor by name. Urban by nature”. I struggle to see any but the most superficial connection between brand, strapline and execution.

If only they had done it for the Zoo instead. Eye-catching animals and urban landmarks would make sense in that context. Oh wait – looks like Toronto Zoo got there first.

Toronto Zoo polar bear poster 2009


When trying to talk intelligently about brands, I always find myself in two minds over whether to refer to Apple, Coke and Nike. On the one hand they are so constantly and so casually dragged into any uninformed conversation on the power of brands that it can be hard to take seriously yet another eulogy/rant about them. On the other hand, they are indisputably masterful at this branding game.

Perhaps the way that we should think of them is as a type of shorthand for what branding can achieve, a marker to help guide other brands’ performance. Not as something to mark the outer limits of branding, but to point beyond themselves, to light the path for others. Don’t imagine that your brand can be as good as Apple, Coke or Nike. Imagine that your brand can be even better than them.


The many eulogies that describe Steve Jobs as a visionary are perfectly apt. But just as important as the fact that he saw things differently, is the message sent that it is aspirational to see differently. A message reinforced by countless articles and magazine covers, the message that seeing and doing things differently is the way into the future.

So if we’re going to emulate him over the next weeks and years, let’s not emulate what he did, but how he did it. As he said at Stanford, “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Let’s take this chance to be new.


There’s such a gap in the housing market between properties and homes, practical and emotional. All the estate agents focus relentlessly on the former. Could there not be an agent that focuses on the latter?


HemispheresNothing like an app to give you an ego boost. I always knew it was true. Don’t let their thoroughly inaccurate image of a brain put you off.


Hungerford skateboards

Mystery of the day. If you look down at one of the piles of the Hungerford Bridge, you will see a large number of shattered skateboards lying there for no apparent reason. I can’t for the life of me think why.


Tiny Tower - Wedding Chapel

I’ve been playing more or less obsessively a newly discovered iPhone game: Tiny Tower.

It may not seem like much at first glance, with its repetitively simple gameplay and wide-eyed pixel graphics. But I would argue that a few key qualities mean it represents a whole new paradigm for portable games – games as a kind of mobile companion.

You start with a ground-floor lobby and a small amount of cash (‘coins’), and you build your tower floor by floor. You get to choose the category of floor you build (food, retail and so on) but not the specific shop that ends up being built (a diner or a shoe store, say). Each shop can be stocked with various products (which costs money), which are then sold (which earns more money). And when you have enough money, you can build another floor. Oh yes, and there are little people who work in the shops and live in apartments you must build.

It’s not brain surgery. With this description it sounds like a lobotomised version of SimCity, or indeed SimTower. But the difference is that everything happens in real time – the building of the floors, the stocking and selling of products, the waiting for people (‘bitizens’) to move in. And time passes in the game even when you’re doing something else on your phone. So you can come back after a few hours and see that that product is ready to stock now, or this new floor has been built.

Equally, there are certain things you have to be in the game to do, such as allow newly stocked products to go on sale, or to restock a sold-out product. So if you don’t play the game for a while, all your stores will sell out and you’ll stop making money – and the game will grind to a halt.

Importantly, though, you can’t ‘die’ or regress in the game by not playing it. In this way it’s not like a Tamagotchi, which you used to be able to kill through neglect. Your tower will just wait patiently for you.

Finally, there is a second form of currency in the game, a kind of reward currency (‘tower bux’) that you can spend in order to speed up how long it takes to stock or sell products, or build a floor. So you are not completely at the whim of the real-time clock, and you can make things happen when you actually want to play the game.

Although I still maintain it’s a simple game, the gameplay is very finely balanced, so that the more frequently you play the game the more quickly you can build your tower – but that you have to have time away from it too. Combined with the childish charm of having this pixellated tower and its pixellated inhabitants living in your phone wherever you go, I find myself clicking into the game every few hours, much more than any other game I have on my phone.

It’s very difficult to explain the attraction it holds, and I don’t feel I’ve managed it in the paragraphs above, but if you need a final argument here it is. The game is also psychic. Yesterday, on my wedding day, it built a wedding chapel in my tower. No, it’s not connected to Google or anything that knows I was getting married. It is pure psychic wisdom. I will start allowing it to buy me lottery tickets soon.


Nebulae by Hubble and Eyescapes by Rankin

Photos of nebulae taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and Rankin’s close-ups of people’s irises.


In the age to come, the remains of your civilisation will be turned into a tourist attraction.