Category: creativity


Five Minutes With – Kate Canada Obregon, PhD

As the Co-Founder, Partner and Director of Strategy and Research of Oishii Creative, Kate Canada Obregon has been with the company from the beginning, since co-founding it with her business partner, and now husband, Ish Obregon, in 2006. Read on as she offers her insight into what the company’s philosophy, “Think Like a Tourist,” means for her, what inspires her, and what she really does all day.

How do you “Think Like a Tourist” (how do you embody that philosophy for yourself)?
For me, “Thinking Like a Tourist” is not only our company mantra, but truly my experience coming into this industry. I had such an outside background that I feel I’ve been able to bring some fresh perspective and understanding to the world of branding. I originally studied political philosophy and culture at university. The more I studied and researched, the more I began to see the small, but powerful, tools people used in culture, language, and perspective — how culture and institutions in society are in a perpetual conversation.

While working in a basement library archive, researching and examining a replica of the Bayeux Tapestry and William the Conqueror’s attempt to win over his new English subjects after defeating the beloved King Harold in 1066, a friend gave me career advice. “You should try out the field of brands,” she said. I looked at her, and we both had a good laugh. “Why not apply your knowledge to different kinds of problems? You know history and science,” she urged. “You should think about applying your skills and passion to more contemporary problems.” And as I completed my PhD studies, I began meeting with creative agencies doing interesting work in strategy, and I was curious and inspired. Around this time, I met Ish, and we immediately clicked. He wanted to shape “branding” into a standalone and serious discipline for his clients, separate from the function and process of marketing, and I wanted to apply social science to study audiences and culture. I wanted to be a “social” scientist, not just study culture for science.So, luckily for me, I still apply my background and outside approach to the industry, and I get to “Think Like a Tourist” everyday — creating actionable strategy and insights using science and good data for companies and brands committed to understanding what their audiences or clients like, want or value.

What do you do when you’re feeling creatively blocked?
Get outside! Even if it’s just for a short walk, getting yourself moving and exposed to fresh air, sunlight and a new environment can jumpstart your creativity.

What three elements would a perfect day include?
Definitely time with my family, a project that I can sink my research teeth into, and maybe a really good cup of coffee.

What do you do all day?
Today, my days are spent working on the strategy and research side of projects at Oishii. As each client comes in, I study their brand, goals, and needs, and help them figure out where they want to go. It’s been a great fit, because like any academic, I’m obsessed with pursuing good knowledge whatever the project or outcome. In my former academic self, I couldn’t have understood English history using hearsay or bad science, and today, my clients deserve no less. Strategy for me is the ongoing pursuit of what makes companies and brands pleasurable for audiences, and that should always involve history, science and rigor.

Do your family understand what you do all day?
Well, my co-founder, Ish Obregon, is also my husband, so I would hope so!


Trust Me, I’m a Celebrity: BoJack Horseman and the Need to Trust Your Audience

BoJack Horseman may already have wrapped up its third season, an admirable feat in a television climate of shows where something as clever, melancholy and, well, different as the Netflix original often don’t make it through an entire first season. Still, it’s only 37 episodes (and one Christmas special) in — a little more than a season and a half in broadcast years — and it’s already taken leaps with how much it trusts its audience.

In season 3, episode 4, “Fish Out of Water,” the entire show takes a shift stylistically, with a muted, underwater color palette, and in tone and in dialogue (spoiler alert: the episode is mostly dialogue-free) in a stark series departure that New York Magazine’s Vulture vertical says, “plays out as if the iconic Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones were tasked with doing a Charlie Chaplin–inspired Fantasia segment.” It’s also been compared to Lost in Translation and what the A.V. Club calls, “nothing short of a masterpiece.”

How is one episode of an (admittedly) charming, hilarious and sweetly bleak series about a talking washed-up B-list celebrity horse trying to find happiness enthralling audiences and critics alike? Because series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his team did something we don’t see nearly enough in media anymore — they trusted their audience. It’s the reason critics were so fond of the first three seasons of NBC’s “Community” when showrunner Dan Harmon was firmly in place and made it clear that his goal was to entertain those already invested in his show and not worry about making it broad and palatable for new fans to jump in. This may not have won him great ratings, but it did win him the loyalty of his fans, such that even after being replaced in season 4 (for a number of reasons), NBC still brought him back for season 5, and Yahoo! was willing to take a chance on season 6. Six seasons and a movie became the rallying cry of the “Community” fanbase, and they may still get their wish.

While it’s unwise to ignore a wider or untapped market, especially for those of us whose jobs it is to create dynamic campaigns that draw in, hopefully, larger audiences for our clients, there’s a greater value to an engaged, invested consumer or viewer who appreciates that the brand is talking directly to them and is investing in their relationship. One rabid BoJack fan is more likely to insist to their friends that they have to watch all three seasons of BoJack just to get the full depth of “A Fish Out of Water” vs. three casual viewers who may tune in to just that one episode and think “eh, this is just a visually beautiful, silly cartoon.” If you’ve been invested since the beginning, the full pathos, aching regret and beautiful rays of hope that pierce through the underwater depths are a full payoff.


Music on My Mind: Finding the Right Tunes for Your Creativity

Even with all of the buzz surrounding the Rio Olympics over the past week, one moment held the internet’s collective attention — Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps prepping for his semifinal race in the 200-meter butterfly– hoodie up and Beats headphones on (many speculate it’s Eminem blasting in them) — scrunches up his face, giving a deadly glare to no one in particular. Meanwhile, South African opponent Chad le Clos, earbuds in, shadowboxed and danced in front of him. A meme-worthy scene to be sure, but what’s really striking is the universality of the two men using music, albeit probably very different genres and with different reactions, to get themselves in the right frame of mind.

It’s no secret that athletes can get a boost from the right choice of tunes, but what if the same can be said for creatives? After all, even President Obama had admitted to also playing some Eminem before a big speech, so why not before your next big presentation? Or, even to get yourself in the right frame of mind for a particular project or to just relax your mind?

Many creatives are multi-talented across disciplines, including being musicians themselves, but even for those of us who are closer to tone deaf than the Deftones, we can still harness the power of music for our own creativity. While science has shown that music can relax, energize, inspire and even increase creativity, it’s all about knowing the patterns that will influence your work positively.

Here are five tips on when to hit play and when to pause.

Play: You’re looking to brainstorm or get lost in the style frames of your project. Just as we storyboard our design inspiration, we can also get our mood references from audio. Netflix’s Spielbergian tribute Stranger Things is a perfect example of a soundtrack that puts not just the viewers, but the show’s creators, in the ‘80s suspense mindset.

Pause: Learning new tasks. While learning an instrument can actually improve our cognitive skills and studying music has been linked to academic achievement, when it’s time to learn a new task, music can actually hinder your brain’s ability to process new information, especially if you’re reading or the music you’re listening to has lyrics.

Play: Repetitive tasks combined with a loud office environment create the perfect storm of distraction. Music can actually help in this scenario because it can block out the excessive data input that your brain is trying to process from the background noise, as well as triggering a release of feel-good neurotransmitters to help you feel relaxed and more focused.

Pause: When listening to something new, studies have shown that it’s best to listen to old favorites rather than explore something different. This is because your brain will be more easily distracted by something it’s not already familiar with.

So, when you’re preparing your summer work playlist, be sure to curate plenty of old favorites, a few lyric-free tunes, and some mood-setting options. And, if you need a good pump up, there’s always Eminem.


What’s Next? We Look to the Future for PromaxBDA

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We were thrilled to once again partner with our longtime friends at PromaxBDA to develop a branding package for The Conference 2016, the international organization’s annual event for those of us working in media, marketing and design for the entertainment industry. Having

Promax_Conf_Final PROMAX LOGOS _6_09_16.00_00_28_19.Still012 previously created the Conference and Awards opens and branding for PromaxBDA in 2014, it was especially exciting for us to have the opportunity to work on their 60th anniversary!

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This year, we were tasked with exploring how our industry constantly reinvents itself, with new forms of content and distribution

Promax_Conf_Final PROMAX LOGOS _6_09_16.00_02_02_04.Still009changing the media landscape. As veterans of this industry, it’s something we deal with everyday.

Drawing heavily from PromaxBDA’s Promax_Awards_Ceremony_Final.00_01_06_08.Still024 tagline, “Create What’s Next,” we wanted to create a symbolic journey through the different stages of creativity. So, in our fully-CG opener, we embraced the new modes of Promax_Awards_Ceremony_Final.00_00_42_04.Still011 communication and technology, such as social media and virtual reality, while giving a nod to the old plastic arts as seen in architectural and sculptural forms.

Promax_Awards_Ceremony_Final.00_00_28_06.Still007 Promax_Awards_Ceremony_Final.00_00_10_24.Still003And while there’s a lot of uncertainty in our industry, we wanted our piece to celebrate the optimism of the future. We realized that, ultimately, our success in “what’s next” will be dependent on our ability to find new ways to communicate and connect with others.


Your busy, chatty brain needs some quiet

One of the fundamental principles of Buddhism is that the world is constantly in flux, and therefore, each of us is in flux, experiencing constant change. According to Buddhism, by not embracing change and trying to hold on to life around you too tightly, be it the negative or the positive, we bind ourselves to suffering. To accept change is to accept ourselves and those around us as constantly changing creatures, who are not bound to our past failures or successes.

While initially frightening, whether or not you follow Buddhist teachings, once you embrace the idea that nothing is permanent, it can be very freeing. You aren’t who you were yesterday when you lost that pitch or even who you were this morning when you felt the stress of a budget meeting. You are only who you are in this moment, and that allows you to let go of your expectations, fears and doubts about yourself and take on new challenges, views and states of mind.

And it’s in that new mindstate that’s the key to embracing change. By adopting mindfulness — the practice of watching one’s breath and noticing thoughts and sensations — during your work hours, it can help you reflect upon the evolution of self, embrace it and even thrive from it. But don’t take our word for it. Companies, and even business schools, have embraced the adaptation of mindfulness for success: Google’s created a course on it, while eBay and Twitter both offer meditation areas for its employees.

And especially creatives can benefit from mindfulness. Creative work requires a quiet mind, your brain’s neurons quietly humming on autopilot. Tapping into quiet shuts down the chatty parts of your brain, the areas that plan, plot and worry. Whether it’s a walk around the office or an early morning sit down in your living room before anyone gets up, quiet and stillness makes room for ideas, connections and creativity.

So, how can we incorporate mindfulness into our already busy schedules? The good news is only a few minutes a day can make an enormous difference. When you’re feeling stressed, whether it’s because of long commutes to and from work, conflict with a coworker or just generally feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath, relax your body and let go of your thoughts. It sounds deceptively simple, but studies have shown that mindfulness makes us happier, less stressed, more empathetic and more cognitively mobile, increasing memory and helping us think more clearly. And, with 47% of us admitting to spending our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing, a little mindfulness can go a long way.

Of course, if you need a little more help, there’s an app for that.


Want a Strong Company Culture? Define It

A company culture is typically defined as an organizational set of shared ideas, values, beliefs and behaviors within an organization. A work culture influences people in both big and small ways — everything from clothing choices to meeting styles to the systems for getting work done.

While this definition seems fairly straightforward, it’s recently taken on more complex understandings and practicalities in work spaces. Now, offices must consider all aspects of human thinking and creative needs, designing and building out spaces and offering benefits best suited for churning out innovative ideas and behaviors.

This new perception of work culture now factors into how we see a company’s success (no matter how much money you’re making your investors, if you’re employees are miserable, it’s just bad business) and its outside appeal. Some companies like Zappos, Google and REI draw new recruits in just based off of their famed cultures. And studies have shown that flexible work cultures and ones that value further development of their employees’ talents are especially appealing to Millennials. But while we’re all familiar with free lunches, in-office yoga and “unlimited” vacation time, what’s really at the base of a company culture that will make it strong?

Turns out, for a company culture to have the most chance of success, it doesn’t really matter what perks you’re offering. What really determines whether a culture will thrive is how well it’s defined. If everyone feels they’re operating under different, or even competing goals, it can cause conflict and distort expectations. In fact, having a strong company culture is so important, that according to Fast Company, even having a negative company culture can be better than having no company culture at all; at the very least, it provides employees with a structure, and set of values and expectations from which to operate. We’re certainly not advocating for a toxic work culture for anyone, but the fact is, even knowing what you’re working against can help you make something better.

And while there is proof that positive work cultures make people more productive, what employees really want is a sense of consistency and the ability to be part of a work community, where they can contribute to ideas and solutions. In fact, a little push can be just what a business needs. A little candor on everyone’s part, and even some healthy conflict, can start a conversation, get people actively thinking, talking and ruminating on ideas.

So, if your culture isn’t clearly defined, maybe it’s time to sit down and recap your essential principles and define it. Or better yet, invite your team to contribute. By including their input, you may be taking the first step to fostering the strong, community-oriented culture that draws people in and keeps them engaged.


The Science of Sleep

Are you yawning as you settle down to read this? Or perhaps you’ve just refilled your coffee cup for the third time in an effort to “stay focused.” We are loathe to admit it in a work environment that prizes being “on” at all hours, but, as a whole, we are not getting enough rest. Recent studies have confirmed that Americans do not get enough sleep, with more than a third of adults getting less than seven hours a night, which may be just as bad at not sleeping at all. So, we may very literally be working ourselves to death.

Even Arianna Huffington, the queen of productivity, has gotten onboard. Her latest book, “The Sleep Revolution,” touts the benefits of getting more shut eye in order to be more creative, productive, and even happier. In her 2010 TED Talk, where she advised attendees to “sleep their way to the top,” Huffington tackled the culture of “sleep deprivation one-upmanship” that has led people to brag about how little rest they’re getting and how much they’re doing.

We’ve adopted a culture where we struggle to recognize or justify our own value unless we’re in a constant state of being in-demand. When we’re too busy, have too many conflicting deadlines and back-to-back meetings, it’s easy to trick ourselves into believing that just compromising on a few hours of sleep is the best answer. But ongoing sleep deprivation, even losing just a few hours a night, can lead to health risks, lowered creativity, trouble concentrating or even an inability to function through the workday. And, according to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is something that can’t be caught up on later.  

What can we do? Powering down all electronics, at least one hour before bed may be our biggest goal. By signaling to your brain that it’s time to relax, it can start the necessary process to prepare for sleep. Having a nightly ritual, like meditation, reading or putting on some extra comfy pajamas, can help ease your mind to make the transition from the busy workday to the world of Morpheus.

So, next time you’re getting lost in your work at 2 am and feeling that charge that comes from knowing your ideas are flowing and you’re bringing value to the table, just remember how much you’ll suffer for missing those extra zzz’s tomorrow. Or as Huffington says, “I urge you to shut your eyes and discover the great ideas that lie inside us, to shut your engines and discover the power of sleep.”


Lost and Found on the Creative Path

Everyday is a new creative adventure, whether you’re working on a passion project or trying to come up with the next big idea for your client. We should try to strive to let ourselves embrace, explore and be inspired by our own personal creative paths.

But sometimes, we wander off the path and get lost on the way. The journey may still feel enjoyable, but we’ve stepped away from the process in an unplanned or unhelpful way that takes you too far from actually achieving your goals. And in those instances, no matter how pleasurable the experience, sometimes, if you go off-course, you’ve got to find your way back. Here are three tips to getting yourself back on track.

  1. Find a guide. If you’re truly lost, perhaps you need a little guidance to find your way? Maybe it’s revisiting the original creative brief to see if you’ve strayed too far from the original concept. Maybe it’s asking your colleagues, team or boss for advice when you’re facing a mental challenge that has you sidelined. Or, if your struggle is a bigger challenge of feeling adrift in your job, a mentor or even a career coach may be the answer. As creative consultant Jeffrey Davis said of feeling sidelined, “I’ve seen talented minds go to waste out of sheer stubbornness, pride, and shame in not asking for directions from others… Every thriving enterpriser I know, interviewed, and have studied has a mentor and a group of trusted allies.” Don’t be afraid to admit how you’re feeling and to ask for help.
  1. Focus. This is the tough one because struggling with focusing could be what caused you to feel lost in the first place, but sometimes, the only answer to getting back on track is to buckle down and do it. While we always need to allow ourselves a balance of creative freedom, having the concentration and discipline to see ourselves through challenging projects, situations and even time periods is essential to seeing things through. So, next time you feel yourself drift off your path, work on training your mind to focus, just like you would any muscle.
  1. Give Yourself Time to Get Lost. We’ve explored before how important a little time off to daydream and wander is for the creative brain. Perhaps you’re getting lost due to creative fatigue. In a digital era where we’re always connected and an industry where we can technically do our work from anywhere with a wifi signal, it’s easy to understand how fast we can get to a state of burnout. Wieden + Kennedy London even recently went so far as to institute email-free hours and limited meeting times to help combat the “always-on” expectations. If you’re feeling disconnected in your creative work, maybe it’s time to schedule some time to be actually disconnected.

Sometimes, the best way to find your way back is to embrace the journey for a bit. After all, as Tolkien said, “Not all who wander are lost.”


How Passion Projects Drive Innovation

From books and how-tos to best practices and research, the inspiration and tools for innovation are seemingly everywhere, making creative disruption achievable if we just give it room and time to thrive… or so the thinking goes. The truth is that innovation isn’t just new thinking, it’s actually putting those new ideas into practice. Or, as John Maynard Keynes said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

And allowing our teams the freedom to escape those old ideas and innovate new ones is a large part of the thinking behind encouraging employee passion projects goes.

Google may have made the concept famous with their (defunct in name only) 20% time rule, where employees could spend 20% of their time experimenting with their own ideas. But the concept is a lot wider than just the search giant. Many startups have utilized the idea, and of course, 3M is possibly the original pioneer of the idea that giving employees more freedom and time to pursue what they love will result in happier, more productive employees.

As creative professionals, this concept should come naturally to us, but it’s often hard to justify the luxury of a passion project. However, when you feel a certain sense of creative freedom or opportunity to pursue a project just for the sake of enjoyment, you’re more likely to be inspired, refreshed and reconnected with your work. As we’ve said before, sometimes we are judged by our amount of structured creative output, rather than our quality, which can hinder us from taking real creative risks and innovating our processes, our work and ourselves.

So don’t discount those doodles, scribbles and side projects your employees may be doing in their downtime. You never know what will spark their next successful idea, and giving them the space, encouragement and freedom to explore their creativity will foster a more supportive, rewarding environment. After all, if they feel they can be open about their experimental projects, who knows what they will share with you — and how those ideas will be actualized in the real world.


We Have A Few Changes…: 5 Tips For Giving Great Creative Feedback

Creative FeedbackWhen you work in the creative trenches every day, it’s easy to take for granted that we all speak the same industry language. But hearing vague terms like “make it bigger” or “it needs more energy” or “it doesn’t feel young” doesn’t help anyone. If you want to provide good creative feedback, there are a few things you can follow to ensure you’re giving (and getting) the most of your time. Here’s our top five tips:

  1. It Starts With The Brief. Before you give any feedback, the best way to ensure it’s going to go well for you later is to be clear on the assignment and work parameters before anyone gets started. It will give your team the specifics they need to work with, and it will make your critiquing easier later as you’ll be able to point to specifics on what is or isn’t working.
  1. Come Prepared. If you haven’t taken the time to properly review the project, how are you going to give good notes? Even people who have a great creative instinct still need time to reflect on what they want to say. Put your thoughts into notes that you can refer to and share with your team as a follow up. Just winging it is disrespectful to your team, and in the long run, if you haven’t properly reviewed the project, chances are you’re not going to be happy with the outcome, and you’ll have to go through it again, which leads us to…
  1. Be Specific. Okay, the logo just doesn’t “pop” to you, but how can you translate that to the creative? Perhaps your target audience is tween girls, and you feel the logo won’t appeal to them. Or maybe the background is too busy, and the logo is getting lost. Or  maybe you just want the logo bigger. Either way, any of those answers will give your team tangible feedback they can work with.
  1. Be Honest… But Be Kind. Yes, it’s business, but creatives often pour their hearts into their work, so even if you’re just being honest, be careful. Even if you don’t like it, acknowledge their time and effort. Perhaps it feels off because they took a big creative risk that didn’t land. Or maybe they tried a new skillset that they haven’t yet mastered. If it’s just not working, then you should be honest, but let them down easy. There’s no need to bash their work.
  1. Recognize The Positive! Who says feedback has to be all about the negative? Even if you feel a project is perfect, it can be just as important to let people know what they did right. If they know what the strongest part of their work was, then they’ll be more likely to repeat those good parts again.

Implement these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to giving thoughtful, specific and encouraging creative feedback that will empower your teams to do their best work yet.