From the discomfort Zone: Digital skeleton

From the discomfort Zone: Digital skeleton

So many artistic domains are getting massacred due to the over-usage of digi-tech, the killer of human passion, craftsmanship, knowhow and creative distinction.

It has started raining on digital technology. Arriving for an early morning flight, I started rubbing my eyes at the airport. Am I sleeping or dreaming? No, it’s real! The famous Walkman inventor is cooling his newly-launched mobile phone in water inside a display box to prove its unique rainproof character.

Yester-generation’s Japanese sultan of electro-mechanical Walkman device, who was upstaged by American burger digi-tech Emperor, is trying to avoid showing commoditised digital images. Instead, with rain falling on mobile phones, the sultan is bringing back Gene Kelly’s 1950s tap dance idea, ‘I’m singin’ in the rain’. Apart from shapely Bollywood heroines getting drenched in the rain, I don’t know whether people require phones in water. Although Slvio Berlusconi would love it for his bunga-bunga underwater sex parties. However, throwing cold water on digi-tech reinforces my digital skeleton idea.

Another airport wait —three hours in Heathrow for connection to Paris — was enough to compare oversize digital screen advertisements of perfume cosmetics brands such as Dior, YSL and Estee Lauder, among others. Through a dreamy route, they’re taking women to planet hedonism. What was disturbing me was identifying the excessive digital effects in every advertising image: The same lighting style and the same post-production digital retouching on the computer. From the technical embellishment perspective, all the different ads resembled one another. Lots of global enterprises have still not understood that digi-tech is just a skeleton. Their digital interface is commoditising the inner value of entertainment that the masses experience, making it all look similar.

Advertising that creates make-believe by manipulating or stretching a subject earlier needed some artistic sense and multiple craftsmanship.
The physical shooting stage involving set designers, light-men, sound creators is getting obsolete now. The other day, I met an old Parisian friend who makes background sound effects for films — a profession he inherited from his father. I loved his surprising magical sessions with different illogical instruments on the floor of a huge room. In front of a projection screen he’d watch the soundless movie and integrate sound into it as per the film’s action. The numerous instruments created by him looked really spectacular, much like installation art today. Watching him skilfully chafe ultra-violet coated satin to produce a recordable swish or strangely pull wire-string on some hollow instrument to emit an obtuse howl was itself an entertaining movie. This was his livelihood and passion, which, he sorrowfully narrated, is fading. His two children are not interested, so his collection of sound effects instruments has rusted and become antique. He said with digital technology, everything’s readymade in the digital disk so anybody can make sound effects. Just imagine, films now have no background sound differentiation.


So many artistic domains are getting massacred due to the over-usage of digi-tech, the killer of human passion, craftsmanship, knowhow and creative distinction.

At the same time we cannot ignore the advantage of digital content vs the celluloid film, which was cumbersome, extremely costly and you had to wait a couple of days to develop the film. With digi-tech advancement, film output is instantaneous, there’s time saving, cost effectiveness and physical effort reduction. The main point is to use digi-tech as the skeleton that it is. It provides the strong base on which flesh can be added, the flesh of human skill and creativity. The human interface should not look digital.

In my branding and advertising experience in Western society, we have to have calligraphic expertise to design a brand name or effective caption. Hungarian professor Paul Gabor taught me the grammar and architecture of typography. There are four basics: Gothic, Roman, Antique, Elzevir. After learning these basics, with freehand drawing you can start making fantastic typographic work. Later, from my colleague, the famous French font designer Albert Boton, I learnt that font face just makes the text; not the brand. Branding requires distinctive typographic character for the brand to become iconic in time. From Bauhaus, the radical German design influencer, to Raymond Loewy, father of industrial and brand design, to celebrated designers Gordon Lippincott and Walter Landor –— nobody ever used readymade typography for brand design.

Just to illustrate, my design team and I never allow readymade fonts usage for brands we create. For example, Activia of Danone, Isio4 — the famous four-blend French cooking oil, Greek dairy brand Delta, Remy Martin’s Armagnac clés des Luc, Argentina’s Bagley biscuits, Marico’s Parachute, Britannia, Wipro and Lewis Berger, among others. Our expertise of designing by hand gives brands specific character from typography that we develop so that its exact likeness cannot be found anywhere else in the globe. A brand name with its identity has to carry some timeless property which creates its authentic value. The more authentic the identity creation, the better is it for commercial protection from plagiarism and for financial results. It contributes to the brand’s deeper timelessness.

Typographic skill is given scant attention nowadays. A computer geek can quickly design a technical brand, giving you multiple font options. Every fresh marketer in Indian companies asks this from design houses to choose a brand’s typography; variety takes precedence over unique typeface expertise. Rarely would you find hand calligraphy in professional work today. Such skill and expertise are verging into oblivion. Let’s take an analogy. Staple food like rice, wheat, pasta, bread will always be there; you cannot eat digital pasta. Similarly, creative base fundamentals will remain, digi-tech cannot and should not replace human creativity. Creative ingenuity should be allowed to flourish, with digi-tech remaining its skeleton, otherwise all artistic work will become incestuous.

Art has always been considered a form of expressive liberation. Digital technology should not contaminate artistic liberty and expression by commoditising our individual expression and living style. I reckon 2025 will see the digital graveyard even as we embrace the digital skeleton.

Shombit Sengupta is a global consultant on unique customer centricity strategy to execution excellence for top management.
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