Dance To The Music

April 27, 2012

Presentation Summary

In this presentation to design and illustration students from the University of Cumbria, England, Kevin Roberts talks about the great importance of creative design solutions and the challenge to create a future that is: Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding.

Great Design

I’m a design nut, having started out in fashion design with the legendary Mary Quant.

You’re on a fantastic track, because the importance of creative design solutions to the world has never been greater. Design is at the heart of progress. Why? Because we live in a VUCA world:

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.

How can 7 billion people all have shelter, secure food, stay healthy, get along, feel great, be happy, pay for it all – and fight off attacks from Mars!!?

Many of the answers will involve design and drawing. It will be creatives, dreaming ways through walls, who inspire human progress and happiness.

Your challenge as designers is to reframe VUCA as superVUCA, to create a future that is:

Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding.

Whether you’re just starting out in graphic design/ illustration, or you’re heading out to work in the world, in vuca you need a mindset of winning if you are going to be successful.

Success launches off 3 personal questions:

  1. When am I at my best?
  2. What will I never do?
  3. Where do I want to be in five years?

Once this ‘when’, ‘what’, and ‘where’ are sorted, you can focus on the how, how do I win?

If you don’t know how to win, don’t worry. I do!!


Idea 1 – Make it Now

In this 24/7, always-on, world of screenagers, where life streams through screens, where teens in T-shirts create billion dollar companies overnight, ‘new’ is old.

Speed is of the essence. The Age of Now is here. Now is the only operational framework.

Whether you’re working in entertaining, advertising, educating, publishing, retailing, anything…the design focus must be on activation.

Because the audience is always on, but more than that, living in the moment, a place that’s more rewarding than the regrets of yesterday and fears of tomorrow.

80% of people’s happiness is in the Now, where tension is relaxed, problems dissolve, and superVUCA delivers. This is the winning frame, instant response to instant expectation, rolling 100 Day Plans.

Getting things done is easy, making things happen is not. It’s about scorching attitude, speed inside the moment.

The job is to improve life, NOW. The key shifts:

Attention Participation
Inform Inspire
Interruption Interaction
Return on Investment Return on Involvement
Pumping Markets Creating Movements

Idea 2 – Make it Emotional

Great design starts with the answer, and works back.

And the answer is people, knowing your audience backwards. Sensing and responding to them.

Instead of putting your audience at the heart of everything you do, put yourself at the heart of everything the audience does. This is priceless.

For his 360˚ tour, Bono put his band in the center of the stadium, in the center of the audience. With a 360˚ audience, U2 was able to get 20% more tickets.

The job is to feel the pulse of each audience, uncover an emotional truth, and unleash a scalable idea.

Change out the classical mantra of “Form follows function” for “Form follows emotion”. Why?

Design is about bringing emotional meaning to the drawing board, and when we do this we activate things, we move perceptions, we spark energy – and stuff happens. In our shopper marketing discipline we call this “shelf back thinking.”

Donald Calne boils it down: “Reason leads to conclusions; emotion leads to action.

Idea 3 – Make it Beautiful 

Great design is born from one heart, but many minds.

It feels amazing, and beauty is central, because our DNA is intuitively attracted to things beautiful.

Few people can create a beautiful idea, but most can appreciate it. People are visual, remembering 20% of what they read and 80% of what they see and do.

Beauty challenges, disrupts, collides and astonishes:

  • Fabrica, Benetton’s applied creative lab, would blur the boundaries of culture, language and media to churn raw creative beauty.
  • More than half of P&G’s products involve major collaboration with outside partners. Connect & Develop.

Creating cut-through ideas is a feeling not a formula.

How do you bring a beautiful feeling to life? 3 Ways:

1. Go for lots of small ideas, continuously.

Big ideas are scarce, strung out over time, and investment hungry.

Chances are you will stumble on the big idea, find it one degree from where you currently are, or even have it made for you by your audience.

Rapid fire your ideas.

2. Reframe constantly

Steve Jobs: creator of the world’s most valuable company, reframed presence into absence.

P&G: Tide Dry Cleaners – from packaged-goods marketing to retail franchising.

3. Surprise with the obvious

To develop a pen that could write in space, NASA spent millions on advanced technology.  The Russians used a pencil.

To sell video games we showed everyone wants to be a kid and to play.

Idea 4 – Make it Astonishing

Saatchi & Saatchi marries insight generation to visual creation to bring ideas to life. Great ideas begin with great insights – an open understanding of how someone experiences the world.

Most research suffers because most insights are not insightful!

To design smarter farther, we need to Xplore truth:

  • Toyota: GENCHI GENBUTSU (Seeing things firsthand, literally “go and see”). Chief engineer for the Sienna minivan had never designed for the North American market, so drove all 50 states and every province of Canada and Mexico. His insights redesigned the popular minivan.
  • Saatchi & Saatchi: we go Xploring, physically walking with people in their lives, homes, cars, shops, schools, to find revelation.

Idea 5 – Make it Irresistible

Love is the irrefutable design, because instead of putting your audience at the heart of the design, you put the design at the heart of the audience.

Brands are owned by establishments, institutions, corporations and stakeholders. Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.


  • Brands are built on Respect. Lovemarks are created out of Respect and Love.
  • Low Love, Low Respect – US airlines to Comic Sans to faulty reactors
  • High Love, Low Respect – six sigma to… the 1980s
  • High Respect, Low Love – Microsoft Windows, champion of “er” words.
  • High Love High Respect – Helvetica to Apple.
  • Brands build Loyalty for a Reason. Lovemarks inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason.
  • Great Brands were Irreplaceable. Lovemarks are Irresistible. Is your design Irreplaceable? Or Irresistible? 

To create Lovemarks, infuse design with mystery, sensuality and intimacy, the glue of all design.

Mystery is the unknown, the unexpected and the unbelievable, myths and icons, dreams and stories.

It’s what we don’t know that matters most, revealing the unfamiliar or twisting the familiar.

Sensuality Touch / Scent / Vision / Sound / Taste. The five senses are the portals to our emotions, the home range of design.

Intimacy is empathy, commitment, passion. The small touch, the perfect gesture.

Idea 6 Make it Connective

Design is entering a more immersive, visual and participatory space.

Creating superVUCA is less about being practice-inspired and more about being purpose-inspired, bringing each audience into the wireframe to work and play and share and enhance the outcome.

Every idea should touch the audience and lead to participation on some level.

To move forward ask: “what do I stand for?” Align your purpose with the audience question: “How will you improve my life?” This leads to priceless value.

The job is to connect with what people care about AND with what they want to do.

People have three questions of any communication:

  1. Do people want to experience it again?
  2. Do people want to share it?
  3. Do people want to improve it?

 Idea 7 Make it Happen

This brings us full circle to the Age of Now, where it’s about making things happen, not getting things done.

To Make Things Happen, use five ‘E’ words. 

  1. Enthusiasm: something great to come out of Greece: enthousiasmos (literally, having the god within you.). Be an irresistible force of nature, an Inspirational Player. Get high on velocity.
  2. Empathy: empathy for your audience, your community, your world. The role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. To lift the world, your career, demand and give 4 things:
    • Responsibility
    • Learning
    • Recognition
    • Joy
  3. Eliminate:  Don’t waste time, be ruthless with your effort, direct it to the right place, as Edward de Bono says, there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing.
  4. Edge: be world-changing. Think different. Take risks.
  5. Execution: The killer app, fired by the uber-E -emotion. Design doesn’t count if it stays on the drawing board, on the screen or in the footnotes of a thesis. It has to impact people’s lives.
  • Surf down 100 day plans
  • Drive the important not the urgent
  • A, D, E: Assess, Decide, Execute
  • Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast.
  • Meet, B eat, Repeat. Goizueta.

Steve Jobs got it: “Real Artists Ship”.

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