Rebranding by Scott Benson Q&A:

What inspired you to make this particular piece?
Hey, thanks so much for asking. The concept of questioning of how passive creatives in this business can be about the substance and effect of their work has been rattling around in my head for a good long while now. In talking to colleagues over the past few years, it seems like this sort of conversation about personal ethics is something everyone thinks about or makes a concerted effort NOT to think about. It’s related in some ways to the conversation you guys have been having here about business practices. One reason why people feel exhausted, degraded or unhappy in this industry is the difficulty in getting a fair shake as far as reasonable work hours and pay. Another reason, I think, is that creatives can often find themselves feeling alienated from the actual work they do, because they are doing work that they honestly hate for causes they honestly despise and they don’t think they can do anything about it. There’s a fear that if you turn down certain clients, then you turn down every client. That it’s unprofessional to bring one’s ideals into one’s choice of work. I think that this argument is born out of economic efficiency and fear – it is inefficient to be an idealist and one fears that these ideals will make one unable to pay the rent. A friend of mine, a designer, posted a quote a few weeks ago from some prominent branding guy, saying that they didn’t just want to make people want the product, but to make it a part of their lives. That puts responsibility on the creative, as well as the consumer. What are we trying to place into people’s lives? Some recent experiences brought this up again and it was really bothering me, so I sat down, made this over a weekend and put it up, unsure of how it would be received. I was talking to a friend of mine who saw it and his first question was “Was that cathartic?”. I’m not usually someone who makes very slogan-y stuff, so it was a departure to be sure.

I know there’s a long explanation on the Vimeo video, but why did you choose to illustrate your point – of making work that we each believe in – with the concept of segregation?
This was actually the part of the piece that I fretted over the most. The goal was to make a cute, fun little commercial for something absolutely terrible, but not in a way that anyone would find funny. I’m pretty much constantly laughing and joking around, but I wanted this to be played pretty straight. So what concept can one pick that is almost universally abhorred, yet can be sold in a manner that sounds reasonable and approachable? Segregation seemed a perfect concept for this. It has a terrible history, but it can be explained in such a way that it makes sense if you don’t think about it. After all, why wouldn’t different people want their own, separate places? If one stops the question there, it just almost seems altruistic. The concept of it could be easily expressed and sold to the viewer before they realized what they are agreeing with. I’m hoping some people see it without benefit of introduction and become very uncomfortable with what they were just passively agreeing with. This is partly to show the power we have to frame a debate, and also to lead into the question of responsibility and choice. Originally I wanted to not have the little “moral” at the end and really just spell it out in the description. But this is the internet we’re talking about, and without that I’m sure it would have ended up on someone’s embarrassing racist uncle’s facebook by days end. I beat the point to death in my description on Vimeo, but not everyone is going to read that once it’s embedded on a page somewhere. To go one step further, I think it just fits well with the idea of one being somehow separated from one’s work, or keeping one’s ideas separate from their professional activity. But perhaps that’s reading too much into it.

Do you think it’s a designer’s responsibility to work on projects which she thinks are morally or ethically correct?
I think it’s all of our responsibility to make choices. So many designers, or really people in general, see themselves as simply an object or a point in a large narrative. They concern themselves only with the work at hand. It’s like listening to a utensil describe itself – “I’m a fork. I fork things. I will only ever fork. Someone could stab me into some broccoli, or someone else’s face – it makes no difference to me, because I’m a fork.” I think we all can get this way sometimes, but it’s important to remember that we can choose, we can research, we can make hard decisions, we can be proactive and creative. If an artist chooses to work on something with which they have an ethical or ideological qualm, then they should own that decision and not blame it on “the industry”. We are not “the industry” when we all go to bed at night. We’re just people making things. We have those choices to make. I got up this morning and chose to be an animator, and you may have chosen to be a designer, or a producer, or what have you. Accept that choice and extend that to what you do, I suppose. We may not all agree on what we each choose to do, but that’s when dialogue and disagreements and conversations and growth occur if we let it.

How do you think each of us can take steps to make that goal happen?
Think about what you do and how it effects others. I don’t think that advertising is inherently “evil”, but the things that people do with it can often fit that description. I doubt most anti-ad people have an issue with their local co-op handing out fliers, or a billboard for the local mom-and-pop diner, or wearing a tshirt advertising their favorite band. It’s simply what people do in that industry and perhaps the ubiquitous nature of it that turn so many people off. Think critically. If you find something about your project questionable, ask questions in a respectful way and then make your decisions. Those decisions are going to look different for everyone, but at least they are being made. And in between these projects, be working on things that matter to you personally, things that are defined by you and express things you can get behind. You’ll be a better creative and be far more connected to the actual fruit of your labor if you are invested not simply with the execution of a project, but with the ideas behind it. Talk to other people. I’ve gotten some great messages from people since posting Rebranding and you’d be surprised how many other people are thinking about this.

Are there any jobs you’ve done that you personally regret doing?
I don’t want to call the company out specifically as it’s been years and we’ve all moved on, but early in my career I was involved with making flash animation for overpriced health supplements that everyone knew did nothing. Our work emails kept being blocked because the server that housed our domain was also being used to flood the internet with all kinds of spam and it was tagged. To top it off, the management were part of a secessionist movement (which this business was helping to fund) and at one point I ended up with a loaded gun pointed at my head because the owner wanted to prove to me that I should also be carrying a gun. I knew I should leave, but I was more afraid of unemployment and uncertainty and I was also pretty young at the time. Thankfully, I didn’t have to make a decision – I was laid off because the owner quite literally had a vision where an angel told him to fire me. The company laid off all but 3 people the next month and today only exists as one or two guys. So there you go, kids – do your homework on your clients.

Wow, that’s intense. Glad you are still here! Anything that you’re working on now that you really love?
To be honest, I’m not really sure where to even begin. At the moment I’m working on a small chillout project, just to unwind. After that, I’m really excited about the piece I’ll be working on in April. My wife is a full-time artist and crafter. We’re launching a new character and I’m doing some longer, narrative shorts to tie in with him. You can catch the premiere of that at at 9pm on May 1st. It’s a pretty big project for us and we’re very excited and very busy making that happen. I’m also toying around with a longer script that I know I’ll never have the 6 months to actually animate on my own, but would love to someday. It’s about a married couple dealing with the husband’s clinical depression in a frontier town. I swear it’s more fun than it sounds. Beyond that, I’m doing a much larger promotional push this year to agencies and studios, so I’m having a blast navigating that process. It’s an amusing thing that we who make so many promotional items rarely are comfortable in promoting ourselves.

Cool, thanks Scott! Looking forward to the new work, and I hope this piece does make the rounds and gets people thinking critically about their own work.