Thinking Without a Playbook: Design Without Rules

What if you did not have a graphic design or advertising playbook? No conventions or design rules? Thinking without a playbook frees you to think unconventionally.

“We ask ourselves, ‘What if advertising had no history? What if advertising were invented today, the day we got the assignment?’ That approach frees our thinking; it frees us to use our tools to defy conventional categories.” When I interviewed PJ Pereira for my book, Nimble, he said that was their agency’s guiding principle. PJ Pereira is Chief Creative Officer and Cofounder of Pereira & O’Dell, named #1 CCO in ADWEEK’s Creative 100 List. Pereira & O’Dell’s work certainly proves his thesis, winning awards and honors, such as being included on AdAge’s 2015 Standout Agency A-list.

On the heels of Pereira & O’Dell’s social films combining imaginative content with social networking for Intel and Toshiba, “The Beauty Inside”, “The Inside Experience”, and “The Power Inside”, Pereira & O’Dell created “What Lives Inside,” from Robert Stromberg, the director of “Maleficent”, starring Colin Hanks, J.K. Simmons and Catherine O’Hara, which “takes viewers on a journey beyond their imaginations and encourages us all to look inside to find the creativity within.”
 On social media, Stromberg invited the public “to collaborate with him to complete the film by submitting character sketches for potential inclusion in the film. Of over 6,000 submissions 144 were selected by Stromberg to be integrated into the film.”

“What Lives Inside” debuted exclusively on Hulu.

If a good idea is the driver, technology provides opportunities for thinking without a playbook. With (a virtual reality studio), The New York Times produced a VR (virtual reality) film, “The Displaced,” which focuses on the lives of three children displaced from their homes by war and persecution, three people from among the millions in the global refugee crisis. For the full effect, watch “The Displaced” in a Google Cardboard viewer.

Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, writes about this multimedia journey, “By creating a 360-degree environment that encircles the viewer, virtual reality creates the experience of being present within distant worlds, making it uniquely suited to projects, like this one, that speak to our senses of empathy and community. What better use of the technology could there be than to place our readers within a crisis that calls to us daily with great urgency and yet, because of the incessancy of the call, often fails to rouse us at all?”

Enabled by encryption techniques, Brazilian Agency Africa, Ad Age’s 2014 International Agency of the Year, created “Mutant Font” for Amnesty International, a font that aids Internet privacy and prevents swiping people’s data. The design of each letterform confounds machines but doesn’t interfere with people’s reading. Agency Africa explains, “The web font is designed to protect the privacy of those who have something to say on the Internet. Mutant Font’s design includes small graphic interventions that will block machines from viewing its shapes. Its code is completely shuffled so that automatic tracking systems can’t detect the words written with it.”

Mindfully listening to what consumers and customers are saying online fosters “innovating with purpose,” as Domino’s CMO Joe Jordan terms it. Domino’s AnyWare strategy allows customers to order from their favorite devices. Domino’s explains AnyWare texting, “While the Emoji is most commonly known for its bizarrely wide range of facial expressions, there is one in particular we love most, the pizza slice. And if you have an Easy Order, now you can order Domino’s by simply texting with it.” Or you can order with your voice, “Sometimes you just want to use that beautiful speaking voice of yours. That’s why we’ve created Dom, an order-taking expert that lives in the Domino’s app for Android and iPhone®, and hangs on your every word.” Nuance Communications and CP+B, Boulder, developed Dom.


Rather than assuming pedestrian avenues are the only ways to go, imagine “What if…” scenarios. Could a typeface design do more than denote? Does a commercial have to be a 30-second TV spot or could it engage people through participation? Could a book cover do more than promote? Could an outdoor billboard function as a ramp?


So when you get your next assignment, try thinking without a playbook. Imagine you had never seen any graphic design or advertising solutions. Ask yourself: What if I were the first designer or art director to ever conceive what I’m about to do?

T2895_500px_72dpi_3In graphic design, creative thinking skills are undoubtedly important, but oftentimes the importance of critical thinking skills is overlooked. In Nimble by Robin Landa, discover how to develop a creativity that is strategic, and able to cross platforms, industries, or sectors. Find a creative thinking process that allows you to generate scalable ideas that are both sticky and stretchy. Learn how come up with ideas rich in not just quantity, but quality, as well, and develop a flexible mind ideal for visual communication, digital marketing, or social media.