Every year during August Edinburgh transforms itself into one of the most exciting places on earth to be if you like live comedy. Every space that can accomodate an act, from the tiniest alleyway to the largest auditorium is taken over by comics, poets, magicians and performance artist young and old, established and unknown – all of them united by the ambition to hone their material over the next 30 days.
There’s an element of the festival which is pure entertainment supply and demand. There’s an element which is a comedy trade show – eager young artists looking to be snapped up by agents, radio producers and television heads of comedy. And there’s an element, often overlooked, which is established artists fine-tuning a set before they take it to DVD, to the West End or to nationwide arena tours.
What’s interesting to note here is that these are very often established acts of over 30 years experience. People you might think who really don’t need to ‘lower’ themselves to gigs in pubs. People who are veterans of stage and television and can rely on sell-out crowds wherever their poster is put up. So what is it that draws these names to play nightly, for 30 days in front of a festival crowd in a room above a pub?
Well, it was an interview with Reginald D Hunter that answered that question for me. Young or old, fresh-faced or battle-worn, comedy is a process. It’s a process of refining your material for hour after hour until it’s perfect. Every pause, every glance, every punchline, every anecdote. Where the lights are, when you exit and re-enter, and where the audience’s gaze falls during applause or false finishes. Every element is honed by comedians night after night like a football manager watching films of previous games. Audio or video is recorded each night and notes taken so that the subsequent performance is tweaked to address every criticism. Do that for 30 nights in Edinburgh and you can be sure that the London run is as good as it’s possible to be, as it’s been tried and tested on a tame, committed audience.
And so it struck me that this is the case for anything refined and sophisticated.
A dedicated chef will experiment dozens of times with a dish before arriving at the perfect recipe that delivers everything it’s required to. Only then does it make the menu and help them to win the restaurant that Michelin star.
And so it is with great design. Great design is a process of refinement. It’s a journey from initial ideas, initial sketches, testing with panels, feedback, iteration, experiment, testing again and again. Too often perhaps it is expected that great design work is something that should be almost instant. Computers are fast, software powerful, high quality design resources have never been more available. So why can’t great design similarly be available in an instant?
Well, take the case of the comedian. That initial set was probably hugely funny. Anyone of us would have sat and applauded and felt it money well spent. But it wasn’t as good as it could be. This is something that the comic is going to live with for years in terms of his or her touring schedule and their legacy. Could it be better in areas? How great could it be, and how much more memorable could that experience be.
A comedian is a personal brand in the same way that most employees of companies are now and that dialogue between performer and audience is a brand experience in the same way as any conventional marketing material is. They often share the same lifespan in terms of how long we are expected to experience that brand, and we want to feel as positive about each brand as it’s possible to feel.
So as designer’s and marketeers we should embrace that design process. We should expect a journey, and expect iterations, testing and development. It’s all part of making something truly memorable that will live with us, make us proud, and make the job of selling the brand that much more successful.
Embrace the journey. Embrace refining your design process over time and look forward to a standing ovation when it debuts.
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