Sir John Hegarty explains why ideas are still king

July 29, 2014

Sir John Hegarty is a very, very talented art director. He also knows a thing or two about business, having founded Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH).
His CV speaks for itself. His client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s most successful companies. He’s been creative director at BBH for the past 30 years and is responsible for the Levi’s ‘Launderette’ ad. For introducing ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ to the UK. For the ‘Flat Eric’ Levi’s ad. For seven tracks from Levi’s commercials becoming number ones in the UK charts. And so it continues.

His agency is still producing great ads, year after year. Here are some really simple ads for Google. They’re promoting the voice function for phones. And they’re lovely. They’re so good because they allow the reader to ‘get’ them. There’s a little moment where you feel good once you realise what they’re talking about.

Google Vlice Search Piccadilly Circus

Google Voice Search FTSE 100

Google Voice Search Latest scores

Google Voice Search Covent Garden

Google voice Search Taxi numbers

Google Voice Search Leicester Square

He’s quite disappointed with the level of creativity in advertising nowadays.
Here’s his list of ten things you should strive for to try and be more creative:

1 Be fearless: Be single minded in the face of opposition
2 Keep it simple: Don’t try to say or do too many things at once
3 Stop thinking, start feeling: Creativity is driven by the heart, we respond more to emotions than logic
4 Get angry: Channel the things that annoy/upset you into more creative tasks than getting stressed
5 Juxtaposition: Don’t be afraid to place two things next to one another that wouldn’t normally sit together – even in your head
6 When the world zigs, zag: Look in the opposite direction to everyone else
7 Avoid cynics: They drain your confidence – see number one
8 Ask why? a lot: Question everything like a child
9 Philosophy: Always be looking, thinking, watching. Absorb everything
10 Remove your headphones! Don’t cut yourself off from your environment

Here are some of the other things he managed to deliver by focussing on his creativity:

BBH Levis Zig Zag


Flat Eric

A painting by John Hegarty to raise money for NABS

A painting by John Hegarty to raise money for NABS

Here’s a little piece of what he wrote for a book called ‘The Art Direction Book’:

Herb Lubalin, probably one of the most influential American designers and typographers, once ran an ad. It said in big bold type “Nobody ever noticed good typography.” Underneath in very small print it read “They’re too busy reading the ad.” The art of art direction is to do more than get noticed. It is to get consumed.
Although we have quite rightly shrugged off the constraints of the Helmut Krone VW layout that dominated advertising since 1960, in its place we have adopted an attitude that says anything goes. We have drifted into startling our readers with a look – rather than an idea.
I’m sure the recurring theme from many people in this book will be about the primacy of the idea. Sadly, that is being forgotten by many art directors and award shows that increasingly give out gongs for craft. Without an idea, art direction is nothing but candy floss. It melts to nothing under the heat of scrutiny.
It’s ideas that change the world – not the letter spacing in your headline.

I love his work and his approach to creating. And the fact that he believes so strongly that ideas change the world.

Next time you’re trying to create anything, try and remember John’s list. And, if you can’t remember the other nine, make sure you remember the most important one – keep it simple.

And reading old awards annuals (D&AD annual are the best) is a great way to see how other people’s creativity works. Don’t steal, just use the annuals for inspiration. They can help your mind approach a problem from an unusual angle. And that’s normally where the great ideas are waiting to be discovered.


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