Who is The Phantom?

The backstreets of Surry Hills, a hub of Australian small business.

Some say it’s the Silicon Valley of Sydney. Some say it’s trash.

Surry, sporadically littered with graffiti, and occasionally blessed with street art, but rarely posed with an idea; a question…

Who is The Phantom?

It’s mid-2018; I start a new job in Surry Hills.

I used to be that pre-teen who watched the ground as he walked, because he could never look up to the places he thought he’d never reach.

After some sort of emotional reform in my late teen years, I now like to look around when I’m walking, from Central station to my office—I’m going to be staring at a screen for 8 hours anyway.

One day, I notice some spray-painted writing on a shutter—“The Phan-tom”.

The Phantom Garage 2

My initial thought is that it’s pretty standard; just another random word/phrase on another building in Sydney.

A few days later, it’s still there. Again, quite normal.

Another few days later. I’m walking my usual route to work. “The Phan-tom”.

The Phantom Garage 1

On another shutter. Ok, some repetition is cool; nothing we haven’t seen before…

If you’ve ever been on a Sydney train on the inner-west line and mustered the curiosity to look from your phone and out the window, you would see a prime example of bad repetition.

The random words or symbols graffitied over and over and over again, along the brick walls of the rail line.

SPUD, BONK, JINX.

There are 1,628,749,822 of them in a row and no one looks at them for the same reason that you didn’t read that entire number.

But the two words in question here, they’re different.

It’s only a few days later, that this shows up:

The Phantom Construction Wall

On a construction site gateway. The entire idea is subtly portrayed here: it stands out from everything else.

Now, it’s personal. It’s my game; a scavenger hunt, my very own Pokémon Go.

You’re may/may not be thinking, “ugh, it’s just more graffiti, but in purple.” And you may as well be right—art is subjective, and I can respect that.

But two words on a wall have never made me feel like I’m documenting an insanely smart comic book figure. I felt like I was following Batman’s Joker’s calling cards.

After all, it’s better than that guy who writes “no parking” on walls.

Speaking of parking:

The Phantom Parking

Now, he’s incorporating the environment. I didn’t study art, but it doesn’t take an artist to appreciate it.

This one didn’t last long though. It was scrubbed off within two days.

I had The Phantom comic book vibe initially, but it solidified after this one:

The Phantom Booster

 

Who is “The Phantom”? Why is he back?

 

Return of The Phantom

 

Where did he return from?

 

The Phantom Wall

 

Why has he returned?

 

The Phantom Green Box

 

Why is he scattering his calling cards all over Surry Hills?

 

The Phantom Red Door

 

Why are most of his tags hyphenated?

 

The Phantom Power Box

 

And why is it so cool?

 

The Phantom Garage

 

What is he trying to prove?

 

The Phantom Steel Door

 

Is there something coming next?

 

The Phantom Black Door

 

Is this just a very smart marketing stunt?

 

The Phantom Door

 

Just what is going on?

 

The Phantom Fire Hydrant

 

Will anyone ever know who’s behind the idea?

After all…

How can you trust that I’m not The Phantom?

Make Complex Simple: Graffiti as Design

So, here’s a street artist that has really posed a question for lovers of design and art, and graffiti artists everywhere (all the while, starting his own trend): is it worth it to be over-expressive and intricate with your graffiti?

If you’ve ever seen graffiti on the side of a building and thought, “what the heckin’ frick does that say?”, then French artist Mathieu Tremblin is the translator you’ve been looking for. His ongoing series titled, Tag Clouds, translates graffiti on the streets of France with the mission to improve their legibility by writing them in plain text.

 

As you can see, he does an amazing job in deciphering the graffiti. The line between graffiti and street art is debatable, but I assume most graffiti is art. Although, what’s the point in tagging something if it’s only legible and appreciable to other graffiti artists? Why keep it to themselves if it’s on public property for everyone to see?

Well, Mathieu explains in a 2013 interview with The Atlantic’s CityLab:

“I consider “Tag Clouds” as a traditional graffiti fresco work. I come from a local graffiti scene and painting over a wall covered by tags to make something more complex, letters or characters whatever, is what graffiti writers do. But what’s interesting is that the final mural deals with the writer’s ego- their name. Having that direct communication, being known by anybody, is what writers are searching for. “Tag Clouds” removes all alterity or identity and makes it properly decorative and appreciable to any passerby, which is also the purpose of a graffiti fresco, showing technical skills for decoration.

This work sounds like a kind of oxymoron, you could understand it as a way to make a dirty signature proper as institutionalized visual communication, sterilizing wild graffiti writing by removing all traces of alterity and at the same time giving the opportunity to anybody to be able to read graffiti script and get in touch with it.

So agreeing with or being against the piece as a graffiti writer is a complex thing to decide because I’m half paying tribute to and half normalizing the local graffiti scene. I just translate writers names at the same scale and they usually continue to play with the blank spaces, adding their signature between regular typography I painted with stencil. In fact, the project is giving focus to some walls that writers weren’t paying attention to anymore because they were filled with tags. Mostly though, it generates new graffiti challenges instead of killing the energy behind it.”

We can, like Mathieu, translate this concept to suit our design practices; to make something clearer rather than detailed, or make something easier for anyone to understand.

Sometimes, design is about being a little less complex and a little more simple.

Or you could just go full-minimalism and make something simpler to make it more complex.

Check out more of Mathieu’s work online:
www.demodetouslesjours.eu

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Strategy vs. Creativity: Which is More Important?

The struggle of balancing strategy and creativity has plagued every business at one stage. Where some completely focus on strategy, others pride themselves in creativity, but when you can create the perfect blend of both elements, you will end up becoming ethereal gods of your market.

Take for example Apple vs Blackberry. Blackberry was once the cornerstone of the smartphone market, but its black and white user experience was one of its major downfalls. BlackBerry also insisted on producing phones with full keyboards, even after it became clear that many users preferred touchscreens, which allowed for better video viewing and User experience. They also failed to anticipate that consumers — not business customers — would drive the smartphone revolution.

Today Apple is the largest tech company in the world, they utilised their innovation and creativity to change the world, but if it weren’t for the aggressive technical strategies behind the products and their complimenting marketing campaigns, they wouldn’t be where they are today.

Why Strategy?

Steuart Henderson Britt once said, “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.” Replace advertising with its broadened concept, strategy, and you’ve got yourself a killer-quote to live by.

A business most definitely needs strategy. It requires asking the important questions that drive success:

  • Who are your target customers?
  • How can your customers benefit from your product/service?
  • How exactly are you different from your competitors?
  • Where do you want to be and how are you going to achieve that?

If nobody asks the important questions, you won’t really get anything done.

Why Creativity?

Every business needs strategy, but what’s strategy without anything that distinguishes you from the next business doing the exact same thing as you. In some industries, differentiation isn’t necessarily a big deal, and that’s fine, but if you really want to get anywhere in your industry, adding a bit of differentiation is like adding a spark to a haystack.

Do you think Apple would’ve become so popular if they decided to focus more on technically operational user experiences (UX) and user interfaces (UI)? I highly doubt so. What helped skyrocket them into half of the world’s hands is how easy to use their software is, and how slick and seemingly modern their hardware design is. They put creative thought into everything they do, not just technical thought. 

When it comes to the creative side of the equation, you need to be thinking different to everyone else. A few things to keep in mind when creating campaign artwork  or writing a brief for a designer:

Plan your design
Identity is important as it will help to define your campaign and be sure to carry the look and feel of your brand through all aspects.
Vision: What do you want to achieve? Brand awareness? Do you want to inspire? Answer a question? Maybe even ask a question? Be intellectually playful with your vision.
Insight: What do you want your target market to feel? E.g. Warm, welcome, hungry, excited, inspired etc.
Intent: What do you want your market to do? Click, read, subscribe etc.
Balance: Balance provides stability and structure to a design. This can be achieved through hierarchy of text

Post design
Is it attention-grabbing? Will the user engage? Does everything have purpose? If you can’t explain why an element has to be there or be a certain way – it simply shouldn’t be there.
Does the design have focal points? Do they draw attention to certain elements, CTA, specific images, particular words you want to highlight or trigger an emotio?.
Test Use and optimise: Don’t be afraid of criticism, test your artwork and ideas with peers. Also don’t be afraid to fail with your artwork, optimise and evolve until you get it right.

Why both?

The two elements shouldn’t be considered as rivalling opposites, but rather as coexisting partners because they need to work together in order to achieve the best outcome.

A great example of good creative and good strategy working together is found in nightclubs. You go to a nightclub for the dancing and genre of music; although the revenue is made at the bar. They sell an experience.

Make your campaign a nightclub; give your audience an experience, rather than serve them an image with some overlay text, repeated multiple times throughout a campaign, think outside the box, push your brief to its limits and research what works or doesn’t.

Also, think about how can you use those images and text in different ways? How can you get the most from your target market? Everyone has an audience on the dance floor (your followers, local community or existing customers), now you need to get them to the bar.

Don’t ask yourself ‘how do I build a bridge’, ask yourself ‘how do I cross the river’.


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