Top five: Hardworking animations

We believe that animations have an important job to do in the world. Scratch that, we believe they've got several. And that means the best of them, in our book, are the ones that work really hard for their audience; carrying information, tackling difficult subjects, focusing on the message, and communicating it with absolute clarity. 

We gave creative director, Chris Wilson, the near-impossible task of picking his top five hardworking animations: animations that, for one reason or another, really exemplify the kind of heavy-lifting that we aim for in our own work

So, sit back and enjoy his selection. Gems, all of them. 



Andreas Hykades's short film Nuggets is a masterpiece in stripped back storytelling. It’s the story of addiction told through the experience of a small bird who discovers a golden nugget that becomes too delicious to resist. Everything that isn't essential to the message of the film is cut out, squarely focusing your attention on the character and its experience. It breaks my heart every time I watch it. Honestly. That last wee blink from the kiwi is soul destroying.


I had a black dog, his name was depression

This film was commissioned by the World Health Organisation and is an ‘animated’ version of the book by Matthew Johnstone – though, you’ll notice there’s very little animation in it. It’s defined by its simplicity - just simple camera moves and cuts – and that’s what I love about it. The visualised concepts are strong enough to hold your attention, without the need for any other trickery. It reminds me of the animations I used to watch on children’s BBC as a kid; economically produced, yet still totally captivating. And, maybe I’m showing my age here, but I like things that take their time to tell a story well. 


Charley Says

The UK created some amazing public service animations in the 70’s but the Charley Says series were my favourites. Created by Richard Taylor (who also created the classic Crystal Tips and Alistair cartoons) the cut-out style and the jerky movements of the characters give them bags of charm. At the end of each film Charley the cat miaows the lesson that they have both learned, then Charley, the kid, translates: “Charley says…”. Those lessons could be repeated verbatim by an entire generation of British kids – a testament to how brilliantly these animations were at engaging their target audience engage with a tricky issue, and imparting an important message. It doesn't get more hardworking than that. And remember, ALWAYS tell your mummy before going off somewhere.


NSPCC ‘Cartoon’

Holy shit. This is one of those animations that makes me want to stand up and applaud everyone involved. Animated by Passion Pictures, it’s an unflinching portrayal of an abusive parent’s violence against his child. Yet, by representing the child as a cartoon character that bounces back after every blow, it portrays a level of violence that would never normally slip under the radar of the broadcasting regulators. Genius. When the realisation comes that the victim is, in fact, a real boy who doesn’t bounce back, it hits you like a sledgehammer. As a viewer you’re on the hook: forced to replay in your mind the horrors you’ve just witnessed, but this time, with the child in mind. Like the best of teachers, this unforgettable NSPCC campaign does a fantastic job of making its audience do the thinking.


Private Snafu vs Malaria Mike

The Snafu films were directed by Chuck Jones for the US Army Air Force between 1943-45. Faced with a concern that not all conscripted men were literate enough to read important army-issued information, the cartoons were designed to teach the troops about a variety of issues they would face during service. Despite a six-week production schedule for each instalment, they are first class from concept to execution – and entertaining, too. Perhaps not surprising when you realise the all-star team responsible (including Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Theodor ‘Dr Seuss’ Giesel). They understood that, an audience of soldiers facing the hardships of conflict, wouldn’t stand to be patronised. They had to speak their language (SNAFU, by the way, is an unofficial military acronym for ‘Situation Normal: All Fucked Up’) and show them a world they would recognise. And only once they’d established that trust, could they start to communicate.

Conditions of creativity: Why rhythms and rituals are great for creative thinking

Describing himself as a ‘horizontal author’, American novelist Truman Capote once said, ‘I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.’

And if you thought that sounded peculiar, imagine Agatha Christie eating apples in the bath while brainstorming new murder plots, Edith Sitwell lying in an open coffin as inspiration for her macabre verse, and Marcel Proust beginning every morning with a breakfast of croissants and opium.

These rituals probably (hopefully) sound a little different to your daily commute-work-commute-sleep cycle. But, nevertheless, they’re routines all the same. And they demonstrate how even the most creative minds rely on rigid and repetitive rituals to trigger creative thought.

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It sounds like a paradox – creativity is all about free flowing thought liberated from restrictions, right? But, actually, following a predictable routine is the best way to help you enter your creative zone and stay focused within it. And there’s much evidence to support this on Mason Currey’s Daily Routines site, and in this great little infographic, which document the rigorous rituals of famous creatives (beware – you’ll be browsing for hours).

Getting into the flow of a routine makes it easier for your mind to shift between work mode, creative mode and any other mode you use on a daily basis, so that you can float seamlessly between each, and perform well at each task. Limiting your time for each type of activity helps you to stay focused and increase your productivity.

So, contrary to popular belief, the strict structure of your 9-5 slog is in fact the perfect prep for a creative project. After all, novelist, William Faulkner, wrote in the afternoons before beginning his night shift at a power plant, and poet/insurance executive Wallace Stevens once said: ‘I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me. It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life.’

‘I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me. It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life.’

Wallace Stevens

You might not think that your job is the best thing to have happened in your life, but you should stop using it as an excuse for your creative hiatus. Your Monday-Friday routine puts in place the perfect structure for creativity - whether you're hoping to find your groove in or out of office hours. Your work life and creative life have great potential to benefit from each other. 

When digging further through the Daily Routines blog, it became clear that most creative people can be split into morning or evening workers. Mozart claimed that his ideas flowed most abundantly during the night, while poet W H Auden once remarked that, ‘only the Hitlers of the world work at night; no honest artist does'.

A contentious issue, clearly; but most of us will instinctively know of those camps we fall into. Don’t do your day’s admin in the morning if this is when your creative thoughts are ripe, and don’t waste time forcing out creative ideas when the clock hits midnight if your brain is begging you for sleep. Your routine should be organised to nurture your creativity, so be smart about how you plan your day.

'I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.’

Haruki Murakami

Beethoven, Mahler, Erik Satie and Tchaikovsky all dedicated two hours of their day to walking, and believed it would bring bad luck upon their work if they broke the routine.

We're not sure luck had much to do with it, after all, there’s a wealth of research online to support the benefits of regular exercise. So, as part of your daily routine, it’s probably a good idea to find some time to stretch your legs away from your desk and the multiple screens that have likely invaded it. It’ll clear your mind and help you to focus.

scriberia creative rituals creativity routine 2

But, to a certain extent, the details of your routine are irrelevant. All that matters is that you try to stick to it. When novelist, Haruki Murakami, is writing a novel, he adheres to a routine that would terrify most mortals. He wakes at 4am, works until mid-morning, then he spends his afternoons running or swimming long distances. He leaves himself just enough time to read, run errands and listen to music before bedtime, strictly at 9pm. 

He says: ‘I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.’

So, even if your routine isn’t quite as eccentric as the ones above (it’s okay – we, too, would choose a morning coffee over Victor Hugo’s early morning ice bath), getting into any kind of disciplined daily rhythm is a great way to help you enter your creative zone. 

Of course, not all of us need our creative resources to finish a great novel, or paint a masterpiece. And, here at Scriberia, we don't think that creativity should be saved for such lofty pursuits. Creativity is, essentially, problem solving - and that's a skill that comes in handy, whoever you are and whatever you need to achieve. 

Hardworking pictures: It's about the audience, not the artist

At Scriberia, we share American author-illustrator Mo Willems’ belief that to be an effective visual communicator, an artist must think of their audience and not of themselves. And we too, believe, that we must never do the audience's thinking for them.

We have written before about the differing interpretations of the scribe's role. Some facilitate the flow of conversation, some are there simply to graphically record. We can do either or both of these things - but the real value in our work lies in our role as interpreters of your content. 

We like to make you see things from a fresh perspective; presenting your thoughts in new ways, reframing, repositioning, and linking them to other ideas. 

But without the input and interaction of an audience, scribing, no matter how great it looks, loses its power and purpose. The very best scribes are as good listeners as they are visualisers. 

Our team has scribed for everyone from Deloitte to Nike, and are able to quickly adapt to the aims and motivations of each company they work with. They’ll always listen to you, but they’ll never think for you.

Far from being an instruction manual, graphic facilitation is a collaborative process nodding the audience towards new patterns of thinking. After all, visual thinking is all about opening up your mind to new ideas and seeing where they can take you.

If you want to learn more about the power of hardworking pictures, visit our Academy page. It's full of visual thinking tips and the latest from our workshops team. Or experience the extraordinary problem-solving power of pictures by checking your team into a bespoke Inktank workshop.

Bad ideas lead to the best solutions

scriberia bad ideas best solutions

Some years ago in the Cascade Mountains of the north-western United States, the Pacific Power and Light department were faced with a problem: Ice was building up on their power transmission lines, and the team feared they’d soon start to break. 

All out of sensible solutions, one member of the group recalled a story he’d overheard the night before about a couple of bears chasing some line maintenance men all the way home. In desperation, he suggested they drop honey pots from helicopters onto the top of the poles, encouraging the bears to climb up to the honey and shake the ice to the ground. The idea was met with laughter. It was, without doubt, a ridiculous suggestion.

But it was this seemingly silly idea that reminded somebody else of the dust spread from the downwash of helicopters during the Vietnam war. Suddenly the answer became clear; the force from the downwash of a helicopter’s blades could be used to shake the ice off the lines. A comical proposal paved the way for a truly creative solution.

When first reading this anecdote, a quote from Albert Einstein came to mind: ‘If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.’ This is a mantra we fully endorse here, and one that we try to apply as much as possible to any job that comes our way.

‘If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.’

Albert Einstein

Most of our creative meetings trigger a flood of truly daft suggestions, but each and every one of them deserves credit for playing its part in pushing us towards a creative concept we're proud of. We were once asked to explain Hawking Radiation in less than two minutes, using just pen and paper. Farcical ideas were flung around for a number of hours, but within some of them lay the answers we were looking for. 

In the end, we explained the theory through the story of a pair of love-struck particles, tragically torn apart from one another by powerful forces beyond their control. It’s not the way a particle physicist would have explained it, but it proved to be a perfect way to communicate a tricky concept with approachable simplicity.

So, in our view, creating a safe space for bad ideas to fly around is essential to our business. And we’re not the only ones to subscribe to this philosophy. In a recent video for 99U, designer and creative lead at Nike, Ben Shaffer, explains why failure is such an integral part of Nike’s innovation process.

He says: ‘The innovation kitchen is one of the areas at Nike that allow us to ask really ridiculous questions and play with really unique materials and methods of making all under the pursuit of really trying to fail and learn where our boundaries are.’ And this playful approach to innovation has been part of Nike’s DNA ever since the 1970s when co-founder Bill Bowerman used the grooves from his waffle iron to revolutionise trainer soles forever.

Failure isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential part of the creative process.

Such a positive approach to bad ideas might sound like a luxury not every company can afford. And, sure, failures can cost time and money. But what you gain from these failures is invaluable and we're willing to bet you’ll reach your best ideas far faster if you start sharing your daftest ones first. Failure isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential part of the problem-solving process.

And this is backed up by a number of creatives, including illustrator Christoph Niemann who tells the story of his failed app in this New York Times article.

Niemann writes that when developing a creative idea, it’s important that you loosen up and ‘get your hands dirty in new territory’. Creativity and innovation are all about exploring new and unknown spaces, so don’t be afraid to throw around ideas that don’t yet make the slightest shred of sense.

But as well as embracing your childlike imagination, it’s important to critique your work with the eye of a ruthless editor. Let your ridiculous ideas take their form, but afterwards, trim away at them; strip them right back until you're able to see if there's something great at the core. 

'We have to embrace failure and almost get a kick out of it.' 

James Dyson

If not, that’s okay, too. Not every idea will be a triumph. In fact, we're hard pushed to think of many people who have hit the heights of success without first detouring through some pretty low lows. Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime; Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times before finally being accepted; and James Dyson spent 15 years creating 5,126 prototypes of his first Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner, before hitting upon the one that would make his fortune. 

'We have to embrace failure and almost get a kick out of it,' says Dyson. 'Not in a perverse way, but in a problem-solving way. Life is a mountain of solvable problems and I enjoy that.'

So, whatever you're hoping to achieve, it's worth remembering that within that pile of bad ideas lies the kernel of something brilliant and, as long as you are afraid of failing, you'll never find it. 

How drawing helps you remember

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Have you ever been told you’ve got a memory like a sieve? You’ve written, ‘buy milk!’ on your phone, your hand, multiple post-its, yet there’s still no guarantee you’ll remember to pick up a pint on your way home from work.

Suffering from memory malfunction is frustrating, and forgetting your new colleague’s name or the main point from that important presentation won’t earn you any brownie points in the office. So, perhaps it’s time we tried a new method for successfully committing facts and thoughts to memory. 

If writing down your shopping list isn’t enough to imprint it in your memory, we bet that drawing it is. Drawing is a great way to help you retain important information and our multi-talented scribes are living proof of this. They've visualised for everyone from Barclays to BAFTA, and their memories are full to the brim with random facts about random topics (they're the ultimate pub quiz companions).

So, we reckon you're far more likely to remember that long-overdue pint of milk if you draw a quick sketch of it first, and this has recently been proven by a new research project from the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Neuroscientists there have discovered that when we draw, our brains call on past experiences from our memory banks as part of the visualising process. This cognitive act creates strong memory traces in the brain, enabling drawings to find their home in our long-term memories. Text, conversely, enters our short-term memory, which has far more limited storage capacity and expels information quickly.

While it might be a shock to learn you’ve been incorrectly note-taking for all these years, it’s not too late to change tack. Whether you’re an amateur doodler or professional illustrator, everyone’s brain responds to drawing in the same way, and you can start benefitting from visual thinking at any stage in your life. (And if you're not sure where to start, you might want to check out some of our inspirational workshops). 

What's more, with a little practice, drawing your notes will help you digest the facts that really matter. It's impossible to draw everything you hear in every meeting - not even our scribes are quite that efficient! - but by building up your visual thinking skills, you'll learn how to capture the information that is really worth capturing, and how to keep it in mind.

So, next time you find yourself in a mundane meeting or lifeless lecture, why not try doodling your notes instead? We promise it’ll liven up your hour, and you (and your boss) will be amazed at the amount of information that finally sinks in.