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"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into ever square inch of Word?"

"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into every square inch of Word?"

My business partner, Gerry Giambattista, and I both want to be named hanging judges if there is ever an international war crimes tribunal assembled to consider the cumulative havoc that Microsoft has unleashed on the world since its inception. We have a long list of questions for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, which we will present as intrusive yellow pop-up panels, not unlike those that used to populate a Word document whenever the masters in Redmond, WA wanted to anticipate which word you were attempting to type, so they could replace it with another. Forget all the people Microsoft employs in all its divisions. Forget all the good that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done around the globe. Forget the excellent X-Box gaming platform. This is personal.

Admittedly, we are long-time Apple products users, so we should probably recuse ourselves. However, we have both harbored long-time grudges against the software industry, Microsoft specifically, and would like a chance to settle the score in a Hague-like setting.

We know of no other industry that is allowed to operate so capriciously, integrating itself into the daily operations of essentially every business on the planet, then forcing users to routinely jump through crazy hoop after crazy hoop, because of software incompatibility (often between different versions of the same product), security issues, constant debilitating updates and key feature changes with little logic behind them, all with few other options for workarounds.

My teeth are set grinding every time I hear a commercial on my car radio for the Business Software Alliance targeting employers who run unlicensed copies of software or who pirate programs. How about if the software industry starts policing its own myriad of customer and tech service issues before spending millions to get employees to rat out employers for possible violations. Normally, I appreciate the bravery of whistle blowers — here I envision an entire accusatory industry dressed as Captain Hook. Pot, kettle, black.

This is also an industry that devours its own. Competitors are routinely driven out of business or marginalized, not because they are lackluster, but because they make a better product that is harming the product that the bigger company makes (usually Microsoft). Case in point is Word Perfect, which many eons ago was the preferred word processing software for virtually everyone operating a business. Then, along came Word, which Microsoft bundled as an enticement with Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage or Outlook as an Office suite. It took many years for Word to resist its urge to interrupt users every other keystroke with “innovative” efficiency-enhancing features. We all had to endure years of that nonsense. Today, Word Perfect is still available from Corel, but it appears to be a niche product for legal professionals.

Anyone remember Netscape Navigator? It was the preferred web browser of many users during the 1990s until Microsoft did everything possible to torpedo it with Internet Explorer.

That brings me to a moment of great personal satisfaction that will have to suffice until that international tribunal is assembled. Advertising Age was good enough to spotlight a parody last week of Microsoft’s self-congratulatory Internet Explorer TV spot. In this case, the parody does a better job of delivering truth.

 

 

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Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Today, something very exciting happened. Advertising Age gave national exposure to a Philadelphia shop for the first time in a long time and in a very big way. Not since Gyro tilted the Philadelphia advertising world off its axis has an agency in this town captured national exposure in the long shadows of Madison Avenue. Advertising Age’s new Agency Digs video feature visited Red Tettemer’s awesomely creative workspace. I encourage you to do the same. Not because I like to give exposure to competing agencies in the same metropolitan area, but because you’ll get a fascinating tour of a truly unique and creative enterprise.

Red Tettemer has come a long way from an old house in Narberth to the top two floors of the PNB ( former Philadelphia National Bank) building, complete with rooftop access. On those two floors is an agency workspace that is part Dave and Busters, part CBGB’s, part South Street head shop, part pet shop, and part Las Vegas lounge — in other words, every square inch seems to be conceived to spark the imagination, the funny bone, and the creative drive. It’s the coolest agency workspace I’ve ever seen.

From large to small, most of the agencies, I’ve visited over the years would not find themselves featured in Architectural Digest. Ours included. But these days especially, when great work is being produced on iPads in crowded Starbucks, the digital landscape and end results are what clients care about. Most clients never set foot in an agency anymore. The agency’s web site is as close as they travel.

I remember an early interview at Lewis & Gilman (the mega-shop that later became a unit of Foote Cone and Belding and later Brian Tierney’s firm). There was an air of importance to the place as I sat in the waiting area with my portfolio. Early episodes of Mad Men brought back the exclusive Old Boys Network air of the place.

Later, Philadelphia advertising captured national attention again through the TV show “thirtysomething” where the main characters Michael and Elliot had their own agency and later worked for DAA. The firm’s open workspace and the indoor basketball court were patterned after the offices of California based Chiat Day.

Some of the more interesting spaces I’ve visited in recent years have been creative firms that combine video production and all things digital. Howard McCabe’s firm Blue turned a former Fairmount residence into stylish editing and animation suites and workrooms. JPL in Harrisburg took over an editing facility from Tyco and converted it into one of the Best Places to Work in PA. The other week I sat in on a social media strategy session for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at Think Brownstone’s great open space dominated by couches and a white board, in a Conshohocken brownstone.

But as exceptional as each of these offices are, none are as mind-bending and fun-filled as Red Tettemer’s featured space. It’s a theme park for left-brained types. Congratulations to Steve Red and everyone at Red Tettemer for creating a great environment for creative to thrive.

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