Zen and the art of digital house painting.

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I’ve seen a lot of shuffling of the decks at agencies over the last decade as many of them have attempted to transform the way they do business in the age of social media, search engine marketing, viral videos and all the rest that the digital age has bestowed upon us. If you’re a traditional ad agency, you either “get it” or you slowly fade into the background. One agency that proves time and time again that it “gets it” is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Named Interactive Agency of the Year at the One Show in 2009, GSP has gotten quite a bit of attention both online and off with their latest opus. I came across the story in a post titled,  “Goodby Implores Ad executives to Embrace Change“. The post describes how  co-founder Jeff Goodby used the painting of his house as a platform to illustrate how his agency approaches communication in the age of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

I once had the good  fortune of being invited up to the shop in San Francisco just after graduating from a Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. What inspired me on that visit years ago was how the two founders, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, approached the day-to-day operations of the agency;  both were extremely passionate about the craft and creativity involved in their business and both approached advertising as if it were the greatest form of art in the world.  I remember having a half-hour conversation with Mr. Silverstein on the virtues of well-crafted typography in the hallway as he was passing by!

I digress. So it was no surprise to me when I came across the link in the above mentioned story for PoemHouse.org which demonstrated how Jeff Goodby used huge letters in exquisite type on the side of a Victorian house to get his message across.  When you visit the site you are welcomed with the following message,

“Could a house be a book? Would words be different if they were five feet high and printed on an emotional symbol of domesticity?

Is this idea a violation? And if so, is it a violation of the house or the words?

The home on Oak Avenue in St. Helena, California, is one of the most charming late Victorian houses in the Napa Valley. Built by a German family in 1892, it was at its birth a tribute to the optimism and elegance of what might be the most fertile time in English and American literary history – the era of Tennyson, Woolf, Eliot, Stevenson, London, and Bierce (the last three lived for a while in the Napa).

Here, in the summer of 2009, Oakland visual and media artist Jeff Goodby has covered the Oak Avenue house with a series of enigmatic words, set in a typeface designed in the 1760s by John Baskerville. The effect is a combination of Harry Potter and Andy Warhol and has challenged the meaning of home and book alike.’

The site was developed only after Mr. Goodby posted photos of his house idea on Facebook where it created a considerable amount of buzz.  Then all hell broke loose. Word spread like wildfire across the digital landscape. Word spread across the real world landscape too, and eventually got people off their butts and into the sunlight to rubberneck the house for themselves. Talk about driving traffic!  It’s a fine lesson on harnessing the power of the Interwebs with a simple, beautifully-crafted message. They make it look easy.

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