05 Global Design Forum – Breaking the Boundaries – Rankin at the V&A

By Martin Thomas, Writer

We’re not big fans of the word disruption here at Red Setter – at least not in the sense it’s often currently used – and after listening to Rankin at the V&A last night, it seems we’re not the only ones.

Rankin was speaking at a Global Design Forum event, a series of talks, debates and workshops taking place throughout the London Design Festival this week

The photographer, founder of Dazed & Confused and Hunger magazines, and founder and boss of The Full Service, has no time for the use of disruption to describe what is, more often than not, he says, just an old idea repackaged. Uber is not disruptive, it’s just a taxi in new clothes.

The real disruptors, says Rankin, were the Wright brothers, penicillin, and the World Wide Web: ideas that changed the world. Another genuine disruptor – although not in an entirely positive way, in his view – is the smartphone. When people are checking their phones up to 150 times a day, when 46% of people say they couldn’t live without their phone, when we’re all willingly embracing something that’s designed to be addictive, he said, we should be examining our behaviour and engaging in an urgent cultural debate, not unquestioningly embracing it.

Rankin sees a worrying slide into a two-dimensional world of smartphone selfies, influencer-based marketing (or influenzas, as he calls them) and blandness. A world in which people are taking filtered selfies of themselves to plastic surgeons and asking to make them look like the altered photos.

Such was his disdain for the marketing homogeneity he sees all around him that I thought Rankin was writing it all off – despite being a commercial photographer who still works for ad agencies and brands, and despite running The Full Service, which for all its stunning creativity remains an advertising agency and production company. But he wasn’t. Not quite.

With the ongoing decline in traditional advertising and media, the audience is now in charge, he says, and they’re saying ‘quit selling me stuff and give me something honest’. They can tell when work has real purpose – not just purpose that’s been adopted for the sake of it.

He cited his own S&X perfume, a collaboration with perfumier Azzi Glasser, which he launched with a series of three films that celebrate sexual liberation, one featuring women, one featuring men and a third featuring old people. The films, which are probably NSFW, are deliberately provocative, but they’re also rather beautiful and intended to prompt an open conversation about sexuality.

The now-famous Colin Kaepernick Nike ad also earned his praise. He said: “A lot of people will say it’s just Nike cynically using a purpose to sell sneakers and maybe it was. But it was a big risk for them, especially as they’re sponsors of the NFL. In the end it provoked debate and it’s debate that creates change, not hashtags.”

He added: “Creativity should mean a blank sheet of paper and nearly killing yourself to deliver something original. If you just do what a brand asks you to do, then you’re a craftsman, not a creative.”

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