Be more Jaap: breaking the confines of creativity

Paul Squires
4 min readFeb 14, 2023

It happens to all of us. I’m now in my late 40s and, in recent years, have been taking to the comfort blanket of watching old TV clips through YouTube. BBC News from 1978, the launch of Central Television, even clips of TV from around the world that I could never have watched at the time. There’s a familiarity even to the unfamiliar.

Such is my interest that I follow a Twitter feed called Idents posted randomly, which posts TV idents from around the world from the past 50 years. Of course, there are some crackers in there.

One such ident recently left me genuinely astonished. Wha — -? How — -? WHY?

You’re now possibly feeling the same level of discomfort as I had when watching it for the first time. The ident, from the early 1970s, is for Dutch broadcaster VPRO, which is — as is perhaps evident in the clip — the most liberal of the Dutch broadcasting organisations.

Here are some more.

Here’s the full set.

So many questions…!

But, now let’s look at equivalent idents from the same era, in the UK.

How comparatively earnest. How comparatively… dull. If it wasn’t a globe with a mirror behind it, it was some silverware plonked onto a rotating plinth (example 1, 2).

We only had 1 ident, per broadcaster, for everything. VPRO had a range of idents to choose from, for any occasion, to keep things lively.

Not only that, but none of the idents for VPRO were computer-generated. It was the early 1970s, after all.

The VPRO idents are the work of Jaap Drupsteen, a designer who is still working and whose portfolio is the embodiment of “prolific”. As well as the VPRO work, Jaap has designed a huge range of idents and motion graphics for Dutch broadcasters and even banknotes, stamps, and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Clicking the portfolio link above will give you a range of Jaap’s motion work; I was clicking through it for seemingly hours, phenomenally impressed as to how the change in style and taste from the 1970s through to now doesn’t appear to have diluted his kinetic, playful use of unrelenting creativity.

Now, you can call the VPRO idents crazy, weird, or just different. The point is that they are distinctive to everyone who watches them. They are playful and creative for their own sake.

When was the last time that you saw something which had the same profound effect created in, perhaps, the last 5 years? We have tools to create amazing visual effects, way beyond what Jaap had access to in the 70s. That should make creative work more distinctive, right?

Right?

As well as having access to massively more powerful creative tools, we also have access to massively more powerful insights. If a piece of creative doesn’t test well, it is discarded. Who cares about your creative proposition if the test customer group feels, well, weird about it? If they feel weird about it, then give them something else that they don’t feel weird about — which really means greater potential ROI.

The only example that I can think of that really pushes things is from 2015 (yes, 8 years ago). The rebranding of Merck by Futurebrand makes me feel uncomfortable. And, you know what? I am really pleased that it makes me do that.

Getting to that effect requires more than the cliche of “thinking outside the box”. It means getting out of the fucking box entirely. Advertising, brand and creative agencies often make statements that they are free thinkers, unorthodox or whatever, but when is that really the case? BBH’s statement of when the world zigs, zag is lovely and admirable but it’s hard to “zag” when your office is in a 1 sq km radius with your competitors, with the inevitable labour flows between them. Best to locate yourself on an industrial estate in Sunderland or a farmhouse in Powys to really… zag.

Of course it’s possible to push creativity beyond its current confines and limits but the leadership, context, culture, and implicit/explicit sense of permission needs to be there. Next time you see a creative proposal, think that’s a 5, so what would it look like if it were a 10? Bring the “even better if” into play and if that means pushing the work into uncomfortable emotional territories, then great. Make people feel weird.

In other words: be more Jaap.

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Paul Squires

Founder @imperica @pereramedia / Strategist @ibminteractive / Chair @furtherfield. Digital, media, art, politics, environment, culture, ephemera.