Dabitch interviewed in Design Weak

Design Weak, created by Plan B Studio have an interview with yours truly here in their ongoing great women series. I'm just on the heels of Carolyn Davidson, and have decided to let this go to my head 'cuz there's no beer nor chocolate in the house so this is the only high I'll get today. ;)

So, if you ever wanted to know more about who hosts this place, click on over, as I talk a lot and there's a bit of TMI in one of the answers.


I’ve not yet met Dabitch (I’m not being rude, she prefers to be called that), but I hope to one day. It’s a friendship that has spawned from social media, namely Twitter. I first knew about DaBitch (a.k.a. Åsk Wappling), when another mutual Twitter-friend RT’d one of her tweets, I joined in and we’ve never looked back.
Her name might be familiar to you; she is the founding creator of Adland.tv and describes her self as ‘an advertising Art Director by day, nerd by night.’ Her opinion is as forthright as her commitment to the industry she commentates on.
With such a strong, interesting and topical voice I felt it only right to interview DaBitch as part of my ‘Great Women‘ series.


What does a typical day consist of?
I’m not sure I have a typical day… There’s always coffee and a computer, but some of my freelance work is at companies and some is not. When I’m not going to an office, I’m at my computer pretty much as soon a I have my morning coffee. I never had time off when my daughter was a baby either, so back then my schedule was arranged around her sleeping time, which meant I worked well past midnight after dinner. I don’t do that much anymore, but I still take a short afternoon-break when I pick her up from preschool – this coincides with the hour that everyone else on the planet needs something faxed or fixed immediately.

Tip for freelancers who do go-sees with their portfolio, always schedule an inspiration stop right after your meeting. Be it a decent café, a short visit to any shop or gallery, or a walk in a park. We design things for the real world, and are often to busy to take time visit it. Tacking “inspiration” time to the end of scheduled meeting times means you’ve accomplished something at the end of the day, even if the meeting was rubbish.

Describe what it is you do and how did you decided on your chosen career?
For the past year, I’ve stopped freelancing and as an art director in advertising (and illustrator), and focused only on the website and writing. I think my career chose me.
I’ve always drawn, and been creative but I’ve also always been fascinated by ads. Borderline obsessed, even, ever since I was a young child. It’s not so much that I set out to do this because I found it interesting as I set out to work in advertising because I truly love advertising (when it is good). I’ve been known to cry at ads, throw pillows at my TV when they are bad, and my boyfriend learned very early on that the TV needs to be off during sex or I’ll get distracted by adbreaks.
Yes, I’m *that* bad. Some say the difference between a calling and a career is that the calling is more an itch that needs scratching, and a career you do for money. Adland is me scratching my itch, every day.
My family expected me to become an artist, or an engineer as I’ve been picking things apart and putting them back together again just to see how they work ever since I was able to hold a screwdriver, nobody knew anything about advertising, and it was rather frowned upon.

Swedish, yet you chose to study at Parsons (NYC) and then London – why and what did those experiences teach you?
The why is quite simple: I’m really impatient. I studied at both Parsons and Central Saint Martins in the summers from the age of 15, and was frustrated that after junior art school in Stockholm, I still wasn’t old enough to be accepted to Stockholms ‘Konsthögskolan‘.
So I packed my bags and went to New York, who gladly accepted me even though I had only just turned 18. I went to London after my Parsons degrees because I felt when I showed my portfolio around, that I still needed to learn more on how to make advertising campaigns, and the School of Communications Arts, then run by John Gillard, was the ticket. John Gillard made an exception for me, he took me in as an Art Director based on my portfolio alone, without an interview.
It was a great school, with people of all ages from all over the world, who had all flown in for a personal interview, some from as far away as Mexico. My impatience here made me miss my own graduation ceremony from Parsons, as I was busy moving across the atlantic. The only thing I regret is that I gave up a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village to do so.
At the SCA we were tutored by the likes of John Hegarty, Dave Trott, Graham Fink, Paul Arden, Timothy Mellors and many more brilliant minds active in advertising. They came from the real ad world, with real briefs, real problems, real creative director reactions and washed any art school fantasies away until we learned to create real solutions. It was great.
Parsons, and New York itself, taught med independence and to believe in myself, and how to get things done, fast. While SCA, and London, taught me everything there was to know about advertising and gave me the blank book of the future. You don’t just slap a couple of jokes together with a rhyming tagline, you have to solve a problem and find a proposition that is the base of the entire campaign.

You are the founder and creator behind Adland – tell us about the who, why and what?
Who – me, and assorted ad-dicts who can’t help but post as well, most notably Claymore & Caffeinegoddess who have being doing it for years and count as part of the core crew as they wield much influence over the content. Anyone can join, login and upload their body of work, old and new, to a permanent place in the archive. We have the worlds largest super bowl commercial collection, and I don’t see why we should stop there. Worlds largest radio ad archive, anyone?
Why – We’re back at that itch. I was in San Francisco when it started, this was 1996, all I had was a computer, a radio I bought for 5 dollars at a garage sale and an apartment with no furniture. I’d lay on the floor writing about billboards I had seen, campaigns I read about, and I was posting a lot of “badlanders”, that is twin ads, then. It saved me from boring my friends to tears with all these stories about advertising they had no interest in hearing, and allowed me to see if there was somebody out there who was as obsessed as me.
Turns out, there was. I met up with some other adpeople who were “proto blogging” online back then, like Dave Dumanis who posted a column every friday called “ad lib” and made a few really good friends that are still my closest pals, even if I didn’t meet some of them physically until 2006! Since the site garnered a lot of attention, and mails, I decided to allow it to grow to something more than a personal thing and rebuilt it into a database driven CMS system in 2000.
This was back when running mysql and php was still rather unusual for hosting companies to offer, and I already had a lot of data in the form of films, so I bought a server with a friend of mine and we spent a weekend learning linux and apache together in my basement in Amsterdam (where I lived then). The database system allowed for all members to post to the front page, all users to grab their own RSS feeds of their posts and comments and all sorts of things that were unusual at the time, and I presented the idea of a user driven advertising news site / portfolio site to Gorillapark. They’ve later said “Åsk did web 2.0 before anyone knew what that was”.
What – a user generated advertising news site with an editorial crew. We did allow any post to hit the front page unmoderated for a few years, as community policing actually worked. Spammers have pissed all over this privilege, with one particularly embarrassing example of a Chinese dildo company posting their images to the front page.
Now I moderate everything, except for posts made by Caff & Claymore since they are also administrators. What I find particularly noteworthy gets pushed to the front page, while items of lesser interest falls under their respective categories (print in the print area, commercials in the commercial area, and so on). That was you can still get an overview even on days when we have 45 new posts.

You’ve been described as ‘the mother of all advertising blogs’. When do you find time to actually design and art direct?
Good question! Whenever I get really busy and I don’t have time for even a small update, I get cranky emails from people wondering what I’m doing – like I don’t feel guilty enough already ;) I try to arrange my days in 3-hour shifts, paying work – blog/lunch – paying work – blog/afternoon – dinner / blog. My daughter is jealous of my computer. This makes me feel terrible. Newsworthy stuff breaks on weekends, at night, at four in the morning… You really have to put up “No procrastination” walls around the work hours to get anything done.

The Footer on Adland.tv reads ‘Founded by Dabitch built on beer and bravery’. Your ‘identity’ (Dabitch) was ousted by Tess Wilkinson-Ryan at Creativity Magazine. Was that a milestone for you and Adland.tv?
Yes. I remember she asked “Are you out of the closet now”, to which I laughed and said: sure. It was a bigger step for me, now every word I had written about potantial employers [advertising work], might come and bite me in the ass. It was a relief in my immediate circle, because now I could freely say “yeah I wrote a rant about that” and not worry I was revealing myself to anyone not in the know. It was scary for a while, meeting creative directors in a position to hire me, not knowing if they had read that issue of Creativity or not. How would they react? You have to remember, this was long before most people were “out” online, and I was hiding pretty well – I even published a monthly column in Swedish tradepress under the name “Dabitch” which set records in amount of letters to the editor received. I’m constantly biting the hand that might feed me later, it’s not as if people are putting up ads: “Wanted – a geeky art director who rants about ads all day.”

Creative, intelligent, smart, creators of human life, and ruler of (most) men – why aren’t there more women at the helm of the creative industries?
This question should be directed at men more often. We live in a patriarchal society, that’s part of it, but there are as many women in ad schools today as there are men so the question is, where do they go after school?
There are a lot of successful women in advertising as well as men, and more now than there was ten years ago, yet it still seems like a (white) boys club in most creative departments.
Advertising is like an addiction, it can run and ruin your life. Perhaps women just won’t stand for that, and seek a more well rounded life? I don’t like generalising, as everyone who generalises is wrong.
I think the males-at-the-top thing is changing in the creative industries, I’ve seen it change gradually for years, and it is getting better with junior teams being as mixed as ever now. They’ll be our creative directors in a few years. Managing creative businesses is no fun at all, most driven creatives hate to graduate to that role, just ask Luke Sullivan.
It’s funny, when I was a fresh graduate I was told that I “loved advertising TOO much” and this was a negative. I’ve never heard anyone say that to a man who is as obsessed as I am, and I know plenty of them – we have our own advertising-addicts anonymous meetings, you know.
What is negative for one person, is positive for another. Advertising is a lot of luck, right time, right place, right chance and often a timid girl won’t be given one precisely because she’s a timid girl. The moment she becomes a rule breaking girl, she’s a bitch. If a guy does, he’s “a go-getter”.
Everyone breaks the rules in advertising, you just have to break the right ones. Females entering the business should, like in any other part of female daily life, be aware that their gender affects how people treat them, but not in a way that it becomes the pygmalion effect of “I didn’t get the job because I am female”. When someone rejects your portfolio, look at the portfolio first, not your gender.

Like many creative industries graphic design is not an easy arena to succeed in. Might you impart some golden rules for budding entrants?
My favorite expression is: “I’m not arrogant, I’m just right!” and in a profession where everyone thinks the work is “subjective” and everyone is entitled to their opinion, one can get a little tired of having everything one does constantly probed and tweaked. “Why don’t they just listen to me?” we think, as we’ve exhausted thousands of typographic possibilities and ‘thought of everything’ before we even presented something, since that’s our job.
“Listen” is the key word here, as it’s a two way street, you have to listen to a client as much as they listen to you. They might be expressing concern about a color, but what they might mean is “will people see it?”.
A successful dialogue between client and creative births much better work, and it starts with you really listening to client, even if you want to slam your hands over your ears every time they use the word “font” when they mean “typography”. Note down your reasons for doing things in your chosen way, and explain these when you present your solution, even if it seems obvious to you. If the client gets to see your thought process as you present your work, you’ll force them to examine their own input and raise the bar on that as well, in the end you’ll both win as better work is created.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career to date and why?
I won a trip from Radostar to the Zona Tortona design festival in Milan to exhibit my wall paintings, and since this came as quite a surprise for me (I had forgotten that I even entered). I’ll say that the 5-star hotel and deep-end immersion of that festival would be it.
It was very inspiring and refreshing to see all the exhibitions, even if some veterans complained that it had gotten very commercial as of late, and since it wasn’t ‘advertising’ I felt like a kid dropped in the deep end of the pool, in a good way. I was very honoured.

Radostar Wall Mural - Åsk Dabitch from Åsk Dabitch Wäppling on Vimeo.

Radostar announces winners of Milan Zona Tortona trip. Dabitch is one of them.

Glimpses from Zona Tortona Milan

What else influences your passion and commitment to your cause?
I firmly believe that media changes the world, and advertising is a large part of the media landscape. The language and images used not only reflect society but can change it, if you feed crap into the megaphone it screams louder for each turn only creates a feedback loop that amplifies as we go round and round.
I think we have a responsibility to see beyond the starbursts of the instant sale, and truly care for the brands we represent as if they were living personalities. You wouldn’t let your friend act like a prick, so don’t let your clients brand do it either, as it will bite them in the ass in the end.
Don’t let them greenwash, teenwash or hogwash at all chasing new sales. If they want to become a greener company, make them walk the walk before they do the talk.

5 things you cannot live without?
My child.
My music.
My Pencils.
My computer.


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