Attack of the Crab Monsters

My children are happiest in water. Usually, if there’s any conflict between them, I can put them in a pool, or failing that, a bath tub (and if that’s not possible, I can turn a hose on them out on the back porch) and it improves their mood (or at least redirects their ire from each other to me). I took a trip with my family to Australia in 2010, when my children Joel and Maya were six and three years old, respectively. When they talk about Australia, they talk almost exclusively about time spent in water—oceans, pools, one particularly rainy day in Tasmania, etc.

Joel, in particular, tells a story about having his pinky pinched by a crab while we were at the beach on the southern coast near Melbourne. This story has grown with retelling in the two years since; it now concludes with my brave son glaring at the offending crab still attached to his hand, then flinging it high in the air with a flick of the wrist, presumably to splash back into the ocean when it finally lands somewhere over the horizon. (The actual story involves a lot of tears followed by promises of ice cream.)

I was recently alerted by Friend of IBD and author of the Nature Geek blog Katie Fisk to the existence of something called a Japanese spider crab (pictured above in a photo by Hans Hillewaert). I Googled the spider crab and came across this pre-1920 photo from Popular Science Magazine. I assumed at first that this was a big, Internet-based practical joke at my expense, but these things appear to actually exist. It turns out that Japanese spider crabs can measure up to 13 feet from claw to claw.

One of my favorite ways to spend time is in the ocean, so this is something I did not want to know—first because the mere existence of such an animal is terrifying, and second because my son, now almost eight years old, continues to antagonize crabs by telling and escalating the story of being attacked in Australia. With a couple more retellings, the offending crab will be one of these enormous Japanese spider crabs rather than the tiny thing it actually was. Eventually, the story will turn into this:

This is a real-life example of one of my favorite graphic design techniques—scale shift, taking a small object and making it huge so that people see it in a different way. In the book Interpretation By Design (just several thousand copies left, order soon!), we use the example of an image of an acorn blown up to cover an entire wall. I can also imagine an exhibit about great inventions beginning with a huge image of a paperclip (certainly a great invention if there ever was one).

Scale shift works by making big things small, as well. Imagine an exhibit about human history (to name one small topic) beginning with a wall covered with an image of outer space. Off to one side of the image, a small, blue-green planet is marked with an arrow and the text, “You are here.”

Whether you’re making small things big or big things small, scale shift is one way to interest viewers by subverting their expectations.

Thankfully for all of us, there are no real giant mutant acorns or paper clips coming to kill us as we splash innocently in the ocean on vacation. Unfortunately for all of us, the Japanese spider crab is real, and it’s ticked because Joel is telling that story again.

Emotional Action Figures

When I joined the Official Star Wars Fan Club, I took an oath to the Rebel Alliance. Somewhere in that oath I agreed to write about the movies whenever the opportunity presented itself. This week provided that opportunity. Well it wasn’t really the week but IBD reader and fellow Rebel Howard Aprill. That’s right, we are rebels.

The following correspondence is from Howard.

Hi Shea,

I recently visited the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison, WI. They had an exhibit featuring some of America’s favorite toys from the 1940’s through present day. It was awesome! Lots of toys that took me back including Shrinky Dinks, Slinkies, Rubik’s Cubes, and more. What caught my eye first however was the Star Wars material It very much took me back long,long time ago to a galaxy (childhood) far away. I have to admit that my wife Paula was very indulgent of me lingering at the Star Wars case for far longer than most.

I’m sure the curator who assembled the exhibit was probably a museum studies major and not an interpreter. Furthermore, it was not a fancy exhibit as it was mostly objects with little text. However, I have to admit that it really connected to me on an emotional level. It was a very basic exhibit with few “bells and whistles”. They took “objects” (ie Star Wars action figures) and allowed me to forge the intellectual (or in this case and emotional) connection. It was awesome and it worked. Sometimes you can just let the resource or object speak for itself.

I have taken the liberty of including a few photos that I hope you will appreciate.



P.S. I love sweater vests, bald is beautiful, Thursday is the best day of the week, cereal should be a food group, red heads make me uncomfortable, and he National League should be abolished.

Okay so the post script wasn’t exactly what Howard had to say but I do want to clarify two things before I continue. Like me, Howard is married. It is possible to speak Jabbanese and find true love. Secondly, the greatest toy besides action figures (not dolls) are Shrinky Dinks.

I could end this post here because Howard made some excellent points. Now even though he alluded to the display being more of a museum presentation of artifacts and less of an interpretive exhibit, at times letting visitors draw their own conclusions can be just as valuable as drawing it for them. Also you can’t beat showing the thing itself. No matter what you do, people want to see original objects and the thing itself. When you are making your plans and your programs, don’t forget their wants and needs.

Seeing Howard’s pictures brought a flood of memories coming back to me. The picture above (that he titled Jabba et al, which happens to be the greatest name of a photo in digital imagery history, for the record et al in this picture is Salacious Crumb) immediately reminded me of a friend’s Jabba Palace Play-set that was painstakingly set-up as a shrine to reenact the scene from Return of the Jedi. Okay, that seems a little creepy now, considering we were in high school and the play-set stayed in tact well into college. Anyway, it was a good memory that could have been easily replaced with something like prom. At this point, as if I had a choice, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thanks for reading and sharing Howard.



Structure in Exhibits

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook reminded me of what my status update was a year ago. Being the sentimental and nostalgic guy that I am, I was reminded of a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, that I took with my family at the same time last year. I decided to go back and look at the pictures to relive the good times and to see how much my hair line had changed in twelve months.

As with most of my family vacation photo files, I have more pictures of signs and exhibits than I do of my children. I get to see my children every day. I may not ever have a chance to see a great use of a complementary color palette at a museum in Missouri ever again. It also keeps your kids’ egos in check by letting them know that it is not all about them.

While browsing through the images I came across a few images that I haven’t shared before of a really cool exhibit featuring the architecture of the Gateway Arch. The exhibit is not at the arch itself but at the St. Louis Science Center.

Here are some images and thoughts.

The design of this structures exhibit was clean and architectural in nature. I love how the materials echo raw materials of a construction site. Even the justified text could represent building blocks. Of course it could have been designed by someone who likes squares, but I think it was purposeful.

These panels continue the consistent message presented on the orientation sign. The concept is expanded with the blueprint-type symbols and open-ended question approach. Of course this is enough to bore my children to death (though death by type is underrated). This was the option that really inspired them…

These pillow building blocks allow children to practice what it takes to build an arch. You will notice that Anna (in the middle) is restraining her younger brother William (the destroyer) so we could get the picture of the complete arch.

This is not related to the structure exhibit, but I just had to share it. I’m not sure what incident led up to the creation of this sign but it was warranted, trust me. Do you have any ideas?

Odds and Ends: Cleaning Out Shea’s Phone Edition

Okay, I’m still in the process of cleaning out the IBD Archives (which happens to be an old shoe box that I keep under my bed filled with top-secret IBD memorabilia, along with photos of old girlfriends) with this second installment of Odds and Ends. Much like anything with the title “Jersey Shore,” Paul’s Odds and Ends installment on Monday doesn’t officially count.

This time I was going through my phone, deleting photos of errant moments of friends that should have been deleted a long time ago, and I came across several photos that were worthy of sharing. Here are the images as well as some random thoughts associated with them.

Who doesn’t like fried chicken, or fried anything for that matter? I know KFC is not the best place to get fried chicken (a tie between Roscoe’s in Los Angeles and Gus’ in Memphis) but my main motivation when visiting this new KFC was directly related to these signs.

At least the signage is original. (Insert your own bad joke here about the Colonel’s original recipe of 11 herbs and spices, or bowties, or seersucker suits, or goatees on old men who sell chicken, or graphic designers in Colorado.)

This is from my neighborhood’s snowcone stand. I’ve been wanting to say something about the misspelling but who am I to judge spelling? And I can’t risk being banned from banana cream pie snow cones (which is not on the list, but it’s a custom flavor I invented that requires a delicate balance of banana, cake batter, and vanilla syrups).

This is one of the best self-guided trail markers I have ever seen. It’s painted right on the rocks found on the Golden-cheeked Warbler Trail in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. I was tempted to steal one. On one shoulder, Don Simons encouraged it, and on the other shoulder, Jay Schneider said he would call the police. I took only pictures and left only footprints. Though I still think it would look great in my office. They were also concreted into place.

Again, who am I to judge? This comes from Mugs Coffee in Fort Collins, Colorado. At least they are trying to do the right thing. Much like me in college algebra. I still failed, though honorably.

If you have some pictures of funny signs or other odds and ends send them our way or post them on the IBD Facebook page.

Fillin’ Station

In my never ending search for the perfect slice of pie (baked or fried), I recently found the Fillin’ Station in the small community of Red Oak in Arkansas. Some time ago, I wrote about another Arkansas gas station that offers fried pies in a post called Text As Art. Both of these stores offer calories covered in meringue (what some consider as the drop shadow of pies, though I wholeheartedly disagree) along with interesting design choices in their signs. The Fillin’ Station is filled with character and is now one my favorite stopping places.

The majority of this post is going to be up to you this week (and by you I mean Jeff Miller). I want to get your opinions on this sign and see if anyone sees the same mistake I see. I also want to know your favorite type of pie. You may have to look closely at the sign/logo. Paul, you don’t have a chance to figure this one out.

While I’m awaiting your response, banana cream pie will be keeping me company.