Superfluous Songs and Steak

If Paul can write about something as superfluous as an NBA team mascot this week, since no one is reading, I’m going to take the opportunity to write about something near and dear to my heart, rap music. That’s right, for those paying close attention, (at this point, no one), Paul wrote on Monday about Hip Hop the Philadelphia 76ers mascot. Today, I’m write about hip hop the music genera. This is no coincidence. Paul grew up eating Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, where is has recently been confirmed that the “steak” in those sandwiches is actually Hip Hop. That’s rabbit, for those not really paying attention.

You see, I was trying to be funny by making a connection between Paul’s random post and my random post, too. But since everyone one is on vacation or doing things much more important than reading this blog, my weak attempt at making fun of cheese-covered “steak” is unwarranted.

Prepare yourself. One of the greatest segues in the history of IBD, taking something random and turning it into today’s interpretive design topic, is about to happen. Here it is (perhaps I over-billed it).

Cheese is a good thing. Steak is a good thing. Is combining them into one item a good thing? I’m not so sure. On August 8, 2011, Kanye West and Jay-Z released their collaborative effort known as Watch the Throne. I have written about both artists on IBD before. My post on Kanye West’s new album was about centering text and my post about Jay Z was related to authenticity.

I admire both of them as artists but their combination leaves me with unresolved issues. If you like mayonnaise on your cheese steak sandwiches, I would guess this is not a problem for you. (By the way, I’m not sure what that really means either.) This is not the first time that they have collaborated. Both have been featured on songs by each other. But in the past but it was obvious whose song it was and that the featured artist was secondary to the primary artist. A few of the song are great but some are screaming for someone to take the lead.

I’m not saying that Kanye is the steak and Jay Z is the cheese, since that wouldn’t be true and Jay Z would clearly dispatch someone huge to my house in quick order to kick my keister (actual rap term) in front of my wife and children. They are both amazing alone, and together in small doses. But too much of them together and you find yourself confused, in ketosis, and faced with the urge to run several miles. (Of course, while you are running you would be listening to the Carpenters.)

I tell you all of this to remind you of the importance of hierarchy in your designs (okay, so maybe that segue was the single greatest leap in IBD history). Let’s say you are designing a program flyer on your historic tour of two Philadelphia institutions like Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks. Both may claim to be the best cheese steak, but don’t let the cheese cloud your judgment. Remember your theme, emotional connections, and the intangible elements that are going to bring visitors to your program. While laying out the document, make sure you place emphasis on the most important element. I like to separate the most important element and group the lesser important elements. Also keep in mind that too many elements can be distracting. I try to focus on three key elements, and if the information exceeds that I try to use odd numbers of elements such as five or a maximum of seven. Remember the hierarchy should visually guide the user through the piece.

Perhaps that’s why the song Otis works so well on Watch the Throne. The trifecta of Otis Redding, Kanye, and Jay make a virtual triangle. Maybe that’s why onions are also perfectly acceptable on a cheese steak sandwich as well.

Kicking Around an Idea

We write about a lot of things on IBD not really related to interpretation or design. We like to write about sports, since neither of us have ever been accomplished athletes, despite our physiques. We comfort ourselves, from the tough times we had in high school (and all other parts of our lives) with the simple fact that we are good with computers (or as we refer to them, our high school sweet hearts) and our mastery of buffets.

Today is a first. I’m pretty sure in the history of IBD, and all of the sports banter, we have never written about soccer. It is possible we have used the phrases soccer mom, shin guards, and bangin’ minivan. I’m sure they were all in positive contexts too.

The football (that’s what well-cultured people call soccer) team in Sevilla, Spain, has introduced a new design element into their players’ uniforms, as well as a unique way to generate revenue. According to Wikipedia the Sevilla Fútbol Club S.A.D. (insert your own joke here about soccer being S.A.D.) “are one of the most successful clubs in Spanish football having won a 1 La Liga title, 5 Spanish ‘Copa del Rey’ Cups, 1 Spanish Super Cup and 2 UEFA Cups. Their sole league title was won in 1945-46, and their UEFA Cups were won under manager Juande Ramos in 2005 and 2006.” That all sounds really impressive.

I feel like I can trust Wikipedia, since they say this about the Philadelphia Phillies: “The age of the team and its history of adversity has earned it the dubious distinction of having lost the most games of any team in the history of American professional sports.” That’s how I fact check sources.

Anyway back to soccer, the Sevilla FC is selling the opportunity to be on the back of your favorite players, during a game. Not literally, virtually that is, in pixels. For $25 Euros (about $35 U.S. Dollars) you can submit a headshot that is placed into a collage that forms the number on a uniform. The number 14 above is what it looks like from a distance.

It is a 2×2 millimeter photo but still pretty cool. I’m sure they sell those jerseys as well. According to each number consists of over 3000 images.

Let’s do some math: 3000 images times $35 per image times number of players on the team equals billions and billions of dollars. I’ve never claimed to be a mathematician. Perhaps I confused the number of players with the number of vuvuzelas at a match. It is still a lot of money and an original idea.

The design component is also visually interesting. I see potential for use at interpretive centers’ donor walls as well as program elements. The idea could easily be adapted into volunteers’ uniforms or a unique way to thank visitors. Of course it could be connected to resale by developing products that incorporate all of the bird species that could be found at a site.

I wonder how much I would have to pay to ride on the back of Derek Jeter during a game?

The Annual IBD Holiday Gift Buying Guide

Christmas gift buying personifies my procrastination. I was well trained by my father to make last-minute holiday gift purchases so that pressure aides in the decision-making process. I’m of course in the same boat again this year. But as a gesture as to the selfless person I am, I’m going to keep tradition alive of the annual IBD annual gift buying guide. (Well, this is actually the first in the line of a soon-to-be tradition. We have dropped hints before.)

By focusing my efforts into online searches of items for the designer, interpretive designer, blogger, or all around geek, it keeps me from thinking about the needs of my friends and family.

This really began when IBD reader Phil Broder emailed Paul and me saying, “All I’m saying is that one of you is getting Superman socks, and the other is getting Wonder Woman socks, and I’m not gonna say which.”

We are still waiting on the socks. Phil, here’s the link just in case you lost it, Fashionably Geek.

Check out these other gifts for the IBDer.

This shirt actually shows you available WIFI connectivity strength by lighting up. It also measures how many bars of geekiness are available from you. It can be purchased at Think Geek. describes this book as “interesting and eclectic journey examining the unending versatility of nature, showing how to uncover nature’s ingenuity and use it to create beautiful and compelling designed communications.” I haven’t read it yet but I plan on it (as soon as I receive it as a gift). As an interpretive naturalist, the concept sounds promising. I’m always down for an interesting and eclectic journey.

Interested in getting your little woman inspired in the kitchen? First stop calling her little woman and second, buy her this. That’s Nerdalicious reports that the Kitchen Aid mixer are only available in Brazil, which seems well worth the trip for your Wonder Woman.

I’m not much on hyperbole, but this is the single greatest piece of furniture ever made. I can be purchased at Tom Spina Designs.

What would an IBD Christmas list be without a flow chart? This one leaves all other weaker flow charts (including Which Baseball Team Should I Root For? and Which Football Team Should I Root For?) tapping out in submission. This appeals to me with the subject matter and the taxonomy. It can be purchased at Pop Chart Lab.

Once you have bought all of this nerdy loot, you have to wrap it. This is the coolest wrapping paper I have ever seen. Based around QR codes (You can read Paul’s post on QR codes here. Also here.) Design Boom states the “UK-based studio The Chase have designed several Christmas wrapping paper using QR codes that suggest gift ideas when scanned.”

I have more. If you are interested let me know and I’ll put up some more. Happy shopping!

The Power of the Close Crop

When I’m with friends or family in a public place and we want a group photo, I hate asking strangers to take the picture. It’s not that I don’t want to bother strangers. I like bothering strangers. It’s that strangers, as a rule, stink at taking photographs. Waiters, in particular, are the worst. (If you are a waiter and you are reading this post, I apologize. Also, I would like an Arnie Palmer and a dozen wings.)

The primary offense of the waiter-stranger-photographer is that they stand too far away and zoom all the way out (and somehow still manage to cut off everyone’s feet). The photo ends up being mostly sky with a tiny collection of nearly unrecognizable, feetless people at the bottom. On occasions when I do resort to asking a waiter-stranger-photographer to take a picture, I find myself saying, “Step a little closer, don’t be afraid to zoom in. And where are those wings I asked about?”

By way of example, I offer this photo of my family and me taken by a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar in Somers Point, New Jersey, last summer. (To the waitress’s credit, she did not cut off our feet in the photo, and she was very good at her actual job, but you’ll see what I mean about the zooming. Did she think that tubby guy on the bench was part of my family? And does that guy think he’s fooling anyone drinking beer out of a paper Coke cup?)

Granted, nowadays it’s easy to crop digital photos, so this is less of a problem than it was in the days of rolls of film and printed photos. But still, why do people stand so far away and zoom so far out? And is it just me, or does my brother look like he’s eight feet tall in this photo?

On a seemingly unrelated note (I’m getting to the point, I promise), I recently received an email from Friend of IBD and noted Detroit Tigers fan Phil Broder with images of “actual billboards in Detroit, Michigan, put up by GM.” (The forwarded message says, “This is definitely cool … Pass this on to anyone who thinks old things can be cool!” I don’t know what it says about me that Phil thinks that I would think old things are cool.)

You can see a bunch more of these here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that these billboards were clearly not designed by the waitstaff at Smitty’s Clam Bar.

In my opinion, there are two elements to these billboards that make them successful. The first is the succinct, clever writing. Each slogan is short and packs a punch (much like most of the Tigers fans I know). The second element is a distinct aesthetic that relies on strong color combinations and sometimes extremely close-cropped images.

The close crop is not just a striking visual technique. It’s a powerful statement, one that expresses confidence that the subject of an image can withstand scrutiny. (Come to think of it, this may explain why waiters stand so far away when they take photos of my family and me.)

Moreover, in my opinion, close-cropped photos are more interesting to look at. (That said, cropping to the point of abstraction is a technique that has its place. For instance, I would not recommend cropping head shots down to a single nostril.)

Whether you’re a designer working with photos that have been provided to you, a photographer trying to capture the essence of a thing, or a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar, I’d recommend cropping just a little more closely than feels comfortable, and see how you like the result.

What kind of graphic designer are you?

As with any profession, it’s important for graphic designers to be introspective. I have experienced life as a graphic designer in multiple stages: with no actual training in the field (1996–1998), as a graduate student in visual communications (1999–2001), and as a professional designer (2002 to present). I have witnessed all of the below subspecies of graphic designer (and I have been or continue to be one or more of them myself). Thinking about where you fall in these categories can help you understand your work and why some people look at you that way.

Uber Conceptualist
This designer says things like, “The single straight black line in a field of white represents human kind’s unwillingness to recognize its own shortcomings.” Then when his client says, “Yes, but we asked you to design a logo for the county fair,” he sighs and walks away. It’s important for design decisions to have meaning, but when the meaning is so abstract it has to be explained to everyone who sees it, graphic design crosses over into fine art—a different field altogether.

This person uses Comic Sans and starbursts. Also clip art.

Prima Donna
This person hates you. How dare you question his design decisions? If you don’t like it—or don’t get it—it’s because you’re too dumb. And who needs you anyway? Also, every other designer who has ever created anything is just so corporate. Bunch of sellouts. Especially Paul Rand.

People Pleaser
The yin to the Prima Donna’s yang, the People Pleaser takes any suggestion that comes along. Bold this? Yes. Add 17 photos to page three? You’re the boss!

Tech Guy
One of the great things that desktop publishing did for the world was that it put powerful graphic design tools in the hands of anyone who owns a computer. Conversely, one of the terrible things that desktop publishing did for the world was that it put powerful graphic design tools in the hands of anyone who owns a computer. The Tech Guy designer can tell you everything you would ever want to know (and usually much, much more) about all of the advanced functions in Adobe Photoshop, then uses the software to create fliers for book sales that look like laundry that got washed with Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Old Timer
The Old Timer has been setting metal type by hand since you were wetting your diaper, and doesn’t need any of these newfangled devices to help him.

Of course, these are gross exaggerations, and every good designer has at least some of the above in him. It’s important to balance the Prima Donna with the People Pleaser—to have confidence in your abilities and your decisions, but to be able to hear criticism with an open mind. It’s valuable to let your inner Uber Conceptualist battle it out with the Hack—to think in deeper meanings but to make your work accessible. And every designer should be able to make the best use of his tools—à la the Tech Guy—but to understand the origins of the principles of graphic design the way only the Old Timer can.

And while every designer should have a little of each of the above, maybe you lean a little too far in one of the above directions. And that’s why people look at you like that.

Uber Conceptualist photo by Fausto Giliberti. Old Timer photo by Leroy Skalstad.