Odds and Ends, mostly Odds

This week I decided to share with you three items sent in by readers. I didn’t have enough on each to make them into a full post by themselves (who am I fooling, if I can transform a discussion revolving around socks into something about social networking, then I surely could have done a post on each) so I rolled them in to this odds and ends post.

The first comes from Phil Broder. Every time I get an email from Phil, I make sure I don’t open it on a work computer. I don’t want to get put back on the watch list. This email was okay and worthy of sharing. He stated:

Take a look at http://www.jameshance.com/index.html. He’s my new favorite artist (Muppets and Firefly… two of my favorite things!). But you Star Wars geeks should love this too. There’s definitely something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.

In a snobbish follow up email from Paul (in which he didn’t copy Phil) he stated that he would leave this email for me to respond to since this topic was more in my court nerdom. He may be right but he didn’t have say it like that. I did like the fact that my “Star Warsness” is automatically being tied to Paul. It is about time considering many of his quirks have been connected to my persona.

The artwork offered by James Hance is described as “relentlessly cheerful art” on the website. His trademark is the combination of two distinct styles that most wouldn’t draw conclusions to and from.

The image above known as Promise is part of Wookiee the Chew (yes, Wookie is spelt wrong, silly artist) is a combination of Star Wars characters and Winnie the Pooh. Phil mentioned that there may be “something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.” He’s right; I’m not sure what there is to say except it is awesome. It’s also awesome that Phil admitted to liking Muppets.

The part that I find powerful is that it makes you think specifically about the decisions made by the artist and how specific styles can be connected to genera. This could be applied to an interpretive center making design decision to be at juxtaposition of the complexity of nature by choosing a clean, open, or geometric typeface (such as Futura) to add impact. Otherwise the art by Hance should simply be enjoyed.

The second piece comes from Sarah Keating. Sarah has issues with denial. She wants to claim that she’s a cool kid and not a member of the nerd herd but she can’t seem to stop showing people her membership card. Sarah stated in her email:

Each day I find myself acquiring more nerdy tendencies. A few weeks ago I found myself downloading NPR apps on my iPhone, and now I am reading NPR stories on the internet. Today, for instance, I was looking for a little inspiration on the NPR interns’ website and I clicked on a story link about plastic bag use, only to get the ever so popular “Page not found” – story of my life!! But as I continued to read I realized that NPR has taken it a step further and instead of making you disappointed in their inability to locate what you were trying to find they have put a positive spin on it (see below). HOW REFRESHING!!! I really do love NPR – GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Sarah, embracing your inner nerd is the second step to obtaining personal peace after admitting you are a nerd  (immediately followed by the cessation of the excessive use of capital letters and exclamation points).

I wish I knew how to make the 404 Page not found on IBD offer suggestions, but I don’t. For those web gurus out there this is a great idea. I also have to admit that Sarah really doesn’t claim to read IBD but sent the email to me and several others. I don’t have her permission to share it here either.

The third piece comes from me (uh yeah, I’m a reader too, someone has to read Paul’s posts so you don’t have too. It’s just something I do for you). You got to love this link offered by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City). Who doesn’t want a custom NYC Subway Sign set in one of the most famous uses of Helvetica, featuring the Yankees Stadium stop on 161st Street? You could also have one with some other landmark in New York City. Do they have others?

These iconic signs as well as other MTA items are offered on the website. The signs start at $25.

Keep the suggestions coming…you know we need them.

A Work in Progress: The 2012 NAI International Conference Identity

People who communicate for a living have to be ready for a variety of reactions when they put something out there for public consumption. As a visual communicator, I have created things that people hate (see my first attempt at a logo for last year’s NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas) and some things that have been more well-received (see the identity for last month’s NAI International Conference in Panama). The one reaction I do not know what to do with is silence.

When NAI announced the location and dates of the upcoming NAI Pacific Islands International Conference (Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, May 8-12, 2012), I posted a link to the conference website on the IBD Facebook page and asked for feedback. Perhaps I posted it at a moment when there were not a lot of people online, or perhaps Facebook’s popularity is fading and people just aren’t using it as much as they used to, but when I checked back later in anticipation of a handful of comments, there was very little—a couple of likes and one, “Looks good. Sign me up!”

We know from our surveys that one of the reasons people attend the NAI International Conference is its location, so each year, I focus my design decisions on the site of the event. In the identity for the Pacific Islands International Conference, I used an iconic Hawai’i photo by Gregory Runyan (which I found on stock.xchng, my favorite source for free, high-quality photography) in part because it establishes a sense of place and in part because it fits with the color palette that I wanted to use. (I’m calling the color palette “pastel primary”—a sort of tropical, relaxed blue, yellow, and red.)

One problem with the photo is that it raises questions of whether the palm tree is native to Hawai’i. (The answer is not simple: Palms are not technically native to Hawai’i, but some of them have been there for a really long time, since the days of the early Polynesian settlers.) Another problem is that one person’s “iconic” is another person’s “boring” or “predictable.” That second person is my wife.

The words “Pacific Islands” are set in a distressed script typeface called Marcelle Script, which I found on DaFont, another great resource. I’m using Marcelle Script because I feel it reflects the relaxed, comfortable environs of the event. If you visit the link to that typeface, you’ll notice that it’s “free for personal use.” If I stick with Marcelle Script in the final version of this identity, I’ll be sure to make a donation to the designer.

And on a technical typographic note, because we’re honoring the indigenous spelling of the name Hawai’i, you’ll see it spelled with that diacritical mark before the last I, which it turns out is not just an apostrophe. Because I have Adobe InDesign set to use smart (curly) quotes and apostrophes (as you should, too), I have to jump through some hoops to get the appropriate, straight-up-and-down mark. In InDesign, I select Type > Insert Special Character > Quotation Marks > Straight Single Quotation Mark. (Unfortunately, there is no way to do this online that I know of, so I’m using an apostrophe here.)

So that’s the thinking that has gone into this website so far. And while the reaction has been generally positive, it has also been luke warm, which fills me with angst. So I set about looking for some other options.

This image by Margan Zajdowicz shows the distinctive lava rock of the Hawaiian beach, but with this cropping, as my co-worker Jamie points out, it looks like it’s promoting a conference about oil spills. (Also, if you visit the link to the image, you’ll see that this cropping eliminates the endearing word “Aloha” written in the sand.)

I like the color palette and general feeling of this image by NAI Executive Director Tim Merriman, but I hesitate to use it because most of the conference will be held above the surface of the water.

The same goes for this photo, also by Tim Merriman.

So that’s where I am now. They say that a graphic designer never finishes a project, but is sometimes forced to stop working on it (like when it goes to press). With this event nearly a year away, I could spend 11 months tweaking the identity and never be completely happy with it.

And as you may have guessed, I welcome your feedback.

Notions About Preconceived Notions

There are many of you who came to IBD today expecting a post about the baseball playoffs beginning yesterday (and by many, I mean one). You know that Paul and I love baseball and this is the best and worst time of year for us. For the majority, the sport of baseball is considered antiquated and out of touch with its fan base. Some say it has too long of a season, is too slow, and is generally boring. This is also a perfect description of the relationship that Paul and I have with our IBD fan base (and by fan base I mean our combined five children). There is something special about the game, being at the ball park, eating copious amounts of cased meat, and simply watching a pure game.

This is not a post about baseball, I promise, but Paul and I have the goal of seeing all of the major league stadiums. I love seeing new ballparks and picking up on the subtleties of each park and the culture around the collection of fans. This seriously is not a post about baseball, but in the event you didn’t know Paul’s team, the Philadelphia Phillies, and my team, the 27-time and current reigning World Champion New York Yankees (who just happen to beat the Phillies in last year’s World Series) are on a crash course to possibly meet again World Series. (That was the most carefully calculated sentence written in IBD history as not to jinx either team.) For now I will not write about baseball.

Okay, I can’t help it. Visiting a new ballpark is not much different from visiting a new museum. You come into the setting with preconceived notions. I have never been to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia but I would expect to see lots of people working on their own unique team color palettes with cheese wiz on their red Phillies shirts or better yet wiz on their green Eagle’s gear.

Again not about baseball, the exterior of the museum from the parking lot to the entrance all add to or take away from your expectations. The prior knowledge you have or the research about your visit all add into your overall experience. But what if you don’t know what to expect or are unsure of the experience before you? What if you just stumbled on to something that sounded interesting but you had no clue what it actually was? Which just happens to be the equivalent of Paul and me going to a WNBA game. For now I will not write about the WNBA.

Yesterday the Adobe Museum of Digital Media (AMDM) opened to the public. I have been receiving updates for several weeks about the opening of this new museum. I was intrigued from the beginning for the simple fact that I didn’t know what to expect. The descriptions have been well written to be ambiguous. So well that I have saved several passages of text to use when communicating with my boss.

The landing page (https://www.adobe.com/adobemuseum/) says that “The Adobe Museum of Digital Media (AMDM) is a unique virtual space designed to showcase and preserve groundbreaking digital work and to present expert commentary on how digital media influences culture and society.” Needless to say the descriptions left me confused and in need of a dictionary. So what is going to be in the collection of an online museum of digital media? Is it worthy of getting my email address? (BTW, Paul, if you have joined, let me know how that works for you.) Should I come back once the novelty has worn off? Where can you even see a WNBA game?

I’ve been waiting for the opening just to experience this possibly online interpretive experience. The best part is that I didn’t have to dress up for the grand opening. The tuxedo t-shirt I was wearing at home was perfectly appropriate.

After spending some quality time getting to know the museum I was impressed and confused, and now I understand why interpretive sites are valuable in and of themselves. There are some pros to an online museum. “The AMDM is a space unlike any created before. Because it is entirely digital, it is an ideal gallery for displaying and viewing digital media, as well as revealing the innovation and artistry within the work. It is open to the public 365 days a year and is accessible from anywhere in the world.” This is true but be prepared to test your bandwidth and not do anything else on your computer while visiting the museum. Make sure your Flash and Java updates are complete too. The use of images and digital art are impressive.

I am most impressed with the effort to create an online structure that will display the media. An extraordinary amount of time and thought went into the structure.  “The building itself was designed by Italian architect Filippo Innocenti, a master of fluid urban designs for large, public installations. Innocenti collaborated closely with award-winning designer Piero Frescobaldi, who served as the ‘building contractor’ for construction of the virtual space.” The format, layout, site map, and menu are well designed and easier to get around than many actual museums that I have been too. We can learn from Adobe here.

As with most modern art, I found myself confused. But one benefit of this online museum is that it provides opportunities for you to interact with artists and gain an understanding of their perspectives. As stated by Adobe, the current exhibit Valley, which offers the latest work by the renowned American artist Tony Oursler was developed to explore our “relationship to the Internet, underscored by Oursler’s often raucous, disarming humor.” The exhibit is interesting and may not be viewed on some government computers.

I love life online but sometime you just need to go to the ballpark—uh, I mean museum. There is something special about seeing the thing itself and hot dogs never taste as good at home. My wife also frowns on my throwing of peanut shells on the carpet, though my three year old son thinks it is perfectly okay. The online museum creates a new way of looking at things but in the big picture the experience has some shortcomings.

Interpretation is an element of the exhibit but I don’t see an opportunity to build that emotional connection to the resource. Could the format be used to preview the thing itself at your site? Sure. Could it be used for post-visit activities? You betcha. Is it as good as watching a game in high definition television from the comfort of your on sofa with instant replay? Sure. But is the experience the same as being there? Not really.

Go Yankees!

Pistons poppin’, ain’t no stoppin’ now—Panama!

Continuing an annual tradition on this site, I will begin with a shameless plug on behalf of my employer: The National Association for Interpretation’s 2011 International Conference will be held in Panama, May 4-7, at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort about 30 minutes outside of Panama City. NAI’s International Conference on interpretation is one of the best events in the field and you should make it a point to be there. (I began this tradition last year, when NAI unveiled dates and a location for the 2010 event in Australia, and I made some promises in a post titled “Free Beer (in Australia) for Interpretation By Design Readers.” Little did I know that you can’t get Fosters in Australia.)

Because I like the NAI International Conference so much, I enjoy developing the website and publications associated with it. We’ve done surveys and know that the location is one of the primary reasons participants attend, so creating a sense of place when publicizing this conference is important. One of the challenges I run into, however, is that NAI is now six for six in selecting places I have never been to hold this event.

So once again this year, I set about the process of trying to make meaningful decisions with only my own preconceptions and what I could find online as background knowledge. I put together a template for the event’s website and posted it on the Interpretation By Design Facebook page with a note asking for feedback, some of which I’ll share below (with last names changed to initials to protect the identities of the snarky).

Type
Using expressive type is something of a departure for me. It’s even more of a departure for me to use expressive typefaces that are meant to emulate handwriting, because I find them insidious and stupid (not to put too fine a point on it). However, for Panama, I wanted something that conveyed a sense of fun and energy—a sort of typographic salsa dance. I think the typeface Luna Bar, which I found for free on one of our favorite free font websites, almost does the trick. (See our post, “Free Fonts!” for more about websites with free fonts.)

panama-luna_bar

One of the reasons I hate handwriting typefaces so much is that they don’t look like handwriting. For instance, when a character is repeated, as with the letter “a” in the example above, handwriting typefaces start to take on an even, un-handwriting-like cadence.

Panama_Script

One solution to this problem is to use multiple typefaces. In the example above, I’ve set the second and third “a” in the typefaces Christopher Hand and James Fajardo, both found on the site DaFont. So while I normally try to limit myself to two typefaces for an entire identity system, I’ve used three in one six-letter word for this event. (To quote Buster Bluth on Arrested Development, “We have unlimited juice? This party is going to be off the hook.”)

I thought this was a pretty good solution, though my wife pointed out that the style of the first “a” is so different from the second two that it still looks weird. But she doesn’t read this blog so I’m not going to worry about that. Some comments on the type that came in from our Facebook page include:

I like how you combined two different typefaces…;) (Amy F.)

I think I actually see three different fonts?? (Linda S.)

Amy and Linda are so clever.

Color and Image
An image of a palm leaf by John Nyberg found on the free stock photo website stock.xchng is the foundation for the color palette. I used red highlights because red is the complement to green and I wanted to create an intense, high-energy palette. The screen capture to the left above is what the site looked like when it was posted on Facebook. To the right is how it looks now, with some modifications made after comments came in. Some of those comments include:

I’m waiting for the Christmas comment. (Shea L.)

Shea, In Arkansas, is lime green a Christmas color? (Paul C.)

The red is just pink enough not to be Christmassy. (Amy F. )

I like the colors (even if they are sort of christmassy – is that a word?). (Linda S.)

Maybe add a toucan or something up in the left or right corners. (Jeff M.)

I’ve got to agree with Shea and the Christmas comment (slight reminder of Christmas) but a bird (maybe parrot?) in the corner as Jeff suggested would eliminate that issue. 🙂 (Lynda D.)

The idea that the particular green and bright red I had used might evoke Christmas had not occurred to me, but the comment came up enough that I thought I’d add some photos with other colors. Thankfully, photographer extraordinaire Jerry Bauer generously provided us with some of his photos from Panama, which will be extremely helpful as we continue to promote this event. I’ve used some of Jerry’s photos in the new website template and in the magazine ad pictured at the top of this post.

The Facebook comments continue:

I love the palm/palmetto leaf. I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other about the color or style of the text. (Rachel D.)

The design makes me want to put on lime green tights, grow my hair long (well, at least on the sides of my head), and sing Panama or Pa-na-ma (with hyphens). (Shea L.)

Excuse me while I go take a cold shower to get that image out of my head. (Amy F.)

Things can get weird on the IBD Facebook page.

Composition
This particular identity system has gotten a generally positive response (which, trust me, is not always the case). I was lucky to find a strong, high-resolution image for that eye-catching, top level of visual hierarchy, with expressive type and colorful supporting images to establish a sense of place. Still, the comments came in:

I like the colors and texture. But, to quote Shea: “There seems to be a heirarchy issue.” Is Panama the most important thing to see? I had to make a point of finding “NAI” and “international conference.” (Kelly F.)

I’m in agreement with the Kelly/Shea concern with hierarchy. (Linda S.)

To borrow a term from Jebediah Springfield, I embiggened the phrase “NAI International Conference” on the website and in the magazine ad. The palm leaf and the word Panama are still the most important, but the name of the event is not far behind.

One final comment:

Like the design, like the layout, like the colours…. hate the fact it’s in tables – any chance of getting some lovely semantic html and css to shape that layout? (once you learn css you will love what it can do for design!) (Charlie W.)

Charlie makes an excellent point. It’s all too easy to rely on comfortable technologies, so by the time we unveil the next NAI International Conference website, I’ll see about implementing some lovely semantic HTML and CSS. CSS offers a lot more control over typography online than does a typical HTML editor like Dreamweaver, so it’s definitely the designer’s friend. (And we don’t have many of those.)

One final note: If you want to present a session at the NAI International Conference in Panama, the Call for Presentations closes October 15. If you make it to Panama and I’m lucky enough to be there, too, I’ll buy you a Fosters.

Blogging: Not Just for Aging Sci-fi Fans Anymore

With the World Series effectively over, we now resume our regularly scheduled posts.

A person of Walmart as seen on the People of Walmart blogWhen we launched this site back in March, we asked the question, “Why do we think the world needs another blog?” The Internet is already saturated with the unsolicited opinions of countless middle-aged nerds living in their parents’ basements. Blogging has given us everything from sites like People of Walmart, in which Walmart shoppers make fun of other Walmart shoppers (pictured here), to more useful special-interest sites like Cloud 9 Organize & Redesign, which offers budget-friendly interior-design advice, just to name two of the countless examples out there.

The software that drives many blogs, including this one, is called WordPress. It makes it possible for people who don’t design websites to create and maintain their own online presence. During the Enlightenment, this would have been like giving every individual a printing press and an unlimited supply of paper. Seventeenth-century streets would have been littered with scraps of paper with comments like “René Descartes thinks therefore he’s an idiot” and “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace made me want to throw up my fig pudding.”

One interesting feature of WordPress is that it allows us to see how some Internet users arrive at IBD (which, for the benefit of my wife Sheila, stands for “Interpretation By Design”). We can see what browsers and operating systems our readers are using, the web page that referred them here, the pages that they viewed on this site, and even where those people are physically located. (At the time of this writing, we’ve had readers from the USA, Ukraine, Thailand, Brazil, and Canada in the last six hours.)

Admittedly, this is creepy.

Possibly the creepiest thing we can do is see what search terms Internet users have searched to reach our site. So all of you people in Parkin, Arkansas, who search the term “Shea Lewis” three times a day, we’re on to you. So far, my favorite search term that has landed someone on this site is “can you wear sweatpants to a museum.” I hope that person eventually found some guidance on the issue.

Some other recent search terms and the pages to which readers were referred include:

So this is the world of the Internet these days. Shea uses fashion as an analogy for breaking out of his interpretive comfort zone and this site starts getting visits from people too cheap to buy their own sweat pants or too skinny to find sweat pants that don’t fall down.

On the other hand, blogs significantly broaden the ability of organizations to inexpensively and regularly reach a worldwide audience. The National Association for Interpretation maintains five different blogs (listed under “NAI Blogs” in the sidebar on this site). None of these blogs can quite match the popularity of People of Walmart, which once crashed its server after receiving 2.6 million hits in one day. But NAI’s sites offer a great way for InterpPress authors and NAI leaders to share thoughts, ideas, and information that you will not find on NAI’s traditional website, InterpNet.

I especially encourage interpreters at small sites like community nature centers, historic sites, or museums to maintain blogs. You may find a whole new market of visitors and supporters you never knew were there. And more importantly, they may find you.

I recommend that you add content at least weekly, write seasonal or topical posts, promote the site in your newsletter and on your traditional website, and mention sweat pants a lot.