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.

15 thoughts on “A Work in Progress: The 2012 NAI International Conference Identity

  1. I’m confused, are you saying that Sheila is boring or predictable?

    I like the image and really like the color palette. I just wonder what is it with you and pastels?

  2. Paul, since you have never been to Hawaii, you may not have a true sense of the Aloha spirit and their sense of place. I suggest you take a quick business trip (we will go with you) for research. Or if you like, Pam and I have a few thousand photos from all of the Hawaiian Islands. I would be glad to send you a few CDs of all the images and you can look thorough them for something you may like, as long as we get photo credit in all publications along with some sort of royalty payments (Kona Brewing Company comes to mind).

    In the meantime, stick with the 1st version since it “Looks good. Sign me up!”

  3. I like the first version. The rocks could be Vancouver, and I think reef triggerfish and humpbacks are more iconic than the fish and dolphin in the last two, but would someone who has not been there know that? How about an image of shave ice? Kidding, but mmmmmm…. shave ice…..

    The one thing that confuses me is ‘Pacific Islands’ which makes me think of Tahiti or the Cook Islands, not Hawai’i, and makes me think it’s too far away to be realistic for me. If it’s in Hawai’i, why not say that? ‘Cause that makes me want to go to there.

    My two cents.

  4. As an Administrator, the first word that comes to mind when I see the palm tree image is: VACATION. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like a conference page, it looks like a resort getaway. I understand that many individuals may indeed make a vacation of this event, and that many come on their own time and expense, but for those who are coming on work time, this page will not help sell the event for supervisor approval. At first glance, it might help to see a visual image of what this conference is: diverse people networking and idea-sharing. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the main heading image, but it needs to be planted as one of the first images in supervisors’ minds.

  5. What about volcanoes – would supervisors be more likely to approve sending staff to a conference marketed with volcanoes? And it lends itself to so many nice teasers about “hot stuff”….

  6. Loved the first image but it does scream, “Vacation!” Maybe something more historical or cultural would garner more supervisor approvals?

  7. Since the conference is on the big island, volcanoes would be representative–however they’re not very pastel. I think you should go with Jeff and research it some more.

  8. I think the photo should be something floral so Jeff can plan his camoflauge in advance.

  9. Since Jurassic Park was filmed in Hawai’i, I think you should have a velociraptor. Or, hey, how about a T-rex chomping down on a lawyer?

    I agree with Joan about the “Pacific Islands” part. The first impression the popped into my head were the many countries and territories of the South Pacific. It may cause potential participants to feel misled. Hawai’i is a beautiful, exciting destination in its own right – so many you want to capitalize on that.

    In terms of imagery, what about pictures of some aspect of Hawaian culture (did I even spell that correctly?).

    Personally, I like the idea of using beautiful marine life, because maybe there could be a presentation stream about marine interpretation. In terms of iconic imagery, volcanoes would probably be it.

    Wait, wait… I’ve got it! Hawaii Five-O! Say no more.

  10. The word “many” in my third paragraph was supposed to be “maybe.” Geesh.

  11. Thanks for all the input – as usual, IBD readers are right on top of things. A few comments in return: there is a theme for the conference (that may still be massaged a bit) that has to do with how interpretation blends nature and culture to restore a sense of “pono” (harmony created by individuals contributing their best to the community), so focusing strictly on marine life might not convey the theme fully. It might be that we need an image that more appropriately blends nature and culture.

    In terms of the name: we want to be inclusive – as much as we will absolutely be incorporating the native cultures of Hawai’i and enjoying the incredible natural resources of the Big Island in really unique ways at this conference, this is an INTERNATIONAL conference and so it won’t all be about Hawai’i. We anticipate significant participation from Korea, Malaysia, China, and Japan as well other countries around the globe and want everyone to feel welcome. Some people (not from the US) have suggested that using Hawai’i as the focal point might have the opposite effect – that it might be perceived as a US conference only and we certainly don’t want that perception to prevail (although we do anticipate a great US contingent as well). Hence, our use of the exact location immediately under the larger contextual location.

    These are issues we constantly wrestle with, so input is always welcome as it helps us balance perspectives. Isn’t it nice that technology gives us the option of trying on several images and maybe that’s the answer . . . because the Big Island is so diverse and the anticipated audience is even more so, having a variety of imagery that changes periodically may be the real key to success here.

  12. Lisa, as someone not from the US, I think the bigger issue for perception about it being a US conference is the continued use of NAI as a brand, because that is so closely associated with the US. Having NAI International on US soil does reinforce that perception, but trying to disguise it by making people think of the South Pacific is just confusing.

    I could be wrong, but when the conference was in Panama, the web site said ‘Panama’ not Central America, and when it was in Australia it said that, not Australasia, Oceania or South Pacific.

    It is what it is. Be proud.

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