Incongruity Theory, The Power of the Unexpected, and Why We Love Alyssa Milano

Paul and I try to be funny much more than we actually succeed at it. Since this blog is moderately connected to our professional lives we take caution in some of the jokes we make. You have to be careful when trying to be funny. It is a fine line between keeping someone from asking “What’s the point?” and saying “I’m offended.” (Both are common responses to this blog.) (Okay, maybe some of you didn’t find that funny, though it is not offensive, except to Paul.)

Many comedians follow the incongruity theory. Here at IBD, we write what comes to mind and deal with consequences for several months by seeking apologies delivered in public venues, through various forms of media.

To use incongruity correctly, you must take the reader down a logical path of thinking and then shock them with the unexpected by suddenly taking them a different direction. This is usually done by including something that doesn’t normally go with the logical path, which in turn forms a punch line. The more convincing the lead in, building the anticipation, and how diametrically opposed the punch line is to the build-up, the better the chance you have of getting a laugh. That is without offending or leaving those asking what or why.

Here’s an example of something you wouldn’t expect: Alyssa Milano Tweeted a link to IBD’s new (“awesome”) NFL flowchart yesterday. Turns out she is well-known for her love of sports, writes a blog about baseball, is a vegetarian and a philanthropist (we appreciated her generous donation to our cause), and played Samantha on the ’80s television series Who’s the Boss. She even wrote a book titled Safe at Home: Confessions of a Baseball Fanatic. (Now she has to admit to every celebrity’s most-feared confession: She has read Interpretation By Design.)

Why can’t the theory of incongruity be applied to design? I think this may be the case in the new logo of the Tate Museum in London. It’s not that the logo has a punch line, but the design isn’t what you wouldn’t necessarily expect for a museum or for a professionally designed logo.

According to the Wolff Olins design firm, the concept behind the design was charged with connecting four museum sites through a visual identity “into something new: not traditional institutions, but exciting destinations.”

The website goes on to say:

Wolff Olins created the Tate brand, under the idea “look again, think again”: both an invitation and a challenge to visitors. We designed a range of logos that move in and out of focus, suggesting the dynamic nature of Tate – always changing but always recognizable.

I find the logo interesting and unique. Though it doesn’t conform to the rules that apply to the production of most logos, it does maintain simplicity and versatility, and reflects the modern nature of the collection. I would say that this incongruious approach is effective. Not to mention that since the new identity was implemented, it has since become the most popular modern art gallery in the world.

This can’t all be credited to the logo. The only thing that I can think that could help improve their visitation now is a Tweet by Alyssa Milano.

Plagiarism: The “Orange is Controversial” Controversy

We love it when other websites link to IBD. Whenever we see that we’re getting hits from another site, we click right away to see if we need to alert our web host that we’re going viral. (“Batten down the hatches! Della Jane’s baseball quilting group posted a link on Facebook!”)

So when I saw a few weeks ago that we had gotten a couple hits from a site called Dream Stream, I went to check it out. It was a surreal, Inception-esque moment when I saw on this other site my own words from a recent post about the color orange. And not just a few of my words, but all of them from that post (though none of the images from the post were included, which is a little funny, because the text specifically references the images). I don’t want to link to the site, but you can see a bigger version of the screen capture below by clicking on it.

It was even more jarring to see that not only was I not credited for the article, but someone named Philippe was.

I should point out that I get called Phil all the time. One person I know has called me Phil for the better part of a decade, and I was once quoted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (true story!) as “Phil Caputo.”

I have several theories for this: There’s a famous author named Philip Caputo (no relation). The names Phil and Paul are easy to confuse since they both start with P and end with L, and they have the same number of letters. And finally, I root for the Phillies. (I sometimes wonder if IBD Phil and Other IBD Phil root for the Paulies.)

But I don’t think it was confusion over my name that caused my intellectual property to show up on another website attributed to someone else.

It was difficult to find contact information for the site, which is run by a company in Brussels. Comments on the blog post were closed, so after some research, I found a general mailing address on the company’s Facebook page and sent a message indicating my displeasure and asking them to remove the post. I received this response:

Dear mister Caputo,

Please accept my apologies for this. We usually put the source of each article on our internal blog. We have added your source immediately to the article. I hope this suits your request.

Kind regards,
Philippe De Wulf

Philippe had added this attribution at the bottom of the article:

I debated writing back and saying that it was not enough, and I debated trying to start a Cooks Source magazine style Internet campaign against Dream Stream (see Nerd Rage: A Response to Internet Thievery). But the wind was out of my sails. I had received an apology and attribution, though not exactly in flashing neon lights (I should have asked for my name in an animated starburst), and the prospect of a trans-Atlantic copyright battle seemed fruitless.

So words that I wrote still exist on this other site, looking to all the world like they were written by Philippe. At the very least, Dream Stream’s use of my words falsely attributed to someone else is immoral. At the most, it’s illegal copyright infringement. I can’t say for certain whether the folks at Dream Stream are simply ignorant or actively malicious, but this episode is a reminder that it’s incredibly easy to steal copyrighted materials that exist online, and that there’s a gross misunderstanding of what that little copyright symbol at the bottom of the page means.

I likely never would have known that I had been plagiarized if Philippe had thought to remove links to IBD’s other “Get to Know a Color!” articles contained within “Orange is Controversial,” but I get the idea that he didn’t look too carefully at the article before taking credit for it.

All of that being said, I hope Philippe’s Belgian friends got a big laugh at his insightful and hilarious jab at the New York Mets.

PC vs. Mac (Hint: PC Wins!)

It bothers me when people start presentations or any written document with apologies or qualifying statements. Let me begin this post with both. I first want to say that I really like Apple products, have owned them and currently own them (iPod) and would even have an iPhone if Verizon Wireless offered them. Until they do, I will stick with the bag phone with expandable antenna that I have carried since 1995. It gets great reception, has a handle, and if you ever need something to hold the door open for you it is ready. I would like to apologize to all of the diehard designer types, whose mind is more like command + closed apple than open apple, that I may offend by this post.

With that said I will proceed. I’m a practical guy, drive a minivan (with dubs and a banging system), married the love of my life, listen to NPR (through the banging system), like bird watching, and use PCs. So let me outline why I choose PCs over Apple computers and let the comment section be filled with fodder discounting my way of thinking, primarily from Paul.

1. Cost: Let’s face it PCs are cheaper. The cheapest Apple computer offers nothing for a designer. The MacMini ($599 without a monitor) has a measly 2.0 GHz processor and 120 GB hard drive and the MacBook ($999 laptop) has a 2.13 GHz processor and 160 GB hard drive. Comparable priced PCs offer more for the same price or have many lower cost options. The Mac base models don’t provide enough RAM to even get your feet wet in AI or PS. Low-end PCs are filled with faster processors, huge hard drives and enough RAM to run a small town in Arkansas. Competition among PC companies has led to benefits for the buyer.

2. Speed: The fastest processor offered by Apple is 2.66 GHz in a desktop and 2.8 GHz in a laptop. Comparable priced PCs offer up to 4.0 GHz. Nothing bugs me more than a slow computer.

3. Options: When it comes to options PCs are the way to go. The options are endless. Especially in the areas of latest technologies and new hardware. This is currently evident with Apple in the lack of HD DVD options as well as updated wireless connection speeds.

4. Design: PCs are about as sexy as me in spandex. Apple wins here.

5. Windows Operating System: The Vista operating system is far superior to OSX offered by Apple. I’m sorry, I can’t say that. Apple wins here. I like Vista but all of the best options that are offered in Vista were swiped from Apple.

6. Software: The options for software are endless with PCs. Back in the early days of desktop publishing and early design work, this is an area where designers drew the line. Apple did have the superior software and operating system to run it. That is no longer the case. PCs now offer more RAM, larger buses, and just about everything offered by Apple can be run on a PC. Not true the other way.

7. Advertising: Apple’s commercials are better even though I feel sorry for the PC guy when the Apple dude makes him look stupid. For the record Steve Jobs is more cool than Bill Gates (despite Jobs’ collection of black mock turtle necks) but again I am able to relate better to Gates. I think it has everything to do with the geek in me and nothing to do with his billions of dollars. The commercials are hilarious.

Like I said, “I’m a practical guy” (I just quoted myself). I could drive something much cooler than a minivan, could have married a trophy wife (okay, debatable), could listen to a top-40 radio station, do anything that is cooler than bird watching (watching grass grow, trading stamps), and buy an Apple computer. I chose PCs.

Color Palettes: They’re All Greek to Me!

degraeve

First, I have to offer my sincerest apologies for the terrible joke in the headline of this post. It’s not funny and it’s never been funny, but this post involves Greece and it’s the law.

We wrote some time ago about a website called Kuler that generates color palettes from photos. Nerd Herd member and friend of IBD Amy Ford turned us on to another site, www.degraeve.com/color-palette, that does something similar. I decided to use this site to generate a color palette for the program guide for the NAI International Conference in Greece, which starts in just two days.

As any designer should when letting the computer do his work for him, I started with an idea of what I was looking for. I found a photo that I considered iconic of the Greek coast, where the conference will be held, then let this website suggest some color palettes. (This can easily be done in Photoshop with the eyedropper or color sampler tools, but it’s always interesting to try out new resources.)

ic2009-program-p8Of course, I didn’t accept the website’s palettes as gospel. I started with two colors from the “vibrant” option and made one a little darker and the other a little lighter to increase contrast. The result is a palette that is consistent with my original vision and appropriate to the region where the conference will be held, while also serving the basic design needs in terms of contrast and legibility.

See the result in the thumbnail page image posted here.

How to do it: The DeGraeve Color Palette Generator asks you to enter the URL of an image. To do this, find a photo online, then control-click (on a Mac) or right-click (on a PC) on that photo. Depending on the browser you’re using, you’ll get an option like “View Image” or “Open Image in New Window.” When you select this option, your browser will open the image in its own window. The URL that appears in your address bar is what the color palette generator is looking for.

Paste the URL in the field on the DeGraeve website and click “Color-Palette-ify!”