World of Coca-Cola Part 2 – Soda Shangri-La

Last week I don’t think I was efficient at expressing my thoughts about the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps I was too excited about opening day of the Major League Baseball season. I didn’t mean to come across as harsh because the place is really cool.

One of the major tenets behind Coca-Cola advertising is enjoyment. Phrases such as “Have a Coke and a smile” or “Enjoy Coca-Cola” encourage those who drink the soda to sit back, relax, and enjoy their product. That’s probably where it went wrong for me.  I try to look at interpretive sites of various types objectively and enjoy them for what they are, but I have now confirmed that I cannot enjoy anything. Being a fuddy duddy is really a drag.

As an interpretive designer, I am constantly searching for the next non-personal Shangri-La where images, type, resources, and interpretation all come together, hold hands, and sing “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and I feel self-actualization land on me like a truckload of Diet Coke. When what I should be doing is simply enjoying things for what they are, much like a soda.

When it comes down to it, interpretation should help build a connection between the visitor and the site. We can’t make assumptions; the visitor needs to be involved in the process, and opportunities for reinforcing the experience should be developed.

Some of the interpretive elements of the World of Coca-Cola seemed forced by making the assumption that visitors already think highly of the product. If you don’t have an affinity or some interest in Coke, it is difficult to think that an exhibit is going to give you warm fuzzies (that’s right, I’ve used the words fuddy duddy and warm fuzzizes in the same post) about a multi-million dollar corporation.

Regardless of how snazzy the technology is, how well selected the typeface is, or how well crafted the theme is we can’t make assumptions about our visitors. This is important for more traditional interpretive sites (museums, parks, and nature centers) to remember. We can’t assume that our visitors already find value in what we have to offer, what our mission is, and what our stories are.

In my opinion this exhibit (described last week) made the assumption mentioned above.

This was not the case for the entire site. One exhibit titled “A Coca-Cola Story” allowed visitors to be involved in the process. In my assessment of how visitors were using all of the exhibits, many visitors seemed to be spending much more time at this exhibit than any other.

Have you ever looked at someone and asked yourself “Do I look that old?” or “Is my gut that big?” or “What is wrong with Paul?” If so, then you can connect with this exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to provide a story of special moments in their lives that involved Coke or how Coke has impacted their lives in various ways.

I think many of the visitors are drawn to see how their experiences (with Coke) compare to others. Many of the stories were funny while others were heart wrenching and inspiring. Where the stories of inspiration (mentioned above) were polished like a commercial, these stories were “The Real Thing.”

Of course after reading them, you want to leave your own.

My son decided to send his in digitally. I’m sure the code-breakers at Coke are still working on his story.

Three opportunities for reinforcement of the message were provided at the end of the experience. The first is appropriately titled Taste It!

You can’t visit this site without developing a serious hankerin’ for a drink of Coke. This where the minds behind the development of the museum took an opportunity to the next level, very successfully. You would expect a free sample but the opportunity to try 60 different Coke products from around the world? Now we’re talking.

As with all of the displays there, the dispensers were striking and used color-changing lights that added a unique atmosphere. This was the opportunity to for you to experience Coke in a new way. The picture above is before.

This is after.

The gift shop provided reinforcement to underlying themes and messages. Products such as these chairs made out of recycled Coke products support their green efforts.

The final reinforcement is that you get to take one of the Cokes bottled there on site, off the assembly line, to keep and remind you of your visit or to be given to your son in small doses to to help bring him down slowly from a sodadose. Next week I have more from Georgia packed with discussion about the letter G. I know you can’t wait.

The World of Coca-Cola (An Opening Day Post Not About Baseball)

Today is opening day of the Major League Baseball season. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Despite a desire to spend the next 500 to 750 words going on and on about how great the New York Yankees are going to be this year (with one starting pitcher), how the National League should be contracted (forcing the starting pitchers of the Philadelphia Phillies to be absorbed by the Yankees), and how delicious hot dogs are, it is the predictable and unpredictable natures of the game that I really love and why I can’t wait to watch the games.

Instead of writing about baseball, I have decided to show you pictures from my family’s recent spring break vacation trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Okay, maybe you should.

Nothing goes better with at a hot dog at a baseball stadium than an ice cold Coca-Cola. (I’m seriously not writing about baseball.) When visiting Atlanta, one of the must-see sights is the World of Coca-Cola. While visiting the museum, or interpretive site, or commercial, or I’m not sure really what it is, I found myself reminded of the feeling when visiting a new Major League stadium. I was also reminded of the power of interpretation. Needless to say, the facility itself was amazing, well designed, organized, beautiful, and worth seeing. Though in some ways it left me wanting more (much like a trip last summer to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.). I did fill that empty feeling with large amounts of Coca-Cola products at the end of the visit, which helped.

I think it is safe to say that architects, designers, planners, and the Coca-Cola Corporation applied Disney-type techniques into the concept. Staging areas were interesting and gave you something to do while you were waiting, which kept you from feeling like you were waiting.

Open areas in the main concourse gave you plenty of room to play a game of baseball (if so desired). In our case, there was room for my children to run and hide while I was taking pictures of exhibits. In Disney fashion, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear mascot was there for photo opportunities. (You will have to go to the IBD Facebook page to see those images.)

I did find that in many areas of the museum that Coca-Cola was working harder than the Phillies trying to find a closing pitcher to build a meaningful connection between visitors and the product. I found this exhibit well designed and produced, but reaching for meaning. The scale and quality was amazing. When it comes down to it, Coke is really a just a soda that we all love. I can relate to that. My daughter still wants to know why the turtle wouldn’t talk to her.

Here are some other highlights:

Reminder of the “green” features of the gold LEED-certified building were found in several places. (I hope this is the last urinal picture to be put on this blog.) The importance of water in the making of Coke is a secondary theme found through the museum.

I love planned photo opportunities that help set the stage for the experience. This one with Mr. Pemberton (the creator of Coca-Cola; no Paul it wasn’t Dr. Pepper) and my son is positioned well for posing with the museum in the background.

The most successful areas were interpretive in nature. The story behind the creation of the soda were fascinating. As you can imagine red was the color of choice.

I found this exhibit really interesting on how the famous Coca-Cola script became the logo over a century ago and is still used today.  The touch screen allow visitors the opportunity to try their hand at mimicking the script. My fingers only draw Helvetica, for some reason.

For some reason, I had a hard time connecting with this exhibit as well.

I have more to share with you from Atlanta and the Coca-Cola Experience, which I will get to next week.

When it comes down to it, you love Coke or you don’t. You love baseball or you don’t. Me forcing it into a post isn’t going to make you love it. The World of Coca-Cola is a tremendous place to visit and is at its best in the areas that just celebrate the power of something that people love and are passionate about, like baseball. Take a 7th inning stretch, I’ll have more next week.

Flowchart: What Baseball Team Should I Root For?

Since we’re on the subject of flowcharts and the Major League Baseball season is just around the corner, I have prepared this handy guide that will help you decide which baseball team you should root for (click to embiggen).

Note, added March 4, 2011: This post unexpectedly went viral on us to the point that it shut down our server. We apologize to those with broken links (and my co-author Shea’s broken, soulless Yankee heart).

Note, added March 10, 2011: Thanks to our friends at ServInt Managed Hosting Services, we are back!

Note: Added August 20, 2011: Check out our new football flowchart!

Podcasting: What is it and how do you do it?

I recently tried to end a long relationship, and that’s always difficult. What’s worse is that while I was ready to end the relationship, the other party, whom I will not name, desperately wanted me to stay. But I had moved on to party #2—sexier, newer, and, most importantly, less expensive. We eventually arrived at a tentative agreement, wherein I would stick with party #1 while continuing to cultivate and explore my relationship with party #2, but only until the end of the baseball season—then it was really over.

Party #1, whom I have decided to name after all, was XM Radio. Party #2: podcasts.

I listen to the radio while I work. For a long time, I listened to exclusively to satellite radio, which has hundreds of channels (though I only listened to ESPN Radio because I’m a dope and was too lazy to change the station). Then, as ESPN Radio started to drop all of its interesting and unique personalities and replace them with a sports robot who hosts every show they air, I started to download the occasional podcast on my computer for variety.

Podcasts are digital media (audio or video) distributed online, usually through some kind of syndication service that allows an audience to subscribe. When I discovered podcasts, I was able to pick and choose the shows I cared to listen to, and I could listen to them whenever I wanted to—without commercials, no less. (One thing that XM offers that I cannot get through free podcasts is live radio broadcasts of baseball games, which why I’ve postponed severing ties with XM until November.)

Eventually, podcasts completely replaced satellite radio for me. One day not too long ago as I left work, I realized that I had not turned on my radio once. Instead, I had listened to podcasts of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” (which I love but normally miss because it’s a weekend show), ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” (in the afternoon for me!), “The Tony Kornheiser Show” from some local station in Washington DC, HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “The Dan Patrick Radio Show,” and a must for all podcast fans, John Hodgman’s  “Today in the Past.”

Suddenly, there was a lot more diversity to my listening day, and all of it was completely free (unlike XM Radio). And I quickly learned that it’s not just national names and celebrities who can offer podcasts, but any joker with a recording device and access to the internet. Soon I was downloading weekly Phillies-related podcasts that seemed like they were recorded in the hosts’ basements.

I realized that those nerds in my high school’s AV club are the most powerful people in the world.

We’re in the midst of a nerd-powered age of enlightenment, with nerds writing blogs, making podcasts, and writing electronic and print-on-demand books that can be self-published and made available through sites like Amazon and the iPad book store. (NAI Executive Director Tim Merriman wrote a serious, grown-up post about NAI’s online book program on the NAI blog, so I won’t get into that here.)

At NAI, this got us to thinking, “Hey, we’re jokers with recording devices and access to the Internet. We should do a podcast!” We also have access to smart, interesting people like Sam Ham, author of the seminal book Environmental Interpretation (as if you don’t know who Sam Ham is). Sam is the first victim subject of NAI’s “Voices in Interpretation” podcast series, in which we videotape interviews with leaders in the field, edit out my snarky comments made from behind the camera, and post what’s left online. We’ll do one of these a month, starting here:

Obviously, the better the equipment, the better the final product will be. This was recorded with a hand-held, point-and-shoot video camera with a built-in microphone in a hotel ballroom, so it’s not exactly studio quality.

The original plan was just to post these on YouTube, which will still happen, but I’ve been curious about how difficult it would be to also create a free, subscription-based video podcast available on iTunes. It was surprisingly easy.

Creating a podcast can be accomplished in these steps, most of which can be circumvented with a tip I’ll divulge below:

  1. Create content. Be a joker with a device that records audio or video. Edit said audio or video in the software of your choice. I use iMovie to edit video because it’s simple and intuitive, and because it bugs Shea when I do fun, creative things on my Mac while he uses his PC to make spreadsheets and order bowties from
  2. Post the content somewhere online in the appropriate format. If you have a web host or server, you can post your files there. If not, you can upload them to a free source online, which I’ll get into below.
  3. Create an RSS feed. I’ll be honest: I had heard this term bandied about. I knew what it meant to subscribe to an RSS feed, but was not sure how to go about creating my own. So again, I circumvented this step. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it’s very useful. If you have the wherewithal to create your own RSS feed, then bless your heart. If not, see below.
  4. Submit your podcast to iTunes. This is very simple. Go to the iTunes store, click on “Podcasts,” then “Submit a Podcast.” It will ask for your RSS feed, which you will plug into the one form field in that window.  (I know, simple and intuitive, right?)
  5. That’s it. You’re done.

As I mentioned above, to make NAI’s Voices in Interpretation video series available as a podcast on iTunes, I kept the fun, simple steps (1, 4, and 5), but circumvented the boring, technical steps (2 and 3). What I did for steps 2 and 3 was look for an online resource that would do those steps for me.

In this instance, the resource is Blip.TV. Blip.TV is great for this sort of thing for multiple reasons. First, if your video is posted on someone else’s server, it completely removes any concern over bandwidth. If your web host limits the amount of traffic on your website or charges extra if you exceed a certain amount, you don’t want a bunch of podcast subscribers downloading large video files from your server. With Blip.TV, you create a free account and post your media on their servers.

Second, and for me this was the important part, it creates an RSS feed for you. When you upload a video to Blip.TV, it gives you multiple distribution options, one of which is iTunes. When you click on that distribution option, it asks for some simple information about your video series (title, author, short description, etc.), then it says, in a big, blue box, “Your iTunes Podcast URL is….” Just copy and paste this into iTunes and you’re off an running. It takes a day or two for iTunes to sync up with your Blip.TV account, but once it does, all of that information you plugged into Blip.TV shows up in the iTunes store. When you upload a new episode, it shows up in iTunes shortly thereafter and subscribers will download the new episode automatically.

Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular at interpretive sites. They offer a way for visitors to learn about a site before or during a visit, and to stay connected after a visit. And most importantly, podcasts offer yet another avenue for those without a lot of resources to get their voice out there in the world.