Getting Canned

Have you ever done something, with really good intentions, and it backfired? I have and now I have the company of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Trust me, you should never give a pet as a gift. Did you know that the average lifespan for a cat is 12-14 years?

Last week Coca-Cola unveiled its recently re-designed holiday can. The can features polar bears and was a collaborative effort with World Wildlife Fund (yes the WWF, who made the WWF the WWE, but that’s fodder for another post), to bring awareness to polar bears. Coke is donating 3 million dollars toward the effort to protect polar bear habitat. This is cool (literally and figuratively). The new can, primarily white, has been met with resistance and confusion by Coke drinkers. The first issue it the can isn’t red. The second issue is that the can is easily confused with a Diet Coke can.

The color red is easily connected to Coca Cola. When something related to your identity becomes iconic, you probably shouldn’t mess with it. Even when you have a tradition of holiday related advertising and promotional items, you have to know your boundaries. In a Yahoo article a Coke spokesman was quoted saying that “The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing.” The article goes on to say that “Coke’s marketing executives wanted a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers’ attention.” (This is fancy corporation talk for “this was my idea and I’m sticking to it.”)

The second issue is that the new holiday can looks remarkably similar to a Diet Coke can. Though, traditionally silver, the frosty look of the white can has confused many Diet Coke drinkers. It is either the cans or the artificial sweetener. Even if you are competing with yourself, it is important to know what the competition is doing. The response to this issue is interesting. It has been broadcast across Twitter and YouTube. It has even brought up old issues of New Coke and a possible switch in recipes, even though there have been no changes. Most of these accusations are related to consumers who grabbed a new white can and thought it was a Diet Coke.

What can interpreters and interpretive designers learn from this? Stay within your boundaries and do go too far outside of what you are expected to do. If your visitors have an emotional connection to your product, keep in mind changes can lead to an emotional response. Don’t forget they won’t be afraid to bring up past indiscretions as well.

Coke has about a billion of the new cans in circulation, so maybe they are hoping no one will notice. Thankfully I didn’t end up with a billion cats.

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.

Accepting Limitations

My wife Sheila usually reads these posts before they go live. She always makes some useful comment along the lines of, “People actually read this?” or “Why would somebody read this?” (I’m paraphrasing. Sheila uses a lot of profanity, so quoting her directly in a professional blog is nearly impossible.) She read the post below and summed it up with, “When I read it a second time and skipped over all of the [expletive deleted] baseball stuff, I [expletive deleted] liked it.”

So, in order to make this post accessible to the baseball-impaired, I have set all comments related to baseball in red. If you are like my wife (potty mouth!), then you’ll want to skip those parts. If, like most of our readers, you are here exclusively for comments about baseball, then you’ll want to read only those parts. Here goes:

I try to be a fun guy. I socialize. I tell stupid jokes. I play softball. But at two recent Interpretation By Design workshops for interpreters new to graphic design, I found myself saying something that makes me feel like a boring curmudgeon: “Stop centering everything!” Okay, that actually wasn’t it. Here’s what I really said:

Being a good graphic designer means restricting yourself. (Not physically, of course. That would make it hard to work the mouse.)

Sometimes accepting limitations means accepting that you don’t have the skills or ability to do something—like an American League manager trying to manage a baseball game in a National League park (“What is this bunt thing people keep talking about? You mean my players have to play offense and defense?”). That’s not what I’m talking about. And I don’t mean restrictions like the countless obstacles to me becoming People magazine’s sexiest man alive in 2011.

I’m thinking about limitations as a positive—the decisions designers make to reduce visual clutter.

One of the most important things to learn about graphic design is how and why to impose restrictions on the decision-making process. Much like interpreters have to learn not to tell visitors everything they know about a certain subject in a half-hour program, designers have to learn not to use every font in the pull-down menu or every color in the color wheel. Only after learning how to impose these limitations on their work can designers learn to effectively break the rules. (Like an American League manager trying to make a double switch: They don’t have to do it, but they should at least know what it is.)

Two weeks ago, Friend of IBD Uber IBD Reader Jeff Miller, CIT, CIG, asked in a comment what we considered the five most successful logos ever. While I didn’t answer the question exactly, I responded that the most successful logos are so simple they seem obvious. The Nike swoosh springs to mind, and Coca-Cola’s white script on a red background fizzes in my brain. Many other examples of great visual communication are extremely simple. The classic, self-effacing Volkswagen Beetle ads from the 1960s and ’70s (like the one pictured at the top of this post) made use of a consistent, uncomplicated composition and plenty of white space. Saul Bass’s iconic movie title sequences (like the one for Psycho above) feature lineart imagery and simple color palettes.

These simple designs did not happen by accident, and creating them was not easy. (You know what is easy? Handing an American League umpire a lineup of 10 guys, then hitting the buffet in the locker room for five hours while your baseball team plays a game that barely even needs a manager.) The examples above are all instances where designers committed to a set of restrictions in the name of establishing a consistent look and an identity. To create powerful yet simple visual communication like the examples mentioned above requires an understanding of nuance and detail—much like managing a National League baseball team.

For interpreters, design decisions should reinforce the interpretive themes of your site or organization. Is your typeface classical or modern? And how does that relate to your theme? Are you using photos or illustrations? Is your color palette bold or subtle? And when you put it all together, are your most important visual elements—that top level of visual hierarchy—the ones that really drive the message home?

One of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, once said, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.” Well, graphic design might be the opposite. Sometimes, once you get everything on the page, the hard part starts—deciding what should stay and what should go. And the first things to go (aside from the designated hitter rule) should be those elements that violate the limitations you set up when you started the design process.