Superfluous Songs and Steak

If Paul can write about something as superfluous as an NBA team mascot this week, since no one is reading, I’m going to take the opportunity to write about something near and dear to my heart, rap music. That’s right, for those paying close attention, (at this point, no one), Paul wrote on Monday about Hip Hop the Philadelphia 76ers mascot. Today, I’m write about hip hop the music genera. This is no coincidence. Paul grew up eating Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, where is has recently been confirmed that the “steak” in those sandwiches is actually Hip Hop. That’s rabbit, for those not really paying attention.

You see, I was trying to be funny by making a connection between Paul’s random post and my random post, too. But since everyone one is on vacation or doing things much more important than reading this blog, my weak attempt at making fun of cheese-covered “steak” is unwarranted.

Prepare yourself. One of the greatest segues in the history of IBD, taking something random and turning it into today’s interpretive design topic, is about to happen. Here it is (perhaps I over-billed it).

Cheese is a good thing. Steak is a good thing. Is combining them into one item a good thing? I’m not so sure. On August 8, 2011, Kanye West and Jay-Z released their collaborative effort known as Watch the Throne. I have written about both artists on IBD before. My post on Kanye West’s new album was about centering text and my post about Jay Z was related to authenticity.

I admire both of them as artists but their combination leaves me with unresolved issues. If you like mayonnaise on your cheese steak sandwiches, I would guess this is not a problem for you. (By the way, I’m not sure what that really means either.) This is not the first time that they have collaborated. Both have been featured on songs by each other. But in the past but it was obvious whose song it was and that the featured artist was secondary to the primary artist. A few of the song are great but some are screaming for someone to take the lead.

I’m not saying that Kanye is the steak and Jay Z is the cheese, since that wouldn’t be true and Jay Z would clearly dispatch someone huge to my house in quick order to kick my keister (actual rap term) in front of my wife and children. They are both amazing alone, and together in small doses. But too much of them together and you find yourself confused, in ketosis, and faced with the urge to run several miles. (Of course, while you are running you would be listening to the Carpenters.)

I tell you all of this to remind you of the importance of hierarchy in your designs (okay, so maybe that segue was the single greatest leap in IBD history). Let’s say you are designing a program flyer on your historic tour of two Philadelphia institutions like Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks. Both may claim to be the best cheese steak, but don’t let the cheese cloud your judgment. Remember your theme, emotional connections, and the intangible elements that are going to bring visitors to your program. While laying out the document, make sure you place emphasis on the most important element. I like to separate the most important element and group the lesser important elements. Also keep in mind that too many elements can be distracting. I try to focus on three key elements, and if the information exceeds that I try to use odd numbers of elements such as five or a maximum of seven. Remember the hierarchy should visually guide the user through the piece.

Perhaps that’s why the song Otis works so well on Watch the Throne. The trifecta of Otis Redding, Kanye, and Jay make a virtual triangle. Maybe that’s why onions are also perfectly acceptable on a cheese steak sandwich as well.

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.