Vampires, Ducks, and Free Food

I try to break out of my comfort zones from time to time. I have never been a fan of horror movies because they are scary. For the longest time I was under the impression that my wife shared that same opinion. Some time ago when she became enthralled with the Twilight series of books (that were later turned into movies) about vampires and werewolves, I was surprised. Just to display my love for her (and to display that I’m not afraid of my own shadow) I decided that I would show her that I was interested in something that she was interested in and break out of my comfort zone about scary movies.

Yes, I now have seen all three of the Twilight movies and now know they are less about scary vampires and werewolves and much more about guys who sparkle in the sunlight. While watching these movies (trying to find the positives and doing anything to distract me from the bad acting) I found myself listening for non-native bird calls (used as background noises) and focusing on the beautiful landscape of the Pacific Northwest, the setting of the books/movies. There is something special about Oregon and Washington. The movies also remind me of living in Idaho and leave me hoping for a return trip to those areas (regardless of the recent inhabitants of men without shirts).

The University of Oregon has been in the sports spotlight over the last few weeks as well. The Ducks faced the University of Auburn Tigers in the NCAA National Championship (which is a ridiculous title for a meaningless end to a sport, but that rant is for another post). Since baseball has yet to start, I watched the football game. I knew Auburn would win so I pulled for the underdogs in what was a great game. While watching the game I couldn’t ignore the new color palette used in the uniforms of the Ducks.

For several years Oregon has been breaking comfort zones and tradition in the realm of collegiate football uniforms and now their new area’s basketball court. In every single game this season the Ducks had a different uniform. The highlighter yellow socks and shoes in the national championship game were simply distracting.

According to, “All told, Oregon will have 80 different combinations (jersey/pant/helmet) at their disposal.”  The uniforms do feature the latest technology offered by Nike that avoid collecting moisture, are lighter, and work with specific pieces of well-designed pads.

Clark/AP Image

The basketball Ducks have a new arena and basketball court. Keeping the tradition of breaking the mold their court is like none other. In this instance the designers took inspiration from the Pacific Northwest’s landscape and replicated the dense forest on the court itself. I like the idea but the application is strange. At the very least this court takes pressure off of Boise State University’s “Smurf turf” (a blue and orange, artificial turf football field and the most distracting sports related field/court). Again Nike, was deeply connected with the arena and court design.

In an article in the New York Daily News, Seth Davis (CBS college basketball analyst) was quoted saying “I frankly do not understand why a school of Oregon’s caliber thought it necessary to design a court that is so garish, to me it means they don’t think they are good enough to get our attention by winning basketball games, do they need another gimmick.” I couldn’t agree more.

There is something to say about tradition as well as new technology or ideas in this court (sorry, pun intended) as well as the field of interpretation (again apology, intended). To me this is the equivalent of the free food offer to get visitors to programs. Don’t get me wrong, food can be an effective tool in programming but shouldn’t cheapen the real product you are offering. I’m not sure at what point you do something for change itself, to be shocking, or sell jerseys, that you sacrifice credibility of your product (even if you are in the national championship game). If no one takes you seriously, how effective are you at getting your intended message out.

Yes, I know there are two more Twilight movies to come and I can’t wait (to spend the time with my wife).

The Art (or Science) of Reviewing Designs

Art makes me uncomfortable. I know what I like and what looks good to me but that doesn’t make my daughter the next Pollack because of her creative use of paint and macaroni. The part that makes it really uncomfortable is all of the judging and opinion sharing that takes place with art. It just creates a stage for conflict that will never be resolved. I try to be open minded and receptive but just viewing art makes you draw conclusions. For these reasons I distance myself from art galleries, stay at home and enjoy my original Elvis on black velvet. Don’t judge me. I know you are.

For reasons that I have yet to fully understand friends and coworkers ask for my opinions about design projects (perhaps it has something to do with IBD, the book not the blog, though I still attest that Caputo and Brochu just needed someone to carry boxes of books and fetch water during presentations, which I happen to excel at) and ask for criticism. Who am I kidding? I actually volunteer to look at projects and I’m glad to help. It just puts me in a position to judge. Having a limited number of friends, I cautiously approach each review with a more scientific approach that’s more in my comfort zone.

Most would argue that graphic and interpretive design includes elements of art and I’m here to say that for every part of art that is involved in a product there is an equal amount of science involved. When I’m reviewing a project that I have created or that someone else has I try to keep three things in mind: function, meaning, and originality. Oh, yeah there is one other thing…if it is pretty. So make that four things.

The most important feature of anything a designer creates is overall function. If someone can’t read or use it then it is not worth the paper or compressed laminate that it is printed on. Function is the most difficult area to review for the creator or anyone close to the project because they know the who, what, where, and why of the creative process and cannot separate themselves from what they have done. As Paul has stated designers are also jerks that cannot accept the fact that someone couldn’t easily use something they have made but it happens all to the time to things Paul creates. Put the product in the hands of someone really disconnected, like your boss, your spouse, and see if they can figure it out. Your boss may not have a chance either way.

If there is anything that interpretive designers should be concerned about it is meaning or intent. As interpretive designers you may not have control over the inherent meaning of a project but you can make sure your design supports that underlying meaning. This is the part that involves reading into the emotions behind a project. So in a stereotypical sense, guys, try harder here. Pay attention to the story or statement of what you are designing and apply thought to the small decisions you make in order to echo that meaning in the design. Changing the leading or typeface in support can be the difference in success. Remember that the interpreter is responsible for the meaning and you are responsible for supporting that intent.

Originality in a project should stand out but should not go so far that it takes away from the function or meaning. There is something to say for tradition and the “if it is not broke don’t fix it” approach to design. I have seen too many projects changed for the wrong reasons or pushed through for the sake of change or because a designer wants to put his or her touch or style on it. Originality is important but should be carefully reviewed for success.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the pretty factor. If you asked my wife if she thought I was handsome when we first met she would say something like “no, but you grew on me.” That’s not the most desirable response you want about a design.  We should all hope for more of a “love at first sight” reaction. Trust your instincts, but if you see there are some redeeming qualities there even though your body is still saying “run away” hang in there and work with that design. It may turn into a wonderful marriage or at least something (or someone) you can live with.

Live from Australia: It’s a Giant World After All

If you are reading this on the day it is posted, I am in Australia and it is the day before the annual NAI International Conference. I am in a time zone 16 hours ahead of my home in Colorado (if you’re in Colorado and it’s after 8:00 a.m., it’s tomorrow for me) and I just (legally) drove on the left side of a two-way street for the first time yesterday. I haven’t used a toilet here yet because I heard that the water goes the opposite direction than what I’m accustomed to, and I don’t want to be around toilet water that flushes up instead of down.

The morning of our departure, I awoke to the voice of my six-year-old son Joel singing “It’s a Small World,” the refrain of one of the signature rides at Disney World. It features about 400 animatronic dolls representing different countries and cultures uniting as one to get that song stuck in your head. Suddenly, Joel stopped singing and in a raised voice, exclaimed, “Are you serious? It’s not a small world, it’s a giant world. We’re going to the other side of the world and it’s going to take three airplanes and two nights, SO YOU BABIES ARE WRONG!”

I think Joel’s right. Those Small World babies are wrong. Sure, some amazing advances in technology have facilitated instantaneous communication worldwide. In preparation for the NAI International Conference, I frequently had email conversations at the end of my work day in Colorado with people just starting the next day in Australia. There was half a planet covered in nighttime between us and we were chatting about the weather and who’s going to win the Australian “footy” championship. (Not really. I know nothing about the Australian Football League beyond the fact that the mascot of the Sydney team is the Swans.)

But even as technology increases our ability to communicate and spread communicable diseases, the world remains an enormous place. I think no matter what your profession, you gain perspective by visiting new places, getting out of your comfort zone, and trying to see the world from someone else’s point of view. And there are so many ways to accomplish this.

To Joel’s point, it’s a giant world after all. Sure, the world has gotten smaller metaphorically, but it remains literally a giant place. There’s so much out there to see and do. In communication-based professions like graphic design and heritage interpretation, it may not be enough to ask, How would someone across the street, across town, across the state, or on the other side of the planet react to this project? It may require packing a bag and going somewhere new. It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes if you don’t know what size they wear. (Either that’s really deep or I am more jetlagged than I think.)

Granted, it’s not always feasible to jet around the planet at will, but any opportunity to break out of your comfort zone is worthwhile and will enhance your perspective. Talk to a stranger on the bus. Eat at a restaurant on the other side of town. Wear a Mets hat (actually, scratch that one). Go somewhere you’ve never been and interact with as many people as you can.

As I adjust to autumn in April, spelling center as centre, and trying not to clip the sideview mirrors off the cars parked along the streets of Queensland, Australia, I may not fully appreciate the full value of the experience while it’s happening. But it is my belief that any experience that broadens my worldview—that helps me appreciate a perspective other than my own—is one that will help me grow as a professional communicator.

And now I have that song stuck in my head.

Creativity: Part 2 (still not that creative)

As you can see from the title of this week’s post, I didn’t apply my creative side to come up with a jazzy title. I don’t know if that is because I’m a non-creative person or just lazy. I have been torn between the Australian Open (a nice alternative to baseball, T-minus 59 days until opening day), episodes of American Idol (bad singing makes great television) and Teen Mom (don’t knock it until you watch it). I did knock around the idea of calling it The Creative: Part Deux, The Creative: The Sequel or The Creative: Episode II – Attack of the Dorks (plural to include Paul, otherwise it seemed a little sad calling myself a dork).

Last week in the comments section of the Creative: Part 1 friend of IBD, Amy Ford (also known as Ranger Amy), blew my mind with large words like thermodynamics. That was the first time that word had been used on IBD and for the record no other fourteen-letter words have ever been used on IBD. The only word with that kind of letter count was the word parliamentarian in the post No Paper Airplanes. I have to agree with her comment that appealed to my left-brained creative side. I tend to work best in collaborative efforts with people who are right-brained creatives that bring the best out of my logical approach. I see myself better at transforming than creating.

When faced with transforming, problem solving or creating, I try to start by exercising the right side of my brain by brainstorming. Most of us have taken part in a brainstorming session at some point in our lives. This generating of ideas, good or bad, without any judgment can begin the processes of opening your right brain. Brainstorming leads to free thinking. If you are too busy thinking that one idea is too expensive, will never be approved, or is over the top, you miss the opportunity to create an idea that may work.

Brainstorming often works best in a location outside of your norm or comfort zone. If you work in an office all day, behind the same old desk, staring at the computer, it is hard to break your normal thought processes. Find a “happy place,” so to speak, where you cannot be distracted by your normal day-to-day operations, but a place where you can freely think and generate ideas. It does work. My happy place happens to be working in my office, behind the same old desk, staring at the computer. This doesn’t put my wife in her happy place.

The next thing you can do is daydream. Let your mind go places that are separate from reality. Despite what you have been told your entire life, daydreaming is good for your creative side and to exercise the right side of your brain. Some of the most creative in the history of the world were classic daydreamers, including famous film makers, composers, artists and mathematicians. One approach to creating ideas in daydreaming is by role playing. No costumes are needed. In your mind play the role of someone that may have an interesting approach to the problem you are trying to solve and think about how they would approach it. You can use well-known designers, artists, actors, directors or anyone you deem appropriate to problem solve. I often find myself daydreaming about what various Star Wars characters would do to solve problems.


The Darth Vader approach to problem solving is valid. I tend to get the best ideas while daydreaming when driving. Unless your happy place involves the police and a citation (which could be part of the role-playing approach), take caution before employing this approach. Find the best place for you to daydream. It will lead to ideas.

After you collect ideas, good and bad ones, then you can allow the left brain to come back into play by helping edit the ideas. Just don’t let this process sneak into the brainstorming session, it will ruin it. Kenneth H. Gordon, Jr. said “To be creative, relax and let your mind go to work, otherwise the result is either a copy of something you did before or reads like an army manual.” You must exercise the right side.

Becoming creative or using your creative muscles is a process. Research has proven through the years that regardless of the individual approach to creativity that a formula is evident in each approach that is a means to an end. Everyone’s creative approach begins with some form of research that leads to idea development which leads to choosing an appropriate idea then improving on that idea and finally seeing it through to completion. When you are going through this process don’t forget to allow time for diagnosing, strategizing, incubating and nurturing elements of the process.

Leaders and managers should foster creativity in interpretive efforts and allow those developing programs, tours, publications, websites and brochures to develop their own personal creative process. Every year at NAI‘s National Workshop you can see a creativity explosion. Ideas are generated, regardless of physical location, by the supportive interpretive community mindset found during the workshop. Managers should support attendance at these types of training events for their creative force and by simply allowing daydreaming at work. Leaders should also be aware not to crush the inexperienced creator. Just because you have been there and done that, doesn‘t mean that those under you wouldn’t gain from that experience themselves or have an approach that you didn’t attempt. Don’t forget what Anna Freud (the sixth and last child of Sigmund and Martha Freud and groundbreaking Psychologist in her own right) said, “Creative minds always have been known to survive any kind of bad training.”

Since I am currently in my happy place, I should return to reality. I really have no other place to go before my wife employs the Darth Vader approach to problem solving and chokes me with the Force from across the room.

Style and Sweat Pants

Several people turn to Paul and me for style tips on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for us to be asked questions like “What should I wear today?” or “Does this match?” or “Does my hair look crazy?” Of course most of those types of questions are from our children. They depend on us for latest in style and then depend on our wives to correct it. Everyone has his or her own unique style.

After attending Arkansas State Parks’ Annual Interpretation Workshop last week I was reminded at how important style is for interpreters and designers. As an interpreter I have found myself in a comfortable place within my interpretive style and the programs that I present (which happens to be the fashion equivalent of wearing sweat pants in public places – only caring about what feels good or is easy for you). I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone (bow tie and PowerPoint presentation or uniform and guided archeological site tour) by two inspiring professional interpreters.


The workshop was highlighted by keynote presentations from Sarah and Wil (pictured above in front of the Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park) Reding. The Redings ( have distinct interpretive styles that involve characterizations that are enhanced through the use of props and costumes. Their talent, senses of humor, and passion are infectious. I see elements of their personalities in their interpretive styles, but that is not the only component leading to their style. Influences on style can come from many directions, including personal experience.

wilreddingThe Redings have gone to great lengths, literally, for experiences that add to their style. In 2006, they re-traced John Muir’s 1,000-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico, beginning in Indianapolis, Indiana, and finishing at Cedar Key, Florida. They completed the “long walk” in 53 days. An experience such as this will forever impact their interpretive style and presentations for years to come. Their presentations have inspired me to change some elements of my interpretive style.

As interpreters we can draw from our personalities, personal experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities to help develop our interpretive styles. Interpreters are accepting of various styles and even encourage unique approaches to communication. For designers this is not always the case. If a designer takes too many steps beyond Helvetica and the grid, they could be facing ostracism from the school of thoughtful design (for the record I am a fan of both Helvetica and the grid).

Designers can be put in difficult situations. We may have an opinion about what something should look like or what the end product should be, but when it comes down to it we have to please our clients, supervisor or the interpretive site itself. This may lend itself to us making design decisions that we wouldn’t normally make to meet various needs. I have even been known to change something, despite my opinion about it, in order to simply complete a project (which also happens to be the fashion equivalent of wearing sweat pants in public – not caring what people think any more).

When I look back at interpretive products that I have created over the last few years I do see a similar style. A large part is personality driven closely followed by becoming a slave to the grid. I have even changed my style despite my personality. I have really gotten over centering and my innate need for everything to be balanced (Paul may not agree that I’m over it). I think everything has a place and it belongs in that place, and my wife tells me that it is okay for me to think that way.

Our personalities, whether we like to admit it or not, shape our designs. Much like the Redings, personal exploration/experience has also allowed me to develop my style as a designer. A good friend always said to me that the day he stopped learning is the day he would die. I have to agree with this, we need to continually learn and experience new approaches to improve our styles. Take the time to explore elements of your field that could provide you with a new perspective. Don’t be afraid to step out and try something new, use a different typeface, or even wear sweat pants in public from time to time.  The cotton and drawstrings are liberating.