“Phone Here”

Friends of IBD continue to send pictures of funny and interesting signs our way. Over the last few years and many presentations later, our collection of funny signs and/or interesting approaches to design continues to grow. I have a few to share.

When all else fails use lightning bolts for emphasis. When bolts are not available use star bursts.

I hope this quote wasn’t taken out of context.

I’m pretty sure my wife made this sign.

I don’t know what is more amazing the unnecessary quotation marks or the fact that there are still pay phones that people can photograph and email in.

Keep the pictures coming, and keep in mind more can be seen on the IBD Facebook page. Thanks to IBD fans John Morrow and Kelly Farrell for sharing these pics.


Going Viral (or “Why We Love Katie Couric”)

We have often talked about our goals for writing this blog: making the world a better place, taking over the world, and eradicating the use of Papyrus, Comic Sans, clip art, and centered type. One goal we’ve never mentioned to our readers—but we have definitely mentioned it to one another—is this: We want to crash the website.

We realize that many of you know most of this story already, but now that it’s in the rear-view mirror, writing about it may help us make some sense of the ordeal. For fear of awakening the beast, I will not mention the name or even the subject of the offending post.

It started innocently, with a silly Information Design Example That Shall Not Be Named created solely for the purpose of tweaking Shea. It was posted late in the afternoon on a Friday, not exactly the prime moment to maximize hit counts. Nevertheless, early that evening, Shea texted me, “This could really take off.”

The thing is, to us, “really taking off” means that both Jeff and Pam Miller read a post, instead of just Jeff. For four days, the post accumulated modest stats as friends posted links on various social media outlets, but it hardly seemed like something that would extend beyond a few friends and their friends.

The following Wednesday morning, about 120 hours after it was posted, hits suddenly started pouring in. At first, nearly all of the hits were coming from a site called Reddit, which I had never heard of, though NAI Member Tom Davies told me that Reddit is “what the frog says after the chicken gives her the library book.”

Moments later, my father forwarded me a Google alert that he received with my name and a link to a site call SB Nation (above). He said, “You’re getting some hits.”

What happened next can be summarized with the following updates on the IBD Facebook page. First, mid-Wednesday morning:

No joke: NBC Sports just linked to IBD and said, “Here’s the absolute best [Information Design Example That Shall Not Be Named] I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Then, about three hours later:

Our web host shut us down due to high usage! That’s a good thing, I guess. On the phone now trying to get the website back.

Then, moments later, a text from Shea:

Awesome! We [mildly off-color word deleted] crashed the website!

The site was up and down for the rest of the day. I started getting emails from friends who were seeing the Information Design Example That Shall Not Be Named on their friends’ Facebook pages or on Twitter. A friend in Cork, Ireland, received the link by email from his boss.

For the better part of 24 hours, I worked with our webhost to get us back online. I got to hear a lot of high-quality Muzak and I learned valuable lessons about the difference between a dedicated server and a shared server. On our third attempt to get back online, about 24 hours after the initial onslaught, we were shut down again in less than 30 minutes. I asked our webhost to post a “We’ll be back soon!” message and a link to a Flickr page with an image of the Information Design Example that Shall Not Be Named.

The Information Design Example That Shall Not Be Named made its rounds online, appearing on sites like Forbes Magazine (above), The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, and many of the surprisingly plentiful sites where depressed fans of the New York Mets go to self flagellate. It ended up translated into Chinese and it inspired this variation in Canada.

Katie Couric Tweeted about it.

Meanwhile, more than a week of silence followed on IBD, punctuated only by the occasional angry text from Shea. Several blogs made note of the fact that IBD had crashed, then helpfully posted a link to our site.

A lot of people took credit (or accepted blame), though the real culprit may have been Flickr user dellajane-alicecruz, who commented, “Sorry about that! My baseball-quilting swap group started it when I put the link on Facebook.” So it was either NBC Sports or Della Jane’s baseball-quilting swap group. I guess we’ll never know.

I’ll admit that it was a thrill to see something I created shared so extensively. Because the Internet mob tends to deal in extremes, the words “genius” and “hilarious” were thrown around next to my name on Twitter and on various blogs (trust me, I have screen captures of all of them). Though some of the nicest comments came from a site that uses both type on a curve and Comic Sans in its banner, so I’m a little conflicted.

For the record, I do not claim to be either a genius or hilarious, and I quickly learned that being called those things in the blogosphere does not get you out of helping out around the house. (“I’m high on Paul Caputo! I have Adonis DNA and tiger blood! I’m not doing dishes!”)

My theory is that the Information Design Example That Shall Not Be Named caught the imagination of a segment of the population because it made fun of everyone rather than just a select few. A post about viral marketing on the website NeboWeb says, “Viral memes…spread quickly because they hit a nerve in popular culture. They’re shooting stars. They spread fast and then they disappear.” The Information Design Example That Shall Not Be Named still gets the occasional flurry of hits, but for the most part, it has indeed disappeared.

Before the post faded into obscurity in favor of arguing baby videos, Flickr user GreekGeek said this: “Congrats on the viral meme — don’t you wish you could predict and tap into such things ahead of time?” And that seems to be the take-home message. You never know what’s going to take off like this thing did, and when it does, how do you take advantage?

I’m not sure that I can fully explain the circumstances that led to our little Interpretation By Design getting such widespread attention, and I certainly wouldn’t know where to begin to intentionally recreate those circumstances. Ultimately, I’m glad to have the blog and our comfortable IBD community back. And I promise not to post something that might go viral again any time soon.

Though now that we have a dedicated server (courtesy of our friends at ServInt Managed Hosting Services) I have this idea for a football-based pie chart.

Please Read Signs

Friends of IBD continue to send pictures of funny and interesting signs our way. Over the last few years and many presentations later, our collection of funny signs and/or interesting approaches to design continues to grow. Recently the phenomenon has expanded to the IBD Facebook page, where a rash of photo shares have been taking place. I had to share some of these images with you.

I didn’t know they called my wife’s cooking science.

Looks as if they need some gradient off.

I always travel with my pair of counterforms just in case the opportunity to swim with marine stingers presents itself. It happens more than you would think. (I’m not sure what this comment means either.)

We know what we can’t do.

This is just awesome on so many levels.

I love the fact that people are thinking about us over the holidays, (even if it didn’t mean any gifts for us from readers). Just knowing that someone interrupted holiday shopping to take a picture of bad typography for us is the best gift we could receive (next to a 60 inch LCD HDTV or a New York Yankees grill cover).  Thank you Jeanette for the effort! This picture illustrates the worst use of the word “holiday” since Madonna’s 1983 use.

Sometimes you just have to state the obvious.

If you are on Facebook and haven’t liked IBD (not like like, but like like) you should check out the page. There are more images like these under the photo tab. Keep the images coming!

Don’t Use Clipart (or Animated Gifs). Also, Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just in case you need more out of Thanksgiving post than a cheesy GIF and a poor illustration of the concept of not using clip art, here’s a link to a classic (and by classic I mean that no one ever read it) post on apostrophes that will surely put you to sleep post-turkey consumption.

We both hope you have a great holiday.  We are thankful for the community around IBD that we can call friends. We are also thankful to call anyone besides each other friends.

Stop, Hammertime!

Friends of IBD continue to send funny and interesting signs our way. Over the last few years and many presentations later, our collection of funny signs and/or interesting approaches to design continues to grow. Recently the phenomenon has expanded to the IBD Facebook page, where a rash of photo shares have been taking place. Based on my comments about MC Hammer in last week’s post. I had to share some of these images with you.

Courtesy of Sarah Milbourne.

Courtesy of a friend of Friend of IBD Amy Ford. Somewhere in New Hampshire.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL

Courtesy of Sarah Milbourne.

Courtesy of Sarah Milbourne.

Cacapon State Park, WV.

If you are on Facebook and haven’t liked IBD (not like like, but like like) you should check out the page. There are more images like these under the photo tab. If you have the opportunity you should do your own little Hammer dance today just to break the monotony.

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.