Interpreting Unwritten Rules of Baseball: Part 2

In Monday’s post, Paul began a discussion of how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball. Based on the overwhelming response, it is possible that we managed to divide an already partly interested audience, yet again? Today I’m going to tackle some of the unwritten rules that address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

Don’t steal the catcher’s signs using means outside of the diamond. It is okay to be on second base and steal signs from the catcher. It is the responsibility of the pitcher and catcher to conceal those calls through various signs.

Interpreters should not conceal their messages. Otherwise they take the chance that they will get lost in translation, stolen, or misinterpreted. If the theme is a single complete thought, it should be easily repeated by the interpreter and conveyed by the visitor at the end of presentation. Having someone in your audience tipping your pitches is a totally different story.

Intentionally throwing at hitters will be reciprocated by the other team. Turnabout is fair play. In the event that a pitcher throws to hit a player (while not aiming at the head, see Monday’s post) you can expect revenge will be taken within the next couple of innings. This goes for intentional body shots but can happen on unintentional tosses as well. This can continue back and forth until the umpire starts tossing players out of the game. (Paul, I had an image of Pedro in Red Sox gear but I thought you would enjoy this one more.)

As interpreters, if we are found preaching or proselytizing at visitors you are going to get a returned negative reaction. Visitors to interpretive sites, in most cases, are intelligent people. No one wants to be preached at even if you are right. You will garner more support through carefully crafted messages that relate to your audience. You can expect a similar reaction if you are simply fact vomiting as well (minus the vomit…you know what I mean…I hope).

Base runners should not shout or distract a fielder getting under an infield fly. Imagine this, you are rounding the bases and the shortstop is about to catch an infield fly ball for the out. Just before he makes the catch you yell, “HA!” making the shortstop drop the ball. This is considered “bush league” (a term used to describe amateurish play below the professional level) in Major League Baseball.

For interpretation, extraneous information not related to the theme will detract from your presentation. Chasing tangents or being distracted from your thematic message will lose visitors. Not to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of those impromptu moments that may command your attention. For instance while leading a geology hike you hear the rare and elusive A-Rod call “HA!” You have to take that opportunity to interpret it, but somehow relate that distraction back to your theme to keep you efforts intact.

Don’t discuss a no-hitter in progress. Much like professional baseball players, Paul and I are extremely superstitious. (We are also similar in body types, bank accounts, and our affinity for tight pants.) If the pitcher for your team is in the process of throwing a no-hitter, you don’t say anything about it. If you do and the opposing team gets a hit, it is your fault. Announcers are the worst at following this rule. Joe Buck can kill a no-no like no other.

At your interpretive site if you have a no-hitter in progress and a visitor is buying in while moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, leave them alone and let them make their own conclusions. Just because we see the light bulb going off doesn’t mean we need to check the switch. We also think we know what’s best for the visitor but we never know what brings a visitor to our sites and what their motivations are. Lead but don’t guide.

Don’t steal bases when leading by a wide margin. Come on, there’s no reason to show people how fast you are. The only reason to break this rule is if you are in peewee baseball and you have new shoes and you must show others how fast they make you run. Just because you can swipe a bag because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should. (That goes for baseball too.) That’s all I’ve got.

Don’t admire your home run right after you hit it. This is a sure way to get yourself plunked at your next at bat.

Have you ever had a moment when Freeman shined down from the great visitor center in the sky and everything about your program went perfectly? The crowd was awesome, they asked all the right questions, and spent several hundred dollars in the gift shop before they left, buying everything related to your message. Don’t brag or someone in your office will throw a stapler at you.

Don’t use steroids. While we are on Manny you should also never grow your dreadlocks so long that they name the thing you wear under your ball cap a mandana.

 

PowerPoint Poison

Last week, I presented a two-day Interpretation By Design workshop in Jacksboro, Texas, with our mysterious and reclusive third author, die-hard Texas Rangers fan Lisa Brochu. I always love traveling to present IBD workshops, as it affords me the opportunity to partake of local fare. In Texas, I got to eat a meal at a real City Drug soda fountain counter, see a game at a new (to me) Major League Baseball stadium, and learn exactly what 106 degrees feels like. (On a serious note: The IBD workshop took place just before the wildfires started. Our thoughts and best wishes are with our friends in Texas.)

There’s a facial expression I’ve seen a lot in recent years. As a frequent traveler and a parent of young children, I am very familiar with the look of dismay that dawns on airplane passengers’ faces when they see me approaching their row with my kids in tow.

I have seen this same look on the faces of conference attendees when they walk into a session room to find a presenter firing up an LCD projector and checking the batteries on his laser pointer. It’s bad enough when you’re faced with one or two hours with a PowerPoint show, but two days would be torture. During our two-day workshop in Texas, Lisa and I used PowerPoint slides for less than half the time.

The first morning of the workshop was conducted entirely without PowerPoint, then we fired up the projector after lunch that first day. So imagine you’re a participant in a two-day workshop. It’s roughly 1,000 degrees outside in the hottest summer Texas has had since the earth was an unformed ball of magma, you’ve just eaten chicken-fried something with fries and a milkshake for lunch, and you walk into a room to find the presenter turning off the lights and firing up the ol’ projector. What would you think? You’d think, “Oh no. Those kids aren’t going to sit by me, are they?”

Here are some tips I follow to keep from crushing the souls of IBD workshop participants with PowerPoint:

Make it image-intensive. I project images, usually with no words, and I talk about those images. Sometimes a single slide generates 10 minutes of conversation, sometimes it’s 10 seconds. The image above is a slide from my PowerPoint that I use as a springboard to talk about how different people use grids in different ways. (Look how adorable my children are. Don’t you feel bad about rolling your eyes when you saw them get on the airplane?)

Get the words out. At the moment, there are 166 slides in my slide show. (It changes frequently.) Only 15 of those slides have words, and most of those are introducing new sections. There are fewer than 50 total words in my entire slide show. (For the record, the word count goes up when I’m presenting with Shea. He can’t tell you his name in fewer than 50 words.)

I know you’ve heard this before, but the worst thing you can do is project bullet points and then read those bullet points. The only reason I repeat this is because I keep going to presentations where presenters read bullet points. Whenever I see this, I feel like the content of each slide is new to the presenter and he’s discovering it along with his audience. When I do use words, as with the “Serif” slide above, I don’t use full sentences to be read aloud, but rather a single word or phrase to be discussed.

Drop the laser pointer. If you have so much going on in a slide that you need a laser pointer to show it, you have too much going on in that slide. The only reason to take a laser pointer to a presentation is if you’re presenting to a room full of cats and you think it would be fun for them to chase the little red dot.

Not only are laser pointers not helpful, they are actively distracting. I find that presenters with laser pointers use them way more than necessary, seemingly absent-mindedly, to fill dead space or as a nervous tic. It makes me wonder if the laser-pointer button is connected to a morphine drip, like with those lab rats in that experiment back in the 1970s.

Don’t use effects. Don’t. They’re distracting and everyone hates them and we’re not impressed that you applied a checkerboard transition to every single slide. And for the love of all that is sacred and good, don’t make your bullet points bounce into the frame from the side.

The only time you’ll see me using transitions, movement, and sound in a slide show is in the above slide, which I use to demonstrate that PowerPoint effects are the Comic Sans or clip art of the multimedia world.

Mix it up. No matter how good your slide show is, it’s not going to keep everyone engaged for the entire presentation. Be sure to mix in activities, conversation, and content that does not require projected images.

Finally, take everything I’ve said here with a grain of salt. I realize that every presentation is going to differ based on the content and purpose of that presentation, so it’s impossible to apply hard and fast rules to every one of them. The most important common thread of all of my suggestions above is that presenters should seize control of their content. PowerPoint is a useful tool, but used incorrectly, it can sap the energy out of your presentation. It should complement your personality, not replace it.

One final note: Thanks to Friend of IBD Matthew Greuel, who shared a link on our Facebook page to the Swiss Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP), which fights against the “economic damage resulting from presentations using PowerPoint.”

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.