PC Time Machine

I need a time machine for three reasons. Number 1: I work at an archeological state park and would love to take interpretation of a prehistoric Mississippian Indian village to a whole new level of accuracy and immersion. Number 2: I think it would be great to see my grandfather playing baseball in his heyday being scouted by the big leagues prior going off to fight in World War II. Number 3: I would insist to my third grade teacher that I really, really need to go to the restroom prior to the unfortunate incident that took place in front of the entire class in 1982.

If there is anyone out there that could invent a time machine it is probably the fine folks at Google. You were probably expecting me to say Steve Jobs or Apple. If you thought that, you don’t know me well enough. The time machine invented by Apple would never work since they would be too worried about what it looked like and all of the other things it could do besides taking you back in time in the first place. I’m sure they could get it done but it would still require a snap-on case that would keep from dropping you off at a Boy George and Culture Club concert in 1984. If Apple made it, the cost would be prohibitive for most, but if Google had one it would be free. Again I digress. Google Maps has created a new partnership with HistoryPin.com to create a new social network of historic images and stories that is a virtual time machine.

When developing personal and nonpersonal interpretive media that involves interpreting the historic fabric of an era images immediately come to mind as being useful. There’s nothing like looking through old images related to your resource. But how do you convey change that has taken place? How can you establish a sense of place from a time period to the place you are standing at now? HistoryPi has an approach that could be a great interpretive tool and create a dynamic community.

Here’s how the resource works. You post a picture, current or historic, and tell the story of the picture to anyone who is interested. You could do this from your own photo collection or from your interpretive site’s collection. Since HistoryPin is partnered with Google Maps the uploaded pictures are connected or pinned to a searchable digital map. Since Google has already photographed the entire world, the uploaded images are connected to Google’s images that can create an overlay of the two images interacting the past with the present or developing different perspectives on your images. The stories are there as well, creating the platform for discussions, connections, and sharing. If you posted pictures of your site a community could be formed though comments and others’ shared stories.

The entire concept of HistoryPin is sponsored by a larger movement known as We Are What We Do. The project has three implications: The obvious historical/cultural resource offered by HistoryPin, the community around those participating on HistoryPin (by posting a picture and a story they are reaching We Are What We Do Action 132: Share a piece of your history), and the social implication of someone with an idea taking the idea that helps make the world a better place. Which just happens to be one of the original goals of IBD, except instead of preserving history and connecting people, Paul and I are creating a database of rants and a virtual junior high school dance.

I love this approach because it aligns so well with what interpretation should be doing at our sites. Not only should a program or piece of media be purposeful, organized, enjoyable, and thematic, but it should be relevant to the lives of the person participating as well as those creating it.

For the record, being dropped by Apple at a Boy George and Culture Club concert is not such a bad thing. That was my first concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis in 1984. I’m going to see if I can dig up some images of my aunt and me to post on HistoryPin that involve the coliseum.

Get to Know a Typeface! Brush Script

In the heart of the famous Las Vegas Strip, nestled among extravagant, enormous themed casinos like the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, Paris, and the Venetian, sits the unassuming Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. It sounds grand, but compared to the bigger, newer, more expensive casinos around it, the Imperial Palace is often overlooked.

Once, during a cross-country road trip with friends, I stayed at the Imperial Palace with about 11 other people in the same room. It’s an experiment I am not anxious to repeat, though on the plus side, I think I ended up paying about $8 a night for the stay. Apart from its location and management’s willingness to overlook the fact that we could have fielded a baseball team with three reserves with the number of people we had staying in the room, the main advantage of the Imperial Palace is its “Dealertainers.”

Dealertainers perform three distinct functions: 1. Look like celebrity musicians, 2. Sing very loudly, and 3. Deal blackjack. And while most visitors to the Imperial Palace are simultaneously watching the performers and enjoying “free” beverages as they lose $5 at a time at the blackjack tables, there I am, commenting to my friends that the “Dealertainer” typeface (as seen on the banner behind Billy Idol) is our old friend Brush Script. This may be why my friends have stopped telling me when the annual trip to Las Vegas is happening.

(Note: The photo above is distributed by AccessVegas.com for promotional purposes only. So I will promote Las Vegas: Come to the 2010 NAI National Workshop, November 16-20, in—guess where—Las Vegas!)

When Brush Script was designed by Robert E. Smith in 1942, you could hardly have predicted how pervasive it would someday become. In its heyday, it was used widely in advertising and for other commercial purposes, as in the words “A” and “Release” in the end credits for the classic Tom and Jerry cartoon pictured here.

Brush Script is designed to evoke lettering crafted by hand with a brush and ink. It is informal but refined, more calligraphy than scrawl, not so much handwriting as artfully hand-crafted.

Of course, like many good typefaces, it ended up as a default computer font and became widely reviled because of overuse. You can see it everywhere from a sign welcoming you to Intercourse, Pennsylvania (the words “Welcome to”—thanks to Jeff Miller and the Towns with Strange Names Facebook page for the photo) to the phrase “Rich & Sassy” on sauce packets from Famous Dave’s barbecue to the milk cooler on my front porch.

When people who write blogs about graphic design get bored, they write top 10 lists of typefaces that they hate. Almost invariably, these typefaces are not inherently bad (except Comic Sans; that one is bad), but they are defaults that become overused. This is how Brush Script ends up in posts like 10 Most Overused Fonts in Design, Typobituaries, and A Plea from 16 Most Overused Fonts. These blogs are annoying because they all seem to list essentially the same typefaces, though when they discuss Brush Script, they usually make the good point that it should never (ever!) be set in all caps.

I argue that Brush Script is not a bad typeface, but that it has been subjected to both overuse and misuse. As handwriting typefaces go, it is well crafted and has stood the test of time. You frequently see Brush Script used to evoke a certain 1950s-ish feeling. The television network ESPN has one of the most carefully crafted visual aesthetics out there, and it’s not by accident that it used Brush Script effectively in promoting the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby last week. ESPN used the typeface in conjunction with a Vegas-style starburst (somehow they pull it off) and neon signage to evoke a drive-in movie theater or old-school diner.

As with any typeface, the fact that Brush Script is well-designed and can be used effectively does not mean that it can be used at any time for any reason. It has its time and place. Used effectively, with intent, and with other design elements that contribute to an overall effect (as with ESPN’s drive-in movie theater/diner), it contributes to a playful, fun atmosphere. Used carelessly and without thought, as it is on countless fliers and signs and T-shirts and whatnot, Brush Script is just another default font that’s going to end up on some annoyed blogger’s Top 10 list.