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.

Truckload of Turkey…logos

I have to say that I was inspired this week. Perhaps you heard the story of rappers Lil Wayne and Birdman coming home to New Orleans, Louisiana to pass out a truckload of turkeys, to those less fortunate. In an MTV online article Wayne was quoted saying, “Now it’s a totally different feeling, because I can actually give you that and say, ‘Here, happy Thanksgiving.’ I can do that, and I can provide that for you. That’s a different feeling in general, and it’s a beautiful feeling overall.” (Paul, that doesn’t require editing, even though it may look like my writing.)

I wanted to have a “beautiful feeling overall,” so I decided to pass out turkeys today. The problem is, this blog has not made me as wealthy as the songs Lolipop or Drop the World, and this is a interpretive design blog. But for the record I’m still so street. Instead of mailing turkeys to the twelve people that read this today, it is my plan to share with you a smorgasbord (yes, that’s gangsta nomenclature, though the word nomenclature is not) of turkey logos. Here they are:

Okay, so maybe that’s less like a smorgasbord and more of an appetizer. There aren’t many turkey logos out there. I did qualify my search by avoiding the easy finds of food companies. As a birder (not to be confused with Birdman), I like the more realistic representations.

If anything this post has done it has made you thankful. Thankful that it is over. Paul and I both wish you a happy Thanksgiving. We are both thankful to have you as an audience.

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.

Interpreting NASCAR

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On March 9th in the post Hello, is there anyone out there? I made the following statement: “Warning: The creators of IBD.com (Shea and Paul) have the reserved the right to avoid topics such as the 2004 World Series, PC vs. Mac, life with red-headed spouses, east coast vs. west coast rap music, proper use of clip art, and NASCAR.” This post involves NASCAR. Did I foresee a NACAR post in my future? No way. Am I writing a NASCAR post now? I’m afraid so.

Let me get a few things out of the way before I get to the heart of this post. I am not a NASCAR fan, even though I live in the heart of the south. I’m not here to make fun of NASCAR fans either, which is a really easy thing to do. I do respect the sport (a debate for another post, possibly a second NASCAR post in my future) and can appreciate what the drivers/teams accomplish, considering I have more success working on my computer than my car (again, another post).

As a business, NASCAR is better managed than any other sport. The managers successfully handle an insane schedule, give back to the fans, have excellent television coverage and have purposefully improved their product. As a baseball and a New York Yankees fan, the chance of me getting face time with a starting player is slim to none. On any given weekend, a NASCAR fan at a race will have multiple opportunities to meet, greet, scratch and spit with their favorite drivers. Okay, that was one jab at NASCAR fans.

So, the last reason you came to IBD today is to read about NASCAR. I’m sorry. But believe it or not, there is an interpretive design component to this post. Mark Martin is from Batesville, Arkansas, which is not too far from where I live. Recently he has opened a museum and dealership in that area—the museum to honor his career as a driver and the dealership to sell Fords. I had heard many glowing comments about the museum/dealership from several visitors to the park where I work. Being moderately anti-NASCAR for no good reason except for a bias that developed based on several incidents involving persons wearing NASCAR attire, I wasn’t necessarily interested. However, recently while in the area of the museum/dealership and in the serious need of a restroom break, I stopped in to check it out. Needless to say I was impressed with the interpretation.

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The quality and design of the exhibits was excellent. There was a mixture of high-tech and low-tech exhibits. The low-tech exhibits were primarily photo montages filled with a scrapbook history of Mark Martin’s success. I was most impressed with the high-tech side of the museum. The technology and design in the touch panels worked more quickly and efficiently than any other technology-based exhibits that I have ever seen. They all worked too. The layout and design in the touch screens was so simple (insert your own NASCAR joke now) that anyone could use it. The flat screens were situated on beautiful stylistic pedestals. The video clips loaded fast and were well edited to keep even my attention. The cars along with the trophy case were impressive and needed little interpretation. The museum was practically void of text (again, insert your own NASCAR joke now). The technology took care of most of the storytelling along with the scrapbook style panels. The staff was friendly and attentive to answer questions as they diligently polished the cars, exhibits, trophies and glass.

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So what did I take away from the museum? A deeper appreciation for NASCAR? Not really. But because of the non-personal interpretation, I did feel an unplanned emotional connection to Mark Martin and the work that he put into his career that has made him successful. Did I buy a T-shirt?  Nope. But next time I come across a NASCAR race on television, I will stop and see where Mark Martin is in the standings.