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About this same time last year, NAI’s National workshop was hosted in Las Vegas, Nevada. Paul and I were asked to be auctioneers at the annual scholarship auction. Once I heard this news, I immediately started practicing counting. I had to make sure I could count higher than Paul. That competitive nature, contributed to a thought I had to once again embarrass Paul in public. My thought was to auction off our hair. Paul waffled (as any National League fan would) and a deal was was finally struck, my hair versus his goatee. (To this day, Paul still claims it was an even trade for the exact number of hair follicles.) As most of you know, for actions outside of my control, we both lost our hair.

Believe it or not we were asked to help again this year. We almost never get asked back, anywhere. So we were stoked. The competitive thought process began all over again.

Since this year’s workshop is Saint Paul (insert your own joke here), Minnesota Paul had the idea of taking a polar bear-type-plunge in the Mississippi River.

This time around I was the one not overly excited. (For this reason and 11 others.)

This is where I need your help. We need an acceptable challenge to help raise money at the auction. Please give us an idea. The auction is Friday night. We’ll be sure to give you credit at the auction.

The current leading idea revolves around a plate of lutefisk.

Halloween: Our Most Visual Holiday

For those of you reading this in the future, today is Halloween. If Halloween does not exist in your time, I can tell you that it was an ancient custom filled with magic, during which kids dressed like monsters, men dressed like women, and women dressed like they were in Las Vegas. Everyone got candy, except for the kids who went to that one house where they gave out apples and toothbrushes.

If you are a time-traveling visitor from the past, here are some interesting facts about today’s Halloween: We don’t carve jack-o-lanterns out of turnips anymore! Now we use pumpkins. (Did you know that pumpkins are actually a fruit, not a vegetable? It’s a crazy world we live in.) And jack-o-lanterns, instead of welcoming the souls of deceased loved ones the way they used to, now welcome ungrateful, entitled children in plastic masks from Wal Mart.

Halloween is one of the most striking holidays from a visual perspective. It has a distinctive color palette: ominous, somber black, and the official color of prop comedian Carrot Top, orange. Centuries ago, Halloween was associated with orange and black because of the season of the holiday (fall) and the time of day that the holiday was observed (night).

These days, the visual vernacular of Halloween is spooky and ghoulish—ghosts, demons, witches, and all sorts of gruesome stuff:

Halloween has lost most of its original reason for being as a religious holiday, and it’s now perpetuated almost entirely through a commonly accepted visual aesthetic (also through the promise of candy). Ultimately, when the trick-or-treaters come by our houses tonight, we’ll all be aware that we’re witnessing a really well-branded product, with a well-defined color palette and visual voice.

That said, I hope you’ll share photos of your costumes with us either here on the blog or on our Facebook page. Happy Halloween!

The Good, the Bald, and the Ugly

I’ve had a week or so to reflect upon the NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas. And when I say reflect upon, I’m referring to the glare emanating from our newly bald heads. In a week that was full of highlights, a few moments stood out.

IBD Preworkshop
Before it was a blog, a book, or irritable bowel disease, IBD was a concurrent session at the 2003 NAI National Workshop in Reno. We’ve presented at every NAI Workshop since then, this year in the form of an all-day preworkshop with 30 terrific participants.

Meeting IBDers
As a member of the National Association for Interpretation staff, I’ve always loved the annual opportunity to meet and reconnect with the people I truly work for—the NAI members. (The people who I officially report to and who sign my paychecks are out of the country at the moment, and also do not read this blog, so I can get away with temporarily redefining who I work for.)

Since we’ve started writing this blog, Shea and I have particularly enjoyed getting to meet in person the people who contribute regularly through comments. Pictured here are prolific contributors Canadian Joan, Uber Jeff, and Ranger Amy, who just all happened to be in the exhibit hall at the same time.

Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me!
If you’re a nerd—and you are a nerd if you’re reading this blog—then you likely are a fan of NPR’s weekly news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! I certainly am. It was an amazing confluence of luck that the show was being taped at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas the week of the Workshop, that the taping took place the one night of the week that I was not obligated to be at a Workshop function (though I was sorry to miss seeing Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell receive her NAI Master Interpretive Manager award that evening), that Nemesis of IBD Phil Broder thought to write to NPR to ask for free tickets, that he got those tickets, and that he offered them to us.

There’s certainly nothing Phil could do to end this new era of good will.

The Comic Sans Bus
This thing tormented me the whole week. Every time I went out on the Strip, there it was, in all its outlined Comic Sans glory. Also, with those American flags, it looks like someone used a heavy dose of the Emotionator that came free with their Make My Logo Bigger cream.

Students Berating Me
As much as I like reconnecting with longtime friends at the Workshop, I try to meet as many new folks as possible. We had the opportunity to sit with a lively and fun group of students from Humboldt State University during the closing banquet. I knew right away that this would be no ordinary conversation when it started with, “Are you the guy who does Legacy? We have some ideas for you….”

Splitting 8s
There’s nothing better than splitting 8s against a dealer’s 7 and winning both hands when the next three cards shown are face cards. Am I right? Well, this did not happen to me.

Phil Broder Sticks it to Shea
When we were asked to participate in the annual scholarship auction as auctioneers, we jumped at the opportunity. We thought, we’ll have a microphone and a captive audience, what could go wrong? Then we thought, we’re going to have to do something really different, and by different we mean stupid.

So then we had the perfect idea: We’ll have a competition to raise money and the loser gets his head shaved. I can’t possibly lose! (Keep in mind, we’re both thinking this.) So we should have known that when the final results of the competition were announced (I forget what the final verdict was, it was so long ago), Nemesis of IBD Phil Broder would come storming to the front of the room with a fistful of cash yelling, “Whatever the difference is, I have enough here to make it a tie!” So much for the era of good will.

And we should have known, too, when we auctioned off the right to actually shave our heads, it would be the fine people at the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, who brought us to Los Angeles this past summer to present a two-day workshop, who would pony up the cash to do so.

Sarena Gill to the Rescue
And finally, in a display of the human kindness that makes interpretation so great, that last day of the Workshop and my first day of baldness, Sarena Gill showed up at the registration desk with argyle beanies for Shea and me to help keep us warm. And, of course, it was Phil Broder, moments later, who said, “I didn’t pay $69 and change to see you two wearing hats!”

Thinking Inside the Box

Paul and I have never been short on words. We have been preparing for our preworkshop session at the upcoming National Workshop in Las Vegas and have found ourselves having to cut topics, activities, and valuable information to make room for bad jokes, irrelevant stories, family photos, and useless references to bits of knowledge that no one will ever use. I have recently been told by my wife to use restraint when I feel the need to be funny in front of groups such as the one in Las Vegas. She backed this up by saying that I’m always one comment away from being offensive and isolated again. She knows me well.

That’s part of the reason we created this blog, so that we could carry on conversations here, primarily with each other, as well as avoid contact with our wives while doing “work.” Writing for this blog is easy. We can say basically whatever we want to, go on and on about various topics, and feel secure in the fact that we and Jeff Miller are the only ones reading. When people come to a workshop session and we have to see the disappointment in their eyes it is best for us to be prepared. I’m glad that we can’t see the disappointment in you reading at home.

Exercising discipline in restraint to make the most impact is difficult since we tend to put out matches with a fire hose. I’m pretty sure you know how we feel about Comic Sans, Papyrus, and clip art. If not, Paul and I are making personal appointments with groups and individuals to discuss in Las Vegas. So far we have exactly one appointment each, with each other.

I was reminded of the value of carefully chosen decisions and using restraint when Daily Designer News highlighted the designer Timo Meyer’s movie icon project. The self-imposed challenge created by Meyer is to take a movie each day and transform the concept or theme behind the film into a simple icon.

A recent conversation with Kelly Farrell, while working on a T-shirt design involving icons, displayed the complexity in digesting key components of an activity into a universally recognizable icon. Meyer’s challenge takes this complexity to the next level by taking well-known, full-length feature films with complex stories and transforming them into something recognizable. This is what interpretive designers do each day. Here are a few of my favorite movies and icons from his Flickr page. I’ll let you be the judge if he is successful and if I have good taste in movies. I will give you the names of the films represented here at the end of the post (you can cheat by holding your mouse over the image to see the movie’s name).

If you have ever worked on a logo for an event or interpretive site you may have experienced this type of challenge. Transforming the essence of a park or museum into a memorable, describable, functional logo is no easy task. You have to rely on the basics of communication the sender, the message, and the communicator.

If you have ever attended a program presented by an interpreter who wanted to tell you everything they know about the site, you can relate to the opposite of this challenge. Exercising restraint requires discipline and planning. Some of the best interpretive programs and products that I have seen were almost completely planned around the concept of what not to convey.

If you have ever spoken with Paul for more than five minutes and had the urge to run away, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Here are the movies represented above: Mission Impossible, Twelve Angry Men, RoboCop, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Goonies (quite possibly one of the best movies ever made).

IBD Gone Wild: Las Vegas

The NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas is just over a month away, and registration rates go up next week. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NAI’s workshops are inspirational, educational, and more fun than watching Shea try to pronounce the word nuclear in fewer than four syllables, so if you haven’t registered yet, go do it now.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Shea and I will be presenting an all-day Interpretation By Design preworkshop session Tuesday, November 16. Think about how you feel after reading this blog for two minutes a week, then imagine how you’d feel after an entire day of listening to us! On second thought, don’t do that. But read what the critics are saying:

“What every live performance aspires to be.” —E! Entertainment News

“Sheer visceral fun!” —The New York Times

“Cool, fun, original, and obviously unstoppable.” —LA Times

Now, while these are indeed actual quotes from actual critical reviews, I am compelled to point out that they are reviews of The Blue Man Group and are not technically related to IBD in any way. But the point remains that the NAI National Workshop will be a good time, and you should be there, too. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Bring your binoculars and try to spot a significant local species, popcorn shrimp, in its natural habitat, the Vegas buffet.
  2. For our session, we will shave our heads, paint ourselves blue, and communicate entirely by way of steel drums and musical PVC piping.
  3. The professional development opportunities at NAI 2010 are invaluable. The average high temperature in Las Vegas in November is almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius).
  4. Experience a real, live death ray! Read all about it in the NBC News article, ‘Death Ray’ at Vegas hotel pool heats up guests.*
  5. For the first time since NAI shared a hotel with a hair stylists convention at the 2004 National Workshop in Michigan, interpreters won’t be the wackiest people in the building.
  6. The self-proclaimed “most-photographed statue in Las Vegas” is at our host hotel, the Riviera. Check with the casino for the over/under on the total number of photos that NAI members will take of themselves posing with that statue.
  7. We’ll be looking for nine other people to reenact the final scene of Ocean’s 11 at the Bellagio fountains with us. I will play the role of Elliott Gould.
  8. The biggest sin in Sin City? Bad typography! Help us ferret out instances of neon Comic Sans and blinking Papyrus.
  9. Need a steak and egg breakfast at 1:00 in the morning for $2.99? I know just the place.
  10. Shea promises to wear a leprechaun costume and affect an Irish accent during a field trip to O’Sheas Casino on the Strip.
  11. Finally, I’ve included an 11 in this Top 10 list just so you can double down on it. Always double down on 11.

See you in Las Vegas!

*A big thank you, as always, to Friend of IBD and embittered Detroit Tigers fan Phil Broder, who has stopped sending quirky ideas for blog posts and started sending menacing emails about how he plans to kill me. These plans include the Vegas Death Ray.

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.