The Vote is In: Spiders have 8 Legs (and Headbands)

We wrote about the vote for the new University of Richmond Spider mascot back in February (“How Many Legs Do Spiders Have? Voting Ends March 4!“). Well, the vote is in and here’s the new Spider, named WebstUR. (Clearly, the decision-makers missed my suggestion of “Olivia Newton Spider.”)

See the full story, “WebstUR: A new fiercer, but friendly spider,” on The Collegian‘s website.

Don’t Sink the Boat

For the first time since May of 1995, I didn’t put on a uniform when I went to work this week. When I began work as a seasonal interpreter at Millwood State Park more than 15 years ago, I didn’t know exactly what course my career would take. I just knew that I wanted to be a park ranger and I didn’t want to sink the park’s tour boat. I became a park ranger, and the boat only needed minor repairs and lots of cleaning. I now have a new job that doesn’t require me to wear the brown and tan uniforms that have become such a part of me. Though now that I think about it, that may have something to do with static, polyester, and legs that rub together when I walk.

I have moved into a fully administrative position as a regional supervisor. Needless to say I have taken a serious beating from my interpretive friends, who have made comments revolving around “the dark side,” “moving away from the east side,” and “gray and balding” (which I have now learned had nothing to do with the promotion). I have also heard from my non-interpreter friends who said things like “I just wanted to give you credit for sticking with that park rangin’ job.” And then there are those of you out there who are not surprised by this move, given that I love Walmart, Darth Vader, PCs, and the New York Yankees, which are all prerequisites for a job in administration.

I spent my last two days working at Parkin Archeological State Park leading 10 archeological site tours for a local school that visits each year. During each and every tour, I was reminded of how important leading those tours was for the students’ experience at the park and for me. After seven years and an unknown number of tours and other programs, I couldn’t help but think about how my view was about to change and how important even the smallest historic sites are to community. Leading those tours and preparing programs for that same group of teachers year after year is a tradition that supplements their curriculum.

The most important aspect of those programs is not me getting all sentimental and weepy, but the connection that is built between the site, the park’s mission, the program’s theme, and the visitor. If one of those elements is missing, the visitor’s connection is weak at best. It was a great way to leave a lasting impression of the park in me.

Now that I have had time to reflect and get over the symptoms associated with polyester withdrawal, I realize that my view is not going to have to change even though my window will. Whether I’m working at one park or working for a region, the responsibility is the same. It all comes back to the basics of those final tours: resource, mission, themes, and the visitor. Interpretation is the link between these items.

Arkansas State Parks knows the value of interpretation, which is evident though support for training, staff, planning, design, projects, and involvement in the National Association for Interpretation. The diversity of interpretive sites within Arkansas State Parks is truly amazing. The themes interpreted are mission driven and support stewardship and protection. It is an honor to work for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. It is also great to live in a state where citizens have provided support through a conservation amendment that offers a consistent source of funding. When you have visitors who care, connections are easier to build.

I’m excited about my new position, while at the same time still being gloomy about leaving a great interpretive site and some awesome co-workers, and hanging up the uniform. But I’m not going to change even though my clothes have. It is not about a uniform, but rather being an interpreter. Though, I was able to find solace in my new uniform, the sweater vest. Deep down inside, I’m still a park ranger and I still don’t want to sink the boat.

The Perfect Chair

Improving on something that we use every day is never easy. However, there is always room for improvement. The chair is the perfect example. For years designers have worked tirelessly to create the perfect chair. The basic elements of the chair have been around for centuries. The arms, seat, back, and legs are all parts that make up a chair. Why is it that ever since I learned this I have also had the desire to build the perfect chair? As with most questions I ask, even the rhetorical ones, my wife answered the question for me. So why is it that designers feel the need to improve on something that is already designed? The movie Objectified will help you answer that question.

The thought behind creating the perfect chair is what really intrigues me the most. (That along with how they make the tiny marshmallow rainbows in Lucky Charms cereal so magically delicious.) We have all sat in chairs where little thought was placed in how comfortable it would be, how long one could sit in it before becoming fidgety, and how close the back of someone’s head can be to your face on an airplane. With 2 billion people in the world with an equal number of backsides, there will always be room for improvement (in chair design, not the backsides—okay, perhaps some backsides). So despite my wife’s opinion about my un-handiness, my quest will continue. In the meantime, the supplies I purchased for the chair will remain in the garage next to my industrial-sized food dehydrator and ThighMaster.

Objectified is the second film in a “design trilogy” of related films from Gary Hustwit, the creator/producer/director of the 2007 film Helvetica (the single greatest movie about the typeface Helvetica ever). The film is shot and presented in the same format as Helvetica, which practices the minimalist impact that the movie presents. The film highlights the who’s who of the design world interviewed in the movie providing insights and perspectives to products that you know from faces and names that you don’t. (Paul knows most of these designers’ names, along with the names of the players currently playing baseball for the injury-prone team formerly known as the Philadelphia Phillies.)

The interviews with designers of BMW, IDEO, and Apple display the amount of thought, time, and effort to make their products better, more appealing, and sell better. Fiona Raby says in Objectified, “I think in many ways design is about looking at a diverse range of problems and solving them. But the designs we make aren’t solving anything; they’re meant to ask questions. There’s a lot that’s unknown about these new technologies, so we’re very interested in using design to explore what we don’t know.” The time spent on the details of everything from potato peelers to computers may shock you, unless you have ever worked with a graphic designer on a logo. I have rushed through enough projects to know there is a big difference when time is appropriately appropriated for success. It is the difference between creating an iPod and a Zune. Each part of the process should be about solving problems and making good decisions.

One IDEO designer in the film laments a time when she had just completed a much celebrated toothbrush redesign and less than a week after it went to production, while on vacation in Fiji, she found one that had floated up on the beach. Even with all of the time and effort that went into that design, and less than a week later it was refuse to someone else.

Her story reminded me of an incident that took place involving me and some pyromaniac campers that I came in contact with while conducting a campground round. It hurts to admit it but I found visitors using the brochures that I had written, produced, and designed to start their campfire. It took all that I had within to keep from physically shaking them vigorously and verbally letting them know about all of the time, research, money, and effort that went into producing those brochures. But when I approached them with tears in my eyes (from the smoke, not crying about the total disrespect to my beloved brochures) I could only muster, “May I have a s’more?” There’s no problem that chocolate can’t solve. In Objectified, Alice Rawsthorn spoke on the subject of sustainability:

Sustainability isn’t just sort of a glamorous process of using recycled materials. To design may or may not be the color green. It’s about redesigning every single aspect of a company’s process, from sourcing materials to designing to production to shipping, and then eventually designing a way for those products to be disposed of responsibly. That’s a mammoth task, so it’s no wonder that designers and manufacturers are finding it so difficult.

Visitors don’t always appreciate our work but we can only hope that a part of the theme or mission is what stays with them. We should still strive for sustainability in our products on multiple levels. I strive to produce products that visitors want to save, scrapbook, or share with someone else, not start their fire with.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie is by Marc Newson, who said, “I wish people would be more critical of design, and of designers, who are responsible for designing some pretty nasty stuff.” I can’t wait to see what the third film in the “trilogy” is about. Filming is underway, so it is safe to assume that it won’t be IBD III: Revenge of the Nerds.