A Work in Progress: The 2012 NAI International Conference Identity

People who communicate for a living have to be ready for a variety of reactions when they put something out there for public consumption. As a visual communicator, I have created things that people hate (see my first attempt at a logo for last year’s NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas) and some things that have been more well-received (see the identity for last month’s NAI International Conference in Panama). The one reaction I do not know what to do with is silence.

When NAI announced the location and dates of the upcoming NAI Pacific Islands International Conference (Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, May 8-12, 2012), I posted a link to the conference website on the IBD Facebook page and asked for feedback. Perhaps I posted it at a moment when there were not a lot of people online, or perhaps Facebook’s popularity is fading and people just aren’t using it as much as they used to, but when I checked back later in anticipation of a handful of comments, there was very little—a couple of likes and one, “Looks good. Sign me up!”

We know from our surveys that one of the reasons people attend the NAI International Conference is its location, so each year, I focus my design decisions on the site of the event. In the identity for the Pacific Islands International Conference, I used an iconic Hawai’i photo by Gregory Runyan (which I found on stock.xchng, my favorite source for free, high-quality photography) in part because it establishes a sense of place and in part because it fits with the color palette that I wanted to use. (I’m calling the color palette “pastel primary”—a sort of tropical, relaxed blue, yellow, and red.)

One problem with the photo is that it raises questions of whether the palm tree is native to Hawai’i. (The answer is not simple: Palms are not technically native to Hawai’i, but some of them have been there for a really long time, since the days of the early Polynesian settlers.) Another problem is that one person’s “iconic” is another person’s “boring” or “predictable.” That second person is my wife.

The words “Pacific Islands” are set in a distressed script typeface called Marcelle Script, which I found on DaFont, another great resource. I’m using Marcelle Script because I feel it reflects the relaxed, comfortable environs of the event. If you visit the link to that typeface, you’ll notice that it’s “free for personal use.” If I stick with Marcelle Script in the final version of this identity, I’ll be sure to make a donation to the designer.

And on a technical typographic note, because we’re honoring the indigenous spelling of the name Hawai’i, you’ll see it spelled with that diacritical mark before the last I, which it turns out is not just an apostrophe. Because I have Adobe InDesign set to use smart (curly) quotes and apostrophes (as you should, too), I have to jump through some hoops to get the appropriate, straight-up-and-down mark. In InDesign, I select Type > Insert Special Character > Quotation Marks > Straight Single Quotation Mark. (Unfortunately, there is no way to do this online that I know of, so I’m using an apostrophe here.)

So that’s the thinking that has gone into this website so far. And while the reaction has been generally positive, it has also been luke warm, which fills me with angst. So I set about looking for some other options.

This image by Margan Zajdowicz shows the distinctive lava rock of the Hawaiian beach, but with this cropping, as my co-worker Jamie points out, it looks like it’s promoting a conference about oil spills. (Also, if you visit the link to the image, you’ll see that this cropping eliminates the endearing word “Aloha” written in the sand.)

I like the color palette and general feeling of this image by NAI Executive Director Tim Merriman, but I hesitate to use it because most of the conference will be held above the surface of the water.

The same goes for this photo, also by Tim Merriman.

So that’s where I am now. They say that a graphic designer never finishes a project, but is sometimes forced to stop working on it (like when it goes to press). With this event nearly a year away, I could spend 11 months tweaking the identity and never be completely happy with it.

And as you may have guessed, I welcome your feedback.

Momemts in Error

Keeping track of errors is an interesting concept in baseball and a personal pastime of my wife related to our relationship. For some time baseball fans have debated the significance of keeping such a statistic that is subjective and doesn’t really display the ability of a fielder.

In fact, Edgar Renteria of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants leads both leagues in the total number career errors of an active player, despite helping lead the Giants to their first World Championship since 1954 as well as 2010 World Series Most Valuable Player Award—which is an award remarkably similar to my #1 Dad coffee mug given to me by my children on Father’s Day, despite my wife’s statistical prowess in maintaining my hit-to-error ratio.  It is my testament today that keeping up with errors is futile, judgmental, and unnecessarily pessimistic.

I tell you that to tell you this, I made a mistake. In a post three weeks ago titled Hobo Hauntings. I posted an image of a logo that I designed for the 2011 NAI Region VI workshop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Not long after the image was posted, Mike E. Perez posted the following comment:

One advantage of the Hobo version over your second one is that Hobo seems to kern better. Personally, I think there are much better font choices than Hobo for that project. Unfortunately, the N.O. Movement Bold doesn’t seem to be one. Also, I really hope the logo didn’t get final approval with the typo in “Moment!”

“What typo?” was my initial reaction and secondly “Who is this Mike E. Perez?” busting my delicate ego. I immediately assumed that I pulled the wrong “Final” logo so I went looking for the correct “Final” logo to find only the error-ridden version. I also went looking for information on any errors that Mike E. Perez had made in life, but a Google search yielded none.

My plan at this point was to delete Mike E. Perez’s comment and simply upload the correct “Final” file on the blog. I would then make fun of several countless errors that Paul has made since I have known him to make me feel better about myself. Most importantly, since my wife reads the blog searching for errors, I had to make this one go away. After only finding the error-ridden “Final” version, I then assumed I had mistakenly saved the “Final” version incorrectly and one of the other review versions was correct. That’s when I found out that the “Final” file was the last updated file and had been shared with the committee in various formats for print and digital media. I had made a huge error.

Here’s the strange part. Is that this “Final” version had been through the hands and eyes of the workshop committee, reviewed by Paul Caputo (Art and Publications Director for the National Association for Interpretation and co-author of Interpretation by Design, who holds a master of fine arts in visual communications from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor of arts in journalism from the University of Richmond), used on promotional save-the-date bookmarks, placed on the website, seen in newsletters, placed on forms, and distributed to hundreds of people and no one had caught the error.

No matter what though, the error still belongs to me. From this I have learned the following nuggets of knowledge: putting type on the vertical is hard for folks to read, no one really reads logos, I have a personal bias against the letter N, Paul and I take this stuff way too seriously, and I’m dangerous with a keyboard.

For the most part, I was okay with this error until arriving at the National Workshop in Las Vegas, Nevada, and being handed a promotion pin for the 2011 workshop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas to serve as a constant reminder of my Eureka Momemt. Please post a comment below about your favorite personal error (not your favorite personal errors that you have seen me or Paul make) and help me feel better about being such a goof. The error has been corrected, sent out to the committee and is now called “Final2.”

Show Me the Money

One of the best lines ever used when receiving an award was delivered by Don Simons at NAI’s National Workshop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, November 20, 2004. After delivering a respectable and predictable acceptance speech, the line was carefully delivered. For those of you who know Don, you know many of his comments are loaded, and by the end of his speech, you were expecting something more. He said very sincerely while holding up his award, “This isn’t why we do what we do; we do it for the money.”

Let’s face it, we didn’t get in this profession for the money. (Though, it is rumored that Don became involved in interpretation due to the large female demographic in the profession.)

This post is going to allow you to see digital images of bank notes. In the event that you choose to print them off and try to pass the off as legal tender at Starbucks, IBD will not accept responsibility for your actions. Though we will gladly accept gift cards purchased with your printed bounty.

The downturn in the economy has sparked creative people to come up with unique ideas to stimulate the economy. One idea stems from Richard Smith and the Dollar ReDe$ign Project. The concept as stated on the movement’s website is “that the ‘only’ realistic way for a swift economic recovery is through a thorough, in-depth, rebranding scheme – starting with the redesign of the iconic US Dollar – it’s the ‘only’ pragmatic way to add some realistic stimulation into our lives!” I’m no economist—in fact, I had to look up the word to make sure I was spelling it right—but this idea is as flawed as the mission of IBD (the blog, not the book) to make the world a better place. But you have to give him credit for trying to do something.

Smith urges visitors to his website to take part in signing a petition for change, since the “American Dollar has not truly been redesigned since about the 1930s” and the “the Dollar ReDe$ignProject is your opportunity to theoretically ‘change’ that.” The project has accepted submissions from designers around the world attempting to create a well-functioning note while still capturing elements of American culture and history. I was immediately drawn to the website for the simple fact that this challenge is the ultimate interpretive design project. Interpreters do this every day. We take complicated subjects, intense data, scientific information, vast time lines, and iconic images that are transformed into a product of personal or nonpersonal that helps visitors make meaningful connections.

The current leading design comes from British duo Dowling Duncan with a fresh, crisp, colorful, and vertical approach to the bills. As presented on the website, the design comes from research based on how people actually use money. The vertical approach works more naturally with how money is exchanged. The project website goes on to say, “You tend to hold a wallet or purse vertically when searching for notes. The majority of people hand over notes vertically when making purchases. All machines accept notes vertically. Therefore a vertical note makes more sense.” The bills are also presented in various lengths based on denomination to assist those with disabilities or impairments in differentiating value. The colors and large numbers also help avoid confusion in value.

I’ve often wondered why brochures were primarily presented in a vertical format when it is easier to present information less segmented in a horizontal format. (I also wonder what happened to MC Hammer.) The National Park Service recognizes this with its horizontal approach in the unigrid brochures that you see at each site. I guess the one hold back to horizontal design is they don’t display in racks as well. If the information is important enough to have visitors read it, perhaps page orientation should come into consideration.

Many of the designs like Dowling Duncan’s and the one seen here break the tradition of the notes being green. There is something to say here about consistency and tradition along with something to say about change and keeping up with the times, but I’m not sure what it is.

The contrast from today’s bills is shocking compared to these designs. Part of that change I like and part of it I don’t. You shouldn’t change something for the sake of change itself. Smith says “our great ‘rival,’ the Euro, looks so spanky in comparison it seems the only clear way to revive this global recession is to rebrand and redesign.” Trying to stay spanky is not enough reason to make a major design change.

If a change from horizontal to vertical is justified to improve use or function, that is a reason for change. If you want to shock little old ladies with your snazzy use of saturated colors because you are the designer and can do it, you should put on your MC Hammer pants and go hang out at the mall. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but do it.

This design by Sean Flanagan submitted purposefully used only American-designed typefaces. I wish I had a bumper sticker on the back of my minivan that stated “I’m Pro-American Typefaces!” That would be almost as cool as my minivan itself. As much as designers love Helvetica, I’m not so sure it should be the default on this project. Sometimes you have to go local.

This simple clean approach doesn’t really represent the complexity of what a bank note is forced to include in today’s world. This less complicated approach seems to be missing something, like holograms, metallic strips, eagles, and watermarks.

Here are a few other submissions that I just couldn’t pass up.

Visit the Dollar ReDe$ign Project website where you can sign the petition for rebranding. The stories behind design decisions in the bank notes is as interesting as looking at the designs themselves. Voting for favorite design ends on September 30.

Pistons poppin’, ain’t no stoppin’ now—Panama!

Continuing an annual tradition on this site, I will begin with a shameless plug on behalf of my employer: The National Association for Interpretation’s 2011 International Conference will be held in Panama, May 4-7, at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort about 30 minutes outside of Panama City. NAI’s International Conference on interpretation is one of the best events in the field and you should make it a point to be there. (I began this tradition last year, when NAI unveiled dates and a location for the 2010 event in Australia, and I made some promises in a post titled “Free Beer (in Australia) for Interpretation By Design Readers.” Little did I know that you can’t get Fosters in Australia.)

Because I like the NAI International Conference so much, I enjoy developing the website and publications associated with it. We’ve done surveys and know that the location is one of the primary reasons participants attend, so creating a sense of place when publicizing this conference is important. One of the challenges I run into, however, is that NAI is now six for six in selecting places I have never been to hold this event.

So once again this year, I set about the process of trying to make meaningful decisions with only my own preconceptions and what I could find online as background knowledge. I put together a template for the event’s website and posted it on the Interpretation By Design Facebook page with a note asking for feedback, some of which I’ll share below (with last names changed to initials to protect the identities of the snarky).

Using expressive type is something of a departure for me. It’s even more of a departure for me to use expressive typefaces that are meant to emulate handwriting, because I find them insidious and stupid (not to put too fine a point on it). However, for Panama, I wanted something that conveyed a sense of fun and energy—a sort of typographic salsa dance. I think the typeface Luna Bar, which I found for free on one of our favorite free font websites, almost does the trick. (See our post, “Free Fonts!” for more about websites with free fonts.)


One of the reasons I hate handwriting typefaces so much is that they don’t look like handwriting. For instance, when a character is repeated, as with the letter “a” in the example above, handwriting typefaces start to take on an even, un-handwriting-like cadence.


One solution to this problem is to use multiple typefaces. In the example above, I’ve set the second and third “a” in the typefaces Christopher Hand and James Fajardo, both found on the site DaFont. So while I normally try to limit myself to two typefaces for an entire identity system, I’ve used three in one six-letter word for this event. (To quote Buster Bluth on Arrested Development, “We have unlimited juice? This party is going to be off the hook.”)

I thought this was a pretty good solution, though my wife pointed out that the style of the first “a” is so different from the second two that it still looks weird. But she doesn’t read this blog so I’m not going to worry about that. Some comments on the type that came in from our Facebook page include:

I like how you combined two different typefaces…;) (Amy F.)

I think I actually see three different fonts?? (Linda S.)

Amy and Linda are so clever.

Color and Image
An image of a palm leaf by John Nyberg found on the free stock photo website stock.xchng is the foundation for the color palette. I used red highlights because red is the complement to green and I wanted to create an intense, high-energy palette. The screen capture to the left above is what the site looked like when it was posted on Facebook. To the right is how it looks now, with some modifications made after comments came in. Some of those comments include:

I’m waiting for the Christmas comment. (Shea L.)

Shea, In Arkansas, is lime green a Christmas color? (Paul C.)

The red is just pink enough not to be Christmassy. (Amy F. )

I like the colors (even if they are sort of christmassy – is that a word?). (Linda S.)

Maybe add a toucan or something up in the left or right corners. (Jeff M.)

I’ve got to agree with Shea and the Christmas comment (slight reminder of Christmas) but a bird (maybe parrot?) in the corner as Jeff suggested would eliminate that issue. 🙂 (Lynda D.)

The idea that the particular green and bright red I had used might evoke Christmas had not occurred to me, but the comment came up enough that I thought I’d add some photos with other colors. Thankfully, photographer extraordinaire Jerry Bauer generously provided us with some of his photos from Panama, which will be extremely helpful as we continue to promote this event. I’ve used some of Jerry’s photos in the new website template and in the magazine ad pictured at the top of this post.

The Facebook comments continue:

I love the palm/palmetto leaf. I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other about the color or style of the text. (Rachel D.)

The design makes me want to put on lime green tights, grow my hair long (well, at least on the sides of my head), and sing Panama or Pa-na-ma (with hyphens). (Shea L.)

Excuse me while I go take a cold shower to get that image out of my head. (Amy F.)

Things can get weird on the IBD Facebook page.

This particular identity system has gotten a generally positive response (which, trust me, is not always the case). I was lucky to find a strong, high-resolution image for that eye-catching, top level of visual hierarchy, with expressive type and colorful supporting images to establish a sense of place. Still, the comments came in:

I like the colors and texture. But, to quote Shea: “There seems to be a heirarchy issue.” Is Panama the most important thing to see? I had to make a point of finding “NAI” and “international conference.” (Kelly F.)

I’m in agreement with the Kelly/Shea concern with hierarchy. (Linda S.)

To borrow a term from Jebediah Springfield, I embiggened the phrase “NAI International Conference” on the website and in the magazine ad. The palm leaf and the word Panama are still the most important, but the name of the event is not far behind.

One final comment:

Like the design, like the layout, like the colours…. hate the fact it’s in tables – any chance of getting some lovely semantic html and css to shape that layout? (once you learn css you will love what it can do for design!) (Charlie W.)

Charlie makes an excellent point. It’s all too easy to rely on comfortable technologies, so by the time we unveil the next NAI International Conference website, I’ll see about implementing some lovely semantic HTML and CSS. CSS offers a lot more control over typography online than does a typical HTML editor like Dreamweaver, so it’s definitely the designer’s friend. (And we don’t have many of those.)

One final note: If you want to present a session at the NAI International Conference in Panama, the Call for Presentations closes October 15. If you make it to Panama and I’m lucky enough to be there, too, I’ll buy you a Fosters.

A Legacy of Change

If you are a member of NAI, you may have already received the May/June issue of Legacy magazine. If you are not a member of NAI, what are you, some sort of freeloader? Visit the NAI website and join right now.

legacy-mayjune2009Legacy readers may notice that there have been some design changes. I explain in the magazine’s editorial that the content itself has changed (visit Online Legacy for more on that), which made it seem an appropriate time to change the actual look of the magazine.

The most obvious change is in the magazine’s flag, which is now set in our modernist friend, Helvetica, instead of the pseudo-serif Baker Signet, which is what I inherited when I started with NAI in 2002.

The advantage of the Helvetica typeface is that it offers the flexibility of using its many fonts (bold, oblique, light, and even narrow, though I usually avoid the latter). This means that I can use Helvetica throughout the magazine in various capacities, which was more difficult with Baker Signet. Helvetica is now the only sans serif typeface used in the magazine (excepting advertisements, of course), replacing Avenir.  (Check out Shea’s post on Helvetica from a few weeks ago.)

I recently switched from QuarkXPress 6.5 to Adobe InDesign CS3—not a fair competition, I admit, since Quark 6.5 is so much older than InDesign CS3. (Check back a week from this post for more on why I switched to InDesign.) That said, I am finally confident in the technology for professional printers to use transparencies in page layout software, so I use them for the first time in this issue. You’ll notice in the cover image here that the fields of color behind the flag at the top and the contents at the bottom are partially transparent (set at 60%, if you’re scoring at home).

In the interior of the magazine I’ve tried to reinforce the grid I use in all NAI publications (again a challenge because of advertising) and increase the contrast between the serif and sans serif typefaces.

Magazines frequently make a big deal out of updating their layout and design (just last month, an issue of Sports Illustrated included an editorial announcing minor layout changes). I imagine this feels like a bigger deal to the folks whose livelihoods depend on the magazine than it does to the casual reader who may spend an hour a week reading a publication, but I always like to know what designers are thinking when they make changes to formats that haven’t changed for years.