Odds and Ends: Emptying the In-Box

I tend to let emails collect in my in-box, then once every three years I go and delete them by the thousands. I have a special folder for things people send for IBD, and it has reached a point where it needs to be emptied. So I give you the following odds and ends.

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Knowing that we love interesting and funny signs, Friend (and Occasional Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder sent a series of photos from a recent trip to India.

The above photo is from a park where you are not allowed to do anything, including “misbehavior” and “eatables.” I particularly like the relaxing sound of “Garden Timing” followed by “By Order.”

This one reminds me of a Steven Wright joke. He said his parents read that most accidents happen within five miles of the home, so they moved 15 miles away. I’m glad in India that they keep their accidents confined to one zone. (And those “Dang District Police” are misusing their quote marks.)

The “Don’t Spit Here” sign seemed kind of funny to me, until Phil explained, “India has a real tuberculosis issue, and there’s a campaign to curb spitting as a public health measure.” Thanks for being a buzz-kill, Phil.

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Another Phil, this time Friend of IBD Phil Sexton, sent a link to a website called Free Font Manifesto, which asks the question:

This site paves the way for professional designers to create a collection of high-quality fonts available in the public domain (there are lots of free fonts available already, but not necessarily high-quality ones). This raises questions about how these designers would earn a living, but it’s an interesting conversation to have.

Phil also sent me this funny little cosmetic tip. Phil and I are always sharing beauty tips, so I was happy to get this from him:

I guess my friends think I need help with my body image, because Friend of IBD Chris Mayer sent a link to a tongue-in-cheek video about using Photoshop (Fotoshop) to achieve unrealistic goals:

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Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell also shared a few photos with us in recent* months:

This is one she took during the 2010 NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas (I did say that it can take me a while to get to emails). I have to admit, because I’m slow sometimes, that I did not get it right away.

This one I did get right away.

Kelly also sent a link with the subject “Arkansas on the Cutting Edge” to a story on the website The Barcode News, which states:

In October of 2009, Arkansas became the first state to use QR Codes…. Since that time, the QR Code has appeared in the 2010 Arkansas Tour Guide, the Arkansas State Parks Guide, the Arkansas Spring newspaper insert and in publications such as The Oxford American, Southern Living, and National Geographic Traveler.

I can see why Kelly, a proud Arkansan, wanted to share this with us, as we have written about QR codes in the past. I was particularly impressed by one aspect of this whole story: There is such a thing as The Barcode News.

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Finally, my coworker Deb Tewell took this photo in Argentina. It’s a great example of all the reasons we can just never predict how our work will look when it’s released into the wild.

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Check back for Part 2 of “Emptying the In-Box” in March 2015!

The NAI 2012 logo: Not literal

It’s been two weeks since the NAI National Workshop in Saint Paul ended, which means one thing: We’re counting down to next year’s workshop in Hampton, Virginia, November 13-17. (Also, we’ve almost gotten the smell of lutefisk out of our hair.)

I lived in Richmond, Virginia, an hour or two down the road from Hampton, for basically the entire 1990s, so I entered into designing the logo for NAI 2012 with a sense of the place. My first thought was that the logo should feature a steady stream of cars hurtling at 70 miles per hour along Interstate 64 and disappearing suddenly and horrifyingly into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. This idea was borne from repeated and horrifying trips that I used to take across and/or through the 3.5-mile-long Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel between Richmond and the beach. (Thanks to the Virginia Department of Transportation for the horrifying photo I’ve used here.)

There’s a lot going on in Hampton that would make great fodder for a logo. The region is rich in Native American heritage, Colonial history, a contemporary military culture, and an abundance of natural beauty. I briefly flirted with the idea of coming up with a cartoon character like a blue crab in a three-cornered hat, but as a designer, I felt my chief responsibility in coming up with a logo for NAI 2012 was to exercise restraint. (I’ve always said that a logo is the face of an identity system, not the entire body.) It would be all too easy in trying to literally represent all of the noteworthy aspects of the Chesapeake Bay area for the logo to degenerate into a cluttered mess—or worse yet, a collage. (There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than a collage masquerading as a logo.)

So I started with this image of the Chesapeake Bay from a site called My Desktop Wallpapers. Of all the photos I found online of the area, I chose this one because it most closely reflected my memories of the sunlit skies over the bay.

I imported the photo into one of my favorite color-palette websites, Kuler, and it generated the palette pictured above. (I wrote a post about Kuler way back in March 2009 here.)

While I was not trying to literally represent natural and cultural features of the area, I certainly wanted to suggest them. Guided by a theme settled on by our Workshop committee, “Chesapeake Reflections,” I used the palette above and typographic composition to mimic a sunrise over water. I chose to juxtapose a handwriting typeface and a bold, architectural-feeling sans serif to represent the diversity of cultural heritage in the area.

Based on feedback on the first draft, I darkened the colors a little (particularly the yellow-orange of “NAI 2012”) and changed the handwriting typeface to one with more of a historical feeling—as though it could be from a 17th-century explorer’s journal.

One note on the type: I felt that the zero character in this typeface (on the left) was too intrusive, so I changed it to a lower-case O (on the right), which I feel works better and is a little more visually interesting.

As the art director for an organization of individuals who interpret an incredible diversity of nature and culture, I try to strike a balance in everything I do. I try to be careful that our magazine, Legacy, does not focus too heavily on either nature or culture. When I go looking for photos or other visual elements for our publications, I try to be sure that for every photo of a stream or a mountain, that there’s an image that represents the cultural heritage that NAI members interpret. (And vice versa.)

In the end, some people liked what we ended up with for the NAI 2012 logo, and some people wanted it to say more. However, in designing the logo, I decided that trying to fairly represent all of the natural and cultural resources in the Hampton area (or even some nature and some culture) would result in a logo that was too cluttered. Ultimately, it was my responsibility to settle on abstractions rather than literal representations.

That said, I still plan to use images of the great natural and cultural heritage we’ll find in Virginia next year—just not as part of the logo. If you go to the Workshop website right now, you’ll find three photos in the banner at the top. These will change throughout the year. Right now, there are two natural features depicted (seagulls and a horseshoe crab) and one cultural (a boat), but if you keep score between now and next November, I bet you’ll find that the final tally will be pretty close to even.

And when we’re actually in Hampton, I can tell you one place I won’t be going: That scary bridge-tunnel.

Tabletop Interpretation

One of the perks at last week’s NAI National Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, was free admission to the Science Museum of Minnesota. There were many other perks as well, though I wouldn’t consider a lutefisk facial one of those benefits.

The museum was an amazing place. Here are some pictures and thoughts that I wanted to share.

The museum lobby also hosts a visitor center for the National Park Service’s Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area. I found this relationship strange initially (not a strange as the combination of fish and lye) but after understanding their proximity to the river as well as the visitation at the museum it made sense.

An overlook adjacent to the museum is highlighted by several wayside exhibits.

The National River site also takes time to interpret the urban landscape, a view a readily available as views of the river. I can imagine a planning meeting discussing the need to interpret the river but resolving to interpret other elements of the landscape. I love the rock pedestals but I’m not sure how well the fit into the landscape.

National River interpretation also spills over into a creative use of tabletop exhibits that are very well designed and an interesting use of space.

Paul wrote on Monday about the use of Twitter hashtags. Here’s the museum’s take on collecting feedback while visitors are waiting in line for their tickets. It sets the stage for visitors to share their thoughts throughout their experience. The questions give visitors something to Tweet about. This helps those struggling for something interesting to say. This is an effective use of social media through interpretation.

Okay, so I haven’t shown you anything from the inside of the museum. More to come in a future post.

Social Media at the #NAI2011 Workshop

I compare the annual NAI National Workshop to final exams. I spend most of my year building to this one week, during which I go sleepless, subsist almost entirely on buffalo wings and nervous energy, and then crash afterwards until someone wakes me for the holidays.

I have been to 10 NAI National Workshops, and I remember each one distinctly for different reasons. There was the 40 Days of Rain Workshop (Virginia Beach, 2002), the “Wheel of Fortune” Slot Machine Workshop (Reno, 2003), the Shiny Horse Incident Workshop (Wichita, 2007), and, of course, the Shorn Head Workshop (Las Vegas, 2010).

Last week’s Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, will always be the Social Media Workshop to me. Smart phones and tablets were everywhere throughout the event, and there was a steady stream of Tweets and Facebook posts from participants. NAI promoted a Twitter hash tag, #NAI2011, which participants used when Tweeting about the event.

For those not familiar with Twitter, a hash tag is a short phrase or set of characters set off with a pound sign (like #NAI2011) that Twitterers use to link their Tweets to other Tweets. In Twitter, you can click on a hash tag and see all of the Tweets that have included it. Being relatively new to Twitter, I was struck by the following effects of the #NAI2011 hash tag:

It generated buzz:

It connected people—in person and online:

It made people feel bad:

It spread the message:

It expanded the conversation beyond the session rooms:

It gave participating organizations a line of communication to their people:

It provided instant feedback:

It highlighted some of the tangential benefits of the event:

And, of course, it encouraged shenanigans:

I co-presented two sessions during NAI 2011, one on blogging with my esteemed IBD co-author Shea, and one on using social media in interpretation with Friend of IBD Phil Sexton. Both were well attended, but in particular the social media session was packed so full we called it Occupy NAI, and our room monitor was turning people away. That session was popular for three reasons: 1. New media is incredibly important to the field of interpretation. 2. People believed me when I told them that Phil is actually Kenny Rogers. 3. I can’t remember the third reason.

I consider the #NAI2011 hash tag experiment a success. It was widely used by participants, encouraged conversation, facilitated connections, and generated buzz about the event.

Now, on to #NAI2012!

Jump In

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.

Why Blog: The Interpretive Sourcebook Entry

We’re in Saint Paul, Minnesota, this week for the NAI National Workshop. We’ll be presenting a session on blogging Wednesday, which means we had to prepare actual content (something we’ve done only rarely in three years of blogging). Since writing this blog has inspired the content for the session, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share our paper (written by both of us) with you. Here goes:

Why Blog?
You should blog if there is an audience. As a blogger, it’s important to know your purpose and message, along with where your blog is going to fit in (a common problem for us anyway, and also anyone who identifies themselves as a blogger). We started the Interpretation By Design blog (which we now call simply “The IBD Blog”) in March 2009, about five months after our book by the same name was published. We were aware that there was an audience because multiple presentations at NAI workshops were filled with interest revolving around the subject matter (graphic design and interpretation). Post-presentation conversations (face to face, in emails, on Facebook) led us to create a forum for further discussion. The blog also offered an opportunity for discussion with those not able to attend a presentation or conversation.

Knowing your audience is a tenant of the interpretive profession that can be applied to blogging as well. On the internet, your blog has a potentially large, anonymous audience. IBD is a specialized subsection of two professions (graphic design and interpretation), and it occasionally crosses into other areas of interest (baseball). Just as interpretive sites have streakers, browsers, and students, your blog will have readers who will read every word, while most will pass through from time to time to catch up or see if there is anything of interest to them.

Getting Started
The nature of a blog, where someone has to purposefully come to your page on a regular basis, requires the interest mentioned above as well as knowledge of how a blog differs from a newspaper or book. This less-traditional form of media has room for more opinions, fewer facts, and lots of personality. Where a book is typically focused on one subject or topic, blogs can cover a much wider spectrum within that topic. These positive elements can also be negatives if the blog becomes too much of a personal platform that alienates portions of the audience or is inconsistent in topics.

Before you start a blog, ask yourself why you are doing it. Do you want to create awareness of a site, increase visitation, gain public support for political reasons, or sell a really awesome book that sometimes cracks the top million on Amazon’s rankings? The starting point for setting goals for your blog—as with any other media—is that it should support the mission of your site or organization.

If clear goals are established, you will see your audience grow. A portion of that commitment should be introspective towards building a voice through your writing. Just as front-line interpreters represent their sites to visitors, as the author of a blog, you represent your site to a potentially much larger audience. It’s important that you set an appropriate, engaging tone, and that your writing is interpretive (not just informational).

Nurturing and Maintaining Your Blog
Maintaining a blog is a lot like keeping a pet. It requires constant, consistent nurturing and left unchecked, it might make a mess on your carpet. Just as you can’t keep a pet alive by feeding it a lot for three days then ignoring it for a month, your blog can’t survive without regular attention.

Put another way: Blogs are also like romantic relationships. It’s easy to be enthusiastic when a relationship is new. There’s lots to talk about, it’s new and fun, and it’s your primary point of interest. Then months or years down the road, when you have a cold and other work-related deadlines and the kids are screaming for you to take them to Dairy Queen, the blog might not seem like the most important thing in the world. But without constant attention, the blog suffers and possibly goes away altogether.

Here’s how to keep your blog (or pet or relationship) healthy and vibrant:

  • Give it constant attention. Update your blog, at an absolute minimum, once a week, preferably more often. On our blog, we publish without fail (even on holidays and while we’re on vacation) every Monday (Paul) and Thursday (Shea). If you anticipate a busy schedule, write several posts in advance and use your blogging software (we use WordPress) to schedule them to go live at the appropriate time.
  • Don’t write a Russian novel. You’re more likely to get feedback on shorter posts that ask readers to participate. Our experience has been that posts more than 500 words or so are too long. (This does not stop us from writing long posts. We’re just aware that they’re too long.)
  • Mix it up. Sometimes you need to spice things up (the pet metaphor may break down a little here). In addition to regular posts that occur on a schedule, throw in a quick question, observation, or photo now and again. Commemorate a special event (such as a trip or conference) with a week of “Live from [wherever…]” posts.
  • Communicate. Some readers will simply read your blog and move on. Others will comment regularly. And a select few will comment on nearly every single post. Your commenters are there to engage in a conversation that you started, so be sure to participate. We appreciate all of the comments on Interpretation By Design, and try to show that by responding quickly, giving nicknames to commenters, mentioning them in subsequent posts, and taking suggestions. Even the people who just read and move on are also likely to read the comments.
  • Keep tabs on your blog’s health. You can track statistics on your blog through built-in software (we use a WordPress plugin called StatPress) or an online service like Google Analytics. A healthy blog will get higher and higher hit counts the longer it’s around. Some of these hits will come from random internet users (we get a lot of hits from Googlers searching the term “Phillies font”), but you’ll see consistent growth in numbers as your core readership expands. If you maintain a consistent schedule, your numbers will spike on the days of new posts.
  • Communicate some more. Blogging falls under the umbrella of social media, but it is altogether different from sites like Facebook and Twitter. Maintaining a presence on social media outlets is a great way to alert readers when a new post comes along, or to further the conversations you have on your blog.

Going Viral
Once you have established a routine and a regular readership, you never know what might explode on the internet and garner a lot of attention. For instance, our biggest viral event was caused by, of all things, a flowchart. What started as essentially an inside joke—an example of information design intended to help newcomers to baseball choose a team—was picked up by several national websites, shared extensively on the social networks (including being Tweeted by Katie Couric), and even translated into foreign languages and reposted. Ultimately, it crashed our website.

Obviously, your main focus should be on your core readership, but when that unpredictable viral event occurs, it’s a great way to make a huge number of people aware of your organization and its important mission.

Conclusion
Maintaining a blog is an opportunity for outreach that costs little in terms of finances, but requires great energy and commitment. It should have stated goals, a comfortable tone, regular content, and most importantly, reflect the passion and commitment of the interpreters at your site or organization.