The Final Episode

Seinfeld is still my favorite television show. I know there hasn’t been a new episode in 14 years, but there is something about those characters that really resonates with me. I’ve always liked George the best (I’m sure it has something to do with his husky disposition, follicle misfortune, and that he worked for the New York Yankees). I feel like no matter what incident in life that comes my way, Seinfeld has partly prepared me for it. At times the show may not have prepared me how to respond to certain incidents, but at the very least I can find the humor in any situation. Now whether anyone else can find the same humor has yet to be determined.

The only thing that bugs me about Seinfeld is how it ended. If you recall the final episode closed with all of the main characters being placed in jail for their inappropriate response to a bad incident (carjacking). I understand the underlying current that the characters lack character but you can’t put the same characters on trial for all of the things we had grown to love about them. Maybe the writers wanted to create an unsatisfied appetite for more so that we will always yearn for more of the show.

Regardless of how it ended, it’s still my favorite show. Since that last episode I haven’t really found a sitcom that I find as much joy in. Maybe that’s me just getting older and not liking change or keeping up with the times. Maybe because there are no sitcoms any more. Perhaps it is my affinity for the ’90s. The closest show that I enjoy today is the Big Bang Theory, but it is missing something. It’s good. It’s just not the same.

So there’s good news and bad news.

First, the bad (so far as we’re concerned): This is our last installment of IBD. Today’s post will be the end. Luckily for us, Paul and I are not in jail (because we know our wives or Lisa aren’t going to bail us out). Paul wrote on Monday about Closing Quotes and ended with an apology of sorts. I want to say thank you to the community revolving around IBD.

Over the last three years the encouragement that you have provided us has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve heard my wife say to my friends, “Don’t encourage him.” Now I know what she means. We appreciate your input, comments, and the enjoyment (okay, maybe that’s a reach) of our little project.

This blog began as an idea to publish our email conversations that we were already having and to also sell books. Well, at least we published our conversations. We hope at least we perpared you for something (insert your own joke here).

So how do we end this on a positive note? I’m not sure. It is bothering us seeing it end. When I feel the anxiety welling, I think back to relationships that have been formed because of a silly blog. Much like the character witnesses that came forward in the Seinfeld finale trail, you have been a big part of our run. At times when writing was an exercise in discipline, we found inspiration from you.

But wait, there’s more.

The good news: On April 2, we are coming back in a different way (much like Teen Wolf 2, we know how well that turned out). Our new project has been titled Media Platypus. Why? you may ask. Because Paul wanted to see if I could spell platypus and seriously, what’s more fun than an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal.

We live in a changing landscape and we have to change. Otherwise I would still be wearing puffy shirts and stonewashed jeans.

On the new site, we are going to take a different approach to what we write about, what we share, and how it is presented. You can count on it being ten times as funny as IBD (10 x 0 still = 0; I’ve got mad math skills). If you feel so inclined, we’ve got a Media Platypus Facebook page ready for you to like, as well as a new Twitter handle, @MediaPlatpyus. The website will be www.MediaPlatypus.com (though there’s not much to see there yet). If you don’t want to follow this new venture, we understand and we’ll go back to crying ourselves to sleep each night.

It’s been fun, thanks for everything. We’ll see you on the Plat.

Defining the Strike Zone

Much to Paul’s chagrin, today’s post is dedicated to Jo Schaper, who challenged Paul’s take on starbursts (the explosive graphic design element, not the fruit-flavored candy packed with sweet goodness and that is more efficient than a dentist at removing a filling) in his post Starbursts: Like Fireworks, But More Annoying on Monday. Her comment and Paul’s reply are presented here.

It is not uncommon for folks to challenge our opinions about elements of interpretive design (along with personal style choices – despite what you think we both still feel red Crocs are perfectly acceptable in public venues). In fact we welcome it. Through this blog we have learned that there is nothing more polarizing than discussions on Comic Sans, serial commas, and now starbursts.

This is where I have to applaud Jo (as well as Judy Sneed the official Pro Comic Sans Spokesperson of NAI Region VI) for speaking up for what they believe is an appropriate use of starbursts. Plus, I like anyone that is willing to give Paul a hard time about anything.

I think I can speak for Paul here. Facing this adversity he might say something like, “I disagree with Jo but at least I got her to think about the design decisions that she makes every time she starts a project. I bet the next time she goes to insert a starburst she thinks twice about how she uses it.” I like it best when Paul speaks without commas. The underlying goal behind IBD (the book not the blog) was to help interpretive designers make the best design decisions possible, which could be said in this instance as well.

Since I’m speaking for Paul, I think it also safe to say that he might also say something like this: “If I wasn’t a Philadelphia Phillies fan, I would pull for the New York Yankees because deep down inside I’m jealous and really think they are awesome, oh yeah and Arkansas I where I should live because if Shea lives there it must rock, oh yeah and Shea’s children are cuter than mine!” I would have to agree with both of Paul’s statements.

I see the opinions that we offer in/on IBD (the book and the blog) are equivalent to the role an umpire plays in a baseball game. When a pitcher stands on the mound and is looking at the batter, catcher, and umpire, he has many choices of what kind of pitch throw (cutter, fastball, curve, sinker, splitter, knuckleball, slider, change-up). It is the role of the umpire to confine the space where the pitch has to be thrown and up to the pitcher to be creative enough to put those pitches into that space. I also see us playing the umpire because our lack of baseball talent and the fact that Paul looks best in a mask.

A pitcher can throw pitches outside the strike zone and it’s their prerogative, but that doesn’t mean they will be successful, it simply means they are pitching in the National League. Also the better you know the strike zone or the parameters and guidelines you will also know when to break the rules and throw outside the zone. The best pitchers throw a combination of strikes and balls in order to get that batter out. There is no guarantee that the batter is going to swing at the pitches outside the strike zone in order for the pitcher to get them out. Sometimes you end up with a walk (which has no design equivalent in this long drawn out analogy). The most important thing to remember is that you want to throw as many good strikes as possible, within the zone.

As interpreters and interpretive designers, I think we have to be careful about not only to be thinking about our clients or our visitors by simply giving them what they want. We need to place thought into what design decision help meet the goals of the project and the interpretive site. I have been guilty (and this blog has been guilty, and by this blog I mean Paul) of writing to our audience of interpreters and interpretive designers. We like talking and reading about topics that we are familiar with, comfortable with, and align well with what and how we think. We need to challenge and be challenged to grow. This can be said of personal interpretation as well. We all have had program participants that come to your program already knowing exactly or more about what you are presenting. That may be your objective but more than likely is not. It is my hope that Jo would comeback with an amazing design chock full of starbursts that makes Paul say, “Wow, that’s an effective use of the starburst.”

In the meantime I’ll leave you with this image of the 2010 NAI National Workshop logo, designed by Paul, complete with a starburst.

The World of Coca-Cola (An Opening Day Post Not About Baseball)

Today is opening day of the Major League Baseball season. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Despite a desire to spend the next 500 to 750 words going on and on about how great the New York Yankees are going to be this year (with one starting pitcher), how the National League should be contracted (forcing the starting pitchers of the Philadelphia Phillies to be absorbed by the Yankees), and how delicious hot dogs are, it is the predictable and unpredictable natures of the game that I really love and why I can’t wait to watch the games.

Instead of writing about baseball, I have decided to show you pictures from my family’s recent spring break vacation trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Okay, maybe you should.

Nothing goes better with at a hot dog at a baseball stadium than an ice cold Coca-Cola. (I’m seriously not writing about baseball.) When visiting Atlanta, one of the must-see sights is the World of Coca-Cola. While visiting the museum, or interpretive site, or commercial, or I’m not sure really what it is, I found myself reminded of the feeling when visiting a new Major League stadium. I was also reminded of the power of interpretation. Needless to say, the facility itself was amazing, well designed, organized, beautiful, and worth seeing. Though in some ways it left me wanting more (much like a trip last summer to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.). I did fill that empty feeling with large amounts of Coca-Cola products at the end of the visit, which helped.

I think it is safe to say that architects, designers, planners, and the Coca-Cola Corporation applied Disney-type techniques into the concept. Staging areas were interesting and gave you something to do while you were waiting, which kept you from feeling like you were waiting.

Open areas in the main concourse gave you plenty of room to play a game of baseball (if so desired). In our case, there was room for my children to run and hide while I was taking pictures of exhibits. In Disney fashion, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear mascot was there for photo opportunities. (You will have to go to the IBD Facebook page to see those images.)

I did find that in many areas of the museum that Coca-Cola was working harder than the Phillies trying to find a closing pitcher to build a meaningful connection between visitors and the product. I found this exhibit well designed and produced, but reaching for meaning. The scale and quality was amazing. When it comes down to it, Coke is really a just a soda that we all love. I can relate to that. My daughter still wants to know why the turtle wouldn’t talk to her.

Here are some other highlights:

Reminder of the “green” features of the gold LEED-certified building were found in several places. (I hope this is the last urinal picture to be put on this blog.) The importance of water in the making of Coke is a secondary theme found through the museum.

I love planned photo opportunities that help set the stage for the experience. This one with Mr. Pemberton (the creator of Coca-Cola; no Paul it wasn’t Dr. Pepper) and my son is positioned well for posing with the museum in the background.

The most successful areas were interpretive in nature. The story behind the creation of the soda were fascinating. As you can imagine red was the color of choice.

I found this exhibit really interesting on how the famous Coca-Cola script became the logo over a century ago and is still used today.  The touch screen allow visitors the opportunity to try their hand at mimicking the script. My fingers only draw Helvetica, for some reason.

For some reason, I had a hard time connecting with this exhibit as well.

I have more to share with you from Atlanta and the Coca-Cola Experience, which I will get to next week.

When it comes down to it, you love Coke or you don’t. You love baseball or you don’t. Me forcing it into a post isn’t going to make you love it. The World of Coca-Cola is a tremendous place to visit and is at its best in the areas that just celebrate the power of something that people love and are passionate about, like baseball. Take a 7th inning stretch, I’ll have more next week.

Relevance for the Irrelevant

I was one of the millions of people who tuned into the Superbowl last Sunday afternoon. I didn’t really have a team that I felt strongly about winning so I was pulling for the Green Bay Packers to lose since they knocked out the Chicago Bears. I have pulled for the Bears ever since the 1986 Superbowl Shuffling team beat the New England Patriots (a team from the Boston, that for obvious reasons as a New York Yankees fan, I love to see lose). Of course, as you now know, me pulling for the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t help their cause.

Just like most of our readers, for some reason, I felt obligated to tune in. Perhaps that has something to do with football and the NFL becoming more and more the national pastime. As a baseball fan, deep down inside, this bothers me. In semi-silent protest, I watched the game while hanging out on Facebook and paid more attention to the commercials than the game, all while trying to forget about Christina Aguilera’s butchering of the National Anthem. I wasn’t the only one on Facebook during the game.  It was interesting to see how Facebook responded to plays, calls from referees, and commercials.

After the commercial (posted above for your viewing pleasure) from Volkswagen played during the Superbowl, friend of IBD Joel Frey made the following comment: “It’s pretty amazing that Star Wars is still relevant 30+ years after its debut.” Of course I loved the commercial, which had nothing to do with the Darth Vader costume that I was wearing at the time, but Joel’s statement got me thinking.

I had to watch the game because I’m a sports fan and baseball hasn’t started yet but also because football is part of the American culture. The NFL has been responsive to changing times and changed the game to better meet the needs of modern audiences. Baseball has been slow to change. The NFL has worked towards parity amongst teams leading to better competition. In the meantime MLB has imposed no salary cap which in turn has allowed the Yankees to dominate the league (not that there is anything wrong with that). The NFL has taken on challenges such as steroids while MLB has avoided them. NFL ratings are at an all time high and MLB ratings are suffering. For the record, baseball is the best sport.

Star Wars has managed to stay relevant by offering new sequels/prequels, cartoons, toys, games, websites, licenses, and many other products/media to stay relevant as well as capitalize on. The success is partly based on a great product to begin with. The other part is planned and purposeful.

So this isn’t why you tuned in today, but it is why I wrote this post. Paul and I want to stay relevant to you and your work. We are about to begin our third year writing this blog, and we realize that there are millions of better things that you could be doing with your time. Writing frankly, we are not really sure why you aren’t doing those things. Writing honestly, Paul and I have not been very successful at staying interesting or relevant to anyone ever. Our wives stay with us because they feel sorry for us and still think they can help us. We are their ultimate project.

We could continue at this blog’s current pace for a lifetime. The internet could be long gone and we may continue to write these posts to simply entertain each other (which is how this blog really came to be). If you have ever spent time with either of us alone, you now know how much socialization we need. Based on what we have learned (here on IBD and in high school) is that it is much better with you here. As numbers, readers, comments and hits have grown so has our desire to stay relevant.

Through several conversations we are planning on shaking things up a bit this next year but before we do, we would like your input. We don’t want this blog to turn into a six-hour read, written by two guys hopped up on HGH who spit all of the time, without any possibility of instant replay, and who don’t ever change the rules.

We love baseball and could easily let IBD become steeped in tradition (a strange tradition of comments in parenthesis). So, here’s your chance to tell us which type of posts you like. Let us know what topics you would like us to write about. Tell us who has the best shaped head? What series (Ask A Nerd, Get to Know a Color, I’ve Got Problems, Get to Know a Typeface) do you like best? Would you like more or fewer posts? Do you like longer or shorter posts? All friendly comments are welcome all mean comments pointed towards me will be deleted, those directed towards Paul will be accepted. If there are no comments we are going to move forward with some plans, that you may or may not notice but we want you to be a part of the process.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we need some ideas too.

Please Read Signs

Friends of IBD continue to send pictures of funny and interesting signs our way. Over the last few years and many presentations later, our collection of funny signs and/or interesting approaches to design continues to grow. Recently the phenomenon has expanded to the IBD Facebook page, where a rash of photo shares have been taking place. I had to share some of these images with you.

I didn’t know they called my wife’s cooking science.

Looks as if they need some gradient off.

I always travel with my pair of counterforms just in case the opportunity to swim with marine stingers presents itself. It happens more than you would think. (I’m not sure what this comment means either.)

We know what we can’t do.

This is just awesome on so many levels.

I love the fact that people are thinking about us over the holidays, (even if it didn’t mean any gifts for us from readers). Just knowing that someone interrupted holiday shopping to take a picture of bad typography for us is the best gift we could receive (next to a 60 inch LCD HDTV or a New York Yankees grill cover).  Thank you Jeanette for the effort! This picture illustrates the worst use of the word “holiday” since Madonna’s 1983 use.

Sometimes you just have to state the obvious.

If you are on Facebook and haven’t liked IBD (not like like, but like like) you should check out the page. There are more images like these under the photo tab. Keep the images coming!

The Perils of Social Media

Note: Since my relationship with Paul has been strained after a week where his Philadelphia Phillies blatantly stole free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee from my New York Yankees, I’m unsure that I can continue working on this blog with him. With that, along with the fact that we received a lengthy rebuttal to Paul’s post on social media earlier this week, it was decided that my post would be replaced with this one from our first guest blogger. Right now, I’m happy to give up my space to anyone who disagrees with Paul.

In the meantime I’m going to take the rest of the week off in order to reflect on the good times and place careful thought about the future of Paul and Shea. I’m glad to introduce Phil Broder, director of education at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, as our first-ever guest blogger on IBD. —Shea

Here’s what I’m not:

  • Antisocial
  • Antitechnology
  • A Luddite
  • Incommunicado
  • A curmudgeon.

.
Well, to be fair, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. I find a measure of joy in needling Paul and Shea, in rooting for the underdog, in taking the uphill side of an argument. I’m not in the social media resister camp (and I heartily dislike Paul’s division of social media into two camps—adopters and resisters; for an example of the idiocy of splitting any issue into just two camps, I need only point to Congress), but neither am I the first to jump with both feet into something new (case in point: today news outlets are reporting that stylish UGG footwear can cause knee, hip, and back problems. My lack of personal style saved me again). “How like fish we are,” said Aldo Leopold, “ready, nay eager, to seize upon whatever new thing some wind of circumstance shakes down upon the river of time. And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook.”

I’m not prepared yet to bite into that hook. Social media is a tool, and like most tools, if properly used, it can build great things. But put a hammer into the hands of a toddler, and you’ll be dealing with smashed fingers, broken glass, holes in walls, and bedlam. Too many social media users are hammer-swinging toddlers (and I just had the most disturbing image of Shea in an argyle diaper). So let me start with what I find wrong with social media.

First, I strongly believe that we need to be present where we are. Most electronic devices tend to pull our attention from our surroundings. Who hasn’t been leading a program when someone’s phone rang? Ever watched someone miss a sunset because they were looking at a 4” screen? Does checking-in on Foursquare really enhance a visit to the Grand Canyon? Edward Abbey proposed banning even maps from wilderness areas. Wonder what Cactus Ed would say about an iPhone with built-in GPS, a Peterson’s field guide app, ratings of campgrounds, Google Earth, and a Groupon for a discount at the nearest Campmor shop? If we truly want to end nature deficit disorder, we need to stop contributing to it with all the social media distractions.

Too many people use social media as a substitute for real conversation. Posting something on your Facebook page isn’t the same as telling me about it. Maybe it’s easier for you, but what message should I get when family members relay important news via Facebook? My takeaway is that I’m not important enough for my sister to pick up a phone. In interpretation we talk about starting a dialogue with visitors, but Facebook users mostly seem to be monologue-ists. If you expect me to converse with you, don’t begin the conversation with a Facebook post.

Likewise, if you want to start an intelligent conversation, don’t use Twitter. At a mere 271 words, the Gettysburg Address is a classic example of brevity. Still, it’s too long to be Tweeted. Here’s how the writers of “The Daily Show” rewrote it for our modern era:

(And if you haven’t discovered http://historicaltweets.com, you’re missing some of the best revisionist history out there.) I’m concerned that any idea that can’t be boiled down to 140 characters will be ignored. Sociologists will tell you that the telephone effectively ended the age of letter writing, and now texting is ending the age of the phone call. Is Tweeting going to end the well-thought-out and supported argument? My greatest objection to Sarah Palin isn’t her politics, it’s that she seems to be trying to appeal mainly to people who can’t digest anything longer than 140 characters. Twitter is the lowest common denominator of communication.

Does anyone else find something appalling about the use of “friend” as a verb? I have many close friends, relationships that I’ve spent years cultivating, and they’re precious to me beyond value. Calling someone a “friend” just because you’ve clicked on them demeans and devalues the word. If you’ve got a Friends group at your park, zoo, or museum, would you rather have one friend who does volunteer work and makes an annual donation, or 100 “friends” who appear as tiny pictures on your Facebook page? And as far as getting in touch with old high school classmates, look, two decades ago they didn’t like me and I didn’t like them, and catching up with them through social media is just an exercise in phoniness.

Let’s consider the message you’re sending out through social media. Is it important? Does it have value? In what way does it improve the world? Let’s face it, just because some people can talk doesn’t mean they should. Social media is a huge outlet for a lot of people who just don’t have much to say, but haven’t learned to keep their mouth closed. Nobody wants to know the intimate details of your daily life, what you’re wearing, what you ate, or that you’re sitting down to watch “Jersey Shore.” Really, how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere generating electricity to run the computers of vapid fools who want the whole world to know that they think we should all stop picking on Britney Spears? (As an aside, the backlash to mindless tweeting has begun. Recently, an AIDS charity enlisted stars like Ryan Seacrest, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, who promised to go “dead” on Twitter and Facebook until people donated $1million to the charity. A group of sensible people saw an opportunity, and encouraged people to donate to other AIDS charities. Their strategy worked. The charity couldn’t raise the million dollars, and world went without Gaga and Kardashian for a few days, until finally they gave up and reneged on the deal.)

Several social media sites seem bent on turning everything into a popularity contest. I like making my own decisions, not running with the herd. It matters to me that the news I read is accurate, and it scares me that it can be so easily manipulated on Digg and Reddit by the opinions of the masses. If your main concern is how many Facebook friends you have, or getting Pinged everywhere you go, then I’d just rather not know you.

Now, having said all that, let’s look at the positive uses of social media. MySpace has been a boon to small-time musicians for reaching out to their fans. I’ll never again have to pay $15 for a CD only to find that there’s one good song and 11 pieces of crap. Facebook is useful for people with a shared interest who may not actually know each other; I use it to communicate with other dog park users so that I’ll know when my Lab’s posse will be there, instead of just crossing my fingers and driving nine miles to find out.

Can social media work for interpretation? In some cases, yes. I know a musician who spent a summer in New York City on her “Where In The Truck Is Chloe?” tour. Every day she’d pile her guitar and amp into a pickup truck, tweet to all her fans where she’d be and when, then show up there, play a few songs, and leave when the cops showed up. What a great way to generate buzz! I’m stealing the idea; our turtle mascot will tweet the location of his next appearance, show up at some local beach or boardwalk or restaurant, slap hands with a bunch of kids while another naturalist shows off some real turtles, and then off we go. Social media presents a means for getting the word out about a program without having to wait for the next quarterly newsletter. Wonder what would happen if I tweeted “going kayaking at 5pm. Anybody wanna come with?” Or how about “dolphin stranded @ the point. Need helpers 4 rescue ASAP!”

Even Mark Zuckerberg will admit that Facebook was created as a means to help people connect. Instead, it’s become millions of billboards, with most of us no more than commuters trying to figure out what to pay attention to without having an accident. If you’re using social media to just blindly throw information into the cybersphere, hoping that it will hit someone who finds it useful, you’re mostly just contributing to the white noise that disconnects too many people from the natural world. Remember Tilden’s second principle: “Information is not interpretation.” But If you’ve given it thought, and come up with a plan for using social media to create dialogue, if you’re tweeting to provoke (there’s that Tilden guy again!), social media has plenty of potential.

Am I a curmudgeon? Quite probably. But he who knows enough is enough will always have enough. And when I’m confronted by someone blathering on about the tweet that they copied to their Facebook page to share with their 1,156 “friends,” when I hear people whose main goal is to attract fans to their blog, when I’m forced to endure perversions of language brought on by someone who only knows how to communicate using two thumbs on a tiny keyboard, well, I’ve had enough.