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.

Notions About Preconceived Notions

There are many of you who came to IBD today expecting a post about the baseball playoffs beginning yesterday (and by many, I mean one). You know that Paul and I love baseball and this is the best and worst time of year for us. For the majority, the sport of baseball is considered antiquated and out of touch with its fan base. Some say it has too long of a season, is too slow, and is generally boring. This is also a perfect description of the relationship that Paul and I have with our IBD fan base (and by fan base I mean our combined five children). There is something special about the game, being at the ball park, eating copious amounts of cased meat, and simply watching a pure game.

This is not a post about baseball, I promise, but Paul and I have the goal of seeing all of the major league stadiums. I love seeing new ballparks and picking up on the subtleties of each park and the culture around the collection of fans. This seriously is not a post about baseball, but in the event you didn’t know Paul’s team, the Philadelphia Phillies, and my team, the 27-time and current reigning World Champion New York Yankees (who just happen to beat the Phillies in last year’s World Series) are on a crash course to possibly meet again World Series. (That was the most carefully calculated sentence written in IBD history as not to jinx either team.) For now I will not write about baseball.

Okay, I can’t help it. Visiting a new ballpark is not much different from visiting a new museum. You come into the setting with preconceived notions. I have never been to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia but I would expect to see lots of people working on their own unique team color palettes with cheese wiz on their red Phillies shirts or better yet wiz on their green Eagle’s gear.

Again not about baseball, the exterior of the museum from the parking lot to the entrance all add to or take away from your expectations. The prior knowledge you have or the research about your visit all add into your overall experience. But what if you don’t know what to expect or are unsure of the experience before you? What if you just stumbled on to something that sounded interesting but you had no clue what it actually was? Which just happens to be the equivalent of Paul and me going to a WNBA game. For now I will not write about the WNBA.

Yesterday the Adobe Museum of Digital Media (AMDM) opened to the public. I have been receiving updates for several weeks about the opening of this new museum. I was intrigued from the beginning for the simple fact that I didn’t know what to expect. The descriptions have been well written to be ambiguous. So well that I have saved several passages of text to use when communicating with my boss.

The landing page ( says that “The Adobe Museum of Digital Media (AMDM) is a unique virtual space designed to showcase and preserve groundbreaking digital work and to present expert commentary on how digital media influences culture and society.” Needless to say the descriptions left me confused and in need of a dictionary. So what is going to be in the collection of an online museum of digital media? Is it worthy of getting my email address? (BTW, Paul, if you have joined, let me know how that works for you.) Should I come back once the novelty has worn off? Where can you even see a WNBA game?

I’ve been waiting for the opening just to experience this possibly online interpretive experience. The best part is that I didn’t have to dress up for the grand opening. The tuxedo t-shirt I was wearing at home was perfectly appropriate.

After spending some quality time getting to know the museum I was impressed and confused, and now I understand why interpretive sites are valuable in and of themselves. There are some pros to an online museum. “The AMDM is a space unlike any created before. Because it is entirely digital, it is an ideal gallery for displaying and viewing digital media, as well as revealing the innovation and artistry within the work. It is open to the public 365 days a year and is accessible from anywhere in the world.” This is true but be prepared to test your bandwidth and not do anything else on your computer while visiting the museum. Make sure your Flash and Java updates are complete too. The use of images and digital art are impressive.

I am most impressed with the effort to create an online structure that will display the media. An extraordinary amount of time and thought went into the structure.  “The building itself was designed by Italian architect Filippo Innocenti, a master of fluid urban designs for large, public installations. Innocenti collaborated closely with award-winning designer Piero Frescobaldi, who served as the ‘building contractor’ for construction of the virtual space.” The format, layout, site map, and menu are well designed and easier to get around than many actual museums that I have been too. We can learn from Adobe here.

As with most modern art, I found myself confused. But one benefit of this online museum is that it provides opportunities for you to interact with artists and gain an understanding of their perspectives. As stated by Adobe, the current exhibit Valley, which offers the latest work by the renowned American artist Tony Oursler was developed to explore our “relationship to the Internet, underscored by Oursler’s often raucous, disarming humor.” The exhibit is interesting and may not be viewed on some government computers.

I love life online but sometime you just need to go to the ballpark—uh, I mean museum. There is something special about seeing the thing itself and hot dogs never taste as good at home. My wife also frowns on my throwing of peanut shells on the carpet, though my three year old son thinks it is perfectly okay. The online museum creates a new way of looking at things but in the big picture the experience has some shortcomings.

Interpretation is an element of the exhibit but I don’t see an opportunity to build that emotional connection to the resource. Could the format be used to preview the thing itself at your site? Sure. Could it be used for post-visit activities? You betcha. Is it as good as watching a game in high definition television from the comfort of your on sofa with instant replay? Sure. But is the experience the same as being there? Not really.

Go Yankees!

Type on a Curveball

This post is going to make Uber IBD Reader Jeff Miller happy for the simple fact that I’m about to discuss something that the World Champion New York Yankees have done that could have been improved. Correctly setting type on a curve is as not as simple as it seems.

The week of July 11, 2010 was a tough week for the New York Yankees organization and fans alike. On July 11, 2010 Bob Sheppard passed away and two days later on July 13, 2010 George Steinbrenner also passed away. For over 56 years Sheppard was the voice of Yankee Stadium where he served as the public address manager. I’ll never forget hearing his voice on a trip to Yankee Stadium a few years ago. It was so memorable that Reggie Jackson referred to it as “The voice of God.” Steinbrenner was the only Yankees owner that I have known since he took ownership one year before I was born in 1973. His aggressive nature, hands-on approach to management, and check writing ability led the Yankees to 7 World Championships and 11 pennants as well as the nickname “the Boss.”

The two had very different roles in the Yankees organization and contributed on very different levels. Much like the authors/contributors of IBD, Lisa is the boss and brains where Paul and I are the projected voices that disappear in the background except for the 10s of fans that really care. With the team facing such significant losses in the middle of the season the two needed to be honored on the uniforms of the Yankees. In 2009 when the Philadelphia Phillies lost play by play announcer Harry Kalas the Phillies honored him by wearing a round, black patch with a simple sans serif, capital H and K on it over the heart.

The Yankees followed suit by applying two patches to their uniforms honoring Sheppard and Steinbrenner in two separate ways. The patch designed for Sheppard is nothing short of classy and representative of the man and his contribution and career.

I particularly like the classic New York Yankees’ typeface (name of typeface) on the patch in all caps along with the two pieces of stadium façade accent art (all consistent with elements of Yankee Stadium) not to mention the diamond shape and the classic microphone (now a part of the baseball hall of fame).

On August 14, 2009, in one of our Live from Chicago Posts, Paul posted a picture of an exhibit in the Field Museum that turned into a discussion about type on a curve that preoccupied Paul and me for several hours while our wives and collective five children filled the need of paternal/spousal units with ice cream.

In the post about this exhibit, Paul stated: “Typically, typographers advise against placing type on a curve (just because Adobe Illustrator lets you do it doesn’t mean that you should). However, we’re always on the lookout for effective instances of breaking the rules, and this circular exhibit at the Field Museum offers just that. The type here follows the curve of the contours of the exhibit itself.”

The patch honoring “the Boss” (Steinbrenner not Brochu) is an example where the execution of type on a curve fell flat, if that makes sense. Especially when being compared to the Sheppard patch and worn on the same uniform. The black oval patch is worn over the heart just above the classic NY logo. But there is just something about this patch that just doesn’t look right. The more I studied it, the more my eye went to the top curved text. The letter spacing is inconsistent and doesn’t effectively follow the curve of the oval. There are other problems with the design but I can only take so much of myself being critical of my team. Much more and I could be forced to pull for a team in the National League.

There are many programs today that will allow you to apply type in various shapes or create multitude of lines for the type to follow. This approach can be used and can be effective but requires additional thought and adjustments to each character. The problem is that many of the programs that allow you to place type on a curve don’t allow you to make these needed adjustments. The severity of the curve and the number of characters in George M. Steinbrenner III is part of the issue with the GMS patch. If you are applying type to a curve always consider altering the curve if it becomes too much of a problem. Also use other typographic techniques like avoiding combinations of italics/bold, decorative typefaces, and all caps to improve readability.

When using this technique consider the relationship of each letter with adjacent letters. Remember that we read by recognizing the relationship between those letters and that our eyes recognize the overall shape of the word in order to be read. When the characters get distorted or the relationship changes it becomes difficult to read. The solution is simple, adjust the kerning (space between letters) letter by letter to improve readability. If altering the kerning still doesn’t fix the problem you may have to apply each letter as an object that can be rotated and moved individually.

George and Bob, you will be missed. Let’s go Yankees!

Save Money with Typography!

In the face of tightening budgets, we’re all looking for ways to save money. Some people are eating at restaurants less or watching TV at home instead of going to the movies. Some organizations are going digital with publications to reduce printing and mailing costs. And the poor New York Yankees have started studding their practice cleats with 1.9-carat diamonds rather than the traditional two-carat variety.

So I was heartened to receive communications from three separate Friends of IBD in the last few weeks about how typography can not only save the world, but a little bit of money here and there, too. Friends of IBD Phil Sexton and Phil Broder, heretofore known as “The IBD Phils,” told me about a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor who has saved his school thousands of dollars by switching the default font on the school’s email systems from Arial to Century Gothic. It turns out, according to the story, that ink costs roughly $10,000 a gallon, and Century Gothic uses 30 percent less ink than Arial. (No word on how much ink Ariel the mermaid uses, but I hear she keeps a lengthy diary.)

The IBD Phils live on opposite sides of the country and heard about this story from different sources, so it’s clear that typography news has gone mainstream. Phil Broder was so excited when he heard it, he called me on his cell phone while he was driving. (I’m pretty sure that driving while distracted caused him to take out a few seagulls and possibly a Wife of the Jersey Shore or two, but it was worth it.)

On National Public Radio, the story was headlined “Changing Font to Save Ink,” which let’s be honest, is a little dry and could use an exclamation point or three. Nevertheless, it states:

A Wisconsin university has found a new way to cut costs with e-mail — by changing the font. The University of Wisconsin, Green Bay has switched the default font on its e-mail system from Arial to Century Gothic. The university says the change sounds minor, but it will save money on printer ink when students print out e-mails in the new font.

Personally, I’m shocked that University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students are printing emails at all. Don’t they see the “Consider the environment before printing this email” at the bottom of their emails? Green Bay Phoenix, defend yourselves!

Meanwhile, in Canada, Friend of IBD Joan sent a link to an article titled “Save Pens. Use Garamond Font,” which has a period, but still no exclamation points. It details the efforts of designers Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth, who compared the relative ink usage of popular typefaces by drawing them at a large scale and filling them in with ballpoint pens. It’s not exactly a scientific study, but it certainly serves the purpose of getting us to think about type this way. Per the illustration above, Garamond used the least ink and Impact used the most.

This whole notion of saving money through type may have originated with the so-called “Ecofont” developed by a Dutch firm called Spranq. This typeface uses less ink because it has holes distributed throughout its strokes. An article on the National Geographic blog from August 2009 has this to say about it:

Font scholar Frank Romano dismisses the Ecofont as a gimmick, unsuitable for serif typefaces and inexact ink-jet printers. He also thinks its cheeselike holes are an eyesore: “If I wanted Swiss type, I would use Helvetica.”

This, in my estimation, is the cleverest remark ever made because it involves three of my favorite things: humor, Helvetica, and cheese. Still, I think this sort of typeface is not meant for typographic purists producing professional media. If you’re using it at home or for internal business use, though, it seems like a great solution.

We already have a lot to think about when we select typefaces, but for sites and organizations that print a lot in house, perhaps the amount of ink you use should be a factor.

Get A Grip: Interpreting Baseball

This is a big week for Paul and me. We are celebrating the return of baseball! (I seldom use exclamation points, but in this case it is worthy.) I love new beginnings. For me, a New York Yankees fan, the start of this season comes off a World Championship, in an awesome new stadium, setting the stage for years to come. For Paul, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, the season marks an opportunity to meet the Yankees in the World Series and fall short yet again. So, how can I write about baseball for a second time in one week without ostracizing our audience with another baseball-related post? I should have asked this same question prior to posts on Star Wars, NASCAR, and Walmart but I didn’t.

Baseball is in my blood. My grandfather was a huge New York Yankees fan, which led to my love of the Yankees despite the distance from Yankee Stadium to my house (1144.26 miles to be exact, just to save Paul the trouble of researching it for the comments section). With satellite television, he never missed a game. As I grew up, keeping up with the Yankees was an important part of staying close with my grandfather. I kept up with the smallest details of players, statistics, and games to converse with him and hopefully add something insightful to the conversation. I never got one up on him.

He was a talented athlete as a child, adult, and even later in life. I never have been. I remember the disappointment in his eyes when he took me to purchase my first real baseball glove and I wanted the pink one. I also remember seeing the disappointment after he attended one of my peewee baseball games and realized that I was going to be better suited for playing Super Mario Brothers. I played in the catcher position not because of my throwing or catching ability but because I served as the best backstop. My husky disposition was effective at stopping balls especially when I closed my eyes after each pitch.

One of the greatest memories that I have of me and my grandfather came years after peewee baseball when he taught me how to throw a knuckle ball. Again I was playing catcher. The knuckle ball is a remarkable combination of skill and physics. Much like the great New York Yankee manager Joe Torre said, “You don’t catch a knuckle ball, you defend against it.” I still couldn’t catch; at least I could blame the knuckle ball this time around. He never let these details get in the way of our personal relationship or our relationship with the game. The great thing about baseball is that anyone can be a spectator and I’ve got that position covered.

The more you learn about baseball, the more you want to know. I was excited to see an exhibit in the Museum of Westward Expansion, a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, more commonly known as The Arch. St. Louis is a great baseball town and the exhibit “Baseball’s Gateway to the West” was a welcoming sight to me. The exhibit immediately caught my attention. A portion of the exhibit that I had a hard time walking away from reminded me of my grandfather teaching me to throw a knuckle ball. The simple exhibit was a creative tactile approach for explaining the various grips of types of pitches. St. Louis entrepreneur Ted Kennedy created a mail-order correspondence-type course for learning various baseball techniques. Taking on the topic in some other way would have otherwise been too complicated to explain in text and graphics wouldn’t have provided this type of experience.

As you can see, baseballs are attached to self retracting lanyards that are embossed with a “T” for your thumb and two other spots for index and middle fingers. I’ve seen explanations of various pitching techniques written and on television, but this approach brought it home. This is the next best thing from having Ted Kennedy or your grandfather teaching you. As with most interpretive experiences, personal interpretation is preferred for effectiveness and non-personal approaches run a close second.

The other portion of the exhibit that I found interesting was about the St. Louis invention of the Knot Hole Gang. The Knot Hole Gang got its name from not having tickets to the games and watching what could be seen through knot holes in the fence. The Cardinals created, as a bonus to their stockholders, the first Knot Hole Gang where tickets were handed down to children to attend games.

The designers of this portion of the exhibit took an interesting approach to interpreting the story. Instead of just graphically re-creating a fence in the compressed laminate, actual fence boards were used to make a fence complete with knot holes. When you peer through the hole you see a historic picture of a game in progress.

For a moment, I relived parts of the 1928 World Series where Babe Ruth went 10 for 16 and the Yankees swept the Cardinals. I could have relived the 1926 World Series, where the Cardinals beat the Yankees in an effort to develop empathy for Paul and the 2009 World Series, but I decided that it would be too painful.

Both of these concepts remind me that the thought, design, and innovation to interpret the story doesn’t always require a high-tech, sophisticated approach to be effective. Oh yeah, one doesn’t have to live near New York to be fan of the Yankees, a pink glove is okay for a boy, and you don’t have to be athletic to be a spectator.

World Series Game 6: Empire State of Mind

On Monday Paul made the following statement, “With the World Series effectively over, we now resume our regularly scheduled posts.” I think what Paul was actually trying to say was “I’m going to my man cave to Google images of kittens to make me feel better.” I wonder about his dedication to the Phillies conceding so early. I still feel the burn of 2004 when a now AAA team from Boston made a comeback against the Yankees (who led the series 3-0) in the ALCS and went on to win the World Series.

In game 6 Pedro Calrissian took the mound for the Phils against Andy Petit (Pettitte, corrected by Paul) for the Yanks. From the start Lando didn’t have his best stuff. Regardless of how the game would end this made me happy.

I have to give Paul some credit, he was right. The World Series is over and the New York Yankees are the world champs. I’m pleased even though it has come at the expense of my friendship with Paul (and Jeff Miller). As a reader of IBD you can look forward to an end of these baseball-type posts. Paul can look forward to spring training. You will have to get used to my references to the New York Yankees becoming slightly longer as the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees. You have to admit it has a nice ring to it. For those that have attended or will attend our various presentations, all images that display the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies will be replaced with a more current image of the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees that illustrate the same point, perhaps even better.

So what can interpretive designers learn from the New York Yankees?

Vertical stripes always work.

If you are not getting what you want out of a team of designers, budget more for changes.

Joba is an awesome name (not really related to design but if you are looking for a baby name, it is a good one).

Working on short rest can bring out your best.

Start your day with Jay-Z (Empire Sate of Mind) and end your day with Metallica (Enter Sandman).  

If you build it, they will come.

Spitting and scratching are two appropriate Photoshop techniques.

For those of you that have hung in there and continued to read despite the baseball banter, we appreciate it. For those of you that we will see in Hartford make sure that you rub it in to Paul.