Starbursts: Like Fireworks, But More Annoying

Since today is the Fourth of July in the United States (not sure what the date is in other countries), I feel I should mention that I love fireworks. Even if I don’t totally understand the point, I figure anything that is an excuse for a cookout and that can cause more than 400 people to show up at a Florida Marlins game has to be good for something.

However, when it comes to graphic design, the closest counterparts to fireworks are starbursts, which cause me to do what my son did the first time he experienced fireworks: burst into tears.

Whenever I make some unequivocal statement about what is good design and what is bad design, people come to me with arguments to the contrary. (“I use Comic Sans because I want people to equate my interpretive site with yard sales and take-out menus.”)

With that in mind, let me make this unequivocal statement: Starbursts are bad graphic design. Even if your product is FREE! or NEW! or simply AVAILABLE FOR A LIMITED TIME!, the starburst is the bold, blinking, animated gif of graphic design. The person who uses starbursts in design is the same person who emails you in all caps. Whatever reason a person has for using a starburst, I can assure you there’s a better solution.

I found this brochure in a rack at a highway-side restaurant in Wyoming. There are a lot of things wrong with it from a design perspective. It uses clip art, glowing drop shadows, random angles, roughly 8,000 fonts in every possible style, and a color palette loosely described as “all of them.” (It’s reminiscent of this design advice that Friend of IBD Matthew Greuel heard recently and shared on our Facebook page: “Keep adding fonts until the viewer vomits…then start adding colors….”)

Even amidst all that chaos, what stands out most is that it looks like the brochure was attacked by a pack of eight-year-olds wielding yellow paintball guns. I can’t be certain of this, but I’d guess that the person who designed this brochure has a background in producing late-night infomercials.

Of course, if you’ve read this far, you’re likely of a similar mind and the larger problem is what to do with that client (or boss) who asks for starbursts. This is your opportunity to politely resist and educate your client (or boss) about the more subtle and elegant ways of drawing attention to important information without resorting to the visual equivalent of punching your audience in the face. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as changing the color, size, or line thickness of your type, or possibly altering the composition to prominently feature important elements at the top of a page or within a large amount of white space. (There are lots of solutions, and all of them are better than starbursts.)

In the end, the things that make starbursts so terrible are what make fireworks so great: They’re loud, they’re obnoxious, and they’re pointless.

Happy Fourth of July!

Inspired by Deadlines

Happiness for most interpreters is seeing a school bus leaving your interpretive site. Other interpreters and interpretive designers find complete happiness and satisfaction in their work by coming up with an original idea, working with it through the development process, and creating a program or piece that communicates the intended message and works effectively with visitors. I find happiness in sugar-based cereal, my children sleeping, and discussions about letterforms. Oh yeah, and being married to a wonderful woman.

I recently have found myself working from deadline to deadline with very limited amounts of time to dedicate to important projects. This is not how I like to work, but it is where I find myself. Working in this form and fashion does not allow much time for finding inspiration.

How can one become inspired? If we are in the business of inspiration or inspiring others, should it not come easy for us to be inspired? David Larsen in Meaningful Interpretation writes, “Interpreters must channel their own understandings, enthusiasm, passion and love for the resource so that their audiences can form their own understandings, enthusiasm, passion and love for the resource.” As interpreters know, this is no easy process and we must constantly work to develop programs and products that assist this process in taking place.  The best interpretive products, personal and non-personal, ever developed were led by inspiration.

There are many ways to become inspired. Most people in careers outside of interpretation believe that interpreters have the best jobs in the entire world. They think about how great it would be to work in that park, museum, aquarium, historic site or nature center. This happens to be one of the first things that interpreters forget about at work. They forget what brought them to the field of interpretation in the first place. I came to interpretation for the guacamole (if that makes no sense check this post out). It’s easy to do. Budgets, staffing, groups, visitors, emails, discussions about baseball, meetings, phone calls, and many other elements of day-to-day operations cloud the view of where we work.

The first thing you can do to help improve your inspiration is remember the resource. Get out in or bury yourself in whatever resource is at your disposal and be inspired by it. If you work at a zoo the latter part of that suggestion may not be the best idea, but draw colors from what you see, extract shapes from what you find, take textures and turn them into products, and finally develop meanings and relationships from what you love. Freeman Tilden referred to this as the “priceless ingredient.” This ingredient is something we hold that others would love to hold. Take advantage of how close we are to that resource and love it. Tilden wrote:

If you love the thing you interpret, and love the people who come to enjoy it, you need to commit nothing to memory. For, if you love the thing, you not only have taken the pains to understand it to the limit of your capacity, but you also feel its special beauty in the general richness of life’s beauty.

Remember, to find that first love that you had with a site or subject and inspiration in that area can be expected to follow.

Some find a steady flow of inspiration through thought and study. Immersion into thought is difficult to many designers and creators since it can be difficult and exhausting. Some of the greatest composers in the world speak to how fatiguing the thought process can be before creating. Freeman Tilden writes, “Except for the rare instances of inspiration, I should guess that the adequate interpretive inscription will be the result of ninety percent thinking and ten percent composition.”

The largest factor contributing to unsuccessful thinking is the demands on our time (and for Paul the digestion of sausage). There are always deadlines and to-do lists that are in the back of our minds blocking the creative flow. That is where thought or study through collaboration can be a great friend.  By joining forces when the blocks hit can allow developers to move forward in the creative process. Another set of eyes or cerebral lobes can bring out small elements that spark the imagination leaving you saying, “I didn’t look at it that way” or, “That’s a good idea.”

Back-up plans also include copious amounts of caffeine, frustration-driven design and finding a job where you can make real guacamole…like a restaurant. No matter how inspiration is discovered, remember where it came from, so the next time it is needed you can draw from the same source or use it to inspire new sources.

Paul’s Grammar Pet Peeves: Part 2 is Comprised of Five Points

The first installment of Paul’s Grammar Pet Peeves, “Part 1 of Literally Millions,” garnered literally fives of comments, some of them from people I didn’t even go to college with. So it’s clear to me that nothing excites you, the IBD reader, like reading about things that annoy me. With that, I give you five more pet peeves!

Comprised of/Composed of
The phrase comprise means to include or to be made up of. For instance, you could correctly say, “Shea Lewis’s wardrobe comprises many sweater vests.” The word compose means to make or form. So you could say, “Shea Lewis’s wardrobe is composed of many pastel shirts.”

shea-PaulSimonWhen you say this: “Shea Lewis’s wardrobe is comprised of stylish and contemporary clothing,” you are both factually and grammatically off the mark. Not only does Shea look like the late Illinois Senator Paul Simon when he goes out in public, but the phrase is comprised of is grammatically nonsensical. It translates from English to English as is included of or is made up of of. (Thanks to Nick Racine for pointing out that Paul Simon was a senator from Illinois, not Minnesota, as I originally posted. I must have been thinking of Al Franken, who is a senator from Minnesota and played Paul Simon on Saturday Night Live.)

Lie/Lay
I frequently hear people say that they are tired and need to lay down. This makes sense only if they are carrying a large, heavy box, which would explain why they are tired and what they intend to lay down. Usually, however, they are not carrying anything and what they mean to say is that they need to lie down. The act of laying (time to put on our mature faces, people) requires a direct object (stay with me, I see those smirks), as in, “I need to lay down this large, heavy box.” When you position yourself in the angle of repose, you are lying down.

What complicates this one is the past tense. The past tense of lay is laid; the past tense of lie is lay. Not to mention what happens when you’re talking about those Hawaiian flower necklaces: “I laid down those leis and then lay down.” (Note: Thanks to Sarena Gill for catching my misuse of “your” in the previous example. Sarena is no longer welcome here.)

Its/It’s
Okay, so this is one of those quirks that makes people learning English as a second language want to stab native English speakers in the neck with a fork. Adding an apostrophe-S to a word makes it possessive. Just adding an S makes it plural. So why, then, does adding apostrophe-S to “it” not make it possessive? And why is it that just adding an S to it does make it possessive? The simple answer is that “it’s” already serves as the conjunction “it is,” so to make it less confusing, we English speakers invented a new rule that applies only to this one tiny word, making “its” possessive, thereby confusing everybody. You’re welcome, speakers of other languages.

One technique to try is to replace all instances of “it’s” with “it is” or “it has” and see if it works. Then replace all instances of “its” with “his or her” and see if that works. If it does, then you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, you are ready for a career as a writer for The New York Post.

Everyday/Every Day
DaveMatthewsBandEverydayEveryday (one word) is most commonly an adjective, but it can also be a noun. It means commonplace or ordinary. Every day (two words) is an adjective followed by a noun. The phrase simply means daily. For example: “Every day, the everyday activities of my life make me want to stab myself in the neck with a fork.”

Here’s another sentence to consider: “Every day, I think that Dave Matthews should have had a grammarian look at his album cover before he named an entire album ‘Everyday,’ unless he actually meant to say that his music is average or ordinary.”

Presently/Currently
Presently means soon. Currently means now. If you say you’re on your way presently, it means you haven’t left yet. If you say you’re on your way currently, then you are actually en route.

T-Shirts for Designers

Caution: If you read this post and consider any of the following articles of clothing stylish, cool, or even moderately acceptable your membership in the nerd herd is accepted, valid, and there is no turning back for you.

Several posts ago I wrote about the American Apparel Image as well as their popular t-shirts. Friend and reader of IBD, Joe Jacobs, referred us to another blog on design (not that he should be reading any other design blogs besides IBD) with a post on t-shirts for designers. After searching through the shirts, here are my favorites.  If you are looking for that holiday gift for that nerd in your life this post may help you (hint to my wife…I wish she read my blog).

Anatomy of A

Vonroxy has a nice “Anatomy of the Letter A” shirt that is sure to swoon as well as provide an interpretive opportunity discussing the ascender, mean line, and bowl of a letterform. IBD does not guarantee that this shirt will actually improve your chances with swooning. Based on actual results, the above shirt and typeography discussion could impair the swooning process.

Helvetica

They also offer the classic Helvetica shirt that is almost too mainstream for me now.  Just kidding, I really like it.

Kern

Collapse Design is offering an interesting collection of t-shirts with slogans based on design terms intertwined into pop culture phrases.

words_arent                                                                                   

UG Monk provides a great example of message within a message. They’ve got some great oversized letterform shirts too.

300

Who needs a drop down menu with a list of sans serif typefaces when you can wear them? Turn Nocturnal has a shirt with 300 sans serif typefaces screen printed in a interesting design.  Their “huge type looks sweet shirt”  is sweet too.

Whitespace

Veer (which happens to be great online source for various design needs) is offering more whitespace in your life and who couldn’t use more whitespace. They also offer an entire line of other products for nerd herd members like us. That’s right.  Accept your official membership into the herd.

Blogging: Not Just for Aging Sci-fi Fans Anymore

With the World Series effectively over, we now resume our regularly scheduled posts.

A person of Walmart as seen on the People of Walmart blogWhen we launched this site back in March, we asked the question, “Why do we think the world needs another blog?” The Internet is already saturated with the unsolicited opinions of countless middle-aged nerds living in their parents’ basements. Blogging has given us everything from sites like People of Walmart, in which Walmart shoppers make fun of other Walmart shoppers (pictured here), to more useful special-interest sites like Cloud 9 Organize & Redesign, which offers budget-friendly interior-design advice, just to name two of the countless examples out there.

The software that drives many blogs, including this one, is called WordPress. It makes it possible for people who don’t design websites to create and maintain their own online presence. During the Enlightenment, this would have been like giving every individual a printing press and an unlimited supply of paper. Seventeenth-century streets would have been littered with scraps of paper with comments like “René Descartes thinks therefore he’s an idiot” and “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace made me want to throw up my fig pudding.”

One interesting feature of WordPress is that it allows us to see how some Internet users arrive at IBD (which, for the benefit of my wife Sheila, stands for “Interpretation By Design”). We can see what browsers and operating systems our readers are using, the web page that referred them here, the pages that they viewed on this site, and even where those people are physically located. (At the time of this writing, we’ve had readers from the USA, Ukraine, Thailand, Brazil, and Canada in the last six hours.)

Admittedly, this is creepy.

Possibly the creepiest thing we can do is see what search terms Internet users have searched to reach our site. So all of you people in Parkin, Arkansas, who search the term “Shea Lewis” three times a day, we’re on to you. So far, my favorite search term that has landed someone on this site is “can you wear sweatpants to a museum.” I hope that person eventually found some guidance on the issue.

Some other recent search terms and the pages to which readers were referred include:

So this is the world of the Internet these days. Shea uses fashion as an analogy for breaking out of his interpretive comfort zone and this site starts getting visits from people too cheap to buy their own sweat pants or too skinny to find sweat pants that don’t fall down.

On the other hand, blogs significantly broaden the ability of organizations to inexpensively and regularly reach a worldwide audience. The National Association for Interpretation maintains five different blogs (listed under “NAI Blogs” in the sidebar on this site). None of these blogs can quite match the popularity of People of Walmart, which once crashed its server after receiving 2.6 million hits in one day. But NAI’s sites offer a great way for InterpPress authors and NAI leaders to share thoughts, ideas, and information that you will not find on NAI’s traditional website, InterpNet.

I especially encourage interpreters at small sites like community nature centers, historic sites, or museums to maintain blogs. You may find a whole new market of visitors and supporters you never knew were there. And more importantly, they may find you.

I recommend that you add content at least weekly, write seasonal or topical posts, promote the site in your newsletter and on your traditional website, and mention sweat pants a lot.