Kicking Around an Idea

We write about a lot of things on IBD not really related to interpretation or design. We like to write about sports, since neither of us have ever been accomplished athletes, despite our physiques. We comfort ourselves, from the tough times we had in high school (and all other parts of our lives) with the simple fact that we are good with computers (or as we refer to them, our high school sweet hearts) and our mastery of buffets.

Today is a first. I’m pretty sure in the history of IBD, and all of the sports banter, we have never written about soccer. It is possible we have used the phrases soccer mom, shin guards, and bangin’ minivan. I’m sure they were all in positive contexts too.

The football (that’s what well-cultured people call soccer) team in Sevilla, Spain, has introduced a new design element into their players’ uniforms, as well as a unique way to generate revenue. According to Wikipedia the Sevilla Fútbol Club S.A.D. (insert your own joke here about soccer being S.A.D.) “are one of the most successful clubs in Spanish football having won a 1 La Liga title, 5 Spanish ‘Copa del Rey’ Cups, 1 Spanish Super Cup and 2 UEFA Cups. Their sole league title was won in 1945-46, and their UEFA Cups were won under manager Juande Ramos in 2005 and 2006.” That all sounds really impressive.

I feel like I can trust Wikipedia, since they say this about the Philadelphia Phillies: “The age of the team and its history of adversity has earned it the dubious distinction of having lost the most games of any team in the history of American professional sports.” That’s how I fact check sources.

Anyway back to soccer, the Sevilla FC is selling the opportunity to be on the back of your favorite players, during a game. Not literally, virtually that is, in pixels. For $25 Euros (about $35 U.S. Dollars) you can submit a headshot that is placed into a collage that forms the number on a uniform. The number 14 above is what it looks like from a distance.

It is a 2×2 millimeter photo but still pretty cool. I’m sure they sell those jerseys as well. According to NESN.com each number consists of over 3000 images.

Let’s do some math: 3000 images times $35 per image times number of players on the team equals billions and billions of dollars. I’ve never claimed to be a mathematician. Perhaps I confused the number of players with the number of vuvuzelas at a match. It is still a lot of money and an original idea.

The design component is also visually interesting. I see potential for use at interpretive centers’ donor walls as well as program elements. The idea could easily be adapted into volunteers’ uniforms or a unique way to thank visitors. Of course it could be connected to resale by developing products that incorporate all of the bird species that could be found at a site.

I wonder how much I would have to pay to ride on the back of Derek Jeter during a game?

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.

#2

There are many good baseball players out there, but few truly great players. (Yes, this is going to be another weak baseball analogy weakly tied to something like interpretation or interpretive design that you actually care about.) My all-time favorite New York Yankee player (I don’t have to say great since it is a preconceived notion that no other Major League Baseball teams have great players, there is also a discussion that every player to ever wear the pinstripes is great but that’s an analogy for another blog post.) is Derek Jeter.

Those who have been paying attention to the Yankees over the last few weeks (even if just for the ability to chastise me on Facebook) may have noticed that overall the team is getting older and don’t have the spunk of 2009 (when they beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series). At some point even the greatest players get old and despite the ability jump, turn and throw in mid-air, it all comes down to what you have contributed lately. Jeter has been primarily contributing ground balls to the short stop.

I feel bad for Jeter. He his resume speaks for itself. He has been a machine for years, has 5 World Championship rings, as well as many other titles but in an attempt to retain you as a reader (yes, we honestly try; well, I guess it could be debated that Paul’s grammar posts are counterproductive) here’s the part that I’m really struggling with, Jeter turns 37 next month and so do I.

Over the last few months I have been feeling old myself. As a player, he is past is prime and as a professional baseball player, rating his contribution to the team is easily measurable, or is it? How do I know if I’m still a player and contributing in my field of play? (Which is much like Yankee Stadium minus the applause and 50,287 spectators, but still plenty of hot dogs.)

Some time ago I wrote about staying relevant (Relevance for the Irrelevant) and this could be considered an extension of that post or part two (of Shea getting old). As interpretive designers we are often working as a team. Someone may be contributing artwork, text, concepts, funds, or ideas while others may be responsible for design, layout, technological support, or supervision. In some cases you could be carrying all of those responsibilities. I find myself on many design/project/problem-solving teams in my course of work. I just want to make sure that I’m contributing so that I don’t get moved from short stop to right field, to the designated hitter slot, or even worse shipped off to the National League.

Here are some ways that I’m working to stay relevant in a team environment.

If I’m in a leadership role I try to provide clear expectations of the group and outline responsibilities without taking over the creative process. Teetering between manager and player is a delicate balance of providing direction, creating goals and objectives, while allowing the strengths of each member shine. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of players will guide your decisions about specific roles. Groups are often looking for a leader. If you are in that role, lead.

If I’m not in a leadership role I view my primary responsibility as being supportive. I have to set aside any personal agendas and let the process take place. The best part of doing this is that it takes an amazing amount of pressure off of me of know what the end product will be and allows me to focus on my role (supporting others) and my responsibilities. Working in this way is rewarding and productive.

Don’t forget about the intangibles that you can bring to a collaborative effort. Respect, attention to detail, positive attitude and being prepared can go a long way in reaching goals.

I don’t think it is time for Derek Jeter to lay down and call it quits. He may have to adapt his  role as a leader and a player in order to lead the Yankees to their next title.

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.

Blogging Blog

I should have thought about this long before I went to Paul and said, “Hey, we should start an IBD blog.” Knowing that Paul would be looking for anything to do (in an attempt to take away the pain of being a redhead and a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies), I should have known that he would have taken the idea and run with it. Of course we put some thought into it (and by some I mean some), but really what is the purpose of this blog and blogging in general? Really, I’m asking you. What is the purpose of this blog and blogging in general? Again I need your help.

This post is a continued thought process, path of self-discovery, and evaluation that began in my post last week (Relevance for the Irrelevant), in which I challenged our readers to tell us what it is about IBD that keeps us relevant in your lives. As always, we both appreciated the comments and constructive criticism that was left in the comments section (Jen, for your benefit there will be no “stabs at humor” in this post, only critical lunges).

From the beginning of IBD we have stated that the purpose of the blog is to make the world a better place one post and typeface at a time. Which is a fancy way of saying we have such a big and lofty goal that it cannot be accomplished and therefore we can write about any topic we want and it applies to our mission. Since we put very little (uh, I mean some) thought into why we blog, I decided to research why it is that others blog. I was hoping that through this process it would improve our end product for you but realized many of the conclusions I was drawing may apply to your interpretive site, consulting business, or design firm.

For the longest time I have operated under the concept “If others are doing it, I should do it too.” That, along with the statement, “Come on, I’ll be your best friend,” have gotten me in a lot of trouble. Now that I’m a parent (eh, blogger) I understand the statement, “If others are jumping off a bridge, are you going to as well?”

Why should we blog? The Graphic Design Blender blog (yes, this is reference to a blog about blogging on a blog about blogging, and if you look closely at the image above it is a picture of this blog, with a picture of this blog, embedded with a picture of this blog) list the following as most common reasons for designers to blog: establish yourself as an authority with the design community, create good relationships with other designers, become “popular” and generate a large following, or make money.

Wow, those are great reasons for having a design blog and sure this is a design-ish-type blog. But let’s face it, no one respects our authority, our relationships are nothing short of artificial, becoming popular would be awesome but it hasn’t happened in our combined 74 years of life, and no one is making money. Okay, I’m not sure if I answered my own question about why we should blog.  So, let’s move on.

Why should you blog? (I like that question, since it takes the heat off of us and puts it on you. Paul, maybe we shouldn’t be blogging.) For the two years I have been writing on this blog, I have learned more than I have shared. I’m not holding back, but the practice of blogging teaches discipline in writing and makes you look at world in a different way in order to share your voice. If you are considering a blog for your interpretive site, you will become immersed in your resources in an attempt to have something to share.

After spending 16 years working at interpretive sites, I know how easy it is to begin to take where you work for granted. Blogging can cause you to find details, try new things, and explore in a way that may or may not have done in a while. You might just remember what it was that drew you to that location in the first place before the emails and evaluations took you away.

I have a short attention span in general and blogging has taught me dedication. What was I saying here? I don’t know really but I’ve got to finish this post because I know four people will read it. Oh, maybe that’s what I was saying. When you have an audience that cares about your subject or resource, you place more effort in being the expert and leaving no stone unturned (literally or figuratively). I joked above about our relationships being nothing short of artificial, which is totally untrue. It wasn’t necessarily a planned objective but lifelong friendships and relationships (I predict the first IBD marriage will be in 2013 where Paul and I will have to draw straws to see who will be the best man and who gets to design the invitations) have been developed through IBD. Relationships to your site, story, or products can be developed in the same way.

Blogging can drive your creative prowess for you and your audiences. For us it has led us to research the history of typefaces (okay, Paul already did that on weekends), visiting unusual places, carrying our cameras everywhere (even bathrooms), and visiting new baseball stadiums (okay that has nothing to do with what it can do for you). If you blog about your site, you will become a better interpreter of that resource for your audiences (who it is all about). In blogging though, you should know who you want your audience to be. This is difficult for interpreters who are used to meeting the needs of various audiences and mixed audiences. As a blogger you can build your own audience but you have to know who that is to do it right and be successful.

Design Blender states that designers who want to attract clients should blog about basic design principles, how to find a good designer, and what to expect when working with a designer. If you are interested in attracting designers you should blog about inspiration, interviews, and advanced design tutorials. For interpretive sites who want to attract support, you should blog about mission, core values, staff, offer interviews, and discuss current topics. If you are interested in attracting visitors you should blog about topics that may create discussion, discuss events, post images that will attract, offer something behind the scenes, list possibilities, and share experiences.

Paul, we should talk. After all, you promised to be my best friend.

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.

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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.