Being Square With All Audiences

Warning: This post contains no baseball references, while Paul and I take a break to recover from our teams’ sudden departure from the postseason. (At least the Yankees didn’t get beat by a wildcard team empowered by a squirrel.)

For some time I have wanted to write something about designing for those with disabilities. As with most things I write, I have the concept but no specific direction. If you regularly read IBD, you know this already. During this pensive time of reflection (or procrastination as my wife calls it) I received an email link related to a different twist on the classic Rubik’s Cube toy for blind persons. While trying to learn more about the thought processes behind this modern twist, I came across someone else’s idea of designing for those with visual impairments (or other disabilities), that I had to share. I think you will be happy, for once, since I didn’t write it.

It seems as most of the buzz online began with German designer Konstantin Datz’s version at the Museum of Modern Art. According to the MOMA website:

 Datz has reimagined the popular Rubik’s Cube for people who cannot see the toy’s original colors. Datz stuck white panels embossed with the Braille words for each color over the squares, transforming the game from a visual puzzle into a tactile one.

For those with normal sight, the design is simple and striking. This is an excellent reminder that keeping a design simple and clean is always a great approach.

As I mentioned above, I came across a perspective that was so well written I had to use it here. The website is Drawar, The Imagination Community, a unique approach to a design blog (very different from IBD that could be categorized as unique for very different reasons).

In the post about Datz’s cube the following statements were made on Drawar:

When you are designing something there is a chance you have the luxury of being able to see it, hear it, feel it, or taste it. I know I often times forget that having all of these senses is a luxury and that there are millions upon millions of folks who aren’t afforded such things. How will they interact with the stuff that I design? When you start to consider this for even a second you see that your perspective on a design changes just a little bit.

It can be almost impossible to provide the exact experience for everyone in the world, but that doesn’t mean the experience for people with disabilities shouldn’t be as fulfilling to them as it is to someone else. Whenever I write I want everyone to be able to access and read my words. People without sight won’t be able to see my plain sense of design, but at least they will get to the real experience which is the words.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well, maybe I could have but it would have involved at totally unrelated story in a weak attempt to create an analogy and would have involved many more parentheses.

 

Odds and Ends: Jersey Shore Edition

I have recently returned from my annual family vacation to Ocean City, New Jersey, during which I consumed 39 consecutive cheese-based meals. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.) Here are some things:

Enxitr
I found this sign at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier (whose website is a wonderland of animated gifs) on the Ocean City boardwalk. I had just sent a handful of kids (not sure they were all with me—they start to look alike after a while) on their last ride of the day, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this. The Really Cool Teenager working the ride gave me a bizarre look when I crouched down to take the photo, but I was not to be deterred. I liked the sign so much I added it to the rotating images in the header of this website (there’s a one-in-eight chance it’s at the top of this page as you read right now).

This sort of thing is one of the many reasons I always have a camera with me. (Another reason: the off chance that I might end up sitting next to Natalie Portman on a roller coaster at the boardwalk.)

Philly Birds
I have been a lot less productive since my co-worker Carrie told me that there are three free versions of the Angry Birds app. Also, my family has descended into a Lord of the Flies-style chaos in which the person who possesses the iPad is ruler of the tribe and the only one allowed to speak.

This T-shirt (which I received as a birthday gift while at the shore) from Cheesesteak Tees plays off the Angry Birds aesthetic and references the Philadelphia Eagles football team through the use of green. (Also, many naturalists will tell you that eagles are a kind of bird, so it’s a clever connection.)

I’d love to see an interpretive site promote a program through a “Friendly Birds” or “Happy Birds” campaign. (Please share it with us if you do!)

Everyday Peeves
I won’t tell you the name of the place where I saw these signs because I don’t want an angry flash grammar mob to descend on my favorite ice cream shop. But I will say that the deliciousness of my hot fudge sundaes (cheese sauce on the side) was tempered by these gross violations of two grammar pet peeves: 1. The unnecessary use of quotation marks (which make you wonder if they’re being sarcastic about something), and 2. The use of “everyday” (common, average) when they meant “every day” (how often I eat ice cream when I’m on vacation).

By the way, I didn’t notice until I posted this image here that my sister was peering out at me from the other side of the glass door while I took this photo.

Scriptwurst Hi
Last year, when I went to the shore, it was swarming with people wearing T-shirts with the word “ill” extracted from the Phillies logo. (I wrote about it here.) The next new fad, I hope, is this very friendly “hi” T-shirt, also extracted from the Phillies logo, from a company called Zoo With Roy. (The company’s name is explained in its tagline: “I want to go to the zoo with Roy Halladay.” They do another great T-shirt that says, “Ask me about my pitching staff.”)

This T-shirt (another birthday gift) accentuates how round and cheery the Phillies typeface, Scriptwurst, is. (I wrote about that back in 2009 here.) I particularly like this design because the single, tiny word “hi” in such a friendly typeface is an unexpected contrast to the somewhat negative national perception of the Philadelphia sports fan. (Note: People who say or think bad things about Philadelphia sports fans are morons and jerks who should be punched in the face.)

Mystery Message
Finally, this T-shirt was another birthday gift. I’ve included it here because some people do not understand the shirt’s meaning—and some have trouble simply identifying the typographic characters that make up the message. I’m curious what the IBD Nerd Herd thinks of it.

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m off to the Fort Collins Cheese Detox Center. If you’re in town, please stop by. I’ll be the guy in the T-shirt.

Plagiarism: The “Orange is Controversial” Controversy

We love it when other websites link to IBD. Whenever we see that we’re getting hits from another site, we click right away to see if we need to alert our web host that we’re going viral. (“Batten down the hatches! Della Jane’s baseball quilting group posted a link on Facebook!”)

So when I saw a few weeks ago that we had gotten a couple hits from a site called Dream Stream, I went to check it out. It was a surreal, Inception-esque moment when I saw on this other site my own words from a recent post about the color orange. And not just a few of my words, but all of them from that post (though none of the images from the post were included, which is a little funny, because the text specifically references the images). I don’t want to link to the site, but you can see a bigger version of the screen capture below by clicking on it.

It was even more jarring to see that not only was I not credited for the article, but someone named Philippe was.

I should point out that I get called Phil all the time. One person I know has called me Phil for the better part of a decade, and I was once quoted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (true story!) as “Phil Caputo.”

I have several theories for this: There’s a famous author named Philip Caputo (no relation). The names Phil and Paul are easy to confuse since they both start with P and end with L, and they have the same number of letters. And finally, I root for the Phillies. (I sometimes wonder if IBD Phil and Other IBD Phil root for the Paulies.)

But I don’t think it was confusion over my name that caused my intellectual property to show up on another website attributed to someone else.

It was difficult to find contact information for the site, which is run by a company in Brussels. Comments on the blog post were closed, so after some research, I found a general mailing address on the company’s Facebook page and sent a message indicating my displeasure and asking them to remove the post. I received this response:

Dear mister Caputo,

Please accept my apologies for this. We usually put the source of each article on our internal blog. We have added your source immediately to the article. I hope this suits your request.

Kind regards,
Philippe De Wulf

Philippe had added this attribution at the bottom of the article:

I debated writing back and saying that it was not enough, and I debated trying to start a Cooks Source magazine style Internet campaign against Dream Stream (see Nerd Rage: A Response to Internet Thievery). But the wind was out of my sails. I had received an apology and attribution, though not exactly in flashing neon lights (I should have asked for my name in an animated starburst), and the prospect of a trans-Atlantic copyright battle seemed fruitless.

So words that I wrote still exist on this other site, looking to all the world like they were written by Philippe. At the very least, Dream Stream’s use of my words falsely attributed to someone else is immoral. At the most, it’s illegal copyright infringement. I can’t say for certain whether the folks at Dream Stream are simply ignorant or actively malicious, but this episode is a reminder that it’s incredibly easy to steal copyrighted materials that exist online, and that there’s a gross misunderstanding of what that little copyright symbol at the bottom of the page means.

I likely never would have known that I had been plagiarized if Philippe had thought to remove links to IBD’s other “Get to Know a Color!” articles contained within “Orange is Controversial,” but I get the idea that he didn’t look too carefully at the article before taking credit for it.

All of that being said, I hope Philippe’s Belgian friends got a big laugh at his insightful and hilarious jab at the New York Mets.

A Moment, Captured

The top four moments in my life—and I am careful not to rank these in any particular order—are my wedding day, the birth of each of my two children, and the final pitch of the 2008 World Series. For each of these moments, there is an emblematic photograph—an official wedding portrait by a river in the Colorado mountains almost 10 years ago, hospital-sanctioned portraits of the grotesque, misshapen heads of my newborn children (they’re much cuter now), and Phillies pitcher Brad Lidge on his knees at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia with his hands raised to the heavens as a city celebrates around him.

Really good photographs are like interpretive presentations. They capture our interest, tell an engaging story, and invite us to investigate further. My Japanese friend Masanori Shintani recently shared the above photograph of his daughter Aina with me. At first, it looked like a nice vacation photo, and the idyllic location—El Nido beach in the Philippines—is certainly somewhere I’d like to go. My interest was captured by the composition—the rule of thirds has been used effectively, the calming blue-green color palette is punctuated with bright warm colors—and the story it tells, of a gleeful child running along the beach, is uplifting. But it was the further investigation that turned the meaning of this image on its head (so to speak).

You don’t have to look long before you realize that there’s a rope that attaches the small blue and white boat in the image to some unseen anchor on the shore. Aina, running at full speed, has cleared the rope with her right foot, but her left foot is planted perilously in the sand underneath it. The way Masa tells the story, a split second after this photograph was taken, his daughter face-planted in the sand. (He laments not having an “after” picture, but his daddy mode kicked in and he ran to tend to his daughter.)

Suddenly, as I was looking at it, this image went from being a nice vacation photo to being packed with the energy of the moment to come. It stands on the razor-thin precipice between the glee of a playing child and the thump of a face on wet sand. It’s filled with conflict—you can practically feel the tropical breeze and the lulling motion of the anchored boats, but there’s a visceral reaction to the realization that this happy moment will end with a wet slap.

The real power of the image isn’t revealed until you discover the story behind it.

Unfortunately, photography can be used to disguise truths rather than reveal them. A story on CNN, ‘The sexy lady’ and other hotel photo tricks, shows how hotels use unscrupulous photography (and Photoshop) techniques and unrealistic-looking models to lure travelers. For some reason, I am on the email list for the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, which uses the attractive model technique to advertise its pool. My own experience is that the Luxor pool feels more like a Tony Siragusa family reunion than the natural habitat for exotic models.

I am usually distrustful of photographs, if for no other reason than that people tell me that I look like Clay Aiken in my photo on the back of IBD (the book), and I know for a fact that I look like a cross between Ted Koppel and Howdy Doody. (Besides, I look nothing like Clay Aiken; he’s wearing a suit, and he parts his hair on the other side of his head.)

However, photographs can be powerful interpretive tools, used to create impact and emotional connections. And like all forms of communication, any photograph that draws viewers in and communicates on multiple levels, as the photo of Aina above did with me, can be considered successful.

Just be sure you’re using photography for good rather than evil.

Seeing Red (and Some Green)

A few days ago Paul and I were talking. After several minutes of Paul taunting me about the Phillies’ acquisition of ace pitcher Cliff Lee (underbidding the Yankees), the conversation turned to IBD. I have mentioned before that as baseball fans we tend to get a bit competitive about numbers and statistics. Paul felt compelled to mention that two of his posts (Knowing Your Audience is Ill and Get to Know a Color! Yellow Makes Babies Cry) held the single-day record for hits or visits to the website. He felt compelled to give me an honorable mention by saying that one of my posts (Momemts in Error) held the record for the number of comments made by readers. Paul went on to write a post about how those two posts of his were circulated through social media to audiences beyond interpreters and interpretive designers, and went viral (by our standards) online.

Because I’m competitive, I have decided to write this post on the colors of Christmas and why I feel “ill” when I see anything related to Philadelphia professional sports. It is my hope that I can tap into the same audiences that made Paul’s posts go viral, and that the fine folks at Colour Lovers will feel compelled to share my post with their huge following. Also, I hope that the fine folks (TBD) of Philavania will be filled with dismay at my post and therefore compelled to visit our site to badger me and defend their teams’ honor, while inadvertently giving my post a hit. This will pass the record baton to me and beat Paul at his own game [insert evil laugh].

Here’s the problem: My post hits two days before Christmas on a state and federal holiday for most, as well during a time when many have more important things to do, I hope, than reading or commenting on this blog. This is really no different from any other Thursday; I just have an excuse this time around.

Let’s start with the colors of Christmas, red and green. Most can’t help but recognize this complementary color pairing as being related to the holiday. In fact, when I see designers using green and red, it reminds me of Christmas (even when Paul used them on this promotional piece for the upcoming NAI International Conference in Panama). I also have a difficult separating David Lee Roth from the same piece, but that has more to do with Panama than Christmas. These two colors together do remind me of The Muppets: A Green and Red Christmas album that just happens to have a moving rendition of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Gonzo the Great and Rizzo the Rat.

If you are interested in looking at colors and Christmas in a new light, check out the website Christmas By Colour, which offers Christmas cards similar to Pantone color swatches with names like Quality Street, Sprouts, Yellow snow, Mulled wine, End of the Sellotape, Park Lane & Mayfair, Bank Balance, Granny’s Whiskers, After Eights, Bucks Fizz, Pigs in Blankets, and Walking in the Air.

When making design decisions, holiday color meanings should be taken into consideration. Just in case you were wondering, there are specific reasons why red and green are connected to the holiday. For a full description of the meanings behind red and green at Christmas, you can read these eHow articles on the subject. Some of the origins may surprise you.

If I wanted to steal Paul’s thunder for his upcoming post Get to Know a Color! Red and/or Green, I might write something like Wikipedia has on the colors:

The word red comes from the Old English rēad. Further back, the word can be traced to the Proto-Germanic rauthazand the Proto-Indo European root reudh-. In Sanskrit, the word rudhira means red or blood. In the English language, the word red is associated with the color of blood, certain flowers (e.g. roses), and ripe fruits (e.g. apples, cherries). Fire is also strongly connected, as is the sun and the sky at sunset. Healthy light-skinned people are sometimes said to have a “ruddy” complexion (as opposed to appearing pale). After the rise of socialism in the mid-19th century, red was used to describe revolutionary movements.

The word green is closely related to the Old English verb growan, “to grow”. It is used to describe plants or the ocean. Sometimes it can also describe someone who is inexperienced, jealous, or sick. In the United States of America, green is a slang term for money, among other things. Several colloquialisms have derived from these meanings, such as “green around the gills”, a phrase used to describe a person who looks ill.

Of course that really doesn’t help you that much, and Paul does a much better job of making the subjects of color interesting (and by much better I mean somewhat better), so I will leave it up to him. Okay now Colour Lovers is never going to pick up and share this post.

I did notice that the last line of the Wikipedia information mentioned the word ill. The primary colors of the two major Philadelphia teams happen to be red for the Phillies and green for the Eagles (photo courtesy www.the700level.com). This is no coincidence. There are two other professional teams there as well, but no one takes the 76ers or the NBA very seriously, and I can’t remember what that other ice-based professional sport is called. I guess there is no better time to be a Philadelphia sports fan with a felon quarterback leading an otherwise excellent team and a baseball team working hard to be considered a team not buying a World Championship, while buying a World Championship. Now that will make you ill and provides new meaning to those catchy shirts. Okay, that’s not even close enough to make Philavania get fired up. I should have used more curse words.

Okay, so maybe this post was a bit competitive and mildly bitter.

All kidding aside, Paul and I both hope you have a great holiday season. Thank you for being a part of our lives and making our year a memorable one, as well as helping me assume all IBD records.

The “So What?” of Social Media

When it comes to social media, there are basically two camps: the adopters and the resisters. The adopters jump into some or all of the social media outlets with both feet, tweeting, poking, tagging, posting, and doing all those other social media things that 10 years ago would have had entirely different meanings (I still giggle when someone tells me they’re “Googling”).

Meanwhile, the social media resisters spend their time sending the social media adopters snarky images like this:

This particular image, a Venn diagram available as a T-shirt from Despair, Inc., was sent to us by social media resister Phil Broder. And of course, we immediately posted it on our Facebook page.

I am firmly in the social media adopter camp, not just personally but for organizations as well. It has the ability to benefit your site (physical or virtual) in two distinct ways: cultivation of a core community and exposure to a vast, anonymous audience.

We use the IBD Facebook page partly to help build community and partly as a repository for JibJab videos. We don’t have as many followers as, say, Starbucks (we’re about 18.7 million fans shy), but Facebook has become a place where IBD readers share photos, links, and jokes about Shea’s wardrobe. It’s another venue to carry on the conversation, and that’s why we do this in the first place. (Note: As I was writing this, I became aware that IBD should be on Twitter, if for no other reason than to know what it is and how it works. So we started a Twitter account last week.)

We’ve both mentioned in the past that we’re obsessed with numbers, specifically the number of daily hits that we get on this blog. We’re aware that we probably have about 25 actual readers and that the rest of our hits come from Russian teenagers who accidentally stumble on our site looking for tips on stylish suspenders. While that core community of 25 readers (okay, 23 readers, plus our wives) is essential, there’s a certain thrill to seeing a post go even moderately viral.

We’ve enjoyed several occasions when social media unexpectedly drove lots of traffic to IBD.

August 2, 2010: At the time, “Ill Monday” was our heaviest day of traffic ever. On that day, an IBD post about a T-shirt that says “Ill” in the Phillies font got posted to the Facebook page of the company that makes the shirt, Philavania, driving a small fraction of their more than 17,000 fans to our page.

October 30, 2010: We set a new high on “Blue Saturday,” when a post about the color blue got Tweeted by a site called COLOURlovers to its 430,000 followers. The post got retweeted a handful of times and social media landed a bunch of people who had likely never before heard of us on our site.

December 5, 2010: This is the most random one of all. If you’re on Facebook, you surely noticed earlier this month that people changed their profile photos to cartoon characters to raise awareness about child abuse. I don’t know whether the campaign met its goals, but on “Tassie Sunday,” it did succeed in driving a record number of hits to our site, nearly all of them people doing Google image searches for the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil character and landing on an IBD post about the actual animal from back in May.

December 11, 2010: Just two days ago, COLOURlovers tweeted another of our posts, Yellow Makes Babies Cry, and we had just installed that green Twitter button that you see at the top of each post, allowing readers to easily share the post with their Twitter followers. The post got retweeted 44 times (as of this writing) and we had a new record.

This begs the Freeman Tilden question: So what? What’s the advantage of having a bunch of random people looking for cartoons stumble across our website, surely only for a few moments? It’s not as though Phillies fans who want to read about a trendy T-shirt are suddenly going to buy up the remaining stock of the book.

The nature of social media is that 99.9 percent of the people who accidentally stumble across this or any other site leave without a second thought. We tend to incorporate a lot of nonsense about baseball and our personal lives into posts about interpretation and design, so a lot of our traffic is from people who are not in either field, but that remaining fraction of a percent may stay to become part of the conversation, or at least lurk in the background like teenage Shea at a high school dance.

It costs nothing except time to maintain a social media presence, and the benefits can be exponential. Suppose your interpretive site deals with a specific historical event. A regularly updated blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed about that event may cultivate a core readership—which to me is where the real value is—but the occasional post that unexpectedly goes viral will expose your interpretive site to a vast audience of new readers and potential visitors.

And for those readers (or fans or followers or whatever) who become part of your core audience, social media creates a distinct and important sense of community. For instance, I’ve been told that the conversations that take place on the National Association for Interpretation’s Facebook page help bridge the gap from one NAI Workshop to the next.

I’ve also been told that I am an awesome dancer, which I am not. I’m pretty sure that has something to do with JibJab videos. And I’ve been told that I have a lumpy head. I thought this had something to do with photos of me getting my head shaved at the NAI National Workshop last month, but it turns out it was just people being mean.

If your site does not have a social media presence, I’d encourage you to get one. The benefits are hard to quantify, but they are real.