A Work in Progress: The 2012 NAI International Conference Identity

People who communicate for a living have to be ready for a variety of reactions when they put something out there for public consumption. As a visual communicator, I have created things that people hate (see my first attempt at a logo for last year’s NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas) and some things that have been more well-received (see the identity for last month’s NAI International Conference in Panama). The one reaction I do not know what to do with is silence.

When NAI announced the location and dates of the upcoming NAI Pacific Islands International Conference (Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, May 8-12, 2012), I posted a link to the conference website on the IBD Facebook page and asked for feedback. Perhaps I posted it at a moment when there were not a lot of people online, or perhaps Facebook’s popularity is fading and people just aren’t using it as much as they used to, but when I checked back later in anticipation of a handful of comments, there was very little—a couple of likes and one, “Looks good. Sign me up!”

We know from our surveys that one of the reasons people attend the NAI International Conference is its location, so each year, I focus my design decisions on the site of the event. In the identity for the Pacific Islands International Conference, I used an iconic Hawai’i photo by Gregory Runyan (which I found on stock.xchng, my favorite source for free, high-quality photography) in part because it establishes a sense of place and in part because it fits with the color palette that I wanted to use. (I’m calling the color palette “pastel primary”—a sort of tropical, relaxed blue, yellow, and red.)

One problem with the photo is that it raises questions of whether the palm tree is native to Hawai’i. (The answer is not simple: Palms are not technically native to Hawai’i, but some of them have been there for a really long time, since the days of the early Polynesian settlers.) Another problem is that one person’s “iconic” is another person’s “boring” or “predictable.” That second person is my wife.

The words “Pacific Islands” are set in a distressed script typeface called Marcelle Script, which I found on DaFont, another great resource. I’m using Marcelle Script because I feel it reflects the relaxed, comfortable environs of the event. If you visit the link to that typeface, you’ll notice that it’s “free for personal use.” If I stick with Marcelle Script in the final version of this identity, I’ll be sure to make a donation to the designer.

And on a technical typographic note, because we’re honoring the indigenous spelling of the name Hawai’i, you’ll see it spelled with that diacritical mark before the last I, which it turns out is not just an apostrophe. Because I have Adobe InDesign set to use smart (curly) quotes and apostrophes (as you should, too), I have to jump through some hoops to get the appropriate, straight-up-and-down mark. In InDesign, I select Type > Insert Special Character > Quotation Marks > Straight Single Quotation Mark. (Unfortunately, there is no way to do this online that I know of, so I’m using an apostrophe here.)

So that’s the thinking that has gone into this website so far. And while the reaction has been generally positive, it has also been luke warm, which fills me with angst. So I set about looking for some other options.

This image by Margan Zajdowicz shows the distinctive lava rock of the Hawaiian beach, but with this cropping, as my co-worker Jamie points out, it looks like it’s promoting a conference about oil spills. (Also, if you visit the link to the image, you’ll see that this cropping eliminates the endearing word “Aloha” written in the sand.)

I like the color palette and general feeling of this image by NAI Executive Director Tim Merriman, but I hesitate to use it because most of the conference will be held above the surface of the water.

The same goes for this photo, also by Tim Merriman.

So that’s where I am now. They say that a graphic designer never finishes a project, but is sometimes forced to stop working on it (like when it goes to press). With this event nearly a year away, I could spend 11 months tweaking the identity and never be completely happy with it.

And as you may have guessed, I welcome your feedback.

PC Time Machine

I need a time machine for three reasons. Number 1: I work at an archeological state park and would love to take interpretation of a prehistoric Mississippian Indian village to a whole new level of accuracy and immersion. Number 2: I think it would be great to see my grandfather playing baseball in his heyday being scouted by the big leagues prior going off to fight in World War II. Number 3: I would insist to my third grade teacher that I really, really need to go to the restroom prior to the unfortunate incident that took place in front of the entire class in 1982.

If there is anyone out there that could invent a time machine it is probably the fine folks at Google. You were probably expecting me to say Steve Jobs or Apple. If you thought that, you don’t know me well enough. The time machine invented by Apple would never work since they would be too worried about what it looked like and all of the other things it could do besides taking you back in time in the first place. I’m sure they could get it done but it would still require a snap-on case that would keep from dropping you off at a Boy George and Culture Club concert in 1984. If Apple made it, the cost would be prohibitive for most, but if Google had one it would be free. Again I digress. Google Maps has created a new partnership with HistoryPin.com to create a new social network of historic images and stories that is a virtual time machine.

When developing personal and nonpersonal interpretive media that involves interpreting the historic fabric of an era images immediately come to mind as being useful. There’s nothing like looking through old images related to your resource. But how do you convey change that has taken place? How can you establish a sense of place from a time period to the place you are standing at now? HistoryPi has an approach that could be a great interpretive tool and create a dynamic community.

Here’s how the resource works. You post a picture, current or historic, and tell the story of the picture to anyone who is interested. You could do this from your own photo collection or from your interpretive site’s collection. Since HistoryPin is partnered with Google Maps the uploaded pictures are connected or pinned to a searchable digital map. Since Google has already photographed the entire world, the uploaded images are connected to Google’s images that can create an overlay of the two images interacting the past with the present or developing different perspectives on your images. The stories are there as well, creating the platform for discussions, connections, and sharing. If you posted pictures of your site a community could be formed though comments and others’ shared stories.

The entire concept of HistoryPin is sponsored by a larger movement known as We Are What We Do. The project has three implications: The obvious historical/cultural resource offered by HistoryPin, the community around those participating on HistoryPin (by posting a picture and a story they are reaching We Are What We Do Action 132: Share a piece of your history), and the social implication of someone with an idea taking the idea that helps make the world a better place. Which just happens to be one of the original goals of IBD, except instead of preserving history and connecting people, Paul and I are creating a database of rants and a virtual junior high school dance.

I love this approach because it aligns so well with what interpretation should be doing at our sites. Not only should a program or piece of media be purposeful, organized, enjoyable, and thematic, but it should be relevant to the lives of the person participating as well as those creating it.

For the record, being dropped by Apple at a Boy George and Culture Club concert is not such a bad thing. That was my first concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis in 1984. I’m going to see if I can dig up some images of my aunt and me to post on HistoryPin that involve the coliseum.

Great Expectations: Lessons from Los Angeles

Last week, Shea and I conducted a two-day workshop for employees of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) in Los Angeles. Before I go on, I have to thank Amy Lethbridge, MRCA’s deputy executive officer, whose idea it was for us to present the session, and Jamie Cabral, MRCA’s chief of interpretation, who went to great lengths to plan and implement a full and truly entertaining itinerary for those hours outside the session.

Amy and Jamie were extremely generous with their time and energy, so the next time you’re in Los Angeles, find them and give them a big hug. Amy even gave me a Dodgers hat to take home to my six-year-old son, and while I had to burn the hat because it says Dodgers on it, it was still a very nice gesture.

Jamie spent the better part of Wednesday showing us all the LA sites only tourists visit.

Neither Shea nor I had ever been to LA, so when Jamie picked us up at the airport the day before the session, our heads were filled with preconceptions but very little actual knowledge of the city. When Jamie asked us what we wanted to see, we said, “The stupidest, most brainless tourist stuff you can think of.” This is how we ended up eating at Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles in Hollywood at 10:00 that night.

Our time in Los Angeles (seen here from Vista Hermosa Natural Park, an MRCA site) was an interesting lesson in how our expectations of a place affect our experiences at that place. This is why it is important that brochures, websites, and other media portray an accurate sense of place and convey interpretive themes to visitors who have not yet arrived at a site. Nonpersonal interpretive media are often the first contact visitors have with a site, so they create expectations that will affect visitors’ experiences.

My image of Los Angeles was based almost exclusively on what I have seen in movies, so I knew that certain preconceptions wouldn’t hold up. We arrived to find that the city had not been destroyed by a volcano, climate-change-induced tornadoes, or alien overlords, so that was a good start to the day. And we found that places like Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier are indeed populated, at least in part, by attractive people on roller blades, so our good luck continued.

Seeing the famous Hollywood sign from the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard itself was a thrill simply because it is famous. However, the sensation was the exact opposite of what I have experienced at sites like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. I’ll never forget looking over the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time, in part because no photograph or preconception can ever prepare you for what you see in person. The Hollywood sign and Hollywood Boulevard, on the other hand, look precisely like what you think they’re going to look like, which is why the only people standing there taking pictures of it are tourists like Shea and me.

One of the highlights of the trip was being in the studio audience for a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show, which Jamie set up for us because, I reiterate, she is so cool. I had prepared myself for the fact that the studio would be smaller than it appears on TV. I had not prepared myself for the fact that it would be way, way smaller than it appears on TV. Because I had envisioned an experience much glitzier in a slightly bigger space, I left feeling a little underwhelmed about the whole notion of late-night TV.

Before the show, the audience was instructed on how and when to laugh and applaud during the show—something I knew would happen. Afterwards, I found myself wondering why people like me would go along with these instructions, only to be essentially treated as a prop by the one person they were there to see, in this case Jimmy Kimmel. For some reason, audience members do comply without hesitation, which is why I found myself cheering wildly for a musical guest named Chantelle, whom I had previously never heard of. I’m still not sure I’m spelling her name correctly. (Note added September 11, 2010: Turns out it’s spelled Shontelle. See the video of our horrible high five on YouTube.)

I also wondered afterwards why I enjoyed it so much, which I absolutely did. Is it the proximity to fame, glitz, and glamor? Maybe it was because one of the best jokes of the night related to graphic design. Kimmel, channeling my professors from graduate school, critiqued the cover of the new book Kardashian Konfidential like this: “I imagine this is what it would look like if a unicorn got drunk on cosmos and vomited on a book. It’s easy on the eyes.”

Every preconception I had about seeing a Dodgers game in person was accurate. The stadium is beautiful—a monument to the game. The weather was perfect, and the palm trees scattered around the stadium (though not on the actual field—that may have spiced things up a bit) reinforced the fact that we were in one of the nicest places there is to watch a game. Again, it was a thrill to actually be in a place I had previously only seen and heard about through various media.

And the fans, per their reputation, arrived late in the game and left early. During the game, they amused themselves by doing the wave and bopping beach balls around the stands, even during tense, important moments. All of this was in complete keeping with my expectations.

Finally, the workshop was conducted at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, an MRCA site. I had an idea of what the setting would look like because I knew that the site is nestled among the same mountains where the TV show MASH was filmed. Fans of the show The Biggest Loser would perhaps recognize the setting, too, because it is filmed at the ranch.

As with any great experience, though, it was not the setting but the people who made the difference. The MRCA staff who participated in the workshop were a particularly engaging group, and they tolerated two days of our nonsense, which our wives will tell you is an impressive feat. Some workshop participants even took Shea birding over lunch.

Here we are at the King Gillette Ranch with Amy, who loves LA.

My experience in LA was indeed affected by my expectations. I was a bit let down by the glitz and glamor of Hollywood because, let’s face it, nothing can quite measure up to what is portrayed to the public. Other experiences exceeded my expectations—in part because my expectations were colored by friends telling me things like “It’s a big scary place” and “SO LONG, SUCKER!” The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (pictured here) and MRCA’s Vista Hermosa Natural Park in downtown Los Angeles were beautiful surprises, and seeing a game in Dodger Stadium was every bit the baseball experience I expected.

Ultimately, I left Los Angeles with highly positive associations, not because of Venice Beach or Jimmy Kimmel or even Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles, but because the time I spent there was with people like Amy, Jamie, and the MRCA staff, who see its beauty and are enthusiastic about sharing it with others.

Pistons poppin’, ain’t no stoppin’ now—Panama!

Continuing an annual tradition on this site, I will begin with a shameless plug on behalf of my employer: The National Association for Interpretation’s 2011 International Conference will be held in Panama, May 4-7, at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort about 30 minutes outside of Panama City. NAI’s International Conference on interpretation is one of the best events in the field and you should make it a point to be there. (I began this tradition last year, when NAI unveiled dates and a location for the 2010 event in Australia, and I made some promises in a post titled “Free Beer (in Australia) for Interpretation By Design Readers.” Little did I know that you can’t get Fosters in Australia.)

Because I like the NAI International Conference so much, I enjoy developing the website and publications associated with it. We’ve done surveys and know that the location is one of the primary reasons participants attend, so creating a sense of place when publicizing this conference is important. One of the challenges I run into, however, is that NAI is now six for six in selecting places I have never been to hold this event.

So once again this year, I set about the process of trying to make meaningful decisions with only my own preconceptions and what I could find online as background knowledge. I put together a template for the event’s website and posted it on the Interpretation By Design Facebook page with a note asking for feedback, some of which I’ll share below (with last names changed to initials to protect the identities of the snarky).

Type
Using expressive type is something of a departure for me. It’s even more of a departure for me to use expressive typefaces that are meant to emulate handwriting, because I find them insidious and stupid (not to put too fine a point on it). However, for Panama, I wanted something that conveyed a sense of fun and energy—a sort of typographic salsa dance. I think the typeface Luna Bar, which I found for free on one of our favorite free font websites, almost does the trick. (See our post, “Free Fonts!” for more about websites with free fonts.)

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One of the reasons I hate handwriting typefaces so much is that they don’t look like handwriting. For instance, when a character is repeated, as with the letter “a” in the example above, handwriting typefaces start to take on an even, un-handwriting-like cadence.

Panama_Script

One solution to this problem is to use multiple typefaces. In the example above, I’ve set the second and third “a” in the typefaces Christopher Hand and James Fajardo, both found on the site DaFont. So while I normally try to limit myself to two typefaces for an entire identity system, I’ve used three in one six-letter word for this event. (To quote Buster Bluth on Arrested Development, “We have unlimited juice? This party is going to be off the hook.”)

I thought this was a pretty good solution, though my wife pointed out that the style of the first “a” is so different from the second two that it still looks weird. But she doesn’t read this blog so I’m not going to worry about that. Some comments on the type that came in from our Facebook page include:

I like how you combined two different typefaces…;) (Amy F.)

I think I actually see three different fonts?? (Linda S.)

Amy and Linda are so clever.

Color and Image
An image of a palm leaf by John Nyberg found on the free stock photo website stock.xchng is the foundation for the color palette. I used red highlights because red is the complement to green and I wanted to create an intense, high-energy palette. The screen capture to the left above is what the site looked like when it was posted on Facebook. To the right is how it looks now, with some modifications made after comments came in. Some of those comments include:

I’m waiting for the Christmas comment. (Shea L.)

Shea, In Arkansas, is lime green a Christmas color? (Paul C.)

The red is just pink enough not to be Christmassy. (Amy F. )

I like the colors (even if they are sort of christmassy – is that a word?). (Linda S.)

Maybe add a toucan or something up in the left or right corners. (Jeff M.)

I’ve got to agree with Shea and the Christmas comment (slight reminder of Christmas) but a bird (maybe parrot?) in the corner as Jeff suggested would eliminate that issue. 🙂 (Lynda D.)

The idea that the particular green and bright red I had used might evoke Christmas had not occurred to me, but the comment came up enough that I thought I’d add some photos with other colors. Thankfully, photographer extraordinaire Jerry Bauer generously provided us with some of his photos from Panama, which will be extremely helpful as we continue to promote this event. I’ve used some of Jerry’s photos in the new website template and in the magazine ad pictured at the top of this post.

The Facebook comments continue:

I love the palm/palmetto leaf. I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other about the color or style of the text. (Rachel D.)

The design makes me want to put on lime green tights, grow my hair long (well, at least on the sides of my head), and sing Panama or Pa-na-ma (with hyphens). (Shea L.)

Excuse me while I go take a cold shower to get that image out of my head. (Amy F.)

Things can get weird on the IBD Facebook page.

Composition
This particular identity system has gotten a generally positive response (which, trust me, is not always the case). I was lucky to find a strong, high-resolution image for that eye-catching, top level of visual hierarchy, with expressive type and colorful supporting images to establish a sense of place. Still, the comments came in:

I like the colors and texture. But, to quote Shea: “There seems to be a heirarchy issue.” Is Panama the most important thing to see? I had to make a point of finding “NAI” and “international conference.” (Kelly F.)

I’m in agreement with the Kelly/Shea concern with hierarchy. (Linda S.)

To borrow a term from Jebediah Springfield, I embiggened the phrase “NAI International Conference” on the website and in the magazine ad. The palm leaf and the word Panama are still the most important, but the name of the event is not far behind.

One final comment:

Like the design, like the layout, like the colours…. hate the fact it’s in tables – any chance of getting some lovely semantic html and css to shape that layout? (once you learn css you will love what it can do for design!) (Charlie W.)

Charlie makes an excellent point. It’s all too easy to rely on comfortable technologies, so by the time we unveil the next NAI International Conference website, I’ll see about implementing some lovely semantic HTML and CSS. CSS offers a lot more control over typography online than does a typical HTML editor like Dreamweaver, so it’s definitely the designer’s friend. (And we don’t have many of those.)

One final note: If you want to present a session at the NAI International Conference in Panama, the Call for Presentations closes October 15. If you make it to Panama and I’m lucky enough to be there, too, I’ll buy you a Fosters.

Chicago Reprise

Just when you thought that you had heard enough about the Lewis/Caputo vacation to Chicago, I go and drop this post. I will do my best to avoid direct references to pizza and sausage since we are now in a post-sleeved-meat detox (which began on Monday), as appropriately coined by Paul’s wife Sheila. The Lipitortinis have really helped with the cleansing process.

Much like Paul’s “Live from Chicago” post, Observations: Type on a Curve, Which Way Goes the Dollar?, Proud to Be an American Cubs Fan, and One Creepy Bear, I had a few additional observations that I wanted to share with you.

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DSC02921Architectural Boat Tour of Chicago: Our experienced guide brought about the element of discovery to us like no other tour I have ever been on. She also brought lots of cookies and lemonade. Her passion allowed her to transfer a boatload of information into an interpretive experience. It was a very tourist thing to do in Chicago but the guide transformed it from a touris trap into a memorable experience. Of course the skyline was great participant as well. Despite what you see here, the tour was great.

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An alternative to Papyrus: Paul is to Comic Sans as Shea is to Papyrus. I have a sick obsession with Papyrus and in Chicago finding Papyrus was as difficult as finding a place serving New York style pizza (sorry pizza reference). I only found it in two places. We did find an interesting Papyrus-esqe type at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Paul and I discussed that on the initial design drafts Papyrus was likely used but a great design decision was made switching to this organic type.

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Sky Deck Logo: We write about logos often and here’s an interesting one. The jury is still out on it for me. What do you think about it?

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Here’s a picture of my daughters on the sky deck.

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Zookeeper Note: I love the function of this simple sign. Suction cups allow it to be easily moved and updated. It also allows for it to be re-hung upside down and possibly stolen (not that a thought like that would cross the minds of two design geeks). The message is timely, appropriate and cute. And what’s not cute about breeding hippos. The aggressive element to me was not the message but the over-centering.

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Sense of place at Wrigley Field: Visitors come to interpretive sites because they are special places. Simple things can be done to make a site special or unique. The flags flying atop the scoreboard at Wrigley Field are a simple element that make it a special place. In today’s world of jumbo-trons and high-tech, high-definition, super scoreboards the Wrigley board stands out as unique, providing visitors to the park with a nostalgic feel. The flags serve a purpose as well. Each series of flags represent the divisions of the National League. The flags for each team also fly in order, from top to bottom, representing the current standings within the division.You will notice (and to avoid an additional comment from Paul) the NL East division (on the far right of the board) has the flag of the Philadelphia Phillies flying on top.

It is undetermined if the Caputos and Lewis families will ever be together in full force again. Perhaps if our wives read this blog, they could answer that question for us. Until then like gravity it will remain a mystery.

It has been determined that I will never be allowed to own an iPhone.