Reality Check

On a few occasions we have had guest bloggers on IBD. We have done our best to keep it from happening since these “guests” just make us look stupid. Today is one of those days. We have a guest blog from IBD readers Colin MacArthur and Fabio Fraticelli. They were members of the 2010 Acadia National Park Youth Technology Team, a Friends of Acadia sponsored effort to envision the technological future of Acadia. Today Colin and Fabio are also principals at Almond Consultants.

So, by employing a tactic that I learned in high school, I will do my best to neutralize this perceived threat by undermining their presence by making comments under my breath or in today’s case in parenthesis and blue. It has worked well for me in past keeping me from being beat up 7 out of 10 attempts (two times I ran, and one time I got hurt). See how that works, it’s easy.

Seriously we are glad to share their expertise and experience here (plus it keeps you from having to read another one my irrelevant posts). I like this article because I think it will get some of you personal interpretive purists worked up.

Augmented Reality: Necessary Science Fiction?

When I first introduced the idea of augmented reality (also known as AR, not to be confused with the State of AR where Shea lives in a perpetual state of AR) to one of my older interpreter colleagues, she furrowed her brow and replied: “Augmenting reality, isn’t that what we already do every day?” She pressed on, “All these booklets we write, all this signage we design, all these exhibits we compile. Aren’t they augmenting reality? What’s the point of augmenting reality with a cell phone?” The techno-interpreter in me fumbled as I realized I couldn’t justify using a multi-thousand dollar cell phone app to identify the plants a 50 cent booklet could. (As with most of my conversations with women, I would have said because it is really cool and I like it, and run away cackling. Don’t knock it until you try it.)

To hear some, augmented reality enabled visitors will soon replace my uniformed colleagues, their signs and classic plastic tubs of interpretive props. (Why is it that most everything I do, like, or use today considered “classic” or “vintage”?) Smartphone armed visitors will train their phones on everything along the path to be greeted with interactive explanations, video clips and related social network postings. The National Mall’s new app. previews AR’s capabilities. When visitors point their iPad or iPhone cameras at monuments and buildings, they are annotated with their name and links to relevant information. (My mom taught me that it isn’t nice to point.) And apps like Peak Finder match illustrations and diagrams with the surrounding landscape.

But why spend hours creating AR tools? Interpreters spend hours planning and creating experiences for visitors. AR is one of a growing number of technological tools that helps visitors create experiences for themselves. Instead of following the guided booklet descriptions or reading a wayside sign, visitors using augmented reality find out more about whatever piques their interest. The media itself rewards curiosity and adventurousness. In short, AR creates opportunities for visitors to investigate what interests them instead of what interests us.

Augmented reality tools can also lower the cost to delivering personalized visitor experiences. For example, an AR app for Acadia National Park could let visitors pick which spots they learn more about. Some visitors could opt to explore cultural history, others geology. (By the way, that geology guy is a hoot to party with.)

How could you augment reality in parks to mold experiences to visitor preferences? We’ve thought about creating augmented reality tools that show:

● info about flora, fauna and culture resources of a specific landscape with detailed images and videos;

● past pictures of buildings for example history pin; (not to be confused with Pinterest which is great for the craft challenged.)

● pictures of landscapes in different period of the year which is good for phrenology;

● comments of other visitors about a specific resource which is good for social interaction;

These opportunities come at a cost. Not only a cost to parks, but to the visitor. (Okay, personal interpretive purist, here’s your chance.) Augmented reality enabled phones constantly use both internet and GPS signals ickly lose battery life. And until someone comes out with a set of useful “developer toolkits,” that the cake mix developers use to speed up their time developing complicated applications, augmented reality will remain extremely expensive.

But you can still try it at home! An increasing number of low-to-no cost services allow you to experiment with augmented reality. All you need is your smart phone and an internet connection.

The list of “off the shelf” augmented reality tools is long and increasing. We tried Layar, “an industry pioneer, which hosts the world’s leading mobile augmented reality platform with thousands of developers and content layers, and over 10 million installs of the Layar Reality Browser.” Layar ships with many Android OS devices, so it’s got a built-in, large audience.

Layar lets you view augmented reality information from many different sources. Each source is a “layer.” Here’s the good news: because Layar is so popular, many third party tools can help you creating information layers compatible with Layar. For example, Poistr provides an easy to use editor for adding points of interest to a map that appear as augmented reality spots in the reader. You can attach descriptions, images and relevant websites and even have animations or videos automatically appear when users encounter certain places. (I knew dancing baby was going to make a comeback.) Once your layer is created, you can export it and all the Layar’s users will be able to integrate it into their browsers using just a link.

Layar’s undeniably cool, but still limited by the battery life and connectivity of devices. How likely is it that new developments will overcome these limitations? Quite likely. Devices will continue to use power more efficiently and have longer lasting batteries. And many companies are working hard to offer AR browsers that requires no connectivity (cell phone connection or wi-fi): Layar says they’re very interested in this kind of feature. Some open source AR browsers can create apps that use data stored locally instead of remotely (and thus, require no internet). AR will be available everywhere and all the time. (Thanks for the contribution guys. I’ve got to make it to Acadia one day. But I’ll probably leave my phone in my pocket.)

Odds and Ends: Cleaning Out Shea’s Phone Edition

Okay, I’m still in the process of cleaning out the IBD Archives (which happens to be an old shoe box that I keep under my bed filled with top-secret IBD memorabilia, along with photos of old girlfriends) with this second installment of Odds and Ends. Much like anything with the title “Jersey Shore,” Paul’s Odds and Ends installment on Monday doesn’t officially count.

This time I was going through my phone, deleting photos of errant moments of friends that should have been deleted a long time ago, and I came across several photos that were worthy of sharing. Here are the images as well as some random thoughts associated with them.

Who doesn’t like fried chicken, or fried anything for that matter? I know KFC is not the best place to get fried chicken (a tie between Roscoe’s in Los Angeles and Gus’ in Memphis) but my main motivation when visiting this new KFC was directly related to these signs.

At least the signage is original. (Insert your own bad joke here about the Colonel’s original recipe of 11 herbs and spices, or bowties, or seersucker suits, or goatees on old men who sell chicken, or graphic designers in Colorado.)

This is from my neighborhood’s snowcone stand. I’ve been wanting to say something about the misspelling but who am I to judge spelling? And I can’t risk being banned from banana cream pie snow cones (which is not on the list, but it’s a custom flavor I invented that requires a delicate balance of banana, cake batter, and vanilla syrups).

This is one of the best self-guided trail markers I have ever seen. It’s painted right on the rocks found on the Golden-cheeked Warbler Trail in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. I was tempted to steal one. On one shoulder, Don Simons encouraged it, and on the other shoulder, Jay Schneider said he would call the police. I took only pictures and left only footprints. Though I still think it would look great in my office. They were also concreted into place.

Again, who am I to judge? This comes from Mugs Coffee in Fort Collins, Colorado. At least they are trying to do the right thing. Much like me in college algebra. I still failed, though honorably.

If you have some pictures of funny signs or other odds and ends send them our way or post them on the IBD Facebook page.

Good Flag, Bad Flag

I recently received a 1,019-word email from Friend of IBD Howard Aprill on the subject of flag design. Howard does this sort of thing because he blames us for the fact that he now notices design stuff and reads blogs, and he wants to get back at us for wasting his time.

I received Howard’s email about a month ago and I just finished reading it, so I thought I’d share parts of it with you. Evidently, Howard stumbled across a website for the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA), which I was disappointed to learn has nothing to do with making people angry. Turns out, according to the organization’s website, vexillology is “the scientific and scholarly study of flag history and symbolism.”

NAVA’s website (which, ironically, is a jumbled mess, full of boxes and centered type) links to a pdf of a brochure called “Good Flag, Bad Flag: How to Design a Great Flag.” The brochure contains this sage advice, with Howard’s comments in parentheses:

  1. Keep it simple. (Duh.)
  2. Use meaningful symbolism. (Double duh.)
  3. Use 2–3 basic colors. (Makes sense to me but I’m interested in your thoughts on this.)
  4. No lettering or seals. (Apparently this is the Comic Sans equivalent of the flag world.)
  5. Be distinctive or be related.

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These points are consistent with the advice graphic designers and interpreters offer—essentially, keep it clean, use a defined color palette, and above all be meaningful. (Though I would argue, related to point #4, that it would be okay for an organization devoted to the conservation and understanding of sea mammals to use a seal in its design.)

Even better than NAVA’s five design principles, NAVA’s website features a link to the results of a 2004 survey that ranks the design of flags from 150 U.S. cities. The ratings go from #1, Washington, DC (on the left, above) to #150, Pocatello, Idaho, where they are as proud of their mountains as they are their Microsoft WordArt.

Howard’s hometown of Milwaukee ranks 147th on the list. While he recognizes that the flag, designed in the 1950s, violates all stated and most unwritten rules of design (and a couple international laws related to the Geneva Convention), Howard offers this impassioned defense:

I think it’s a time capsule that captures the essence of post World War II Milwaukee. You notice that it’s busy filled with LOTS of things. Well that’s how folks felt about their town. The gear represents industry (at one time we actually MADE things in this town), the Native American head represents our original inhabitants, the ship represents the busy port, the golden barley stalk on the left represents our beer brewing industry. It even features the old County Stadium for the Milwaukee Braves. You have to understand, the Braves moved here from Boston in 1953 and this town was INSANELY proud to get a big league team.

I told Howard that I hope Milwaukee gets a big-league baseball team again some day.

The NAVA flag brochure says, “All rules have exceptions…but depart from these five principles only with caution and purpose.” The brochure holds up the Colorado state flag (pictured at the top of the post) as an example of a successful departure. It violates the rule of not using type in a flag, but does so elegantly and simply. I’d say that while the folks in Milwaukee departed from the rules with purpose, they also did so with reckless abandon.

Ultimately, flag design and interpretive design have a lot in common, in that they strive to be impactful, accessible, and meaningful. Because he makes the point far better than I could, I leave you with this thought from Howard:

In my opinion the challenges and components of flag design are very related to what we do in interpretation—trying to give relevance and meaning, building connections, tangibles (a piece of cloth) vs. intangibles (love of country, sacrifice, etc). We’ve all seen good flags and bad flags, just like we’ve all seen good interpretive panels and bad interpretive panels. I dare say there are things we can take away from the study of vexillology and apply to interpretation.

Helvetica Cookies

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cookiecuttersThe first official Canadian Friend of IBD Joan Lawrence knows us well. She clearly knows that we enjoy unique expressions of typography, especially three-dimensional type, and that we’re suckers for the typeface Helvetica. She also knows that we enjoy eating.

Joan sent us this link to a site featuring cookie cutters based on Helvetica, created by graphic designer and food-lover Beverly Hsu:

http://beverlyhsu.com/cookies.html

Needless to say, I must have these.

In the never-ending debate about the typeface, we have always leaned a little more towards “Helvetica is the ultimate achievement of typographic design” rather than “Helvetica is a corporate shill, emblematic of The Man holding us down.” But even the most vehement anti-Helvetica voices out there would have to soften at the smell of those fresh-baked sans serifs just out of the oven.

The beauty of this project is that Helvetica is the last typeface you’d associate with cookies. How many people on their way into the New York subway system look at the signage and think, “I sure am hungry for something sweet”? Sure, Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann might have been striving to create the perfect neutral typeface in 1957, but cover those uniform stroke widths and unadorned letterforms with pink frosting and rainbow jimmies, and you have performed the ultimate act of recontextualizing.

I realized (perhaps too late) that my interest in food shaped like specific typefaces is not normal. I showed the Helvetica cookie cutters to Friend of IBD Howard Aprill, who, like some people we know, talks about typography in his free time (Howard once started a conversation with me by asking, “So what do you have against Comic Sans?”). Instead, Howard, who is one of the top three nicest people on the planet and has never said an unkind word about anyone, doubled over in laughter for several minutes before catching his breath and saying, “Boy, you are a nerd.”

Related to the theme of design and food, Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell sent us a link to a story on NPR called “Rectangles Vs. Triangles: The Great Sandwich Debate.” We write in the book Interpretation By Design that odd numbers of columns in a composition are more pleasing visually than even numbers. This statement from the NPR article relates to that idea:

The number 3 has always been more popular than 4, says [emeritus professor of mathematics at Vermont Technical College Paul] Calter, who writes about the intersection of math, art, and culture. Three is mother, father, and child, he says. Three is the beginning, middle and end. Three is birth, life and death. Without three, there could not be a best — only a good and a better.

As soon as I get my Helvetica cookie cutters, I’ll have to find a way to cut those fresh-baked letterforms into triangles.

Get to Know a Typeface! Papyrus

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This post is more for me than you. I’m sorry but I must use this platform to get this off my chest. Please avoid Papyrus.

The post could have ended there, but as usual, I say too much and end up needing to apologize for something I’ve written. If I have or will offend you with this post, including Chris Costello (the type designer who created the monster known as Papyrus), I am sorry. I guess I could have taken Paul’s post on Comic Sans and inserted his comments here to cover Papyrus. You know, that’s not such a bad idea.

Here we go: “The problem with [Papyrus] is not only that it is used a lot. It’s that it’s almost always used inappropriately, which has caused its original intent to be lost. It was designed with a specific use in mind, but now it is ubiquitous.”  Well said, Paul. Costello agrees and says on his blog titled “Papyrus…Love It or Hate It?” that “Dude, Papyrus is ubiquitous because it was bundled with OSX and Windows operating systems, plain and simple… I had nothing to do with that decision.” I like his honesty and use of the word “dude” in the post.

Costello goes on to say in another post, “I cringe when I see Papyrus so poorly executed…and so often. But again, like any licensed software, what people do with it is out of my hands.” I think that it is awesome that Costello’s blog provides a place for people to rant or rave about his creation. Some of the comments provide insight into his creation and its original use, while others are just hilarious. There is even is a post from Costello’s mom, who has a take on Papyrus.

Much like Comic Sans, Papyrus in and of itself is not that bad of a typeface. It is the users of Papyrus who over use and abuse it.  It can be seen everywhere. I see it most commonly in restaurant menus (primarily Italian restaurants) and in signage or advertisements for day spas (primarily the type found in strip malls). I have even seen it on a sign for a dentist’s office. Which was an effective use considering the cavities found within each letter form. But really, please avoid Papyrus.

To learn more about Papyrus or Chris Costello check out his website at www.costelloart.com. Costello is also collecting comments and displaying his newest type creations known as Driftwood, Costello, and Sheriden’s Letters. Will one of those be the next Papyrus? Only time will tell.

For those who love Papyrus, and I know you are out there, check out http://iheartpapyrus.com.

Do I need a hobby or something else to care about? I want to hear from the herd, what is the typeface that really bugs you? For me it is Papyrus, for Paul it is Comic Sans, what is it for you?