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?

Social Networking and “So What?”

Several weeks ago while on a flight I had a moment of inspiration, took out my laptop, and begin to write a blog post. I usually try not to work (not that writing this blog is work) on a plane for the simple fact that it is a finite amount of time where I can relax, think, listen to music, and not be connected. In this instance, I just had to write. I was fully engrossed. At one moment I chuckled to myself at how cute, clever, and funny I was being. I could imagine how literally 10s of readers would be laughing out loud (that’s LOL for everyone else but me) or at the very least Paul would find funny and then pretend that it wasn’t.

When I chuckled out loud (COL—you can use that one too) the lady sitting next to me asked me what I was working on. Up to this moment she had carefully ended every conversation starter that I had in my little book of airplane conversation tricks.  Lines like “How many words can you spell on a calculator?” and “I wish I had a Photoshop Eyedropper to capture the color of your eyes” got me nowhere at breaking the ice. Even though I have grown accustomed to awkward silences I still had some ambition to be friendly and get to know the person that owned the shoulder that my shoulder had been pushing against since we were somewhere over Kansas. Here’s my response and the remainder of the conversation.

Shea: I’m writing a post for my blog.

14C: You are a blogger?

Blogger: That’s right.

14C: Every blog I have ever read has left me thinking that the writer is narcissistic.

Blogger (carefully looking up synonyms for narcissistic in Microsoft Word while pretending that her tone didn’t bother me): I’m also a park ranger. [Found the following synonyms: vain, self-absorbed, egotistical, and selfish; okay she hurt my feelings.]

14C: So you blog about trees and nature? (COL)

Blogger/Park Ranger: And fonts. (COTI, crying on the inside)

This led into a longer explanation of interpretation, the profession, and various niche groups (including the 10s of IBD readers). I kept the description short, to the point, and based on the non-verbal cues I was receiving and previous law enforcement training, 14C was quickly becoming a threat to my safety. Despite her discontent the conversation continued.

14C: Really (displaying extreme disinterest). I guess you tweet too.

Blogger/Ranger: I do. But I don’t have much a following.

14C: All of this social media is just an attempt for people our age (though she looked much older than me) to stay relevant.

Blogger/Ranger: You are right. (I have over 15 years employing the use of this line and I knew it worked. I pretended to continue working while learning new words on my computer calculator).

Once I had time to reflect on the conversation, as well as define narcissism, it became apparent to me that our society has grown more narcissistic than ever. Blogs and social media have amplified this human nature to new heights. Of course, this blog is written for a very specific audience, which has similar interests, related to the profession of interpretation, which therefore cancels the narcissistic connotation for Paul and me (excepting for when it comes to conversations about Phillies/Yankees, cereal, and the use of Papyrus/Comic Sans).

The conversation with 14C got me thinking about how many of our personal and non-personal interpretive efforts are geared towards our own interests, thoughts, opinions, and ideas, much like a blog. The conversation also had me wondering how it is possible to answer Sam Ham’s question “So what?” for all of the various types of visitors to interpretive sites.  We live in a world where more visitors than ever care more about themselves or their own personal experiences than the resource or the thing itself. Can social networking outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Flickr, LinkedIn, help lead to better visitor understanding and appreciation?

First of all I had to realize that a small dose of narcissism is part of us from birth. 14C hit the nail on the head when she said I was just trying to stay relevant. If we want to continue to be able to answer the “So what?” question for our visitors we have to be relevant to them. Wikipedia, another social-driven outlet, states that “Andrew P. Morrison claims that, in adults, a reasonable amount of healthy narcissism allows the individual’s perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others.”

Now there’s a connection we can understand between perceptions and relationships. Being relevant goes beyond just being on Facebook or Tweeting, you have to understand the nature of these networks as well as their strengths and weaknesses. While Facebook’s strength is “relationships,” Twitter excels at the spreading of information. Where Facebook allows interaction, Twitter allows exchanges. 14C is right, we have to stay relevant by using the media to the best of its ability.

One approach is to appeal to the voyeuristic nature of social media. Admit it, we have all spent more than what would be considered healthy looking at pictures of old flames that we have re-connected to Facebook. Come on, I know Paul and I are not the only ones. It is a great opportunity for us to imagine what life would have been like if things were different. Okay, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. That is, admitting doing this not the looking at the pictures part. But interpretive sites can put all kinds of information, pictures, video, audio, podcasts, and almost anything else you can think of into these networks that will allow visitors or potential visitors to see what you are all about or allow visitors to re-connect with the memories of your site. If visitors come to your site with a better understanding of what the mission is then answering the “So what?” question becomes easier.  Be prepared for the positive responses along with the negatives. There are very little censoring capabilities with these networks.

How can we appeal to this narcissistic subculture? The best way is for it to happen on its own. Not to say something going viral didn’t begin without a little uncovered sneeze. Okay, that’s a little gross, but what I’m saying is that a grassroots approach to appealing to this culture can begin with some seeding. People like to have the feeling of discovery or doing something that involves exclusivity. That, combined with the narcissism of social networks, allows interpretive opportunities to go viral. By offering a behind-the-scenes tour or previewing the opening of a new exhibit, a website, or proof copy of a brochure, you can create that hype. If you use the word hype on Facebook you may be sent back to 1994 and receive a complimentary dial-up modem. The nature of the interaction on social media outlets, after attending your program, will definitely answer the “So what?” question.

You will notice a new feature at the end of each post on this website that will allow Facebook users to “like” posts and have that “like” reflected on their personal page. (We are saving the “dislike” plug-in for Paul’s posts.)

This begs the question, is it narcissistic to “like” your own post?

A Marriage of Sorts

No, this post is not about Paul and me, but with IBD turning one year old this week, it really would be easy for me to make an analogy between our relationship and interpretive design. It would be the perfect opportunity to be insightful (with occasional attempts at humor) writing about our collaborative efforts, but that’s part of the problem that led me to write this post.

I didn’t think about the after effects of a pre-Valentine’s Day post about my high school sweetheart (for the record, I have yet to hear from her…I’m still waiting Heather) and not my wife. Perhaps it was a lapse in judgment, perhaps it was a cholesterol-induced coma, or perhaps it was my wife telling me that she couldn’t believe that I wrote a Valentine’s Day post about another woman that I haven’t seen in 18 years. After almost 14 years of marriage I’m starting to learn that I should listen to my wife. I thought the Valentine’s Day post was a creative way to talk about dealing with rejection and guilt Heather into contacting me. Thankfully, the topic wasn’t on where I draw inspiration from or the most significant moments in my life.

I’m writing this post for the simple fact that I over-married. Let’s face it; I’m no George Clooney (more George Foreman). When you over-marry you spend a large portion of your life working to keep up with that person, trying to prove your validity, and attempting to display your value. It is hard work, requires a lot of careful thought, running, and Rogaine.

Not only did I over-marry but she’s also a much better person than I am. She plays the piano at church while I listen to large amounts of gangsta rap; she gives organs away to my relatives while I eat fried chicken organs; she takes great care of our children while I have to wear a nametag around the house that says “Dad.”  If I have learned anything after 14 years of marriage is that to be successful you have to be respectful of each other, maintain your authenticity, and never stop dating.

CB1In one of the biggest leaps of faith in IBD history, I’m going to apply these three principles to interpretive design and a recent visit to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Columbia Bottom Conservation Area near St. Louis. I had the opportunity to visit the area on a birding trip as part of NAI’s Region 6 workshop that was being held in St. Louis in February. My wife was at home taking care of the home-front while I was out searching for life birds.

It is great to see an interpretive site that is respectful of the resource. In an era of The Last Child In the Woods, an interpretive center should facilitate the visitor’s experience in the resource. In many locations you see the center become the thing itself, disrespecting the resource. Don’t get me wrong; I love a great whiz-bang interpretive center, but the goal should be getting the visitors outside in the resource and design elements should enhance the visitor’s experience—not be the experience. The designers of the Columbia Bottom visitor center were effective at respecting the resource by retro-fitting an existing barn into the facility, meeting the basic needs of visitors, setting the stage for the experience, and propelling visitors outside.

The re-designed visitor center fits well into the area landscape, is unique, has character, and is an excellent example of recycling. The interior exhibits are simple and primarily low-tech, and are all related to the resource. Animal tracks placed or imprinted into a stained concrete floor seem to lead you to large glass windows that overlook the bottoms, reminding you of the reason that you came to the site. After looking outside those windows you just have to get into the resource. For our group, the birds were calling (along with my wife with the latest disaster involving our youngest child and his preference for the use of the shower over the toilet for potty training).

CB2When I visit sites, I’m always looking for authenticity. I want to experience the thing itself in the place itself.  The authenticity of a visit to Columbia Bottoms is improved through the interpretation. An important graphic design element is established just outside the visitor center on a wayside exhibit that becomes key to wayfinding through the area. On that exhibit there is a brief message about the area, but most importantly a visual/graphic element is established for finding specific areas of the bottom. Little explanation is needed because of the simplicity of the designs or logos for each area. Each logo has a unique shape, color, and associated illustration or design.

CB3

CB4The graphics are simple, easy to conceptualize, and are found in various formats. Their organic design, natural shapes, intuitive colors, and simplicity all add to the overall approach. While we were there searching for birds, I found myself searching for the design element being used in the various formats. I found the designs used in brochures, road signs, trail signs, mosaics, and wayside exhibits. I also found myself searching for my friends who left me behind while I was photographing signs.

The final element of this analogy is never stop dating. This refers specifically to your significant other, not other’s significant others. If you are looking for a place to take that someone special the confluence at the bottom is a great spot. That’s all I’ve got.

CB5

CB7But seriously, the culmination of the driving tour in the area is at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The location is unique, authentic, special, and highlighted with a beautiful overlook. The views at the confluence of these two great rivers are impressive but I was most impressed with was the confluence and culmination and the design elements leading you to the thing itself.

CB6The overlook features benches with quotes about the rivers and the mission of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the river.  What a great place to remind visitors about who it is that is providing access to the resource. Also, you always look before you sit making it a message that will more than likely be read and just happens to be a great place to sit with your sweetie and talk about typefaces. I sat alone, carefully inspecting the sans serif type and then once again searched for my friends. Built into the walls of the overlook are tiles with all of the various elements reminding you of what you had seen on your visit and to remind you that they are there because the rivers are there.

Thanks to our guides the experience was complete with life birds. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow appeared on cue at the visitor center bird feeders as if they were on the payroll.  I appeared at home several days later and took my wife out on a date.

Creativity: Part 1

I don’t consider myself a very creative person. I can prove this based on the simple fact that through my career, as an interpreter and now interpretive manager, all of the interpretive programs I have ever created have had the worst titles in the history of interpretation and in most cases included a colon. I have always been envious of those interpreters who create cute, funny, and snazzy program titles to go along with their hikes, audio-visual presentations, and demonstrations. All the while my The Great Mississippi Flyway: Birds of Eastern Arkansas title remains in mourning. When I visit interpretive sites I try to pick up program advertisement sheets to swipe titles from and use at my park. Does that make me a bad person? Only when I pulled the program advertisements off a bulletin board, I guess.

Most people assume that if you are involved in interpretive design that you are automatically considered a “creative” or “artistic” type. I appreciate being incorporated into a group that may be considered creative, or any group for that matter. It was Mattias Konradsson who said, “Creativity and ideas don’t come on command, they seem to spring up when we least expect it — like a rod of lightning bending our mind in unexpected directions, showing us the way.” Much like Konradsson wrote, creativity strikes me at strange moments and is very mood dependent. I have to be in the right mindset to be creative. More and more I find looming deadlines creating the mood for me, so much for walks on the beach, candles, and soft music.

So why is it that we put the creative on such a pedestal? I think emotions play a large role in this idolizing. Many creative people, especially those well known for their creativity, put a large amount of their own emotions into their work. They show us a window inside their world that many of us are afraid to open. By us I mean me. By connecting emotionally to what they have to share, we respond to their feelings or emotions with our own feelings and emotions. So in some way we can relate to the creative on a different level. Modern Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall poured his heart and soul into his work and said, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head almost nothing.”

Many of us have stumbling blocks placed before us put there by our own subconscious. I call these my filters. We are afraid to pour our hearts into every project we are working on to eventually have it exposed for interpretation by the world. Again by we, I mean me.

The creative process is an individual process that is as different from person to person as personalities. For some the creative juices simply ooze from all of their systems. I tend to ooze cholesterol. For others, to find any creative juice they have to be run through the ringer. What needs to be remembered is that even for the most creative, creativity is a process and anyone has the potential to be a creative person. Psychologist and president of Princeton Creative Research Eugene Raudsepp said, “If you want to develop your creativity, establish regular work habits. Allow time for the incubation of ideas, and adhere to your individual rhythm. Violations of this rhythm can retard your creative efficiency.”

Raoul Dufy's RegattaIf that approach to the process is too militaristic or systematic for you perhaps the late 19th-century French painter Raoul Dufy’s words will speak to you: “I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.” (Pictured here is a 1934 Dufy painting titled “Regatta at Cowes.”) As mentioned before, as different from person to person as personalities.

The one area where I feel like the creative process and my path cross is in the area of problem solving. The creative are known as skilled problem solvers and organizers. I tend to be one of those left-brained persons, but by drawing conclusions from data that doesn’t meld, the creative are excited by the process of solving problems. Okay, so only Paul gets excited by this.

Perhaps Roger Sperry was on to something when he developed the Modes of Thinking also know as Divisions of the Right and Left Brain. According to Sperry the left side of the brain is the responsible side that processes things logically, in sequential order, is rational, analytical, objective, and looks at parts instead of wholes. The right side of the brain is the creative side that looks at things randomly, intuitively, holistically, synthesizes, is subjective, and looks at wholes instead of parts. This research points out that the creative are definitely more right-brained people. Knowing this, the left-brained person is not unable to be creative. They just have to work harder at it. The left brain is concerned with logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy, while the right focuses on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity. Those like me who are responsible for creative work, that tend to be more left than right, must learn to think on the right. It can be difficult but even marathon runners must first begin running one mile at time by placing one foot in front of the other. The problem for me is that I’m a really slow runner.

Next week, in Creativity: Part 2, I will take on some practices to improve creativity and try to apply them to the title of the post.