A Tribute to Bass

The Academy Awards are this Sunday. In an effort not to make this post about baseball or the movie Moneyball (clearly the best movie of the year even though it included Brad Pitt), I will avoid any additional references. Instead I’ll write about something new and old. Over two years ago Paul wrote a post about his Affair with Movie Title Sequences. I was reminded of his post when I came across a link to a new website dedicated to the work of Saul Bass. Paul doesn’t have a website dedicated to his work.

In that post Paul stated that “One of the most famous title sequence designers was Saul Bass, a graphic designer and film maker who died in 1996. His work influenced (and continues to influence) a generation of designers (you’ll certainly see his influence in the Catch Me if You Can title sequence).” In an effort not to make this post about Star Wars I won’t make any additional references about the Bass tribute Star Wars title sequence. (You can see the video in Paul’s post.) Bass’ influence can be seen in movies and graphic design elements everywhere from the original AT&T logo to the Girl Scouts logo today. See if you recognize any of these others.

The website I mentioned above is an online archive of Bass’ work. Web designer Christian Annyas is created the web-page. She goes on to say, “I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years. To prove I’ve sat through at least the first ten minutes of them I started making screenshots of the titles. Then my computer crashed and I almost lost them all. To save them for future generations I created this little website.” I love it when people gives back to the greater good. It’s also an interesting way to self promote. Not that we would know anything about that. Annyas has also created an online database of other title sequences as well.

At the very least it is a great place to waste some time. As far as the Academy Awards go, I’m pulling for Brad.

 

Odds and Ends, mostly Odds

This week I decided to share with you three items sent in by readers. I didn’t have enough on each to make them into a full post by themselves (who am I fooling, if I can transform a discussion revolving around socks into something about social networking, then I surely could have done a post on each) so I rolled them in to this odds and ends post.

The first comes from Phil Broder. Every time I get an email from Phil, I make sure I don’t open it on a work computer. I don’t want to get put back on the watch list. This email was okay and worthy of sharing. He stated:

Take a look at http://www.jameshance.com/index.html. He’s my new favorite artist (Muppets and Firefly… two of my favorite things!). But you Star Wars geeks should love this too. There’s definitely something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.

In a snobbish follow up email from Paul (in which he didn’t copy Phil) he stated that he would leave this email for me to respond to since this topic was more in my court nerdom. He may be right but he didn’t have say it like that. I did like the fact that my “Star Warsness” is automatically being tied to Paul. It is about time considering many of his quirks have been connected to my persona.

The artwork offered by James Hance is described as “relentlessly cheerful art” on the website. His trademark is the combination of two distinct styles that most wouldn’t draw conclusions to and from.

The image above known as Promise is part of Wookiee the Chew (yes, Wookie is spelt wrong, silly artist) is a combination of Star Wars characters and Winnie the Pooh. Phil mentioned that there may be “something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.” He’s right; I’m not sure what there is to say except it is awesome. It’s also awesome that Phil admitted to liking Muppets.

The part that I find powerful is that it makes you think specifically about the decisions made by the artist and how specific styles can be connected to genera. This could be applied to an interpretive center making design decision to be at juxtaposition of the complexity of nature by choosing a clean, open, or geometric typeface (such as Futura) to add impact. Otherwise the art by Hance should simply be enjoyed.

The second piece comes from Sarah Keating. Sarah has issues with denial. She wants to claim that she’s a cool kid and not a member of the nerd herd but she can’t seem to stop showing people her membership card. Sarah stated in her email:

Each day I find myself acquiring more nerdy tendencies. A few weeks ago I found myself downloading NPR apps on my iPhone, and now I am reading NPR stories on the internet. Today, for instance, I was looking for a little inspiration on the NPR interns’ website and I clicked on a story link about plastic bag use, only to get the ever so popular “Page not found” – story of my life!! But as I continued to read I realized that NPR has taken it a step further and instead of making you disappointed in their inability to locate what you were trying to find they have put a positive spin on it (see below). HOW REFRESHING!!! I really do love NPR – GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Sarah, embracing your inner nerd is the second step to obtaining personal peace after admitting you are a nerd  (immediately followed by the cessation of the excessive use of capital letters and exclamation points).

I wish I knew how to make the 404 Page not found on IBD offer suggestions, but I don’t. For those web gurus out there this is a great idea. I also have to admit that Sarah really doesn’t claim to read IBD but sent the email to me and several others. I don’t have her permission to share it here either.

The third piece comes from me (uh yeah, I’m a reader too, someone has to read Paul’s posts so you don’t have too. It’s just something I do for you). You got to love this link offered by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City). Who doesn’t want a custom NYC Subway Sign set in one of the most famous uses of Helvetica, featuring the Yankees Stadium stop on 161st Street? You could also have one with some other landmark in New York City. Do they have others?

These iconic signs as well as other MTA items are offered on the website. The signs start at $25.

Keep the suggestions coming…you know we need them.

Apps for Interpreters (That We Also Kind of Like)

Most of you know where I stand in the realm of Mac vs. PCs. That doesn’t mean that I have to be against every single product that Apple offers. (Though it is true that the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad are all the exact same product just offered in various sizes.) What I can’t really wrap my mind around is how it is possible for Paul to write a post about iPhone apps and not make fun of the fact that I now have one too. I expect those comments to come rolling in today. Paul did a nice job avoiding hyperbole but I’m here to say these apps will change your life.

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For the first time ever on a recent birding trip and guided birding boat tour that I led, I didn’t bring a field guide with me. With the Sibley Guide eGuide to Birds app it is not necessary. The app has amazing options for viewing maps, hearing various versions of calls, along with all of the other images and information that the actual field guide offers. There are many other types of bird guides out there that cost less but overall I was most impressed with this one. It is pricy for an app ($29.99) but it is all about priorities. There are also apps for other naturalists’ interests such as field guides for herps, mammals, fish, etc.

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Speaking of apps for naturalists, LeafSnap is pretty cool too. First, it is beautifully designed. You can look through the browsing section for hours at a time.The feature that has made this app so popular is that you can take a leaf, place it on a white sheet of paper and photograph it (or snap it) and it will provide you with a list of possible species that you can peruse based on your location.

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If you ever find yourself problem solving or brainstorming and struggling with conceptualizing the issues at hand, SimpleMindMapping is available to you when ever the ideas are flowing. The free version allows you to save and view your mind maps but the paid version allows you to email and share the maps. As with most free technology today, the basic options are free and you pay for advanced elements.

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Keeping the Star Wars streak alive (and an attempt to continue to isolate any readers we still have) I bring you my favorite Star Wars-related app. I have a demanding job and personal life where at any given moment I’m searching for wisdom and guidance. Where do I turn? Thanks for asking, I turn to the Star Wars Quotes app. If Yoda can’t help me solve a problem, no one can. I also have friends (which may surprise you) who are also Star Wars fans (no we don’t dress up; well, only on special occasions) who are sticklers for accuracy that this app provides.

I tell you that to tell you this: There are quote apps for almost all interest areas that allow you to access information quickly and easily to meet your needs.

Today’s random quote from Han Solo in Episode IV: A New Hope: “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.”

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Speaking of quotes you must have, Dragon Dictation allows you to make your own quotes. It allows you speak into your iPhone and will take your transcribed dictation straight into a text message, email, word processing file, Facebook status update, or Tweet. If you need to make a quick note while out on a tour, you need this app. (Also, it’s great if you ever need to tweet or text while driving.) It is amazingly seamless, but struggles with my southern accent at times.

For all of you interpretive naturalist types out there please share your favorites below in the comment section. In the meantime I’ll be listening to bird calls on my iPhone.

Missouri Compromise-Experience 3

Editors Note: This post is the third post in a three-part series that revolves around three distinct interpretive experiences that my family and I had on a recent trip to Missouri.

I have a history of losing my children (Gracie, Disney World, Orlando, FL 9.11.2008; William, Field Museum Chicago, IL 8.10.2009, Anna, TBD). It is amazing how quickly it can happen. One minute, I’m watching the entire Star Wars series back to back to back to back to back to back and the next thing I know my children are nowhere to be found.

Citygarden St. Louis is the perfect place to lose your children. One minute I’m taking pictures of pink signs and the next thing I know my children are in a fountain swimming. At this park it is okay to swim in the fountains (well this one was closed, but they are open at various times to children for splashing, playing, and swimming). In fact it is encouraged. The only problem I have with this feature is that from now on it will be my job to convince my children that it is not okay to swim in water fountains.

Sometimes it is good to get lost yourself, especially in the middle of a large city like St. Louis. Green space is a premium in urban areas and Citygarden has a prime location in the Gateway Arch Mall. The garden is beautiful (with a collection of native plants representing natural regions of Missouri), has unique features (representing geographic regions of Missouri), has multiple purposes, attracts a diverse audience, and uses interpretation to help visitors find meaning in its purpose. What more can you ask for in an interpretive site? Okay, maybe a hot wings stand.

I love public pieces of art, especially when it is okay for you to interact with them. I really appreciate the background information and interpretation provided in the visitors’ guide to the garden. When I opened the map box, I expected it to be empty since so many publication boxes that I encounter are found that way. This one wasn’t, and even better the quality design of the brochure and map added interest in finding and understanding all of the park’s sculptures. Knowing the thoughts of the artist when creating the pieces really helps you appreciate the artwork.

It is the little things that matter, especially with only three acres making up Citygarden. Even the backs of the signs and exhibits are thematic and carry the design elements. Much like a well-quaffed mullet, the front is all business (as much business as you can get in pink and blue) and says “No Parking!” and the back is all party and says “Yay, aren’t you happy you are at Citygarden and not at work?” The interpretive designers that created these signs have just hired someone to whack me because of that analogy. Well if they think that one is bad wait until they hear the next one in the follwing paragraph.

The attention to detail to the back of the signs reminds me of Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show polishing the backs of his shoes because that’s the last thing people will see and remember about you. That may be the worst analogy in IBD history and the last thing you read and remember about me.

I would interpret what I learned about this piece of art but to keep from sounding like an idiot will refrain. The artwork in the garden is awesome.

I have never seen a better use of a jumbotron in my life. This one is used for showing videos, documentaries, special features, art films, commercial films, and Cardinals’ games. When one of these is not showing a real-time digital camera allows children (and adults with children who always wanted to be featured on the jumbotron at major League Baseball game, preferably in an American League stadium found in New York) create their own performance art. The current films don’t go un-interpreted either. The box on the far right of the picture has a flat with information about what you are watching.

The most popular part of the garden is the spray plaza that has 102 jets shooting water as high as ten feet in the air, changing colors, and patterns while children and adults alike splash around in them.

Citygarden is a great mixture of art, design, water, and interpretation with a healthy dose of whimsy. Don’t forget to polish the backs of your shoes.

Seersucker, Stripes, Star Wars, Synthesis, and San Francisco

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer (official arrival is June 21 at 8:28 AM CDT, to be exact). What really makes me happy is that Memorial Day also makes it acceptable (to some) to break out all seersucker-related clothing, even though the fashion police have long supported a permanent ban.

Living in the South, what’s not to like about seersucker? It is ultra cool, breathes well, is guaranteed to wrinkle, comes in fashionable colors (though sucker purists steer clear of anything but traditional blue) and has vertical stripes. It is even recognized by Congress when the Senate holds Seersucker Thursday in June (traditionally the second Thursday in June), where members dress in the traditionally southern attire (impressions of Colonel Sanders are not appreciated, but aggressive mustaches and bow ties are).

My wife says that based on my husky disposition that I should never wear horizontal stripes, but vertical stripes have a different effect. They make me look like Matlock. Seersucker also has its own fan page on Facebook with 260 fans. IBD’s fan page has 464, if that tells you anything.

In most cases in design, a bold element such as stripes, vertical or horizontal, should be used in small doses (much like seersucker for everyone but me). Unless it’s used in a way that represents the message or improves communication of that message, right? Or it’s used in a way that is original, supports the grid, or becomes a design element.

Several years ago I received a book titled The Star Wars Chronicles. Before you run away to read another blog that is much more insightful, witty, and generally more interesting, this is not going to be another Star Wars post. It just happens to be coincidence that the example I am using in today’s post is Star Wars related. I digress. I was immediately interested in the content of the book, obviously, but I was continually impressed with the visual interest of the design. A large component was striped elements, horizontal and vertical. I had to learn more about who was responsible for the book’s layout and design. I was so impressed, I was sure it was George Lucas himself.

I was wrong; it was Designer Earl Gee and Fani Chung of Gee and Chung Designs out of San Francisco, California. Their work has won countless awards, their logos start logo trends, their products have a special place in the Library of Congress (Paul and I have been banned from that library for incidents related to Paul’s red Crocs and my affinity for seersucker), and most importantly, their work is interpretive in nature. Many of their designs break the mold of what is generally acceptable in design circles (this is unconfirmed but they may even use PCs). Gee’s approach is apparent in this quote from an Adobe Design Center article:

“To me there is nothing risky about being innovative,” says Gee. “It’s far riskier to look dull and boring, and miss the chance to be unique.”

As interpretive designers we should always remember that it is our specific sites and stories that make us unique. By asking ourselves questions like, What makes our site special? What makes us stand out from others? What elements of our mission makes us different? You can focus energy into interpretive products—personal and non-personal—that can be enhanced through innovative design.

The Star Wars book goes beyond being innovative; it is also a perfect synthesis of the writer’s work and design. Each purposeful design element supports the message or current theme. The design is bold, stands out, and is forceful (no pun intended, okay intended), but it doesn’t take away from the content, it enhances it. Bold design choices such as stripes may not always be the best decision in design or fashion but if used properly they can be effective. Most importantly designers should strive to interpret the interpretation. The design itself should not be the interpretation but should be interpretive while maintaining legibility and other basic design functions.

The Adobe article goes on to say, “For designer Earl Gee, every design choice matters. No element is merely decorative. It either contributes to what the client wants to communicate, or it doesn’t belong on the page.” This should be the case for everything we design and how we manage interpretation. It should be purposeful.

The real purpose behind me wearing seersucker is to embarrass my wife.

Star Wars Re-Invented

In a second attempt this week to isolate ourselves from our readers by writing about subjects that they care little or nothing about, this post revolves around interpreting Star Wars. I’ve got to get something off my chest from the start of this post: Star Wars is the premier sci-fi movie series and it cannot be compared to cheap imitations such as Star Trek. Okay, I feel better now that you know where I’m coming from—and as with most post topics on this blog, after you read our opinion we know that you will immediately agree.  I really feel better now that you feel the same way.

I call the above connecting with the reader (singular for more than one reason). It helps when the writer and reader are on the same page, but when you write 52 blog posts a year, you find yourself keeping a mental list of topics that the majority of readers may find relevant. Some posts fall short. This mental list has officially taken the place in my mind where I used to keep important things that my wife has told me to take care of, which brings me back to today’s post on Star Wars and falling short.

Star Wars and I are at the same places in our lives. We are approximately the same age; I won’t say who is actually older. If you were to ask, I will promptly respond by saying, “e chu ta,” and you can respond with your best C-3P0 voice, “How rude!” After you reach age 30, it really doesn’t even matter that much. We’ve both been around for a while now and we aren’t as young, hip, or current as we used to be. We work hard to maintain physiques that were never that great to begin with and have become worried about blood pressure, Death Star-shaped moles, and cholesterol counts (okay, that was mostly about me).

High definition has not been that great for us. It just displays the fact that we are more wrinkled, have less hair, and look more like Jabba the Hutt—all in 1080p. We both are working hard to re-invent ourselves in an attempt to stay young and relevant.

The creative geniuses that manage the Star Wars universe continue to impress me in how many times they can come up with something that I willing to drop some “Benjamins” on (see, staying hip—okay, like 1994 hip). The movies haven’t changed (despite those unfortunate special edition debacles of 1997; I still attest that Han shot first) but they have managed to maintain a huge fan base, please the uber fans, and continue to grow a new audience while pretty much offering the same products. Interpretive sites can learn from this approach.

Last week I went to one of those new approaches, Star Wars in Concert (a live symphony orchestra presentation of the music from Star Wars, highlighted with scenes from all six films). I had certain expectations about what the event was going to be like, knowing that the concert was created to please a general audience or even attract the armchair Star Wars fans. I was aware that a large portion of the concert experience revolved around interpreting elements of the Star Wars universe in an exhibit featuring characters, props, technology, and roving costumed interpreters (okay, maybe that’s a reach). Star Wars and interpretation together, much like the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance, my worlds were colliding.

Needless to say I was excited to see how many times the typeface Star Vader could be appropriately used in exhibitry and to have my picture taken with those costumed interpreters. I had seen a few images of the exhibits via photo text message from an unnamed interpreter who resides in Missouri and who attended the event several months prior to me and who was attempting to make me jealous at the time. Because of his requests to stay anonymous in order to maintain the appearance of not being connected to such an event and this blog in general, I will withhold any further information. His attempts were futile and only encouraged my excitement.

Upon entering the venue for the event, the costumed interpreters and the exhibits set the stage for the experience. This is something at all interpretive media should strive to do—enhance the experience but not be the experience. Despite my love for Star Vader, I was pleased to see the exhibit type set in something easier to read, even if it was in all caps. As you would expect from Star Wars, cutting-edge technology was a large part of the exhibits (even though the movies took place a long time ago in a galaxy far away).  The technology was not interactive technology, but the use of large monitors (in high definition with flat screens), video, text, and images presented on “beautiful stylistic pedestals” (I was chastised by a reader after making such a statement in a previous post on interpreting NASCAR) were used to disseminate the information.

The presentation was nice, but there seemed to be a lack of theme overall. Unless the theme was “Star Wars is awesome,” which may very well be the case. Each display was effective at constantly changing. While one screen offered text about the concept the other provided supporting videos and images. As with most exhibits more information was provided than the average fan would want but were there any average fans there? Not that I saw.

Authenticity in the items on display added value and interest. There is something special about seeing the thing itself. One item on display was the original score sheets where John Williams’ hand wrote the notes that became a large part of the movie. It’s the geek equivalent of seeing the Declaration of Independence. Oh yeah, it was also a reminder that the music was the reason for the event. This was one of the last exhibits before entering the concert hall.

Several displays required no interpretation. I love this approach with authentic items. Leave the interpretation to the visitor, and allow them draw their own conclusions, provoke thought, and appreciate the item in their own way. When I first saw Yoda, I might as well have been frozen in carbonite myself.

Another simple approach for visitors to invent their own interpretation was applied though large scene backdrops that allowed visitors to make memories and create their own interpretation of the films that can be then shared on Facebook, with friends, or print in a very large format for hanging in the dining room. After George Lucas sees this picture I emailed him, I have no doubt I’ll be cast in Episode VII.

When all else fails, make it larger than life. I alluded earlier to the scenes from the movie to support the symphony orchestra. What I didn’t say is that those scenes were presented in HD on a 60-foot-tall LED screen. It was awesome in and of itself, though for the most part interpretive centers don’t have the budget for such a television. I have been told by my wife that we don’t have the budget either, despite my best efforts to persuade her on how good Oprah would look in that format.

The presentation went beyond the format and was one of the most important elements of the concert because in small snippets the program designers took key story elements and quotes, especially those prized by the inner circle of fans, to meet the expectations of youngest fans, uber fans, and normal people with significant others and jobs that don’t involve blogs or video games.

This may be best use of Star Vader ever. Oh yeah, by the way the music was great.