Fun with Googling Colors

I was on the phone with Friend of IBD Howard Aprill not long ago, when he described something as being the color “vermillion.” Because Shea and I are going to present a graphic design workshop this summer at Wehr Nature Center in Milwaukee, where Howard works, and because I am a graphic designer, I felt I should know what color vermillion was. Rather than ask, I changed the subject of the conversation to baseball and on the side, quietly Googled “What color is vermillion?”

Of course, the rest of my afternoon was shot. I’ve always wanted to know the difference between sea foam…

…and sea mist. (Not much.)

Or the difference between cerulean…

…and manganese. (Cerulean’s a little darker, maybe?)

Then, of course, this led to further exploration. (All while Howard and I were still talking, mind you. This may explain why I apparently agreed to sing “I’m a Little Teacup” during our workshop in Milwaukee this summer.) What if you Googled “What color is [something that is not a color]?” Some (but not all) of these turned up interesting results.

What color is nature? (I thought this would come back overwhelmingly green. Kind of refreshing that it did not.)

What color is energy?

What color is Greece?

What color is New Jersey?

And, of course, this led to even more exploration. (At this point in the conversation, evidently, I’ve agreed to buy everyone Brewers tickets and wear a T-shirt that says “I’m Ryan Braun’s pharmacist” to the game.) I took a few of the screen captures above and uploaded them to my favorite color-palette generator, Kuler, which I wrote about way back when.

Here’s what I got for vermillion:



Nature (I love this one):

And New Jersey:

I think what this amounts to is a kind of fun, Internet-based brainstorming—and sometimes it works better than others. I would never commit myself to generating a color palette for a project exclusively using this method, but the results that it returns could be a springboard for thinking about colors in ways that you haven’t before.

I plan to explore this more in the future, and I’d love to see some of the results IBD readers come up with in the comments of this post. In the meantime, I have to figure out why my presenter’s agreement with the Wehr Nature Center says I’m doing Howard Aprill’s laundry.

The “So What?” of Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shredding My Soul

The other day while clearing the “to be filed” stack on my desk I came across some notes from an Erica Wheeler workshop from several years ago. I am moderately obsessive compulsive about order in my office and with most things in my life. I am successful at maintaining that order in my office primarily because my children rarely enter the space. Order in other areas of my life can be found somewhere in between Shangri La and Chernobyl.

The “to be filed” stack on my desk is a refuge from the recycle pile for those documents that have the opportunity live a more fruitful life hanging in my color-coded filing system. Those items that I have disdain for, such as anything from Boston, things that involve the use of Papyrus, and all correspondence from Paul, I take to the shredder and then recycle them. It is the simple pleasures in life that really make you happy. The items that do make it to the “to be filed” stack have some importance and should be saved though I must admit that may or may not ever be used again. Much like my size medium Boy George and Culture Club concert T-shirt.

I found myself trying to make a decision if my notes from Erica’s Soulful Landscape workshop should be recycled or saved. They were in my right hand, which already made them closer to the recycle pile so their reuse was near, and due to their extremely personal nature they were facing a possible shredding despite an absence of animosity. To help me finalize my decision I started reading them again.

I found myself asking, “What is this emotional connection to ink on paper doing getting in the way of my progress and interrupting my logical approach to organization?” I don’t have time for feelings when it comes to keeping my office clean and organized. But the more I read the more I realized what I wrote on February 20, 2008, was still how I felt today. The words were powerful more than two years after being written and the subject matter was still compelling and deeply personal to me.

Erica Wheeler, award-winning singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, educator, and conservation advocate.

The feeling I had at that moment, at that workshop, is something that I’m still struggling with today. Reading my notes brought me back to that specific moment and reminded me of the process that Erica so skillfully guided the group and me through to reach my well-guarded feelings and emotions. Since that moment in 2008 I have not felt much, expressed very little, hidden feelings behind weak attempts at humor that only my children and Paul laugh at, and had a secret relationship with high-fructose corn syrup.

If we define interpretation as a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource, perhaps we (uh, I) should have a better working knowledge of emotional connections.

So what is it about emotional connections that make them so powerful? Emotions are a part of all of us and learned through instinct and observation. I don’t recall a class in elementary school on mastery of emotions but the concept should be considered for all men, especially those who think cereal is the honorary fourth meal of the day. Most psychologists would agree that emotions are there to assist in conveying and receiving information—something that interpretation is supposed to do as well. Emotions help us understand each other, relate to what others are feeling, and build connections, again part of the interpretive process. They help us make decisions and decide what is important to us.

In Erica’s workshop one of the questions she asks is, “What is true for me today?” The first step in interpretation is building an emotional connection to our site is for the visitor to know what is true or important to them at that moment. Hopefully that is part of the reason they came to your site in the first place. The problem is that in most cases we don’t have control over this concept in the visitors who come to our sites, but we do have control over the attitudes, truth, and emotions we put into and bring to work. We can improve our interpretive efforts by knowing what is true for us today and eating a large bowl of sugar-based cereal before coming to work. We are in the business of building connections.

Where does this come from? Feelings are much easier to experience than explain. Remember that emotions come from all of the parties involved. Interpretation is not one-sided. I was involved in a one-sided relationship once, which ended tragically. The interpreter and the visitor both bring history, pre-conceived notions, prior knowledge, and emotions to the program or blooming relationship. The girl I was in the one-sided relationship with also brought pepper spray to my/our relationship. Like all good relationships interpretation should be built around honesty, trust, and communication. Interpretation should take place in a comfortable setting and provide opportunities for interaction, sharing, and time for reflection. This is the case for personal and non-personal interpretation.

How can we harness this power and use it to the best of our abilities? We have to connect the resources, mission, and stories of our sites to the visitor’s emotions. Erica makes beautiful music from her emotions, and I make others feel uncomfortable with mine. In The Dream Society by Rolf Jensen he presents the concept of our culture moving from an information-based society to a dream-based society where emotional-based markets take precedence and value is defined through the lasting emotional experience and not on products or consumption. Jensen offers markets such as adventure, peace of mind, community, self expression, and beliefs/convictions that relate to emotions and interpretation. We have to create an emotional marketplace and interpretation is the currency for the exchange.

You may be wondering what it was in my notes from the workshop that inspired this post. Sorry, you can keep wondering. You can believe me when I say that it would provide enough fuel for Jay-Z to rap about it (minus the cursing, references to being married to Beyonce, and use of the word Hova part), Kenny Chesney to write a classic country song about it (minus the divorce, lost dog, or guns in my pick-up truck part), or Erica Wheeler to send me to a counselor. If you have a chance to attend a Soulful Landscape Workshop or see Erica Wheeler perform, take that opportunity.

Oh yeah, I decided to keep the notes, a silly emotional decision.

T-Shirts for Designers

Caution: If you read this post and consider any of the following articles of clothing stylish, cool, or even moderately acceptable your membership in the nerd herd is accepted, valid, and there is no turning back for you.

Several posts ago I wrote about the American Apparel Image as well as their popular t-shirts. Friend and reader of IBD, Joe Jacobs, referred us to another blog on design (not that he should be reading any other design blogs besides IBD) with a post on t-shirts for designers. After searching through the shirts, here are my favorites.  If you are looking for that holiday gift for that nerd in your life this post may help you (hint to my wife…I wish she read my blog).

Anatomy of A

Vonroxy has a nice “Anatomy of the Letter A” shirt that is sure to swoon as well as provide an interpretive opportunity discussing the ascender, mean line, and bowl of a letterform. IBD does not guarantee that this shirt will actually improve your chances with swooning. Based on actual results, the above shirt and typeography discussion could impair the swooning process.


They also offer the classic Helvetica shirt that is almost too mainstream for me now.  Just kidding, I really like it.


Collapse Design is offering an interesting collection of t-shirts with slogans based on design terms intertwined into pop culture phrases.


UG Monk provides a great example of message within a message. They’ve got some great oversized letterform shirts too.


Who needs a drop down menu with a list of sans serif typefaces when you can wear them? Turn Nocturnal has a shirt with 300 sans serif typefaces screen printed in a interesting design.  Their “huge type looks sweet shirt”  is sweet too.


Veer (which happens to be great online source for various design needs) is offering more whitespace in your life and who couldn’t use more whitespace. They also offer an entire line of other products for nerd herd members like us. That’s right.  Accept your official membership into the herd.