Halloween: Our Most Visual Holiday

For those of you reading this in the future, today is Halloween. If Halloween does not exist in your time, I can tell you that it was an ancient custom filled with magic, during which kids dressed like monsters, men dressed like women, and women dressed like they were in Las Vegas. Everyone got candy, except for the kids who went to that one house where they gave out apples and toothbrushes.

If you are a time-traveling visitor from the past, here are some interesting facts about today’s Halloween: We don’t carve jack-o-lanterns out of turnips anymore! Now we use pumpkins. (Did you know that pumpkins are actually a fruit, not a vegetable? It’s a crazy world we live in.) And jack-o-lanterns, instead of welcoming the souls of deceased loved ones the way they used to, now welcome ungrateful, entitled children in plastic masks from Wal Mart.

Halloween is one of the most striking holidays from a visual perspective. It has a distinctive color palette: ominous, somber black, and the official color of prop comedian Carrot Top, orange. Centuries ago, Halloween was associated with orange and black because of the season of the holiday (fall) and the time of day that the holiday was observed (night).

These days, the visual vernacular of Halloween is spooky and ghoulish—ghosts, demons, witches, and all sorts of gruesome stuff:

Halloween has lost most of its original reason for being as a religious holiday, and it’s now perpetuated almost entirely through a commonly accepted visual aesthetic (also through the promise of candy). Ultimately, when the trick-or-treaters come by our houses tonight, we’ll all be aware that we’re witnessing a really well-branded product, with a well-defined color palette and visual voice.

That said, I hope you’ll share photos of your costumes with us either here on the blog or on our Facebook page. Happy Halloween!

Selling Intepretive Resale

For some time I have dealt with elements of obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m not as bad as my brother, but for some reason I do things a certain way, can be superstitious, and can be obsessive in the way I make purchases. For example, there was a time in my life, where Star Wars action figures (not dolls) were being re-released in coordination with the new Star Wars episodes. My obsessive nature wouldn’t allow me to be simply satisfied with picking up a figure or two of my most favorite characters. I had to have them all, including the alternate versions with various slight differences in packaging, images on packages, and length of light saber (not a joke, which now in hindsight seems really sad).

I was fairly newly married at the time and my good friend Joel (or Darth Frey, as my wife secretly referred to him…sorry Joel) who happened to be single, helped fuel my fire. As in most marriages, there came a tipping point when several hundred action figures that had formed a star-tastic border around the ceiling of my home office. I had to take them down.

Of course I properly stored them in acid-free wrapping and air tight containers to ensure their protection from the humidity of Arkansas, bright lights of Wal-Mart, and my wife. We moved several times over the next few years (farther and farther from Joel) and every time we came to the “toy” containers I was challenged to get rid of them. Eventually the majority of the figures found their way to eBay.

I still have some in storage that I just can’t get rid of because I know my 4-year-old son who just checked out two Star Wars books from the library will appreciate their value and importance. He may also be the chosen one (sorry IBD-TCO) that will help bring eternal balance to the Force.

Let’s face it, I became a consumer because of an emotional connection to the movies that Forced (no pun intended, even though the F is capitalized for some strange reason) me to invest in the products. I guess you could say I was Jedi mind tricked, but we know that only works on the weak minded (like Paul, who follows the weak-minded rules of grammar and can be tricked with cheese-covered meat to pull for a team).

It is no secret that those responsible for marketing have used interpretive techniques for some time. The idea of building an emotional connection to the consumer/customer had led to many successful campaigns and the transfer of billions of dollars. This month’s trend briefing from Trendwatching (one of the world’s leading trend firms, trendwatching.com sends out its free, monthly Trend Briefings to more than 160,000 subscribers worldwide) displayed this interpretive approach in new ways for consumers to invest in their products. Here are a few of the highlighted products that have interpretive implications.

RememberMe is a collaboration between Future everything and an Oxfam store. When people donate items a recording is taken of any of where/how they acquired it, any memories attached to the item, and any other associated stories. The audio files are then attached digitally through QR codes. What if interpretive sites attached key messages to the items for sale in their gift shop that related the experience to the item? Who says it has to involve a smart phone or a QR code? A hand-crafted label could be simply applied.

Remakes offer a product that could support your environmental message. By taking billboards and transforming them into placemats, Remakes is repurposing something that would have taken up space in a landfill. This may not apply to most interpretive sites but the principle behind it could.

Nspiredstory allows people to submit stories with meaning behind them, that are then voted on. The winning story is given to an up-and-coming designer to produce a limited edition T-shirt based on the story’s theme. I see all kinds of program options here along with promotion possibility of interpretive site promotion.

Similar to that of Remember Me, the IOU Project (don’t get excited Paul, this par isn’t about vowels) attaches QR codes to sustainable clothing that allows you to gain insight about what your purchase is doing for the person who wove the fabric in the article. The connection is powerful and provides an intangible element to a traditional purchase.

Since those obsessive days, I have found ways to curtail my obsessive nature. The quest of collecting children ended at three due to cost along with wear and tear on my wife. I now collect hiking stick medallions (which are low cost and take up very little space, even though I’m on my third hiking stick and I have only two hands), continued my life bird obsession/collection, and World Championships as a fan of the New York Yankees.

Get A Grip: Interpreting Baseball

This is a big week for Paul and me. We are celebrating the return of baseball! (I seldom use exclamation points, but in this case it is worthy.) I love new beginnings. For me, a New York Yankees fan, the start of this season comes off a World Championship, in an awesome new stadium, setting the stage for years to come. For Paul, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, the season marks an opportunity to meet the Yankees in the World Series and fall short yet again. So, how can I write about baseball for a second time in one week without ostracizing our audience with another baseball-related post? I should have asked this same question prior to posts on Star Wars, NASCAR, and Walmart but I didn’t.

Baseball is in my blood. My grandfather was a huge New York Yankees fan, which led to my love of the Yankees despite the distance from Yankee Stadium to my house (1144.26 miles to be exact, just to save Paul the trouble of researching it for the comments section). With satellite television, he never missed a game. As I grew up, keeping up with the Yankees was an important part of staying close with my grandfather. I kept up with the smallest details of players, statistics, and games to converse with him and hopefully add something insightful to the conversation. I never got one up on him.

He was a talented athlete as a child, adult, and even later in life. I never have been. I remember the disappointment in his eyes when he took me to purchase my first real baseball glove and I wanted the pink one. I also remember seeing the disappointment after he attended one of my peewee baseball games and realized that I was going to be better suited for playing Super Mario Brothers. I played in the catcher position not because of my throwing or catching ability but because I served as the best backstop. My husky disposition was effective at stopping balls especially when I closed my eyes after each pitch.

One of the greatest memories that I have of me and my grandfather came years after peewee baseball when he taught me how to throw a knuckle ball. Again I was playing catcher. The knuckle ball is a remarkable combination of skill and physics. Much like the great New York Yankee manager Joe Torre said, “You don’t catch a knuckle ball, you defend against it.” I still couldn’t catch; at least I could blame the knuckle ball this time around. He never let these details get in the way of our personal relationship or our relationship with the game. The great thing about baseball is that anyone can be a spectator and I’ve got that position covered.

The more you learn about baseball, the more you want to know. I was excited to see an exhibit in the Museum of Westward Expansion, a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, more commonly known as The Arch. St. Louis is a great baseball town and the exhibit “Baseball’s Gateway to the West” was a welcoming sight to me. The exhibit immediately caught my attention. A portion of the exhibit that I had a hard time walking away from reminded me of my grandfather teaching me to throw a knuckle ball. The simple exhibit was a creative tactile approach for explaining the various grips of types of pitches. St. Louis entrepreneur Ted Kennedy created a mail-order correspondence-type course for learning various baseball techniques. Taking on the topic in some other way would have otherwise been too complicated to explain in text and graphics wouldn’t have provided this type of experience.

As you can see, baseballs are attached to self retracting lanyards that are embossed with a “T” for your thumb and two other spots for index and middle fingers. I’ve seen explanations of various pitching techniques written and on television, but this approach brought it home. This is the next best thing from having Ted Kennedy or your grandfather teaching you. As with most interpretive experiences, personal interpretation is preferred for effectiveness and non-personal approaches run a close second.

The other portion of the exhibit that I found interesting was about the St. Louis invention of the Knot Hole Gang. The Knot Hole Gang got its name from not having tickets to the games and watching what could be seen through knot holes in the fence. The Cardinals created, as a bonus to their stockholders, the first Knot Hole Gang where tickets were handed down to children to attend games.

The designers of this portion of the exhibit took an interesting approach to interpreting the story. Instead of just graphically re-creating a fence in the compressed laminate, actual fence boards were used to make a fence complete with knot holes. When you peer through the hole you see a historic picture of a game in progress.

For a moment, I relived parts of the 1928 World Series where Babe Ruth went 10 for 16 and the Yankees swept the Cardinals. I could have relived the 1926 World Series, where the Cardinals beat the Yankees in an effort to develop empathy for Paul and the 2009 World Series, but I decided that it would be too painful.

Both of these concepts remind me that the thought, design, and innovation to interpret the story doesn’t always require a high-tech, sophisticated approach to be effective. Oh yeah, one doesn’t have to live near New York to be fan of the Yankees, a pink glove is okay for a boy, and you don’t have to be athletic to be a spectator.

Star Vader: Tapping into Your Inner Nerd through Type

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Warning: The nerd factor on IBD is about to reach an all time high. If you are not a certified member of the nerd herd slowly step away from your computer.

I would like to be able to blame Paul’s snarky comment (“Tune in next week when Shea sings the praises of Wal-Mart, Darth Vader, and the New York Yankees…”) made on June 18, 2009 (in reference to my post on PC vs. Mac (Hint: PC Wins!)) for this geeky post. My last post (Wal-Mart’s Makeover) was to serve as evidence to Paul that he shouldn’t encourage me. This post was bound to come from me sooner or later, and more like this one will come in the future.

It was just a matter of time before you found out that I’m a huge fan of Star Wars. Okay, so now that we’ve got that out of the way I will proceed.

As a Star Wars fan, I have always been drawn to the typeface Star Vader (available for free download here). For me the romantic allure of the classic movies is conveyed through the type. Some of the earliest Star Wars artwork includes Star Vader in its raw, unaltered state. The modern yet rustic letterforms are as beautiful, though less functional, as Helvetica. Through the years modernized versions of Star Vader have evolved to what many recognize as the more current “Star Wars” font.

The problem with Star Vader is that besides personal correspondence between one equally geeky friend (Joel Andrew Frey of El Paso, Texas, author of Two Sides of a Cypress Wall, in which I am a key character), a temporary website that I created in college, and invitations to my bachelor party, I have had little excuse to use it.

But what’s not to like about this futuristic sans serif that has held up to the test of time by still looking futuristic 32 years after it hit the mainstream? I have gone to the trouble to download it to various personal computers and work computers and for some reason I find myself wanting to use it though I seldom have the occasion.

There are plenty of typefaces like Star Vader that only can be used sparingly and for the specific purpose of evoking an emotional connection to reader’s memories of a movie, time period, genre, or style that may or may not be connected to the work at hand. Websites such as David Occhino Design offer new stylized versions of classic fonts like Star Vader as well as other movie, art deco, Halloween, theme park, and sci-fi fonts.

I have seen mimic work done well and poorly. Use caution when creating a look that looks like “a look.” If you are going to use this approach make sure that every detail from color, composition, and scale are appropriately and respectfully recreated.  Many of these typefaces could be well used in a thematic interpretive program.

There is an interesting sub-culture of folks out there who take typography to an entirely different level and use fonts for an entirely different purpose than most typographers and designers. The effort they put into accurately re-creating costumes, communicating in the native languages of Star Wars characters, or creating fonts to evoke moments from the Star Wars films is “impressive, most impressive.”

What impresses me most is the amount of effort placed in perfecting the unique letterforms found in the various typefaces (or even entirely fictional character sets). I have only dressed in Star Wars garb a limited number of times. But some of the folks I know take it very seriously. For more information, contact Joel Frey directly or visit Wookieepdia (I’m not kidding), a Star Wars wiki for the proper use of typefaces/languages like Aurebesh.

I did have the opportunity to meet Darth Vader (Dave Prowse, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader, not James Earl Jones who was the voice of Darth Vader) in the fall of 1993 (11.07.1993, to be exact). Here’s a picture of Joel, me, and Darth (left to right) and a copy of the autographed picture I received that day.

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