Ten Reasons to Join Us in Minnesota

The NAI National Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is fast approaching (November 8–12), and online registration closes this week. So go to the Workshop website and register now. Do it now!

Every October, I write a post about why you should join us at the NAI National Workshop. The actual reason is that it’s an inspirational and worthwhile professional development opportunity. And not only that, you just never know what sort of fun you’re going to have there. You may end up sharing a meal with a leader in the field, coming up with great ideas for new programs at your site, or witnessing two tubby knuckleheads getting their heads shaved against their wives’ wishes.

With that, ten reasons to join us at NAI 2011 next month!

  1. Saint Paul was established by the first-century apostle Saint Kirby Puckett, patron saint of Twinkies and dingers. (I may have to stop doing all of my research on Wikipedia.)
  2. Shea and I will present a concurrent session about blogging (Wednesday, November 9, at 1:00, for those of you marking your calendars). If you like reading Shea’s 150-word sentences with no punctuation on this blog, imagine hearing them in person! (If that doesn’t interest you, you can see the full list of other sessions here.)
  3. In the course of researching Minnesota culture and customs over the last year, I came across this thing called a Tater Tot Hotdish. If that doesn’t make you want to go to Minnesota, then we don’t want you there. (Photo by SEWilco.)
  4. Shea and I will be auctioneers at the scholarship auction. The event supports up-and-coming leaders in the field, and offers great deals on all sorts of goodies. Bring your own rotten fruit and vegetables to throw at us, free of charge!
  5. The largest ball of twine ever made by one person is located in Darwin, Minnesota, just under 70 miles away. You’d better believe Shea and I will be road-tripping there, and we’ll be singing Weird Al Yankovic’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” all the way there.
  6. The Minnesota Timberwolves have two games scheduled while we’re in town. If the NBA’s not on strike, we may try to win the T-wolves’ “Lucky Fan Gets to Be the Starting Point Guard” contest.* I will take my Christian Laettner Timberwolves jersey** to see if it brings me luck.
  7. Friday at the Workshop, we’ll celebrate 11:11 on 11/11 twice (though the second time will be after Shea’s 9:30 bedtime). Can you imagine celebrating that event with anyone but the IBD Nerd Herd?
  8. If it’s warm enough, we’ll go for a dip in the Mississippi River. We haven’t checked the weather forecast, but we’re going to be optimistic and take our bathing suits.
  9. Saint Paul is responsible for 14 of the epistles in the New Testament. (Sorry, that’s the actual saint, not the city in Minnesota.)
  10. You just never know who’s going to get their head shaved.

See you in Minnesota!

*Our first NBA joke on IBD!
**I actually do own a Christian Laettner Timberwolves jersey.

Saint Paul photo by Alexius Horatius.

Avoiding a Cheesy Cinco de Mayo

Have you ever wondered how something gets so far from its original intent that it really loses its meaning? I was reminded of this issue this week with two separate incidents.

While refueling my vehicle, on Monday morning I found myself in a conversation at the gas pump with a young man about the death of Osama Bin Laden. The young man I was talking to was nine years old on September 11, 2001 (I wasn’t for sure that he was actually old enough to be driving in the first place) and has a different way of looking at the events of that day and how he connects those memories to what happened to Bin Laden. Okay, this topic is way too serious for this not-so-serious blog. I know that the last thing you want to read here is my political commentary that could follow this example. Let me provide a second example that revolves around the less complicated topic of cheese dip.

The second event was the battery of emails that I have been receiving from On the Border, a chain restaurant that offers Mexican-type cuisine that is actually more like American-Mex that happens to be surprisingly delicious. I managed to get on their email list by being tricked into giving up my email address in exchange for free queso. It was a moment of weakness. The emails have been inviting me to return to On the Border to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Enjoying most things with mayo, I was seriously considering it.

Looking past the images of ice-filled buckets of “Mexican-type” beer I was looking for deeper meaning within the designs to develop a better understanding of what Cinco de Mayo is actually all about. I had a feeling that it was about more than cheese and cervesas (though that sounds like a perfectly acceptable holiday). Being a dumb American, it would have been easy for me to just accept this version of Cinco de Mayo and the carb-induced stupor that it could create and go to On the Border.

I knew there had to be more meaning behind it.  So my next step was Wikipedia. (I forgot to use the adjective lazy along with dumb above.) At least it was a start and at least my intentions were honorable, right? After leaving Wikipedia, I found myself reading several other online articles about the Battle of Puebla and how the under-armed and out-manned Mexican army defeated Napoleon III’s French forces. Who doesn’t love an underdog (that’s why I pull for the Yankees). I found it even more interesting and meaningful to me as a dumb, lazy, southern American that the battle had direct impact on the American Civil War, when the Mexican army was responsible for stopping Napoleon III from supplying the Confederacy with supplies that France had hoped would split the Union. Now that’s a reason for a holiday. I’m glad I didn’t accept Cinco de Mayo at face value.

On a much smaller and simpler scale I have seen interpretation in the form of programs, events, and designs perpetuate inaccuracies and still be widely accepted.

Special events at interpretive sites can move in directions that you never expected unless you have clear instructions for vendors, performers, and interpreters. Cinco de Mayo is not the first holiday that is drastically different from original concepts. You can take a look at how we celebrate religious holidays in the United States such as Christmas or Easter and realize their departure from the intended. Concessions are often made at events and festivals to meet specific needs and wants of visitors. True interpretive events should be managed different from that of festivals as to not confuse visitors or spread inaccurate messages.

Living history programs are an easy place for myths to be extended for the sake of adding character to the person being portrayed. If the story is not interesting or dynamic don’t transform it into something that it isn’t by adding character. Also be aware of your surroundings (competition and peers). I’ve seen many of the exact same type of living history programs presented all across the country because of limited amount of authentic living history supplies readily available through vendors.

Fire making is often over programmed because of its allure and the importance to survival (plus it is really cool thing to do in a program). I’ve seen the same period fire making kit come out of the same period haversack many times in different places. Creating fire in a program is great but by taking the tangible steps of making fire beyond the act itself and by relating it to something that the visitor can connect with (like a characters favorite time of night sitting around the fire with their family sharing stories or that fire was an opportunity for a child to do something important for his family) makes a demonstration a program. Me lighting our gas stove to melt cheese for dip has little value to you.

Non-personal media that has period or cultural-based graphic design elements needs to be carefully considered as well so that they don’t turn into something that looks like it came from a clip-art search. Decisions on how you plan to use elements such as colors, icons, imagery, and text should be weighed against their value of supporting the purpose of the piece. Oh yeah, and how those elements are used should also aide the communication and interpretive process. Don’t take the easy cheesy route.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Oh yeah, did you know that Cinco de Mayo translates to May 5th?

Taking Liberty with Lady Liberty

Okay, for those really paying attention (Paul and Jeff) I said at the end of my post last week “Next week a planned impromptu stop in Mississippi.” This is not that post. I’ll have to save it for another week because there is something more current that I just couldn’t pass up writing about.

Whenever possible, I try to quote rappers. Many quote Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and past presidents. I prefer Jay-Z. Nothing says “I’m terrific!” (Kelly Farrell, 04.19.2011) like dropping a little flow into daily conversations. Z’s (that’s what I call him) Blueprint 3 is one of the most critically acclaimed hip hop albums in years. One of the signature songs, “D.O.A.” is my favorite (or as the kids say these days, the schizzle – ca. 2004).

Perhaps one of reasons I have always been drawn to rap is that I can’t sing. I mean, I can sing, just no one wants to hear it. In Jay’s (something else I call him from time to time) “D.O.A.” (Death of Auto-Tune) he takes on the over use of Auto-Tune in the music industry. For those of you who don’t know what Auto-Tune does, Wikipedia says, “Auto-Tune uses a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances. It is used to disguise off-key inaccuracies and mistakes, and has allowed singers to perform perfectly tuned vocal tracks without needing to sing in tune.” I particularly like the song, since he is calling out several rappers/singers for “T-Paining too much.” He challenges artists to not be lazy by trying to cover their mistakes/shortcomings, and has a mad beat with a crazy clarinet that I just can’t get enough of.

I tell you that to tell you this: Sometimes you just have to own up to a mistake and not try to cover it with tracks filtered through Auto-Tune. The United States Post Office (or the USPS, as I sometime call them) made a mistake this week and have yet to fully own up to it. I’ve been responsible for publications and a logo that will go unnamed where a mistake was caught after it was printed and several hundred promotional pins and bookmarks were produced and distributed. I can relate to the Post Office’s pain somewhat—though they printed 3 billion of their mistake.

A new stamp being offered this year features the Statue of Liberty. Upon closer investigation by the folks at Linn’s Stamp News they noticed that the photo being used was not Lady Liberty of Liberty Island in New York Harbor, New York, but Lucky Lady Liberty of the New York New York Hotel and Casino of Las Vegas, Nevada. I love Linn’s Stamp News’ attention to detail and the fact that they have a website that is possibly nerdier than IBD. That’s a jab at them and they have over 40,000 subscribers. (We have 714 followers on Facebook. According to my caluculations I will be 73 before we reach 40,000.)

Linn’s noticed that the Lady Liberty of the stamp had additional sculptural features and less worn and tired eyes than the real Lady Liberty (which I have no doubt is related to the relationship between her and her prodigal baseball sons the Mets and the Yankees; I’ll leave it to you to figure out which team is which son).

The image was purchased from a stock photo agency (Getty Images) that simply labeled it “Statue of Liberty” and the USPS took it at face value (uh, sorry). They are standing by their choice. According to a USPS spokesperson, “We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway.” They have no plans to pull it out of circulation. They also report that they like how tall black boots look with blue denim-like shorts and that dogs really are their friends.

Just because it looks good, it is a great image, and is well designed doesn’t make it authentic. If a design represents a universal concept, such as freedom in this case, all credibility is lost in the presentation by using an unrelated, though similar image. For years I have encouraged interpreters who I have worked with to take their own images of park resources to add authenticity to their programs. They may not be as good of an image at the New York, New York image, but authentic images improve the quality of their message. Interpretive sites should rely on their authenticity to bring responses out of visitors.

This is a stamp, and yes, I can’t wait to buy some now. I know most people don’t care. As interpreters, we must care about the products we produce, the messages we send, and the experiences we create. If you are representing something as important as freedom, you better get it right.

Now I’m going to go download the T-Pain app so I can read this post back as if T-Pain were singing it.

For those really paying attention (not just Paul) I have another great (0kay, that’s more than presumptuous) post on stamps coming soon.

Going with the Flow

What’s not to like about flowcharts? They are capable of transforming a complex issue or process into something that is simple, cut, and dry. I love how they work, you respond to a question and you get an answer. Sometimes your answer leads to another question but eventually you get an answer. Order can be brought from chaos through a flowchart. Now, if there were a flowchart on how I should appropriately respond to my wife, I would use it all the time. Wait, let me refer to my flowchart on when to use flowcharts…okay, I’m not so sure it would really work well after all.

Wikipedia.org defines a flowchart as “a type of diagram that represents an algorithm or process, showing the steps as boxes of various kinds, and their order by connecting these with arrows. This diagrammatic representation can give a step-by-step solution to a given problem.” (I must admit I just used this definition of flowchart to add the word “algorithm” and the phrase “diagrammatic representation” to our searchable list of keywords that will surely bring hundreds of hits to IBD.)

Paul and I often get asked difficult questions like, What color should I use in this logo? Which is better, In Design or QuarkXPress? What is the best file format for my project? and Do you know where your children are? All of these would be easier to answer with a flow chart. So why not create a FC (that’s flow chart for the really cool) to answer the ever-present question of which typeface should I use?

Thankfully I didn’t have to do it. Twenty-two year-old graphic design student Julian Hansen has created one for us. You can view the full image here. The FC asks some great questions and at the very least conceptualizes the thought processes behind choosing a typeface. Of course, much like IBD, there is an insane amount of humor woven into the chart and it shouldn’t be taken literally. Though I specifically love the path to Futura and Frutiger, along with the questions that lead to OCR.  Oh yeah, there is even a path to Comic Sans (though I think you know where we stand on that path).

I wish design decisions could be this easy. For years we have advocated that one of the most important areas for designers, non-designers, and interpretive designers to grow in is the ability to verbalize to supervisors, co-workers, and advisory boards on the reasons behind design decisions such as font selection. As the designer, if you can’t explain why you made a decision to foster support you shouldn’t expect support. Saying something like I just like it, or because I said so, only works with my wife.

If you haven’t created a FC in while take the time to do so. I use them in developing complicated PowerPoint programs, to map project progression, and as a way to conceptualize problem solving/solution finding. There are plenty of programs that more than likely already on your computer to help you with the process or you could always use free downloads such as SmartDraw. You could also go on with life, as a normal person.