There are many good baseball players out there, but few truly great players. (Yes, this is going to be another weak baseball analogy weakly tied to something like interpretation or interpretive design that you actually care about.) My all-time favorite New York Yankee player (I don’t have to say great since it is a preconceived notion that no other Major League Baseball teams have great players, there is also a discussion that every player to ever wear the pinstripes is great but that’s an analogy for another blog post.) is Derek Jeter.

Those who have been paying attention to the Yankees over the last few weeks (even if just for the ability to chastise me on Facebook) may have noticed that overall the team is getting older and don’t have the spunk of 2009 (when they beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series). At some point even the greatest players get old and despite the ability jump, turn and throw in mid-air, it all comes down to what you have contributed lately. Jeter has been primarily contributing ground balls to the short stop.

I feel bad for Jeter. He his resume speaks for itself. He has been a machine for years, has 5 World Championship rings, as well as many other titles but in an attempt to retain you as a reader (yes, we honestly try; well, I guess it could be debated that Paul’s grammar posts are counterproductive) here’s the part that I’m really struggling with, Jeter turns 37 next month and so do I.

Over the last few months I have been feeling old myself. As a player, he is past is prime and as a professional baseball player, rating his contribution to the team is easily measurable, or is it? How do I know if I’m still a player and contributing in my field of play? (Which is much like Yankee Stadium minus the applause and 50,287 spectators, but still plenty of hot dogs.)

Some time ago I wrote about staying relevant (Relevance for the Irrelevant) and this could be considered an extension of that post or part two (of Shea getting old). As interpretive designers we are often working as a team. Someone may be contributing artwork, text, concepts, funds, or ideas while others may be responsible for design, layout, technological support, or supervision. In some cases you could be carrying all of those responsibilities. I find myself on many design/project/problem-solving teams in my course of work. I just want to make sure that I’m contributing so that I don’t get moved from short stop to right field, to the designated hitter slot, or even worse shipped off to the National League.

Here are some ways that I’m working to stay relevant in a team environment.

If I’m in a leadership role I try to provide clear expectations of the group and outline responsibilities without taking over the creative process. Teetering between manager and player is a delicate balance of providing direction, creating goals and objectives, while allowing the strengths of each member shine. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of players will guide your decisions about specific roles. Groups are often looking for a leader. If you are in that role, lead.

If I’m not in a leadership role I view my primary responsibility as being supportive. I have to set aside any personal agendas and let the process take place. The best part of doing this is that it takes an amazing amount of pressure off of me of know what the end product will be and allows me to focus on my role (supporting others) and my responsibilities. Working in this way is rewarding and productive.

Don’t forget about the intangibles that you can bring to a collaborative effort. Respect, attention to detail, positive attitude and being prepared can go a long way in reaching goals.

I don’t think it is time for Derek Jeter to lay down and call it quits. He may have to adapt his  role as a leader and a player in order to lead the Yankees to their next title.

Grammar Pet Peeves: It’s All Right

You know what I think? People love grammar. With that, more grammar pet peeves!

Have Went
More and more often these days, I hear people say have went when they mean have gone. I don’t mean to overstate this, but this is one of those grammar mistakes that makes me want to stab myself in the neck with a fork—though it’s not as bad as Shea saying “Go Yankees” in his Southern accent. The past participle of to go is gone, which you would use with auxiliary verbs like has, have, is, am, etc. The simple past is went, which should not be used with an auxiliary verb.

So you would say, “I went to Yankee stadium and was surprised that they did not have grits at the concession stand.” Then you would say, “I should have gone to a Houston Astros game instead.” Every time you say “have went” instead of “have gone,” a little part of grammar enthusiasts dies inside, even if they don’t hear you say it. It’s like a disturbance in The Force.

Capitol Building
The dictionary definition of the noun capitol (lower case, with an O) is “a building occupied by a state legislature.” So the phrase capitol building is redundant, because capitol by definition is a building. It would be like saying, “I live in that house building” or “I’m going to see a baseball game in that stadium building.”

Similarly, the proper noun Capitol (upper case, still with an O) refers specifically to the building in Washington DC where Congress meets. So if you write, “National Capitol Building,” you’re being triply redundant, since Capitol by itself is already the national building you’re talking about. (If you click on the image here, you will see that Wikimedia user Scrumshus committed this error in the caption. Nevertheless, thank you, Scrumshus, for the copyright-free photo.)

Capital (with an A) can be a noun or an adjective and it means a lot of different things (it’s a little like Smurphy that way). As a noun, capital can be an upper-case letter, money, or a city that hosts the government of a political region. As an adjective, it can mean important, super-duper, related to money, or fatal.

In the most recent installment of Grammar Pet Peeves, Friend of IBD Greg wrote this in the comments section:

Why no mention of the most annoying (and unfortunately most popular) grammar flub out there: “myself”? What can we do about people’s obsession with this word?

Whenever I hear people say myself when me or I would work, it makes me think of the Austin Powers quote, “Allow myself to introduce…myself.” (For the record, Austin’s first myself is incorrect; the second is correct.) Here’s my theory: People are unsure about the appropriate use of me and I (which I wrote about back in the first installment of this series), so they use myself instead, just to be absolutely sure that they’re wrong.

If you’re in court, you might hear a mobster say, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to myself,” when what he really means is, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to me.” You might also hear him say, “Tommy and myself broke that jerk’s thumbs,” when what he means is “Tommy and I broke that jerk’s thumbs.”

As a reflexive pronoun, myself is correctly used as an object of a verb. For instance, “I hate myself for rooting for the Yankees” or “I smacked myself with a hammer.” Or if you are Austin Powers, “Allow me to introduce myself.”

A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.
Also in the comments of the most recent installment of this series, Friend of IBD Betty wrote, “I dislike sentences that end in prepositions.” Betty’s phrasing here is perfect, because while some people are surprised to learn that it is grammatically correct to end a sentence with a preposition, a lot of people simply don’t like it. (Betty didn’t say it was wrong; she just said that she doesn’t like it.)

The Grammar Girl blog lists the rule that you should not end a sentence with a preposition as one of the top 10 grammar myths. Author Mignon Fogarty explains it like this:

Here’s an example of a sentence that can end with a preposition: What did you step on? A key point is that the sentence doesn’t work if you leave off the preposition. You can’t say, “What did you step?” You need to say, “What did you step on?” to make a grammatical sentence…. Yes, you could say, “On what did you step?” but not even grammarians think you should. It sounds pedantic.

I reference Grammar Girl a lot in these pet peeve posts, and I wonder if you feel, as I do, that Grammar Girl (on the right) is the secret, daytime alter ego of the esurance girl. Or possibly vice versa. At any rate, the point is don’t be afraid to end a sentence with a preposition.

It’s hard to call this a pet peeve because I just learned about it, but it’s interesting (to me, anyway), so I thought I’d share. It seems that alright is not a word. Or to be fair, if it is a word, it’s recognized in most style guides and dictionaries as “nonstandard,” which means, “You can use it, but if you do you’re stupid.” We’re so accustomed to seeing words like altogether and already (which are indeed words), that we took the two-word phrase all right and made it alright. Again, there’s a good post on this on the Grammar Girl blog.

So now the stodgy prescriptivists (“Without grammatical structure and rules, language will cease to exist”) and the free-love descriptivists (“Language is a like an organism, man, and it can’t be restrained”) can argue over whether alright gets to be a word.

Well, alright, it’s a capitol idea for myself to stop now, because I have really went on. ‘Til next time!

Type on a Curveball

This post is going to make Uber IBD Reader Jeff Miller happy for the simple fact that I’m about to discuss something that the World Champion New York Yankees have done that could have been improved. Correctly setting type on a curve is as not as simple as it seems.

The week of July 11, 2010 was a tough week for the New York Yankees organization and fans alike. On July 11, 2010 Bob Sheppard passed away and two days later on July 13, 2010 George Steinbrenner also passed away. For over 56 years Sheppard was the voice of Yankee Stadium where he served as the public address manager. I’ll never forget hearing his voice on a trip to Yankee Stadium a few years ago. It was so memorable that Reggie Jackson referred to it as “The voice of God.” Steinbrenner was the only Yankees owner that I have known since he took ownership one year before I was born in 1973. His aggressive nature, hands-on approach to management, and check writing ability led the Yankees to 7 World Championships and 11 pennants as well as the nickname “the Boss.”

The two had very different roles in the Yankees organization and contributed on very different levels. Much like the authors/contributors of IBD, Lisa is the boss and brains where Paul and I are the projected voices that disappear in the background except for the 10s of fans that really care. With the team facing such significant losses in the middle of the season the two needed to be honored on the uniforms of the Yankees. In 2009 when the Philadelphia Phillies lost play by play announcer Harry Kalas the Phillies honored him by wearing a round, black patch with a simple sans serif, capital H and K on it over the heart.

The Yankees followed suit by applying two patches to their uniforms honoring Sheppard and Steinbrenner in two separate ways. The patch designed for Sheppard is nothing short of classy and representative of the man and his contribution and career.

I particularly like the classic New York Yankees’ typeface (name of typeface) on the patch in all caps along with the two pieces of stadium façade accent art (all consistent with elements of Yankee Stadium) not to mention the diamond shape and the classic microphone (now a part of the baseball hall of fame).

On August 14, 2009, in one of our Live from Chicago Posts, Paul posted a picture of an exhibit in the Field Museum that turned into a discussion about type on a curve that preoccupied Paul and me for several hours while our wives and collective five children filled the need of paternal/spousal units with ice cream.

In the post about this exhibit, Paul stated: “Typically, typographers advise against placing type on a curve (just because Adobe Illustrator lets you do it doesn’t mean that you should). However, we’re always on the lookout for effective instances of breaking the rules, and this circular exhibit at the Field Museum offers just that. The type here follows the curve of the contours of the exhibit itself.”

The patch honoring “the Boss” (Steinbrenner not Brochu) is an example where the execution of type on a curve fell flat, if that makes sense. Especially when being compared to the Sheppard patch and worn on the same uniform. The black oval patch is worn over the heart just above the classic NY logo. But there is just something about this patch that just doesn’t look right. The more I studied it, the more my eye went to the top curved text. The letter spacing is inconsistent and doesn’t effectively follow the curve of the oval. There are other problems with the design but I can only take so much of myself being critical of my team. Much more and I could be forced to pull for a team in the National League.

There are many programs today that will allow you to apply type in various shapes or create multitude of lines for the type to follow. This approach can be used and can be effective but requires additional thought and adjustments to each character. The problem is that many of the programs that allow you to place type on a curve don’t allow you to make these needed adjustments. The severity of the curve and the number of characters in George M. Steinbrenner III is part of the issue with the GMS patch. If you are applying type to a curve always consider altering the curve if it becomes too much of a problem. Also use other typographic techniques like avoiding combinations of italics/bold, decorative typefaces, and all caps to improve readability.

When using this technique consider the relationship of each letter with adjacent letters. Remember that we read by recognizing the relationship between those letters and that our eyes recognize the overall shape of the word in order to be read. When the characters get distorted or the relationship changes it becomes difficult to read. The solution is simple, adjust the kerning (space between letters) letter by letter to improve readability. If altering the kerning still doesn’t fix the problem you may have to apply each letter as an object that can be rotated and moved individually.

George and Bob, you will be missed. Let’s go 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.