Sunday, July 31, 2011

Playing In The Puddles

"Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, "This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!"
Douglas Adams

Friday, July 29, 2011

Learning Without Words

At its roots, design communication is a problem-solving exercise. Redefining the solution, when warranted, can go a long way to maximizing the effectiveness of the end product. Such was the case when a government department issued an RFP asking for a comic book (with words) for adult English as Second Language students.

Our response was a proposal for The Wordless Book; a book with (you guessed it) no words at all. The students themselves would supply the words to the stories. It would be their book. They could write anything they like, at their own level, and in collaboration with their ESL tutor (or not). Each story was drawn in a slightly different style in order to even eliminate the need for the words "The End." (A tear-out guide for tutors was included, meant to be removed before distribution to the students.)

Redefining the client's initial request is not always possible. But when the opportunity presents itself, rethinking the solution may make the process more palatable for all – client, artist and target audience.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

10 Historical Promotional Blow-Outs

Lighting one's personal emissions in a darkened movie theater may have seemed like a good idea to promote a great time but regardless of the laughs garnered at the expense of the well being of one's derriere, these often backfired.

Here are some other good ideas that turned bad:
1) With the release of its iPod line, Apple hit the hip charts. In May 2006, competitor SanDisk launched the "iDont" campaign which portrayed iPod users as mindless animals. SanDisk learned quickly that customers are rarely won over by insults.
2) After Oprah announced a KFC giveaway on her much-watched program, the food chain couldn't keep up with the lines of customers, which led to sit-ins and riots.
3) In August 1995 all attendees of a New York Dodgers’ game received a free regulation baseball. When two Dodgers players were ejected for trash-talking the ump, the angry crowd threw more than 200 of the souvenir balls onto the field, resulting in a rare major league forfeit.
4) McDonald’s gave away 10,000 MP3 players in Japan, fully loaded with 10 free songs. Problem was, many of them were also loaded with a virus. A patch was sent out but the virus caused many red faces.
5) Gerber baby food included their adorable baby picture on the label when they introduced their product to Africa, unaware that since many Africans don’t read, it’s standard practice to put pictures of the contents on jar labels.
6) The CEO of personal fraud protection company, LifeLock, posted his personal social security number in a national campaign, daring identity thieves to give it a shot. 25 motivated thieves stole the social security number, with one successfully receiving a $500 loan.
7) Snapple attempted to take the Guinness World Record for the largest ice pop, made from their tasty kiwi-strawberry drink. The problem was that the stunt took place in mid-June. The melted juice poured from the truck, creating a syrup tidal wave down Union Square and a headache for cleanup crews.
8) Dateline 1992: Pepsi in the Phillipines offered 1 million pesos to anyone finding a bottlecap with 349 printed on it. But instead of only one, 500,000 bottlecaps got printed with 349, for a total potential cost of 18 billion dollars. Pepsi ended up paying winners $19.00, which still cost them ten million dollars. Bottling plants were attacked and many company execs had to leave the country. 
9) To promote a new animated film, Cartoon Network hired two ad men who decided to hang electronic LED displays in several cities, each depicting a "Lite-Brite" rendition of one of the film's characters. Citizens of Boston mistook the displays as explosives, causing the city to shut down major roads and bridges.
10) One of the most funniest moments in fictional radio history: In a 1978 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, the station decided to drop live turkeys from a helicopter not realizing they couldn't fly. This was actually based on a true Thanksgiving giveaway from 1945 in Arkansas which included a live turkey drop, first from the roof of the courthouse and in later years from low flying planes. Once the National Enquirer plastered images of the event on its front page public opinion put an end to the event. 

Ah, the things we do to light a fire under our efforts...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What's Up With Up?

Forgive me for rambling a bit today. Some days I confuse myself with the strangest things. Today, my quandary is about this thing called 'up'. 

Most of us want be up, to move it on up, hook up, get the heads up, catch up, make up, stand up, or even get riled up now and then.

I get all that.

I know 'up' is a relative physical position in relation to the center of the earth. But it's the hierarchical thing: where we are in relation to the status of others that gets me. Some people do place a lot of importance on where they stand on the steps of life.

An easy way of telling if you're hung up on the status thing is if you find yourself saying, "Haha, I'm (insert adjective), and YOU'RE NOT." The words "rich" and "buff" fit in here. "Constipated" may not.

Some are born high up in society and would fight tooth and nail to retain their status. Others appear never want to be there and unconsciously do things that make sure they will never be (I did not just clap the Queen on the back) – all of which makes those up in society very comfortable, I suppose. Some high up spend their time dismissing those that are down below and others devote their lives to lending a hand to help others up. 

But possibly it's the simple steps up that count most. Like when you get up because you say or do something and someone smiles in appreciation. And maybe there is no real up without others there to share it with.

Perhaps the secret to 'up' comes from when we were learning to climb stairs. How high we go depends on how far we are comfortable. Then we look for a hand to hold.

May you always find a hand.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping Things Fresh

How long has your marketing material carried the same messaging or look and feel? Does 'what worked yesterday' still generate as much interest, traffic or new business today?

I once knew an independent shopkeeper, named Guy, who sold furniture. Guy did a wonderful business with select lines in a relatively small space. I always wondered how he did it because at that time he didn't have a web site, did no real advertising and relied solely on walk-by traffic. He and his sales staff gave excellent customer service, once customers came in the door, but how did he drive traffic into the shop?

So, over a beer one evening, I asked him. He smiled and told me he regularly changed his shop window displays. "Every time I freshen up my windows people come in. The next week is very busy."

Whether your shop window is your web site, your newsletter, your advertising or your email blasts, remember if it contains the same old messaging, look and feel, or visual content you might think about shaking things up regularly to generate new interest. And the next time you plan a major rebrand or rebuild, try setting things up (think website CMS) so you can refresh your particular shop window with ease.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My 10 Most Celebrated Platitudes

Wikipedia defines a platitude as "a trite, meaningless, biased, or prosaic statement, often presented as if it were significant and original."

Really, that's a bit harsh, isn't it? Okay, a platitude may be a substitute for original thought or placed in a conversation to put an end to it. But I love seeing the humor in language and especially in those who use it to their disadvantage. Besides, some conversations really need to be put out of their misery.

Here are my top ten platitudes:
1) "It is what it is." Like, if it isn't what it wasn't it wouldn't be what it is. My absolute fav. I can amuse myself for hours with this one.
2) "Go with the flow" as opposed to "going against the flow" An assuredly great phrase designed to either keep us from being self abusive or a mantra for diarrhea suffers.
3) "There’s no 'I' in Team." I looked. There isn't. I just looked again. Still free of them. Will let you know when the "I"s invade.
4) "Think outside the box." I have never put a box over my head in order to think so I've never said this to anyone. It's sorta like sensory deprivation, I suppose. Holding one's hands over one's ears and going "Lalala" may be a substitute. That, I've done.
5) "It was meant to be." A fatalist's comfy blanket. I prefer the alternative "Life sucks, then you die and someone wears your clothes" or the more expressive "Sh*t happens."
6) "C'est la vie." This means "That's life" in French. A great conversation stopper and a phrase that makes you look very worldly, especially when said while dressed in a beret and French cuffs, sporting a pencil thin mustache. Better, and more socially acceptable, than swearing in a foreign language.
7) "Work smarter, not harder.” A great thing to say to those who you want to work harder without actually saying it. People wise up to this ruse quickly though. Quickly switch to Flintstones expressions if you see their eyes glazing over.
8) "You’re as young as you feel.” I've never been older than I feel, except when faced with a gorgeous twenty-something-year-old offering me their chair. Then I feel 95.
9) "You are what you eat.” When you look up hamburger in the dictionary, that's not my picture... My dog is definitely a milkbone though.
10) "Semper ubi sub ubi." It's always great to end a conversation with a Latin phrase. And by the time they realize it means 'always wear underwear' you're outta there buying your month's supply of Depends at the drug store.

Next week: Brainwashing, Thought Reform, and Loaded Language; Tactics of religions, cults and political influence over the masses. (Aren't you glad you didn't have to read THAT today?)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Revisiting Process Story Mapping

Explaining a new business process to a workforce is an important moment in change management communication.

The popularity of illustrated animations on business concepts lately brings a renewed interest in complementing flow charts and business documents with a story map that translates new steps in a friendly manner. These quick references to the process allow ease of understanding and encourages the enthusiastic buy-in of the team.

Here, a rough draft of such a process map, prepared for a large organization. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Odd Numbers Redux

I've never had a thing for numbers. In fact, in school most numbers seemed like they were pretty odd. Once I got past 10 fingers and 10 toes I was lost.

Pairs I get, but parity is where it gets weird. The parity of an object states whether it is even or odd. An even number (like 4) is one that is evenly divisible by 2 without remainder and an odd number (like 5) is not evenly divisible by 2. Fractions like 1/2 or 4.201 are neither even nor odd. I will take this opportunity to label them 'odder'.

'Odd' in the English language is also an adjective denoting the quality of being strange or unusual.

So of course, I had to take the opportunity to try to demonstrate 'odd' in both the numerical and situational sense, where odd makes the situation improbable (the involvement of a prosthetic notwithstanding). 

To the left; the original photo. Twosies are so boring.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Searching The Silver Bullet

The term "silver bullet" was introduced to our lexicon in the early '50s, and adopted into a general metaphor, where "silver bullet" refers to any straightforward solution perceived to have extreme effectiveness.

This from the Phrase Finder: "The belief in the magical power of silver, especially of weapons made from silver, is very ancient. Book XVI of Horace's Odes has it that the Delphic Oracle advised Philip of Macedonia to 'fight with silver spears'. References to the use of silver bullets date from the late 17th century. An early 19th century citation which specifically mentions the belief in their use as the only way to kill evil supernatural beings is found in Sir Walter Scott's Tales of My Landlord."

Later, the Lone Ranger left silver bullets behind as calling cards: a symbol of justice, law and order, and to remind himself and others that life, like silver, has value and is not to be wasted or thrown away.

The phrase today typically appears with an expectation that some new technological development or practice will easily cure a major prevailing problem – a 'miraculous fix'.

Perhaps just like any seemingly simple, direct and effortless solution, the actual anatomy itself is a bit more complex than what we initially perceive. Cutting through complexity and providing an immediate solution to a problem – your seemingly singular bullet – may, in fact, be made up of many parts that all work together.

And there are no unimportant parts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Project Management Smooth Landings

Space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the Space Station this morning (for the last time). It is due to land Thursday.

From the archives, in honor of the final Space Shuttle mission, an analogous project management poster. Hopefully it will touch down in your psyche... enjoy.

(Photo: NASA)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sticky Applications

This is my story and I'm sticking to it (sorry). Have a great Monday everyone!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Undefining "Creative"

I remember in grade school (back in the dark ages) our class was given a test to determine how creative we were. One of the questions was "How many different routes do you take to school?" The premise was if you took new ways to and from school every day that meant you were more likely to be creative than those who regularly took the same route.

Seeing things in a new light, expressing yourself, exploring and coming up with new directions are normally associated with people in the arts but really, what makes their ways of thinking different from the normal ways of problem solving?

Nothing. Because we are all thinking machines: working the numbers, building new vistas, and climbing mountains.

Divergent thinking (the ability to think of diverse and original ideas i.e. brainstorming) followed by convergent thinking (the ability to use logical thinking to narrow those ideas to ones best suited for given situations) allows us to make well-formed decisions. Whether it's deciding how to put paint on a canvas so others can find some value, or deciding where to put a door in a wall to allow ease of access.

So, back to my grade school test. Perhaps the question should have been, "How many different routes can you think of to come to school?" I'm thinking everyone in that class would have been classified "creative." 

We are, after all, all fruit from the same tree.

Friday, July 15, 2011

No Dirt Is Safe

Of the amazing grime fighters we have in our arsenal in this space age, my favorite is the mesmoramic, hydroponically-powered sub-light speed A-17(a) ray gun: the most powerful defense in the world against dirty cars, stray grass cuttings and neighborhood cats who poop in your flower beds.

Armed with one of these babies, you are indeed commander of your star space. Phasers and discombobulators may remain the stuff of fiction, but hook this puppy up to a water source and you have unlimited ammunition to conquer a dusty driveway, wayward leaves, pesky kids on your lawn or strangers with pamphlets asking about your religious state. Tired of doing laundry? Hang it on the line and go to town with your A-17(a). Then let it dry in place.

Each side arm comes complete with an AP-91 adjustor. Zero in on specific targets with remarkable accuracy or send a broad range ray out to dampen the spirits of even the most elusive foe.

So bring it on lords of mud: demons of dirt! I'm ready.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Other Spam

We all get spam. It comes in various forms: via email, instant messaging, in discussion groups, in online classified ads, In the year 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages is around seven trillion.

But there is another spam: the original mystery meat in a can made by Hormel. It's actuality a blend of chopped pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added.

According to the official website timeline, SPAM® originated in 1937 and in 1940 unveiled the first singing commercial with the catchy "...Hormel's new miracle meat in a can. Tastes fine, saves time, If you want something grand, ask for SPAM®."

In the time of the U.S. military occupation in the South Pacific, during World War II, fresh meat was difficult to get to the soldiers on the front. 100 million pounds of SPAM® was shipped to feed the troups between 1941 and 1945. GIs ate SPAM® for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Some soldiers referred to it as "ham that didn't pass its physical" and "meatloaf without basic training".)

It is reported that 3.8 cans are consumed every second in the United States today. SPAM® is sold in 41 countries, on six continents and trademarked in over 100 different countries. Still popular in the South Pacific to this day, the island of Saipan have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature the canned meat on the menu. It is so popular in Hawaii, it has been dubbed "The Hawaiian Steak".

So why are unwanted internet messages called ‘spam’? One report says that it may have come from a comedy act. In 1970, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the legendary British comedy troupe, performed a skit involving a group of Vikings at a restaurant where one ingredient was prominently featured. The cook and Vikings repeat the word loudly and seemingly nonstop, with the Vikings singing it like a song chorus. According to a decision written by the California appellate court: “Thus, in the context of the Internet, ‘spam’ has come to symbolize unwanted, and perhaps annoying, repetitious behavior that drowns out ordinary discourse.”

And now you know. Pa-dum.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Giants Sleeping In The Sun

It was hot, sunny day so I let my car Missy take me for a drive. We headed out to the country, just two carefree spirits. Beethoven roared out of the speakers through open windows. We had a blast. After a while Missy stopped at the side of the road, shut off her motor and told me to take a look.

Giant hay bales lay in the sun waiting to be gathered.

Now I'm not one for hay fields but she seemed to be smitten. So I looked.

I never knew that she had a penchant for the pastoral (well, 'pastoral' without the sheep and the shepherds and the mountains and the other bucolic-like things...)

Historically, pastoral art and literature became more popular as man and vehicle migrated to the city, leaving the simpler life in the country behind. Pastoral landscapes appeared in Hellenistic and Roman wall paintings, interest in the pastoral revived in Renaissance Italy and later, French artists were also attracted. Experts and historians wondered what the pastoral allure was. Sir William Empson 1906 – 1984 (poet, lecturer, literary critic) refers to the pastoral process as 'putting the complex into the simple.'

Perhaps Missy was reminiscing about days of horse-drawn ancestors. Or perhaps, she spends so much of her time maneuvering tight parking lots and city blocks, a moment relishing a more distant horizon was refreshing.

Ah, the simple things that settle our souls.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Buns and Weenies Thing

Is it just me, or is there a huge disconnect here?

Either I buy two packages of buns, and end up with 4 dogless buns, or I buy one and four dogs go bunless.

The issue is so long-running and so obvious that this has probably been said before, but exactly WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

Can someone please get these people on the line? Head honchos from both parties. A conference call.

We need to talk.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why To Avoid Online Logo Factories

Above: a graphic I tinkered with over the weekend to demonstrate the marriage of name, symbol and feel. I did this as an exercise (I do that – call me obsessed) after coming across a post on a professional LinkedIn group last week where a person posted a selection of logo roughs they had commissioned from one of those online logo factories. ("Highland Heritage" isn't the name of the company that the poster owned, by the way.)

Of the six or so logos shown, one used three different colored swipes as a symbol with no apparent reason other than someone thought it looked good, one played with a reflected letter that looked like something that could be for anyone, and another used a graphic of a clothes hanger for a company that didn't have anything to do with wearing apparel (or hanging). The selection left all members of the thread confused. Most advised the poster to go back to the drawing board and hire a qualified, experienced designer.

I must admit, I honestly don't get why people would resource these online logo factories.

Developing a brand identity is not plunking a few words down in the typeface de jour with a symbol that looks pretty. It's a whole process that includes a creative brief, developing a visual brand personality, and an understanding of the elements behind a sophisticated brand. It means making an investment in thought, in design and in presentation.

When you don't choose to make the investment, well, you get what you pay for...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Flagrante Delicto

A wine label made for a friend prior to my awakening. I'm so ashamed now.
There is a movement afoot to boycott the drinking of wine. Outrageous you say? Grapes have been systematically murdered in vats by women in their bare feet for a long, long time. Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest known production of wine, made by taking their little dead bodies and fermenting their remains, took place as early as 8,000 years ago in Georgia.

It is perhaps understandable that this travesty of the humble grape was committed back then. Times were tough and cruel things were done in the name of survival (good drinking water was scarce right through the Dark Ages). When safe drinking water became more accessible, grapes should have been freed from their slavery and allowed to return to their natural life cycle. But o-o-o-oh no. People made wine into a sick, hoity-toity tradition in high society gatherings and wine tasting became an art. Utter barbarian.

These grapes have families. There is DNA proof. Take the Riesling family, for example (pictured above). DNA fingerprinting has traced the roots of the Rieslings to the Gouais Blanc family: held in slavery and murdered for their life juices by the French and German peasantry in the Middle Ages. Oh, by the way, Riesling is said to be best drunk when young. Ugh...

Humans have bred, experimented on, spliced, mistreated and stomped on grapes for human consumption for ages. It's time we took a long look at just how humane we really are. In the meantime, "in flagrante delicto" or caught red-footed, is happening in your country, your neighbourhoods and perhaps in your very bathtub.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Strapless Number

My beloved Sister In Law said she couldn't wait to see my strapless number, so naturally I had to oblige...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Memo: To All Staff

Recently, there have been a number of reports of inappropriate uses of office equipment, supplies and stationery. Attached, please find photographic evidence depicting improper use of an official office stationery item (Item: Binder Clip 671985, Model 14409-CA). Somewhere, there is a multiple-page report that will go unbound just because someone wishes to keep their jellybeans fresh. This amounts to nothing but reckless abandonment of an official document and Macgyverism gone rampant. From now on, all clips will be dispensed by stationery cabinet personnel and use will be documented.

Oh, and whoever used White Out to simulate bird droppings on my umbrella... very funny...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Canary Playtime

A voice reminds me of the primo real estate rule that one should never show a house by walking into the living room saying, "this is the living room" and forbids me to say this is a identity development for a new venture called Canary...

... the discovery that these birds cannot swallow in outer space lent a certain gravity to the design situation... no flying here, lest we go too high...

... so we allow the canary to light above the wordmark in whatever way it wants...

...and always uncaged.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Flyingus Frogus Canadianus" Eh?

Dear Canadian Zoological Society Director of Registration of Newly Discovered Species; Gidday, eh? Please see the attached photo that I took on the weekend. It is proof that I have discovered a new species of flying frog in my back yard. I call it Flyingus Frogus Canadianus. (Neat eh? My wife thought that up.) I'd like to officially register this discovery as the most exciting discovery since the Bigfoot thing (not the monster truck – the animal). By my reckoning, it's approximately three feet from wingtip to wingtip, with enough frog legs to feed a family of four and is able to hover at awesome heights for hours (as long as there is a breeze, which there is most times off the lake). Please send me my ornery doctorship, cash and also refer me to higher authorities for international recognition of whatever kind is available.
Signed, Donny Ross

Dear Mr. Ross; Thank you for your submission. We receive all sorts of new species discoveries everyday and yours is most amusing. We've been passing it around the department all day and thank you for the laugh but it is obviously a kite. A kite does not qualify as a new species under the Canadian Zoological Society terms of reference for new species. Apart from the fact that we can see the kite string, flying frogs can only survive in the jungles of Southeast Asia and never measure no more than four inches in length. Thanks again.
Yours truly, Alfred R. Wallace, Director

Dear Alfie; Okay, the string. This is the god's honest truth, mind. I snared it when it landed for a few minutes to feed on some insects I caught in my bug zapper. When it took off again my cousin Danny (who's pretty big) was able to hold it in sight long enough for me to snap this picture. Then he had to let go before he was swept away into Lake Ontario. Water's still pretty cold this time of year and there is a mean under-toad near the shore. I wait on my money and doctor thing. Oh, and interviews for the Enquirer and such are okay too if you want to let the word out.

Dear Donny; I'm afraid unless you can provide us with physical evidence we cannot recognize the discovery.
All the best, Alfred R. Wallace

Dear Alfie; Damn it all sideways. Okay, never mind.
Oh, by the way, you wouldn't happen have a number for the UFO department, eh? I snared one of those suckers too! (see below)

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Paradoxical Moment

A paradox is a statement that carries a seemingly contradictory message.

A short while ago, the president of a university was asked to officiate at a small graduation ceremony. As the members gathered in a circle for the final item on the agenda that day, the president was asked to light a candle, say a few words and then pass the candle around the circle for others, in turn, to make a personal comment about their experience in the program. As the candle returned to him, his duty was to blow it out to symbolize the conclusion of the course.

He hesitated, remarking that he found it a paradoxical contradiction for someone in his position to ever blow out a symbolic candle.

And while he graciously did so, he asked all attending to imagine it was still lit.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Early Morning Bloom

6:49 a.m.

7:15 a.m. 

7:30 a.m. 

7:49 a.m.  

Flowers do not force their way with great strife. Flowers open to perfection slowly in the sun.... Don't be in a hurry about spiritual matters. Go step by step, and be very sure.”

Chief White Eagle (March 18, 1917 - January 24, 2011) 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day


And a happy 4th of July to our friends to the south!


Rand and Peanut