Sunday, May 13, 2007

Moving on, for now

This blog's closing, to honor the end of a fun, memorable Jomc712 class.
It has great links, so feel free to look around.
But don't expect new posts, at least for awhile. I'll be elsewhere.
For neighborhood stuff: Under Oak.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Eye candy





A bonus post while I decide what to do with this space now that class is over. Yes, these are for sale. Save them from Ebay.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The future: Stories and interactivity



April 29, 2012:
Forget the Itoothbrush. That’s so 15 minutes ago. This month’s gadget is the Ibutton, which allows users to scan printed words and images and get sounds into their music players. Folks also use it to scan for Internet addresses, which they can later send into their computers for further surfing.

The technology will soon be incorporated into Iphones and Blueberrries, which folks also use at the grocery instead of debit and credit cards. This year’s killer device combines all into one, which forgetful boomers are calling their external brains. The gadget can even locate car keys, glasses and other easily misplaced items, by sending a signal to the errant thing, which then emits a unique sound.

J.K. Rowling is about to launch her next Harry Potter story despite her best intentions. In this one, Harry is about to graduate from Cambridge and doesn’t know what to do with his life. All he knows is that he can’t become a boomerang child, like many of his peers. Jobs are hard to come by, and parents welcome the kids back because someone has to mow the lawn. Hermione is deciding between med school and a lucrative, rare offer from Goohooazon, which employs all the journalists and techies who haven’t retired.

“I didn’t continue it for the money,” Rowling said. “The characters just would not go away, and I got tired of all those amateurs writing my creations’ destinies and posting them on Facespace and Ourtube and Third Life. They’re my bloody inventions, and I’d like to control their destinies.

“The hard part is that I have to spend so much time in Third Life protecting my characters’ identities. Then I squeeze in writing during my kids’ futball games.”

So it goes for working moms, always. Rowling hired a Third Life assistant for a while, but finding the right person is difficult. All the best candidates are mowing their parents’ lawns or working for Goohooazon.

The professional storytellers learned a couple of years ago that the best oasis was Goohooazon, since it had a business model for making stories pay. Some free newspapers still exist, designed to work with the Ibutton. They’re owned by Goohooazon, of course, but the best journalists can still specialize in one or two mediums.

Residents of both Carolinas and Tennessee get Internet access at a bargain, only $99.99 a month, because they passed laws for large wind farms to power Goohooazon servers. Some Goohooazon money also supports libraries, which have expanded to serve those who crave access to The Washington Post’s “On Being” series. Goohooazon rightly kept The WashPost brand and the NYT brand alive when it acquired the papers.

So Goohooazon beckons folks like Hermione, because it’s better than working for Wabofia Bank, which found a way to get rid of the word “America” in its name during the last merger. In a time of serial oil wars, its brand was wearing thin.

But medicine lures Hermione too, because some older folks want to implant their external brains between their ears.

Hope still exists.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Persona No. 2, class assignment


Edward Durham, aka Mojo Nojo on the forum boards, zip code 55410, a neighbor of Robert Schroeder's at Cindy's blog. He's buying and renovating an older Victorian house near Scott Kennedy, zip code 55105, at Gerry's blog.

Age/education/health: 70, retired, has artificial knees, occasional bouts of arthritis, wears reading glasses that seem to get weaker every day
Gender/family lifecycle stage:
older male, third marriage, three grown children. The closest one is his son, who has three children of his own, in a small town about an hour north. His son visits about once a month to work with his dad on the renovation project.
Location and housing type: Mid-size single family home, working on renovating a large Victorian.
Occupation: Retired contractor, retired antique shop owner, retired small grocery owner; bachelor's degree, highly skilled with all kinds of building, accounting and marketing; freelance blogger.
Social class: Working/middle class family. Has been an entrepreneur running his own businesses since about 1972, has always believed in the power of taking risks in order to earn money, strongly committed to personal responsibility. His dad died when he was 15, and everything he's achieved since then has been through his own hard work.
Personality: Outgoing, driven, a little sad and resigned at the coming of age and far-flung families.
Attitudes: Interested in architecture, antiques, community, politics, the Internet and media. Thinks most media is biased, and didn't embrace this new Internet stuff until he realized it was a way to get his voice heard. Now he's obsessed.
Ethnicity/religion:
White, of Dutch/Norwegian/English heritage. Very proud of his pioneer roots in Minnesota. No organized religion, but strongly embraces Judeo-Christian values, except when they infringe on personal freedoms. Converted to Catholicism briefly for Wife No. 2. Oh well.
Lifestyle motivations: Action-oriented risk taker. Frustrated by his aging body's inability to do as much as he'd like. Traveled across the country numerous times.
Media interests: Loves to hate the local newspapers, to which he subscribes. Reads Time, not Newsweek. Visits the National Rifle Association's website frequently. Reads AARP magazine. Doesn't shop online, doesn't trust the computers to keep his financial information secure. Wife uses Ebay frequently, though, for antique hunting and selling.
Type of computer user: skilled, on Blogger and using various forums, but doesn't like change. Goes to the same places all the time, doesn't seek out new tools or sites. Uses email when he has to, mostly leaves that to his wife, the family communicator. He communicates instead on website forums. Or he has in the past, until one local newspaper blew his forums away and replaced it with newfangled stuff aimed at people NOT like him -- young, hip people.
Type of computer equipment: Desktop PC, circa 2004. Uses Explorer browser, hates that Blogger seems to be trying to get him to change to Firefox. Uses Windows Media Player.
Type of Internet usage: High-speed broadband, but he curses the monthly cost.
User Status: Regular
Usage rate: Heavy
Loyalty Status: Absolute, but easily disappointed and then holds a grudge.
Usage goals: Finding ways to get his voice and experience heard, through forums and his blog. His forum name is Mojo Nojo, and other forum readers come to him for help and advice. He's well respected on the boards, but sometimes cusses and fumes too much.
Emotional goals: Trying to fix this world that's going to hell in a handbasket; connecting with family and his online friends, most of whom he's never met in person.
Task context: Users computer as an individual user, in a bedroom converted into an office. Gets on very early in the morning when he can't sleep, and sometimes late at night when he's had a drink or three.
Accessibility: Some visual impairment because of age, loves the way he can make type bigger these days on most websites. Hates dark-background blogs. Can't sit for long periods of time because of circulation below his artificial knees.

Goals: Finding ways to tell his stories and share his experience. He's learned much over his 70 years, and his children and grandchildren aren't close enough for him to give advice to very frequently. He longs to be heard, and he sees much wrong with the world these days. Maybe if people will just listen, he can make a difference.

Eddie learned to type well when he was a young man and had a stint in the Army Reserves. It's a rare skill for men his age, and it has helped give him an outlet on the Internet that few his age have.
In 2004, his son gave him the PC as a present, a way to do email with his relatives in several faraway cities. He discovered the forums at a local newspaper, and found a way to connect with others and make his points. He loved it, and soon spent hours sitting at the computer, taking breaks to stretch his legs and work his artificial knees.
The forums became a home on the Internet, so when one of the local papers decided to revamp its site to appeal to younger surfers, he felt disrespected. (Not that he would ever use that word that way). He keeps getting the message that as a customer, he's not as valuable as that sweet 18-34 demographic. He's been running his own businesses for years; he understands and respects marketing concepts and the need to make money, but as an individual, he thinks it's absolutely wrong for society to quit listening to its elders. He knows from personal experience that they have much knowledge.
So when the newspaper website blew away all his 6,000 postings, he created his own blog, teaching himself the software. He didn't spend too much time on its appearance, and he didn't have to. He felt it was the words that were valuable, and the links to other websites that echoed his own opinions. People need to read this stuff, he felt, and it has to be legible and easy to comment on, but beyond that, he doesn't want bells and whistles.
Since then, he's used the blog to point out the many inaccuracies and oversights at the local papers, and he still sometimes posts to their new forums. When he seizes an idea, he's a bulldog when it comes to searching on the web to find out all the facts that he can, and he's developed a following among some of the old forum users. About 100 of them have migrated to his blog from the newspaper's site, and about 20 of those are active posters. Some have even created their own blogs at his urging, and they actively link among themselves.
Some people at forums have criticized his postings in the past, because he calls it as he sees it, just like he would if he were actually sitting in a local bar. If those other folks don't like his language, his jokes or his opinions, they can just go somewhere else. As he did. He's hoping this new Twin Cities Paper will find a way to recreate forums for his already-active online community, and maybe his blog can get some publicity out of it. That Adsense money helps buy paint for the house he's renovating.
Why he's important to Twincities.com: He's a leader in an online community, and he possibly has 10 to 20 more years of active forum and blogging use. While he's beyond the target market of many current online advertisers, his demographic, if measured carefully through analytic software, would be great for small hardware stores, Home Depot and Lowes. His need for simplicity can help site designers keep a check on their bells and whistles, if he's given a way to get feedback to those designers.

Persona No. 1, class assignment



Jessica Tatum, zip code 55105, Macalester College.
Age/education/health: 19, sophomore in college, public urban high school, great health
Gender/family lifecycle stage: young female, single, no children. Oldest child of three.
Location and housing type: Dorm with focus on German language, Macalester College. Considering going off-campus sharing an apartment next year with some international students who are friends.
Occupation: Student, barista, volunteer at homeless shelter, school blogger
Social class: Middle class family. Dad's banker, mom's at home, does some volunteer work
Personality: Outgoing, driven, a little afraid of the direction the world is going in. Closely guards any digital photos of herself, because she's gorgeous, and an old boyfriend had photos that spread across the Internet like wildfire. Even fought the university about posting her photo on the blog that she wrote for work-study for the school's website; made her case and won. Refuses to be a poster child for mixed-race students, sees herself as much more than that.
Attitudes: Interested in shopping, clothes, science, human rights, Africa, Germany. Considers the Internet a tool, not a destination.
Ethnicity/religion: Multi-racial/some moderate Baptist background. Considers herself outside of both white and African-American cultures, but able to "cross over." Dad's African-American, former military, met her mom while stationed in Germany. Mom's German but has been in the U.S. for 22 years now.
Lifestyle motivations:
Status-oriented, achiever, striver, survivor.
Media interests: InStyle, Seventeen (when Atoosa was there), Itunes (everything!), her hometown paper sometimes if someone tells her something's there she should read, fiction when she has time.
Type of computer user: skilled, on Microsoft Word, not Excel. Basic blogging tools, strong search skills on Google, strong familiarity with online shopping tools, no hesitation about purchasing items over the Internet. Often uses Mapquest. Youtube, IMovie, Garageband, Moodle (course software).
Type of computer equipment: Mac, 15-inch Powerbook, of course.
Type of Internet usage: High-speed Ethernet cable in the dorm, since it's fast, and wireless on campus when she can find a signal. She's been known to walk around with the Powerbook open, looking for a signal, like the guy in the "Can you hear me now?" phone commercial.
User Status: Regular
Usage rate: Heavy
Loyalty Status: Absolute, but always seeking the next greatest gadget or website.
Usage goals: Social networking, classwork, keeping in touch with home, music, watching TV shows she missed because of class or social activities
Emotional goals: Connecting with friends, belonging, achieving in school
Task context: Uses computer as an individual user, sometimes shares screen with roommate during Facebook time, spends half an hour in the morning, another three to four hours at night (it's always on, playing Itunes and alerting her to IM messages or Facebook updates)
Accessibility: No issues

Goals: Finding out what's going on in town, socially and for news affecting the homeless, since she volunteers in a homeless shelter. International news, since she's planning to study abroad soon and has many international students as friends. Staying in touch with her parents and faraway friends. Class work, through email and Moodle. Scholarship and grant availability research.

Jessica got on Facebook in high school, and loved the social networking. She also loved shopping on the Internet, not always buying but enjoying the beautiful websites of large chains and boutique shops. She also found that shopping online could sometimes save her time, since her schedule was so jam-packed, and still is.
An ex-boyfriend grabbed a provocative photo from her Facebook site once, did some Photoshopping, and then posted it for all their friends to see. Since then, she's been extremely guarded about her images and her identity online. There are just too many stalkers out there, and too much unwanted attention.
She occasionally posts to a blog at Macalester's website, part of a work-study commitment. The idea is to give potential students a real person to connect to, so she just talks about the routine parts of going to class and hanging out on campus. But Jessica, who is gorgeous, refused to let the school post her picture at the blog; she uses an icon that she uses for online postings instead. She doesn't want to emphasize her mixed ethnicity over her actions and accomplishments, and she doesn't want stalkers.
At the same time, Facebook's the best way for her to stay connected, but she yearns for something like it that is quick and easy to use and puts her in touch with local events, people and news. Her interests lie beyond Macalester, and its liberal arts focus is helping her think more broadly about the world and community. She started school focusing on the sciences, but is considering other avenues that will help her change the world.
Her ethnic background has given her some insights into society, as she tried to navigate the boundaries in Charlotte, where she grew up. She was in an urban school where the African American kids frequently hung out together, as did the Asian kids and the white kids. She dated across ethnicities, and many of her closest friends were white girls. Some of the African Americans said she was acting white, but her parents had taught her to think beyond race, and she usually had the self-confidence to define herself beyond specific groups.
She belongs to the Pluralism & Unity group at school, and the organization has opened her eyes to concerns and perceptions of race in other countries. She longs to travel overseas, but is on partial scholarship to the school and will need the Internet for much research into how to fund her dreams.
Why she's important to Twincities.com Jessica has many years left of using media. Some people like her will set down roots in the city where they went to school, and she's part of a generation that uses word of mouth frequently in determining what media to consume. Many high-end advertisers love her; while her student income might not be much right now, she's entering a very acquisitive time of her life. Her interest in international affairs will be a challenge for the news side of Twincities, at a time when newsroom budgets are moving away from that area. Smart linking and partnering with outside international sources would be a wise move for Twincities for customers like her. And usable, readable, interactive listings of nightlife and other things to do will be essential for capturing readers like Jessica.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Worst examples of interactivity


For a class assignment, I've posted earlier about the CATS site in Charlotte demonstrating poor interactivity, because of an intimidating, not-useful form. Here's one more nomination, My AJC, the user-defined "home page" for people through The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When I first discovered this interactivity through a work research proje ct, I loved the concept and hated its glitches. I assumed it was just in the building stage and would get better over time. Why give me a widget to point to YouTube, and then have it either not work or not give me enough information to tell me how it works? Where's my emotional reward for spending lots of time personalizing this site? Why is there so much wasted space? Why are you subjecting me to a bright purple Haverty's ad after I've spent time picking colors for my customization?

Since I've personalized Google as a home page, I see how inadequate and poorly designed AJC is by comparison, and I'm highly questioning the value of news sites trying to offer such personalization to users when it's obvious they can't do as good of a job as the experts. Leave search to Google; enable good search on Google, McClatchy seems to be working on that with Yahoo; let's hope we're not betting on the wrong horse.

Google love

I've finally tried personalizing my Google search. I've even picked a theme, and I love how colors change depending on the time of day it is. I get local news feeds from The News and Observer and Charlotte.com ... The Charlotte part seems broken right now, with old headlines displayed. I'm trying to figure out whether that's an error on Google's part or Charlotte's, and get it fixed. My only complaint, Google: Please give me an email address or form to talk to a real person about issues like that, instead of just referring me to the web expert site. But thanks so much for recognizing where I was logging in from and essentially setting up an RSS feed for me from Raleigh. Beautiful interactivity. Others pale in comparison. Why should newssites even try to compete? Maybe USAToday can, but I'd rather see partnerships than direct competition. Media should focus on what they do best.

Holocaust Museum, best interactivity site Part II

A specific, hopefully focused posting for the class assignment:
You, your mother (75 years old; with bad knees; sweet old lady, with a great sense of humor and interest in anything that he grandson is interested in) and your 15 year old (energetic and mercurial) son, Josh, are planning to visit XXXX city and go to XXXX museum for a 4 hour visit. You need to make sure that the trip to the museum will go well, so try to plan for any and all disasters before hand.

1. Mom stresses about traffic and parking. She will nag you increasingly every minute that you circle a block looking for a space. What is the parking situation?

This is downtown D.C. Fuhgget about parking. Less stressful is planning the trip through the Metro system, where I can plug in times and even walking distances to a form and get results. Aging mom can walk a block, and it's probably good for her. By the time we get to the museum, she'll be glad to have a wheelchair. There's an easy, quickly findable map and link to the metro system from the "Planning a trip" part of the website.
2. Mom's knees tend to ache after standing for awhile. She will want a wheelchair or to go back to the hotel. Can you get her a wheelchair?
In a repeat visit to the site, and with clues from classmates, I find a small link that is less obvious than the large Museum Accessibility Guide that tells me wheelchairs are free in the Check Room. It even tells me that audio-only presentations have text accompaniments, something that will be useful for other relatives later who don't hear well.
3. Josh is bored by 'old-fogey stuff'. Is there a contemporary or bleeding edge exhibit that will win cool points in Josh' eyes - and how would you know if it is cool enough?
Under Frequently Asked Questions, one question asks "What should my children see?" Young Josh is going to feel grown up that some exhibitions are not recommended for those under 11; the appeal of "Daniel's Story," mentioned in the FAQ answer as well, will give him a specific person that he can identify with. I'm so grateful for sites that deal directly with parents' concerns. And in my particular pretend case, I'm more concerned about the emotional reaction of Mom; her dad was career Army, and at one point was near Hitler's headquarters. She doesn't like to think about unpleasant times; luckily, there's lots at the museum besides the stories of human loss, so she can continue to keep her emotions turned off if she wishes.
4. Josh always loves to eat and mom is happy to pay. Is there a restaurant/food option that might be attractive to both of them? Is it a cafeteria or a restaurant? Price?
Oh how I love this FAQ sheet. It answers all my questions, including the food question, with clear words in bold and links in the answers. Not all answers have links; some have email addresses or phone numbers if I need to go more in depth. So the answer is yes, there's food, and even a menu, though I have to click away from the FAQ to get the menu. A menu link from the FAQ question would be an enhancement. Horrors, I had to do one click to find it. I love this site. I can even order online for the day I'm visiting.
5. Tour guides / audio tours... maybe you should get one of these and just not worry about keeping everyone happy. What's available? How much? Do you need to reserve in advance?
Plenty of options for the visually impaired exist. I have to make reservations two weeks in advance. That's not a problem for my group, and I don't find information quickly about whether I can check out a personal audio tour (like I used for the "Dead Sea Scrolls" when they came to Charlotte), but I'm reassured that my needs, even unforeseen ones, will be met by the many references to the information desk at the museum. Besides, the site has some podcats; downloading one or two of these might be easier and more fulfilling than trying to use some proprietary and foreign audio tool like the "Dead See Scrolls" clicker thingie. I can put the museum's media on Josh's Ipod, and he can plug in any time he wants. I wish Elie Wiesel would do a podcast; his focus on Darfur is hot right now, and that would really appeal to Josh since Wiesel is reaching out to young folks so much with his Darfur focus.
6. Is there really enough to see here for a 4 hour visit? Or should you plan for other events in the area - what else is close by?
Because of the richness of the site, I'm reassured there's more than enough to see in four hours. I appreciate the question in the FAQ; can we do the museum in an hour and have time to go to other places on the mall? I have numerous options, including "Daniel's Story," which can be done in half an hour. So I can even recommend a quick visit to the museum to friends with smaller children.
7. Are there special events or performances that you should plan your visit around?
Plenty of special events are listed. Because of the short attention spans of my group, and the emotional touchiness of some of this for Mom, I can plan around the special events to avoid lines and too much emotional grief for Mom.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lest ye forget

I railed against the phrase "Lest Ye Forget" when it was used by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Athens when I was an undergrad.
Yesterday, I spent Holocaust Memorial Day by chance at Kings Mountain National Park, where hundreds of people died in a turning-point battle of the Revolutionary War. I returned home to hear about 33 dead people on a college campus.
So I don't fume about "Lest Ye Forget" any more.
We should remember the dead as people, not victims. The Holocaust Museum does that. Kings Mountain Park does that. Facebook groups using the overused ribbon symbol with VT do that.
We should also remember the world is a dangerous place. I'm angry I have to warn my kid about copycat school violence, since this week is the anniversary of Columbine.
It's also my daughter's birthday week. And many people every day are working to make this world a better place.
Lest I forget.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A good place: light, darkness and passageways


More later I hope on my favorite museum site, the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Just feast your eyes for now.
This image is from the "Plan a visit" page, and the main photo takes you there, to the gathering spot before you start your tours. It's a beginning, a planning place, before an experience. Designers rightly chose an image that doesn't plop you right into the middle of the experience, but rather gets you started. All of the information for a visit is presented quickly and well -- there's so much, though, that it can be overwhelming. I've posted in class discussions about the large accessibility guide in a pdf format, more information than I needed. Sometimes less is more.
One other small point: I tend to look at things on the web very horizontally, and I'm guessing that tendency is part of a larger trend. Designers are moving to pages optimized for about 1000-something pixels. These pages appear to be designed to be viewed about 810 to 850 pixels wide, and the design is somewhat "stretchy." So at larger widths, odd trapped "white space" appears. Perhaps a design touch-up of the site to make it as beautiful at a wider width as it is in the narrow width would be in order.
Navigation is so seemless that it took me awhile to figure out why: the navigation bar at the top, on almost all pages, built in as part of the branding page title, gets me wherever I go quickly. There's always a link to return to the home page. Drop-down menus have different colors behind them, all in a pleasing color palette. The colors sometimes match the background colors of the pages they lead to, a navigation device so visceral and intuitive that one doesn't even know it's happening as one clicks around. Not all pages match, though. It's worth further study to figure out why, or perhaps it's unintended. The palette holds everything together. Black is used on photo-intensive pages, such as the page that focuses on the art and architecture of the museum.
A beautiful, horrible place, accessible and with appeal to all kinds of people. It takes full advantage of the contrasts of lightness and darkness, transparent glass and solid brick, and passageways from one place to another.

Images that stick with me from a real-world visit:
The shoes. I couldn't find a photo of them on a quick search. Perhaps that's intentional: no photo on a website could convey the emotional effect of that exhibit.
The faces. People like me, or like people I know. I saw faces that could've been the cousins of my friends.
The passage: Our visit was late in the day, and at closing time we were ushered out slightly before we'd seen the full museum. A long, clean, uncluttered stair passage led out to the main hall. It was a place with a lack of visual input, a place for thinking and reflection on what we'd seen. It was the equivalent of "white space" on a newsprint page or website.

Subtle Flash


The Holocaust Museum site is a wonder of sophistication, with many elements cited on David Armano's blog.
It's uncluttered, understated, subdued, intuitive. It also conveys emotion, using the "people like me" principle so important in storytelling. "Daniel's Story," just a two-word title on one part of the site, reminds me that I know a young Daniel, and makes me want to click further to be told a story.
The site also uses subtle Flash. We have a visceral response to motion, no matter how small, and the moving Flash element for feedback, visible in a Firefox browser at the bottom right, catches my eye. Brackets move back and forth, and a plus sign changes to a minus sign, back and forth. It's a small movement in my web peripheral vision, and while there's other motion on the page, it's enough to grab me and send me to that part of the site even though it's in the "ghetto" part of the page according to Eyetrack research.
A fine use of Flash. Not flashy at all.
It's not visible in my ancient Explorer 5.2 for Mac, but the site then detects my use of outdated software and provides a link on "How to use this site" with more details underneath. Smart.

A bad place


My trip is invalid.
What a nasty word.
I wanted to find out whether and how I could take a bus to the airport to begin my trip to the Holocaust Museum with my aged mother and teenage son, as part of a class assignment. I know I'm a mile away from the nearest bus stop, and I'd save on parking fees at the airport. A neighbor would likely be able to give us a ride with our luggage to the nearest stop.
I have no idea what the address of the airport is. Who does?
I have no time to click on extra links. Who does?
So I try a quick Internet search, but I'm told I'm invalid.
People designing interactive forms long for the ability to force Internet users to input all the correct information. I recently sat in on a meeting where we envisioned collecting news data from the public. One person suggested that it would be very cool and efficient to use the required fields function to force users to give us all the information we need. Media folks spend hours tracking down a missing fact or two (or three), and the forms would help us force others to gather all necessary information.
Cool idea. Just don't call me invalid.
Site Lacks Heroin Content, Vince Flanders would say. While I care about cutting down on carbon emissions and the money I spend on gas and parking, I don't care enough to get through being called invalid. Call me names, and I won't trust your site.
In our meeting, one smart person said folks go to the Internet to be validated. That's why they seek out opinions and thoughts similar to their own. They don't want to be invalidated.
And I don't need all the clutter of a big giant help file, as my next click.
So instead, I'm giving up on a bus. We'll just pay the parking fees for our trip.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Be fearless, but don't be dumb

Part of journalism's function is providing an outlet for the steam to get out of the teapot before the teapot explodes.
That's an idea that's been around since the Revolution, and is one of the legs on which the First Amendment stands.
The steam also lets the truth out: lots of people are racist, misogynistic and angry. They often target powerful women or those who are different. Psychology students would have a field day with how the Internet has made "redirected aggression" more visible.
That visibility has made some bloggers and forums go silent, and that's the wrong response.
A diversity committee at one newspaper is lobbying for comments on stories to be turned off. An editor at another paper seems to have minimized her blogging because a few trolls took over her comments. A tech blogger elsewhere canceled travel plans because of death threats.
News sites have to be smart about how they handle community. Dialog is important, but technology exists to monitor that dialog and to direct it. We can create places where the trolls can rant among themselves, letting the steam out. We can monitor comments or create Q&As instead of blogs to control the amount of time spent managing postings.
We can let ranters hoist themselves on their own petards.
I'm not saying anyone should stand in front of moving bulldozers, but we distort the truth of our society if we go silent or refuse to let the ranters have a voice.
Elie Wiesel: " Speak up!"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Creating community

Thoughts from conversations among journalists, examining how various papers are using the Internet. Most names expunged, to protect the innocent:

"I sometimes wonder if the drive for massive interactivity with readers isn't getting ahead of where time-starved readers really are...Checking several of (a small Carolina city's) top blogs was depressing. Good postings - many on controversial topics - have produced no online response."
It's a good point, and we need to encourage responses by rewarding those who contribute. For specific ways to generate buzz on blogs, ask Mary Newsom how she developed her community at her blog, The Naked City. Sometimes she spread the word about specific postings by old-fashioned talking. She used her real community to build her virtual one.
Minneapolis developed "karma points" at Vita.mn Surfers want other people like them to review restaurants or clubs or books, but many don't want to take the time to write themselves. Thus rewards. And rewards don't have to be concrete.
And for specific tasks, like finding an obit, submitting a wedding announcement, sharing a story idea, the website should make the work easy and fast. Sometimes five or 10 minutes is all readers will give, before they turn away and don't come back.

With its "Taking Back the Neighborhoods" series, I think the Observer found how effective initiating "community conversations" can be. Instead of just hosting "town hall meetings" where a couple hundred attend, though, imagine hosting online forums where thousands can participate.
Have you seen how hard it is for the Charlotte group at Flickr photo sharing to get people to turn out for an event? Rewards are needed, beyond coffee and cookies. But it's clear that volunteers in the community aren't having good success with organizing real events from online communities, so that's a place we could succeed if we give it enough energy/money and time. One of Newsom's Naked City commentors proposed a meetup recently, where blog commentors could duke it out in person (verbally, I'm sure).
One specific news event that does create community: zoning battles. We should find a way to host the conversations that go on online and in face-to-face meetings about zoning and development. I know a developer who's planning on building some stuff near me, and he wants an online place to post sketches and get neighborhood feedback. A volunteer in the neighborhood hasn't had time yet to make a custom website: Imagine if charlotte.com could become that place.

Shouldn't we also ask about results? In other words, when we ask about new features on the internet or in the paper, shouldn't we ask if the newspaper has measured any increase in hits or readership as a result?
The managing editor in (a Midwest city) brought this point home in an interview as well. She meets people at conferences who are excited about a new toy, but have no idea whether it's increasing traffic. We should beware falling for the newest gadget if it doesn't work by adding readership or increasing useability.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Grids aren't just for templates


This page, posted under "Favorite pages of all time" at Visual Editors, shows that grids allow designers to organize lots of information, or allow them to show how one thing is different from (than?) all the others. Uses symmetry, balance, alignment, and then just one quirky little different thing, to emphasize difference. It's for "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Finding foreclosures

For a class assignment on activity-based design, I decided to look up details on charlotte.com about foreclosures in my neighborhood and my area of town.
I knew the map existed because it ran in the paper, out of register, and had "refers" to an interactive map online. I and others had tried to access it previously, when the first refers appeared over the weekend, and then also during regular business hours on Monday. The connection would generally time out, because the server was overwhelmed with hits from others. I also knew this search would have elements of systems-based design because it's using a database, and I've done similar property searches in the past.
Here are steps:
Go to charlotte.com
Found latest foreclosure story right away, because it's part of a continuing series and thus at the top of the page.
Found interactive map link right away.
Clicked on map link at 8:11 a.m. Map came up within 30 seconds, much better than previous hits. Perhaps we should've published a note for readers/surfers when the map was first put on the site, warning users that initial traffic would be heavy, and interested parties could come back later for more successful service. If readers tried earlier and it didn't work, I suspect many may have given up, decided it was "broken" and not worth a retry.
Viewed source (wouldn't normally do this.) Info says: ArcIMS is the mapserver, MS SQLServer the street data server, with scripting in ASP and VBScript. Wish it was a Google map, which I'm comfortable with using because of previous experience.
Found general visual of cross streets of my side of town. Previous web surfing has honed my skills in this area, and my brain remembers the visual picture.
Clicked once to zoom in, got general picture of my area of town and the density of foreclosures. Saw nearby neighborhood with lots of foreclosures; saw that my neighborhood had some, but not many compared to visual representation of county as a whole.
Clicked to zoom in again. Waited about a minute.
Next picture gave me specific neighborhood info, with identifiable houses and streets.
Clicked on left of map, trying to recenter. Waited about 20 seconds. Map didn't recenter. Maybe I didn't have "recenter" radio button checked.
Map defaults to "show property info" radio button being checked, so I decide to see what info. I can get on a specific house in my neighborhood.
I click on square for a house. I get a box with specific address, and information that tells me to click again on it to go to county property info to learn more.
I click on info. link, and get quick info in a new window, in a systems-based form, about all sales for the house, and see it took 11 months from time of foreclosure to close of sale to a new real owner, not a bank. Speed seems to indicate the county servers are much larger/faster/closer than the ones hosting our map.
I close that window and return to where I was previously.
I try the recenter button to look at nearby area with lots of foreclosures. It recenters.
I click again to get property info., because I'm not trained to have to click a radio button to change my request for info. I expect the computer to know what I want to do by how close I've zoomed in.
I wait 30 seconds, click "show property info." radio button, click on a particular house in a cluster of foreclosures, and wait for about a minute.
Actually wait about 2 minutes. I renew my coffee while waiting. Return to computer.
Box showing three addresses comes up and asks me to click to go to county website for more info. I choose and click one address, and systems-based info. comes up quickly. I look over data, close popup window.
Stop, deciding I have enough info. Brain remembers general details about housing size, quality and price, and notes that more than one foreclosure on a street or cul de sac seem to affect surrounding homes, while isolated foreclosures seem to have little effect. Also note that revaluation rates also seem to have an effect -- those with higher tax values face more foreclosure issues in some neighborhoods.
Try to figure out how to return to charlotte.com from map. No obvious link back to home, so I use back button. Eight clicks.
I'm home, scan the news, click on one or two spot news stories, find blogs (for which I've been trained), visit a couple (69 responses to a transportation post, plus a proposal to meet up in person and discuss the issues!), four responses to "What is the new adulthood?" by a different blogger, all fairly surface.
Done.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

New header

Lots of learning here; still not totally satisfied.
Decided to try the whole thing in Photoshop elements, including the type.
Type is Trebuchet, color is #dbf2bb. Made a shadow of the type with a different layer, Gaussian blur. Old technique from the recesses of memory, taught by Ted Yee, now in Chicago. Probably a trick that is mostly out of style now, but gives depth and readability when type sits on a background.
Background is a "paper" swatch, lightened to color #c9bc9f.
Newspaper image also found on the web, desaturated wih primary color of #d3d8d6.
Another layer on the background is of Courier type, with words and codes from class, blurred and lightened in Photoshop.
Produced at home on the Mac, where I have more font choices than at work.
Played it safe in terms of colors; perhaps too safe, thinking that colors will look brighter and less subtle on a PC.
Need ways to add the lovely red, yellows and greens from the inspiration images, subtlely (is that spelled right?).
Learned that layers in Photoshop are my friends. They help me make mistakes faster. Just play with plenty of layers, delete the ones I don't like, SAVE an unflattened copy, then flatten. Sizing indeed a dilemma; still not exactly where I'd like it. Cheated and made borders the same color as background to make them disappear; same with header words. Probably need to add an "alt" thing somewhere.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Web-safe colors vs. not



I totally missed or read and forgot Serena Fenton's class forum post of Feb. 27 under Blog Pointers. She said, "Ick, Don't use!" about sticking to a palette of 216 web-safe colors.
So here's a comparison of two analogic color schemes from Color Scheme Generator. The one on the top has been "reduced" to web-safe colors. Saved these as screenshots with Photoshop as JPEGS, based on something posted at Lynda.com, but I'm not sure whether I did everything right, or what Blogger might've done to the images on upload. So we'll see, on different monitors.
This Blogger preview is not WYSIWIG. Played with margins to fix this layout, trying to avoid type between the images. Preview isn't playing along.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


This one gets a nod to Amanda Toler's manipulation of the same word, and a nod to Shel Silverstein and his poem about "Ations." Find it if you haven't read it.
And curse those automatic margins in Blogger.

Compression word play


Final word for wordplay project. Created the document with the background set to transparent in Photoshop Elements; maybe the preset was defaulting to white, giving me white background no matter what other manipulations I tried. Was much faster, of course, than the first word yesterday. Couldn't manipulate colors for some reason. Probably not enough coffee.
Started to do it in Word; flashed back to some middle-school newsletter work, and said "Nah." Why fight the machine?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Eliminate the dots


Flattened and erased. And then smudged, just for fun. Thanks, Tom.
I keep saying I'm going to set aside some time just to play with Photoshop, and its amazing creative toys. But other things always push it aside. Good to have assignments that specifically require this work.
"Compression" will have to wait for another day; spent too much "class time" surfing and thinking about browser window size. See diarrhea under class discussion of "Banner and Type creation" under Tom "Socrates" Clapham's question, "Does size matter?"

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Type warmup, first word


Here's half of the Word exercise from Ellen Lupton. I tried this in Photoshop Elements, mainly because I don't have design software at home yet. So figured it was time to learn what Photoshop Elements could do with type.
Leading, or spacing between lines, was really hard to control. But it was at least intuitive. I think that's maybe why people who are good at Photoshop rarely seem to be good teachers for others. They just click around until something works, and then their eyes or fingers remember how they accomplished something, but not their conscious verbal minds.
There must be a way to crop out or erase the dot on the "I"s, but I didn't figure that out yet. Clues welcome.
I considered the "N" on the first line, in red, but really liked using "nation" on the second line altogether. Thought about repeating, with first line being e-l-i-m-i-n and second line being n-a-t-i-o-n. That might've worked better.
Used Futura medium, though considered Future condensed extra bold. Kerning, or the space between letters, of "nation" bothered me in futura medium, but didn't know how to change that.
Second try in posting -- set background to "matte" in Elements when "saving for web," and then chose the same color background as the web page (currently). Don't know why it wasn't totally transparent at first; I think it was a failing of my use of layers (or lack thereof) when building it in Elements.
Dern, on Try No. 2, the background still looks white. Surfed for answers briefly, didn't find anything, but did find good stuff at Mandarin Design.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Web site critique, Museum of Modern Art


The website of The Museum of Modern Art offers different experiences for different users on various pages.
The main pages and store are quite structured with much use of gray and gray-blue to guide the eye. Links are on the left. A large changing Flash “exhibit” is at the top. The “F” structure theory for web pages is very much in evidence.
The Flash animation at the top is quite busy, with as many flashy fades and spins as a young PowerPoint user would use. The Flash cycles among several exhibits, and the style of each cycle reflects the content of each exhibit. Typography of titles and exhibition dates reflects the style of content as well, and complementary colors are used as backgrounds.
As a relief, the rest of the website’s main page is quiet, structured, organized and unmoving. No popup ads, and right-side links to the Moma store and membership information are understated and undersized. Background is white, and section separators are thin gray or gray-blue lines. Visited links do not change color, except on the links sidebar, and underlining is used to indicate what is a link, again, except on the link sidebar. On the sidebar, hovering turns the links chili-pepper red.
In fact, very little on the main page is NOT a link, creating a feeling of rich content below a clean, “simple” surface.
The main page looks like a four-column layout. Specific exhibition pages are two columns, with links remaining on the left and a strong gray-blue horizontal bar at the top echoing the “F” shape. Resizing the window does not change the shape of the page – content on the right just disappears, but because links are on the left, the window can be resized very vertically to take up only a small amount of screen space and still be navigable.
By contrast, specific pages under the “Education” link for children and teens are brightly colored.
The Red Studio for teens has a pinstriped red and black background. Bright red accents the page in numerous pages and fades into gray. Typography for teens is a strong, bold sans serif, frequently white on a color background. Colors are primary.
On the children’s page, Destination Modern Art, colors are subtler, almost pastel but a little more grown up. It’s all Flash, with occasional real photos interspersed with cartoon characters with children’s voices. The main narrator’s voice is a woman. Navigation buttons are large. Very little text is present, and it uses comic-like drawn typefaces instead of traditional type. I’m reminded of a computer game from the mid-90s based on “The Magic School Bus” books.
The rich content of the site, aimed at several different audiences, conveys the idea that the site itself is a destination, a place to spend lots of time on audio and visual information about art. There seems to be an underlying outreach component, intended to educate through the Internet and not just intended to get visitors or members to the museum. Just randomly shopping at the store provided me with a calming, creative feeling, even at work during 30-second intervals between other tasks. Now I crave a $6 well-designed snow-globe ring.
The site conveys a clear feeling of being designed to be simple and clean, but with lots of complexity behind the thought processes to design it. The Flash stuff almost makes me dizzy on the main page, and feels a bit overdone, but the overall site makes me want to visit and be a part of the museum. I’ll come back to this site often, and send others.

Time vs. Paris Match



A comparison of colors at Time and Paris Match.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Web 2.0 and community: a commentary

Soapbox warning.
Spent "class time" checking up on the News and Observer's efforts at local web community building at Triangle.com
I can't help but get the feeling that Web 2.0 development mirrors society now. In high schools, every student seems to be president of their own separate club. In business, companies slow their technical progress by failing to share and borrow from the technology of others. Few seem to live by the BBC's principles that Serena Fenton posted on Jan. 25 at Fresh New World.
On the issue of homeless panhandlers in Chapel Hill, Triangle.com should link to The Daily Tar Heel archived editorials and columns here. Both should link to Flickr photos of homeless in Chapel Hill. Students should use Facebook and Flickr to build groups focusing on this problem. The mayor should ask students to help, and students should stop calling for action and actually do something.
Back to class focus: If passion is strong enough, users will accept odd bright green colors and post their ideas despite design and speed issues. Perhaps that's why many participants in forums and blogs at mainstream media seem so rabid. But competitors will arise, as they have for Triangle.com at Free Forum. Kudos to Triangle.com for leaving that competitive link on a posting at their site; some others might have deleted it.
Interesting to note that blogging functions at Triangle.com are not very advanced, and the users seem trained to prefer not-so-visual forums, while the Greensboro community has been into blogs for a long time. It goes back to that community thing: It takes a long time for communities to learn new technology from each other.
Soapbox over.

Curses, color and college viewbooks

You may have heard of the typography curse. Or the design curse. Or the math curse. Those curses are the tendency to see typography, design or math everywhere you look.
Now it's time for the color curse, and the college viewbooks arriving at my house daily are rich material.
Like the Cartier website that a classmate posted in discussions, one rich red viewbook stood out. It's from the Robert E. Cook Honors College at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I've never heard of it, but the beauty of the book and the chatty content from students required a second look. Their website matches, though a little more subtly and with black accents. Reminds me of oldstyle University of Georgia design. The college's main website uses blue, with just a few red accents. The color differences allow the honors college to differentiate itself from the not-so-selective main school.
The color curse kicked in on the school's main page though, and I found the blog background color I sought. Behold, I've moved on from gray to ffffd1. I'm learning a new language.
Columbia's viewbook: Beautiful typography and a ripoff of Carolina Blue. Columbia's website: Duke Blue.
Dear Columbia: If you want Carolina students, resolve your blue issues. Or is the confusion on purpose?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Finger cropping and page turning

Must share two interesting interactive tools I ran into recently:
Hands on interaction: Jeff Han is a research scientist for New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. He's been showing off a touch screen in which multiple users can create on a screen at the same time. It's like those screens at Disney, only better.
The video, sponsored by BMW.
Newspaper virtual page turning here. I'm conflicted on this one, but willing to see what others think.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Anthropologie, Part 3: WWMD?

What would Martha Stewart do in an Anthropologie store?
Well, actually, Anthropologie marketers say they're too cool for Martha Stewart.
But visiting the store stirs that longing for creativity tapped by Martha, the idea of the creative "priesthood of the individual," to borrow from religion.
Anyone can be creative, the store says. Use Popsicle sticks, old newspapers, or needle and thread. Combine old, which isn't bad, with new, which isn't bad.
So the store's efforts to create the passionate loyalty of a specific customer spill into the lives of other customers. Anthropologie spreads a gospel among people too old or young or underpaid to serve as its main audience. That love of creativity and the visual inspiration in the stores can spread into our homes and our work.
Martha would say that's a good thing.
But remember that creativity, like Christmas, doesn't come from a box at the store.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Anthropologie, Part 2: Fluffy dollars


Check out ****FLUFFY**DOLLAR$$$****: Trends and Ends
For now, let's go beyond the standard links from Fast Company and Hoover's about the brand Anthropologie. Click on Fluffy Dollars to read yet another person rhapsodize about Anthropologie's stores, but then comes the twist. She declines to open her wallet very wide.
Before the stores increase sales greatly, all the Baby Boom Echo children need to grow up and become doctors and lawyers and bank vice presidents.
The rest of us like to visit, but we wouldn't want to spend there.
Linked blog rated PG.
The store's target customer: 30 to 45 years old, college or post-graduate education, married with kids or in a committed relationship, professional or ex-professional, annual household income of $150,000 to $200,000.
Show me the money: In the three zip codes surrounding the Anthropologie store in Charlotte, about 4,300 households earn more than $150,000 a year, according to Claritas in 2006.
Many other stores, organizations and media are chasing those same 4,300 households.
Maybe the stores can hold on until the Urban Outfitter customers grow up and get well-paying jobs.

Anthropologie, Part I


They could have named it “Archaelogie.”
Artifacts from not-so-distant times decorate this retailer, aimed at “sophisticated and contemporary women aged 30 to 45.”
Each store tries to create an emotional connection with its customers by using tableaux in its displays, mixing product lines together and adding whimsical touches from the past.
Shredded newspapers served as the window display on one visit. And on the latest trip, light wooden Popsicle sticks glued together moved in a flowing mobile over the ceiling. A standalone mirror with distressed wooden edges added nostalgia.
This brand seemed too trendy to choose to analyze for class, but a recent required mall visit increased my fascination. I’m slightly more than a year older than the target audience; my daughter is just over 13 years younger. Her fascination, almost love, for the store, and my slight disdain and reluctance to open my wallet intrigue me, given the company’s target audience.
She’s happy with faux antiques; I want the real thing. Or maybe it’s more complicated.
The company line: “Our core strategy is to provide unified
store environments that establish emotional bonds with the customer.”
Instead of relying on just pleasing colors and shapes, the stores use emotion-laden objects to make a cultural appeal to a specific niche audience. Its brand becomes stronger because the embedded emotions narrow its audience. There is no “flatman” here (I have yet to check the bathroom labels, if any).
All the emotion carries a danger of creating unintended reactions, as demonstrated in the New York Times article by Alex Kuczynski. Who would have thought the stores’ well-worn artifacts would have brought up thoughts of divorce, impermanence and dispersal?
For my child, these artifacts carry none of that baggage. (Though I’m sure other artifacts would). She thinks of creative grandmothers and grandfathers, and I’m guessing she imagines her own place someday, filled with “tchotchkes” giving tribute to the best parts of the past. The clothing and fabrics look fresh and new to her.
Those same “tchotchkes” create disdain in me. I have my own, already, thank you, and accumulate more each year as my far-flung elders continue to divest themselves of things. My tchotchkes are real, and connected to real history.
And the design and fabrics of clothing conjure up memories of clothing gone out of style at least once before.
Wide leather belts? Been there, done that. Big square sunglasses? Bought them, for my daughter. Wish I hadn’t thrown out my own from 30 years ago.
Coming soon: WWMD? (What would Martha Stewart do?)

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Firefox icon


Allow me to presume a moment. If I were queen, Firefox would look more like this. But the icon would include the whole Earth, and the icon would be round, with the tail/flame wrapping a third to halfway around.
Oh wait: that would be the logo for global warming. Then we could add the clock hands within the globe for the time "Five minutes to midnight."

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Web site style, history and a metaphor

Two intriguing things found while wandering:
The University of Arizona posts a public "web style" page so all people creating pages under the university's umbrella will show consistent style. In addition, the school posts a history of their website, showing versions of the home page through the years. Intriguing stuff, at the history page and the style guide.

Barbaro the horse got lots of love on Legacy.com, which uses the funeral "guest book" metaphor, and then sells hard copies of the books. Check it out here.

Sidetracks



Interesting things found while looking up other things:
An effective use of a line and two circles, in Guatemala City, from Skyscraper City.
A McDonald's french fry in the shape of a Nike Swoosh, for sale at Very Strange Auctions.

A public free forum on design and branding for part of Charlotte:
Civic By Design Forum: Tuesday, February 13, 2007, 5:30pm – 6:30pm, Levine Museum of the New South, 200 East Seventh Street.

"AIA Charlotte proposes a project to enhance the image, international character, urban design and architecture of the section of Central Avenue informally known as the 'International Corridor.' AIA Charlotte will work with the property owners, the business owners, nearby residents and the larger community to address the urban fabric and architectural issues that hinder the area’s development. Priorities will include ... how to build an identifiable image ... ."

Details and RSVP: Tom Low, Chair, Civic By Design Forum at tom@dpz.com.

Last but not least, "The Design Disease," similar to the "Math Curse," at Noisy Decent Graphics.

The other "W"



Changing a symbol dramatically can eviscerate its power.
For many people, the far right "W" holds a large space in their brains. They see it every day and subconsciously associate it with certain necessary functions. It "reads" when it's small, and could read better larger with a little work, perhaps through a vector? program like Illustrator.
It holds more power than that other "W" associated with politics and bumper stickers. It has no political affiliation, and it has become cross-cultural through the marketing efforts of its powerful parent company. Through many years of marketing, development and alliances with other software companies, the symbol came to represent software that was a standard for business use, something that everyone knew how to use or needed to know how to use.
Times change.
The symbol on the left is Word 2004 for Mac, version 11.2. I still can't remember viscerally what it's for as it sits on my desktop, after two years of exposure. It's prettier than its previous version, but much more symbolic, losing its connection with the letter "W." It looks like a "3" turned 90 degrees to the right. Or an "E," turned 90 degrees to the left. I've clicked on it numerous times mistakenly, thinking it was an "E" for Excel. Its color is different, at least on my Mac screen, from the "W" I see on the PC every day. The visual difference between a Mac and a PC creates a divide that should not exist.
So I get frustrated and mad at it, and end up using Outlook email to keep notes as I read.
Perhaps the symbol's loss of power for me reflects the threat the software faces in the new era of computers. Users need browsers, communication software and sometimes spreadsheets. But why even go to the odd new "W" if other software can handle the small, quick easy note-taking and writing tasks? Are Blogger and Typepad the new Word?

Pretty things work better


This beautiful symbol is readable in small and large formats, and the designer paid incredible attention to detail and color while using an almost universal symbol of music. The round shape of the CD background harkens back for older users to vinyl discs while reflecting modern media, beautiful in simplicity and useability generally across hardware and software platforms. While small cool Flash drives are wearable, past experiences for many in our culture make the CD cheaper, easier to get and easier to use. The addition of the music symbol alerts users that the program is about more than just CDs. As the software's function spreads to academic podcasts, TV shows and movies, the symbol's focus on music may become a visual artifact. But I bet developers will stick with the symbol, to build on emotional connotations burned into users' heads. It connects the visual with the auditory for strength in memory.

Quick, cheap, reliable last resort


It's 9 p.m. on a cold, rainy Sunday night.
You have a whiny hungry kid -- or kids -- in the back seat of the car. You have no time before you're supposed to be somewhere. Your stomach rumbles.
You're in sprawl-land in the Southeast or Southwest U.S.
You see these white lighted lines on a slightly angled roof. They show up in the darkness, from at least half a mile away. They succeed because they're designed to be seen amid the visual clutter of sprawl-land, even in darkness. Because they're part of a roof, they signal shelter.
Those lines are successful because they're simple, clean, visceral. Images associated with food are primal and visceral, remembered easily without words after just a few exposures.
And when zoning codes prevent a big yellow "M," these architectural details suffice.
You're home free.
At the least, you can get a package of about eight grapes and some sweetened yogurt.
The image also carries extreme negative connotations for some people, because of previous overexposure and negative portrayal of the brand in health-focused cultural subgroups. In a recent experiment, 50 percent of style-conscious, health-focused branded young consumers refused the grapes. And sulked.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Emotional image No. 3


Visceral: Simple and appealing, though not technically beautiful. It involves muted water color, with movement, juxtaposed with a human-made, trashlike element, recycled with a clear colorful purpose filled with hope and a pencil.
Behavioral: I sought out the image after I had the word concept in my head, so my behavior changed before even seeing the image. I tentatively resolve to help or explore further the project of my daughter's photo teacher. She's taking some Photo II students to New Orleans at spring break, to document post-Katrina life, with the themes of "Message in a Bottle" and "House of Cards." Maybe the photo will affect the behavior of others, who will remember the intriguing idea of a message in a bottle from their childhoods, or they'll think about how to reuse this expensive oil-based throwaway of our modern life. Someone said Nalgene, right?
Reflective: So how much of our visual and auditory memory affects the way we approach this image? How many people are humming the Police song "Message in a Bottle" now? How is such a concept connected to Katrina and New Orleans? Surely plastic bottles filled with water could have saved some lives. How cross-cultural is the image? I know the idea is floated in Europe, but does it hold water in Africa? In China?
Credit: A class project far away.
How to do a class project: Apparently, there's some grant money around for such things. Ideas here.

Emotional image No. 2


Visceral: Lack of color immediately makes me feel this is real, documentary, serious stuff. Flowing folds of fabric convey warmth, and sparkles convey luxury and a special occasion. The exotic differences in clothing and facial coloring intrigue, while the familiarity of an elder helping a younger one makes me connect to the people.
Behavioral: The photo makes me want to go see more from the same exhibit, "Families of Abraham," and also make sure I follow up in conversations with my daughter about the exhibit. Her first reaction on seeing an ad for the exhibit on TV was to say, "That's wrong! Indians aren't families of Abraham!" because all the Indians she knows are Hindu. So the exhibit has the ability to quash some stereotypes, with just an ad.
Reflective: (One paragraph, or at least a short posting, I resolved.) I ponder this exhibit's presence on the web and in other media. At the Levine Museum's official site, I don't get enough. I can't click on the images and get big or more photos, and I don't get a slideshow. All on purpose, I realize, to make me go see the exhibit and perhaps look for a forthcoming book. And to protect the work of the photographers, who I know and respect. At the local newspaper's website, I fume about how disjointed and unfindable is coverage of the exhibit, despite beautiful displays in the printed newspaper. I have to go here and then here to get full coverage, and just one day ago, there was a link from the verbal coverage to the multimedia slideshow. Now it's gone. It's not even secondary, which irked me earlier because I'm convinced the visual coverage of the exhibit should come before the verbal coverage.
And I'm willing to bet the verbal coverage may die out and be accessible only through a fee before the exhibit runs its course.
I ponder and fume and resolve to try to find a way to influence such coverage in the future.

Emotional image No. 1


Visceral: Smooth large arcs contrasted with small angular elements create energy, and blues and greens add serenity. Implied texture and technique create a feeling of home. Serene, homelike energy?
Behavioral: The line of buses reminds me of bat-out-of-hell driving to deliver a couple of young ladies to the UNC-Georgia Tech game. I resolve to investigate how to get on those buses for any future trips. I buy a pack of note cards by the designer. And I resolve to document my mom's efforts using the same technique to create a picture.
Reflective: I continue to think about the colors and contrasting simple shapes this designer uses to create tension and peace at the same time. I marvel at her editing and distortion of a scene, and wonder at her ability to rise above it to see views that really are impossible in real life. And I realize the emotional power of this image works best for those who have experienced a basketball game day, noting that we bring our memories to the images we see, and memory seems so closely tied in to visual elements. Think of the souvenirs we buy.
Credit: Photo of a textile collage by Elaine O'Neil, displayed at The Laughing Turtle on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Artist's website.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

To gnome


Emo the gnome hangs out near a small pump house at my aunt's house in the N.C. mountains.
He's roundish and unthreatening and, of course, dressed in blue and bluish-lavender, with accents of green frogs and a tiny hint of butterfly brightness.
He's an emotional image on three levels: viscerally, and those other two. Viscerally, his face peers up from a non-threatening size and level. Round cheeks and nose are reminiscent of baby faces, despite the beard. Mid-level, his presence makes me want to decorate his house with small plants. It should be presentable for any young people who happen by.
On that higher level, I'm reminded of fairy tales and fantasy, and good magic. And closeness to the earth and its creatures.
He's almost too cute, for those old enough to remember the ubiquitous gnome images from the late 1970s-early 1980s.
That almost-too-cuteness makes me consider borrowing him from his usual spot and taking him on a road trip, seeking incongruous surroundings to make him less cute, more ironic. Already been done, I know. But worth considering. Maybe he needs a Facebook page instead. Who wouldn't be his friend?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Loving the penguin before it was cool


Residents of my neighborhood in Charlotte have been fans of The Penguin Drive-In for years. It's not really a drive-in restaurant anymore, but its history is a large part of its charm. Elvis is still on the juke box, as well as modern rock and roll. Families go there after soccer games or church, and then it slowly morphs as the night goes on to a more rowdy place, with beer and mixed drinks. Some nights in summer, alternative bands play in the parking lot, and the party spills into the street.
It has neon as well as this sign, and right-wing bumper stickers over the bar. One sign, "Thank a vet," has no irony attached.
The Penguin started as a greasy spoon drive-in, with no enclosed sit-down restaurant area, and has matured into a funky neighborhood hang-out. Those from other parts of the city and country feel as if they're part of an exclusive club if friends have introduced them to The Bird.
Waiters and waitresses seem to be required to have tattoos and piercings.
It sells irony, openmindedness, satire, exclusivity (you hear about it from friends and neighbors, not advertising). It sells good greasy burgers, sweet-potato fries, fried pickles and cheap beer.
It's bold -- red and black -- but the absence of background color makes the penguin what he is.
"Food" is stretched out. "Drinks" are squeezed in, making the sign pleasantly lopsided and not too polished. That would be the style error at The Penguin -- being too polished.
But oh my, that trapped white space. Does The Bird need a new sign, or do his flaws contribute to the retro feel and make him what he is?
For more images, search Flickr for Penguin and Charlotte. At Facebook, a group called "People who LOVE THE PENGUIN!!" has more than 180 members.
An earlier owner was a World War II veteran who recently died, Jim Ballentine. He was of the neighborhood, and his customers frequently thanked him for his service in the battle of Bastogne, according to his obit in The Charlotte Observer.
May the Penguin party on, long after the current fascination with the Bird fades away.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Picasa success

 

Picasa, su casa. Psychedelic azalea.
Posted by Picasa

Browser wars


Sometimes I'm hopeful that our brave new world will someday work seamlessly, whether we're talking software or international boundaries and governments.
Other times, I realize we have a long way to go.
I think this image tells a very short story of where we are now. It's like a college essay prompt I heard about last night: "Imagine you've written your autobiography. Tell me what's on Page 217."
This shot is Page 217 of our technical evolution.