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Entries by jj (280)

Tuesday
Jan192010

282. Ad of the Week: Pump Energy Food.

It's a rare treat to be entertained and convinced at the same time, to be laughing and pondering while watching the same thing - especially an ad. But the most recent viral/spot by Pump Energy Foods in NYC managed to prove a point while winking at you the whole time. Pump describes the production of this video as silly but I think they've managed to produce something that is far more powerful than other, larger and better-funded companies in the health food market. They call it simply, Sans Crap.

Pump is simply saying that you shouldn't be eating all the crap out there and that they provide a healthy alternative for lunch and breakfast that doesn't have all the, well, crap in it. "Everything here is good for you. Tastes good, too. We make everything from scratch, every day. We start with fresh, unprocessed whole foods, then we get down to details. We make all of our own sauces and dressings each morning and use only fresh-squeezed juices and herbs. We even bake (not fry) our own chips. The same awesome people that serve your food are the ones who make it every day. Wonder how something’s prepared? Just ask."

The spot works more like a series of satirical print ads (that move a bit) hard-selling some of the stuff we eat everyday that is presented as healthy but may ultimately not be. Every frame & scene is packed with fun little details that make you laugh and cringe at the same time. And to be properly appreciated you have to look at the stills below. The art direction and prop design is pitch-perfect. This is how you do viral. Not this. (View the full-video at the end of the post.) In short, I love it. And I'll be having an apple sans crap for lunch. It appears that the folks over at Dark Igloo were responsible for making this come to life as well as a good client. (Be sure to check out Dark Igloo's mind expanding pdf on their site.)

Still Images From Sans Crap
I think I've eaten this cereal before.
Healthy Sugars and other faux-USDA graphics.
Spray and roll-on crap.
You should hear how they pronounce acai, the hot food of today.
I might be guilty of doing this to my veggies.
This is a direct rip of a Hardee's spot I just know it.
Nothing is safe from satire, even Syrup. Which is really just high-fructose corn syrup usually.
Starbucks breakfasts with all the added goodies. Yum.
High-rolling with a microwave meal.
My favorite little surprise in this storytelling. Purple.

The Full Sans Crap Video

Sunday
Jan172010

281. Blu-ray. Now in 3D. 

So there was a lot of 3D talk at this year's Consumer Electronics Show held earlier this month in Vegas as you might have heard. You may not have heard however that the BDA announced the new codec or standard for Blu-ray 3D discs and with it a logo that may very well be the most produced identity we will ever cover. (And if you're like me and you have no idea what BDA stands for—that's the Blu-Ray Disc Association of course.) This new identity will literally be everywhere.

2D is so 2009:

From the press release for the standard: “Throughout this year, movie goers have shown an overwhelming preference for 3D when presented with the option to see a theatrical release in either 3D or 2D,” said Victor Matsuda, chairman, BDA Global Promotions Committee. “We believe this demand for 3D content will carry over into the home now that we have, in Blu-ray Disc, a medium that can deliver a quality Full HD 3D experience to the living room.”

Based largely on the ubiquitous Blu-ray design, the identity for Blu-ray 3D standard uses the same typography but emphasizes the 3D elements over the blu-ray type. It also gives the look some obviously-needed depth with a treatment similar to that of the previous mark. The BDA announced two official versions of the design (a block and horizontal lockup) and were followed during the show by several companies unveiling 3D capable devices—some of which will eventually be adorned by this new Blu-ray 3D mark including the PS3 of Sony. (Which I think can have its firmware updated if you already have an old 2D model.)

The New Look of Blu-ray:

There are a few forgivable flaws in the design. Using the same typography is forgivable even though the original has too many oddly-shaped characters and is too inconsistent to be used on such a grand scale. (Take a look at the spur on the u for example.) At this point there is probably some brand recognition at play though I would have preferred they utilize a more solid, professional typeface. I imagine there is a typeface out there that holds some of the same general characteristics but is more technically sound, right? Right.

The 3D-ed 3D is also forgivable as the main goal of a logo design is to communicate what the brand is, and without question this solution does that quickly and clearly. It would have been very easy to over-complicate matters and the designers resisted that urge. It's just not the most convincing or well-crafted simulation of depth I have ever seen. And it's also somewhat forgivable that the 3D elements overwhelm the blu-ray since that is the aspect most important to consumer. We just need to know quickly that this is the latest version of blu-ray without having to strain too much. This is accomplished, yet the visual proportion doesn't so much create a sense of forward-motion & progress as it does imbalance.

Maybe The Logo Looks Different With a Pair of These?

image courtesy of wikipediaThe problem occurs when you put all three of these forgiveable decisions together into one design. In total they no longer are forgivable—especially for how visible this design will be and how often it will be used. It simply needed more time in the oven and a more conceptual and artistic craft. (I also hope the relationship between the TM and the mark will be adjusted in future applications. If the TM gets any bigger the blu-ray 3D mark will be the legal bug to the logo and not the other way around. Ha.) The most troubling aspect of the whole thing is both the 3 and that D. The 3 needs work as in its italicized form (slanted far beyond typographic integrity) it feels awkward and not in harmony with the shape of the 'button' that is created by the beveled form underneath it. And the D...I don't know if it reminds me of Transformers or Terminator or some movie like that, but it feels too heavy-handed, cliche and unnecessary. Yes, we get it. It's the future. Now, stop chopping up the type, okay?

In the end, I think the best solution would have been to simply fix a few flaws in the original b symbol, make it more three-dimensional and update the typography. Then go watch Avatar in 3D at the theaters so you'll have something to compare the experience to later. Which by the way is one of the best-looking worst films I have ever seen.

Now that we've taken a peek at the logo, am I the only one that hates wearing those stupid 3D glasses? I would much rather watch a traditional movie than its 3D peer anyday. The somewhat lame effect simply isn't worth the aggravation of wearing glasses for 2 plus hours. According to Cnet, new 3D TVs require active liquid crystal shutter glasses, which work by very quickly blocking the left and then the right eye in sequence (120 times per second systems like Panasonic's Full HD 3D). I have yet to see a convincing display of this technology, but maybe that's what this whole thing is about: bringing a quality experience to your home theater. And forcing everyone to replace yet another box in your living room that was just made obsolete. Didn't Blu-ray just come out like in 2006? Now that I sound a lot like my dad, I'm ending this post for everyone's benefit with Panasonic's explanation of why you should care via the update below.

Monday
Jan112010

280. A Practical yet Human Boarding Pass Design.

image courtesy of http://jacoblshapiro.com/blog/?p=114Recently, designer Tyler Thompson posted a nice little blog about one thing and one thing only: his frustration towards the design of his Delta boarding pass. "The design of boarding passes makes me want to scratch my eyes out," is the rallying cry and gives you a sense of the site's tone.

Thompson's Actual Delta Pass:

Not content to just complain about matters Thompson also studied the functions of this piece of communication and started designing a better and more easily understood pass of his own. Ultimately he posted four versions of his own design and more recently design contributions from other frustrated would-be travelers. This site is called Pass Fail and although a bit blue on the language (Hey, who isn't irritated by all things air-travel these days?), the site is a wondeful study in the power of intelligent communication design. In short, it's the kind of blogging that is actually worth reading. Below are his designs. Please go to the site and read more about each one.

Thompson's First Design and Second (adding color):

Thompson's Third Design to Show Airline Neutrality:

Thompson's Final Design:

As you can see his final design makes a world of difference compared to his actual Delta pass. On the site he received a lot of comments and feedback that led to his final approach and it's pretty solid. Everything lives where you can find it and is well organized. Seeing this at the counter would bring me great relief.

One of the more thoughtful contributions from his visitors came from Timoni Grone. She wrote a response to Thompson's article called "A practical boarding pass redesign." Here is her design that takes into account the limitations and restrictions of a boarding pass. I like her academic approach as well as the similarly practical design of Yoni De Beule who addressed a lot of the comments on the blog up to that point.

Grone's Practical Design:

De Beule's Design:

These two designs favor practicality over artsy design and rightfully so. All of the information is organized and more intuitive than the real-world version. It would have been easy to simply choose a nice typeface hierarchy that would look great, but it's worthless if they coudn't print it cost-effectively using the current methods. And this is definitely one project that brings with it a lot of technical and economic boundaries. So I applaud the perspective both designers brought to this conversation. All that being said, I think there is still room to improve the boarding pass design while remaining absolutely stone-cold reasonable.

I think Thompson's final design is well-done and a worthy candidate for implementation. I like the use of small graphic elements to direct the eye and ease understanding. I also appreciate the limitations and solutions provided by Grone and De Beule. But what both approaches fail to do is consider that the traveler is not a machine and is a human being that takes in information differently than a scanner. To be clear, none of these designs go far enough past convention, they still are organized and optimized for the scanner instead of the human eye and this need not be. A scanner can be programmed to read the codes and information so long as it is present at a technologically sound size and color. A human is far less flexible and needs to be approached on that level first. My design attempts to balance practical printing limitations with a little bit of humanity.

For cost reasons I stuck with one color (though I do mention the benefit of a two color option further below.) I am assuming the template ticket would be preprinted in the case of cards with the airline logos. And in the case of kiosk printing, this could be done as it is now with lower quality color printing on demand. I chose a common monospace font so that all the characers are of equal width to provide consistent fields for data printing and because machines butcher typefaces that need to be kerned anyway. I kept the size and format of the ticket fairly standard to retain the focus on the design for the sake of this argument as well. What is not standard is the delivery of the information on the boarding pass, and it is this delivery that is the main focus of my concept even beyond the design particulars.

My Human Boarding Pass (click for larger view):

My version uses clear information delivered in the same manner that an airline attendant might use, in common prose. It is also given in the same order that a traveler needs it. The data can still be read by a scanner but can also be easily absorbed by the customer. This approach also has the added benefit of being warm and personable and could be reiterated by the airline personnel in the same way. Given the current state of flying, this is a much needed change. More important is the fact that I felt most of the designs in the dialogue so far still feel like a fenced-in gathering of lots of rogue pieces of information. Simply put they are still too busy and harder to digest than necessary.

I realize that people are not that into reading these days, but I think a simple concise directive still would work better than an amalgam of data points. I resisted the urge to call out the information on my boarding pass any further, though I could easily imagine a revision using a heavier weight or color change to draw more attention to them. And I used international time for no other reason than it allows the elimination of the day and night (am/pm) label. I feel like I have arrived at a solution that is quite elegant requiring very little implementation costs/changese. In approach it could not be more different than the real-world Delta ticket that started this all, but in design terms it is a small but effective change. I am surprised how similar the orginal Delta ticket and my version ended up being, but this pleases me in some odd way too.

In the spirit of Thompson's post I couldn't resist adding my version to the fray. I do believe my design solves most of the issues involved in the discussion about boarding pass design and was a joy to consider for a few hours. But I repeat Thompson's thoughts when I say we're all just trying to make this better. Cheers.

Thursday
Jan072010

279. Molson Canadian's New Ad, Logo & Packaging.


Over the holidays, smack dab in the middle of hockey season, and exactly on Boxing Day - Molson Canadian launched a new advertising campaign, new logo, and new packaging in an attempt to regain the brand's Canadian-ness. (Their word not mine.) This is simply a trifecta of design that we cannot ignore reporting, despite not being a big drinker.

The launch ad features overhead shots of Canada's natural beauty that would do very well as a tourism spot were it not for the over-grandiose voice-over talent providing a blue-collar tone: "We have more square feet of awesome per person than any other nation on Earth. There are thousands of fresh water lakes, and barley fields as far as the eye can see." The spot is overtly trying to connect the natural wonder of Canada to the quality of the beer as it ends with a Molson tap in the middle of a field of Barley. Okay. It's just a normal, well-shot beer spot and maybe there isn't anything wrong with that. Though the Canadian pride stuff seems far less authentic now that Molson is 58% owned by SABMiller.

Dave Bigioni, Brand Director for Canadian, said the campaign is an evolution of last year's The Code campaign. "Part of the idea with ‘The Code' was to get back to the brand's Canadian-ness," Bigioni said. "This new campaign is about sharing our point of view on what makes Canada great," and attempts to tie those pristine images of glaciers and golden fields to the bottled golden liquid. "We're rooting our message back in the quality credentials of the beer," he said. (Quotes courtesy from Canada's Marketing Magazine.)

Like I said, there's nothing mind-blowing about this spot produced by Toronto agency-of-record Zig, however additional pieces of this creative will be launching in February. They will include more broadcast, out of home, and the dream project for junior creative portfolios everywhere: in-bar advertising. Look out for all of that later next month.

Here's The Launch Spot:


The Old Logo:


The Old Bottle Label:


The new identity work features a more prominent and detailed red maple leaf than the previous design and is the work of Spring Design Partners out of New York. "We felt the branding needed a bit of an update to keep in touch with the times," Bigioni said. "We have a very iconic look. We didn't want to evolve too far from that, but the current identity had been in market for five years."

The new design features more shadowing and depth in the maple leaf, which is cropped off at the bottom and is no longer wet. Glad to see the wetness go and the crop is a better solution than having the stem stick down and muddle up the name. The typography of Canadian is still set in the familiar red and blue alternating characters but in a new face. (When combined with the leaf this color pattern is the heart of their identity and I don't think they'll ever change it.) It's hard to tell on the sample images if the new palette is lighter than the previous though it seems so. In terms of the typeface change, the new design goes from a slightly formal oblique condensed Optima-ish face to a firmly grounded and slightly modern condensed gothic. The typeface for Molson is the same though no longer italicized, thankfully.

Though I would have concerns about how consistently that leaf can be reproduced, this design evolution is a pretty solid effort. It's basically what you like to see when an identity is upgraded. You add something that freshens it up for the marketplace and yet you keep all the things you like about the old - particularly the design heritage. Look forward to seeing how this is carried out across all the channels. Well done.

The New Logo:


Comparison of Old & New:
The New Bottle:


Thursday
Dec312009

278. How Do You Brand A Monument?

I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony for the Burj Dubai last night here in the United Arab Emirates. It was an epic show of lights, sound, water and some amazing fireworks — basically what you'd expect from the Emirate, a flashy show of style. (View a few pictures of my facebook account here.) Now, I would not have been surprised if they simply demolished the building and announced plans for an even taller structure on the site and I would not have blinked had the building took off like a rocket launching the royal families in attendance into orbit. Such is the way around here.

But there were two big surprises on the night. The first was an announced height that was ten meters higher than previously thought, which is a big deal if you're building the world's tallest building—you want it to stay that way for as long as possible. The second big surprise was the renaming of the building from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa. Khalifa is one of two families in the UAE that share power, and as I understand it they are rulers of Abu Dhabi. The ruling family of Dubai, the Maktoums, switch off and on as Prime Minister/Vice Prime Minister of the UAE. The public was caught off guard on the name change to be sure, and the locals say it's huge.

Now, there was a lot of branding work done on the Burj Dubai, forgetting about the reasons for the name change (which range from paying back Abu Dhabi for the bailout money, to just being a kind gesture.) All of the branding work was made obsolete in one day. Consider that not just the building but the entire surrounding neighborhood has been called Downtown Burj Dubai and all the signage and business cards and addresses will now presumably become Downtwon Burj Khalifa. The reason I mention this, is to say that there was a lot of work done in terms of design that now has to be adjusted. Who knows how long the branding team knew about it. In the end, at least up until this point, the design stayed pretty much the same and just reflected the name alteration.

From what I gather there were two main entities involved in the branding of the building and square. Strategically, well-regarded and internationally awarded design consultancy The Brand Union, provided guidance. Here's an excerpt from the press release discussing their involvement:

"Using a seven step mastery system, The Brand Union built out from a core 'bright idea' into a compelling and distinct brand world. In the case of Burj Dubai, the agency needed to assess the current identity and collateral and refine the identity and developed the following brand story.

  • I am the power that lifts the world's head proudly skywards, surpassing limits and expectations.
  • Rising gracefully from the desert and honouring the city with a new glow, I am an extraordinary union of engineering and art, with every detail carefully considered and beautifully crafted.
  • I am the life force of collective aspirations and the aesthetic union of many cultures. I stimulate dreams, stir emotions and awaken creativity.
  • I am the magnet that attracts the wide-eyed tourist, eagerly catching their postcard moment, the centre for the world's finest shopping, dining and entertainment and home for the world's elite.
  • I am the heart of the city and its people; the marker that defines Dubai's shining dream.
  • More than just a moment in time, I define moments for future generations.
  • I am Burj Dubai.

"By aligning the brand identity with the brand's behaviour and performance to build a compelling and consistent brand world, we provide the framework, training and tools to ensure that what Burj Dubai promises is delivered through every little detail and experience."

They go on to say that their goal was to change the perception of the building from simply the world's tallest to a 'living wonder.' The other firm involved was Brash Brands. They designed the old identity system as well as the newly (slightly) adjusted design for the Khalifa change. Apparently Brash is a new agency here in town and this was the first project under the name. That's quite a way to start, to be sure. Design of the global launch events, communications, and visitors centers for the Burj Khalifa have also been created by Brash Brands as well as the roadshow exhibition for the Armani Residences, which are part of the Armani Hotel within the Burj Khalifa, which toured Milan, London, Jeddah, Moscow and Delhi.

The Original Burj Dubai:

The Burj Khalifa:

Basically it's a typeface (Foundary Sans) set spaciously in silver on a field of black with an intersection of two thin silver strokes. The type runs both horizontally and vertically depending on the placement. It looks pretty conservative for something as interesting and bold as the project itself. The architecture and courage to build an 828 meter building shows up nowhere in the identity unfortunately. I'm not saying it's ugly by any means, as a matter of fact it's rather nice. It would perform perfectly on just about any other building and in my eyes would feel at home on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Just about any other building wouldn't need more than a type-set name, but the Burj deserved a design much more daring from the design team. It's unfortunate that most of Brash's portfolio is really strong but this project will garner the most attention for obvious reasons.

The Burj Dubai Website (Click to enlarge - Trust me, you don't want to wait for the site to load. At least for the next few days.)

Another aspect of the identity that I think is interesting (or just wrong) is the fact that the identity is just as often set horizontally as it is vertically. Whether the design focused on being the world's tallest buiding or living wonder, the design should still have been vertical. Yes, that's obvious but sometimes we designers can make things more difficult than they need to be and miss the most elegant solution. If I had worked on this project, The Burj Khalifa would always, always, always be set vertically and would have been designed to look good going visually up and down. Again this work isn't bad, it's just not quite right.

Sample Identity System:

Sample Interior Signage:

The new exterior signage oddly doesn't feature the new look, which is unfortunate:

Of all the sample design work that I have seen so far, the following graphic is the piece that I liked best and think the best visual solution could have come from setting the building's vertical shape in a variety of graphic forms. This identity could have been dynamic, different almost everytime you see it but consistent in shape. It could have been as cool as the building. View the graphic below and tell me this isn't a better start for the identity. You could build this form using an almost infinite number of graphic elements and it would still be recognizable. Afterall, the building itself is the building's identity and should play a bigger part in the design.

The Building is the Building's Identity:

So, I think the identity work is serviceable just not nearly as exciting as it should have been. But I did see something related that had a solid design approach and that is the identity of the observation deck in the building called, At the Top. It takes an overhead view of the building's unique shape and uses those forms to establish their corporate identity. I think this is a solid look and would have been another approach to use for the building as a whole that would have more impact - even if it isn't vertically-based. Unfortunately, this is the largest sample image of that design I could find and I'm not sure who is responsible, Perhaps Brash.

At The Top Burj Dubai:

Here's a larger version I just found:


I'm going to try and nab a few more sample images for the Burj Khalifa identity, particularly signage and wayfinding as soon as possible. More to come.

 

 

Sunday
Dec202009

277. Minnesota Twins Identity Update.

On of my favorite activities of the Major League Baseball off-season is watching the design alterations made to logos, uniforms and the occasional stadium. The first such change this off-season comes from the Minnesota Twins who are launching all three this coming year, including new open-air digs called Target Field.

According to their site the identity/design changes include:

  1. Inaugural Season Logo – Will be featured on the official commemorative baseballs and bases to be used during all Twins home games as well as on the team’s home uniforms and caps throughout the 2010 season.
  2. Primary Logo – The team will have a new logo incorporating the new “Twins” script and the words “Minnesota Twins Baseball Club”.
  3. 50th Season Logo – Will be displayed on 2010 road jerseys and on the home throwback jersey.
  4. Primary Home Uniform – The “Twins” script has been slightly altered and updated for 2010 and beyond.
  5. Secondary Throwback Uniform – Twins players will wear a circa 1961 throwback uniform on Opening Day as well as every home Saturday during the 2010 season. The uniforms are modeled after the wool version worn during the team's first season in Minnesota.
  6. Primary Road Uniform – Twins players will wear new solid grey road uniforms (no pinstripes) in 2010.

The New Logotype:

The Twins mark is the change in which I'm most interested. The typography of the design has been updated and features a thicker dark blue outter stroke (a bit too thick—I think), while the serifs of the new forms have been reduced in size making the update no longer feel much like a slab serif face. (This is in part due to thick outline.) The drop shadows that were once white and dark blue in that order are now gray, which does help the legibility overall though still unnecessary. I'm not a big fan of the sloping terminals of the lowercase characters even if they mirror the tradition of the past design. This needed further exploration, especially the s. It draws a lot of attention away from the entirety of the word. The incompleteness of the mark is most noticeable when reviewing the T. This is the element that carries the most iconic weight but also feels the most unrefined. The top arm appears shorter and the base not substantial enough to support the form. The new identity is a bit hit and miss all around but even if they took the new version and simply dropped the outline stroke and shadow the identity wouldn't be too bad. (The letterforms w, i, and n still optically blend together however.) I looked around to see if the M alternate logo was changed but could neither confirm or disprove.

The new logotype without outlining and shadow for kicks (better, yes?):

The baseball in the background has been revised as well, the stitching getting much-needed attention this time around. The thin, almost sickly stitching has been replaced by realistic shapes that more accurately depict the baseball seams. This is a good step despite the bottom half of the new stitches feeling slightly off in some way. Not something the average fan would notice, but when compared and contrasted next to each other the difference is quite obvious.

The Old (left) Contrasted with the New Primary Mark (right):

The most notable change is the addition of the words Baseball Club and the addition of the seal. Along with Minnesota the new words are set in a more refined serif face and are placed within a dark blue seal giving the whole identity a more formal look—forgivable given the anniversary, their 50th. I think in the end this an improvement, though the typography could use more polish. I will say that when applied to the jerseys the shortcomings are far less apparent, except for the throwback logotype. (Even if it's accurately portraying a retro design, it is simply hideous typography.) The road gray kits are the most handsome in my mind with a nicely set Minnesota script in dark blue with an outline in a darker red than used elsewhere. The design was inspired by the team’s original “Minnesota” script found on the players jackets from 1961-1986. Nice.

The New Jerseys:

The inaugural season mark is a bit of a mish-mash of the stadium silhouette, twin city skyline,  the TC lock-up, a poorly rendered ribbon and the Target Field logo. I think this would have benefited from some serious simplification and it possibly missed an opportunity with the repetition of circular forms. You have the Target logo, the TC lockup in a circle as well as the zeros in 2010 which could have been balanced in a pleasing manner—but that's just my gut reaction. It could also be argued that the stadium should play a bigger role in the design since that's what it's all about anyway. The anniversary seal is what you'd expect of a team if you closed your eyes and imagined a seal commemorating 50 seasons of Minnesota Twins baseball. It's neither surprising or memorable, it just is.

The New Anniversary and Inaugural Season Patches:

In summary, the combination mark and logotype could have used more finesse, but it's a small step in the right direction. These things tend to go worse in the corporate world but with baseball holding such regard for tradition the redesigns are usually small, calculated steps. I just think the steps taken here were not as confidently or expertly rendered as they could have been. But heck—there's always next off-season to tweak it, right?

More information can be found on the MLB's official site (complete with video of center fielder Denard Span and starting pitcher Scott Baker walking the cat walk) and this fan site, where I found the very top image. I hope some day the actual designers get to be a part of the unveil so the players aren't the only ones answering questions about the design. 

Sunday
Dec132009

276. Graphicology Quick Posts via Twitter.

Just so all you readers don't miss these, here are the latest Graphicology Twitter posts. Including a neat Google Chrome videoadthingamajig, an award for a somewhat boring redesign, and a cool how-they-did-it video. Enjoy and follow along at twitter.com/graphicologycom.

Tuesday
Nov242009

275. Print may be dead but digital lacks a pulse.

While traveling this summer from city to city trying to find a suitable job, I came across WIRED Magazine's August issue. On the cover was Brad Pitt and it looked like normal WIRED fare, which although geeky and wonderful in its own way - isn't usually a magazine that I buy. Luckily I opened it up and found the featured article, The New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans. It covered new issues and questions raised by technology and were answered with a bit of humor and satire. Pitt was featured in the article as a provider of bad advice for contrast, which fit his alter ego from the summer film, Inglorious Bastards.

Opening Spread:

The issues raised and the rules given were interesting and timely considering how much our lives have changed due to technology. Topics covered included things like, "Should I friend my boss?", "Should I leave my wi-fi open?" to more casual matters like "Can I text while dining out with friends?" and "Can I exaggerated my salary on a personals site?".  The bad answer to that little ditty is below:

But I would never have read this content - or even stopped flipping - were it not for the wonderful design work. Designed by art directors Maili Holiman, Walter Baumann, Wyatt Mitchell, and CD Scott Dadich, with illustrations by Jason Lee; this is no ordinary editorial layout. It's full of infographics, wonderful photography of Brad Pitt acting badly shot by Dan Winters, well chosen and well set typography, excellent use of color, and is crafted in such a way that guides the reader through the content while at the same time encouraging them to look around at their own discretion. A nice balance. It's a complicated and detailed approach that avoids being overwhelming. It's simply a joy to read. (Some of the content isn't my cup of tea per se, but there's enough stuff that most people would find something interesting. Another charming attribute.)

Here's a sample spread (click for larger version):

But this post isn't meant to critique the editorial design. It's excellent and has been covered pretty well over the last two months—perhaps best by this behind-the-scenes article with the WIRED Creative Director mentioned above, Scott Dadich. It's really nice. But my problem is this: online, this content falls flat and is a chore to get through. The hard copy is clearly superior. If print is dying, I certainly hope that this type of digital content isn't to be the replacement. So in the spirit of the printed article, I'd like to present:

A FEW RULES FOR ONLINE CONTENT.

Some caveats. firstly, you can if you are so inclined download a pdf of the article via WIRED's website, so it's not as if you can't get the hardcopy version, digitally. And secondly, I paid for the hard copy and there is still a you-get-what-you-pay-for factor here. I don't pay to view the article on their site and maybe it's okay that its presentation is a second thought when compared to the actual magazine spread. The publisher may very well want the web version to be inferior, figuring more will buy the printed pieces. And thirdly, I'm by no means a publishing expert but I want to talk about my issues (pun unfortunately intended) with the online version and what I think could be done to improve it using this article as an example for the industry at large. WIRED does enough things right that they can certainly take a little punch from our humble design blog. Let's be honest, it would be far to easy to pick on some other publications' digital offerings.

Rule #1: Organize the experience in a way that complements the content.

In the magazine, I get a little order to the information. The art direction team has arranged things and ordered things for good reasons. And they've used design to differentiate between the type of content (or rules.) Online, I'm presented with a standard hyperlink list. Sure, I have the freedom to go where I want, but there is nothing in the navigation of this article that is nearly as thoughtful as the magazine spreads. I have to click and read and click back to click on something else, unless I notice the tiny previous and next buttons which reduce the clicking a bit. Keyboard shortcuts don't make it any more pleasant. Sure, this is indicative of the medium, but I'm just saying this takes away from the experience. I wish the navigation had more thought and love put into it. As is, I get one piece at a time without really feeling like I have a good idea of the overall picture. To use a metaphor, it's like looking at a quilt one piece at a time, but without ever seeing the entire blanket. By breaking the article into tiny pieces, the parts become less than the sum.

Doesn't exactly scream fun does it?

Rule #2: Whenever possible content should drive the online experience. In other words, design the online information in a way that honors the content.

The theme for this article was interesting, New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans. But design-wise, there was nothing done to the presentation that supports the content the way it does on the print version. The content has very little impact on the design of the information and it's a let-down. It could have been AND should have been so much more. It's a great subject to design around and would have been a nice challege to make the content sing. Maybe the rules could have been a presentation given by Pitt. Maybe it's a book we can flip through. Maybe each rule and answer is read by a WIRED contributer to give a realistic touch to it. Perhaps they are designed as a simple slideshow with a gadgety / modern template. It could have been anything, much better than these quick thoughts with a little effort, but it was nothing. The article was simply coded and slapped into the main site's template, which brings us to the next rule.

Another spread from the printed magazine.

Rule #3: A web template is your friend. But it's also your enemy. One of the great things about a publication is that each issue can have a theme. A design, content, and perspective that is a bit different from the previous issue and helps tie the whole publication together. It's focused. Sure the masthead and title treatment are kept uniform, but everything can be open for discussion. Online, this seldom happens. Usually the issue's feature gets buried under the website's template and loses it's heft. I'm not saying that a web template is bad — it's necessary to keep the structure of the whole site from breaking apart into chaos — but I think there is room to give a feature article more prominence on the page. This will allow for design cues to come from the article itself. One way to improve the template is actually to remove more competing stuff from the pages in which the feature resides. Treat the feature like a feature and less like just one more article you've published.

Rule #4: Online there's no page count, so post accordingly. Sure when you print something you have to worry about the cost of the publication but the digital realm's costs are insignificant. This means a publisher can post all sorts of related information. The behind-scenes-article linked to above, should have been posted by WIRED as a supplement to the story itself. Why not have a video intro by Pitt and the Creative Director. The magazine did do something cool with this, they started a forum where readers could post their own rules, but it's a little buried and not the most exciting interface. But there is an opportunity to either extend the printed piece or simply expand the scope of the iniital written piece and this should be done as often as it can be interesting. Yes, the article was informative but primarily it was about entertainment and the digital version lost its entertainment value along the way. Give me something you can't possible supply in print and give me a reason to come back next time.

Rule #5: If you can't add to the content, at least don't cut back. Okay, so if Rule #4 proves difficult, time consuming or expensive the least a publisher can do is supply all the article's content online. In our sample article we lose a lot of the photography that was shot for the print version. Actually it's kept separately and is difficult to find besides being out of context. The photography should have been included with the rest of the content, and be able to view larger versions of them just like the real magazine.

Another of Dan Winter's Shots for WIRED:

Rule #6. Keep the Design Details - They Really Do Make a Difference. The print version had a lot of little design cues. Beautiful little borders around sections that contrasted with the modernity of the content. The bottom of the pages had additional small rules in mice type that rewarded the reader for finding them. And by now you know what happened: they were dropped online to the detriment of the entire piece. The small things added up to a cohesive quality that went unmatched on the website. This need not have been the case. You could have been presented the additional rules when rolling over an image or button, maybe a little easter egg that when found would delight the user. And the border treatment prevalent throughout could have been carried over easily with a little optimization.

Some of The Nice Design Details That Were Only In Print:

And online you get the content but without the style:

I know some of these rules may seem simplistic but I think they'd go a long way in making online content worth a subscription fee. I realize WIRED has incentive to persuade you to purchase their print version but if things are going the way we've all been hearing, we'll all be consuming more and more media online. Which is fine except that digital publishing still has a long way to go to match the experience and presentation of the hard copy. And no, I don't believe that print is dead. On the contrary, I think it will become more important over time.

Monday
Nov162009

275. Can Advertising Be Too Smart? Too Artistic?

It has been heard often in the office of creative directors all over the country as an admonishment towards younger creatives, "You're not artists, you're salesmen." And it's true. Advertising is not art even if it at times dips its toe into those dark artistic waters and even occasionally produces something wonderfully new. Advertising has a job and using artistic lexicon it has a commission to produce work that sells a product or service. So even the artists that work as art directors and writers during the day in order to practice their love outside agency hours, are quite aware of this cold fact. Personally I don't mind being an art director as I enjoy the problem solving that goes along with the role but my preferences in terms of the work I enjoy the most tend to fall between the gray area of commerce and art. And honestly my favorite work may have at least one foot firmly planted in the art world. And I wonder to myself, is this artistic work too high-minded to sell goods? Is it too smart for the mass demographics that every advertiser covets?

While I was back in the states I frequently went to a late movie by myself as a way to unwind. I think on one particular night it was to see Funny People. (Which if you enjoy the same anatomy jokes told over and over and/or you are a 15 year old boy - you'll enjoy it.) During the trailers a spot started to run. It began with an old neon sign that spelled out, "America..." and within two or three seconds—before the spot really got going—the entire theater was giving their full attention. The talking and joking and noise subdued and the spot had everyone's eyes and minds. I have not witnessed this happening before while watching an ad. For the next 60 seconds we listened to a scratchy voice reading a poem about independence, which I recognized halfway through as being part of Walt Whitman's, America. Not a sound could be heard in the place except for the noisy background of an old recording, the narrator's voice, and the downplayed sound effects within the spot itself. I actually saw one of the theater employees stop and watch. It just reached out and grabbed people. The spot was the launch for Levi's Go Forth campaign, created by Wieden & Kennedy (of course.) When it was over, I almost applauded. But the reaction from the rest of the viewers was mixed. I heard an "Oh my" as well as a "THAT was for JEANS?" And the woman in front of me simply shook her head in disbelief. Although obviously attention-getting, the reverb from the spot seemed split down the middle, at least during my impromptu focus group in a small southern town.

Here's the spot:


This was definitely a piece of art, this spot. I later found out that the narrator was no mere voice talent, but Walt Whitman himself from a recording in 1890 by none other than Thomas Edison. All art makes a statement, and this was no different. During a summer of seemingly endless bad news, the message here was that we've come through worse. Because of our American spirit of determination, independence, and maybe even hardheadedness we'd come through this with heads held high. Honestly, I love the spot. It's beautifully art directed, shot and edited. The writing is hard to argue with, obviously. And it's the message from Levi's that has gotten lost over the years. And it beats the pants off of the work from Wrangler that won in Cannes last year. Not sure how this would resonate on an international stage, but over here these spots should do well - again, in terms of artistic and creative merit. They were directed by Cary Fukunaga (who shot Sin Nombre) and located somewhat poetically in the parts of New Orleans hit the hardest by Katrina. But the question in my mind - is this spot, and other work of similar ilk - simply too artistic to sell?

A print sample within the campaign:

A few things to keep in mind, is that this launch spot does not exist in a vacuum—it is a part of a larger campaign of many moving and unequal pieces. There are other spots. There is the excellent, The G.O. IV Fortune website which features a sort of scavenger hunt, as well as the New Americans project site which fits nicely with the rest. And of course the stores, the product itself and other factors will play into the final judgment of whether or not this campaign works. Considering all of that, it does feel like advertising done by artists and I wonder about my theater focus group. Is the average American consumer too disinterested in things like classic literature for a campaign like this to resonate? Will most people miss the fact that it's narrated by Whitman himself and is one of the oldest remaining voice recordings still around - and if so, does that even matter? Is there enough normal fashion clues (the endless stripping off of one's clothes seen in most fashion work for instance) for it to work on a much lower level than maybe even the creators envisioned? Is the tagline as meaningful for those who don't recognize that it comes from a recruitment poster for an expedition to the South Pole in the early 1900's? Barbara Lippert from Adweek reviewed this spot when it first aired—about the time I had went to the movies—and had a nice thought along this line, saying that the work "is visually engaging even for those who don't necessarily want a lesson in the Gilded Age." So obviously she believes that it will work somewhat despite its artistic reaching.

A second spot reading from Whitman's Pioneers:


The reason I have waited so long to post about a campaign that launched last July (besides looking for a new job and moving to Dubai) is that I wanted to see how the audience would respond online. Here are a few comments left on blogs and sites across the great wide open of the internet:
  1. This commercial is ****. What does it have to do with jeans? I refuse to buy their jeans after seeing this garbage commercial.
  2. The voice is scary
  3. Looks more like a political statement than anything else. but they might sell some jeans either way.
  4. Kudos to W+K for once again making inspiring work that motivates us to be better people. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE work that speaks from the heart, and seeks to inspire as well as this Levi's ad does.
  5. I think kids are looking for brands to stand out and do something different. This is quite bold and will get people's attention. the tv spot is like nothing on TV and actually has something to say.
  6. The ad catches and retains your attention when you first see it, if only to figure out what it is actually trying to sell. Once the mystery is solved, it fails in the world of commerce.
This tension between art and commerce is nothing new yet it is always on the forefront of client and agency discussions, or if you work at a conservative agency, it's the discussion between the creatives and the account team - it may never even get to the client. Hard sell (usually less artistic) verses a soft sell (usually more artistic). There is no right answer here, and different people and different agencies fall in different places along this spectrum. But it's my belief that the work that everyone wants to produce, something that will stand out within the culture of a market and not just in the marketplace is represented well by this latest Levi's work. Perhaps this is the perfect spot. Creatively gratifying to produce and yet accessible enough to be commercially successful. If I were presenting this to the client my fear would be that it would go over the heads of the audience, but my hope would be that it would hit their soul. Which makes me sound more like an artist than an art director. And I do hope there is room for both. I hope that challenging people to think will also encourage them to think about what they buy, and hopefully those doing the challenging, will have a product that is the best option. Actually, I think I just wrote my version of the perfect client.

Are there campaigns out there that you think are too artistic for their own good?

The G.O. IV Fortune Video:


I would be remiss if I didn't mention the subject of authenticity. I did a review over a year ago lamenting the American Living line for JC Penney as it has nothing to do with America at all as it is made in China or wherever and shipped here under the guise of patriotism, and I have the same concerns here. The spot would be more meaningful were the main factories for Levi's still in The States, but I have been banging that drum for a long time. It's not that I'm against importing - just importing while communicating dishonest attributes about a product. From that standpoint I do not like this spot. But from a artistic judging sense, I love it. Maybe my favorite work in a long long time. And I believe the team that worked on it at W+K were some younger folks, which makes me happy. I just hope they raise the same concerns about the product - where it's made, by whom and how - that I would. If we're saying America (and nothing is more American than a poem by Walt Whitman recorded by Thomas Edison for goodness sake), then let's make it an honest statement. It's just not the point of this post is all, so forgive me if this seems contradictory. And it does matter from where things come. Have you tried to buy a pair of jeans made in the America that Whitman writes about lately? Good luck. Maybe we need more of that pioneering spirit these days.

Wednesday
Nov042009

QuickPost #6. Dubai.

Hello loyal readers, students, ad people, design folks, type geeks, and the one person who found Graphicology by searching for the term 'Harley Swimsuit Model' via Google. Posts have been few and far between for the last 2 weeks and that's because I've been busy making preparations to move Graphicology World Headquarters to the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai.

What does this mean for the blog? Really, nothing in terms of readership. The in-depth features we are known for will continue to be posted just with an occasional related Middle Eastern topic thrown in for good measure. However, this does provide as good of an opportunity as any to increase the number of writers and contributors to the site—something I've been thinking about for quite some time. I enjoy contributing but am looking for other designers, art directors, directors and various creative folks who would be willing to regularly add to the Graphicology voice and maybe even collaborate on proprietary articles. If this sounds like you by all means, contact me. Or simply use the contact link on the right as your means.

I appreciate every single reader and hope to make this site bigger and better in the months to come. Now off for a 14 hour flight. Wheeee.