Thots and observations about design  2012-2013

Text lettering readability

As you read these strips, you may have been aware that you slowed down to read the middle one - the sloppy letter rendering and the poor spacing in the text required more concentration to decipher the words. More than should be necessary. The value of a comic strip should come from the humor, the story, and the visual images. The text is secondary, it just provides the caption and the running commentary. The legibility and readability should be so clear that we barely even notice that there is text. But, in the middle strip, Buckles, the reader concentrates on the letters, distracting us the from the message. Sometimes, like in punk or new wave compositions, the designer wants the text to serve as a graphic element that deserves to be noticed. But, not in a comic strip.

Jim's new briefcase/backpack

Another example of why most graphic design produced today is mediocre

Someone designed this promo piece (in the middle) to hang on a shelf next to the bottle of wine. In the Facebook post on the left, he/she commented that it 'feels good' to see one's work in the store. But, look at the piece he/she feels good about - can you even read the headings at the beginnings of each paragraph? It shouldn't feel good to ignore the design principles of contrast and readability. Also, the text copy is set justified resulting in awkward word spacing and set over some obscure image in the background, decreasing readability even more.
But that's not the example of mediocre design. Notice in the Facebook comments on the right, they are all supportive and complementary. Not one person commented on the poor design decisions or asked why the designer feels good about mediocre work. Could the piece be any more dull? Hopefully, there were many more people who saw the post and wanted to be honest, but were too polite to post any response. When mediocrity is rewarded with "Nice Job!" and "congratulations", it reinforces the notion that there is no need to strive for excellence. Why bother? This level of work is "Very cool :)"
Another question that is symptomatic of design today: Why was this even posted on Facebook? Probly fishing for complements. But when design is ego-driven, it rarely is well-done.

Remember to consider every detail from the viewpoint of the end user. Each element - image and words - should enhance the clarity of the message. Clutter has little positive value in today's barrage of info.
Jim Watson, in a text message to a young design student.

Thoughtful magazine address label

Another renewal notice just came in the mail. Some magazines send these out every few months. It's not that the subscription is about to expire, its just a thinly veiled attempt to get me to send money. Sometimes its frustrating to figure out just when the subscription expires. Some labels give the expiration date, many do not. The one below is from Adbusters magazine, a very progressive periodical (Adbusters is responsible for initiating and encouraging the Occupy movements). Note that the label is very clear: it states the number of issues remaining and info on how to renew or subscribe.

More good Adbusters design
At the newsstand or at Barnes & Noble, it can be a struggle to find the cover price of the magazine. Not so with Adbusters. Large and positioned above the UPC code:

Some non-thinker put the sign in the wrong place.

The OCCC Arts Festival is held each Labor Day. I had read about it each year but had yet to make it. Finally, decided to do so in 2012. It was very good - some great photography and sculpture. One of the entertainment acts was a Mexican Folkloric Dance group. In high school, I was a dancer in such a group that my mother had created to perform around the Dallas area.

So, I thought it would be fun to see those dances again. And it was. But, it was very hot and the view from the shady seating areas were blocked by this banner listing the festival's sponsors. Someone decided to mount the sign there without much thought as to the sightlines from the audience.

To make it slightly more frustrating was the observation that the blank area between the columns for the two stages would have been a perfect spot to mount the sign (as rendered above). Then, the sponsor names would be at eye level and right in front of the audience. And, most importantly, it wouldn't be blocking the view for most of the festival-goers.

Please try another username.
I went online to the Post Office website to order some stamps. I found these:

The Pioneers of American Industrial Design stamp sheet honors 12 of the nation's most influential industrial designers, who helped shape the look of everyday life in the 20th century. Each stamp features the name of a designer, a photograph of an object created by the designer, and a description of the object.

Cool, exactly what I was hoping to find - some stamps that had a connection to design so I could educate others in the medium of a postage stamp. To buy them, I had to set up an account. Some sites allow the user to complete a sale as a guest with no need to create an account. Not so here with the USPS. I was required to open an account. I first tried to log in thinking I might have set up an account earlier. I input my usual username but was told that it was unacceptable. I then selected, "Create account". Eventually, I got to this screen:

This time, when I typed my previous username, I was told that it was already taken (most certainly by me). I couldn't use it. By this time, I was so frustrated with the poor experience on the USPS website that I typed in a new username: fuckthepostoffice. Their website checked that name and said I should try another one, suggesting that fuckthepostoffice was already taken:

I'm guessing others had gotten frustrated at the site or with the Post Office and taken the username. I selected one of their suggestions and went on with placing my order.

Smart package design
One of the benchmarks of aging is switching from sweetened cereals to Grape-Nuts and then to oatmeal. Yep, oatmeal! I found this brand at Target and noticed the convenient 'Measuring Cup Pouch' - the amount of water and/or milk to add was marked right on the envelope package. A great idea.

A while later, I noticed new designs for the box and for the envelope packets (on the right). These were even better. Some changes:
• The packet info was minimized since much of it was already covered on the outer box and there was no need to repeat it on the packet. The consumer had already made the purchase decision.
• The Measuring Cup Pouch is more obvious: moved to the front, larger point size of type, and a more dramatic mass of color. The pouch is unique to this brand and they are wisely exploiting that on the package.
• The graphics for the measuring pouch line make it easier to see the water approaching the line when holding the pouch under the faucet.
• Fonts switched to sans serif for easier readability.
• Negative: the round Microwave Directions symbols, now in 2 colors (above, on the right), are harder to decipher than in the earlier 1-color version. Reasons: the symbols are smaller, the 2 colors allow misaligned printing registration, and there are more details for the consumer to process in the newer version.
Overall, the Better Oats package is a good example of CPOV, designing from the consumer's point of view - give the user just what is needed in a clear, easily understood execution. The Better Oats website.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010
The Act requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a "clear, concise, well-organized" manner.
I don't know if this is good news - that the government has passed legislation for agencies to use clear language or bad news - that the government had to pass such legislation.
By now, all agencies are supposed to have a senior officer responsible for plain language, a section of their websites devoted to the subject, and a process to ensure they communicate more clearly with citizens and businesses.
"We still have a long way to go to make government forms and documents simpler and easier for taxpayers to understand," said the sponsor of the legislation.
According to the Center for Plain Language (website link), federal agencies are still churning out plenty of incomprehensible English. The center's chairwoman agreed. "You do see more documents coming out that are in relatively good, plain language. But "it's very spotty." The Plain website. A sample from their website:

Planning a Plain-Language Website
Users require three things when using a website:
1. a logical structure so they know where to look for information,
2. an easy-to-use interface to get them to that information,
3. and easily-understandable information.
A website needs all these elements (information architecture, usability, and plain language) to be successful.

From the Center for Plain Language:
What is Plain Language?
Plain language is information that is focused on readers. When you write in plain language, you create information that works well for the people who use it, whether online or in print. Our measure of plain language is behavioral: Can the people who are the audience for the material quickly and easily
• find what they need
• understand what they find
• act appropriately on that understanding

1. The Defense Department has a 26-page cookie recipe that covers "flow rates of thermoplastics by extrusion plastometer" and a command that ingredients "shall be examined organoleptically," meaning looked at, smelled, touched or tasted.
2. I applied for Social Security recently. I was not looking forward to the process, because of experience with government agencies - having to get lots of paperwork together, make an appt., wait in an institutional waiting room (have you waited hours to renew your driver's license?), meet with someone who would probly not care about me, and wait for confirmation to be sent.
Whoa. I was very wrong. I completed the entire process in about 10 minutes, online! No prep, no appointments, no meetings, no runaround - just the most efficient and clearly designed website I have experienced. It was a pleasure to deal with this government agency. Even though I am disappointed that the government had to pass such legislation, I am glad that it seems to be working. It emphasizes the importance of writing in clear plain language. The SSA website.

Does it really read '66'?
Walked by this window display at the mall. I couldn't decipher the mark. I stopped and pondered. People stared at me - What's that guy doing? I should have asked some of them if they could read the letters, but I was too enrapt by the enigma to be aware of what was going on around me.

So, what does this mark read?

The L and X are pretty clear. Then what? an A? an N? T? The last letter is a clear I. If I had to vote, I would go with L X A T I

Answer: I had to googalit to discover that the mark is the Roman numerals for 66. I haven't yet discovered the relevance of 66 to this store or to Van's.
That awkward serif off the top of the V might be an attempt to tie into the Vans logo, but it doesn't quite work since the V in vans is symmetrical and the V in LXVI has a vertical stroke on the right.
Lesson: Requiring the reader to decipher a mark can be good - it requires memorable participation - but be careful: if the correct solution is too obscure, many people will give up and move on or turn the page.
Tip: Seek clever interplay of letters but view the piece as the reader would, to maintain readability.

"The eye fools the mind by picking out the silhouette of one number then instantly recognizing another, sometimes in quick succession"

In 1967, Jasper Johns produced this lithograph entitled 0 Through 9, which was originally an oil painting created in 1961. It consists of the 10 numbers meticulously overlaid one upon the other within a rectangular area, creating a kaleidoscope of figures that battle each other for the viewer's attention. All color in the original painting was removed except for the blacks and whites, rendering the details of the superimposed numbers much more visible and intense. Johns re-created this lithograph numerous times in response to the ever changing digital age. The symbolism, however, never changed. The artist meant for this iconic picture to represent his personal view of a world whose system has been built on the interpretation of different signs. There are versions of John's piece at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, Tate Gallery in London, and at ULAE on Long Island, NY

Fun video of people viewing art.

In June, I spent an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. After some lunch and coffee in the Cafe, I wandered through the design galleries. Later, spotting an open spot on a bench in the main atrium, I plopped my fat ass down and sat a spell. I was facing a large wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly. I was intrigued by how people view art, especially large-scale art in an atrium trafficway. I shot a few photos and then switched my pocket computer camera to 'video' and set the device on the floor. Here is the fascinating video.

If you're going to hire a sign company, please also hire a decent designer.

The graphic icons in the logo appear to be a red diamond and an empty dolly. Well, two dollies - I guess they are really important. And 5 or 6 red diamonds.
Lesson: Icons provide a barb for the viewer's mind to grab onto. An identity can be more effective if those icons relate positively to the audience's needs and desires. Seldom does a potential customer for a moving company think first of a dolly. Or a diamond.
Tip: Avoid obscure icons, even if they are easy to download as Google Clip Art.
The word 'Moving?' is tough to read when placed on top of the diamond.
Lesson: Contrast can improve ease of reading and clarity of message.
Tip: Avoid black on red.

The shredding process
By Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Imagine.
One of the best things about a moment of insight is that no one needs to tell you you're having one. A decision just feels right. Sometimes these moments hit during a relaxing shower after a long period of agonizing, though, more often, insight takes hard work, collaboration, and lots of triple espresso shots.

Brainstorming, a nice idea that doesn't actually work, has become the most widely implemented creativity technique of all time. The first rule of brainstorming is 'Thou shall not criticize.' It feels good - we can all come into a room together and free-associate, fill up the white board. But people are much more productive when they work in groups following a very different set of instructions.
Research has shown that only truly constructive criticism of ideas and a culture that encourages dissent will result in great ideas that move a company forward. Companies that exemplified this culture of encouraged dissent: some Pixar, Toyota, and Apple practices are good models, but it's best to look to art schools, since disciplines like art, music, and dance are techniques that are honed through constant critique and refinement: a process that leads to greater 'creativity.'

Steve Jobs, head of Pixar during their formative years, advocated the practice of brutal honesty. At Pixar the engineers and animators begin every day by watching the most recent footage of the previous day's animation. Then they engage in what they call the 'shredding process.' People rip apart the work to find the flaws - whether or not they had been involved in the creation. Feelings get hurt. It's harsh. And it is incredibly useful. Over the course of years of shredding, you end up with a really good animated movie. Criticism is built into their process at every step. You don't advance by avoiding failure and blindsiding yourself to your sore spots. There is something about criticism that makes us rise to the occasion. You suddenly feel something bigger is at stake, and you rebuild relative to that. Fail fast, then fix.

Cool signshadows

Banner crap

Boy, I am seeing this type of banner a lot around town. Some sign shop must be running a special on crap photo art backgrounds. Sign shops rarely employ talented graphic designers. They are technicians who might understand the company software and can flip through a catalog with the client and select pretty pictures. Unfortunately, this may be a trend - placing text (outline fonts, even) over a pretty clip art photo image - and, a pretty image that has nothing to do with the message being communicated. The example at the top at least shows some decent contrast to improve readability.

Lesson: Graphic design is about solving communication problems, not selecting pretty pictures.
Tip: Avoid making type hard to read by putting a non-related image behind it.

A new texting lane in the former wheelchair ramp

I was in the mall (see above where I lambasted a kiosk operator for fucking up the Thunder logo) and texting as I walked. I had tried that app that takes a picture of what is beyond the phone and shows it in the background of the text window, but found that it was too distracting. As I approached the area shown above, I almost ran into that column. Please note that I no longer text while driving. When driving, columns are often heavy machines that are coming at me at a fast rate of speed. Anyway, I noticed the ramp and realized that it provided a safer and more convenient texting option than the stairs - I could continue texting and walk up the ramp without stopping; the stairs require me to slow down and navigate the steps, thereby interrupting the texting task. Then it hit me - not the column - the notion that this was no longer a handicap ramp, it was a texting ramp. The mall had reconfigured these for the benefit of those of us who walk 'n text. Good for them.

Does this work as a neword? Many of us say it regularly. It has become part of our cultural vernacular. I just don't know if its necessary or any more efficient.

Simple great idea

I suspect, if you've flown much at all, you have searched an airport waiting lounge looking for an outlet to plug in your charger. Some new airports and remodeled lounges are installing more outlets, but these pictures were shot at Newark airport. There are a few charging stations, but each one only had 4 outlets and each was occupied. Then I noticed the ring of pay phones - there were 4 or 5 of these in this lounge. I walked around several times to check - never was a single phone ever in use. Not one. Of course not. People were standing nearby using their cellphones.

So, it seems quite easy to replace the phone banks with a similar circular structure that contains banks of outlets above a worksurface. The electrical power is already there which, I assume is one of the main deterrents to adding more outlets in an airport lounge. No waiting area or floor space would be lost as the new structure would not be any larger than the existing one. Sketches:

At a loss for words

Well, not a complete loss - I have questions:
• How will I notice it?
• What if my butt is not sensitive enough - do I have to feel it with my fingers?
• How does my butt cheek know what is clean?
• Will my butt really appreciate the DiamondWeave Texture? Does it prefer that over a grid texture?
So many questions.

Plagiarism or Influence?

This is the logo for the First Council Casino in Oklahoma. When I first glanced at it on a billboard in Kansas, I was immediately reminded of the logo for the magazine Fast Company. The C surrounding the O is quite memorable and effective (the smaller A in FAST is just too contrived and clumsy) Here are two more marks with encompassing Cs:

There are hundreds of examples of logos that have similarities. But, is it necessarily wrong? It could be a coincidence or it could be a copy or it could be somewhat innocent influence in someone's mind. If it is an attempt to draw from the success of an established mark and 'piggyback' recognition - then, that would be wrong: exploiting someone else's work for personal gain. But, if it is a graphic element that is appropriate and beneficial to a mark, then we may be more likely to forgive the similarity.

This is the normal state of these sinks

These horizontal surfaces are at the sinks in the bathrooms at the Museum of Modern Art - an otherwise well thought-out facility with a strong eye toward design and detail.
Lesson: Horizontal surfaces collect junk and get messy.
Solution: Pedestal sinks with shelves and hooks within reach and sight for personal belongings. A larger sink basin would also better contain spray and splash.

How do I pour the Half & Half?

Whole Foods is typically lauded for thoughtful attention to detail. But what is this about? Do you close the open slot to open it? Open the close?
Tip: A customer should be able to glance at a creamer and easily understand how to open and pour the contents.

Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.

An article every designer should read.

Poor journalism connection

The opening line of the news story is, "Lady Gaga is collaborating with a few new artists -- and it's not whom you might think." Usually, it is risky to tell the reader what he/she might think. In this case, however, we already think that the new artists are the Muppets. Why would we think that?
    1. Because the headline says so.
    2. Because the photo shows Gaga with a Muppet.
    3. Because the photo caption says so.
The opening sentence is now just embarrassing. The writer of the piece, the headline writer, and the photo caption writer did not collaborate. If they had, someone could have seen the error and edited the copy to match. In this era of immediate information, these types of opening sentences - teasers - seem out of place. Jump right in to the news of Gaga and Muppets. We don't need to wade through any 'clever' sophomore J-school assignment paragraph leads.

Do not touch that door handle
Many people do not like to touch the door handle when exiting a restroom. They feel that that is just where people have put their germy hands. Some people use a paper towel to grab the handle so they won't have to touch it. Those people often throw that towel on the floor by the door. Or, as in the photo below, in a trash can if that can has been placed outside the restroom.
Fun info: a recent study determined that the door handle was one of the most germ-free places in a public restroom - precisely because so many people were wiping it clean with a paper towel. Nonetheless, the perception is still there - do not touch that door handle.

Above right: Some businesses mount a sanitizer dispenser outside the restroom so people can clean their hands after exiting. The options below allow the user to open the door with their arm, not their hands.

Here are solutions using the foot:

Some design objectives
• Easy to clean (holes in some will collect gunk).
• Able to use either top or bottom of shoe/foot.
• Easy to install on existing doors of varied materials.
• Durable for many uses and long-lasting.

Driving from Colorado to Oklahoma, my niece and I stopped at a MacDonald's in Salina, Kansas. I spotted this on the door - and knew immediately what it was for. I tried it - it worked well - simple and effective. Below: Decals showing how to operate it are mounted near the trash can - so the user knows they do not need to keep the paper towel to grasp the door handle - they can just throw it away.

All of these options are good design - each solves a problem with clarity and efficiency.

Another thoughtful idea

This needs no explanation - the concept is immediately apparent. KFC is acknowledging and responding to our habits of eating while in the car. The GoCup sits stable in your car (no more balancing on your lap or teetering on the console) and has a wide mouth top for easy access to the food. According to info from KFC:

KFC Go Cups come with potato wedges and one of five chicken options, with a divider to separate the chicken from the wedges. For this post, we'll ignore the issues of nutrition in fast food, overeating, excessive packaging, and distractions while driving. Despite all that, this is a great idea that, as fat and lazy as we are, fits the modern American lifestyle well.

A graphic bar in the wrong place

Left: A page from an online catalog. The graphic elements that serve to organize the products and clarify the information are the black bars and the grey rectangles behind the text copy.
We are conditioned to believe that black bars, being more dominant, separate the items, like in the first example below. But, the middle example is the correct one - the black bar is at the top of the grey rectangle. But, the black bar becomes a divider - a barrier between the image and it's accompanying copy.

The example on the right is the way it ought to be - much clearer. Now, the dominant black bars really do separate the items, just as we expected them to, and the image and copy are grouped together - visually connected. The revised catalog page is at the top right.

Communicating escalator etiquette
As cities have gotten more crowded and more rushed, it has become more necessary to be more civil and considerate of others. A custom on escalators and moving sidewalks is for people who want to just stand to keep to the right - those who want to keep climbing or walking use the open left side. Our culture is still in the Education Mode - training users on the stand/walk etiquette. There are numerous sign and placement options - which are most effective?

Above: These are - they are harder to ignore. The first objective is that the signs and symbols must get our attention - they must be noticed. These are in our sightline, not off to the side or over our heads, but right where we have to look. Even if one forgets, the odds are good that person will look down and notice the symbols. The designers of the above symbols and placement considered the needs and habits of the target audience. The client probly just wanted some signs to tell people what to do.
Lesson: Great design goes beyond what clients think they want and solves problems that make the solution more effective, useful, and beautiful.
The examples below are not as obvious, primarily because of their placement.

Just a brilliant, simple, and thoughtful idea

Note: brilliance is often simple.

Thoughtful advice at Walmart

You have likely stood in line behind someone who was checking out and they stood there until all the groceries were rung up and bagged and the cashier gave the total due. That customer then began rummaging through her purse for her checkbook, cash, or credit card. Hopefully, you have also stood behind someone who, while the cashier was scanning the items, got his credit card out and swiped it. When the total showed up, he just signed the pad and got his receipt.
Walmart, which often puts much thought into improving the shopping experience, has these stickers posted on the machines to educate the customer. Nice job.

Lessons in traffic flow and rudeness

For an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this gallery/room had one entrance (on the left in the fotos) and videos playing on the other three walls. There were also some mounted displays on the wall to the left. So, the guy in the red shirt grabs a chair and moves it to where he and his wife (just guessing here, it could be his mistress) can sit together with plenty of room. But this selfish bastard doesn't consider how inconvenient his chair location makes it for other museumgoers to see the mounted work.
Lesson: Please resolve to be more aware of your environment and more considerate than this guy. We all thank you.

This next series of fotos was shot in the New Museum in the Lower East Side of New York City. I had just finished a tour of the Tenement Museum and walked a few blocks to this museum for coffee and snax (and to sit down and rest). I noticed these three people standing and talking. But they were right where the passage of traffic narrowed between the glass railing of a staircase, a sign stanchion, and a set of ropes. The ropes signified the secure entry to the museum elevators and staircase. In the lower left, you can just barely see the stairs that lead down to the restrooms and more galleries. The museum shop and bookstore is in the left background. I shot the fotos from the museum cafe. So, this passageway sees quite a bit of traffic connecting those elements of the museum. The three people may have even been employees of the museum, although they were apparently oblivious to their surroundings. The other visitors (below) have to squeeze by them. I've also seen people stop and talk or wait at the top of stairs and escalators, or at the entrance to a subway station. Sometimes, I want to tell them "There just has to be a better place to stand." But I don't - I guess I get too disgusted at the inconsiderate, self-centered members of our species.

Granted, a major contributor to the problem in this case is the poor architectural and interior design of the traffic flow within this public space. This is a major artery in the New Museum and, clearly, not enough room was allocated for the simultaneous passage of several people.

1. Design spaces to handle traffic flow more smoothly and conveniently.
2. Please think about your surroundings when you make decisions on where to stand and chat. We are often so focused on our own needs that we forget that we are just one part of an environment of objects and other people.

Multi-tasking sink stations

Here is a new way to address bathroom sanitation and waste. This sink includes phases of washing, rinsing, and drying (from right to left). A public restroom would likely require more sinks since the time spent at the basin would increase. But, one could take care of all functions at one location, rather than standing at the sink and then moving to the towel dispenser and the trash can. The freestanding sink is better than sinks mounted in a countertop. Those counters are almost always wet and messy.

Lesson: Horizontal surfaces collect crap.
Tip: Avoid horizontal surfaces in public spaces, except where absolutely necessary.

Another option with a shelf on which to set belongings. Under the shelf is an air dryer:

Brilliant idea

The ". . . for Dummies" series has become a brand that represents a non-threatening way to become more knowledgeable. Now, it is being used on products, rather than just books. The icon figure is holding a flag that represent the wine's country of origin, there is a pronunciation guide under the name of the wine, and the wine varieties are color-coded. In a society that seems to become increasingly more stupid with each FoxNews broadcast or Honey BooBoo telecast, I welcome any attempt to educate the masses in a convenient way.

An easy way to enlarge the walkway along the Hudson River Esplanade

Move the benches closer to the water. That's it. Easy, cheap, and effective.
Some joggers and walkers currently use the path between the benches and the seawall. But, it's awkward - people have to pull their legs in. If that path wasn't so wide, those people wouldn't be tempted to use that route. Moving the benches combines the pathway between the benches and the seawall with the path between the benches and the upper walkway. The benches could be arranged in pairs so there is aisle access to each bench -thus, less need for a wide walkway in front of the benches.

Existing and proposed

Sitting inside a billboard while dining

Full essay and photos

Great idea, poor execution, but they fixed it!

This is absolutely brilliant. The new packet, the first major ketchup packet design change in 42 years, has a top that can be peeled back for easy dipping or a tip torn off to squeeze onto foods and was developed after more than two years of research. Heinz spokesman: "The biggest complaint is there is no way to dip and eat it on-the-go. From dipping nuggets and fries to squeezing ketchup on hamburgers, the new design gives customers more flexibility, so they can enjoy eating ketchup on whatever or wherever they want.”
Designers found that what worked at a table didn't work where many people use ketchup packets - their car. So, two years ago, the company bought a used minivan for the design team members so they could give their ideas a real road test. Studying what each required, researchers discovered that drivers wanted something that could sit on the armrest while passengers wanted the choice of squeezing or dunking. Mothers wanted a packet that held enough ketchup for the meal but didn't squirt onto clothes so easily. The learning curve on this new packet should be very short - within one usage, the user should be able to figure out which end is best for dipping and squeezing.

However, the graphic design of the packet can be clearer. See that white line above the word DIP in DIP & SQUEEZE? I guess its a highlight to convey dimensionality of the ketchup bottle, but, because its tapered and in stand-out white, it looks like an arrow pointing from Dip to the top. But the top is for squeezing - dipping is at the bottom.
There is no need for the white highlight or the implied arrow. The package even looks better without that white line.

Update: they fixed the graphics

Saw the packet again several months later and immediately noticed there was no white arrow. I'm sure enough people commented on the misleading arrow to motivate Heinz to improve the package. Good for them.

Please don't print yellow on white. Thank you.

Notice, on the Sprint sign (on the far right) how well the yellow reads - the contrast is much better. Yellow & white are just too close in value to be easily read. Yellow or white on black is easy to read.

This is a thoughtful and brilliant idea
A ceiling fan often has a light in the center and there are two chain pulls hanging down from the fixture. The chains are identical, so how do you tell which goes to which? You take look at the fan housing to see which comes out at a higher spot - that's probly for the fan. Or, you attach these pulls to the ends of the chains.

That is a brilliant product - such a simple and clever solution. It is a great example of a message that is so clear that it requires almost no deciphering - their function is obvious and immediate. Lowe's carries them:

Devon Tower awkwardness

The Devon Tower seems to claim artificial superiority and thumb it's nose at it's neighbors. It does not respect it's neighbors. There are some nice views from the top of the tower and nice views of the tower from the recently remodeled Myriad Gardens (which is superbly designed and executed). But superficial pride and nice views are not quite enough to justify the ego-driven massiveness of the new tower.
Lesson: Part of successful and thoughtful design includes respecting the environment - whether it is an ad, a poster, or a building. No design solution lives on it's own - each is a part of a larger community.

Many people, seeing the bizarre awkward tall tower hoped that new tall towers would help the new tower stand out less. But, new buildings announced and predicted for downtown OKC will all be low- to mid-rise buildings. As those fill in some of the gaps in the skyline, that will only make the Devon Tower stand out even more and look more out of place.

Above: a rendering of a lower tower, if the building had respected its environment.
Below: a rendering of two towers on the site - to provide similar (or more) square footage as the built tower, but in a way that is more appropriate and respectful of downtown OKC.

Left: The existing CBD logo. Right: Tweaked to show a more accurate scale of the buildings.

How some images have addressed the awkwardness

Left: The Memorial Marathon placed a seal to balance the tower. Right: This Oklahoman ad used splashes of color.

Why don't all tables just have 3 legs?

Four legs allows the table to wobble when on an uneven floor.

During lunch in FiDi in Lower Manhattan recently, I noticed that the tables had 3 legs. Brilliant - no wobble. What a simple solution. The tripod concept means the table will always be stable on any surface. No sticking matchbooks or folded up napkins under the short legs..

The advantage of 4 legs may be greater stability. But, by extending the span of the 3 legs stability is improved.

During 30 years of teaching, the most common excuse for not meeting a project deadline was, "I didn't have time.”
I would ask, "Did you sleep last night?" Of course, they did. I then pointed out that they obviously had time. After some disgust on their part, they would admit, they actually did have time. What they really meant was that the project was not a high enough priority among all the options: eating, sleeping, socializing, games, work, laundry, and homework.
We constantly, throughout the day, make decisions and choices on how we spend our time - we prioritize that time since there is rarely enough of it to do everything we want to do. I have time to iron my shirts, I just don’t want to. “I’m not going to edit your résumé, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice and we can waste it or we can prioritize and use it efficiently.
Changing one's attitude from the lie "I didn't have time” to the more accurate and honest "I chose to do other things that were of a higher priority" is quite liberating. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

Thoughtful address description
So often, a business just lists the street address in an ad: 14515 North Santa Fe. But, just where is it along Santa Fe? That street is about 8 miles long.
The ad above adds a line that pinpoints the site, making it easier for the potential customer to find the place.

We often think in directions by visual landmarks. From the very early days of driving when signage was not clear or consistent, motorists would stop and ask for directions, "Go straight down there til you come to the old Wilson house - the one with the big white turret and the mean old cur out front - then turn left at the apple orchard by the pond with the fishing pier."
Adding an address descriptor, like the one above, costs not a penny more and takes up very little space; but it shows that the business is considerate and cares about helping the customer navigate the city more easily. (In the above example, please overlook the spelling of the word 'between'.)

Juxtapose the familiar with the innovative

This is a clever image concept from an ad in Texas Monthly magazine. A common device used in ad illustrations is to juxtapose the comfortable, familiar, and safe with the new, innovative, and risky. This one, quite simple, yet appropriate, works well at getting the reader's attention (Texans love to see their flag) and conveying the message of a large wine selection.

Dang that iPad habit

On the flight to Oklahoma from NYC, I was looking out the window. I wondered what town we were looking at - so, I tapped the glass to bring up the map settings window so I could turn on 'Labels' which would add the layer of text over the map. Oops, it's a fucking window, not an iPad. Why are these planes not equipped with iPad windows? There could be a camera lens behind each iPad to capture the image beyond and display it on the screen. Then I could access it and have all the functions to manipulate and access info.
Or, I could do a better job of separating reality from my digital universe.

But, wait, maybe it could work. The screen could be much larger than an iPad. Instead of windows cut into the fuselage exterior, there would just be a row of camera lens along each side of the plane. The safety video could be shown on the pads before takeoff. In case of an accident, evacuation instructions could be displayed. Here's an example applied to a truck on the highway.

There is a camera on the front of the truck and the rear door panels are large screens, projecting the image the truck sees in front.

A more logical way to denote a complete date

The full story.

Please don't cram things in the corner

Recently, I was in a yogurt place to satisfy my weekly fix. Before filling my cup with salted caramel frozen yogurt, granola, and dark cocoa-coated almonds, I went to use the restroom. Inside, I noticed this stand with a vase of flowers shoved into the corner. I call this type of furniture arrangement the Centrifugal Force Method: Put everything in a room and spin (figuratively) the room so fast that all the stuff is flung against the perimeter walls. There, all arranged.
So, I pulled the stand away from the walls. Notice how much better it looks. The arrangement is freer - with room to 'grow', it fills the space of the room a bit better, and the lighting highlights it more dramatically and minimizes the shadows in the corner.
If you're wondering about the flowers and the color of the walls in the men's room - I can explain: I was in the Ladies Room. Purely by accident. On my next visit, I checked the men's room (above right) to see if it had a similar corner arrangement.
Lesson: Avoid the Centrifugal Force Method of arranging furniture. Float some pieces away from the wall.

Barf bags

In the pocket behind each seat on an airline is a library of literature. One of the items is a bag "to collect and contain vomit in the event of motion sickness." If you have flown more than twice, this has probly happened to you: you pull out the inflight magazine or the SkyMall catalog. When you shove it back into the seatback pocket, it snags on something, it doesn't just smoothly go back to it's home. Often, hopefully, that something is a barf bag - a typical paper bag with a flat bottom and lined with a thin veneer of plastic to retain liquids. That flap at the bottom of the barf bag is what catches other items slid into the pocket.

There has to be a better way. And there is. The airline could simply specify a flapless bag with a bottom like those below. These bags are plastic (waterproof), have a secure seal, and have a flat bottom when opened. But, the bottom creases fold inside the bag, with no extending flaps that can cause snags.

An overly adorned counter at Warby Parker
I went by the Warby Parker headquarters and showroom in SoHo to check out some new frames. I noticed this counter in the Customer Experience area. I was told that it was custom made for the space.

The stack of old luggage is cool and well done. But the blue strap distracts from the concept. It is totally unnecessary. The focus here should be on the clever idea for a countertop support and the items on top that are being supported. The luggage pieces serve as the legs of the counter. The blue strap does nothing, but demand attention - away from where it should be. Without the strap, the piece is a more pure and honest design - a good concept (stacked luggage serving as legs for a counter) that is well executed.
Lesson: Figure out what's working in a piece; exploit that and minimize the rest.

Yay! Another victory - Whole Foods has improved their sign
This was a post I wrote a few months ago - about the obscure wording used on a sign at Whole Foods:

I read a word I had never seen before - tare. I stopped several people - customers and employees - and asked them what the word 'tare' meant. Not one of them knew the answer. We deduced that it referred to the container that you put your items in at the salad bar. I then questioned the person who was restocking the items. She confirmed that it meant container. I asked why it didn't just say container - why use a word that no one surveyed understood. Why make the customer have to decode and decipher the unfamiliar word. She had no response and suggested I fill out a comment card. Using obscure words may be Whole Foods' attempt at conveying intellectual elitism.
Tip: Elitism can often get in the way of clear communication.
Lesson: Successful design (clear communication) respects the reader.

When I returned to Whole Foods in early November 2012, those signs had been replaced with these:

Compare the two sentences:

    Don't worry about the tare weight.

    Don't worry about the weight of the bowl.

Of course, the second one is clearer. Whole Foods did the right thing by wording the sign to be more easily comprehended by more people.
Other changes:
1. Some of the text that was set in all caps was changed to U&lc. This does appear more friendly and less demanding.
2. The rest of the text remained in UC, but in a larger point size and with increased emphasis on the word OFF. I'm not sure why they need to yell that word at us so loudly. I also don't know if its important that they educate the reader about what tare weight is. Is (tare weight) even necessary? The main point of the message was adequately conveyed in the preceding words.
But, at least, Whole Foods responded and clarified the wording of the sign.

In case you didn't know what tare meant, here are the definitions:
    1. any of various vetches, especially Vicia sativa.
    2. the seed of a vetch.
    3. a noxious weed, probably the darnel.
    4. the weight of the wrapping, receptacle, or conveyance containing goods.
    5. the weight of a vehicle without cargo, passengers, etc.
    6. a counterweight used in chemical analysis to balance the weight of a container.
Origin: 1480-90; Middle French (equivalent to Medieval Latin) Arabic, derivative of tarhah - to throw away

Emphasis and focus hierarchy

Here are 3 versions of a single-panel cartoon of Dennis the Menace.
Middle: Added elements: floor tiles, bottle on the counter, and Dennis' dad's head and foot peeking in.
Right: Added: a patterned tablecloth.

Notice: The busy tablecloth, floor tiles, and Dennis' dad distract from the piece of broccoli on the floor and the action of Dennis pointing to it.
Compare the panels on the left and right - one more clearly communicates the gag.
Unfortunately, the panel on the far right is the way the cartoon was originally drawn and published in the paper.

Lesson: All elements in a piece (any piece, not just cartoons) should emphasize, or, at least, not distract from, the element that provides the primary focus.
Another example:

Caption: "Better duck!"

1. Do the sign support truss and the overhead lights get in the way of the message that the bridge is low and may hurt Marmaduke's head?
2. Is this cartoon funny?

Calvin & Hobbes is almost always funny:

Truck dashboards are better configured than car dashboards

The wraparound configuration places more controls within easier reach if the driver and they don't take up any more space - that volume is just wasted. I am waiting for automotive designers to embrace concepts for better efficiency and convenience in car dash controls. Some cars still have their ignition in the steering column - out of sight - the driver has to do some contortions to peer around to see if the key is going in. Years ago, the key unlocked the steering mechanism but there is absolutely no reason today to put that ignition there. Its just the way its always been done.

Jim had some free time in the Chicago airport

I realized a while back that I was a 'noticer'. I notice things. Example: At O'Hare airport in Chicago, I couldn't help but spot how the base of the sign outside the Brookstone kiosk did not respect the patterns in the terrazzo floor. So, of course, I moved the sign. Didn't bother to check with anybody, even though there were several people nearby watching. In its new position, it creates an arrangement that is more orderly, more connected to its environment, and more respectful of the viewer and our innate desire for order.
1. An orderly environment is often preferable to one of chaos.
2. Seemingly disparate elements can respect each other, often in subtle ways.
3. If you act like you know what you're doing, you can get by with almost anything.
4. It's often easier to ask forgiveness than to seek permission.

Although I didn't need to do either in this case. The Brookstone employee did not care about me or what unusual stuff I was doing to their sign.

2006-2011    2014-2015