Observations and ideas about design

Adam Kinzinger's new PAC for his next campaign with a thinly disguised homage to America First.
Nice concept: dialog bubbles from left/blue and right/red speaking to each other and forming a barb of the 'missing' N.
Improved: less awkward spacing, better alignment of elements, and clearer placement of the colored bubbles. The Try First subhead is clearer.




Some great identities
Commonalities: few graphic elements, some wit or cleverness, a barb for memorability, and clear communication of the meaning.




















The above 4 are by Jim Watson. More here.


Saw this logo on the left for a radio station in NYC (natch). It just didn't sit right - there were some elements nagging. The underline beneath the W didn't match the columns of the other letters and the stagger was abrupt from the W to the N. I got the concept immediately - emphasizing the NYC and setting them as a unit distinct from the W.
In my head, I saw a taller box under the W and some tweaking of the other columns. The W sitting right on top of a red box, the N centered in the top of another box, the Y breaking the top edge and seeping its contents out into space.
When I checked online for other variations of the logo - there was the logo in a red square - it confirmed the decision to put the W atop a square. It was consistent and now made more sense.
The improved version has a bit more logic and more eccentrics to help aid memorability.






Above: Just not sure if all 3 Es could be alike. Below: the vertical line in Paris/10/Early is awkward and distracting from the column of Es.

Elliott + Associates is delighted to announce the unveiling of our firm’s new name and brand identity: Rand Elliott Architects.
Rand is well-known among industry peers, educators and the media for innovative design and a congenial nature. Given a number of architectural businesses with the Elliott name, his relatively short and somewhat unusual first name is seen as an advantage that differentiates the firm and makes us easier to locate.

Which of the logos below best represents the rationale stated above? (existing on the left, improved drafts on right).



Making this logo better was an easy one

Not often do we see a brand that just doesn't work. This is one of those. The dominant horizontal slabs, the font, and the kerning are all too clumsy and visually awkward. The thick and thin letterstrokes are a bit too extreme. Notice the white masses formed where two or more letters with thick vertical strokes are next to each other (like the MBL of Assembly).
Solution: simply replacing the font with a condensed sans serif helps convey the industrial heritage of the facility and improves the legibility and the readability. The notion of setting the text in a condensed sans serif comes from the Jones Assembly graphics program, examples below:


They have already established condensed sans serif as their 'corporate' brand type. It was an easy transition to use it in the brand. A major influence on the success of a brand is consistency of application. Jones Assembly uses so many condensed sans serif selections in their pieces that it is a short jump to add the logo to that mix.
Compare the existing and improved brands on a Jones webpage:

The improved version also resembles the 'hamburger' symbol that denotes a Menu on a webpage. Recognition of that common symbol on websites could evoke a connection to The Jones Assembly.
Info: The hamburger button (sometimes called options, hotdog, pancake) is a button placed in a top corner of a graphical user interface. The icon consists of 3 parallel horizontal lines, suggestive of a list, and is named for its resemblance to the layers in a hamburger, pancake, or a hotdog in a bun.

Tapping or clicking this button reveals a menu. The icon originated to save space on smaller devices - tablets and smartphones. On devices with even smaller screens, the wider hamburger button may be reduced to three vertically stacked dots (a tri-colon or vertical ellipsis) described as a kebab. The hamburger icon was designed by Norm Cox as part of the user interface for the Xerox Star workstation in 1981, and saw a resurgence in 2009 stemming from the limited screen area available to mobile apps.

How to make the new Met logo even better


Above: The former logo for The Metropolitan Museum of Art (everybody refers to it as the Met) in New York City featured a drafting rendered letter M, adapted from the 1509 book De divina proportione by Luca Pacioli. But, as The Met moved its modern art collection into the former Whitney Museum building - a Brutalist classic by Marcel Breuer - now called The Met Breuer, the former logo would no longer be appropriate. There needed to be a new brand to better convey the new Met. A logo with images would be tough - how could they represent such a vast collection spanning thousands of years and hundreds of styles and genres of art with just one or a few visuals?
In early 2016, The Met introduced a new logo - conjoined letters that "connect the past with the future." The museum's VP of Marketing says, “The Met represents over 5,000 years of art, from all over the world; at Fifth Avenue, the Breuer, and the Cloisters. This notion of trying to make the connections - it was what drove the look of the logo." The conjoined letters connect the past with the future. But, that concept could/should be carried a step farther - to not only connect the letters horizontally, but also vertically. Connecting the past with future in a linear timeline and connecting the depth of the collection into a single entity.



Improvements
• Letters touch vertically as well as horizontally.
• The thick stroke of the H aligns above the thick stroke of the lower E.
• Serifs are vertical, not slanted or skewed to respect the verticality of the thick letter strokes.
• Thin lines in the font are a bit thicker to better relate to the thick strokes and provide more strength to the logo.
• The 'barbs' of the missing serifs on the Ts remain for increased memorability.
• The left and right margins align, forming a better frame; as art is framed and highlighted.
The revised mark is more orderly, more cohesive, and more connected (which is the main design concept).
Lesson: Figure out the strength of the piece, exploit that and minimize the rest.



Some applications





Below: In 2017, TheMet adopted some of the better concept - the kissing lines of type. Now just one step further to the brand:


Tweaking the GEICO logo a bit



This logo - that we've seen in numerous television and print ads - is almost there. There is a strong penchant to be symmetrical with 4 massive letters and a thin letter I right in the middle. But, as shown in these images:



the left side is not quite the same as the right. The version below is better - the e now better matches the G C O with rounded corners. The symmetry, unity, and consistency of the masses is improved and the kerning between the letters is a more comfortable - a bit more breathing room and respect for the letterstrokes and the counters.






Previous, Improved, and Current (the worst of the 3)


The puzzle gimmick with the dots of the ti of Autism is awkward, forced, and it competes with the red mark, diluting the concept and the brand. A strong concept has one primary unique barb.
Below: the new brand works well when reversed. Middle: Replacing OKC.ORG with OKLAHOMA.ORG helps the layout of the brand, but is more characters to type in. Right: There is so much going on here, none of it works. Note: Leave the brand alone - its strength is achieved partly by consistency.





Reader Jason from the Washington DC area submitted this logo - he commented that it just had too much going on. It is an identity used in the campaign for Mayor of Phoenix.
Better version right - simpler, clearer, more memorable. There is one memorable image and text.
• The image of the bird is tucked around the text for a better connection and relationship.
• Rise Together (in a sloppy inappropriate font) has been deleted. This slogan can be used in ads and posters, if necessary.
• For Phoenix is smaller to allow Sarwark to be more prominent - Sarwark is the single most important word to be remembered.



The existing ESPN logo is bold, legible, readable, adaptable for print and digital. So, how to integrate .COM to respect and enhance the strong logo?
ESPN are initials (though they want us to remember and use E S P N, not Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. However, .com is not initials - it's an abbreviation that represents a single word, commerce or commercial, and should stand as a single unit, not 4 separate pieces. Putting the .com in individual red blocks muddies this up. Not a cohesive unit - letters are in red blocks, set reversed, and with white stripes between the letters.
The solution here is simple - remove the disruptive white gaps between letters and allow the bold red band to serve as the base for ESPN.



The logo for the Morning Edition on NPR is okay, but there are some concerns:
• Two rising suns? Don't most of us think there is just one sun?
• Rising above the horizon? The baselines of the letters form an implied horizon, but the bottoms of the suns are above that horizon.
• Fat outline sun? The sun is solid, isn't it?
The concept of representing the morning sun is valid. There is no good reason to put a 'barb' (the rising sun) in the word 'edition' - it is less significant than 'morning'.
Below: another existing version that is set on one line and a better.




Simple move of one word - now it lets the convo bubbles 'breathe' up in the air above the text and the two words (set larger point size) work as a unit, instead of 2 distinct elements.



The lines extending from the word TRUE are sorta nice - reaching in all directions. But, the diamond shape stops that motion and offers nothing of value. The word TRUE does not need to be repeated. TRUE and FOUNDATION are set justified to respect each other and form a more cohesive unit.



Making the Little Free Library logo a little better
• No books left outside on the bench.
• Tree farther away from the bench.
• The Library box is on a narrower, more accurate post.
• The LFL title is on the spine and the grass is the cover of a book, with elements (tree, bench, library) popping up.
• The web suffix, .org, is removed.
• The text is kerned more evenly, especially at the leg of the R.
• Both lines of text are the same width.
• Replaced Return a Book with Leave a Book. Return suggests the borrower should return the book taken - actually, they can replace it with any book. Leave a Book opens submissions to new and more books.

Above: New logo on a redesigned website. Below: in an email newsletter:



Existing logo above left. Below left: the text portion of the existing logo. Below right: Improved version, text only, no inappropriate and unnecessary drawing, it's shown above right just to compare the two logotypes. The improved logo has character more fitting for Western Heritage.
How it looks on the website. Also with redesigned info of Hours, Admission, and Location:


Better connections among elements



Existing logo left, improved logo right. The 3 elements (1 mark and 2 lines of text) do not seem to like each other - they certainly don't respect each other. The awkward long arms of the F - push the OWLER away. Automotive is not aligned with (does not respect) the Fowler typography. A strong logo should be read as a single unit with all elements being part of a cohesive whole.

Better unified mass




• Tightened the letter spacing in Evoke.
• Better related the point of the drop to the counter of the O.
• Raised the drop to convey fresh - right out of the pot, cup, or brewer.
• Tightened spacing, enlarged, and justified text copy.


Consistency in letterstroke angles
Notice how when all angles are consistent but one (the leg of the R) it is slightly annoying. Simple fix.

A nice concept that got overwhelmed

Clever: a flag that is also a 7. The 7th flag. The flag is enhanced by the waving motion providing movement and depth. That's good. But the motion and depth is ruined by placing the flag within a solid black diamond. That just crushes it. The CO. is set smaller and placed inside a circle (like the copyright symbol?) Now, the word, company, stands out as the most important word - it is set differently from the other words and emphasized with a circle outline. And, yet, it is the least important word.
The logo probly needs an entire makeover (keep the 7/Flag concept). Above right: a version with minimal input that is stronger. Now the flag conveys leading a charge, as at Goliad. There is a single primary element, more depth, and much more motion. And the 'Company' abbreviation is not dominant.

Below: The logo in these iterations show that there is not much design sensitivity associated with 7thFlag Coffee. No day of the week, trendy vertical marks to separate words (that was passe as of about 2012). But the silliest: The flag 7 is supposed to be read as an 'I' (or a '1') in the word 'First'. The education invested in seeing the flag as a 7 is crushed when the reader is now supposed to see it as an I, not a 7. In the example on the right, the craftsmanship is weak in aligning the words to the swashy baselines. And why are there now two small hyphens on the Coffee Co. line?


Awkward integration of mark and text


The logomark for a TV show, I assume about witches, but I wonder why they didn't relate the triangle to the letter A (a triangular form). I doubt the letter L is crucial to the storyline. Below: The angles of the letter A do not respect the angles of the triangle. Below right: Two options that better relate the A to the triangle, one surrounds the A, the other replaces the A. Bottom: Existing and proposed.



The I Heart NY More Than Ever logomark
In 1977, the New York State Department of Commerce sought to turn the downward spiral of a increasing crime and a weaker economy. They wanted to develop a public relations advertising campaign that would be positive, memorable, and significant to forming a new brand for New York. They hired an advertising firm, Wells Rich Greene to develop the campaign. Research and surveys of visitors to the state confirmed that people really did have a love affair with New York. People loved the museums, shows, parks, historical sites, restaurants, and on and on. The common spoken answer, I love New York became the new tagline for the campaign. To develop the visual mark, the Department of Commerce hired Milton Glaser. Glaser designed a mark of stacked capsules containing the words I LOVE and NEW YORK. He presented it to the committee from Commerce and they liked it and accepted it for use. But, Glaser wasn't completely satisfied - his brain kept working on the problem and exploring solutions.
He knew that design can always be made better.
A few days later, Glaser was riding in a taxicab when another idea struck him - what about replacing the word LOVE with a symbol of a heart. It was not too familiar as a mark for the word but it was familiar for the concept of love as a result of Valentine's cards and Cupid. Then, he realized, if he could abbreviate LOVE with a symbol, he could take that further and abbreviate NEW YORK with the symbols N and Y.

He sketched his idea and contacted the Secretary of the Department of Commerce the next morning. He told the commerce secretary that he came up with a much stronger visual mark for the new tagline. But, the secretary didn't want to reassemble the committee and go through the approval process again. Glaser insisted that he at least come by his office and just take a look. The secretary came by, took a look, grabbed the comp and left the office. The new mark sold itself and has since become one of the most recognizable and most copied icons our global culture.
Immediately after the planes hit on the morning of 9/11, Glaser added the words MORE THAN EVER below the mark and put a small bruise on the bottom of the heart.

He sent his quickly produced emotional expression to a friend at the New York Daily News who rushed the new visual image into the paper. The revised statement struck a nerve among New Yorkers and confirmed how much they loved their city. It became very popular, was posted around the city, and was reproduced as a poster.

But, design, even classic work, can always be made better. Notice the changes from the original on the left to the one on the right:
1. The MORE THAN EVER lines are set centered, with uneven margins, rather than justified with even margins.
2. The kerning - letter spacing - is improved, more consistent, especially around the A in TH A N and the V in E V ER
3. The visual weight of the MORE THAN EVER text is more substantial - to support the mass of I heart NY above it.
4. The tiny gap between the N and Y is tightened, unifying the characters representing the state.

Side-by-side comparisons



The value of dynamism. A dynamic (angled) baseline is more dramatic than horizontal or vertical. Horizontal is good to show stability or breadth, like for a bank or insurance company. Ted's is a popular, fun, and dynamic bar/restaurant - the angled baseline better fits the essence of Ted's. The logo on their food truck is better than the one on the restaurant sign.


A woman in Houston hands out yellow balloons to random strangers in different naborhoods with a little note of encouragement attached. She has a few others interested in participating. She's exploring creating some cards she can provide for others to use. Below left: a rough logo concept. Improvements include:
• The balloon string is implied by the letterforms, more subtle, less blatant and obvious.
Lesson: If the viewer has to decipher and connect slightly, it enhances memorability.
The and project about the same point size; as yellow and balloon are about equal.
• The mass of graphic images is tighter and better contained.
• Letterforms are better aligned on their baselines. When graphic elements do double duty, in this case, loose casual handwriting and sincere caring professionalism, there should be a balance between the two appropriate to the message.

Tweaking a logo to be tighter and more unified

noticed this website (above left) and it's almost-decent logo (below left). It got close to conveying good attention to detail. So, I had to get to work on it (on the right):

• Tightened up the 4 letter shapes so that the right side aligned with the last T of Movement, forming a rectangle
• Lightened and brightened the colors slightly.
• Altered the N and R to better respect the axes and alignments of the other letters.



Changes
• Pulled in upper right arm
• Enlarged SONIC to fill the space better and better respect the outline
• Tweaked NIC letterspacing a bit

Poor logos for the Tribute WTC Visitor Center and Project Rebirth

Visitors have been flocking to the site of the World Trade Center since soon after 9/11. We have a need to connect to a historic site by seeing it firsthand - to learn, to remind us of what happened, and to leave something behind. A private organization, September 11th Families Association, opened the Tribute WTC Visitor Center across the street from where the South Tower stood. They have done a good job of presenting the timeline using quotes, pictures, and a few artifacts. There is video and wall text displaying all the victim's names. There are boxes of tissues scattered around and a room where the visitor can write comments and share stories. They even offer walking tours around the site conducted by survivors with stories to tell.
However, the logo for the Tribute WTC Visitors Center is weak. While parts of the logo identity are good - white squares representing purity and a void or a loss; light blue conveying peace and serenity; and text type encircling the squares for security, protection, and an eternal cycle. The intent was for two white squares to represent the footprint patterns of the two WTC towers (as confirmed by a Tribute WTC official). But, the orientation of the two towers is inaccurate. The only way to see the tower footprints as depicted in the logo would be to lie on the ground and look up (like a person in a grave looking up - that's the inappropriate part). This is not a good image to portray for the tragedy and sorrow of 9/11.
The correct tower orientation

Above left: On the brochure from the Tribute WTC is a map showing the correct locations of the towers. Right: Map showing towers 1 and 2.

As in most museums, the visitor gets a button so the guards can see that he/she has paid to enter. I didn't realize until talking to a museum rep that the button was die-cut - the two squares are cut out of the metal. This allowed me to turn it over and show him that the correct arrangement could be seen only by looking from the ground up.

Left: Original WTC site plan showing accurate orientation of tower footprints. Middle: Logo superimposed over the site plan showing logo doesn't align with tower footprints. Right: Reverse of logo superimposed over the site plan showing logo now aligns with tower footprints.

Left: Orientation of towers as they were on the site. Right: Orientation of towers as depicted in the logo.
(Renderings thanks to Maria, a blog poster from Argentina)

Another incorrect logo
This one is from Project Rebirth, an organization dedicated to recording the redevelopment of the WTC site. As with the Tribute WTC, it is incorrect and inappropriate. On the right is my redesigned logo with the towers in their correct orientation (and without the unnecessary lines). Unfortunately, they are using the logo on the left.


Comparisons

Why these errors matter and should be corrected
An identity for the WTC site must be accurate. Proper respect, honor, and care must be conveyed through each element (graphic or otherwise) to enhance the healing and rebuilding process. The subtle message conveyed by the existing logo tower orientation - that one must be in the ground looking up - is just too inappropriate for this hallowed site.
It reflects poorly on the design profession to overlook such a mistake. Designers strive for professional integrity through accuracy and attention to detail. They should be extra careful with this very public site that is so emotionally charged.
The error does matter - though it may seem a minor detail, we can, and must, do better in how we treat the WTC site.

October 2006: I emailed the Tribute center with maps and photos of the site to show the orientation and pointed out that the logo was inaccurate and that it sent an inappropriately macabre message. Two months later, I had yet to hear from them.
December 2006: I visited the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. I spoke to a Tribute rep about the logo. He confirmed that the two squares represent the top view of the tower footprints but he contended that the arrangement is correct. We walked to the model on display (photo above) and I showed him the footprint pattern and how it fit the logo only if it was upside down. He acknowledged that the logo and the model showed different building placement and orientations - his comment was that maybe the model was wrong.
January 2007: I emailed the link to this essay and received a reply from the President of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. An excerpt from that response: "I have had the opportutinity to read both you note and essay and am sorry you are unable to understand our logo. You are wrong in your assumption that the logo is wrong. As the spokesperson for the World Trade Center for 13 years as a senior management official in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey I can assure you the positioning of the towers as depicted in the Tribute logo is correct. The North Tower is north of the South Tower. It is correct as depicted on the logo. Sorry you can't seem to see it."
Spring 2007: A design blog in Argentina, DSNO Tendencias en diseno, arte, fotografia, arquitectura y tecnologia, picked up this essay and posted it on their site. Posters on that site have encouraged me to pursue correcting the logo.
I emailed the design firm responsible for the logo identity and asked what the rationale was for the upside-down tower footprint orientation. I never heard from them.
January 2010: At the new 9/11 Memorial Preview Center and gift shop, I noticed the brochure for Project Rebirth, also with an inappropriate logo. I wrote them and sent this essay. They responded with a courteous, but, non-committal reply.

Great news: they fixed their logo!

I was walking back to the apartment on Sunday night, August 12, 2012, and in front of the Tribute Center, I immediately noticed the revised logo. I started chuckling out loud. Yes! They finally did the right thing.
When I got back to the apt to watch the Olympics Closing Ceremony, I went to the Tribute website. There it was - the corrected logo.

Improvements

1. The inappropriate orientation was corrected (page above right includes both the correct logo and the incorrect logo in the photo.)
2. The name was changed from Tribute WTC 9/11 to 9/11 Tribute Center. Much better.
3. The text was taken out of the circle, enlarged, and placed flush left next to the circle mark.
4. The mark of the tower footprints (without text) can now stand on its own.
5. The color palette was enlarged with a darker blue, a light blue, and other colors for use in collateral materials.
The new look is more professional, clearer, and, fortunately - after almost 10 years - more accurate and respectful.
What a relief - an embarrassing episode in the history of graphic design has been rectified.

A better EY brand identity
Ernst & Young is one of the leading global providers of financial advisory services and is among the elite "Big Four" accounting firms. Over 167,000 employees work at its 700-plus offices in more than 140 countries. In July 2013, Ernst & Young introduced a new name, EY, a new logo, and a new purpose, "Building a better working world". The new identity was designed by London-based BrandPie.
Name evolution
1903: Ernst & Ernst founded, later renamed Ernst & Whinney
1906: Arthur Young founded
1989: Ernst & Whinney merges with Arthur Young to become Ernst & Young
2013: Ernst & Young becomes EY

Ernst & Young has used the theme of a yellow beam in their corporate advertising. The new logo incorporates that beam as an integral element of the new identity:



Observations
• There is an awkward gap between the top of the EY and the beam.
• The end of the beam ends at an arbitrary vertical line - why out there? Why not farther? A bit closer?
• The beam doesn't visually respect nor relate to the EY letterforms.

The better version


Two refinements
1. The beam has been moved down so that the origin point rests on the corner of the E.
2. The end of the beam is on a line that extends from the arm of the Y.

The new beam triangle and location better
• respect the mass and importance of the EY.
• relate to both the E corner and the Y angle.
• convey motion and growth - the beam keeps going in space. The existing beam hits a solid wall on the right and stops.
The improved version is a more cohesive whole - a unit, a mark - not two disparate elements.





A few improvements:
• Moved the book to be over all the buildings.
• Removed the lines between the buildings, behind the letters UTPA.
• Lengthened the counter inside the P.
• Increased the text point size to better balance the mass above.
• Made the text kerning more consistent.
• Aligned the bottom line of text with the illustration above.
• Lightened the blue color.

The real TX & OU weekend

During TX-OU weekend - the big game in the Cotton Bowl - I was wandering through Walmart trying to decide if I would really be happy as a Greeter at the front entrance (I am exploring that as a second career.) I noticed these pumpkin boxes, each boasting it's origin from a different state. Many states, to promote their industries, have a logomark to designate their home-grown products. I was familiar with the previous Made in Oklahoma mark, below left, and was never impressed with it. Mio? From even a short distance away, the reader would not know what it meant or which state it referred to. Why make people learn and remember an acronym? Just give the name of the state.

The state was smart to commission a new mark (3rd one). But, that new mark is fair, good enough, and okay; but, not great. It does say 'Oklahoma', but, the mark with its fine lines in the Osage shield and the serif font with thin letterstrokes may not work well when reduced or an a variety of surfaces and media.
On the right is the mark from Texas. Like a cattle brand of the shape of the state and the tagline Go Texan. A simple concept, yes - but, it works. Instead of just stating Made in Texas, the word Go is a verb, as in do something, act, take action. MIO just states a fact. Notice which mark, OK or TX, is more legible and more readable in the above photo at Walmart.

The people who designed the website got it right - exploit the unique shape of Oklahoma in the photo of chips. There aren't too many states that most Americans would recognize from their shape. Texas, of course, and a few others. Oklahoma is one of those. While it may seem trite and overused to use the state outline, this is an instance where it would be appropriate - the purpose of the mark is to quickly denote an Oklahoman product, to give to the viewer the state of origin quickly and clearly - the shape does that better than any combination of words (and certainly better than MIO).


A nice way to reinforce Oklahoma in the word
The unique shape of the state forms a decent A and tucks in above the leg of the L. The spiral shape provides some motion and energy to the all-caps words. Although, I do wonder if the lines should be aligned to form even margins on each side:

Another treatment of the state shape
This mark is not bad, the bottom of the Modern letters forms a somewhat realistic depiction of the Red River border. But the awkward trapped space in the leading between the two lines of text could be remedied easily by aligning the tops of the Modern letters. The word Oklahoma is a bit too spaced out - that, too, can be fixed. Below right: A nice mark.


The Sisters of Mercy
In 1884, five years before the Land Run of '89, the Sisters of Mercy of Lacon, Illinois, responded to an invitation to work with the local Native American tribes. Five Sisters, all in their 20s, volunteered to make the long trek in a covered wagon into Indian Territory. They crossed raging rivers on horseback, encountered outlaws, escaped quicksand, and survived tornadoes. In 1947, the order purchased the Oklahoma City General Hospital. The Sisters of Mercy made a change that was unprecedented - almost two decades before the Jim Crow Laws of "separate but equal" were abolished, the Sisters of Mercy integrated the hospital for all people.

Mercy Medical Center used this logo for years, with the original Christian cross which Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, adopted for her ministry and a barb from the lower case letters (E & C) mixed in with upper case (M R Y). This logo was introduced in 2013, maintaining the original inner cross shape, but in multi colors, better representing the inclusiveness of Mercy medical centers. It is a nice update and modernizing of the original but still respecting the earlier cross. Setting the text in familiar U&lc, without the barbs, helps keep the visual focus on the word and the cross.

I noticed the sharp inner points of the cross and the sharp outer points of the M over on the other side of the word. I thought I heard the capital M yelling at me, "Hang that cross off of me not the Y." The mass of the cross dangles precariously off of the fragile arm point of the Y. The M provides a more stable foundation for the cross.
Tip: Look for relationships and connections among elements. Strive to unite them.

Yes, of course, the cross mark should be at the beginning of the logo, to convey that Christ and faith come first and project over the word Mercy. The tension of the corners of shapes touching and the awkward captured shapes is a bit annoying (in the circle). This will be addressed if the cross is moved to the M.

Some letterstrokes are inconsistent - stroke ends are at the same angle, except one - the R. Almost nice attention to detail. Almost. So, make them all consistent.
Lack of hierarchy - the colorful cross demands about the same attention as the larger, more massive text, Mercy. Maybe the cross mark should be a bit larger. Side-by-side comparisons:



The US Open logo: a mark with two conflicting messages

Below left: Arc motion of a ball swinging counter-clockwise. Middle: Ball shooting off to the right

Neither makes a great logo. The arc is an unnatural motion for a tennis ball during a game of tennis - the racket might make such a move, but not the ball. The flame motion is a bit better - it conveys the speed and fierceness of play during the Open, but the ball is rarely seen moving in a straight line, it curves over the net, tight into a corner, or a down from a high smash. Maybe the combination could be a flame trail but moving in a downward arc. But, uh oh, both of the poor versions made it into the final logo (above right). An arc motion to the left and a speed motion to the right. Do they both cancel each other out or just look uncomfortable? Does the ball just stop in mid-air between two opposing forces? And, if the competing messages weren't enough, someone (below) added the year in a different font, in italics, and in a position that does not respect the ball, the arc, or the US OPEN type. Below far right: someone thought the flames coming off the ball should be the US flag on fire.

How this crappy logo might have happened:
• The client liked both versions and insisted that they both be included.
• It was a fun party game - a sketch pad was passed around and each guest had to add an element.
• The design firm is not very good at research, communication, or playing tennis.
• Somebody just wasn't thinking; he/she got so close to the mark and it's options, they lost sight of what messages should have been communicated.
Tip: Designers should often take a break to remind themselves of the basics of design - the objective, the target market, the media used, the result expected, and the Big Idea (speed, action, excitement).
Update: In 2018, for the 50th anniversary, the US Open (the us open) introduced a new logo "for the digital age". The ball mark is better, but the all lower case is awkward since U S becomes the word us and the ball slams into the type when set on one line.


A better logo for the NYC team in the new National Women's Hockey League
The logo for the New York City team, The Riveters, is based on the classic Rosie the Riveter image from the Westinghouse poster by J. Howard Miller. (The name, Rosie, came from Norman Rockwell's iconic painting for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post).

As always, there is a better way. The logo starts with a decent concept - the strong woman from a familiar and recognizable image vowing she can do it. The grey text with rivets along its structure and the plaque/shield border enhance the Riveters name. But, it needs some minor tweaking:

Improvements
• Moved the grey border between the fist and head to go straight across, rather than at that awkward angle.
• Enlarged the red background rectangle to better balance the flesh elbow mass and better frame the Riveters line of type.
• Better kerned the V and T in Riveters - tightened them up which pulled that line in so the lower outer corners don't break out of the background shape.

Some designers aren't sure when to stop

I was out front doing some yard work when a guy stopped by asking if I wanted the fall leaves raked up. Yes!! I do!
He did the job and, as he was leaving, handed me his card. It was a very nice card - it commanded attention and conveyed the info clearly. The script type of the name 'Eden' conveys organic plantform and the green leaf serves as a visual barb to enhance memorability, helps convey the type of business, and respects the name 'Outdoor'. (His name is not Pat nor is that a real phone number.)
But, there is that lonely white line before the word Outdoor. Why? What is it there for? How does it enhance communication or help convey the attitude and image of his services? I can't find a reason. It just pulls attention and focus away from the green leaf. That unnecessary line is embellishment, adornment, and decoration. Above right: Outdoor enlarged and aligned with Eden, which helps emphasize the leaf.
Lessons
• Great design has no need for embellishment, adornment, or decoration.
• Great design is knowing how much to remove, not how much to add.

A few quick graphic marks for tornado-damaged Moore, Oklahoma

Above: some of the marks posted on Facebook, none very good. Below: the best one, by Andre. It includes a direct emotional appeal and a mental play on words: Help more & Help Moore. The mark conveys clarity, alignment, passion, wit, and warmth. Nice job, Andre.


Bull fart


Okay, let's try to find the intended meaning in the mark:
• OkieBull
• Slaughter guts (see the ripped off butt blood and guts)
• Bull farting out Oklahoma
• I just do not know what is going on with his feet - but they don't look right. But, then, neither does his tail or butt. I'm not sure a restaurant should emphasize a red butt so prominently.
You probly have more fun meanings, and we could go on and on, but we're not likely to come up with anything that is appetite-enticing or suggestive of a quality bbq & burger restaurant.

Great logos should maintain clear communication when reduced and when printed in one color only.

Observations and lessons
• Consistency: Is it Bar-B-Q or BBQ - the door, logo, and website copy alternate. Tip: Pay for great design and for all the applications.
• Readability: serif typeface with thin strokes is tough to read. The serifs are a wise choice to convey the western bbq mood, but, remember, the designer is in control of the mark - fatten or bolden the strokes to provide a better visual weight.
• Visibility: Explore and consider contrast, value, color, point size, typeface, case, and on and on. Great designers thoroughly consider all the Design Components and are meticulous about attention to detail.

Does the new Taco Bueno logo include a fart cloud?

Granted, Mexican food, especially the beans, does encourage such action, but should it be promoted on the sign? Should it serve as an identity for the restaurant?

Progression of Bueno logos The fart may have been an attempt to connect to the prior logo with the word Bueno in a bubble. But that one makes sense - someone is exclaiming 'Bueno', as in 'Good' or 'Let's go there!' The new mark has the bubble emanating from Bueno, not including it. It is empty as if someone is saying nothing. Or it is, in fact, a fart cloud.

The University of L J  or Elljay University

I bet the first time you saw it you read it as an L and a J. Most people do. But, because you likely saw it on television during a football game or a sports segment of the news, the L J logo was accompanied by the name Miami. That association helped the viewer learn that the L J stood for the University of Miami. There seems to be no strong rationale for why just a U - a U that is in thousands of University names. It's just a lettermark that, with lots of exposure - time & money - viewers have learned to associate with the University of Miami.

Important: We would not have learned the meaning of the L J if not for the repeated exposure on national media.

Most logos can't rely on repeated national television exposure to educate the public.
Logo for the Union High School in Tulsa Oklahoma:




The font selection (1930s-era Art Deco), the black & white, the arched baseline over the word Pie, and the name - Humble Pie - none of that says Pizza. Another good example of a sign company 'designing' a sign.

What letters are these?



I can't get past the letter A - it's quite strong for AA. Or, maybe RR.
But, I guess those are the letter D - the entity is Death with Dignity. And what is that arc bridge-like thing?

Great news - Death with Dignity tweaked their logo:



They saw the light - those marks were not being read as Ds. Now, maybe they will pay some attention to the text type. Above right: the throwaway 'with' has more weight and is paired with 'Death' - now there are two lines just as there are two D marks - and the text respects the Ds by aligning to the arc:



1. The forced spherical perspective on the text just doesn't work.
2. 3 different point sizes for 3 short words is about 2 too many.
3. The word Cue is larger than the words On and Express which are just as, if not more, important.
4. The yellow dot is distracting and slightly annoying because it is off-center in the red oval.
5. Letter C that forms an arrow going in a circle just makes no sense. That motion doesn't relate to pulling in for gas, a billiard ball, or an actor's prompt for the next line.
6. There is no clear hierarchy of elements to control the viewer's attention. There are just too many disparate elements fighting for attention.
What is the concept of this identity? A yellow cue ball? A red squashed ball?
Lesson: A successful design or ad must be based or a concept that is logical, impactful, and clearly communicates the message.



In 2012, The Philbrook Museum of Art sought to update their brand. The timing coincided with an expansion into a satellite facility in downtown Tulsa. The museum hired the New York City office of Pentagram, an international design firm. Above is the new mark.

Some examples of the new mark on a brochure, the stationery, and, below, two web pages showing photos with annoying grey squares.

The rationale of the design concept

The rationale given by the designer is that the mark is a square with two voids for the two locations of the museum. They placed a grid over a map of Tulsa and saw that the two voids formed a capital P when contained within a random square. The resulting P stood for Philbrook and represented a person.

But it is a weak concept. Here's why:
The mark is based on an arbitrary geographic positioning boundary of a grid over Tulsa. Without being told or shown, no one would ever figure out that's why those two square voids are where they are. Great design concepts should make sense to the audience, not just to the design firm. This idea is based on a temporary alignment of locations. What happens to the concept when the downtown location closes or moves or when the Philbrook opens a third location? The concept will lose its basic rationale. What if the design team had placed a different size grid or square over the map of Tulsa? Would they have seen the P?
The new logo exploits the letter P as the centerpiece of the identity program. However (and this is important) absolutely no one in the universe refers to this museum as P, or The P. Nor should they, nor will they. Even with a P mark to encourage them. Some entities can rely on initials, like MoMA and Big D. But not this one. To make this even less appropriate, the word Philbrook begins, not with a P sound, but with an F sound.
Experiencing art should be a transcendental experience. It is one of the activities that encourages humans to feel emotions. Art should move us beyond our limits and boundaries and move us to expand and grow. The experience is organic, alive, and flowing. This sharp, hard-edged static mark does not fit the experience of viewing art.
The Philbrook is housed in a former mansion with an elaborately landscaped sculpture garden and grounds. It is alive with plants, vines, and water features. Inside are arches, curves, and a circular rotunda. Nothing about the chunky, square, cold mark respects nor fits the actual physical presence of visiting the Philbrook Museum. The former logo, while it may have had some issues, at least was a better fit with the museum and the experience of contemplating art.


Lesson: a contemporary mark and a slick execution can't compensate for a bad idea.
Some people will be fooled by the 'modernity' but thinkers can see past the presentation. Great design should appeal to the more thoughtful audience.

Important lesson: Great design must have a great concept as its foundation. Everything else depends on, supports, and builds off of that.


A new science museum opened in downtown Dallas in December, 2012. It is spectacular - the building itself is displayed as a major exhibit. The galleries inside are very well done with much interactivity and plenty of intrigue for both adults and younger visitors. There is a nice theater for 3D films, a cafe, and the required gift shop. But, look at this weird logo with the red gimmick brackets:




A major donation to the museum came from the children of Ross Perot and the museum is named in his honor. The logo was designed by a team from Pentagram offices in Austin and New York City. The building's shape was their main inspiration:

From one of the chief designers, "A cube can be represented by a simple pair of square brackets; and brackets, like parentheses, are literary marks that introduce additional explanatory content into a passage. The new museum is a cube filled with explanatory content. I like the dual symbolism of the brackets in the new mark.
The contemporary red brackets contrast the intentionally classic and timeless wordmark set in upper and lower case Caslon, and are also used in the website and environmental graphics."

Issues
The logo design asks too much of the reader - Read the 'Per' (process, but ignore, the large bright red bracket) read the earth globe as the 'o' (process, but ignore, the large bright red bracket) and, finally, read the 't'.
That much deciphering might be okay in an ad or brochure, but not for the identity. An identity should communicate its message quickly and easily. Most of us don't have enough time to decipher logos. Not that a logo must be simple - it can be complex, but the elements should enhance the clarity of the communication, not distract. In this logo, the red color and the sharp-angled bracket shapes do not respect the globe nor the letterforms. Therefore, they become just a gimmick - they don't add value to the communication of a message (like that used in the shutterstock ad).

A museum of science and nature is about life, animals, plants, physics, organisms, and organic shapes. The concept of the interrupting brackets doesn't respect the angles and flow within the building, curiosity, science, or nature. Their association with written notions is too academic (boring).
Juxtapositions of disparate elements are often an effective design tool to aid memorability. But the element that does double duty must work well for each function. Here, the brackets must serve to emphasize the globe, but not intrude on the legibility of the word, Perot. They must be in balance and not grossly favor one over the other. Here, there is no pleasing balance. The brackets are just too dominant: they are larger than the surrounding letters and they are . . . bright red!

Lesson: A larger bright red element in a mark almost always intrudes.
We are too conditioned to see red as dominant and to see a larger size as dominant.


I wondered how it would look with the concept of simply replacing the letter O with the globe:




The open compass is an appropriate and strong image for a guide that helps one find one's way around the site. But, notice how obnoxious and demanding the large red brackets are - they become the defining element even though they have no relevance to the experience of the museum or the Visitor's Guide. The compass has to compete and fight with the red bracket crap. The compass is also a photo realistic dimensional image which is flattened by placing the 2D brackets on top of it. On the right, both the compass and the logo globe are free to convey dimensionality. (I also made the text copy larger to improve readability on the cover.) The Visitor's Guide is handed to visitors - it does not need to get our attention.
Lesson: Sometimes, too often, designers crap things up with too many unnecessary graphic elements.
Tip: Great design is often knowing how much to subtract, not how much to add.


In the logo, on the left, is a unique treatment of text only, forming an arrow pointing up, possibly to suggest that experiencing art is uplifting and a contributor to growth and aesthetic enlightenment. Notice the inside corner - if the words were spaced evenly (in the middle), the arm of the T would prevent the vertical stroke of the T from tucking under FUND. There is then a trapped awkward space formed by the T and FU in FUND. One solution would be to make a ligature of the T and F, tightening up that space (on the right). But that might create an awkward clunky letterform. The logo designer separated the words into sections thereby creating a square dot that sits in the corner as a focus. That dot serves as the barb in the logo to provide uniqueness and memorability, an exclamation point, and a shared element between the T & F.


After the OKC Energy FC (Football Club) soccer team introduced their new logo, a blog poster noticed that the Energy logo had similar elements to the Seattle Sounders FC logo:
• Banner containing the team name
• Object above the banner name: top of space needle and OKC
• Letterform serifs (see the Rs above right)
• Shield with straight-line top: convex and concave
It seems that the Seattle logo (April 2008) inspired or influenced the OKC logo (November 2013).

A better YMCA logo

The logo on the left above, with the bent black bar, was introduced in 1968 - the red triangle was introduced in 1891, the 3 sides represent spirit, mind, and body.
The identity in the middle, introduced in 2010, reflects the public's reference to the YMCA simply as The Y. The bent bar forming an arrow is a nice touch for an entity that helps people grow and move forward, and the new mark has ample references and similarities to the former mark to ease the transition and education of the viewer.
However, the elements in the mark do not respect each other quite well enough. The YMCA text looks like an afterthought and the 'the' is too far away and not aligned or related to any other element, other than being in the same color. Setting 'the' in upper & lower case with the ascenders on the t and h do not reflect the continuity of the YMCA caps and the bands of color forming the Y.

A better version
The revised mark sets 'the' in all caps to form a band that also serves as the stem of the arrow, aligns 'THE' to the centerpoint of the arrow, moves the 'YMCA' so it is no longer blocking the forward motion of the arrow, and places the YMCA parallel to THE and tucks it inside the triangle. One can read 'The YMCA' or 'The Y'.

Watsonism: Figure out what's working in the piece - exploit that and minimize the rest.
What's working in the new Y logo is the Y also reading as an arrow. That should be exploited.
Lesson: Logos and all graphic design work should be concept-driven.
The concept, the big idea, should 'drive' the piece, directing and guiding all other design decisions. Every element should support the basic concept.

A bit of Y history
George Williams, a 23-year-old cloth and dry goods salesman, founded the first Young Men's Christian Association in 1844 in London with the purpose of "improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades." At the time, the Industrial Revolution was still condemning many urban dwellers to poor working and living conditions. Like other industrialized cities, much of London was overrun with pickpockets, thieves, prostitutes, beggars, drunks, and destitute and abandoned children - conditions that Charles Dickens exposed in such novels as Oliver Twist and Hard Times. Williams and some fellow drapers sought to alleviate the gloom of the working class by providing Christian fellowship, prayer, and bible study as an alternative to the squalor of the streets. Their efforts were very successful, and the movement quickly spread. By 1851, the movement had spread to North America, first to Canada, and then to the US, where a YMCA was founded in Boston.
James Naismith, a Canadian, invented basketball while at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith had been asked to invent a new game to interest young people in physical exercise. The game had to be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play indoors in winter. In 1895, William Morgan from the YMCA of Holyoke, Massachusetts, invented the sport of volleyball as a slower paced alternative sport, in which the older Y members could participate. The New York YMCA had proclaimed a fourfold mission: 'The improvement of the spiritual, mental, social, and physical condition of young men.' By the end of the 1800s, the fourfold purpose had been revamped into a triangle: spirit, mind, and body.



Logo design lessons
A designer sent me a logo (left above) that he was working on for a client that he had a good relationship with (referral business). He asked, "Critiques?" I obliged with some observations:
• One roof is probably enough to say 'house'. More becomes clutter.
• Squashed low windows add nothing, and attract attention to themselves due to their uniqueness.
• Three point sizes on one line (too many): F&E, T&T, IRS&IM. Different sizes here add little value.
• Base capsule and title are not aligned - the F & E are not supported by the foundation.
• Grey capsule is a bit too thick and heavy. Doesn't quite respect the weight of the text above.

The concept seems to be - the stylized image of a house that also conveys the side-by-side letter Ts in the brand name, FirsTTime. That's solid: clear, memorable, and effective. The house is conveyed by a roof peak, a chimney, and a front door - nice images for home buying: shelter, warmth, and welcoming entry.
The differing point sizes, windows, a porch roof, and a heavy base do not support the concept. Clarify the mark by keeping only the necessary elements - let the concept work on it's own.
Lesson: Figure out what's working in the piece. Exploit that and minimize the rest. The 3 house elements (roof, chimney, and door) are working. Other elements don't clarify or add memorability.

"When I sent the first draft (that was very similar to your revision) to the client they thought it looked 'blah'. I added the porch roof to define the 2 T's a little better, the windows to add some life to the home, and the yellow to show the lights on. Adding the porch roof and the lighted windows added life and warmth to the house and gave it a little more character, not so monopoly piece simple/'blah'."
Lesson: When you catch yourself adding something to address a weakness, stop. Assess what caused the weakness - if it is legit, then address what caused the weakness. Adding more stuff to a logo rarely works. From Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie:
"Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes genius to attain simplicity."

The 'Blah' comment is a fairly common client response. They rarely see the work through their customer's eyes. The potential customer is seeking help with buying a house. They seek a firm that is professional, trustworthy, honest, and knowledgeable. An ad should not be blah - it needs to capture and hold the reader's attention, but, a logo almost never needs to get our attention - it is usually a side note to a headline, illustration, or text copy. It needs to be easily and clearly understood and memorable. What the client should want is for the customer to remember First Time Realty, not that there is a cute detailed image of a warm house with a porch and with the lights on.



A while back, I was helping the ClockTower Studio students, Jeff and Jenkin, with a project. The client was the Character Council of Edmond. The project was to develop an identity that they could use on graphic materials (stationery, posters, certificates, etc.) It's tough to create a graphic identity for an attribute. But while exploring the letters in the word character and discussing what the group is about, I noticed that another word was nestled inside character, while realizing that good character is useless unless one acts on that character. Without action, character has little value. Acting is the manifestation of character, the next step, the impact on a culture. That notion justified the concept with some strong rationale - the mark could now go beyond a clever type treatment of some letters and convey an additional and important meaning. Jeff and Jenkin set in all lower case to convey that character was not something to shout at someone - it was a more subtle under-the-radar attribute. The above mark shows the essence of the concept that the students presented to the clients. They loved it. They agreed with the rationale given in the presentation and loved that action was involved - a command to the viewer to act, to do something.
Tip: Explore, sketch, research, sketch some more, do more research, and become an authority on the subject and all its components.
Lesson: As April Grieman, Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin, and numerous others have preached - often, the solution is inherent within the problem. The more you understand the problem, the easier the solution becomes.

Above: Their website banner. Below: Mundane logos from other councils:



This logo conveys each of the 4 components in the festival name:
• American: red, white, and blue; stars and stripes
• College: the mortar board tassel, the pennant
• Theater: the familiar Comedy/Tragedy masks
• Festival: The waving banner, bright colors
The regional festival logo, was used extensively on collateral material (stationery, signs, fliers, program covers, folders, and nametags) that. Three students - Adam, Adrienne, and Elizabeth - in ClockTower studio created the mark during the summer of 1992.

Oklahoma City Public Schools is proposing a new identity
A survey was sent out that showed the 3 finalists in preliminary judging. These are the options, with my comments:

1. The figure is a bit too awkward - a person with multiple heads, juggling balls, balloons, tree with weird fruit? There doesn't seem to be a clear meaning behind the mark. Its just too random. The text type does not relate to nor respect the mark - they're just near each other.

2. This one reads clearly as Kansas City Public Schools or KCPS, a radio station's call letters. The apple mark doesn't form a good letter O. The apple symbol for education is a bit overused and is now just a trite cliche.

3. The synchronized sperm swimmers may not be a good message for public school students. The mark serving as the letter O is too extreme - not enough connection between the sperm ring and the rest of the word Oklahoma. The circle of swimmers does represent the runaround of going in circles in school administration. The synchronized figures suggest all students fit into the same pattern - other than color, it denies individuality.

4. One could also vote to keep the current logo:

The existing mark has the best concept - a figure reaching for the stars. But the text type is too clunky and dated.

A better proposal



The existing logo with improvements to the figure and text
• The figure:
      • Provides continuity to the existing familiar logo.
      • Is a brighter and more lively blue.
      • Has lost a bit of weight.
      • The head of the figure is the same shape and angle as the O in Oklahoma.
• The star:
      • Is rotated to a more familiar and stable orientation.
      • Is centered between the hands.
• The text:
      • Set upper & lower case in a friendly font.
      • Italicized to suggest forward movement and growth.
      • Tucked into the figure to better integrate the two.
      • Tag line forms a stable foundation as public education provides a foundation for lifelong learning.
• The colors:
      • Green and blue are eco earth colors; blue sky, green grass.
      • Green represents the growth of the student and of the district.
      • Tag line about preparing students and the student figure are the same color.
The new identity is lighter, more agile, and more appropriate for a district heading into the future.

Lesson: Strive to integrate all elements of a logo. It is an identity that should hold as one cohesive unit.
Below: A new brand from about 10 years later:


The Starbucks metamorphosis

As we have witnessed many logos simplifying and removing elements, many predicted that Starbucks might just keep going until their logo was just a green disk. They put out their seasonal displays and, sure enough, there is the green dot.


At least, H&R Block is using a shape that has a slight connection to their name, although a square is not a block (a block is 3-D, like a cube - a square is 2-D.) But, there is no connection to the USA or 'Today' that justifies a flat dot as an appropriate symbol. Some 'design firm' got paid big bucks for the no-concept USA Today symbol. They sold it to the client and conned the public into believing it is good design. Fortunately for them, the public has gotten numb to design, the standard for thoughtful design has been lowered so far that almost anything can pass today as graphic design.

New OKC Transit logo

It seems that the concept has something to do with direction, movement, and access; as conveyed by 4 arrowheads going in each cardinal direction.
The Transportation and Parking Authority adopted the brand name EMBARK for the services it provides - including revamped bus service, parking garages, and the downtown streetcar. Research showed 45 percent of the public did not know the name METRO Transit - the former name for the bus system. (I don't know if we need to know the name - I suspect most people just called it the 'bus'. Like, "I'm taking the bus.")
The authority said EMBARK "captures the spirit of where we're headed and implies togetherness and an invitation. It makes the transit system a journey we as a community undertake together." (I can't decide if that is just PR bullshit.)
However, it's a stretch to see 4 arrows, with two leading the eye away from the mark, as togetherness, an invitation, or a journey taken together. Maybe, 4 journeys about the city. Motion is not clearly conveyed by blocky, vertical, upper case sans serif letters and the colors grey and blue. Motion is often seen as italic type and colors that are lively (red and orange) or growth (green). Not that those are rules or to be expected. Breaking from expectation can sometimes be effective. Below left: blog reader Sean submitted this improvement:

Simple changes and much better: the arrows are more subtle, the font conveys motion, and the color is lighter and livelier. Hmm, let's see how it works in two colors - keeping the blue arrows from the original. And, below, with blue letters and blue with green arrows:



Logos don't need legal names

Reminder: logos are identities, they do not need to include the legal name of the company. Inc. and LLC are types of corporations and need to be clearly communicated in legal documents, but not in identities for the public. Often, the public doesn't care and it just then adds unnecessary information. In addition to adding the task of having to deal with some awkward punctuation. Excluding legal info may entail a discussion with the client on how to best convey a clear identity to the target audience.
Lessons
Designers often have to educate clients about communication design.
Develop design solutions primarily for the reader/user/audience, not the client.


Driving between NYC and Oklahoma, much of my attention is on the graphics along the Interstate - billboards, hotel signs, personalized license plates, etc. Here are 3 examples of logos on trucks.

Upper: This is a decent mark - simple, clear, with a bit of cleverness (the 3 crowns forming the letter I). But what might keep it from being great is the placement of the word Services. The concept in this mark is those 3 crowns that serve as visual images and also form enough of the letter I that we read the word Triple. All elements in a logo should enhance the concept. But here, that word Services fights the concept by pulling our attention away from that main element. Lower: A draft of a reworked concept:
• The lower case word Services under the straight baseline of the wn captures some awkward spaces in between. Setting Services in all caps solves that irregular outline and better respects and relates to the straight baseline underneath the Tri.
• Moving Services helps it relate to the Triple Crown by aligning it beneath the T and butting it up to the P. The new location helps emphasize the 3 crowns by providing a foundation base.
• Aligned the bottom of the lowest crown with the baseline of Triple Crown.
• Decreased the gaps between the 3 crowns - this relates them better as a unit - the crowns are an element that has to do double duty: be read as crowns and be read as the letter 'i'.
• Tightened the word spacing between Triple & Crown.
Lessons: Figure out what's working in the piece - exploit that and minimize the rest.
Good logos often have a single focal dominant element that is memorable. Enhance that primary element and minimize the others.


This could have worked. Its a bit of an overused cliche - jutting a star into angles of letters in a word, but it can still do its job here. However, in this case, the relationships among all the angles need attention. The integration of the strokes of the star and the strokes of the letterforms is so clumsy and awkward that its jarringly uncomfortable. Just too much inconsistency: the angle of the slash between the S & the T, the gaps between the A and the T & R, and line weight in the letters and the star. The designer needed to pay greater attention to detail to resolve these relationships.
Relating a point of the star to the letter A is a natural - they have built-in commonalities, but maybe its too common - the star and the R might work, if it is resolved better than shown above.




The Oklahoma Aquarium opened in 2003 in Jenks, just across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. It is a great facility and a welcome addition to other world-class museums in the Tulsa area. Well worth a visit. But why do people go to an aquarium (or a zoo)? To see life. Activity. Motion. Color. To see creatures that we don't normally see. To have new experiences. To see fascinating life forms.
But look at the logo above. It works well as a professional image, but, as with almost all logos, it could be better:
It doesn't quite convey what an aquarium represents. It is condensed, straight, centered, primarily black; solid, static, and boring. It doesn't have enough life and movement. Even the image is that of a shell - an empty house for a sea creature - not a creature or animal. The website includes animation of fish swimming - motion and life. The identifier should also.
Lesson: an identifying logo should represent the positive aspects of the experience.
Tip: List descriptors for the entity (in this case: life, action, motion, color) and design a mark that clearly conveys those.

Bonus tip: In this brochure on the right, there is pretty neat image of a shark, about to swim right off the page. But with the static logo placed right on top of it, the dynamic shark image is ruined.
Lesson: Photographs can add depth and dimension to a 2-D piece. Avoid limiting that depth by putting text over the image.

Your innate design sense and The Jim Rome Show logo
The Jim Rome Show is a sports radio talk show hosted by, yes, you guessed it - Jim Rome. Syndicated by CBS Sports Radio, Jim Rome airs live from Los Angeles, on more than 200 radio stations in the US and Canada, and over the Internet from Rome's website.

These early logos relied on his initials, which is a symptom of poor design - unless people refer to an entity by it's initials, initials rarely communicate effective identities. The logo he currently uses, below, is better - no initials, no adornment, just the straightforward name of the star of the show. He is selling himself, his name is the appropriate brand. It is his unique label, used throughout the show and the website. Uniqueness in a client name should be considered for exploitation. Use what is inherent in the design project.

But, something should annoy your sense of design:

The clever stack of 3 blocks in the R are neither respected nor exploited in the E on the right. The E is almost a stack of blocks, but the middle arm does not align with the upper and lower arms. It is too close for comfort. Almost there, but not quite, the designer didn't go far enough. So simple to make it match the left side. The JR mark, top right, a pseudo-ligature, may have been the inspiration for the R in the current logo. The 'designer' deleted the vertical stroke of the R to butt up to the J or considered the JR to be a ligature.
On the far right:
1. The block under the R is a similar width to the letterstroke width.
2. All three arms of the E align flush on the right side.
3. The kerning is tighter in the line  THE  JIM  ROME  SHOW.  The improved spacing allows easier readability and allows that line to be enlarged which helps its mass better support the ROME above it.


Some issues
• Too many gimmicks to draw the reader's attention: recycle symbols, ata in red, horizontal dash lines, ADS in larger point size.
• Recycle symbol is inappropriate - we want sensitive documents to be unusable, not recycled into another form, even if that new form is unusable - its the concept of recycle versus getting rid of it.
• Is that another recycle symbol as the dot over the i in 'Shredding'? That's just excessive. And silly.
• Why are the letters 'ata' emphasized in red? I'm stumped. I can't relate ata to anything about data, shredding or absolute.
• The dash lines - I guess that represents shredded paper. But, I suspect most people would imagine shredded paper in a vertical motion, as if coming out of the shredder. Why are these different thicknesses and lengths?
• Why the emphasis on ADS? Will people really call it that. Doubtful.
• The angled left margin serves no useful purpose.
Lesson: The list above is some of the issues that the designer should have asked him/herself. We can't depend on clients or printers to ask intelligent design questions. It is the designer's responsibility to objectively assess and improve his/her own work.

Quick - what letter do you read in this logo?


Answer: B, a very clear B. Congratulations.
However, we are all wrong - it is a mark of an L and an R. But, when one abuts those two letters in low-contrast colors (white and yellow), it reads as a B.


This is the new identity for a copy and print shop, right across the street from a university. This store has been in business for about 10 years. People knew it as 'Advanced' or 'Advanced Printing'. I wonder why the name change? To a weird acronym? What is the new name? Is it Apmok? APM OK?
And, what are those 3 balls for? They are not copies of each other. Beach balls? Weird Pepsi logos?

This place even offers 'design' services. But, their new logo represents much of what is wrong with design today - amateurs thinking they are designers and producing thoughtless work. Visual art, not design. If you are proposing a new unusual name, avoid adding unnecessary confusing graphic elements.
Lesson: an identity should convey the essence of the entity, in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. It should be appropriate, memorable, and effective.

Roofer Yard Sign Contest

After a hail storm in central OK, roofing signs popped up in many naberhoods. I won't go into the scam that involves insurance companies and roofers, but it has been interesting to observe the variety of signs for the roofing companies.
Contest criteria
Easy to find phone number, graphic appeal, noticeable from down the block, clear message of roofing (text or graphic), memorability, quality and professionalism conveyed.






Forrester Brothers: The portrait orientation and the simple graphic set it apart.

Edmond Roofing: As blog poster Joe from Chicago noted, the phone number is can't-miss-it big and the single word roofing helps memorability - the word roofing and a phone number. Nice. The web domain name is also logical and straightforward. I explored flipping the mark so it read better as an E:
Original on the left. I removed the 'leg' extension - the mark read as an 'F'. While I typically am not a fan of initial marks (most people don't refer to a company by its initials) - this one seems to work because the E mark does double duty as a roof.

Excel: The diamond orientation helps it stand out, but the miserable logo and cluttered copy make it less appealing. Here are some design elements to address:
• Alignment of elements help create order and continuity.
• Consistency of line, color, serif, stroke weight add to the cohesiveness of a mark.
• A single strong concept for the viewer to focus on aids understanding and memorability.
• Each element in a piece should be supportive of the concept - they should not fight for attention - the hierarchy should be easy to follow.
• The level of craftsmanship should be of high quality to convey professionalism, trust, and integrity.
• Do we really need all these items: the Star of Bethlehem, smoke coming from the chimney, a chimney, a black peak forming half of the letter X, serifs on half the X, a black line connecting the strokes of the L, a red line under the word 'roofing', or an extra stroke extending off the E?

Statewide: One of the least well thought out:
1. The legibility of the name is diminished by the red on red, the busyness of the outline font, and the cluttered background.
2. The sign has the mailing address listed first. I doubt any passerby who might be considering a roofing company would jot down the address and go home and write a letter. They are more likely to make a phone call right there while looking at the sign and reading the phone number or maybe even check out the website. This address also tells the reader that the company is on the other side of the metro, in another town (not local).
3. The web domain name,'stater fg', is a bit odd. As of this post, www.statewideroofing.com was available.
4. The most used contact info - phone and website - are separated by copy: Bonded-Insured.
The sign probly looked great on a computer screen. But, as is often the case with poor design, the designer didn't create the piece to succeed in its appropriate environment.
Lessons
• Remember to design for the user, not for yourself or the client.
• Consider contrast when selecting background colors on signs.
• Determine the hierarchy of text copy based on what is most important to the reader, not the client.
• Proximity is a major design principle - group like items (phone and website) together.


Weak rationale for a mediocre logo

Above is a page from the logo section of the 2011 Design Annual issue of Communication Arts magazine. Notice the logo for a law firm, Hewitt Wolensky. It is nothing great - tired and trite use of initials to represent a firm that no one on the planet will ever refer to by its initials. But, what stands out as even weaker is the 'rationale' given for the logo:

"classically combines" - just what does that mean? What is classical here?
"strong vertical pillars"? If one does see pillars (doubtful), they are open-ended, thin, and fragile with unstable rounded bases - not strong.
"network of paths in the white space" - there are two paths that aren't even connected, so, not a network. And why emphasise the white paths - they don't help convey the H or the W and they don't seem to fit the attributes of a law firm: trust, professionalism, expertise, or success.
"clean, contemporary mark" - clean? the letterforms are gradated. Contemporary? what does that even mean?
"a mark symbolic of this new law firm" - how is it symbolic of a law firm, new or old?
"establishing a new paradigm in its field." - what? Paradigm is one of those words (like clean and contemporary) that people use when they don't know what to say but feel they've got to say something.
What concerns me most is this: the profession of graphic design is still striving to establish itself as a respected profession - there are people who think 'anyone can do it', and there is an abundance of poor work all around us. Bullshit rationale only serves to reinforce the notion that much design is done by amateurs.
Tip: Rationale is very important for designers to provide to clients. But the reasons behind design decisions should be honest and true.
Lesson1: Most people can see right through weak bullshit posing as design rationale.
Lesson2: Just because a piece is accepted into a Communication Arts annual doesn't mean it is good design.

Nice job of incorporating numbers within text


Someone actually made the Thunder logo even worse

Wandering through the mall, I came across a kiosk of phone skins where I immediately spotted the squished Thunder logo (and Cowboys logos). That looks horrible. The kiosk operator looked confused at my comment. You ruined the logo. You squished it. "But, I had to make it fit!" You could have just made it smaller - like this one (I pointed to the Thunder logo two rows beneath - it fits and its unsquished, like those on the right). I do give this guy some credit for staying somewhat calm - I was berating him in the mall for the crap he was producing. One of the reasons we see so much design crap today is because there is not enough public flogging. I remember when the Thunder logo was first introduced, the Oklahoma AIGA chapter refused to make any statement or comment about the weak logo. The very organization dedicated to improving design in Oklahoma was too afraid to rock a boat or ruffle feathers.
Lesson: We often get what we deserve.
Actually, the kiosk guy and I had a good civilized chat. After my initial reaction, I talked to him about logo identities and the importance of consistency in reinforcing brand awareness. He agreed and we parted on good terms - he even allowed me to take the photos for this blog. So, why do people do this? How do we educate them that there are more options for 'fitting' than grabbing a corner handle on a computer screen and moving it to the 'correct' shape? Sometimes the abundance of crap is overwhelming and it seems hopeless that we might ever overcome it. One option is to speak up and discuss design with those who need it.

The newest NBA logo

Yo! The Brooklyn Nets developed a new identity when they moved from New Jersey to their new home, the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.

The identity includes two logos. The primary, is in the all-too-common shield silhouette and the other is a circular emblem. Created in part by the team's minority owner, Jay-Z, both logos, as well as the team's colors, will be in a black and white scheme, which adheres to Jay-Z's motto of "All Black, Everything". The colors and the style of the text lettering pay homage to the old New York Subway signage system.
Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) is one of the most financially successful hip hop artists and entrepreneurs in America, having sold approximately 50 million albums worldwide, while receiving fourteen Grammy Awards. "The Brooklyn Nets logo is another step we've made to usher the organization into a new era," he said. "The boldness of the designs demonstrate the confidence we have in our new direction. Along with our move to Brooklyn and a state-of-the-art arena, the colors and logos are examples of our commitment to update and refine all aspects of the team."

Some observations
• Shield, name placement, and moving ball reflect much of the feel of the New Jersey logo - to maintain a bit of consistency between the old and new and to aid branding in the consciousness of the fans - keeping team look but adapting it to its new naborhood.
• Kerning is awkward in NETS - the tight space between the N and E does not respect the air and room between the E & T & S.
• The word Brooklyn is a nice match to the Subway signage.
• The condensed type is well done - designed as a condensed font rather than manipulating a font on the screen.
Lesson: Specify a condensed font, do not condense a font with the mouse.
• Capital B over the ball cancels out the dimensionality created by the detail lines in the round basketball.
• Colors, black & white (only team in the league with those colors) is okay - might work. Much of the philosophy given for the logo and the team is to relate to old-school Brooklyn athletics. Some Brooklynites have never accepted the insulting loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of the logos for the Dodgers was the capital B inside of a circle (below), apparently inspiring the Nets' B in the circle of the ball.

Other NBA balls in motion: None of these balls have a flat letterform placed over them, stopping their dramatic motion.
Lesson: While this is not a 'bad' logo, it is certainly not an example of excellent design. The numbing of the American design consciousness continues on its downward slide.
Below: results of an online poll.

Speaking of the Dodgers
Established in 1883, that team originated in Brooklyn. In the 1891 season, the team moved to a ballpark which was bordered on two sides by street car tracks. That's when the team was first called the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, soon shortened to Brooklyn Dodgers. The team is noted for signing Jackie Robinson in 1947 as the first black player in the major leagues. The team moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.

Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Enjoying art is about an experience - a connection that impacts the mind with images that are both familiar and innovative. Experiencing art can sometimes result in chaos, but, most often, it results in a feeling of enlightenment, inspiration, and joy. Sometimes chaos in logo design is appropriate, like in Punk and Deconstructivist work, where it can be a good fit for that specific audience. But, usually, design is about creating order to better communicate a message. The target audience for a major Art Museum is typically people with money who desire an aesthetic experience and inspiration. Granted, logos for art museums are tough - how to best represent the diversity of art and distinguish the museum from others. Often, designers will turn to the name, relying on typography and letterform relationships. But that puts a huge burden on the type treatment to be memorable, unique, appropriate, and accurately represent the art experience.

The OKCMOA logo consists of two parts sitting side by side - the initials stacked on 2 lines and the full name stacked on 3 lines. The logotype for the full name is quite strong - the lines of type changing in point size can symbolize motion and growth as each line gets larger, the line containing the word ART is the largest, and the mark is orderly and organized with the justified margins. While it still needs some professional tweaking in its alignment and word spacing, it works quite well.

But the mark of initials - not so good:
Letters that few will say. Some companies that use initials (AT&T, UPS, IBM, etc) have changed their names to those letters, therefore, those are no longer initials but official company names. As a museum member who visits regularly and socializes with designers and artists, I have never heard anyone refer to the museum as OKCMOA nor MOA. It is not very effective to propose letter symbols for a company that no one is likely to ever use.
Too little consistency. The extended downward stroke of the K is not matched by any other stroke treatment, the point size of the letters are different, there is little alignment of elements, and the sizes of the counters in the 'Os' are each a bit different.
Just too much chaos. Great design creates order out of chaos (definition: disorder and confusion). The design here increases the chaos. The elements do not relate well to each other. They are the same font, but there is not quite enough alignment or placement to convey a comfortable sense of order.
Tip: alignment and consistency help create order. Order, not chaos, most often clarifies understanding of a mark's meaning.
Lesson: a logo is an identity that should convey the qualities, attitudes, and user experience of its company.

Some other museum logos with full names




Museum logos with stacked text:

Suggestion: drop the initial portion of the logo - use just the stacked words.

Good news: the OKC MOA logo has been improved.
Saw the new version (below left) in the fall of 2015 - it has been tweaked a bit - no more awkward K nor annoying spacing. The kerning has been improved and Museum of Art is slightly bolder.
Below right: I tweaked it a bit more - made the Os and the C more consistent, improved alignment, removed the unnecessary period after W, and enlarged the baseline of text.



How to improve the Verizon logo

Above left: Verizon introduced a new logo in September, 2015. The boring typeface, straight baseline, and all lower case make the new logo worse than the preceding one in the middle. The tiny check mark (that doesn't relate well to the text) has no intuitive meaning for phone service, and is placed in an awkward and precarious position - it is begging to slide off the hump of the 'n'.
The former Verizon mark could easily be made better. Here are some areas of concern:

1. Just too many different angles.
2. Too many different directions leading the eye away from the mark.
3. Different weights of the red lines.
4. Three dominant elements are too inconsistent.

Improved version on the right
An adage to improve solutions: Figure out what's working in the piece; exploit that and minimize the rest.
A mark is usually stronger with only one dominant unique barb. The red check mark and the red letter Z are fighting with each other to demand the viewer's attention. The red Z provides a unique identifier that exploits the unusual spelling of the name. The check mark has no positive value - it is not a symbol typically associated with cell phones and it is an overused cliche.
It is really easy to make the Verizon logo better - simply delete the check mark.
The unique red Z becomes the main visual identifier. The logo is now stronger as a mark to be remembered and is now more adaptable to a variety of surfaces and uses.


John McWade picked up this Verizon logo essay and linked it in his Before&After website, April, 2010:



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 more smaller 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 black word 'Moving ?' is tough to read when placed on top of the red diamond.
Lesson: Contrast can improve ease of reading and clarity of message.
Tip: Avoid black on red and red on black.

Another logo with too much going on
The Udig logo has too many barb elements. A barb is the part of a logo that hooks the mind and sticks in the brain to aid memorability. But, if there are too many barbs, they can cancel each other out, look chaotic, and impair memorability.

Udig publishes short, curated, and collectible e-books with comic content. The owner, Andrews McMeel uses the U-face mark and they may have wanted some continuity between Udig and Andrews McMeel. Not sure that's important - maybe the identity for Udig should be allowed to stand on its own.
The Udig logo consists of these elements:
• The word dig set with slab serifs, all lower case, in grey
• The capital U set in all caps and in a larger point size than dig
• The eyes and nose forming a face with the U
• An arc of balls, different sizes and different colors
The clever U-face barb and the arc of circles compete with each other for attention.
There are some options to reduce the clutter and improve the mark:



A better logo for GOOD magazine
Below left: The current logo for GOOD magazine, first published in September 2006. From the cover, "Good is for people that give a damn - an entertaining magazine about things that matter." The more I looked at the cover, the more I realized it was not quite there - the logo was just the title typeset in a condensed sans serif font. Not too exciting or thought-provoking for a somewhat intellectual magazine. Also, it was almost an ambigram - a word that can be read both right-side-up and upside-down. I explored letterform possibilities. I came up with two versions - each of which could work.

Above middle: A rotational ambigram - rotate the G and it becomes the D. The concept with this could be that Good, the magazine, puts a new spin on events and stories affecting our culture.
Above right: A left-right ambigram - a mirror image of GO forming the OD. The concept here could be that Good magazine presents a mirror to or of our culture, exposing all that we see in a new light. I tested the readability and there seemed to be no problem with readability (with either version).

I explored many options addressing the precise placement of the horizontal white gap and the crossarm of the letter G. I had the white gaps aligned in the center of the mark and another with the top of the crossarms aligned in the center. This version aligned the visual masses in the center and produced a more familiar G. I submiitted both versions to the magazine; the response: "We're happy with our logo right now. Thank you."



Original 2012 London Olympics logo on the left. Someone's redesign and editorial comment next to it.
The mark really is inappropriate - it is too harsh, rigid, pointed, jarring, and misaligned to accurately represent the spirit of the games - humans striving to be their very best. When it was introduced, it was met with disgust and derision. However, there were very few instances of it around London or during the NBC telecasts. NBC used its own identity program throughout the coverage.


This logo is so horrible, i really don't think i have to go into much detail. Not about the illustration style of the square cup, the useless initials that make up the cup, the different point size and condensing of type, font selection, colors, wavy river of blue/magenta, alignment of elements, nor Capitalization Of Every Word In The Slogan. Nope, just don't need to go into it.
Reminder: logos are not literal illustrations of what a company does - they are identities that convey qualities appropriate to the company. A coffee break is to relax, energize, socialize, and enjoy the cup of coffee.


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.

Develop one brand identity and then stick to it. Consistently.



Don't put an image next to the logo that shows how poor the logo is

The awkward W that doesn't quite fit the supposed inspiration of the top of the building. And why emphasize the W? In the type treatment, the word One gets as much prominence as the World. And, absolutely no one will refer to the observatory as W or The W, or even the OW, or OWO. More likely, The Observatory, The Observatory at the WTC, the WTC Observatory, The WTC, or The World Trade Center.

Low-budget logo that doesn't quite work

Tucked into a room off the lobby in the Deco-style Philcade Building is an extensive collection of Deco graphics, products, photographs, and household objects. Due primarily to oil discoveries in the 1920s and subsequent wealth in Tulsa, there was much new construction and a desire to be more like an Eastern big city. There is an active community of devotees who are keeping that chapter of Tulsa history alive for the rest of us to enjoy. The photo above left is by David Moos.

The shoestring-budget museum is staffed by volunteers, so that may help explain the weak logo. Issues:
• TAD Museum? Do they really want us to call it that? Hope not.
• Consistent-width letterforms are not very indicative of Art Deco.
• The angled stroke ends and notches in the initial letters just don't fit here.
• Vertical stacking of partial words is a bit too clumsy and awkward.

A trendy resurgence of the barbed quatrefoil shape
The quatrefoil is a decorative framework consisting of a symmetrical shape of four partially overlapping circles of the same diameter. The word quatrefoil means "four leaves" as in a rose or four-leaf clover. The symbol shape reached peak popularity during the Renaissance era and in Gothic architecture, where a quatrefoil may be seen at the top of a Gothic arch, sometimes filled with stained glass. It's probable that it has roots in Islamic architecture. The barbed quatrefoil (2nd & 3rd below) is a quatrefoil pierced at the angles by the points of an inscribed square, which gives an image of a rose - "barbed" due to the thorns which project at the intersection of each pair of petals. The earliest example of the barbed quatrefoil appears on the south transept buttresses of 1260 in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

The current trendy shapes, modified quatrefoils, are popular and soon to be subject to overuse. We'll see how it shakes out in design history.




Thanks to Amy Hurley and Wikipedia for the info.

New identities when companies merge



Notice that when one of these drug dealers opens a new store, the other will soon follow suit, often right across the street.



I realize that Borders no longer exists. But, the concept is still there.




How to make the Olympic Games better.

Objectives
• Provide outlets for amateur athletes to achieve recognition and championships.
• Stage games that are more efficient, leaner, less expensive to produce, more exciting.
• Schedule fewer days, streamline Opening & Closing Ceremonies. to be shorter and less expensive.
• Build/use fewer venues; group sports to same venues or outdoor areas.
• Remove sports that have a system of championships or allow professionals.

Remove these sports:
• Baseball (World Series)
• Basketball (NBA Championship)
• Boxing (Championship bouts)
• Football/soccer (World Cup)
• Golf (Masters, USOpen, British Open)
• Tennis (US/French Opens, Wimbledon)
Add these:
• Darts
• Billiards: game
• Billiards: trick shots


Locking and unlocking the front door when it is well-lit is as simple as stick and twist, but trying to find that little key hole in the dark can be a real pain. This is one of those so-simple-and-obvious designs that you almost have to wonder why no one has thought of it before: not only does it provide a simple channel for sliding your key down into the lock each and every time, but its distinct shape makes the entire lock housing easier to find in the first place while groping around in poor lighting. Inventor: Junjie Zhang.

A better way to leave a tip from those who don't carry cash

So many of us no longer carry cash - but how do we leave a tip for street musicians and subway entertainers? Sometimes I stash a dollar or two in my pocket. But, this is a better way. Visa has introduced a 'social experiment' entitled StreetTaps. To display the capabilities of digital payments, the BBDO ad agency installed digital payment terminals allowing street musicians in public parks to accept tips from mobile phones. It can be preset, usually for one dollar - so, a tap charges or debits your account $1.00. StreetTaps is still in the works, but the DipJar is currently being used - just dip your card and $1.00 (or $2, whatever was preset) is deducted. No receipt, no buttons, no input - just dip and go.



A USB plug that doesn't give the user a clear clue which side is up is inexcusable in this era of 'smart design'. if a product needs a catchy line like, "Doesn't fit, flip it" then there is something wrong with the product design. Well-designed products don't need ad slogans to help them do their job.
I suppose that the USB logo on one side is an attempt to differentiate the two otherwise-identical sides. But, its not enough - many times, its just embossed in the plastic and difficult to see.
One tacky solution: I have marked the plugs. I once used a multiple plug but it impacted the strength of the signals to the devices so, for now, I'm using this system with duct taped plugs.


Note: brilliance is often simple.

The trend of white houses with black trim was never great, now its outdated

The trendy paint scheme removed most of the character, personality, and historical representation from this house/business.






So much crap on a small sticker
Deleted all the nonsense decorative adornment junk.
Deleted the circular white border line.
Tightened kerning in HOOK 'EM.
Enlarged TEXAS and set it justified under the tower, to form a base.
Decreased leading above and below the text.
Enlarged the tower and text unit.
Much stronger message of the Tower and the Slogan.


Above left: An avocado ripeness sticker. Above right: A crate sticker to verify excess tilting of the crate.
Below left: Hanging packs in 2 overlapping sizes - more product can fit on the hanging rod. Below right: Magnets on the side of the sodapop machine for munchies. The cans don't take any additional floor space or shelf space and it puts the temptation right by the drinks.


Crystal Light marketed a packet that is the right size and shape to easily add the powder to a bottle of water. They recognized the fad of bottled water and the potential for sales to people who didn't want to give up flavor for water. A perfect match to what the consumer wants. It is a great idea.
Staples, the office supply store, positioned the boxes of Crystal Light on top of the cooler of bottled waters. Smart.

Signs reminding users to pick up their dog poop.





The upholstery pattern conveys these seats are reserved for Special Needs.

What is that circular depression for?

Okay, sure, to denote where to place your cup, bottle, or mug. But lets go deeper - why is it there? Is it necessary? Without it, will the drinker be so confused that it hinders the enjoyment of drinking and eating. Shouldn't designers, engineers, and manufacturers believe that their customers are smart enough to place their drink on the tray in a manner that is convenient, efficiently uses the space, and is somewhat safe and secure.
Notice that the depression can actually make the experience less convenient and secure. Without the dip, there is more usable space - sometimes, there may be so many items that need to fit on the tray that the cup should be placed in a corner, closer to the edge than the depression allows.

An intelligent respectful way to deal with sensitive statues and plaques

Instead of removing statues and plaques of Confederate soldiers or other somewhat-inaccurate dominant people, the city of Santa Fe has added this plaque to the obelisk in the center of the Plaza. It does a good job of educating the reader with some context of the period in question. The new plaque reads, "Monument texts reflect the character of the times in which they are written and the temper of those who wrote them. This monument was dedicated in 1868 near the close of a period of intense strife which pitted northerner against southerner, Indian against white, Indian against Indian. Thus, we see on this monument, as in other records, the use of such terms as 'savage' and 'rebel'. Attitudes change and prejudices hopefully dissolve."

I sprayed lightly over the SON in the last name to emphasize EDMOND
(the town where the sign was posted) to provide memorability and improve retention.



The original patent from 1891 shows the correct rolling direction, in case you ever doubted.



A new product for the New America


Nike has become the first major manufacturer to make a hijab for Muslim athletes. “It's a game changer - it can spread awareness, compassion, and more understanding of what the Muslim community is all about." The head cover, called the Nike Pro Hijab, has a single-layer pull-on design made from lightweight polyester. The fabric's tiny holes make it breathable while remaining opaque, a requirement for hijab-wearing women. Nike began developing the hijab after some Muslim athletes complained about wearing a traditional head scarf during competition.

Better Pixelogic solutions

After I solved the puzzle Old Fashioned TV, I thought it looked more like a microwave oven than a TV. I had to make it better. I did and sent it in - they published it a few weeks later. Right: Snowsim saw the moon in Good Night and had to redo that one, too, with a title that expresses his/her frustration.

Why make this more difficult than necessary?

This Zoe's Kitchen restraunt is open from 11a - 9p. On NYE, they will be closed from 8p - 10p (but they close at 9p anyway - will they reopen at 10p?). It would be clearer if it just said We will close at 8p on Saturday, December 31, New Year's Eve.
Better: make it less confusing and just open regular hours, instead of closing just 1 hour early.
Also, they will be open regular hours on Sunday, New Year's Day. That is a plus - that should be promoted on the sign.

A very simple way to make this procedure easier

This is the scale at the Heart Hospital check-in area. Notice that the digital readout is mounted directly above the scale. That means when the patient steps on the scale his/her body is right in front of the readout. Each time I am there, the nurse makes awkward contortions around me to read my weight. Some even set their clipboard on top of that machine on the right. Also, each time, I mention to the nurse how much easier it would be for everyone if the readout was moved over so that both the patient and nurse could easily see it (proposal above right). And, each time, I get lame excuses, "That's the way they built it." "That's not my job." (just nervous chuckles). Two problems here:
1. The mounting of the readout with no consideration for the users (lack of empathy).
2. The I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude of the nurses.

Oklahoma City looks like a single skyscraper town

October of 2012, Devon Energy opened their new headquarters building overlooking the superbly designed and executed Myriad Gardens. While the Devon Tower seems to claim artificial superiority - 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 Gardens, 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.
From Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City by Sam Anderson:
"You can navigate by the skyscraper - skyscraper, singular, because there is, by modern standards, only the one, and it is so completely out of scale to the rest of the city that you can see it from everywhere else. It is nearly twice as tall as any other structure for one hundred miles in every direction. It dominates downtown, glittering like an open blade. This is the Devon Tower, headquarters of one of OKC's biggest energy companies. The skyscraper was meant to make the city seem big, but mostly it makes everything around it look small: thick, stocky, ancient, heavy, extremely midwestern."
"Everywhere we drove, Orton and I could see the Devon Tower - the disproportionately huge skyscraper that dominated the horizon. “It's really awkward," he said. "It looks too tall, standing there by itself. They'd have to build at least one more that big before it would start to look normal."





Above: More recent shots with a new tower nearby. 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.




Better options. Below left: a rendering of a lower tower, as if the building had respected its environment. Below right: 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.


Below: How some have addressed the awkwardness. The Memorial Marathon placed a seal to balance the tower. This Oklahoman ad used splashes of color. The existing CBD logo simply shrunk the building. The logo tweaked to show a more accurate scale of the buildings.



More, maybe all, drinking fountains should have bottle fillers


Above is the bottle filler fountain at O'Hare Airport. More people are carrying empty bottles through TSA and then filling them before boarding. Nice thoughtful move by the airport for the traveler's convenience. With the proliferations of water bottles, disposable and refillable, at the gym, at work and school, in cars, and while hiking; there should be a better way to refill them rather than having to hold them under the low spigot used for sipping. Better: two separate spigots so that 2 people can use the fountain at the same time, one drinking and one filling.
Above right: an outdoor fountain seen in Colorado with 3 spigots - filling, sipping, and dog lapping:

Of course, restraunts should charge for water

We pay nothing for a cup of water but about 2 bucks for soda and the only difference is a small bit of flavoring.
Why should we expect others to subsidize our choice of drink? Of course, we should be charged for water. More info
(And that is how I spell restraunt.)

How to make a video look worse, and better
Often, I see videos that don't fill the allotted space so some poster adds some side bands, often just repeated, blurred, enlarged, or distorted versions of the central image. But, those options just make the total image more complex and cluttered and compete with the video content for attention. Maybe it would be better to add solid grey bands, or a color that respects the video background, to fill the space.





Valuable lesson from the late 1970s

For fun, when I was in my 20s, I enrolled in Intro to Interior Design at EastField College in Dallas. The matronly instructor who spoke with an air of authority and respect discussed priorities. A sofa or chair with a bright busy print might look great in the showroom, in a catalog, or even in the living room - but imagine what will happen when a guest with a busy print, striped, or colorful dress sits on that sofa. Not so great anymore.

Take a look at Andrew Lloyd Webber at some Red Carpet opening event. Poor choice for a backdrop (or a shirt):

Her lesson: the people in the room are the most important design elements in a space. Design around them, not despite of them.
That has stuck with me for decades - the users are the most important design element, not color, shape, placement, typography; but, the people that will benefit from the piece.


How to make the One World Observatory a bit better
There is a new tourist attraction in New York City - the observation deck at the top of One World Trade Center, the 2nd tallest building in America (Willis/Sears Tower in Chicago is #1, unless you count the antenna at WTC, then WTC is #1). Overall, the experience was quite well done, but here are some ways to make the One World Observatory even better:

Provide seating
Many people have been standing for at least an hour before they get up to the Observatory, then they find that there are no seats. Total time at OWO is well over 2 hours - standing the entire time. It seems somewhat inconsiderate and disrespectful (especially of senior citizens) to require them to stand for hours.
There are plenty of places to place some seats (like along the curve of the SkyPortal platform) that won't congest the viewing areas. As it is now, people sit on the steps to the SkyPortal (maybe a fire hazard?) or on the ventilation ducts along the windows which block prime viewing areas.

Create a bypass line at the Photo Booth
At the photo taking area, I and several others asked for no picture to be taken. The very nice young woman told us to just go straight through the crowd. I thought how awkward - I have to wait or walk in front of the photographer to get by. Once through, I noticed the aisle towards the windows that could easily have been the bypass route. I realize they want to sell photos and encourage guests to have their photo taken, but it would have been so easy for her to tell us to step to the left of the white column and move beyond the photo area. Less congestion, less confusion, less discomfort, and less awkward. Such a simple effective solution. Somebody just wasn't thinking.
Reorganize the dining area
So much amiss here: too few chairs, an awkward pay station (I saw two people just go to the seating area with their free coffees and cookies), no trash bin by the coffee fixings, and no trash can in the seating area - there were several dirty tables and some people wandered around with their trash looking for a place to put it. They gave up and set it on a table.
Minimize the line confusion on the street level plaza
My goodness, where do we go? We had tickets, but the line in front seemed like the right one. Nope, that's to buy tickets. So, we got out of that line and had to ask an attendant where to go. There should be better signage or announcements to guide the visitor to the correct line.
Remove the scene in the film where we fly into the tower
During the elevator trip back down, the animation takes us outside the building and then straight into it (just like you're on a plane flying into the building). In our elevator, there was an audible gasp. Others knew why but nobody said anything. Very uncomfortable.
Commission a new design for the branding

The awkward W that doesn't quite fit the supposed inspiration of the top of the building. And why emphasize the W? In the type treatment, the word One gets as much prominence as the World. And, absolutely no one will refer to the observatory as W or The W, or even the OW, or OWO. More likely, The Observatory, The Observatory at the WTC, the WTC Observatory, The WTC, or The World Trade Center.

I wrote the OWO with these suggestions and got back an automated reply that someone would contact me within 24 hours. That was on July 6, 2015 (and re-sent on July 14). I am still waiting for a reply - even just a courtesy reply ("Thanks for visiting and writing"). Still, nothing. That lack of response might help explain why the customer experience is not so great. The views, however, are outstanding.


Left: Clever design for New Years. Its a mirror ambigram - the 2 flops down to become the 5. It was designed by Frank Nichols, a New York designer, as his New Year's card for 2005.
Right: This is so cool - an umbrella that lets in some light and forms a dappled shadow - like the canopy of light that filters down to the forest floor. It even comes with the bird on top. It is from a design collaborative in Holland called Droog (rhymes with rogue). There is an exhibit at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York city of many of their products. Fantastic stuff - functional and imaginative.


A bad location for a memorial sign On the left is a foto of the ventilation grates for the Battery Park tunnel that connects West Street to the FDR drive (the orange sign details some upcoming construction in the park). The sign on the fence, however, states 'Korean War Veterans Memorial'. If you look real closely in the right foto, off in the distance among the trees, you can just barely make out the Korean Memorial - a cut-out silhouette of a soldier. The sign clearly suggests that the Korean War memorial is a large ventilation grate in the grass. There has to be a more appropriate and respectful place for the sign that would still grab the attention of tourists walking by but more accurately direct people to the memorial.

It is about integrity and trust
This was a new subscription service for dog treats and toys. It seemed like a good idea, so I thought I'd sign up for $18/month. But, notice the smaller print in the Summary: $18.25/month. They snuck in another quarter:

A quarter per month? That's not much. What's the big deal?
Here's the explanation in our edited September 2014 email exchange:
Jim Watson wrote: "I like the BarkBox idea, but is it $18 or $18.25 a month?"
Samantha replied: "It's $18.25! We round each month on the site!"
Jim: "Friendly suggestion: don't round off figures when you advertise a price on a website. That's deceitful advertising - promoting a lower price to entice someone to join and then giving the higher price. And, it's not about the 25 cents, it is about integrity and trust and not respecting your customer enough to give the correct price. Now I wonder what else about BarkBox is inaccurate."
Samantha: "Please know it is not our intent to be deceitful. The 12 month dollar amount was rounded as a design choice."
Jim: "Design choice? They changed the price of your product for aesthetics? Imagine if a restaurant stated a different price in the menu because it fit the space better or was fewer numbers or just looked better. Or if Walmart advertised a lower price to get you in the store and then explained the higher price with, "It was a design choice."
Your designers should know that the first objective of good design is to be accurate and honest."

As of early November 2014, the come-on price now matches the actual price. No more 'Design choice' excuse.



At Nathan's Original hot dog stand at Coney Island, I saw these two different ways to get ketchup and mustard. The one with the color-coded support arms communicates more clearly. Neat idea. And the hot dog was excellent.


When you pay the suggested admission of $8 at the Brooklyn Museum, you get this tag on a string to wear to show the guards that you paid. This is common practice in museums - to provide something to wear on your person. Most museums use metal buttons with fold-over tabs or an adhesive-backed sticker to put on your clothes. This was the first time I got one with a tie string, presumably to wrap around a button. I and my friend were each wearing tee-shirts. Where do you put it on a tee-shirt? I asked the ticket seller behind the counter. She said some kids wear it around their wrist. Not going to work for me - the loop was not big enough. She also mentioned she had heard others question this, also. This is just bad design - to produce a wearable tag that has to be tied or wrapped around something. Is this museum not aware of how many people wear tee-shirts. now, especially in the summer?
Note on museum admissions - I have long felt that teachers should get into any museum for free. Reasons: 1. Teachers don't get paid enough and this is one way for corporations to supplement pay and benefits. 2. Teachers are great salespeople for museums. They schedule field trips, encourage students to visit museums, share info from the exhibits in class. Some museum visits are necessary study and research for many teachers.
Above right: here's how I wore the tag from the Brooklyn Museum - I slid my glasses frame through the string loop. The ticket seller laughed and the guards got a kick out of it. A few minutes later in a crowded elevator, a whole bunch of school-age kids were giggling and laughing at the silly old man with the tag on his face. I continued with a serious conversation, swinging the tag all over my mouth and face. That just made them laugh harder. Stupid, unresponsive design that turned into something fun (and silly). After I got tired of the annoying string in front of my face, I removed the tag and put it in my pocket. If I had been stopped by a guard I would have shown him/her the tag and commented that I couldn't find a place to tie it to my tee-shirt. Of course, the guard wouldn't really care, but maybe someday, someone will address this design problem and make it better - for the museumgoer and the museum.


You know how, when you get a margarita, sometimes there is too much salt to sip? Sean has a great solution - he just slides the lime around a bit and it cleans the glass. When you're out drinking margaritas (or in drinking margaritas) you don't want any more hassles than necessary; you want life to be easy, hence, the lime salt remover.

I am confused by the name, Little Bo Peep. Did Mr. & Mrs. Peep name their tiny daughter 'Bo' or did they name her 'Little Bo'? Is Bo even a good name for a girl? The Peeps? See, this kind of stuff baffles me. Here it is 2:30 in the morning and I'm awake and confused by this name (and why would anyone name someone Humpty Dumpty). I checked online to find out how to contact the Peeps (I thought I would just ask them why they chose that name) but could only find businesses named Peeps. One was an insurance agency and the other was a restaurant in Florida - Le Peep.

So I was walking somewhere in New York and saw a slogan or title that said - 'Power Up'. It occurred to me that Power Up backwards spells Pure Wop. Now, I'm not real sure what Pure Wop is (or even wop that isn't pure) but there must be some cosmic connection there. Power Up to Pure Wop. Maybe like 'give someone a wop upside the head'. And a powerful wop, at that. Just something to think about.
I also wonder if, somewhere in the universe, there is a woman named Pam Yawbus. Google found no such name. But Pam Yawbus is Subway Map backwards. That just can't be a coincidence. I suspect it is some sort of code used by transit workers (or the Yawbus family while in New York). There is likely some deeper meaning that is just not obvious to us mere mortals. More shit to think about.

When I drive to and from Edmond OK and Manhattan NY, I pass numerous Interstate highway interchanges that are full of services for motorists - fuel, food, stores, repairs, motels, amusements, etc. Some of these interchanges are small communities that rely on the traffic stopping for their survival. They are a unique part of the American landscape - created and maintained for the convenience and pleasure of mobile Americans - tourists, business people, and truckers. We need a name for these places. Travel Plaza, Services, Service Center. How about 'Stopping Center'. From Shopping Center but expressing the unique attribute - we stop at these places to interrupt our journey for a few minutes or overnight to take care of our needs and wants.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City

Looking from the office suite towards the main entry and the Cafe beyond. The ramp on the right leads down to the galleries. From left to right: the information desk, ramp to the new galleries, doors to the Sculpture Park, and facade of the original building.

A fountain sculpture in the new Noguchi Court. The Sculpture Park and the original building can be seen outside. Rush Hour, a sculpture by George Segal greets visitors. New building on the left, original building on the right.
The fotos above are of the great new addition to the classic Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Designing an addition to a building can be a tough task - how to respect the existing and yet provide new spaces. Options:
Mimic the original structure
Encase or disguise the original
Visually overwhelm the original with a more powerful new structure
Convey a few original elements in a subtle new building
Ignore the original completely
Build a new structure that has minimal visual ties to the original but respects its style and mass
The addition to the Nelson-Atkins by Steven Holl Architects works well - the structures are such a departure in their asymmetry, clean lines, and masses of walls and glass that they do not even try to fit in with the classic building. The new entry joins the sections quite well and allows each to hold its own importance for the visitor.


The Liberty Science Museum across the Hudson River in New Jersey recently reopened with an impressive new addition and new exhibits. The day I went, however, was also the day that 2,000-3,000 kids from the Police Athletic League went. Despite that noise and crowd, I observed some neat stuff:
In the IMax theater (where I saw a big movie about Hurricane Katrina and the loss of wetlands in Louisiana) a chaperon was telling his charges, "Move down" (he meant move down the row). The kids looked confused. That had just climbed up the steep aisle stairs looking for seats. The chaperon could have meant "Move down" (to another row). 'Move down the row' and 'move down a row' are very similar commands. Often, the context helps us determine which is meant, but, in this case, the context didn't help much - "Move down" could have easily meant either option. He had to keep repeating himself and gesturing before the kids understood exactly what he meant.

View across Hudson Bay to Manhattan - I can see this museum from my apartment window
Exhibits that were 'hands-on' were much more popular than those with just text, images, or stuff to look at. Kids even punched 'buttons' that were actually just bolts or circles. This generation has gotten used to a push-button world that was the stuff of science fiction not too long ago.
In the Communications exhibit, a father was getting impatient with his girls who were at a busted exhibit. "Come on girls, that's not working." "Come on." he repeated. He probably couldn't understand why anyone would stay so long at an out-of-order exhibit. Finally, one of the girls turned to him, "We're pretending". How cool - the girls found a way to make the exhibit work - just use your imagination. Old guy couldn't see it cuz he probably lost his inner child a while back. The girls played a bit longer, then joined dad and the rest of their party who had moved on.
Some of the exhibits had a phone number listed next to them so you could call on your cell phone to hear an audio tour explanation about that exhibit.

According to research studies - wearing a seat belt allows drivers to feel more secure and confident and, therefore, take more risks and drive more dangerously. Wearing a bicycle helmet suggests to an automobile driver that the cyclist is more experienced and more in control of their bike and, therefore, can be approached with less caution, resulting in more danger for the cyclist.


Okay, I'm confused - how should we drive when we're not in the Traffic Safety Zone? With unsafe driving skills? Shouldn't we be encouraged to always drive with safe driving skills?


Good examples of why one shouldn't put text on the front of a booth or counter. It may look good on the drawing pad and during set-up, but, once the doors open, people will stand there and obscure the text. NC State was smart enough (and there were a few others) to post their sign name above the table.


Every now and then, I'll hear a design student or novice designer express disdain or opposition to a typeface (like Comic Sans, Papyrus, Fajita, etc.) I've even known teachers to hate a certain color. A shame. A designer should not hate any color (or typeface, or shape). There are appropriate uses for any element. There is a design problem that needs the typeface Comic Sans because it works well in that situation. Designers decide when any specific element is appropriate - that's their job. Hatred and extreme bias cloud one's objectivity to make valid, appropriate, and rational design decisions.


Stationary (with an a) means to stand still, not move. Stationery (with an e) means supplies used for correspondence - letterhead, envelope, etc. This sign is even worse because the images of supplies behind the type were moving - they were animated, not stationary.


I'm walking along the mall in Washington DC and I see this construction fence and the temporary sign. Coincidentally, right when I noticed how the temporary sign blocked the sidewalk, a family approached with a child in a wheelchair. The chair couldn't get between the fence and the base of the sign. I dragged the sign over to the right, where it should have been. Now there are visual cues apparent in the sidewalk that guide the pedestrian.

Assessment of the names of network morning shows:
The Early Show
Early is not typically associated with something positive: early to a party, early to work, early in the morning. "Dang, Its awfully early." "Why are you up so early? And why are you dressed like that?" Fortunately, The Early Show has been replaced with CBS This Morning. Better.
The Today Show
A bit better, at least its neutral. One can't deny the fact that it is today.
Good Morning America
This is the strongest - positive, cordial, and patriotic.
Appropriately, Good Morning America is now in first place in the ratings and the The Early Show is in third place.


Vandalism on an airplane: I'm sitting on the plane with Sean and his wife when I look up and notice that the panel overhead has vent holes in it - but, the vent holes are not arranged symmetrically. See how the number of holes in each row changes by two. Except for the top two rows. Weird. To fix this, I took out a pen and filled in the two depressions that should be holes (foto on the right). There. Better.


From Reuters: Ever wanted to meet and greet your loved ones at the airport to be sure they don't miss you in the crowds? Amsterdam's Schiphol airport has the world's first vending machine capable of printing out personalized giant banners in just a few minutes. You can pick your message, choose the font and background design, pay between $6 and $20 depending on the length of the banner, and hit the button. "We came up with the idea because when we were at the airport we'd see all these people welcoming their friends and family with their own banners made of bed sheets and we thought what a hassle using sheets, wouldn't it just be easier to make the banner at the airport," said BannerXpress's co-founder Thibaud Bruna. "We hope have them in other airports, but also in stadiums for sporting and music events," Bruna said.


Please program your car key fob so that the horn doesn't honk when you lock your car. Most cars have this option - check the Owners Manual for the instructions. Its quite simple to reprogram the key fob.
Think how much nicer it will be without those needless honks. The sound of the locks clicking still provides an aural confirmation that your car is locked. The extra horn sound is unnecessary, rude, selfish, and obnoxious. Okay, it may not be quite that bad, but it will still be nicer without the honks.
Many car key fobs allow you to double click the button to sound the horn in case you need to find your car in the lot.
Better solution: car manufacturers should program the no-honk as the default on the fob. People who feel they need the honk can program the fob to do so. But, for all the people who don't think about it or don't care, the horn option would be turned off.



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, most 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.

Above right: 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.


The OCCC Arts Festival is held each Labor Day. 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 views for most of the festival-goers.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 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, 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." A sample from the Plain Language.gov 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

Examples
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.

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.

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: LXVI.
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


I was in the mall 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. This was no longer a handicap ramp, it was a texting ramp.


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.
Lessons
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.

I noticed this upper section of the staircase had been installed upside down. The top and bottom risers were the wrong dimensions - causing a tripping hazard. The fix was simple - drop that section, flip it over, raise it into place and reattach the 4 bolts. I wrote the Parks Department with pix and rationale. The staircase was corrected the next day.


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.


Let me see if I have this right
I can write a 3-page letter, and put it on my front door.
That same day, someone authorized by the government will stop at my house and pick up that letter.
The letter will then be transported anywhere in the country.
It will then be hand-delivered to the front door of the person I wrote the letter to.
This cross-country trip will take 2-3 days.
It will cost me about 50 cents - 2 quarters. 50 pennies!
And some people bitch about the price of stamps.

Many people do not like to touch the door handle when exiting a restroom - that is 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 or with their foot:

Some design objectives:
Easy to clean (holes or gaps will collect gunk).
Easy to install on existing doors of varied materials.
Durable for many uses.
All of these options are good design - each solves a problem with clarity and efficiency.
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.



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.


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.


I had just finished a tour of the Tenement Museum and walked a few blocks to the New Museum in the Lower East Side 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 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.
Lessons
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.



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 and get messy.
Tip: Avoid horizontal surfaces in public spaces, except where absolutely necessary.
Option: Pedestal sinks with shelves and hooks within reach and sight for personal belongings. A larger sink basin would also better contain spray and splash.



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. 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.


Please don't cram things into 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.


So much crap in seatback pockets: 6 pieces of literature. I had to rearrange and neaten them up. I put 3 of the technical pieces inside the 4th, a single fold piece that served as a folder; magazine and catalog in front.

In that 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 the 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. And the bottom crease folds inside the bag, with no extending flaps that can cause snags.


Error in exhibit installation

This is Leaf/Paddle/Petal, one of George Nelson's innovative 1950s-era clocks. He designed clocks so that the hour markings would be oriented in a familiar orientation: the 12 and 6 formed a vertical line and the 3 and 9 formed a horizontal line, as shown in the catalog entry above.
When I visited the Nelson exhibit at the OKC Museum of Art, I noticed immediately that some of the clocks were mounted incorrectly (photo below). Leaf/Paddle/Petal was the most obvious error.

To address the error, I asked a curator at the museum and was abruptly told that I had to contact the exhibit owner, the Vitra Design Museum in Germany; the OKC Museum of Art could do nothing about the mistake. So, I contacted Vitra in Germany and received a response (copied to the museum) that the clocks should have been mounted as shown in the catalog. Major league museums pay better attention to detail when mounting shows.
Lesson: The museum, as the repository and archive of art and design for central Oklahoma, has an obligation to accurately portray designers' intents. The general public, scholars, researchers, and art historians need to be able to trust that the institution will exhibit artifacts correctly.


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. 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.


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. I 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 later returned to Whole Foods, those signs had been replaced (middle sign above).
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:
Some of the text that was set in all caps was changed to U&lc. This does appear more friendly and less demanding.
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.


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, bottle, and Dennis' dad distract from the piece of broccoli on the floor and the action of Dennis pointing to it. Dennis is talking to the dog.
Compare the 3 panels - the far left one more clearly communicates the gag.
Unfortunately, the panel on the far right is the way the cartoon was originally drawn and published.
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.

Caption: "Better duck!"
Do the sign support truss and the overhead lights get in the way of the message that the bridge ahead is low and may hurt Marmaduke's head?
Is this cartoon 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.

How something is viewed is always a matter of perspective.



Took a walk to Starbucks for their new drink - Flat White. Saw this painted sign on the parking lot concrete. Why the unusual B? Did the sign painter use a stencil - the A and R suggest so, but the B doesn't look like a stencil. A few feet away, I happened upon this shadow of the gas meter pipes.

Highway signs should be designed to improve safety while driving





The Union Square 14th Street subway station is a busy one with 7 lines converging and crossing. In the station, I noticed this sign in the tiled wall (above left and enlargement below).

Lesson: As in most arrows, the primary element for communicating direction is the arrowhead, not the stem or the tail. It is the angles of the arrowhead that convey movement.
Below, I deleted the tail. The tail does not aid the comprehension of the meaning of the sign. Therefore, it must go. Seeya.
One sees arrow pulling the eye visually from the street name to the direction of movement. Also shown in the example at the top right - notice which version is easier to understand.



An example in an academic building. The user approaches this recess in the hallway and needs to make a decision on which way to turn. The layout below is easier and quicker to comprehend.

Side-by-side comparisons. Even better: the Men and Women Restroom symbols.


Some other examples of setting sign info Flush Center


Signs at Disney World. The viewer is often tired, dealing with kids, and looking for the easiest and fastest way to get back to their hotel, another park, or the car. The proposed signs have less copy and are easier and quicker to understand.
1. These sign readers do not need to be reminded that their resort is a Disney resort - all the references to Disney just bog down these signs.
2. On the above signs, removing the arrows to gates lessens the confusion with the numbered destinations.
3. Setting the copy Flush Center allows for better proximity of related information.


A better way to list price options on a zoo entry sign

This is an info sign outside the OKC Zoo. It helps the visitor decide which ticket level to purchaser at the booth in a few yards. Great idea to provide this info before approaching the window - it should help speed up the ticket buying process and help the line move faster. However, there are some issues with the layout of this sign - the most egregious is that the General Admission prices are hidden in a different format in the purple band across the very bottom. Easy to overlook and assume that the only pricing options are the ones listed in the chart.
Improvements
• Titled General Admission as Walk it All to better match Ride it All and Zoo it All. When the options are to Walk or Ride, that may be an an easy choice for some.
• Added Walk it All prices at the top of the chart to better respect the customer.
• Clarified the pricing options and the benefits by attaching the colored bands to their respective benefit column.
• Arranged the columns in increasing order: Ages 3-11, 12-64, 65+ - Children, Adults, Seniors.
• Enlarged the ages row for easier readability.
• Narrowed the columns so that all info could be enlarged.
Below: Another example of a clearer layout:


A better way to show wayfinding direction

Most signs have multiple bits of info: object name, direction, eligibility, rules, etc. From a distance (as in a car), some signs can be overwhelming and too busy. Different methods are used to help organize information - bands, symbols, consistent fonts and point sizes, and arrows. An arrow denotes direction. Almost all of the directional information comes from the arrowhead, rather than the stem. The stem can help with orientation, but, in many cases, is not even necessary.

Color coding for left, right, and straight on directional signs
Idea: To improve the long-distance recognition of an arrow, the arrow can be color coded to enhance meaning, improve comprehension, and shorten the processing time.

Right

Left

 Straight ahead


These colors make sense. Red states/blue states: conservative red leans to the right and blue to the left. Green means go, closely connected to straight ahead. Their meanings are already familiar. Transferring the symbolism to directional arrows would require little, if any, education and learning period. Repeated and consistent usage would increase the exposure and subliminal education.

Advantages
• The viewer can see direction at a glance.
• Colors have some familiar meaning, making them easier to learn and understand.
• They are easy to remember.
• Quicker to comprehend.
• Primary colors are universal.


Coloring options
Colored background. Colored arrow. Colored arrow and colored text
Of course, the layout should be arranged to place the arrows on the left with the place names following, as in the middle example above.

In this example, the color coding of the attractions is not necessary - the user doesn't have enough repeated exposure or time to learn and remember the color coding (and white on yellow is tough to see). The user is more likely to recognize the words and word shapes 'Convention Center' than the color blue. In the revised example on the right, the background color should be changed to enhance the contrast of the arrows.

Confusing wayfinding sign

In the 2014-remodeled Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, this is the hallway approach from the museum to the Cafe, Garden, Restrooms, and elevator. Currently, the symbol for Up (an up arrow) is the same as the symbol for Straight Ahead (an up arrow). So, here, while the garden and restrooms are down the stairs to the right, the Up arrow for Straight Ahead suggests that one should go to the left and use the elevator to go up. Unfortunately, this faux pas (among several others in the new museum) is in America's national museum dedicated to design - this museum should be at the forefront of clear wayfinding communication.
The solution is simple: In this case, since going straight ahead requires the user to go down, use a down arrow:

Aligning the text to the side it refers to also provides cues for wayfinding. Henry Dreyfuss, the great Industrial Designer, stated, in this very museum, that good design should be obvious and intuitive.

Above & below: Nice exterior sign at the Cooper Hewitt garden entrance.


Case: All caps or Upper & lower

The outline shape of the letters helps the viewer comprehend the word. Time is important when a driver should be attentive to traffic and road conditions. Setting text in upper & lower case provides unique shapes that words set in all upper case do not:

More info about bouma.
Below: ClearView typeface - designed for US Highway signs, 2004.


A parking sign simplified so more people can understand it

Of all the communication tools our cities use, parking signs are often among the most confusing. There are arrows pointing every which way, ambiguous meter and permit instructions. It's easy to imagine that beyond basic tests for legibility, most of these signs have never been vetted by actual drivers. Nikki Sylianteng was sick of getting tickets when she lived, drove, and parked in LA. The Brooklyn-based designer realized that with just a little more focus on communication design, parking signs could be useful and more easily understood.
The downfall of most parking signs is that they have limited area to communicate multiple conditions and restrictions. Instead of using a text-based design, Sylianteng translated all of the information into a visual explanation that answered two main questions:
    1. Can I park here?
    2. And for how long?

"I just visualized what I construct in my head when I'm reading the sign," she says. Her latest design features a parking schedule that shows a whole 24 hours for every day of the week. The times you can park are marked by blocks of green, the times you can't are blocked in a candy-striped red and white. But Sylianteng says there's really no need for the extraneous detailed information we've become accustomed to. "I've never looked at a sign and felt like there was any value in knowing why I couldn't park. These designs don't say why, but the 'what' is very clear."

Sylianteng is considering some improvements:
• Colorblindness - the red and green are part of the legacy design from current signs, but she might change the colors to a more universal blue.
• Incorporate more parking rules without reverting back to the information overload she was trying to avoid in the first place.
Jim Watson added the version on the far right above, removing unused space - less visually obtrusive and requiring less metal and, therefore, cheaper to produce.
Sylianteng has been going around Manhattan and Brooklyn hanging up the revamped parking signs. "A friend of mine called it functional graffiti," she says. She'll stick a laminated version right below the city-approved version and ask drivers to leave comments. So far, she's gotten pretty good feedback. "The is awesome. The mayor should hire you."

A blogger from Singapore was inspired by Nikki's work and proposed another version:


Pesky shapes that don't belong

Notice how those triangles of black along the bottoms of the letters are a bit annoying? Or they should be. Designers can now easily improve the clarity of the typography - there is no longer a reason to ever say, "That's the way it came back from the typesetter." (That was a common excuse in the old days).
Setting type in outline fonts requires a bit of extra finesse - it is up to the designer to check for those pesky captured blobs and take care of them. Fill in the captured spaces or explore different point sizes for the fill and the stroke.



An example of a better sign that has an outline font
This is at an entrance to a hospital, often where frantic worried people are looking for help. Notice that the most important word on the sign below is the hardest to read. At least it's in red.

A better sign below right and some of the issues that have been addressed:
• Set the copy flush left for items that direct to the left and flush right for directing to the right.
• Moved arrows to the flush margin of each side. Now they visually help communicate direction.
• Removed the stems on the arrows (info is conveyed by the arrowhead, not the stem).
• Enlarged the arrows.
• Tightened the leading for locations that take up 2 lines to improve proximity and clarity.
• Enlarged point size and increased the kerning of the outline font.


A better place to mount a store's hours sign

A new CVS drug store opened nearby. But, the sign denoting the hours of operation could be in a better place - one that better respects the needs of their customers.
When do we need to read the Hours sign? Most often, when the store is closed. When it's open, we just walk right in - the doors are even automatic - they open up for us as we approach.

Scenario: One gets to the doors and they don't open. Is the store closed? They look for the posted hours. Since the customer is standing right in front of the doors, he/she looks to the right, then to the left, but no sign is visible.
The Hours sign is currently located at A below. If it is moved to location B, it would be visible from the front doors. It would be to the right, where most people are likely to look first.
Lesson: See through the eyes of the user. Not the sign installer.


Above: Where the sign is currently located. Below: A better location for the sign:


Which door is the better location for the sign, Please Use Other Door?

This is the building where I go for Physical Therapy (injured shoulders). The entrance is under the gable on the left, with the sign. Under the right gable is a set of double doors. It was necessary to post a sign telling first-time users to use the doors to the left. But, there are 2 doors on which to mount a sign.

The one above left is a bit better. The one above right could logically and, somewhat clearly, be pointing to the door to the immediate left, not the far left.

Busy and clumsy signage at the Houston airport

Most airports are improving the design of their signs. Not in Houston - the new signs are worse, a step backward in thoughtful wayfinding. A few observations:
1. Too many useless symbols: escalator? Who wanders an airport wondering where an escalator is? The user is seeking a destination, baggage, taxi, etc. An escalator is a conveyance to get one to a destination. The train symbol? Again, that is a conveyance. The train gets one to another terminal (A-E).
2. Plane symbol (?) and Gates on separate lines.
3. Inconsistent format - either use all text, all symbols, or symbols with text. Here it is all symbols with only one translated in text: Baggage Claim/Ground Transportation, which is also represented by recognizable and familiar symbols.
4. Condensed font. Inconsistently applied.
5. Caps/Small Caps.
6. Too many redundant arrows.
7. Blank panels have no value and add to the clutter.


Above: Existing. Below: Improvements



Unnecessary and counterproductive signs

The photo on the left is of a signboard in the WinterGarden atrium in the Brookfield Place (formerly the World Financial Center). It publicizes upcoming events on the monitor at the top of the unit. Okay, so far. But look at the sign added to the base - 'Please do not step or sit on base'. Bad design. Instead of a sign telling people what they cannot do, design the unit so there is no tempting seating area. Then, there is no need for a sign. The solution here is not about designing a better sign, its about designing better units - to be more respectful of their environment and more user-friendly.
Below: The OKC Museum of Art has instructed the gallery guards to warn visitors not to stand up on the base in this exhibit. Better: Don't build a base (which is unnecessary for the exhibit) that looks tempting to stand on.


Confusing location for an informational sign

This 'More Parking' sign is located in block-long retail/restaurant strip in an urban naborhood. The purpose of the sign is to inform visitors to the restaurants and bars that there is more parking behind the building and then to guide them to that lot. But the sign is mounted in the middle of the block. It is impossible to get to the parking lot from this location.

Blue arrow - the only entrance to More Parking.
Red dot - where the sign is located.
Blue dot - where the sign should be located.

Seems so obvious and simple, doesn't it. Makes ya wonder what some people think about. "Tell people there's more parking behind the buildings." If the decision makers had just seen it through the driver's eyes, the slightly frustrated one looking for a parking place, they would, hopefully, have been more considerate.
Empathy is so crucial for effective design.

Good example of bad text copy on a sign
This sign was at the airport security checkpoint where travelers move into the concourse.
ALL PERSONNEL ARE TO USE THE MAIN EXIT TO THE WEST OF THE BUILDING
Issues:
1. Personnel Sounds like government or military jargon. I doubt the general flying public thinks of themselves as personnel.
2. Main exit Why would anyone know which exits are main and which are secondary? We entered one way and we want to exit another way.
3. To the west Have you been in airport? After a ride to the airport or parking your car, walking through hallways, up to counters, and through security lines, do people really know which way is west? Doubt it. Nor do they care.
4. The copy has a Prohibited or No symbol over it, thereby suggesting all the copy is wrong.
This is a great example of design from the inside out - from the viewpoint of the TSA person in charge of putting up a sign. To that person, the copy makes perfect sense - he/she is 'personnel', they know which exit is the 'main' one, and they know where west is.
Most important lesson: See through the eyes of the user, not the designer.


Thoughtful placement of a door sign

Kudos to whoever mounted these restroom signs. He/she considered the user's line of sight, especially as they walked down this hall seeking the restroom. Instead of placing the 'Men' placard in the middle of the door (as is normally done), here they moved it to the left which allows it to be seen while one approaches the door, rather than waiting until one is upon the door.

A better way to respect the desperate customer

I was on my way to the restroom at some C-store on I-70 between Illinois and West Virginia. There was this great Restrooms sign over the hallway - it was easily visible from the front door. Nice job! I headed down the hall, but didn't know where the Men's room was until almost in front of the doors. So much clearer and easier to navigate if there had been signs posted on that back wall. So simple and so effective. More on Sign Design.


More thoughtful sign orientation

A 'blade' sign - one that is perpendicular to its background - is more appropriate as it faces the customer approaching from the side. Those above are in a Target store.
Many signs are placed on storefronts facing out. However, many stores are first seen from a severe angle as the viewer approaches the store along the street, sidewalk, concourse, or mall corridor. Signs are typically rendered and designed on paper (or screen) in an architect's office, not on site. When presented to the client, the storefront and the sign look great. But, that doesn't mean it is good design. To be good, it must work for the reader, viewer, user.

This is a new entry to the Fulton Street subway station. This facade looked great in renderings and in presentations. But, look at it as the viewer will see it - while approaching from either direction. The ends of the marquee that face the viewer are blank. The face with the signage faces a blank wall across the narrow street.


Design principle: Signs should be designed and mounted to face their viewers
Lesson: Appropriate design decisions are made through the eyes of the user, the target audience, not the designer nor the client
Tip: Empathize with the user - pretend you are a customer and view the entity as if you have never been there.

Above is a storefront that may have looked fine in the architectural rendering, but is poorly designed for actual use.
At many airports, the traveler looks down long corridors on their way to their gate. Along the way, there are food and gift shops, but their signs face across the corridor - to the opposite wall, not to the potential customers walking and riding down the corridor who see the storefronts from an extreme angle.

I stopped at this store and asked the clerk, "What is this place?" She told me. I said, where's the sign? She walked me out into the corridor far enough so I could look up and see the letters mounted on top of the projecting white eave (top). I pointed out that no one walking along the concourse could see the sign. She said exasperatedly, "I know - there should be something on the back wall." (which is completely blank.) And she pointed where. I pointed to the projecting wall that faces the oncoming travelers and said, "How about right there where people can see it?" "Great idea! I'll tell my boss."
Lesson: Store clerks will sometimes tell you shit just to get you to go away.


Look how nice these storefronts are and how dramatic their signs are. But, notice below, the view the potential customer has as they approach the store - you can't see the sign at all. And there are those great crossbeams that could easily support store signage.


It is impossible to see the Tony Roma's sign from either direction. Not until one is directly across from it and backed up against the far wall.

The airport signs and the hanging banners are all faced correctly - towards the reader. But, not the store signs. I suspect the architect and the airport approver saw some nice renderings from straight on, and, of course, they would look impressive. But as in most thoughtless design, they did not put themselves in the point-of-view of the user, the target audience. If they had, they more likely would have realized that the signs were not as effective as they could be.
Update: The remodeled shops at the OKC airport got the signage right - these blade signs are perpendicular to the facades that face the viewer while walking down the concourse.



There are signs for 3 food services here. You can recognize Starbucks more easily because all of their signs are facing us we approach. The other two we aren't able to read until we get right in front of them. Often in an airport, we look down a corridor to find or plan our food and gift needs. Some people may just wander with time to kill and these forward facing signs may then be adequate, but for the more hurried traveler, the signs facing down the corridor are more appreciated.
Lesson: Take a moment to see the world through the user's eyes. It can often be quite a different view. Much more important and appropriate.

Trivia: Most airport codes make sense - DFW for Dallas/Ft Worth, JFK: JFK in NYC, OKC for Oklahoma City. But Chicago O'Hare has a code of ORD.
Here's why: The airport was built on a site that local residents were very familiar with - an orchard. It was even known as The Orchard, so the code designators may have been inspired by that and thus, ORD, Orchard.

At the Conrad Hotel in Manhattan, the sign is at the front of the canopy, facing a wall and a bench. Everyone who needs to read the sign will approach it from an angle; and clearly see the side of the canopy first, not the front face. On the plan of the building, it may have looked okay to specify a sign on the canopy facing out. But, the designer didn't consider the building in its context - there is another building in the way of viewing the sign. The Regal blade sign ( left fotos above and below) is for the movie theater. That sign faces the oncoming traffic. The Conrad sign faces only the guys sitting on the bench.

Below are examples in a standard shopping mall.


The store past Foot Locker on the right - can you read the sign? Even when straight across from it (below on the right), it's still tough to read.



This is the sign at Sara Sara Cupcakes (please ignore the low contrast in the logo and the poor legibility and readability.) The sign looks okay in this foto and probly looked good in an architectural rendering.

Primary target market/audiences: those who have decided to go to SaraSara Cupcakes
1. Regular repeat customers: they know where the store is, they don't need a sign.
2. Infrequent customers: those who know where it is but may need a reminder or confirmation that they are at the right place.
3. New customers: those ignorant of its location - they need guidance.
Secondary target: those who see the sign and/or building and may make an impulse decision to get a cupcake.

This is the sign (just left of center) as viewed by the sign reader. Well, at least, the edge of the sign.
Problem: The sign faces a small parking lot across the street. Most of their customers and potential customers, probly all of them, will see the sign, at a sharp angle, from farther down the street.

Solutions
1. Rotate the sign 90 degrees so that the sign faces the oncoming traffic.
2. Duplicate the sign on the other side to face traffic coming from the other direction.

Above is a photo that I altered in Photoshop to show the sign oriented correctly.
Below are photos, shot a year later, of the sign after they rotated the sign to orient it correctly.


Lesson: Design only from the POV of the user (the target audience, the reader). Not the client, client's spouse, friends, nor the designer.
Tip: For maximum recognition, design and install signs to face the reader, not face sideways to the reader.

Bonus design tips for the SaraSara logo
1. Increase the weight of the letter strokes (the thin strokes are too thin for easy readability.)
2. Darken the text for improved legibility, readability, and comprehension.

This sign at another location is better. The sign faces oncoming traffic and has darker text.

A better size and location for a pathway sign

This is the brand new Peter Minuit Plaza in front of the Staten Island Ferry building at the very tip of Manhattan. The bike lane and pedestrian sidewalk split here - bikes to the left, walkers to the right. But, it is so easy to not notice the sign - it is too small and too high up on the sign pole. Often, I see pedestrians walk along the bike lane and the cyclists either go around them or call out that they're about to pass them ("On your left.")
Below is how it could be - easier to notice and understand.

Lessons: Place signs at eye level. Make them large enough to be easily noticed.

Inconsistent store name and signage


The Sumo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar or Sumo-Restaurant Steak & Sushi Bar or Sumo Japanese House

Lessons
• A consistent business name helps build strong store recognition.
• Consistency of logo images builds brand awareness.

The renewal Spa & Salon or renewal salon & spa or RENEWAL SALON



Some tips
• Avoid mounting signs where they will be hidden by parked cars.
• Replace signs once they no longer present a good image for your business or client.

Sign layout of poor quality

I was out walking the dogs and came up on this sign. I just stood there wondering what I was looking at.
This sign conveys thoughtless decoration, not design. Even though the sign text says 'Quality'.
Elements that don't make much sense
• The octagon with an X in it - Does it mean Stop? No good? Railroad crossing?
• Stencil typeface, familiar to wooden shipping crates and the military.
• Row of red dots above the phone number.
• 3 black triangles in the corners, drawing our eye and pointing out away from the center.
• 3 angled red lines in the 4th corner, reminding me of this:

The purpose of the sign is to solicit new business by impressing someone that this would be a good company to call for home renovation.
Lesson: Before just arranging elements in a somewhat random format, good designers explore the attitude the client wants the reader to walk away with. Here, the attitude would be improving one's living space, with construction performed by a professional competent crew. The decisions concerning the font, colors, layout, text placement, and images should all work towards the goal of conveying quality and renovation in a way that is well thought out.

Examples of poor contrast

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 :)"


The sign above is mounted on the brick wall just above the Handicap parking sign in the picture below. If you were driving by looking for the sign on that building, I suspect you would miss it completely. What a waste of money. Fortunately, they paid for some other signs that, although in a different font, are much easier to see.


Above: The Hyatt Place hotel has brownish letters on a brown background with a light bar behind the letters.
Below: The Tile Shop

Good contrast: Yellow, orange, and red on #7 grey.
Poor contrast: #8 grey on #7 grey.


On the Sprint sign (far right) the yellow reads well - the contrast is strong - yellow or white on black is easy to read. But, the yellow on white in the words Touch and Truck are just too close in value to be easily read.

The designer convinced the airline that a light font set in light grey on greybeige would be trendy and cool. No one thought to see it as the passenger would - it is tough to find and even tougher to read. I witnessed 2 people plop down in the wrong seat and numerous people pause to decipher their seat location. Remember, this is while boarding (usually after delays and airport chaos) and while the airline is desperately telling passengers to hurry up and find their seat. The design firm slowed down the boarding process because they failed to design from the user's point of view.



A thoughtless unnecessary sign. The scene: a hallway just off the main entrance to the Museum of Art on the Princeton University campus. On the right side of the hall is a mounted mosaic artwork with a wooden cabinet underneath. Concern: apparently people had been leaving items on top of the cabinet and the staff was worried that the mosaic above might be damaged. Assumptions:
1. People had a need for a horizontal surface on which to set things.
2. The mosaic is fragile (even though there is a water fountain and bench under the mosaic).
Staff solution: ignore the need of the users and post a sign demanding that nothing be left on top of the cabinet.
Better solution: Move the cabinet. See the wall opposite - move the far bench to under the mosaic (that must be okay since there's already one bench on the mosaic wall) and put the cabinet where the bench was. That groups all storage units - coat rack, shelves, and cabinet - together and groups two benches underneath the mosaic.
Another example of thoughtless design: stuff on cabinet, must be outlawed, post a sign. But that solution is shallow, doesn't take into account the needs of the building user, and places restrictions on behavior. All unnecessary.

Great design should be about content and substance - not gimmicks or pretty pictures. Great work should be honest, true, and full of integrity.

A store sign above the awning

This scene in Queens, New York, shows some new storefronts with their shiny signs mounted above the awning - out of sight of the pedestrians. Did I mention this was NYC, where most people get around by walking? This is yet one more example of the designer looking at a rendering of the store and admiring the sign above the door. But, if more designers would see their work through the eyes of the target audience (in this case, walkers on the sidewalk), they might spot these poor design decisions. There can still be signs above awnings for drivers or people across the street, but these need to be supplemented by signs that project from the facade, perpendicular to the building - facing the pedestrian as he/she looks down the block. One of the stores in the foto does have a colorless logomark projecting, but its not quite enough to capture the attention of those unfamiliar with this area.



Less chaotic design for print and digital event tickets
I'm in New York and I have a ticket to the Steely Dan concert. I had bought the ticket earlier in the spring thinking it would be a real hoot to be at a concert of a group that I enjoyed in the 1970s. It was also at the Beacon Theater, a beautiful old theater on the Upper West Side. Leaving the apartment for the subway, I wanted to put the ticket in my wallet - I wanted it to be safe. Bit it didn't fit, I had to fold it in half. I got to thinking - why can't tickets be the same size as the MetroCard or a credit card. At the theater, the entry scanner went through a routine I had seen at many theaters - she had to turn her scanner so it could read the bar code. Up in the balcony I handed my ticket to an usher. He had to turn the ticket so he could read the row/seat info. He also had to turn on a flashlight since the theater was dim and the TicketMaster ticket copy was very hard to read (I challenge you to dim the lights and then to quickly find the row and seat number on the ticket below). I sat down and started sketching. I realized that, with the scanning technology used now, there is no longer a real need for the long rectangular shape and size of the ticket. There had to be a better way.

Existing TicketMaster ticket

A better ticket design

Advantages/features

The proposed design is more convenient, safe, allows quicker crowd control, and provides easier entry and seating.
1. Credit card size ticket fits in a wallet or pocketbook and is less likely to be lost or torn.
2. Larger row/seat info is easier to read.
3. Contrast and reversed type allows easier reading in dim light. The section codes (listed below) are easy to learn by ushers. They are based on intuitive logic.
4. Orientation allows more efficient process - the scanner doesn't have to turn the scanner nor the ticket. The usher doesn't have to turn the ticket around or over.

Orientation consistency

The proposed layout allows the scanner and the usher to read the ticket info no matter how the customer presents the ticket - the front and back have identical row/seat info and the two ends of each side are identical. Neither the scanner nor the usher would ever have to turn a ticket over or rotate it to get to the bar code or row/seat info.

New procedure
1. The customer reads the ticket to double check the date and time and later to see which door or gate to enter.
2. At the theater, the customer shows the ticket at the entrance where an employee with a scanner scans the ticket. Since the bar code will always be in the same relative location on the ticket, the scanner won't have to search for it, they can just scan the entire end of the ticket.
3. At the aisle, the usher can easily see the white info - double checks the section and then spots the row and seat number.

I doodled these while sitting in the Beacon Theater. I was influenced by several things:
• The NYC Transit MetroCard that is credit card sized and fits in my wallet. I had just used it to get to the theater.
• An earlier ticket redesign I did for Mitchell Hall in Edmond (see below).
• The dollar bill redesign that was identical when rotated or turned over (more).
• Watching the frustration on the faces of the scanners and ushers.
• Exploring ways to allow the entry line to move faster and more efficiently.

Target audiences
1. The ticket taker (scanner) at the theater/arena entrance
2. The usher/seater who guides the customer to his/her seat
3. The customer who is using the ticket at the event
4. Someone who bought the ticket as a gift for the customer
5. The ticket seller

Earlier redesign of a theater ticket

Mitchell Hall on the UCO campus is a 1920s era theater used for drama, dance, and music, lectures, and speakers events. Above is a sample of a1993 ticket. Notice the small size of the section, row, and seat number. Below is a proposed version that is clearer. The text copy on the back of the ticket is the same as on the back of the existing ticket.

Advantages
• Larger text copy for the seating info.
• Reverse (white on black) seating info for easier reading in the dimly lit theater.
• Identical halves so the usher can view either end - no need to flip the ticket to its proper orientation.

Cheaper and greener eTickets
eTickets are a relatively new phenomenon in our culture. Below is an emailed ticket from Telecharge. The instructions say to print the entire page. However, I don't want to waste the toner, both black and color, to print all the useless advertising and instructions. So I erase all the unnecessary info and graphics and desaturate the color to grey. Then I print:

So far, no ticket scanner has questioned the somewhat-blank page. And I doubt they will - their scanner reads all the info it needs and the scanning person is free to move on to the next person in the crush of entering patrons.

The ticket below for the Met Opera is a much better design - no color and no ink-wasting ads and easier to read copy. But, I still reduced the black ink used by deleting the promo copy and redundant info.

Below is the eTicket for the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. I deleted the fine print, the map, and decreased the saturation and contrast to minimize the black toner. I folded the page in thirds so the scanner person and other ticket checkers would not see the missing pieces. It worked well. Not even a second glance.


A better design of an eTicket
Telecharge, as in the sample above, simply scanned the traditional print ticket and put it into a digital format. Designers should design for the new medium, not just adapt from a former one. I was first exposed to this design principle, design for the medium, by Mary at Brookhaven College in the early 1980s. The college had hired me to develop some interactive programs for teaching art principles. Mary discussed with me that I shouldn't take existing lessons from textbooks and display them on the screen. Rather I should understand the new medium (an Apple II computer) and its capabilities and design to fit that. What a great lesson. Thank you, Mary!

Objectives for eTicket design
• Easy to understand, use, and carry.
• Maintain some connection to a printed ticket for familiarity and improve acceptance.
• Print seat info to be easily seen in darkened venues.
• Require minimal toner to be used.
• Design ticket to print on standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.



• The folding instructions allow the page to transform to a more convenient pocket-size. The folding is simple - fold the page in half, twice. There is no need for dotted lines or guides on the page since it is easier to just align the corners and fold in half.
• The dots in the corners serve to help center the page image in the print dialog box.
• All the info is in 1 color, to save the color cartridge. Minimal copy helps save the black cartridge.
• The seating info is at the bottom so it can be thrust toward the scanner/usher.
• Easy to find and view seat info, even in low light. Large seat, row, etc. numbers; set reverse (light on dark).

Side-by-side comparisons



Some options for future exploration
There could be two versions: a printer-friendly version and a souvenir keepsake version with full-color graphics.
The space on the page can be used to disseminate more information: directions to venue, seating chart, rules of the venue, and sponsors of the event. Some people buy their ticket weeks in advance and may forget exactly where their seat is. Out-of-town tourists might appreciate info on directions and parking. All the additional info should still be in black only with minimal line.

Dates
Beacon Theater visit: June 13, 2007
Sketches of print version: June 2007
Idea and sketches of eTicket layout: May 2009
Comps of eTickets: August 2012

Typographic design improves readability and comprehension

Writing text copy for clarity
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) works to build better lives and improve adult literacy. It describes 5 levels of literacy:
  1: Read short pieces of text to locate a single piece of information with no other competing info.
  2: Read medium-length pieces of text, match text to information, and paraphrase with little other competing info.
  3: Read longer, denser text, navigate complex digital tasks, follow multi-step instructions, and disregard irrelevant content.
  4: Synthesize information from complex texts, evaluate claims made according to evidence provided, and consider conflicting info in context.
  5: Able to search for and integrate information from multiple sources to make an argument and evaluate reliability of source material. Understands rhetorical cues and specialized background knowledge.
According to research by the OECD in 2016, "over 40% of adults in Canada have only level 1 or level 2 literacy." That means the more complex we make our copy (the less we use plain language), the harder it will be for potential customers to understand what we offer. We should be more aware of low adult literacy levels while writing text copy.

There are 3 spatial relationships that good designers thoughtfully consider:
Leading - the space between lines of text copy.
Word spacing - the space between words in a headline, subhead, or a line of text copy.
Kerning, or letterspacing - the space between letters within a word.

There are 8 ways to set blocks of text copy:

A few guidelines
• The way that best facilitates reading long blocks of copy (like in a book or magazine) is FLRR.
• Flush Center is used primarily for lists and data.

Better arrangements of columns of info in the flush center format


Tips for better kerning and letterspacing
Kerning is a visual assessment of the negative space between pairs of letters.
There is no mathematical formula nor shortcut system to determine proper spacing. It is an inherent or developed design sense - what looks good. Making decisions about kerning provide the only opportunity in the process of producing design solutions in which the justification, 'because it looks good' is acceptable - all other decisions require solid rationale based on logic and meeting the objectives of the design problem.
The goal of good kerning is for the text copy to achieve an even visual greyness, a consistent volume of mass between each letter pair. One must also consider the counters within letters, the point size, the weight of the font, and the condensed or extended letterforms, and the width of the letterstrokes. There should be a perceived similar volume of space within each kerning pair.

During the days of hand typesetting, the act of kerning meant to cut away parts of the wood or metal type so that letters could be set closer together. In the example below, the A and T in Math can't physically get any closer together, creating inconsistent spacing compared to the gaps between the M & A and T & H. Once parts of the type are kerned, the A and T can be spaced more consistent with the other letter pairs.


Originally, the term meant only to tighten the space between letters. Then the term fell out of use. It was reincarnated with the popularity of computer software and typesetting. But, when reintroduced, it then meant both to tighten and loosen the space between letters, a synonym for letterspacing.

The sign lettering on the right should look better to you.

Poor ONL  Y kerning at a restaurant drive-thru.
Tip: To assess kerning, view the piece from the side or upside down. Often, the kerning gaps are more obvious.
This example is so extreme, there's no need for such tips, but its a good one to remember for future use.

Apparently, in this case, the painter spaced each letter equidistantly. But, that is not how letters should be kerned. The space between pairs of letters should simply be a more consistent visual mass, not an accurate measurement.

Existing and improved.
Lesson: A typeset word should read as a single cohesive unit, not a collection of individual letters. We do not read letter by letter but by taking a retinal picture of several words at one time. Inconsistent kerning disrupts the smooth flow of reading.
Update: A few months later, I noticed that new symbols had been painted on the asphalt. You can spot the original letters beneath the new. While the kerning is still not great, it is better.



In the original ad on the left, the movie title WORDS is awkwardly spaced - too much between the RD pair and not enough between the DS pair and on either side of the O. The leg of the R is pushing the DS away. The rest of the word needed more air to better respect the large counters inside the O and the D. On the right is a version with better kerning.
Lesson: Kerning is not always tightening space (even though that was its original definition), it can also be loosening space. Consider the counters of letters, serifs, and unique strokes. Kerning should achieve an even 'greyness' among the letters within a word.
Tip: Sometimes it helps to turn the text upside down - this allows the right brain to see shapes and not read the word; the awkward spaces can become more obvious:

Kerning is not mechanical, measured, dimensionally consistent, or evenly spaced. It is visually consistent grey-mass negative space.













I had to go the Aurarius website to verify that it wasn't supposed to be Aur Arius.

The ad below for their 2014 tour and the word Fleetwood is not kerned with the same attention to detail. Condensed fonts such as this one require some delicate kerning adjustment (letter spacing). The designer should consider not only the space between letters, but also the space within the counters of the individual letters. This FLEETWOOD appears to be mechanically spaced - the same amount of space between each letter pair. Successful kerning is achieved optically - does it look good.
Note: this is just about the only time when it is okay for a designer to justify a design decision just because it looks good.
The letters in Fleet each have only a single vertical stroke while each letter in Wood and Mac have two or more vertical strokes. This reads as F L E E T WOOD MAC:
Remember the tip: turn your work sideways or upside down to better see shapes, not letters, to make the kerning more obvious:

Below left: the existing. Below right: proposed. The FLEET has been tightened up and the WOOD MAC has been loosened. The objective of kerning is to achieve an even 'greyness'. If you squint your eyes or blur an image, the positive and negative space appears in a more consistent mass with few glaring light or dark spots.
Notice in the enlargements below:
1. I extended the triangular points farther into the W - this helps reduce some of the mass formed when two letter strokes converge.
2. I shortened the arms of the Es (and the F and L)
Compare existing and improved. Of course, I had to go ahead and justify the two lines of copy:





Please avoid mixing serif and sans serif letters in one word.

Some of my favorite mind games are the ones where you fill in squares according to a grid of number clues. The one above is from an app called Pixelogic. The solved puzzle, on the left, has a capital J with serifs at the top of the letterstroke while the other letters are sans serif. On the right is how that J should look - sans serif to match the letters in the rest of the word.

A serif is a 'foot' or cross piece at the end of a letterstroke. Serifs probly became popular in the Roman Empire when stone carvers cut perpendicular strokes into the rock thinking it might help prevent the rock from cracking along the stroke. Although that's just a theory - we'll never know for sure why serifs, which are unnecessary appendages, were added to the letterstrokes.

How did this silly J happen?
1. Often the J and the I have those horizontal bars to fill up space. Some fonts are designed as fixed-width fonts - that is, each letter has the same amount of space to fill and those skinny letters need additional strokes to fill out their given allotment. Numbers are often fixed-width (hence the cross bar at the base of the number 1) so that when arrayed in an accounting of figures, they would align in consistent columns. However, with the manipulation qualities inherent in digital fonts, there is little need for fixed-width fonts anymore. And the fixed-width reason is still no excuse for designers today to specify a J or an I with serifs if the rest of the font has none.
2. Some writing teachers taught kids to render a J that way, no good reason, probly because they were themselves taught that way. It may go all the way back to one school teacher in Boston or Philadelphia in the early 1700s.

I may have done something similar at Preston Hollow Elementary School. The teacher was demonstrating how to draw individual letters. We started with the letter A (natch). I drew the circle portion first (per instructions) and then, instead of drawing the vertical stroke through the right side of the circle, I drew it a small distance away. Realizing my mistake, I added a horizontal line to connect the two, simply as a reminder to me later to combine the two strokes into a single letter. However, the student behind me leaned in and admitted she didn't get it and she copied what I had drawn - affirming that it was a correct letter A. No, no, I protested - that's just my code. And I showed her an accurate A. But, imagine if I hadn't corrected her - she would have sworn a lower case A had three lines - a circle, a vertical stroke, and a connector.

The origin of the J with the top crossbar may be just as random.

Lesson: Make design decisions based on what works most efficiently and what enhances the message most clearly, not just on what comes up on the computer screen. Avoid mixing serif and sans serif letters.
Tip: To be more consistent and appropriate, avoid fixed-width fonts or fonts that mix serif and sans serif letters.


Samples of serif fonts: Times New Roman, Bodoni

Samples of sans serif fonts: Helvetica, Franklin Gothic

The I and J in the classic font, Comic Sans


Note: Please do not write tirades about the use of Comic Sans. Hating a typeface (or a color or shape) is a symptom of a poor designer. Great designers pass judgment on design elements only based on how they might relate to the solution of the communication problem. Biased hatred, while often prevalent, has no positive value in design.

Before & After examples




DIVVY is Chicago's bike sharing system. The Big Idea - the concept that drives the logo and the branding is stacking the Vs in the name DIVVY to form arrows that convey motion. That is pretty nice - exploiting characters inherent in the name to convey the identity.

But the serifs on the I (or is that a sideways H?) distract from the main idea - the concept is weakened by using a serif letter within a sans serif name. Below is the word DIVVY in Futura, Helvetica, Myriad, and Comic Sans:

And here are some of the exploratory sketches from the original design showing the I with no serifs:

An improved version

Without those out-of-place serifs, the mark more clearly conveys the concept. There is less clutter and less competition for a barb in the reader's mind.
This serifed I is also problematic because the logo is often seen at an angle that makes the H even more obvious.


I saw this banner in a sports clinic. Including an I with serifs in a line with no other serifed letters is inappropriate and looks awkward. Below, I photoshopped those dang serifs out of there. Not only does it work better, it better respects the condensed Futura font, the original NIKE type treatment with the swoosh.





Avoid mixing case (upper & lower) within a word

This Homecoming spirit sign is supposed to read Iba Hall, not Iba Haii or Lba Hall

Trying a new restaurant for a fix of Margarita and Tex-Mex, I saw this blackboard at the hostess counter. It clearly reads AIFREDORITA (enlargement below). Seems like it should have said ALFREDITA - a Margarita from Alfredo's. I pointed this out to a couple of the seaters - they just responded with blank stares. I tried to explain to them the difference between an L and an I, but gave up when I realized they just didn't care. And, BTW: the quote marks are useless and inappropriate.
Below: Just read it and see how awkward mixing upper and lower is:
PIAYITST

Please state the day of the week when stating a date. Thank you.
• Added the day of the week to the date.
• Deleted the misleading useless vertical line after the date.
• 'Leaving for OKC' is redundant - the headline says 'goes to OKC'. 'Leaving OSU' is more appropriate and easier to understand.
• Enriched the green a bit for greater contrast and readability.
• Changed the arrangement of the text blocks to read in a more logical, clearer order.
• Tightened the word spacing in the headline.

More examples and rationale for adding the day of the week to a date.


Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period. An article every designer should read.



A reader gets more info from the top half of the letters.

Font selection

In some print media, there is ink spread - the ink on an absorbent paper can ooze past its intended boundary. Notice how the gap in the 'i' in Credit and Corinthia has filled in, making the letter look like an L, rather than an I. In this case, most readers will still read the correct words, but sometimes the ink spread can alter readability.

A different typeface (on the right above) would have clarified these letterforms in this instance.


Why you shouldn't italicize the font Garamond
Garamond is a beautiful typeface. The original face by Claude Garamond has inspired numerous current faces. However, when italicized - the letter 'h' looks like a 'b' in body copy and the right foot looks broken - it has folded in on itself. Ouch. Instead of italicizing Garamond, try another classic Roman serif font.
Tip: Be careful selecting/specifying Garamond if there will be an Italic 'h' in the copy.


Placing text over image
Rarely does this work. The dimensionality of the image is flattened by placing text on top. Contrast and clarity is usually impaired
Tip: If you want the image to be seen, don't put text over it. If you want the text to be read, don't put an image behind it.

Be careful when setting type with thin letter strokes

They often just drop out and are very tough to read. Saw the promo card above in a coffee shop. Even closer, it is still hard to read.

Below: This is not a good use of the given space for the message. And if the space is used better, there's no need to condense and distort the letterforms:


Outline fonts rarely work well on signs or in print.

Notice how those triangles of black along the bottoms of the letters are a bit annoying? Or they should be. Designers can now easily improve the clarity of the typography - there is no longer a reason to ever say, "That's the way it came back from the typesetter." (That was a common excuse in the old days).
Setting type in outline fonts requires a bit of extra finesse - it is up to the designer to check for those pesky captured blobs and take care of them. Fill in the captured spaces or explore different point sizes for the fill and the stroke.



An example of a better sign that has an outline font
This is at an entrance to a hospital, often where frantic worried people are looking for help. Notice that the most important word on the sign below is the hardest to read. At least it's in red.

A better sign below right and some of the issues that have been addressed:
• Set the copy flush left for items that direct to the left and flush right for directing to the right.
• Moved arrows to the flush margin of each side. Now they visually help communicate direction.
• Removed the stems on the arrows (info is conveyed by the arrowhead, not the stem).
• Enlarged the arrows.
• Tightened the leading for locations that take up 2 lines to improve proximity and clarity.
• Enlarged point size and increased the kerning of the outline font.
More examples and suggestions at Sign Design.



The outlined serif hours listed on the door above left are illegible - even from up close. The sans serif hours on the right are much easier to read.
Below, notice how much harder it is to read the store names set in outline fonts, while the solid fonts, Tao Cafe and Sweet & Sassy are easier to read.


Outline fonts have multiple lines and increased busyness. Counters within letterforms often fill in and the thicker-lined letters bleed into each other and form awkward and clumsy shapes. There are other ways to improve contrast and readability - consider changing the font, color, or point size.

Left: The Lego logo used from 1973-1998 with outline fonts. Then, the mark was tweaked - the slant of the italic was decreased, the captured spaces in the counters were filled in, and outline line weights increased.

Break lines of copy at logical pauses

This is a classic saying, tough to achieve, but a great goal to work on. The person that posted it was probly not a great designer - a great designer groups together the words that form the thought. When we read and get to the end of a line, there is a pause as the brain and eye move down and back to the left to start the next line. That pause is just like the pause from a comma or period. Look at the second line (above right).

How it could be better
The line breaks allow each thought to be contained on one line (and the semi-colons are replaced by less-obnoxious commas):

Above right: the lines are arranged so that the 'minds discuss' stack up, allowing the reader to see 'Great, average, and small' and connect those to 'ideas, events, people.' thereby further emphasizing the differences.
Compare the 2 options above to see which enhances clarity, communication, and comprehension.

More examples:

The two words Gas Meter are a single unit - they should be in close proximity - on the same baseline. The room is where the Gas Meter is located.

After Use, like Wipe Down, is a single unit of thought - it should be set on a single line. Please by itself emphasizes the courtesy and better respects the Thank You. Each element is set a bit larger.
Below: Instead of a paragraph to list the accepted cards, break lines to form a list of cards for easier scanning:


Justified versus flush left copy

Notice what sets this piece apart - the ragged edges surrounding the perimeter of the block of photos. There is a slight Warhol motif to the grid blocks of colors, but it is the ragged edges that are unique.
Tip: Figure out what's working in the piece - exploit that and minimize the rest.
Now notice the block of copy - it is set justified, both margins are evenly aligned. But the layout of the copy does not respect the piece. The flush right margin does not respect the photos directly above with their ragged side. The flush left margin is fine - it mimics the straight edges that are aligned directly above. Also, whenever setting copy justified, awkward inconsistent gaps are created in the word spacing. Obvious solution: the copy should be set with a ragged right margin that would relate better to the photos' ragged edges.
Other improvements
1. The row of dots separating the copy into two sections is unnecessary and ignores everything else about the piece. The photos are separated only by some dark space. The two blocks of copy should be separated by the same graphic element, a dark space.
2. The 'th' following the dates are unnecessary. Get rid of them.
Lesson: General guideline for better design - get rid of everything that is unnecessary. Unneeded stuff is just clutter that often gets in the way of clear communication.
3. Set last two lines of copy in lower case to respect the format established in the upper block of copy - heading in all caps, supporting copy in U&lc.
4. Rewrite the copy so the last line is longer and better fills out that corner.

Notice the block of text copy in the lower right of the above page, enlarged below left:

On the left: The body copy as originally set. Copy that is set justified (both margins aligned) creates inconsistent letterspacing and word spacing - notice the line:
through       education       and       the
Those differing gaps annoy the brain and slow down readability. Above, on the right: How it would look if it was set flush left, ragged right. Now, there are no inconsistent gaps - all letter and word spacing is the same, providing a more comfortable flow for the brain to read efficiently.

Even better: Copy block set FLRR but with the margins manipulated so the lines are of a more consistent width. The punctuation also hangs outside the margin - notice how much better the left margin looks when the quote marks are not inside the margin.


Whoa - there is something in this type treatment that should bother you.
    • All lines are set justified except one.
    • There is a lone period.
    • One line has fewer letters than the others.
The Howard Hughes Corporation of Texas has bought much of the property that makes up Manhattan's South Street Seaport. This logo is the new brand for the new development. To the right is my revised mark. A simple fix - just be consistent. STR may be a bit unfamiliar (so is STH and PRT) but, the compromise of gaining a unified block of text outweighs the minimal education required to read STR as Street. Below, Side-by-side: Existing and revised:



The Book of Mormon is a smash hit on Broadway. It is a hilarious tale of deceiving needy gullible people and encouraging them to join a church. The Mormon church is noted for its missionary teams who, clad in white shirts, dark slacks, and black tie, ring doorbells to discuss the American Jesus. The doorbell also plays a major role in one of the opening numbers. In the logo, the doorbell button serves also as the letter O in the word Mormon. The text then is aligned in orderly rows. Notice the alignment among the lines of text. Very well done. All lines are set flush left and also flush right along the margin created by the doorbell backplate.


Appropriate image formed by text letters only

Masters of Sex was a series on Showtime about the pioneers of the science of human sexuality, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose research touched off the sexual revolution and took them from a teaching hospital in St. Louis to the cover of Time magazine. Above right is an ad showing the logomark for the title.
The type treatment of the word SEX works due to the simple act of rotating the E letterform. Now the E forms an image that fits the subject matter. Note: no lines or images were added. The letter was just rotated. So simple.
Also notice that the word SEX is still easily read. The brain takes pictures of words and makes sense of the jumbled letters. Sex is one of the most recognizable words in American English, along with Free, Sale, and a person's name. All those words are so common, often-used, and important to us that they can be set in exotic ways and still be comprehended.
Tip: See the world just a bit differently. Recognize connections, meanings, subtleties. That's a tough skill, but very valuable.

The Showtime logo was designed by Chermayeff & Geismar (Chase, Mobil, and countless other classics).

Stacking letters from familiar logos rarely works well.
Try reducing the logo to fit - stay true to the branding.


As I approached the side of the awning (as most people will do, coming up the sidewalk), the name of this Bar Cafe Restaurant was very tough to read.
Lesson: When working with non-English or uncommon words, consider type specs (font, point size, color, format, weight) that will enhance clarity, not decrease it.

And Ea Wy
Target discontinued its Merona label and much of its Mossimo line to make room for a series of new in-house brands. Launched in August, A New Day features apparel, shoes, and accessories, all priced under $50; and size inclusive - from XS to 4X.
Below left: Reader Mitch submitted this store graphic as an example of poor typographic layout. Although almost all of us will read the word and across the top - the designers meant for us to read down in columns, not across in rows. But,
1. We are accustomed to reading left to right, then top to bottom.
2. The dots in the first line help guide us to read across that line as a•n•d.
3. The word and in the top line is a very familiar word that we focus on immediately and unconsciously.


Confusing part: what is gained in readability, memorability, or comprehension by setting the words in columns? When set in rows (right) it reads better and nothing is lost in the design and layout. The reader should be encouraged to focus on the clothes and the Target brand, not on an unusual and poor way of arranging type.

Lesson: Make design decisions through the eyes of the reader/user, not the client or designer. Empathize.

Thoughtless
This appears to be another case of a small business owner who goes to a sign shop and flips through a catalog or on-screen menu of typefaces and background images. He picks his favorites. The sign shop employee may have even made suggestions based on what he/she likes. Or thinks is 'pretty'. And, voila, a sign. A sign that is poorly designed. It is graphic art, but not design - it is not a solution that clearly communicates a specific message to a specific group of people to achieve a specific purpose.

Let's look at the design problem as a thoughtful designer might. This company provides remodeling service for both commercial and residential clients. They specialize in fine millwork and craftsmanship.
The potential customer (the target audience, the sign reader) is seeking quality, reliability, service, intelligence, honesty, and work that is appropriate to their needs, modern and contemporary. Now, take a look at the above sign - does it convey the attributes that are impressive and convincing?

Issues
• Poor font selection: condensed all-caps sans serif decreases readability and personality.
• Poor contrast: the color palette is too limited and analogous.
• Millwork suggests custom made and fine craftsmanship. See if that is conveyed in this sign.
• Crooked phone number - not a good symptom for a wood craftsman.
• Poor background image - old weathered wood. A client may want old weathered materials in their project, but the identity for a company shouldn't reflect obscure materials.

Tip: See thru eyes of potential customers - what are they looking for - and provide a solution that 'talks' to those people.
Lesson: All design decisions should support the concept. The concept should fit the company.

Design that tries to be 'cool' but fails as good design

The designer convinced the airline that a light font set in light grey on greybeige would be trendy and cool. No one thought to see it as the passenger would - it is tough to find and even tougher to read. I witnessed 2 people plop down in the wrong seat and numerous people pause to decipher their seat location. Remember, this is while boarding (usually after delays and airport chaos) and while the airline is desperately telling passengers to hurry up and find their seat. The design firm slowed down the boarding process because they failed to design from the user's point of view.





The logo for the new Star Wars film includes the familiar original wordmark with the installment title sandwiched between. But, notice the awkward ragged margin lines with the T and S sticking out.
Below: 2 options to address that overhang. Left: decrease kerning and enlarge the point size to stay within the implied box boundary. 2: Exploit the idea that the letters are shooting out past the boundary.
Bottom: all 3 versions: existing, box, shooting.




Poor use of condensed letterforms

The vinyl decal serif letters on the back of the truck are set normal and the sans serif phone numbers below are set in a condensed font. It works okay, not great, on the tailgate since the viewer is most often directly behind the truck. But on the side of the truck, all the letters and numbers are set in condensed. The letters were manipulated by the computer operator to be more condensed (a design no-no), we assume to make the letters larger and the same height as the phone number. But, notice how much tougher the word 'Electric' is to read. Many viewers will see it a similar angle as in the photo, making it appear even more condensed. Rarely, is there a need for a word to be set condensed. It takes a meticulous designer to handle condensed type appropriately. This is an example where there is no need for any condensed letters nor numbers.

Bonus lesson: Notice how the sans serif numbers read so much better than the serif letters.

The component of proximity
Proximity refers to grouping bits of information or elements close enough to form an association. This grouping provides some comfort through familiarity. We humans like change but only if we can experience it from a foundation of something comfortable. Grouping like elements also aids clarity of understanding of information by creating a hierarchy of information.

The graphic elements of a bar, rule, or line can serve as an organizer to separate disparate images and text. We are conditioned to seeing lines as separators. But, in the above example, the lines are in the wrong places. Lost Your Serial Number? is separated from its accompanying text. The text copy, "If you already purchased . . ." is closer to the heading Need Help Getting Started than to Lost Your Serial Number?
Below is the improved version - the line separates the two sections of different thoughts. Each heading and its accompanying copy are in closer proximity. making it easier for the reader to comprehend.

Lesson: Group together associated elements (text, images) to create a single visual unit.


Of course, the ad needs the day of the week. Why do "designers" continue to disrespect their audience by not including the day? Can't figure it out. Is it ignorance? Apathy?
Also, notice below left, where the horizontal white lines are - they separate the event title from the date and time of that event. They push the date and time closer in proximity to the event title below. On the right is how it could have been to read more clearly (I also brightened the blue a bit). The lines should separate events, not separate events from their accompanying info.


Review the text copy for clarity and readability:


The OSU Museum of Art opened an exhibit of a Frank Lloyd Wright house and sponsored four programs. The text of the program details were in prose form - one paragraph per, and it wasn't easy to find the important info. Improvements:
• Add the day of the week.
• Add a line break after the title and after the time & place.
• Bold the important info.

A more logical order of info:

Before: Headline - Register Now, Price - web address, date of event, beneficiary - Sponsors - Name of event
Better: Headline - Name of event - Register Now, date of event, beneficiary, web address - Sponsors


The dotted line that connects the Start and End locations can be misinterpreted as a street or walkway. The map consists of lines to represent city pathways (streets or subways). Adding another line muddles that theme of 'Lines = pathways'. There is no need for the dotted line - it is not a path, it does not help the viewer get to the destination. I repositioned MoMA PS1 and enlarged You are here.
Tip: Include only graphic elements that will help the user understand the desired route or destination.

Ridiculous layout of floors in building

This is a foto of a directory/map that was mounted in the Student Union at Oklahoma State University. Notice that the floor plan of the basement is located at the top with the other floors ascending below it. Let me repeat - the basement is at the top! We have been conditioned to recognize that the basement is the lowest floor with the other floors rising in number above it. This designer should have embraced that familiarity and not fought it. I cannot think of any advantage or any reason for putting the basement at the top of this (or any) directory.
Lessons
Design decisions are a compromise between the familiar and the innovative.
Design should enhance society and make our lives better, not more make it confusing.

Update: The entire Student Union was remodeled. New building maps and directories were posted online - but they still had the basement at the top:

Existing: Above left. Above right: Rearrange floors to be logical and familiar.
Below left: Better: Move maps to left and text legends flush left next to them. Below right: Best: Enlarge maps and place them next to their floor legends.


Problems with the guide map to the UN
During May, 2007, I toured the United Nations in New York City. It was fascinating - I learned that it was the UN that mandated all air traffic controllers and pilots on the planet speak and understand English, that red means stop and green means go, and even the expiration date for milk. The logistics of the tour - learning where to go, getting tickets, waiting for a tour - were not conducted well, a bit awkward, confusing, and inefficient. The map handed out was no better:

Here's a map of the United Nations from a brochure that is printed in a multitude of languages for the international visitors. At first glance it looks like a decent map, but here's how this map could be better:
Change the label of 1st Basement to Lower Level. The label on the left, Visitor's Lobby is okay since it is at the entrance level, but the visitor doesn't know nor care how many basements there are - first, second - we just don't care. Basement sounds a bit scary - 'we gotta go down to the basement?' Lower Level works because it relates to the lobby level - one intuitively gets that it is beneath that.
Change the icon for the Ticket Desk. A dollar sign often means an ATM machine. The ticket desk is actually the first place the visitor wants to go - to get a ticket to go on the tour. One would not think to go to the place with a dollar sign - one wants a ticket, not money.
Use the standard icon for Elevator. The one used here looks like the one for an empty vending machine.
Delete references to the Tour Coordinator. The visitor doesn't care who is in charge of coordinating tours. If that also serves as tour information, then label it Tour Information (although there is another Info booth by the entrance and one is likely to seek info from there or the ticket seller).
Reduce the number of legend icons. Legends make the reader go back and forth from map to legend to find stuff - usually, as is the case here, there is enough room on the map to label the item without adding another layer of information.
Remove the tiny arrows pointing to the restroom entrances. Move the restroom symbols to the entrances. One doesn't care where the bathrooms actually are as much as where the entrance to the bathroom is. The arrows are added to compensate for poor design decisions. Instead of adding crap, redesign and solve the problem. Design should aid communication and comprehension, not bog it down.
Change the color coding. The light green in the lower right of the left map is off limits to visitors, but the dark blue Exhibits Area color looks more foreboding - the light green, being so close to the tan area, looks inviting; like one can go there.
Here is the crucial change to make - reorient the map on the left 90 degrees to the left. One enters at the green entrance and looks straight ahead - the map should respect that orientation so the visitor can get his/her bearings more easily and intuitively. And - the two maps are oriented differently. If one does get the orientation bearings from the first map, then one goes downstairs and the map for that level is turned differently. Its just rude and inconsiderate to be messing with people at a time when they are disoriented and want to be guided, not confused.
Note: This map is another great example of a piece in which the designer did not design for the user.

St. Louis History Museum floor plan, Forest Park, August 1989


Improvements
• Spaces closed to the public are greyed out to visually clarify accessibility.
• Lower level stairs are drawn more accurately to better show how to get to the restrooms.
• Gallery names are printed within the galleries to avoid adding another step of translating codes to the legend. There is no need to require the viewer to look back and forth between the plan and the legend. make the info easy to find and easy to read.
The museum responded to my submitted suggestions and agreed to incorporate them into the new guide.

Maps that suggest a Hudson Ocean

The map above left is from the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority. It shows downtown Manhattan with the Hudson River (ocean?) on the left and the East River on the right. For some arrogant reason, New York mapmakers, especially those with the MTA, do not like to acknowledge New Jersey. But, many people in New Jersey work, shop, and party in Manhattan.
The purpose of maps is to orient us to our surroundings and guide our journeys. They should. at least, be accurate in their portrayal of the surrounding environment. City limits are no longer accurate divisions of metro areas. Metro areas include numerous towns and cities that are more accurately defined by the the television viewing area, geography, and highways.
This seems to be another example of designers not communicating efficiently to their target audience. Designers must keep in mind the end user and design for those people, not for themselves. The MTA cartographic designer was narrowly thinking of just having to show the routes within Manhattan.

Maps that got it 'right' The maps above are a bit more accurate in that they show the proximity of New Jersey to Manhattan.
Below: If Missouri had the same disregard for Illinois as New York does for New Jersey and if the New York mapmakers were given the task of a St. Louis map, that city would miraculously be on the ocean - the Mississippi Ocean - with the downtown bridges spanning an expansive body of water.


Showroom address that begs for a clear map

Once buyers are persuaded to buy a product, they then seek more specific info: Where do I get this? When are they open?
Great design (clear communication of a message) respects the reader enough to make it easy.
Notice, the Hours - the hours for M-Th are the same as those for F-Sa. At a glance, the ad suggests that there are different hours on the weekend. All days with the same hours should be grouped together, M-Sa, as in the example on the right below.
Now look at the address - this ad requires the reader to use some other device to discover where Hudiburg Circle is. Maybe call the phone number or check a map on the computer. But, isn't it rude and inconsiderate to require the reader to do all that? Since the client wants the reader to spend money at their store, make it easy. This would be a great place for a simple but appropriate map of the area, including freeway exits.
Great design impacts our lives by allowing us to make decisions more efficiently - easier and quicker. Great designers consider the reader/viewer/user's point of view.
Tip: Think like the target audience, not the client.

Unnecessary legends
Use a legend only if the map itself cannot convey the necessary entities. Below: There is no need for North/South arrows - nobody knows or cares once they are in the airport. The concourses should be labeled directly - no need for a color-coded legend.


Below: This map for the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth does not need a legend at all. Just label the entities or use a familiar symbol. Removing the legend, some of the pond, and some of the building that is off-limits to the visitor allows the map to be enlarged within the same amount of space.




An unusual mark - the letter H with a dot. Yet, your brain recognized enough clues to conclude the mark reads Hi. Our mind fills in gaps and makes connections, even when there is missing information.

Weathered decals form a unique font


Dining inside a billboard
Humans have always enjoyed looking outside while dining, probly stemming from our tribal ancestors who had to keep a sharp eye lookout for marauding tribes who wanted to steal their food. That threat is long gone, but the desire to have a view from the table remains.
So many restraunts post promotions in their windows that I feel like I'm eating inside of a billboard.
They see the blank glass space as a medium to advertise their restaurant and products. I see the glass as a portal to look out onto the passing world - traffic, sunlight, and trees. They, however, are winning. Dining areas are often compromised by the lack of open views.


At least these poster ads have a see-through quality (below). It does let in more light, though, the view is filtered through a burger or breakfast sandwich.



Some solutions
1. Remove all window billboard displays.
2. Limit window posters to just one or two window panes.
3. Mount the ads only at the very top of the windows. This would open up the vista for the diner and still allow the ads to be visible from the street and parking lot. Of course, no billboards at all would be better, but this could be a fair compromise.

This grocery store has an extensive deli and hot and cold cafeteria. The seating area is bound on two sides by large windows. But, the marketing manager posted children's artwork directly in the line of sight, preventing most people from looking outside while they dine. An Assistant Manager said the images used to be mounted in the top row of windows (much better) but that it was harder to maneuver the ladder so they moved them down. This is one great example of putting the needs of the employee ahead of the needs of the customer.

But, hallelujah, a few weeks later, however, the posters were in a different arrangement, allowing better views out the windows. Maybe he really was listening. Months later, I went back, and, wow - all the posters were up at the very top - where they should be - allowing full views out the windows.


The Freddy's restaurant has full walls of windows and no billboard ads on any of them - just unobstructed views outside. The one sign that was in a front window was printed on perforated stock so that it almost disappears when looking out into the brighter outdoors:


New look for QSR (fast food) restraunts

The new look for Quick Service Restraunts blends into a more homogenous style of building design, characterized by:
Horizontal rows of slats, often wood.
Intersecting slabs of masses.
Eave overhangs.
Flat roofs, no mansards, gables, or domes.
Strong horizontals and verticals, fewer curves.
Spelling of the word restraunt.





Package Design helps sell products
The first product visual a consumer connects with is often the container that the product comes in. We usually don't buy the product - we are buying the package - we don't buy white laundry detergent, we buy a box of recognizable images, colors, and text that convey Tide (or All, or whatever). Package Design can include boxes, labels, bottles, closures, and add-ons.

It is vitally important to design a product package to:
Attract attention and stand out on a crowded shelf.
Communicate a positive image.
Be appropriate to the contents inside.
Provide information to help the purchaser make an informed decision: contents, ingredients, directions, warnings.
Encourage the desired attitude in the consumer's mind.
Be durable.
Be eco-friendly: minimal materials, recyclable materials, minimal shelf space.
Be safe and convenient to hold and transport.


For Internet shopping, there may be a need for an additional image that is a 'button' or avatar that clearly represents the product. The package design may also need to translate well into a thumbnail icon for the search screen.
Companies know the importance of this 'last chance' to make a sale. This is the actual buying decision - when the consumer reaches for a specific product to put in the shopping cart. Some of these decisions are pre-meditated, others are impulsive depending on a variety of factors at the site of the purchase - price, need, desire, or the label/packaging.

A classic package design
In 1915, the Coca Cola Company wanted users to be able to identify their product by shape only. The design objective was to create a bottle so that it could be recognized in the dark. Inspired by the Hobble Skirt, popular at the time, and the shape of the coca bean pod, glass blower Alexander Samuelson presented the now classic bottle shape.


Nice package design made a bit better

Concept: The ingredients of the protein bar are the focal point of the package label.
The simple, mostly text, package design is refreshing and helps this brand to stand out in a shelf crowded with options.
But, standing in a 7-11, its a bit hard to find and read the flavor - the most important variable a customer is looking for - it is small and at the very bottom. Repeat customers already know the ingredients are few and simple, they are looking for a flavor. To most customers, the flavor is the most important info on the package label. Here are some improvements (shown above right):
• Flavor variety is larger, more prominent, and moved to the top.
12G PROTEIN BAR is on one line in a larger point size.
• Ingredient text is slightly smaller, with tighter leading.
• The useless line art that accompanies the flavor name is deleted.
• Brand logo is larger, but placed at the bottom.
• The unnecessary reverse box behind the brand name is gone - reverse the brand.
• The No in No B.S. is replaced with a zero - to be consistent with the other items in the list.
• Periods after B.S. are deleted. BS represents one word, not two (there is a little bit of bullshit - there are additional chemical flavor ingredients).
Here are the packages from an Oklahoma bar maker:

A more convenient and user-friendly tea box

In 2013, I toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder Colorado. The aromas and selections in the gift shop enticed me to overpurchase boxes of tea (I'm primarily a coffee drinker). After arriving home from a great trip through the mountains of Colorado, and unpacking, I placed all the tea boxes on the counter top. I wanted them to remain open so i could easily access the envelopes of tea bags.

To label each box, I ripped off the top flaps and stuck the title flap down in the back of the box. I noticed that if the box had been designed differently, I could have just folded and tucked the top back into the box. Below is an example of retail display packaging with tuck-in top flaps. Something like that would have been pretty nice for the tea boxes on the counter top.

Similar to display packaging on the retail shelf, a tea box display could be useful and convenient in the home. The open top flap can be tucked back into the opening with the title of the contents showing.

Left: The original box front/top. Right: the redesigned panel with the title name at the bottom so it would still show when folded and tucked in.
The panel with the name of the tea forms a base for the illustration - the image is no longer 'crushed' by the type overhead.
For better visibility, the line of text with the quantity info is moved to the top, and out from obscurity inside the illustration.


Before and after:



One of the benchmarks of aging is switching from sweetened cereals to Grape-Nuts and then to oatmeal. Yep, oatmeal. I found this brand above left 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 solid mass of color for the measuring pouch line makes 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 shelf display looks like a big bowl of ice cream with photo-realistic images of scoops of ice cream on the top of the bowl package. There are slots for the scoops to sit in that support them for display - beneath the photo is a layer of styrofoam. The shopper gets to view the product and see it in 'use'. It is also more eco-friendly since each scoop doesn't need its own box or label. I saw this in an outstanding natural/organic food store in Lawrence, Kansas, the home of the University of Kansas.

Advertising exaggeration


On the shelf at Walmart were 6 options of Degree deodorant - look at the names of the options. Who wouldn't want an Extreme deodorant? Or one that works Overtime? And a product that can help with Stress Control? Sign me up.
What do these names mean? Sounds like ad copy bullshit. So, I asked the Walmart employee restocking products - she said they referred to the different scents. I asked her "What does Extreme smell like? Is it an overbearing odor?" "When someone works Overtime, don't they start to stink? Why would I wear that?" "Sport Defense?" She smiled feebly and I walked away - she had no idea what the names meant. Nor did I.
I want their best formula deodorant. That's all - just 1 product. Maybe 2 or 3 if they have very clear scent descriptions, like fried bacon or maple glazed donut. Or, maybe Extreme Maple Glaze Bacon.

This is becoming quite common - the number of soda flavors available, the number of items (200?) in the Cheesecake Factory menu, and everywhere else you look in the grocery aisles. What do they know - does overwhelming the consumer pay off in increased sales? Are we impressed to the point of wanting to purchase more?
Notice how many Oreo options are available - 22 different varieties of the Oreo Cookie. When I was a kid there were 2 options - Oreo and Oreo dipped in milk.

But, they didn't offer my new favorite - the Oreo Sample Pack - a variety of new flavors so I can try several to determine my favorites.

Great idea for prepping daily pills
One of the lifestyle changes one makes upon aging is that the pile of pills taken each day grows to the point of needing some weekly or monthly pill boxes. I take about 10 pills each day - 3 in the morning and the rest with dinner. Soon after I began this new routine, I wished for a service from a drug company in which the customer would submit all pills taken with frequency and dosage. The drug company would then formulate a single pill with all of the necessary ingredients. This one pill would then eliminate the need for numerous pill bottles and pill planners. But, I suspect there are too many regulations and drug ownerships to make the idea feasible.
In late 2017, I ran across the system below, an automated compliance strip packaging system, which packages all of a person's prescription and nonprescription medications together in perforated pouches for each time of the day - in sequential order, and each package individually labeled. On Saturday morning you'd tear off the 8a package containing all the necessary pills.

“This system increases compliance, decreases trips to the pharmacy and increases the likelihood that you are getting all the medications you need for the month," Pharmacist Scott Evans said.
• It eliminates having to go sort through 10 or 12 bottles while filling a med planner each week.
• It takes the guesswork out of which tablet goes where.
• The medications are synchronized so they can all be refilled at the same time each month.
• The packaging makes for easier traveling - each package meets all labeling requirements and one has to pack only the amount for the time traveling.
Below: another option for the same concept.

A pill box system with visual reminders
Below is the system I currently use to organize and simplify which pills to take at which time of the day. I wanted to make it better than just conveying what day to take. I rearranged the daily boxes in the holder tray so that their position communicated visual clues for the status of the pills - taken already or not yet taken. When the tray is positioned on the shelf, the sightline shows the full box with the label facing dead-on to the viewer, the half full position moves the label away at an angle, and the empty position places the label in a tough to see horizontal position.
Concept: rotate the boxes within the base to convey different statuses of the contents. Visual reminders of pills taken so far that day.


Left to right:
• Monday morning: All boxes full, labels facing user.
• Friday morning: Mon-Thurs boxes empty, Friday-Sunday boxes full.
• Friday afternoon: Mon-Thurs boxes empty, Friday morning pills taken - box rotated halfway up to show half empty.
• Saturday morning: Friday box empty, box rotated up all the way, label away from user.
• Sunday night: All boxes empty.

Please be skeptical of advertising copywriters

Note the line that catches your eye - 3 Simple Ingredients. That's pretty cool. Not a lot of junk.
Wait, a closer look - It starts with 3 Simple Ingredients. Whoa, there could be many more, including junk. Note that starts with is set in a smaller point size and all lower case - like they're trying to sneak it by us without getting noticed.


Some guy turned these bags of chips upside down on a store shelf, exposing the package half-full of air. The package designers put solid printing on the top half of the bag to hide the air.


The two above have their instructions buried in blocks of copy, in a small point size, and reversed out of the red background.
Now look at the better brand below. The designer of these packages was considerate of the reader. The heading, Cooking Instructions, is large and easy to find. The most important info (the time) is large, set in a box, and put on a higher contrast background. Users can scan the back of the box easily and quickly find the info they are looking for. Microwave ovens are fast, their instructions should be, also.


The box above has two important steps - Prep and Cook. Both are very clear at a glance. The prep photo makes sense.

A simpliifed wine label



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. For now, we'll ignore the issues of fast food nutrition, overeating, and distractions while driving. This is a great idea that, as fat and lazy as we are, fits well the modern American lifestyle.

A better way to check out

This happens too often, at too many stores - the cashier can't find or reach the UPC code on the package with the scan gun. He/she or the customer has to wrestle the object in position so the gun can reach it to scan the code. In the above example, the code is buried and hidden in the very lower right wrinkles. The cashier has to take the bag out of the cart to access the code.

The solution is so simple
Print 4 UPC codes - one in each upper corner, front and back of the bag. Then, no matter how the customer places the bag in the cart, the cashier can easily find it and the scan gun can reach it.
• Negatives: there are none - no additional cost.
• Positives: Great additional convenience - faster and easier checkout. Better for the cashier, the customer, and the people in line behind the customer.
Below left: Existing top of the bag. Right: Better.



A better game show tv screen layout. We have become so accustomed to seeing web sites and app pages with multiple blocks of info that the linear images on game shows seem primitive. TV screens are wider now (more real estate to use for images) and our home screens are larger and in higher definition. Often, when watching, I wonder what the score is or the amounts of money a contestant has. My desire may not match what the director has chosen to put on the screen. Solution: arrange the Jeopardy (or Family Feud, Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune) blocks of info like a web site to allow the viewer to access info as needed or desired.


At the entrance to the parking lot at the Estonian State Opera. Can you imagine the music in the driver's head as the gates open and close? An innovative mind saw a possibility to transform a standard gate into something festive, appropriate, and animated. Very cool.


Nice detail of merging the old with the new. Built in 1818, the 3-story Federal-style building at the corner of Spring and Wooster streets, is likely the oldest building in Soho. Crocs (yes, those shoes) renovated the building and replaced a garage in the adjoining Wooster Street plot with a contemporary glass-faced structure.


Wisdom from Milton Glaser



An unnecessary sign (therefore, it's clutter.) Our minds are conditioned to seek out visuals before words. Here, the visuals are so clear and adequate. Do we really need to label a stack of spoons as 'Spoons'.

You have probly walked up to plasticware bins in a restraunt and had to look down into the bin or pull up a utensil in order to see if it was a fork or spoon. The ends are identical - no clue as to what is on the other end - the end that is buried down in the bin with the rest of the herd (I assume plasticware comes in herds).
Below: If the utensils were stored handle-down, recognition would be easy. But health codes don't want customers touching the utile ends so they are pointed down and the handle pointed up.

A beautiful solution from Frank Nichols: An identity system incorporating a variety of ways to communicate the utensil usage:
Different length of utensil.
Embossed icon at the end of the handle.
Unique identifying shape of handle ends.


The system also allows sight-impaired customers the opportunity to recognize a utensil by feeling the shape at the end of the handle.
In 1915, another company wanted users to be able to identify their product by shape only. The design objective was to create a bottle so that it could be recognized in the dark. Inspired by the Hobble Skirt, popular at the time, and the shape of the coca bean pod, glass blower Alexander Samuelson presented the now classic bottle shape.

Another option: Chick-Fil-A has addressed the problem with these labels:



One night recently, Jim had a chip on his shoulder. I hate it when this happens. Just spite and anger. But I flicked it off, dipped it in salsa and ate it - then, everything was okay.


When i was Chair of the Department of Design, one of the tasks i enjoyed the least was having to write Strategic Plans (redundant words - a strategy and a plan are the same thing). We spent a disproportionate amount of time preparing reports for an administration that didn't know nor care what we really did. The university bureaucracy would often have us write reports and fill out forms that had little-to-no value. Once, i had to call a meeting with the Design faculty and the admin to present the SSCI report - a huge paper that discusses our procedures for planning. The VP asked me to detail the ways in which i involved the faculty in the preparation of the report. I told him that i didn't involve the faculty at all - i saw nothing in the SSCI that would help faculty do a better job in the classroom and i wouldn't be so inconsiderate as to ask them to help with a useless report (no one in Admin read the entire thing or used it to improve teaching at the university). The poster above is from the Baltimore Print Studios of a quote from Herb Kelleher, the guiding force behind Southwest Airlines, a lean company that makes profits while other airlines lose money. Herb is a doer.


Just too many receipts - even when arranged neatly in symmetrical rows. What a waste of paper. The store/restaurant needs a copy and the consumer needs a copy. Shouldn't that be enough? Doesn't the technology allow the number of receipts to be reduced? Some stores email a receipt or ask if you want a printed one from the store at time of purchase. That reduces the number to zero or one. Much better.

Some thoughts on park design
I live (blue) right between 2 city parks. One of them (photos below) is on the Downtown to Arcadia hike/bike trail. I often walk the dogs there in the morning as it is such a nice escape from the city. Because I am always finding ways to make things better, I imagine how the park experience could be improved.

Concept: Replicate, in urban parks, the experience of attending a national park. National parks have a strong sense of place - the park exudes a special identity that is not found elsewhere - in the signs, the roads, structures, path layouts, and maintenance. It's about the experience, the way the user feels while in the park, creating a mindset. An attitude.
Target audience: People who want to counter their busy corporate lifestyle, escape, take a mini-vacation, and leave the city behind.
Activities: Exercise, walk, jog, ride bikes, have fun, play in the playground, enjoy a picnic.
Philosophy: Less visibility of city trappings and an emphasis on nature can have a positive impact on the user's state of mind.
Recommendations
• Develop a city parks and trails branding program, one that better fits a national park than an Interstate highway.
• Unique signage: brown signs, wood or wood appearance, Earth tones; no road signs or standard city signage. Relate to the native materials: sandstone, wood, grasses.
• No yellow stripes in the center of the path or highway signs along the paths.

Just useless - Will people run into other people if there is no stripe to delineate proper lane to be in? This is an urban forest with walkways, not a highway.

Examples of the inappropriate and inaccurate highway-style signage, and the yellow striped pathway.

Left: Existing. Right: Proposed. Notice how much better it looks without the highway signs and yellow stripe.

There are 6 signs visible in this picture. Walkers and bikers are not so stupid that they need to have curves in the path pointed out or be told to yield to others on the trail. Notice how nice it looks below with the signs removed:

Below: another city park, one in which the walking trails have no yellow center stripe. So much better.

A city parks branding, more like those in national parks, could use native red sandstone (abundant and native to central Oklahoma) for major identity signage.

City of Edmond Begins Implementing New Monument Signage in December 2018

A new style of monument signage is now being implemented in the City of Edmond. The new signage will create a more unified look throughout the community for city entities including parks, city buildings and welcome signage at city limits entry points. The City Council really wants to create more consistency in signage and identification throughout the city. This new design captures both a historic and modern feel for Edmond. The new signs are a scalable, timeless design that features the WPA red sandstone featured in many Edmond landmarks. They will require little maintenance.

Sign posts and brackets and accessories should be green, not steel silver - this is a park, not a warehouse.
Trash cans should include both Landfill and Recycle receptacles, clearly labeled.


This yield sign baffles me. Who yields? And to whom? Is one to yield once one enters the grassy area? Do they think someone would just run into someone on the grass ("Well, there wasn't a sign telling me not to!") The useless yellow line - do they assume we are so stupid that we would just run into oncoming walkers or bikers if there was no line to separate us?

I have attended meetings of the City Council and the Planning Commission - when these types of examples are mentioned, the most common excuse given (it may be the city slogan): We just didn't think about it.

Integrating art & sculpture into parks and trails

Hafer Park in Edmond is a great park - walking trails, ponds, playgrounds, stages, pavilions, and more. There is even this fun sculpture of two boys trying to tear apart a wishbone to see who gets their wish. I realize this is in Oklahoma, not an art-sophisticated market; most sculpture in this town's public arts program is somewhat amateur. This one is, at least, a fun idea. But, the installation is poor - it does not respect the idea and the aesthetics of the sculpture. The Parks Department poured some large square concrete pads and then planted flowers around the perimeter of the bases. It ruins the effect of the boys wrestling with the wishbone in the park. The bases make the image static.

The park visitor should be able to discover, Interact, and walk beneath the sculpture as if it belonged at the site, as if it was organically an extension of the park.
Large, out-of-scale sculptures such as these are very Dada: they take ordinary objects out of their usual context which forces the viewer to experience them in new ways. As in these sculptures by Claes Oldenburg (often with the help of his wife, Coosje van Bruggen):

Left to right: Floating Peel, Typewriter Eraser, Plantoir, Shuttlecock
Notice that there is no visible base or means of support, the pieces are sitting as they might if they were in scale, plopped down onto the ground.
The Okie piece is not quite the same as the Oldenburgs, since the Wishbone has figures involved with the sculpture. But, the juxtaposition of a larger-than-life object in the park is similar.
Lesson: Consider, enhance, and respect the surroundings when inserting any entity into an existing environment.

Side-by-side comparisons
So, here, next to the existing, is the sculpture as if it had been mounted more appropriately:

There is greater tension between the boys and the wishbone without the solid concrete bases.

Another example, in the same park

A delightful lively figure on an inappropriate base. This figure needs to be free and unencumbered. As if she was walking in the grass and just stopped to release the birds. Notice what the ugly, poorly constructed planter base does to the freedom of the woman. Stops it cold.
How it could have been - respecting the parkland and expressing the joy of a park, not a display on a pedestal:

Tip: Cities should consult with designers before installing artwork.



I noticed this upper section of the staircase had been installed upside down. The top and bottom risers were the wrong dimensions - causing a tripping hazard. The fix was simple - drop that section, flip it over, raise it into place and reattach the 4 bolts. I wrote the Parks Department with pix and rationale. The staircase was corrected the next day.

A new UCO park
A new cafeteria building opened in fall 2019 and the old building was razed. The President proposed that the resulting vacant land be redeveloped as a new park, a peaceful retreat in the middle of campus
Users: People on campus with time to explore and people passing through on their way to somewhere else.
Activities: Reading, eating, walking, conversations, meeting, gathering - think, work, & rest.
Conceptual ideas
• Convey diverse OK terrain: prairie grasses, western/Arbuckle rocks, native trees.
• Canopies of trees with open views below. Trees nearer to the edges could be spaced to allow more open sightlines through to a forested mass in the middle.
• Winding undulating grove of trees - no hard tree lines. No defined beginning and end to the park but rather an intensified center of natural surroundings that blend into campus.
• Berms of wind-blown grasses (adds kinetic motion) - rocks cut across sidewalk paths.
• Natural seating of stone, rock, wood - areas where people can gather in a circle hugged by the landscape to give sense of privacy. Maybe WPA-era rock style.
• Downlighting or diffused lighting to warm the space below the canopies and protect the night sky for stargazing
• Accessible: walkways and paths would be wheelchair accessible. Signs could include braille.



An unsafe roundabout planter
In 2012, a roundabout was restored to the intersection at 4th and University. There is a lot of student traffic using University. During the phase of getting used to a planter in the middle of the intersection, it was rammed several times late at night, probly by alcohol-impaired drivers.

The crash in January 2014 was the worst - it took out some bushes, a portion of the stone wall, and demolished the lamp post. As the Parks Department rebuilds the rock planter again, this would be a good time to consider replanting the roundabout to be more safe.

Left: Most of the year, the rose bushes just create a dark mass at the base of the lamp post planter. At night, this dark mass makes the planter almost visually nonexistent. The stone wall was originally very well done - a nice counter to the green plantings. But the rose bushes obscure the stone wall (and subsequent run-ins have altered the wall's appearance).

Suggestion: Remove the rosebushes, replace them with very low flowers or ground cover, and rebuild the stone wall.
Above right photo: This will:
     • Create a more attractive wedding-cake layer effect.
     • Add more color.
     • Decrease the blind spot.
     • Allow the light rock to be more visible and better convey a forbidding rock barrier (drivers may not be as likely to hit a stone wall if it is more visible and obvious).

The goal is to make the roundabout planter more visible, and, therefore safer.
Additional benefit: The smaller planting footprint will also decrease the blind spot on the opposite side.

I sent the above info and photos to several city administrators. Will post an update if the planter is reconfigured.
Update:In 2019, the lower tier of plants was replaced by some simple yucca plants, thereby opening up the views around the planter. Much better.

Ideas for a better & greener Dog Park
More poop bag dispensers Especially outside the park fence, at the entrances to the walkways. Often, dogs poop on the way in or out and owners don't have a bag with them. In the park, bag dispensers could be mounted on trash cans so the cans could be moved around to grassy areas.
Signs reminding users to pick up their dog poop.


Benches mounted on skids would allow them to be moved to grassy areas as soon as the area around them begins to show worn grass. The permanent benches and bag poles create dust bowl areas making those areas less desirable for sitting, so some benches sit empty. Some of the benches could have canopies for shade.


Restrooms There are restrooms nearby, but too far away to leave dogs unattended for so long.
More shade shelters July and August in Oklahoma can be brutal.
More parking Below: Existing (43 spaces) and improved (60 spaces).

Better No Parking signage in the Mardel lot (see explanations and photos above).

Concession stand Could be a seasonal operation, or daily in summer, weekends in winter. Food truck, ballpark food and drink, or vending machines. Or full service (see Mutts park below). Location A shown below allows easier access to loading and parking. B is more accessible for other park visitors with new entry on the east side.
Fenced dog swimming area The existing access to the pond lets the dogs out into an unsecured area. A fence could jut out into the lake and enclose enough area for safer swimming.

Build a second dog park at Mitch Park. There is ample land and parking, easy access, and away from busy streets. This would alleviate some of the overcrowding and wear on the Rudkin Dog park.



Edmond, Oklahoma, has a very popular and large dog park on 33rd Street, east of Boulevard. It is so large that most dogs stay in one or two areas to socialize and play. And it is so popular that the Parks Department has had a hard time keeping grass growing - it is usually just dirt and, sometimes, mud. Sometimes, there are dust storms in Oklahoma's wind. One effort made has been to periodically fence off a small section that is then seeded and watered.

When the fence is removed, there is a small area of fresh grass for a short while. But, the number of dogs running and playing are just too much to allow the grass to thrive. The fresh grass doesn't last long.
Much of the overly large dog park goes unused:

Here's another solution: Divide the large park into two parks.

Advantages
• One park would be for active use, the other would be closed so that the grass has adequate time, without foot/paw traffic, to root and thrive.

• Each park would still be an adequate size.
• Each would have large open areas for fetching and plenty of room for the dogs to run.
• All 3 parks would have easy access to drinking water.
• One park could be occasionally reserved for special events (Easter Egg hunt, training classes, etc.) while the other two would still be available as open parks.
The south side, with access to the pond, could be used in the summer months and the north side in the winter. There would be some initial cost in additional fencing.
People at the dog park with whom I have shared this idea agree - the park is plenty big and, if divided, would still be big enough and it would be nice for the dogs to be able to run on more grass.

The new entry

A new entry could be added on the east side to access all 3 parks: Small, Large North, and Large South. This would be more convenient: closer to the park parking lot, more park-like: near the creek bridge, trees, and the path, and safer: away from the busy 33rd Street.

The 3 parks: Above left: Small dogs. Right: Large dogs North. Below: Two views of Large dogs South.

Size comparisons

All in the same scale: Edmond, OKC Lake Hefner, OKC Downtown, Midwest City
Below: A drain slab that is higher than the surrounding drainage area. There are often mud pits around the edge of the concrete.
Locations of the fenced swimming area and concessions, restrooms, and playground.
A allows easier access to loading and parking. B is more accessible for other park visitors with new entry on the east side.

Improved entry/exit lane to parking

On the west side of the Edmond dog park is additional parking in the lot of the shopping center. The row of spaces along the side and in back of the building is rarely used by shoppers and it is closer to the park entrance than parking in the parking lot on the east side. The Parks Department acknowledged this when they paved the walkway from the lot to the entrance with a crushed stone composite.
Above right: Of course, there are rude, selfish people that want to park close to the entrance, even if it means inconveniencing other users by blocking part of the entry/exit to the lot. Someday there will likely be an accident as someone exits while someone else is turning in off of the busy street.

Below left: A pickup truck parked along the curb, narrowing the available space to exit or turn into the lot. Below right: cars lined up to exit the lot.


There is currently an ineffective sign stating to not block the maintenance access gate.
The solution: Mount some signs on the fence designating the area in front of the fence as No Parking.



A night out with the girls. And by girls, I mean devices.


We often say, I have to go to work or I gotta go to work. This attitude of 'have to' can be a bit demoralizing. Like its an awful ordeal. One's entire outlook can change with a simple change of attitude about work. Given the option of not working, going to work is usually preferable. We like the benefits that work provides - a sense of satisfaction, service, and productivity and, often, a sense of self-worth. We also love the benefit of a paycheck. We love the money to pay bills and buy stuff that we want. So, maybe the a healthier attitude would be I want to go to work.
American English intrigues me - it is still evolving and adapting to cultural needs. I read the phrase I got to go to work on Facebook and wondered if it could still be read if it was translated into phonetic and slang: gada goda wirk. The unscientific survey confirmed that it could.


The formula for Hate. Fear is the catalyst and the flame stirs up the ignorance that is contained until it boils over.

Blogreader David emailed with a great idea: a hurricane name that provides more information. Naming devastating storms after people does provide a reference, but there are 2 problems:
1. The name does not provide any information about the storm - like when it is, what ocean, etc.
2. It associates a negative connotation to a name. I suspect that, a few years ago, not many baby girls were named Katrina.
We don't name terrorist attacks after people - we use 9/11 for September 11, 2001 and the English use 7/7 for the terrorist subway bombings. In Oklahoma, they still refer to the May 3 tornadoes by their date, not someone's name.
David's suggestion is to use a letter prefix to denote the number of the storm in a year, followed by the year. So the 3rd storm of 2009 would be named 3-09. I wonder if we can go a step further and add a code for the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Maybe just A, P, or I? And even add the month of 1st landfall to the year.

Example: 3P-8-11 would be the 3rd storm of the year, in the Pacific, with landfall occurring in August of 2011.

Downside: tough for the weather reader to say on air - maybe a storm has both - an on-air name (Irene) and a letter/number denoter (2A-7-16). In print, the storm could be denoted by both for clarification.
This doesn't address the issue of potentially tainting names with a negative association. They could assign obscure names such as these that have previously been assigned: Hazel, Beulah, Caesar, Hortense, and Ophelia.
But, improving the system for naming hurricanes is certainly an idea worth considering. Thanks, David.

Background, from the FEMA website
For hundreds of years, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. An Australian meteorologist began giving women's names to tropical storms before the end of the 19th century. In 1953, the US National Weather Service began using female names for storms. In 1979, both women and men's names were used. One name for each letter of the alphabet is selected, except for Q, U and Z. For Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, the names may be French, Spanish or English, since these are the major languages bordering the Atlantic Ocean where the storms occur. The World Meteorological Organization uses six lists in rotation. The same lists are reused every six years. The only time a new name is added is if a hurricane is very deadly or costly; then the name is retired and a new name is chosen.


Was wandering around the University of North Texas and came upon this sculptural column. I assumed that it was for skateboards - that made the most sense on a college campus next to a bike rack. Farther down the bike rack was this bike repair station. A cool idea - to provide tools and a support bar for making repairs.



If long hot summers become the norm, we will need to adapt and seek ways to make it more tolerable, safe, and comfortable.
Here are some thoughts of what we can do:
Clothes: wear sandals, no socks or short socks; wear shorts, but not thick, layered cargo shorts; wear StayCool fabrics and more breathable fabrics.
Cars: put valuables in the trunk, leave the windows down for air flow. Buy cars in light colors to reflect more heat.
Transportation: use more public transportation, and add shade shelters at bus stops.
Landscaping: plant grasses that better withstand heat and drought and require less watering and pesticides; embrace xeriscaping (dry) to use less water.
Roofs: use light colors to better reflect heat. Ventilate attics.
Structures: install awnings and shade structures on houses and buildings.
Haircut: shorter and cooler, wear ventilated and wide-brimmed hats.
Shade: install more canopies in parking lots, plant more shade trees along parking rows, use parasols/umbrellas to shade pedestrians.
Outdoor activities: schedule earlier in the day and later in the evening; slow down and take siestas in the heat of the afternoon; accept lawn care noise earlier in the morning and later in the evening.
Garage: install an exhaust fan in the groj ceiling. To enhance the view of an open garage from the street - make it look more like a carport.


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:



This is absolutely brilliant. The first major ketchup packet design change in 42 years was developed after more than two years of research. It has a top that can be peeled back for easy dipping or a tip torn off to squeeze. 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." 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 it is 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. Update: Heinz fixed the graphics and simplified the wording for each use option.

We love ketchup and, in Texas, we love salsa. Pow! Put the two together. Both are dipping condiments and both are tomato-based. Why hadn't someone thought of this years ago? I have always put pepper on my fries, so a ketchup with a bit of peppery hotness was an easy transition.


I was at the gym, Gold's on the north side. I was a new member and was doing some chest presses when I looked across the bicycles and rowers and saw the sign over a set of double doors: Cardio Enema. Huh? Did I read that right? It was a serious sign - individual thick letters mounted on the wall above the door. Was it a cruel joke or a mistake by the sign company that no one had yet noticed? I couldn't tell, but I figured that there may have been some exercises in that room I didn't want to do.

I finished the presses and then went to two other machines. I took another look. Nope, still there. Still says Cardio Enema. I got my stuff from the locker room, no shower, not after what happened last week, my first week at this gym. On my way out, I told the fit young woman at the front desk about the sign. She looked at me like I was a fool, turned to read the sign, read it again, gasped audibly, and ran to the manager's office. I waited, no one came out. I was satisfied: I had alerted them, not much else I could do. So, I went on out the front door just as two police cars pulled up, lights flashing. They ran right by me. As I turned back to look, they were pulling their guns out. I drove on home and made a protein shake. Chocolate - well, I had just worked out.


Carl's Jr. and Hardee's were serving up a delicious symbol of freedom with the arrival of the Most American Thickburger - it unites three popular American picnic foods together on one bun: a split hot dog, potato chips, and a hamburger patty, along with a slice of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mustard, served on a bun. “A hot dog, potato chips, and a beef patty is, unquestionably, our most American creation yet."
"A burger this epic required an equally epic ad campaign that salutes all things American." American as the military, sex, red white blue, blond, liberty, boobs, cleavage. Statue of Liberty, aircraft carrier, skimpy bikini on a blog.


Great business for when some people regret what they have done.


To get an application for a job - instead of seeking a manager and interrupting the workflow - IHOP uses this device to dispense contact info for online or a phone call. The dispenser is like those that are used in bakeries and butcheries.
'Take a number, please' does have value as an alternative to standing in a sequential line. Wait until your number is called - wander the store, airport, or salon. Many of these places have an electronic board mounted up high that shows the number being served so those waiting can see when to approach the counter. In the instance above, the number is replaced with contact information.

Advertising is the science & art of arresting human intelligence long enough to change its mind.
Advertising is both a science - following formulas and research and an art - aesthetics. It should arrest - grab a hold of, human intelligence - one mind 'speaking' to another, long enough - no longer and no shorter, to persuade one to think differently, to change an attitude.
That is one definition of many. The typical textbook definition from when I was in school (1970s) was that advertising is selling a product, idea, or service. But, it's so much more - selling has to do with a behavior - transaction of money, reaching for a certain product, or pulling a voting lever. To change one's behavior (select Tide instead of Cheer) one must first change one's attitude. That attitude change is the job of advertising.

Assessing the effectiveness of an ad

An in-depth look at this ad above on the left.
Every ad and piece of graphic design should meet the following 3 main objectives, in this order:
1. Get attention.
• This ad, that ran in a newspaper, has very low contrast - light grey and medium grey (I heightened the contrast in the 3 close-up images on the right for easier reading in this post). In the medium of newspaper, it is difficult to get a solid black - the ink is not very opaque and the newsprint absorbs and spreads the ink. A black or dark background may look fine on the screen, but will be lighter when reproduced on newsprint.
• There is not much intrigue or visual interest here to grab the reader. The text copy is laid out flush left in a single column with straight baselines. The layout has little dynamism or excitement. The face illustration is small and towards the bottom of the ad. A good ad must stop us from turning the page or scrolling past the screen.
• The horizontal bracket parenthesis are a trendy design gimmick with absolutely no value or purpose here.
2. Convey information clearly and persuasively.
• The headline, Design Olympics 2013, has no familiar appeal - it is an unknown phrase - although we can assume it refers to a competition. But, why make the reader assume - just talk to em. Clearly. Asking the reader to make assumptions in this era of media bombardment and short attention spans can result in a loss of readership or response. This is a new event - no one that reads this newspaper is familiar with Design Olympics. A good ad 'speaks' directly and clearly to its target audience.
• The largest type is the year 2013, which is useless information. Would any reader think this ad would promote last year's event or an event next year? Nope. The least important word does not deserve the most dominant point size.
• The ad visuals do not convey Olympics, athletics, or a competition (is a competition even a good sales pitch concept to naive high school kids who probly don't really understand design well enough to feel confident competing?) The Olympic slogan (Swifter Higher Stronger) and spirit represent humans striving to be their best. None of that attitude is conveyed in this ad.
• What does that goofy expression on the blockhead represent? And the wavy noodle from the top of his head? Neither suggest the straightforward discipline of the Olympics or the creative problem solving of design.
• The copy is a bit awkward. Line breaks should occur at natural pauses or distinctions between phrases. We read in groups of words, in this case, probly one or two groups per line of copy. 'Compete with peers in design' suggests the wrong message to a non-designer still in high school. 'Fun of design school' is glossing over the rigorous discipline and demands of design school. Achieving the Eureka moment in problem solving is fun, developing strong messages that make an emotional connection is fun, but not design school. '$5 for participants to register' is not quite accurate. If one hasn't registered, one is not yet a participant.
• The copy text does not respect the reader's time. The large subhead gives the date, but no day of the week. That forces the reader to check a calendar. Why? Just include the day of the week.
• The ad does not adequately educate the reader about the event. Where will the event be held? Will there be teams? Demonstrations? Critiques? There should be more details to excite and entice people to visit the website and sign up. One advantage to the medium of newspaper advertising is that there is a captive audience who is already in the reading-for-info mindset. There is plenty of room in ad of this size for more details and specifics.
3. Incite action.
• This ad provides little incentive or reward for signing up. Lunch for $5 or a chance at a tuition waiver to the sponsoring university is probly not enough. A successful ad persuasively motivates the reader to do something. - sign up, vote, change a buying habit, think about an issue.
• What is the creative concept that drives the decision-making for this ad? As a new event that is unfamiliar to most readers, it needs a clever creative concept and a thoughtful design layout to break through media clutter and make an impact in the minds of the target audience.

Advertising exaggeration


At Walmart, on the shelf were 6 options of Degree deodorant - look at the names of the options. Who wouldn't want an Extreme deodorant? Or one that works Overtime? And a product that can help with Stress Control? Sign me up.
What do these names mean? Sounds like ad copy bullshit. So, I asked the Walmart employee restocking products - she said they referred to the different scents. I asked her "What does Extreme smell like? Is it an overbearing odor?" "When someone works Overtime, don't they start to stink? Why would I wear that?" "Sport Defense?" She smiled feebly and I walked away - she had no idea what the names meant. Nor did I.
I want their best formula deodorant. That's all - just 1 product. Maybe 2 or 3 if they have very clear scent descriptions, like fried bacon or maple glazed donut. Or, maybe Extreme Maple Glaze Bacon.

This is becoming quite common - the number of soda flavors available, the number of items (200?) in the Cheesecake Factory menu, and everywhere else you look in the grocery aisles. What do they know - does overwhelming the consumer pay off in increased sales? Are we impressed to the point of wanting to purchase more?

Notice how many Oreo options are available - 22 different varieties of the Oreo Cookie. When I was a kid there were 2 options - Oreo and Oreo dipped in milk.

But, they didn't offer my new favorite - the Oreo Sample Pack - a variety of new flavors so I can try several to determine my favorites.


Which is stronger? Here are some dictionary definitions:
Ultra: beyond what is usual ordinary, excessive, extreme.
Extra: beyond what is usual, expected, necessary.
In this case, the 'ad copy' doesn't help much - the consumer has to read the ingredients to see if there is a difference in quantity or dosage of the medicine.
I prefer Mega Ultra Extra Strength when using medications.

Ads for AmericanAirlines on the back cover of The New York Times Magazine

The concept of the ad is apparently that this new terminal at New York's JFK Airport has been designed for a world class experience while traveling. The target market is those who spend more time in airports than the casual traveler. But, traveling has become more of a hassle. American Airlines, according to this full page ad is not countering that hassle.
Take a good look at the photograph: cold, long walkways, no moving sidewalk, no courtesy carts, no gate destination in view. Not a single seated person. We don't even see many inviting seating areas. Each traveler is pulling or carrying luggage, on a polished hard floor.
There is just nothing appealing in this photo that would appeal to a world traveler. In fact, it supports the notion that traveling is now a chore and not as much fun as it used to be.
The copy reads, "Experience a terminal like no other." Thank God. Hopefully, other terminals are better than the one depicted in this ad.
Lesson: all elements in a design piece should support and enhance its basic concept.
Those elements include typography, layout composition, color, photographs, logos. The photograph in the AA ad does not enhance the concept of world class design for travelers.

Assuming the photo was appropriate and did enhance the concept, there is another lesson here:
Align elements to provide greater integration and order within a composition.
Notice how the flush-left headline below aligns with elements above it in the photograph, but the smaller flush-right text copy does not. The example below on the right has been altered so that the text copy also aligns with photographic elements. A blog reader posted that she even saw a house - conveying the subtle subliminal message that the terminal has the comfort and security of home.


We assume the concept here is to contrast the more refined experience while in an airport lounge to that of the airplane itself. This ad should contrast the experience of sitting in rows on an airplane to the freedom of sitting in a comfortable lounge. The photo, however, shows rigid, monotonous rows, just like on an airplane.
Better: shoot the photograph from an angle that diminishes the alignment of the rows and enhances the openness of the lounge. Maybe more warm colors (like those shown in the background) and less view of an airplane out the window.

A better layout of text copy

1. Entire ad is set flush left, except for Leonard Bernstein's Mass. Be consistent.
2. List of artists is in a paragraph format - if it is a list, put it in a list format.
3. Move elements away from the edges.
4. Enlarge elements for better clarity.


Alien advertising copy

Saw this full page ad in the local newspaper. The ad layout also served as the home page for their website.
So, let's take a look. The image is an engraving of a cloud - it appears to be a storm cloud with the gathering height and the darker bottom. Not sure what it means or its relevance, but its a nice engraving. Below that is the headline. Please read it:



Now, what does that mean? Unmatched perspective? Limitless possibilities? Unleashing a spirit? Pure crap. If you spend some time and use your imagination, you might be able to stretch the meaning to make some sense. But an advertising headline should not require that much work. It should be clear and to the point.
This ad is for a new restraunt on top of the tallest building in Oklahoma. I'm sure there will be a great view of the prairie (or of clouds as in the illustration?). Just like any other high-up view of the prairie, but now from a bit higher up. The objective of the copy is to encourage the reader to consider trying this new restraunt. Of course, the view will be great, but we also should have a desire to eat the food and enjoy the surroundings.



The tagline in this ad, Globally inspired American cuisine, would have made a better headline. It inspires curiosity about this new restraunt. The existing headline (I won't type it again) does not stir any emotion or yearning in the mind of the reader (other than WTF?)
    'Where would you like to go for dinner?'
        'How about some place where an unmatched perspective creates
        limitless possibilities and unleashes the spirit of discovery.'
    'Huh? I meant to eat dinner.'


Lesson: Write from the reader's point of view. Use plain language. Nobody on this planet talks like this: An unmatched perspective creates limitless possibilities and unleashes the spirit of discovery.
Tip: Write copy to match the way the target market thinks and talks.

A deceptive ad
The advertising profession has to battle an often-deserved reputation of not being trustworthy. Many polls of trust place ad people down with used car salesmen and politicians. Outrageous claims are part of the reason. Here are a magazine ad and web home page banner with some misleading copy and visuals. The ads are for a travel vest with many pockets to hold your stuff:

The implication
All the stuff on the 'Tourists' in the circle would fit into the vest pockets worn by the 'Travelers' on the right.

Do you believe it? Wouldn't there be bulges from the water bottles and the long lenses on the SLR cameras?

In the list of items shown above, there is no SLR camera even pictured, only two smaller point-and-shoot cameras. So, maybe part of the transformation from Tourist to Traveler includes buying a smaller camera. That has nothing to do with pockets in a vest - the ad makes no mention of having to buy smaller stuff (nor does it mention that you should wear different teeshirts under the vest). The perception (and that's all that really matters) is that by buying this vest, all the touristy stuff can fit into it and you will then be dressed like a 'traveler'. But, that is clearly not true.


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. Juxtapose the familiar with the innovative.

Ad with lack of clear information

Full page newspaper insert and an enlargement of the contact info.
Once buyers are persuaded to buy a product, they then seek more specific info: Where do I get this? When are they open?
Great design (clear communication of a message) respects the reader enough to make the info easy to spot and understand.
Notice, at the bottom of the enlargements below, the hours for M-Th are the same as those for F-Sa. At a glance, the ad suggests that there are different hours on the weekend. All days with the same hours should be grouped together, M-Sa, as in the example on the right below.

Now look at the address - this ad requires the reader to use some other device to discover where Hudiburg Circle is. Maybe call the phone number or check a map on a computer. But, isn't it rude and inconsiderate to require the reader to do that? Since the client wants the reader to spend money at their store, make it easy. This would be a great place for a simple but appropriate map of the area, including freeway exits.
Lessons:
• Great design impacts our lives by allowing us to make decisions more efficiently - easier and quicker.
• Great designers consider the reader/viewer/user's point of view.
Tip: Think like the target audience, not the client.

The deceitful advertising enticement of Free shipping
       "We offer Free Shipping!"
How does your company get FedEx, UPS, or the
postal service to donate their shipping services?
       "They don't. We have to pay those shippers."
Then your company pays for the shipping out of your profits?
       "Yes."
Where do you get your profits?
       "From selling our products."
So, am I paying for the shipping when I buy your product?
       "Yes."
So, if I'm paying for it, its clearly not 'Free Shipping'!
Wouldn't it be more accurate and honest to say: 'Shipping included in price' or 'No extra shipping charges'.

Tweaking the lead image in an ad

The ad on the left ran in the newspaper and in an email blast. It has a nice overall look. But there are some issues with hierarchy and eye flow, and a bit of clutter busyness in the top image which distract the viewer from being able to focus on the more important words. Revised version above right. Improvements:
• Deleted stars and Bob Howard Auto Mall, they're unnecessary and too small.
• Lowered the BH letters.
• Raised the words Garage and Sale, Sale and the dates were too cramped.
• Increased the space between Garage and Sale.
• Deleted the sets of 3 parallel lines, unnecessary and distracting.
• Enlarged the banner of dates March 27-29, important info that needed more dominance.
• Tightened the kerning around the apostrophe in Don't.
Notice how much easier it is to focus on the headline with less crap in the way.

Thoughtful grabbing media placement

Above: In your face when you enter this c-store is, Grab some Buds, with an enticing picture of an ice-cold beer bottle. This is almost the last possible chance the advertiser has to impact someone's purchase decision - on the door to the store (an ad on the door to the beer fridge is probly the last chance). These are located where you cannot miss them, right by the handle you must grab to enter. The message is short and clear - grab a beer. The double meaning of grab your friends to watch the game or go out also has a positive message. Both are active requests to do something.
Below: As advertisers get more desperate to find new ways to grab a hold of our minds, someone saw the bollard at the front door as a blank canvas - a place to put yet another advertising message. Grab now, enjoy later. There is no longer a limit on what defines an advertising medium.


Muddled focus

Take a look at this ad from the New York/New Jersey area. It conveys the notion that the Instant Games in the lottery can come at any time - so be ready. In the ad, we see a guy on the train platform with a bunch of commuters. But, he's ready to go scuba diving on vacation in case he wins an Instant Game.
But, this concept relies on the dichotomy between bored commuters and the guy going to take a vacation. For the concept to work - there must be a clear distinction between the two. The snorkel and swim mask are the clues, but notice how easy they are to overlook (as you likely did when you first saw the ad). If the viewer misses them, the concept is lost. It just becomes a photo of commuters on a platform.
There is too much interference between the concept and the viewer's understanding.
Lesson: While contrasts can invite participation from the viewer, they shouldn't be so obscure as to be easily overlooked.
Tip: Increase the dichotomy between the scuba commuter and the others - position the snorkel to be more obvious. Minimize the graphic crap around the frame so the viewer can focus on the scuba commuter.


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?


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.

$100 over shirt?

This full-page ad ran in The Week, a major international publication. The ad was probly very expensive. And yet, there are some errors:
The subhead Exclusive Introductory Offer - Save over $100 over shirt It should probly read, $100 per shirt.
How did that even happen? Did spellcheck take letters, maybe oer and change it to over?

Three ways to order: Online, phone, and in person at a store. On the right: Simpler and clearer text copy
Phone number: There is probly no longer a need to tell people that 800 numbers are toll-free.
See Manhattan & Washington DC stores online Quote: 'FEB24': The online Quote: 'FEB24' copy is unnecessary and probly wasn't even meant to be included on that line.
The first two options don't have verbs (Visit www or Call 1-866), so the third doesn't need one, either. The symbols convey the physical action.
Think how many different people were involved in producing the ad - copywriter, art director, creative director, account executive, client, client's ad team, and more. Yet, it made it all the way through the process with several serious errors.
Tip: Have someone knowledgeable in English grammar proofread your work before it goes to press or online.
Lesson: Work should be designed, proofed, and produced as seen through the eyes of the reader/viewer/target audience.


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. The middle example is the catalog enlarged - 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. On the right is the way it ought to be - the dominant black bars separate the items, just as we expected them to, and the image and copy are grouped together - visually connected. Much clearer.

Before & after examples of advertising manipulation

Brand name burgers: ad photo on the left, actual burgers on the right. The photos of the actual burgers were shot from the most flattering angle. I wonder if we consumers will ever get disgusted enough with this that we ask for more honesty in advertising images. Or have we just accepted that it is normal for advertisers to deceive us and we are now just numb to such outrageous claims. The consequence of that is the line of what is acceptable is moved more towards dishonesty.
I have often wanted to order at a fast food place, point to the photo in the menu board overhead, and state, "I want my burger to look exactly like that one!"


You can see a capital N with bumpy lines along two strokes or you can see a silhouette of a dog in a weird white shape - the letter N or the dog, but not both simultaneously. Of course, since your mind can switch back and forth quite fast; it may appear you are seeing both at once.

The clever Fiat campaign draws its concept philosophy from Rubin's vase (the figure-ground vase), famous two-dimensional forms developed around 1915 by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin. The viewer sees two shapes, but only one can be understood at a given moment. The same phenomenon also occurs in the old woman-young woman image above right. This one-at-a-time image perception is the Fiat campaign - you can focus either on the conditions outside the car window or on the small screen in your hand; but not both at the same time.

This graphic mark seems to send the wrong message

This is from an ad campaign to decrease drinking and driving.

Above: Existing, with the letters filling up with beer (or scotch or whiskey).
Below: Another option, with letters emptying of beer and without those useless horizontal white lines. But, while neither option is appropriate for the message, the one below clearly says to finish your beer before driving.

Important distinction: The appropriate concept should not be about drinking less or finishing your drink. It's about not drinking at all when driving.



I stood and pondered the message on this billboard photographed in Austin. The only clue I can find to help me answer the question posed is that the sponsor seems to be the Special Olympics. I assume, then, that the 'R-Word' is 'Retarded'. This billboard asks the reader to wonder and figure it out - thereby making the word even more dominant and memorable. The result backfires - instead of encouraging the reader to erase a word, it is reinforcing the word and making it a part of our vernacular. There are also too many image messages - the eraser competes for attention with the prohibited symbol over the R - which is the dominant message? Is the content asking us to erase the word or prohibit the word? Do we really need two messages? A reader typically doesn't have much time to read the message on an outdoor billboard. Is the message conveyed here that the 'R' is prohibited, but the word 'retarded' is okay? Should we replace retarded with the R-Word? Doesn't that seem a bit R-Word?
Weak concept. Weak message. Weak communication of content.


Be aware when laying out a page in a magazine that is perfect bound - the gutter won't open flat and some of the copy will be obscured in the unseen portion. The designer saw the above red page on his/her screen and it looked just fine - text all the way to the edge. But, they didn't consider how it would look once printed. I assume that this editorial layout is for Michael Fassbender, the actor. But, it could be for Dick Assbender, the one-eyed drag queen.



Here's an ad campaign for a show on LifeTime called army wives. The foto in the upper left is of an ad on the side of a bus stop for pedestrians walking by. This ad is okay - it must grab and intrigue people who have only a second or two to scan images they pass. The other fotos are from a subway car. These are weak because the ads do not give us enough information - why should the viewer change his/her schedule to watch this show? Great ads provide benefits for the reader, some reasons why we should change our attitudes - the show is sexy, intriguing, empathetic to interesting people, something to make one go, "Hmm, that might be worth a watch." So much competes for our time and attention today that marketers need to break thru and grab us with some appeal. Because this campaign is on a subway car - LifeTime bought the entire side of the car - these ads have a captive audience: hundreds of people who are searching for something to read, something to occupy their time. These ads should have had full copy - we have the time and desire to read it. Include copy about the characters - describe them in such a way that the reader wants to get to know them better. Copy about the storyline - what neat issues will be addressed, what relationships will be messed up, etc. Anyway, poor attention to the medium and to the reader's needs; an expenditure that was not made the most of.

One reason why so much design today is weak

This is a good-looking piece. A nice column of copy, an appropriate color, nice patina in the background. Overall, a very appealing look. But, there are some minor errors:
The word 'pavilion' is misspelled.
Tip: Proofread all copy. If in doubt, get a second, or third, opinion.
In the block of copy - does it read 'No trash, no re-usable plates, no utensils, cups & napkins'. Or does it read, 'No Trash. Bring only re-usable plates, utensils, cups & napkins', or does it say 'No trash, bring re-usable plates, but any type of utensils, cups, and napkins'? Since the text is under the heading of 'No Trash', we assume the list following No Trash carries on the No request. BTW: who takes trash to a picnic? Is that a serious problem at this park? The more I read all of the requests, positive and negative, the more confused I get. I assume the copy lists what to bring, including re-usable plates, interrupted by the negative of what not to bring (trash), maybe as a caution that there will be no trash cans available. Even if my assumptions are correct, they require too much deciphering and translating and I am still not confident of what the requests are.
Tip: Read the copy as the target audience would. Advertising copy shouldn't be confusing.
There is no day of the week listed. We get April 8, but we plan our lives based primarily on days.
Tip: Include the day of the week. More info and examples.

But, those aren't the reasons why so much design today is weak.
This poster was displayed on Facebook. There were several comments commending the designer. That's thoughtful and supportive. I assumed that someone would point out at least the misspelled word. Nope. No one did. That is why design today is weak. We are too ignorant or too afraid to monitor our own colleagues and work for the betterment of the design community. The more errors that get published, the lower the bar, and the more numb we get to mediocrity. Much great design is a collaboration, with input from others. The more people that spoke up about the errors in this piece, the better the design would be for the designer and for the event. But, no one spoke up.

Information design helps readers better understand a message.

How big is an acre?
Unless one is a farmer, rancher, or realtor, very few of us know. Here's the correct answer:
An acre is the amount of land a yoke of oxen can plow in one day.

Well, nice, but I still don't know. That may define an acre but it doesn't convey how big it is - how much space it takes up. Okay, here's a more specific answer:
An acre is 43,560 square feet.

That is more precise, but how big is that?
An acre is about the size of a football field, minus the end zones:

Okay, I can relate to that - now I have some idea how big an acre is.

Making the complex clear - communicating information in a manner that is easy to understand - that is Information Graphics.
One way to do that is to relate the unknown (acre) to something known (football field) to clarify understanding.
The acre example is from Richard Saul Wurman, the Information Architect, the Guru of Understanding.
Important lesson: Great design is accomplished when seeing the problem through the eyes of the user (reader, viewer).

Some examples of chart design
These two charts provide the same info for the NCAA Men's tournament. They are each the same area, but one is easier to read, even at the small size shown. One uses text (and provides additional information) while the other uses team logos. The fan who is checking on their teams will most likely be able to recognize their team brands.


Confusing order of items
The headline says 'tops survey,' yet the referenced item is at the bottom. Why would anyone do that? Put the Top one at the bottom, instead of at the top? That is more expected, more intuitive, more appropriate, and clearer communication.
The rest of the items are in random order - alphabetical or by decreasing dollar amount would be better for the reader to see a comparison - "Who is in second place?"

Below: The viewer wants to easily compare Texas cities to other US cities. In the existing, the Highest markets are in descending order, the Lowest are in ascending order, and the Texas markets are all jumbled. Putting them all in descending order allows better clarity for comparison.


Unnecessary legend: (Just label the items directly)

Labels next to their accompanying figures



Unnecessary inconsiderate legend:

Below: three options to improve clear communication.
Tip: Avoid legends when feasible. Note: it is very often feasible.

Poor readability: all caps, condensed font, tight kerning, poor contrast, small point size:

Randomly arranged charts:

Why are the countries arranged in that order? I can't find a reason - it just seems random.
There are two better options:
1. Alphabetical - allows the reader to more easily find a specific country.
2. By amplitude - least to maximum - allows the reader to compare and rank nations.


Below: The heading, Brand by Maximum is incorrect - it should be Brand Also, Maximum - as it is not (Arranged) by maximum.
Also, get rid of the confusing unnecessary arrows, move the heading off of the items, and put them in a logical order.


The poll question was Do you sing in the shower? But, that isn't what was in the headline. Why not? If the headline is accurate, there is no need to repeat the question at the end of the body copy. The regular reader knows this feature is results from a poll. I suspect most don't read the copy - they read the question and view the results.
Improvements
• Changed the headline to be more accurate and clearer.
• Deleted the repeat of the question in the copy.
• Reset the text copy with a narrower column width.
• Enlarged the result captions to be easier to read.
• Put the results in ascending order and aligned, not a random placement.

A bar graph might be easier to understand than a pie chart
The legend is not needed and, therefore, the color coding is not really helpful (but it's okay). The Other category is useless, and so it was deleted from the bar chart.


Too busy, too many lines:

Black, red, and yellow lines all point to the same item. A box around type is not necessary. Too many blank spaces.

Arrangement of elements in a list:

Why the maze to decipher - is this the puzzle page? A test?
No, it's a chart of information that shows odd requests made by teams of their hotel.

Better options: Below left: improved. Right, even better:
1. Straight links to clearly communicate the content.
2. Alphabetized list of countries to allow finding a particular one a bit easier.
3. No horizontal and vertical decorative lines - there is no need to separate the black disk from the heading with an overused outdated vertical line. Nor does the line beneath the heading serve any purpose.
Lesson: If a graphic element serves no purpose, it is just crap - clutter that the reader has to process and then ignore.

Another example of poor arrangement

In the original graph on the left - notice the bent lines that lead the eye away from the item being referenced. I can't think of any reason why a designer would think that those angled lines improve comprehension of the message or the aesthetics of the image. They just detract and confuse. The tweaked version on the right is clearer and more appealing. Again, the order is confusingly random. Rearrange the items in descending order.

Above is a chart from Gallup.com. Please read the list of Office locations by country.
I suspect you read down the first column. At some point you may have realized that the list is organized in rows, not columns - we are supposed to read across first, then down. Oops, bad design. We read down for two reasons:
1. We are conditioned to, its more familiar. When we recognize a list (with bullets and aligned in a column) we read down the list, no matter how many columns there are.
2. The designer of this page gave us visual cues to read down. The countries are aligned in vertical columns with a column of bullets next to the country names. The spacing conveys to read Australia first (again, conditioning to start at the top left) and then read the next closest country. That would be Canada, not Belgium.


This is an info sign outside the OKC Zoo. It helps the visitor decide which ticket level to purchaser at the booth in a few yards. Great idea to provide this info before approaching the window - it should help speed up the ticket buying process and help the line move faster. However, there are some issues with the layout of this sign - the most egregious is that the General Admission prices are hidden in a different format in the purple band across the very bottom. Easy to overlook and assume that the only pricing options are the ones listed in the chart.
Improvements
• Titled General Admission as Walk it All to better match Ride it All and Zoo it All. When the options are to Walk or Ride, that may be an an easy choice for some.
• Added Walk it All prices at the top of the chart to better respect the customer.
• Clarified the pricing options and the benefits by attaching the colored bands to their respective benefit column.
• Arranged the columns in increasing order: Ages 3-11, 12-64, 65+ - Children, Adults, Seniors.
• Enlarged the ages row for easier readability.
• Narrowed the columns so that all info could be enlarged.


1. There is no no need to repeat 'iPhone' under the heading iPhone.
2. The title Screen Repair needs to be larger and more obvious.
3. Models that have the same price can be grouped together - the reader will scan to their phone model and then check the price.


Nulo is a premium dog food that prides itself on healthful, honest ingredients. But, their promo piece is a bit dishonest. Note the visual above left comparing carbohydrate content - it makes Nulo (bottom in red) appear impressive - almost no carbohydrates. On a scale of 30% to 50%, selected out of context to show the red bar more favorably. The company relies on the fact that visuals are more memorable and persuasive than text words. On the right is a fair comparison - using the more accurate scale from 0% to 100% - the complete gamut. Now, the red band is not quite as impressive. The red band and the one above it differ by only 5%, almost negligible. But, the visual on the left makes it appear that there is a huge difference between the two.
Makes me wonder - what are they hiding? Why don't they show the complete chart? I am often skeptical of companies who try to trick the consumer.

Sale tags that obscure products

Shopping at major pharmacies is tough enough since supplements and vitamins are organized by brand, not the Vitamin. Then, sale tags hang in front of the products on the row below it. It is probly easier for the store staff to restock, but it makes comparison shopping too inconvenient. But, hey, its just the paying customer.

A better Oscar announcement card

Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope for Best Picture. If the card inside the envelope were clearer - better typography and logical hierarchy, Beatty (or any person) would have more likely caught the mistake. Designer Brandon Jameson (with additional tweaks from Jim Watson) redesigned the Oscars award card to more reasonable specifications.
The existing card, designed by PricewaterhouseCoopers - the accounting firm that keeps the winners secret, is topped by the Oscars logo, which is a superfluous waste of space - and, it's the biggest element on the page! The winning film is listed below that, centered and in quotes. That's a little too subtle, as the winner is the same size and weight as a long list of names that follows. And the category - Best Picture - is listed in very tiny type at the bottom, underneath a line that looks like a blank waiting to be filled in.

Above right: Better. The category is at the top, in thin sans serif letters. The category in large type at the top assures the presenter they have the correct card and cues them to what they're going to say, but the category type is lighter weight, so it doesn't steal any thunder from the winner's name, which is bolder than anything else on the card.
The text of the winner is bold, larger, and without unnecessary quote marks. To make it even more prominent, all the names beneath are U&lc, ensuring there's less of a chance to blend the two as one block of text. The Oscars logo is at the bottom and smaller.
These changes make the info clearer and more importantly, obvious if you've been handed the wrong card. The Academy Awards illustrate how subtle design changes can help prevent a very specific human error. The people reading these cards are sometimes older, they've probably been drinking, and they're in the spotlight in front of their peers delivering some of the most important industry information of the year - these cards should be bulletproof. And as we now know, if someone makes a mistake, absolutely everyone will notice.

Why didn't they learn from the Miss Universe Pageant?
A few minutes after announcing Miss Colombia as the winner of the pageant, the show's host Steve Harvey walked back on stage. He interrupted Miss Colombia, who waving to the crowd in her new crown and sash with flowers in hand. "Okay folks, uh..." Harvey said. "I have to apologize. The first runner-up is Colombia. Miss Universe 2015 is Philippines!"
After a few awkward minutes, both Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines stood at the front of the stage. Another Miss Universe worker came out, took the crown off Miss Colombia's head (Miss Universe 2015 for 3 minutes) and placed it on Miss Philippines'.

"Folks, let me just take control of this," Harvey tried to explain. "This is exactly what's on the card," he said, holding it up for the cameras. "I will take responsibility for this. It was my mistake. It was on the card. Horrible mistake, but the right thing. I can show it to you right here," he said pointing to the card (with very small print). "The first runner-up is Colombia. Still a great night. Please don't hold this against the ladies. We feel so badly but it's still a great night."

A few simple improvements
• Arrows to guide the reader.
• All 3 levels aligned.
• Larger point sizes.
• Spelled out Second and First to avoid a glance at number 1 or 2.
• Winner name located more prominently - look how far down on the card it was on the original.

Microwave instructions

The two above have their instructions buried in blocks of copy, in a small point size, and reversed out of the red background.
Now look at the better brand below. The designer of these packages was considerate of the reader. The heading, Cooking Instructions, is large and easy to find. The most important info (the time) is large, set in a box, and put on a higher contrast background. Users can scan the back of the box easily and quickly find the info they are looking for. Microwave ovens are fast, their instructions should be, also.


The box above has two important steps - Prep and Cook. Both are very clear at a glance. The prep photo makes sense.

There are 8 ways to set blocks of text copy:

A few guidelines
• The way that best facilitates reading long blocks of copy (like in a book or magazine) is FLRR.
• Flush Center is used primarily for lists and data.

Better arrangements of columns of info in the flush center format
We read by taking a picture of a group of words - not letter by letter. When scanning a phone book or any directory, we find the name and then have to scan to the right a ways to get to the phone number. There is no advantage to setting the info with justified margins. We are not reading a block of copy like prose, we are reading only one line of info. To aid this horizontal eye movement, a line of dots has been added to help us stay on the proper line of info.

In the example above right, the numbers are aligned to the immediate left of the names. One scans down the column to the desired name and then sees the number right next to it - no having to move along the line. As shown below, this method saves enough space to allow more letterspacing for clarity and easier reading, to allow setting the phone numbers in bold, and to allow a slightly narrower column width (as shown by the grey bar at the bottom of the column).
Flush Center Conceived: mid-1990s. Designed/copyrighted: May, 2003.
Below left: 4 columns of existing directory page. Below right: 4 columns of a Flush Center directory page.



Existing layout for scores: We read by taking a picture of a group of words - not letter by letter. When reading scores on television, most stations do the usual transfer-from-print layout of putting scores after the team name. Since the length of team names varies widely, these scores may end up being a ways from their team. There is no advantage to setting sports scores with justified margins. We are not reading a block of copy like prose, we are reading only one line of info.

Better layout for scores: In the example above, the scores are aligned to the immediate left of the team names. One sees the number right next to the team name - no having to move along a horizontal line. This method allows more clarity and easier reading and allows a slightly narrower column width.

Above right QuakeFeed app: the earthquake intensity is listed first and right next to the city location. The date and time info are on one line to allow compression of info to fit more incidents on one screen (less scrolling). People access the app to learn, "Dang, how big was that one? And how close was it?" The arrangement better respects the desires of the user.
Lessons:
• Design from the user's point of view, not the client nor the designer.
• Minimal scrolling and swiping speeds access and eases use.


This was a newspaper insert for a pizza chain. The list of locations in the center wasted lots of space and was a bit tough to use effectively. Improvements:
• Phone numbers closer to location
• Larger point size for better readability
• Fewer unnecessary marks: ( " .
• Less info in locations - deleted W, St, Ave.
• More consistent setting of Oklahoma City SW & NW
• Better spacing within coupons
• Larger logos inside coupons


Above: Copy set in the traditional flush left layout. And, yes, her husband got 182 points out of 200. She only needed to get 18 points to win the jackpot, but her answers were so off that she didn't earn any additional points. So sad for her. Below: setting the copy so the answers respect their points earned by aligning to a central margin:


The graph in the middle of the page (enlargement below left) is a comparison of games per month. To visually clarify a comparison, it helps to align the icons so that the width of each row starts from the same zero point. As printed in The Magazine, there is inconsistent spacing and an awkward alignment. There is no advantage to having the months aligned left - we can easily scan the list.
Tip: Align the elements that convey the message content, not the message labels.


It is much easier to understand the point being made - that more money goes to Corporate Subsidies
than to any of the other expenses shown. Improvements:
• Aligned the decimal points so that the dollar amounts line up and can be more easily compared.
• Arranged the items in increasing dollar amounts.
• Decreased the leading - allows a larger point size without taking up any more height.
• No need for bullets.
• No need for the repeated dollar sign.



Align monetary lists by the decimal points for easier comparisons


Better screen design and layout for websites, apps, and emails
Screen design for devices will go through a transition shake-down as designers learn and embrace the needs, advantages, and limitations of the medium and how best to satisfy the users.

Screen design objectives & considerations
• Short download time: minimal graphics, no gimmicks
• Easy to navigate and access
• Minimum number of pages to get to destination
• Provide convenient links
• Easy to read: legible point sizes, common simple fonts
• Maximize live area
• Minimal scrolling
• Consistent layout on pages
• Visual appeal
• Responsive to adapt to a variety of platforms
• One finger/thumb operation (where applicable)

Target audiences
• Seekers: someone accessing specific information
• Users: someone specifically exploring this site
• Browsers: surfers accidentally hitting site

Some objectives (From the Plain Language.gov website)
Users require three things when using a device screen:
1. A logical structure so they know where to look for information (information architecture).
2. An easy-to-use interface to get them to that information (usability).
3. Information (content) that is easy to understand (plain language).

A new Bank of America mobile app that is more user-friendly

All the info from the left screen is on the next screen - in a format that is easier to navigate, easier to understand, more orderly, and more consistent.
• Navigation is currently in 8 menus spread all over the screen - the improved version has one icon menu across the top and a list of items running down the screen in a consistent and aligned format.
• The red Bank of America band - as a unifying brand marker - is at the top of the screen, not partway down.
• The photo - useless, potentially alienating, and taking up precious space - has been removed.
• The multiple text specs - font, point size, placement, and case - have been replaced by a simpler type format.
• The contrast with the gray background has been enhanced.
Compare the visual chaos on the left to the logical alignment order on the right.

AppleCard app improvements

• The Transactions are only on 2 lines, instead of 3. The location is not necessary since tapping the item takes the user to a map of the location.
• The multi-color image of the AppleCard serves only as a toggle switch - tapping it toggles back to ApplePay. The smaller image allows plenty of finger room to do that, and it frees up more space to list more transactions - requiring less scrolling.
More info is available on the app screen without swiping or scrolling. Simple and clear.
• The contrast was upped a bit to better delineate the bubbles of info.

Edward Jones - no need anymore for a Welcome statement - we want info


Tesla app without redundant or useless options


Unnecessary text copy and excessive scrolling

Improvements
• Deleted the SXSW at the top since it is also on the very next line of copy. SXSW is set larger to become a headline.
• Set Online Sessions on 1 line and Week of May 26 on 1 line - these are self-contained phrases that, if feasible, should be kept as a unit on 1 line.
• Edited superfluous copy in the opening - the reader wants to know what sessions are newly available online. They are somewhat savvy with SXSW Online. All they need is a couple of reminders, not a bunch of crap to skip over. "Hi, everyone"? "We hope to see you ..."?
• Important info like day, date, and time is moved to the top of the session text, enlarged, and set differently to easify recognition, memorability, and comprehension.
• The title of the session is set on 1 or 2 lines. The presenter's names are set on one line beneath the title, rather than part of the title sentence.
• All session text copy is edited and set with less leading.


Please don't make the user scroll too much

I was seeking info on the annual Christmas dinner in downtown OKC, so I went to their website. The left image is what a surfer sees on the home screen. Of all the screen space allotted, this site uses only the blocks in yellow - the rest is wasted and of no value. The user must scroll down to get more info. The image below on the left shows the entire site, that took about 4 screen scrolls to access. The photos appear in a random slideshow sequence.
Reminder: People now go to the web primarily to watch cat videos and to seek information. Ignore the cats, but, please, provide info for users in an easy to navigate format. The less scrolling, the better.

Above right is a redesigned home page - in fact, it's now the only page. All the information and menu links can be seen on the page with no scrolling. All the type point sizes remain the same. The pertinent info is in the top red banner, the photos have been cropped and can now be seen all at once, and the explanatory info and links are towards the bottom. Now, the eye can scroll around the page to find the desired info, rather than the finger or mouse having to scroll down.

Example below: Nobody cares much for just pretty pictures - the visitor wants information and easily accessible. Better: minimize the size of the picture (even more than I show here) and decrease the excessive white space.

Below: too much space devoted to days and hours. Cropped and lightened photo. Moved the map higher up.


Apple iPhone:
Lots of wasted space - if it is tightened up (far right), more info can be read without scrolling.


Walmart:

On the Walmart app home screen, the user has to scroll to access all the options. I use Walmart Pay and can't even find the icon on the home screen - I have to scroll down.
The screen has a lot of wasted space, the layout is too open, and there is not enough visual hierarchy to guide the user. Improvements (image above right):
1. Enlarged Sign In text/button.
2. Tightened rows of text/Icons so all info fits on one screen - no need to scroll.
3. Moved labels closer to their image icons.
4. Enlarged the Walmart Pay icon.
5. Separated the main categories with Walmart blue lines.

Red Roof Inn:

Two apps for motel sites. Well done. The main menu is contained within the home page.
The Red Roof app home page: The main menu has two primary links, like in the two examples above, but, with Red Roof, the user must scroll down to see the second option.

There is much wasted space: about 40% allotted to a useless photo of clouds and too much white space among all the elements. This one long page (requiring scrolling) could easily be tightened up to allow all the info to be contained on one home screen, as shown on the right.
Lesson: See the design through the eyes of the end user. Consider their needs, desires, and habits.
Tip: Determine the hierarchy of information. Make sure that unimportant elements don't hog too much space.


Bank of America and Chili's:


TVGuide:

When the user taps a program, its details and description open in a window too small to contain all the text: there is not enough dedicated space to display the entire program description - the user must scroll. But, notice how much blank space is to the right of the photo.
Simple solution: group more of the program details on less lines, as shown above right. This frees up enough space for the entire program description to fit within the allotted space. No scrolling necessary.

Avoid unnecessary extra screens
On the iPhone, I am not a fan of swiping to multiple pages in search of an app or a folder. I created folders so that all the apps would fit on the home page. The look is more industrial - this is, after all, a machine. A hand-held phenomenal machine. It seems more honest to let it look industrial and serious. And more useful and efficient.

• I can access every app from one page - no more swiping along multiple pages to access an app.
• Along the bottom row, I placed the 4 apps that provide connections to others: phone calls, text messages, email letters, and Facebook updates and messages. Update: I rarely access Facebook any more so I moved the icon to the Fun Stuff folder and moved the Safari icon to that spot on the bottom row.
• The top row - I placed the camera app in the upper right - to minimize taps to access it and to remind me that the camera lens is positioned in that corner on the back. The rest of the row contains apps I use frequently.
• The middle 3 rows contain the app folders. If a folder had less than 9 apps in it, there would be blank voids in the folder window. To fill those voids, I added photos of my dogs.
• With the additional busyness, its important to create a solid background to minimize the visual noise.


Above: the webpage of Donor Centers on the OK Blood Center website. To find a Donor Center, a list appears, but the locations in the OKC metro area are grouped within an additional menu (middle photo below).

There is no need for the additional menu - all of the locations can be listed in one menu (as in the example on the far right). The list is alphabetized. Putting OKC first in their names allows the two locations to be next to each other in the list. People living in Norman or Midwest City would more likely check a list for Norman or Midwest City, rather than as a subset of Oklahoma City.
Tip: Many people today seek information immediately and easily. Adding unnecessary links or pages bogs down the process of using the web to access info.
Lesson: websites are more efficient when there are fewer links to open or pages to access.


Starbucks: 4 screens into 1

The user taps PAY on the black home screen - a new page opens and the user must tap PAY again to get to the code for scanning at the register. The 4 pages above can easily fit onto one page (below). Now, all the pay tasks are seen on one screen. Easier to understand, easier to use, and quicker to access.


The New York Times crosswords app
The Times has established itself as a leader and authority in crossword puzzles. Its app for the iPad provides archives of puzzles and a user-friendly navigation on the puzzle page. However, the menu pages are not as well thought out. There are at least 6 pages of menus on the existing site:

Notice how much space is wasted on several of those pages. The photo of the skyline is unnecessary as the Times is basically a national paper and the puzzle app is sold world-wide. The banner The New York Times doesn't need to be quite so large - the user already tapped the app and saw the loading screen. The user must also tap to other pages to get info. Those 6 pages above could be combined into just one (Below right):

App users scan the menu to find what they are seeking. The single menu column makes that quite easy and comfortable. On the right side of the page are the puzzle calendar and a window for info from the various links. Putting all the links on one page minimizes links to other pages. Some of the menus can be combined to also reduce the number of links.
Lessons: Embrace the medium and design apps that reflect the technology.
Avoid simply transferring the design principles from other media to the app medium.


Numbrix
A fill-in-the-blank number game created by Marilyn vos Savant and published in PARADE magazine, Numbrix is a great game. However, there are just too many screens the user must get through to play a game, all shown below.


Improved screen sequence: The number of screens shown above can be reduced from the above 11 to these 5:

• The first 5 screens could be combined onto one screen, like a title page, that lists the 3 contributors to the Numbrix game. Ideally, there should also be a rotating symbol or bar that shows that the game is of loading. That could be built into the blue Numbrix icon, similar to the movement shown when a puzzle is completed. The user is often more comfortable seeing verification that the game is loading and not having to read 5 separate screens.
• An easy and effective improvement is to combine the two menu pages into one. Currently, the user taps on Puzzles on the first screen but then gets a second screen that also asks the user to select a puzzle. There is enough room to combine the menus from both screens and not have to repeat the heading of Puzzles. The line, Choose puzzle difficulty level, is unnecessary. The levels are obvious by the listings Easy Medium Hard and the box containing those options with the words All Puzzles.
• Tapping the selected puzzle from the list should be enough to state 'Start puzzle'. There is no need for the intermediate screen step to repeat the request of starting the puzzle. The Puzzle page has a button at the top to Pause or return to the Menu.
Lesson: One of the goals of good web design - and now app design is allowing users to get to their destination in a minimum number of screens.

A better map and screen for NorthPark To-Go
Some stores in NorthPark Center, opened in Dallas in 1965, participate in Texas' retail to go, begun in April 2020. The consumer contacts an individual store to order and pay. The merchant relays the designated pick-up location in one of four color-coded parking lots. Color-coded signs on-site guide drivers into the lot. An employee delivers the purchase to the backseat or trunk of the vehicle. Customers remain in their vehicles and are not allowed inside NorthPark or individual stores.

Target audience
The viewer of the pick-up location map has ordered online or by phone. That person wonders: "Where do I go to pick up my purchase?" They have no need to know where stores are in NorthPark, where the entrances to the center are, what is on each level, where elevators or stairs are, etc. All of that info just clutters the map and makes it more difficult to decipher where to park for pick-up.

Improvements   (Left = Existing, Right = Improved)
• The more uncluttered, simple, and clear map is easier to recognize and understand.
• All 4 Parking Areas are located on one map.
• The anchor stores, masses of stores, and allow easy recognition and confirmation of NorthPark Center.
• The image better communicates how to arrive and maneuver to 1 of 4 parking areas, with parking entrances connected to streets and the divided road and Expressway.

App/Web page


Usable space within a screen

Left: This app, for The Dallas Morning News, only uses about 50% of the allotted space within the screen of the app. There are 3 bands of info at the top and 2 bands at the bottom - an ad and navigation tools. That doesn't leave much room for the content info - the very thing that consumers want from their devices. Some of the info in the bands could be minimized and combined in order to decrease the space needed for these bands. Right: The highlighted area can be increased:
• Decrease leading (the space between the lines of copy)
• Group all symbols together in top bar

Apps should cluster at the bottom, not the top

Left: the way apps cluster on the iPhone screen. Right: the better way - cluster down towards the bottom.
It can be tough to reach apps at the top of the screen when using the phone with one hand. Apple recognized this and built a feature called Reachability that lowers the apps to the bottom of the screen. But if the screen is not full of apps, they cluster up towards the top. They should cluster at the bottom, putting them within reach for more people using one hand. They are also in better proximity to the fixed bar of apps at the bottom.

App buttons that exploit their perimeter shape

There are several app icons that convey books or reading. But, the samples below have an added dimensionality while staying within the given confines of the rounded rectangle. These are symptomatic of a designer who sees possibilities, has a good eye for design detail, and stays true to design objectives while exploring appropriate options.

App button that is clearer

App buttons do not need much detail. The available real estate is just not big enough to include minor info. Simplify for the button. Observe the clarity of those that are simple and only 2-color. Of the 2 Fuzzy's Tacos buttons, the one on the far right is clearer.

The Voice Memos app
With the introduction of the 3GS phone in June, 2009, came the new included app of Voice Memos. This app allows the user to record messages, edit them, save them, and play them back later. What a great idea. Especially in situations when one doesn't have pen and paper handy. I found this function to be a very useful app while in the car - just grab the phone and record.

Problems with the app screen
• The two red areas, emphasized in the second image, are the only functional interfaces on the entire screen. The rest of the space sits idle - just useless decoration. About .12% of the available screen space is used to perform the functions, 99.88% of the screen is wasted and nonfunctioning. The retro microphone and the VU meter serve no practical purpose. These function buttons are so small that one has to search and focus on the screen to operate the app (dangerous while driving, walking, or doing just about any activity other than staring at the screen of the iPhone).
• The functions of the button, once tapped, change to a different function. The red dot is record, but, while recording, it becomes a pause function. The 3 line button accesses the list or recorded memos but, while recording, it becomes the stop button. But these functions are not apparent when looking at the screen. The user has to figure them out.
Improved version
Above right is an option for an improved version that addresses the issues raised above and has an interface that is much easier to use. This version has no unnecessary graphics that take up valuable space within the limited available area for function controls.
On the right is a home screen showing the appropriate small icons in the lower right.
Note: these are rough renderings - the elements should adhere to iPhone visual and textual iconography and the colors need to be of more appropriate value and intensity.
A few features
1. Large buttons that are easy to see and easy to reach with one finger or thumb for one-handed operation.
2. Color-coded buttons for immediate recognition. Red means stop, green means go, and yellow means caution, wait, pause. Blue is used on national highway signs to represent information.
3. The user can see all 4 functions on one screen - none of the basic functions is hidden.
4. Buttons are labeled in familiar and comfortable iPhone style and lettering.
These features allow a more intuitive understanding of the app and a very short learning curve due to the primary colors, familiar capsule button shapes and labels, button functions, and orderly alignment.
Lesson: Successful utility apps should be easy for the user to understand and operate and they should help make the users life easier, more productive, and more efficient.

Redesign iCal column spacing to gain more usable area
The screen layout for iCal, the calendar function on the iPhone, wastes valuable space. The user wants and needs the maximum amount of space for the display of information. In the middle image below are grey columns showing the wasted space - about 25% of the allotted screen space. Redesigning the screen can gain enough space to display 9 additional characters. This is beneficial because it minimizes the need for the user to tap and select the item to read the rest of the info. Users want and need the allotted space to display the maximum amount of information.

The existing format allows 17 numerical characters in one line. The proposed format allows 26 characters.
1. Decrease the spacing between the time numbers and the AM or PM.
2. Delete the M after the A & P. The M is useless info - it serves no function since both the AM & PM have an M. It doesn't help distinguish morning or afternoon - the A & P do that. The M wastes valuable space.
3. Decrease the spacing between the A/P and the list of tasks and events. The purpose of spacing here is to provide a visual pause and a separation between elements to enhance comprehension. However, those objectives are accomplished by setting the A & P in a smaller point size, in grey, and in ALL CAPS. That's enough to create a clear separation. Additional spacing is not necessary.
4. Allow the task/event info to be set all the way to the right of the screen. There is no need for a margin along the right side.

Why is the Calendar on the iPhone so spaced out?
Why not tighten it up and allow more weeks to show. There seems to still be ample room for a finger tap on a specific date.

Above right: Fantastical Calendar - there is not enough room devoted to characters in the event titles. Better:
• Remove the M in AM & PM - useless, the M doesn't help clarify morning or evening.
• Delete 'all day'. If an event is 'all day', there is no specific time (examples above & below).
• Move the time down to line with smaller text, freeing up more room on top line.
• Allow the user to delete the colored bars of tasks in the top band. Not a worthwhile use of the space taken up.
• Allow the user to select 'None' for dot color. Deleting the dots increases available space for task description.
Note how much more info is on the line Flight UA738 EWR to CLE


Larger buttons in an app

The two buttons, in the bottom band, toggle back and forth between solid-fill and the vacant X but they're a bit too close and too small. While playing fast, it is too easy to hit the wrong button. An improved version is on the right:
1. There is enough room in the lower bar to enlarge both buttons.
2. They can be spread apart to minimize hitting the wrong button.
3. The buttons are all centered under the live game area.

A better Weather Channel app

Make the low temperature timeline more visually accurate. The format to display temps in the app is a left-to-right sequence of time. However, the low temperatures don't adhere to this theme. The low temps are directly below the high temps (which is impossible - to have 2 different temperatures at the same time). Often, the low temp is in the early morning hours of the next day. The example above right from another weather site conveys the high/low temps more clearly and more accurately.
Thoughtful: The Weather Channel color codes the temps - yellow for day/high/warmer and blue for night/low/cooler. But, to better convey the passing sequence, the low temps should be between the highs, as in the altered example on the right.

Waste less space on the screen. When then user taps a date, it expands to show the hourly temps and precip. But it only shows 3 hours worth. Notice how much space is wasted and used for useless information, primarily the unnecessary photo in the background at the top. Reducing that space and some at the bottom allows 7 hours to be displayed at once - over twice the number. This allows less scrolling by the user.
Tip: Layout web/mobile sites to require minimal scrolling.
Lesson: Assess the use of live area to see if its being used efficiently.

Wallpaper screens that are less chaotic and more appropriate
The wallpaper background screen has no useful function, no practical purpose. It is simply a backdrop for other icon functions.

Designers who follow trends without intelligent assessment and consideration of the user place images behind text. Often, poor design results when the decision maker doesn't adequately consider the needs and wants of the end user - the reader, viewer, consumer. Too often, designers make decisions based on their own biases and preferences and not based on research of the psychological characteristics of the user. Text over an image is one example. If you want the reader to understand the text, don't dilute it with an image and if you want the viewer to see the image, don't hide it behind type.
This logic applies to print ads and to the wallpaper on a smartphone. The wallpaper is visible behind the home page of icons and the page of functions used for making phone calls.

Notice how much easier it is to see and use the phone functions when the screen is gray or black. Especially when making phone calls or during boring meetings or other situations where time and concentration on performing the task is limited. We rarely view the home screen anyway - as soon as we slide to unlock, the image is gone. The smartphone is a marvel of function and productivity. The solid-color wallpaper enhances the efficiency of function.
For those people who insist on putting crap on their home screen behind the app icons, some phones blur the image when the focus should be on the icons. Note: the focus should always be on the icons - that's the purpose of the screen. If you want to see or show a photo, open up photos and show the image without crap obscuring it or blurring it.

Consistency in layout design

The Apple mail program includes almost all outline symbols - except for the solid VIP star. Notice how awkward it is in the column of symbols. It would have been so easy to use an outline star so it would match the others in the set.
Lesson: Consistency within a set or series often aids association inclusion, communication, and comprehension.

The component of proximity
Proximity refers to grouping bits of information or elements close enough to form an association. This grouping provides some comfort through familiarity. We humans like change but only if we can experience it from a foundation of something comfortable. Grouping like elements also aids clarity of understanding of information by creating a hierarchy of information.
On the website for Fetch, a file uploading service, the home page (on the left below) requires the user to scroll down to access more information.

There is generous leading and much wasted space. I tightened it up as shown on the right. The text point sizes are all the same, no information is lost, and there is no need to scroll down.
One objective for effective web/app design: minimal scrolling and swiping.
Lesson: The experience of visiting a page and seeking info is enhanced if there is less need to move to other pages.
People have evolved past being intrigued by artistic web design - we want information and we want it efficiently.

The graphic elements of a bar, rule, or line can serve as an organizer to separate disparate images and text. We are conditioned to seeing lines as separators. But, in the above left example, the lines are in the wrong places. Lost Your Serial Number? is separated from its accompanying text. The text copy, "If you already purchased . . ." is closer to the heading Need Help Getting Started than to Lost Your Serial Number?
Above right is the improved version - the line separates the two sections of different thoughts. Each heading and its accompanying copy are in closer proximity. making it easier for the reader to comprehend.
Lesson: Group together associated elements (text, images) to create a single visual unit.

Setting text blocks FLRR for better readability

Notice the block of text copy in the lower right of the above page, enlarged below left:

On the left: The body copy as originally set. Copy that is set justified (both margins aligned) creates inconsistent letterspacing and word spacing - notice the line: through education and the Those differing gaps annoy the brain and slow down readability. Above, in the middle: How it would look if it was set flush left, ragged right. Now, there are no inconsistent gaps - all letter and word spacing is the same, providing a more comfortable flow for the brain to read efficiently.
Even better, above right: Copy block set FLRR but with the margins manipulated so the lines are of a more consistent width. The punctuation also hangs outside the margin - notice how much better the left margin looks when the quote marks are not inside the margin. Another example:


Organizing text copy for easier comprehension:

• Put all time info on one line: 9:00a to 10:30a.
• Abbreviated 'AM' as 'a' (and PM as p, if included).
• Deleted the unnecessary CDT.
• Placed 'Downtown Oklahoma City' on one line.
• Tightened up the initials EK.
• Decreased leading between the two blocks of text copy.
• Increased leading between the map and the copy.
• Increased the blue space in the left margin.


• Includes the day of the week.
• Each appt time info on a separate line.
• Places action info in text block at the bottom.
• No one needs to arrive an hour early.

Better email content and screen layouts

I get this email newsletter, Times Insider, each week. All I see on the screen is a standard format old-school letter. Not appealing nor does it pique my interest. Click, Delete. Done. (look how far down the reader must scroll to get to the first headline)
Instead of a letter that I don't want to read (who does?), they could easily jump right to the lead story - the headline and the visual are much more interesting.
The letter is ego-driven - the editor tells us what she likes and is putting in this issue. Does the reader care who the editor is and how she introduces stories? Old-School Journalism - copy to read linearly. Today's readers scan, they jump to what is appealing.
Repeat: letters of text only are no longer appealing.

This intro letter just lists the stories below. Useless information. It seems both of these editors have some ego issues (they like to see their name in print) and both are from old-school Journalism - today's reader scans to topics of interest. We do not want to read letters with no useful info in them.


The Richard Dawkins Foundation regular email (left below) looks like a letter (and an appeal for donations). I didn't realize until after the first few emails that there were interesting stories below the letter. The editor, Robyn, puts her picture and an intro to the stories first in the email newsletter. That is just a bit too much ego (like, who cares?) I also question the value of the letter - it just repeats what is in the stories that follow. The newsletter should be about stories, not the editor. Why not just get right to the info? We each get so much stuff in our Inbox - I appreciate those items that provide clear info with easy access. Which example below looks more enticing to read?


From an organization that wants to restore the USA National Motto to E Pluribus Unum. The email posts are visually overwhelmed by the big black box with redundant information. It becomes so dominant, its tough to see the lead story headline. I softened up the box (blue on white) and reduced it. And made some other tweaks. I emailed them and included the two images above and told them to use the suggestions as they wished.
Their reply: Thanks for the suggestion. We think we will make a change.


Google introduced a new news reader app. There are lists of stories in a variety of categories. On an iPad page, there is a given amount of 'live area' - the screen space that can be used to display information, as shown on the left. On Google's site, a large amount of space at the top is devoted to a collage of often-meaningless photos. Some photos repeat, some are just filler, and almost none have value to any of the stories. Taking up that much live area requires the user to scroll more to run down the list of articles. On the right I built a layout without the photos to allow the page to list 8 stories instead of 4. I hope in a future update, they provide a setting to allow the user to turn off the photo band at the top.


Confusing wording:
I had to change my password. On the Oklahoma City Museum of Art website, this dialog box (middle) came up, asking how I could be reached.
How may we reach you? Yes, do not e-mail or No, Do Not E-mail. (Got it?) Better solution below right.

Design criteria to consider:
• Convey a positive attitude, not a negative one.
• Align the baselines of the media and the options.
• Align the media to a flush right margin, closer to the options.
• Remove white space from within the box - tighten up the info.
Lessons
• Strive to convey positive requests and information, rather than emphasizing the negative.
• Design should be user-friendly. Consider the user when making design decisions.
Another poorly worded dialog box:


Don't cling to old-school journalism
The story below was on some news feed. The headline was intriguing - funny PortAPotty stories. When I click on the link, I want to begin reading the stories. Instead, the author felt a need to bore us with an intro story about how shit stinks. And this crap: "What follows are six of the funniest, most disgusting, and horrifying real stories we could find." Yes, we got all of that just by reading the headline. No need to repeat it.

Look how much junk there is to scroll through (3.5 screens) before getting to the disgusting stories. Without the junk, the reader would see the first story on the first screen (above right).
Lesson: This is a different era in info consumption. Give us the info, skip the flowery J-class crap.

An idea for a walking app
I try to take a 30 minute walk each morning. I'd love to have an iPhone app that gives me random directions (straight, left, right) to vary the route of my walk. A random generator like the old Magic 8-Ball.
• Purpose: break a routine, provide options for discovery.
• Objectives: Easy to use, Convenient, Intuitive, Fast.
• Target audiences: Those seeking a new route and willing to accept random directions: 1. Fitness walkers (timed, goal, pace), 2. Recreational walkers (fun, enjoy).
• Features: Shake to get new direction, Hit button to get new direction, Other functions: timer, randomizer, pedometer, calories burned


Symbol design that improves ease and clarity of comprehension
Humans first communicated with sounds: grunts, yells, and moans. Then they began to use physical gestures such as pointing and waving. The first written marks made were simple abstract pictograms marked in soil or sand and on cave walls and later petroglyphs cut into rocks. Only much later were alphabets and text used to facilitate communication.
Symbols are pictorial images that communicate an idea quickly, clearly, and without words. Examples: male and female icons on restroom doors and the ring and slash that says no or prohibited.
Symbols can teach, direct, or inform. Most are universal: they break language and cultural barriers. One can travel to a foreign country and figure out where to buy ice cream if the image of a cone is in front of the shop.



Advantages of symbols over text copy
• They can be quicker to recognize in a cluttered landscape.
• They can take less time to comprehend.
• They can be easier to comprehend - we are attracted to images more than we are to text.
• They can be easier to remember - the act of deciphering a symbol helps cement it into our cranial memory files.
• They are universal - they overcome language barriers.
• They can minimize cultural barriers.

Great graphic design: clear, rapid, and memorable communication

Another example of immediate recognition. We know the phrase 'slip on a banana peel' and we know the caution warning of the yellow plastic signboard. A nice combination to catch our attention and warn us to use caution to avoid slipping.

Guidelines for recycling symbols on collection bins

See the full essay for samples of current shapes, colors, and placement

A mark for I ♥ Texas

Complete proposal

Symbols that replace words

In American and Canadian English, this symbol is usually called the number sign or pound sign. The symbol may derive from an abbreviation for pound, the unit of weight. One theory states that printers designed a font containing a special symbol of an "lb" with a line through the verticals so that the lowercase letter "l" would not be mistaken for the numeral "1". Ultimately, the symbol was reduced for clarity as an overlay of two horizontal strokes = across two forward-slash-like strokes //. Outside of North America, the symbol is called hash and the corresponding telephone key is called the hash key. When used in technology, in social networking sites, it is often referred to as hash, such as at the beginning of a word or phrase (a tag) as in #hashtag.

Medieval monks abbreviated the Latin word ad (at, toward, by, about) next to a numeral. The abbreviation saved space and ink. Since thousands of pages of biblical manuscripts were copied onto expensive papyrus, and the words at, toward, by and about repeated millions of times throughout the ages, a considerable amount of resources could be spared.
The at symbol @ was also an accounting abbreviation meaning "at the rate of" (7 widgets @ $2 = $14) or "each at" - the symbol resembling a small "a" inside a small "e".
In recent years, its meaning has grown to include the sense of being "located at" or "directed at". In 1971, Ray Tomlinson introduced the use of @ in email addresses.
Another contemporary use of the @ symbol in American English is adding information about a sporting event. @ conveys at which team's home field the game will be played: Red Sox @ Yankees. Some online forums use @ to denote a reply; for instance: "@Jane" to respond to a comment Jane made. Twitter uses @ before the user name to send publicly readable replies ("@otheruser: Message text here"). The blog and client software can automatically interpret these as links to the user in question.

The word ampersand is a corruption of the phrase "and per se and", meaning "and (the symbol &) intrinsically (is the word) and". The ampersand can be traced back to the 1st century BCE and Old Roman cursive, in which the letters E and T occasionally were written together to form a ligature. The ampersand symbol is a ligature of "et" that goes back to the cursive scripts developed during the Renaissance. After the advent of printing in Europe in 1455, printers made extensive use of ampersands.

An excellent shopping cart symbol

Above is the site for pixelivery, a website that sells t-shirts with pixelated images of all 50 states.
I forgot what led me to this site, but when I got there, I immediately noticed and was impressed by the symbol for the shopping cart. It is simple - with few lines and detail - but it clearly communicated and was easy to understand. Websites (and our lives) can get bogged down with too much info and too much clutter. A well designed and thoughtful symbol can help break through the clutter and efficiently communicate a message and convey an attitude.
I clicked further into the site because I was curious to see if the shirt with Wyoming would show just a generic rectangle.

Wyoming and Colorado are the only states that have no unique identifying borders. In the pixelivery shirt samples above, Colorado is on the left and Wyoming is on the right. But without any neighboring context, I might have those reversed. Just can't tell. It is during times like these, that I appreciate being from Texas.
I still wonder if many people would buy the Wyoming shirt that just has a dark rectangle on the front and no other identifying marks. I guess it might appeal to those who love the new logo for USA Today newspaper:

Anyway, back to this great shopping cart symbol. I experimented to see if any lines could be removed.

The only one that seemed redundant and possibly unnecessary was the middle line of the basket. But, removing it diminished the clarity of the cart basket and, therefore, the effectiveness of the message. The result of the experiment was that each line in the mark was necessary.

Great lesson: Primary characteristic of a great symbol.
Each element in the piece has value and purpose. There are no embellishments nor wasted or extemporaneous marks.

Criteria for a shopping cart symbol
• Be easy to understand and remember.
• Contrast with its background for easy recognition and readability.
• Able to maintain clarity even when reduced.
• Apply to a variety of applications, web browsers, and monitors.

The design of many symbols is a matter of meeting this mantra: Convey a maximum amount of info with a minimal amount of line.

Other online order symbols
Gleaned from an unscientific survey of online symbols. Notice how few of them efficiently meet the criteria listed above.
Shopping carts facing right in positive image

Shopping carts facing right in reverse image

Shopping carts facing left positive and reverse

Shopping bags and basket

Letter symbols


One of the worst symbols is the cart used on the Amazon site.

If the viewer hadn't been educated by other sites and if the Amazon site didn't label the cart with 'Cart', I doubt we could easily and rapidly decipher that awkward pan, hand, dolly, ladle thingy. We would eventually understand it, but a great mark should be almost instantly comprehensible (and not require an accompanying label).
And, this is a bit weird - more people may click on the Amazon cart symbol than any other website.

New symbol to designate restrooms for transgendered people.

Right: The women symbol was, all along, wearing a superwoman cape.

Symbol with the same but different meaning

Blacks: Existing symbols for handicapped/disabled.
Blue left: A more human android figure in this new symbol that better conveys motion, action, and ability, rather than disability.
Blue right: Jim's improved version - the angle of the blue bar through the white wheel is parallel to the angle of the upper arm, and the racing motion has been softened some by making the front leg parallel to the blue box.

A clever adaptation of a familiar symbol

Noticed this in an urban loft development in MidTown OKC. The cigarette symbol is familiar and easily recognizable. But this version was vertical, not horizontal. What? Short pause. Wow - cool. It doesn't say 'No Smoking' - it says 'Put out your cigarette.' Instead of showing the item (a pictogram), it shows the behavior (an ideogram). Ideograms are often more effective because they convey an action, not just an object.



Nice adaptation of the Olympic rings

The Bartender Olympics were at TGI Friday's many years ago and I suspect they never got permission to use the trademarked items. The IOC is very protective of the word Olympics and the icon of the 5 rings, Still, a nice concept.

Maybe not this solution to a language barrier

I noticed this lift outside the store and was amazed at the number of pictograms listed. Dang - would anybody really decipher all those? Can they all be deciphered? I suppose the owner felt a need to overcome a language barrier - in this part of the country, many construction workers speak Spanish only. But, printing the regulations and guidelines in English and Spanish might have been better than all these, somewhat obscure and unfamiliar, symbols.

Silly useless symbols

Symbols can ease communication by quickly conveying a message in place of text (like No smoking). But in this weather app, the symbols are:
• Poorly designed - can you understand the difference between the 'Feels like' and Dewpoint symbols - the 2 thermometers? Or Sunrise and Sunset? Do the three drops represent rain?
• So small that one will simply read the text rather than try to decipher the meaning of the symbol.
• White on yellow - the poor contrast of symbols and text on the background impairs readability.
• Unnecessary, since there is no language barrier in this app and it is more efficient to read the accompanying labels.
As a result, these symbols are totally useless. Therefore, they become crappified clutter that just gets in the way of communication.
The image on the right shows the same screen with 2 changes: the symbols have been removed and the contrast improved.

Color coding at the Zoo

Saw these signs at the OKC Zoo - an excellent zoo, btw. But the color coding on these wayfinding signs baffles me. Americans are comfortable and confident that red means stop, prohibited, or No - so why were some attractions circled in red?
Colors, and their associated meanings are integral components in graphic design. Great designers understand not only the components of design, but also the knowledge level of the target market. The decision-maker at the zoo (the one who is reading wayfinding and deciding which way to go) is primarily an educated adult. That group of people has accepted and confirmed that red represents stop or no and green means go or okay. The colors as shown in these zoo signs just get in the way of clear communication of the message. The viewer stumbles over the meaning of the color rings. Subconsciously, many readers might head off to the right, because it is okay, not prohibited. (What a great subject for a study on the impact of color-coding in design.) At a glance, these signs clearly say 'Go to the right, not left'.

Lesson: To most people - Red means Stop or Prohibited. Green means Go or Allowed.
Tip: Exploit, rather than contradict, learned color associations to improve communication of wayfinding signs.

Symbols with no clear meaning

Here are some symbols from a tray liner at McDonalds. What the heck are they? Without the accompanying caption labels, they are too abstract to convey any clear meaning - except for the Cal symbol which is just silly. Since the text must accompany them, the symbols are useless, even negative as they add infoclutter for the viewer to wade through. A good symbol should clarify information content, overcome language barriers, and aid comprehension. These 'symbols' do none of that. The listing of the categories in Spanish is also inefficient since nothing else on the 'nutrition facts' sheet was in Spanish. And, if so, they should abbreviate Carbohidratos to Carbs, as it is in English - I suspect Spanish-language readers would understand what Carbs means. These bad symbols are a symptom of a problem the graphic industry faces - a major corporation paid a design firm or in-house designer to develop this tray liner and, consequently, these symbols - and they are pure crap, useless art. The public becomes numb to bad design, thinking it must be okay and the norm. July

Confusing graphics on YouTube


The thick line (I guess its the edge of the shirt cuff) on the thumbs up or down symbol is so close to the numbers that it looks like a '1'. Glance at the example on the left above - looks like 12,736. On the right is a tweaked version - I thinned that thick line - in which the numbers are clearer and easier to read. As we all get used to the medium of online reading, especially on small phone screens, we must adapt to the medium and the user. Users today are less patient and seek info clearly and quickly.

New symbols for page tasks

At the bottom of each page on this website, I had some reader tasks spelled out in text: Home, Email Jim Watson, and Filename to share.
But, for years, I had wanted to explore using a set of symbols to replace the text.
I began sketching. The home and email symbols were easy, the icons are so familiar and recognizable. The chimney, door, and window in the home symbol were unnecessary and, therefore, deleted. The mail symbol did not need the lower flap fold lines, the upper flap alone was enough to communicate.

But, the familiar share symbol (below, left) didn't fit well with the others - it had a solid mass, curved lines, and a tapered tail. I explored an outline arrowhead and an open arrow. The final version uses the circular motion of the rectangular box to convey the share motion.

Further refinement resulted in these 3 symbols, with a line weight that matches the JRW logo at the top of most webpages.

Each symbol is made of only these 3 elements and all 3 elements are used in each icon.

Lesson: Symbols within a set should share commonalities and consistency to convey that each is part of a larger set.


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