Information Design Watch

January 30, 2012, 10:49 am

“a tougher, more defined panther”

By Henry Woodbury

After 15+ years in the league, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers are changing their logo.

In a press release the team proclaims:

[The identity] has been designed to provide a more aggressive, contemporary look to the logo while making it more three-dimensional for ever-increasing digital use.

Carolina Panthers Logotype

I’m not sure how three-dimensionality relates to digital use, other than the fact that all the other kids are doing it.

Will Brinson at CBS Sports has some design review fun:

…this cat’s a little less hairy — the whiskers are significantly reduced from the old version, and the eyebrows (Panthers have eyebrows right?) are reduced as well.

It’s a more streamlined cat and, frankly, a little more ferocious and realistic looking of an animal. The team’s calling it “a tougher, more defined panther” and that’s an accurate assessment.

The Panthers typeface is also different: it’s no longer written in 80′s hair-metal font. Or cat scratch font. Or whatever.

Click through to the Brinson article to see the old logo for comparison.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Design, Marketing, Sports

December 27, 2011, 10:57 am

The Infographic Dump

By Henry Woodbury

I’ve been meaning to write about a spate of bad infographics I’ve been seeing recently in blog posts and social media feeds, but Megan McArdle beat me to it:

If you look at these lovely, lying infographics, you will notice that they tend to have a few things in common:

  1. They are made by random sites without particularly obvious connection to the subject matter. Why is Creditloan.com making an infographic about the hourly workweek?
  2. Those sites, when examined, either have virtually no content at all, or are for things like debt consolidation–industries with low reputation where brand recognition, if it exists at all, is probably mostly negative.
  3. The sources for the data, if they are provided at all, tend to be in very small type at the bottom of the graphic, and instead of easy-to-type names of reports, they provide hard-to-type URLs which basically defeat all but the most determined checkers.
  4. The infographics tend to suggest that SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS HAPPENING IN THE US RIGHT NOW!!! the better to trigger your panic button and get you to spread the bad news BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

The infographics are being used to get unwitting bloggers to drive up their google search rankings. When they get a link from Forbes, or a blogger like Andrew Sullivan–who is like Patient Zero for many of these infographics–Google thinks they must be providing valuable information. Infographics are so good at getting this kind of attention that web marketing people spend a lot of time writing articles about how you can use them to boost your SEO (search engine optimization).

As summarized in point 3 above, McArdle goes into some detail on the misuse of data. But another strange thing about these infographics is that they seem to spring for the same design template. I added this comment to McArdle’s post:

These graphs suffer from more than misappropriated data. They also suffer from low data density and horrible design. The best charts, graphs, and visual explanations inspire insight by providing numbers in context, hopefully in multiple dimensions of data. Derek Thompson’s Graphs of the Year are hardly objective but they at least force some thought in figuring out their flaws.

What we see in many of these charts are isolated numbers accompanied by a cartoonish graphic. The design is boilerplate baroque, apparently created by underemployed battle-of-the-band poster designers. The long vertical is a dead giveaway. I’m starting to see it over and over and I know, almost as soon as I see the aspect ratio, that what I’m seeing is hack work.

Sadly, I think the “success” of this format is generating well-intentioned imitators. Click through for examples. I’m not posting any here.

p.s. My apologies to battle-of-the-band poster designers. There’s nothing wrong with boilerplate baroque in context.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Illustration, Infographics, Marketing, Social Media

November 29, 2011, 10:09 am

I’d Rather Have a Rocket Car

By Henry Woodbury

In the old days the future was about rocket cars. Now it’s about touch screens.

This Microsoft production is one of the vision videos that’s been making the rounds:

It’s cool, but also cold. And it’s one of the best of the bunch (Corning’s A Day Made of Glass is also very good). Others, such as the awkward imitations produced by Research In Motion (Blackberry) invite only ridicule.

Interface designer Bret Victor has produced an intelligent critique of the Microsoft video (and, by extension the whole genre). He starts by reminding us of the incredible sensory and manipulative powers of the human hand:

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

But what is the sensory experience of Microsoft’s future (and Corning’s, and Apple’s, and RIM’s)? It’s the feel of glass. It’s “glassy.”

Now read this: The 5 Best Toys of All Time. I think you’ll get my point.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Technology, Usability, User Experience

January 6, 2011, 1:46 pm

They Aren’t in the Coffee Business, They’re in the Milk Business

By Henry Woodbury

I wish I could remember who came up with that jab. It stuck with me.

The new logo doesn’t say “milk,” but it doesn’t say “coffee” either.

New Starbucks Logo

Add this to the annals of Logo Evolution.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Business, Marketing

December 14, 2010, 2:02 pm

The Borrowed Brand, or How Not to Create a Logo

By Henry Woodbury

While U.S. political organization No Labels talks up a kind of vague newness, its design contractor quite concretely stole its look from the past. John Del Signore at Gothamist reports:

[The group's] slogan is “No Labels. Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” But considering how closely the group’s logo/design … resembles the work of graphic designer Thomas Porostocky, they might want to change the name to No Copyright.

Porostocky’s work, from his More Party Animals web site, is on the left. The now-expunged No Labels design, produced by Dave Warren, is on the right.

More Party Animals vs. No Labels (courtesy Gothamist)

After some ugly hyperventilating, Warren has apologized. An assistant is to blame. The assistant blames clip-art.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Current Events, Marketing

September 3, 2010, 8:55 pm

Requiem for a Signifier

By Henry Woodbury

Kate Howe designed this logo:

Cordoba Initiative Logo

In an article at The Design Observer Group she laments its invisibility in the face of a larger controversy:

I did my best to pack Cordoba Initiative’s symbol with positive significance, but It has failed to convey the group’s peaceful and progressive message. It has just stood for a Logo that identifies a Real Organization…

Howe writes in elegiac tones with real sincerity. But I think she confuses the design of a logo with the use of a logo. In the design process, finding and portraying meaning is the priority. In practice, identification comes first. One of her commenters, Matt, sums it up this way:

Great reminder that a logo (no matter how good it is) does not import value into an organization. Rather, the organization and its values and practices are reflected in the mark. Designers entrust an empty symbol to their clients and it’s the client who fills it with meaning.

Commenter Mathias Burton cuts to the chase:

Branding is at play in the situation and the logo is not the brand.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Current Events, Marketing

May 27, 2010, 11:15 am

We Promise to Use Our Powers Wisely

By Henry Woodbury

From the Harvard Business Review comes a cautionary tale of bias and visualization. Visual information can make people overly confident in predicting outcomes. In the study described in the article, viewers who watched a computer animation of driver error “were more likely to say they could see a serious accident coming than those who actually saw it occur and then were asked if they had seen it coming.”

The way human brains process the sight of movement appears to be one reason for this outcome. The visceral reading of trajectory events — such as an animation of moving cars — creates an anticipatory judgment that is highly persuasive to higher brain functions.

Also important is the fact that every visualization incorporates a point of view, one that is all the more convincing for its visual immediacy:

The information can be conveyed with certain emphases, shown from certain angles, slowed down, or enlarged. (In a sense, all this is true of text as well, but with subtler effects.) Animations can whitewash the guesswork and assumptions that go into interpreting reconstructions. By creating a picture of one possibility, they make others seem less likely, even if they’re not. (my emphasis)

In essence, this is what we do on purpose. Whether for marketing, analysis, or scientific reportage, we quite explicitly present the story of the strongest possibility (which may well be that there are multiple possibilities). We do it ethically; we rely upon validated data to tell a story and honor the integrity of that data as we work. The Harvard study cautions us not to let our visual tools — especially our analytical tools — persuade us too easily of what the real story is.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Business, Cognitive Bias, Marketing, Technology, Visual Explanation

May 3, 2010, 1:28 pm

Social Media: The Means to the Ends

By Henry Woodbury

I’m no Jeremiah, but this critique of Facebook’s approach to privacy is quite unsettling:

When you think about Facebook, the market has very specific incentives: Encourage people to be public, increase ad revenue.

The speaker is Microsoft’s Danah Boyd. She doesn’t get into horror stories. She just nails the paradigm.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Marketing, Technology, User Experience

February 2, 2010, 1:21 pm

Easy = True

By Henry Woodbury

An interesting article on “cognitive fluency” offers this great (ironic) infographic:

Easy = True

Reporter Drake Bennett leads with the fact that “shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names do indeed significantly outperform those with hard-to-pronounce names.” He continues:

Other studies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process – even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it – can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author (my emphasis).

However, the flip side of easy equals true — or “an instinctive preference for the familiar” as Bennett defines the concept — is that to generate reflection or curiosity, you may need to make things less familiar. It’s a good thing we know how to do both.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Language, Marketing, Typography

December 16, 2009, 9:35 am

Alphabet Makeover

By Kirsten Robinson

The Onion cleverly skewers design makeovers for the sake of newness and freshness AND over-reliance on focus groups in their hilarious article, “Alphabet Updated with 15 Exciting New Letters.

Skywriting with the new, improved alphabet. Source: The Onion

Skywriting with the new, improved alphabet. Source: The Onion

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Marketing, Typography

December 2, 2009, 3:31 pm

Highly Targeted Healthcare Marketing

By Matt DeMeis

These days health care is a slippery subject. This isn’t about politics or any of that. Today I came across (what I think to be) a brilliant way of marketing health care to an audience that usually forgoes coverage, Xtreme sports enthusiasts. Tonik Health Insurance has taken the daunting task of securing coverage for yourself and made it incredibly easy.

Tonik targets a finite demographic and gives them access to the information the need in a design they can relate to. In one or two clicks I was able to find all that I needed to know about purchasing a plan from them. Once you decide on a coverage level you simply fill out a form. For comparison I went to an undisclosed giant’s web site to try and find the same info (still pretending I was an Xtreme sports enthusiast of course). I gave up after some dead end digging and suggestions to download PDFs. It seemed more effort was put into the stock photography than the user experience. Ease of use is CRUCIAL for the audience Tonik is targeting. Their potential customer wants information fast. No digging. No downloading.

The design is great. Loud but very minimalist. It’s tailored for a younger, action sports lifestyle audience and it does that perfectly. Bold colors and lots of flash but these things don’t hide the information. Wonder what “$5000 deductible” means on the thrill-seeker plan? click the question mark next to the word. Easy.

Tonik Healthcare Screen

Now to be fair it must be noted that Tonik is a division of Blue Cross, an industry giant. They don’t serve every demographic, there is no “family thrill-seeker” package yet, but there is a lot to be learned by how smart and easy this site has made a somewhat complicated decision. Check it out at www.tonikhealth.com

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Information Design, Marketing, User Experience, Web Interface Design

September 15, 2009, 12:20 pm

Lego Little People Calendar

By Lisa Agustin

lego2_0

Little people part 2: Lego is issuing its first calendar in the UK this week, as a charity effort benefiting the National Autistic Society.   Each month features the famed –and often quite terrified–’minifigs’ participating in seasonal activities.  By the way, if you ever wondered how these minifigs come into being, check out this video of the production line.

(Thanks CR Blog)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Marketing, Photography

August 17, 2009, 3:46 pm

Stop Motion Marketing

By Henry Woodbury

This is a response to a D&AD Student Award “bespoke creative brief” by Hewlett-Packard. Titled HP – invent, it was created by Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth.

I just wish it were longer.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Design, Marketing, Technology

May 18, 2009, 8:53 pm

Logo Fun

By Henry Woodbury

Designer Sean Farrell offers a gallery of logos that incorporate a visual pun or hidden image. Here’s an example:

Pakuy

Pakuy is a packaging company.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Branding, Design, Marketing

April 22, 2009, 8:27 am

Broken on Purpose

By Henry Woodbury

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 explains how This is broken. What is broken? Almost everything.

Including Napoleon’s March to Moscow.

Starting at 17:53, Godin buries Edward Tufte in order to praise him. Note that Godin doesn’t really bother with the graph itself, but rather Tufte’s promotion of it as “the best graph ever made.” Godin responds:

I think he’s completely out of his gourd and totally wrong!

If you need to spend 15 minutes studying a graph you might as well read the text underneath. Godin then backs off. Tufte’s promotion of Napoleon’s March, he says, is an example of something “broken on purpose”:

For the kind of person you want to reach — they want to read a complicated difficult to understand graph and get the satisfaction of figuring it out, because then they get it…. Sometimes the best thing to do is break it for the people you don’t care about and just make it work for the people you do.

Agree?

Watch the rest of the talk as well. It’s a very funny, pointed critique of bad information and product design.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Language, Marketing, Visual Explanation

March 11, 2009, 1:52 pm

Retrobrands, Part 2: The Meatball versus The Worm

By Lisa Agustin

Official Nasa Seal
Official NASA Seal
NASA Insignia (the Meatball)
NASA Insignia (“the Meatball”)
NASA Logotype (the Worm)
NASA Logotype (“the Worm”)

T Magazine’s recent writeup on the history of the logo for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an interesting counterpoint to Matt’s post on the rebranding of Howe Caverns. In 1959, a year after the agency was founded, James Modarelli of the NASA Lewis Research Center created the NASA Insignia, which was meant to serve as a less formal version of the official NASA seal. The Insignia, also known as “the Meatball,” is a composite of individual design elements — the sphere is a planet, the stars represent space, the vector represents aeronautics, and the orbit represents space travel–cast in a patriotic scheme of red, white, and blue. The result is a logo that looks, to some, too literal and amateurish, yet romantic and nostalgic to others.

The Meatball was used until 1975, when the agency unveiled the NASA Logotype, a subtler, more futuristic take on the agency logo that strips the name down to a single curving element to spell out the four letters. “The Worm” is sleek, serious, and more corporate– not a surprise given it was created by a corporate identity firm, Danne & Blackburn.

Given the history of its logo, one would assume that further work on the NASA brand would take the Worm further along in its progression — more forward-thinking, future-type approaches. Right? Wrong. Turns out that use of the Worm was discontinued in 1992 (although it may be used with permission for commercial purposes), and NASA returned to using the Meatball, which it still uses today as its official logo. Why the return to the earlier version? Columnist Alice Rawsthorn’s take:

The Meatball was revived in 1992 as part of the efforts to revitalize NASA after its traumas of the 1980s. NASA decided to bring back the symbol of its golden age and has stuck with it ever since. The Meatball still reminds us of the triumph of the Mercury and Apollo missions, even though NASA has never recaptured its former glory, as illustrated by its recent problems with the design of the Ares spacecraft system.

Unlike the Howe Caverns brand, in which the old identity was seen as an impediment to bringing in a new audience, the NASA Insignia represents big dreams and new frontiers, a transfusion that NASA’s image could really use right now.

For more on NASA’s logo, see:

http://history.nasa.gov/meatball.htm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Marketing, Typography, User Experience

March 5, 2009, 1:51 pm

Howe Could They Do This!?

By Matt DeMeis

Today I was looking through the list of winners for ReBrand’s 2009 “100 Global Awards Winning Brands” contest, when a familiar name jumped out at me. Howe Caverns. For those of you (which is probably most) who don’t know about Howe Caverns, here’s a quick summary.

In upstate NY there is a HUGE underground cavern that was discovered by a bunch of cows trying to stay cool on a hot summer day. The cave remains 52°F consistently, year round. This makes it an ideal place for aging cheese, beer, getting married and giving tours for money through its long and winding passageways.

My mom grew up not far from Howe Caverns so I have known about it and its wacky, hand painted billboard advertising ever since I can remember. The billboards I remember most depicted a Huckleberry Finn-type character with what appears to be his little brother on his back, lantern in hand, exploring the cavern. The colors were day-glo on black and the fonts were meant to look super spooky!! POW! I was hooked. I had to go there.

My point is it had a memorable style. Like it or not, it got the job done. You would see one of those billboards a mile away and know it was for Howe Caverns. When I saw that Howe Caverns had re-branded itself I was curious, then disappointed.

New Howe Caverns Branding

They did away with the timeless hand painted illustrative style in favor of the “roughen” filter in Adobe Illustrator. The new branding looks like the packaging for a first-person shooter game, or an earthquake danger warning sign. The style is something we’ve seen a million other places these days. Solid color, distressed font, nice photos — done. I feel like the soul and history of the brand just got flushed away. It may have needed a makeover, but the essence could have been preserved.

I am by all means biased due to my personal childhood memories of the brand but I say bring back Huck Finn and his day-glo little brother!

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Branding, Illustration, Marketing

January 5, 2009, 12:18 pm

A Short History of the United Nations Logo

By Henry Woodbury

Top: Prototype for the United Nations' original logo. Bottom: The organization's current logo.An obituary for architect and designer Oliver Lincoln Lundquist highlights his leadership in the creation of the United Nations logo. The story, as summarized by reporter Steven Heller, highlights the role of serendipity and a shift in point of view:

After the Navy, Mr. Lundquist attended the San Francisco conference at which the United Nations Charter was signed. His team was responsible for designing all the graphics for the conference and an official delegate’s badge, which became the prototype for the United Nations logo. The team did not set out to design the logo for the United Nations, but the badge became the prototype. It was initially designed by Donald McLaughlin, who worked for Mr. Lundquist as the director of graphics for the conference.

The distinctive blue in the design, Mr. Lundquist explained, was “the opposite of red, the war color.” He continued, “It was a gray blue, a little different than the modern United Nations flag.”

The symbol of the globe was also slightly different in the original design, he said: “We had originally based it on what’s called an azimuthal north polar projection of the world, so that all the countries of the world were spun around this concentric circle, and we had limited it in the Southern sector to a parallel that cut off Argentina because Argentina was not to be a member of the United Nations. We centered the symbol on the United States as the host country. Subsequently, in England our design was adapted as the official symbol of the United Nations, centered on Europe as more the epicenter, I guess, of the East-West world, and took into account the whole Earth, including Antarctica. By then, of course, Argentina had been made a member.”

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Branding, Color, Marketing

November 20, 2008, 12:55 pm

Ugly is Timeless

By Henry Woodbury

Jason Fried at 37 Signals offers an appreciation of the Drudge Report:

A couple weeks ago on Twitter I said: “I still maintain the Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the web. Has been for years. A few people agreed, but most didn’t. Some thought it was a joke. I wasn’t kidding.”

Fried starts with the site’s “staying power:”

Its generic list of links, black and white monospaced font, and ALL CAPS headlines have survived every trend, every fad, every movement, every era, every design do or don’t. It doesn’t look old and it doesn’t look new — it looks Drudge.

Fried touches on design, branding, production, and content. What is the content of Drudge? Headlines and links. Why is that enough?

The more often you hit his site to go somewhere else the more often you’ll return to go somewhere else again. You visit the Drudge Report more because you leave the Drudge Report more.

Lots of food for thought.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Marketing, User Experience, Web Interface Design

August 28, 2008, 11:28 am

Groovin’ with Some Energy

By Henry Woodbury

Areva Ad FrameHere’s an ad that actually caused me to click.

Areva, “the no. 1 nuclear energy products and services vendor in America,” has constructed a new print and Internet ad campaign around the birds-eye isometric view of its world. The Web animation shows energy production and use from mining to power generation to the disco.

It reminded me of the Royskopp video we linked here, but with a somewhat different rationale. Both animations were done by the French firm H5 (look under FILMS > CLIPS for Royskopp; under FILMS > PUBLICITE for Areva).

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Comments (1) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Art, Branding, Business, Illustration, Infographics, Information Design, Marketing, Visual Explanation

July 10, 2008, 9:52 am

Talking Call to Action

By Henry Woodbury

At The Girl Effect, a call for educating girls in the developing world is presented in a powerful animation that uses just typography and music to hold our attention.

Still from The Girl Effect movie

The animation leads into a microsite — essentially an executive briefing — that identifies key points and provides links to more detailed information in PDF format and at partner sites like The Center for Global Development.

There are a few stumbles — they almost lost me with “turn this sinking ship around” — but overall The Girl Effect is a great example of how to communicate a message and make it stick in the mind by paring down the details to a single narrative.

At first I thought the links I mention above were too difficult to find, but it occurred to me that they aren’t the point. The call to action is to share the story. And here we are.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

June 27, 2008, 1:35 pm

An Anchor and a Twist

By Lisa Agustin

Explaining an innovative idea or product can be tricky. What if your offering is so unique and/or complex that attempting to explain it could potentially confuse or overwhelm your audience?

Try communicating your innovation using an anchor and a twist, say Made To Stick authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath. Anchoring, or “hooking into an existing idea,” as the Heaths put it, seems counterintuitive when you want to set yourself apart. But it works because it puts your idea in the context of what people already know, making your idea easier to grasp. An example from the Heaths: Lumineyes, a laser-based process that permanently changes eye color. The innovation was described as one that “uses a laser to heat the pigment layer [of your eye]. The process either bursts the pigment cells, resulting in the release of free pigment into the iris, or simply damages them.” (Sign me up!) But describe it instead as “LASIK for eye color” and the listener immediately realizes it’s similar in some way to the popular surgical procedure that eliminates the need for eyeglasses or contact lenses.

So where does the “twist” come in? While the anchor sets the stage for your idea, the twist is your differentiator that will make the audience sit up and take notice. In the case of Lumineyes, it’s “like LASIK, but it makes your eyes blue.” The anchor and twist approach to communicating innovation no doubt has many uses — how about the good ol’ elevator pitch?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Marketing

March 18, 2008, 9:32 pm

User Experience: Crash Test Version

By Henry Woodbury

One exhibit at the New York Auto show is a car like this:

Crash-tested Ford Taurus

The point is to show off the Ford Taurus’s five star crash rating. What makes this interesting as information design is that it’s literally a) a car crash and b) interactive:

Show goers will be allowed to sit in the post-crash Taurus to see what a crash test dummy sees after a 35-mph meet up with an offset concrete barrier.

It is easy to forget in the online world, but the best user experience is being there.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, Marketing, User Experience

March 6, 2008, 3:18 pm

Rube Goldberg in Amsterdam

By Henry Woodbury

HEMA, the Dutch department store has an clever Web animation built on a fake product page. Just click through and wait.

Then, after you watch it, click sturr door and send the link to your friends. Some may even go to the actual online store.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing

October 16, 2007, 3:53 pm

(T)AXI

By Henry Woodbury

For those interested in logo design, the New York Times City Room blog is offering an extended design revew of the city’s new taxi logo.

New York City Taxi Logo

The first post describes the design process and features the comments of designers Michael Bierut and Michael Rock; additional posts provide additional designer and reader responses. From the second installment, here’s the take of designer Sam Potts:

The central T is obviously a reference to the subway — too obviously if you ask me — but that is strategically a mistake, as the T.L.C. is separate from the M.T.A. Why equate them visually?

To have the “NYC” touch is, to me, poor craftsmanship, especially with such a blocky typeface. Additionally, as this goes whizzing by, clumped-together letters just get clumpier.

Having said that, my first reaction to this was, “There’s a logo for the taxis?” In fact, the logo is a secondary element in the branding of the taxis — I imagine very few notice the logo but everyone knows what the yellow signifies. I’d even say that the Crown Vic is a more powerful brand identifier (in the parlance) than whatever logo they had or adopted.

Both Potts and fellow designer Oscar Bjarnason note the ill-conceived reference to the city subway logo, a legendary brand we have mentioned before.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Current Events, Design, Marketing

July 20, 2007, 9:55 am

Is Marketing the New Finance?

By Henry Woodbury

Here is economist Hal Varian, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: In the past, promising new economics PhDs who didn’t want to work in government or academia probably aspired to work on Wall Street. In the future, will they aspire to work at companies like Google?

Varian: I think marketing is the new finance. In the 1960s and 1970s [we] got interesting data, and a lot of analytic fire power focused on that data; Bob Merton and Fischer Black, the whole team of people that developed modern finance. So we saw huge gains in understanding performance in the finance industry. I think marketing is in the same place: now we’re getting a lot of really good data, we have tools, we have methods, we have smart people working on it. So my view is the quants are going to move from Wall Street to Madison Avenue.

And it’s all thanks to Google. According to Varian, the business model for search is not much different than the business model for publishing. The difference comes from Google’s ability to manage pricing on a real-time basis and thus transact an enormous amount of data. Here’s Varian again:

Adaptive forecasting, how I revise my forecast to take account of updated information, you use that a lot on Wall Street, where you have time series of stock prices. And some of those things carry over into things that Google is doing, that have this real-time flow of data. How do I detect unusual events, and react to them?

The internet gives us an engine. Now we start figuring out what fuels it.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Marketing, Technology

April 16, 2007, 2:15 pm

On Tufte and Napoleon’s March

By Mac McBurney

Napoleon's MarchIn February, the Dynamic Diagrams staff made a field trip (some might say pilgrimage) to Edward Tufte’s day-long seminar, “Presenting Data and Information.” If you’ve ever heard of Edward Tufte, you have probably seen Napoleon’s March to Moscow, Charles Josef Minard’s visual explanation of Napoleon’s disastrous attempt to conquer Russia in 1812.

Tufte says, “it may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” The graphic appears repeatedly in Tufte’s books, posters and brochures. At the recent seminar, I realized that the image has become a defacto corporate logo of Tufte and Graphics Press. At the seminar, the graphic was used in a sign directing participants from the hotel lobby to the upstairs lecture hall. It worked: Napoleon’s March quickly caught my eye and confirmed I was headed in the right direction.

Conventional wisdom v. six-variable masterpiece of information design

Because Napoleon’s March is so innovative, so lauded, so pervasive in Edwardtufteland and so emblematic of Tufte’s teachings, it was (I’m chagrined to admit) not easy for me to see that it undermines, rather than supports, the conventional view of the historical events. (Thanks to Piotr, creative director at d/D, for leading the way.)

Minard created his map to show the horrors of war. Tufte uses it to explain grand principles of data display. Both are succeessful, but Tufte misses an opportunity to emphasize just how powerful Minard’s graphic is. Tufte repeats the popular belief that “General Winter” defeated Napoleon’s army. I haven’t studied the history since high school, but this fits the image that sticks in my head: soldiers freezing to death.

In fact, according to Minard’s map, nearly three times as many French soldiers were lost (never mind the Russians) before the retreat and before the coldest weather. 90,000 died on the retreat–horrible to be sure — but 250,000 were lost before that. Only because the map follows Tufte’s grand principle number one, show the data, are we able to really question the conventional wisdom, ask useful questions and formulate alternate narratives. Now that I’m re-thinking my own understanding, I wonder why Tufte even mentions General Winter as the moral of the story.

Recency bias

In addition to temperature itself and the impending threat of winter, I suspect another factor strengthens the prevailing interpretation: recency bias. Only ten thousand French soldiers lived to tell the tale. They had just endured three months of immense suffering and witnessed the deaths of 90,000 comrades (90% of the retreating force). It’s hard to imagine their state of mind, but the previous summer was probably a distant memory.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Maps, Marketing, Visual Explanation

March 7, 2007, 8:49 pm

“PowerPoint gives the game away”

By Henry Woodbury

PowerPoint despair makes it to the Guardian Unlimited, in this essay by Jonathan Wolff:

What is it about PowerPoint? Perhaps it is the only thrill left to the jaded academic: not knowing whether the technology you are using will actually allow you to give your talk.

While Wolff mocks the dog-and-pony-show marketing of PowerPoint, he focuses on a larger point:

For those who prefer to project the idea that a talk is a unique event, a voyage of discovery that could go in any one of a number of directions, and may well go in all of them, PowerPoint gives the game away. As someone once said: “The art is hiding the art.” With PowerPoint, everything is on display. Elegantly effortless performance is hard enough as it is. PowerPoint makes it impossible.

As another well-known detractor points out, PowerPoint is relentlessly sequential, undermines a presenter’s ability to present rich data in context, and sets up “a speaker’s dominance over the audience.”

I doubt Edward Tufte is going to change his mind, but if Wolff ever watches Steve Jobs at work he might acknowledge that elegantly effortless performance with presentation software is possible.

Okay, so Jobs uses Keynote. But it’s not the software that makes the difference. It’s the approach.

We do a lot of work in PowerPoint. We have two fundamental strategies for creating elegant presentations. First, we approach the entire presentation as a single narrative or composition. Each slide is a storyboard that advances the theme. This lets us leverage PowerPoint’s sequential format to our advantage. We can set up suspense in one slide and resolve it in another. We can establish a motif, then evoke it again and again. We can use pattern and variation.

Second, we treat every slide as a potential visual explanation. Sometimes all you need is text, but with images you can represent concepts, show connections, and evoke emotion. Images also make presenters inherently more interesting. Instead of repeating bullet points on a screen (which people can read for themselves), the presenter speaks to that which the audience sees.

But Tufte and Wolff cannot be ignored. Sometimes the multimedia presentation is simply a bad choice of format. Let us give Wolff the last word. Referring to the power of the image (say, the portrait of a famous philosopher) he writes:

These days, of course, digital pictures of Descartes are cheaper than ten-a-penny, but I’m still unsure of the benefits of showing his bony face to the audience. They have already got me to look at. And if they are looking at me, rather than a screen, I can look back at them. And I can judge whether they have understood what I have just said, and, if not, have another go at making the point.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Marketing, PowerPoint, Technology, Visual Explanation

September 13, 2006, 11:04 am

How Not to Sell Something

By Lisa Agustin

Spice AdWhile reading the Sunday paper, I came across this advertisement for McCormick spices. While I don’t have a background in advertising, my general understanding is that ads should:

  • Tell you what the product/service is;
  • Say why you need the product/service;
  • If appropriate, convince you that this product/service is better than the competition;
  • Inspire you to act (buy the product/service or do something else).

The other thing I assume is that, in most instances, all of the above should be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time (after all, this isn’t a PowerPoint presentation).

After my initial read, it was clear the ad was for McCormick Spices and involved figuring out the age of your spices. Other than that, the rest of it had me confused:

  • The ad has two spice containers, and the one on the left is clearly the McCormick brand. My first thought: Is the bottle on the right from a competitor (turned around to hide the name)?
  • But further reading (including looking at the teeny writing on the bottle) indicates that both containers are from McCormick and both are too old. Now what?
  • Is black pepper in a tin older? Or is the age of black pepper impossible to determine?

The text at the bottom clears things up only slightly: it asks me the question that should have been at the top of the ad. But then I’m instructed to visit the URL to calculate the age of my spices (assuming I even have a computer).

Two obvious points that may have improved the message:

  • Why not just come out and say what the web campaign suggests (yes, I gave in): For the Freshest Flavor, TOSS (Toss Old Spices Seasonally)? This is much clearer than this print ad.
  • Why isn’t there a picture of the bottle that I should be buying?

The whole experience made me think: Isn’t there an easier way to explain this concept and get me to buy new spices?

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation

July 28, 2006, 1:01 pm

Focusing on Customer Experience, Part II

By Lisa Agustin

Earlier this month we shared a story on “experience immersion,” a holistic approach to evaluating the customer experience. Continuing in this vein, MarketingSherpa recently posted the results of a panel discussion on customer experience, in which senior executives from Cingular, Avaya, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts offered their insights on the role of customer experience in reinforcing brand. According to Renee Rodgers, VP of Avaya.com:

“We look at it from a marketing perspective: How do end users see our brand online, offline, in the technicians who come to their site, in the items they discover through search? Are they getting the same messaging and communication across their entire lifecycle?…We can’t let internal company factors influence the fact that it really is the customer who has final say over whether they leave our Web site or continue the experience. We’re selling technology, so it’s important for us to show innovation on our own site and provide an experiential aspect to that.”

From an internal perspective, it’s not enough to aim for customer satisfaction through specific endeavors, such as the redesign of a web site. According to the panel, organizations need to not only understand what customers need and want, but also foster a company culture that focuses on the customer experience at all levels, while providing appropriate tools that help staff collaborate and manage content that customers will come in contact with globally.

Note: Panel notes will be freely available from the MarketingSherpa site for about ten days and then for a nominal fee in the web site’s library.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Marketing, User Experience

June 16, 2006, 2:29 pm

Design Does Not Get More Hands On Than This

By Henry Woodbury

Remember subliminal advertising? A Time.com article on “menu engineer” Gregg Rapp details the totally visible design tricks a restaurant will use to steer patrons to higher profit selections:

The way prices are listed is very important. “This is the No. 1 thing that most restaurants get wrong,” he explains. “If all the prices are aligned on the right, then I can look down the list and order the cheapest thing.” It’s better to have the digits and dollar signs discreetly tagged on at the end of each food description. That way, the customer’s appetite for honey-glazed pork will be whetted before he sees its cost.

One ongoing difficulty in the design business is quantifying return. This is not so for Rapp:

Rapp is so sure of his menu makeovers that he offers a money-back guarantee that his menu will raise profits–and in his 25 years in the business, he has yet to issue a refund.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Information Design, Marketing

March 22, 2006, 1:36 pm

The iPod XP?

By d/D

In related form to Garr Reynolds’ comments on Bill Gates’ presentation style is this spoof video Microsoft Re-Designs the Ipod Packaging. What we really like about this piece, besides the soundtrack (can you identify the source?) is the sophistication of the design treatments. Despite their exaggerations, they are internally logical and appear to adhere to Microsoft’s own branding guidelines.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pXL5_RvGrs

The video draws some interesting commentary (amid the chatter) on Microsoft’s Channel 9 site and Robert Scoble’s Scobleizer blog. Scoble reports, in his comments, that the video “was done by Microsoft marketing for an internal meeting with its designers.”

http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=166104

http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/27/ouch-what-if-microsoft-designed-the-ipod-box#comment-16896

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing

December 9, 2005, 10:31 am

Remembering Saul Bass

By d/D

We suggest a moment of silence for Saul Bass’s AT&T logo, now replaced by a cartoonish revision. The AIGA site has a nice slideshow of Bass’s work in branding, logo and poster design (click on the picture).

http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm?ContentID=677

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation

October 10, 2005, 11:07 am

Media vs. Media

By d/D

An exhibition at the Science, Industry and Business Library of the New York Public Library allows visitors to compare ads made for print, radio, television and the Internet. How do these differ? The New York Times’ Sarah Boxer puts it this way:

“With radio and, oddly enough, even with television ads, the humor is largely verbal. With online ads, the wit is almost always visual. In this way they have the most in common with their oldest cousin, print advertising – another medium that doesn’t have a captive audience and must therefore rely on grabby graphics.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/03/arts/design/03boxe.html (free registration required

The exhibition Web site is here:

http://www.online-publishers.org/optin/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation

July 9, 2004, 3:47 pm

Typeface for a Memorial

By d/D

An interesting article in the New York Times discusses the aesthetic and social implications of Gotham, the typeface used to engrave the Freedom Tower cornerstone that memorializes the events of September 11, 2001.

Different commentators see the typeface as simple, urban, ambiguous and, in its all-caps presentation, institutional.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/08/nyregion/08blocks.html?8hpib (registration required)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation