Last night, I was honored to be invited by our local AIGA to join six other designers (and one photographer) in a round-table discussion about the chapter’s programming. As you may know, I’m a crusty old hermit: I don’t get out much and I don’t know as many of my colleagues as I should, especially the younger ones. At any rate, charming folks, lively talk, and of course once I warmed up I was delighted to be among peers. Much love to Volunteer Chair Ryan Patrick Smythe for organizing, incoming president Johnny Levenson for keeping a calm hand on the till, and Dave Selden, who opened Pop Art’s community room to host the meeting, and who made sure I was nicely marinated in cabernet.
Here’s my takeaway: the chapter needs greater involvement from everybody, including old farts like me and ancient farts like my pals Tim Leigh and Thom Smith. In fact, the absence of older folks, even (or perhaps especially) those of the retired variety are robbing our community of continuity. Programs like dMob, which are by default geared around professional development for young folks, need to be expanded to include others. But that’s not AIGA’s fault. It’s mine.
I’m also interested in knowing what other folks are up to: maybe a social event like dMob could be tweaked to offer short Powerpoint (excuse me: Keynote) presentations from individuals or studios as well as boozing. There are a lot of peckers out there who want to keep everything secret, but if you’re not NDA’d, you should be able to share. Paranoia is not good for business, and it’s deadly to community. I’m not worried about people boosting my clients; I don’t think it’s gonna happen. Anyway, you poachers can go ahead and take your best shot. There’s work for everyone, as we’ve said elsewhere.
There were plenty of other good ideas to which I hope to help give form in the coming year. It’s gonna take sweaty work. Meetings like last night’s are great to stoke up enthusiasm, but enthusiasm is never in short supply in professional organizations. It’s effort that’s rare: that means I have to sack up and take off my shirt, just like my Pappy did when he was chopping wood.
I believe there are few brands as authentic as Patagonia. I'm fairly certain that my partner in business has long tired of my praise for Mr. Chouinard and his apparel enterprise, as have many of my closest associates. So be it. Having never worked for the company, I can't, with any certainty, comment on how it actually operates from within. That being said, I have been a customer since my knucklehead days and I still use the first pieces that I scraped to purchase. So I guess I'm an evangelist, of sorts. Forgive me. I value their product and their process and that guides my purchase decisions every time. As other companies talk about sustainability, Patagonia does its best to convey their practice (and their own flawed policies) with a balance of conviction and reason.
Last season, they introduced The Footprint Chronicles. The idea is simple enough; pick a product, follow it through the development lifecycle, and communicate the good as well as the bad. The site demonstrates how – and where – materials were sourced, constructed, packaged, stored, shipped and sold. Then, it presents distances traveled, Carbon Dioxide emitted, waste generated, and energy consumed. And it solicits feedback. They actually want to know what the customer thinks, for good or ill. The company has tweaked this release to include more product and deeper story content. So is it perfect yet? Absolutely not, but in the spirit of every item developed at Patagonia, The Footprint Chronicles suggests that refinement is never fully done.
Recently, I sat down with Jen Maxwell-Muir of Maxwell PR. After exchanging our initial pleasantries, the conversation naturally migrated to how our respective firms describe process, and further, the perspectives of the creative partner within the brand development assignment. We discussed the points at which we enter the client's life and how the approach varies between advertising agencies, Web developers, public relations concerns and design firms. I was reminded of an exceptional illustration produced by our friends at Neutron. Exceedingly simple, it demonstrates the relationships among the so-called creative disciplines; marketing, telemarketing, public relations, advertising, graphic design, and of course, that ubiquitous thing to which we refer as branding.
English critic Steven Poole made one of his books available free for download from his Web site. He attached a tip jar so that downloaders could pay what they wanted. 30,000 people downloaded his book; fewer than one in a thousand left a tip. He has a thoughtful essay up about his experience, and broader thoughts on decentralized publishing and distribution models. Well worth a read for anyone interested in the publishing business. Via Gruber.
Today is the Oregon writer Evelyn Sibley Lampman's 101st birthday. She was a remarkable woman: the only child of a country lawyer, Lampman graduated in 1929 from Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) and moved to Portland, where she became a respected and award-winning copywriter for KEX radio. In 1934, she married into what passed in those days for a celebrated literary family: her husband, Herbert Sheldon Lampman, was Fish & Wildlife editor for the Oregonian; his father, the theatrically-named Ben Hur Lampman, ran the Oregonian's editorial page and was our state's first Poet Laureate1. But writing, to that family, was man's work: After marriage, she left her job and was forbidden to drive; her new husband thought operating an automobile unseemly for a woman.
Widowed at 35, with six- and three-year-old daughters to support, she had her late husband's suits cut down for her (the two were the same height) and returned to writing for radio. She may have been the first woman to wear trousers to work in Portland.2 In 1947, Doubleday published her debut novel, Crazy Creek, a story about pioneer life in Oregon for older children; two years later, when Doubleday accepted her second book, Treasure Mountain, she quit her day job. For the next thirty years, she survived as a single mother (she never remarried) by writing forty meticulously-researched3 historical and science fiction novels for young adults, which were in turn published by Doubleday, Harcourt Brace and eventually Atheneum, where she was placed under the prestigious Margaret K. McElderry imprint. She was fascinated by the history of the Northwest and particularly its native peoples; most of her best work concerned native Americans, to whom she was, at the time, unfashionably sympathetic: Once Upon A Little Big Horn tells the story of Custer's Last Stand from Sitting Bull's point of view; Cayuse Courage offers an ambiguous take on the Whitman Massacre (remember, these books were written for children in the middle of the 20th century).
…but for the past month or so, Penguin Books has hosted weekly collaborations between writers, designers and programmers, the produce of which are stories meant to be consumed digitally—Charles Cumming's The 21 Steps uses a novel hack of the Google Maps engine to trace its protagonist's progress around London, Edinburgh, and ultimately Rio de Janiero, for example. This week's offering is Hard Times: story by Matt Mason, form by Nicholas Felton. While I'm gonna pull up short of total boosterism here—the pieces seem to hint at what the form could accomplish, rather than serving as examplars—there's some good stuff here. I'm a fan of Felton's, in any case, so take a look. Via Boing Boing.
Forbes editor Dan Lyons, writing as Fake Steve Jobs, has a typically amusing and insightful bit up today about how successful makers tend to see every problem as solvable by their own particular toolset, e.g., Intel exec Andy Grove's belief that the pharmaceutical industry can be redeemed by applying the lessons learnt in the semiconductor business. Fake Steve, of course, writes about technology, but his point applies to every endeavor, including the design business.
Poking around in the pinch.nu analytics the other day (we use Shaun Inman's Mint, which I highly recommend) I noticed a referral from Google Translate. An individual had requested that our Hawthorne Books case study be translated into, of all languages, Arabic. Delight and amazement: what interest an Arabic speaker could have in the story of our relationship with a local literary press is beyond the shrinking capacity of my middle-aged brain.
But: here's a another example of how plain old semantic HTML sites rule over their Flash-based brethren. Presentation (which Flash is mainly concerned with) is a servant of communication (which you could argue is the province of the Web in general). There are translation schemes for Flash, but they require external scripting and forethought on the part of the site author. HTML, because it is an open system, does not. So, by way of illustration: you can put together an animated typographic tribute to Seattle hip-hop legend Sir Mix-A-Lot and get some nice traffic from the cool kids here in the states. But if you are more interested in the underlying message (as we are here), you can set the motto "I like big butts; I cannot lie" in a header element and our friends from the Middle East will see (read right to left):
And that, you will agree, is a hopeful thing.
In Sunday's edition of the The Oregonian, Inara Verzemnieks stitched a warming account of Marie Watt's most recent sewing circle. The artist (and mother of Mr. McIsaac's daughter, Maxine) sustains her blanket dialogues; this time titled, "Forget-Me-Not: Mothers and Sons." Ms. Watt and her phalanx weaves a woolen web of handmade portraits of every Oregon serviceman killed in the Iraq War, while honoring women passed as remembered by her male associates. The fellows of Pinch, including a young Logan Hillerns, are, as always, proud to be involved.
After a couple of years of threatening to exchange business cards, we finally sat down with photographer Anthony Georgis. We should note that prior to our initial face-to-face, our dear pal Kate Kockler (also long-time ladyfriend of the subject) repeatedly referred to Anthony in conversation as 'Big Tony'. So, when he finally paid us a visit to Pinch House a couple of weeks back, we were a bit bewildered to discover that, in fact, he wasn't really that big. (We'll just need to go ahead and trust Kate on her context for the handle, but I guess that's another, ahem, post.) Kidding aside, to suggest that we were merely taken with Mr. Georgis' work would fall somewhat short. Truth; the guy is a damn fine shooter and among the other Pinch projects in consideration, we're looking forward to developing a short film together for AIGA Portland. Thanks, Kate. You got yourself a good one there. Now, put that marketing background to use and let some others know.
So, the old joke among graphic designers goes something like this:
Q: How many designers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Why does it need to be a light bulb?
You get the idea. There's always another way to look at a problem and we, as designers, tend to look at the problem, or the very question of the problem, as a complex series of issues needing to be addressed — in fact, are perhaps best addressed — by development of a new logo, an entirely new visual language supported by extensive (yet deceptively simple-to-use!) 'Brand and Identity Guidelines' documentation. And assuming that the budget is there, all is to be case-bound in a hand-wrapped bespoke enclosure, blind-embossed with clear foil. Cha-ching.
Recently, I read Rock On: An Office Power Ballad, penned by frequent McSweeney's contributor Dan Kennedy. Earlier in the week, I had heard Kennedy pimping the new effort with Terry Gross. Within seconds, I was audibly chortling in the car, by myself, as I attempted to steer my way to a client meeting I wasn't particularly eager to attend. Beyond his tales of the ironies of pop/country queen Jewel hawking personal razors for perhaps the year's biggest ad spend, Kennedy provided another take on the light bulb riddle:
Q: How many of the likes of us (in this case, record execs, but anyone charged with 'branding') does it take to change a light bulb?
A: First of all, before we change anything, is the light bulb really burned out? Maybe we just need to breathe some life into it; repackage it, maybe the light bulb could do a duet with somebody (Sheryl Crow? Tim McGraw?) in hopes of getting some crossover appeal, maybe it could be in a beer commercial, maybe we could get it out on the road with a brighter light bulb. The other thing to think about is that this summer, Honda is rolling out a 100 Million dollar campaign for a new car aimed at thirty-somethings who consider themselves adventurous/spontaneous but can't really afford something like a luxury S.U.V. and it might be a perfect campaign to tie this light bulb into, at least it would be the perfect demographic, in terms of age.
Also, and this is just an idea: what if we found out what video games are being released in the third quarter...
Dean Allen's Textism has returned to the Internets. Mr. Allen is more or less the opposite of your faithful correspondent (meaning he's Canadian, hates Catholics and loves the Velvet Underground), but he possesses a pungent prose style and his opinions on communications-related subjects are pithy and often amusing. I look forward to reading him again. N.B.: "All right" should always be spelled as two words, unless you're Roger Daltrey.
English advertising agent Paul Arden died yesterday following a long illness. He wrote several books about the creative business; I recommend all of them to anybody even tangentially related to the business, but It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be is required reading. Mr. Arden was one of those advertising folks who transcend the tribalism of the advertising vs. design mindset; a big thinker who never forgot the details. Creative Review has an obituary followed by a long thread of comments from people who worked with him. Go there.