Incomplete Passes and Missed Opportunities

The Super Bowl took place this past weekend. It’s something that is typically heavily anticipated, and this year was no exception. Particularly, I thought, because this year was the year of Super Bowl 50. Now, those that know me– and even if you don’t– may not be surprised to know that sports just isn’t my thing. As a geek and a nerd, sports in general are something I’ve avoided my whole life. However, I do understand (in the vernacular of The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper) that there is a social convention surrounding sports, so I try to stay somewhat informed of what’s happening by reading news headlines and the like. The result is that I can carry, at the very least, a “cocktail party” conversation about sports.

All this to say that I’m not an expert on the particulars of football, but that’s not what this post is ultimately about.

Like I mentioned earlier, this past weekend was Super Bowl weekend, so there was a a lot of hoopla and anticipation surrounding it. Every year advertisers trot out EXTREMELY expensive ads– both in the creation and in the placement. The halftime show is also typically a water cooler moment for a lot of people. So with all this I was expecting an out of the ordinary collection of events.

Out of the ordinary we got. But not in the way I expected.

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way. There’s no way to determine ahead of time WHO will be playing (If we could, it would amount to a conspiracy and collusion by a number of parties that would make everyone’s head spin), so I’m not including the actual football played into my observations on SB50. I will say I found the game interesting and was not displeased with seeing the Denver Broncos win. I would have preferred to see the Carolina Panthers come out on top, but that’s just a matter of preference here. The other elements– ads and entertainment– are a whole other thing altogether.

The Ads

Super Bowl Sunday typically is considered one of those tentpole events, and advertisers in all categories take the opportunity to go out of their way creating attention-grabbing ads. It’s usually the time when the big summer movies drop trailers, beer and auto companies unveil expensive, slickly-produced ads, and (what I like to call) insurgent companies try to break through the noise with attention-grabbing commercials made to get people talking monday morning. If any of these companies are lucky, the talk and buzz around the water cooler is positive. Sometimes, you even get a slew of companies within the same industry competing for attention (remember the dot-boom of the early ’00s?).

Unfortunately, this year really saw little of any of that. I suppose part of it can be attributed to the continuing and increasing power of the online world and our access to information. As far as I’m concerned, there were only 1-2 ads that caught my attention. There was the Doritos “sonogram” ad early on, and whose surprise ending really got me. The other was far more subtle. It was the Audi “astronaut” commercial, which used David Bowie’s “Starman”. Oh yeah, there was the one with Jeff Goldblum and Little Wayne (“Weezy”). Aside from that, there were no other standouts for me. No major new trailers for upcoming summer movies were released. Even Budweiser’s ads were nothing to be excited over. Remember when it was a given there would be a “big” Budweiser Super Bowl ad? This year– nowhere to be found. I’m not sure why, but it was like Madison Avenue decided to phone it in this year.

Halftime

Here’s where I think the NFL and the Super Bowl powers-that-be really missed an opportunity. It was Super Bowl 50. A milestone moment. Half a century’s worth of entertainment and heritage. The biggest stage on what is arguably the biggest sporting event in the US. The time to bring out the big guns and blow the roof off the joint. Who you gonna call?

Coldplay. Beyonce. Bruno Mars.

Let me be clear. I like all those acts. And on any other year they would have been a fine show– alone or in a any combo. But this was THE 50th. This was the time to go with big names, with big, iconic performers to showcase what this event is all about. A time to even try and bring back past performers, to extend the run time of the halftime show– I’m sure the audience would be ok with it this time. it was a chance to break the bank a little and “do it proper”.

It was a time to go big. And they dropped the ball.

The Post-Game Wrap-up

It’s hard to wrap things up, since these are just my observations. I hope that for future milestones organizers will take a bit of a calculated risk and treat the event with the importance it likely deserves, rather than playing it safe and giving the public something that is just “ok”

Give them something to remember, and they’ll remember you for it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.

Random Thought for 11.10.15- my delicious salad dressing

This bit o’randomness has nothing to do with design, print, web, packaging, business, or anything that’s related to pretty much any profession (I suppose those in the culinary field might say otherwise).


 

MY SALAD DRESSING

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil (I prefer Extra Virgin)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Honey

For one salad, put a couple of drops of honey into a small container. Add 2 teaspoons each of lemon juice and balsamic, and about a tablespoon of oil. Mix or shake to blend/emulsify. Drizzle over your salad.

Note: Measurements are suggested. Feel free to tweak the proportions according to your taste.


 

So, where did this come from?

Lunch on work days typically consists of a salad I bring from home. Healthy options near work are few and far between, so bringing lunch keeps me out of trouble food-wise, as well as not being terrible for my pocket. 🙂 And, for a while, I was just using either leftover pouches of dressing from Wendy’s, or I would just throw some oil and vinegar together in a small container. Eventually, this got a little boring, so I looked in the cupboard and the fridge to see if there was anything I could add– hot sauce, dried herbs… Something. I gravitated to the honey and the lemon juice, and well, voila.

So, there you have it. If ever you’re stuck with having to make salad dressing, I suppose there are worse choices you could make.

Enjoy!

Random Thought for 11/4/15– this post is “high priority”

We live in a world where, today, you can reach someone faster than you might even think (literally!). There are tweets, DMs, IMs, and all sort of social media messaging. There are even more “old school” means of communication– like the phone. And email.

Speaking of email– why is is that people still use “High Priority” when sending email (I know of one person that sends all emails as high priority. We’ll get to that in a moment). If something is of such importance, maybe following up with a call (or preceding the email with a call) might not be a bad idea. It might even give the recipient some context as to why it’s important to the sender.

Of course, there’s also the question of why it’s still put in the email software code. If we’ve “outgrown” the need for labeling things as “high priority” when there are more efficient ways to relay info in really short time windows, then why is this feature still put in, like some vestigial do0dad?

Just a thought.

And while I’m thinking, let’s go back to “all high priority, all the time”. If everything is that important, then everything becomes unimportant, so when there is something that is that important, it’s ignored as just another email. It’s sort of like the story of Peter and the Wolf.

So, as long as software manufacturers feel that this is some useful feature, we’ll be stuck with it. Let’s use it judiciously in the meantime.

Wait a Minute

I’ve been thinking about writing more, or rather, about the fact that I don’t write more (and I should). I also think– and I’m pretty sure this happens to a lot of us– that good ideas, whether they’re for blog posts, art, whatever– come to us at times when it’s hard to capture them and save it for later. Even with note-collecting apps and stuff.

I also think that a lot of times we operate with a “hope” and “wish” mindset. We wish we had more time for “x”, or we hope that “y” changes, allowing us to effect some change in some part of our lives. Or we spend a lot of energy spinning our wheels, wishing for some improvement in because something isn’t going the way we would like…

And it’s that mindset that I keep coming coming back and re-examining. We expend all this energy trying to figure out how to change things… When sometimes all we need to do is wait. It became clear to me while going to get lunch a few weeks ago.

I typically bring my lunch to work every day but one. On that day, I usually go to one of a handful of places (not a lot of options near work, and half of them are burger joints. Since I don’t eat beef, it sort of narrows my options. But I digress). That day, the forecast called for rain. I stepped out around 1pm, and it was drizzling. I had brought my umbrella in to the office, but had left it at my desk, so I shrugged my shoulders and resigned myself to getting a little rain on me as I walked to the car. I drove out and headed a short distance (barely 1/2 mile, I think). By the time I got there, it was not only raining, but HAIL was coming down. 10 minutes later, after getting lunch, I came out and the sun was shining, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

I thought the rain was crummy enough, and then got hail. When I thought that was as good as it was going to get– the sun came out.

I’m not sure where I was going with the story, but the bottom line is this. Every step of the way I thought it was bad or couldn’t get worse, with no “hope” in sight. But all I had to do was wait 10 minutes.

“Wait a minute”. Sometimes, that’s all we have to do.

The Sheep and the Unicorn

“That’s the way the competition is doing it”. “That’s how it’s always been done”.

These are not fully valid reasons for making choices. Sure, there can be times when visual cues or specific language help the consumer make an immediate connection to whatever is being sold. But, more often that not, falling into this type of groupthink and making decisions from that place can be at best a bad idea, and at worst catastrophic. Thinking like this can dilute a message. It can take a standout design and make it generic. It can take the air out of a successful marketing campaign.

Figure out what makes you you, and leverage that. Forget the sheep, and embrace the fabulous unicorn within.

Pagers, email, emoticons and priorities

pager-blog-post-image

I remember that, back in the “olden” days of pagers and beepers (you know, the 90s), we would add codes to messages to indicate certain things (a little like how we have LOL and emojis today). I imagine this was done as a way to save on the number of characters being used in a message. Frankly, I can’t remember the exact reason. I do remember that one of the most popular shorthands was to add “911” to a message to indicate the level of urgency that was needed in the reply (another was “411”, used to request info). Fast-forward a number of years, and I realize that some people I’ve come across over the years ALWAYS send their emails flagged as “high priority”. And it got me to thinking… 

We live in such an interconnected world where communication has become almost instantaneous– from things like cell phones and social media posts to instant messaging on mobile devices.

So I wonder– has email’s “high priority” outlived its usefulness? Or does the little red flag (or exclamation point!) still a place for it in our modern communications?

Curious 2 know 411 911

Depth vs. breadth– the age-old argument

"Tools"-- Via New Old Stock

“Tools”– Via New Old Stock

A finely honed screwdriver. A Swiss Army knife.

We all have our favorite tools. But is one inherently better over the other?

Specialist– or Jack-of-all-Trades?

This has been a source of debate within the design community that has gone on for a long time now, and it’s likely to continue. Be a screwdriver or a multi-tool. Specialize or generalize. At its core is the difference between depth and breadth. Peanut butter or chocolate. Pepsi or Coke. “Less filling” or “tastes great”.

(For those not familiar, that last one was a nod to a Miller Lite campaign that was big in the 70s and 80s– here’s a sample of one of the ads)

But I realize it’s both. Especially in today’s marketplace, where global competition is so fierce. Sure, it’s important that we become focused in some area. That we have depth of knowledge in something. It helps establish us as thought leaders, experts in our field. It helps to set us apart from other professionals.

At the same time it’s important that we’re at least familiar with a lot of things outside our area of focus. If we’re a print designer, then knowing at least the basics of things like web design or packaging. Or even cooking. If our focus is on web and mobile design, maybe things like motion, or video, even music– may be a good thing. It’s this breadth of knowledge that helps balance out, and complements, that expertise. And, it also helps to give further depth, since things learned in other disciplines can be brought in and re-interpreted through that design lens. Or whatever your area of focus may be.

Is one better than the other?

So, the debate may continue. People will continue to argue for each side. And, each one has its merits, sure. But discussions on whether you should be a specialist, or jack-of-all-trades, will go on. Whether it’s better to be a hammer or a Swiss Army knife. Whether one is better than the other.

I say be both. You’ll likely be the better professional– even the better person– for it.

Klout… Huh! What is it good for?

I’m reminded of Jules Winfield–  Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction

“I was sitting here, eating my muffin and drinking my coffee and replaying the incident in my head, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.”

I wasn’t sitting around, eating a muffin. But there was something. I’ve been thinking for the past few days about social media in general, but specifically thinking about metrics tools like Klout. About how we read and hear from “experts” that say we shouldn’t focus or spend too much time thinking about Klout scores, follower counts– all that stuff. And they’re not wrong. At least not entirely.

See, this is what I’ve been wondering. As much of a downside as these experts/gurus/ninjas/rockstars of the Social cosmos tout, I have to believe there’s an equal upside to them.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”– Newton’s Third Law of Motion

What if there is a usefulness for these tools beyond the obvious ego stroking? What if we used these to measure something else?

The past couple of weeks, I’ve taken to Klout (I really don’t like to focus on one site, but since they’re the de facto leader in the marketplace, it just seems inevitable) and instead of looking at my score, I’ve decided to look at the breakdown by network. I’m looking to see how my general day-today breaks down. I took some screen caps to show you what I mean.

Klout score overview

Klout score overview

The overview– this shows what the current Klout score is, and the high/low scores for the past 90 days (why 90 days? I have no idea). It’s really not an important component, but since engagement is tied to the score, it bears mentioning.

Clout score- Pie chart breakdown

Klout score- Pie chart breakdown

One view of the breakdown. This is one area where I’ve been focusing my attention. It shows me how my calculated score breaks down. We’ll see in the next shot WHERE it breaks down more fully (the different colors correspond to the various networks associated with this account). In my case, it looks like the majority of my score right now is coming from Facebook and Twitter activity.

Klout score- breakdown by network

Klout score- breakdown by network

Here’s the legend to the previous pie chart (or is it a donut chart? I don’t know. I like both.). As I noted, the bulk of my Klout score is coming from Facebook and Twitter (almost 70% combined), with Instagram coming in third place. These percentages are fluid, and will vary depending on where you’re choosing to invest your energy and social engagement on a given “snapshot” in time.

What can I do with this info? If I were a job-seeker, for example, I could look at this and conclude that I might be spending a good chunk of my energy and time on Facebook and Twitter– not necessarily a bad thing per se, but odds are if you’re on Facebook, you’re not networking or engaging in what I’d describe as “professionally productive” engagement. So I might look at spending more time on Linkedin and seeing how the scales tip after some time.

Personally, my goal (lofty and unattainable as it may be) is to get to a point where my score is being calculated by a balanced split among the different players. I’ve taken steps to increase my engagement in places like Google+ and Linkedin, although with Linkedin there is the issue of involvement in groups, and my experience so far has been less than positive (in short, I find there’s a lot of noise and unnecessary self-promotion, rather than genuine conversations going on there). However, the Google+ community in general has been much more engaging. I’m surprised more people aren’t as actively involved there, but I  understand the why behind it, especially in light of the popularity of the behemoth that is Facebook.

So, there it is. While a lot of people may have their issues and reservations with sites like Klout (could we consider them a type of aggregator), I believe it can be harnessed to reap potentially positive results beyond that for which it was designed.

 

Quick logo roundup– Puerto Rico and the 1970s.

I love logos. There’s something about taking a business, an organization– whatever– and boiling it down to an icon or a wordmark that really appeals to me. It’s like the ultimate Cliff’s Notes (side note– do they even make Cliff’s Notes anymore?).

(After a quick Googling) Apparently they do. And they’re still made with those awesomely-almost industrial yellow & black covers. Glad some things haven’t changed.

But I digress.

As I said at the top, I love logos. And I especially love logos from the 60s-80s. There’s just something about them…

Anyway, I was doing some housecleaning the other day. As I was putting stuff away, I came across an old program from a play I did when I was around 5-6 years old, which led me down a rabbit’s hole of memories for a bit. After a while I started to look at the “booster” ads in the back (you know, the kind parents and family buy to say hi to their kids. I even saw one from my great-grandfather to me. That made me a little misty-eyed. I had totally forgotten that was there). I saw that it wasn’t just parents. There were also stores– some local to Puerto Rico, some not– that had also bought ads in these programs. Then, somewhere along the way, I couldn’t help but realize how I’d never noticed the logos before. So I took picture of a few that I especially liked. The quality of the printing was not the best, and these were quick pics taken with an otherwise decent cell phone camera, so I apologize in advance for some of the quality (although that less-than-perfect execution gives them a little something I like).

Well, without further ado, let’s look at some logos (which are used for the purpose of sharing cool stuff I’ve found and are the property of their respective owners)…

Burger King's logo, circa late 1970s.

Burger King’s logo, circa late 1970s.

For many, many years, Burger King was the big player in the fast food landscape in Puerto Rico (Up until sometime in the 80s, there was only one McDonald’s in PR.). Burger King has gone through some logo changes over the years, but this design has always been my favorite (they seem to have brought it back– even if for a little while– these days with the re-release of their hot ham & cheese sandwich).

First Federal Savings-- circa 1970s

First Federal Savings– circa 1970s

First Federal (now FirstBank, I believe) was one of the big local banks in PR, along with guys like Banco Popular. While Banco Popular used a lot of reds and blues, First Federal leaned heavily on the color green. The extruded “1” on this is pretty funky, IMO.

Lopito, Ileana & Howie logo

Lopito, Ileana & Howie logo

I have no idea what this company is/was, or what they did. The logo– to me– has a cool bicycle-meets-Taíno-iconography feel to it. BTW, the Taíno were the peoples native to Puerto Rico and some of the other islands in the Caribbean. You can find out more here about the Taíno and their symbols.)

Erwin Rodriguez & Asociados logo

Erwin Rodriguez & Asociados logo

This is a logo for an engineer (if I had to guess, structural engineering or something construction related. But don’t quote me on it). I like how the “E” is formed out of the left-hand frame, and the bar carries through into the arrow, and the whole thing is lframed out in that rectangle. I dig it, even if I have no clue what the “dot” (which ends up looking like a Pac-Man because of the arrow) has to do with anything here.

Graficor logo

Graficor logo

This one’s a little crusty. It’s a logo for a graphics and print shop. Unfortunately, it looks like the ink spread a little on the printing, and things got a little goopy. You can barely make out the “c” in “Graficor”. But if there was a logo in this bunch that epitomized that period for me, this is probably it.

Baskin Robbins ad

Baskin Robbins ad

Okay, so this one’s not a logo per se. But I like the feel of this ad. And  I love this version of the Baskin Robbins logo. It’s most definitely a product of its time. And, if memory serves me, it was in use well into the 80s, maybe even later.

So, there it is. Nothing scientific or fancy. These were just a bunch of logos that appealed to me in some way, and I thought I’d share them with you. Hope you’ve enjoyed them. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Illustrator tip | Packaging it up

Funny story. Well, maybe. I was brushing my teeth yesterday morning, thinking about the whole Sony/“The Interview” kerfuffle. Now, I have my thoughts about that, and I may share them separately at some point. But as I was brushing my teeth, I remembered another useful improvement the folks at Adobe have made to Illustrator.

Often when working with Illustrator, you may find that you’re not only creating art within the program, but you’re also placing in external elements– like images. These can be placed either as links, or embedded directly into the file. On one hand, a linked file allows for a leaner Illustrator file. The linked image can be edited externally (think, for example, of color-correcting a photo or putting a clipping path on the image), and the changes would be reflected back in Illustrator once saved. However, send that file out without also sending the linked image, and you’ll run into trouble.

An embedded image eliminates the risk of missing links, by sheer virtue of it being part of the Illustrator file. The downside of this is you Illustrator file will likely balloon in size (depending on the size of the link, and if you work with high resolution images, you can bet it will). You will also no longer be able to edit the embedded file.

Enter packaged files

Packaged files (also sometime called collected files) solve the issue of potentially missed links without unnecessarily increasing file sizes. If you’ve ever used Adobe’s InDesign or QuarkXpress (the “Coke and Pepsi” of page layout programs– so to speak), you’ve likely packaged or collected files.

Nice package!

Essentially, a packaged file (I’m going to stick with that term, since this is what Adobe uses) is a separate folder that’s created that includes the original file,  and can include all links and fonts. It’s a real convenient way to send files to third parties or printers so that they have everything that they would need to open the file with (in theory) no errors or discrepancies.

When sending files for others to modify and work off of, I think packaged files are great. When sending out to printers… That’s a different story (personally, I prefer sending press-ready PDFs whenever possible, but that’s a discussion for another day).

In programs like InDesign or Quark, this feature has been built in to the software for a long time. Illustrator users were not so lucky, and were left to rely on outside help. In this case, plug-in software. When I first started working on packaging production art (back in 2005), this was the way things were done. I believe the software was called Art Bin. This piece of software collected Illustrator files in a manner similar to Quark or InDesign.

There had to be a better way

Unfortunately, a native feature wasn’t available in Illustrator at the time (I believe it was v.9), and users were left with these third-party solutions. The alternative to packaging files being embedding photography/links and outlining type. This at least ensured all image elements are included and there are no font-related issues.

And so it was until not too long ago. I’ve been working primarily on packaging since then (both freelance and in-house). My software of choice is Illustrator, and a lot of times I use photos or other outside images. Up until recently, if I wanted to send files to a printer, I resorted to the embedded file and outlined type method of file output, more out of necessity than choice. Nowadays, it’s 100% a matter of choice and minimizing the impact a printing bureau may have on the content of the art supplied.

Here we are

With the latest version of Illustrator (as of the end of 2014 we’re at CC, their new subscription-based model), Adobe’s bridged the gap between software apps and users now have the ability of packaging the art like they would in InDesign. Let’s look at how it works.

For this tutorial (I guess that’s the best description), I created a file and named it GEERD.ai (GEERD™, for those unfamiliar, is something I’ve come to call myself. It’s a combination of “geek” and “nerd”.). I placed a picture of myself, a circle with beveled edges and some type.

GEERD-document

This is what the files looks like

You have the basic elements of a file that would make sense could be packaged out. In order to package the file, Illustrator has provided a menu item. It’s located under “File/Package…”

GEERD-pkg-menu

This is where the “Package” menu is located

So, if I wanted to package my file, this is the menu option I would select. From here on out, it’s a pretty straightforward process. After selecting “package”, you’re prompted to select where your files will be saved. You can leave the default location (which should place it in the same folder as the original piece of art), or a different place altogether. It will also give you the option to (re-)name the folder, if you so desire. All this is up to you, the user, to decide.

package-file-loc

This box allows you to select the location where the packaged folder will be placed

After selecting your package folder’s location, Illustrator then moves on to package out your file into its own folder. When it’s done you’ll get this:

pkg-complete

The packaging of your files is now complete!

You can view the packaged folder to make sure everything’s copacetic by hitting “ok”…

pkg-folder-window

The main package folder sitting in the folder it was saved.

… and then opening the folder itself.

pkg-folder-contents

This is everything that’s inside the packaged folder– including a PDF.

After that, the folder can be burned on a disk, put on a flash drive, or zipped and either emailed (size permitting) or sent via any number of cloud-based file sharing services (like Dropbox, Google Drive, Copy, Microsoft’s OneDrive, just to name a few).

 

So there it is. A quick, easy way to take files and all their ancillary elements and put them in one folder for ease of transport or distribution. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and I’l see you here next time.

OK, so maybe I won’t really see you. At least not physically. But your comments or input would be greatly appreciated.