Rise of the Machine | Random Thought for July 6, 2018

When’s the last time you were asked to remember someone’s phone number? What about basic directions to get somewhere? I got to thinking about that this morning after listening to a replay on a radio show where they were taking calls on weird and crazy things that have happened as a result of wonky navigation app directions.

Old(ish), but not a fogey

I’m a Gen X’er. I’m in my 40s, so I’m part of this last “analog” population. I’ve seen the explosion of computer use. The transition from LPs and video tapes to CDs and DVDs, and now streaming. I remember having to carry loose change if I needed to call home while I was out. My dad had maps in his glove compartment, and I would help navigate on long car rides. I also needed to remember those numbers I wanted to call, or, I suppose, write them down in an address book. Come to think of it, when’s the last time you HAD an address book. The last one I bought was over 20 years ago (I’m sure I have it in a box somewhere).

I still have a stack of scraps of paper with usernames and passwords that I mean to transfer to a notebook (I just can’t bring myself to use one of those password managers). There’s a core set of websites I visit daily, and I key in login info by hand. Not only is it good mental exercise, but it’s also a way to not be dependent on technology.

This doesn’t mean I’m some sort of tech-averse luddite (I know someone like that, and believe me, I DO NOT want to be that type of person). My smartphone is my go-to piece of tech that is with me pretty much everywhere. I love my DVR. Spotify is basically my source for music discovery. I’m comfortable in that world. I embrace it.

the takeaway

And that’s it– sure, technology can, and does, make our lives easier. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of losing what, for lack of a better metaphor, is part of what makes us human.

Marketing, money, and time | Random Thought for May 30, 2018

I was listening to the radio on the drive to work this morning, and there was talk about a pilot program in Sacramento where digital automobile license plates are being made available.

(link to the article on The Sacramento Bee here).

It got me thinking… Let’s presume this program gets rolled out statewide. How long will it take until someone— marketers, maybe even the State of California– figures out a way to monetize this via advertising?

I’m not implying that it’s a bad thing one way or the other. But it is something to think about.

Do androids dream of obsolete men? | Random Thought for January 9, 2018

The title, for those unfamiliar, is a combination of the title for the novel “Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep” and the Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man”.

I was listening to a piece on NPR about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) out in Las Vegas. The conversation revolved a lot around automation. And it got me thinking…

We can automate a lot of things– manufacturing processes, data analysis, transportation (well, we’re collectively working on that). So what else is there? Can design be automated? As a community of designers, we argue often that design is ultimately about problem-solving and communicating. So, if we’re talking about finding the best solution, then conceivably you can establish a set of rules and parameters to reach the best possible solution.

And if we continue distilling the argument, we could reach the conclusion that design, being about solving problems, can be broken down into a set of algorithms and rules. And if we’re able to do that, what does that do to– and for– designers? Do we then become utterly obsolete? What does that do to design itself? What does an automated design look like?

And if we’re able to do that– what’s next?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to any of this. But listening to the conversation on the radio gave me pause and made me think about what, professionally, things might look like 5, 10, 20 years down the road.

Something to think about.

To buck (conventions) or not

Sundays are usually a supermarket run for me, and, aside from getting out of the house for a bit, it’s an opportunity to walk around, explore and examine packaging and products on the shelves.

This week, as I was finishing up, I walked down the aisle containing feminine hygiene products (I think it’s also where the hand soaps are placed, since that’s something I was picking up). As I walked down the aisle, I caught these out of the corner of my eye:

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Packaging for Veeda tampons

I saw these and stopped, because they were unlike anything else that was in the aisle.

And that’s the point. So often we talk about the need to either follow design conventions established by the market leader, whether in iconography, typography, or color usage (notice, for example, that most colas are in red cans, following color standards established by Coca-Cola). On the other hand, there’s the opposite– the opportunity to lay stake to a segment of the market by differentiating from the rest of the pack. But a lot of times both approaches can miss the mark, either because of an overzealous approach to differentiating, or as a result of timidity and being afraid to actually be different.

So I found the Veeda packaging to be refreshing. To me, it managed to accomplish both. It stuck closely to some of the conventions, while steering away from others. The look and feel of the typography definitely has an air of femininity to it. The use of a simplified plant illustration, the 3-color palette on kraft stock– a stark departure from the glossy, varnished, high-contrast color palettes that have become commonplace, suggests an earthier, planet-friendly product.

Note: I checked out their website, and I found that affordable, planet-friendly products are an essential part of their story.

So, I say to the folks at Veeda– good job! You’ve managed to walk the line between common and uncommon, and made it look effective.

The shortest path isn’t always

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

But sometimes the shortest distance isn’t the most efficient. And sometimes, the most efficient is not the most effective.

People constantly look for the shortest path, when what they need to be looking for is the most effective.

Metal men (and women)

Lately, bluster, brashness and sheer loudness has become almost synonymous with strength.

This is a false equivalency. Look at metals. Gold is a bright, shiny, attention-getting metal. But when put to the test, it turns out to be quite soft. 

Iron, on the other hand, is by comparison, almost inconspicuous and, well, dull. But it’s extremely strong and durable.

In the long run, it’s better to be iron.

First, do the thing

If you’re doing something just for the money, you’re probably not passionate about it.

If you’re not passionate about it, it’s likely you won’t stick with it.

If you won’t stick with the one thing, chances are you won’t stick with the next thing.

Do something because you’re passionate about it. Don’t worry about the money (or the accolades, or whatever else) at first. That will come when people see your passion.

Features I wish existed– Snapchat

I’ve been using Snapchat for a bit now (I don’t consider myself a “rockstar/ninja/guru” by any stretch of the imagination. I’m more of a “casual user”.). The other day I was sending a snap to a specific group of folks, and it occurred to me that there isn’t a way to make this easy.

If you’re using email, or Facebook (just as an example), you can create groups or distribution lists. These groups help make quick work of sending targeted messages and shared info. Within Snapchat, you can either broadcast it to all your followers (by adding it to your Story), or you can use it as a messaging platform and target individual users. I find this a little problematic and inconvenient.

A sticky wicket

Here’s the thing–  you have to select each and every one. Individually. And you have to do this every time you don’t want to share something wth all your followers.

I don’t follow many people, so it’s not a major issue, but for those that have hundreds– even thousands– of followers, the ability to create various groups would be a huge convenience. And I don’t know if this is something they’ve worked on and ditched, or have worked on, or WILL work on in the future. But I think it would be useful.

What do you think?
Let me know in the comments below. Also, are there any features that you might like to see in Snapchat?

 

(By the way, you can find me on Snapchat @rcarmstrong, or by scanning the Snapcode below!)

Add me on Snapchat!

Add me on Snapchat!

Packaging Roundup | alcoholic beverages

Over the years, I’ve found that there is almost direct correlation between the quality of a beverage’s packaging and the quality of the product itself. My thinking (whether right or wrong) has been that any company that takes the care and puts the resources into its packaging is likely doing the same with its product. So, especially when shopping for wine, I keep an eye out on the labels in case there is something new that I may want to try. If I’m not is a shopping mode, I like to look at the labeling. It can be a source of inspiration. Either way, I sometimes snap pics of things that catch my eye and share them in round-ups.

Now, it’s been a while since I’ve done a packaging roundup, but a trip to one of the local supermarkets (with a liquor store on the premises), had me snapping pics of a handful of items that caught my eye, simply because– in my opinion– they’re bucking category conventions.

Please note: This is not an endorsement of any sort for any of the products mentioned here.

With that out of the way…

kinky-cocktails-800px

“Kinky Cocktails” beverage packaging

Kinky Cocktails

“Kinky Cocktails” caught my eye for a couple of reasons– the product name, right off the bat, with its tongue firmly planted in cheek. There’s also their use of color to clue the casual browser on their target customer base. And lastly, the type, again hinting at their target demo.

 

juliette-wine

Juliette Wine Labels

Juliette Wines

In a sea of beige and white labels with stoic serif type, these bottles provide an eye-catching splash of color on the shelf. There is a femininity to the design that unmistakably tells us who they’re targeting as consumers.

 

einstock-ale-800px

Einstök Ale Packaging

Einstök Ale

Bold illustrations and and a clean layout separate this from the loud, sometimes overdone beer packaging on-shelf. The heavy use of blue could be evocative of Iceland’s flag.

 

white-aphro-800px

Empire Brewing “White Aphro” Packaging

White Aphro

Purple is not a color often seen in beer packaging. so when you do see it. it definitely stands out. Add to that some bold sans serif type, and you’ve got some eye-catching packaging.

 

Carl Graff Wine

Carl Graff

Bold use of Neutraface (truth be told, this typeface is a personal favorite of mine). This goes against the thin, “stuffy”, serif type. Neutra brings contemporary class to the party.

There you have it. Is there any packaging that’s caught your eye? Share it in the comments– and thanks for reading.

Lessons in Photography and Cookery, or “keep it light on the salt”

I was having a discussion a few weeks ago, and the subject of photography came up. The conversation was about image quality, and how sometimes photos on a smartphone can surpass those from a more professional setup.

Now, frankly, three are probably a myriad of reasons why that can happen.

Rather, what came up during the course of the conversation were my lighting preferences, especially where product photography is concerned. See, when shooting, I prefer to slightly under light objects (not too much, mind you). That way, I feel I have better control in my retouching when I bring the images into Photoshop. Now, I won’t fault anyone if they prefer to light objects more accurately. I’m just saying this is my preference.

And it got me to thinking of “why”. And this thinking led me to the subject of cooking (somehow all roads lead back to food in my world). In short, you can always under season a dish. You can add more salt or pepper until things are seasoned right. But once something gets too salty, it’s hard to “take it back”.

Same thing in photography. You can start with an underlit image and you can adjust it in Photoshop until you feel it’s right, but if you start with a shot that is overexposed or otherwise has too much light… Well, there’s not much you can do to remedy the situation at that point.

I’m not sure where I was going with this, but I guess that’s my advice. Be mindful when lighting, and find what works for you.

Now, could you pass the pepper, please?