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.

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:

Veeda-tampons-boxes

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.

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.

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