Categories
Advertising client services Design glamorous industry

Fear of getting noticed

Back when I was in advertising, one of my team’s clients was a well-known Irish Airline. They could only afford an 1/8th-page ad in the travel section of the paper. But my partners and I didn’t think creativity was dependent on budget. We were determined to deliver great ads for them—ads that would make a viewer look, even though the ad was tiny and was surrounded by other ads.

So we created a standout campaign for them—the kind that would be not just be noticed, but would also make travel-focused consumers smile and make them want to buy tickets.

We also blew up our tiny layouts and mounted the enlargements on illustration board, for an impactful creative presentation when we met to show the client the work.

The great day came. The work was good, and we had rehearsed our presentation to perfection. We booked the conference room, had the client’s favorite snacks and beverages spread out when they arrived, and sold our little hearts out as we presented.

Silence.

The lead client blinked, cleared his throat, and finally said, in a thick Irish brogue:

“I’m afraid it’s far too clever for our needs. It calls too much attention to itself on the page,” he explained—as if getting a distracted newspaper reader to notice his company’s message was a bad thing.

The lead client asked us to set “Ireland $399” in bold type, stick a shamrock in one of the 9s, and call it a day.

Fear of getting noticed is a terrible thing. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Clickbait headlines get a deservedly bad rap in digital marketing, but you know what else should have a get rap? Blind, boring, infinitely ignorable links and titles.

Creating messages that get noticed and acted upon by their intended audience—the people for whom you created the products in the first place—isn’t a crime. It’s your job.


Hat tip to Mark Mazut and Tim Irwin, my fellow passengers on the above disaster. Bit o’ nostalgia for those who remember The Ad Graveyard.

Categories
art art direction creativity Design Designers experience Illustration industry New York City NYC people Portfolios Startups Stories Web Design

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: artist Dan Licht

Illustration by Dan Licht: a scary cowboy smoking a stogie and sloshing his drink. His eyes are red and he looks like he's itching for a fight.
Illustration by Dan Licht
Illustration by Dan Licht.

In 1999, I had the good fortune to work alongside Dan Licht at an NYC digital startup called SenseNet, RIP. Back then, although still in his early 20s, Dan was already an accomplished art director and digital designer. Today he’s a fantastic comics illustrator, artist, and creative director. Check his recent art on Instagram and his client work at Daniel V. Licht dot com.

A heroic letter carrier is pictured sending letters on their way in this illustration by Dan Licht. The picture has a great deal of energy, and the action is all flying toward you, the viewer.
“Protect the U.S. Postal Service,” a 2020 illustration by Dan Licht.
Categories
glamorous work Working

My First Job

I was a teenage telemarketer. Reading from a script, I attempted to raise money for St. Jude’s Hospital for Leukemia-Stricken Children. I was fired after three days for departing from the script. 

We were supposed to hard-sell, no matter what the person on the other end of the line said. But when the people I cold-called talked about their financial hardships, I sympathized, asked questions, and didn’t try to force a donation.

Our boss listened in on the calls. My empathy toward the people I called was not appreciated. 

My boss failed to see any irony in the job’s requiring psychopathically cold-hearted behavior toward some needy people in order to raise money for others.

Probably he could not allow himself to see it.

Categories
Advocacy automattic Blogs and Blogging Brands Community Design industry Own your content software Standards Web Design Web Standards wordpress

Enabling Folks to Express Themselves on the Web: State of the Word 2021

Screenshot of slide highlighting the four phases of WordPress Gutenberg.

Not only are we enabling folks to express themselves uniquely on the web, unlike the cookie cutter looks that all the social sites try to put you into. We’re doing it in a way which is standards-based, interoperable, based on open source, and increases the amount of freedom on the web.

—Matt Mullenweg, State of the Word 

In a live address, Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg

  • Introduces Openverse (an opt-in content commons);
  • Announces that WordPress’s beginner-friendly Learn.Wordpress.org is now available in 21 languages;
  • Philosophizes about Web3 and the “decentralized web” —which, despite big company colonization attempts, is really what the web has always been;
  • Extols the virtues of Open Source;
  • And more. 

Watch the 2021 #StateoftheWord annual keynote address on YouTube. It’s two hours long, so bring popcorn.

Selected Additional Reactions & Commentary

Hat tips to Chenda Ngak, Reyes Martínez, and Josepha Haden.

Categories
democracy

“Like a school bus teetering on the guardrail of a bridge over a roaring river.”

“[We are] like a school bus teetering on the guardrail of a bridge over a roaring river. The bus driver is trying to coax the children to move calmly and carefully to an exit door in the portion of the bus that is still on the bridge, but some of the children are running and jumping around because the exasperated expressions of the driver amuses them.” – Lawrence Zajac

Categories
Design

#SpotifyWrapped

She’s Got It by The Leonard Simpson Duo; Mittrom by Mach-Hommy & Earl Sweatshirt; Open the Brain by Quelle Chris; Snake Oil Scientist by Marlowe; and Aunties Steak & Rice Hold the Cabbage by Camoflauge Monk (from Chopin Prelude in E Minor by Les Baxter). #SpotifyWrapped

Categories
Accessibility Best practices Blue Beanie Day Design W3C Web Design Web Standards

Blue Beanie Day 2021

Photo of astronaut David Bowman from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 wearing a blue beanie in support of web standards.

Blue Beanie Day in support of web standards is celebrated around the world on November 30. Hey, that’s today.

So how can you help? Glad you asked! Take a self-portrait wearing a blue beanie (toque, tuque, cap) and post it to your website and social media channels with the hashtag #BlueBeanieDay.

And for that extra extra, slap a blue beanie on your web and social media avatars, as well.

Do this on November 30 as a reminder to design accessible, web-standards-based websites 365 days a year. Thank you. Love you.

Categories
MF DOOM

DOOMSDAY

R.I.P. MF DOOM

One year to the day since he left us.

Categories
An Event Apart Appearances art direction better-know-a-speaker books Career conferences Design Designers Education events Genius glamorous Illustration industry Interviews New York City NYC Off My Lawn! speaking Stories Surviving Teaching The Profession UX Web Design Web Design History work

My Night With Essl

Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio.
Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio on Night 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit.

Herewith, a scene from last night’s interview with legendary web & book designer (and Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art) Mike Essl, who shared his portfolio, career highlights, early web design history, and more. Fun!

If you get a chance to meet, work with, or learn from Mike, take it. He’s brilliant, hilarious, warmly human, and one of the most creative people you’ll ever have the good fortune to know. 

Mike Essl

So ended Day 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit 2021. Day 3 begins in less than two hours. You can still join us … or watch later On Demand.

Categories
glamorous Health

A little vitreous humor

Vitreous humor lines the backs of our eyeballs. We are born with a full supply of the stuff, but as we age, it begins to dry out or evaporate or some damn thing—the ophthalmologist shining a beam into my eye wasn’t overly explicit on this point. 

Sometimes the stuff detaches and comes to the front of the eye. It can be discolored, particularly if the detached part used to be close to the optic nerve. The result is a vitreous floater, which is like having a microscopic slide of an insect’s leg in front of one of your eyes. One eye sees the world. The other eye sees the world but also sees the microscopic slide of the insect’s leg. 

At times the “slide” moves around. At night there can also be white flashes that go off every two minutes or so—spaced just far enough apart to work like Chinese water torture.

The ophthalmologist told me it’s caused by aging, it happens to most people eventually, and there’s nothing doctors can do about it, other than monitor the situation to make sure it doesn’t get worse—because if it gets worse, that could be a sign of something more serious.

The ophthalmologist at the space-age eye hospital told me that over time I would see less of it, or learn to ignore it, or something—he wasn’t overly explicit on this point.

I’m to go back and see him again in a month.

Categories
Design

Not one of us

Even people who didn’t get deathly ill. Who aren’t still struggling to recover. Who didn’t lose a loved one—or more than one. Who didn’t bear the brunt of it because of their race and class. Who didn’t lose a job because of it. 

Those who didn’t miss out on senior year. Or the play. Or the prom, quinceanera, or bat mitzvah. Those who didn’t sit alone for months. Didn’t shutter their family’s business. Didn’t die of a curable disease because the hospital was full. 

Even those who had enough to eat and someone to talk to. Who did not lose their homes. Those whose animals survived. 

Even the lucky ones who had internet access and books and music. And who, when a vaccine came along, had access to it, and were not dissuaded by madness.

Even the most privileged among us are living with trauma.

Not one of us has escaped. Not one is unchanged.

Take a moment to be gentle with yourself, and with all whom you encounter. Even the monsters are crying inside.

Categories
glamorous

The ship and the city

I DREAMED I’d boarded a ship that was slowly making its way to an exotic vacation locale, somewhere on the other side of the world. I’d bought a giant new steamer trunk for the voyage. I thought I’d have a cabin to myself, but, below decks, the ship was like a passenger train, with row upon row of seats. Voyagers had to sleep sitting up in these seats, and we had to hunt for a vacant seat. At first, I had a row of seats to myself, but I realized that the remaining seats would soon be filled, and perhaps by a group of noisy, aggressive people who knew each other. I’d be the odd one out. So I moved into an occupied row, next to a Japanese passenger who was already half-asleep, his hat pulled halfway down over his eyes, and was traveling by himself, like me. My arrival woke him, slightly, and he nodded to acknowledge me, then closed his eyes again. I realized, as I settled in beside him, each of us slouching away from the other for privacy, that I did not have my trunk with me, and did not know where it was being held. I couldn’t even be sure that it had made it onto the ship.

The ship docked at an American city for a quick break. It was a quaint old town, with buildings that seemed to date back hundreds of years, including a picturesque ruin or two. The dock was filled with similarly set-up cruise ships; this was obviously a major rest stop for the seaborne travel industry. The dock was infinite, an endless perspective of identical cruise ships, each disgorging thousands of passengers who merged into an oncoming throng. So many were coming that they raised the dust before them. I wondered how the quaint old town could possibly accommodate so many travelers.

I had wandered into the city for many blocks when I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me—it was packed in the trunk, presumably back on the ship. I came to this sudden understanding while trying to complete a trivial purchase at the register of a small store.

“I came on a ship, my wallet’s on board, perhaps we could call the ship and have them read you my credit card number?” I suggested to the frowning cashier.

“Which ship?”

I didn’t know.

“Where’s she headed?”

I suddenly didn’t know that, either.

“Look, I’m on a three-week cruise,” I said. “I don’t remember where I’m going. I don’t know why my family’s not with me.”

The embarrassing admission did little to improve my standing with the cashier.

Cross-fade.

I had given up and was trudging back to the ship when I realized I did not know where it was docked. I asked townspeople where the dock was located, but they frowned at me as if I were mentally ill or horribly disfigured, and scurried quickly away.

So I wandered, through blocks that resembled Dresden after the Allied bombardment, with no adults to be seen—only underfed, half-naked children, who darted past like hurrying ghosts, presumably scouring the bombed-out buildings for scraps of food or dry places to shelter.

Dissolve.

After hours of walking at random, I began to pass buildings that looked vaguely familiar, and thought that I must be approaching the dock again. I could hear distant gulls, their cries half-muted and oddly modulated as they echoed off the broken buildings of the old city.

If I came out upon the dock, would I remember which ship I’d been traveling on?

What was my name? Could my luggage identify me if I knew where the crew had stowed it? Could I describe my luggage to help them search for it? No, it was new and I was unfamiliar with its design. I couldn’t even remember what I’d packed, except for a faint impression that I’d stowed the contents in many small boxes inside the trunk.

But to even reach that impasse of being unable to describe my luggage, I’d have to first identify my ship, and they all looked the same. My ship might already have left. And I didn’t even know its destination.

7 June 2021

Categories
"Digital Curation" art direction creativity Design Desktops editorial Fun interface Layout links Microblogging music Nonsense social media software The Mind User Experience Weird

Rediscovering music

Apropos of nothing in particular, I present my all-time listening (first 5.25 rows) and more recent listening:

Drag slider: at left, my all-time listening; at right, more recent listening.

Because I’m weird that way: Sometimes I’ll listen extensively to a particular artist from my collection whom I might not have played in a while, simply to bump them higher in the mosaic or reposition them for a more pleasing composition.

If Spotify exposes you to new music, Last.fm helps remind you of great music in your existing collection that may have slipped your mind. (Not an advertisement. I use last.fm and get great pleasure from how it helps me discover and fuss with my music, as I once spent hours in the old days stacking and rearranging my LPs and tapes.)

And that’s how I stay out of the pool halls.


Public Service P.S: If you do decide to try last.fm, please, by all means, pay the small monthly subscription fee if you can. Doing so supports the under-resourced team that keeps the service going. It also removes the ads, making the site usable (the ads are a nightmare), and gives you the option to view your music as a visual grid, like those shown in my screenshots. The grid-view makes the site. It gives you, not just a visual record collection, but a visual artist collection, if you’ll allow the conceit. I love it.

An earlier version of this post also appears on my Facebook stream.

Categories
Designers Ideas industry Interviews links people podcasts User Experience UX Web Design work

Amplifying voices

Some of the interviewees of the Technically Speaking podcast.

New episodes of Harrison Wheeler’s Technically Speaking podcast are coming, and Technically Speaking will run live interviews at San Francisco Design Week June 7–13. 

The podcast amplifies voices of underrepresented leaders who want to inspire the next generation of black and brown designers through authentic, thought-provoking, and immersive storytelling. 

Learn more on the podcast’s homepage, listen to past episodes, and sign up for the newsletter to be notified about upcoming content. 

Categories
family glamorous Health kitteh!

A thousand tiny pieces

Snow White pushed a stack of ceramic espresso dishes off of the kitchen counter this morning, to see how many of them would smash into a thousand tiny pieces. The answer was most of them. 

I couldn’t find my broom, so I had to clean the scattered ceramic chips by stooping over a dustpan. Which made me wheeze and gasp for breath. 

So the whole thing turned out great, because I’ll be able to tell my doctor, when I see him on Tuesday for my first annual physical in two years, that my COVID long-haul symptoms have not improved one bit. Which I might otherwise have lied to myself about.