Business, creativity, Design, Tech, Typography

Simplicity is Not Always Easy

Wood type

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Often an organisation or business will unveil a new logo, branding or slogan which is met by members of the public saying, like they also do when a footballer misses a goal, “I could do better than that” or “my six year old could do that with a packet of crayons.”
Such was the case with the London 2012 logo and the Scottish tourist board’s slogan of “Welcome to Scotland” which was ridiculed for its apparent simplicity – comments like “they spent hundreds of thousands on consultants and all they come up with is that, it’s bloody obvious.”

While it’s true that the end result is simple and obvious it was no doubt also the result of a long period of consultation on the wording of the message, then the design of the presentation of the message. Just because the end result seems obvious doesn’t mean it was from the start, hundreds of slogans were probably trialled on the public and expert groups and it could have been that something like “Get High on Scotland” combined with a talking Haggis could have been more memorable, made more of an impact and was now the slogan, the public would never have been aware that “Welcome to Scotland” had even been considered.

If a branding is seen as complex, showy, clever or edgy then the critical public feel that the money that was spent has been used, like it in some way involved more work, like a simple design would have been knocked out in five minutes between lunch and a few beers paid for from the budget. Was Kentucky’s slogan “Unbridled Spirit” which derived from the state’s big industries of horse racing and distilleries worth more just because it was a play on words and as such “a bit clever”?

Such armchair experts have never designed a logo. The last one I designed passed through numerous stages as it had to contend with people who really wanted to hold onto the old logo and then it evolved from two separate proposals that had elements combined into the final design. And I’m not even a professional designer.

Of course not all designs are successful, Nottinghamshire County Council’s “N” logo was dropped quickly due to negative public reaction, but again this was partly because the logo didn’t really symbolise the county but also because many people thought that the design’s simplicity indicated a lack of effort, that it was a waste of tax payers’ money. Combine this with the often repeated “it was just done on a computer” – by which they also mean “with no effort” (because the computer does all the work, of course) and the simpler logo will always seem worse value. I have encountered clients who insist on filling every square millimetre of an advert space with pictures and text because they think that white space is wasted space, I’ve been told that “customers want to see lots of pictures” and “the logo needs to fill the space” and so on, with my suggestions that white space helps to guide the eye around the ad and a cluttered design looks unprofessional went ignored because, well what would I know? As for distorting logotypes to fill a space so much that the end result would make the original typeface designer cry, don’t get me started.

There’s a video online that is a cartoon of a conversation between a designer and client in which the client keeps wanting to add more colour, more complexity etc, my takeaway phrase that I’ve used often was from the designer: “unbe-f***ing-lievable.”

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Marketing, Psychology, Society

Stand There, Wave This

Cyclists

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

It’s probably not a new idea but I’ve only really noticed in the last few years because I’ve been watching the cricket and the Tour of Britain when it caused massive disruption, sorry, “brought valuable income”, to my home town. The idea in question is handing out flags and banners for spectators to wave during events where, unlike football, the spectators are unlikely to be wearing sponsor branded clothing.

Perhaps you’d expect people watching the Tour of Britain to be waving Union Flags as the cyclists sped past but no, they were enthusiastically waving little green flags in the faces of the lycra-clad pedellers. It soon became obvious that these flags carried the logo of the event sponsor. How does waving a piece of green sponsored plastic show your support to the event? Even national celebrations aren’t immune; I saw a clip of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations and there were people waving Union Flags, nothing unusual apart from the middle of the flag was covered with the “OK Magazine” logo.

At the cricket fans wave boards with “4” on it when a player hits a boundary, again for no apparent reason – everyone actually paying attention would be aware of the fact that he’d hit a boundary – but just as prominent as the “4” of course is the series sponsor’s name which I will not repeat here as the only advertising on this blog pays for the hosting so I don’t have to. This has also spread to snooker now as at the 2019 World Championship crowd members were holding sponsored banners with “Ton Up” on it to wave when a player scores a century break, accompanied by, when I saw a bit of it, John Virgo hysterically screaming “ton ups, ton ups”… For no apparent reason.

These are examples of how people desperate to be part of what they’re watching, the selfie generation who have to show they were there, to prove it by being in the photo, are tricked into advertising for the sponsors in the hope that they might be seen on tv because they’re waving their bit of printed plastic while also feeling that they’re more involved, as people don’t seem to be satisfied with being passive spectators any more.

(The writing of this blog post was supported by Yorkshire Tea and a Kit Kat, by the way.)

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Business, Marketing, Society

A Tale of Two Ciders

Cider

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

It’s a Friday night in summer, half-past-eight and I’m listening to Jazz, watching the sunset and drinking a glass of Cider. It is one of my great pleasures.

Cider used to be simple, it was an alcoholic drink made from Apples, but as with so many things now it has to have more variety to appeal to wider markets so now there are Raspberry Cider, Strawberry Cider and so on. They’re not Cider. In a shop once the man stood near me said into his phone “They’ve got a Pear Cider kit mush, just wondered if you want one,” “it’s not Cider, it’s Perry” I muttered under my breath. There used to be Sweet Cider and Dry Cider, and the likes of Scrumpy, but you still got progressively pissed, or merry at least, just at a different rate. And it all tasted of Apple.  Apparently even in France Cider has to be made entirely of Apples.

Our American friends have muddied the scrumpy even more with Apple Cider and Hard Cider – the first being pure Apple Juice (it isn’t Cider, yet) and the latter is, let me think, CIDER.

As a result of the different flavours my favourite brand of English Cider now has Apple Cider on the label, though it might surprise any Americans who were expecting a soft drink.

To take this to its ultimate conclusion will the famous novel featuring the drink in the title, in future, be renamed “Hard Cider with Rosie”?

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Fashion, Language, Psychology

I Can Keyboard, Apparently

book-3294946_1280

Image by astize from Pixabay

There has been a fashion in language recently that annoys me, unsurprisingly. I don’t know whether it has emerged from the short-form, limited text length of Tweets or laziness or people just having too much to say and too little time. The issue is people leaving out large and often important parts of sentences while at the same time using a noun as a verb.

For example in TV and radio adverts: “I can best friend” “I can family” “I can daughter” “We can football” (Virgin Media) which don’t even describe what you’d be doing, how do you “family”? A while back an advert encouraged people to “Adult like a boss” or something similar, the emphasis being that “Adult” is something you do rather than something you are, maybe the ads aren’t written by adults.

Uswitch used to turn it up to eleven with “U niche hobby, U model aeroplane, U guitar solo, U feet up” – though shortly before I finished this they changed theirs to real English with lines like “You start a new hobby” and “you learn the guitar”. Maybe it’s not just me.

Then there is a fashion for car stickers that say “Because Fiesta” or Ibiza or Trabant. Because what, exactly? At least they say “because” rather than “cos”.

Some names do become verbs, like to Hoover and to Google but “Are you ready to Butlins?“, you might as well say “are you ready to Cromer?” or “Scarborough” for that matter and as for “I don’t gym, I Hustle” – when did it become too much effort to say “go to the (gym)”. Similarly “Time to Travel Republic”.  These all smack of both laziness and the idea that it’s cool to eschew proper language, of marketers trying to conform to the zeitgeist. The Butlins one is accompanied by the slogan “winning at holidays”, a kind of statement which seems to be part of the fashion for aggressive or at least competitive language in which you’ve got to beat everyone else at whatever you’re doing which also could explain the short, snappy lines.

Anyway I’m off for a sit down now. I can Sofa. Because Tea.

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Gadgets, Marketing, Tech

Biting The Hand That Feeds It

Adverts

Image by Falkenpost from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to catch up on some news articles I’d saved for reading later but it’s been difficult, not because of the news itself, it’s not that deep and meaningful, the problem is advertising. Just about every news website apart from the BBCs is virtually unreadable today, some more than others. The reason is animated adverts. On my tablet, or an adblocker-free browser it’s impossible to read most of these sites because the page starts to load, you see the article, you start reading it and then either it won’t scroll further down as the whole browser has locked solid or when you scroll down and keep reading it suddenly jumps back to the top again – often because some huge animated ad that’s taken an age to load has suddenly flounced onto the front of stage like the proverbial eight-hundred pound Gorilla. It’s even worse when there are multiple adverts and their continuous loops stop you reading down the page as it’s become unresponsive or slow or worse still when they obscure what you’re reading altogether.

When using a desktop browser with an adblocker to make the site actually usable many sites have a popup crying “you’re using an adblocker, how are we supposed to buy our groceries at Waitrose tonight?” So you turn off the adblocker and find that the site is back to being virtually unreadable.

Adverts in magazines aren’t animated, for obvious reasons – it’d be damned expensive to put a screen in every issue, and bulky – but they still achieve their ambitions, they rely on old fashioned techniques to gain attention, the sort of thing I used to design in the days before you needed to know about javascript syntax, curly braces and whether to use an unsigned integer variable; things like colour, typography, layout, imagery. It seems that the people who design websites started using animation just to show off that they could, and convinced marketers that they needed to use animation to gain attention from their target demographics, and the marketers believed them, and paid more for the animation. There is though now no going back because the idea has become so ingrained. They have combined the TV advert model with modern Hollywood firework displays, applied it to the written word media and ended up with a nuisance.

The thing is that although people do notice the ads and notice the message they’re also annoyed by the side-effects – if websites had static ads which would load at the same speed as the rest of the content and would instantly be there, front and centre then people wouldn’t need to use adblockers, we don’t object to the ads, they pay for the website, they pay for this website – though as I don’t develop the site itself I have no choice about the type of ads, on my Flickr page I pay to have no adverts. The objection is against the intrusion and frustration they cause. As with desktop software the developers test these websites and ads on powerful computers connected directly to a server rather than on a normal laptop or tablet connected to a 4 meg broadband connection so I doubt that they have much appreciation of what they fancifully call the UX (user experience) is like in the real world.

I wonder whether companies actually look at the website metrics – the visitor count, length of visit and so on – and perhaps notice that many visits are too short to possibly read anything. They no doubt do but the views that just put up with it outnumber those who don’t and at the end of the day a click is a click and another payment from the advertisers, even if the clicker doesn’t stick around long.

I though still think it’s about time the wannabe Hollywood filmmaker developers and marketers stopped showing off how clever they are and set out to please the users who ultimately pay their wages by tolerating the adverts that annoy them so much. If a brand gets its message across without the negative connotation of being a nuisance surely that’s better, no?

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Business, Marketing, Tech, Uncategorized

Ad-Free or Not Ad-Free, That is The Question

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

The home of my other creative endeavour is over at Flickr, a site that many say has been left to stagnate under the ownership of Yahoo mainly because it didn’t become the kind of social network that Facebook is.  The thing is that it started out as a photo sharing site and it still is, the recent makeover improved how your photostream was presented to viewers and in general it was still doing its job as an online portfolio of photos.

Today though something odd has happened and the Flickr community as a whole is not happy.  Me included.  The facelifted interface had a nice grey toolbar across the top, it was all very clean and modern looking, very professional, but today something else appeared, a lilac bar – referred to now by forum members as the Y! Barney Bar – displaying links to other Yahoo sites and services.

As many commenters have said it looks like something from a nineties website, wedged between your browser’s chrome and the elegant Flickr interface, a distracting layer of pink nougat taking up screen space and cheapening the experience for your viewers.  The thing that has annoyed most people though is that many of us pay to have an ad-free interface both for our own use and for those viewing our photos but this amounts to an advert for Yahoo’s services, driving viewers to the ad-land that is Yahoo’s main site, to gather more revenue.  Yahoo staff have said that “The idea is to make it easier to access other places in the Yahoo! network and make visiting Yahoo! pages a more seamless experience.” and that it brings your photos to a wider audience.  If that’s the case add another menu item to Flickr’s own toolbar not this monstrosity.

Many users have pledged to leave altogether if it’s not removed immediately but most think it’s unlikely because Yahoo are copying Google’s trend of having the toolbar at the top of everything, but at least Google’s bar fits in.  What you’re paying for on any site like Flickr or our home here at WordPress is the avoidance of your content being juxtaposed with adverts which may detract from what you’re trying to say or the aesthetics of your site, to make it feel like your own space not part of a larger corporate behemoth, that is what the Yahoo bar makes Flickr feel like – just a part of a search engine and internet portal, it takes the shine off the presentation, makes it feel less special.

Some commenters have said that at least this hasn’t happened to the sites of our blogging brethren over on Tumblr – but as Yahoo haven’t had much time with its new purchase as yet perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

[Flickr Forums]

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Business, Marketing, Tech

Cheeky Marketing

apples

apples (Photo credit: msr)

My parents will tell you that when I was little, as in younger not shorter, I watched the adverts on TV more than the programmes.  back then there were many amusing and memorable ads, these days though too many try to be clever or ironic but fail to be funny – notable exceptions being the current Fosters “Good Call” campaign and Three’s Dancing Pony.  Some of the pseudo-science can be hilarious if you’re of a scientific persuasion but that’s for another post on another day.

One recent advert immediately caught my eye and made me laugh, then had me wondering whether they’d get away with it.  No, I thought, their lawyers must have checked it.  It’ll be fine.  The ad in question is, of course, the Somersby Cider parody of the excitement that surrounds the product launches of a certain fruitily named purveyor of shiny gadgetry.  I was impressed with the creativity and just how many gadget puns they managed “single core, dual core” and the “less apps, more apples” tagline.  The fact that it’s cider just added to the enjoyment of it.

But it’s not just Carlsberg who have been a tad cheeky recently, in the days preceding Samsung’s Galaxy S4 launch LG placed an ad for their Nexus 4 on their Times Square billboard above Samsung’s “be ready 4 the next Galaxy”  which read “ready 4 you now”.  Cunning.

Then on the launch day while journalists were waiting to enter the venue and feeling rather chilly in the midst of the New York winter HTC thoughtfully laid on complimentary hot chocolate.  So yet more tasty marketing.

It’s good to see that in our times of vicious patent lawsuits and arguments over who invented rectangles with rounded corners companies can indulge in some light-hearted competition.

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Music, Psychology, Random, Tech, Work

Hold On, And On, And On

Típica cabina roja de Londres - Red telephone ...

Típica cabina roja de Londres – Red telephone box – London (Photo credit: Arabarra)

In my work I’m regularly put on hold as suppliers find out whether they’ve got something, when I can have something or why I haven’t received something.  Most of the time the hold music is cheesy, generic and bland but mostly irritating which I suspect is to encourage you to hang up and go get a coffee instead.  Some companies have even started replacing the music with constant ads for their products, one of my suppliers never really changes the product range and I’ve found myself saying, without thinking, “I know about that, we buy it already”.

Which reminds me; always bear in mind that when you’re on hold the person on the other end can often hear you even if you can’t hear them so don’t be impolite unless you want them to know you’re pissed off.

New research by TalkTo and ResearchNow has found that people spend on average 10-20 minutes per week on hold, which equates to 43 hours in a lifetime.

Only twice in twelve years have I been impressed by being on hold.  Once was with a company which used “I Need a Little Time” by The Beautiful South.  The other was a firm who always had a good variety of good, modern, well-known songs to listen to while you waited, you felt slightly disappointed when it ended.  There was one song they played I hadn’t heard since I was clubbing years before and, I’m not embarrassed to say, I did dance to it behind my counter.  Which is one way to spend those 43 hours of your life you’ll never get back.

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