Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Two Cents . . .

. . . on the symbol of, the government website designed to let us know what's up with Obama's attempt to make sure we don't end up with just my two cents in the bank.

If you go to the website, it makes for a very small presence, so when shrunken down to its actual proportions, the visual language inherent in the logo becomes rather meaningless, like collective patriotic murmurs.

That being said, if blown to full proportions, it's really pretty clever. Combining icons of patriotism, ecology, growth, manufacturing, health care, it manages to incorporate some of the major vehicles that Obama intends to use to advance our country and pull us out of this mess.

My first reaction, though, was to the different colors. I wanted to like them, but just couldn't. I think a bi-color palette would have been better. Or even mono-chromatic. The simpler the better. And then I realized what my problem with it was.

It was breaking some of the very basic rules of design I had been taught in school. Now I am by no means a great graphic designer, but I do know that unless you have to, do not create arbitrary divisions. The more you fracture the visual field, the more work you create for the eye, and the less readable your image is at a glance. This is especially important with a logo (especially a small logo). So don't create divisions that don't need to be there.

The Recovery Logo not only creates harsh divisions with bold, white segments, but then has different colors and little icons in each section!

It seems to me that the logo is all concept (a great concept), but wanting in truly great design.

It is trying to communicate a lot in a small space, but maybe that is exactly the problem. Perhaps the designer should have tried to convey one simple idea. "Unified work" or "new ideas" or something.

I want to like this logo more, but it lacks the visual power this program deserves. It ultimately comes off kind of weak and . . . like perhaps the latest iteration of a Target private-label product. Which I love in a fabric softener, but not in the most ambitious economic program to come out of Washington in decades.

*Thanks, Shane for showing me this blog post about the new logo and got my wheels churning politically.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Off the Grid in New Mexico**

I lost total track of time in Santa Fe. On Thursday, I had to ask Shane five times what the day was, and each time I fumbled toward panic at the thought that the week was almost over. I felt completely disconnected from school work, from email, blogs, news, etc. And I loved it.

My cell phone was largely unused last week; my unlimited texting largely neglected. I just didn't care. I know I used the internet at evenings to check email and facebook, but I honestly can't remember a single thing I looked at. I was far more interested in the people I was spending time with. Had I not had any internet access in New Mexico, I think my time there would have unraveled with equal satisfaction and pleasure. It was just so unnecessary.

We were at this wonderful natural spring spa, and Shane commented with chagrin on two girls texting away on their phones, oblivious to the beautiful cliffs and restorative waters. I conjectured then, and do so now, that we will reach a point when people will want to chuck technological "connectivity" in favor of REAL experiences with REAL people. In person.

If we look at history, there is always a backlash, a pendular swing from one extreme to another. I am sure this inundation of electronics and media will abate. Perhaps we see the beginning of this in the popular appeal of more interactive video games like Wii. Or maybe people will finally realize the whole point of having tech tools IS to spend more time with family, and they will stop being shackled by their electronics.

What I do know is that it was a refreshing reminder to see some people who don't live in a slick, urban, post-2.0 world and to be in the company of people who are so engaging and delightful, that I could totally forget my own tech addiction.

That being said, I was reading some Jon Steel on the train, and I am ready to sink my creative teeth into some juicy stuff, and for that . . . I will have to open my Mac.

*A full report on Spring Break is pending.

*On a side note, this is like the name of a really great little indie movie Off the Map. It's a fave of my friend, Daniel.


It has been sitting on my desk in an envelope for past three months: Citizen Kane. In truth, it has been sitting on the back shelf of my to-do list for the past 10 years. Any time discussion has turned to this movie, I have endeavored to silently but perceptively nod my head, lest my carefully crafted veneer of intellectualism be pierced.

Well, I have finally watched this movie, heralded by some as the greatest movie ever made. To which I say . . . meh.

Which is kind of what I expected from what I have heard from everyone else all of these years. I also turn to what I expected would be my explanation for why Citizen Kane is such a big deal, which is, that like many genre-defining works, it did what no one else had done up to that point. In truth, I can see how Citizen Kane has pretty much defined modern film-making. It's editing style, narrative/cinematic devices, and complex themes are still employed in movies today.

My beef with Citizen Kane is that, well, at certain points it seemed like a wonderfully crafted, artistic film and, for the most part, it seemed like a popular movie. The over-the-top music and some of the acting really contributed to this.

I will say that it did leave me thinking. Because one of the prevailing themes is that Kane lived his life basically striving to force others to love him on his terms. After the movie was over, and Shane and I sat in the dark, I wondered why this was true for this character.

A big part of the movie is the mystery of Rosebud, and at the end we realize it was the name of his childhood sled and are reminded of his beginnings being torn away from his parents (which was kind of no-duh. I mean, the dude was holding a snow globe at the end of his life and then at a very emotional turning point. You gotta figure it had to do with that fateful snowy day. I figured it was all about that from the get-go).

In thinking about this life-defining moment in Kane's life, it makes perfect sense that he would always want to make people love him on his terms. Torn away from his parents and "raised" by a banker, he would, of course, yearn for love, using that as a measure of self-worth. What is perhaps interesting is that he would never again want to enter into a relationship where he wasn't running the show. As a child, he implicitly trusted the love and acceptance of his parents (even if it was a less-than-ideal home). Why would he ever trust that again? They were the ones he gave him up.

By being the one in control, determining the measures of a successful relationship on his own, being always in the position of the benefactor without making meaningful, emotionally-vulnerable sacrifices, he ensures that he will never again be in a position of potential abandonment.

What interests me more is how this is generalizable to many more people. Perhaps men more than women, but nonetheless a dynamic I believe I have perceived in many relationships.

Anyway, I can now return the damned thing and cancel my Blockbuster Online account (their version of Netflix) and quit paying $10 a month to have a movie sit on my desk.

*inspired by a convo with Noemi on truly awful copy-writing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Juan Valdez Why Have you Forsaken Us?

The other day I was revving for another crazy-ass day of juggling that has become my life. I was in dire need of a coffee fix, and being at Shane's apartment, there was not a French press or coffee maker in sight. Having anticipated that such a day would come, I had bought a small jar of Folger's Instant Coffee.

I have never had instant coffee before. My introduction to coffee consisted of clandestine ventures to local coffee houses and midnight runs to 7-11 (which has better coffee than one would think).

I stirred in the brown flakes and watched with concern as it developed into a murky mess that looked nothing like my familiar deep brown bean brine (I guess I am feeling alliterative today). I doctored it with soy milk and some flavored simple syrup (because apparently my boyfriend doesn't believe in keeping household staples like sugar around) and took a tentative sip. I managed two more before I spat it out and gave up in disgust. I have had coffee at truck stops, convenience stores, and even Denny's, and I have NEVER had SOUR coffee. It was like a different drink altogether.

There goes $3.50 down the drain. I will never have Folger's Instant again.

Later on that night, Claudia and I were perusing Bloomingdale's post gelato when we came upon these charming coffee cups:

I want one for my desk! . . . that is when I have a desk . . . that I am paid to sit at.

They're only like $8, too, which is pretty sweet. And, then, that is when I heard the horrific news: Starbucks has decided to release a new line of instant coffee called VIA!

My first reaction was dismay and then a keen sense of betrayal.

Why? Would they do this? Why would Starbucks want me to suffer with this sour slop people call instant "coffee"?

I went home and did some research, and apparently the taste is not as reprehensible as Folger's special blend, but still I am not sure if this is really the best move. Especially I am concerned about these individual serving plastic packets on the go. It seems to contribute to packaging waste and if I am on the go, there is a Starbucks on my way to wherever I am going anyway! Okay, that last part was a joke.

Still, I raise the question everyone else does: how can the company who brought coffee snobbery to the American consciousness become the purveyor of powdered instant coffee?

I am not saying it is not possible, but I think "who" Starbucks is, is being compromised. I had just gotten excited about learning about their Clover-brewed coffee, which is supposed to be a whole new level of premium.

So how can you convince me that it is worth going into your store, where I can get the best-brewed coffee possible, and then tell me I can get comparable flavor from a packet of powder? They're going to have to choose whether they want to stand as sophisticated keepers of great coffee or populist purveyors of joe. I think judging from Starbuck's announced plans to produce a value menu, I think we all know which way they are going.

At least I can still get an over priced (yet incredibly delicious) cup of coffee at my local Blue Bottle, where my friend, Jade, and I recently enjoyed their venerable siphon pot coffee. It looks like a science experiment and tastes so rich and buttery and flavorful, no sugar or cream needed (seriously, why would you ruin this coffee with stuff?). Sigh. Maybe some day I can afford 20K for their coffee "system". And a stout Norwegian named Agnar to keep it going at all times.