Legistics site wins Gold Communicator Award

trophy_goldOnce again, our website for Legistics has been recognized by an international design competition. We’ve received a gold Award of Excellence from the 22nd Annual Communicator Awards. Our site was selected from among some 6,000 entries, as one of just four to be honored in the Law and Legal Services category.

“The work entered…serves as a benchmark in gauging the innovative ideas and capabilities of communications and marketing professionals around the world. Each year, our entrants continue to amaze by reinventing the ways we communicate and market in an ever-changing industry.” noted Linda Day, executive director of the AIVA, the organization that sanctions and judges the competition. The Academy of Interactive and Visual Art is an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from a “Who’s Who” of acclaimed media, advertising, and marketing firms.

Congrats to our talented team: creative director Josh Freeman, designer Anat Rodan, writer Emily Hutta, videographers Joel Lipton & Carlos Gutierrez and developer Stephen Slater. Huzzah!

Unsung heroes: Paper engineers

Sculpture by Mark Langan

Sculpture by Mark Langan

My new 27″ ultra-high-def monitor arrived from Amazon last week. It came in the usual corrugated Amazon box with loose paper stuffed around the edges, cushioning the jewel within.

But I’m not talking about the monitor itself. I’m talking about the box in which Dell packs the monitor.

In the old days, delicate electronics shipped with custom-molded styrofoam inserts. Many still do. It’s strong, light – and pretty awful for the environment. So companies have experimented with alternatives such as rigid plastic and molded paper pulp inserts (think egg cartons) that can be recycled or, even better, composted like the kind our client Be Green Packaging makes.

As long as two decades ago, that innovator Apple Computer shipped its G3 Powerbook laptops suspended in the box by interlocking air-filled sacs. An amazing unboxing experience if there ever was one.

Wanting to top that, our firm worked with a packaging engineer to create the box for the Qbe, an early tablet computer. It was held in a sandwich of very tough, clear elastic film that suspended the product inside the box, holding it away from the sides and functioning as a shock absorber during shipment. Also cool.

My new Dell monitor, however, used corrugated cardboard to protect itself on its way to me. Pretty old school. But the fascinatingly intricate die-cuts create locking tabs that hold together the necessary shapes with no glue, no tape. They pop into slots and create powerful, rigid support elements that you could drive over with a tank. I discovered this as I was breaking the box down for recycling. Whole sections of the structure simple unhook, unroll, and turn back into flat sheets. It really is a magnificently executed solution.

Design thinking applies to almost anything, but certainly to the problem of creating strong, light shipping materials that don’t destroy the planet. I wonder what’s next?

Legistics website wins Davey Award

davey_silver_thumbOur new website for Legistics, Inc. has been recognized with a Silver Award in a major international design competition. The 11th Annual Davey Awards are issued by The Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts. With nearly 4,000 entries from across the US and around the world, the Davey Awards honors the finest creative work from the best small agencies, firms, and companies worldwide (hence the name, based on David and Goliath).

The Davey Awards is judged and overseen by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA), a 700+ member organization of leading professionals from various disciplines of the visual arts dedicated to embracing progress and the evolving nature of traditional and interactive media. Current membership represents a “Who’s Who” of acclaimed media, advertising, and marketing firms including: Code and Theory, Condé Nast, Disney, GE, Keller Crescent, Microsoft, Monster.com, MTV, Push., Publicis, Sesame Workshops, The Marketing Store, Worktank, Yahoo!, and many others.

Many thanks to our visionary client, Legistics – and especially CEO Phil Frengs – who let us take a powerful idea and run with it. And congratulations to our talented team: designer Anat Rodan, writer Emily Hutta, videographers Joel Lipton and Carlos Gutierrez and developer Stephen Slater. Awesome job!

Desperately keeping customers

siemens_kf108-gross

It always amuses me when online services try everything they can think of to keep your business, especially when their responses are rote and pasted in (or read) from a script. It’s so inhuman and odd.

I just canceled our e-Fax account. The poor online agent had to run through his entire repertoire of canned objection-answering. It feels so creepily fake to be on the receiving end of this stuff. If only corporations could just empower their reps to connect with customers like human beings. (As the best companies do.)

Here’s the transcript.

Fred: Hi, my name is Fred. How may I help you?

Josh: Hi, Fred. I’d like to cancel my account please.

Fred: I am glad to help you. Could you please provide me your fax number and 4-digit PIN/last 4 digits of the Credit card on file for verification?

Josh: 310-441-9949 is the fax number. Charges to card 4007.

Fred: Thank you for providing your information. Please give me a moment while I pull up your account.
In the meantime, please type the number corresponding to your reason for cancellation:
1) Moving to another provider
2) Bought a fax machine
3) Business or role changed
4) Short term project completed
5) Financial reasons
6) Problems with faxing or billing
7) Dissatisfied with quality of service
8) Too costly

Josh: 8

Fred: Josh, as we’d like to keep your business, I can offer to waive the monthly fee for the next 1 month. During this time, you will not be charged any monthly fee.
Fred: Secondly, after the free period, the monthly fee will be reduced to $12.95 per month. This plan also includes 150 free inbound and 150 free outbound pages every month.
Fred: There is no contract and you may cancel anytime. Shall I switch you to this 1 month free $12.95 monthly plan?

Josh: As usual with numbered questionnaires there’s no really accurate answer. We just don’t use faxes anymore. I’m paying monthly to receive junk faxes from travel agents and bogus business loan companies.

Fred: If you believe that you are in receipt of a junk fax, we ask that you please submit the offending fax to us by visiting https://www2.efax.com/privacy?tab=reportSpam We will investigate your complaint, and attempt to prevent any further transmission of junk faxes from the same source.

Josh: Thank you, but please cancel my account.

Fred: I completely understand your wish to discontinue. May I offer you a waiver of 2 months on the subscription fees so that you can re-evaluate your needs?
Fred: This way, you will be able to send and receive faxes for 60 more days. There is no contract and you may cancel anytime.

Josh: No.

Fred: As per the records you have ported this number into eFax. I would like to inform you that once the account is cancelled you will not be able to use this number. If you want this number back, you will have to ask your service provider to submit a port request to eFax and once the number is ported out successfully you need to get back to cancel this account.

Josh: Okay.

Fred: Would you like to keep the account active?

Josh: I know you have to go through this silliness, but no. Please just cancel it. End it. Stop it. Kill it. Like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch.

Fred: OK, I will go ahead and cancel your account. Is there anything else, I may assist you with?

Josh: No, thanks, but please do send me a confirmation by email.

Fred: An email has already been sent.

Josh: Thanks for your help.

Presenting Shakespeare

I just got my copy of Mirko Ilic and Steven Heller’s new book, Presenting Shakespeare. It contains 1,100 posters from around the world — India, Poland, New Zealand, Turkey, Switzerland — over 50 in all. They start as early as 1779 and run through work from the present day.

Of the 1,100 selected, just 75 posters are for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with designs for London’s Savoy Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, among many other notable productions in dozens of countries. And of these, only 18 are from the United States. These include works by such graphic design luminaries as Milton Glaser and Art Chantry.

MidsummerPostcard-72dpiOh yeah.

And in this overwhelming overview, there’s a poster for a production at Santa Monica High School that happened to feature a young man named Gabriel Freeman as Demetrius. A poster designed by… me!

I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be included in this collection. I’m honored, excited, nonplussed, and out of adjectives.

I have to say that the design reflects the vision of our talented director Darryl Hovis and wonderfully creative set/costume designer Shannon Kennedy, both of whom inspired the weirdness of using a Papua New Guinea mud man as the main eerie image. But the rouge on the cheeks was all mine.

The book is pretty wonderful if you love either design or Shakespeare. You can buy it on Amazon. I’m on page 163. (But you can see the poster right here.)

Inside SpaceX

Last week, a few of us from AIGA were lucky enough to be offered a private tour of SpaceX. It was like visiting the future, or being inside a special-effects blockbuster movie.

I’m sure my description reads like the fanboy I am. Bear with me.

We started by checking out a rocket engine. They’re big, but not as big as you’d think. Much smaller than a jet engine on a 747 for example, but far more powerful. And there are clusters of them inside the rockets. So the net result is huge thrust. They burn off all the fuel in that whole giant rocket fuselage in just a few minutes at launch.

8 engines ready to blast you into the future.

8 engines ready to blast you into the future.

There’s a stairwell behind the all-glass elevators that holds a Cylon and an Ironman suit. The brand new, quite large cafeteria area is full of cool Jetsons-ish chairs.

Attached to the opposite wall as you enter the factory is a massive, 25-foot carbon-fiber strut which Scott, our guide, helped design. This strut is one of four that form a sort of tripod (quadrapod?) — a relatively stable base on which the rocket can land and be re-used.  It’s attached, in position, to the base of a photomural Falcon stage (I think) so you can see how it’s deployed.

Hanging above your head is a used capsule with the tiles burned off from re-entry into the atmosphere.

Entrance to the factory floor featuring a used payload capsule and the giant landing leg strut thing — not yet mounted to the wall mural.

The scale of the factory and its contents is hard to imagine unless you’ve been someplace where they make jet airliners. The plant is huge; the rocket parts are the size of rooms. And there are a lot of them within this enormous building.

We watched workers hand-apply carbon-fiber material to an aluminum mold the size of a semi trailer. All the fuselage sections are on circular rollers so they can be rotated to any position, so that workers can reach the part they need to work on. There are “carts” (?) the size of multiple flatbed railroad cars on which they haul the rocket sections around.

They have multiple enclosed arc-welding stations behind tinted glass and a sign that cautions you not to stare at the arc or run the risk of blindness (!)

There were guys assembling engines while referring to large computer displays with 3-D renderings of the pieces they were working on.

Engines being assembled in an Octaweb harness

Engines being assembled in an Octaweb harness

There was a robot carefully inspecting one of the fuselage sections for flaws in the carbon-fiber skin.

There’s a clean room in which they assemble the smaller parts, especially the payload capsules.

Everything is branded — there’s clearly tremendous attention paid to creating a visual language and culture. Lots of attention to branding the”product lines” (Falcon and Dragon) with fully fabricated side-lit etched glass signage and other thought-out environmental design statements.

There’s a multistory office building with all-glass facades that rises out of the center of the space and gives people an overview of the factory floor for their offices. Apparently it’s very noisy when things are in full production.

I’ve included some (older?) pix from Google…we weren’t allowed to shoot any on the tour. But it’ll give you the idea, sort of. It’s actually visually cooler and more designed-looking that you can tell from these photos.

All in all, a wonderful experience. Thanks again to Scott and everyone at AIGA who helped make it happen.

SpaceX factory floor

SpaceX factory floor

When just one company controls what we see and hear

Seth Godin has written such a clear take on the issue of net neutrality that I was just gonna paste the whole thing here so you wouldn’t have to click to read it all. But that probably violates his copyright and affects traffic on his site. And if there’s one site I want to make sure stays healthy, it’s this guy’s.

So read, then click. Sometimes a middleman (like me) isn’t so terrible…..

The time to think about middlemen is before there’s only one

I grew up near a mall that had 42 shoe stores. If a store didn’t carry what you wanted, it wasn’t a big deal to walk 22 feet to a store that did.

The core issue of net neutrality isn’t whether or not a big corporation ought to have the freedom to maximize profit by choosing what to feature. No, the key issue is: what happens when users are unable to choose a different middleman?

(Read more. You know you want to.)

Quadcopters + Cirque = Creativity

“No CGI used or needed” says the title at the end of this beautiful little video. It’s more Cirque du Soleil magic. There’s probably no company on earth that concentrates so much technical expertise, expression, agility, art and music into one physical space. The company embodies creativity. It’s embedded deeply into their DNA. So it’s always a pleasure when they break new ground and we get to see it happening.

Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios have partnered to develop a short film featuring 10 quadcopters in a flying dance performance. The collaboration resulted in a unique, interactive choreography where humans and drones move in sync. Precise computer control allows for a large performance and movement vocabulary of the quadcopters and opens the door to many more applications in the future.

Sources of creativity

My cousin Paul asked me to send him the names of some books I like that deal with Creativity. Titles that have been particularly helpful to my own creative process. I looked through my bookshelf, and found that, while I have bought a few of these kinds of books, I don’t have very many of them. And I haven’t been terribly inspired by most of those I’ve acquired.

So I started thinking about what books have truly inspired me. And, then, what other activities have stoked my own creativity over the years. This list is anything but definitive. But here’s what comes to mind.

Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Dr. Edward de Bono

I heard de Bono speak at a Westweek conference at the Pacific Design Center several decades ago. It was one of the most interesting, simple, inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. I loved his way of talking about the subject of creativity. Totally low-tech — just him doodling on an overhead projector. I bought a couple of his books, including this one, and ended up teaching from them at Art Center. We’d start every class with one of his exercises. It was a fascinating experiment. And I still use his techniques from time to time to jumpstart the creative process.

A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech

This book is somewhat related to Lateral Thinking. It explores all sorts of ways to think creatively in a little less theoretical and perhaps more practical way. To be honest, I’ve read chunks of it, but not the whole book. Good chunks. (But I devoured de Bono.)

Seth Godin: Pretty much anything he writes or talks about

I find Godin incredibly smart yet accessible. Fun to read. Fun to listen to. Full of ideas and new ways of looking at the world around him. He inspires me to see things differently and take nothing for granted.

And creative process development, other than books?

Improv classes

When you’re interacting with other people and making up dialog and situations in real time, you learn something critical: you learn to trust yourself. People are inherently creative. They just censor themselves too quickly. Staying open to the what’s going on in the moment is the trick. Being here. Now. If you’re open, you can see connections quickly. If you’re trusting, you’ll write them down or speak them out before they disappear. And a trusting and trusted partner only adds to the process…and to the fun.

Music

I play blues harmonica. Guitar, too, but the harp is the only thing I play well enough to get into a state of flow. If making music is creative, then improvising is even more so. You have no time to think; you just do it. You listen to the other musicians and to yourself, let the ideas come, and balance it all out so it sounds as good as you can get it right then. When you get too involved in “doing it right” you choke, or you sound rigid and over-controlled. Letting it flow is far more fun and usually sounds better. And if you hit a clinker, well, big deal. In the next moment, it’s gone and you’re making more music. Vocal harmonies are like that, too. You get that buzz, and you create something larger than the sum of its parts.

Museums

Art, natural history, science. All good. All expose different parts of your brain to different stimuli. All of which triggers new ways of looking and new ways of thinking. Travel works the same way.

Forget what you think you know

I think the creative process is this: fill your head with information, then forget it. Your unconscious mind will sift what you learned and help you stay pointed in the right direction. But when you’re creating you’ve got to let go of your knowledge and come at the problem like someone who knows nothing. Play more than you analyze. Trust. Step off the cliff. It’s only a metaphor. You can step right back on if it doesn’t work out.

Powerful consumers? Not always.

The ever-provocative Seth Godin wrote this about the power of the producer (i.e. the creator, manufacturer, provider to the consumer):

Producers and consumers

In the short run, it’s more fun to be a consumer. It sure seems like consumers have power. The customer is always right, of course. The consumer can walk away and shop somewhere else.

In the long run, though, the smart producer wins, because the consumer comes to forget how to produce. As producers consolidate (and they often do) they are the ones who ultimately set the agenda.

Producers do best when they serve the market, but they also have the power to lead the market.

The more you produce and the more needs you meet, the more freedom you earn.

And it reminds me of a TED Talk by Thomas Thwaites on “How I Built a Toaster From Scratch”. We live in a world where almost nothing we use, touch, interact with, is something we could actually make ourselves. As powerful as we are as a society, we are pretty incompetent as individuals. We need the producers, and each other.