Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Mercurial Communication Technology (CT)

As a child, I remember my older brother breaking open thermometers and demonstrating how the silvery, shiny glob of mercury could make an old dime look brand new.  This process was fascinating to me. The mercury seemed to almost be alive as it jiggled over the coin’s surface—and if separated from itself by an intrusive finger, when the globs got close enough, it pulled itself together as though it had never been broken apart. It was solid, but not; it was fluid, but not…it was magic!

With all its shiny possibilities to make our lives easier, faster, more social and for business…reach a world of prospective clients; communication technology has some properties similar to mercury. With a push of a button, we can connect to family, friends or work; no matter how far away they might be. 

While this technology may not yet be as “solid” in our minds as mercury seems at room temperature; it’s getting closer every day. We rely on its ability to keep us connected. When a person logs out and then back in, CT rejoins that “isolated” part as though it had never broken the connection. Sometimes, it just seems like magic. Sounds a little familiar, right?

The omnipresence of this technology begs the question, is it safe? Sure, it has all of these wonderful, hypnotic properties that enable us to find information in seconds; but will there be a price? Has there already been? Really, if you think about it, we’ve all known, and maybe even welcomed this intrusion into our personal lives; accepting that privacy does not exist on the internet. Are we becoming desensitized to protecting our “down time” and redefining what “personal space” means? 

What can be learned from mercury which may be applied to CT? No longer an awestruck child, I have since learned that not only is mercury a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage; it also changes the surface of silver coins…forever. There’s no way to get it completely off and it continually works to displace the silver in those coins ‘cleaned’ with mercury; effectively devaluing them instantly.

Since mercury can make a coin shine immediately; and permanently erode it’s properties; can communication technology (CT) change our lives similarly as it continues pulling us back in every day? As it relinks us to a global social body? It’s available on our desktops, in our briefcases, on our laps, in our pockets or purses…our vehicles—at any time, we can rejoin the nebulous glob of CT with the push of a button or touch of a screen…or just our voice. It’s leached into every aspect of our lives.  

So, again, I ask the question; is it safe? Will we find out 50 years from now that there’s been irreversible damage? Of course, we don’t really know at this point, but I think it’s worth asking the questions…and not to “someone else.” Let’s ask ourselves what this may be displacing within us. Communication technology makes our lives seem easier, faster and more social. Maybe it should come with a disclaimer? 

Warning: too much technology can create social, psychological and anti-social behavior problems where none existed before.

New terms have entered into our language, which describe the pitfalls created by communication technology: technostress and technology detox. (The term “technostress” was coined in 1984 by clinical psychologist Craig Brod,) [1];

I found a great article on technostress if you’d like to read it: http://features.clemson.edu/creative-services/homepage/2013/techno-stress-working-in-a-digital-age-can-be-nerve-wracking/ [2] Of course, it’s online; and no, the irony isn’t lost on me. Within the article is a section of the benefits of ‘unplugging’ and detoxing from technology. It’s clear that we need to manage some boundaries for inviting technology into our lives; so we can remain healthy in myriad ways.

Find ways to disconnect and enjoy life. Remember that we all can suffer from technostress; even employees.

-T. Barlow AAF Creative, LLC

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

But, My Nephew's Girlfriend's Brother Will Do It For Free!

...So Why Do I Need To Hire A Designer?
Really? You have to ask a question like this?
How do we communicate? Why do we communicate? How does technology change the effectiveness of our communication? Who do we turn to for expertise?

It's Just Not Natural!

As people, communication is a complex natural combination of tone, body language, facial expression and speech. This multidimensional interaction between people creates understanding and can persuade or influence others to form opinions about whatever it is we are communicating. Listening is also an important aspect of communication. BUT...the nature of business today is so technologically advanced, it removes the natural face-to-face communication to a large extent. So how can we effectively communicate without these natural cues?

In business, we understand the importance of communicating our message to potential customers/clients. We know that to gain the customer's trust, we must be effective communicators. This is why we have meetings and call clients on the phone or send emails...to establish and maintain trust through communication. But what if you're not there to communicate your message; as is the purpose of advertising? Most businesses today have websites as well; and they promote them. How can you trust that your message is getting through in an advertisement or on your website if you don't understand the nature of effective visual communication? 

To find these answers, you could interview your customers for what they think of your website or billboard. You could form your own focus group with members of your particular demographic and research those findings. Or, you could ask your designer to critically assess your advertising and marketing materials. That's a no-brainer, right? Not necessarily.

Say What?

What you need to know about "graphic designers" is this: they're a dime a dozen. You can't swing a cat without hitting someone claiming to be a "graphic designer." There is an ongoing debate right now in my profession to certify designers according to their level of expertise through education and experience. Yes, a state board for designers! That would go a long way for letting businesses know the level of designer they have...instead of having to rely on claims which may be false.

Where would your current designer fall on that scale? That's something you need to know. How do you find out? Ask. Ask how long they've been a practicing designer and what their degree level is. Most designers are happy to tell you this information. If they resist, that tells you something as well. Your attorney is licensed by the courts, your physician and even hair dresser must take a state board...why not your designer? After all, their creativity, knowledge and experience is what you're counting on to communicate your message to a large audience. Don't you want that message in the best hands possible?


Be sure to check out the AAF Creative website

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What? There’s a Bolt in My Neck?!

“The idea that creativity is some abundantly available resource waiting simply for the right application of ingenuity to extract, refine, and pipe it into the grid seems so axiomatic at this cultural juncture that the very distinction between creativity and productivity has been effectively erased.”[1]-Alexi Murdoch

It’s a worn out conversation that the right brain is creative and the left brain is logical and all of that crap. We all know it; and it’s B-O-R-I-N-G! Here’s the thing I wish every client and every employer of creative people could learn…and it’s really simple.  Creativity is NOT the same thing as Productivity! There, I said it out loud. This is not a new topic of conversation, but deserves to be screamed from Art & Design Departments over every PA system in every building and plastered across every visible flat surface! There…I said that too!

I want those who hire and manage creative people to realize this fact…we are not machines! We don’t fart background music and sneeze pixels out of our noses! Creativity is not something that can be manufactured on a moment’s notice or when the demand strikes an impatient procrastinating client or department head. “Oh, I’m sure you can get this back to me by tomorrow! You’re awesome!”
What does the creative brain need? What is the proper method of nurturing your favorite creative person so the good stuff will continue to flow? These are good questions to consider when dealing with your designer. The answers are not the same for every creative person. One might listen to music, while another might like to take naps. The only way to find out is to ask. The best way to burn them out or piss them off at you, is to assume they can produce award-winning designs just because you ask them to….by tomorrow!

If you recognize yourself here as the demanding client or employer, please understand that the creative person you’re working with IS different…they’re not behaving weird for no reason! They take great pride in that weirdness because they know something that you do not…being creative is a gift, a talent, a honed skill and deep understanding of how to create something from nothing more than an idea or request! So what if their hair is 7 different colors and they wear black every day? So what? And so what if they have a private life which doesn't fit into your belief system? So what? What matters is that you have a working relationship with a creative individual who has magic inside. They don’t see deadlines, budgets, numbers or your bragging rights. They see colors, shapes, patterns, flying, floating ideas and concepts which don’t have descriptions yet because there are no words to describe these things. This can’t be contained in a cubical or forced out on a page…so stop demanding it!

If you’re the creative person who is by now, no doubt jumping up and down, fist-bumping and shouting; “Hell yeah!” Sit down, because I’m not finished. It is your responsibility to find out how to nurture that part of you and communicate that to the client or employer. It’s your responsibility to take care of the gift, not just dress differently or dye your hair to establish the visible identity. Work out a process that works for you and for the client/employer. Then hone that process. So you’re not understood…don’t be a diva (male or female) be an awesome, responsible designer, artist or illustrator…whatever your discipline happens to be. Be the one in demand because you have the ability to create understanding of who you are and how you work best.

Communication works both ways. All parties involved need to talk about this right up front. If you need it by tomorrow, then understand it may not be a winning design. It may contain stock photography and redundant design elements from previous work. You get that, right? On the other hand, if you want an award-winning design to really brag about, talk to your designer (creative person) to find out how they work and what you can do to help that along. Designers- just know that there are many clients who have no idea what a design process is…educate them. After all, we all want the same thing…those awards sitting on our bookshelves and desks, right?


1. The quote is borrowed from one of my favorite blogs; Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's in YOUR drawers?

Last week, I wrote about an element of consistency in design methodology. Y-A-W-N! While that may be interesting to some, it's mostly a designer-thing and no one else really gives a crap how you do what you do. Right? I mean do I care how the plumber fixes my toilet? No...I do not. I just trust that it will be fixed and I pray not see the trademark butt-crack during the process.

So, I thought it might be a good idea if I wrote about something a little less technical and a bit more off the wall.

As humans, I believe we are all creative in our own ways. After all, didn't we all start out as children with imaginations? How awesome to be a creative child! As an adult, we are expected to reign that in to a respectable level so others won't think we're nuts. Not that there's anything wrong with being nuts. I also believe we all need a touch of that! Are we humans or are we walking, talking Walmart stores...with identical shelves of identical thoughts and ideas waiting either be recognized or expire sitting there collecting quantum dust particles? I prefer to be human and embrace the quirks!

I thought about this a lot last week after writing the Quantum Graphite Lady blog post. It occurred to me that it was all too similar to other boring posts about design methodology...GAG! How desert-dry! My apologies!

As a creative professional, one must pull out this magic formula on a daily basis. We strive to avoid at all costs- designing the same thing in the same way every day of the week. UHG! It does get tiring and it does get challenging. So upon noticing how boring the last blog was, I became suddenly freaked out that some plain vanilla had ventured into my creativity...and I cannot let that stand. SO, I took immediate action.

Now, to backtrack for a moment; it's no secret that my office is in my home. Exciting, right? Who doesn't want to work from home? Admittedly, I love the arrangement; but it does present some challenges; like remembering what time it is; Oh; it's midnight? Who knew? After awhile, this kind of nose to the grindstone work ethic tends to gradually smooth out some of those right-sided wrinkles, required for right-brain creativity. One of the biggest challenges for a creative professional is to prevent getting burned out or losing inspiration momentum. It must be tended to and nurtured.

So getting down to how I reminded myself to always seek out inspiration and embrace being different... consciously. I shoved both hands into my sock drawer and found my two favorite pair of socks...then wore one of each. The transformation was instant! I laughed at the simple genius of having two completely different, but comfortable sensations--one on each foot. The knowledge that anyone watching would no doubt think I was a little nuts (or at least fairly eccentric) by doing this intentionally, was amazingly uplifting and inspiring. For the entire day, I wore the two socks and the constant reminder that I was different...I was creative. The awareness of "different" was tangible and quirky. Just what this creative person needed to put a few wrinkles back where they belonged.

My advice is this: if you're starting to feel like you're becoming that professional human clone, which is so very mundane and normal, making it nearly impossible to identify the creative YOU; change your socks...or change just one sock. Wear an undergarment inside-out on purpose; let the freakin' tags show on your t-shirt...stop being like everyone else for one day...have a great laugh and celebrate that you're NOT a Walmart; you're a human! Make it known, especially to yourself, that your mental or creative 'shelves' are not waiting on someone else to 'choose' something from them; and best of all, there's no expiration date to worry about. After all, even the largest store in the world closes to occasionally rearrange the insides. As creative, human, professionals...we are so much more than that. Personally, I'd like to see a global, Be Yourself Day! How wonderful would that be? Let's do it!


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Graphite Fat Lady

Let's talk a little about the "Fat Lady." Nooo, I'm not talking about you, your mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, in-laws or BFF. Most everyone has heard the colloquial phrase "It ain't over until the fat lady sings!"[1] That's the context of today's Quantum Design Particle.

A master key to unlocking great design is the process methodology used by the designer for solving any visual communication problem. The Graphite Fat Lady is the persona I've given to my design process. Only this Lady is no singer; she's a tried and true methodology, stuffed with unborn concepts and amazing design solutions. The story goes something like this:

The Lady sits before a mirror and takes her time preparing for the debut of a new design. She is relaxed and in no hurry, but thorough in her approach. She begins with researching the "event" she'll be attending. Who are the other attendees? (aka; competition) What will they be like? How do others respond to them? How will they look? Most importantly, how can she be better, different...stand out?

After closely looking at the competition and old, dated, overused or common styles, The Fat Lady decides what style she might need to make a memorable entrance into the market; after all, she absolutely must stand apart from those who may threaten to take eyes away from her. They might be younger, older, more established, flashier or glimmering with glitz and glamour. So, she creates lists of words in her mind then forms a list of more refined words, from which others might use to describe her when she finally presents herself. Whew! Standing out is a LOT of work! Not to worry, though, this is one tough Lady!

The Graphite Fat Lady is finally ready to explore possibilities defined by all the work so far. She might layout several color kulers and find just the right type-style that "speaks" to her eagerly-awaiting suitor, (aka. client). It's time to put on the "make-up" formulated from those decisions. She may even take a head-shot photo and send it to a suitor, in hopes of getting a measurable response. If the reaction is not as expected, she remixes the make-up formula and repeats this process until the suitor is crazy about the look.

From this point, The Graphite Fat Lady continues refining, re-mixing and re-applying more complex combinations of psychology, color theory, effective typography for the invitations, all in preparation for the market entrance. After many possibilities have been carefully examined, final choices are made for a polished look; which she will present in grand style to her suitor.

Here, you might expect to see a colorfully polished, professional version of The Graphite Fat Lady image above. Ah, but therein lies her greatest magic...she may appear as a magazine ad, a fine website, an illustration or moving video...she may even present herself as a collection of brands or a set of bookmarks! See, The Graphite Lady never changes who she is...she is the master key to all great designs, no matter what the medium! The Graphite Lady is my creation...the name and image I've given to represent my methodology. It's from this practice which I develop every design from concept to completion.


[1] 1975-1978- Dan Cook. Source: Infoplease

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chops or Fangs?

Whether it was performing on stage, singing or other creative pursuits. If one was told they had "chops" it was a great compliment. And then they practiced and honed the skill until it sparkled with impeccable talent! They exhibited undeniable proof that they truly delivered what was anticipated of them.

Fast-forward past the economic landslide into this time of small marketing/designing businesses clamoring and clawing up a steep mountain of melting Jell-O; having chops is not as important it seems as having fangs long enough to drain the lifeblood of a competitor. It's harsh here in SW Missouri, people! Established and respected agencies and design firms are being undermined by the unscrupulous rantings of chest-beating wannabes who have no conscious about selling a drag-n-drop template website for thousands of dollars. Where's the integrity in that? Oh, right...that's not important to the Fanged Ones. They need that money for dental bills, no doubt! In the meantime, clients' nervous voices are getting drowned out by the howling declarations of being the "biggest"; the "best"; the "only"...the _____________(you fill in the blank).

Sound bitter? Not at all...this behavior is actually good for my business. I get calls from those confused clients who are promised one thing and delivered another by the unscrupulous. Don't these fanged vamps have any forethought? Or is it their goal to suck the trust out of every cell of believing clients who have been mesmerized by the well-rehearsed promises? Now that's definitely a bitter tasting morsel of truth!

It simply seems to me in this time of economic struggle that a more honorable, more realistic competition would be better appreciated by those who fork out a lot of money for public exposure and professionally designed presence in the market. They deserve firms with chops; not fangs. They deserve integrity, not ego. They deserve to be appreciated and taken seriously...and listened to. They deserve what's best for their business. And yes, they deserve a healthy group of competing design firms and marketing agencies from which to choose. That will help us all.

AAF Has Chops

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let Creativity Drive The Crayons

For my first blog, I wanted to impart profound wisdom upon my readers. You know, the kind that makes one stand a bit straighter and walk with more confidence for having learned a universal secret of some kind. Instead, all that comes to mind is how time ticks by while we do things like think about what is profound and wise. 

I've been a designer, artist, creative person...whatever name applies at any given time...all my life. As a child, before starting kindergarten, I was creating large banners to welcome home a new sibling. At the time, it wasn't profoundness, but creativity driving my crayons...nor did it turn out to be all that wise in hindsight! But that's another story. 

As a professional creator in the business world, it seems that business has twisted wisdom and called it strategy. For example, the strategy of not letting a customer switch from one company to another for better service. Or the strategy of undermining another's business to make yours look better. Wouldn't be better to substitute strategy for wisdom? For company X, who won't let go of customers until the customer hires a lawyer to break the ties; why not be gracious and make adjustments to customer service instead of trashing company Y's service or product? Let that customer go do what they see is best for them? Isn't it wiser to end the customer relationship amicably? Why must it be a battle to the death to cancel a service? There's a way to do things; even unpleasant things, that help create confidence in a company. 

I'm co-owner in a company called AAF Creative, LLC. (www.aafcreative.com) If one of my clients decides to use another design service, I let them go without trying to bind them into something they don't want. Sure, I'll ask them why, so I can make adjustments to my service. It doesn't feel good to have a client move on; but it happens...to every business. My philosophy is based in wisdom, not strategy. If the client who leaves is unsatisfied with the other choice, they are more likely to return if I've given them confidence that they can save face and continue using me. 

I guess the quantum particle of design wisdom here is; let creativity drive the crayons.