Allison McCartney – ScribbleLive http://www.scribblelive.com ScribbleLive is the leading end-to-end platform for content marketing engagement. Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:53:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://s3.amazonaws.com/scribblelive-com-prod/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/favicon-150x150.png Allison McCartney – ScribbleLive http://www.scribblelive.com 32 32 How Lawyers Can Benefit From Visual Content http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2015/01/19/lawyers-visual-content/ Mon, 19 Jan 2015 19:00:52 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2015/01/19/lawyers-visual-content/ When most people think about studying law, they think fat, leather-bound tomes and densely worded texts. The formal, technical and sometimes incomprehensible nature of the wording used in legal documents even inspired it’s own term, “legalese,” as if it were written in a different language entirely. However, some in the Read more...

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When most people think about studying law, they think fat, leather-bound tomes and densely worded texts. The formal, technical and sometimes incomprehensible nature of the wording used in legal documents even inspired it’s own term, “legalese,” as if it were written in a different language entirely. However, some in the legal profession see a role for graphics and design to clarify what words alone cannot. Margaret Hagan, a fellow at Stanford Law School, the creator of Open Law Lab and a lecturer at the Stanford d.school, says that graphical representations of law can help regular people grasp concepts and experiences that are currently buried in dense language. “Law right now tends to be communicated abstractly, which most often leads to confusion and intimidation,” she says. “Graphics can help illustrate the law in more comprehensible & accessible ways.”
Image by Margaret Hagan via the Visual Law Library
Image by Margaret Hagan via the Visual Law Library
Hagan grew up sketching; She filled her school journals with illustrated notes, trying to make sense of whatever her teachers were saying. She thought of the drawings as juvenile and silly until her law school professors and colleagues began to take an interest in them. She started putting her drawings online and gaining confidence that visuals had a place in law. “Then when I took a class at the d.school, I realized that being visual was a real power — whether it’s in persuading people in a group you’re working with about the strength of your ideas, or about pitching your concept for funding and support. From there, I started blogging and hunting down examples of how law and design could be combined,” she says. Hagan is currently working with a small group of designers, developers and lawyers to create a visual, interactive resource to train lawyers how to represent unaccompanied immigrant children. Representing kids requires breaking down and explaining difficult concepts at the simplest level, creating a unique opportunity for Hagan and her team to develop new graphic forms of communication. “The biggest challenge is in balancing the complexity of explaining the law in a responsible and comprehensible way (the traditional ways that lawyers tend to present the law), and the intuitive, graspable way that users, want law to be presented,” she says. “We’re working to find this balance by using interactivity to give a bird’s eye view map of a legal process, like, applying for a visa, that are very simple and clear, but then to layer more information on as needed, and also to allow for customization of the map.”
Image by Margaret Hagan via the Visual Law Library
Image by Margaret Hagan via the Visual Law Library
To help aspiring designers interested in visual law navigate these potential pitfalls, The Program for Legal Tech + Design at Stanford, of which Hagan is a member, created the Legal Design Toolbox. The site provides resources, tools and inspiration for those hoping to create law graphics. However Stanford is not the only university working with graphics to explain law; The Yale Visual Law Project is experimenting with using video to better educate the public on the consequences of law and how to make more effective arguments. A faculty member at the University of Baltimore’s School of Law has also created a US Supreme Court mapping program, that tracks relationships between the court’s cases to visually demonstrate precedent. Ravel, a startup created by Stanford Law grads, is seeking to bring the power of visual networks and timelines to a broader audience of lawyers, students and scholars. Ravel promises that their tools will speed the process of legal research by using visual cues to show important relationships between court cases and an interactive way to analyze and annotate texts. Dense legal text is likely here to stay, but the rise of legal illustrations and visualizations may make the law more accessible and understandable than ever before.

Allison is a graduate student in journalism at Stanford University and a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar. She formerly worked as an editor at the PBS NewsHour. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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How To Use Appropriated Advertising Imagery Appropriately http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/10/22/using-appropriated-imagery/ Wed, 22 Oct 2014 17:00:15 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/10/22/using-appropriated-imagery/ Appropriation, or the act of re-using and re-purposing pre-existing imagery, has long been an effective communication tool. Artists have appropriated imagery for decades to comment on pop culture, but advertisers and marketers also use appropriated imagery to make a connection with audiences. However, when not done correctly, “appropriation” can merely Read more...

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Appropriation, or the act of re-using and re-purposing pre-existing imagery, has long been an effective communication tool. Artists have appropriated imagery for decades to comment on pop culture, but advertisers and marketers also use appropriated imagery to make a connection with audiences. However, when not done correctly, “appropriation” can merely become a ripoff of someone else’s work. It’s important to know where to draw the line. Appropriated imagery can be a cultural touchstone when the images are popular enough to be known by a broad swath of the audience. Images become a language when enough people recognize them and understand their meaning. They can be a sort of shorthand that conveys messages, creates tone, sparks memories and creates connections between ideas. The 2011 Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial, for example, was a fantastic example of appropriation. By using Star Wars imagery and sound to tell a story throughout the commercial, the creators of this ad maximized the benefits of appropriation. This works in part because Star Wars is so well known and so well-referenced throughout other pop culture and in daily life. Americans generally know who Darth Vader is, what the Force is, and probably have other memories in which Star Wars plays a role. Because of this, the ad makers didn’t have to waste any time explaining who this boy is dressed as or what he’s doing. It mimics the way that we reference pop culture in our own lives, as incorporated into our interactions and conversations, a natural shared point of understanding. And it does so joyously, and in an original way, making it easily one of the most memorable Super Bowl ads in recent years. However appropriation can run into problems when done incorrectly. Here are four things advertisers should avoid when referencing appropriated imagery.

1. The imagery isn’t well-known enough to be understood as appropriation by the majority of the audience

A while back, Saturday Night Live wanted to do a sketch where Fred Armison impersonated radio personality and host of “This American Life,” Ira Glass. Millions of people listen to This American Life every week, more than some network television shows, but SNL cut the sketch after determining that not enough people knew Glass for the sketch to work. This provides a valuable lesson: don’t appropriate or reference imagery that isn’t part of the standard cultural vocabulary. Audiences don’t enjoy feeling like they’re on the outside of an inside joke. Part of this is knowing the audience and gauging what they would likely know. If SNL was airing on National Public Radio, such a reference would be incredibly appropriate.

2. Imagery isn’t incorporated or referenced in a way that benefits the brand

Screen-Shot-2014-09-11-at-11.03.27-AM Think long and hard before using any images pulled from their original context. Images come with baggage, and that baggage can’t, and shouldn’t, be taken away through appropriation. Therefore any image, especially images that are sensitive, must be used deliberately and tastefully. One terrible example of this was on Sept. 11 when CVS tweeted out a picture of two spotlights shining from the place where the Twin Towers once stood with their logo placed at the bottom. The imagery is incredibly recognizable, burned into the mind of every American, but the appropriation felt like exploitation; taking a moment of shared grieving and turning it into a branding opportunity. Also, audiences aren’t looking to brands to comment on every holiday or event. Keep it relevant, or don’t put it up at all.

3. Imagery is appropriated in a way that seems dissonant to the original work

Dissonance in appropriation can be done well. The creator of this Simpsons take-off on Edvard Munch’s The Scream uses dissonant imagery, but preserves the tone of the original work and applies it to a new context. Homer is comically imbued with the social anxiety portrayed in that famous painting. 1h1CieD However, dissonance is bad when it means getting the tone wrong. When the original context and tone are stripped, and only the visual aspect is left, the appropriation can be confusing or in bad taste. The “Keep calm and carry on” posters, for example, have been massively appropriated for all sorts of branding opportunities.

image via http://www.closermag.fr/
image via http://www.closermag.fr/
Despite the success of this appropriation, it strikes those with some knowledge of British history as rather gauche. The original posters were distributed privately to British households by the government as a way to raise morale amidst the threat of the German Blitz in World War II. The message of subdued resilience, “Keep calm and carry on,” implies that the people receiving it were anything but; the trauma and panic can be read between the lines. Knowing this, it seems a bit tone-deaf to be applying the slogan to craft tote bags and using it to encourage playboy behavior. While branding experts may have gotten away with subverting the tone in this case, don’t assume this will always be the case.

4. The imagery is so similar to the thing it’s referencing it seems like a rip-off

The most important part about appropriating imagery for advertising purposes is that the audience gets that it’s a reference. There’s a fine line between appropriating and outright stealing, but appropriation is about making original work with existing imagery, not reusing someone else’s work. Beyond the legal ramifications of taking other’s work, it’s just lazy and shows poor ethics. The New York Time wrote an article not long after the release of the original iPhone about how Apple used imagery similar to the work of a famous video artist on its commercials. According to the Times, Apple did so even after its requests to the artist and his gallery had been rejected. (Hello portion starts about three minutes in) Just be careful what you use, and don’t be a jerk. Allison is a graduate student in journalism at Stanford University and a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar. She formerly worked as an editor at the PBS NewsHour. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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What Road Signs Say About Human Perception http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/24/road-signs-human-perception/ Wed, 24 Sep 2014 17:00:32 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/24/road-signs-human-perception/ Street signs are tasked with a difficult job: to quickly and effectively provide important directional information to drivers traveling at high speeds. They must work at the extremes of the human perception of speed, and (ideally) be understandable by any person who may encounter them. To do this, street signs Read more...

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image via Flickr user slworking2
image via Flickr user slworking2
Street signs are tasked with a difficult job: to quickly and effectively provide important directional information to drivers traveling at high speeds. They must work at the extremes of the human perception of speed, and (ideally) be understandable by any person who may encounter them. To do this, street signs must reduce design down to its most functional elements and play into knowledge of human perception. So what can be learned by looking at common wayfaring markers?

People read shapes, not letters

While early street signs used all upper-case letters, nearly all modern street signs use a mixture of capital and lower-case letters (title case) that facilitates quick reading. When graphic designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert famously redesigned and standardized the British road signs in the early 1960s, their decision to move away from all capitalized letters drew criticism. But they were adamant in their decision. “The actual word shape was the most distinctive thing because if you had Birmingham in capitals, from a distance, it’s difficult to read but in caps and lower case you have word shape,” Calvert told the BBC. “That was fundamental.” wordshape-01 “The general idea is that we see words as a complete patterns rather than the sum of letter parts,” writes Kevin Larson for Microsoft in “The Science of Word Recognition.” Lower case letters have variable and distinctive forms that allow words to be read as distinct shapes, while words uniform and blocky upper case letters must be read letter-by-letter. Today, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration requires that all new road signs use title case to indicate place names and destinations.

Layer information with non-verbal cues

While the words on the sign often ultimately tell road users what to do and where to go, the color, shape and position of the sign expedite the communication process. “Color programs will distinguish signs from each other and can offer an indication of the message without having to be able to understand the language of the sign,” explains the Design Workplan. The colors of street signs can often indicate what type of street it is, or communicate to road crews who owns and pays for that street’s repair. Such is to say that most viewers can understand a complex set of information based on a limited set of indicators that combine verbal and non-verbal cues. Many road signs opt for pictograms over words whenever they can, both because they are instantly recognizable and because they reach across language and cultural barriers. In journalism the saying, “Show, don’t tell,” urges communicators to demonstrate their point rather than spelling it out for the audience. When trying to convey a message, especially on a sign where messages are often repeated, an illustration is often more effective than words. WISDOT_W1-60

Embrace contrast, but not too much

While some text road signs use a simple black text on white background, the vast majority use white typography on a colored background. Beyond giving non-verbal cues as discussed above, these combinations also make for easier reading. The Design Workplan website has a fantastic guide to creating color combinations for signage in various location and for various purposes. They cite the 1992 Arthur & Passini book “Wayfinding,” which recommends calculating the difference in light reflectancy readings between two colors to determine contrast. Any two colors with a contrast value larger than 70 will definitely be legible.

image via Design Workplan
image via Design Workbook
The guide recommends black backgrounds on signs as a good place to put lettering of different colors, but warns that if the letters are too small and the contrast is too high (as between white and black), the background will become too overwhelming and lead to less legibility. The same can be said of white backgrounds. “Beware that white can absorb its environment,” Design Workplan recommends. “Black lettering tends to be squeezed into the background making it hard to read. Lower contrast lettering gives better results like blue, orange and red. White backgrounds can be used specific sign projects where design plays a bigger part than the actual wayfinding.” Most road signs that provide street or highway names are designed with either a blue or a green background. These offer contrast values between 80 and 90, still very high and easy to read in either day or night, but without the potential pitfalls of high-contrast black and white. Allison is graduate student in journalism at Stanford University and a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar. She formerly worked as an editor at the PBS NewsHour. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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Create A Better Brand Social Media Profile http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/15/create-better-brand-social-media-profile/ Mon, 15 Sep 2014 17:00:16 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/15/create-better-brand-social-media-profile/ Nearly three quarters of online adults in the U.S. use social media, and 53 percent of active social networkers follow a brand. So with social media becoming an ever-more-standard online marketing tool, it’s becoming harder for brands to stand out among their competitors. Good design, especially for smaller brands, is Read more...

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Nearly three quarters of online adults in the U.S. use social media, and 53 percent of active social networkers follow a brand. So with social media becoming an ever-more-standard online marketing tool, it’s becoming harder for brands to stand out among their competitors. Good design, especially for smaller brands, is absolutely necessary. Here are a few guidelines on making the most of the limited customizable options provided by social networking platforms. While this post focuses on Facebook and Twitter, which are the most widely used by brands and have some of the most customizable features, the same principles apply across platforms.

Have a clear message

A good profile is simple and direct about what the company sells and its personality. Choose only images that identify the brand or tell its story. Pay attention to “about me” fields. Be succinct but descriptive, and always include contact information to help potential customers find out how to learn more.

Avoid using text in images when possible

When creating cover and profile social media images for your social media platforms, be sure to keep them as visual as possible. Lots of wording can not only take away from the visual impact of the profile, it can also interfere with the content on the page. For example Marvel, whose poorly executed text-heavy banner picture creates little impact. Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 8.27.51 AM Turning a recognizable logo into a profile picture may seem like a natural strategy, but many brands with text-heavy logos opt for something else. Coca-Cola, for example, with arguably the most recognizable text logo in the world, uses a picture of a Coke bottle to represent itself across platforms. The image of the bottle on a white background reads much better on a small scale than its trademark cursive. Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.32.28 PM Disney, too, opts for a picture of Mickey instead of its logo with its still baffling Disney “D”. Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.36.27 PM Facebook even restricts the amount of text that can appear in ads and sponsored posts that will appear in their news feed to 20 percent of the entire image. While this principle doesn’t apply to cover photos or profile pictures, it’s a good reminder to keep text out of images as much as possible. If there’s any formula for creating a successful image-heavy social media profile, most brands use a combination of a graphic image for their profile picture with a photographic image for their cover photo.

Keep branding consistent and up-to-date across platforms

Most brands now have a presence on multiple platforms to catch the broadest audience possible. But just like other aspects of marketing materials, it’s necessary to keep the design of profiles across platforms as consistent as possible. This means using the same profile picture and the same cover photo whenever possible.

CNN's Twitter and Facebook pages are almost identical.
CNN’s Twitter and Facebook pages are almost identical.
It’s always a good idea to keep social profiles up-to-date with fresh pictures with information on new projects. Media companies often change their profiles to reflect upcoming releases, like this PBS cover photo. Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 8.54.30 AM Just make sure that when one profile is changed, they all change to match. Keeping a list of every social profile a company maintains can help cut down on inconsistencies across platforms.

Twitter backgrounds are not a place to get fancy

Twitter offers a vast area to be filled in the backgrounds of tweets, but resist the urge to fill that space with busy or tiled images. Busy backgrounds can distract from the content, like the background on the Time Twitter page. Instead of reading the tweet itself, the viewer’s eye skips around trying to read all other magazine covers in the background. Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 7.27.12 AM Busy backgrounds can also interfere with content in a different way. Don’t be Cinnabon, who tweeted a tribute to 9/11 on top of a background of cinnamon rolls, and was summarily ridiculed by Internet users. Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 3.27.34 PM Thanks to Colleen Shalby and Kelly Chen for their help with this post Allison is a former editor at the PBS NewsHour, a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar and a soon-to-be graduate student in journalism at Stanford University. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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How To Talk To Your Graphic Designer http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/12/talk-designer/ Fri, 12 Sep 2014 17:00:23 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/12/talk-designer/ Designing anything from scratch is hard, especially when you’re new to working with a designer or design team. Turning an idea into a product is a laborious process, and can’t just be handed over to design professionals; the client needs to be involved to help guide the process. Your job Read more...

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photo via startupstockphotos.com
via startupstockphotos.com
Designing anything from scratch is hard, especially when you’re new to working with a designer or design team. Turning an idea into a product is a laborious process, and can’t just be handed over to design professionals; the client needs to be involved to help guide the process. Your job as the client is to help the designer understand exactly what is in your head so they can best serve you. While it’s easy to blame an unsatisfying final product on the designer, it’s up to the client to communicate effectively, give their designer all the tools they need to succeed and ensure that the best product is delivered. The best way to get the most out of your graphic designer or illustrator is to give them useful feedback they can take back to the drawing board.

Speak up early

Give feedback early and often. Nothing is more frustrating for designers than getting to the end of a project and hearing there is an issue they could have corrected many steps ago. Telling designers about issues early saves them time and results in a better project, as elements don’t have to be altered last minute. Take time to carefully look at the first draft that your designer hands you, make a list of the corrections you would like to see and state all of them at the follow up meeting (or, if you are working with Visually, in the Project Center). This won’t preclude further revisions, but it will prevent designers from iterating off of details and ideas they thought you tacitly approved. In general, if you don’t tell a designer something must be changed, they won’t know there’s an issue.

Be specific

When listening to client feedback, there are few things more frustrating for a designer to hear than phrases like, “This looks weird,” or “Could you make it pop?” Inevitably this will elicit a “Ok, and….?” response in your designer’s head. While something may indeed look weird, saying so without describing what you specifically find weird doesn’t help the designer solve the issue. At all times, be as specific as possible with feedback. Come with examples of styles, fonts, color palettes or layouts you’d like to refer to (and be able to verbalize what it is about those examples you like), or be able to point to specific elements you would like changed. Instead of “That looks weird,” say “The layout seems cluttered. Could we simplify this?” In the same way, be specific about the elements of the design that you like. If there’s a part of the design that you want to see more of, be sure to point it out specifically. While not everyone needs to be a design expert, giving specific advice requires a base level of design knowledge. Try to take the time to read over information like this Visual Design Basics guide from usability.gov to learn more; it may help you save time with your designer later.

Talk about making improvements, not about mistakes

While people who work in visual arts and design are used to and receptive to criticism, it’s still easy to get on your designer’s bad side by questioning their judgement or being unnecessarily harsh when suggesting changes. Approach your relationship with your graphic designer in the same way you would a loved one, with discretion and tact. When criticizing an aspect of a project, try to frame the criticism around you and your preferences instead of their judgement. For example, when approaching the subject of changing a font style, don’t point to your designer’s work and say “This font is ugly,” but rather, “I would like to try a different font here.” Then specify the direction you’d like to go.

Listen to what your designer has to say

If you have suggestions on how to improve a project, there’s a good chance that your designer has already considered it. If so, be sure to ask for your designer’s reasoning as to why they made the decision they did. This allows you to see what your designer is thinking and learn more about their process and limitations. Once you and your designer state your cases, it’s time to start negotiating. Find out what the designer insists is necessary and indispensable to the project, then compromise on what can be changed.

Allow your designer some freedom

While some clients may come into meetings with too few ideas, some have too specific a vision of what they’d like to see. If the designer returns with a draft that does not include every exact element you asked for, be sure to consider the changes your designer made before dismissing them. Sometimes when a designer works with too many demands, the final product looks like it was created by checking off boxes on a checklist. Be flexible, know what’s necessary to your product and what isn’t, then let your designer use their skills to create and improve upon your vision.   Allison is a former editor at the PBS NewsHour, a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar and a soon-to-be graduate student in journalism at Stanford University. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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“Inclusive Design” Meets The Needs Of Every Customer http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/04/inclusive-design-meets-needs-every-customer/ Thu, 04 Sep 2014 17:00:55 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/09/04/inclusive-design-meets-needs-every-customer/ We strive to be inclusive in our workplaces, our buildings and our government, but still too few products of all types are designed with a diverse set of users (with a diverse set of skills) in mind. To combat this, the UK Design Council recently launched the Inclusive Design Hub Read more...

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Screenshot from "Inclusive Design: from the pixel to the city" by the Design Council
Screenshot from “Inclusive Design: from the pixel to the city” by the Design Council
We strive to be inclusive in our workplaces, our buildings and our government, but still too few products of all types are designed with a diverse set of users (with a diverse set of skills) in mind. To combat this, the UK Design Council recently launched the Inclusive Design Hub to highlight the advantages and importance of incorporating inclusive design principles. The video highlights several triumphs of inclusive design, including the Ford Focus, in which designers mimicked the challenges that older people face while driving a car, then included their findings into the final design. The point, they urge, is to not design for a checklist, but to empathize with the full spectrum of potential users. As the University of Cambridge’s “Inclusive design toolkit” site states, “Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude customers. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to informing these decisions. User diversity covers variation in capabilities, needs, and aspirations.” For some, inclusive design is a human rights issue; good design can either exacerbate a disability or make it a non-issue. It’s about giving dignity and accessibility to everyone. Legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sought to prohibit discrimination based on physical or disability, paved the way for more inclusive thinking in design and in general practice. “Underlying these changes is a growing realisation that disability arises not within the individual, due to impaired capability, but is a result of environments, products and services that fail to take into account the needs and capabilities of all potential users,” writes Roger Coleman et al. in “Inclusive Design: Design for the whole population.” “If people can be disabled and excluded by design, they can also be enabled and included by thoughtful, user-aware design.” However, these practices also make good business sense. Research from The Philips Center for Health and Well-being’s 2010 report indicates that only about four in 10 Americans feel that tech companies actually understand their needs when introducing new products, while a full one-third feel that tech companies have no idea what their lives are really like and what products they would be likely to use. Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 11.10.18 AM-01 The “Inclusive design toolkit” even includes materials on how to make the inclusive design business case for your company. They point to research from the UK Design Council that showed that an index of design aware companies greatly outperformed their peers in both bull and bear markets over a 10-year period. Inclusive design needs to start at the beginning, not be incorporated later into an existing design. This means that designers need to talk and test ideas with people who are as diverse as those who may want to use the product. To guide designers in inclusive thinking, Coleman et al. recommends seven principals that all well-designed inclusive products should meet:
  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive to use
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use

  If you’re not meeting the needs of all of your potential customers, perhaps its time for a redesign.   Allison is a former editor at the PBS NewsHour, a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar and a soon-to-be graduate student in journalism at Stanford University. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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Lessons in Typography from the World’s Most Powerful Brands http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/08/14/lessons-typography-worlds-powerful-brands/ Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:01:25 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/08/14/lessons-typography-worlds-powerful-brands/ The fonts you choose for both your logo and your content can say a lot about your brand. Because of this, big brands are extremely particular about their typography choices and smaller brands can learn a lot from studying their visual decision making. After looking at the corporate styling guides Read more...

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The fonts you choose for both your logo and your content can say a lot about your brand. Because of this, big brands are extremely particular about their typography choices and smaller brands can learn a lot from studying their visual decision making. After looking at the corporate styling guides for many of the companies on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful brands, several trends became apparent.

For better or for worse, everyone still loves Helvetica

This should come as no surprise. The ubiquity of Helvetica in graphic design is well known and understandable; as a clean, simple and enduring typeface, it’s always a safe choice. Helvetica has a straight, even and machined look to it, an aesthetic that makes it neutral and adaptable for many different purposes. This is reflected by the type of influential companies that use it: Toyota, Target, BMW, General Motors and American Apparel. toylogos toyotalogo Even without using Helvetica specifically, many top companies use closely related typefaces like Arial and Univers, though typically only as secondary typefaces. But while Helvetica was used to create a fresh and modern look for brands in the 1950s, its overuse today means it contributes little distinct personality to any brand.

Tech giants go “humanist”

Many tech companies may have simple and sparse logos, but choose a less machined aesthetic for the bulk of their website text. These typefaces may appear similar to Helvetica at first glance, but they incorporate greater variability in their angles, shapes and line widths. Among the most popular of these type families is Myriad, which is used in varying capacities by Apple, Walmart, LinkedIn and Mashable. Other popular humanist typefaces include Segoe, used by Microsoft, Open Sans (Google) and Lucida Grande (Facebook).

via Stephen Coles on Quora
via Stephen Coles on Quora
When explaining its choice of typeface, Walmart’s corporate style guide states, “We’ve selected a type family that gives Walmart a friendly, warm, and real voice: Myriad Pro. Myriad Pro says “approachable” and “straightforward” and is easy to read. A humanistic sans-serif typeface, Myriad Pro’s great for retailing and communicating “low prices.” Compared to similar typefaces, Myriad Pro is an easier read, conveys warmth, and aligns nicely with the Walmart brand.”

Luxury brands and banks choose serifs

Luxury brands, who rely mostly on selling physical goods like handbags and cars, rely on serif fonts more frequently than web-based brands. This is in part because serifs appear elegant and more easily readable in printed form, while sans serif fonts are better for reading on computer screens. Serifs also evoke the history of typography. Luxury brands use this to demonstrate their pedigree, and some banks incorporate serifs to prove their longevity and trustworthiness to consumers.

Consider investing in a custom typeface

tittl_600 Other top brands decide to create a custom typeface specific to their brand. A custom typeface can help take branding to the next level, finishing out a visual style and language unique from any others. Intel, for one, recently unveiled its first ever proprietary typeface, known as Neo Sans Intel, which, according to Design Week, it plans to use “across all script systems, media and devices as an extension of its brand.” The typeface was designed to evoke the Intel logo, and is even adaptable to foreign writing systems. However, creating a new type design can be time and cost intensive compared to licensing an established typeface. The decision should be based off whether preexisting fonts meet the needs and personality of the business. Other companies that use custom designed type are Samsung (Samsung InterFace) and General Electric (GE Inspira).

It’s okay to be different

Despite the proliferation of sans-serif type, a few standout brands show you don’t have to follow the trend to be successful. Take Google’s logo for example, which uses Catull and is perhaps the only major web-based company to use an old style serif typeface in its primary branding. google-logo And in a world of Helvetica, using script in a logo can help provide instant differentiation from your peers, just ask Coca Cola or Budweiser. However, when choosing the font that is right for you, be sure to consult an expert in type and graphic design about the values, mood and aesthetic you want to portray in your brand. Allison is a former editor at the PBS NewsHour, a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar and a soon-to-be graduate student in journalism at Stanford University. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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Stickers, Vinyl And Instant Photos: The Return Of The Physical Object http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/08/05/stickers-vinyl-instant-photos/ Tue, 05 Aug 2014 17:00:21 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/08/05/stickers-vinyl-instant-photos/ In a trend that seems to buck the standard of increasing digitization of music, movies and television, the record industry has seen a well-publicized growth in vinyl sales in the past five years. During this “vinyl revival,” sales of LPs tripled from 2008 to 2013, and vinyl sales are already Read more...

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via Flickr user Leo Hidalgo
via Flickr user Leo Hidalgo

In a trend that seems to buck the standard of increasing digitization of music, movies and television, the record industry has seen a well-publicized growth in vinyl sales in the past five years. During this “vinyl revival,” sales of LPs tripled from 2008 to 2013, and vinyl sales are already up more than 40 percent in the first half of 2014. But the story of vinyl tells a bigger story about the affection people feel towards physical things in the digital age. Authors of a JWT report called “Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot,” observed that, “It’s not that we’re abandoning digital—far from it. But as we buy more apps, e-books and downloads, and as digital screens become our default interface with the world, we seem to increasingly seek out physical objects and experiences.” While most people are pragmatic about the advantages that the digital world can give them, they also miss the emotional aspect associated with physical objects. Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 6.53.13 AM E-books, online newspapers and e-mail have all take the place of printed objects, but, “There’s something about print that I can’t give up,” wrote Josh Catone in Mashable. “There’s something about holding a book in your hand and the visceral act of physically turning a page that, for me at least, can’t be matched with pixels on a screen.” Photos, too, are returning to a physical space. While nearly every mobile phone sold today has a camera attached, instant cameras are making a comeback. Despite its near demise in the early 2000s, Polaroid and its classic instant photos can now be found in every Urban Outfitters and have garnered a new type of cult status. In fact, another company that is popularizing analog photography, Lomography, just announced a brand new instant camera, funded in typically modern fashion, through a Kickstarter campaign (by millennials for millennials). Lomography actually makes most of its money through the sale of old-fashioned film cameras and the cameras that use it. “The photos you take today, although they’re beautiful and bright and much easier than they used to be, they’re infinitely reproducible, and therefore feel less valuable sometimes,” said historian Christopher Bonanos in an interview with the Atlantic. “A Polaroid picture, because there’s only one, feels like a precious object. It’s more like a painting, in a way.” Similarly, every company should strive to have a marketing campaign that capitalizes on the positives of both the digital and the physical. Especially if your business is web-based, give customers a way to continue their experience offline as well. Now that digital advertising has come of age, marketing that makes good use of the physical can tap into a novelty factor. It may not be immediately obvious how to take full advantage of physical marketing but you need look no further than some of the top digital brands for some easy and cost-effective ideas. Stickers, now included in every Apple item and an increasing number of other hip products, can turn consumers (or even would-be consumers) into mobile advertisers. Reddit, for one, contributes the success of the company in part to an initial $500 investment on stickers. “To date that is the sum total of money that has been spent advertising reddit,” wrote Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian in Fast Company. “Five hundred dollars, and every dollar of it spent on stickers.” Stickers work because they turn a marketing opportunity into a unique experience for the user, inviting the small, but fun action of sticking it wherever they want. Whether someone sticks them on a light pole, a restaurant wall or their laptop, build a visible community of users.

The author's laptop is a mobile advertisement for her brand communities.
The author’s laptop is a mobile advertisement for her brand communities.

“No one is going to show off a sticker, or anything else, unless they feel an attachment to the brand,” wrote Ohanian. “Whether it’s a sticker, a t-shirt…or a luggage tag…make the process of giving someone swag something special.”
 While swag is nothing new, the growing fixation on the physical raises the bar for creating special experiences that reward users and perpetuate positive feelings about a brand. Your customers are creative people too; just give them the objects and opportunities they need to help shape the brand along with you. Allison is a former editor at the PBS NewsHour, a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar and a soon-to-be graduate student in journalism at Stanford University. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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Marketers Face Basic Challenges When Using Analytics http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/06/02/marketers-face-basic-challenges-using-analytics/ Tue, 03 Jun 2014 00:11:53 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/06/02/marketers-face-basic-challenges-using-analytics/   Besides being one of the primary metrics used for selling advertising space on websites, analytics can be powerful in determining the type of content consumers are looking for and help businesses better tailor their online experiences for customers. However, with analytics programs able to turn any interaction with a Read more...

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blog_shot   Besides being one of the primary metrics used for selling advertising space on websites, analytics can be powerful in determining the type of content consumers are looking for and help businesses better tailor their online experiences for customers. However, with analytics programs able to turn any interaction with a website into a number, it’s important to keep in mind that most of those numbers cannot make a website better. Instead, it is the job of every site to determine which metrics are most valuable to them, then decide how and to what extent to use those numbers to determine future content direction and best practices. In news-speak, this would be called taking an editorial approach to the data.  

Discovering Valuable Insights Within the Analytics Noise

When used correctly, analytics can reveal insights about content and websites that are otherwise invisible. But analytics can often create a cacophony of noise with no obvious message, turning a tool that is intended to clarify user experience into a confusing mess of numbers. Marketers report their problems with analytics often surround basic questions: who, what, when (and for how long), where and why are people viewing their content? Each one of these problems raises another set of questions: Which is the best metric to use to answer this question? Does a metric exist to measure this? What do I do with this information once I’ve acquired it?  

“Friends Don’t Let Friends Measure Page Views”

The simplest metric to measure is a page view count, but just because it is easy to log does not mean it is valuable. Too many publishers put too much emphasis on the importance of clicks, mistaking a user’s action for a positive impression. Valuing clicks, which are only truly useful for ad-driven sites, can give a mistaken impression about a user’s experience and often results in publishers delivering content that user don’t really want. “Are a lot of page views per visit a good thing (“the visitor loved our site so much!”), a bad thing (“our site is so bad it takes 23 pages to find what you’re looking for!”), or a horrible thing (“After a 23-page hunt, the visitor gave up!”)? Measuring only page views, how would you ever know?” writes Avinash Kaushik on Think with Google. Perhaps the only way to rationalize the continued obsession with page views is that this information is easily obtainable, easily quantifiable and easily understandable to those who don’t work regularly with analytics. But even seemingly simple and established metrics like “time on page” or “bounce rate” have their limitations.  

How Do You Measure True Engagement?

Viral content site Upworthy, which does not use banner ads, wrote it was changing its primary metrics for gauging content from page views to “total attention on site” and “total attention per piece,” which it defines as more precise than the more common “time on page” metric. “We built attention minutes to look at a wide range of signals — everything from video player signals about whether a video is currently playing, to a user’s mouse movements, to which browser tab is currently open — to determine whether the user is still engaged,” Upworthy posted on their blog. “The result is a fine-grained and unforgiving metric that tells us whether people are really engaged with our content or whether they’ve moved on to the next thing.”  

Onto Even Bigger Challenges: Measuring the Reach of Visual Content

The picture becomes even more blurred when visual content and social sharing come into the picture. While sites can easily track who is sharing their posts on social media, a sure sign the audience is engaging with it in some manner, images can easily be dislodged from their original context, reposted and shared beyond the reach of traditional analytics programs. It’s therefore difficult to truly understand the full reach of any visual content on the Internet. Despite these challenges, marketers and analytics experts continue to come up with new metrics and new ways to contextualize data in order to glean new insights. What challenges have you faced when using analytics on your site? You can start learning more what analytics can do for your visual content, using Visually’s new Native Analytics.   Allison McCartney is an editor at the PBS NewsHour focused on education and informational graphics, and a freelance designer in the Visual.ly marketplace. She has a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied Middle Eastern history and art. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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From Baseball Cards to Happy Meals: Lessons From the History of Micro-content http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/05/15/from-baseball-cards-to-happy-meals-micro-content-has-been-around-longer-than-you-think/ Thu, 15 May 2014 23:21:39 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2014/05/15/from-baseball-cards-to-happy-meals-micro-content-has-been-around-longer-than-you-think/ It takes a lot to grab an Internet user’s attention today. Half of all web page visits last for 10 seconds or less, and most visitors will read no more than 28 percent of the text on any given page. It’s no wonder that marketers are keen on turning their Read more...

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It takes a lot to grab an Internet user’s attention today. Half of all web page visits last for 10 seconds or less, and most visitors will read no more than 28 percent of the text on any given page. It’s no wonder that marketers are keen on turning their products into “snackable” moments, ready for a web audience whose attention is split by an increasing number of content creators. Every content marketer is looking for a slice of the pie, no matter how small, in the hope that that small impression will translate into a moment, a click and eventually a conversion. Micro-content is by nature promotional, meant to encourage an action or elicit an emotion from a consumer, but is not an outright advertisement. Rather, it serves as the reason to act, showing the audience with a few words, a picture or a video why investing their attention in more of your content is worth their time. While micro-content now mainly refers to bites of content that can be shared over social media, companies have long been using small bits of their product to create memorable moments and impressions to hook consumers to keep them coming back. Let’s travel back in time and take a look at how brands have been using micro-content through the years.  

Trade cards

Since the 17th Century Collecting trade cards, early predecessors of trading cards and business cards, became a popular pastime in the U.S. in the 19th century, though early trade card examples date back as early as the 17th century: Gulliver_and_the_Liliputans,_trade_card_for_J._&_P._Coats_spool_cotton,_late_19th_c Businesses distributed these cards as form of advertising, and often featured colorful illustrations, cartoons and sayings as a way to capture the attention of potential consumers. Businesses valued them as “a cheap and effective way to reach consumers,” who would often then keep the card, or distribute it to someone else.  

Baseball cards

Since 1886 As technology became more sophisticated, photographs became a feature of trade cards, and the advertising component became more subtle. Baseball players, whose sport was reaching popularity about the same time as photography, became a popular portrait subject. In 1886, the first baseball tobacco cards were printed and used as protective liners to packs of cigarettes. Tim_Jordan Later, baseball cards began to make their way into more kid-friendly products like candy and gum as a way to cater to young consumers. The Topps company, one of the most prolific sports cards producers, began as a tobacco distribution company, then became a chewing gum company that used jokes and card freebies in their products as a form of advertising. Eventually they turned to producing the cards full-time as the core of their business.  

Gum wrappers and Bazooka Joe

Since 1953 While the Topps company primarily sold gum, it created the Bazooka Joe comic strip, a long-running comic that began in 1953 and was printed on individual gum wrappers that were included in every package of Bazooka bubble gum. The wrappers would also include special offers or other extras. Bazooka_Joe The comic strip was discontinued in 2012 after Bazooka reported flagging sales. In its place, Bazooka decided to use brain teasers and activities on the inside of their new gum wrappers as part of a comprehensive rebrand. With its sixty-year run, the marketing campaign can hardly be called unsuccessful. Other businesses that implemented similar strategies in advertising include popsicle makers, who include jokes on the popsicle sticks; Cracker Jacks, which includes a variety of prizes in its packaging and cereal companies, which sometimes include children’s toys in the cereal boxes of those brands that are targeted towards kids.  

Happy Meal toys

Since 1979 Since McDonald’s first introduced the Happy Meal in 1979, the Happy Meal toy has been a key part of the company’s strategy of marketing to children. While encouraging kids to get their parents to take them to McDonald’s, most of the toys don’t feature the company’s characters or logos. Rather, they use brands and characters that are popular with kids at the moment, capitalizing off of the success of brands like Disney by providing a captive and powerful demographic. McDonalds happy meal teenie beanie MING! Who, after all, can forget the McDonald’s Teenie Beanies tie-in with TY’s Beanie Babies? The 1996-2000 campaign, which sparked fights and long lines in franchise locations, sold the miniature plush dolls for $2 each along with the purchase of a Happy Meal, though many sold on the aftermarket for much higher prices (full disclosure: the author was one of these people).  

Twitter

Since 2006 When Twitter debuted in 2006, commentators wondered how anything meaningful could possibly be said in only 140 characters. Eight years later, the most common tweet length is only 28 characters, falling well below the limit. The instantaneous nature of Twitter allows brands and users to create and distribute micro-content in record time, allowing them to react to events in real time. This famous tweet from Oreos during the blackout at the Super Bowl earned more than 22,000 interactions on Twitter; a result of quick thinking and good execution.


 

Instagram

Since 2010 First released in 2010, Instagram quickly became the domain of people’s vacation, baby, food and pet photos. Since then, the photo sharing site — now part of Facebook — has become one of the fastest growing online social networks. While social interactions take center stage on platforms like Facebook, Instagram is content-first, emphasizing the photo over conversations and comments. This makes it a perfect medium to showcase single images and short videos. However, unlike Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Instagram doesn’t allow the audience to continue the sharing chain – no “share” or “re-Instagram this” option is available yet.  

Visualizations – upping the social game

Small visualizations of data or illustrations of ideas can be used as micro-content by many industries. Online newspapers regularly use screenshots of their news apps and data stories to create a quick impression with followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. FiveThirtyEight, the data news site created by Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times, creates small, fun and digestible pieces of content to promote their work. To better suit this micro-content for the casual social media audience, FiveThirtyEight likes to hand-draw many of their social graphics.

  Financial institutions and businesses also share visualizations to explain key parts of their business or show key developments in their business. This graphic from Goldman Sachs shows the composition of capital markets in an interactive visual guide.

 

Conclusion

The increasingly diverse world of products and services that market themselves on the internet is forcing marketers to become smarter, faster and more inventive. With the ever-shifting social media landscape, content marketers and analytics experts will be challenged to come up with new ways to reach audiences quickly and measure the effectiveness of these efforts. However, by understanding the types of micro-content that have been used successfully in the past, it is easier to predict what may work in the future.   Want to learn about creating visual content that drives engagement? Download our white paper, Visuals That Stick, with actionable advice on impactful design from the Visually creative team.

[optinlocker]Thank you for your interest in our Visuals That Stick white paper! You can download it here.[/optinlocker]     Allison McCartney is an editor at the PBS NewsHour focused on education and informational graphics, and a freelance designer in the Visual.ly marketplace. She has a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied Middle Eastern history and art. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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