The handwriting on the wall…

Brush script calligraphy on book covers is having quite a surge of popularity these days. I’m not sure where the trend started, but I now imagine book cover designers being held captive until they agree to pick up the brush tool and swirl out letterforms. The irony is that all those handwritten covers are trying to project attributes like “unique,” “quirky,” and  “personal.”

Although design conformity can feel delightfully comfortable, you give up the opportunity to carve out your own distinctive brand position. Looking like our competitors will also be a major stumbling block if we hope to attract new prospects.

Grace’s world


Grace Weitman is a retired entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, friend, and most recently a photographer whose photos reflect her inquisitive, upbeat nature.

Grace’s interest in photography coincided quite inadvertently with her increasing loss of vision. She has 40-45% vision in one eye only. I asked her if the title of her blog, “Sight Unseen,” was a reference to her own difficulties with sight. Her answer took me by surprise. “I thought it would make a great title for a mystery novel but come to think of it, it also refers to the way I shoot my pictures. I can’t see very well through the viewfinder, so I just point the camera at a scene I think will look interesting and shoot.” Her technique has remarkable results. She has captured spontaneous moments between her daughter and grandson, the incongruity in a Palermo storefront, a warm connection inside a high-tech store, and much more. What inspires her? “I like to take pictures of things that are quirky, or beautiful, or different,” she says. “I carry my camera with me wherever I go.” I for one look forward to seeing more of Grace’s delightful world.

Good infographics can save lives

I recently finished reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, a gripping account of a deadly cholera outbreak that struck London in the summer of 1854. Scientists of the time were convinced that cholera was an air-born disease brought on by the appalling sanitary conditions of Victorian-era London. Yes, London was a squalid place and inadequate waste and garbage removal was responsible for the potent smell that permeated the city. However, the root of the problem was not in the air but in the water. The water-born theory was first proposed by Dr. John Snow, based on his observations of the number of victims who were clustered near a particular fresh water pump. Snow was convinced that the pump was infected with the cholera bacteria and that drinking water from the pump was responsible for so many deaths. To help visualize the theory, he drew a black line on a map to indicate where each victim resided at the time of death. The map also pointed out the location of all water pumps in the area. Clearly there was a correlation between the pump and the number of deaths near it. Superstitions die hard, but eventually the map helped sway opinion away from the air-born theory.

It’s thrilling to see how innovative thinking and good information graphics played a heroic role in solving a frightening medical mystery. Yes, good infographics can save lives.

It’s not about the cards you are dealt…

The Netflix show House of Cards has received high praise for being the first successful online-only drama series. Now, they’re turning heads again. The show made Emmy history for being the first online program to be nominated for Best Drama Series, a prestigious Emmy Award category.

Television networks battle to attract the most viewers. For decades, that race was limited to four major studios—ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. The arrival of Netflix’s “House of Cards” is upsetting the status quo in spite of its comparatively limited production budgets. Netflix understands that it’s not the size of the budget but the quality of the creative concept that attracts viewers. The best way to deliver your message is simply to develop great ideas.

This fact applies not only to television. Businesses, organizations, and institutions should also take note. Instead of wasting precious dollars developing the glossiest brochure, the loudest commercial, or the flashiest website, pay more attention to finding creative solutions. You may think your luck could be better, but as Netflix shows, it’s all in how you play your hand.
David Thompson, GCF intern

the scary truth about monsters university

The creators of the movie, Monsters University, have done their homework. To help promote the film, they built a Monsters University website with links to admission, academics, campus life, and faculty and student profiles. The site delivers familiar college marketing language with an amusing twist. Phrases such as “a history of excellence in shrieking,” “developing the whole monster,” and “a relentless pursuit of monster potential” abound. Here’s the introduction to the academic program:

As a renowned institution of multidisciplinary scholarship, Monsters University holds its faculty, staff, and students to high standard and ongoing commitment to discovery and learning. Students of every shape, size, color, and texture arrive from every corner of the world to take their places among the best and brightest students in the world. Whether your talent is causing screams or designing the canisters that capture them, MU is a place to find your truest calling and reach your highest potential.

How much does your college marketing resemble MU’s? I’m sure we will all see a similarity or two. The beauty of satire is that it makes us laugh at ourselves while pointing out the things we need to change to improve.

Stream of Thought

This art installation at Dulles International Airport displays messages related to peace from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism. LED lights within the seven-foot-tall block form the words in a ticker-tape-like stream. It’s a thought-provoking island of tranquility within one of the nation’s busiest international airports.

A Child’s Perspective

The Mexican studio Y&R was tasked with developing a series of public service announcements about child abuse for the Spanish organization ANAR. The problem they faced: how do you reach out to abused children without alerting the adult abuser as well? Their solution seamlessly integrates two messages into one poster, each tailored to the intended viewer.

Lenticular printing is not a new technology; it’s been used in an array of products to simulate motion, depth, or animation. What is striking about this campaign piece is the conceptual use of the technology. From the adult’s perspective the child in the ad appears unharmed, juxtaposted with a simple message, “A veces el maltrato infantile solo es visible para el niño que lo sufre” (At times child abuse is only visible to the child receiving the abuse.) This double entendre reinforces one concept and serves as a subtle warning for aggressors. From the child’s point of view an altered photo and message are revealed; the same child is depicted showing signs of abuse with the message “Si alguien te hace daño llámanos y te ayudanermos” (If someone is hurting you call us and we’ll help). Watch the following video for an explanation of how this is done.

Seeing Beneath the Surface

Photographer Charlie Crane’s book, Welcome to Pyongyang, contains a series of stunning large format photos of one of the world’s most secretive countries. Visitors to North Korea are accompanied at all times by state-assigned guides who escort you on carefully planned tours. How can you create under such tight restrictions? Crane’s solution is straightforward: “If there is no possibility of getting underneath the surface then the answer is to photograph the surface itself.” Even though the state has carefully controlled what outsiders can see, these remarkable images speak for themselves about life in the Hermit Kingdom.

A Ground-breaking Moment

Late in 2012, the New York Times published a multi-media story called Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. If you have not yet seen/read the story, we are happy to introduce it to you here. Snow Fall is a ground-breaking moment in multimedia journalism, one of the first articles to illustrate the dynamic possibilities that occur when new media are thoughtfully integrated with the written word. As you scroll through the story, stunning animated graphics, slideshows, and video interviews add clarity to the unfolding drama. My favorite graphic is the vertigo-inducing flyover of the Cascade Mountains with ranges and ridges graphically delineated. What is particularly exciting is that the visuals enhance the story rather than overwhelm it. In fact, the story runs for a whopping 10,000 words, which is well over the copy count of most magazine articles.

I predict that Snow Fall will mark a change in the way we do multimedia storytelling. The possibilities are as vast as the northwestern mountains.

Creative block

Who among us has not stared with despair at a blank page or screen as the Very Important Deadline approaches? That dreaded feeling is the price you’ll pay for working in the world of ideas. This telegram sent by Dorothy Parker—famed writer, critic and satirist—to her editor displays her characteristic wit as she describes her bout with writer’s block.

After we’re comforted to know that we are not alone, what can we do to get the creative juices flowing again? What works for me is taking a breather and getting away from the problem for awhile. In fact, I’ve noticed that my best ideas come early in the morning after a night’s rest. The solution will hit me and I can’t wait to get to the office to explore the solution. What works for you?