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Thinking Visually

September 17, 2008 Leave a comment

via brandspankingnew

Would you study the same thing in college if you could go back and do it over again?  I was an Art History major back in the dark ages and while my plans to be a professor were derailed long ago, I find myself using my liberal arts skills plenty in my PR work.  Critical thinking, presentation skills, oral and written communication…all that good stuff.  Plus I got to look at paintings all day for 4 years (6 if you count the M.A. study).  So all good, no regrets.

That said, can’t help but be jealous of today’s college students when I read things like this post by Sara Quinn of the Poynter Institute, recapping a Q&A with Karl Gude who teaches information graphics to visual journalism students at Michigan State.  I’ve always been fascinated by how ideas and data can be presented visually, and try to do a good job of this when presenting to our clients.  Our medium for better or worse is still Powerpoint (I know, I know.  My cool Mac friends tout Keynote and there’s groovy open-source stuff out there too, but we like to rock our presentations old-school here at DeVries.)

Powerpoint has become the punchline of bad corporate presentation jokes because it’s been abused so terribly.  We’ve all been subjected to (or the perpetrators of) endless decks with nothing but tiny-type bullet points and no visual relief save the occasional clip art stick figure, or overly-designed presentations with a hot mess of competing typefaces and visuals on each slide…let’s face it, garbage in, garbage out.

So how do we make it better?  I’m working on an internal training module for our senior staff that has promised to shed some light on this question.  I’ve got a few weeks but am looking for inspiration wherever I can find it.  Like this quote from Karl Gude:

“I see information graphics as a convergence –- a combination of four things. One of them is content…strong information. Another one is art and design. You have to be pretty good at that stuff. Another is technology. And finally, critical thinking. That’s what journalism is all about.” 

Sounds like the components of a great client presentation to me.  Who knew I had this much to learn from visual journalism?  For all you like-minded geeks out there, Visual Voice and Information Aesthetics are both brilliant sources for all things infographic.

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Back to the Grind

September 9, 2008 Leave a comment

Am back from vacation and have two things to share:

#1  I am failing miserably at my Cookie-ing Through project.  It was doomed from the start.  I tried to begin by tackling the recipe for the all-fruit cupcakes — to be clear, that’s a cupcake composed entirely of fruit, not a traditional cupcake that just happens to have strawberry or banana frosting. This is a healthier (and psychotically labor-intensive) option for moms who want to bring healthy treats to school for classroom birthday celebrations.

After multiple attempts to get a slippery slab of canteloupe to resemble the “cupcake” in the picture, I bailed.  Even if I had succeeded in assembling 25 of these things, I couldn’t imagine getting them to school in one piece let alone storing them properly (don’t know about you but my kid’s kindergarten isn’t quite set up to accommodate large amounts of perishables requiring refrigeration till the end of the day which is when the birthdays get celebrated.) More horrifying a prospect was the thought of 25 little faces darkened by disdain and/or bafflement upon being presented with a plate of contorted fruit in lieu of the traditional birthday cupcake or Dunkin Donut.  This fruit-wrangling failure shook me considerably — we’ll see if I can climb back up on the Cookie horse.  Meanwhile, Robyn Okrant, the blogger who’s Oprah-ing through, gets a huge write-up in the August 15th NY Sunday Times.  Clearly I picked the wrong magazine.  No complicated parenting nonsense with “Living Oprah”, just cool self-actualization stuff like finding your own true north, being more financially empowered, taking your Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress from day to night,  remembering to breathe and so on.  Robyn, I salute you!

#2  On a more positive and less self-flagellating note:  I am endlessly inspired by thecoolhunter.net.  Opening their email updates is as yummy and exciting as unwrapping a chocolate Easter egg — a really cool, well-designed, aspirational Easter egg.  For all of you PR/promotional types out there who have ever tried to sell in a mobile marketing tour utilizing a tractor trailer or a caravan of any kind, imagine putting this kind of vehicle in the spotlight of your program:

The “Mehrzeller Prototype” as seen on thecoolhunter

It’s a camper prototype from two architecture students that’s being shown at caravan expos in Germany and Austria this fall.  It’s supposed to be fully functional by ’09, has the backing of automotive heavyweights like BMW and promises to be fully customizable.  Imagine the promotional and experiential marketing possibilities…is it possible that mobile tours could actually be chic?

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