It may be pink, but it’s an effective ad

It may be pink, but it’s an effective ad

While standing on the subway platform last week, my eye was drawn to an ad that screamed out “Look at me!”.

Ad seen on the subway platform for Links of London - "Oh Darjeeling!"

The design is simple, simple, simple! And you can’t ignore it. The pink, while terribly over done regarding targeting women, is successful in this setting.  Against the dull subway grime and grey, it’s eye popping.  The fun play on images/words – “Oh Darjeeling” and the cup of tea – plus clean graphics and colour creates a sleek and sophisticated feel.

Whoever came up with “Oh Darjeeling” had a true stroke of marketing genius.

Blog title generator test – um no, just no

Blog title generator test – um no, just no

I was poking a big stack of articles I’ve been meaning to read and something interesting fell out.  I’d bookmarked an article on writing a better blog title to attract readers.  One of the hardest parts of writing is finding an attention grabbing title, which, often takes longer to create than an entire post.

Most of the links led to sites that do nothing more generate generic content ideas to blog about.  I rarely have an issue finding things to burble on about. On the contrary, I don’t have enough time to keep up with my ever growing list of topics.  One of the links did lead to something I thought might have potential, SEOPressor. The site hosts a blog title generator that allows the user to plug in a topic and it’ll spit out appropriate blog titles.

I gave it a spin and figured out pretty quickly this is where all those generic blog titles come from.  I assumed people were cribbing the same basic titles “7 useful ways to [insert idea]”, “15 common tasks [insert idea] or “5 simple (but important) things to remember about [insert idea]”. After running  through about a dozen topics,  it was obvious, they were all pretty much uniform, cookie cutter titles. It didn’t matter what idea was inserted, the same bland headlines were offered.

The software doesn’t really know what the content is about. It can only offer up the same basic catch phrases that are the current SEO flavour of the week. Plunk in any content, no matter how outrageous, and the generator rotates through the same basic titles.

Let’s have some fun writing a blog title 

I decided to test the generator to prove my point. I began plugging in increasingly ridiculous topics to see the results. This, by far, was the best:

An example of silly blog title generated by the Blog Generator

I think I see a small problem. A title like “10 easy ways to facilitate Kill Everyone and Hide the Corpses” might draw a bit of attention from the wrong places. Mind you, if you’re stupid enough to write about that, well, I think you should have a lawyer on speed dial.

I gave the generator a spin using pogo stick. Again, up popped titles that don’t really tell the audience anything about the content. It’s pretty much SEO pop word bingo:

Another example of silly blog title generated by the Blog Generator using the word pogo sticks

Mind you, I’d love to read an article on how pogo sticks are going to change my business strategy. But I don’t think I’m ready to know the entire truth about pogo sticks, at least, not this week.  I tapped “generate more titles” and the results were much the same. “Learn all about pogo stick from this politician”, “The death of pogo stick”, etc.  The titles were hitting the buzz words and sometimes created grossly misleading titles.

This underscores my point – writing blog titles is tedious, difficult and not something that can be automated, unless the author is going for a generic feel to their site.  Looks like I’ll have to struggle with the task on my own. 

 

Delivers us from idlers – more signage errors

Delivers us from idlers – more signage errors

Remember the last article about the sign in need of proofing? This sign stirs up a few questions as well:

Sign found on construction sign: No idling Turn off engine Delivers will be denied

Each time I walk by it, I begin to itch. I get this overwhelming urge whip out a black marker and add the missing IE. It’s such a tiny omision but it drives me nuts. I also want to stand in front of the sign and shout out in my best Ian McKellen voice “IDLERS SHALL NOT PASS”, but somehow I don’t think anyone would get the joke.

For want of a good proofreader – layout tunnel vision

For want of a good proofreader – layout tunnel vision

We’ve all seen posters/signs that make us shake our head and mutter “whoa, what were they thinking”.  It’s usually an amusing typo or a grammatical error that raises our eyebrows. Occasionally it’s the layout that causes us to stop in our tracks and ask “wait, what?” We all lay clangers and, sometimes, we don’t spot them for months. It’s not easy catching your own mistakes, which is why a ruthless proofreader is worth their weight in dark chocolate.

A sign making the rounds on the Internet lately that had me blinking a few times in a bit of disbelief.

A badly designed poster example that appears to advocate abuse, rather than prevention

Proofing isn’t just about catching typos and grammatical errors. It’s also layout and how the product flows. And oh boy, a fresh set of eyes would have caught this before $ were spent.

I’ve made a couple things that looked ok on the monitor but when printed, it became obvious the layout altered the message. I find it endlessly fascinating the difference between design for a monitor or small screen and print. What works for an iPhone may not translate well to a large poster and vice versa. The above sign drives home how tricky even a basic sign can be. Our eyes follow natural paths that can have unintentional consequenses. A bad case of designer tunnel vision can blur the message. Everyone involved in the poster design knew what the message was, but didn’t stop to see it through new eyes. Lots of words to incorporate, really want to stress the primary message and not seeing how the words flow.  “We Support” is great – nice use of a friendly font that draws the eye to it. Then the mistake occurs. The focus is on child abuse not prevention. Such an easy mistake to make. Shrinking “child abuse” would have solved the problem. Increase size of “prevention” so it fills the sign, bumping month below to match the other 5 letter words would have created an interesting flow that would have emphasised prevention, which is kind of the point.

I have a folder with signs and posters that should have worked but didn’t for a variety of reasons. I keep them as a teaching tool for myself. I filter through them trying to figure out how a small change would have made a difference. I also have a folder holding what I think are spectacular examples of beautiful layout. I spend quite a bit of time looking at them, trying to figure out what makes them so successful. I have a thing for professional designers. Their work can have a profound impact on how we see the world around us – signs on buildings, posters, movies titles, magazines and books but we’re oblivious to the person(s) who created the work. Most of us flatter ourselves we can whip up a poster in no time because hey we have the software and a computer. But good design is so much more than knowing how to use the software. It’s an eye and feel for the work. It’s knowing how to communicate with an audience. Good design also means good proofreading. You can’t have the first without the second.

 

 

Ok TTC we need to talk – this is not a shelter

Ok TTC we need to talk – this is not a shelter

TTC, we need to chat. A long serious one about your complete lack of common sense. I’m not sure if the decision makers at head office have never traveled by bus or streetcar or they are utterly clueless about the purpose of bus shelters. Then again, you just may be punking us.

See, here’s the thing, this is not a bus shelter: Photo of TTC shelter showing complete lack of protection

Tell me, in what reality that would be considered shelter of any kind. The ads have better protection than customers. Or … is that the point – protect the ads at all costs.  Let’s go through the 2 major elements of bad design.

1 – slope + height of the roof. Who are you trying to kid here? This isn’t going to prevent customers from a good soaking when it rains.  The roof is too high and too sharply slanted. Pretty design; useless functionality.

2 – walls. Oh, yea, what walls? There’s 2 – count them. The big ad covered billboard along the back and an anemic wall on one end. Guess there’s never wind and rain coming from the other angles. Have you tried standing at one of these shelters? Please have the person who thought this was a good design contact me. I’d like to know how a wall-less shelter works.

I’m not a designer, but I know crap when I see it. I’ve waited at these stops during a cold, wet day. Trust me when I tell you they offer no protection. Toronto used to have some decent bus shelters in this city, but I’ve noticed they are slowly being replaced with this silliness. I realise the old shelters were a bit ugly and weren’t good spots to plaster paid ads, but they offered the chance to get out of the bitter wind, rain, snow and even intense sun. The streetcar stops are comically worse if you can imagine that.

Hire a good industrial designer.  They will ask you one vital question – What is its purpose? I’m quite sure they’ll tell you designing a shelter that sacrifices protection so ads have maximum visibility to car drivers is not a good idea. You need to make up your mind – are the structures for car drivers and advertisers or are they for TTC customers. I’m quite sure a good designer could design a decent shelter that allows ads and comfort to the cold, wet and weary.

Oh and one last comment, what did you do with the bench? On hot days, the bench seat allowed seniors a bit of respite. Nice move ripping them out. Guess everyone in Toronto is fit and healthy. No seats for you! Stay home if you can’t stand waiting for yet another delayed bus.  See, this is another area a good industrial designer could help you. They would who your customer base is and possibly suggest keeping the bench.

Here’s the deal. Stop calling them shelters. Admit you don’t care about customers and call them what they are – advertising posts geared towards drivers. If you don’t want to do that,  for the sake of TTC customers go hire a competent industrial design firm.

A 16 hr watch –  Did I miss the time change memo?

A 16 hr watch – Did I miss the time change memo?

I spend far too much of my time cruising the internet looking for silly things. And I’m rarely disappointed. If it isn’t people crying out “this egg cracker saved me so much time! I can now play with my children instead of breaking open eggs” (seriously, how many eggs does the average house need to crack in a week) its stuff like this: An example of bad design - a watch showing 16 hours

This falls under the utter design fail category. Count the feathers. I’ll wait, count them. Let’s see 1 2 3 4 …. 14 15 16. Yes, 16 hour stops on the watch. Unless I slept through a worldwide conspiracy to change the number of hours in a day, the watch designer created a big oops. It’s pretty much unuseable. “Hey Mary, what time is it?” “Give me a minute, it’s hmm 14 o’clock”  “Ok thanks … wait … what?”  If the intent was to mark 15 min intervals, then again, big design fail. There is no distinction in feather sizes and there would have to be more feathers so it’s still a big old mess of “what time is it now”.

I have a passion for watch dials and have a small collection of vintage pocket watches. When done well, the faces are minature works of art. Exquisite and eye catching. But even the cheapest dollar pocket watches managed to get the hours correct. This? This is a thrown together piece to capitalize on the unwary. I mean, who in hell counts how many hours are on a watch?  Good luck getting to any appointment on time with this.