“Whoa. Check out the tailfins on this year’s Mongoose Civique!”

In 1955, Robert B. Young, of Ford Motor Company’s marketing research department, sent a letter to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Modernist poet Marianne Moore. “[W]e find ourselves,” Young wrote, “with a problem which, strangely enough, is more in the field of words than in car-making.…Our dilemma is a name for a rather important new series of cars.”

Given that Ms. Moore’s oeuvre is characterized by “linguistic precision, keen and probing descriptions, and acute observations of people, places, animals, and art,” what could possibly go wrong?

Moore agreed to help out, and, over the next several weeks, sent 43 suggestions to Young (or hundreds over the course of an entire year, depending on the source). My favorite? Honestly, it’s a toss-up between “The Intelligent Whale” and “Utopian Turtletop.” Not surprisingly, Ford went in a different direction, ultimately deciding on “Edsel.”

Let this be a lesson to you, folks: Naming things is hard.

Stop what you’re doing right now and buy tickets—stat!

Got any plans for Wednesday, November 29? Yes. Yes, you do: You’re going to go see the encore presentation of the November 18 HD simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s American premiere of Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating AngelI know, it’s a mouthful. I’m just that excited.

Anthony Tommasini says if you’re going to see one opera this year, this is it. (He’s wrong, of course. You should see it regardless of whether you were planning to go to an opera at all.)

Alex Ross calls it “a huge, hyper-complex creation” whose “vocal writing borders on the outlandish.”

I say—after having seen it with the missus over the weekend—that it’s an apocalyptic nightmare; a spectacular display both of Adès’s compositional skills and of no fewer than 15 (!) solo singing roles. It simply has to be experienced to be believed.

I mean, if nothing else, you’ll see Cynthia Miller perform on ondes martenot. And coloratura soprano Audrey Luna will hit a note so high it’s never been sung in the 137-year history of the Metropolitan Opera. Win-win.

No Ordinary John Smith

Last week, the Spokane graphic design community lost one of its pioneers. John Carroll Smith passed away November 6. He was 69 years old. John spent several years operating his own design firm—Smith Graphics—which is where I first met him while on tour with fellow design students from Spokane Falls Community College. Later, in 1984, he became a full-time design instructor at SFCC.

John, left, and SFCC design instructor Doug Crabtree, June 26, 2015

John’s easygoing manner and real-life design experiences where a perfect fit for his calling to mentor aspiring graphic designers. Whenever I gave presentations at SFCC, he was always engaged, and his quiet sense of humor and patience served him well during a 30-year teaching career. He retired in 2014.

Thanks for all that you have done for our profession, John. We’ll miss you.

Words of Wisdom

When people have their writing “corrected,” they usually discover that their long, complicated sentences receive the most correction and criticism. So they resort to—guess what?—writing short, simple sentences. This is called the “my puppy syndrome”: “My puppy is cute. He has a long tail. He wags it a lot. I love my puppy.” All of these are accurate sentences—but not ones at the adult level. Please don’t give up on long sentences. It’s just that as you increase your sentence length and complexity, you also need to increase your vigilance and the care you take to revise.

from One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook,
by Frank L. Cioffi (Princeton, 2015).


In Germany, police detain a man with a python in his pants. Meanwhile, 400 miles south in the Austrian Alps

By opting for two burgers rather than one with a side of fries, “you’re nearly doubling your protein intake while reducing the amount of fat and carbs you’re eating,” a trick that “could help steady your blood sugar levels.” So…eating two burgers in one sitting is…good for you? Yes. Yes, it is. #science

“The fact is,” write Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson, “contemporary architecture gives most regular humans the heebie-jeebies.”

Taking a gander at Chopin’s pickled heart: “With a feeling of mystery hanging in the air, they worked in total concentration, mostly whispering, as they removed the heart from its resting place and carried out the inspection—taking more than 1,000 photos and adding hot wax to the jar’s seal to prevent evaporation.”

This must be why I excel at Trivial Pursuit.

What Goes Around Comes Around

It’s kind of funny when you think about how project opportunities come about. Especially the connections made along the way. Just take a look at the current work for our Colorado clients, which actually began right here in Spokane:

• Gonzaga University contacts us to refresh their school’s logo and tagline.

• More GU projects follow.

• The university hires a new marketing and communications director, with whom we continue to work.

• The director departs for the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

• A year later, he calls us for some brand-related work for UNC.

• Later on, he volunteers to serve on the City of Greeley’s marketing committee.

• Greeley issues an RFP to create an image campaign for the city.

• Our UNC contact calls the RFP to our attention and asks us to participate.

• We decide to pursue the work, though we’ve never even heard of Greeley.

• Surprisingly, we’re chosen over four other firms.

• We begin a six-year working relationship with Greeley.

• The city’s image campaign is called Greeley Unexpected (“GU” for short, ironically).

• That work leads to a project for Greeley Water and Sewer…

• …which leads to work on yet another project, this time for Greeley-Evans School District 6.

• All of this means, of course, several trips to Greeley over the years.

• We learned it’s home to some of the nicest people on the planet.

• Not to mention the best-tasting tap water in North America.

• And the Chophouse, my favorite Greeley Restaurant.

• Here’s the crazy thing: It turns out the owner is a graduate of Whitworth University…

• …whose athletic logo we also happened to design. (Go Pirates!)

This Is a Real Thing

“What you take away from standing in front of the dark, musty expanse is what you bring to it.” And what, pray tell, is this dark, musty expanse? Just “an otherwise empty, white, second-floor thirty-six-hundred-square-foot loft filled with 140 tons of dirt.”

It’s Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room. It was meant to last three months. It turns forty this year.

Halloween Miscellany

“Anthropomorphic pumpkins, mirror divination, and space-traveling witches”: a collection of vintage Halloween cards.

In addition to my annual plea to read The Willows, allow me to recommend a Lovecraft novella: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Sarah Bond explains “how to be a bit more erudite in your candy selection this year by choosing candies that correspond with Roman historical figures.”

In case you were considering swinging by helveticka world headquarters with a gift of candy, know that Abba-Zaba is my weakness.

Finally, courtesy of Linda, the answer to the question we’ve all been asking…

A Top 10 List Worth Reading

If you’re looking to watch a scary movie on Halloween but are unsure where to start, there’s no shortage of advice on the Internet. The thing is, though, it’s mostly nonsense. My advice, on the other hand, is not only trustworthy but also correct. Which is why you should pay very close attention to Aaron’s Top 10 Scary Movies of All Time™.

Note that I didn’t say scariest movies of all time. That would be something entirely different. No, these are, for various and sundry reasons, the best movies that could—somewhat arguably, in some cases—be placed within the horror genre.

So here it is: the only list you need. (I’ve organized them by release date because, quite honestly, which is best depends on my mood at the time.)

The Wicker Man (1973)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Halloween (1978)
Alien (1979)
The Changeling (1980)
The Shining (1980)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

What did I miss? (Nothing, obviously. But feel free to add your own in the comments.)

Not Just for the Game Grid Anymore

This suffix, applied to nuclear physics, modern biology, and early AI—and even a certain carnival ride—was “a totem of high modernism, the intellectual and cultural mode that decreed no process or phenomenon was too complex to be grasped, managed and optimised…displaying to all our mastery over matter, life and information.”

That’s right, folks. It’s “A Tale of ‘Trons’: The Suffix that Tells the Story of Modern Science”—though I’m a little disappointed that there’s no mention of my favorite tron of all.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…

Entering the 17th and final race of the 1997 FIA Formula One World Championship, held October 26 at Jerez, Spain, Jacques Villeneuve, in only his second year in F1, was trailing Ferrari driver and two-time world champion Michael Schumacher by one point. Schumacher, of course, went on to become the greatest the sport has ever known, but this day—and the season—belonged to Villeneuve. Watch him as he recounts his dramatic, title-winning performance.

Quote of the Day

“A smart person who is given a five-hour job by their boss at four o’clock in the afternoon will get to work, expecting to finish at nine and get some brownie points. But people like me, who hate working, have better things—like dates—to do on their evenings, so they will rack their brains for ways of getting the work done early. And that’s when innovation happens.”

Haruaki Deguchi
chairman & CEO, Lifenet Insurance Company

All Hail Professor Toor

Everything about Rachel Toor’s column in Saturday’s Spokesman-Review is absolutely spot-on.

Well…almost everything.

Toward the end she writes, “As a professor, I’ve learned no longer to be shocked…”

Anything seem off about that? What if it were “As a professor, I’ve learned to no longer be shocked…”?

I’m not sure whether Toor chose the former construction so as to avoid splitting the infinitive—doubtful—or whether it just sounds better to her ear. Or heck, maybe it’s legit and I’m just not smart enough to know it. (FYI: You’ll never lose money betting on the Aaron-is-an-idiot side.)

Doesn’t really matter, though, because two sentences later she gives us “Writing well is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard.” Forget everything else in the column. If just one person I know reads that line and remembers it, Ms. Toor deserves to be canonized.

Word of the Day

simultaneity (noun) The simultaneous representation of several aspects of the same object.

Linda had heard of the concept of simultaneity before; she just didn’t dream she’d have the chance to witness it. Yet there he stood right in front of her: Aaron the witty raconteur, Aaron the devilishly handsome rogue, Aaron the selfless and caring idealist. It was almost too much to take in all at once.

Odds and Ends

Based on this interactive map from the good folks at, Utah is a terrible place to spend your childhood. (Though, to be honest, I’m not sure we should trust anyone whose ranking of Halloween candies is as fundamentally flawed as theirs.)

“Look, anybody can write a book,” says Jason Raish. “That’s not the same as saying it’s easy, only that writing is the one truly democratic medium because the use of a language as craft is available to all who speak it.” It’s also not the same as saying that anybody should write a book. Consider the unholy mess that is Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks…

If anyone out there reading this would like to compensate yours truly for the hard work I do, day in and day out, to provide you not only with what you need to know but also what to think about it, this would be a good place to start. Pretty sure it’s tax-deductible.

Run, Don’t Walk, to Your Nearest Theater

I saw Blade Runner in 1982 at the Liberty Theater in Lewiston, Idaho. (Apparently, there weren’t that many of us who bought tickets to the original, since it grossed only $27.5 million.) It mesmerized me then; it remains one of my favorite motion pictures of all time. So it was with some trepidation that the missus and I took out a small loan to pay for a pair of tickets to an IMAX showing of Blade Runner 2049 over the weekend. I mean, let’s be honest: Most sequels are terrible. And a sequel released 35 years after the original? Gotta be a cash grab playing on audience nostalgia.

I hate to admit it, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Visual feast, cautionary tale, morality play, character study, pop art, plot-driven action flick: Blade Runner 2049 is all that and more. I’ll need to see it again to confirm my suspicions, but I think it might actually be better than the original. For reals.

This is a great film. You need to see it. Right now.

Music Recommendation

Back in 2001 when I was writing music criticism for the Local Planet, my editor gave me a copy of Spiritualized’s Let It Come Down. He didn’t necessarily want me to review it; he just wanted to know what I thought. If I remember right, I ended up including the album in my year-end best-of list. (Trying to be clever, I wrote something about how it sounded like a cross between 1970s-era Pink Floyd and the Hezekiah Walker Love Fellowship Choir. It really doesn’t.)

I still have that CD—and a whole lot more from Spiritualized that I’ve picked up in the years since. And while I wholeheartedly recommend Let It Come Down, I’d rather you started with the band’s 1997 masterpiece: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Pitchfork does a nice job explaining why:

Bolder than the term Britpop might suggest, more focused than the term psychedelic might imply, Ladies and Gentlemen is one of the great triumphs of the 70-plus-minute CD era. Alternately chaotic and meticulous, thundering and quivering, Ladies and Gentlemen finds power in conflict—between restraint and excess, addiction and isolation, and ultimately, love and hate.

For some reason I dusted the album off yesterday (figuratively, of course, since it’s in my iTunes) and gave it a listen. Then I listened to it again. And then a third time after that. Maybe it was the timing, maybe it’s this crazy mixed-up world in which we live, maybe it was just the mood I was in. Who knows? Either way, damn. It really is that good.

“In 1973, I invented a ‘girly drink’…”

“The initial thought behind Baileys Irish Cream took about 30 seconds,” writes David Gluckman in the Irish Times. “In another 45 minutes the idea was formed.” His captivating tale has it all, from a crazy gamble on “a lovely May morning” to the initial label designs to the worthless focus groups (seriously, why does anyone do these?) to the billionth bottle sold in 2007.

There’s one part of the story, though, that hits a little too close to home for me:

“Names can be tough and often really easy to reject with a comment like ‘I just don’t like it’. Being words, not graphic designs, they are within everyone’s purview so anyone can reject them.”

Boy howdy, is that ever true.


“Fears are growing in Sweden over packs of radioactive wild boar moving north, ravaging forests and farmland.”

We should probably just go ahead and ban pumpkin spice.

The Very Short Introduction series from Oxford University Press is “something like a top-of-the-line Canon camera: it’s wonderful, but most people will still just use their phone.”

“People in their 20s and 30s…are ‘constantly striving for individualism’, which is reflected in what they spend their money on.” Naturally, then, we now have “hackable furniture.”

Here are the 70 best horror movies on Netflix right now, according to Paste. Since number 68 is Zombeavers—which is about “toxic waste-spawned zombie beavers”—I have no doubt whatsoever that the list is totally legit.

Getting to Know Your Helveticka Team

Sure, we could be like everyone else and talk about our education and credentials, and how we collaborate with our partners to leverage synergies across multiple channels while updating our stakeholder matrices, but then you wouldn’t really know us, would you?

With that in mind, I approached Shirlee, Courtney, and Skooch with the following scenario: You’re on death row, and tonight’s your date with the executioner. Prior to shuffling off this mortal coil, you get to choose (1) a beverage, (2) one menu item, (3) someone to punch in the face, and (4) a song to listen to as the walls close in and you slip into unconsciousness. Here are the results:

Shirlee would begin the festivities with a shot of Patron and a plate of candied bacon, punch whoever ratted her out to the cops, and meet her maker to the tune of “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Courtney would demand a Piña Colada from Grandview Resort on Priest Lake, a bowl of macaroni and cheese, five minutes alone with Colbie Caillat, and the sweet sweet sounds of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”

Meanwhile, Skooch would start with an ice-cold Rainier and some hot wings. He’d then deliver a well-placed knuckle sandwich to his math teacher from his sophomore year in high school. And Aerosmith would usher him into the hereafter with “Livin’ on the Edge.”

As for me, well…I’m the law-abiding type, so I wouldn’t be in prison in the first place.

“The Unexpected Intersection between Craft and Forensic Science”

Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) was the first female police captain in the U.S. She’s considered the mother of forensic science. She helped to found the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University.

As if that weren’t enough, Lee also crafted a series of 19 “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”: dollhouse-sized dioramas of “exquisitely detailed miniature crime scenes” that are still used in forensic training.

These things are badass. And they’re about to go on their first public display.

5 Proven Ways to Procrastinate for the Next 30 Minutes

Because it’s Thursday—which means we’re mere hours from Friday—and because the boss is out of town, we’ve decided that a list of lists will have to do for today’s blog post. Enjoy…

7 Classic TV Shows and When They Jumped the Shark

13 Devilish Facts about Rosemary’s Baby

The 19 Types of Food Snobs, Ranked by Obnoxiousness

24 Awful Fashions that Hollywood Tried to Pass Off as Cool

25 Odd and Rare Muscle Cars You Don’t See Every Day

Quote of the Day

The function of music, says Wadada Leo Smith, is “to transform that [observer’s] life in just an instant, so that when they go back to the routine part of living, they carry with them a little but of something else.”


Cooking with Nikolai Gogol: “Delicious beyond description!…Pies you couldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams: they melt in your mouth! And the butter—it just runs down your lips when you bite into them.”

In case you were wondering.

“I wish I could say that Banned Books Week, which blessedly ends tomorrow, is so stupid that it makes my brain hurt,” writes Matthew Walther. “It’s actually so stupid that it makes me wish I didn’t have a brain.”

OM effin’ G!

Is there a comedy line Mel Brooks won’t cross? “I personally would never touch gas chambers or the death of children or Jews at the hands of the Nazis,” he said in a recent interview. “Everything else is ok.”

The Dr. Seuss You Don’t Want Your Kids to See

So much has been written about the wisdom of Theodor Geisel’s words, crafted for the delight of kids but, at times, disquieting to adults. While the same is true for many children’s book authors who use stories to push against social norms, today, I’m honoring Dr. Seuss in light of his “Midnight Paintings”—another side of his artistic expression.

Oh, the power of Seuss. To this day, I’m still frightened of the pale green pants in “What Was I Scared Of?”—one of four stories from The Sneetches and Other Stories.

“I do not fear those pants with nobody inside them.” I said, and said, and said those words. I said them, but I lied them.

And, in the end:

I was just as strange to them as they were strange to me.

Are Geisel’s words relevant today? I think so.

And for a glimpse into even more unexpected Theodor Geisel work, you’ll want to explore Boners by Those Who Pulled Them. Oh, Teddy, I suspect that I shall never see / A wonder, a marvel / As gigglicious as thee.

Awesomeness: A Philosophical Inquiry

“A good person is great; but an awesome person—they’re on another level. I’m all for tasty sandwiches; but I’d rather have an awesome one. In a Socratic spirit I started wondering what was going on with ‘awesome’ and whether there was anything to gain from a philosophical inquiry into its contemporary significance.”

Thus spake Nick Riggle, the high school dropout and former professional inline skater who happens to hold a PhD in philosophy from NYU, in a recent interview with Scientific American. Riggle’s book, On Being Awesome: A Unified Theory of How Not to Suck, was published last week.

I for one think he’s dead wrong, since he seems to simply be equating awesomeness with extroversion, dooming introverts like me to a lifetime of suckiness. (Which, come to think of it, explains quite a bit.) But then, it’s hard to tell from a short interview. Maybe I should read the book. I mean, that would be the awesome thing to do, right?

Today in History

Lord Byron to Lady Melbourne, September 25, 1812:

As to Annabella [Milbanke, his future wife] she requires time and all the cardinal virtues, and in the interim I am a little verging towards one who demands neither, and saves me besides the trouble of marrying by being married already…I only wish she did not swallow so much supper, chicken wings—sweetbreads—custards—peaches and port wine—a woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster salad and champagne, the only truly feminine and becoming viands.

From The Folio Book of Days (The Folio Society, 2002).

Quote of the Day

“Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express.”

That’s Marilynne Robinson in today’s New York Times. The rest of her brief essay is worth reading—as is pretty much everything she writes.

The Death of Criticism?

The other day I said some disparaging things about The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird—something about them being overrated, if I remember correctly. The baby boomer in the room responded with something to the effect that, when I get something published, I can weigh in on the literary merits of the two books in question.

A couple of observations.

First, I should have known better. Boomers—like any generation, really—are protective of their cultural totems. I also happen to think that the Beatles are overrated. And that Jimi Hendrix is not, in fact, the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Both statements are easily defensible, yet anathema to just about anyone who grew up in the 1960s.

Second, is it really necessary to publish a novel to be critical of another? If so, then it surely must be true that that experience is also necessary if one is to praise a novel. And if that’s the case, then don’t bother arguing with me about the merits of Jimi Hendrix unless you’ve released an album. You can see how this approach quickly falls apart.

I don’t bring up any of this to disparage the boomer. He’s one of the sharpest people I know, not to mention a witty raconteur. Rather, it’s to point out that we seem to have lost our ability—or, at the very least, our willingness—to criticize.

Is this unwillingness due to a lack of knowledge? Maybe. Is it because we’re afraid we might cause offense? Probably. Is it because it’s just easier to use sales figures as the primary barometer of artistic merit? Almost certainly. (On this, however, I think Schoenberg got it right when he said, “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”)

These are things worth fighting for. Or fighting over, at the very least. Otherwise, what’s the point? When we challenge each other to defend deeply held positions, we grow stronger and more confident in our own convictions—not to mention a whole lot smarter. And the art itself? It keeps getting better.

Goodbye, Mr. Rogers

This past weekend I read about the passing of Jack C. Rogers. He was a design instructor when I attended Spokane Falls Community College. In fact, he helped start the SFCC design department in 1963 and taught there for 26 years.

A soft-spoken, kind, and gentle person, Mr. Rogers touched the lives of many graphic designers working in Spokane today. I remember him quietly teaching the basic methods of ad layouts, composition, and typography. He also taught illustration courses and was a very good watercolorist in his own right.

I never saw or spoke to Mr. Rogers after graduating 36 years ago. But I’ve never forgotten him. He was a World War II vet and an avid runner, and he loved peanut butter sandwiches. He had a heart for teaching. And, up until recently, he continued as a volunteer teaching aspiring artists.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers. You’ll be missed.

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