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When Punctuation is a Crime

I don’t know which offends more: the graffiti or the poor writing mechanics.

punctuation crimes

It’s painted over now, but for weeks, this graffiti along I-90 practically begged the question:

What’s with the quotation marks?

We can safely assume that the “author” didn’t consult the Associate Press Stylebook, which lists the following reasons to use quotation marks:

• direct quotations
• dialogue or conversation
• composition titles
• irony or sarcasm
• unfamiliar terms

None applies here. But I suppose that, as long as you’re vandalizing public property, you might as well vandalize the basic mechanics of writing as well.

Why do I bring this up? Do I think vandals give a spray can’s nozzle about punctuation?

No.

The problem is that they aren’t the only ones committing the crime. Businesses do it too, especially with advertising slogans and taglines, like this one:

helveticka
“Design that’s great since ‘88!”

This is a hypothetical example. Obviously. We don’t have a company tagline, and if we did, this wouldn’t be it. (Although, technically, it is true.)

It’s the type of tagline you’ll see plastered everywhere, from billboards to company vehicles. And it makes the business look amateurish. We’re all savvy enough to recognize that the short phrase following a company’s name is its tagline – sans quotation marks. Which makes them every bit as tired and useless as another punctuation offense.

The excessive use of exclamation points!!!

But that’s a post for another day.

Timeless Design

While working on one of our most meaningful projects, I had the opportunity to meet several talented individuals. At the time, we were producing a biannual promotional piece for a local printer – titled PROOF! – and the fourth issue featured the work of several Spokane modern architects, particularly Swiss immigrant Moritz Kundig.

As we developed the story of Moritz, along with other notable architects, we learned not only about his life and accomplishments, but also how a group of young architects in the late 1940s through the early 1970s helped shape the architectural landscape in ways that would persist for decades to come. The story was so compelling that we asked, and received approval from, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture to create the exhibition “Spokane Modern Architecture, 1948-73.”

Our copywriter at the time, Aaron Bragg, and I met with Moritz on several occasions. We continued to keep in touch over the years. Always kind, supportive, and understated, Moritz spoke with a dose of humor followed by a quick laugh.

He once told us, “I like to think that my buildings have character and integrity and are somewhat timeless.” That aptly described both the man and his work.

On February 10, Moritz Kundig, FAIA, passed away at 98 years old.

His architectural legacy, however, will live on.

Moritz Kundig

Moritz Kundig stands at the entrance of the Holmlund residence, one of his designs from 1963. The entry doors feature the work of the late artist Harold Balazs, a longtime friend and colleague of Kundig’s.

One of the Best

The year was 1982. It was the first (and only) time I worked for an advertising agency. And it taught me the value of designing with purpose.

Just a year out of college, I was hired by Doug Hurd and his business partner, Chuck Anderson (no relation). I worked for their agency, Anderson Hurd & Associates, for a little over five years. This experience gave me an opportunity to work on a variety of projects in different industries, present concepts to clients, and lead a small design team. During most of my tenure, our team included my future wife, Linda.

Doug was a creative force – both a smart strategist and a talented copywriter. He was generous and easygoing, always supportive, and kind-hearted. I recall his quick wit and wonderful sense of humor.

Outside the office, he had several personal interests. Most focused on athletic endeavors, but one that didn’t was flying. We would take off from Felts Field in a two-seat Cessna 152 and fly to Lewiston, Idaho to visit one of our clients. We’d have a client meeting, enjoy a late lunch, then fly back to Spokane. It was thrilling.

He, his wife Jeannie, and their daughter Allyson, enjoyed spending time at their cabin on the Pend Oreille River. They graciously hosted Linda and me on several occasions.

On October 5, Doug passed away. He lived life to the fullest, and I’ll never forget the trust he placed in me as a young designer.

 

Ad Clinic Team
Here, the gang at Anderson Hurd & Associates showcased the 1986 Spokane American Advertising Award’s call for entries – a parody on a WHEATIES cereal box. Doug is seen at the bottom of the photo. From left and clockwise, the rest of the team included Linda Anderson, CK, Bill Blanck, Sam Wolferman, and Julie Cook (center).

How to (Mine) Craft a Meaningful Experience

Do not touch mobs! Some of them might explode.

Whoa. Exploding objects are not what you’d expect in a museum. But that exact warning is posted throughout the newest exhibit of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC).

Clearly, at Minecraft: The Exhibition, visitors are playing in survival mode.*

When I took my kids to the exhibit two weeks ago, we encountered several hostile mobs, including a skeleton, an ender, a zombie, and a creeper who does, in fact, explode. (For the record, we did not touch any of them.)

It’s truly impressive – and I’m not just talking about the mobs that detonate. The 6,000-square-foot exhibit fills more than half the museum’s space, immersing visitors in a Minecraft world complete with life-size creatures, a working crafting table, day-to-night lighting, and authentic sound effects. The exhibit, which was developed by the Museum of Pop Culture in partnership with MoJang Studios, is likely the most complex exhibit the MAC has ever hosted, according to the museum’s director.

It’s also a far cry from the museum experiences I had as a kid. All I can remember are dusty artifacts behind plexiglass with dry-as-a-bone descriptions. And absolutely everything was hands-off.

Oh, how times have changed.

Today, museums like the MAC have shifted the focus from the artifacts themselves to the audience’s experience. An exhibit’s purpose, then, is not just to communicate information about a subject or collection, but to connect with the audience in a meaningful and visually appealing way.

It’s the same purpose behind the experiential design we do at helveticka.

If you haven’t had a chance to see the Minecraft exhibit yet, you’ve still got time. It runs through December 31. And according to my middle schooler, who is never melodramatic, it’ll be 1,000 percent worth your time.

As long as you don’t touch the mobs.

Minecraft Exhibit

*Note: In case you aren’t one of the 140 million people who play Minecraft every month, the popular video game offers multiple modes, including creative and survival, and a “mob” is a mobile entity, or a living being in the game.

Stop! Don’t Touch that Garden

Before you rush to clear the remnants of your late summer and early fall harvest, please keep this in mind:

Our furry, fuzzy, feathered, and winged friends deserve the garden bounty too.

That’s what I think when I see the squirrels in my spent garden, performing acrobatic stunts just to reach the sunflower heads. The stalks can’t support the full weight of a squirrel, so my furry friends will hold onto the fence with one paw while grabbing the stalk with another and ripping the head off the sunflower. It’s pure skill.

I couldn’t quite capture one in the act, but it’s sure entertaining to watch.

Based on the number of times I’ve seen this little guy, I expect a trail of new sunflowers will sprout next year.

The trash pandas and our resident nocturnal “fart squirrel” make their way through the ripened gourds and wayward carrots in the wee morning hours, joined by dozens of frolicking birds once the sun comes up, that are typically too quick to photograph.

As the leaves and stems start to pile up on the ground, I remember too that the butterflies and moths in their various stages – and all the other pollinator species – need the cover of the leaves to hibernate through the long winter. Meanwhile, the leaves will slowly break down, feed the soil, and maybe even suppress a few weeds come spring.

It’s a win-win in my book.

Cue the Goats

There’s a lot of drama in my neighborhood.

Animal drama, that is.

It beats any reality show on TV. In my yard alone, we’ve seen wild turkeys wander down the driveway, bucks spar by the trampoline, quail nest in the shrubs, and hawks nab rabbits right off the lawn. And who could forget the tubby raccoon that tried to use the cat door to get into our garage?

Not me. I discovered him.

It’s reached the point where our neighbors have even started naming the cast members. My personal favorites are Bruiser, the biggest, baddest buck in the hood, and Skippy, a gimpy doe who still manages to run off any animal that gets near her twin fawns.

deer in the front yard

Our neighbors gather in their front yards to dish about the animals – just like a bunch of Bachelor fans gossiping about who started the drama and what’s going to happen next:

“Did you see how Bruiser totally gaslighted Skippy?”
“OMG, yes! And I’m not even surprised. He’s such a thug.”

My husband and I hear about all the animal drama, whether we want to or not. Which is why we were so surprised, when we took a walk a few nights ago, to witness the most shocking episode yet.

A herd of goats was devouring the neighborhood.

Whoa. I did not see that plot twist coming. Frankly, I don’t think anyone did.

At this point, I should probably clarify that the goats weren’t eating our whole neighborhood. They were munching their way through a large, wooded hillside just east of all the houses. And they’d been brought into the neighborhood on purpose.

It turns out that goats are unlikely firefighters. In a matter of days, a few dozen can clear out acres of underbrush that might otherwise fuel wildfires.

Given recent tragedies in our region and throughout the world due to wildfires, I’m thankful for this latest turn in the neighborhood drama.

So, go ahead. Cue the goats.

I’ll keep watching the show.

That’s Punny: Why Dad Jokes are Serious Fun

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, dad jokes serve a higher porpoise. Er, purpose.

If you find that hard to believe – and you probably do, unless you’re a dad – then trust me, I get it. My husband deals dad jokes regularly and without apology. Here’s one he shared recently:

Q: How do strawberries party?
A: They pump up the jam.

Sadly, our kids missed this one. But I guarantee that if they’d been around, the joke would’ve evolved into a full-blown performance of the famous Technotronic song, with dance moves.

Which would’ve elicited a look of disdain from our 17-year-old daughter and a comment about being “so cringy” from our 12-year-old son. (This comes from a kid who wears orange Crocs with knee-high socks and shorts every day.)

Their responses only encourage my husband. In his eyes, any reaction is a win – from a giggle to an eye roll to a full-on groan. He gets plenty of each at our house. Just don’t ask him to dish out dad jokes on demand. Apparently, they are as spontaneous as their source is mysterious:

“I don’t bring the puns, Denise. The puns come to me.”

Here’s the thing. Contrary to what most kids (and many adults) believe, dad jokes aren’t necessarily lame and uncool. Puns especially can be quite smart and witty.

“They can be a demonstration of wit, of cleverness,” says Peter McGraw, director of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “You’re relying on a person’s ability to parse language, to understand the nuances and complexities of words.”

And, more importantly, the lowly dad joke plays a surprisingly positive role in parenting. According to humor researcher Mark Hye-Knudsen, dad jokes teach kids to be more resilient.

“It is worth considering dad jokes as a pedagogical tool that may serve a beneficial function for the very children who roll their eyes at them. By continually telling their children jokes that are so bad that they’re embarrassing, fathers may push their children’s limits for how much embarrassment they can handle. They show their children that embarrassment isn’t fatal.”

So, we should probably give dads a break. After all, they’re sharing their best material.

For the kids’ sake, of course.

pun

Talk About Giving a Dog a Bad Name

Here’s proof that designer dog names have gotten completely out of control.

At a stoplight this morning, I pulled up behind a car that had a bumper sticker in the shape of a dog bone with these words inside:

I love my whoodle.

Call me ignorant, but I don’t know what a whoodle is. I’ve got to assume, based on the shape of the bumper sticker, that it’s a type of mixed breed dog. But which one? These days, there seem to be endless varieties of bougie designer dogs with absurd names.

During the rest of my drive to work, I mulled over the meaning of “whoodle.”

The “oodle,” of course, was obvious. It’s a poodle. But what about the “who”? I couldn’t think of a single dog breed that starts with the letters w-h-o. The closest would be a whippet. But, as I discovered later, after a quick online search, a whippet and poodle mix is called a whipoodle.

For real? Is a kid making up these names?

Don’t get me wrong. I like dogs, and I have one myself. Timber may be a plain old Labrador retriever, the standard vanilla of dog breeds, but he’s still a good boy who lives for food, naps, and belly rubs. I mean, just look at him. Who couldn’t love that face?

black Labrador retriever

People, on the other hand, are the ones coming up with these silly, over-the-top names for dogs. What’s the deal with all the whos, poos, and oodles? Why not just call the dog a poodle mix? Do we really need to invent a frankenword to describe man’s best friend?

With this naming logic, my childhood pup – a dachshund, schnauzer, and terrier mix – would have been a designer dog with an outlandish name. Like a weinerschnitzel.

Go figure. As a kid, I’d just assumed that Gus was an ordinary Heinz 57 dog.

As for the meaning of “whoodle,” I’d like to think that the “who” actually stands for, “Who got the poodle pregnant?” And the breed is essentially half poodle and half sneaky neighbor dog.

Now that’s a meaning I like.

And frankly, it makes a lot more sense than the real one.

Sweet Memes are Made of These

We’ve all seen them.

Design mistakes so embarrassing that they make us laugh.

They’re everywhere – from the logo that resembles a body part to the typeface that makes it look like the local bakery sells “farts” instead of “tarts.”

Then, there’s the copy that’s oddly uncomfortable. Like the old Yellow Pages tagline to “let your fingers do the walking.” Oof. This one practically begs an awkward innuendo.

It’s the stuff memes are made of.

Let’s face it. When it comes to design, pitfalls abound. Especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Take the basic restroom sign, for example. Of any design project, this one seems the most straightforward. Heck, we’ve already got universal symbols for restrooms. So, all you need to do is stick them on a door, right?

Au contraire.

bathroom sign design fails

Even the humble restroom sign requires a surprising amount of thinking, planning, and intention – not to mention a keen eye for visual details.

Now, take our design solution for the restrooms at the downtown Spokane Public Library, shown below. These vinyl graphics are clean, modern, and simple. They even allow the natural beauty of the wood to show through.

bathroom sign designs

And, best of all, their placement won’t make you feel like a middle schooler whose voice just cracked in front of the entire class.

Hey, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

Some things are just better left to the professionals.

Some Unforgettable Sh%t

I’m about to share two pieces of information. But, by tomorrow, you’ll only remember one of them.

And I can accurately predict which one it will be.

Here goes…

1. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rear-end collisions make up 23% of all traffic accidents. Which is why I don’t tailgate.

2. Yesterday, I was driving to work on the freeway, and a station wagon rear-ended a truckload of porta potties. Let me tell you, sh%t got real on I-90. Which is why I don’t tailgate.

Alright, it’s obvious which piece of information is more memorable. Intuitively, we know that stories – especially the unusual ones – are, well, sticky. Stories tend to stick with us far longer than facts or statistics, even when they’re about the same subject.

Now, thanks to research from the Harvard Business School, we know why: it’s based on the way our memory works. I won’t go into the details here, but I definitely recommend reading the full study if you have the time. It’s fascinating stuff.

I also recommend driving at a safe following distance, especially when you’re staring at the backside of a dozen portable toilets.

And I’m sure you won’t forget that advice.

It’s All Geek to Me

My husband is fluent in geek.

He’s a software engineer, so he obviously learned it on the job – along with Python, C++, and Java. Heck, even the names of those programming languages are geek speak.

To most people, a python is just a snake, C++ is a grade barely below a B- -, and java is a cuppa joe. But to programmers, ordinary words take on new meaning.

As a word nerd myself – which, to be fair, is related to a geek – I’m amused and sometimes irritated by the words my husband uses at work. Today, I’m going to share some of my favorite geek words, and by the end of this post, you’ll be able to speak geek too.

Let’s start with my husband’s job title: he’s a backend software engineer. Which basically means he works on the part of the software system that users don’t see.

I’ll be honest. My immature side finds the term backend a bit funny, and I’m happy to say I’m not the only one. Recently, my husband mentioned his job title to a gastroenterology nurse, who replied without skipping a beat:

“A backend engineer? That’s what I am too.”

Touché.

When it comes to speaking geek, portmanteaus – aka frankenwords – are common. That’s when you blend two words to make a new one, like spork (spoon + fork). Here are a couple that programmers like to use:

DevOps, or development operations. This makes me think of the word cyclops. But I’m pretty sure everyone who works in DevOps has two eyes. Or most of them do, anyway.

Mutex, or mutually exclusive. Um, no. This is destined to be the name of a nasal spray.

In geek, it’s also perfectly acceptable to make up new words altogether. Usually, this means adding prefixes and/or suffixes to otherwise respectable words. I’ll admit, this bugs me quite a bit. Here are a few examples I’ve heard from programmers:

intentful
redocumentation
evolvability
robusticize

So far, the folks at Merriam-Webster haven’t officially recognized these words. But it’s probably only a matter of time until they do.

Geek also uses tons of acronyms and initialisms. In the programming world, these can get excessive. Here are a few you should know:

PO, or product owner. Ordinarily, this just means that someone’s peeved, as in, “Programmers hate it when their PO gets poed.”

MVP, or minimum viable product. Usually, an MVP is a rockstar. But in this case, it’s pretty much the opposite.

WYSIWYG, or what you see is what you get. Seriously. Could this acronym get any longer? Thankfully, it’s pronounced whiz-ee-wig, and that’s plain fun to say.

BOTW, or Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I guarantee this one’s been showing up in the Slack chat for weeks now, since BOTW 2 was just released. (Or would it be TOTK?)

MTFBWY, or may the force be with you. You can’t even make this stuff up. Hey, I call it geek speak for a reason.

And finally, there’s this one – which may or may not apply to this blog post:

TLDR, or too long; didn’t read.

How NOT to Name Your Business

The ol’ blog has been a tad lackluster lately (read: nonexistent). What can I say? We’ve been busy, and client projects take precedence over my ramblings. Not surprisingly.

So, until there’s time to return to deeper musings, I’ll leave you with this gem and a bit of advice about naming a business.

Interesting Business Name

When my husband was traveling a few weeks ago, he snapped this photo of an actual business. For obvious reasons, I’m withholding its city, state, and exact location to protect the innocent.

Hey, there are times to consult a middle school boy for advice. (Minecraft tips, anyone?) But naming your business ain’t one of them.

That should be left to the professionals. Like the – ahem – talented team that developed this name and brand identity.

How to Make an Editor Swear

Typically, I don’t use salty language. So, if you hear an expletive while I’m editing, I guarantee it’s because of one thing.

Abstraction.

It’s the bane of my copywriting existence and the number one enemy of clarity. What do I mean by abstraction? It’s what happens when someone takes a simple, straightforward message like this:

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

And writes it in an impersonal, indirect way, like this:

The intention behind the scaling of the incline was the retrieval of a water vessel.
An unexpected descent resulted in the breaking of a crown, with an occurrence of tumbling thereafter.

Sure, it sounds ridiculous in a child’s nursery rhyme. Yet this style is commonplace in corporate, academic, and legal writing. What audience has the mental energy to wade through all that abstraction to get to the real meaning?

This is where I come in, with my brutal red pen and my cussing ways. As I edit, I constantly ask myself:

Who are the main characters? And what are they doing?

I’ll be honest. It’s surprisingly hard to answer these questions when I’m dealing with abstract writing. Still, I figure it’s better for me to find the answers than to force the poor readers to do it. The best would be to write clearly from the start.

So, for the public good and my sanity – and to save my coworkers’ tender ears – I’m going to share two ways to avoid abstract writing. (I learned them from this book. My own copy is dog-eared from use.)

1.  Express the main characters as subjects.
2.  Express their actions as verbs.

It’s as simple as that. Instead of saying, “A solution to the problem was achieved,” you would say, “We solved the problem.” In the second version, the characters and their action are 100% clear. There are, of course, many other tips for writing clearly, and you can read some of them here.

Nonetheless, I believe that these two are the best way to fight our common writing enemy.

And send that $*&@ing abstraction to &*%$!

Visiting One of Spokane’s Oldest Neighborhoods

Been to Hillyard lately? If you haven’t, you’re missing out.

Not that I’m judging. Until last year, I didn’t even know that Hillyard existed. Apparently, I’m still a Spokane newbie. When I heard about a live jazz show at a place called The Bad Seed in Hillyard, I asked my husband, “Where’s that?”

(East of downtown and north of the river – in case you didn’t already know.)

I’ve since learned that Hillyard has a reputation as one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. But it also has a fascinating history and some darn cool architecture too.

The Bad Seed itself is a great example.

The Bad Seed

This Tex-Mex restaurant and bar lives in the former Hillyard Public Library, a space that served the community for over 50 years. The Bad Seed balances a hip, eclectic atmosphere with the historical integrity of the 1929 brick building.

In a lighthearted nod to the building’s “storied” past, there are vintage books on the built-in shelf over the entry and – I believe – a set of encyclopedias below the beer taps. Although, based on the paintings in the bar area, the space isn’t quite as family friendly as it was in its former life.

With its tasty street tacos and solid room acoustics, The Bad Seed is the perfect spot to enjoy live music. There’s jazz on the second and fourth Monday of every month, starting at 7 p.m.*

I’ve been there. And trust me, you won’t want to miss that either.

——————–

*To find out who’s playing, visit Imagine Jazz Spokane.

Seeing the World a Little Differently

My son has a love-hate relationship with puzzles. He loves figuring out how the pieces interlock to create a bigger picture, but he hates that he can only tell those pieces apart by their shapes – not their colors.

That’s because he’s colorblind.

It’s a common condition. According to the National Eye Institute, some form of color blindness affects 1 in 12 males and 1 in 200 females.

Yet, contrary to what my son’s classmates believe, most people who are colorblind do see color. They just perceive color balance differently – sometimes much differently. My son, for example, has red-green color blindness, the most common form. He confuses purple with blue, brown with green, and pink with gray. For him, it’s almost as if the color red doesn’t exist.

He simply sees the world a little differently.

A few weeks ago, I started looking for puzzles made specifically for people with color blindness. I was surprised and delighted to find several options by a graphic designer on Zazzle. Here’s the one I ordered:

colorblind puzzle

You may notice that the designer used several techniques to make the illustration more accessible to people who are colorblind: high contrast, a limited color palette, and a variety of patterns and textures.

The result? It was my son’s first love-love experience with a puzzle. And now that I know what to look for, it won’t be his last.

I’ll admit that, while I’m familiar with accessible design, I didn’t really get its impact until I saw my son’s excitement over a simple puzzle. Sure, there are far weightier examples of accessible design. Still, this one made a difference in the life of an 11-year-old kid.

It wasn’t even the puzzle itself that made him the happiest. It was the fact that someone had purposely made a product for people like him.

And all it took was a designer who was willing to see the world a little differently too.

—————

This animation video by Yoav Brill offers an artist’s perspective on the experience of color blindness.

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