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There’s a Word for That

My 13-year-old niece called last night to ask me if I knew the word for the dot that appears above the lowercase “i” and “j.”

“It’s a tittle,” she managed to say between giggles. “Tittle.”

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. After all, the French have a word for a man who rubs up against strangers in a crowd (frotteur); the Germans call the space between things Zwischenraum; wabi is the Japanese word for a flawed detail that creates an elegant whole.

There’s even a Scottish word for the act of hesitation before recognizing a person or thing: tartle. Which means that, when I’m asked to read from the eye chart during my next visit to the optometrist, there’s a chance I’ll tartle at the sight of a tittle.

I can’t wait.

Back from the Grave

It’s not often that the last word goes dark for a five-day stretch. But when we do, you can be sure we have a darn good reason.

Since Friday, I’ve been laid low by some variation of the plague; without my ever-vigilant presence at AMD World Headquarters, CK has been forced to actually, you know…work, which prevents him from posting. Yeah, I know, you’d think Shirlee would’ve taken up the slack, but writing is anathema to her. Which is fine, since if it weren’t for Shirlee you wouldn’t be reading this blog at all.

Fear not, fair reader. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming before you know it. Until then, enjoy a list of the world’s worst beers. My favorite comment? “This beer smells like Nebraska.”

What a Difference a Letter Can Make

People often wonder why we writers obsess over phrases, cadences, and the like. They don’t understand when we say that the rhythm is wrong or when we point out, as Mark Twain famously did, the difference between the almost-right word and the right word.

Well then. Here’s a situation in which the absence of a single letter provides an altogether different meaning:

This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men.

The Gap in GAP’s Logo Decision

Interesting. It appears that public outcry can change the minds of branding experts very quickly.

I’m not here to defend GAP’s new logo design (or, maybe I should refer to it as the old one, or the one that didn’t take). I’m pretty neutral on the original logo, but it does seem to have a little more personality than the latest version. And I certainly would never bash the use of Helvetica in the new logo (the font they’ve been using in GAP campaigns for quite some time).

But what I find curious about this matter is that the ill-fated new logo was most likely the result of a well-thought-out strategy for change by some smart and experienced branding folks. I can’t imagine a new logo for a $15 billion company being created in a vacuum. On the contrary, I would assume it was the result of some serious thinking, exploration, and scrutiny. Maybe even some user testing. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the brand underpinnings by which it was created can so quickly give way from the weight of public opinion (some of them are even GAP customers). It’s as if the premise for the new logo design never had merit to begin with.

Now I know that the kind of attention this logo received was nothing short of overwhelming (and nothing new for consumer brands changing long-time logos), and it would have been difficult for the VPs overseeing this endeavor to ignore the blogosphere, but it’s very disappointing that the public – in part made of up of us know-it-all design professionals – can reduce a process into a popularity contest. In GAP’s most recent press release, it states apologetically, “We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community.” Whatever.

I would have been more enchanted with the GAP brand had they stuck to their guns on this one. Hmmm…I wonder what Steve Jobs would have done in this situation?

Write Like a Professor

I’ve poked fun at academic writing before; what I hadn’t realized is that my mockery comes from a deep-seated animus born of envy.

Be that as it may, there must be something to the charge that much of today’s academic writing is craptacular. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this.

Winner!

CK Anderson (left) greets the last word‘s very first contest winner.

Noted grammarian Susanna Weise correctly identified all of the errors—and then some—in this notice, winning a set of autographed AMD business cards and a bonus bag of Designer Blend coffee. Weise visited AMD World Headquarters last week to claim her prizes.

During her acceptance speech, Weise was pointed in her disapproval of bad writing. “Faith might save you from the bite of a timber rattler,” she said, “but it apparently can’t prevent random, inexplicable capitalization.”

Where Have All the Creative People Gone?

As I was thumbing the pages of “The Creativity Crisis,” an article in the July 10 issue of Newsweek,  I was surprised to run across a sample of a standard creative test for kids and adults. You simply draw something incomplete on a piece of paper, then give it to someone to complete using their imagination. A tiny scribble can become the Taj Mahal. This was a game I loved playing with my kids (especially in church).

According to the article, kids these days are less creative. Since the late 1950s, a standard of testing known as the Torrance test has been used to measure children’s creative quotient (CQ) score. A recent study suggests that since 1990, CQ scores have been falling, especially among the ages between kindergarten through sixth grade.

Why should we care? Well, according to an IBM poll of 1500 CEOs from around the globe, creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business—and because innovative thinking is a necessity in solving all kinds of local and global problems. As new studies come to light, our traditional thinking about left- and right-brain activities is also changing. In fact, it seems that both hemispheres of the brain are required to develop one’s ingenuity skills and that creativity can be nurtured.

Now I don’t feel so guilty about my Sunday scribbles.

Contest Update

As of this writing, no one has risen to the challenge issued here. There can be only two reasons for this: (1) nobody reads the last word, or (2) the reward offered to the winner is not enough to warrant the effort.

Since option no. 2 is clearly not within the realm of possibility, we are left to deduce that, in fact, nobody reads this blog. Which is a shame, really, given the wit and wisdom that fairly oozes from the screen.

In fact, where else where else would you discover that grunting can improve your tennis game? Or read about a “horse race” for women in bikinis? Or learn the ridiculously simple rule for forming a possessive?

So. In the unlikely instance that there is, in fact, some truth to the notion that the reward is somewhat…lacking, I’ve been authorized to sweeten the deal: I will personally call the winner and, using my radio voice, offer my heartiest congratulations.

Our 100th Post

It’s official: you’re reading the last word‘s hundredth post. At this rate, we should reach our hundredth reader in March of 2017.

How to celebrate? By smugly pointing out grammatical errors in a hand-written sign! Consider this one, taped to the altar of the Church of the Lord Jesus with Signs Following, Jolo, West Virginia:

Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA.

More photographs here.

On second thought, I’ll simply point out that there are at least a dozen problems (grammatical, not theological) with this notice. Whoever correctly identifies the most—using the comments feature below—before 3 p.m. Friday, October 8 will win a complete set of FREE autographed AMD staff business cards!

Let the insanity begin!

How Narcissistic Are You?

Take the Narcissistic Personality Quiz today! I scored a big fat “0,” though, to be fair, it’s remarkably easy to manipulate the results.

In related news, it turns out that narcissists think they’re creative. Go figure. What’s most surprising about that little nugget is that it took a pair of psychologists—one from Cornell, the other from Stanford—to figure it out. A quick call to AMD headquarters would’ve saved them some time.

Friday Bonus Post!

Words of wisdom from columnist Charles Krauthammer:

“Advertising is legalized mendacity.”

Discuss.

From the Department of Homeland Grammar

To a graphic designer, there are all kinds of interesting things about this story—upper- vs. lower-case letters, font selection, etc. But what really struck me was this line: “federal copy editors are demanding….”

Just think about that for a moment or two. Read it again. Now say it out loud.

There are positions in the U.S. government for copy editors? And they get to demand things? And people have to respond to those demands?

What an awesome country this is.

On the Dignity of Work

What I’ve long suspected—that American literature these days is dominated by a bunch of MFA-degreed Nancy boys who publish in prestigious literary magazines that nobody reads—turns out to be true, according to this essay by Gerald Howard.

Given my work history, which includes stints as a farm hand, construction laborer,  janitor, and Subway Sandwich Artisan™, it seems there really is no excuse for my inability to write a decent short story.

How Not to Write Criticism

As someone who once scraped together a modest living as a music critic, I found the premise behind this diatribe intriguing—until the whole thing quickly became predictable.

The author relies on a single criterion for determining if art is worthy of his esteem: whether he likes it. That’s all well and good, I suppose, except that he points to Damien Hirst—the hack whose “art” includes the suspension of dead animals in solutions of formaldehyde—as one who creates “art for the ages.”

Then there’s the tiresome adulation of the Beatles, the self-aware “to me, [insert popular fiction writer here] is light reading,” the tendentious claim that art has to blow his mind in order for it to be considered “good.”

Yawn.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for aspiring critics: drop the pretense before you write. Oh, and get out more.

Where Did You Go to Cropping School?

For years I’ve been asked the question, “Is it okay to crop a person’s forehead?” Maybe it’s time to shed some light on the subject of portraits and people cropping.

The short answer is, yes, it’s okay. In fact, there are no formal cropping rules whatsoever. The only guide I follow is doing whatever makes a person (or personality) more interesting and fits the required space. But some folks are under the impression that you should never crop out any part of a person’s head, hair, etc. That’s a valid approach—if the portrait is meant for the FBI’s “most wanted” list. Or if it’s for your daughter’s senior portrait in her high school yearbook, which no doubt required some serious mirror time and expense. The only other situation in which standard cropping is acceptable—well above the head, beyond the ears, and well below the chin—is when it’s for your ID badge or your driver’s license. But do any of us really expect those pics to be good?

I have no idea why this topic is so sensitive. But I’ve been asked to un-crop photos of some very important people (usually the client’s client, or the client’s boss), because I violated the driver’s license rule. To demonstrate my point, take a look at the pics below (with apologies for using yours truly as a subject—but this keeps it safe). So which one do you like?

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