Category: design

Boston Baked Beans

January 17th, 2013 — 4:27pm



I couldn’t take it anymore and had to write to the Ferrara Pan candy company:

Dear Brand Manager for Boston Baked Beans,

I have loved Boston Baked Beans since I was a kid. I still buy them almost every time I go to the supermarket. However, I note with a touch of anguish each time I purchase your product how ugly the box is. It’s really the ugliest box in the entire supermarket. And you can’t blame this on trying to maintain the historical continuity of your brand, because you’ve been changing the box over the last few years, making it even uglier. The addition of the completely incongruous ‘Peanut head’ logo/mascot is apparently an attempt to exert some connection to ‘LemonHeads’ and ‘Cherry Clan’ (if you still make that delightfully non-politically-correct candy). But this is misguided. There is no consumer awareness of ‘peanut head’ and it’s a pretty unappetizing concept. It makes me think of fellatio by a microcephalic from the American South, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the grand tradition of Boston Baked Beans.

As a designer, I would like the best candy in the world to have a nice box, so I am offering to design you a new box, free of charge.

And hey, if you want a new product idea, how about a candy like LemonHeads, but flavored with real Ginger and Lime? The mascot could be a cartoon Englishman, and you could call them ‘Limeys’… I think that is a winner, and I will be happy to work on that for you, too.

I’m totally serious. I eat your candy all the time, let’s try to make the experience more aesthetically pleasing…



Comment » | art, design


January 6th, 2013 — 6:53pm

John Searle, the philosopher who does not believe that computers will ever manifest artificial intelligence, is constantly stating that textual computation, or syntax, isn’t semantic, or meaningful. It seems disingenuous to me, since syntactical interactions are the dynamic structures within which semantics occurs, and semantics can be entered into any system through the use of a feedback loop that relates to a larger environment. But his arguments are always floating around in one way or another if the possibility of artificial intelligence is being discussed, and so the supposed lack of semantics in digital content naturally comes to mind while studying up on CSS3, or the most recent development in Cascading Style Sheets for HTML, which is the way that web designers are able to separate the structure of a website, it’s HTML, from the content and the presentation of that content.

By using the design aspects of CSS, the HTML that remains is left to better describe the structural semantics of the content by labeling it as something like Headline, or Aside, or Emphasized Text, etc. Which means that as the web develops, textual content will more and more manifest itself in semantic terms, a feature that seems to emerge naturally as an outgrowth of the human desire for efficiency and clarity. Not that this is a new idea or anything, but the concept of the semantic web as a naturally occurring emergent refutation of Searle’s arguments against the possibility of computational intelligence is interesting. It’s like the universe itself is telling the guy he’s wrong.

el-placer-del-poetaBut since CSS is being used as a presentational layer over the structural semantics of HTML, I was thinking that it is also evolving into a separate emotional overlay of the content. The designer is not only making things pretty by using CSS, but also helping to better define the emotional semantics of the content in the same way that our brains overlay emotional semantics over everyday situations. When you look at a DiChirico painting there is a weird, lonely, nostalgic quality that comes from an emotional relationship to the content that would be invisible to an entity that did not know what it was like to stand alone on an empty flat area as the sun has begun to set. This is probably accentuated by hardwired evolutionary associations of danger that come from being caught out in the open as the sun goes down, making one a target of predators or in danger from the elements.

So I was thinking you could scan a document for emotional content by creating a lookup table of the relationship of single words or word groups to a particular emotion, perhaps FEAR. Then use CSS to attach each word group to a background shade of perhaps red, from 0% to 100%, depending on how FEAR-related they were. Then by quickly scanning through the lookup table a browser could extract the content, apply new CSS rules, and the user could see the amount of FEAR in a document immediately, without having to read it, the way we feel an emotion by looking at an image. If the lookup tables were extracted from an individual’s writings algorithmically, then the extraction could be personalized. You could probably do that with Google glass, overlaying shades of color as a user reads, to personally accentuate the emotional content.

Comment » | consciousness, design, language


August 21st, 2008 — 2:13pm

Here is a graphic of the path of development for the as-yet-unfinalized sidebar to the online beauty retailer account management pages. Click on it to see the full image (apparently one of the dingbat fonts is missing from this computer, so they look a little off).

It begins on the left as I am given the suggestion to make the piece look like Vegas signage. I know they don’t really want Vegas signage, so I try a few limited touches to imply that ’50s, quirky attitude.

No go. So then I go full Vegas, knowing they will think it’s too kitschy when they actually see it, which is exactly what I am told. But they like the lighthearted aspect, so I keep some of the assymmetrical shapes and that doesn’t fly either.

At this point, the brand director gives up on me and there is a missing design that the CD did, which replaced the lipstick icon with some pink shapes that were symbolic of a mixed drink. That one wasn’t appreciated either.

No Vegas signage, I am told: we don’t want to see ANY Vegas-ness whatsoever–what a dumb idea Vegas was, they say. And so the parade of design continues to the right with a more retro ’70s look, but I have just learned that the director is asking the CD for more examples, too, after not quite being satisfied with my take on the ’70s. I’m not sure what retro ’70s means to the brand director, but I’m thinking pseudo art deco, cocaine and the movie Xanadu.

Comment » | anxiety, design, Whining

more hopeless

July 28th, 2008 — 4:37pm

A portion of the navbar on the online beauty retailer account management pages needs to be an advertisement for a section of the site itself.

I was under the impression it would be dynamic, so I first made it look like the navbar. They explained that it should be more of an advertisement, with graphics or photos, and they mentioned having it look like Las Vegas signage. All of which is fine, but I’ve worked with them long enough to know that if I make it look exactly like a sign from Las Vegas they will think it’s gaudy and over the top. Also, they’re extreemly anal retentive about using only the two fonts that the primary designer likes, and only in the styles that have so far been used.

So I tried to add “vegas-like” aspects to a version of the adblock, giving it a clean, graphic look. But that didn’t fly, and today I was sent an image of the famous ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign for inspiration.

So now I will give them exactly what they ask for. I will make the adblock look like Casino frontage …and then they will say it is too literal, and think it looks tacky, and then the weary and overworked creative director will take it upon herself to create something that she likes, and it will either look nothing like their suggestions or else it’ll be similar to my first graphic interpretation. This is the problem with centralized control.

Comment » | anxiety, design, Whining


July 11th, 2008 — 3:42pm

Technology increases at a self reinforcing rate, and the consequent developments propagate ever faster through the business world, especially online, so that time spent away from work is actually (finally) a detriment to one’s future employment. I always mocked humorless headhunters and business drones who  expressed concern over gaps in a resume, as if not working were somehow morally questionable. I hate those people; and in some ways the internet is open enough, with enough job promiscuity, that it isn’t quite the black mark on a resume the way it might have been for a hiring manager at IBM or DOW chemicals a few years ago. But now the threat is more real, because just a few months spent away from something like internet marketing and you can be noticeably out of date. We have been freed from the grasp of one soulless ghost only to fall into the clutches of another more insidious one. Because now, if your skills aren’t up to date and if you don’t have the right buzz words in the right order on your portfolio, you can look stale and unemployable. Oh well… I will strive to be the best freeway off-ramp orange salesmen who ever LIVED…

Comment » | anxiety, design, office, Whining

the algebra of middle aged ladies from Iowa

July 8th, 2008 — 3:02pm

More changes have arrived for the online beauty retailer account management pages wireframes! With every day the user experience is becoming more refined. The amount of time it will take the 48 year old, divorced mother of two from the midwest to track the arrival of her under-eye fine-line concealer will be reduced from 18 to 16.5 seconds!

I always knew that I found cosmetics a boring subject. They really don’t do much –at their best cosmetics take upon themselves the first Hyppocratic directive: do no harm. Mostly they provide a simple palliative to the day’s insecurities; they give women a lovely fantasy of not being older with every new morning. They are expensive tactile psychiatric tools. But really they are mostly a bunch of colored and scented crap added to moisturizers. So the logic of how to go about selling this stuff becomes incredibly tedious. Only today did I realize that creating logic flows for the selling of cosmetics is actually more boring than it would be if the entire process were abstract, if instead of Exfoliating Lip Gloss it were algebraic variable ‘N.’ In fact, if this entire project were divorced of its relationship to the real world I could probably study it more thoroughly and then produce the best dynamic wireframe GOD has ever seen –for the organization of order tracking for the buyers of beauty products online.

Who am I to tell people how pointless their lives are? I’ve got plenty on my plate in telling myself the same thing. I don’t suppose watching the entire third season of LOST on dvd is any more worthwhile an activity than surfing the web for the best lip expander. (Except that stuff burns like a motherfucker; remember, it is NOT a toy!)

Comment » | anxiety, design, Whining

Their Kampf

June 24th, 2008 — 2:22pm

My work is not being criticized, so it isn’t personal for me. However I can’t help but feel sympathy for the woman who was shoved out of the discussions regarding the proper navigation for the online beauty retailer account management pages.

First of all, the fact that so many people would care enough to make enemies over the navigational properties of a few web pages that will allow shoppers to track their cosmetics deliveries is shocking, or would be shocking if I weren’t already so cynical. But this woman worked on the wireframes, had me mock up some layouts and was then quickly elbowed out of the way by two other parties who felt that her logic was flawed.

So yesterday I created a new layout along these new guidelines and today the controlling parties have refined their wireframes for the landing page… and it’s looking more like the original. This time though, it’s THEIR idea, so it’s better.

I’m just the child who is sent shuttling back and forth between bickering parents. I’ll design any page they want as long as everyone involved is reasonably polite. But the sheer weight of the tedium created and energies expended by all parties in this extended monthlong argument over control is so disheartening. Perhaps a constant jockeying for power is just an innate quality of all human interaction. In that case I should try to work in emergency situations or where important life or death decisions are being made. At least then the struggle for control would seem warranted…  Anyway, back to the drawing board, or the Photoshop page. Luckily I keep every iteration; I have a feeling we might just design ourselves right back to where we started.

Comment » | anxiety, design, office, Whining

Furthering the cause of modern capitalism

June 23rd, 2008 — 9:01pm

Two of the teams that I have to make happy have joined forces and let it be known that I can only accept changes from them.

In an attempt to prevent office friction I will refrain from mentioning this to the excluded parties unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Today will be spent urgently putting together this new version of the landing page for the members’ section of an online beauty store, one of two such sites owned by this company.

As a kid I used to watch Warner Bros. cartoons from the ’40s and ’50s, and I still remember the ones created to explain capitalism to an ignorant populous. Competition is the driving force behind improvements in our collective standard of living; I get that. This is the primary reason why Microsoft sucked for so long: lack of competition. But I can’t help feeling that this particular use of human labor could be better spent looking for, I don’t know, a vacine for malaria, better methodologies to conserve energy, school curriculums to help our children get out of next-to-last place in the list of developed nation’s knowledge of science…

Three different teams are obsessing and fighting over the exact manner in which some midwestern mother of five is going to be able to check on the status of her anti-wrinkle cream. We’re not discovering water on Mars, people! If I have to obsess over something, I want it to matter.

1 comment » | design, Whining

art pimp

June 10th, 2008 — 8:25pm

I don’t know anything about the guy who created this thing (would a female make this?), but you have to admire the fact that this company is so confident of their position, and so wise to the fact that at this stage of the customer-luring process all that matters is grabbing attention, that they are willing to let one of their designers create an ad, the sole graphic on which is an animated, drum-playing cyborg composed of gears and pulleys and what appear to be the severed, decaying body parts of an old man.

Only an expert at customer response would have the balls to make an ad so seemingly ill-suited to the act of selling mortgages to prospective home owners. And I have no idea what the working conditions are like over there (my company stole some of their employees so they probably don’t pay too well), but it took that designer probably a full day at least to make his BurningMan-drumming-cyborg animation, and I am pretty confident it turned out exactly the way he wanted it to—can you imagine some marketing flack making a REQUEST for a Frankenstein’s Monster’s Dad Playing Drums to add to their mortgage lead text? Designers I’ve met have consistently mocked those ads, because they are ugly, because they completely contradict the standard practices of advertising, because everything they’ve been taught in school tells them ads like these shouldn’t work and are inappropriate to even SUGGEST. But they’re wrong. There is no way that businesspeople would pay money for an ad placement like this unless a drum-playing cyborg was more profitable than the other ad someone surely made with a young couple hugging in front of their boring A-frame three-bedroom house. Do you, as a designer, get more self-respect from having made a pretty ad for face cream?

Every ad ever made is just a pimp for something people don’t really need—because if they needed it, they would ASK YOU for it.

Comment » | anxiety, design, Whining

abstractions reinforce existence

June 5th, 2008 — 1:10pm
What’s interesting about this praying mantis is the fact that it’s not just disguised as generic plant matter, it has evolved to look like a very specific flower. By appearing to an unsuspecting bug as a benign object within its visual realm, the mantis can simply stand in place and wait for the bug to walk up to it and be eaten. But because the evolutionary pressure in terms of body design comes from the bug’s reference system [e.g., “this object is just a lotus blossom so I am allowed to ignore it.”], what you have over time is the modeling of one entity’s body by another entity’s brain’s system of representation. In other words, the mantis has NOT evolved to look like a lotus blossom; the mantis has evolved to look the way a bug SEES a lotus blossom. So I imagine that if you were to perform a detailed study of the ergonomics of this particular bug and look for where there were areas of seeming inefficiency (such as the pink flanges on the legs that obviously appear to be petals of a blossom) –and then look for the differences between these elements and an ACTUAL lotus blossom, you could learn something interesting about the visual and cognitive systems of the bugs on which it preys.
There are many evolutionary pressures, increasing with the increase in technology throughout a culture, that come from modes of representation. The conventions of anime, over time, will come to shape the bodies of mankind, as certain stylized expressions will be viewed as more natural or inviting. Behavior, and therefore consciousness, is subject to much faster-developing evolutionary pressure as certain aspects of our demeanor prove more successful than others and are therefore encouraged to propagate. So over time, if you aren’t careful, you might find yourself turning into a representation of the sort of person other people find most useful to have around—which might not always be the most useful person for YOU to have around…
I’m tired of being molded by the cognitive systems of others. An office environment is one big petri dish, churning through endless generations of minute evolutionary progress toward the human robot.

Comment » | design, science

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