29 March 2009

Project Send Help

My friend Woo had a drawing in a collaborative art show last night called The Send Help Project, hosted by CreativeLab in DUMBO. He is our designer at Naked, so I've seen tons of his digital work (in addition to the awesome stuff he does with his clothing label, AD4). But I didn't even know that he drew!

Going in

The show was packed (maybe in part due to the lovely Jean @ NOTCOT writing about it?). The theme of the show – "Send Help" – was basically interpreted in a bunch of different ways through different media. Here is the blurb from the site...
The words SEND HELP jumped out at us from the back of a road map on our way to Montreal. It's simplicity and immediacy stirred our thoughts and sparked our curiosities about the meanings behind the words, and the various images that are conjured up depending on the interpretation.

The Send Help Project is an art show that invites several artists to interpret the phrase "SEND HELP" in any way they choose, through any medium they choose.
Lots of creative stuff there: a Rapunzelesque braid leading from the elevator into the gallery; someone's résumé blown up on the wall; images of war; a nod to the scary state of our financial institutions. Here is Woo's drawing, I could have stared at it all night:

Woo's piece

The Doctor is in.

Isn't it awesome? Here are some others I liked a lot:

One of my favorites.

You know that part in Wind-Up Bird

I want to see the movie inspired by this.

I'm very proud of Woo and everyone else involved in this; great job to everyone. A few more pictures here.

24 March 2009

There's a lot more to board games than I thought.

Tonight I read an article called Monopoly Killer in Wired. It is one of the most interesting things I have read in recent memory, and my brain felt like a pinball the entire time. It's about a game called The Settlers of Catan, designed by a German man named Klaus Teuber. Over the past 14 years, it has become one of the biggest smash hits to ever happen to board games, translated into 30 languages and selling 15 million copies globally (FIFTEEN MILLION!). The article weaves Teuber's story into a brief history of board games, pointing out that German ones in particular seem to "get it" (in terms of how engaging and dynamic they tend to be).

Board games were pretty much nonexistent for me growing up, unless I was visiting my relatives in Germany each summer – my cousins and neighbors always had a ton laying around, and we played them all the time. Maybe the fact that I was indeed a kid played a part in this next thing, but over there it always felt like I was actually in the game rather than simply playing it. A glimmer of this memory came back when I read that as Teuber designed The Settlers of Catan, he "felt like [he] was discovering something rather than inventing it."

I never realized how culturally significant board games actually were in Germany until tonight – more are sold per capita there than anywhere else. Germany even has a special award for them called the Spiel des Jahres prize, which is a huge deal in the gaming world (the one Teuber won for Catan was his second).

"Part of the reason we don't play much Risk and Monopoly as adults is that those are actually poorly designed games, at least in the German sense"

Two of the interesting differences pointed out between American and German board games are about the dynamic the players have with each other. One difference centers around "conquering your opponent" vs. "having a good, competitive time" (I am paraphrasing).
"Monopoly has you grinding your opponents into dust. It's a very negative experience. It's all about cackling when your opponent lands on your space and you get to take all their money." Monopoly, in fact, is a classic example of what economists call a zero-sum game. For me to gain $100, you have to lose $100. For me to win, you have to be bankrupt.

Instead of direct conflict, German-style games tend to let players win without having to undercut or destroy their friends. This keeps the game fun, even for those who eventually fall behind. *
The other difference is about how engaged each player is throughout all points of the game.
Most of [Monopoly]'s interminable three- to four-hour average playing time (length being another maddening trait) is spent waiting for other players to roll the dice, move their pieces, build hotels, and collect rent. Board game enthusiasts disparagingly call this a "roll your dice, move your mice" format.

[German games] are balanced, preventing one person from running away with the game while the others painfully play out their eventual defeat. And the best ones stay fresh and interesting game after game.
Reading this article taught me a lot about how complicated designing a game is, in general. Statistics, engineering and probability are all taken into account to allow for a huge number of possible scenarios with not a lot of rules (Did you know that there are more potential moves in Chess than there are atoms in the universe? WHAT?!). There are actual such things as board game scholars and game experts (ludologists).

After doing a little personal research, I learned that my two favorite board games as a child were actually not designed by a German, but rather an American named Alex Randolph! Will you look at that. Both games have won Spiel des Jahres awards :)

* One of the reasons for this difference is actually rooted in a broader cultural shift: Violence in particular is taboo in Germany's gaming culture, a holdover from decades of post-World War II soul-searching. Wow.

23 March 2009

Arbitron and practical reinforcement

Dear New Yorkers:

If you should ever receive – among your junk mail – an envelope with this logo on it:

Don't throw it away, it probably has money in it. And not a creepy, fake-looking check... actual cash.*

Maybe I'm a little neurotic, but I open every single piece of mail I get and sort it into piles: recycle, trash, save and shred. A month or two ago I got an unassuming, commercial-sized envelope from Arbitron (their web site says, "Arbitron Inc. (NYSE: ARB) is a media and marketing research firm serving the media—radio, television, cable, online radio and out-of-home—as well as advertisers and advertising agencies in the United States.").

When I opened it, a media consumption/behavior survey and two dollar bills fluttered out. The enclosed letter promised ten more dollars if I filled out the survey and mailed it back – standard questions, like "How many hours of television do you watch a week?"

Since I:
1. like filling out surveys
2. work (sort of?) in this field
3. liked the fact that I just got treated to a cup of coffee

I did it. Notice that I didn't put the monetary incentive in there... I half didn't expect to see any more cash, but the fact that I already got $2 put me in a good mood with Arbitron. Well, guess what happened last week.


Wow! Filling out that survey took 10 minutes, tops, and they were grateful enough to thank me before and after, with a reward. The fact that it was cash is probably my favorite part, because it is both endearingly lo-fi and immediately-actionable (none of that "Use this gift certificate at the following eligible establishments" inconvenience).

I don't know what my point is with this one; I don't know if it's "on strategy" or "aligned with their brand" or "leading to figures that will be useful in a strategic way to marketers." It was just plain nice. So, thank you, Arbitron.

* I don't even want to think about the number of envelopes that must have been thrown out without even being opened.

20 March 2009

Fata Morgana

Nearly two years ago, Noah introduced me to Pam, saying that he thought we'd get along. Well, we did and have been friends ever since. She has a blog called Phantasmaphile, which I've linked to before and read regularly. It has a very specific aesthetic, and I find myself describing it differently each time... I tend to use words like surreal, fantastical, magic, alchemy, dreamy, gothic and gossamer. Pam is the one who turned me onto Valerie and her Week of Wonders, if that helps any.

Last spring/summer, Pam told me about something she wanted to try doing: curate an art show. She told me about contacting all of her favorite artists and trying to sell the idea to a gallery. Well, nearly a year of not hearing much news later, I was delighted to get an email from Pam announcing the show! I was overjoyed at the news that everything had worked out and couldn't wait to see it.

I went to the Fata Morgana opening last weekend with my friend Laura, and it was spectacular. There were tons of people at Dabora Gallery – a venue that could not be more perfect for Pam's show – and it made me so happy to see it that packed. The gallery was dripping with chandeliers, dark red plushiness and a perfectly-matching Absinthe La Fee open bar.




I barely got to speak to Pam that night, because she was being pulled in a million directions by all sorts of people. I didn't mind and was thrilled to see so much interest in the show. Check it out; it's up until 12 April. Read some more information about the it and the gallery, and get a taste of some of the art.

18 March 2009

Two sort-of separate thoughts, linked by TOKYO!

One of my favorite parts of the Internet is how hard it is to miss something wonderful if you're really into its subject matter. Here is a tiny account of how I found out (and was reminded, and was reminded again) about TOKYO! (the movie):

Constant reminders of TOKYO!

Pretty awesome, right? Over six months, I had messages about the movie coming from a blog, a friend and a mailing list. By the time the movie opened, there was no way I was going to forget about it. And how could I, with a trailer like this?

Last weekend, I finally saw it with Jack and I loved it. This is one I'm going to have to buy when it's released; I can see myself wanting to watch little bits of it over and over again.

In short: The movie is three separate stories – all set in Tokyo – directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-Ho. I loved each one for different reasons. There were a lot of "everyday adjustments when you're new to a big city" parts in Gondry's, the feelings of which I can remember/relate to. Also, one of my favorite buildings has a tiny cameo in it.

The Carax story was slightly jarring and hilarious at the same time; it starred Denis Lavant, who nobody ever seems to be able to take their eyes off of (here he is in the Rabbit in Your Headlights video). The Joon-Ho story not only referenced hikikomori... but it also had a TON of sunlight in it, which is one of my favorite things in the world to look at.

I really am happy that I enjoyed Tokyo! this much, because I accidentally read a withering review of it a few days beforehand that ashamedly had me spooked (don't click on that unless you are okay with spoilers): Tokyo! has no real reason for being, least of all as a city portrait. It’s disposable art-house tourism, made by filmmakers with too many festivals to attend. Wowzers! Seeing this movie reminded me why I tend to take such things with a grain of salt, since it's hard to apply the opinion of someone I've never met to the context of my own life.*

I realize that this post doesn't really have a clear flow. Sorry. These are the two separate thoughts that aren't SO separate in my mind but I'm having a hard time explaining (try to poke holes in these if you can, I don't feel 100% yet):

1. The Internet is a great platform for guiding you to things you love: either directly (something you signed up for, e.g.), or via someone else who knows you pretty well. DUH, I know, but I'm just thinking about this now.
2. The more paths that something takes to get to you, the more support there is that you should probably check it out further. These paths are in a way pre-selected and shaped by "what makes you you," right? So all of them taken together are a better predictor of whether or not you'll like it than someone who's paid to write reviews that stand on their own or in a silo. Again, common sense, but I liked deconstructing it a little.

* I think of this in the same way that I think of professional restaurant reviews (I wrote this as a comment in Noah's post about rating systems & personal rules). One of the reasons I prefer public rating systems over things like Michelin is context. Restaurants don't live in a vacuum: they are part of people's lives. On Yelp, you can look at profiles attached to each review to get a general sense of the context in which the review was written. You can also look at the other reviews that that person has written (and what they wrote them for), and get a general gauge of how the restaurants (or shops) play a part in their everyday lives, their particular tastes, their "aesthetic" (gross but true), etc. Yakitori Taisho is not on Michelin's NYC Stars 2009, but it would be on mine because of who I am.

13 March 2009

Playboy x Paul Pope x Kid Robot

CAVEAT: There is a tiny, tiny amount of skin-showing in this post. Not very much, really, just letting you know.

Haven't seen that logo in a while.

Something I saw last week reminded me of a Kid Robot vinyl toy I fell in love with over Christmas and made myself forget about (too expensive). I went online to admire it, and it had dropped 50% in price! The next day I walked down the street to check it out, and she was in stock.

March gift to myself.

Monique St. Pierre

It is a vinyl toy of Playboy's Miss November 1978, Monique St. Pierre. She was designed by Paul Pope, who is a comic artist. His blog actually includes another sketch he drew of her from the issue's centerfold (more proceed-with-caution, but it's really good). Here is another thing he did that I love (partially because it reminds me of my friend, Gus):

What I really think is cool about this whole thing is the ability some people have to turn two-dimensional images into three-dimensional objects that don't look awkward from different angles. Here is the original cover, and another shot of the toy:

The original cover


Aside from being beautiful, the packaging has lots of great details on it... one of the box sides has snapshot information about Monique (American Express "My Life, My Card" style) – presumably from her Miss November interview. In case anybody is curious, some of her less silly turn-ons include the smell of fresh ground coffee, the whitecaps on mountains, strawberry cheesecake and thunder. Nice. I shall buy a corner shelf for her next to my coffee machine.

09 March 2009

Erica Shires

First the background information: Two months ago, my friend Anjeli gave a chat about packaging as part of swissmiss Creative Mornings (hosted @ Naked).

Creative Mornings, 9 January @ Naked

A week or two later, a nice-looking, envelope-sized packet arrived.

Erica Shires

Erica Shires

Nice, isn't it? There's more: Jimmy's wife Erica is not just a photographer... she's a lovely photographer! I was delighted to see such pretty photos enclosed.

Erica Shires

Erica Shires

Erica Shires

Give her web site a visit; the series all seem to center around quiet contemplation and the often-overlooked (just my words, apologies to Erica if I butchered that). Beautiful & inspiring.

05 March 2009

Context of placement

Yes, another one about context, it's my new favorite thing, maybe I should add it to my list on the right there.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon an interactive campaign in a Midtown subway transfer: a promotion for the current new season of Big Love. The ads showed a bunch of people going about their everyday business, with headphone jacks above each person's head. So, I went up to one and tried out one or two of the jacks (I suspect the reason was a combination of "I'm in marketing, let's see what this is," and "Cool, something I can play with").


After reading a couple of things about the campaign just now (sorry this is sort of old news but please bear with me, I've been thinking about this a bit lately), I found out that the tag – "Everyone has something to hide" – directly relates to the content of the audio files – each person confessing their secrets.

The fact that I didn't know this detail kind of speaks to why I kept thinking about the campaign for a few weeks after the fact. On one hand, I am not sick of the "audio jacks in subway ads" thing yet, and like that there is some level of engagement involved, instead of static ads just talking at you*.

On the other hand, I wonder if the context of where this campaign was placed was taken into account enough**. These ads are placed in an underground transfer between Times Square and Port Authority. Both stations (and this transfer between them) have high, high foot traffic. The sea of people pouring through that transfer every day has enough momentum to pick you up right along with it, if you hesitate at all. That, combined with the state of mind one might be in at the time ("Oh, this long tunnel again" is how I usually feel), may not make for someone actually stopping to listen to one (or more) of these audio tracks. Maybe I had back luck, but the one I put my headphones into had a really slow start. My boyfriend and I were sharing ear buds, and we both got impatient after about 2 seconds of the "background noise" intro. I'm sure the copy was great, but sadly this was not the time or place to find out.

In short: If you're leading with a strategic idea, but the idea only lives in a place where people can't properly consume it, it falls flat and doesn't accomplish all that it set out to. If this campaign had been placed somewhere people wait instead of walk – bus stops or subway platforms, for example – I would have listened to every single one of the secret confessions by now... all I ever seem to have at bus stops is time (though that may not be applicable anymore, as I recently encountered a family of roaches on a Brooklyn bus and am on an extended bus hiatus).

* (I like the photography, too. The look/feel/lighting vaguely remind me of Jeff Wall.)

** I say "enough" because I read that the headphones attached to the L.A. ads were not included in NY because it was "assumed that New York commuters would bring their own." Interesting observation – and pretty true in a lot of cases – though I'm not sure how willing an average commuter would be to unplug from their favorite music to listen to an ad.
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