Different interpretations

three book cover designs for Nineteen Eighty-Four

I love going to bookstores. Since much of my professional life has been spent doing graphic design, I love seeing how other graphic designers interpret the themes of books.

Lately, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been a popular book in the United States. The current political situation has caused some to think of the world depicted in that novel. (You’ll get no commentary on me about that, at least at this point. I’m really burned out on politics.)

I enjoyed finding three different paperback versions of the novel on the bookshelves of The Tattered Cover. Each one is very dissimilar. And they have three varying price tags: $9.99, $16 and $17.I did not take the time to discover the creators’ names, but I’d guess that there are three different artists.

I did not take the time to discover the creators’ names, but I’d guess that there are three different artists.

My favorite is the mostly white cover, which seems the most modern. (And again, I didn’t research the publication dates.)

It’s fascinating to me how different people interpret the same thing in such varied ways. I’d guess that there must be at least 100 different covers for that famous novel, that was published in 1949.

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You can’t force it

Lincoln Continental print ad

Lincoln bought the emperor’s new clothes.

This ad appeared in the February 2017 Fast Company magazine (in a very high-priced spot — the inside front cover). Lincoln paid a massive amount of money for the ad series, shot by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Agency Hudson Rouge made out like a bandit.

But Lincoln did not think about their real audience. Showing a 20-something person behind the wheel of a $60,000-ish luxury car, newly-minted from a marque typically bought by people above 60, will not make 20-something people want to buy one. Nor will it make 60-year olds who want to be 20-something want to buy one.

No matter how much the critics like the car.

Yes, it would have been appropriate for Lincoln to push the envelope in their marketing — but not so far.

Maybe they should have put kids under 10 behind the wheel — that audience will need to buy cars, eventually.

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Writing vs Typing

picture of handwriting compared to typesetting

Beautiful expensive pens.

The Wall Street Journal often features luxury items that are out of the range of all but the upper .001%. The New Status Symbol? Think Ink featured Marc Newson Pens by Hermès for a mere $1,670 and the $400 El Casco Stapler.

Since I love pens, I read the article with gusto. I am not attracted to hand-made solid gold fountain pens, but I do appreciate fine art.

Besides digging into the hardware, the writers also delved a bit into why writing a message by hand is more meaningful than typing off an email.

I agree.

The article includes an interview with Tom Dixon, whose London-based furniture, lighting and interior design firm also sells fine pens and pencils. I disagreed with part of his thought in reference to those who handwrite, “Maybe superior communication is a more thoughtfully, artfully and carefully constructed message.”

When I write a personal email, I spend time going back and editing the content, such that my final thought truly says what I mean.

I do love writing letters by hand. My brother, who lives in Texas, is the recipient of the bulk of my handwriting.

As he could attest, few of those letters contain anything of great significance. But I enjoy the experience of dragging a smooth ballpoint across the back of a scrap letter-sized piece of paper. The resulting letters are more me than Helvetica or Myriad.

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You can’t say that

don't talk illustrationAmerican culture has become extremely polarized. If you are even slightly on one side of a fence, it’s very hard to say anything about your issue without getting shut down by voices from the opposing side.

This current political season has made the polarization much worse. Political candidates from both sides of the aisle are harsh and often unreasonable in their criticisms of their opponents. A climate of combativeness has sucked much of the American public into that same negative vortex.

Thankfully, I have become so tired of pre-election politics that I lost my desire to voice any political opinion. I hardly listen to any news, as so much air time is devoted to the same verses being iterated in some hardly-new direction.

I’ll be glad when November 9th hits, no matter who wins.

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Skip the secret sauce

My shelf of hot sauces

Superior State University (ironically named) has an annual list of banished words. This year’s list includes: conversation (as in, “join the conversation”), problematic, stakeholder, price point, secret sauce, giving me life, and physicality.

Part of my job involves putting words together to communicate the value that the company I work with offers. There’s a fine balance between being interesting and being too interesting.

Overused catchphrases can induce rolled eyes, soft sighs of pain or simply a click-away from the web page.

This year, let’s strive to write with words that communicate well, without harm to our readers.

Special thanks to the Wall Street Journal for pointing me to the Superior State University list.

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Thoughtless

A few weeks back, my car was in the shop for some body work. (An unfortunate accident had occurred that meant some repairs were due.)

I took advantage of my insurance company’s connection with Enterprise Rentals to get a quirky car to drive during the repairs — the Fiat 500L.

Overall, I enjoyed the car’s quirkiness. (It had a few quality issues, but that’s another story.)

fiat 500l drivers manualThe manual was completely worthless — a CD. When inserted into the car’s CD drive, it would not do anything except display an error message. The only way to view the contents was to bring it home and put it into a computer with a CD slot. Then a program had to be installed to make it run!

What happens when a driver is 50 miles from nowhere and has a flat tire? The compressor in the back (no spare tire) had no instructions.

Fiat — please do a little more thinking next time!

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Slow Down

Writing with a fountain pen on a postcard, copyright Paul MerrillI’ve discovered the joys of using a fountain pen. It gives me a unique sense of pleasure to feel the pen tip moving across the paper. The paper’s texture enters my brain in a way it never could if I was using my super-smooth ball-point pen.

My sister and her family raise chickens. Sure, it takes a lot more work to keep those birds happy compared to simply buying eggs at their local supermarket. I am sure that the eggs taste better — and that their kids are learning responsibility in a way that schoolwork alone could never do.

The book Words Onscreen (by Naomi Baron) advocates moving away from electronic books — and back to the old paper variety. At least one of the reasons is that printed typography can be better. I’m not sure I am willing to ditch my old Kindle, but it’s worth considering.

Walking or riding a bike to get somewhere takes a lot more time. Time is money, so it can be expensive too. But you’ll smell the roses along the way.

Brewing coffee with a French press takes longer than an electric drip machine. But I like the taste better.

I’ve started sending old postcards, by snailmail, to friends. I like using my fountain pen and making that small analog connection with humans. (Who doesn’t like to get something in the mail?) If you’d like to get one, send me a note via comments on this post. Remember to include your snailmail address. Apologies, but if you live outside the USA, I can’t afford the postage — about four times more!

Photograph taken by my daughter Rachel.

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Full disclosure

sunsetI always feel a tension about how much is appropriate to share. If I lean toward the vulnerable side, my experiences may resonate with some of my readers in a deeper way than otherwise possible. If I lean toward the surface level, I won’t alienate anyone. And how much disclosure is too much?

I’ve been struggling with how to share a significant life event. Last week, my mother-in-law died after a long struggle with many illnesses. Her release from a body that was not working anywhere close to what it did earlier in life was a blessing to her and others. But we greatly miss her — the woman we remember who was funny, loving, nurturing and much more. How can anyone sum up the life of another in a few short words?

I was the first to visit her room at the hospice. I saw her frail form lying with her hands folded, holding a pink rose. I walked to the lobby to wait for her husband to come. Then we went to her room together and cried. I cry, even writing this.

Life is a blessing. Love those around you today.

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TL-DNR

too-much-talkTL-DNR = “Too Long; Did Not Read.”

This is a phrase that I wish more people would grasp. Few are able to write a good blog post that is fewer than 100 words. Even more critical than brevity is the ability to capture the reader’s attention. Our world is so fractured into special interests that very few blogs can capture the interest of wide audiences.

Faithful readers of this humble blog are few, because I knowingly write about almost anything and everything. If I wanted to focus, I could grab more readers, but making money from this blog is not my goal. I only desire to connect with a few people at a deeper than surface level: “I totally agree with you!” Or, “You are completely off-base, but I can now understand why you feel that way.”

Shiny Bits of Life are often small things that are insignificant to most people. I love uncovering the obscure and bringing it to life for the few who enjoy the same.

Thanks for joining me on the ride.

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Secret combination

rexona soap from kenyaAlmost twenty years ago, Heather and I lived with a very gracious family in rural Kenya, for two weeks. Learning how real people lived was part of a training program to orient us to life there. (We went on to live in East Africa for five years.)

Peter, our main host, was on break from college. He served as our translator and cultural broker, fluently speaking English, Kikamba and Swahili. He loved to listen to Kenyan radio, powered by a large car battery. I will never forget the Rexona commercials. We heard them every morning, whether we wanted to or not — the walls weren’t very thick.

The commercial was totally in Swahili — except for the slogan, “Rexona — Secret Combination!” Rexona was a brand of soap, with touted qualities to make your skin amazing. The “R” at the front of the phrase was always trilled.

Why do I bring this up? Food Babe got Budweiser to list their popular beer’s ingredients for the first time. Rice might not be on the top of everyone’s list for what makes a quality beer, but then again, Budweiser is probably not on the top of everyone’s list as being a quality beer.

Mystery in ingredients can be a good thing or a bad thing. For Rexona, it was good. For Budweiser, maybe not so good.

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