Print fans, philatelists, and astronomy lovers are in for a treat this summer, thanks to the U.S. Postal Service. To commemorate the first total eclipse of the sun to be visible across a swath of the mainland U.S. since 1918, the USPS is releasing a first-of-its-kind stamp that changes appearance when you touch it. Printed using thermographic ink, the photo of the sun responds to the heat of a finger, turning the solar disk into a black moon with only the corona of the sun glowing around it. Pretty cool, huh!
To make this stamp even more fun, the USPS is hosting the first-day-of-issue ceremony at precisely 1:30 p.m. on June 20 at the University of Wyoming Rotunda Gallery in Laramie. As if heralding the summer solstice, the sun is then slated to shine directly down through the solar tube in the Rotunda ceiling casting a single beam of sunlight onto the silver dollar embedded into the Rotunda floor, setting it aglow. Read More »
In the early 1980’s, psychologist William Cain conducted a study with students at Yale University to see if they could identify 80 common products just by their scent. Here are the top 20 recognizable odors. See if you can arrange them according to immediately recognizable to least. (See answers at end of article.)
The year was 1990. “The Simpsons” is aired on Fox for the first time. GM launches the Saturn car. The most complete skeleton of T-Rex is found in South Dakota. Crayola retires eight colors and replaces them with eight others, including the cheerful Dandelion.
Every summer since 2011, Budweiser has touted its allegiance to America by rolling out packaging with patriotic themes. Its beer cans and bottles have featured the Statue of Liberty’s crowned head or raised torch. The red, white and blue stars and stripes have been presented in various slanted angles and patterns. This summer the self-proclaimed “King of Beers” has boldly gone where no brand has gone before. It dropped the renowned Budweiser logo completely and replaced it with the generic name “America.” Before you decide this is branding suicide, consider the rationale.
Budweiser was founded by Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri, around 1870. Adolphus Busch named his beer Budweiser to appeal to German immigrants like himself. He modeled the beer after a Bavarian lager made in the German town of Budweis, founded by King Ottokar in 1245. King Ottokar actually coined the slogan “The Beer of Kings.” Also, in what is now the Czech Republic, the name Budweiser name had existed in Budějovice since the 16th century. In fact, there is still a Czech beer called Budweiser Budvar.
All was well for decades since beer was mostly a local product, which didn’t travel well over long distances. But pasteurization and refrigerated freight cars turned the St. Louis-produced Budweiser into a brand known throughout the land. This forced the St. Louis brewer and the two European brewers that all called their beer Budweiser into a trademark dispute, which was resolved in 1938, with the agreement that Anheuser-Busch could use the brand name Budweiser only in North America.
Fast forward to 2008, when a Belgium-based beer giant acquired the St. Louis-produced Budweiser label and changed its corporate name to Anheuser-Busch InBev. That made Budweiser’s American roots even more confusing – this at a time when other U.S.-made beer brands were heavily cutting into Budweiser’s market share.
Budweiser decided to strengthen its American heritage by launching a major campaign during the peak beer-guzzling summer months. The New York-based design firm Jones Knowles and Ritchie was asked to create limited edition packaging for a summer-long campaign called “America is in your hands.” The 2016 marketing effort runs from May 23 through the November general election.
Temporarily replacing the Budweiser label with “America” was a bold move, but one that probably won’t confuse consumers. The graphic styling of the cans and bottles look identical to the usual packaging. Only the text has been swapped out with phrases like “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave,” “e pluribus unum,” and the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The bottles look eerily the same as the regular ones, except for arousing an inexplicable urge to salute and sing “America the Beautiful.”
Horse racing fans were on pins-and-needles watching the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs last Saturday, but brand naming experts were probably rolling their eyes and guffawing every time the announcer called out the contenders’ names. The Derby’s naming protocol violates the most basic rules of name development. As anyone in the branding business will tell you, successful names have to be unique, memorable, pronounceable, simple, easy to spell, evocative, and trademark-able. In other words, just the opposite of Triple Crown thoroughbred names. Read More »
Commercials run on the Super Bowl have become their own cultural phenomenon. Costing about $5 million to air a 30-second spot (or $166,666 per second), the commercials reach an estimated 115 million American viewers, and millions more outside of the U.S. Advertisers throw big budgets and top talent at making these spots. In past years, the entertainment quality has been so high that some viewers only watch the game to see the commercials. After the game, people turn to YouTube to see the commercials they missed. This year, however, many advertisers aimed for a pre-game viral buzz by releasing their commercials in advance on TV, YouTube and online platforms.The commercials kinda dribbled out over the past month. The buzz created by millions of people seeing the ads simultaneously for the first time on the Super Bowl was missing. The Super Bowl ads were no longer an event. Without a doubt, there were some terrific ads on the Super Bowl (like the ones shown here), but the thrill of the shared experience is gone. People aren’t coming into the office the next day and chatting with co-workers about their favorite Super Bowl commercial the way they used to. Read More »
Confession: Even as a pre-teen, I resented Barbie. She was too blonde, too shapely, too well-dressed, too popular with the right boys (Ken), too comfortable and self-assured in any setting. She rode around in a red convertible, while the rest of us had to slump down in the back seat of the family station wagon. Her boobs were perky enough to look good in an evening gown and swimsuit. Never in our wildest dreams did most young girls feel we could grow up to be like her. She wasn’t a role model; she was an in-your-face taunt. It’s one thing to aspire to an ideal and another to reach for the unrealistic and impossible. It’s an instant inferiority complex at age 10. In retrospect, I realize that Barbie was very shallow, self-absorbed, and not likable at all. She probably was the type who would never read a book or have an opinion on anything other than the latest fashion.
So, I suppose it is a good thing that Mattel has issued updated Barbie dolls in different body types – tall, petite, and curvy. This is a follow-on to last year’s introduction of 23 new Barbies, with different skin tones, hairstyles, outfits and flat feet (not meant for high heels only). It’s a start. Now to accessorize her with books and turn her into a team player. Read More »
This 90-second plug for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is as ingenious as it is entertaining. Featuring Fallon, house-band The Roots, and the Star Wars cast, the video shows the performers singing as an a cappella choir. Arranged in a grid a la Hollywood Squares or the Brady Bunch, each performer is shot against a plain background while giving their own solo rendition of the film’s most familiar tunes. By shooting at different times and places to accommodate the performers’ schedules, the producers were able to make Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie, BB8, storm troopers, 3CPO, and R2D2, part of the all-star chorus. The juxtaposition of colored squares and overlapping of a capella voices turned the video into a spontaneous jam session, with performers playing off each other even though they were in different parts of the galaxy.
In the U.S., most sports teams and many consumer products adopt mascots to give their brand a friendly, animate identity, but as far as we are aware, only Japan has mascots to represent prefectures, towns and public offices. Called Yuru-chara, which translates as “loose character,” the mascots generate millions of dollars in merchandise sales (keychains, mugs, t-shirts and plates, etc.) and the costumed characters make special appearances at promotional events and festivals. Without exception, the yuru-chara are cute (a la Hello Kitty), unsophisticated in design, and exhibit childlike manners. Yuru-chara proliferate throughout Japan, so much so that some prefectural governments worry that the number of little towns that have come up with their own yuru-chara are diluting the impact of the big city mascots and cutting into merchandise sales.
The best-known mascot in Japan is Kumamon (seen here) introduced by Kumamoto Prefecture in 2010 to draw tourists to the region’s Kyushu Shinkasen train line. Kumamon instantly shot to fame, and won the 2011 Yuru-chara Grand Prix, drawing more than 280,000 votes in a nationwide survey and crushing other yuru-chara competitors. The next year Kumamon single-handedly earned the prefecture more than $120 million in product sales and was even featured in a popular video game. As with most other yuru-chara, Kumamon doesn’t speak,has only one facial expression, and is of unknown gender and species. It merely dances around and makes spectators happy. Read More »
The beauty of Old World craftsmanship is expressed in this Home Run King bat trophy commissioned by Nike. Featuring the exquisite lettering and design of Salt Lake City-based Kevin Cantrell and New York-based Juan Carlos Pagan, the trophy is designed with a typographic treatment that circles the entire circumference of the bat. Richmond, Virginia-based firm, Big Secret, handled production, engineering the artwork to be laser-etched around the bat’s circumference in a seamless finish. Read More »
More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face. Read More »
Years ago last century when I was communications manager at a forest products company, my boss used to call Kit Hinrichs “that gray designer” because he always managed to use 402 Gray in every job he designed for us. Then Kit outgrew his gray period and developed a fondness for 032 Red, which to him is the most wonderful red he’s ever seen. He didn’t use it on everything, but you knew he loved it. Now he is passionate about 123 Yellow. Never try to engage Kit in a discussion about using 035 Red instead of 032, or try to sneak it by him. He’ll know. The guy’s color perception is like a dog’s sense of hearing. Very keen and nuanced.
For decades, ignorant art directors have perpetrated a big lie, reinforcing sexist stereotypes and insulting females everywhere. They have portrayed the gender of Santa’s reindeer as male, assuming that only male reindeer have antlers and the strength and endurance to haul a jolly fat man and a sleigh filled with gifts from the North Pole to all parts of the world all night. Actually, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the opposite is true. Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen are all reindeer girls. The Department of Fish and Game knows this for sure because although both male and female reindeer sprout antlers every summer, the male reindeer shed them after they have mated, usually by Thanksgiving. The female reindeer keep their antlers until after they have given birth in the spring. Hence, all of Santa’s reindeer drivers are ladies since they are the only ones with antlers in December. Had art directors been more thorough in their research, they would have figured this out, and they would have known that Rudolph’s (or Rudi, as she is known to friends) glowing red nose is not a facial deformity, but a stylish fashion accessory.
In September, Playscape, a children’s playground created in 1976 by Isamu Noguchi in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, reopened after a restoration funded by Herman Miller Cares via Park Pride, and coordinated by the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Office of Parks. Playscape is the only playground designed by Noguchi in the U.S., despite his effort to develop more.
One of the 20th century’s most important and acclaimed sculptors and artists, Isamu Noguchi had a lifelong interest in designing children’s playground. “I think of playgrounds as a primer of shape and functions; simple, mysterious, and evocative; thus educational,” he said.
Noguchi’s approach to playgrounds was consistent with his design of furniture and lamps, theater sets, stone sculptures, and landscaped gardens. He brought an organic and geometric sculptural sensibility to all. “Sculpture can be a vital force in our everyday life if projected into communal usefulness,” he believed. His goal was to create art that the public could use in a social space. That included children’s playgrounds.
Noguchi pursued his quest to create playgrounds throughout his career. He designed his first landscape for children in 1933. Calling it Play Mountain, he proposed building it in New York City and envisioned a contoured terrain with many elements that would find their way into his other landscape designs. New York rejected his proposal. He tried again in the 1950s and 1960s, and was rejected each time.
For Playscape in Atlanta, Noguchi created colorful sculptural forms that invited children to explore this landscape, using their imagination to invent their own play. Dakin Hart, senior curator of the Noguchi Museum, described Noguchi’s belief “that playgrounds should not be designed like military exercise equipment for a cheaply executed boot camp…He thought kids should experience the environment the way man first experienced the earth, as a spectacular and complex place.” This is a vision that applied to all of Noguchi’s work.
In the realm of classic comic book heroes, there is Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, the Green Lantern …and Tintin the baby-faced boy reporter. A comic strip introduced in 1929 by Belgian cartoonist Herge (Georges Prosper Remi), “The Adventures of Tintin” relates tales of a Belgian teenager with a round head and a dorky quiff hairstyle who is dispatched by a youth newspaper called Le Petit Vingtieme (the Little Twentieth) to file investigative reports from hot spots around the world. Unassuming and good-natured, Tintin gamely goes wherever he is assigned, taking his little fox terrier, Snowy, with him. His travels often put him in the midst of political upheaval in the land of the Soviets, the Belgian Congo, China, Chicago, Latin America and elsewhere, and in trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, he is forced to deal with ruthless special agents, diamond smugglers, Al Capone gangsters and other villains who want to run him over, shoot him, torture him, kidnap him and feed him to crocodiles.Tintin and Snowy deal with each encounter without fear and get themselves out of each jam through quick-thinking action and sometimes through sheer dumb luck. What has kept Tintin so beloved over the decades is that he isn’t presented as an egotistical super human like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, but as an average young man who doesn’t seek out danger but doesn’t run from it either. In Brussels, Tintin and Snowy are honored with a life-size bronze statue, and they are even commemorated on a euro coin, which is legal tender in Belgium. An unlikely action hero, Tintin is probably the most admired fictional Belgian in recent history.