Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Credibility In The Strangest Places

Everybody has their guilty pleasures. Some people are addicted to reality television, some people can eat their weight in ice cream if you don't wrestle the spoon out of their hands. Mine is only slightly less horrible than that; it's memes. Yes, I can admit that I am addicted to memes.

Just in case you've ben living under a rock and have no idea what I'm rambling on about, Urban Dictionary defines that pesky meme as:
1 : an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media)
2 : a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable
And what's worse, I know they're not even that funny. In fact, some of the stuff on 9gag and Reddit is so terrible that I cringe when I read it. The internet is truly the only place where the freaks of the world can show their true colours. Much as they shouldn't.

I find the above definitions at once accurate and hilarious. They make memes sound like some kind of predetermined, enlightened and highly researched subject matter that is taken as fact because it should be. Let me tell you that this is not the case. Here's my definition:
an opinion, usually politically incorrect and highly offensive, disguised as a fact or clever quip through use of interesting or humourous imagery 
But the part about "virus of the mind" is certainly true. Now that you definitely know what a meme is, let me get to my point. As a budding graphic designer, I am trained to believe that design can be used as a method of giving credibility to an idea. For example, designing a bright and friendly package for a new cereal on a supermarket shelf in order to entice customers to purchase it instead of their usual cereal. While I know this method to be almost foolproof, many people (especially those not currently holding jobs related to design) do not believe in it as wholeheartedly as me.

I have noticed a phenomenon spreading around the meme websites of the world which only furthers my belief of design's power of persuasion. While there is a specific 'brand guide' (you might say) to each meme, such as using the correct image, typeface, font weight, etc; some crafty people have decided to mix things up a bit by taking these memes a step further.

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily believe in the theories behind these memes, I am only discussing their visual quality.

Unpopular Opinion Puffin (more examples)

Look at all the f***s I give (more examples)

Confession Bear (more examples)

I especially appreciate the Sound of Music change-up, which has Julie Andrews now blocking the offensive word. Not that I am all about censorship or anything like that, I just think it's well done.

Anyway. So because there is attention paid to the layering of the type against the usually flat image, I would argue that more credibility is given to the meme. I would make an educated guess by saying that the usual method one might use to make these memes is through Meme Generator, where literally all you have to do is pick the appropriate meme and type in your text. As far as I know, these people have used Photoshop or some other program thereof to make custom memes. What was their motive? Why did they decide to put so much work into something that they probably understand to be more disposable than an old Kleenex you find in your winter coat? Could it be that they understand the value in design? In every sense and in every realm of the human world? I don't know if I can dream that big. But I can hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

User Experience

Today being the second day of my internship at Nascent, I thought it might be interesting to think about what user experience currently means to me. I might compare this with the ideas I pick up on the other side of these three weeks to reflect on what I have learned.

First of all, I feel that the term 'user experience' has a certain connotation that it can only be related to digital media. Whether or not this is widely believed to be true, I personally feel that I am able to relate the practices and theories of user experience to any piece of design, whether it be industrial, print, web, interactive, etc. And it doesn't end there, either.

I was looking for the expiry date on a jar of cream I had bought, and found it on the bottom. First of all, I suppose that it would be a logical place to look for the expiry because that placement is what we are used to as consumers, but having it on the bottom forces the user to turn the jar upside down, possibly causing a spill. Think of one of those situations where someone you find attractive asks you for the time. You forget about the cup of water you're holding and spill it all over your shirt so you turn your wrist to check your watch...and then you realize you don't own a watch at all.

Secondly, The expiry date read as "MA142015". Naturally, I wondered to myself, is this MArch or MAy? I began to wonder which month would be more likely. Since March has more options of a second letter to choose from, MA probably refers to May. But then I realized, instead of trying to pick the month that more logically would use the A as its second letter, why wouldn't we erase all of the confusion and not use A for either month? March should be MR and May should be MY. From the producer's perspective, seeing MR beside MA makes it obvious that MA refers to May, but the consumer will probably never have both of those pieces of information (at least at any one time). The consumer will most likely only own one jar of cream at a time, forcing the MA instance to be isolated, with no outside reference.

I thought that this scenario was a good example of user experience. Instead of trying to decide whether March or May is more deserving of using A as its second letter, the better designer would understand that neither of them should use the A.

And of course, had the appropriate amount of thought been put into this packaging design, my blog post would never have been written in the first place. As we all know, when we experience good design, we won't even notice that anything has been designed. The beauty of truly understanding your user should mean that they never have to think about the design that you achieved. It should be so natural that they don't even perceive its existence. This is my goal over the next three weeks.

Friday, April 11, 2014

It All Starts at the Beginning

I don't watch a huge amount of television (especially considering how busy my life is becoming now that I have to become an adult soon). But I do like to watch television as a break between projects and things like that.

Of course, even during breaks from productive creative work, I can't turn off that part of my brain. I always pay attention to design-related aspects of television like title sequences and motion typography. As I create more and more projects based on time and motion, I am beginning to see myself more and more as the type of designer who might dabble in this kind of thing.

A friend mentioned to me that she also really appreciates good title sequences. The high rollers like HBO and AMC pride themselves on amazing sequences like the ones I mention below. I offered a thought to her that the reason title sequences are so important is because they emotionally condition the viewer to watch the show in the right state of mind. I could go off on a ramble here about how commercial breaks ruin the flow of these artfully crafted works, but that's for another post.

Especially for highly dramatic and intense shows, I find that the opening titles act as an emotional ramp up to what will happen in the show. For example, one of my current favourites is True Detective.

The show is set on the back-country roads of Louisiana and deals with a very nitty-gritty unsolved murder mystery being tracked by two very nitty-gritty police detectives. The sequence features beautiful typography that moves so naturally with the background, you probably didn't notice that it was moving at all. The double-exposure film is nothing short of beautiful, and the mix of obvious and subtle themes like religion, sex and family values are spot-on with the plot line and characters. Having watched the entire first season in under two weeks, I can honestly say that I did not fast-forward through the title sequences once. I could watch this over and over. And I do.

Opening sequences can also be informative as well as visually arresting. Take Game of Thrones for example.

The 3-D map of the world changes often, up to every two episodes at times. The places shown on the map will become important in that episode, and it helps viewers to keep track of where characters are in relation to each other. Not to mention that it is so beautifully done, many loving remakes have been made by the likes of the Simpsons couch gag and HootSuite's Game of Social Thrones.

This post would not be close to complete without the mention of The Walking Dead.
The colour palette and music mix with the imagery to explain a post-apocalyptic world in which the living must fight to their last breath to survive against something (not pictured) that has gone terribly wrong. The fact that the visuals do not feature any real people but only their essence as experienced through objects is such an amazing idea. A street of empty cars, an abandoned house. I might go so far as to say that the visuals might be seen from the perspective of a zombie. "What are these things...I feel like I remember them from another life" is the inner monologue I see on screen.

Less recently (but I just blazed through all five seasons) is the amazing opening for Six Feet Under.

Starting out as a lighthearted comedic look at death and turning into more of a soap opera, the opening sequence remained amazing. The sequence takes an outsider's perspective on the rituals of the Christian Western World in terms of dealing with loss of life. Everything is so calculated, from the two hands falling away from each other at the beginning to the green tree turning brown and dying over the writing credits at the end. I am also a huge fan of Thomas Newman's original scores (Finding Nemo, A Series of Unfortunate Events).

Much as I am taking a break from this show (too scary!), the opening credits to American Horror Story are delightfully creepy. Here's season one:

The music, the cut-up imagery, the use of colour and inversion, this opening has all the cheesy aspects of your usual horror genre, but somehow it works really well. And I must say, I have never thought of the typeface Hillhouse as creepy until this show. Now, everywhere I see it seems atrociously inappropriate if the theme isn't horror. Further, the various images are all seemingly abstract, until they become slowly revealed one by one throughout the season. For example, the nurse's outfit suspended in water seems to make no sense until you see the episode in which it is featured. By the end of the season, every object's story has been revealed. Say what you will about the amateurish filming style, but that takes some planning.

This is by no means a finished list, but just some of the ones that stuck out in my mind. The only downside to film openings is that while they are very good at bringing you down to the dramatic level of their show, there is no show ending to bring you back up to the emotional state you were in before you watched the show. This is the main reason I can't watch American Horror Story at night anymore. Too scary!