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Transforming | Commemorating

By Alison

Six international students from the Miami Ad School in Brooklyn are behind a guerilla project that turned pedestrian traffic lights around Manhattan and Brooklyn into symbols of remembrance. The stop symbol was modified to resemble the fallen Twin Towers, while a message reads “9/11. Forward. Together.” underneath it.

I love the simplicity, the power of this, and I think about New Yorkers encountering these this morning how that made them feel.

Filed under: Design


Hearing the right message

By Alison

Irish Poet and Nobel Literature Prize winner Seamus Heaney died last week. As an English Literature Major I sat at my desk the morning I heard and tried to remember a poem across the vast field of time that has passed since I read one.

Punishment, written about an Iron Age body found in a bog in Windeby Germany in 1952 – something of a recurring theme for Heaney – was the one I conjured up. That line about tugging at the nape stuck somehow.

So I tracked it down to read again, and learned that much has changed in terms in our understanding of the contextual and archeological message delivered by that long dead body compared with when Heaney wrote the poem, and even when I first read it back in (Lord) 1988. Earlier even if it showed up in a high school anthology.



I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adulteress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeuur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

Experts at the time the body was found thought she may have been an adulteress whose head was shaved, after which she was blindfolded and drowned in the bog. This is one of the stories Heaney tells in his poem, there is also political commentary, as he explained years later:

“It’s a poem about standing by as the IRA tar and feather these young women in Ulster. But it’s also about standing by as the British torture people in barracks and interrogation centers in Belfast. It’s about standing between those two forms of affront.”

However in 2007, Prof. Heather Gill-Robinson, a Canadian anthropologist and pathologist used DNA testing to show that, far from being a 14-year old girl, the body was actually that of a male. And that the hair had been lost perhaps during the removal from the bog, perhaps by the passage of time.

They all heard the wrong message.

Happily, for Heaney, his interpretation still has value. Fine art comes with that sort of latitude baked in. Not so when you’re crafting commercially.

It’s vital to hear the message correctly in order to package and deliver it. As a design firm, we are focussed on listening to what our clients want and then crafting something that meets the brief. That can be tricky, though, because while we all broadcast information, both through what we say and how we say it, often times there is still some decoding required.


Studies show that verbal impact of communication only accounts for 7% of your overall message. Bulk of communication comes across in our appearance and body language, comprising 55%. Tone, speed and inflection of our voice make up the remaining 38%. You need to be a whole-body listener.

We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think at 1000-3000 words per minute, and immediately after listening to someone, we only recall around 50% of what they said, long-term that falls to 20%.

So. There are lots of tips out there on how to listen. Here are some, as a former journalist, that I rather like:

1. Listen to understand, not to respond

2. Be quiet

3. Let them finish their thoughts

4. Maintain eye contact (or, you know, stare intently at the phone during conference calls)

5. Ask questions to ensure that you understand

These are courtesy of Guy Harris, Chief Relationship Officer with Principle Driven Consulting who blogs here.

And while we’re thinking about listening, back to Heaney now, because it’s always cool to hear a poet reading his own work. Here’s The Underground.


Filed under: Inspiration


YouTube Preroll Reimagined

By Alison

Do you find your cursor hovering on the “Skip Ad” button and counting down through those obligatory 5 seconds of forced viewing every time you find yourself watching something on Youtube?

(Although weirdly, some 35% of people actually do choose to watch them all the way through – perhaps it’s the option of an out that keeps them engaged. Interesting.)

Anyway. It’s always cool to see people changing up how we interact with the familiar, especially when it’s an annoying sort of familiar, and especially when it is helpful to people in a profound sort of way. I love what globally-present agency VML came up with for some preroll time they purchased for the Aussie Police.

Take a look.


The eyes have it

By Alison

As a group of people focused on providing visual solutions for our clients, it’s always nice when science gives the eyeballs a nod.


Yup – I’ve written before about how heavily humans weight our visual senses as we make sense of the world, but there’s a new bit of research out lately that calls this into, well, focus even more starkly.

I say classical music competition, and what do you think of first? Sound? Or sight? Sound seems like the obvious pick here, but a recent study found participants had a higher success rate when it came to identifying the winners in competitions based on watching silent video clips, and not from listening to the audio recordings. Really. Even when the study participants were highly trained musicians.

It’s a very counterintuitive finding — there have been some interesting reactions from musicians,” said study author and recent Harvard Graduate Chia-Jung Tsay said. “What this suggests is that there may be a way that visual information is prioritized over information from other modalities. In this case, it suggests that the visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more.”



Tsay earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior with a secondary Ph.D. field in music last year. She recruited almost 1,200 volunteers who were given either video clips without sound, audio clips, or video clips that included sound. After viewing or listening, they were asked to identify the winners.

What I found was that people had a lower chance of identifying the eventual winner if they only listened to the sound,” Tsay said. “People who just had the video — even without the sound — had surprisingly high rates of selecting the actual winner. Even with professional musicians, who are trained to use sound, and who have both expertise and experience, it appeared that the visual information was overriding the sound.”

Here’s Tsay, a Juilliard-trained pianist in competition.

Eyeballs matter, people, so take care of them! And we’ll keep working hard to show them nothing but the good stuff. And here are some eyebally facts, just because.



How Different Species Use Their Eyes

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


Filed under: Design, Just for fun


Brain Science and Infographics

By Alison


Who does not love them?

Well. Clearly we do. But really. They’re awesome! And they’re increasingly in use. Check out this great infographic by San Francisco-based Interactive Artist Ivan Cash on current trends and devices.


They’re a powerful tool when it comes to communicating complicated ideas – quickly and compellingly.

But I missed a step there – because you need to break down the components a little further to understand why it is that we humans just. Get. Them. It’s because it turns out your brain really REALLY loves… Images. And pictures are becoming arguably even more prevalent as we increasingly interface with our technology through app icons and thumbnails. Because it also just makes good sense to leverage something that makes that much sense to our brains.

So getting back to the brain and its love affair with the visual. One of the most striking characteristics of human memory is that pictures are remembered better than words. You already probably know this anecdotally – but there’s buckets of science to back it up. We have a really remarkable ability on this front.

In a study conducted in the 1970s on image perception and memory, researchers showed 21 undergraduates 2560 images for 10 sec. each. Then they tested their recognition memory and found that the students remembered at least 90% of what they’d been shown, that’s at least 2304 different images. Up to three days after originally seeing them. This far outstrips our ability to remember words. One theory on the why is that pictures automatically engage multiple representations and associations with other knowledge we have about the world, so the result is a more elaborate encoding than occurs with words.


(See this infographic on how memory works in its entirety here.)

Seems our brains just treat images differently, perhaps even hierarchically. They matter more. Articles with relevant images have 94% more views than those without, for example, high quality imagery is very important to 67% of consumers when making purchase decisions.

And memory matters when you’re trying to share information. We need to be able to remember in order  to understand, and to internalize before we can share. So one might say images drive social engagement. Which despite sounding fairly modern, is really not a very new idea. Neither, as it turns out, are infographics.

Here’s one put together by Florence Nightingale in 1857. She had a bit of an axe to grind about hospital cleanliness. So she put together this polar area chart showing mortality causes during the Crimean War.


And it’s really hard to make any sort of argument against hand washing when you register the deaths caused by communicable, preventable diseases, shown in blue, which just massively outstrip deaths from wounds shown in red. She made her case effectively apparently, and helped change the face of modern medicine.

(Healthcare is the sector today that most employs infographics to get their message across. Politics and business follow in short order rounding out the top three.)

And when NASA sent the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft out into deep space in the early 1970s they included a pair of plaques (gold-anodized aluminum) adorned with images telling a story of earth with the hope that they would be decodable to extraterrestrial life.


Human figures, hydrogen – our most abundant element, the position of the sun in the galaxy and 14 pulsars, the solar system and a silhouette of the spacecraft. Astronomer Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, who at the time had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea (we’re looping back to Florence here) came up with the design in just 3 weeks. (And took a lot of heat for the naked people, by the way.)

Where are these infographics now? Well Pioneer 10 sent its last signal 30 years after its launch in 2001, some 12 billion kilometers from earth. Pioneer 11 was last heard from in 1995, and is currently headed in the direction of constellation of Aquila. It’s expected to pass near one of the stars in about 4 million years. Which is really rather an extraordinary thing to consider.

So humans, and I guess we’re hoping aliens too, like their data visualized. It really is just easier to interpret a chart or series of stats in image form than from a block of text. (And as a writer, I will say that this pains me some). I’ll close out with this rather fantastic motion graphic from Column Five Media that neatly sums up the value and science of visualization.

The Value of Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.




Filed under: Design, Inspiration


Helping people talk to people

By Alison

HM Screen Shot


Our work for HunterMaclean, a large law firm headquartered in Savannah, has recently been recognized with a Silver Addy, a Communicator Award AND it was a Webby Honoree too. Needless to say, we’re thrilled.

It’s really gratifying, not the statue part (although no-one around here is going to knock shiny), but the part where the work is recognized for achieving what we set out to do for our client – take a complicated message with a large number of moving parts and deliver it in a clear, user-friendly format.

We began the process with HunterMaclean in 2011 when they chose to work with us to refresh their brand and re-imagine their online presence. We got down to the basics with them in order to really understand the story they needed to tell, and then focused on delivering that message as clearly and engagingly as possible. Usability from the client’s perspective was the bottom line.

The website, which launched in Spring last year, speaks both to the diverse experience of the firm’s attorneys and their clients’ successes while also highlighting their long history of community involvement.

This site is deep. Content matters, and it really mattered here.

There is a tremendous amount of valuable and relevant information to be shared with clients, and it is constantly being updated. We needed to develop a way to access existing and updated information and present it in a way that made sense to visitors to the site.

The attorney bios were the most complex component of the build, and are dynamically generated using a significant amount of content parsed from various sections of the site. Additionally, there is a high-level of site-wide interlinked content highlighting the accomplishments of the firm and its attorneys.

As always, thanks for working with us, this is one we’re really proud of. Even though we love ALL our children JUST the same.


Screen shot 2013-05-30 at 11.11.48 AM


Don’t be disappointed…

By Alison

The @thefirstwebsite folks have posted the earliest known version of the very first web site.

This is a copy from 1992, the original was posted August 6, 1991, and if you can’t get it to open, try again later. As one redditor put it:

Brought back to life by the CERN. Promptly killed again by Reddit’s Frontpage DeathHug.



Filed under: Just for fun


When Memes go Mainstream

By Alison


Filed under: Just for fun


Best in Show (Overall)

By Alison


Yup. It’s not just everyone’s favorite Christopher Guest’s movie, but also the ADDY award our 2012 Holiday Mailer picked up at the ADDY Awards last night – in fact it made off with a Regional Silver at District LevelBest of Show Overall, Best of Category – Print as well as a Gold ADDY.

playing cards gold


Just shows I guess, when it hurts that much, it’s going to be good.

Our showreel was also awarded Gold.

Paragon Reel Air


And work for the following (truly fantastic) clients was also recognized:

SEAD Sales Addy

wicked air

stupid air

HM Brand Refresh

SEDA Thanks

Byrd Air


talent soup air


HM air

SJC Addy

CCE Addy

Birds Addy

Coastal Beer Addy

Thank you for doing it with us.

Thanks go to the tireless American Advertising Federation organizers and volunteers (we’re looking at you Karl Strauch and Leigh Thomson) for all the extra hours they put in on the competition – and also to whoever made the decision to lay on that righteous oasis of cheese.

Filed under: Shameless promotion


Perc Up!

By Alison



St. Patrick’s Day was smelling particularly good around here a few days ago – SEDA’s 2013 St. Paddy’s Day mailer featured close to 200 bags of freshly roasted and ground coffee from local craft roaster PERC Coffee.

What better Post-Celebratory pick up could there be than a hand-roasted brew fresh from the hostess city? Exactly – that’s what we thought. And this year’s little extra something something was that the coffee would be mailed in a pop top can. Nice.

So, some background. Every year SEDA sends a St Patrick’s gift out to clients and prospects. Savannah hosts the second biggest celebration of this March happening, you know. And every year, we find a locally made product to feature. This year we worked with local coffee brewer Perc and they were great! So knowledgable. So delicious (the coffee). Did you know freshly roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide? No. Neither did we, but Roast Master Philip Brown did, and it was good to know, because if we’d canned them too soon we would have had exploding coffee cans. Which would surely have displeased the postal service.

The can label promoted Savannah while the coffee bag label was specific to SEDA and the programs and resources they offer.

Text you’d traditionally find on coffee cans was reworked – wait – I’ll show you:


And now the bags:



Never one to shy away from a challenge, we bought ourselves a canner (and a lot of cans in order to fully master our craft). The model that arrived was surely the very one used by canning enthusiasts at the turn of the century, and I mean 20th, people. And we have the instructions to prove it.

We’re seriously considering whether or not a future project should involve translating the instructions into something a lay person could understand. You know, sort of like a service to the community.


Once this antique torture device (Truth! It has thumb screws. Two. I’ll wait. Go read the instructions again, part # 13169) was assembled (no mean feat alone and we know about working in 3-D) we spent an unfortunate amount of time mangling can after can. It was grim. Then a mechanically-minded staffer (and heck no, I ain’t naming no names…ok, it was Phil) came to the rescue of those containers manufactured from earth’s third most abundant element (so it’s OK, plus we recycled the casualties anyway).


Canning debacle aside the final outcome was exactly as we envisioned! And more importantly SEDA was thrilled as were the lucky recipients.


Can’t wait to see what happens next year, and in the mean time, if you need any canning done, you know who’s got you covered. Call our amazing SCAD student helper Nikki (thank you Nikki! So much!!)  She did a bang-up job.

Oh! And happy St Paddy’s!