Instagram and Fake Eyes

I use social media, not unlike many of my peers. Recently, however, Apple has begun to notify me of my time spent on not only my total screen time but on each of my social apps. I was alarmed a few months ago when my phone happily reported that I had been on Instagram an average of two to three hours per day but I was down 5% from the previous week.

My first reaction was that this was completely wrong—I had no recollection of being on Instagram any longer than about 15 minutes per day, give or take a few. So, I started paying attention to my Instagram habit. What I quickly realized is that I was looking at Instagram for about 15 minutes per session at least 20 times a day. I also couldn’t specifically recall what I had seen. It was as if those 15 minutes had never happened.

According to Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post science writer and author of The Hidden Brain, my Instagram habit is a perfect example of how our subconscious minds can manipulate us without our awareness.

In a public radio broadcast, Vedantam relates how a 10-week test revealed differences between unnoticed visual stimuli. At an office beverage counter, an on-your-honor sign asked you to pay for whatever soft drink or coffee you consumed. In the first case, the eye-level sign was adorned with innocuous flowers. Subsequently, the image of the flowers was changed to a pair of watching eyes. In the end, no one even noticed the pictures—flowers or eyes—and yet they had a dramatic effect upon behavior. Contributions to the honor system were much more likely to be made by those who were being “watched” even though they were not real eyes.

Such is an example of our subconscious mind at work. The author explains that our hidden brain is a “dumb system”: that we act unaware, whether making decisions about driving a car or contributing to an on-your-honor cup of coffee.

The work of designers often operates within the hidden brain. We find the means to communicate to an audience about our message—both subtly and overtly—through the use of form, color, and typography.

We have written before about the minute nuances that shape a typeface and how it communicates unconsciously with everyone, regardless of your familiarity with the vocabulary of typography. The language of design suggests an object’s gender and reflects authenticity or its opposite: crass salesmanship. Design is the language that helps to define, or to signal value. It creates the visual clues that signal whether something is precious or cheap.

Enhancing perceived value is one of the primary goals of corporate design. This becomes very important if your product or service is not the low-price leader. In the fall of 2016, Apple released their Bluetooth Airpods. In the beginning, only the early adopters were seen wearing these minimal, highly aesthetic “headphones”. Two years later, and the masses have adapted. Design, price-control, influencers, and effective marketing have created a perceivable value, for Airpods, in the subconscious mind above all other wireless earbuds. It’s not necessarily because the Apple product is actually better, rather that it’s perceived as better. (Although, I would argue the functionality of the Airpods is truly superior and worth it). As the on-your-honor test showed, visual stimuli have a remarkable effect, even if you are unaware. And, if it weren’t so, we probably wouldn’t be in business.

I’ve since deleted Instagram from my

social media for aec

In 1439, Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press, revolutionizing communication forever. Eventually, the printing press was improved, turned into typewriters, then computers, smart phones and more. Thanks to the technology and the burst of the Dot-com bubble, it would usher in branding’s new secret weapon—social media.

Like the printing press, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and others were created with the goal of changing communication. Some 16 years after the Dot-com bubble popped, social media has been integrated into almost every facet of everyday life. Unfortunately, AEC, a B2B industry, is virtually invisible on social media compared to B2C industries such as jewelry, clothing and automotive.

The best use of social media for a B2B oriented business is to network. Networking essentially means to share information, whether it is contact info or insights.

The Marketing Handbook for the Design and Construction Professional advises
professionals “to have information to share in order to receive information in
return.” The easiest way to do this is to stay up to date on current trends and news through “blogs, wikis and other Internet-based information.”
Statistically, the best place to network is LinkedIn, a gathering ground for
professionals. In 2015, LinkedIn controlled 94% of B2B marketing compared to 88% on Twitter and 84% on Facebook.

Like any conversation, starting is one of the hardest parts of networking; it can be difficult to muster up the courage to approach another. All this is made infinitely easier online rather than conferences and other networking events, where it’s easier to find the perfect person to network with all while significantly lowering the potential for devastating human error.

According the Marketing Handbook, some of the best types of people you should begin networking with are:

  • College alumni: Whether they’re old friends, acquaintances or complete
    strangers, it’s amazing how far you can get into business negotiations. Fellow alumni can also lead to partnerships, recruits and new work opportunities.
    Focus on people who are in a relevant industry to you, and vice-versa.
  • Associations and societies: Every group has aspects of culture and
    insights valuable to others. Connecting with members from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for example can help give you new insight to an aesthetically pleasing 3D printing interior design you’d like to incorporate into your next project.
  • Suppliers of products: The larger the supplier, the better. They’ll have
    large marketing budgets you can piggyback on to get your name out there as well, and teaming up with companies is a great way to earn credibility to the public and the rest of the industry.
  • Suppliers of products: The larger the supplier, the better. They’ll have large marketing budgets you can piggyback on to get your name out there as well, and teaming up with companies is a great way to earn credibility to the public and the rest of the industry.

Lastly, it’s easiest to build a relationship with a business (or anyone) by treating social media like a two-way conversation, not an online bulletin board. The best way to develop discussion is by answer questions quickly and being completely personable. The number one rule is to keep in touch.

No one really knows the next big leap for communication. Whatever it might be, the art and enterprise of media and communication have come impossibly far from the Gutenburg Press, and they’ll only go impossibly further.

our future is bright

Never trust a skinny chef. It’s an adage I’ve always enjoyed thinking about; not just because as I continue learning new recipes in the kitchen it gives me an excuse to put on a few pounds. If you’re unfamiliar with the metaphor, the idea it conveys is that a) he/she has eaten enough food to know what’s truly delicious or b) they have tasted, tested, and repeated to become excellent at what they do. In my mind it’s the same sort of mistrust you would have in a shaky-handed deputy patrolling your town.

What I can appreciate most in this colorful “practice what you preach” phrase is the visual representation of experience and the sense of comfort you can receive from it. So with an energized effort to practice what we preach, our team at modern8 looked inward at ourselves through the same lens as we would a client who has engaged us in our d5 Perception Branding Process.

We’ve described the process in an earlier Newsletter, but if you you need a refresher on how our Adjective/Archetype exercise works, it’s fairly simple. We give our clients a list of adjectives and ask them to choose those that best reflect their company’s brand. Upon analysis, these choices reveal their archetype—which is an archaic, universally-understood pattern or icon that the Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Jung had found appearing consistently from stories told around the world. This new understanding and awareness of their brand helps to unify employees in their perceptions of who the company is and why it exist on a more emotional level, thus creating a cohesive team of brand ambassadors.

What emerged from our exercise—during which we were looking forward to what we want to be, rather than what we currently are—is that we have a split personality. Our base archetype was, fittingly and predictably, that of the Creator. So we delved deeper into our analysis for something to give us added differentiation from other creative agencies and discovered that there were three specific sides to the Creator archetype; each representing aspects of who we are and what we do at modern8. Rather than getting too much into the technical aspects of our analysis, we’ve personified the three creators with sub-archetypes to provide a better understanding:

Julia Child: Creator/Sage
Picking up on some of the characteristics of the Sage archetype, Julia Child is the perfect representation of master articulation and artful execution. We’d love all of our designs to be as mouth-watering as her dishes.

William Shakespeare: Creator/Lover
Our role in helping a client brand themselves is to help define and develop their story. Figuring out what you’re selling isn’t hard. But figuring out why your clients should care is a different matter entirely.

Steve Jobs: Creator/Rebel
We’re all designers by background; so our battlecry remains “Think Different.” We get just as jaded and dissatisfied as you in run-of-the-mill templates and oversaturation in design trends. Our goal is to continue to push convention and evolve our aesthetic while maintaining a high level of clarity in communication—which is and will continue to be the purpose of design.


sincerity in marketing

“What the heck were they wearing at the Grammys?”
“How money can buy you love online.”
“10 ways to survive a plane crash.”
“This one government secret will make you think twice about drinking water.”
“Try getting through these 35 photos without crying a new Nile.”
“Forget what you knew about quantum physics.”

Three of those are direct headlines from last night on a once reputable news source. The other half I made up. So which are which? That’s not important. What do they have in common? They are all perfect examples of what’s called “clickbait”; a sensationalist online advertising ploy designed to attract click-throughs.

I’m getting tired and sad because of clickbaiting (watch this video for a colorful intro and to hear puppets agree with me). I’m tired because it seems as though I can’t escape the reach of this curiosity-driven advertising-in-information’s-clothing; and I’m sad because it seems the only way to prevent clickbait is by unfollowing companies and media sources I’ve appreciated for years. Clickbait marketing has gotten so internet famous, The Onion has gone as far as creating a parody site in response to the type of clickbait generated by sites like Buzzfeed.

Apparently I’m not alone. An Aug. 2014 NY Times article reported:

“80 percent [of surveyed facebook users] ‘preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through.’”

In a smart move, Facebook is reportedly building a new algorithm to limit the degree to which users are inundated with clickbait. It will also base the importance of an article and the likelihood of it being clickbait by how long users spend reading it. But personally the damage is done. I’ve grown cynical of the new definition of “content” and will continue using it for nothing more than messaging and reminding me of friends’ birthdays I’m too lazy to memorize.

Whether your company takes part in clickbaiting, the lesson can be applied to marketing as a whole; be authentic. Be informative and genuinely interesting. And importantly, don’t let the drive for clicks control the quality of your content marketing strategy.

the importance of mockups

After presenting design concepts to a client, hearing “I’ll know it when I see it” is a more troubling statement for designers to hear than you could imagine. It’s a perfect mix of words that compose a particularly worrisome cocktail:

• 1 part poor substitute for useful feedback and creative direction for future explorations

• 2 parts our regret that we weren’t able to sell our clients on the proposed concepts

With regard to this “feedback,” it is our responsibility to receive more clarification from the client. It’s common that we ask questions like “So you still want a green….but one less…vomity?” Better yet, “You want the typeface to say that you sell grapefruit without saying you sell grapefruit?” It isn’t too hard to squeeze more direction for subsequent design efforts.

It’s the regret that really hurts; having your efforts briefly glanced at and dismissed. You can try to explain your hardest why that vomit green color would really pop on the paper stock you had in mind for the business card—especially if it was embossed coated with a spot UV. And that typeface you chose for the grapefruit company? Its form best fit the available space on the wooden crates in which the fruit is delivered.

Our client was on the fence about which design he wanted for a new business card. That is, until he saw these bad boys!

The best technique for us to avoid this regret is one that’s used by many firms in our industry: digital mockups. Photoshopping the graphics onto blank, templated 3D package designs or printed collateral helps contextualize our concepts, providing our clients a greater understanding of our intent with our designs without having to take our word for it.

Our designs are clear. Our intentions are clear. And more often than not, the air is clear of “I’ll know it when I see it.”

perception’s impact on value

An interesting story appeared in the Washington Post last year. A man stood in the metro station near the top of the escalators on a cold January morning in Washington DC and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for 43 minutes. While he played 1097 people passed by. He had his violin case open and by the end had collected $32.17. And that includes the twenty-dollar bill thrown in by the only person that recognized him.

This was not your typical street performer. The violinist dressed in jeans and a baseball cap was Joshua Bell, who just three nights before gave a sold out performance at Boston Symphony Hall with seats going for more than $100. He was playing some of the most challenging, yet elegant classical music ever written. And Bell was playing it all on his 300-year-old Stradivari violin, conservatively estimated at $3.5 million.

The stunt was organized by the Washington Post as a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities. c Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? In the 43 minutes the virtuoso played, only six people stopped and listened for a moment. About 20 gave him money but most continued to walk at their normal pace. Interestingly, kids seem to be the most attracted, but were invariably hurried along by their parents.

There’s may be more than one conclusion to draw from the experiment, but the most obvious to me is that your perception has a huge impact on how you value what you receive. As the Washington Post said, Joshua Bell “was, in short, art without a frame. We shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby as unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.” Are you expecting to receive something valuable in that situation? No. There’s no stage, no sold-out tickets or formal clothes. There’s no supporting cast. There’s no expectation that you will be getting the performance of your life.

Knowing that Joshua Bell was a onetime child prodigy and now an internationally acclaimed virtuoso makes it painful to watch the video. The hundreds of people hurrying to work are oblivious to the value of what they are passing. But the minute you change the perception of what they are getting, by changing the context, suddenly the same people are lining up to pay a $100 a seat.

The connection to brand perception is obvious. Set the stage. Change the expectation. Create the experience. The result will be higher value on what it is that you deliver.

creativity begins with perception

The October issue of the business magazine Fast Company, is the annual look at the “Masters of Design” –the designers, companies and ideas that are driving creative capital in corporations today. What neuroscience reveals about how we come up with new ideas is explained in an article titled “Rewiring the Creative Mind”, excerpted below.

“Creativity and imagination begin with perception. Neuroscientists have come to realize that how you perceive something isn’t simply a product of what your eyes and ears transmit to your brain. It’s a product of your brain itself,” says Gregory Berns, the author of the article adapted from his book Iconoclast. Some people see things differently. Literally. Creative people may be born that way, but we all can learn how to see things not for what they are, but for what they might be.

“Perception and imagination are linked because the brain uses the same neural circuits for both functions. Imagination is like running perception in reverse. The reason it’s so difficult to imagine truly novel ideas has to do with how the brain interprets signals from your eyes. The images that strike your retina do not, by themselves, tell you with certainty what you are seeing. Visual perception is largely a result of statistical expectations, the brain’s way of explaining ambiguous visual signals in the most likely way. And the likelihood of these explanations is a direct result of past experience.”

“That’s the secret behind the famous illusion above, by the Italian psychologist Mario Puzo. Theories of how the brain works say the perception that the lines are different in length comes from experience. In the real world, lines that converge at the top are generally parallel, but are receding into the distance. Railroad tracks, roads, and skyscrapers (seen from street level) all look like this. This view is so commonplace that your brain has become accustomed to transforming such converging lines into parallels. If you turn the figure upside down, that illusion disappears, because in reality, you almost never see lines that converge toward one another at the bottom and certainly not parallel lines that recede into the distance.”

“In order to think creatively, you must develop new neural pathways and break out of the cycle of experience-dependent categorization. New insights come from new people and new environments–any circumstance in which the brain has a hard time predicting what will come next.”

i’m a designer

We just moved into a new building we share with other design professionals, specifically landscape architects on the floor above us and architectural planners below. We have clients who are architects and engineers, who by definition are also designers. Of course we’re graphic designers. Then there’s fashion, product and interior designers. In addition, those who create structured services and activities and the integrated systems of computers and other forms of technology, also call themselves designers. With the vast array of products and services in the contemporary world, one might wonder if there really is a discipline of design shared by all who conceive and plan such things. As Richard Buchanan, a design theorist said, “The scope of design appears to be so great, and the range of styles and other qualities of individual products within even one category so diverse, that the prospect for identifying a common discipline seem dim.”

There is a wide range of beliefs about what design is, how it should be practiced, for what purpose, and what we accomplish through it. Every year for the past 20, I have taught the history of graphic design at the University of Utah. The subject matter of the class is essentially a history of graphic design objects, the careers of the important designers and the development of the technologies used. We don’t really discuss what design is. It’s similar for all design histories.

Unlike other scientific pursuits, designers don’t discover things like natural laws or a natural process (excepting occasional unintentional discoveries). Generally a designer invents something: an object, a new use, a possible application. Discovery and invention are essentially different. As Richard Buchanan says, “Designers deal with matters of choice, with things that may be different than they are… Any authority for the designer comes from recognized experience and practical wisdom in dealing with such matters, but the designer’s judgment and the results of his or her decisions are open to questioning by the general public, as are all matters of public policy and personal action, where things may be other than they are.”

The use of techniques and processes that systematize the discipline of design help to explain and understand how designers achieve their results. Such thinking is the basis behind the modern8 Perception Branding 5d process.We use it to explain and systemize how our design solutions come to be, in a discipline that isn’t easily defined.

irrational influence

When we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices, using our logical, analytical left brain, but actually that’s not so. According to a new book, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, we are anything but rational beings. Most decisions are based on highly irrational influences, which are all relative. We estimate the value of things according to how they compare with other things.

Most of what we consume from the world around us comes through our sight. We visually compare one option against another. In the diagram above, the green circle on the right is the same size as the one on the left, but the context is different and influences our perception.

Brands that have a real dedication to the value of visual aesthetics, like Target, Apple and Starbucks, dramatically influence how their brand is perceived. Brand guru, Marty Neumeir says that aesthetics is “the language of feeling, and in a society that’s information-rich and time-poor, people value feeling more than information.”

Aesthetics is so powerful it can turn a commodity into a premium product. How did Starbucks differentiate itself from Dunkin’ Donuts ten years ago? How was it able to change the accepted price of a cup of coffee? Dan Ariely, tells us that a decade later, Starbucks has actually changed our very understanding of coffee and its value, whether you get it from Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s or the grocery store.

The irrational nature of the human psyche may be the best reason yet to influence your brand perception by managing the aesthetics.

mapping branding perceptions

We have been engaged by a local architectural firm for brand strategy and identity development. While we were strategizing with the marketing director on factors that drive business development for architects, he explained to us the importance of experience and relationships. We asked which was more important in the minds of their clients. Is the accumulated experience of the firm, or are personal relationships more important?

The marketing director answered by diagramming the classic four squares with experience along one axis and relationships on the other. The best option is when you have project experience in addition to a client relationship. But lacking one or the other, relationships trump experience.

We like the diagrammatic approach, because it lets you visualize what you already know. You can literally map out perceptions. Whether it be the relative value of relationships vs. experience, or Stephen Covey’s Urgency vs. Importance matrix, you can take a great deal of information and look at it all at once. It lets you position brands and brand attributes relative to others with the dimensions that customers use to distinguish them.

Take simple attributes like innovative vs. traditional, and younger vs. older. Treat each of these as an endpoint of an axis on a map. Now consider well-known brand categories, like automobiles or soft drinks, for example. Position the relative importance of each attribute for different brands. Where would Coke be positioned vs. Red Bull? What about Volvo vs. Honda?

Choose the axes and quadrants appropriate for insights in your own industry and map your own brand against your competitors. Are there ways to position your company differently from others? Consider mapping different attributes, benefits and values that can be compared and contrasted. Small/large, local/national, expensive/inexpensive and many other attributes can be used to distinguish one brand against another.