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Point to Your Level of Pain


Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale

While the medical staff was prepping me for inguinal hernia surgery at Stamford Hospital on Friday, I noticed six faces staring back at me, each displaying increasing levels of distress. What a brilliant idea. Regardless of language, age, or level of education, all that is needed to accurately communicate a patient’s level of pain is a finger. So, was this brilliant piece of information graphics created by a well-known design studio in New York or London? No, it was developed by Dr. Donna Wong, a pediatric nurse, and Connie Baker, a child life specialist, who worked together at the burn center at Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While tending to children in the unit, they found that assessing their pain proved challenging, leading to misunderstandings and ineffective pain management. Figuring there must be a better way, Dr. Wong and Ms. Baker experimented with scales using colors, words, and numbers, before settling on facial expressions as the most universal solution. Two years of systematic validity and reliability research led to adoption of the Wong-Baker FACES™ Pain Rating Scale, now used the world over. Thanks to the excellent doctors, nurses, and medical professionals at Stamford Hospital, my surgery was a success. As I lay here on my couch recuperating, I can point to the third face from the left as my current level of pain.

Crowdsource Your Logo

Crowdsourced Logos

We recently met with a client to discuss a packaging assignment for a new line of foods she was launching. During the meeting, she pulled out a stack of papers with hundreds of logo concepts for her new company that had been designed using a new technique called crowdsourcing. I’m sure you’ve heard of this. Using a site like Logo Tournament or Design Crowd, you write a creative brief, decide how much you want to pay, hit send, and receive hundreds of design concepts from designers the world over within hours. You can request changes from the designers you like and if you don’t like any of them, you don’t pay a dime. Crowdsourced design is fast, cheap, and risk free. For a start-up business on a shoestring budget, what’s not to like? read on

Meet the Picasso of Design


Trek Art Bike

What bothers industrial designer Marc Newson? “Ninety-nine percent of all cars, ninety-nine percent of all cell phones, and ninety-nine percent of all sneakers.” When journalist Chip Brown asked him if he felt assaulted by mediocrity, his answer “I’m constantly reminded of the opportunity that exists to improve designs.” This is something we talk about often in our studio, so I found myself nodding my head in agreement. How is it that the discipline of design has come so far, yet so many products today are so average, if not downright bad? A company like Apple has proven that great design sells. Yet I still can’t find a coffee maker that functions properly. You’d think that particular design problem would have been solved successfully years ago.

I was unfamiliar with Marc Newson until reading a recent article in the New York Times Magazine (January 29, 2012). A native Australian now living in London, he has created everything from furniture and household objects, to bicycles and cars, to commercial aircraft and yachts. He is one of those rare designers that seems to imbue each new piece with a personality all its own, using nothing more exotic than common materials, bold colors, and simple shapes. His fans include Apple’s chief designer Jonathan Ive and Reed Krakoff, creative director of Coach, who suggests “To me, Marc is like the Picasso of design.” Count me among Marc’s admirers as well, his product designs are fantastic. To see more of his firm’s work, like the Trek Art Bike from 2009, visit marc-newson.

Trashing Your Brand Part II: The Komen Foundation


Susan G. Komen For the Cure

Over the past thirty years, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation built a strong reputation fighting for women’s health. The institution’s looped pink ribbon became an ubiquitous symbol, finding its way onto American Airlines jets, Ford cars, Dell computers, and Yoplait yogurt. But a sudden withdrawal of financing from Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening threw the previously neutral brand into a vicious cultural debate. To most observers, Komen was putting politics ahead of women’s health. Under immense pressure, the organization apologized and reversed their decision a week later, agreeing to continue funding grants. But the damage was done and a once powerful brand has been badly tarnished.

EPA’s New ghgData Map

EPA's New ghgData Map

There is virtually unanimous agreement in the scientific community that human-caused global warming is real. So it puzzles me why climate change remains a partisan issue in the United States. “The theory remains unproven,” says Rick Perry. “Global warming is a hoax,” according to Michelle Bachmann. “I’m not one who would attribute it to being man-made,” notes Sarah Palin. In 2010, the Senate failed to pass basic legislation that would reduce greenhouse gasses (ghg). Seriously? Doesn’t a healthy planet benefit Democrats and Republicans alike? Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a searchable map that allows users to identify the nation’s major sources of CO2 and other gasses emitted from power plants, refineries, and chemical factories. It’s a wonderful example of dynamic information design based on real-world data. Now you can find out for yourself where greenhouse gasses are coming from—as close as your own backyard—and who are the biggest carbon polluters. Armed with this information, all of us can keep pressure on government and industry to combat global climate change.

New York’s Curbside Haiku

Haiku is a short form of Japanese poetry, begun sometime in the 1600’s, that is characterized by three qualities: use of three lines of 17 or fewer syllables; use of a season word; and use of a “cut” to contrast and compare two events, images, or situations. A creative new campaign from the New York City Transportation Department is using haiku to spread messages of safety to areas where a high percentage of accidents have taken place. Developed by artist John Morse, the twelve different signs have been placed in areas near cultural centers and schools in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

Trashing Your Brand Part I: Penn State University

Plenty has been said over the past few weeks about the Penn State scandal. Although minor compared to the ugly allegations, the damage to the institutional brand is profound, but not often discussed in the media. It’s true that students protested Joe Paterno’s termination, but they weren’t condoning the actions of their beloved coach or the sordid behavior of Mr. Sandusky. The intense collective reaction was due to the sudden absence of pride as they witnessed the brand collapse beneath them. Penn State—like Duke, UCLA, Harvard and others—worked hard for decades to build enviable brands that inspire trust, excellence, and passion. In an instant (although as we have learned, the indiscretions happened over many years), that powerful identity evaporated. I can hear the Penn State stickers being peeled off car windows to avoid the associated shame. So, will applications start falling? Will enrollment drop? Will alumni stop giving? It’s too early to tell. But one thing is certain—it will be years before the Penn State brand regains its former luster.

Point Judith Compositions


I have been visiting Point Judith, Rhode Island since I was an infant and I return each summer with my family. Yes, it is known for the Block Island Ferry and great clam chowder shacks, but it’s also a true working fishing town. In fact, Point Judith is one of New England’s few remaining deep-sea fishing ports. Hulking vessels with names such as the Captain Bligh, Perseverence, and Stormy Elizabeth come and go, day and night, fishing for tuna, bass, cod, flounder, lobster, and scallops. While mooring their boats, the men throw their nets, floats, and equipment on the docks, unintentionally forming beautiful compositions of texture, color and pattern. I neither arranged nor art directed these photographs, just pointed my Nikon down and shot. To see a professional photographer’s take on this subject, visit Markam Starr’s timeless study “Endangered Species: The Commercial Fishermen of Point Judith.”  read on

The Ten Commandments of Dieter Rams

The day after the Brand New Conference in San Francisco, I visited the SFMOMA with my friend Earl Gee and we enjoyed the special exhibit of Dieter Rams. The famous German industrial designer’s ten principles for good design are timeless: (1) Good design is innovative, (2) Good design makes a product useful, (3) Good design is aesthetic, (4) Good design makes a product understandable, (5) Good design is honest, (6) Good design is unobtrusive, (7) Good design is long lasting, (8) Good design is thorough down to the last detail, (9) Good design is environmentally friendly, (10) Good design is as little as possible. No surprise, then, that Rams himself recently remarked “Apple is the only company designing products according to my principles.”

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