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Bargain Beauties

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On Saturday October 1st, Nora and I visited the Affordable Art Fair NYC. It was a far cry from a Sotheby’s event, where bids for work start in the millions of dollars. Most of the original paintings, prints, sculptures and photographs at this show ranged from $500 –$6,000.

Featuring both emerging young talent and established veterans like Damian Hirst, the galleries represented all corners of the globe—from Brooklyn, NY and Burlington, VT to Hong Kong and Florence Italy. It was an eclectic crowd, and it seemed like a lot of buying was going on, judging from the credit cards being swiped on Square-outfitted iPads at every table. Like the IKEA concept, it’s great to see high quality art and design that can be purchased and appreciated by almost everyone.

Missed this one? Affordable Art Fair NYC will return March 29, 2017 and will run until April 2. read on

Crazy Good Campaign

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Living in New York City in the early 80s, I was often jolted out of my mindless evening TV watching by an outrageous and wildly gesticulating electronics pitchman screaming “Shop around. Get the best prices you can find. Then go to Crazy Eddie and he’ll beat it! Crazy Eddie’s prices are Insaaaaaaane!!!” Who knew that all these years later, those commercials would still be talked about and universally considered advertising classics. Among New York metropolitan area consumers, Crazy Eddie at one point had better name recognition than Coca-Cola.

The lesson is simple—you don’t need huge budgets, à la Coke, to stand out in the marketplace. Instead a brand needs a creative, memorable, and distinctive voice, which can be created on a shoestring budget by a small team—as long as the players are smart, strategic, and highly talented. At its height, Crazy Eddie had 43 stores in the chain and earned more than $300 million in sales.

Years later, Eddie Antar, the founder of Crazy Eddie, got into trouble for understating income to avoid taxes and then committed securities fraud once he decided to go public (gotta love the stock symbol: CRZY). Antar served more than six years in prison and by 1989 the company declared bankruptcy and was liquidated.

Crazy Eddie passed away earlier this month in New Jersey at the age of 68.

Bar Charts Matter

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As a creator of infographics for many years, the power of charts can be undeniable. Good typography, smart use of color, and clear correlations of data can tell a story in an instant where words often take far longer.

One can only think back to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. Using charts and diagrams, engineers desperately tried to persuade their superiors to postpone the launch due to the fact that O-rings that sealed the bottoms of the solid rocket boosters would fail in cold temperatures. They were ultimately overruled and the launch countdown proceeded as scheduled. On that unusually cold morning, the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, instantly killing its seven crew members. Could better infographics saved that mission? Some—including data visualization legend Edward Tufte—argue that the engineers failed to communicate dangers because the data wasn’t presented in an easily digestible form.

I thought of the importance of data recently when I was visiting the website Politifact, a non-partisan website that fact-checks statements by politicians. I came across these two simple bar charts that rank presidential candidates’ statements from true to ‘pants on fire’ false. The results show an almost inverse relationship.

Weather Service Steps into 21st Century

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For as long as we’ve seen weather alerts, the National Weather Service has used capital letters. This was due primarily to the limitations of early telegraph technology, started in 1849 by the Smithsonian Institution. The time has finally come, however, for this helpful government agency to stop yelling at us in the electronic age. I was pleased to learn that NOAA’s Weather Service now publishes its forecasts in upper and lower case letters. So relax, that rain forecast for Saturday will just be a passing shower, not a category 5 hurricane.

Setting Them Free

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SeaWorld has been on the defensive ever since reporters and scientists began accusing the park of poor animal care practices. For example, the orca whales were found to have suffered physical injuries from chewing on metal grates, overexposure to the sun, and interactions with aggressive whales. Then the movie Blackfish came along, featuring underground footage and interviews that show often cruel treatment to the whales in captivity, the difficult lives of the trainers, and the fact that several people have been killed by the orcas.

So, the adventure park had to change. A new print and TV ad campaign shares the news that the orcas currently at SeaWorld will be the last generation, as they have ended their breeding program. Gone, too, are the orca theatrical programs. Also displaced is the orca in the SeaWorld logo, which now features an abstract fish. Glad to see they’ve set the real—and 2D—orcas free.

It Takes a Village

Krustyo Tonev, poses in front of a mural depicting himself next to the German chancellor Angela Merkel, in the Bulgarian village of Staro Zhelezare on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. The sleepy village of Staro Zhelezare in central Bulgaria is harnessing the power of celebrities, hoping for an economic revival through art. Outdoor murals in the village feature local people alongside celebrities on their homes. Homeowners are depicted with personalities such as Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth II, Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama and Fidel Castro. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

Staro Zhelezare, Bulgaria, is probably the last place you’d think to find Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher, or Angela Merkel. But here they are, oversized and in black and white, on walls all over town, along with deceased greats like Princess Diana, Che Guevara, Steve Jobs, and Brigitte Bardot. The entire village is being used as a canvas for Polish artists Ventzislav and Katarzyna Piriankov. Even more interesting, the artists have painted portraits of local residents right next to the celebrity heads. Here’s to Yanko Mitev, Krustyo Tonev, and Stefana Gospodinova—enjoy your 15 minutes, and maybe 15 years if the paint lasts that long, of fame. read on

New Name for 169-Year-Old Company

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Last month, Tribune Publishing changed its name and logo. The new name is tronc, which stands for Tribune Online Content. As with many traditional media companies, Tribune is trying to show customers, and investors, that it is successfully shifting from print to digital. As with previous big ticket brand revamps like Tropicana and The Gap, reviews are decidedly negative. “It sounds strangled.” “It looks like the secret love child of the Windows 95 and Soul Train logos.” “My eyeballs just threw up.” The true test of a good logo is to evaluate it in six months and a year. Will reaction still be negative? Or will it grow on you? I hope to weigh back in sometime in 2017.

Questions Surround Iconic Photo

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Was the most iconic American military photograph staged? On February 23, 1945, five Navy and Marine soldiers raised a flag on a hill in Iwo Jima. The scene was captured by Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, who went on to win a Pulitzer prize for the photograph. But had the soldiers actually posed for the shot? Were the soldiers correctly identified? Recently, James Bradley, who wrote “Flags of Our Fathers,” has become convinced that his father was not in the photo. Amateur historians compared this photo with that of an earlier flag raising and determined that John Bradley had in fact participated in the earlier one. Rosenthal, who died in 2006, repeatedly denied claims that the flag-raising was staged. Sergeant Bill Genaust was shooting film at the same time, and his movie clearly shows the same scene. Perhaps we should blame it on the fog of war. Staged or not, it’s still a stunning image and one of the most recognizable images of World War II.

Mapping to Fight Zika

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As the Zika virus continues its spread in South America, the United States’ leading mosquito researchers are assembling a DNA map to help them fight the disease using the mosquito’s own genetic code. As if composing an alien language, the team recently sequenced the entire mosquito, Aedes aegypti, genome. Each of the nearly four thousand colored lines is a fragment of its three chromosomes. What do team members hope to accomplish with this information? Some scientists are hunting for genes that, if altered in mosquitoes released into the wild, could drive the species to extinction. Other researchers are trying to identify genes that control how mosquitoes sense human prey in order to devise better repellents. Some favor selectively breeding populations of mosquitoes that have a preference for biting animals rather than humans. It’s fascinating and important stuff, with the resulting odd beauty of their graphic design by far the least important outcome.

Our Way or the Highway

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Since 2004, a typeface named Clearview has been making its way onto our nation’s highway signs. Developed by designers Donald Meeker and James Montalbano, they opened up the spaces between the strokes of difficult letters and made them slightly larger so that words were more readable. Clearview is a big step forward in legibility over the national standard alphabet typefaces that have long dominated highway signs. Late last month, as reported by the New York Times, the highway agency announced that only older typefaces specified in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices may be used, spelling the end of Clearview. Why? According to a recent Federal Register announcement, they feel that Clearview does not work well for dark lettering on a light background. A rather strange excuse, since most highway signs have white letters on a dark background. Given our government’s continued dysfunction, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

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