Posts tagged “imagery”

Kelly’s War Story: Pictures are language independent

Here’s Kelly Braun, Senior Director, User Insights and Analytics at with a story about shooting fieldwork video and inadvertently getting the money shot.

At eBay we did a lot of field visits. We were always over-prepared with checklists, allergy meds, extra batteries, and everything else we could think of for the unexpected.

For this particular study we were interviewing people who had bought large equipment on eBay. This visit was to a store that had purchased a giant Xerox machine that had been used by big corporations. This video store specialized in Chinese language videos.

I perused the movies as we got set up. Some were American movies that I recognized by the pictures even though the titles were in Chinese. Others were films made specifically for the Chinese-speaking audience.

We interviewed the owner and he told us about the amazing deal he got on the machine and when we asked if we could see it he said “Sure, it’s in the back.” No problem, we had extension cords for the video camera.

I took the camera off the tripod and followed the store owner and my co-researcher into the tiny back office. I couldn’t really get a good shot of the Xerox machine from the door so I went inside and around the machine to get a better angle. At this point the owner says “Oh, I forgot. This is where the porn videos are…but don’t worry – they are all in Chinese”.

I look up and the side of the room I was now facing with my video camera rolling was filled with porn – all with Chinese titles, but let’s just say it really didn’t matter that the titles were in Chinese because…well, a picture is worth a thousand words regardless of the language!

My co-researcher just soldiered on asking questions and all I could think of was “Wow am I supposed to film this guy with all the frolicking nakedness on the video covers behind him?”

Lesson learned: Make sure you know how to override the auto-focus on your camera!

ChittahChattah Quickies

Dissident Creates by Remote Control [] – Of course this is a political act as much as an artistic or commercial one (and some art theorist can probably explain why it must always be all three, yes?) but this seemed a novel application of remote collaboration software, at least in the way they’ve framed it.

In an unusual collaboration with W magazine, Ai Weiwi created a story line for a series of photos that were shot on location in New York by the photographer Max Vadukul as Mr. Ai looked on, art directing via Skype on a laptop computer. Mr. Vadukul would set up a shot and look to Mr. Ai for approval. “We could see him on the screen, scrolling through the images,” Ms. Solway said. “What was so interesting was his attention to every detail. There was this big shower in Rikers – we thought it looked very dingy, but he said the grout was way too clean and graphic.”

Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence [] – While the whole article primarily deals with the decisions that financial professionals make (scary scary stuff), the principles on judgement and decision-decision making feel sound, if challenging.

You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do.

Personal Eco-Concierges Ease Transition to Green [] – Last year we did a research project that looked at “going green” as a journey. We met people at various stages along that transition and what their decisions were like at each of those stages. No surprise to see businesses appear explicitly aimed at facilitating the steps along that journey; indeed we identified other products and services that were or could speak to that goal – beyond usage to growth.

“The problem with going green is that people think it takes so much work, so much effort, so much conscious decision-making,” said Letitia Burrell, president of Eco-Concierge NYC, a year-old business in Manhattan that tries to make it easy for people to rid their homes of toxins, hire sustainable-cuisine chefs and find organic dry cleaners. It is a niche business, but a clever one. At least a half-dozen services of this type have sprung up around the country in recent years, both to help time-starved consumers manage their lives and to assuage the guilt of those who worry that they are letting the planet down. “There are people who come to us gung-ho and they want to make a sweeping lifestyle change,” said P. Richelle White, who left a corporate advertising job four years ago to start Herb’n Maid, a green cleaning and concierge service in St. Louis. “These are busy professionals who don’t have the time to do the research themselves about different products and services.”

Sexy, religious images spotted on new money [CBC News] – Getting feedback to designs before going to press is proven once again to be a good idea. Seems like a great application of a focus group, since the feedback needed is shallow and not very nuanced, although interesting to note that the social dynamics of a focus group limit the naturalness of that feedback – so much so that it made it into the report!

The Bank of Canada fretted that Canadians would find all kinds of unintended images on the new bills. So the bank used focus groups to spot “potential controversies.” “The overall purpose of the research was to disaster check the $50 and $100 notes among the general public and cash handlers,” says a January report to the central bank. Almost every group thought the see-through window looked like a woman’s body, but participants were often shy about pointing it out “However, once noted, it often led to acknowledgment and laughter among many of the participants in a group.” On the other side of the bill, there’s an image of a researcher at a microscope and a depiction of the double-helix structure of DNA. But the DNA strand evoked something else. A Vancouver focus group thought it was “a sex toy (i.e., sex beads).” Others thought it was the Big Dipper. There was no mistaking the microscope, but when focus groups flipped over the bill they noticed the edge of the instrument showed through like a weird birthmark on Borden’s cheek. Respondents also thought the former prime minister was either cross-eyed or that each eye was looking off in a different direction, the report says “Others felt that the PM’s moustache is unkempt.” Every focus group thought they saw religious iconography on the face of the Peace Tower clock. “It was often described as ‘The Star of David.’ Others referred to it as a ‘pagan’ or ‘religious’ symbol,'” the document says-Bank of Canada spokeswoman Julie Girard said the bills got tweaked after the focus groups. “Before and after those focus groups, there were design changes for multiple reasons,” she said.

Harnessing the marketing power of the Obama brand

This NYT article about the prevalence of President Obama’s image as an artistic subject reminded me of two pictures I took recently in Amsterdam:

Obama Burger, Amsterdam, May 2009

Yes Weed Can, Amsterdam, May 2009

The first poster mashes up J. Howard Miller’s iconic Rosie the Riveter (We Can Do It!) image with Obama (Yes We Can!), in order to sell a burger. The second puns on that Obama slogan in order to sell a t-shirt referencing a supposedly common tourist activity in Amsterdam.

More collisions between brands of leaders and brands of products and services, previously

Imelda Marcos – brand name for new fashion line
Hitler’s Final Days
Dictator Kitsch
Limits to Dictator Kitsch?

Croatia probes Hitler likeness, jokes on sugar packets
Backlash against Citroen Mao ad
Target pulls marketing campaign featuring Che Guevara

More pictures from our travels in Amsterdam are here.

Sad update: ChittahChattah Flickies

  • As of this writing, flickr has decided my account is not active. After uploading 5000 pictures and while in the midst of a big trip? Let’s see how long it takes them to restore things (as this seems to be some sort of known problem that is happening with some accounts)
  • Update:

    We took a look into the issue with this account. It appears your “steve.portigal” account was deleted by someone who had access to your Yahoo! ID and password. Investigating, we think there is a possibility your account was phished.

    In short, in most cases when someone’s account has been phished, a link to a fake Flickr page was left on a photo. Often it is a link that was left for a bogus award. These are usually fake login pages that send the ID and password to the person who has posted this fake page. In a small number of cases, invasive software has been installed that logs keystrokes on the Windows operating system. We have no way to know how you were affected, we do want to make this clear.

    Unfortunately the content from the account cannot be restored. When accounts are deleted by someone who has access to the ID and password, we presume it to be the person who created that ID and is acting upon their wishes and then the data is deleted. We can restore the account itself which will restore it’s pro status.

    We are definitely sorry this has happened. We know this is disruptive to your experience on Flickr and work you have created is lost. We don’t like seeing this affect our community.

With a name like “Death Camp” it’s got to be good

A new restaurant in Mumbai is called “Hitler’s Cross.”

A huge portrait of a stern-looking Fuhrer greets visitors at the door. The cross in the restaurant’s name refers to the swastika [originally a Hindu icon – SP] that symbolized the Nazi regime.

“This place is not about wars or crimes, but where people come to relax and enjoy a meal,” said restaurant manager Fatima Kabani.

Now that is some serious PR spin! All you need is “our consumers tell us that…” and it’d be in the top 10 of all time.

It reads like a marketing class exercise (or dare), doesn’t it? Find some way to take the most negative thing imaginable and productize it or present it as a benefit or a brand.

Inventory Porn

I pulled a page out of Newsweek a year ago, intending to do something with the article, anyway a year later, I finally get around to blogging Everything I Ate: A Year in the Life of My Mouth, mostly as Yet Another example of what I would call Inventory Porn (of which Taschen books might be a leading example) – if you go to some extreme length and document something (a big collection, all the stuff in your home, every manhole cover, gum wads, lost pet posters, bowling pins) at length, it becomes some publishable hipster NPR-reporting bloggable story.

It’s sort of the ultimate in DIY (or sorry, I mean User Created Content); anyone can seemingly visit every Starbucks in the US. Most won’t. But the person that does can get a book/movie/TV deal.

Some of these efforts are fun, some offer some insight, but others are just tedious. I might like to photograph the hotel doorknob of every room I stayed in over the last 3 years. Do you want to look at those pictures? What if I tell you engaging stories about each doorknob? Or each hotel? Or each trip? Well….maybe.

I admit it’s compelling to consume and create, but I’m also feeling a little burned out with this stuff. Perhaps it’s the lowbrow ethno vibe the whole thing gives off, that it’s an aesthetic and attitude of being into the details of consumption more than the implications or outcomes of the study (if it is even study; perhaps it’s just documentation).

Mmmm…oriental curry

The Oriental Curry Shop is a Japanese restaurant we saw in a mall in Hong Kong (called Times Square).

Here is their corporate mascot

and here is how s/he looks in “real life.”
Sure, they use the whiteface version in illustrations, but then they’ve got a half-life-size statue of the blackface version right in front of the counter, and toys and more of the same character.

Obviously, racist images are not universal. Hell, we can’t even use the word oriental here, can we?

Target looks at Wired Glamour

Target Ad 6-1.jpgTarget Ad 5.jpgTarget Ad 4.jpgTarget Ad 3.jpgTarget Ad 2.jpgTarget Ad-1.jpgclick on any picture to enlarge

A while back Virginia Postrel wrote about Wireless Glamour – the absence of wires from the glam photos of technology used in advertising, etc. I found these pictures in a Target advertising circular called Room Solutions. I was amazed to see pictures of messy rooms, where people own lots of stuff, it’s messy, askew, and yes indeed, there are wires – cables, cords, the whole real deal.

Sure, the pictures are entirely stylized and sort of hyper-real, but somehow it’s relieving to see a significant move away from the more idealized and yes glamourous consumer images that advertising is so fond of. I was at an annoying deisgn conference a couple of years ago and was struck when someone from IKEA showed fieldwork photos – messy homes overflowing with stuff. Of course, it wasn’t the photos that I was struck by – in doing ethnographic research, I’ve taken a million of those “real” pictures myself over the years but I was struck by the reaction – laughter. Designer after designer showed luscious product pr0n but one person showed realistic images and were met with ridicule. Now Target is using the mess of real life to help depict their ideal world – where consumers’ homes are messy and overflowing with stuff – stuff purchased at Target.


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