Category Archives: Branding

Stepping out of the box: How riding a bike to work helps me feel creatively alive

I am and will always be one who must experience things firsthand. When I was 14 years old a strange six-legged creature emerged from the waters of a nearby river I was fishing at and staggered up the rickety leg of a nearby picnic table. I had no idea what the creature was but its strange behavior caught my attention. I began watching what seemed like its final erratic movements on earth and after struggling for 15 minutes or so, the bug slumped to a halt on the surface of the table; it seemed its short life had come and gone.

I continued to fish for the next hour or so, periodically checking on the critter hoping that something would happen. As more time passed, I began to give up hope on the little guy after all, he hadn’t moved for some time now. But almost on cue I began to observe something truly amazing. The six-legged creature seemed to slowly inflate (for lack of a better word) with air and over the next hour or so, the thick exoskeleton began to separate. After struggling to free itself from its former body for what seemed like for ever, the bug mustered all the strength it could and step free of its former self to emerge as a beautiful dragonfly. After resting for a bit, the shiny brand new insect fluttered its new wings, as if getting comfortable in its new skin, looked around and took off. I was stunned, as I had never seen such a thing take place. It took me a few moments to realize but then it struck me; I had just witnessed the metamorphosis of a dragonfly. Excited I jotted down a few notes and created a picture to remind myself what I had seen. This experience would serve as a touchstone point in my life where art began to become something beyond the canvas. It helped clarify my position in life. I was from that point forward I was a witness; an observer. Whether good or bad, my purpose in life I had decided, was to understand and document ideas and events so that I could express them visually to those around me.

Several weeks ago I began riding my bike to work for the second time in my life because I wanted to again witness life, not just participate in it. I wanted to experience the journey to work, and spend as much time out of the office and the car as technology would permit. I began the process of exploring a route that was both safe (you quickly began to feel very small, very quickly when you become a long distance pedestrian as I like to call it) and visually stimulating. After a day or so of riding, I came up with the project you see in front of you. My mission was simple: capture design and document life through my eyes. What I found, as with many of the entries on this blog is the questions I thought I understood always lead to something I never expected. And so I began the trek to work…

Initially my idea was to take along the Ipod but I quickly shelved that. The first morning I road was a crisp sunny day so I figured I could getting back humming the lyrics to random songs (Death Cab for Cutie’s “You are a Tourist” immediately came to mind). I was underdressed, so it took a while to get used to the initial chill of the fall temperature, but once I did, I started to notice the smallest details. The morning chitter-chatter and shadows dancing across the side walk which more than compensated for the lack of music. This was only the beginning. The fresh air pumping through my lungs was revitalizing and I began to look at everything I’d been missing driving 40 miles an hour sealed up in a car. As the days passed and the miles continue to pile up everything has begun to slow down. The world in the morning and after work is very much a three-dimensional place when you’re not confined to a car as I mentioned. I have now begun to notice the different textures of the roads and sidewalks, and how insignificant things like sidewalk construction or a large puddle carry far more weight on two wheels. The most important thing you begin to understand as a cyclist however, is the comfort of 4 simple letters: W-A-L-K.

One of my favorite visual components of this time of year is definitely the colors and even more so now that I’ve started biking. Right before the season ends, the grass feels greener and smells fresher and the colors seem to pop like fancy photography. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching summer turn to fall and in having a front seat to the seasonal swap out, I’ve begun to subconsciously think about the order of the constantly changing leaves. These guys below I’ve concluded, are the first to fall in town and each day seem to litter more and more of the side walk.

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So now that you’ve had a chance to see and feel what I’ve experienced, it’s time to check out some of the photos I’ve snapped. As I mentioned, my primary focus for this project was to observe and document the art. To my surprise the art became somewhat of a subplot in the narrative of enjoying the tiniest aspects of life. That said, I did come across some very well done pieces as well as some clever homemade art that gave me a new found appreciation for the town of Wheaton.

Jack Straw’s Pizza

One of my favorite signs I pass everyday is the one you see below featuring the logo for Jack Straw’s Pizza. I like the vintage appeal and the hand drawn effect of the logo. It gives off the vibe of a small operation where the people work hard to keep their customers happy and it’s accurate; plus the pizza’s pretty damn good too.

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Next Yoga

This is a great sign, very simple, good color scheme and lets face it the attractive woman that takes up half the building helps a little too. The only thing that bothers me about this sign is the weird “x” in Next…it bothers me a lot actually…but hey, its a hook and I remember it so it works.

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The Constitution Truck

This truck caught my eye on one of the first few days I began riding. The first time I saw it I actually did not have my camera and thought I’d never see it again. To my surprise I saw it a few days later and snapped this pic. I like it because it takes a certain type of character to drive a truck like this and I can also appreciate the composition. The different pieces that are sort of scattered all over the truck give you a sense of the fragmented state of the colonies when the country was being formed. I’m not sure if this by accident or on purpose but it works.

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Pipe Man

Another manmade creation by the fine citizens of Wheaton, the “pipe man” can be found in the heart of downtown. Not sure why it was created but it certainly adds a bit of buzz to an otherwise unexciting building. Very creative!

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It’s been a great experience all around and I look forward to posting more as I discover more. I now realize that my bike ride is a brainstorm and an hour a half a day where I can analyze my thought and take inventory of the events that now fill my mental “tablet”. After taking the time to work on this project I have found a new way to both understand myself and those around me. If you’re an artist or simply someone who enjoys looking at things from a different perspective, I would encourage a bike ride to work (or any kind of alternative transportation for that matter). I identify very much with the Tabula Rasa theory popularized by John Locke and there is no better way to absorb your surrounding than to immerse your self in them. So give it a shot and send me some pictures if you find anything interesting!

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When safety and branding collide, NFL style

It’s Football Season Baby! The time of year when roughly half of America tunes in to see if their favorite city can capture the elusive Lombardi Trophy. With the NFL looking to build on its profit of roughly 10 billion dollars last year, nothing appears to be getting in its way…other than safety that is.

In 2013, The NFL made roughly 1 billion dollars in merchandising revenue and more than a fair share of that merchandise features the league’s iconic helmet design. The sleek helmet and the uniform’s Storm-Trooper-like appeal represent a symbol of masculinity in American culture that is unrivaled by any other professional sport. Take these two key components and slap a few aggressive looking logos on them and BAM! you’ve got people lining up at the cash register all around North America. The problem is, (and this isn’t news) as cool as it is, the helmet doesn’t really do much to keep the player’s heads safe.

The same can’t be said about the past 50 years of automotive safety, we’ve seen revolutions; collapsible steering columns, airbags, crumple zones, three point safety belt you name it and automakers have done it-heck they build their marketing around it. If you need a visual watch the video below of a ’59 Bel Air smashing into a 2009 Corolla.

 

What does it mean? It means the safety can be achieved if it is really desired. The NFL meanwhile, just seems to be spending a bunch of money on research that leads to very little and when it does, they just brand it as safety, even when it’s not.

This is not to say progress hasn’t been made. The creation of the plastic helmets, which replaced leather helmets in 1949 for example, stopped a lot of players from dying. The evolution of the teardrop design then reduced the amount of head on collisions. Perhaps the most innovative modification occurred in 1971 when air valves where added and helmets could then be pumped with air to soften blows. Chinstraps were created in ’76 to keep the helmets from popping off and new material but since the 1990’s little has changed. The most recent attempt at fixing the helmet, the Riddell Revolution, really just made the helmet more intimidating looking, despite the fact that the company boasted the helmet curbed concussions by 31%. This claim was later refuted and Riddell’s subsequently abandoned the claim, only further strengthening the argument that safety still isn’t the number one concern.

Existing helmet designs have had debilitating effect on progress. With other high-impact sports such as lacrosse, stock car racing, and motocross also establishing helmets as the centerpiece of their branding, the NFL, along with helmet makers (Riddell and Schutt) work hard not to blur these product lines. Not to mention the NFL nostalgia just doesn’t seem to jive with these designs.

Sometime in the very near future the NFL will be opening its giant wallet and giving back an Enron-sized wad of cash to many of it’s former players. Will the suit set a new precedent for safety? No, the NFL will just continue to do what it needs to do to protect its brand. We will continue to see research, safety committees and eventually the removal of kickoffs but until the NFL breaks down and allows safety engineers to rebuild its helmets from the ground up, we’ll continue to hear the sad stories of former players developing early onset dementia, CTE, and suicide. Design and functionality can live in harmony but only if the NFL allows it to.