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A great new book out entitled “Pantone, The 20th Century in Color” incorporates beautiful color plates with accompanying narrative by authors Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker that describe the last 100 years in the evolution of the color spectrum through the lens of the groundbreaking 1963 Pantone color system developed by Lawrence Hebert of Pantone.

The system codified the color spectrum, so that a certain shade of a color can be uniformly agreed upon and unknowingly revolutionized the world of graphic design. One can think back to any decade of the past century and certain colors and hues are easily associated with each time period. Serving as more than a mere color index, the book succeeds in describing the evolution of colors’ social imprint on culture, illustrated through advertisments, product design, fashion and general day-to-day life across generations.

Just close your eyes and visualize the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s–it’s easy. That’s what’s so great about this book. From a historical perspective, filtered through the nuance of aesthetics, we have each period literally ‘colored in’ for us. Beautiful and simple.

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The world is always a bit off kilter. Nothing is exact. But my current profession as a market research guy has, in my opinion, developed a mantra that requires that the reseach I conduct for a client be “rock solid,” i.e. grounded in either well-founded objective fact (when dealing with quantitative data) or succinct insights (when delving into the qualitative realm). Regardless of the nature of the project or methodology employed, my point of view is expected to rest well within defined lines. I must be precise.

This current market research lens may actually cloud my findings. Rather than stuffing marketplace phenomena into a presentational bullet or pithy one-liner for my client, I often find myself wanting to “go wide” and start speaking on the non-alignment of the phenomena I’m investigating, for that’s where I believe interesting findings float.

A great example of this is the Italian fashion practice of sprezzatura. Sprezzatura is the belief that to look correct, things should always look slightly wrong. It is the act of studied effortlessness. A description of naturalness, by design. And when I think of either the natural or manufactured world in which people live and make consumer decisions, it answers a lot. My goal now is to further integrate this concept into the design and execution of the work I do, rather than drawing arbitrary lines in crafting market research. It’s the right direction to take.

A good starting point has been re-examining the basic tenets and overall premise of how I approach market research. Up until now, market research has, more and more, emphasized the science of its practice. Born of the social sciences, it continually seeks legitimization as a ‘true’ science. Unfortunately, in my experience, to use a well-worn phrase, it’s “too fuzzy” for such rigor. Rather, I believe breakthrough research is more likely to occur if we allow the foundation of the practice to flow from the humanities, and not social science: writing, illustration, design, voice and performance.

So far I’ve found this premise to be powerful in the work I do. It’s decidedly different, and refreshing. Let’s face it, market research as we’ve known it for the past fifty plus years can be stale and uninspiring, regardless of how lofty our ideals. I think research should take a shot at being beautiful instead.

Better by design. It’s a simple concept, yet it seems lost on many of today’s biggest innovators. Today, consumers have a plethora of media services and technology to choose from. You can download music from Rhapsody to your phone or laptop, stream movies from Netflix to your PC or TV, and even upload photos taken by your mobile phone to Flickr or Facebook with that same device. But syncing service across multiple devices or something as simple as organizing your music library according to your own specific filing system can be problematic if not downright impossible. Technological advances lead us in new directions and open our minds to new possibilities but sometimes they miss the mark of customer satisfaction. This is because design isn’t always customizable.
On that note, here’s a group of entrepreneurs who, I think, get the formula right. This group puts a new spin on an old standby: the journal. The principle here is to hand over the design tools to the consumer so he or she gets exactly what they need. It’s simply performance perfected.

Infomous is a dynamic and intuitive navigation solution – perhaps soon to pop up on websites you visit.  Web developers for content-rich sites have integrated word cloud and tablet-style flip navigation over the past few years, but this is a solution that seems to combine aspects of both: reference triggers and dynamic script.  The tool is currently available in preview/beta version through a relationship with the provider, but will roll out later this year, ready for embed.  More info at Infomous – they have a demo up for world news, a version for sports news, entertainment news, science news.  It’s easy to explore and find links to try.

Beautiful video about the barrage of commercial messages we contend with every day. In the words of the video’s creators…

Award-winning Typo-Animation that gives you a clear impression of the enormous amount of visual stimuli that plague us every day. Due to the immense scale of the visual bombardment, the commercial effectiveness has become utterly dubious.

What I love about this video is that it doesn’t demonize or condemn advertising and branding – it simply questions its effectiveness. All of this visual “chatter” ensures that the viewer is unable to engage in a “conversation” with any one brand.

There is an interesting round-up and comment discussion published at The Big Picture about models that visualize a hierarchy of intelligence. The images below also link through to their sources and related discussions.

The paradigm has traditionally been 1) Data 2) Information 3) Knowledge and 4) Wisdom.  As data sources amass, and become more widely accessible through digital interconnectivity, does the model hold up?  Are the definitions of each of these “levels” evolving? To visualize this model for various applications, what story should we try to tell?  Do the stories below seem relevant (the story of how organization increases, or the story of how data is produced, consumed, then personalized)?  Does the model only serve as an explanatory framework, or can it be applied to strategies for learning; for communications?  It’s interesting to think about these questions, and to consider the evolution of this model, and various visual approaches to its application, over time.

“David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.”

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