Archive for the ‘Winter 2009’ Category


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Bad design-the Bermuda Triangle for marketing messages

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Bad design—the Bermuda Triangle for marketing messages A van traveling around Baltimore caught our design attention. The connection between the company name and the symbol is an unsolved mystery. Yes, there’s a triangular shape in there, but the dictionary asserts that a triad is a group of three. Why are there are only two arrows? We communicators are responsible for driving our messages home, so we need to be on the lookout for phrases and pictures that take our audiences off course. The ancient Greeks knew this when they created the symbol for trinacria, the ancient name for Sicily. The symbol’s three feet represent Sicily’s triangular shape and the three points of the island that face different directions. The symbol is so powerful that it is still in use today, on the flag of Sicily. Don’t let your marketing messages disappear into the Bermuda Triangle of bad design—make sure that graphic elements and words work together to keep communications on track.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Murphy’s law for education communicators

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The launch date for your fabulous new website is always precarious.
The president’s spouse has final say on any projects requiring a color choice.
The alumni magazine publication date has no relationship to the copy due date.
Proofreading is only seriously performed when the job is delivered from the printer.
The major donor’s monitor is never set to view the campaign website correctly.
The student you prominently feature on the cover of the viewbook will suddenly drop out of school.
Photo captions in the alumni news section will not match all the photos.
The type will always be too small for somebody.
The logo will never be big enough for somebody.
Once copy is approved, there will be a major rewrite.
All print pieces will contain a typo that the president will discover.
After you proofread 64 pages of 8 pt. type, the only mistake will be on the cover in 72 pt. type.
Narcolepsy rates increase in proportion to the length of your Powerpoint presentation.
The person responsible for final approval will be out of town during a major due date.
The meeting date will need to move as soon as all invitees are confirmed.
The perfect idea is always shot down.
The photoshoot will be complete just before a major executive gets a haircut.
Rain is in the forecast for all outdoor photoshoots.
There are never any kids on campus when your photographer is.
Whoever does not attend the creative meeting will hate the design.
The tighter the budget, the more things go wrong.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it…

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Have you ever received an email that left you wondering what exactly the sender meant to say? Do you feel it necessary to pepper your emails with exclamation points to seem more cheerful? Sometimes we forget how helpful tone of voice and body language can be when communicating with people. When it comes to conveying emotion, apologies, or bad news, saying it in person may be the best way. Then you can use not just words, but your face, hands, stance, inflection, and volume to get your message across.
Click for additional reading.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Biting off more than your customer can chew

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Biting off more than your customer can chew I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid any restaurant that “specializes” in more than one ethnic cuisine. This approach suggests a lack of commitment. After all, what schizophrenic cook can balance the butter- and cream-based cooking of France with the olive oil-, lemon-, and basil-based cooking of Italy? And how does the All-American burger fit between them? The matchbook pictured above reminds me of an important guideline in marketing: “Find out what you do best, and do it better than anyone else.” That’s the best way to fill a restaurant—and your incoming freshman class.

Contributed by Domenica


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Unconventional thinking

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The great pyramid of Giza was built over 4500 years ago, and we’ve spent as many years puzzling over how it was done. Although one theory supposes that the Egyptians partnered with aliens who possessed levitation technology, most hypotheses focus on down-to-earth methods for dragging and lifting huge blocks of stone into place. The two most popular theories suggest that the stone blocks were dragged up either a massive frontal ramp or a corkscrew-shaped ramp attached to the exterior of the pyramid. Both of these popular theories have their flaws, however, so archeologists and engineers alike are still scratching their heads.

When the answer eludes us, we need a new way to look at a problem. That’s exactly what French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin found. He quit his day job, sold his house, and moved into a small apartment where he devoted his time to figuring out how the pyramid was constructed. He emerged, eight years later, with a theory that is startling, inspiring, and, according to Houdin, the only one that works. He suggests that internal ramps that still exist within the pyramid were used to transport the blocks to the top. (It’s interesting to note that Houdin’s theory is supported by visuals made with the latest in 3-D computer imaging technology. Check out the program on The National Geographic Channel.)

Whether you’re a scientist, a writer, a web programmer, or an educator, Houdin’s story inspires us to revisit the power of unconventional thinking. As a designer, I’ve learned to be suspicious of the first answer that comes to me. That first idea may be expected, conventional. Conversely, the best solutions have depth. They surprise us and challenge the status quo.

Pablo Picasso once said of his creative process, “When one begins a picture one often discovers fine things. One ought to beware of these, destroy one’s picture, recreate it many times. On each destruction of a beautiful find… he transforms it, condenses it, makes it more substantial.”

Communicators can’t expect audiences to pay attention if we serve up the same old information in the same old forms. Instead, let innovators such as Houdin and Picasso inspire your creative process: think, rethink, think, and rethink again.

FEATURE : Do your print materials make sense in a web-driven world?

Do your print materials make sense in a web-driven world?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

This fall, the Convention Center in Baltimore hosted a College Fair with over 300 colleges and universities. These types of fairs continue to be a popular means for parents and their children to get an overview of a wide range of institutions and begin the process of narrowing the field. Visitors leave the fair toting bags filled with college literature that they’ll review later at home.

We’ve taken a peek inside one of those bags, collected by Theresa, our pre-press manager, for her college-bound daughter. We expected the materials to focus heavily on the Big Idea—the defining statement that separates the college from its competitors and that sends the reader to the website hungry for more details. Surprisingly, few of the materials achieved that goal. In fact, we saw print pieces that could have been designed for a pre-Internet audience.

We’ve prepared a list to help you think through the role of print materials in a web-driven world.

1. Say one thing, and say it well. Remember that your university has a website chock full of details your readers need—details that can be updated the minute something changes. Let your publication deliver one important and memorable message. If you do that well, audiences will remember your institution and visit its website to learn more.

2. Complicated folds are not a substitute for an idea. Extreme, complicated folds rarely help deliver a message (unless your message is, our institution is a confusing place). Why make your readers work so hard? Our job is to engage, not frustrate. Keep the folds—and the ideas—simple and direct.

3. You need a reason to make it big. Oversize publications do not guarantee you will be remembered. When Cornell designed an oversize publication with the words “The Big Red Book” on a solid red cover, they hit the mark. If size helps you deliver a message, then go for it. Otherwise, you’re just shouting—and squandering your communications budget in the process.

4. The cover has to be great. The cover is the gateway into a publication and your opportunity to grab the reader’s attention. We loved this cover copy on the financial aid brochure for the New York Institute of Technology: “If you have a rich cousin who’s going to pay for your college, you really don’t need to read this.” Nothing less than your best thinking, writing, art, or photography belongs on the cover.

5. Logos are not cover solutions. Displaying your college name or logo on a cover, with or without a campus shot, is the quickest way to be forgotten. (See item number 4.)

6. Kids want clarity, too. Teen culture may seem complicated, but publications that appeal to the college-bound student still need to communicate clearly. It’s never a good idea to run tiny type around corners and into busy areas of a photo, or to set copy in hard-to-read fonts and colors. That’s not edgy. That’s just wrong.

FEATURE : New Magazine Means Business

New Magazine Means Business

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

This fall, the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School premiered its magazine, ONE, and asked GCF to create both a print version as well as an online, interactive version. We designed the magazine to reinforce Carey Business School’s commitment to improving the world through an innovative approach to business education and research. The School’s administrators also wanted a publication that reflects Carey’s optimistic outlook and conviction that innovation begins with critical thinking and creativity.

The cover story about the current financial chaos posed a unique challenge: how do you put a positive spin on a global crisis? We chose to focus the cover image on resolution, as does the text of the article. The result is positive, interesting, and conceptual—characteristics that apply to illustrations and photography throughout the magazine.

The challenge for the online magazine was to capture the flavor and feel of the print in an interactive but easy-to-navigate format. Each issue will follow a consistent template, making it straightforward for the people who update it and the people who read it. Instead of making visitors scroll endlessly while reading (which causes them to lose visual contact with top and right-hand navigation), we broke each article into separate pages. Contact information on every page allows readers to quickly send comments to the magazine’s editors. Such consistency ties the online magazine to its print version without losing the interactivity that the Internet offers.

FEATURE : Making sure your design presentation is no joke

Making sure your design presentation is no joke

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Q: How many designers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it have to be a light bulb?

The joke above illustrates the concept that a designer is expected to think outside the box. So why do marketing VPs cringe when they must rely on creative minds to convey their messages? And why do designers cringe at the thought of presenting their work to the client? The mantra heard from both sides of the equation is: “They just don’t understand.”

Here are a few tips for presenting creative work that will help get left-brain and right-brain thinkers on the same side.

1. Remember that design is a communications tool. Before revealing the visuals, review the goals and expectations the piece was created to meet.

2. Be prepared to support or address each concern. Describe how your design decisions communicate the message to the intended audience.

3. “Because I like it” is not a valid reason for choosing a visual element. Avoid expressing how much you “like” something and instead emphasize how the design solves communications challenges.

4. Move the presentation away from the subjective. If you can provide data to support your ideas, you’ll be in a better position to sell the design. A quick Google search can help you locate secondary research to support an idea.


New postal regulations for magazine mailings

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

New postal regulations for magazine mailings
The post office will soon be implementing new standards for commercial flat mail. Publications, envelopes, and other materials that measure between 6-1/8″ and 12″ high, 11-1/2 to 15″ in length, and 1/4″ to 3/4″ thick will need to adhere to the altered specifications.

These guidelines will pertain to the way your piece is addressed (point size and spacing) as well as where the address is placed. New facilities and better automation equipment at the post office make it necessary for your address to be in the top half of the piece. This site provides exact instructions on how to meet the new standards. Additionally, there are links at the bottom of the page for specific classes of flat mail.

Don’t get caught having to pay higher postage because you weren’t prepared for the new regulations. The best-kept secret of the post office is the availability of a Mailpiece Design Analyst. To ensure a smooth mailing, we send a pdf of every job to the design analyst at the post office where the piece will be mailed. You can also work with your local analyst as you design your piece. Go here to locate your local Mailpiece Design Analyst.


Educational programming

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Educational programming
Move over YouTube: There’s a new generation of websites that provide visitors with the latest video lectures. Competitors include,,,,, and the online home of the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference. Click here for an article comparing these six sites and outlining their differences.


Cool Tools

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

50 websites you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.
Categories include software and tools, storage and files, graphics, research and e-learning, mobile workers, and miscellaneous. Check it out.

Have you ever been frustrated by the limits of Photoshop?
Here’s an article that gives you 50 Photoshop brushes you can add to your app.

Get mobile.
iStanford: Making campus mobile.



Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Think you have a good eye for color? Let’s see how you do on this test.

Got $10? Decorate your basement! A basement art project that started out with just cream paint and ten dollars worth of sharpies turned into a unique wall decoration.

Unique navigation and a beautiful design and concept make this website an inspiration

Using paper and imagination to create the letters of the alphabet.

Looking for something witty or original to post on your Facebook or Myspace page? Try Generatus, and be admired by all.

Latest feature lets you use your phone as your boarding pass.

…if you had the chance to tell the world what you want to do before you die.

Food for Font. A blog dedicated to fonts, typography, lettering, and design.

Art is in the air. Over-inflated street art creates a stir in Manhattan.


Do you have comments, questions, or story ideas that you’d like us to cover in an upcoming issue of the Cram Quarterly? If so, email Brenda or call her at 410-467-4672.


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