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Lessons in Agility

Lessons in Agility

Posted by | Technology | One Comment

Here at Grafik, we always try to stay on top of the latest trends in business and technology. But lately our office has been buzzing with one particular phrase that I just haven’t been able to wrap my head around: agile methodology. I decided to sit down with Certified ScrumMaster and resident agile guru Laura Peterson to get the skinny on this game-changing trend and just how it’s affecting the industry. Read More


Walking Down A Technology Memory Lane

Posted by | Technology, Work | No Comments

Packing up 34 years’ worth of work is not only daunting, it is therapeutic. It has given me a chance to purge the things that I do not want, to look at the hundreds of samples we have that no longer need to be kept, and to revisit the many technological changes that have taken place. As I throw out old Rubylith, ruling pens, spray mount booths, photo disks, and roll-a-binding machines, I can reflect on how far we have come and how much has changed.

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Twitter: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Posted by | Brand Experience, News, Technology | No Comments

When news broke of the Penn State Scandal, the conversation took a life of its own on Twitter

When news broke of the Penn State Scandal, the conversation took a life of its own on Twitter

Unless you have been hiding under a rock the past two weeks, the Jerry Sandusky and Penn State child abuse scandal has dominated headlines, talk/radio shows, and all forms of social media. And through the course of events, I have been particularly fascinated with how Twitter has been used (or not used) to take advantage of what it is good for: pushing out information instantly and engaging a broad audience that you may have no immediate connection to. Being the digital geek and spaghetti western fan that I am, I have selected a few examples from the past two weeks to highlight how Twitter was used or could have been used, and broken them down into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

However, before I go any further, I should note that as a Penn State graduate and husband to a wife who devoted hundreds of hours working with The Second Mile organization as a student, I was particularly transfixed by the unfolding events of this tragedy and consequently more obsessed and affected personally than the average American by the situation. And while this is not intended to be an op-ed, I do want to say that my heart goes out to the victims and their families, and also to the students, alum and all those associated to the University who are still trying to make sense of everything. My prayers are with you.

The Good: Twitter as a Breaking News Source
On November 5, the investigation into Jerry Sandusky became public knowledge as the formal grand jury presentment was released and Sandusky was formally accused of making sexual advances or assaults on eight boys. At the time, the news item was a footnote on ESPN’s website, and a small headline with local Pennsylvania news outlets. As a dedicated Penn State football fan, I needed more information, and not able to find anything of value on the web, I turned to Twitter to learn more. I did a quick search on Jerry Sandusky and found several Penn State users using the hashtag #PSUCharges to comment on the news. By following those users, I built a list of about 10–15 sources, most local to the State College area on Twitter that posted updates every 5–10 minutes over the next week. Not only did I have the latest news and information about the events as they happened, I also had an insight into what the students were going through and what the mood was like on campus, including photos and videos, as those local users retweeted tweets posted by Penn State students. Twitter continues to prove itself as the top source for breaking news and I recommend you use it as such for personal use, or as a means to disseminate your own news. Since Google ended their agreement with Twitter, real-time information is harder to come by in Google search results, and until Google Buzz catches on, you cannot rely on a search engine to surface the latest news.

The Bad: Twitter as a Form of Crisis Communication Management
The University knew about this investigation, and they also knew that the information would become public knowledge on November 5. And while most of the sports world was focused on the LSU-Alabama football game set to take place that night, which some argued was a game between the two best college football teams in the nation, Penn State’s public information department had an opportunity to set up a social media crisis response team, outline a strategy of information dissemination, and get ahead of the impending media storm. Social media has proven to be a critical component of any crisis communication management strategy, and as an example, Penn State could have established their own hashtag, could have set up a Twitter profile dedicated to distributing updates, facts, and contact information. This team (and I emphasize team as something this large would require many people) could also have used Twitter to engage the media in real time, and headed off the propagation of the multiple rumors that were flying fast and furiously. Sadly, Penn State stumbled out of the gates and chose to take a reactive approach which demonstrated their incompetency, led to the distribution of misinformation, and further fueled the media frenzy. As a digital strategist, it pained me to see my alma mater fall so short on something that should be PR 101 at this point and urge you to recognize the power of Twitter and never underestimate its value in defending your brand.

The Ugly: Twitter as a Means to Expand Your Audience
It became very clear at the outset of the media blitz that Twitter would not be exempt from sensationalism reporting, furthering personal agendas, and driving eyeballs, listeners, or in this case, followers. I have never been as disgusted as I was seeing people who styled themselves as “news” media shamelessly spouting off complete ignorance, conjecture, and speculation, taking advantage of an emotional and personal tragedy to make a name for themselves. What, ideally, should have been basic fact reporting turned into a contest to see who could denounce Penn State officials most vehemently, who was more against child abuse and Penn State, and who could criticize Penn State alums or students the hardest for being upset. 140 character pearls of wisdom have been tweeted and retweeted, effectively making the rounds within the Twitterverse similar to the email chain letters of old. And while I was personally disappointed with the content, I could not argue with the fact that these personalities were exposing themselves to new eyeballs, effectively growing their audience.

Finally, one other lesson I learned the hard way: use Twitter with caution when attempting to get work done at the same time. If you’re not careful, you will quickly get sucked in reading tweets, news articles, trading messages with users, and ultimately getting nothing done. Not that I’m speaking from experience…

Design By Code: Algorithmic Art

Posted by | Technology | One Comment
Algorithmic art

Algorithmic art

Algorithmic art is a subset of generative art that is the result of an algorithmic process—devised by an artist—usually using a random process to produce variation based on external inputs.

If that run-on sentence sounds like a bunch of gibberish, think of the algorithm as an elaborate recipe and the inputs as your assorted ingredients. Where it gets interesting, is that in this type of art you can generate an infinite number of results by using different “ingredients” based on the original recipe.  These inputs can be random number generators or some other source of data like frames from a movie.

I first became interested in algorithmic art back in 2006 through a project by BMW. BMW commissioned artist and designer, Joshua Davis, to develop an algorithm to generate a set of 500 limited edition prints, based on the forms found in the Z4 coupe that they were launching at the time. The pioneering aspect of Davis’ work was that each print was entirely unique and comprised on average of 120,0000 layers and 50,000 vectors, all generated by the algorithm. It was a highly complex process that required Davis to check countless iterations of his code to ensure that it would produce viable results. After months of intensive code refinement, his computer and printer begin to generate the artwork, as he supervised each output, print by print.

One of Artist Joshua Davis' illustrations

One of Artist Joshua Davis’ algorithmic illustrations

Paul Krix is another artist who I recently discovered who uses algorithms to individually laser cut jewelry that is aesthetically informed by patterns in nature. The early seeds of his inspiration were planted when Krix read a paper that compared city street networks with common leaf vein patterns, concluding that pictures of either were indistinguishable to most people. Krix decided to use this research as a foundation to his modeling algorithm, and drew inspiration from various natural patterns and processes that are both beautiful and complex: crystal growth, moth wing patterns, leaf veins, tree growth, petals, and the zoological colorings/patterns.

Pieces from Paul Krix's jewelry line called Neat Objects

Pieces from Paul Krix’s jewelry line called Neat Objects

The idea of “one-of-a-kind” is something that is lost in this age of perfect digital copies and mass production. It’s fascinating to see how designers and artists are pushing  technology to create artwork that is entirely unique, and yet at the same time repeatable because it is digitally informed. This is where it’s worth emphasizing that the artist’s self-made algorithms are an integral part of the authorship, as well as being the medium through which the ideas are conveyed.

So if you’re inspired, learn a new programming language. Become your own factory. And start creating.

Getting The Details Right: Apple

Posted by | Brand Experience, Technology | One Comment
Illuminating LED on a Mac Book Pro

Illuminated LED on a MacBook Pro

I was watching TV the other week when the screen suddenly powered down and went blank. The status light that would normally be a solid red to indicate it was off, was flashing in a rapid, urgent succession, indicating to me that something grave had transpired.

Connected to the TV lay one of my Apple computers. The gentle, white, undulating light on the front reassuringly communicated to me that unlike its TV cousin—it was not dead—it was merely “sleeping.”

There are things we immediately, if subconsciously, find comforting or soothing and, in that moment, I found comfort in that little white light. In designing and engineering something as complicated as a computer, a status light seems like a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. But it’s details like this that can psychologically make a block of aluminum and silicon more communicative and more personal. And it took Apple two patents and hundreds of hours in R&D to make it happen.

In July 2002, Apple filed a patent for a “Breathing Status LED Indicator” (No. US 6,658,577 B2). The status light is intentionally designed to simulate sleep and the patent filing described it as a “blinking effect of the sleep-mode indicator in accordance with the present invention mimics the rhythm of breathing which is psychologically appealing.”

Prior to the patent filing, Apple carried out research into breathing rates during sleep and found that the average respiratory rate for adults is 12–20 breaths per minute. They used a rate of 12 cycles per minute (the low end of the scale) to derive a model for how the light should behave to create a feeling of calm and make the product seem more human.

But finding the right rate wasn’t enough, they needed the light to not just blink, but “breathe.” Most previous sleep LEDs were just driven directly from the system chipset and could only switch on or off and not have the gradual glow that Apple integrated into their devices. This meant going to the expense of creating a new controller chip which could drive the LED light and change its brightness when the main CPU was shut down, all without harming battery life.

On more recent machines, you’ll also notice that the status light is completely invisible from the surface when the computer is in use. There’s no transparent plastic or glass where the light emanates from. The light seems to glow straight off the surface of the aluminum and, in fact, that’s exactly what it’s doing.

This feat of engineering is achieved though Apple’s “Invisible, light-transmissive display” (No Us. 7,880,131). During the manufacturing process of the computer body, a CNC machine first thins out the aluminum. Then a laser drill creates small perforations for the LED light to shine through, creating the illusion of a seamless surface when the light is off.

Several years ago Dell decided to mimic Apple, and add a similar sleep status feature to their computers. They decided to use a rate of 40 cycles per minute for their indicator. Comically, this is the average respiratory rate for adults during strenuous exercise—not very indicative of sleep.

Attention to detail is what makes Apple products feel so impeccable. The team there doesn’t just pore over financial spreadsheets and personnel issues as most companies do. They don’t just think about design, they obsess over it to the smallest details. There are many companies that have the talent and the resources to potentially mimic Apple’s success, but without getting the details right, it ends up just looking like strenuous exercise—inelegant and labored.


Facebook Goes Mobile: Mobile Social Apps and New iPad App

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Facebook stealthily made two fairly big announcements yesterday afternoon—one is the launch of the long-awaited Facebook for iPad app and the other is the announcement of social apps being extended to mobile platforms. These two announcements seem to come hand in hand showing the network’s strong push to go mobile.

Just based on a glance at my Twitter feed and a few opinions from colleagues, not many really care about the new iPad app. I, however, am quite happy that it’s finally available. If you are a casual Facebook user and just need basic access to notifications and the News Feed, existing apps such as Friendly and MyPad should more than suffice your needs. But for someone who spends a considerable time logged in for both work and personal reasons, I often find that those other apps are not as easy on the eyes and to use as they could be. That is another story all together. The major difference between these apps and Facebook’s is that the native app is as robust (if not more with a few cool additional features) and easy to navigate as viewing in a browser. It mimics the browser experience which is crucial for me who manages a few pages and groups on top of a personal profile.

Facebook for iPad

The left menu allows for quick navigation such as accessing Grafik’s page

In light of that, the rift between the browser and mobile Facebook experience is further closing with the start of social apps availability on the iPhone, iPad, iTouch and the mobile site with Android coming soon. Facebook Software Development Engineer Luke Shepard wrote on the developer’s blog about using social channels such as Bookmarks, Requests, and the News Feed to propel the use apps and create a more seamless integration of both the web and mobile experiences. You can view which apps and games are now mobile ready here.

Facebook Mobile Social Apps

Invitations to third-party apps and games can now be accessed and opened via mobile

According to a new study from ComScore, U.S. mobile web traffic grew 19 percent from last year to 116 million people, almost half of the U.S. population. That number is just likely to increase and these steps by Facebook show that this is definitely a market worth watching out for.

On Behalf Of The Entire Grafik Family, RIP Steve Jobs

Posted by | Brand Experience, News, Technology | 2 Comments
RIP Steve Jobs

Rest In Peace Steve


He changed the way we think, the way we work, and how we interact. Steve Jobs was a luminary of course, and a brilliant technologist, inventor, and thinker. But, he was also one of the most vocal champions of design. Steve showed the world over and over again that design matters.

I remember the first Macintosh that Grafik bought. At the time we thought it was only good to help render type. And our initial reasons for buying one were somewhat misguided. Not to mention the fact that the cost was astronomical for a small firm, all the components were sold separately and we could only afford to lease one. It cost about $12,000 and it was obsolete as soon as we paid for it. Over the years, I probably have easily purchased well over a hundred Apple computers of all sizes and shapes. Everyone knows that if you were a design shop Microsoft was the Evil Empire. And, we scoffed at the clunky world of PCs and the horrible interfaces and designs of any computer that was not an Apple product.

We loved our new toys, but what we loved almost as much was the packaging it came in—the clear simple instructions, and the well designed user manuals. No design detail was too small or overlooked. I know that I have always kept the packaging long after I have unpacked my many computers, iPods, iPhones, and my iPad. Who could throw out the beautiful white boxes?

Even the way Jobs dressed in his cool black turtle necks made the design community love him. He was one of us. He was not just any CEO—we felt like we could trust him to take our best interests to heart. And, he never disappointed us.

When Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO, like many others, I knew the end was near and I felt immense sadness. Tonight upon hearing of his death, I feel like I have lost a good friend and I know that the design community has lost a luminary that understood the power that design has to change the world.

Jobs’ first ad campaign was the brilliant “Think Different” series. And that is the challenge that he leaves all of us with: to continue to push the limits of design, to sweat the details because they matter, and to keep the faith that good design sells.

Steve, designers around the world thank you and will miss you.


PittPatt Pandora’s Box

Posted by | Brand Experience, News, Technology | One Comment

First we all had to deal with finding embarrassing tagged photos of ourselves on Facebook for everybody to see, like that shot of you in a bathing suit when you were 14. PittPatt, a new application developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, makes all of that seem like child’s play. They have developed an app that can take a photo of a person, and through advanced facial recognition can find his identity by searching through the millions of images on Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, or Google.

Imagine that you are taking a walk through the park with your dog. A stranger approaches, snaps a shot of you. He can immediately identify you and find all of the publicly available images of you in less than a minute. It does not matter if you are wearing a mask, glasses, or a hat tilted at a roguish angle obscuring your face. PittPatt’s proprietary technology can still find your match. Even scarier—not only are you identified to total strangers, but the application scans public databases. It can take a pretty good guess at your social security number, if it can pick up your birthday from Facebook. Armed with your social security number it can get close to accessing lots of important financial data as well. YIKES!!

Is PittPatt a Pandora's Box?

Is PittPatt a Pandora’s Box?

PittPatt is not available to the public yet—for now, we’ll have to wait for a hacker, or leak for this to spread. The technology that powers PittPatt was developed in the early 1990s as a reaction to 9/11. Post World Trade Center, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was interested in investigating advanced spatial recognition and poured millions of dollars into R&D. So far the app has been kept under wraps, but it has just been announced that Google has purchased PittPatt in July. Google states that they do not know if, or when, they will make this application available, but they promise not to launch it unless stringent privacy protections are put in place. Given all of the recent “WikiLeaks” from supposedly secure sites, I wonder just how long before this application will be in the hands of the wrong people.

Technological advances can be wonderful if there are protections in place. It seems to me that we are facing a Pandora’s box where protection of personal privacy could be completely eliminated. Is this a box we really want to open?

The Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition Homepage

The future of facial recognition online is here, now!


Social Review: Foursquare Speaks Five New Languages; Crowdbooster Is The New Smart Dashboard; and Condé Nast Launches Social Sidekick

Posted by | Brand Experience, News, Technology | 3 Comments

Foursquare Speaks Five New Languages

Last Thursday, Foursquare expanded their language offering by adding five new languages to their app—Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, Russian, Portuguese, and Thai. With a reported 10+ million users globally, this is the second wave of language translations after the addition of French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese last February.

Given the recent introduction of Tip Lists and event check-ins, Foursquare is proving to be quite a power tool for brands. Now with the app available in numerous languages, this location-based social service has also, in my opinion, further increased its appeal to global brands. What do you think of the language additions? Which languages should they add next? Source

Crowdbooster Launches Intuitive Social Medial Dashboard

Yes, another social media dashboard has hit the market, but is it just like any other dashboard out there? Apparently not. Last Wednesday, Crowdbooster launched the public beta offering of its “intelligent social media optimization, monitoring and analytics platform.” Crowdbooster’s technology differentiates itself with its ability to understand one’s social activity and, consequently, suggest what to share, when and with whom.

A Y Combinator startup, Crowdbooster can make such recommendations by producing detailed analytics across Facebook and Twitter—evaluating the popularity of content based on Retweets, Mentions, Replies, Likes, Impressions, and Comments—among other key features. This can be quite revolutionary for social media marketers. Managing numerous social media accounts can quickly be overwhelming (believe me, I know) just because of its real-time nature. The ability to cut through massive amounts of information to the content that counts is invaluable to a marketer or anyone looking to have a meaningful social media presence. I am looking forward to giving this dashboard a try. Keep a lookout for my review. Source


Condé Nast Leverages “Tweets” and Facebook “Likes” For Online Magazines

Last Wednesday, Condé Nast kickedoff the Social Sidekick which aggregates content from, Glamour, Self, Teen Vogue, Lucky and W . This module allows readers click to view cross-publication content that have been popular across Facebook and Twitter, and gives advertisers additional space to advertise and promote branded multimedia content.

This feature, which is a floating bar at the bottom of each site page, may be new to Condé Nast, but the concept isn’t. Other sites, like and, already have the option to view most popular and most shared articles, but Condé Nast is hoping to not only further promote already well-received content, but to also cross promote articles among their many publications with the consumer’s social media engagement in mind. As an avid reader of, I’d like to see if this new feature does, in fact, get me to read content on their other sites—sites I very rarely visit. Do you think this new feature is a game changer? Source

The Social Sidekick is a floating bar located on the bottom of each page.

Gucci is the first brand to advertise on the Social Sidekick module which expands to the menu shown here.


Weekly Social Media Review: YouTube, Google+, Foursquare, Presidential Check-ins, and Golf?! (Yes, Golf!)

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YouTube Hangouts On Google+

Last Thursday Google+ rolled out a new feature — sharing videos directly from YouTube onto Hangouts. Google+ users must be thinking “that’s not new!” Yes, you could already share YouTube videos over the Hangouts feature, but you could only do so from your Google+ account once you start a Hangout. According to Brian Glick, YouTube’s product manager, this new option allows you to directly launch a Hangout from YouTube via the “Share” option located under each video. Further, this shortcut makes it easier to share videos and it applies to all videos even live-streamed and rented ones. This feature will help videos become viral a lot quicker and on Google+ with the option to live chat a discussion with those you’re “hanging out” with. It makes me wonder how this will change the way we consume online videos. What do you think? Source

Social Media Finally Meets Golf

This past weekend the big news in golf was that 26-year-old Webb Simpson won his first PGA title at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. — but that wasn’t the only news. Last year, the Wyndham Championship was known for being the first PGA event that allowed patrons to use their mobile phones on the course, and now this year, it was the first event to incorporate Facebook Places and Foursquarecheck-ins.” Tournament attendees unlocked tips, trivia, discounts and even contributed to Wyndham charities by checking in at holes, tents, and other locations throughout the course. As an avid golfer and follower of the sport, I was especially excited about this. Golf has been behind in adapting social media practices simply because of the “no cell phones” policy at most tournaments, but I’m hoping this will continue to change and encourage more spectator interaction at these world-class sporting events. Source

Follow President Obama As He “Checks-in” On Foursquare

As President Obama set off on his three-day bus tour of the Midwest last week, the White House announced that it now has a Foursquare account. Foursquare is a location-based social networking site where users “check-in” to different locations, leave “Tips,” and compete for “Badges,” and “Mayorships.” Users can follow the President as he “checks-in” to various stops on his trip as well as subscribe to his “Tips.” Foursquare is the latest in the White House’s social media push that already includes accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I applaud the administration for fully embracing the power of social media (also check out Brandon’s post on the first Twitter town hall) and I’m quite eager to see what they have up their sleeves for the 2012 campaign. Source

Foursquare Amps Up Lists

Last Monday Foursquare announced the new and improved “Lists” feature or “Tip Lists” which allows you to aggregate your and your friends’ tips, share them with your followers, and follow others’ lists. Similarly functioning like Twitter lists, this option allows tips to be curated according to a specific topic such as “Best Golf Courses on the East Coast.” (I told you I was a diehard golf fan!) This can be a very useful tool for branded pages encouraging more interaction among its followers by giving free advice. I can imagine this feature becoming almost review-like and could potentially be a resource similar to Yelp. One good example of a brand leveraging “Lists” is the Travel Channel and it’s Man v Food Tips. Source