Technology Archives - Page 2 of 4 - Grafik


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I first heard about Pinterest from my sister, a fourth grade teacher in Michigan who is not known as an early adopter. I was reading one of my favorite blogs, clicked on a Pinterest button on the site, and all of a sudden found myself in a different world that I knew nothing about. Just at that moment, my sister called me. I told her that I had just found this interesting site, Pinterest, and she told me it is one of the best places online for teachers to share ideas and curriculum—she has been using it for months. Three hours later, I was hooked.

These are a few of Grafik CEO, Judy Kirpich

I have been trying to figure out the many ways to use this new social media tool. Growing from 1.2 million users in August to over 4 million in January 2012, it is a site that allows users to share images they like about objects that they like. Each time you choose an image—whether it is from a website or within the Pinterest boards, it is called “pinning.”

A user can group infinite numbers of images into a board that can be organized and categorized according to the users preferences. The site is being used predominantly by women, and there are myriad boards on kitchens, fashion trends, bridal dresses. There are also boards featuring textures, art, places to travel, black and white photography and architecture. If you find someone who is constantly pinning up images that are interesting, you can choose to follow that person, and can select which of her boards you want to follow. If you see an image you like, you can repin it on your own board, like it, or even make a comment.

An example of Judy's Pinterest textile board.

A shot of Judy

By installing a Pin It button on your desktop, if you see a beautiful image of an elephant on a nature site, you can click on the button and it will be added to your collection (board of images).Well, lots of sites allow you to post images, Grabbit for one, but what is interesting is that the Pin It photo arrives at your board with the credits and original site attached. And here is where I think it gets interesting…since Pinterest allows a “pinner” to see where the original content is from, if you repeatedly see that images you like are from the same website or blog, you are encouraged to visit that url. In this way Pinterest can subtly act as another method to get people to your own blog or website.

I decided to try an experiment. I posted eight images from my own blog. On a good day I normally get about 50-70 page views. The day before I started pinning on Pinterest I had 62 page views. For the next few days after I had started pinning, my page views went up to 379 and the views have remained higher.

After adding images from her own blog, Unmultitasking, Judy’s blog traffic experienced a bump.

More research has to be done on Pinterest, however right now it is currently the seventh highest trafficked social media site. The demographic is predominantly female which should be interesting to advertisers. And in talking with some of our social media team and our creative directors we are already thinking of ways we could use this both for our clients and internally. One cautionary note—it’s addictive and can really suck up a lot of time, so be prepared to spend hours investigating it. Enjoy, and happy pinning!

Twitter: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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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

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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

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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.


You Shove A Bunch Of Creatives In One Room And…

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AIGA's DC Design Week 2011

Photo from @jennifercparker

What you get is a conversation about where the creative industry is, and where it is going. This week, DC chapter of AIGA, the American Association for Design, is holding DC’s Annual Design Week. A few of Grafik’s creatives attended their event last night, “Download” which consisted of a panelled discussion from some of the top winners of the AIGA 50’s contest last year. Panels included Jefferson Liu of AKQA, Karen Zuckerman of HZDG, Andrew McClellan of Fleishman-Hillard, and Stefan Poulos of Pappas Group. The panel was moderated by Bill Colgrove of Threespot.

The ongoing theme of the night was interactive design. The panelists presented design challenges their studio faced, and how they were able to solve the communication and format challenges. It was a presentation of iPads, motion graphics, videos, mobile apps, and many other components that make up the exciting field of interaction design. To hear from experienced designers and how they made the transition to interactive media was a testament to the versatility that designers must have.

Andrew McClellan of Fleishman-Hillard said, “Ideas drive technology.” This one simple statement sums up the challenges of the design industry today. As technology rapidly advances and things that were awesome yesterday become mundane today, it is imperative that concept remains at the forefront of the design profession. Concept will always be the staple of good design.

To read more of the discussions, check out #DCDesignWeek or follow @AIGA_DC.

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.

Dan Shechtman, Quasicrystals, and Steve Jobs

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Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman’s quasicrystal

Dan Shechtman, an Israeli scientist, who’s this year’s Noble Prize winner in Chemistry, reminds me of Steve Jobs. In 1982, Shechtman discovered quasicrystals—matter that is made of atoms arranged in patterns that never repeat themselves. Prior to his discovery, it was thought that crystals could only be made up of atoms that are packed in symmetrical patterns that repeat themselves over and over. I won’t even pretend to understand most of the details, but there is a fascinating description on the Nobel site that describes this in detail.

2011 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry Dan Shechtman

2011 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry Dan Shechtman

However fascinating this is, it is not what grabbed my attention about the Nobel laureate. After his discovery, he found that instead of being honored, he was at the beginning of a fierce battle against established science. He recalls in an interview on NPR how he was booted from his research group. “The head of his research team said, ‘You are a disgrace to our group, and I cannot bear this disgrace.’ And he asked me to leave the group. So, I left the group,” said Shechtman. The double Nobel laureate of the time, Linus Pauling, led a fierce crusade against him stating, “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.” He was accused of a making a huge blunder and was the laughing stock of the scientific world for two years. He fought back, refused to take a back seat to his critics and the rest is history.

Steve Jobs is considered one of the most forward thinking individuals of our time

Steve Jobs is considered one of the most forward thinking individuals of our time

While many would argue that Steve Jobs is in a different league, I see similarities between the two men. They share a passion for their work, unyielding optimism that what they are doing is right, and the drive to continue despite their critics. Who can forget the years that Jobs was not everyone’s darling while Bill Gates was at the top of the heap? Or the fact that he was pushed out of Apple in 1985 because of disappointing sales? Or the early days of NeXT where the startup was close to bankruptcy? Many of the Jobs’ quotes talk about the necessity of marching to a different drummer and having the courage to follow one’s heart, brain, and convictions. And possibly, it is this personality that separates most of us from the enlightened.

On Behalf Of The Entire Grafik Family, RIP Steve Jobs

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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

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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!


QR codes at 55 mph

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Driving into the office from the beach a few weekends ago, I was face to face with an eye catching Monsanto billboard. I wish I could have captured a photograph of the billboard but I was zipping along the road and there was no way to snap a shot of it. And, that is precisely the point.  Monsanto’s advertising and social media is well executed, especially for a behemoth corporation that is often in the crosshairs of environmental groups.

Their “America’s farmers grow America” is a smart, beautiful campaign that most advertising agencies would be proud to show. So I was surprised to see this billboard with a large QR code on the lower right-hand side of the ad. What ever possessed them to put a QR code on a billboard on a major highway? Was it to show that they are tech savvy? To demonstrate the latest “hip” technique? Whatever the reason, it is certain that almost no one, especially drivers passing at 55 mph are going to whip out their phones, center on the code, and then peruse a site while they are driving. Oh, and did I mention that it is illegal in the State of Maryland to use a cell phone while driving?

This is not to say that QR codes do not belong on billboard spaces. There have been QR codes used successfully on billboards notably, Calvin Klein’s billboards that were focused not on drivers in Manhattan but pedestrians. And in all of the successful QR billboards the code is very large allowing the pedestrian to easily get it into the crosshairs of their RedLaser application. In Monsanto’s case the QR code was very small and not the main feature.


On the other hand, that morning as I entered the elevator lobby there was a very poorly designed flyer taped to the wall advertising a free seminar offered by a law firm in the building. On the bottom of the flyer was a QR code. Standing there waiting for the elevator (we have the slowest elevators in the world), I did use the QR code to find out more information about the event.

The point? Appropriate use of technology always trumps early adoption. And employing technology without understanding how it will actually be used leaves you open to potshots from people like me. QR codes have their place, and we have used them successfully for many of our clients, but putting them on billboards on high speed highways is just plain silly, and I doubt that this was Monsanto’s intention.