thoughts on art, interactivity, technology, design, culture & life

Periods are a fact of life for women, and as a woman I have come to embrace mine. Like the seasons it tells me where I'm at, a benchmark letting me know everything is working the way it should for a healthy 24-year-old woman. I hate the fact that I need to keep my period to myself, I don't want to scream it to the rooftops but I wish it was less taboo. I hate feeling like need to sneak to the bathroom with my purse when I need to change my tampon or open my Midol bottle in my purse to disguise what I'm taking; it's bullshit and borderline oppressive (which is why I do a pretty half-assed job sneaking to the bathroom or opening the Midol bottle).

Anyway you frame it, women are always made to feel as though they must suppress the more human parts of themselves (we don't fart, we don't burp, we cover imperfections with make-up, holster our breasts lifting them to societies standards and we certainly don't bleed). Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being a woman but sometimes this box of lady-like-ness is exhausting. Kotex and the folks over at JWT must have felt the same way, because the new campaign for U by Kotex taps into this sentiment.

The Myth

YouTube Preview ImageMost ads for menstruation products are actually pretty effective. They show an active, happy woman in a white outfit, they allude that she has her period and uses pastel colored products covered in flowers during her period selling us(women) an idea1 . We buy the idea that we too could be that happy and unafraid of wearing white during our periods. Because we buy the idea we buy the product. Unfortunately by the time our period is over with we realize that idea we bought, is nothing close to our reality -- no amount of feminine hygiene products can make us stop bleeding 4 days out of every month.

Our Reality

YouTube Preview ImageWe can't change the fact that we get our periods, but we can change our attitudes towards it. With a target audience of 18 to 21-year-old women2 the U by Kotex campaign slogan "break the cycle" is not only a great pun, it speaks to a much larger issues in our culture including womens' lack of education about menstruation, society's fear of menstruation, and apprehension to talk about womens' issues as a whole. While the print and broadcast ads focus on luring young women in with witty, sarcastic and satirical commentary about menstruation products, the aim of the website is to educate these women about their periods.

Breaking the Cycle

What U by Kotex does really well is establish a distinct difference between myth and reality. Both the Reality Check and the So Obnoxious broadcast ads (seen above) paint all other menstruation product ads as dispensers of unrealistic ideas about what menstruation is (or rather what it could be if you used their product). Enter U by Kotex. Kotex acknowledges the myth we all bought into then invites us to rethink our relationship with our feminine hygiene products.

Next Kotex takes charge re-educating us with their U by Kotex website takes charge. This is a website built on facts. The homepage carousel cycles through facts about periods such as:

  • "79% of girls don't see what dancing in white dresses has to do with periods."
  • ..."83% of girls are uncomfortable talking to their parents about periods"
  • ..."85% of girls are afraid to be seen with a tampon"

Upon digging deeper on the site you'll find a page full of statistics titled "It's time to Break the Cycle" about women and their feelings/thoughts towards vaginal health and menstruation. Fueled by a survey of 1,607 North American women between the ages of 14 and 353, these stats do two things.

Firstly, they inform. Based on these statistics I personally think our culture has a long way to go before we're at an acceptable place when it comes to understanding the vaginal health of women. I believe most women who read these stats would not be surprised at the results the survey yielded, instead I think they would be more surprised that anyone bothered to bring up the matter of vaginal health or menstruation at all.

Most women claim to be knowledgeable about vaginal health issues,
but more than 1/3 cannot dispel some basic myths.

Secondly reading statistics such as the one above levels the playing field, we can all stop pretending we have our vaginal health under control and admit the more we talk the more we'll learn.

One insight to rule them all

Anyone could have created an advertising campaign based on assumptions, in fact that is what feminine product advertisers have been doing for years. Assuming all women feel disgusted by their periods (or themselves while on their periods) and therefore wrapping products in pastel colors and flowers selling women the idea of of beauty and being carefree while enduring a monthly reminder of their womanhood.

In actuality, this assumption isn't entirely incorrect. According to Kotex's study approximately 47-67% of women say they feel dirty when they have their periods4. This statistic would be a great insight if it wasn't absolutely devastating that a majority of women feel dirty once a month because of something completely natural. Rather than moving forward with an insight is hinged to women feeling poorly about themselves Kotex's survey digs deeper and really gets to the heart of what is going on when it comes to vaginal health, menstruation and advertising.

Women are frustrated, but not with their periods – seven out of ten (70%) women agree
that it’s about time society changes how it talks about vaginal health issues. Women are
insulted by blue liquid advertisements and snarky jokes, and they are tired of skirting
around honest discussions regarding a natural, normal, and healthy process.5

Great advertising campaigns are built on insights surrounding a target demographic like the one above. Kotex did their research and delivered a campaign that answers the desires of their demographic to stop pussy-footing around vaginal health issues and get real.

Why I LOVE this campaign

When it comes down to brass tacks this campaign does the same thing all other feminine hygiene products ads do, it sells an idea. Where this campaign differs is in the type of idea that it sells. This campaign has nothing to do with feeling better while you have your period it's about feeling better about your period and your self while you have your period. It's about ending our censorship6 of women's health issues to obtain a greater good and the ideas put forth in this campaign move towards affecting a larger social and cultural change. In a way the idea this campaign sells is that women shouldn't need to feel embarrassed by the very things that make them women...their vaginas! I love this campaign for the same reason I love Eve Ensler: both acknowledge that having a vagina does not make you less, nor should it strip you of power, your entitlements or respect -- instead it simply makes you woman and that's a beautiful thing.

  1. Check out this Mother Nature ad for an idea of what I'm talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3kugHmbNgQ []
  2. "The new line primarily caters to women from 14 to 21." - Rebelling Against the Commonly Evasive Feminine Care Ad by Andrew Adam Newman for the New York times. Written 03-15-2010. Retrieved 04-20-2010. []
  3. Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health (page 6) []
  4. "Women with low-esteem are more likely to think of their vaginal area as ugly (58% vs. 29%) and to feel dirty when they have their period (67% vs. 47%)." -- It's time to Break the Cycle []
  5. Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health (page 3, paragraph 5) []
  6. "Merrie Harris, global business director at JWT, said that after being informed that it could not use the word vagina in advertising by three broadcast networks, it shot the ad cited above with the actress instead saying 'down there,' which was rejected by two of the three networks. (Both Ms. Harris and representatives from the brand declined to specify the networks.)

    'It’s very funny because the whole spot is about censorship,' Ms. Harris said. 'The whole category has been very euphemistic, or paternalistic even, and we’re saying, enough with the euphemisms, and get over it. Tampon is not a dirty word, and neither is vagina.'" - Rebelling Against the Commonly Evasive Feminine Care Ad by Andrew Adam Newman for the New York times. Written 03-15-2010. Retrieved 04-20-2010. []

0

YouTube Preview Image I recently dug this song by Kate Miller-Heidke called "Are You Fucking Kidding Me?" up on the iTunes Store. I thought the song a rather genious and timely reflection of relationships in an era where Facebook is a primary method used when keeping in touch with friends (and old flames). I especially like the resolution of the song - "Click ignore"...sometimes it's best for us to for-go the urge to stalk the ones we once cared about to preserve our sanity. Enjoy! And if you like it don't forget to buy the song on iTunes.

Lyrics for Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

They say every one should have their heart broken
...at least once
That that is how you grow emotionally
Well, I have been misused by many, many, many men,
but nothing can compare to how you treated me
At times it really felt as though the pain was here to stay
And though it's many years ago, I feel it to this day

And now you wanna be my friend on Facebook...
Are you fucking kidding me?

All the memories are flooding back to me now
All the ways you stole the light from my eyes
I traveled so far just to get away from you!
Till this mornings friend request surprise

At times it really felt as though I'd never smile again
You narcissistic ass hole, oh you nasty nasty man

And now you wanna be my friend on Facebook...
Are you fucking kidding?

I don't wanna know what kind of cocktail you are
Or which member of The Beatles or which 1950's movie star
I don't give a toss if you're a ninja or a pirate,
I'd suspect you'd be a pirate but I don't wanna verify it
And I don't give a shit what your stripper name is
Or if your Kitty had a litter

Look, just follow me on twitter
I don't care about your family tree
and I certainly don't want you poking me!
...again

And now you wanna be my friend on Facebook...
Oh you fucking fucking fuck.

Click, ignore....

I recently spent a whopping 4 hours in an airport waiting for a plane to arrive. While waiting I decided to catch up on some of my favorite shows using NBC's mobile website which allows you to view full episodes on your phone. Before I go any further let me first say that I think NBC is an innovator for putting full episodes on a mobile site, they should be commended for that. The mobile website as a whole is easy to navigate and not run down with functionality no one cares about. Also during my 4 hour wait, it was an awesome way to occupy my time.

Episodes play in parts on the mobile website, in other words: each episode is broken up into about 4-8 Quicktime videos with a commercial baked into the front of each part. Since an episode is not one large video file, there is naturally time between the end of one part and the beginning of the next. When this happens there is a screen letting the user know the next part of the episode will begin soon. This is the trouble spot.

Before

Epic problems are bound to occur when you have a design, UX and development team who don't communicate -- I expect this was what lead to the following screen being implemented.  UX and design probably thought the developer would use the iPhone's native GUI, when really this was not the case at all. Instead of a developer pushing back and asking his/her design/UX team to re-think the approach to this screen or better yet suggesting solutions for the screen, they said nothing or worse yet...perhaps they weren't involved in the design/UX process at all. The screen below is the result  (Below image each problem is addressed individually)

  1. In case you thought that because the image above is a JPG and that in the actual screen grab the spinner was actually spinning, you would be wrong. Under no circumstance does that spinner spin. Nope, instead it just sits there, dead, teasing us with its' spinner like appearance. WTF NBC, if you have a spinner on a page....well then make sure it spins! I have no interest in looking at a static picture of something that is suppose to move -- that's like sitting in a car that's not on: completely pointless.
  2. Do you see a mouse on this screen? NO! Under no circumstances would you need to click on anything. On an iPhone (or any touch screen device really) you TAP not click. Copywriters take note.
  3. Episode Part? Really?....really? Could you not have found a better way to say that?
  4. Why is this in a box, I don't get it....it's not iPhone UI, it looks like crap...get rid of it.
  5. Again...using native iPhone UI elements as an image in the hopes of providing a seamless experience doesn't work here, so don't do it.

Beyond using a single image static image, a multitude of copy flubs and implementation faux-pas, the image used is pixelated...the kind of pixelated that is like nails on a chalkboard to a designer's eyes. I'm going to file the pixelation under the 'lazy developer' files for now and move on.

After

In my re-design I had a couple of goals.

  1. Make sure the user knows something is happening and that their content is being queued up
  2. Correct the epic copy failures of the previous screen
  3. Remind users they're being afforded the luxury of viewing TV shows on their mobile device because of NBC
  4. Keep the file size reasonable, we are on mobile -- no one wants to wait for a loader to load
  5. Use the peacock: NBC you have a fucking peacock as your logo...embrace the peacock! If I was NBC that peacock would load EVERYTHING. It's one of the most recognized logos in America, use it, remix it, animate it, love it.1

By embracing the peacock (5) I am able to inform the user their content is being queued up with the animated NBC logo (1). This logo is also a way of reminding the user where they are, and that what they are watching is NBC programming (3). I adjusted the copy and hierarchy of the type to more accurately inform the user of what is going on (2). The final file size of the GIF NBC would use in their HTML is nearly half the size of the image they are currently using: NBC's image is 20KB compared to mine which is 12KB (4). That's right NBC, I pimped out your loading screen and brought the file size down.....what now?!

Taking it a step farther

While the design above reflects a change to the current DESIGN of that screen I actually feel that this screen is a missed opportunity for earning some advertising dollars. NBC could easily place a small advertisement on this page to generate additional revenue, the user is waiting anyways, popping an ad on the screen isn't going to hurt.

How to not make a user's eye's bleed and an advertiser's heart break

  1. Don't assume that just because something is on screen for only 5 seconds that it can be dismissed. Five seconds is a LONG time online and it seems even longer when you're on a mobile phone because you don't have other windows open to browse while waiting.
  2. Since 5 seconds is a long time, don't let your user think that nothing is happening. Inform them or entertain them with an animation or piece of trivia. Waiting is no fun, would you want to stand in a waiting room instead of sit in a comfortable chair?...I didn't think so. Don't be a douche bag to your user, if they have to wait anyways make the experience less unbearable.
  3. If you have a screen that requires a user to wait anyways, why not earn some additional revenue from that time by showing them an ad. Advertising sucks, but since NBC is providing free quality content with probably 70% less advertising than a viewer watching on TV, they are well within their rights to collect ad dollars here.
  4. Be careful writing copy for mobile. Many mobile devices no longer allow a user to click...instead user's tap. Also make sure you're writing copy that will makes sense to a user and if you can, don't be afraid to spice it up a bit.
  5. Rub some 'Make my logo bigger cream' on it (kidding!). Don't make your logo huge, but make sure the experience is tastefully branded throughout.

A Message to NBC

Like all broadcasting companies, you too have your moments of weakness and this was clearly one of them. Since I enjoyed using your mobile website so much I'd like to provide the animated GIF I created (re-designed) to you (see 12KB animated GIF here), should you require source files as well simply contact me and I'll send them over as well. More importantly, take some pride in your work and embrace the gritty details as an opportunity to shine. While I was at the airport I probably spent about one whole minute looking at that ugly screen ya'll implemented, now you go look at that screen for a minute. Was it enjoyable? No, of course not. Now in the words of Tim Gun 'make it work'.

  1. NBC's peacock logo as we know it now was designed by Chermayeff & Geismar in 1986, 24 years later the logo is still being used...now that's what I call timeless design! []

I recently took a trip to the upper east side of Manhattan to visit the Guggenheim and Jewish museums. The Jewish Museum was awesome the Guggenheim was awful...here's why:

A glance at a successfully curated museum experience

I began at the Jewish Museum to see the Alias Man: The art of reinvention exhibit. This exhibit was easily one of the most well curated exhibits I've seen in a long time. It was well thought out presenting Man Ray's work in a relatively chronological order, hooking it to the artist's biography and world events allowing the spectator to understand the 'why' of the art with considerable ease. The text accompanying the exhibit was well written, so well written in fact that it almost stopped traffic flow as even I (like many others) read to find out what came next in this artists life. Artworks that were relevant to one another, were presented together leading visitors to draw conclusions on their own (what I like to call 'ahh ha' moments).

In my opinion the curation was flawless, but more importantly it was accessible. The visitor did not need a fancy pedigree or a background art history or philosophy background to understand the core tenants of why Man Ray's work was important. There was no need to struggle for understanding or focus, this made it easier for myself (and I'm sure many other visitors) to remain receptive when viewing works such as The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse1 an object (we don't know what kind of object) wrapped in cloth and bound with string. Artworks like this often turn people off of art, but in this exhibit the sterile, unfeeling, lack of thought was stripped from the object. It was presented in context with Gift2, one of my personal favorites, the juxtaposition of the objects I felt helped with understanding: it was much less object in the center of a white box without a plaque fuck you we normally see in museums.

For me the reason I loved this exhibit is that I could tell that a lot of though and effort went into sharing Man Ray's legacy with the public in a way that allowed ANYONE from the public to understand. I could feel the love and passion of those who worked to create this exhibit and their passion to share that with the museum's visitors. It was very delightful.

A glance at a museum experience gone wrong

My delight at the Jewish museum I fear may have lead me to expect the same from the world renowned Guggenheim Museum. After waiting in line for 15 minutes in front of the most annoying and pretentious European pricks I finally was inside the museum. The line inside the museum to get tickets was non-existent. Instead the bevy of potential ticket holders loitered around not knowing who was next to make a purchase. I usually can overlook chaos at a museum's entrance but this seemed slightly more ridiculous than usual.

Once I was in the ground level I could see the Tino Sehgal3 performance in the center: a couple making out. This performance was awesome, in fact it may have been my favorite thing I saw all day. As I wound my way up Wright's spiral I noticed a shocking absence of something relatively important in an art museum: ART. The spiral was void of the very thing it was intended to display. I am not entirely sure why this is, I am not so secretly hoping this absence is actually part of an idea or artwork that I completely missed (if so please let me know), in any case I felt cheated.

If you've been to the Guggenheim before you'll know that each level of the spiral has galleries off the main path. These galleries each contained different exhibits. I want to tackle them each separately since I was disgusted by each for different reasons. PLEASE NOTE: The museum was crowded, loud, and frustrating to begin with -- my disgust and inability to feel at ease really made a poor experience even worse.

Malevich In Focus: 1912-19224

First off, the lighting in this gallery was terrible, secondly the Guggenheim took arguably one of the least accessible (and possibly most innovative) artists of the first half of the 20th century and failed to explain to someone who has never seen Russian avant-garde why Malevich was one bad ass dude. Great, I'm a first time visitor who has never seen Malevich before, what the hell is this guy doing with all of these red and black triangles and squares? Further more even if there were placards explaining all this (and there were a few, the ones I read were boring as hell and not exactly my idea of well done) I would not want to read them since it was a space that was way too small and poorly lit. It was clear that this exhibit was not designed for the general public but for the art history buffs, who not only know what Cubisim, Italian Futurism and the Russian avant-garde are but can write an essay outlining their importance to modernism.

Paris and the Avant-Garde: Modern Masters from the Guggenheim Collection5

There is no disputing that the Guggenheim has an awesome permanent collection, but the title of this exhibit lead me to have a few expectations:

  1. The fact that the exhibit is centered around Avant-Garde artists who worked in the same city (Paris) leads me to believe that I will learn something about which of these artists influenced each other, spent time together or better yet despised each other.
  2. Since these artists were working in the same city, I would expect at least one pair of paintings by two separate artists depicting the same Parisian subject matter in different ways. They're all working in the same city, surrounded by the same things: I want proof.
  3. I want to know what was so avant-garde about these paintings (I know, but I want the average Joe to know too: I'm tired of explaining to Grandma why Norman Rockwell is not a better painter than Marc Chagall or Pablo Picasso)
  4. Tell me why they're masters, these paintings are obviously important as they are owned by the Guggenheim -- but nothing has been done to convince me why their works are important or why these men (there may have been a woman in there, but I didn't notice any) were masters.
  5. As a museum nerd I really want to know where these pieces came from, why they were purchased and more importantly some cool facts about them. The Guggenheim as guardian of these works must have the most complete history, and know the full importance of each of these works, they should share that: I paid $18 for you to tell me.

Needless to say, none of these expectations were met.

Anish Kapoor: Memory6

In the time I was at the museum I saw one piece (a gigantic piece) by Kapoor called Bombay, it was cool, but if there was more than one piece there was no apparent way to get to it, see it and there certainly weren't any signs pointing to it. I was surprised because I honestly expected Kapoor's work to adorn the spiral. I was disappointed.

Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum7

Possibly the most accessible exhibit at the museum due to designer/artist/architect documentation of their submissions to this exhibitions, but the exhibit read something like my high school art show. I am unsure of how much I like this, on one hand it was not pretentious and therefore much more approachable. On the other hand there were no names next to the artists work -- instead the visitor had to pick up a newspaper like pamphlet (super awkward format for a gallery setting, and the supply was running low when I grabbed mine) and match the number next to the piece with the number on the paper to see who the piece was created by. For the love of God I don't want to play a game of match-the-numbers when I am looking at art, save that shit for kindergartner worksheets and multiple choice tests. More importantly save yourself the hassle of printing multiple copies of the same thing when you could make one damn copy and hang it on the wall. What were they thinking?

Why the Guggenheim should install an enormous 'Fail Whale' sculpture in their lobby

Some museum experiences are successful, my experience at the Guggenheim just pissed me off -- here's why:

  1. Doing something as simple as getting a ticket should never be a cluster-fuck. I don't care about waiting in line, just don't make me wait in line only to be fed into a loitering group of apathetic hipsters who don't know where the hell to go next.
  2. If you are a museum, you should display art -- the absence of art in an art museum can only be interpreted as two things: 1.) Someone hasn't done their job and needs to be fired, 2.) an artistic statement that will only be understood by those who write the art theory books...the average tourist from Nebraska will likely not get it (no offense Nebraska, I'm sure you're awesome)
  3. I don't want to guess at why an artist created something nor should I need to pick up the poorly design fugly audio guide device to figure that out. Give me a brief well written description so that I don't need to listen to a 5 minute long audio track to get the information I could have gotten by skimming a description in 10 seconds. Seriously, Guggenheim....cut it out with the audio guide only bullshit.
  4. I came to a museum, so don't display work like a high school art show or make me play match-the-number. Grow-up Guggenheim, you're people get paid to do a job, make sure they're doing it and doing it well.
  5. The day I visited lack of diversity in the visitors was appalling, the Guggenheim should be ashamed. Where was the color? Where was the different point of view? Where were the people reminding me that museums are there to serve the community not just a segment of society? It was sad.

Avoiding the fail whale is easy

Museums should make their art accessible to the general public, this begins at the ticket line and carries all the way through to the placement of artworks and artwork's documentation. In short, I shouldn't need to be an over educated ass to understand art, it's importance or why I should care in the first place.

  1. Man Ray, The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920/1971. Object, felt, and string. Approx. 13 3/4 x 23 5/8 x 13 in. (35 x 60 x 33 cm). Collection of Marion Meyer, © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris []
  2. Man Ray, Gift, 1958 (replica of 1921 original). Painted flatiron and tacks, 6 1/8 x 3 5/8 x 4 1/2" (15.3 x 9 x 11.4 cm). James Thrall Soby Fund. © 2010 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. []
  3. The New York Times review of the Tino Sehgal Exhibit []
  4. Malevich In Focus: 1912-1922 Exhibit Page []
  5. Paris and the Avant-Garde Exhibit Page []
  6. Anish Kapoor Exhibit Page []
  7. Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum Exhibit Page []
Back to Home
Preload image Preload image Preload image Preload image Preload image