Posts tagged “language”

ChittahChattah Quickies

It’s been a while since I posted short snippets around links I’ve found fascinating, and while that means these stories don’t come out of this week’s news, I think they are all are provocative and worth being aware of.

Marketers change pronunciation in ads to attract shoppers [CBC] – The value of the Z as a cultural indicator when selling products in Canada. Canadian companies remind of their status by highlighting the “zed” while some American companies will create a Canadian-specific ad, replacing “zee: with “zed” (depending on the product and it’s meaning – and cost)

Because cars are so closely tied to image and identity, it’s very important to get that identity correct when speaking to Canadian car buyers. But in the end, it all comes down to dollars and cents. If the product is low-end and utilitarian, marketers will go cheap and run the U.S. product name, commercial and pronunciation in both countries.

But when there’s a risk of offending the identity of Canadian buyers of big ticket items, marketers will spend the extra loonies to do a custom version for Canada.

Threat of Death Makes People Go Shopping [Inkfish] – Here’s a finding that we really don’t want to see in the wrong hands!

Nothing says “Let’s hit the outlet mall” like nearly being wiped out by a rocket. A study of both Americans and terrorized Israelis suggests that certain people respond to the threat of death by going shopping. Because if it’s your time to go, you may as well be wearing the latest from Forever 21 Michigan State University marketing professor Ayalla Ruvio and her colleagues performed two studies of potential shoppers. The first took place in Israel. Questionnaires were handed out at a community center in a town just one kilometer from the Gaza Strip, during six months of daily rocket attacks there in 2007. The same surveys were distributed in a second town farther from the fighting, where residents were aware of the violence but not in direct danger. The questionnaires were meant to ferret out a few different answers about people. Did they experience post-traumatic symptoms such as nightmares or memory loss? Did they cope with negative feelings by buying things? How often did they return from a shopping trip with items they hadn’t meant to purchase? Other questions assessed how materialistic the subjects were-did they place a lot of value on owning nice things? Israelis who were experiencing daily rocket attacks, unsurprisingly, reported more post-traumatic stress. People who felt more stress admitted to more compulsive or impulsive shopping behaviors. And both these effects (feeling stress and going shopping) were stronger in more materialistic people. For their second study, the researchers used a group of 855 American subjects, meant to be demographically representative of the U.S. population overall. Subjects filled out an online survey that measured their materialism, shopping habits, and how much they thought about their own death, as well as other factors. Once again, for people who were more materialistic, there was a relationship between fear of death and impulse buying.

Because the more materialistic Israelis experienced more stress, the researchers think “materialism makes bad events even worse.” And when materialistic people feel threatened, they buy things they don’t really want (or maybe can’t afford). The findings don’t only apply to people living in the Middle East. Events that make people fear for their lives can include car accidents, assaults, and natural disasters. Yet Ruvio puts a positive spin on the ubiquity of trauma. “This presents an opportunity for both manufacturers of impulse items and the retailers that sell these products,” she writes. When a severe storm or a military crisis is brewing, she suggests stores put their high-profit-margin items up front where impulse shoppers will see them.

While retailers may be able to benefit from people’s crises, shoppers themselves won’t. Previous research, Ruvio writes, shows that “most materialistic individuals derive little satisfaction from their consumption activities.” So much for retail therapy.

Weird T-Shirts Designed To Confuse Facebook’s Auto-Tagging [Wired Design] – The space where conceptual art meets technology can be interesting, where working solutions can be produced to comment on the problem without fully solving it, and yet point the way to a possible future where those problems are addressed this way.

How to fight back? Just buy one of Simone C. Niquille’s “REALFACE Glamoflage” T-shirts, a series of bizarre, visage-covered garments designed specifically to give Facebook’s facial recognition software the runaround.

Niquille dreamed up the shirts as part of her master’s thesis in graphic design at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. FaceValue, as the thesis is titled, imagines new design solutions for the near-future, mining the ripe intersection of privacy, pattern recognition and biometrics. The shirts, custom-printed for around $65, are one of three such imaginings–a tongue-halfway-in-cheek tool for pushing back against the emerging trends of ubiquitous, computer-aided recognition. Covered in distorted faces of celebrity impersonators, they’re designed to keep Facebook’s algorithms guessing about what–or more accurately who–they’re looking at.

“I was interested in the T-shirt as a mundane commodity,” Niquille explains. “An article of clothing that in most cases does not need much consideration in the morning in front of the closet…I was interested in creating a tool for privacy protection that wouldn’t require much time to think in the morning, an accessory that would seamlessly fit in your existing everyday. No adaption period needed.”

Promoting Health With Enticing Photos of Fruits and Vegetables [NYT] – Bolthouse Farms created a fanciful website that visualizes food-related social media content.

“It’s not that I don’t have an Oreo every once in a while,” Mr. Putman said. “We just want folks to understand that beautiful carrots have badge value the same way peanut butter, chocolate pie does.” Having badge value means something is interesting enough to deserve a hashtag.

Bitcoin Beauties promotes use of currency by women [SFGate] – If this provides empowerment to someone, then that’s great. But I don’t understand this at all. It seems like Trending Topic + Nekkid Ladies = something.

The company’s slogan is “Beauty, Brains, Bitcoin.” Its logo is a sketch of two voluptuous, nude women, posing pin-up style beside the stylized bitcoin “B.” The company website, yet to be completed, is now a photo collage of women, some topless, silhouetted against a beach sunset. Blincoe refers to members as “our beauties.” For Blincoe, there is urgency in staking a claim for women in the highly lucrative world of bitcoin, a crypto currency that by many accounts has the potential to shape the future of how transactions take place and currency flows online. For now, the main function of Bitcoin Beauties is hosting a small-but-growing weekly gathering where women talk bitcoin.

The Anti-Digit Dialing League [Orange Crate Art] – A mostly-forgotten (and mostly unsuccessful) rebellion against a technological advance. Also see the followup here.

The Anti-Digit Dialing League was a short-lived movement that arose in 1962 and faded, it would seem, in 1964. Founded in San Francisco, the ADDL opposed “creeping numeralism” and fought a losing battle to preserve the use of telephone exchange names.

Alicia’s War Story: Don’t hate on a tinkler

Alicia Dornadic is a design researcher in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Going to someone’s home for the first time to interview them, especially in an unfamiliar culture and language, can be awkward. Showing up with two researchers, a cameraman and a couple clients in tow – all of whom are over-caffeinated and in need of a bathroom break – can make for a circus act. These were three-hour long interviews, too. So, despite our best efforts to arrange feeding and peeing times before getting to the person’s home, we usually all had to pee at some point during the interview. But our translator was the absolute queen of tinkling. The first day I was understanding. “Maybe she’s sick or nervous,” I thought. She would take two to four breaks during each interview, which left the rest of us smiling and pointing at things dumbly, trying to make conversation in her absence. By the end of the week, my patience was shot. I was ready to strap some adult diapers on her. I would glower at her every time she asked for water, tea, or a soda. “Really?” I thought, my eyes on fire, “Should you really be having that?” I’m not proud of this. But I couldn’t help being annoyed.

Finally, karma came to bite me on the ass. It was at the end of a long interview at the end of a long day, and I broke down and asked if I could use the restroom. Our host pointed to it, and I stumbled inside, missing the 2-inch step down into it. There wasn’t a lot of light in the bathroom, and it was cluttered. I couldn’t find a switch. But no matter. I go. I reach for the toilet paper, and BOOM! CRASH! I take down the entire metal toilet paper rack off the wall, and it crashes onto the tiled floor. It was too dark to see how to fix it, so I had to come out and explain what I had done and apologize. Not only that, but my explanation and apology had to be translated! Translated and explained to two researchers, a cameraman, a couple of clients and our participant. It ended up not being a big deal, but I was embarrassed. And I felt guilty for all my negative thoughts towards our translator. As much as I was annoyed at our tinkler friend, at least she didn’t break anything.

Debbie’s War Story: Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

Retired from HP, Debbie Mrazek shares her story about not knowing she she was getting a little too much attention in the field.

Many years ago, when international “day in the life” visits were not common in my company, I led a study to better understand technology usage in typical homes.

As a US-based team, when we spent time with a European family, we typically included a translator and local researcher in the team. Each visit started with getting to know the family over a meal that we brought with us. We then toured the home and divided into smaller groups in order to spend focused time with each family member.

During a visit with an upscale German family, I was interviewing the very friendly and excited older teenage son. He very enthusiastically showed me every gadget, software program and PC trick he knew. He was constantly trying to impress me with his technical skills and knowledge, speaking in a mixture of German and English. The interpreter did her best to help me understand the boy’s key points, but I continued to notice that both she and the local researcher were exchanging knowing smiles. Eventually, the mother joined us and graciously suggested that the son had “bothered the poor girl” (me) enough, and we should join the rest of the family for coffee.

During our post-visit debrief, it was revealed that the interpreter was strategically not translating some of the boy’s most blatantly flirtatious comments, leaving me unaware that this was even happening. While typically I think the translation should be unbiased and accurate, in this case her careful filtering was a good thing. It allowed me to focus on watching how he used the technology…but it did make for plenty of teasing from my colleagues during the rest of the trip!

ChittahChattah Quickies

Chick Beer | America’s Beer for Women – Products that claim to be designed especially for women cloak themselves in empowerment and equality. Yet they easily ring false. Beyond issues of feminism, I see this as any type of design failure: not offering a specific understandable benefit that makes your promised experience tangible. In other words, why is this beer for “chicks?” Even if it was made by chicks, that’d be more than what they’re telling us here.

We brew Chick at America’s second-oldest brewery, located in beautiful southern Wisconsin. With over 160 years of experience, we know how to brew great beer. For centuries, beer has been created, produced and marketed by and to men. At Chick, we think that it’s time for a new choice. Chick Beer celebrates women: independent, smart, fun-loving and self-assured women who love life and embrace all of the possibilities that it has to offer. Above all, we think that beer is supposed to be fun! So enjoy! Grab a cool Chick and Witness the Chickness!”

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains [Empirical Zeal] – Words are a culturally unique approach to categorizations. But some science folks have looked into identifying a universal, cross-culture map of colors.

There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all. In the Thai language, khiaw means green except if it refers to the sky or the sea, in which case it’s blue. The Korean word purueda could refer to either blue or green, and the same goes for the Chinese word qƒ´ng. It’s not just East Asian languages either, this is something you see across language families. I find this fascinating, because it highlights a powerful idea about how we might see the world. After all, what really is a color? Just like the crayons, we’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.

Joel Hodgson on ‘Mystery Science Theater’ and Riffs – [NYT] – I love the insight into the process they used. As well, I am sick with jealousy over the folks that got to participate in a class, called RiffCamp2012, led by Hodgson. What could be more fun than that?

If “Mystery Science Theater” was part insult comedy aimed at movies, there was also something congenial in the show’s tone. (Perhaps it was the puppet robots, or that it was all being produced in Minneapolis.) Six writers had to deliver a 90-minute episode every week, Mr. Hodgson said, with 600 to 800 riffs per movie, “when all the pistons were firing.” In devising the lines, no reference (Bella Abzug, Roy Lichtenstein) was too outré or rejected initially, Mr. Hodgson said. As he tried to convey to the students at Bucks, it’s best to brainstorm nonjudgmentally first and figure out what’s funny later.

The Science of ‘Gaydar’ [NYT] – Gaydar is provably real, and the framework used by these scientists describes a couple of different ways that we cognitively process what we see as faces.

It’s widely accepted in cognitive science that when viewing faces right side up, we process them in two different ways: we engage in featural face processing (registering individual facial features like an eye or lip) as well as configural face processing (registering spatial relationships among facial features, like the distance between the eyes or the facial width-to-height ratio). When we view faces upside down, however, we engage primarily in featural face processing; configural face processing is strongly disrupted. Thus our finding clarifies how people distinguish between gay and straight faces. Research by Professor Rule and his colleagues has implicated certain areas of the face (like the mouth area) in gaydar judgments. Our discovery – that accuracy was substantially greater for right side up faces than for upside-down faces – indicates that configural face processing contributes to gaydar accuracy. Specific facial features will not tell the whole story. Differences in spatial relationships among facial features matter, too.

A Peek Inside The CIA, As It Tries To Assess Iran [NPR] – A cultural and process overhaul to help intelligence analysts see beyond the obvious conclusions. Applies to the analysis process in design research as well.

The post-Iraq changes at the CIA also involve new analytic techniques, highlighted in a “tradecraft primer” in use at the agency since 2009. The manual is now used at the Sherman Kent School, the agency’s in-house training institute for new analysts. The manual opens with a section on the “mind-set” challenge. “If you’re only looking at [an issue] through one narrow view of the world, you’re not looking at the whole picture,” says John, who teaches at the Kent School. revealed. “Your biases will get you things like a confirmation bias: ‘I’ve seen it before, so it must be happening again.’ Or an anchoring bias: ‘We’ve come up with that conclusion, and I think it’s true, and it’s not going to change.'” One exercise now in use at the CIA is called “Analysis of Competing Hypotheses.” Analysts who may be inclined toward one explanation for some notable development are forced to consider alternative explanations and to tally up all the evidence that is inconsistent with their favored hypothesis. “You’re looking for the hypothesis with the least inconsistencies,” says John, who’s been at the CIA for 34 years. “We call it the Last Man Standing approach.” Such exercises are employed throughout the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. Each office now includes a “tradecraft cell,” staffed by specialists whose mission it is to make sure their colleagues are using all the latest analytic techniques and challenging their own judgments.

To Profile or Not to Profile? : A Debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier [Sam Harris] – Bruce Schneier’s stuff is pretty amazing. His command of logic and skills in debate make his essays and other appearances mandatory for thinking about design, systems, and of course the post-9-11 security- and attendant cultural-issues.

When implementing any human-based system, the interests of the people operating the system often don’t precisely coincide with the interests of those designing it. This is the principal-agent problem, and it manifests itself in your profiling system as the TSA agent who thinks “If I wave this person through without checking out the anomaly and he turns out to be a terrorist, it’s my ass on the line.” Because the cost to the agent of a false positive is zero but the cost of missing a real attacker is his entire career, screeners will naturally tend towards ignoring the profile and instead fully checking everyone. And the screener’s supervisor is unlikely to tell him, “Hey you need to ignore the next old lady that beeps,” because if he’s wrong then it’s his ass on the line. The phenomenon is more general than security; discretionary systems tend to gravitate towards zero-tolerance systems because “following procedure” is a reasonable defense against being blamed for failure.

A Simple Tool You Need to Manage Innovation [HBR] – You may have seen Ansoff’s Product Market Matrix (perhaps like me, without knowing its name); this is a nice evolution of that model.

In the lower left of the matrix are core innovation initiatives – efforts to make incremental changes to existing products and incremental inroads into new markets. Whether in the form of new packaging, or slight reformulations, such innovations draw on assets the company already has in place. At the opposite corner are transformational initiatives, designed to create new offers – if not whole new businesses – to serve new markets and customer needs. These sorts of innovations, also called breakthrough, disruptive, or game changing, generally require that the company call on unfamiliar assets and to develop markets that aren’t yet mature. In the middle are adjacent innovations. An adjacent innovation involves leveraging something the company does well into a new space. Adjacent innovations allow a company to draw on existing capabilities but necessitate putting those capabilities to new uses. They require fresh, proprietary insight into customer needs, demand trends, market structure, competitive dynamics, technology trends, and other market variables.

Out and About: Steve in Lisbon (1 of 2)

Last week I went to Lisbon to speak at UX Lx (you can see my presentations and more here). We had a great time exploring the city on our own, and courtesy of our kindly hosts. I’ve got some images and observations here, and some more to come tomorrow.

This sign is advertising one of those small bright yellow cars that tourists drive around while a recording guides them from place to place. But here the promotional message is rather ribald. Is this reflective of the local culture and how English is used, or is it an attempt to adapt to visitor norms? My other triangulation point was the frequent t-shirts with rather forward sayings in English, worn by people that maybe didn’t know what they meant? I saw a slender woman jogging with a “Chubby Girls Cuddle Better.” A late-middle-aged man on the subway wore a shirt reading “Rock Out With Your Cock Out.” There was just something off about the wearer and the message, seeing my own culture coming back at me in a completely different way. Was this like Engrish, or something else?

Same idea. This is an advertisement for learning English, from the prestigious-sounding “Wall Street Institute” presumably targeting people who want to improve their careers. But FUCK (and the other side, SHIT) are the reference points for learning English. For sure, these are important words in business 🙂

The reliefs in the base of the statue of St. Anthony.

Friendly key dudes.

Do they sell each of those animals as meat?

Is this frog flashing a gang sign, or suggesting his availability for romance?

Funiculars traverse the steep hills.

Stunning architecture of the Oriente train station.

Nothing says sexy like toilet paper.

At the Vasco de Gama mall, this staircase used the same handrail as the escalator. As you approached it, you’d assume you were about to get on an escalator. But no, it’s stairs. Did some architect insist on symmetry with the design of the adjacent escalator?

Rossio train station.

Things that are obsolete

The modem sound has gone the way of the brabble.

Robert Fulford: When words die [] The Oxford Concise Dictionary has been forced to abandon words. Never fear, they will remain in the OED, which is not restrained by promises of concision!

The Concise has also set aside “threequel,” meaning the third book in a series; it never caught on, perhaps because trilogies are out of fashion. The Concise has likewise abandoned “brabble,” which means a paltry but noisy quarrel, and “growlery,” meaning the private den of a man. I knew none of these words in their prime and now must recognize that they are on their way out. It leaves an odd feeling, a cousin to the nebulous melancholy that accompanies the reading of an obituary of someone you would like to have known…Shouldn’t we have a category for endangered words? Perhaps we need a system of adopting words to keep them safe and well, the way people adopt favourite stretches of highway. We would sign up, promise to use our chosen words as often as possible and of course object when they are misused or threatened with abandonment.

Bleeoo! #RIPdialup [] That strange modem sound hasn’t been heard for awhile in most parts, and is not missed, at least by this former dialer-upper. Yet, another strange nostalgia breeds, even for this horrible sound. The bleeoo-crackle meant that you were just sitting there waiting, pointlessly, anticipating the blissful connection. We endured it only because we had to. I guess it’s today’s equivalent of having to walk to school through the snow uphill both ways. Kids today!

Remember the glory of dialing up? Kids today won’t know the shrill cry of a 9600 baud, or the magical “doodleeedoo” of a 28.8 modem. Help preserve our digital history. Join us in recording your best impression of a “modem handshake” sound.

(Thanks Steve, for the pointer to Bleeoo!)

It’s the little things

The secret life of pronouns [] – James Pennebaker’s studies show that the use of small, seemingly insignificant “function” words reveal a great deal. We cognitively focus more on the “content” words, which provide meaning and provoke the imagination. Function words are used more unconsciously.

Function words serve quieter, supporting roles – connecting, shaping and organising the content words. They are what determines style… They are used at high rates, while also being short and hard to detect. They are processed in the brain differently than content words. And, critically, they require social skills to use properly… It seems the use of articles can tell us about the ways people think, feel and connect with others. The same is true for pronouns, prepositions, and virtually all function words. One area this is useful is in personality research. As you might guess, different patterns of function words reveal important parts of people’s personalities. In one experiment, we analysed hundreds of essays written by my students and we identified three very different writing styles: formal, analytic and narrative. Formal writing often appears stiff, sometimes humourless, with a touch of arrogance. It includes high rates of articles and prepositions but very few I-words, and infrequent discrepancy words, such as “would”, and adverbs…Those who score highest in formal thinking tend to be more concerned with status and power and are less self-reflective. They drink and smoke less and are more mentally healthy, but also tend to be less honest…We have also found that function words can detect emotional states, spot when people are lying, predict where they rank in social hierarchies and the quality of their relationships. They reveal much about the dynamics within groups. They can be used to identify the authors of disputed texts, and much more. The smallest, stealthiest words in our vocabulary often reveal the most about us.

He then turns it on himself!

Using a recording device programmed to switch on for about 30 seconds once every 12 to 14 minutes, I have been able to analyse my family’s interactions. The first weekend I wore it seemed uneventful. But when I transcribed my recording I was distressed to see the way I spoke to my 12-year-old son. My tone was often detached. I used big words, lots of articles and few pronouns. My language was warmer with my wife and daughter. The experience had a profound effect on me. Thereafter, I made a conscious attempt to be warmer and more psychologically available to my son. I have also analysed my language in emails, classroom lectures, articles and letters. Sometimes my language is predictable, sometimes it isn’t. And when it isn’t, I learn something about myself.

The snack whisperer

Watch Your Mouth: The Sounds of Snacking [] – Peter Smith examines the way marketing and product development have used sound to manipulate consumer response by building in auditory cues (both in the crinkly packaging and words used in naming and branding) and speculates whether these powers can be used for good rather than evil. For creating healthier eating patterns rather than pushing fatty snacks. Not that I personally have anything against fatty snacks. I wonder if this tactic would be sufficient to move the needle on carrot consumption?

Dan Jurafsky, a Stanford linguist who blogs on The Language of Food, recently performed a “breakfast experiment” on 81 ice cream flavors and 592 cracker brands. He found that the ice cream names tended to employ back vowels-sounds formed in the back of our mouths that generally refer to big, fat, heavy things. Front vowels, on the other hand, tend to be used in words that refer to small, thin, light foods, like crackers. Say them out loud: rocky road, chocolate, cookie dough, coconut-heavy on low-frequency o’s. Now listen to Cheese Nips, Cheez-Its, Wheat Thins, Ritz Bits, Triscuit, Cheese Crisps-you can hear all those little bitty e’s and i’s. These things matter. Sound symbolism appears to be more universal than the kinds of learned cultural associations we pair with colors or odors…In other words, making potato chips appealing goes well beyond the right combination of salt and oil. From the atmospheric crinkling of the bag to the crunch inside your mouth, all these sounds influence our perception of food at the affective level. Even saying the word “chip” forces a smile. It’s easy to see these tools could be used to manipulate and market food deceptively, say, “Snap into an (itty-bitty sounding) Slim Jim!” But it’s also worth thinking about how subtle auditory cues might be employed to encourage healthier behaviors-literally, to make healthier food sound better. If baby carrots were rebranded as “bits” or vegetable stands took a cue from Good Humor’s chirpy ice cream jingles, who knows?

ChittahChattah Quickies

An Uh, Er, Um Essay: In praise of verbal stumbles [Slate] – I love it when something I think of as inarguable, indisputable – like this one: it’s bad to say “um” in speech, especially when public speaking – is outed as a recent invention and/or sham. Also, this is a huge relief.

“Uh” and “um” don’t deserve eradication; there’s no good reason to uproot them. People have been pausing and filling their pauses with a neutral vowel (or sometimes with an actual word) for as long as we’ve had language, which is about 100,000 years. If listeners are so naturally repelled by “uhs” and “ums,” you’d think those sounds would have been eliminated long before now. The opposite is true: Filled pauses appear in all of the world’s languages, and the anti-ummers have no way to explain, if they’re so ugly, what “euh” in French, or “äh” and “ähm” in German, or “eto” and “ano” in Japanese are doing in human language at all. In the history of oratory and public speaking, the notion that good speaking requires umlessness is actually a fairly recent, and very American, invention. It didn’t emerge as a cultural standard until the early 20th century, when the phonograph and radio suddenly held up to speakers’ ears all the quirks and warbles that, before then, had flitted by. Another development was the codification of public speaking as an academic subject. Counting “ums” and noting perfect fluency gave teachers something to score.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Short Cuts [London Review of Books] – [The application of number-crunching style analytics to cracking a cultural code.] Spies aren’t known for their cultural sensitivity. So it was a surprise when news broke last month that IARPA, a US government agency that funds ‘high-risk/high-payoff research’ into areas of interest to the ‘intelligence community’, had put out a call for contributions to its Metaphor Program, a five-year project to discover what a foreign culture’s metaphors can reveal about its beliefs…The teams that get funded will collect large amounts of text in four languages, representing four cultures: Iranian Farsi, Mexican Spanish, Russian Russian and American English. With the help of heavy-duty computer analysis, they will spend the first couple of years identifying conceptual metaphors in each language and listing them in a ‘metaphor repository’ along with their associated ‘affect’,

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] A manifesto for the simple scribe – my 25 commandments for journalists [] – [These are just a couple of Radford's commandments, written based on his years of experience as an editor at the Guardian. Most of these apply beautifully to any kind of writing.] Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. "No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand." And here is another thing to remember every time you sit down at the keyboard: a little sign that says "Nobody has to read this crap."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Snowclone [Wikipedia] – A snowclone is a type of cliché and phrasal template originally defined as "a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants". An example of a snowclone is "grey is the new black", a version of the template "X is the new Y". X and Y may be replaced with different words or phrases – for example, "comedy is the new rock 'n' roll". Both the generic formula and the new phrases produced from it are called "snowclones". [Thanks @mulegirl]
  • [from julienorvaisas] The Business of Unfriending People [] – [Suggests that the social media footprint in our lives is contracting, voluntarily, and explores cultural trends informing that. Is the social media bubble about to burst (or at least diffract)?] New evidence suggests that as social media gets bigger, we're getting smaller. This is the growing trend of descaling—the pruning of our social lives on the Internet. Here we take a media, which is structurally perfect for massive scaling at low cost, and use it to make the Internet a more meaningful, emotional, and intimate experience.This new sense of intimacy derives from two places. The first is our growing sensitivity and sophistication about privacy. Secondly, this trend to intimacy isn't relegated to the digital world. It's happening across our economy. The pre-crisis consumer has become a smart shopper, more concerned with maximizing both the value of his or her purchase, but also actively supporting the brands, ideas, and friends that share his or her values.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Music and speech share a code for communicating sadness in the minor third [Scientific American] – [We unconsciously employ culturally-imbued musical cues and tonal differentials with each other to convey emotion, sadness being one. This seems so obvious once it's stated, and so important to our methodologies, as we search for emotional response and connection.] The tangible relationship between music and emotion is no surprise to anyone, but a study in the June issue of Emotion suggests the minor third isn't a facet of musical communication alone—it's how we convey sadness in speech, too. When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language. Since the minor third is defined as a specific measurable distance between pitches (a ratio of frequencies), Curtis was able to identify when the actors' speech relied on the minor third. What she found is that the actors consistently used the minor third to express sadness.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] A Morose and Downbeat Woman is My Co-Pilot [Boing Boing] – [Nass and Yen on Boing Boing talking about their body of research, of which we've long been fans, around the social behaviors that emerge in our interactions with technology. Back in the day, their research was under the branding Computers are Social Actors, but this latest offering seems to be positioned a bit more broadly in focus and in appeal] In my new book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us about Human Relationships, I describe almost one hundred rules for social behavior that can be derived from experimental studies of how people use technology and that can make people more likeable, effective, and persuasive. The current study gives us two principles to guide interactions with people (as well as technology): telling upset people to "look at the bright side of life" can be off-putting, and "misery loves miserable company."
  • [from steve_portigal] There is a Horse in the Apple Store [Frank Chimero] – [A lovely story that delivers on so many levels, from pure observational humor to an insightful treatise on how we engage – or not – with the world] THERE IS A LITTLE PONY IN THE APPLE STORE. What the hell? A beautiful little pony, with a flowing mane, the likes of which my sister would have killed to get for Christmas when she was 7 or 8. And, NOONE is looking at this thing. I wondered: if there were kids in the Apple Store, would they notice? “Yes,” I say. “Yes, they would.” Kids have a magnetic connection to animals. But there are no children in the Apple Store, for the same reason you would not see a child in a jewelry store: things are small and fragile and expensive and shiny. And if you have a child, you probably can not afford Apple products. But, if a child were here, they would see the pony, because when you’re a kid, you notice everything, because everything is new.
  • [from steve_portigal] Does Your Language Shape How You Think? [] – [Some of the latest thinking on this evolving exploration] French and Spanish speakers were asked to assign human voices to various objects in a cartoon. When French speakers saw a picture of a fork (la fourchette), most of them wanted it to speak in a woman’s voice, but Spanish speakers, for whom el tenedor is masculine, preferred a gravelly male voice for it. More recently, psychologists have even shown that “gendered languages” imprint gender traits for objects so strongly in the mind that these associations obstruct speakers’ ability to commit information to memory.

Colloquial is not Authentic

We frequently encourage clients to make their language accessible, get out of their own heads, talk to people in/on/around products and services using words their customers can actually understand, and to keep in mind that just because a room full of product managers, brand gurus, software engineers and consultants know what certain words mean, doesn’t mean that their intended market will. At best the wrong language can confuse, at worst it can make people feel intimidated or condescended to.

BMW does a pretty good job here of both using the geeky jargon and then telling folks what it does for them.

There is an irony to this, of course, as we work within a tribe of business consultants known for using obtuse and sometimes even made-up vocabulary to impress our clients. Rob Walker of the New York Times Magazine treated us to a glimpse of what this language feels like outside the tribe in his recent Consumed piece on Chiquita

Ciafardini says Chiquita is particularly interested in communicating to the under-25 crowd that the company offers the ‘convenient healthy snacking platforms that people are looking for these days.’ (I believe that means bananas.)

Our friends at Mule Design have even developed a business-consultant-jargon translation engine to treat the problem:

This irony humbly set aside, check out the graffiti beset upon this advertisement from Blackberry, which refers to people’s “Homies, Mates, Buds and Bros.” This was snapped in San Francisco’s Mission District, where people certainly do refer to each other in some of these terms unironically.

It demonstrates that the message, colloquial as it is, is not quite connecting. Instead, it resulted in an angry action using terms both colloquial and authentic: these people don’t give a fuck about you. A dose of process consultation (which unsuckifies as “free advice”) to the ad agency that surely tested this ad with focus groups of homies, mates, buds and bros. Next time, consider asking, “Does the wording of this advertisement make you feel like we give a fuck about you? If not, why not?”

See also:

Steve’s thoughts on this whole authenticity thing in a column for interactions magazine.

Another failed communication attempt – a bunch of people no doubt spent a lot of time coming up with a low tire warning symbol that no one can figure out.


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