Archive for October, 2010

October 28, 2010

Second Life: A First Glance at Nonprofit Graphics

overview

The power of first impressions is either ignored or overlooked. Perhaps the poor state of design in Second Life is due to myopia—no one can see his or her own face objectively. A stroll around the Aloft group in Nonprofit Commons is a lesson in visual frustration. (Because the 30 organizations there comprise about 1/3 of all nonprofit residents, I hope the other groups fair better in my upcoming analysis.)  Many have beautiful architecture and interior design. But the signage, the information, and the communicative power of graphic presentation is virtually ignored! This is so surprising when the resources for space and furnishing is a major effort (albeit a cheap one). Here is what I found so far:

Preliminary Evaluation of Graphics
30 Nonprofit Commons Aloft organizations:

spiral bullet1. Placement of signs is better than the average Second Life presentations. For 23 out of 20, isn’t too difficult to tell who is who, though camera work is necessary when the signs are placed too high. The most legible use several sign positions—outside of building, near the entrance, just inside, and prominent in every room. Redundancy is important. The most astute also place a sign on the roof of their buildings so that it can be found from the air. [photo of sign on roof]

spiral bullet2. Legibility is poor. Fully 1/2 of all the signs are difficult to read. Because the point of a sign is to be read, such oversight is hard to understand. Editing can be difficult for anyone wishing to tell a story. But the rules of visual seduction, brevity, and even composition are still necessary. Residents put hours of work into avatars to represent them with sophistication, yet make presentations that are difficult to comprehend! It makes me wonder both why they are there and what kinds of responses they have garnered. This is not to say that compelling signs will guarantee that marketing goals will be met, but there is a certainty that meeting them will be more difficult if communications are unsatisfying.

spiral bullet3. Images are crude. 3/4 use images from logos to illustrations to photographs. But unfortunately, less than half of those look amateurish. (If I investigate the websites of the same organizations, I wonder if I will find the same thing?) The best use the organizational logo, furthering identity recognition.

spiral bullet4. Poor informations signs. Those groups that have signs inside their spaces either overwhelm the visitor with too much or underwhelm with vague content. Most have publication offerings, links to websites and blogs, and videos of activities. How these are presented seems more of an after-thought rather than as strategic tools.

spiral bullet5. The honeymoon is over. Two organizations are gone. The others discuss concerns in the Friday morning conference. Having attended, it is a challenge are to be taken seriously in the business community. The novelty has worn off and expectations altered. Second Life’s role is now being defined for fundraising, presentations, education, and publications. It is a more direct form of communication with members that the belief in its future holds strong. But the idea of foot traffic is dashed. Instead, being event driven, what you put in is what you get out; it is no panacea.

spiral bullet6. Three are the best. They are worth visiting as examples of what to do right. I will review these three in more depth and investigate the components. For now, effective graphics are most used by:

American Association of University Women

AAUW displays corporate approach to signage.

AAUW (American Association of University Women) hits all the bases with outside and inside signage. Although not very imaginative, their communication is clear, crisp, identifiable and inspiring.

KIVA loan organization

Kiva.org has signs that always provide orientation.

 

KIVA: Loans that Change Lives demonstrates a corporate design approach very effectively. Every view reinforces their identity and the viewer is never lost.

Project Jason presentation

Project Jason expresses their mission visually.

 

PROJECT JASON: Assistance for Families of the Missing has a mysterious name so graphics become even more important to communicate mission. Very compelling in their portrayal of finding missing children, the visitor gets swept into awareness.

The more a viewer becomes engaged during a visit, the more inclined he or she is to drop a donation in the tip jar on the way out. The fundraising aspect of Second Life has only begun to be tapped. A much wider-reaching audience can augment the real life performance of these organizations. Graphics have a major role to play in compelling that audience to action.

the end

Advertisements
October 22, 2010

Evolving and Adapting: from regional to international

overview

Perhaps the best part of electronic publishing is the ability to change quickly. Yet once a commitmnent is made, it is usually a bad idea to redirect midstream. The test of a strong concept is the flexibility to expand or shrink, choose related forks in the road, or redefine parameters—and still carry out the original goal.

When I embarked on this Sebastian Study a few years ago, I envisioned a national study of nonprofit graphics—illuminating the best and those that could be great but aren’t. I have a large developed database containing 1500 nonprofits—the largest organizations based in the U.S.

Breaking down this mountain of analysis after my initial categorization (viewing 1500 websites took over two years), I chose to focus just on the Midwest (half of the total) first. Then I would follow up with the national evalutation. However, this planning was before I joined  Second Life. I have no choice but to set aside the national version in favor of reviewing the 80 international organizations with presence in Second Life. Last Friday, I attended their weekly meeting, and there were 50 avatars who showed up. Concerns discussed are real life concerns—they complain about the business perceptions that inhibit the acceptance of virtual business—the same tune sung by every new medium. But different than any other media, virtual reality brings all of the others together. Plus it is truly an international marketplace. I was surprised to learn that only 40% out of the 2 million avatars come from the U.S.

Jumping past the planned national study, I am going right to one that is international! Super-excited about the possibilities, I see virtual reality as the next evolution of not only communication, but of commerce. There are many bridges to cross before virtual reality really penetrates everyday business exchange. I hope to do my part in making sense of it. I just added a new page and category to this blog for the upcoming evaluations: “Virtual Reality: Birth of a New Evo(revo)lution.” Here, I outline the current uses of Second Life and how organizations are adapting.

Back in 1983, I felt this same way about desktop publishing—and paid dearly to be on the bleeding edge. Then in 1994, I knew that the internet would not only take over my world, but the world of all businesses! Then, with the development of web 2.0 over ten years ago, I knew that connectivity, forums, blogs, and social media would transform communication and business practices. And now, I feel most srongly about virtual reality. As it becomes harder to get people away from their computers, it has become easier to engage them online!

With growing virtual eperience, I begin the next phase of this blog to embrace a new frontier. Watch how I mold and expand… and help others navigate the terrain.

Look for me wandering about the Nonprofit Commons, wearing a cute hounds-tooth suit with long blond hair!

spirals
The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit www.wofw.com and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end

October 11, 2010

Extend Graphics, Expand Experience

overview
Although Second Life is now about five years old, the jury is out on its penetration and impact. As a new platform, I am now examining its 80 resident nonprofit organizations. It also opens this Study up more into the national arena.

Second Life is at a crisis point. The early enthusiasts are exhausted and impatient with its acceptance level. New users easily get frustrated and overwhelmed. Yet Nonprofit Commons (acting as an information portal) receives over 1600 visitors a month. Second Life combines websites, blogs, publications, video, social media, and resources all in one place with the added feature of fun. Such great functionality means the interface has a high learning-curve that the world’s designers prioritize as their greatest challenge to solve.

What does this mean for nonprofits? As a professional communicator, I believe that virtual environments are the future of presentation, education, publication, events, and conferences. Virtual advantages offer a new landscape of opportunity:

spiral bullet1. Development is inexpensive. Granted, development is time-consuming, but it is free to register and partake of activities.

spiral bullet2. A donation system allows organizations a vehicle for increasing revenue. A virtual bank handles transactions and can translate SL money into RL (real life) money. Showing how revenue is used is easier than in any other media.

spiral bullet3. Travel is possible both in time and in space. Historical simulations (sims) allow creative and meaningful settings. Shared experiences as tours and in imaginative settings add to the overall enjoyment of participation.

spiral bullet4. Ambient experience of prospects and members can be magnified exponentially. Because all other media feed in and influence presentation and graphics, the user interaction gives an unparalled access to serving them. Libraries have staff that can help the “newbies” get set up and situated—individually and with a high level of customer service. Docents conduct tours, give lectures, run discussion groups, and teach classes.

spiral bullet5. Education is exploding. Discussion groups and classes are growing and cover everything from learning software to support groups to expeditions to exhibitions. Pioneering universities ave curricula and events with a greater geographic reach than real life (RL) venue.

spiral bullet6. Everyone is appealing. Because the user creates an avatar, it is pure self-expression. Second Life’s status report indicates that it isn’t a place to create a fantasy as much as it is an idealized sense of self. For example, I am a younger and thinner version of myself, dress a little more adventurously, and always have clean clothes! The people that I meet often post their RL photo and their avatar tends to be a slightly more fanciful depiction of themselves—demonstrating individualized taste when practicality isn’t an issue.

spiral bullet7. Real money can be made. Donations to organizations are real. Bookstores can offer presentations and events that can attract a national audience versus a regional one, without a cost for travel. Artwork can be shown in low-resolution and sold to be shipped. Memberships can be signed with growing customization.

spiral bullet8. New ideas can be tested before investing resources. An event can evaluate interest levels, surveys can reach a known constituency, and niches can best target. If there are several ideas, variations are easy to niche.

spiral bullet9. Accessible for discovering who is doing what. There is an endless amount of resources, tutorials, instructions, and self-seminars. Then, those who authored these resources can be reached easily and they are surprisingly helpful!

spiral bullet10. All the graphics needed in RL are necessary, plus there are new design components required. Now, organizations actually have a PLACE that is a room or a building. Architecture and interior design becomes necessary on an entirely new level. Posters, instructions, and information presentations also possess new dimensions. Blogs and wikis can be more useful as they augment a major presentation versus carry the information load themselves.

spiral bullet11. Second Life is not the only virtual realty world. There is growing competition. How these platforms complement and integrate versus dilute and complicate remains to be seen. They will probably shake out to niche audiences which would be a shame, for it inhibits the rich cross-disciplinary cultivation happening now. My friends are a teacher in Arizona, professor in Boston, nurse in San Diego, and artist in Phoenix.

spiral bullet12. Mistakes and typos are tolerated. Everyone interacts spontaneously. Information goes up and down quickly. There is a Second Life pace that, like RL, is organic and unpredictable.

spiral bullet13. Brevity is necessary. Those with writing skills have an advantage. But all users must learn to convey ideas in small chunks. Two sentence responses in a chat are the limit to have a good exchange.

spiral bullet14. Presentations can be more polished. As with a website, it is easy to correct, constantly changing, and never finished.

spiral bullet15. It needs to be staffed. Beyond a webmaster, a docent is a tool to welcome, answer questions, and guide. Newbies have a new friend and are easier to pull in than through a piece of literature or a video.

spiral bullet16. Social media has a greater potential for commonalitiy and understanding. For each person met, his or her name is obvious (virtual version of wearing a name tag) and a profile can be reviewed. Public forum are often filled with those hanging out wasting time (not serious potential members or colleagues), so those who get the most from the platform learn to avoid “info hubs.” Many are doing business and not interested in building a social life. Conversely, most users are interested in making friends to compare notes, travel with, and get to know in a completely safe and unthreatening setting.

spiral bullet17. Communication takes on new dimensions: while there is a public chat forum going on, there can be private side-conversations at the same time. This offers a way to personally attend to each attendee or visitor question while addressing the group at the same time.

spiral bullet18. Involvement can be easily phased—from having a sign or a kiosk of links, to running discussion groups, to holding events (of any scope), to renting a storefront, to hosting an entire island, the possibilities are greater than in RL where physical barriers slow down or limit accessibility. All users begin by being a visitor, discover a new pace to interactions, and develop a personal purpose.

spiral bullet19. A new discipline becomes necessary. Second Life is seductive. Wasting time flying around the Roman Forum is too much fun! The busiest time is in the evening when users all over the country are winding down their work days. So late nights having conversations with fascinating people happens frequently. It is especially exciting to meet professional counterparts in other places. So deciding before-hand how much time there is to spend can help. So can a specific Things to Do List as a concrete plan to keep from wandering.

spiral bullet20. Accessibility is redefined. In RL, voice mail and e-mail have added new insulations between people. To cold call in sales is considered spam and inhibits reputations and sales methods. But in SL, contacting anyone is easy. That will have to change, similarly to how blogs are struggling to be responsive as popularity and demand increase (for those that are successful).

spiral bullet21. Collaboration and connection transform competition. Defining niches becomes mandatory. SIM adventures allow organizations to take members on journeys not possible in RL. Those with disabilities can find a more even playing field and new assistance. Those separated physically can still exert significant influence and assistance.

Excited about the possibilities, I will embark further on understanding how these pioneering nonprofits are expanding through Second Life opportunities. It requires that I revisit the criteria I have been using for evaluating graphics.  Because all the traditional components of logo, banner, site, publications are present, I am excited to learn more about environments, video, and interactivity. If you wish to find me in Second Life, check out the Nonprofit Commons—I’ll be there a lot for the next few weeks. For the more adventurous, join me in the Chicago Roaring 20s  SIM where you’ll find my entrepreneurialism in new expression!

spirals
The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit www.wofw.com and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end

October 1, 2010

Association of Rotational Molders International

overview
Few logos can best the Association of Rotational Molders International‘s in symbolism, simplicity, memorability, and flexibility. Perhaps ARM doesn’t realize the potential branding equity that they could enjoy through using it more effectively. Their site design is an expression of missed opportunity that demonstrates obvious ways to improve. (It is easier to change a site design than a logo.)

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Association of Rotational Molders International

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
Purely descriptive, ARM‘s geometric logo uses the most universal symbols in an unusual way. It makes a sphere and a plus sign mean something new. It is a visually striking and memorable composition!

spiral bullet Theme: The visual first impression is dominated by the total gestalt—look, feel, purpose, and benefit. Further contact is consistent and supports personality and philosophy.
ARM‘s graphics do look industrial, and in that way are appropriate. But brevity, organization, blue bands, and minimalism do not make up for material that is hard to read and visually nondescript.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
This is where ARM could make the most improvement. The site navigation is hard to read and visually all the same. The space at the top of the home page is trying to sell its first banner ad. Unless they have one to start, this space can be better used. (Perhaps the blankness can remind members of its availability each time they enter.) Though you have to know initially what rotational molding is, with its depth of content, ARM‘s site could be really engaging! Constructed only of type and a generally unchanging frame, this is low budget probably at its potential. With a bland page design, the logo actually stands out more!

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
ARM seems to have placed no emphasis on visual development beyond the logo and a brief decision-making process about the website. As imaginative as is their logo, that’s how unimaginative is their other graphics. When exploring various benefits and services, the eye is jarred by a secondary level graphic that brings in new colors and a different design approach, such as in their Library section and Annual Meeting presentation. Here, visual gimics are used on the logo that don’t contribute to its visual strength.

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
ARM has many resources for building visually, especially within their “Design Applications” section. Members love to have their work showcased! Another resource untapped comes from their “Awards” program. It is unfortunate to see such unrecognized opportunities.

Many organizations have dynamic logos but stop there in graphic development. The most common reasons for accepting “Okay” include: lack of budget, executives have other priorities, no one can handle, or no one cares. In a visually-sensitive marketplace, even small improvements that make content easier to find, read, use, and enjoy, can make major differences in member perception.

See the Overview of the best Midwest organizations to present strong and compelling graphics.

The Sebastian Study 2010 national review will be available at the end of the year. If you want to be sure that your organization is included, please click here.

the end