Archive for ‘Reviews: virtual reality’

January 31, 2011

No Excuses for Poor Signage

It was an honor to present concepts discussed in this blog on Friday to the Nonprofit Commons in Second Life. A wide range of organizations were represented by their avatars in the central arena. There to discuss signage, I reviewed the best reviewed here and discussed tips and ideas for how they can improve their signage overall. Although most of the organizations, unfortunately, design their own signs, there are still ways that they can improve by following some basic considerations. Hopefully they will grow enough where they can afford to give their group a graphic face.

Liane Sebastian virtual presentation

Sitting off to the extreme left, my avatar waits to make the next presentation. My title slide is up, a cube of my sign designs, and four examples of inworld books.

So here is a synopsis of the presentation that I made to them:

LESSONS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR VIRTUAL GRAPHICS:

Perhaps the biggest frustration for visiting any location in SL is to figure out where you are. How many times do you tp into a spot and it takes five minutes just to figure out if you are in the right place? On the assumption that I am not alone in this

In real life, my graphic design and publication practice primarily services nonprofit organizations. So naturally I have been studying the design of Nonprofit Commons. And because I write about design as a published author of print books and articles, I have been blogging about my discoveries and what I have learned here. I am thrilled to be asked to share my perceptions and hope that my comments are useful to you.

The most important thing any organizational director can do in their SL presentation is to take a step back and try to put him or herself in the shoes of the visitor. How easy is it to see the signage?

The most important concern, as your first face to every visitor, considerations that will help improve your presentation:

1.  Placement. It is better to have more smaller signs than a single large one. Many organizations place a sign above the door, causing the newly arrived avatar to have to look up. The first place to have a sign is where someone can see it at the landing point. Then, there needs to be one by the door. Finally, there needs to be one just inside. In NPC, it makes sense to also have one on the roof.

2. Clarity. Many signs are very hard to read. A good test is for how small it can be made and still be legible. Boldness in SL is very important because people move fast and look at images from a great range of distances and angles. Any image that doesn’t hold up misses an opportunity to grab.

3. Distinction. A simple, bold, and visually expressive logo combined with a unique color pallette works the best in helping to attract visual recognition. Consistency between visual components for an organization is achieved through a defined identity.

4. Welcoming. Beyond the placement, the more creative the greeting, the more quickly the visitor will become engaged. Visual techniques, modular content, special concerns, publications, events—these are all opportunities to entice.

5. Informative. Presenting a sign of more than a very short paragraph is presenting a sign that won’t be read. Four sentences maximum. It is better to have more signs with less on them than fewer signs with more on them. Also, psychologically, people always seem to read captions. So caption photos wherever possible. Make the content as visual as you can with a photograph, diagram, or chart.

Visiting all of the organizations in NPC, evaluating what you do visually and in marketing, I also learn more about how you operate, meet expectations, and fulfill your missions. My fascination with business is equal to my fascination for virtual reality as a publishing medium. Like blogs, websites, wikis, etc., Second Life has a role to play in the suite of communication tools. But what makes it much more special are the collaborations, personal friendships, and international stage.

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January 1, 2011

Basic signage: The SL Chicagoan Office

overview
It seems that good virtual signage should not be difficult. Applying just a few principles is pretty basic:

1. Make the sign big enough to read. If it can’t be seen from a short distance, it is too small.

2. Place the sign in a position where avatars can see it (and not have to scroll around to find it).

3. Place more than one sign around entrances. Coming from different directions for eyes looking at a variety of images are in a hurry and can miss single placments.

4. Put identity information at the bottom of information posters. So if a visitor does come inside without seeing the entrance signage, there is still the reinforcement with consistent identifiers.

Yet as obvious as these principles may seem, why do so few organizations and presenters consider them? Fully one-half of the commerical places—from shops to nonprofits to art galleries to cafés—the visitor has to SEARCH for the identity of the location! Often they leave without knowing whom they just visited!

Within a recreation of Chicago in the 1920s a backdrop for a role play sim,* the publication from that era has also been brought back to life: The Chicagoan magazine. Unfortunately this jazz-era publication only had the short life of nine years, yet captured the essence of the era’s culture and character.

Chicagoan virtual office
-Street signs hang just above head level so that avatars can easily see from down the street and when approaching.

On a street corner of the recreated historic “Loop,” The SL Chicagoan magazine has an office—set up for visitors and as a distribution hub of the inworld publication** with links to the blog, is a collaboration of those writing historical fiction in a virtual setting.

Chicagoan virtual office
Magazine image hangs in the window. Large banner sign on the inside wall can be seen from the doors and through the windows of this corner space.

The virtual office for the Chicagoan demonstrates a simple strategy for signage and placements. Integrating into the historic setting, conveying the spirit of the original magazine, and making the location easy to find all work effectively for this now popular hangout for tea and conversation.

Chicagoan virtual office
The counter identifier is for the complimentary classified section.

* a role play simulation creates a historic setting and the residents assume various roles and then act the parts. The Chicago Roaring 20s sim has over 500 members with dozens active at any given time. The recreation assumes the form of a real city, but in a fictional environment.

** inworld publications are virtual books that avatars interact with like print books–turning pages, housing on shelves, etc. They can easily have a real world tie-in equivalent and vice versa.

Chicagoan virtual office
Kiosks around the sim display for distribution.
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.

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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.

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