Comprehending Foreign Design

A central tenet of marketing is to give your customer what he/she wants. If you were Steve Jobs, then oftentimes you gave them something they didn’t yet know they wanted, but I digress.

In Canada, where both English and French have been officially recognized as state languages since 1969, that means marketers need to service both English and French in their marketing materials.

When it comes to point-of-sale and product packaging, this means brand managers can choose to produce two completely different sets of materials–one for each of the geographies known to typically harbor English or French speakers.

But this can be expensive since it would mean production runs of lesser quantities per version. It also runs the risk of upsetting those transient speakers of the “other” [official] language who find themselves outside of their usual territory.

So brand managers have to account for both languages on singular pieces, particularly when it comes to product packaging.


Look at what this means for the tasty box of shredded wheat cereal we bought in Vancouver in an attempt to placate our kids with healthy snack bags.

The bilingual speaker–or monolingual, as the case may be–is able to read the important messaging the brand manager wanted to deliver. But what a lost opportunity for designers, and brands for that matter, who might have wanted to have a little fun with their packaging real estate.

The bilingual requirements aren’t always a matter of jam-packing or removing any and all creative opportunity. These milk cartons looked so delicious we bought two! 🙂


Nor is the excessive copy always of the sort some might consider frivolous brand-speak. Some shoppers might really need to know about the sugar content of their orange juice.


Still, I wonder if designers would find Canada’s attempt to overcome language barriers a form of creative barrier in and of itself. And is language comprehension more or less important than the hopefully-sales-driving inspiration presumably associated with the creative approach to that barrier?

Les Misérables, Orcs and Audience Preparation

A little over a month ago, Catherine and I went downtown for a date night at the theater. Following an awesome series of Spanish tapas at Solera we wound up in comfy seats watching a story unwind in France.

I blogged about it in this post on Tumblr, but since my activities there are fleeting at best, thought I would link to it from here.

Bottom line: Whenever you have an audience, the best way to ensure their attention from the outset is to help them forget about the places or situations from which they had just come. Bring the stage, podium, etc. to them to such an extent that it, literally, becomes part of their own experience and not something which they are watching or to which they are merely listening.

Period Melodrama Helps Beat SciFi


Lady Mary & Matthew Crawley - Image courtesy of Nick Briggs, Carnival Film & Television LTD (via

From National Public Radio’s story Saturday on Elizabeth McGovern to Sunday’s article in the Star Tribune about witty scripts, the return of Downton Abbey [to US shores] this weekend has the media in a lather.

Rightly so, in my humble opinion. Hobnobbing with the rich and famous at Downton offers you something of a fill of British history and, given where the second season’s storyline is headed, world history too. It lets you ponder sociology and culture, women’s rights and politics. And, as I told a friend earlier today, it’s an excuse to sneak in some good old fashioned trashy romance stuff too. What’s not to like?

Even without a TV, the Mandles are ready to leave our Minnesotan home in favor of a visit back to the estate as soon as Season 2 is put up on the PBS website.

And the folks at Masterpiece Classic won’t mind that we stop on by. As the Strib article pointed out, viewership of Masterpiece is up 150% thanks to the history, or sociology, or politics at Downton. Or, just face it, the romance.

In addition to Downton, Masterpiece has brought on numerous other new shows intended to attract those of us who’d rather equate Miss Marple’s TV home station to the living room set box of our parents. (Mom/Dad: No offense!)

Shows like Downton, “Upstairs, Downstairs,” and a reimagined Sherlock Holmes are evidence of a brand attracting a new audience by repositioning itself. The 43% ratings hike for Masterpiece indicates that this audience likes what they’re seeing.

So counter to what we saw with the SyFy channel rebranding last year, there is clearly a way brands can successfully follow through with repositioning by changing–improving–their actual product rather than just the trimmings. (And yes, I know that AdAge thought SyFy did well by its effort. And yes, I still disagree. Proof: I haven’t watched a show there since Battlestar Galactica finished its run.)

Now, please remember to leave your horse-and-carriage at home. Lady Mary is attracted to those who drive those new-fangled mechanized mobiles.

Fermi, Sagan and Ender

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote an interesting column in the National Review Online that ran in yesterday’s Star Tribune.

With a title like “Are We Alone In The Universe,” it was an editorial people who know me well enough might have predicted I’d comment upon. Some of my past posts, like this one on Goldilocks Planets, should have been hint enough.

The central premise of @Krauthammer’s piece is, much like Carl Sagan’s own comments from the Cosmos series in 1980, that humanity has yet to encounter other intelligent civilizations not because none have ever existed, but because the ones that have end up destroying themselves.

I find @Klauthammer’s–and Sagan’s before him–premise plausible. But ever since I started Orson Scott Card’s Ender Series, there’s another potential explanation I’ve been mulling.

If we find exoplanets potentially ripe for life that are orbiting stars hundreds or thousands of light years away, what we are seeing of those planets is actually traveling on waves of light (or particles of light, as some would argue) that left those planets hundreds or thousands of years ago. However many light years away the exoplanet, that’s how many years old the images are.

Now imagine civilizations on those exoplanets–today–are looking at us with their own machinery. Like our technology, they are limited to imagery that travels no faster than the speed of light. So what they are “seeing,” is our planet anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years ago.

Since we were building, at best, pitch pine ships or, at worst, pyramids within that frame of time here on Earth, we simply wouldn’t be emitting any signals viable for the exoplanetians to be picking up.

As a result, those exoplanet civilizations might be just as likely as @Krauthammer to consider themselves to be flying solo.

It’s a mind game that I find fascinating. Just as much as the thought of there being another planet–or more–out there harboring warm beaches on water-based oceans, vibrant flora, diverse fauna, etc.

Here’s to learning more about other planets, our own and ourselves in 2012.

Happy New Year!

From A Top 10 List To A Bag Of Coffee Beans

It’s apparently a slow news week in the business world, since this Top 10 Coffeehouses article from City Pages was picked up today by the Twin Cities Business Journal. Apparently after first making the rounds of the social webs, based on what Catherine told me yesterday.

Even BC (aka Before Children), I wasn’t ever really a cafe squatter. But I LOVED lattes. And still do. So it was fun to read the article and imagine a kid-free time with a good brew and a book.

What I wasn’t imagining, though, was anything having to do with the unique taste of artisan coffee. I fully understand the notion that different coffee beans taste differently once brewed. And it makes sense that roasting technique can also make a difference.

However, as with wines, I rarely–if ever–am able to taste what the label or package promises should be there. Touches of chestnut or a pique of cherry usually seem like marketing without any substantiation in the form of actual proof positive on the taste buds.


Fresh bag of coffee beans with flavorful roast.

So this gift from my brother and sister-in-law out in Washington, DC came as a complete surprise. Firstly, because it wasn’t necessary. Secondly, because without reading the label I was very much able to note the flavors which the brewmaster was seeking to perfect. First time ever.

So if you’re in the Twin Cities and you’ve already stopped at a Caribou Coffee* but still feel the need for some caffeinated juice, try one of the coffeehouses in the City Pages review.

But if you’re in the DC area’s Petworth neighborhood and, once again, you’ve already sipped or supped with Caribou, stop in to Qualia Coffee. Bring your palate and you won’t regret it.

*Disclosure: Caribou Coffee is not my client, but Colle+McVoy serves as the brand’s agency of record.