Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Bisbee AZ and cool barn art

Scrubbles has some great photos of Bisbee, one of my favorite places on Earth. Very much like Jerome, where I used to live.

Also, if you like barns and aesthetics, then you need to check out the aesthetically pleasing barns over here.

Lazy Saturday - but it has been really quiet here for the past few weeks. I think I need a roll call. Perhaps I should also open the floor to topic suggestions. Yes?


Wow...just wow

'Extinct' woodpecker found alive

The spectacular ivory-billed woodpecker, which was declared extinct in 1920, has been found alive in North America, Science magazine reports. more...

This is an amazing story. I think it's worth talking about in lieu of our regular programming. Despite being a bit of a bird nerd, it gives me great hope to think that perhaps some other small species are also in hiding - and not yet obliterated as previously thought.


Google Sandbox Effect Encourages Better Websites

I'm certain by now you've heard of the "sandbox effect." If you haven't, it's simply a term used to describe the collection of observations that lead most search engine experts to believe, that, for one reason or another, a new web site must wait the better part of a year to begin showing in Google SERPs for competitive key words/terms.

Though intentional, the sandbox effect could also be an amalgam of a couple factors. Some experts believe that Google ran into technical issues shortly before they went public, and they are fixing/patching/testing to improve as we speak. Here are some facts:

  1. Google adjusts the algorithm regularly: Google dance

  2. During the Florida update, they tightened the standards too much and reversed the filter

  3. The "sandbox" is clearly affecting many sites

  4. Google does not officially recognize the "sandbox" effect

  5. From a financial point-of-view, they could not admit to technical problems on the eve of going public, nor so recently afterwards
Thus, they admit to using filters in the past, we know the existing effects are filter-like, Google denies applying a new sandbox filter. So is it a bug?

The other possibility is that the effect is in place to filter the spammy sites that held down top positions in SERPs. The filter encourages smart web site owners to build good content on sites during the waiting period because the quick link networks SEOs were creating are no longer profitable business services. Would you pay an SEO $5000 plus if you couldn't see guaranteed results within a year?

After we rebranded our website, we spent probably 250 hours between last March and December trying to figure out ways to get our site out of the sandbox. Finally, we gave up and focused on Adwords and the blog. Two months later, we cleared the sandbox and started to appear in the top of the Google SERPs in most relevant categories.

I disagree with some of Wayne's explanation here, but it's one of the more thorough, recent things written on the subject: Google sandbox theory validated by search engine giant



Ah, Warm and Fuzzy Money

The New Left: Corporate America

The new left, according to Gil Friend, is the corporations that may or may not have been (ahem) perpetrating crimes against the environment and humanity. Take Shell, for example. They have partnered with lots of environmental orgs in order to help these groups manage their campaigns and buy land in order to protect it. They have done a good job, too, and have been reconstructing their identity as a company that concerns itself with the environment.

The fact that they have made their name off of oil drilling can easily be forgotten.

On one hand, I agree with Gil that it will take $ to raise $ for the earth (among other causes). Your granola neighbor who quit his day job to plant trees in Northern Ontario is not making an impact on the scale that Bill Gates can, sinking millions into philanthropic endeavors every year.

I like to call this trend the Ebenezer Christmas - that aha moment - when suddenly the pile of money stops providing the satisfaction needed and the soul is of great importance. Bill had his Ebenezer Christmas and the guy's throwing money around for all.

After pursuing Bruce Mau's Massive Change exhibit, it's obvious there's a shift happening in the spirit of the fabulously wealthy - companies and entrepreneurs alike. The environmental movement isn't dying. It's quite alive in the hands of the companies and the multimillionaires eco-activists used to curse.

Safe Design Can't Withstand the Race for Ultimate Efficiency

I was reading Robert Brady's post on the strict adherence to timeliness which may put undue stress on train conductors in Japan.

They certainly are on the dot; you can practically set your watch by them. If a train is late even by half a minute, waiting veteran passengers know immediately, begin looking at their watches and down the track for the reason.

Eerily enough, Rick and I caught an episode on PBS that spotlighted Japan's high speed trains the night before the awful crash. Conductors, engineers and passengers spoke highly of the efficiency and accuracy of the trains, and we watched with envy knowing our own commuter system is substandard on a good day.

I awoke the next day to learn Japan's '40 year no-passenger-fatality record' no longer had relevance.

I wonder if we as a society place so much emphasis on "right here, right now" that we push the best, safest, most well designed products to the point of implosion.

The design of new automobiles continues to get safer; however, with China's population waxing and affluence on the rise, there will soon be an even greater number of cars, trains and other wheeled vehicles on the road.

Can good design withstand the impact of an even faster, more immediate world attitude?



I love to have visitors come to Toronto. There are so many amazing places here, some holes in the wall and some internationally recognized landmarks.

Part of the joy of having guests is that period of rediscovery that happens with your city. I'm sure if we could take each area of our life and explain it, or share it with others, as we do our cities when someone comes to visit, we'd develop a greater appreciation for the wondrous aspects of those parts of our life.

Spring is a wonderful time for rediscovery. What amazing things have you been taking for granted?

Here are a few I have realized...

Hot Docs - I am a documentary fanatic and this is North America's finest.
Retreat Centre at Gibraltar Point, Toronto Islands - Great creative getaway, 10 minutes from the harbour.
Black Creek Pioneer Village - Good for when you need to find a tin candle holder or some decent cornbread.
Southern Accent - Located in an old Victorian, this Cajun restaurant features a resident psychic and the best hush puppies this side of the border. The ambiance is amazing and quirky.
CN Tower - World's tallest building and not for the faint of heart - especially the glass floor.


Square peg, round hole?

Okay, I’ve got a question for you. How is the role of design changing in our era?

The thing is, the spawning of the messy type aesthetic, a hot design trend, has gotten me thinking about the role of fine art and design. Historically, fine art was largely illustrative, (informing the illiterate population of current events and bible stories) or it was portraiture and propaganda commissioned by the wealthy. There are always exceptions, but this was the predominant role art played in our culture. With the twentieth century came daily newspapers, literacy and photography. Thus, the ideas of “art for arts sake” and art creating a dialogue with itself are pretty modern concepts.

In comes design. It becomes the tool of propaganda and illustration, among other things.
Clean lines and solid shapes were difficult and an acquired skill. Once the computer arrived this became easier. Thus the messy type aesthetic creates a dialogue within design. A mess is difficult to maintain with a computer, and until recently has been very undesirable.

So, has design usurped fine arts role both in its historical function and finally in it’s internal and cultural dialogue? Or are we just following the time honored tradition of doing the opposite of whatever the generation did before us? Or am I just over thinking this?


This is not a rhetorical question

I've been reading Tom Asacker's great blog for a while now, and am always appreciative of the way he so bravely takes on the concept of Brand. In his latest post, he gets to the meat of what brand is and argues against the semantics and pedantic entrapments of marketing jargon.

In response to some of his comments, he had this to say,

Like JFK, I'm an idealist without illusions. I know that, when all is said and done, it's still about making a buck. Such is the nature of Capitalism. So what? Until someone discovers a better weltanschauung, I'll work with what I've got. My goal is to help *us* make a buck WHILE making a difference. Is that so far fetched? Am I naive?

What I want to know is this - how do you (meaning you reading this, fellow marketer/business professional) make a difference while helping make a buck? How do you make money (and strive to make more) or help someone else make money and make a difference at the same time?

Also, what is your definition of "making a difference?"


Hang On To Your Keyboard: Adobe to Acquire Macromedia

Now that Adobe is poised to purchase Macromedia, it would seem that little stands in the way of a monopoly for the graphics software giant.

The deal, at $3.4 billion, will be notable for the future development of Adobe’s Acrobat and Macromedia’s Flash products. Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen explains the move in the following: "while we anticipate the integration team will identify opportunities for cost savings by the time the acquisition closes, the primary motivation for the two companies’ joining is to continue to expand and grow our business into new markets."

So, people will be downsized, Adobe will be king of the hill, and the last remaining foe to vanquish will be the fading Quark.

Though never a big believer in Flash as a web site format, it would be a shame to see it disappear entirely.

The deal should be done this fall. One thing is certain, I don’t plan to upgrade any time soon.


It Must Be Spring...

Posting and, from the looks of it, commenting have been quite slow as of late. I blame this on the nice weather - I prefer to be outside in the sun rather than here, in front of the computer. I am sure you feel the same.

Speaking of spring, projects have a way of flooding in at this time. People feel energized. A whirlwind of activities ensue every April - it's a good time to be busy. Even the air is electric.

I have to temper my enthusiasm for new projects with the sensibility of limitations. See the post about passion below...

I have also noticed some tempers flaring around the blogosphere. I like to associate it with the spring mating season - the primal force that makes guys whistle and women come out in their sexiest attire - with all the pheromones on the wind, you can expect the occasional blow up - even here, in this removed medium.

I'm anxious for some intriguing online debate and have kept a watchful eye on my usual blog reads. Have you noticed the synergy and buzz and sometimes, temper tantrums?


This will change your life...

As snatched from [non]billable hour, I give you '35 Questions That Will Change Your Life' by Mitch Meyerson.

I dare you to share your answers and link back.

Another trigger happy law for U.S. residents...

Wisconsin takes step to OK wild cat hunts

This is side stepping my "no politics" rule, but come'on?!


Does your enthusiasm control you...

She who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount
~ Proverb

This is a meaningful proverb to me. How many of us get so caught up in going for a ride that we forget our destination.

In my life, I am surrounded by do-ers. I have always been attracted to their ferocity and bravery. They are the people who start businesses, who head to Egypt to work as a volunteer, who leave bad marriages with 3 kids in tow. There are no sissies in my circle.

In the enthusiasm and confusion there are many losses. I have known a few people who have lost businesses and homes and, well, lots of material things.

The ego takes a blow, but most get back up and grab the tiger's fur - and they are off again.

Recuperating from a failed business venture is never easy. Recuperating from a personal loss is much harder and certainly more arduous to mend.

It's fun to let our wild ideas direct us. Bright, dynamic people have a way of illuminating the path with energy and passion. But there are times in our life when we need to get down from the wild ride and attend to others and the small, quiet things in life.

In the end, it is the small things, the quiet moments with others that sustain us.


Clock for Snoozers

Clever clock stops you sleeping late

A scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has invented the clever device, which will defy even the most determined alarm clock "snoozers."

Research associate Gauri Nanda's two-wheeled "Clocky" automatically rolls off the bedside table when the alarm goes off and the snooze button is pressed.

It travels around the room and its carpet-covered surface bumps into objects that come into its path, until it finds a resting place.

"Minutes later, when the alarm sounds again, the sleeper must get up out of bed and search for Clocky," says the 25-year-old scientist.

"This ensures that the person is fully awake before turning it off."
A furry annoyance that hides...


What Will Green Do for You?

Brand Channel profiles H&R Block's current identity....

The quest for a new identity began July 1999, when H&R Block decided to align its brand image with its business strategy and reposition the company for expansion. Known as a personal income tax preparer, H&R Block now wished to promote an array of financial services besides tax prep, including home mortgages, financial planning, and investing advice.

However, research showed that, while the H&R Block brand was strong, the company was known solely for its tax work in a market that included American Express Tax and Business Services, Intuit, and Jackson Hewitt. To compete against its new rivals in a financial advisory world populated by names like Dean Witter, Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch, the company needed to stand out.

The idea was to breathe new life into the H&R Block brand, to make the customer stop and say, "That's not the H&R Block I think I know."

The fresh, contemporary green (a contrast to the dark green of another American classic brand John Deere) is intended to communicate a progressive identity and
reposition H&R Block as a full-service financial provider. With a core market in the US and Canada, H&R Block also offers services in the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. The company's visual look needed to play well globally.

While the green is a nice switch, and the ID is more substantial, I still think most people regard H&R Block as the "McDonald's of the Financial World."

What are your thoughts? Does the new ID convey something to you?


What's more fun than moving?

Finding out you have a mother raccoon using your chimney as a personal apartment.


Ikea: More Than Furniture for Divorced Men

Canuckflack found a wonderful tribute to Ikea, that mix and match University favorite, that humble Swedish department store....

Long ago in days of yore
It all began with a god named Thor
There were Vikings and boats
And some plans for a furniture store
It's not a bodega, it's not a mall
And they sell things for apartments smaller than mine
As if there were apartments smaller than mine

Ikea: just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norsemen
Ikea: selling furniture for college kids and divorced men
Everyone has a home
But if you don't have a home you can buy one there

(You can also get $1 breakfast on weekends.)


Life Skills Simulator - Crash Test or Fast Track?

This is an interesting concept - video games used to measure entrepreneurial and other skills by businesses and universities - as well as by therapists for treating abused kids...via WIRED...

Second Life was crafted as an open-ended environment that would allow players to fly, drive fantastical vehicles, dress up in outlandish outfits and build just about anything they could imagine. The game's developers at San Francisco's Linden Lab, however, didn't expect it to be used as a way for business school students to test entrepreneurial talents or for abused children to rediscover social skills.

According to a woman who goes by the in-world name of Gwyneth Llewelyn, a British organization called ARCI is using Second Life to help abused children in Portuguese safe houses by bringing them into the game and then working on socialization, collaboration, team building, computer skills and more.

"They easily get in touch with people that they don't personally know," said Llewelyn, explaining how the children, who are forced into hiding to get away from abusive parents, benefit from the game. "This means we seem to break a barrier of socializing."

The only issue of concern here is the potential for underdeveloped interpersonal skills and ability to empathize and perceive.

These simulations will soon replace instructors on sales floors, universities, anywhere a traditional instructor would have been engaged. We move into a humanless, interface-based world of transactions. Kinda sci-fi, isn't it?


Maverick or Mental?

A lot of the people we admire in life are iconoclasts in one sense or another. Popular celebrities and even die hard activists have idiosyncrasies which make them stand out, perhaps even inappropriately at times.

Certain mavericks have the ability to change trends or start entire religious followings. Others have the capacity to incite feelings of rage or distrust.

As I was reading an article about Sinead O'Connor's transformation into the reggae singer she now claims to be, I got to thinking about what is acceptable levels of pushing the envelope and what is not. What behaviors engage us enough to emulate and what behaviors we disapprove of or ignore.

As marketers, the sociological impact of what Sinead did with the picture of the Pope and the impact of that action should be burnt into our memory in the same way that Richard Branson can scale down the side of a building in an inflatable superhero suit to promote his new line of cell phones. It goes beyond religion. Madonna has stepped on the Catholics toes since she came on the scene, and yet she's still around.

Why we accept the comb-over and bullishness of Donald Trump and Paris Hilton's pampered childishness is something to be closely examined.

Why do we aspire to be like or be humored by the Donald Trumps and loathe or disregard the Sineads?


Post Moving Day Exhaustion

Sorry for the slow posting. We moved to a new abode over the weekend. In the meantime, a little quote....

To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.
~ Bernadette Devlin

So much truth in that statement...