Seventh-inning stretch

~ 22 August 2005 ~

While Part Three of Mobile Web Design is on its way, this third article in the series will be delayed a few more days due to time required to amass valuable tips and techniques amidst loads of client work.

So, in the meantime, a few things that have been on my mind of late. Feel free to offer opinion on one or more of the following:

  • Ideal work music volume? I’ve come to realize there’s an ideal volume level when listening to music during work. I’ve found that loud volumes are actually rather distracting, requiring me to give more attention to the music than to the task at hand. I’ve also found that soft volumes are distracting as well, doing nothing more than adding to the environment noise, rather than complementing my work routine. So the ideal volume seems to be somewhere in the middle, possibly more towards the softer end. Granted, whether your work environment requires headphones or not is a contributing factor. But what’s your ideal volume?
  • Is “generic brand” design intentionally generic looking? We’re all familiar with generic brands — knock-offs that compete on price with well-known brands. Equate, Great Value, President’s Choice, etc. I’ve always wondered why the design of these products is often shoddy (Target’s Archer Farms possibly being the exception). Why not hire a decent designer to do the labels, to add aesthetic value to the brand while still keeping costs relatively low? Or is the shoddy design done intentionally to appeal to those shopping solely on price, to make it appear to be cheaper?
  • Why do movies, commercials, and print ads still insist on using Mac IE screen grabs? Noticed this trend? Here we are in 2005, and it seems most of Hollywood and the agency world is still using a now-defunct browser for its marketing messages and computer simulation. I finally gave in last week and saw “National Treasure” for the first time merely to see if it was as clichéd as I assumed it would be. There’s a scene or two in which the actors are using the web, and of all things Mac IE is the browser being used (though the usage was clearly mocked). And yet, if I recall correctly, there’s also a scene in which Nicolas Cage’s character is using something similar to Photoshop, and we see a variety of sounds and actions that are nowhere close to possible in the current software available. Why the dichotomy? Are Hollywood/agencies really that far behind?


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1   Ryan Brill ~ 22 August 2005 at 10:27 AM

I don’t know if the shoddy design is intentional or not, but it does seem to have the desired effect, no? I suppose the off-brands are generally somewhat cheaper than their brand name counterparts, but the illusion of being cheaper is certainly there, with the knock-off design…

2   Peter Parkes ~ 22 August 2005 at 10:28 AM

Here in the UK, the large supermarket chain Tesco has its ‘Tesco Value’ brand, which is most definitely in the deliberately shoddy design category.

The lurid blue stripes, red graphic elements and a single sans-serif font, not to mention the absence of any photographs on the packaging, all contribute to something probably best explained by way of a Google image search.

3   Cameron Moll ~ 22 August 2005 at 11:02 AM

Shucks, what we’re missing out on here in the U.S., Peter…

4   Chris ~ 22 August 2005 at 11:09 AM

I’ve thought about the shoddy design of generic brands before, myself. I feel it’s intentional… I can easily spot something cheap on the shelf as it’s the only really crappy looking thing there. It works for me - my budget loves thoughtless typography with clip art and bad color schemes! No, really, it does.

If that’s the case - is it bad design if it’s truly effective?

5   Kenneth ~ 22 August 2005 at 11:21 AM

I won’t comment on the first, since my volume levels are usually as high as I can stand it. :) But I’m a freak that way.

Anyway, as for generic brands, I tend to lookmore toward store brands. Take No Boundaries, a clothing label you’ll see all over Wal*Mart. It’s the Wal*Mart brand, but it’s just as trendy and well-designed as any other label they sell. Great Value and Sam’s Choice seem to be kind of shoddy, but I think that’s actually to give it more of a cost-saving look. Think about it; you don’t pick up the shiny thing when you’re trying to save money.

As for movies, I always get a kick out of the infinite-resize-with-no-quality-degredation they use in movies, like zooming in on someone’s face on a security camera. And, yes, the Mac IE stuff is getting old, but I’ve been noticing Safari in more and more commercials lately, usually with blue balls (teehee) than traffic colors.

6   John Dilworth ~ 22 August 2005 at 12:11 PM

1. Music volume - low or off in the morning and increasing slowly until my commute home where it plays as loud as I can stand it. I don’t notice how loud until the next morning when I turn on my car.

2. Are the designs really shoddy - or would any design be perceived as such if we knew that it were attached to a generic brand?

3. As for IE screen grabs? I’m on a personal mission to delete that program from every Mac I come accross.

As for movies exagerating software capabilities - I love it! - Maybe Adobe will get some ideas and build us a program that will work just like that. One click design.

7   ChrisJ ~ 22 August 2005 at 12:11 PM

What’s funny, in movies Mac IE often runs on PC laptops…

8   Martin Neczypor ~ 22 August 2005 at 12:35 PM

I usually disregard any sort of website screens on television unless they are using Safari. I noticed TNT does this often now; Most recently I saw it in their commercial for The Closer.

9   Scott Smith ~ 22 August 2005 at 12:48 PM

Men in Black 2 showed us OS X for the first time on the big screen….and with IE 5! If you dont remember the scene, it is when there is a close up of the computer in their car and you can see the old style 10.1 dock.

10   Jeff Adams ~ 22 August 2005 at 12:55 PM

I tend to look at the generic brand thing from another direction.

Supermarkets are hugely competitive. Product position is the most sought-after commodity that supermarkets offer to their suppliers. I think the companies that make the brand names require that the generic design be shoddy.

Most of the time the “generic” is made by the same company as the “brand”. Think about it, if those “store brand” corn chips that cost you $.89 and the Fritos that cost $3.19 are made by the same company why would they want to make the “store brand” look better.

11   Joe Clay ~ 22 August 2005 at 01:38 PM

1. I think it depends on the mood.

2. Target is always the exception.

3. I really, really hate that. It doesn’t even look that great. It uses it’s own pinstriping pattern too, so it doesn’t even fit in with the last few versions of the OS, especially Tiger which is sans-stripes. Oh and that infinite zoom thing bugs the hell out of me too. I just wish it were possible :) Maybe with a digital back capable of capturing 22MP files it could be possible, but you’d still have to zoom using TV resolution, because even then it’ll eventually get grainy. Of course this completely neglects the processing power it would require to have such a high bandwidth on videos!

12   Kyle Jones ~ 22 August 2005 at 01:42 PM

Kenneth: my favorite TV computer moments was when they zoomed in on a person, zoomed into the reflection of their eye, then zoomed in on the person’s face in the reflection for a perfect match in their database within seconds!

13   Kenneth ~ 22 August 2005 at 01:45 PM

When you feel frustrated by infinite zoom or IE screenshots, just think back to Jurassic Park.

When you first see the computer that shuts everything down, it’s obviously a beige Mac. A shot of the screen shows that it’s running OS 7–9 (probably 9), but IIRC, when the evil programmer pulls up a terminal screen, it shows a DOS prompt. Later, when the girl is trying to lock the doors, she says “Oh, it’s a UNIX machine; I know this.” She then sits down to use the computer by flying through three-dimentional space, clicking on “buildings” to run programs.

So a Mac with a DOS prompt that’s running n00b-proof UNIX.

14   Joe Clay ~ 22 August 2005 at 01:46 PM

1. I meant to say it depends on the song, or my mood. I don’t know what I was thinking.

It is funny when mac programs run on x86 laptops. It’s just stupid when windows programs run on macs though. They’re just trying to make it familiar but on a beautiful laptop.

15   Joe Clay ~ 22 August 2005 at 01:48 PM

Kenneth, I remember that! I thought it was hilarious!

16   John ~ 22 August 2005 at 03:01 PM

I don’t know if it helps the authenticity or not, but that ass-crazy 3d file manager is actually a real program that does run on Unix. Hey, at least it’s more realistic than the computer screens in Hackers ^_^

17   Kenneth ~ 22 August 2005 at 04:50 PM

John - Yeah, I’ve played with the program before, not saying it doesn’t exist. But the idea that that’s the default UNIX interface…

18   Michael Brunetto ~ 22 August 2005 at 06:59 PM

Maybe I’m way off, but I always thought the hybrid computer frankenstein OS/software combo had something to do with product placement issues. Like, for instance, a lot of time you will see powerbooks with the Apple covered up, meaning they probably couldn’t secure the proper permission to use them as props. This probably applies to the OS as well.

To be an even bigger nerd than all of you, in the movie Office Space (I know you have all seen it at least 5 times), the computers are all PC’s, the OS is very much Mac OS 9, but the mouse arrow and hour glass are very much Windows. And it shuts down to a Dos prompt.

19   Joe Clay ~ 22 August 2005 at 11:24 PM

Yeah I remember that too….didn’t pay attention to the mouse though, that’s too close for me.

20   Stu ~ 23 August 2005 at 02:46 AM

Best programme for super-duper programs is CSI - even searching for something has this EXTREME!!!! graphics effect. And, of course, the “Wait, that person is holding a spoon… zoom in on the spoon…” moment.

21   Dylan ~ 23 August 2005 at 06:30 AM

The ultimate in generic brand, intentionally bland design-the no name brand. To bland for caps even!

22   Kenneth ~ 23 August 2005 at 06:41 AM

I remember the “Office Space” computers. I also remember that when they’re planting the virus there’s a dialog box which reads “Downloading…”

I’ve seen that in several movies, actually. It’d start to make sense if it said “Uploading…”

23   Dan ~ 23 August 2005 at 07:39 AM

I have a friend who owns a small potato chip company. On the same product line he produces “Kettle Chips” for his company, a big name-brand company, and numerous “generic” store brands. Each product has different packaging and pricing. However they all sit next to each on the same shelf competing for the same dollar.

What he found was that customers bought their “brand” insisting their “brand” tasted better. When in fact they are the same chips.

So it’s possible that if stores actually hired a “designer” to create nice looking packaging it could potentially alter the taste of the product.

24   John Athayde ~ 23 August 2005 at 09:16 AM

with MSIE, it’s because most of the people still *use* that browser. My sister is a second assistant director and she called me telling me a website looked all wrong. I asked her what browser she was using and after soem semantic wrangling, deduced she was using MSIE 5.2 (she called it “hotmail browser” - a whole different issue of computer literacy we won’t get into).

Someone start a whispering campaign in Hollywood that Safari is not just something you do in Africa.

25   Jared Christensen ~ 24 August 2005 at 08:40 AM

A little off-topic, but sort of in line with the “movie-OS” comments…

It’s toning down a bit more, but I always have a good chuckle when I see shows like CSI, Without A Trace, and 24 using Mac Cinema monitors. Yeah, right, like any government agency is going to buy their employees a screen that awesome for all of their word processing needs.

And computer use in movies is always a hoot. But let’s face it; using a computer isn’t really that interesting. I suppose it’s only natural that filmmakers feel the need to juice up the visual representation with unbelievable OS behaviors. My favorite scenes are the ones where someone is checking email, and the email client is inordinately animated and graphics-heavy. It probably takes 5 minutes just to boot up.

26   Alain ~ 24 August 2005 at 10:41 AM

Regarding the IE Mac screen grabs, I used to think it was a legal issue; e.g. it was easier for film producers to use a screenshot of the Mac OS regardless of browser, because it was a smaller and less litigious company than Microsoft, and they were less likely to get sued. Then I thought it was just a hip-factor issue. Now I think it’s become a twisted standards issue: Films are using the Mac screens because everyone else has in the past.

Speaking of twisted, a local news station is still running promos that includes a screen grab of a computer running Netscape 4. I’m thinking hipness wasn’t a factor in that decision…

27   Kenneth ~ 24 August 2005 at 03:46 PM

I’ve always wondered if it wasn’t easier to make Macs do what you want as far as special interfaces and crazy effects due to Applescript. Although in that case, *nix would make more sense, wouldn’t it?

28   Wesley Walser ~ 24 August 2005 at 04:39 PM

It’s so odd that you bring up the knock off branding. I have been out of the net loop for about a week (moving to a college campus from home so I still don’t have an internet connection). I woke up this morning and washed my hands with an equate soap (milk and honey, very nice), and wondered why they had on the bottle “compare to blah blah”. If your a company serious about making money, why not do your own thing. It’s obvious that they have the ability to make great products, why not make unique ones as well?

And on the branding issue, you mentioned Target, who has been doing some really cool stuff here recently they even got their custom shirts featured on

29   Paul Nishikawa ~ 24 August 2005 at 05:15 PM

Just to add to the “generic” brand stuff. Up here in Canada, the Loblaws/Westfair chain (same creator of the yellow and black “noname” label above) also has some pretty slick private label stuff. This is exactly the kind of product that Dan is talking about - only they’ve recently redone almost all of the packaging - and it’s actually very very nice. So, I guess they’re bucking the trend and actually creating some nice stuff.

30   JaX ~ 24 August 2005 at 05:32 PM

Man, I’ve noticed that about movies and commercials using mac IE as well. Comon people, at least attempt to grab the tech crowd.

31   Mark Priestap ~ 25 August 2005 at 01:49 PM

Music Volume: 11

32   Iain Hamilton ~ 25 August 2005 at 02:03 PM

Re: Intentional Bad Design. A good example of this technique [for that is what it is], is in the book publishing industry. The same publishers will display beautiful and tasteful cover design in the fiction category, while at the same time producing utter dreck [design-wise… we’re talking embossed gold serif type, gronky underlines… you know the look] in the business book category.

Rationale: business users see “design” as fluff, getting in the way - or even obscuring - the true meat - content. This also explains the use of horrible clip art… see PowerPoint as a prime example.

At the end of the day, is it good to look at? Certainly not. Is it good design? Absolutely.

33   Brian Koppi ~ 25 August 2005 at 09:24 PM

Generic branding is a competitive positioning tactic. There are many different kinds of consumers, one on which is a “commmodity” shopper. These consumers want to believe they are paying the lowest possible price for the category of product they are purchasing.

The “bad” generic branding is a psychological trick used to influence the purchasing decision of the commodity consumer. They don’t want to pay for packaging, marketing, or anything other than the contents of the product. The poor design helps them to convince themselves that is exactly what they are doing when they choose the generic brand, even if it is the same price as a name brand.

34   Tom Oakes ~ 27 August 2005 at 10:47 PM

Volume depends on the time of day, and what I’m listening to. I have to listen to music first thing in the morning, but it has to be “Kind of Blue” or Thelonious Monk, and it has to be low volume. When I’m working on client’s stuff that requires a lot of concentration (i.e., programming), I can’t listen to anything. When I’m working on my own stuff/side projects, I prefer it pretty loud. I’m not historically really a techno guy, but I’ve learned that techno is a really good work companion.

So, to summarize: I think volume depends largely on working conditions and mood.

35   paul haine ~ 28 August 2005 at 02:24 AM

In The Recruit, starring Colin Farrell and Al Pacino, everyone uses Opera 5. That’s cool.

Also, lowly data-entry clerks are given three flat screen monitors to work with. It’s a hard life.

36   Michael ~ 31 August 2005 at 07:24 AM

Volume: Dependent on intensity of project. More intense the project, the louder the music.

Shoddy Value Brand Design: I’ve often had this same thought. Why do generics look generic? First, their easy to pick out if you’re on your last buck. Second, prices are lower because less $ is spent on design/marketing (although i agree that Target’s Archer Farms is a great look for cheap food).

Mac IE: Sucks! It’s still used because either a.) the designers are brain-washed, b.) microsoft has a paid product-placement or c.) the ad/film producers want to be hip and use Apple as the main product, but don’t know any better than to use Microsoft products on it (because they’re nothing more than trendy directors).

37   Claus Jacobsen ~ 03 September 2005 at 01:27 AM

During season 1 of 24 You could go to the website and see a screenshot of Jack Bauers computer desktop. Unfortunately for him, and the company, they used af Shell for windows called Litestep, and without permission used a theme created by a guy which wasn’t even credited (you could download the theme from at the time). Needless to say that it disappeared rather quickly from the website.

38   web designer ~ 03 September 2005 at 07:20 AM

depends on the mood.

39   Robert ~ 12 September 2005 at 07:22 AM

One of my favourites is Hackers, people flying through graphics and all sorts of stuff. Prompted the trivia/goof entry on IMDB of “Ridiculous to the extreme in its portrayal of hacking”.

40   Glen Swinfield ~ 17 September 2005 at 11:22 AM

RE: Ideal music volume. There is a perfect volume (clearly dependent on the sensitivity of your ears) that sends you into a sort of trance-like state, allowing you to concentrate 100% on what your doing.

If I have a boring task to do, its always working from home, music, trance-like state, finished. Didn’t even realise I was bored. If quiet is 0 and loud is 10. let’s say background noise is 2.5, you need 2.75 - 3 and your in the perfect audio zone. No amount of proof reading or copy/paste development work will bring you down.

41   Mark ~ 28 September 2005 at 05:26 AM

Supermarket own brands are often designed to look loud and tacky because the supermarkets don’t actually want you to buy them, but they do want to be able to run ads with the low prices in. The Tesco label that Peter refers to up the top is a prime example. Tesco want to be able to run ads saying they sell beans for 8p per tin, but they actually want people to buy the more expensive versions. So, they make the cheap produce with tacky loud packaging that screams “I’m poor and this is the best I can afford” and - surprise, surprise - no-one actually wants to stand at the checkout with those products. Surveys have shown that people on very low incomes avoid the products because they don’t want to go around letting everyone know how poorthey are. It’s actually mean but highly effective marketing and design.


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