Friday, 28 October 2011

Á is for Á,pel

September 30 saw the release of the new iPhone app for the SENĆOŦEN language. SENĆOŦEN (pronounced something like Sen-chaw-then) is the native Straits Salish language of the Wsáneć (Saanich) people who hail from the peninsula by the same name north of present-day Victoria.

The SENĆOŦEN app is a media-rich bilingual dictionary and phrase collection comprised of words and phrases archived at the online Aboriginal language database, aimed at revitalizing a language that currently teeters on the edge of extinction. Apple has also released similar apps for two other indigenous languages from BC, Halq'emeylem (a Sto:lo Salish dialect from the lower mainland) and Hlgaagilda Xaayda Kil (the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language).

Here's what it looks like:

 iPhone Screenshot 2

As an exiled native of Wsáneć territory, I remember clearly when the area's first Tribal School was built, which helped usher in a new era of cultural revitalization and emphasis on language instruction. Nevertheless, the latest numbers put the total number of first-language native speakers at 20, all of whom are elders.

Can digital technology serve as the anti-residential school system in helping breathe new life into long-suppressed languages? I really hope so, although the complex phonology of the Salishan and other west coast languages presents something of a barrier. At least SENĆOŦEN doesn't have quite the complexity of its fellow Straits Salish language Nuxálk (Bella Coola), which contains the following phrase consisting entirely of consonants: 

Xłpx̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc (literally: "He who had in his possession a bunchberry plant.")

I'm not sure when I'd have the occasion to use this phrase; I'm just glad I wouldn't have to say it in the Nuxálk language.

Perpetual Motion

Implied movement is at the heart of good graphic design.

In an insightful lecture on the uses and abuses of design, Wayne Williams, chair of the design program at Grant MacEwan University, traced the origins of the modern discipline of graphic design back to the 19th century, with the advent of the industrial revolution and the popularization of print media. However, it's perhaps worth noting that the principles of good design go back much further than that.

The haiku poem, a form developed in 17th century Japan that is still popular today, embodies virtually all the traits of good design that Williams outlined. The Ancient Pond by Matsuo Basho is one of the most famous examples of this art form ever composed. Here is how it looks in its original form:

Reading from top to bottom, right to left, it literally translates as follows: “The ancient pond (furuike ya); a frog leaps in (kawazu tobikomu); the sound of the water (mizu no oto).”

The traits that make this haiku so perfect are identical to the hallmarks of great design as outlined by Williams. Nothing is there that doesn’t need to be. Your focus is immediately drawn to the central piece of imagery through the power of isolation. Even the ‘Rule of Three’ is observed. But perhaps most importantly, this creation embodies movement in both its literal meaning and the way the characters are drawn, wherein the arc of the frog leaping into the pond is plainly visible.

Much of what Williams discussed in terms of design do's and don'ts was already somewhat familiar to me. However, the importance of implied movement was something that had never occurred to me before. Now when I look at design that I like, I see it everywhere.

Moving Images – China’s Powerful UNICEF Ad Campaign

In 2008, the advertising firm of Ogilvy and Mather was commissioned to design an ad campaign for the Shanghai branch of UNICEF aimed at drawing attention to the over 1.5 million children who continue to live in extreme poverty in China in spite of 30 years of continuous economic growth. Here is one of the images they produced.

This image was part of a series of outdoor ads displayed throughout the city of Shanghai, which were also featured as print ads. This one features a transparent ghostlike child dressed in tattered rags sitting on a staircase. The sign next to the child reads “Don’t ignore me. China has over 1.5 million underprivileged children.”

As outdoor 3D displays, these ads created quite a stir. However, this image seems to work equally well as a 2D print ad. I had seen this image before and had been struck by its subtle-yet-visceral power. However, it was only after learning about the importance of implied movement in design that I began to understand why that was.

If you’re talking implied movement, this image is chock full of it. The lines on the sidewalk suggest pedestrian traffic, highlighting the fact that most of us go about our lives completely oblivious to the underprivileged people in our midst. This image also implies vertical motion with the use of the staircase. The staircase serves as an apt symbol for modern China, a society characterized by rapidly rising standards of living a society - at least for those fortunate enough to be part of it.

In stark contrast to all this is the boy’s implied staticity. He is going nowhere. But even if you look at the child, there is implied direction. The boy’s eyes are cast downward, conveying a sense of despair and acceptance of his fate. Furthermore, the child appears to be melting into oblivion, on the verge of disappearing completely. The message conveyed by this image is so self-evident that the placard beside the child is practically unnecessary, save the UNICEF logo.

I wouldn't have noticed half of this a day ago. I get it now.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Best. Press Release. Ever.

Ontario's Kitten Eater-In-Chief
On October 6, Dalton McGuinty was re-elected to a third term as premier of Ontario - albeit with a weakened minority government. Looking back on the man's career, I think it's worth remembering the most defining moment in the campaign that got him elected in the first place. It was the fall of 2003 and the ruling Tories were already suffering in the polls when they released this gem of a press release. The release resulted in one of the most surreal moments in Canadian political history - and pretty much guaranteed McGuinty's accension to the premiership.

The story goes something like this. The tone of the campaign was becoming increasingly hostile, with both parties slinging mud at one another through gratuitous attack ads. According to insiders, the PC strategist responsible for this inspired communique intended it as an example of a truly extreme attack ad, and never intended it to go to the press. (There's no account of how much alcohol was involved in the process, but that can only be imagined.) But in an act of collective somnolence, nobody killed the release and by the next morning it was all over the news.

The moral of this story? If you want to get elected, accusing opponent of eating cats - unless of course you have photographic evidence - is definitely the wrong approach.


Subject: Dear Mister McGuinty September 12, 2003
Dear Mister McGuinty

An Occasional Bulletin from Ernie Eves Campaign Headquarters

There came a fork in "the high road." The Liberals took it.

"Ernie Eves is either incompetent and doesn't know his own platform, or he is purposely misleading Ontario voters." -- Deputy Liberal Leader Sandra "Better Angels of our Nature" Pupatello, September 12, 2003

"The Eves government isn't just incompetent. It can actually put you in the hospital - or worse." -- Hamilton Mountain Liberal MPP Marie "Is Everybody Happy?" Bountrogianni, September 11, 2003

"You can't trust Ernie Eves when it comes to nuclear safety." -- St. Paul's Liberal MPP Michael "China Syndrome" Bryant, September 11, 2003

These jolly, positive, "Who-me-fear-monger?" pronouncements beg a simple question: "Who really speaks for the Ontario Liberal Party?

Dalton McGuinty. He's an evil reptilian kitten eater from another planet. (sorry)