I'm a graphic designer for a public high school district. I've had more than one person ask me, "Why does a school district need a graphic designer?" Some of them are designers themselves, so it is not as if these people are the kind that don't understand the impact of brand management and well-designed marketing materials.
But really, why does a school district need a full-time graphic designer? In the two years I've worked for the district I've designed a new (albeit boring) logo to replace the hideous and ugly one they've had for 30-some years; I've reorganized, updated, and redesigned the district website; and I've designed a few banners and posters and other miscellaneous items, mostly for employee recruitment.
But what impact have I had on our (supposed) number one goal: student recruitment? I don't have anything to prove it (our admin team isn't smart on data-management), but my guess would be that not one student has enrolled in our schools directly or indirectly because of the work I have done. Am I just too impatient?
Or, is brand management for an entire school district a battle I can't win? Why is it that after two years even I can't sum up our "brand" in one sentence?
I would like to just say our brand is "High expectations for every student" or something like that. But the brand is in the mind of the beholder, and just me and the marketing materials saying it won't make it so.
Another question I have is, does the district really have a brand? What is it made of? Is it a conglomerate of the individual school brands? It can't be, according to the rules of Positioning. Then what is it? And does it matter? I think it should matter if we're going to have any marketing materials at all. There is no point in having marketing materials when you don't have a unique, focused message.
Here is an analogy: the school district is Procter & Gamble, and the high schools are Tide, Bounty, Cheer, Downy, Ivory, and Era (all P&G brands, by the way). Then what is the brand message of Procter & Gamble itself? To me it is "home cleanliness & hygiene products."
However, I don't buy Gillette Venus disposable razors because they're a P&G brand (I didn't even know they were until I looked at P&G's brand list). I buy them because the product, as compared to its competitors, appeals to me the most (for whatever reason that might be: price, looks, recommendation from a trusted source, etc.). I wonder if this structure holds true for our school district as well: parents don't send their kids to our schools because they're part of this district, they send them because the individual schools appeal to them the most, as compared to the competition. Then why sell the schools under the banner of the district name?
One problem we face is that our administrators (including principals) are squeamish about our schools competing against one another. There isn't any gain if a student leaves one of our schools to attend another of our schools. We get the same amount of money for enrolling that child, no matter which campus they choose.
But I sense that there is also a resistance to marketing each school separately (positioning) because they think that it defines the "haves" from the "have-nots." It's no secret that three of our schools are in the millionaire-type neighborhood and the other three are in the lower-middle class neighborhood (if that high at all). This is a fact that has a part in defining each school's brand, whether we like it or not.
However, what else makes each school different from its other schools, including our major competition, the charter schools? Just from my desk at the main office I see that one school is about Tradition, and another is about Pride, and yet another is about Diversity. These are three unique concepts. But if you try to suggest this Positioning mentality, the principal of the Diversity school might say, "But, we're also about Pride. Can't we be about Diversity AND Pride? Oh, and we're also about Academic Achievement!" They don't understand that when you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.
So, back to my original dilemma: what is the district's brand message? Should we just make it something generic, like "Students are our first priority"? Should I give up on branding and just make everything look pretty, like a good little graphic designer?
Al and Laura Ries... help! Branding is much harder than you make it out to be!
I'm sitting here trying to write and design an advertisement for our school district to be placed in a local business directory. What should the headline be? Who is the audience and what are they looking for in a school?
The answer is that I have no idea. Why? Because we've never done any research. I don't know what the parents and students think about our district. In other words, I don't know what our brand is.
Why do parents send their kids to our schools? Is it because of good SAT or AIMS scores? Is it because the parents know and trust the teachers? Or is it because they don't have the money to send them to private or charter schools? If they take their kids out of our schools, why and to what schools are they moving?
I've been at this district for almost 2 years and to still not know the district brand is frightening. I've been pushing to do market research since I got here, and still it has not been done. Why? I have no idea. We have $75,000 of marketing funds that will go unused this year. Luckily, we're still getting $120,000 again next year to start with. I'm amazed that the teachers haven't rioted since seeing that we get that much funding for marketing & recruitment.
One would think that the lack of good school marketing and PR is due to lack of funding. Not in our case. In our district it is because of a lack of marketing brains and a lack of good leadership and overall communication. Data-driven decision-making? Hah!
::sigh:: I guess I'll just make something up.
Today I had a wonderful, long conversation with the yearbook teacher and webmaster for one of our schools. Mostly it was polite complaining about how the people in charge just don't "get it" about marketing, customer service, and technology. Well, and leadership, if you ask me.
In our conversations about wanting to buy a content management system for her school's website, she decided to show me the website that her class uses to design their yearbook. Yes, they design their entire yearbook within a web-based application. So long, InDesign, these kids are designing in 100% dee-licious Web 2.0.
The site is called Yearbook Avenue and is a service of Jostens (who probably published my yearbooks, too, way back in the day). Unfortunately there isn't a demo login you can get access to unless you give them a call. So instead I've taken a few screencaps:
(Click for full size)
The site is much more powerful than I thought a web-based print layout application could be. The yearbook teacher gives each student in the class their own login account and from any computer on campus or at home they can work on the pages to which they are assigned. A number of students can work on it at the same time. The teacher has the ability to lock and unlock pages to specific users. She can even add virtual sticky notes on a page to tell a student what they need to edit!
One might think, "Yeah, but InDesign really will always be better." Sure, it might be. But this comes pretty darn close to the functionality of InDesign and Quark. And the built-in content/photo management system can't be beat, especially since the teacher and students can work on the book from any computer and at any time. The teacher told me she used to stay in her classroom until 10 pm working on grading students' layouts in InDesign. Not anymore. She now does that from the comfort of her home.
Photos can be uploaded and managed by students from any computer. There is also an area for community members to upload school-related photos if they like. This school has nearly 5,000 images uploaded. Even better, when placing an image into a layout, the application will automatically tell you if the photo does not have a high-enough resolution for print. No worries about crappy cellphone camera photos at 72 dpi.
Printing and Previewing
For proofing purposes, students can easily make a PDF of the layout with the click of a button. They can also view a "virtual" book and literally flip through the pages to get a feel for how it will look when printed and bound.
All-in-all this is a fantastic application. It is a great example of how technology, and Web 2.0 in particular, can be used in the classroom. And while I'm on the subject, why do I call this Web 2.0? Honestly, I'm not quite sure what Web 2.0 really is. I'll look it up tonight perhaps. But its starting to crystalize in my mind that Web 2.0 is the trend of web-based applications replacing software applications: Google documents replacing Microsoft Word, Flickr replacing iPhoto, and Yearbook Avenue replacing InDesign (at least for yearbooks).
Maybe I'm wrong, but this is certainly an exciting trend!
Why for fuck's sake are they still teaching people to use FrontPage, Publisher, Word, and PageMaker for fucking websites???!! Three of those four are for fucking PRINT publications, not web!!! Why the hell did Microsoft feel the need to put that flipping "Save as web page" function in there?????!!!!
If Bill Gates didn't do so much for charities I'd want to fucking beat his head in for all the shitty software he's pushed upon the moronic masses.
Would someone out there PLEASE make an application for people to make websites that is easy and not at godamn fucking shitty as Microsoft???
I'm a major information design junkie. I love intricate timelines and maps and anything color coded. So when I first saw Geni I just about fell off my bed.
As always, I'm a little late on this one. Geni was launched back in January 2007 and is the new way of creating your family tree online. Yes, there are still Ancestry.com and GenCircles and a few dozen software packages, including my former favorite Family Tree Legends.
But there are two major differences in Geni that make it better: 1. the user interface is highly intuitive and looks great, and 2. you can 'invite' family members via e-mail so that they can add to the tree as well! I immediately added my parents and before you know it my mom had added 35 new people to the tree!
I can't express how beautifully made this website is. This is information design at its best. Years ago for a college graphic design project I created my own family tree book with cards for each family member, but my attempt was no where near as wonderful as Geni.
And if you've already got your family tree in a gedcom-format database (created through many geneology software apps), and don't want to manually add each person to Geni, not to worry because the folks at Geni are working on a GEDCOM import/export feature. I can't wait!
This week Engadget had an article showing how a proposed new Mighty Mouse would work:Apple’s touch sensitive mouse design axes scroll ball
What strikes me first thing is that they still want to try out this "invisible button" idea. These buttons can detect your finger "clicking" (minus the actual clicking sound, of course) even though you’re not really clicking anything at all.
But what Apple keeps forgetting, year after year, over and over, is that not only does the mouse need to detect the user’s actions, but the user needs to detect the mouse’s reactions. We want that tactile and auditory *click*. It let’s us know that yes, we did indeed push the button successfully.
The second thing that strikes me, and probably pisses me off more than anything, is the lack of a right mouse button. Actually, I lie. There is a right mouse button, albeit an invisible one that you have to lift your finger off the left button in order to "click."
Right now I’m on a Mac PowerBookG4. It’s wonderful. The NUMBER ONE best feature is the ability to scroll via sliding two fingers at the same time up and down the trackpad. It is by far one of the most natural-feeling usability features I’ve ever encountered.
But I have one major gripe, and this is where I get back to the similarities with the (not-so)Mighty Mouse. Not one Apple laptop has a right-button on it’s trackpad. It’s just one long button that does the same thing no matter if you click it on the far left side or the far right.
Am I the only one who thinks that a long, narrow button is by far more difficult to click than a button that is closer to a perfect square or circle? When I click it in the middle it just feels hard and wrong. Is there anyone else who agrees?
And when I want to bring up a context menu at my cursor I have to hold down the Ctrl key and click. (Well, first I have to take five seconds to think, "Is it the Ctrl button or the Command button?" I’m always forgetting and I’ve had this laptop over a year.) So basically when I’m in bed laying on my side with only one arm free to delete the old podcasts in my iTunes library I have to splay my hand like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat to reach the Ctrl button at the same time as clicking the trackpad button. Rediculous!
It’s like the buttonless keyboard on the iPhone. Sometimes I really think Steve Jobs is trying to be contrary for contrariness’ sake.
Seriously, Mr. Jobs. Get over your stupid pride, stop wasting your time on these idiotically complicated mouse features, and just give us a damn right button! We’re waiting!
- You’ve had “Software Nightmares,” when you’ve been working way too much.
- You consider meals interruptions.
- You’ve Photoshopped out a watermark for a comp or mock-up.
- You’ve nicknamed the OSX spinning wheel.
- You bookmark a resource more often than you have a fun night out on the town.
- You can’t go to a restaurant without secretly critiquing the menu design.
- You have an amazingly huge font collection, and an amazingly short temper.
- If you had a penny for every mouse click, you would have been a trillionaire 3 years ago.
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