Redefining Billboards

Less than a decade ago, a billboard was essentially a printed image blown up to a gargantuan size. The picture didn’t move, respond to what was happening in the environment around it, nor interact with passersby. How times have changed, and with it, the types of skills designers need to execute their ideas. Even printed pieces are not static anymore, what with the option of Augmented Reality movement and sound.

Stopp of Stockholm produced this subway billboard for a Swedish cosmetic line called Apolosophy by Apotek Hjärtat. Connecting ultra-sonic sensors to the billboard screen, Stopp made what appeared to be a “still photograph” of a young model come alive. Calibrated to react to arriving trains but not to passing passengers, the sensors made it look like the breeze from the passing trains were tousling the model’s hair. After the train went by, the model returned to her “still” repose. What a delightfully simple idea and brilliant use of technology.

Quiz: Global Brands

It’s not always as simple as applying a single set of graphic standards across the board when a brand expands into foreign markets. In some cases, the brand name may be difficult to pronounce in the native language or the letters may translate into a word that is negative or obscene. Or the graphic mark may include a detail that may be perceived as insulting or culturally taboo. The challenge for brand designers is to adapt the logo to the region, while preserving enough elements to make it recognizable in every part of the world. Ideally, travelers to a foreign country will recognize the brand identity on sight even if the letters or image differ from what they are used to in their own culture. See if you can name these brands. (Answers after the jump.)


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From Milan to Tokyo by Subway

Imagine that you are a regular Italian commuter on Line 2 of the Milan Metro subway. The train pulls up to Moscova station and you get off as usual. But wait! This isn’t right! You must have dozed off. This doesn’t look like Moscova station; it doesn’t even look like Italy. Like Captain Kirk in “Star Trek,” you’ve leaped time and space and have been beamed to Shibuya station in Tokyo.

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CBS Outdoor Advertises Advertising

In the UK, CBS Outdoor has been trying to convince advertisers to think outdoors in the city by running an in-house branding campaign on buses, trains and the London Underground. Called “Outdoor by Name, Urban by Nature,” the strategic ad series features animals and birds made up of silhouettes of familiar regional landmarks in the UK. The ad running in London, for example, depicts Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, Wembley Stadium and other urban icons. Citing data from ONS and TGI surveys, CBS Outdoor says that “87% of urban respondents have seen Outdoor advertising in the last week.” This is nearly double the number of city dwellers who are exposed to ads via newspapers and radio.

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Urban Stimuli or Graphic Assault?

City-dwellers know that we are constantly bombarded with graphic messages. It’s the “white noise” of urban living. Most of us tune it out like the omnipresent sound of traffic and pedestrian chatter.

This 2006 award-winning film, made by Netherlands-based Studio Smack for Museum de Beyerd in Breda, has become a classic. Like an x-ray, the film “Kapitaal” zeroes in only on the graphic stimuli encountered by an “unseen commuter” waiting on a platform for the train, riding the subway and walking through the city. Everything but the graphic information is reduced to black silhouettes. Signage, logos, ads, train timetables, graffiti, posters and packaging labels stand out in stark white contrast. There is no voiceover commentary, just the claustrophobic visual assault pressing in from every direction. It begs the question: How much do people really notice in a world of information overload? How can designers and advertisers avoid adding to the visual clutter and give the public something they really want to see?