The Saul Bass’ Bell Systems Brand Redesign Pitch Video [1970]

Jeff Schox put me on to this amazing Saul Bass pitch detailing his proposed rebrand for The Bell System (now AT&T) in 1970.

(skip to ~9:50 if you want to skip the fun stuff and get right to the meat)

It is an amazing postcard from the pseudo-psycedellic era of business with far out visuals, ambitious goals and “unique” perspectives that seems suited to the wind-down of the hippie generation.

The project itself is amazing too – at the time representing the largest rebrand ever. Not just a new logo, but a comprehensive review of the company’s identity – both through iconography, color-play and even functional redesign of products, apparel and other ways employees and customers interact with the brand.

In the end the rebrand would update 135,000 Bell System vehicles, 22,000 buildings, 1,250,000 phone booths and 170,000,000 telephone directories.

The video contains several gems on brand philosophy from the brand-master behind Girl Scouts of America, Minolta and others. Here’s one of many on different logo types, their positives and drawbacks:

We can break-through and at the same time help unclutter the visual environment. Quietly. With a look of excellence. beginning with a trademark.

There are three basic categories of trademark: monochromatic form, logo type form, and the symbol logo type form. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Monochromatic form’s strength is that it’s simple, concise, quickly identified. Its weakness is that the viewer must first be taught what the letters stand for before they make sense, otherwise it blends into the environment as so much alphabet soup.

The strength of the second category, the logo type form, is that the name of the company is itself trademark. But it has a weakness; lettering that is easy to read gets lost in the typographic environment.

Try to make it stand out by stylizing it and you lose legibility.

To help solve this dilemma some companies surround their logo types with a geometric shape, but shapes being generic can never be unique.

The third category of trademarks, AT&T and the Bell companies use now; the symbol logo type form. It has several strengths:

The symbol creates the uniqueness of the mark so the lettering in the logo type can remain clear an easy to read. With an organization like ours, composed of many companies, the symbol becomes a flag, uniting the company’s into a single organization.

By itself logo type is just another word in a sea of words, but combined the symbol serves as a focal point directing attention to the name. This form of trademark as its weaknesses too, such as requiring the use of two elements; the symbol and the logo type.

All in all, it’s right for the Bell System.

Follow me on Twitter at @Aten. Interested in building a great consumer brand? Join us at Merchbar.

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Getting Featured, Building Music Businesses & More – New Podcast

Sat down with my friend Scott Orn of Kruze Consulting a couple of weeks ago to help kick off his new podcast “The 1 California“. Had a great time talking about the new Pearl Jam merch we have in stock, what Apple looks for when featuring apps and building businesses in the music industry.

We had a great time and hope you learn something. Hit me on Twitter at @Aten if you liked it, have a question or have feedback.

Listen here – http://www.the1california.com/episodes/14737-ed-aten-of-merchbar-aten

Update: Just today Merchbar was featured again. This time in the Back To School section of the App Store. Wahoo!

The Most Dangerous Thing I Do

For years I’ve joked with friends that, statistically speaking, getting into an Uber is the most dangerous thing I do.

I haven’t run the numbers on each of my activities but it seems pretty likely – cars are terrifically dangerous (nearly 100 people die each day in traffic accidents) and probably 95% of all the trips I take are in via Uber.

That’s why when my friend Carolyn told me it was her New Years resolution to buckle up in Uber’s I instantly adopted it as mine. Life is too short and it’s just too damn easy.

Not that I was bad at buckling up but for short trips across town, or just driving around on city streets, it was easy to forget.

Last night made me glad I adopted the resolution.

About 9:30 my girlfriend and I crossed Market street in San Francisco in the back seat of an Uber. Unfortunately while our light was very very green, the car coming across on Market street apparently didn’t see the red light and came across traffic at full speed. He hit the car to our left, which was thrown into our car. We were tossed sideways, and though I’m not exactly sure what happened there was a pretty good vertical component as well.

It was fast. It was scary. Everyone was ok, but it was definitely way off the “fender bender” chart. Once we checked everyone was ok and started gathering our wits we started to get out of the car and tried to find my girlfriend’s purse. We looked and looked but couldn’t find it. It has been on her wrist during the accident, where could it have gone?

Turns out the impact had pulled it off her wrist and thrown it into the front seat.

That could have been us if we weren’t bucked up.

Thankfully everyone was ok, but it is a great reminder: even on city streets traffic moves fast enough that it can really hurt you. Be safe. Buckle up. I will.

</grandpa lecture blog post>

Apple Watch – The Three Killer Use Cases

A lot of people have compared the first generation of Apple Watch to the first generation of the iPhone and rightly so: Apple Watch has a (likely intentionally) constrained feature set, bulky-ish hardware, critics that say the exact same thing has existed on other platforms for a long time…

But like the iPhone, the Apple Watch is exactly what the first generation of the iPhone was for many of us: our first peek into the form of a device nearly every human on earth will own.

iphonev1

Apple Watch is the spark that will light the fire of thousands of product designers that over the next few years will move this device from a status item to a must-own for nearly every one – and I’ll give you three reasons why.

But first a disclaimer: When Jony Ive said it was “the most personal device they’ve ever created” he wasn’t kidding. Apple Watch is personal in a very different way than the iPhone is. I remember walking into an Apple Store for the first time, tapping Safari and browsing NYTimes.com for the first time: an experience that wasn’t just breathtaking for me, but one that changed the internet for billions of people around the world.

This is a different type of personal than what I am describing.

That isn’t going to happen with the Apple Watch. None of the potentially life changing use-cases I’ve found can happen on a demo unit in an Apple Store. None happen immediately out of the box. None can be truly understood but placing your friend’s watch on your wrist for 10 minutes.

It’s too personal (And not in the metaphysical way). I’ll explain. Lets dive in:

Identity

Going into a store and swiping around on the tiny screen isn’t going to show you the possibilities of this device and it won’t show you its nearly universal appeal – not because it isn’t appealing but because unlike the phone, the Apple Watch needs to know YOU.

Unlike, desktop computers that are shared by several (in a home) if not hundreds (in a library) Phones aren’t shared at all. This minor point becomes a massive benefit and enabled entirely new ways to experience technology.

“Logged In” almost isn’t even a term anymore. If you are on the phone it is you.

Unless it isn’t.

So we first created passcodes. Then swipeythingers (I don’t get it android people). Then TouchID.

Apple Watch completely and totally explodes this paradigm because unlike a phone that is supposed to live in your pocket or purse, Apple Watch is attached to your actual body.

Put on your Apple Watch, enter your passcode and thats it. 16 hours later your watch knows you are you. You never put in your password again.

Sensors in the back of the watch ensure it hasn’t been removed from your wrist and instantly your credit cards aren’t a pocket-removal, wallet thumbing and swipe away. Or a pocket removal and passcode away. Or a pocket removal and a thumbprint away.

They are instantly, already on your wrist.

iphone-passboook

Imagine every real-life authentication we do: bus passes, boarding passes, keys to our homes, badges at work, picking up prescriptions, buying things, firing up your car, signing for deliveries, maybe even grabbing merchandise on your way out of a concert.

Apple Watch will open the world drastically and beautifully faster than keys, signatures and swipes.

Sports.

A quick reminder: iPhone v1 had an EDGE connection. A low res screen. No copy and paste.

Oh, and no Apps.

These were very common complaints/objections when the product was released and they were legitimate. They were also rectified.

Product designers looked at the original iPhone as an infinitely malleable slice of glass connected to the internet. Other challenges would be addressed – and they were.

The same is true of Apple Watch and the main complaint I hear from athletes today is legitimate – Apple Watch requires a phone.

But over time this will be addressed, and when it is either rectified or a non-paired mode is created it will change sports.

Phones are too heavy, wide and rigid to make it to the field, a problem that a watch doesn’t have.

Screenshot 2015-05-11 09.25.28

The Apple Watch will open up ESPN level stats to every enthusiast of every sport in the world.

Every score of every game will be stored on the watch – not just because it is great to have the stats, but it is easier to keep score on two watches than repeating it out loud or arguing between each point. Every split time of every sprint in every practice will be saved and available for analysis.

Imagine Strava, but for every sport. For every game. For every practice.

That is the future Apple Watch will bring.

Siri

I know you hate Siri. But every time you hate on Siri I think of something else that was hated: the “convergence device”.

For nearly 20 years the tech world was swinging and missing on the idea that… wait for it… your calendar and address book and phone could be “All-In-One”. Some attempts at bringing the above together few hundred thousand units, but nothing was even close to being a zeitgeist for so long the press wondered if those of use enamored with the idea were wrong about the category.

Clearly we weren’t – We just hadn’t found our device yet.

Maybe I’m calling it too early. Maybe in 5 years we will still be waiting for an amazing voice-based assistant, but there’s a major difference between Siri on iPhone and Siri on Apple Watch: you will want to (and likely try to) use Siri every single day on your Apple Watch.

iphone-siri

She is inescapable because typing is impossible.

So instead of trying a few things and giving up and going back to your previous world of typing, Siri will tempt your questions, requests, orders and dictation daily. AND she will get better at answering them.

Sunset with your new best friend.

And Siri is always ready to hear your requests. No need to remove your phone from your pocket or purse. No need to hold down a button to call her attention. Just lift your wrist and speak.

The opportunity is so much larger than questions and answers, imagine speaking to every app you have today to command it’s use.

Imagine new voice only apps.

This is a massive opportunity for Apple to instantly establish new standards for how apps communicate with voice-based requests and commands. I expect Apple to be opening up a completely new type of API for Siri (and if they aren’t, they should call me) to bring new types of integrations into the world.

Closing

Should you buy an Apple Watch?

If you care about creating the future – absolutely.

Apple-Watch-1

Follow me on Twitter @aten.

Thanks to Kevin Tom for finding a few egregious typos. 😀

A tiny bit more for the nerds:

1 – I’d expect Apple Pay and Passbook to merge into a single identity authentication app/protocol. Some things would involve payment, others wouldn’t.

2 – I hope to write a blog post about what a great Siri API would look like.

Safety Check – More than Peace of Mind

I woke up this AM wondering if I had somehow messed up my settings – Facebook was notifying me that one of my friends was reported safe from some game called Nepal Earthquake. 

It only took me another minute or two of checking my morning news to learn that it wasn’t a game, that a 7.9 earthquake had struck Nepal and not only was one of my friends there, but that she was safe.  

     
Like a vast majority of those utilizing this feature for the first time today, I was on the receiving side of the information and I was very glad to know the was safe. 

But it wasn’t that long ago I was on the other side.  

In April 2013 I was in Boston during the marathon bombings and instead of being reassured that someone I loved was safe, I was the one doing the reassuring. 

Within just minutes of the bombs going off my phone was filled with texts, tweets, Facebook messages and calls of people that cared about me wanting to make sure I was safe. 

While I felt loved, at the time I was much more focused on the immediate crisis: what was going on? Where should I go? Where were my family and friends I was meeting up with near where I had just heard explosions?

Thousands of people were going through the exact same situation and within minutes the cell networks were either overloaded or being controlled by law enforcement to ensure no one was using them to trigger bombs remotely (note: I never went back to find out if that was true, but during a crisis person to person information, speculation and any thread of information turns into a game of telephone).

When I did get messages or connection, it seemed like it was only friends from around the country asking if I was ok, but I couldn’t get through to my parents (who I was supposed to meet at the finish line) or my friends in Boston (who had been finishing their race around the time the bombs went off). 

To be clear, I don’t blame anyone at all for reaching out. I am very happy to be loved and appreciate how scary it must have been for the people that loved me to know I was somewhere and could have been hurt. 

But in an emergency your phone is a critical lifeline and its connection is supremely precious. While I know now that I was in a safe place, I didn’t know that at the time. I was working to deal with that was happening at that moment and those plans, information and communication with friends and family there had to be top priority. 

But our phones can’t tell the difference between essential communications and nonessential – so it was frustrating and scary to receive nonessential communications when I had essential things I couldn’t do because my phone was overloaded. 

That’s why I’m very happy Facebook has created this feature: It allows those in crisis situations to notify others they are safe and the people that care about them to know if they are ok without individual messages. 

The reach and ubiquity of Facebook can not only provide peace of mind on a large scale but it can free up the phones and networks of those in crisis situations to use them for their immediate critical needs.

NPR Hip-Hop’s Microphone Check

If you love Hip-Hop, culture or artistry you should be listening to NPR Hip-Hop’s Microphone Check with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelly.

In a genre who’s headlines are frequently submerged in Jesus piece size rankings, booty clap competitions and fake beefs, Ali Shaheed and Frannie not only provide historical context and expertise, but expertly craft the kind of deep, personal discussions other NPR shows like This American Life are known for.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Two great episodes to start with: J. Cole and Dante Ross.

Kings and Jokers

Everybody was saying, “This is the worst year for hip-hop. Hip-hop is terrible this year. Nobody’s selling.” And that — forget the sales. “Nobody’s good. The albums are trash.”

J. Cole on NPR Hip-Hop’s Microphone Check

Every year is the worst year in the history of Hip-Hop. Every year is the dumbest year in tech. Every year culture hits a new low and we can find 100 songs or shows or products or anything to confirm our suspicions that the sky is falling.

But our worsts don’t matter. Our trivialities don’t stick. They may have a bad odor, but the wind blows them away.

Our greatness is what endures and our quality is all that transitions into timelessness. Today’s trivialities rarely even make it into tomorrow’s trivia.

So if you want to see what’s important. If you want to know where things are going. Or if you want to judge the state of a scene or an ecosystem:

We shouldn’t judge our quality by our jokers, but by our kings.