Jul 31, 2007

Upgrading the Sari-Sari Store Sign

Surf (yes, the soap maker), has begun innovating the old, reliable sari-sari store sign in the provinces. In Tagaytay and Sta. Rosa, we recently saw the transformation from signs hand-painted on galvanized sheets to those using scanned photos of the store owners and most probably printed with large-format printers. Click "Read more" for more pictures!


If you look closely at the photo above, you'll find Jan Jan sitting on the left side of the store. Amusingly, Jan Jan does not look like my expectation of how a "Jan Jan" may look like -- bubbly and probably always smiling. :)

Incidentally, the sign above shows two common patterns in naming sari-sari stores: Two Brothers, Two Sisters, Kambal (Twins), etc; and a proclivity to put an apostrophe in every trailing "S", as the sign above exhibits.

Photos by Data Canlas

Jul 27, 2007

Indiosign is back!

Quite unexpectedly, Google unpublished the Indiosign Blog, thinking it was a spam blog. A spam blog is the spawn of a bot that automatically generates blog entries. Why would anyone go to such lengths to create fake blog entries?

Most search engine optimization experts will know the answer: fake blog entries with links to a certain website will boost that websites ranking in Google.

I think the problem started because I was editing my blog using one Gmail account and answering email on a different Gmail account. This was probably detected by Google's omniscient spam detector and it pulled down Indiosign.

Here is a picture of Google's message. I felt it was not a very helpful message. I didn't know what to do and it didn't provide me with clear steps or who to contact. I only understood that I needed to find a link in the Blogger dashboard after I did some surfing on the Blogger forums.

In any case, Indiosign is back, with new entries and new license plate pictures and a story about SmartBro's bad customer service design. I will also post an entry about sari-sari signboards, soon!

Designing the Customer Experience

It's a fancy term for a very much-needed concept that should be basic in all businesses: customer experience design. It means improving a business service by designing the process around the customer (instead of making the customer adjust to shoddy procedure).

Everyone has had a taste of bad customer experience design: making us wait in queue for a long time (whether you're lining up in a bank or calling customer service); filling up five copies of forms with 10,000 fields and no carbon paper; an application process that requires you to go from one building to another, taking up one whole day of your life, etc etc.

Government agencies and banks are notorious for bad customer experience design. And so are internet service providers. We recently switched to SmartBro, which came highly recommended by a friend -- a techie friend for that matter -- and that put a lot of weight on his recommendation.

But SmartBro's user experience design is neanderthal, to say the least. We were unlucky enough to have a faulty connection (each time it rains, we lose the SmartBro internet connection).

Worst, there was no way to contact tech support. There are only two ways to call for help in SmartBro. First is by email and second is by phone.

Email was not really an option since we didn't have internet service, anyway. Moreover, stupidly enough, everytime there's a problem getting a connection to the SmartBro antenna, a web page (which I presume runs locally, since there's no internet in the first place) gets displayed telling us there was an error and that we are to call tech support. Unfortunately, there was no phone number in that message and since we did not have internet, we could not surf the SmartBro website for the number!

This trivial addition would have gone a long way in customer service, but no thanks to SmartBro.

And what about the telephone number? We called it up and had to go through a series of recorded messages, asking us to click a couple of buttons. You know those voice messages -- they will ask you to "Press 1 to know more about promotions, Press 2 to know more about promotions, Press 3 to know more about exciting promotions..." If we wanted to know more about promotions, we would not be calling the tech support line. A tech support line should respond quickly!

SmartBro's support line was #4 in the heirarchy of recorded messages, so I had to wait for messages 1-3 before I could get to tech support. Which turned out to be a recording of "Umagang Kay Ganda". After hearing the song played for 2-3 minues, I gave up. (My wife had more patience, waiting for 5 minutes or more).

Update: It's 27 July, we still don't have Internet service and we still have not successfully contacted their tech support line!

Jul 22, 2007

Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, rhyming slogans ang kailangan

This blog's favorite anti-hero is the bureaucrat with the bright idea. Somewhere deep in the recesses of our decaying bureaucracy, fossilized government employees or officers are cooking up wonderful designs and slogans of such caliber as "Sorry for the inconvenient. Your taxes is working for you."

We see this malady not just in bad government posters, vomit-inducing PIA video ads, and what I can only call "high school sloganeering".

As far as the range of my memory can recall (I grew up during Martial Law), Marcos is to blame for this rhyming sickness. Every Martial Law kid still remembers, "Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan."

From then on, I think all slogans had to be "clever," metered and in rhyme -- all three, preferred.

Exhibit A is a slogan circa 1990s on drug abuse. "Don't use drugs. They'll use you, confuse you and abuse you." (This is what I can recall of the slogan for now. Please correct my fading memory!)

Exhibit B. Senator-now-Mayor-again Alfredo Lim made this motto famous. "The law applies to everyone or no one at all." Pretty catchy, but well, on further investigation, it actually is just stating status quo in our country, favoring the second half of the assertion. He could have at least been more cogent with, "I will shoot everyone and ask questions later." -- just kidding, of course.

Exhibit C. For about 2-3 years, MRT played this message as the train stopped on each station. "Thank you for *patronizing* the MetroStar express." They've since changed this message, thank you. Actually, instead of playing this annoying message, it may have been more contingent to simply announce the current stop and the next stop -- twice. But no, our bright government bureaucrat would rather thank people for patronizing the otherwise unbearable ride.

Exhibit D. Pasig City's slogan is the rather emptyheaded "Sige Pasig, Sige Pa!". Sige pa what? More unnecessary bridges across J. Vargas Avenue? More snatchers in broad daylight at Ortigas?

To be fair, we did have our bright moments. I can still remember the "Read to Lead" campaign, which actually pushed me to be a more voracious reader than I already was. And there was this short-lived metric conversion song to start us a-using the metric system.

Things have gone downhill since then.

Rizal on a License Plate

Our new cluttered license plates. Click to see a bigger picture.The purpose of a license plate is to quickly identify the vehicle. This is why in most sane countries, license plates contain no other elements but letters and numbers, using clear, large font sizes.

In our country, some bright bureaucrat probably got a brainstorm and changed the design of our license plates into something more... "beautiful".

I am referring to the license plates that started appearing in about 2004 or thereabouts. You know, the ones that have the Rizal Monument in the middle and a blue or yellow sky in the background.

What's wrong with the design changes in the license plates?

The insertion of the phallic monument distracts the eye and introduces an unwelcome break at the center of the license number. So, let's say a car just ran over the mayor and good-samaritan you were trying to memorize the plates of the car -- say, XYZ 371 -- Rizal's monument now interrupts your flow of thought like so: "the car's license number is X-Y-Z -- uhm Rizal phallic symbol -- 3-7... what was that number again?"

On top of this, our bright bureaucrat also decided to emphasize the phrase "MATATAG NA REPUBLIKA", taking up more real estate in the plates. In other words, the font sizes of the license number now had to be decreased to accommodate the new line of text. The license number itself is now smaller and more difficult to read!

Finally, the blue or yellow background in the sky obscures the license number! These are such basic principles in design:
  • Provide good contrast between the background and the words, to improve readability!

  • In crowded spaces, omit everything but the most important information! (meaning, no distracting monuments, please!)

This, if ever, shows bad design taste or utter ignorance from our Land Transportation Office (LTO), from which the license plates originate. Just look at the stickers that LTO also produces. If you have a car, check the LTO registration sticker that you have to display on your windshield. The year "2007" is so small because LTO had to insert its logo. Plus its green font on a green background.

If you look at the other side of the sticker, you'll see more clutter. There is a long sentence and a slogan (something like, I AM A GOOD CITIZEN AND I KEEP INTERSECTIONS OPEN, and BY THE WAY, THE NAME OF THE CURRENT LTO CHIEF IS BLAHBLAHBLAH). You'll probably smash your car just reading the back of this sticker.

Photos by Data Canlas.

Displaying Our Flag

Pop quiz. On June 12, when you hang the flag vertically, which color should be on the left field? Red or blue?

A decor, whether trivial or important, will reflect the care and thoughtfulness that went into its creation. This manifests in our everyday rituals as individuals and citizens, like displaying our flag during independence day. I have noticed that more and more, we have become careless in displaying our flags on June 12 (if we even care to display the flag at all).

For instance, this year, while driving eastward along Ayala Avenue, I caught local government employees hanging flags the wrong way around on lampposts in the middle of the street. They were hanging the flags vertically, triangle pointing downward, with the red field on the left -- an arrangement reserved for war.

I took a photograph on my cellphone camera, just to make sure. One could argue that the flags were being displayed to appear correct from the opposite lane. (Check out the second photo, at the center and a bit down to the right, you will see the flag on the opposite lane).

But that is not right, since, on the opposite lane, if you were westbound, you would see the other flag also being displayed in reverse. A few weeks later, passing through Ayala again, I noticed that they had corrected their error and thus brought back peace in Ayala Avenue.
Moreover, the flags were made of see-through material. Even if they were displayed correctly from one side, they would always show up wrong from the opposite side.

The Makati government could have simplified this by putting the two flags back-to-back and mounting them at the center of the lamp posts. This back-to-back arrangement would have shown correctly on both lanes.

The points that are easily missed are this. We have forgotten how to display our flag in the proper manner. And, when we do remember to display our flag, we don't even care enough to make it look right from all angles.

And this was not just happening in Ayala Avenue. In Megamall, all stores displayed the flag correctly on their glass windows, if you were outside of the store looking in. But once you went inside the store and looked outwards, the flags would be signifying war!

I observed this on other malls like Robinsons Galleria. The only good flag-displays I found were in The Podium. Here, the stores took the extra effort to put two flags back-to-back so that they displayed correctly inside and outside. Others also took a safer approach by showing the flag horizontally (with blue field on top, of course).

Now *there's* another simple idea! Why not just display the flag, horizontally, or in landscape direction as we call it nowadays? That would avoid the cost of an extra flag and the extra effort of putting two of them back-to-back.

Jul 21, 2007


Signage and design are two things that fascinate me. In college, I had an unquenchable thirst for understanding signs and symbols and how they work. After all, they are the building blocks of human thought.

They help us organize our world, analyze it and make it more interesting. Thanks to symbols, we can manipulate our world in ways that we cannot do with the real objects that they represent. In the creative playground of our minds, for example, we can stack a house on top of a car on top of a planet. Or make a beautiful virgin spring out of a giant scallop floating over the ocean.

Our Spanish conquistadores named us indios, because Magellan was sailing for the Indies but instead landed on our soil. Then they mistook us for Indians (all brown-colored races looked the same to them, I guess). Indios, therefore, is a symbolic mistake and it is an appropriate word to embody our indiosyncracies.

In more practical applications, unknown to most of us, signages help us lead safe and convenient lives. Road accidents can be averted by a well-placed sign. Electric shock and other modern-day hazards are avoided everyday because of PICTograms that dePICT the dangerous consequences of mishandling machinery and gadgets.

Closely linked to signage is design -- that catch-all term that embodies the balancing of the proverbial tension between form and function. Design embraces a multifaceted field that includes the production of print material, audio-visuals, environmental spaces, products of both analog and digital nature.

Digital design is close to my heart, since I have earned a living designing books, magazines, posters, websites and some software interfaces. I have also written comicbooks and television scripts -- exercises that are predominantly verbal, but on closer look, contain elements of visual design too (since they also include camera angles and scene descriptions).

My favorites, when it comes to product design are Apple, Ikea and European furniture designers. One of these Europeans is Thomas Heatherwick from London, who runs the Heatherwick Studio.

In Europe, North America and Japan, signages get the appropriate attention they deserve. You only have to look at their street signs and railway posters and maps to see the thought that went into making signs easy to grasp. In comparison, our MRT signage is as chaotic as the minds who designed the inaccessible, tiring steps that lead to MRT in EDSA. (In the MRT stations, they once displayed a map with no indication of North, nor where people are in relation to the map (or in layperson's terms, the you-are-here mark). To add insult to injury, some maps were posted in the wrong orientation, such that if you were reading the map, you'd think the direction you were facing was bound for North Edsa when in fact you were facing the South Edsa-Taft direction).

Philippine cities will benefit a lot from a little improvement in de-sign-age, too. But our leaders and movers are simply too busy squabbling or enriching themselves -- a reflection of how much they care for our citizens and cities.

This blog will tackle issues of design and signage on both the macroscopic (theoretical, if you like) and microscopic perspectives. Please join me as we think and step through how to improve our country one sign at a time!

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Join the discussion! Send photos! Please send me photos of bad and good designages you see! Email alibata(at)gmail(dot)com. Include your name and URL if you like, so I can credit you properly. Salamat!