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SILVER OAKS COMMUNICATIONS BLOG

What’s an Attract Loop?
December 1, 2017
Silver Oaks designs custom interactive touchscreen programs for clients all over the country. We've created games for science museums, way-finding guides for zoos, informational kiosks for hospitals, and driving simulators for history museums. Each one of these interactive experiences have unique interfaces, sounds and content. And although color schemes, content, and  special effects are fun and important steps of designing an interactive, perhaps the most important part of the process is designing and programming the attract loop. Hold up. What’s an attract loop? You know the term 'screen saver'? Well, an attract loop is just that. Back in the day, interactive programs were used on CRT (cathode ray tube) or plasma screens. These behemoths were not exactly svelte. If the program sat on a static screen for too long, the image on the screen would burn in, causing a ghosted image that would appear on all other interfaces in the program. That's where the 'screen saver' comes in. If the pixels could keep changing, the burn in and ghosting wouldn't happen. Thus the screen saver. Get it? Screen saver? It saves the screen. Today, we use LED screens for interactive touchscreen programs and the risk of a burned in image is much less, but screen savers are still important to keep the pixels moving. In addition to mechanical reasons, attract loops serve other important functions as well. An attract loop is a screen that, well…attracts users to the kiosk or monitor to interact with the program. It also serves as a teaser for the content within the actual program. Often, it is a simple screen with some motion and a phrase such as “touch here to begin.” Other times floating photos or videos are creatively integrated to draw the user in.  If the attract loop isn’t visually appealing, users won’t be inclined to interact or even know that they can interact with it. Typically the program will timeout after about 90 seconds and reset to the attract loop so that everyone using the program can start at the same place. Attract loops are like brewing beer? Making the attract loop allows our designers to really use their creativity and eye for design.  Interestingly, while this is the first thing the visitor sees when they approach an interactive kiosk, it's usually the last thing that our designers and programmers develop. The designers study the program's fonts, color scheme, and general look to develop an appropriate attract loop. According to Silver Oaks designer, Danny O'Leary, “It's like putting all the ingredients together for a great beer, brewing it, and then sticking a beautiful bottle cap on top." Check out some examples of past attract loops Silver Oaks has created over the years. Enjoy!      
Dan Diederich: In Memoriam
November 10, 2017
This week, Silver Oaks lost a founding member, mentor, faithful colleague and best friend. Dan Diederich passed away on Weds., November 8th – a very sad day for all of us here at Silver Oaks. Dan was the head of the Silver Oaks Art Department from 1983 until this March. For 34 years, he was the smiling face who ruled the roost (from the best view in the building, it was said) with humor, hard work and humility. He shepherded more than a few designers here over the years, but he was more than “just” a boss. He was a true friend – as one of our designers said – “I always thought of Dan as my friend first, and my boss, second.” As a skilled and experienced designer, Dan was known as “Mr. Eyeballs” by his team, because he could spot a design element that could be improved from a mile away. He made projects and people better. Dan was small in stature, but big in heart. He never took himself too seriously – as is evident in the art department. Funny, Photoshopped images (think Cupid and Leprechaun) including a “life sized” – albeit short -- image of Dan adorn the walls and desks. He referred to our current design team as “his guys.” And they did consider themselves a family. Always the charmer, Dan shared with us his corny jokes, clever stories, and many words of encouragement. A regular in the lunchroom (with his reused brown bag, sandwich, and for many years, a cookie from his mom), Dan talked travel, politics, history and family. He frequently updated us on his nieces and nephews, and then his great-nieces and nephews. Among his other loves -- fast cars (both toy and real), great craft beer, a good cigar and a perfect day on the Rock River. Dan was truly one of the good guys. To say he will be missed is an understatement. Here’s to you, Dan. See you on the other side. Arrangements for Dan can be found here: http://www.esterdahl.com/notices/DanielDan-Diederich  
Context is king
Say Hello To Context!
October 6, 2017
If you’re involved in marketing, you’ve heard the saying “content is king”. Even Bill Gates agreed with that statement -- back in 1996.  But the saying you’ve been using, reading and sharing is in fact, false. Take a deep breath! Yep, it’s hard to wrap your head around it -- but the reality is that content isn’t the all-mighty we once believed it to be. So, if content isn’t king, what is? Context.   First, consider its definition: [kon-tekst] – Noun – the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect. If we take the definition for its literal meaning, it is the who, how, why or strategy of content. Making content the what or the tactic of context. When it comes to a successful marketing plan, the strategy is the ruler, while tactics are the building blocks to support that strategy. If we follow this process of thought, it would make context king and content the supporting role, right? So how did the switch come about? Content first became king of marketing because the goal was to have consistent, seemingly endless amounts of information available to consumers. As digital started to transform and grow in popularity, EVERYONE began to adapt this “content” idea. The amount of information became increasingly competitive for businesses and brands alike. So how do you beat your competition? Better content.   And what makes better content? Context.   As stated above, context is the why and the strategy. It takes every element of importance and gives reason to the content being used. In order for us to better understand this new concept of thinking, let’s observe an example we can all relate to: this blog post. Let’s say the message (content) of this post is exactly the same, but we switch up our context. The way you’re reading it now is Silver Oaks branded, it’s professionally organized and well-written, it’s easy to access and it’s coming from people with experience. If I changed the context to a handwritten, crumpled up piece of paper without any attribution to a thought-leading creative agency, the overall success of the message would drastically change.   When you have thought-provoking and strategic context, it adds value and strength to your content. So, the new rule of the land: Context is king and content is the crown.
So You Think You’re Ready for Media?
August 18, 2017
Interactive media, videos, games and digital directional maps can be useful tools to educate, inform and entertain -- if instituted in the right way. However, museums, corporate lobbies, hospitals, etc., should not hop on board the media train just because everyone else is doing it. There are a number of things that should be considered before investing the time and money into any type of media. At Silver Oaks, we understand that developing a media project can feel like a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be! Here's a bit of guidance on the subject. First things first Study your audience and community Would your audience and community benefit from a media installment? Do a visitor survey, or simply ask around to find out. Often times frequent visitors pose good ideas for media-based experiences. Look at your institution Will adding media components help your organization further its mission? If yes, go for it! We have a saying here at Silver Oaks — "Never implement technology for the sake of technology." Your content should should always be the driving factor when it comes to media. Would it make sense to have a way-finding map in the form of a VR headset? No. Think about the content, then the type of media that could complement it. Keep in mind that technology is constantly changing, so have a plan for future updates. Nobody likes using out-dated media. Also, consider your internal capabilities. Do you have an IT person on staff who can can fix minor glitches? If not, you might want to consider hiring one. Do your research Study similar institutions that have implemented media. Do a simple online search to get an understanding of what's out there. There are high ends (virtual reality, 3D technology, Disney World-like experiences), low ends (database interactives, touch screen games, digital map guides) and everything in between. Silver Oaks can help you reach your goals if you have a solid idea to begin with (knowing what technology is currently in use is important). Also, look at your content. While you certainly don't need to have all the details fleshed out, be aware of how much research has been done on the subject and how much needs to be done. It's very difficult to create a five-minute documentary with only one photo of the subject. Propose ideas Sharing is caring. Pitch us some of your ideas. Our creative team is, well...creative, but we'd like to hear your initial ideas to get the ball rolling. You're the experts on your content, we're the experts on bringing that content to life. So let us know what you're thinking! Hopping on the media train So you've decided that media is the way to go. Here are some tips from our project managers, designers, and interactive programmers that can relieve headaches and help the project progress smoothly. Audience and Purpose What is the purpose of your media? To educate, entertain, "edu-tain"?   Who is your audience? Visitor demographic research can help ensure your content is age appropriate and targeted for maximum impact. Content Content is the most important component that you can provide us. And the more organized and complete it is when we receive it, the happier we are! "Provide all known information and content (logos, brand guidelines, fonts, etc.) and/or preferences/dislikes prior to the beginning of the project. This will save you time and money in the long run." — Danny and Clint, Designers "Consider how often you intend to update content. If your exhibit needs to be updated on a regular basis, you might consider having us build an easy to use content management system (CMS). Keeping data up to date can be a chore, but it doesn’t have to be." — Adrian and Pete, Interactive Programmers   Organization "Organization of media assets can become very important when working on large projects. Try to use folders with descriptive titles, and even consider including a text file “map” that lists where photos, copy, videos, or sound bites are to be used. That little bit of extra communication can save time and money." — Adrian and Pete, Interactive Programmers "Organization of content is the key to media project success! Oftentimes I think clients are so close to their content that they forget we're stepping in as outsiders and aren't experts in their field. The more organized clients can be in naming and structuring their content, the easier it is for us to be experts in our field in bringing their story to life in an engaging and meaningful way." — Grace, Project Manager Sharing is Caring Please share your budget with us early on. Even if it's a approximate, it helps our team to develop appropriate concepts while respecting your resources. Let us know what sort of time table we are looking at. We're often working on multiple projects at a time, so understanding your schedule will make things go much smoother. Programming Considerations "If this is a new exhibit, clients might consider how they plan to startup and shutdown digital media stations. Having this in mind when programming an application can make an exhibit easier to manage. Ease of access to presentation hardware is tied to this as well. No one wants to use a screwdriver and ladder to access a power button every day at closing time! Also, consider the noise level where you intend to install an exhibit. If it’s a busy place you might go easy on music and audible prompts to lessen the cacophony. Also consider not using sound prompts when running in an attract state as it can annoy staff and visitors alike."— Adrian and Pete, Interactive Programmers Design Considerations "Trust your designer, that’s why you came here in the first place!" — Clint and Danny, Designers "Communication makes everything run smoother, so keep in contact with us during production, and feel free to ask for progress updates. We’re excited to show you what we’re building!" — Adrian and Pete, Interactive Programmers It's all about the experience. If you would like to implement media into your museum gallery, lobby, hallway, etc., and you have quality content, good ideas, and a reason to have it there, we are here for you. Hopefully these tips will make your next media project go smoothly. Good luck!
Good Design in a Subjective World
August 7, 2017
Ever hear a comment like this in an art gallery or museum? “Look at that! I could have done that!” If you’re an art lover, you probably cringed, or did a silent eye roll. “But you didn’t,” would be one reply. [caption id="attachment_5047" align="alignnone" width="700"] Jackson Pollock is an artist whose work is often questioned like this. Image property of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.[/caption] But the truth is, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Different experiences lead to different perceptions and emotions about the subject matter. “It’s all subjective,” would be another answer. So how do you judge “good art” from bad? Or in our case here at Silver Oaks, good design? Those of us who are not schooled in the rules of design, can only judge based on gut reaction. But there’s more to it than that, as I found out from our team of experienced Silver Oaks designers.   How do you create a successful design when it is judged in a subjective world? What makes art – good? Here are a few bulletproof design tips to help us answer that question. Check them out below!   Knowledge on your subject is almost as important as your artistic abilities Know the “who’s” – Who is the company you’re creating a design for? What are their values. Their past designs/branding, what did they look like? What is the personality of the company? Who is the current audience? Who is the prospective audience? Know the “why” – Why are you creating this design? What is the end goal: to bring in new customers, enhance branding, to sell products or services? Know the “how” – How will this design be delivered to its audience (which medium[s] will be used)? How long will this design circulate? Purpose, Purpose, Purpose Rarely in design is something added just because it looks cool. Each design element should be well-thought out and have a reason for being included. Color, font, position, location – all should be taken into consideration. The Three “F’s” – flow, focus, flexibility Everything must flow. There should always be some sort of connection between every piece of the design. Should there be a central focal point within the design? Understanding the focus of the design and sticking to it is important. Be flexible. Design isn’t always a 1-2-3-step process. Sometimes it’s messy. Other times there are requests from clients that the designer disagrees with. And sometimes the brilliant concept in your head isn’t quite what you thought it would be in real life. Know when to adjust your approach by being flexible. Tiny details are the loudest "Sometimes you can't see the road because of the bugs on the windshield. If a design is full of little errors or problems, it doesn't matter how great the concept is -- all people will see is all the little things that are wrong with it," says Scott Kelty. "You have to look at all the details as well as the whole design, and always pay attention to the details". Translation: You can have the most beautiful design, but if there is something missing or shouldn’t belong, that will completely strip away the overall success of the piece. Look at each individual element of the design. Always pay attention to the details. It’s important to know the rules, but also know when to break them. Design rules (like the ones mentioned above!)  are there for a reason, but it’s o.k. to be a little “rebellious” sometimes. Just remember, when you do bend them, be purposeful and think it though.  The moral of the story? It takes a lot of knowledge, experience and courage to be successful in a subjective world. Thankfully we have three talented designers who are always up for the challenge.
Millennials: Don’t beat ’em, join ’em!
July 24, 2017
I’ve been reading a lot about Millennials in the workplace lately. It seems that everywhere I look, there’s another story about them and their latest trend towards...well, name a thing. Frankly, I’m exhausted by the dissection of this generation. What are their buying trends? What do they value? How do we appeal to them? How do we hire and keep them? Our mania goes on and on trying to figure them out. But are they really that different than the previous generations? One thing is certain. The older generation loves to criticize the younger. Twenty-five years ago, my Gen X label was “disenfranchised slacker.” Which honestly, cracks me up a little bit now that I’m middle-aged. Admittedly, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with my life when I was in my 20’s. Although, in the years following, I’ve balanced work and family life, started my own business, weathered a recession, and then re-entered corporate America to find it a much more flexible, family-friendly place. A slacker success story? Maybe. And maybe “slacker” was just a label for the then-younger generation that the older was trying to understand. They weren’t trying to cater to us, our interests or our buying power. Maybe that’s why grunge happened. But I digress. Here’s what we (non-millennials) need to remember as we get to know our new, younger co-workers: keep an open mind. This is a generation full of bright ideas that are not JUST tech related. They are politically and socially engaged, curious, confident and eager to make their mark. They’re optimistic. And there’s more to them than that cliched line about getting their participation trophies. In conclusion, keeping the conversation open with our younger colleagues is the key to avoiding the labels and the stereotypes we’ve all endured over time. The “everyone needs to pay their dues”  attitude is antiquated and negative thinking. I didn’t like it when I began working  in 1990, and I don’t like it now. However, that does not mean that our younger co-workers already know everything. They don’t. And that’s where communication comes in. Learning from each other will create internal work relationships that can only push businesses like Silver Oaks farther because the skill sets of all generations are represented. Maybe dropping these generational labels would be a good way to start. I’ve had mentors of every age who have taught me, inspired me and encouraged me to be more. So what makes companies great? People do. And that’s why working together is the only way to keep us successful at any age.

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