Get to Know… Sara Patterson

MJM is pleased to welcome our newest member to the team — Sara Patterson.

Throughout her career, Sara has helped corporate businesses, local businesses, and non-profits tell their story through copywriting and communication strategy. She’s awesome, and if you want more information on her career you can find her bio here. But today, we know you want to learn some things about Sara that won’t show up on her LinkedIn account. We sat down and asked her some hard-hitting questions that will help you get to know her better.

What is your dream vacation?

Italy, for sure.

What actor would play you in a movie?

Hmm, I’m not sure. Probably Rebel Wilson or Tina Fey. They are almost as sarcastic as I am.

In high school, you would have been voted, “Most Likely To…”?

Bail you out of jail, for sure. I’ve always been the person you call when you’re in trouble.

What would be your “catch phrase” or famous quote?

“Words are my friends, and I want my friends treated well.”

What is your favorite candle scent?

Probably “bake and eat” scents, I suppose.

What is your favorite candy?

Anything with chocolate caramel or peanut butter.

What is your secret talent?

My secret talent is how fast I can read. Also, I’m fluent in two languages: English and Sarcasm. Does that count as a talent?

Welcome to the team, Sara! We’re happy to have you aboard. For our clients who are lucky enough to have Sara on their team, we know you’ll quickly see her value in caring for your words, brand, and overall project.

Collection: Online Learning Resources

We have a curious team at MJM, and we’re always engaged with learning to improve our work and ourselves. Having recently emerged from remote work lockdown, we asked our design team to share some of their favorite online learning resources.

Kirstie

CSS-Tricks: Lately, this has been the first place I turn to when I have a CSS question. I really appreciate how clear and approachable the style is and how in-depth they get with even the most fiddly CSS.

(Don’t miss Kirstie’s takeaways from WordCamp Minneapolis/St. Paul!)

Brady

Nielsen Norman Group publishes research on a variety of design-related topics. I particularly appreciate their short explainer articles and videos on design principles. They generally explain the principle and then show it in context on an actual design.

Farnam Street publishes articles full of “timeless ideas for life and business.” There’s a definite emphasis on the importance of lifelong learning and cross-disciplinary curiosity. Their articles are rich with links to other ideas and more of their writing, so it can be a bit of a rabbit hole! The Mental Models collection is a great place to dive in.

Tim

School of Motion: Lots of great content about all things motion, delivered through articles, interviews, and tutorials. And courses, of course – it’s called School of Motion for a reason. This is one of those sites that frequently results in “Oh! That’s how I should have done it the first time” moments.

Joel

Lynda.com: A website that offers online courses for things ranging from creative software to business skills.

Skillshare: A subscription based service that provides well-produced video classes on how to do anything from photography to calligraphy.

Spoon Graphics: A website full of tutorial videos and other content created by an excellent designer named Chris Spooner.

 

The Value of Physical Place in Work, Memory, and Life

This week marks our third week “back at work” after quarantine. For nearly four months our team, like most teams, had been among the millions worldwide who suddenly found themselves working from home. While MJM has always had a few remote team members (two on the West coast and one in the Twin Cities) the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to abruptly transition to an all-remote team. We tried to be positive and embrace the new normal, but it presented a fair amount of challenges. I would even say that there was some grieving for what was lost in the daily face-to-face interactions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that grief, in a time when we are all trying to navigate how to mourn the more grievous loss of life, and I think a big part of the disorientation many are feeling has to do with the loss of the physical spaces we shared. When we go to the places where we work, play, or get coffee, that physical change of place functions as a cue or marker. The erasure of those spaces — and the movement to those spaces — has left us in a trackless sea of mingled social interactions, mostly mediated through our screens.

Finding our place

Physical places help us situate ourselves, both mentally and emotionally. Driving back into your hometown after years away brings a wash of memories. Walking through the halls of your elementary school calls up faces of classmates and teachers. And it’s why “I can still remember where I was when I heard the news” is such a common experience.

This link between memory and places has long been established. In order to remember their speeches, Roman orators like Cicero would use the “method of loci” to create mental maps of a place — a home or a street of shops — called memory palaces and then mentally associate items to be remembered with each location. To recall the information stored in these memory palaces the speaker would then mentally move through the space, collecting their key points like a shopper in a well-organized grocery store.

Man thinking, looking at an image of a palace as he remembers information

In order to remember their speeches, Roman orators like Cicero would use the “method of loci” to create mental maps of a place — a home or a street of shops — called memory palaces and then mentally associate items to be remembered with each location.

Our spatial memory even extends to printed material, and especially content in books. We often remember where on a page we read a certain piece of information (an advantage that is lost when reading in the endless slippery scroll of a digital device.) In a 2014 study done at Norway’s Stavanger University, researchers noticed that subjects were able to more accurately recall the plots of stories they had read in print, when compared with stories read on an electronic device:

“‘When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,’ said [lead researcher Anne Mangen.] ‘You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual… Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.’”

This may be one reason that readers seem to prefer print books, and often report a deeper emotional connection to the content of a physical book.
Even on a neurological level, our experiences and memories are coded in a way that time and place are deeply intertwined with the content of the memory. Researchers monitoring brain activity during a study that involved having participants play a virtual reality game found that,

“[N]euralrepresentations of the content of the experience had become linked with the spatial and temporal context. Such evidence provides strong evidence for the theory that memory formation and recall involve association of event with context, especially spatial and temporal context. This linkage creates a mutually reinforcing interaction of event and location. We tend to remember both or neither.”

The unifying power of sharing space

Two coffee cups, overlaid on an old map of LondonIf physical spaces shape our memories of the past, they also generate innumerable intangible benefits in our daily lives. Sharing space with others unifies us, almost accidentally, through countless small quotidian interactions. One of the biggest losses we’ve all felt in this season of quarantine and social distancing has been the loss of those incidental interactions that we’d grown accustomed to in our favorite third places1. In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg first brought the idea of “third places” to the attention of the wider public:

“Most needed are those ‘third places’ which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase ‘third places’ derives from considering our homes to be the ‘first’ places in our lives, and our work places the ‘second.’”

Working from home meant that our “first place” (home) and our “second place” (work) collapsed into one seemingly borderless experience. And now, at a time when our need for some escape from our work and home spaces is most acute, many people are concerned that those third places that formerly offered escape are in danger from both social and economic pressures.

By sharing space before the pandemic, both at work and at home, we unconsciously created a vast bank of shared experiences with members of our community and with our coworkers. At a distance, over Zoom calls and Slack messages, we’re still drawing on that bank of shared experiences, but without opportunities to replenish those connections our mutual connections are being stretched, becoming thin and tenuous. But with cases still on the rise and most traditional third places closing their dine-in spaces, if we’re going to rebuild those connections it’s probably going to have to happen in outdoor public spaces.

Back at work

Old-fashioned typewriter overlayed on old map of London

The MJM space opened back up for business on July 6th. We have gone to great lengths to mitigate the risk of infection, both to ourselves and to clients and vendors. We wears masks when moving around our space, and nixed the communal coffee pot. We also rearranged all our work areas to provide at least 8 feet between each worker. (Brady Holm, our design lead, put together a great post outlining how our process of working together to develop a new office layout was a perfect microcosm for our experiences in remote collaboration.)

As I write this at my appropriately socially-distanced desk back in the MJM space, I believe it’s worth the trouble. Ideas flow quicker in person, and feedback in matters large and small is better. There are daily accidental conversations that connect us and move us forward in our creative work as well as in our friendships — conversations that we never would have scheduled a Zoom call to have, but that came about because we happen to be sharing the same physical space. It’s good to be back at work.

 


1“The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”

“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. It is no coincidence that the ‘helping professions’ became a major industry in the United States as suburban planning helped destroy local public life and the community support it once lent.” (Ray Oldenburg, quoted by Project for Public Spaces)

Remote Collaboration for Arranging Space

As our local team began planning the return to our office space, we needed a plan for rearranging our office layout in light of social distancing guidelines necessitated by COVID-19. In the past, we gathered together in a conference room or around a whiteboard wall for this task. Or we just started moving furniture around to see how it felt. This time would have to be different. This time we would need dedicated remote collaboration space to plan how we’d rearrange our physical space.

Finding the right tool

Thankfully we had been exploring some remote collaboration tools to help recreate some of the benefits of shared physical space. We recently tested Milanote for collaborative visual tasks like assembling mood boards, and Miro for facilitating remote workshop type activities. Both tools have features that allow for organizing (and reorganizing) ideas spatially. This is a key ingredient for recreating some of the magic of a shared physical space.

For our office layout, we chose to use a collaborative Miro board and run this a bit like an asynchronous, remote workshop.

Creating space for remote collaboration

To start, we created a template that had two necessary components: a floor plan of the office space, to scale, and multiple copies of desk diagram demarcated with social distancing safe zones, also drawn to scale. And we set some parameters and principles to guide the exploration. The goal was to arrive at an office layout that allowed for socially distant socializing and collaboration. The principles and goals were noted alongside the floor plan to keep them always at hand.

With the basic template created, we set up individual workspaces for each team member to test desk arrangements. We each had several days to explore on our own, playing games of Tetris with our office furniture between project work. All the layouts were visible to the team – this allowed for some cross-pollination to occur. We saw clever ideas for efficient use of space used in one layout cascade across others.

Once everyone had some time to test their ideas, we came together to share our layouts and discuss. This discussion was invaluable as we each found insights that altered how we approached our own solution to the challenge. And the collaborative tools in Miro allowed us to test some of these new ideas together during our video meeting. We gave everyone a few additional days to make some revisions based upon insights gleaned, and then reconvened for a dot voting exercise to identify the layout the team felt best achieved our objectives.

What we learned

Having a tool to capture and spatially organize your team’s ideas in a virtual setting can do a lot for recreating that sense of shared space.

Group brainstorming can have fantastic outcomes, but one of its shortfalls is it frequently doesn’t allow for individual time to think and explore. Those who prefer time to process and develop their ideas are often uncomfortable inserting themselves into live brainstorming sessions. Their ideas often go unspoken and unappreciated. Building in some time on the front end for individual processing is crucial to ensure teams don’t miss out on these ideas. And it can help inject some initial quality into the developing ideas of all members of the team.

Thankfully, one of the advantages to working remotely is the opportunity to rethink normal work activities like group brainstorms.

From our experience facilitating a remote workshop with our team, we found there is a general pattern to effective group brainstorming. Start with a group briefing, allow for individual time to think and process, then gather together to discuss and develop ideas further. This pattern can be built into remote collaboration activities – or completely live brainstorms, too. It requires some forethought and initial setup, but it pays dividends when you see the outcomes.

Thoughts on 36 Days of Type 2020

36 Days of Type is a global challenge to draw, illustrate, and letter the 26 letters and ten numerals in the Latin alphabet over (you guessed it) 36 days. Artists world-wide share their letterforms on social media using #36daysoftype, creating a massive catalogue of experimental type. Our design team once again chose to participate, you can view the full 36 days on our Instagram feed. Each character could be illustrated, animated, or otherwise constructed and each composition borrowed at least one color from the letter that came before it. The designers put together some post-mortem thoughts on the project:

Tim

This year I decided to continue to explore animation, specifically in After Effects. As a team, we decided to base the color palette for each day’s letter on one or two colors from the letter created the previous day. The goal was to unify the pieces somewhat, without giving ourselves too short a leash.

A project like this is fertile creative ground because it provides two potent ingredients for creativity: a clear objective and a time constraint. Creativity loves constraints. You can make whatever you want, but (helpfully) you don’t have unlimited time. And because you have to produce a letter every day you don’t have the luxury of becoming too precious about each piece. There’s a little bit of pressure because you know there’s an audience, but you’re also free to explore because the stakes are so low—no one cares what you make.

Joel

For 36 Days of Type this year, I dove into the world of the open-source 3D design program Blender to familiarize myself with the tool and create some distinct letter explorations. What I found was a powerful program with plenty of potential for future projects. I also discovered the unique and visceral fun that designing in a 3D space can create. Watching your work come to life with the click of a render button is just one of those things that will never get old.

Kirstie

During this year‘s 36 Days of Type, one of the most important skills I gained was not a new technique or software, it was adaptability. For reasons none of us need reminding of, this year’s project didn’t exactly go according to plan. Instead of meticulously planning out my letters, I found myself transforming an Rs into Ps on the fly and choosing ideas based on how quickly I could execute them in between Zoom calls. But, rather than being a roadblock, I found it surprisingly freeing. With the complete inability to be anywhere else, I was forced to live and create in the present moment and my work was better for it.

Brady

I love the 36 Days of Type creative prompt for the opportunity to experiment and try something new. I called in the Cavalry this year to help with my animated letters. Cavalry is a new 2D animation tool built around the concept of procedural systems. It relies less on key frames (though it is incredibly well-equipped in that regard) and more on routing values from one property into another to create effects. For example, using a sine wave function to control the vertical and horizontal position of a shape, or even random noise to change its size over time. It felt a little bit more like creative coding or generative art rather than illustration, which was a good stretch for my creative muscles. I didn’t expect to find so much joy in routing data from one property into another and waiting to see what happened, but the surprises and failures were both invigorating. And while it felt much like play and experimentation, I quickly found opportunities to use the tool for project work too, solving problems that would have required much more time and effort using other more familiar tools.

Alison

36 Days of Type is a favorite collaborative project. I love seeing what the other designers come up with, and especially what techniques, colors, and forms are appealing to everyone. When I’ve got a short time to illustrate a letter, I resort to some of my favorite tools in Illustrator: the pen tool, the zig zag effect, gradients, and the blend tool. Illustration is not a daily task for me, but it is something I enjoy. 36 Days of Type is a great excuse to get back to illustration process. From sketching to shape and color exploration, I’m grateful to have projects like these to explore the sandbox.

Check out the whole set:

Webinar: Telemedicine in Practice

During this live webinar, Vance Thompson Vision experts, Susan DeGroot, Clinic Director, Montana, and Janet Cox, CPC Director of Billing and Coding and veteran practice administrator and Matt Jensen Marketing Account Executive, Cindy Haskell, shared an overview of how to implement telehealth services and provide practice insights drawn from actual experience. Watch the entire webinar or download the presentation below:

 

Live Chat: Survival Marketing

During this live webinar our own Courtney Davidson was joined by KeyMedia Solutions CEO, Korena Keys. They offered some insight into how businesses can best respond to business challenges during this temporary crisis.

Webinar Recording

Resources

Here are some of the resources referenced in today’s webinar:

Communications Audit PDF
This communications audit will help you think through your approach to marketing during this time.

COVID-19: Ad Credits for Google Ads Small and Medium-sized Businesses
From Google: “We want to help alleviate some of the cost for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to stay in touch with their customers during this challenging time.”

Facebook Small Business Grants Program
Facebook is offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses.

A Brief History of Optotype

You’re sitting in your eye doctor’s office and they pull out a chart of what appears to be a random selection of letters. You breeze through the first few lines, but by the bottom you’re starting to second-guess yourself. Is that an F or a P? Or maybe an R?

At this point you may be wondering: Where did these letters even come from? And who chose them?

With curiosity as our guide, we decided to dig deep into the history of optotype and how the Snellen Chart went from medical innovation to standard practice and all the way to pop culture ubiquity.

The Origins of Optotype

While glasses and other corrective lenses have been around for thousands of years, it wasn’t until more recent history that doctors have a had a standardized system for determining prescriptions.

The idea for the modern eye chart began with German ophthalmologist Heinrich Küchler. In 1835, Küchler cut images of various objects and animals from calendars and almanacs and pasted them onto a sheet of paper in decreasing size. Because it was difficult to control the consistency of the style and weight of these images, Küchler also published a version of the chart using blackletter text set in single lines in decreasing size in 1843.

Küchler’s chart was not widely adopted and, in 1862, Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen developed his own version of the chart that is still the foundation of what is used today. Snellen’s first chart consisted of dingbats (squares, circles, plus signs, etc.) but, like Küchler, he eventually decided that letters would be easier for patients to identify and describe consistently. Unlike Küchler, however, Snellen believed that monoline letterforms of consistent size would be easier to read and he developed his own typeface, now referred to as optotype.

Herman Snellen built each letter of his optotype on a rigid 5×5 grid so that each letter is mathematically consistent and takes up the exact same amount of space.

While traditional letterforms use varying widths and heights to give the appearance of consistency, Snellen built his optotype on a rigid 5×5 grid so that each letter is truly mathematically consistent and takes up the exact same amount of space.

In 1959, Dr. Louise Sloan designed the 10 sans serif letterforms that are most commonly used in eye charts today.

In 1959, Dr. Louise Sloan of Johns Hopkins University created a new optotype with a cleaner sans serif design. Like Snellen’s, Sloan’s letters are formed within a perfect square. Both the Snellen and Sloan optotypes contain letters that were chosen for their easily identifiable verticals, horizontals, and diagonals—C, D, E F, L, O, P, T, and Z for Snellen and C, D, H, K, N, O, R, S, V, and Z for Sloan. Sloan’s letters are considered better for equal legibility and are particularly effective at identifying astigmatism. Sloan’s letters and variations on them are still commonly used in eye charts today.

How To Read a Snellen Chart

Modern Snellen charts can vary in the number of lines, length of lines, and typeface used, but most charts typically contain 11 lines that decrease in size by 25% each line. The lines of text are sized based on what the average person can read at a distance of 20 feet. Someone who can only read the top line of text can see at 20 feet what an average person can see at 200 feet, meaning they have 20/200 vision, which is considered legally blind. While 20/20 is often considered “perfect” vision, it actually means that someone is on par with what the average person can see at 20 feet. Some humans actually have 20/15 vision and many animals have 20/10 or even 20/5.

The lines of text on a Snellen Chart are sized based on what the average person can read at a distance of 20 feet.

Today, many eye doctors prefer to use the LogMAR chart developed by Ian Bailey and Jan E. Lovie-Kitchin in 1976. The LogMAR Chart uses Sloan letters in an inverted pyramid and is considered more precise than the Snellen Chart. Most doctors have also traded in their paper charts for backlit displays that provide better contrast.

Other eye charts include the Tumbling E and Landolt C charts that are used for children and adults who aren’t able to read and the Jaeger chart which measures near-vision acuity and features paragraphs of text rather than letters.

While the original Snellen chart may be falling out of use, it has taken on a new life outside the doctor’s office. The simple design makes it endlessly riffable and designers continue to find new ways to reinterpret it. So whatever form the eye chart takes next, it’s certain that Snellen’s optotype will remain a memorable intersection of medicine and design.

 


Eye Charts in Popular Culture

Growing up, I saw more than my fair share of the optometrist’s office. My dad is an optometrist, so my brothers and I were plenty familiar with the exam rooms, the walls of stylish frames flanked by mirrors, and of course the phoropter.

But there is one piece of optometric design that I can’t claim to have seen more than anyone else: the visual acuity chart. You know, the one the eye doctor uses to check your vision, with the lines of increasingly smaller letters. It’s everywhere.

The eye chart is all over Etsy

On Etsy you can find eye chart greeting cards, cookie cutters, and charm earrings to name but a few. Do a quick search for “eye chart” and you’ll see what we mean.

It famously featured in a scene from the 2001 film America’s Sweethearts in which the visual acuity chart spells out “I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U.”

 

"Read from the top line, Sasha."

“Read from the top line, Sasha.”

 

The chart imposes some fairly strict creative limitations but offers a format that is instantly recognizable to the general public. Much like a Venn diagram, it is a playground for creativity. And a breeding ground for visual puns.

 

The year MMXX

 

If you’re curious about some of the history of the eye chart, we’ve got you covered.

I’m pretty sure my dad had a necktie with those big black block letters printed on it. In Dad’s defense, it was the 90’s, they put anything and everything on neckties. Hindsight is 2020.

The Shape of Our New Business Cards

When we set out to redesign our business cards, we knew we didn’t want to go the standard route – we wanted something that would help tell our story. We had already been digging into the symbolism and imagery of wayfinding when we redesigned our logo. In that process we stumbled upon a fascinating shape called the reuleaux triangle – and it was perfect.

Reuleaux: /roo – LOH/

The reuleaux triangle has been used in many applications, from architecture to mathematics and map making. The overlapping section in the center of a three-set Venn diagram? That shape is the reuleaux triangle.

three-set venn diagram

Reuleaux triangles are geometrically beautiful shapes with surprising properties. They have been used as clever solutions to a variety of challenges in engineering and other fields. Its shape has a constant width – the diameter is the same no matter the orientation. It can rotate within a square while constantly touching all four sides, which allows for the creation of a drill bit that can create a square hole. How’s that for squaring the circle? Pencils in the shape of a reuleaux triangle have a couple of benefits: users often find them more comfortable to hold, and because they are not perfectly cylindrical, they are less likely to roll off tables and under your coworkers’ chair.

As creative guides for strategic journeys, the reuleaux triangle’s rich history in map making and trail signage is what ultimately captured our imagination. Leonardo da Vinci used the shape in an early map projection of the earth. It has been used in trail signage to help hikers find their way, such as along the Lewis and Clark National Trail. So it felt appropriate as the shape for our business cards, which help you find members of our team.

the cards tile into interesting patterns

We knew we wanted to feature topographic textures on the cards. But it couldn’t just be an image of topography – there needed to be some actual topography to our cards. They had to be tactile, where you could literally feel the terrain under your fingers. So of course we had them letterpressed! We are very pleased with the results.