The Beautiful Impact of New York City Transit Signs

Growing up in and around NYC, the Subways and trains become part of a rite of passage. Taking the subway by yourself becomes a milestone, a badge of honor, in one’s pre-adolescent development.

The signs and symbols which guide and direct you took on greater subliminal meaning. They became icons of the culture you were developing in your young mind, tied to your maturity, signposts to your freedom. In some cases the transit symbols became labels for the genuineness, the claim of being from or part of NYC. In the 80’s there was a great punk-rock band called “Token Entry.” The icon for their band branding was the token entry symbol from the subway. Everybody who was “hip” wore that shirt. It interesting to note that approximately 20 years post-Token Entry the MTA sells distinctive t-shirts which show the numerical or alphabetical symbol of the train line of your preference.

But, looking deeper, there was a “hidden driver” in place to seed and spark these symbol adoptions to occur. In the case of the New York City Transit Authority symbols this hidden driver were two designers: Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda.

“In 1967 the New York City Transit Authority hired Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of the design firm Unimark International to design a signage and wayfinding system that would solve the problem underground…The work they delivered, the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual, succeeded in that goal and, perhaps unintentionally, the Standards Manual became one of the world’s classic examples of modern design.”

An original version of this manual was uncovered recently and there is a Kickstarter to have it scanned and printed in a limited edition. The two current designers who discovered this rare book initially launched a website about their unique find with photographs of the book’s pages. The site was overwhelmed with interest, which led them to create the printing project via Kickstarter.

The “wave” of impact from these simple designs has lasted decades. It has undulated, but each time the wave peaks it appears higher than before. I’m curious to see how this book will impact new generations. In the meantime I’ve seen handfuls of utilizations, including the new team of designers hired to redesign NYC parking signs, and the “way finding” sign team, that follow the guidance of this book rather then take a new direction.

I loved my Token Entry t-shirt, or maybe I loved the well designed symbol that had a look and feel to last centuries.

Moving day. Brooklyn. 6/28/14

The dispatcher at the moving company (we’ve used this company twice before) recommended I grab either of the parking spots that bookend the hydrant across the street from our apartment. The tone of her voice made me sentimental for rotary phones.

The truck will fit if you can hold one of those spots. Watch your street. When a spot opens up, move your car there. It will be much easier for you.

Each of the past five days I would check a few times a day. Parting the antique shutters. They click and chatter when I open and close them. Then, the day before moving day the spot opens up. I’m outside, packing my car for the first trip to our new house. The buds drop from the tulip trees, light green snow. They get stuck in your hair. I run across the street and stand in the vacancy. Buds escape my feet.

What to do now? My car is packed, the roof rack is packed, ready for a trip. I can’t park it. I look around for trash cans. I ask my neighbor whose daughter is our main babysitter, she’s sitting on her steps, sunning herself while gazing deeply at her computer.

What do you think? I ask.

I’m not sure, she replies, shielding the sun from her face with her left hand.

I notice one of the old school locals, Eli, is painting the stoop steps a few doors down. He’s on his knees, halfway up the steps, running a paint roller from side to side.

Hey, can I ask you something? I ask in a respectful tone.

Eli has been quietly witnessing the situation and has already figured out the answer. Barely meeting my gaze he extends his arm. In his hand is a key ring with a million keys. One small copper key protrudes from his pinched thumb and pinkey.

Here’s my keys to my gate. Go get the cones. Nobody will move the cones.

Thanks man. I say. Trying to keep my cool.

Don’t mention it, he says.

I look up and across the street and more of our neighbors are outside. Each surmising what to do.

Eli’s letting me use his cones. I express to the small set of watchers, trying to mute my glee. Everyone nods.

Eli, how will I find you later? I ask.

What for? He asks, startled, not wanting any part of any part of anything he’s not part of.

To give you back the cones. I reply.

Nah. Just throw them over the gate. He chuckles, letting me know I’m the rookie, I’m not from here as much as he is from here. He’s right. I’m from here, but I brought the rents up. Making the rents go up is the new Brooklyn. Making a Brooklyn for everyone is the old Brooklyn.

I put the cones in place. My neighbors nod in acceptance and I drive the first batch of my stuff to New Jersey. Everyone waves.

I return to Brooklyn later that night with an empty car ready for a second load. I drive up to the hydrant, expecting to see the cones, and there’s a black Volvo there. Parked with it’s back wheel on the curb. Dents all over. Dirty.

I pull up in front. Exit my vehicle and review the black automobile. From across the street a neighbor recounts my experience loud enough for me to hear.

You get Eli’s cones. You place them to hold the space. When you’re out, someone moves them and takes the spot. You come back, no place to park. No place for the truck. Must be a jerk.

I raise my arms up. Yup, I say. I stare at the car. I find the cones wedged near the curb.

Did he leave a number on his car? My neighbor is now standing beside me, shaking his head. Can you tell whose it is?


I’m going to post this to the block list serve, he says. Let’s see if anyone knows whose car this is. He reads aloud as he types, one black Volvo, license plate…parked in front of…please move…ok, posted.

Thanks. I say. I’m going to go back to packing.

You’re welcome, he says, we’re sad to see you go.

The next morning. Which is today, the day I am writing this, the movers arrive early. They call my cell phone. I think it’s my alarm. I click it off. They call again. I click it off. They call again. I answer.

Jason, this is your driver. We’re here.

You’re early.

As planned.

They double park the truck. This causes some caustic jeers from passing cars and delivery trucks. Slowly nearly all cars blocked in between the truck and the sidewalk depart. All except one.

If this dude moves this one car our lives become a whole lot easier, the moving team lead says. I nod in agreement.

Just then, across the street, Eli appears, looking at the black Volvo. He shakes his head. Then shrugs.

I run over and ask, do you know whose car this is?

Sure, says Eli.


It’s J, lives around the corner. Must have gotten home late. You know J, he’s got his hair to his shoulders?

J? Yes I know J. J is the guy who is always saying hi to Sheila. Smiling from across the street. Crossing the street to talk to her. When I encounter him on the sidewalk I swear he crosses the street, turns the corner, goes a different direction. We call him Iggy Pop as his face somewhat resembles his face. I can kinda see it.

Eli turns to look up the block, he raises his chin, squints. Gazing across his terrain.

Yup. He says. That’s J’s car.

He shrugs again and heads back down the block.

It takes all four movers to lift and carry our piano down the stoop. They struggle and bend and crouch and pull. It’s wrapped and strapped and contains a billion or more combinations of sounds, songs and soul.

We’re not piano movers one says out loud.

You are now, says another.

Update: A New Era of Design and Nourishment

We are within an overlap of two eras:

  1. Disruption
  2. Post-Disruption

The Disruption era is/was so strong, that similar to the impact of Modernism on global social/global/economics, it is a “Post-” era versus a newly named one (Modernism shifted to Postmodernism).

Disruption (as an era) has shaken off the emotional force of Nostalgia, specifically off the back of Progress. One goal of Disruption was to remove the emotional connection to the past and replace it with a rational celebration of the new (similar to Modernism). As example, retro design, remakes of “classic” films and TV shows, and turning childhood books into movies are symptoms of the friction Nostalgia creates between the past and the future. As example, critics loved the first generation iPhone (no one complained it didn’t have the same look/feel of old phones), but vendors still arose to provide retro gadgets to modify it so it would. Disruption has worked incredibly hard to separate Nostalgia from an appreciation of what’s  “Good.”

Post-Disruption is an era with a focus on building stronger foundations in the new global reality created by Disruption. It’s an adoption of the the lasting forces of Disruption as a new normal, but within two distinct paths towards the future:

  • Neo-Modernism Design Driven: To continually reinvent the present through new systems and technologies in the service of solving issues (both global and local). This requires both solving current high-profile technological issues (health, energy) plus inventing new opportunities and markets (innovations) and therefore magnetizing communities around these new innovations
  • Neo-Renaissance Nutriment Nourishment: To provide foundational support (both global and local) that fosters the betterment of livelihood. Similar to the above, but with a focus on the basics. It is a new investigation of how to build a “Good” future (social and economic) that learns from historical lessons without the friction of Nostalgia to impede progress

Looking at our current experience, these two forces are unbalanced…maybe they aren’t meant to be. The force of Design is outweighing Nourishment. Both are growing. Either way, people, governments, and businesses should be considering these two paths when planning for the next five years, and beyond.

Social Strategy Lessons from the Bagel Shop

The proprietor of the local bagel shop is a wise communicator. I admire and learn from his soft-style marketing and sales techniques. They can be adopted/integrated as part of a core Social Communications strategy.

There is typically a long line from the front door to the back of the store. The counter to order your bagel and other items is at the back. Customers walk past all of the offerings before they reach the counter (sort of like exiting through the gift shop at amusement parks).

All throughout this process the proprietor engages with the customers. Sometimes it’s a simple, “We’ll be right with you folks!” other times it’s, “Don’t forget dessert, your family wants dessert!” My favorite part of this routine is the in-the-moment (real time) marketing “experiments” posted on the cases.

This weekend there were two:

1. New York Met’s Special “Sweep” sandwich. The Mets had just swept the Yankees in four games; kind of unheard of in these parts. For Mets fans this is sweet revenge as the Yankees typically gain the lions share of praise in the NYC area.

The proprietor chose to create a real-time product, using ingredients he already has on hand, that fits within his menu.

Here’s the other one. This one is more experimental. In this experiment the proprietor is inventing a new offer through a mixing of two current products:

2. The Coney Island Stuffed Knish.

Branding a knish as “Coney Island” is a whole other discussion (see Mrs. Stahls), but the proactive ingenuity of combining two current offerings into one to test its reception is something that we can all do on a regular basis. Plus it adds some unique flavor to our communications plans. Call it a mash-up. A mash-up message.

Here are the key take-aways from the bagel shop when seen through the lens of a social communications professional:

  • Display your advocacy (don’t hard-sell your services): The proprietor doesn’t broadcast the types of bagel and prices to his customers. He assures his customers that he cares about them.
  • Be in the moment: Discuss current events through the lens of your comms plans and brand narratives.
  • Mash-it-up: Refresh older items by reframing them through a mash-up into something new.

And there’s one last one…

  • Be personal in a personal wayWhen a customer is paying for their transaction the proprietor makes sure he says something unique and uplifting to his customer. Though he’s been shouting messages for all to hear, at this moment he quiets his voice to create a connection with his customer. He shifts his perspective, playing the role of a fellow customer, “oh, you got the humus, that humus is delicious, good choice.”


The Rise of The Chief Brand Officer

The question, “who owns social?” has become a toxic, internal struggle between the Marketing and Communications teams within many companies (and expands to include IT, Customer Service, Human Resources, and Sales). The answer is that they all own social, collectively, but most companies have yet to align their divisions and teams to work in coordination. This leaves companies solving for social through a framework built for an analog era.

Why? Social has typically become part of an organization via a bottom-up adoption through the work of small teams in the trenches (many companies hired interns/junior level staff to manage their social programs).  This causes each separate team to develop its own specific take on social. This leads to a handful of internal teams who strongly believe they each have the best answer for social.

These different social answers eventually work their way up ranks to where the division leads (Marketing, Comms, IT, etc.) need to reconcile the different approaches. They then negotiate and navigate. What needs to happen instead is collaboration and realignment.

Companies need to create a new way to manage social across all teams, switching from separate bottom-up learnings to a more holistic cascade approach. What is needed is the creation of a new layer for the organization between the CEO and the current leads. It’s the creation of a new C-level position and a redefining of the leads’ job profiles. This will not happen overnight, but it is the direction companies must be shifting towards.

This position that is needed to solve this problem is the Chief Brand Officer (CBO). The CBO will invent the shared, holistic social “north star” as part of their new duty to own, cultivate and shepherd the Brand through all channels (Marketing, Comms, IT, Customer Service, etc.). The immediate task for the CBO is to align these leads and their teams under the umbrella of Brand and sync their activities to map to the goals set by the CEO.

The CBO will create the new framework for social, ensuring it cascades while keeping the grass roots nuances that are relevant and actionable for the individual teams. These teams will now work in orchestration, under the guidance of the CBO. The CBO will pivot these teams from parallel “partners” to become “collaborators,“ enabling the organization to map to the new opportunities of the social era.

Say hello to the new era, the era of the Chief Brand Officer.

The Influence Ecosystem and Facebook’s Managing Editor Departing

I read MediaShift’s article on Dan Fletcher’s departure from Facebook yesterday and immediately saw (reading between the lines) that Dan, and Facebook, were shifting their focus within the Influence Ecosystem. Dan was moving away from the “Influencer” role in the ecosystem and towards “Originator” (where the emergent stuff happens). Facebook is shifting “back” towards being a platform for advocacy between peers.

The key quote from the MediaShift article is: “There is no more engaging content Facebook could produce than you talking to your family and friends.”

There isn’t a need for a Managing Editor, thus Dan is moving on. The article implies he’s moving to where stories are heading…longer form content anchored to passions and deeper interests.

What does this mean? From a Futurist standpoint, this is an early indicator of a shift taking place. There is a burgeoning start-up movement in the “Originator” point in the ecosystem as it’s mostly the final frontier in the current social communications behavior (until it all shifts again). The shareable foresight is that attention is shifting towards the Originators. This is an early indicator, but if you’re planning ahead, I’d recommend strategizing on how you, your team, and your organization can adapt to this shift.

What’s the Influencer Ecosystem? It’s a three part cycle, that when cultivated and managed well, fosters the productive growth of influential ideas from the grass roots, to the influencers, to the advocates and back to the grass roots. Here’s a quick whiteboard on how it works:

Simply, the Influence Ecosystem is how original ideas become adopted by Influencers who then share them with their audiences. In the ideal situation, these audiences then become Advocates for the Influencer’s messages and share them with their peers via word-of-mouth. Then, from this word-of-mouth activity, new ideas are sparked, which are relevant to Influencers and the ecosystem keeps on rolling. The illustration below outlines how the ecosystem functions.

This next illustration identifies the roles and behaviors of the points in the ecosystem; what is happening at each of these points.

And finally, the illustration below identifies the “who” of these three points within the ecosystem. The “who” is meant to help you identify where in the ecosystem you want (or need) to participate. As example, Influencer Management should focus on acting like an Originator in order to get the right content to the Influencers. A full Advocacy Program should ensure the “original” content is making it’s way to the Advocates. One short-cut to this success is for brands to become Influencers. This step is taking place through “branded content” platforms such as news centers and company blogs.

Facebook (all social networks really) remain the platform for advocacy. Brands shift into the role of Influencers on those Advocates. The next undeveloped area is the “Originator.” The people that create the content and ideas that feed the Influencers. What’s your Originator strategy? 😉

Texas (1993 v2)

Here, on this map, is Texas.
All tan and lonely.
Veiled by blue lines of highways and stop signs.

And here I am, this giant looking down on all that space
and I feel the breath of its desert on my face.

I’m on the roadside, and the weeds,
and the cactus, and the men in blue pick-up trucks
pass with their eyes below their hat lines.

Pulling my smile against my teeth so not to let the dust in.

I’m waiting for this bus. You’re already on it.
When it stops, you look out from behind the big round wheel
open the door and ask if we’ve met before.

As I climb the stairs I drop a stack of photographs.
They are shuffled down the highway by the highway wind.
Black and white and glittering like fires.

You dropped your pictures, you say.
I know, I say.
Don’t you want to get them, you say.
No, I say, and you look at me standing on the stairs to the bus
and it seems you are deciding whether or not to let me in.

It’s on that road in Texas that I see you, in a forever way
Christmas and the snow, parents and home.

I want to hold you, but all I have is this old map
and your smell in my old shirt.
You wore this one before you left.

Lexington Avenue Mary (1994 v2)

In her hands she held a baby bird
Tiny, wet, squawking.
She has a virgin mary smile
and her head bent, her eyes bent longingly
at a virgin mary angle
She seemed content
standing there on the corner
with all that traffic moving by her
She didn’t notice
She rocked back and forth, slightly
coddling her young
She hummed to herself.
She stood there rocking her bird.
It was October and I thought that
birds only had babies in the Spring
It began to get cold
the sun slipped behind the tall buildings
but she didn’t notice.
She was the Lexington Avenue virgin of the bird
rooted to her corner like some strange city tree
making a nest in her hands
She stood there, across the street from the hardware store
humming to herself, humming to her bird
Unaware of the people and the cars
and the buses
and the noise.

In her hands she held a baby bird
tiny, wet, squawking.

She has a virgin mary smile
and her head bent, her eyes bent longingly
at a virgin mary angle.

She seemed content
standing there on the corner
with all that traffic moving by her.

She didn’t notice.

She rocked back and forth, slightly
coddling her young
She hummed to herself.

She stood there rocking her bird.

It was October and I thought that
birds only had babies in the Spring.
It began to get cold
the sun slipped behind the tall buildings
but she didn’t notice.

She was the Lexington Avenue virgin of the bird
rooted to her corner like some strange city tree
making a nest in her hands.

She stood there, across the street from the hardware store
humming to herself, humming to her bird
Unaware of the people and the cars
and the buses
and the noise.

How a Hacked Burger King Gained 30K new Followers

A hacked Burger King Twitter account was “spectacular.” Burger King’s Twitter content is rarely spectacular, it’s mostly focused on pushing out content about their products. So when their account is hacked, and the content is expected to be spectacular, the audiences who seek that type of content come flooding over.

The proactive solution, is for Burger King to elevate and diversify their content strategically, not ad hoc. Taking a look at the last 3 – 4 months of @BurgerKing’s activity you can see that they pretty much just push content out, mostly during the middle of the day, east coast time.

Looking at the types of content they’re producing for Twitter, you’ll see that they are mostly focused on sharing news and info about their products. In my content matrix, this type of content fits in the bottom right corner where the audiences are “wide” but the content is “resonant.” They are writing topic-specific content to hope to net interest from a wide audience. Sometimes the Burger King Twitter account engages with users (which I call “granular” as the message is focused on a specific user), and rarely they step out from products and have “real” or natural conversations about topics other than the products. One natural conversation, or bait for “spectacular” engagement was a Tweet around “Happy Hump Day.”

So, when the account was hacked and the potential for this account to provide “spectacular” content, they attracted audiences who seek that thrill. In short, there’s a content gap in Burger King’s content strategy.

Since Burger King has not been actively engaged with more than half the content matrix, they are missing out on the opportunity to increase their engagement with their entire audiences. When the hackers stepped in and offered the possibility for spectacular content, they attracted this audience. Their opportunity now is to do something “spectacular” with this new audience.

How the NYTimes Can Make New Revenues from a Personalized Hybrid Web/Print Service

I am a NYTimes subscriber. I “browse” the digital edition daily. I receive the Weekend edition in print, which I tend to “read.” What I want is a “surround” service that is something in between digital and print, and I’ll pay for it. I believe the NYTimes has the technology to make the following idea happen…

I want a weekly print edition based on my daily reading habits and selections. I want a digital “dashboard” where these articles live in an archive.

Here’s how it will work:

  • Add a check box to articles. As I’m reading the digital edition, let me chose which articles I’d like to read in print as part of the Weekend edition. The NYTimes could then print these articles as part of an additional printed section. They could then display specific adds (at a higher value) against this content based on what I’ve chosen.
  • For each article I’ve chosen, The NYTimes would then scour their rich archives for related articles going back 5 to 10 years. They’d add up to 5 of these related articles to my weekly print edition (in a “related” section), which allows them to display even more relevant ads to me.
  • As time progresses past the first few weeks, the NYTimes would begin to see my reading habits and send me relevant “recommended” articles to add to the “related: section. These could be from sections of the paper I don’t regularly read (such as the Travel section).
  • In tandem to the above, the NYTimes would create a “news dashboard” for me, to see my history of articles and prompt me to answer simple questions such as “do you want to read more science?” which would help them send me more (or less) science articles as part of the “recommended” part of the section.

If the NYTimes offered this as a premium service, I would pay for it. This way they are making new revenues off of the “value” of what they already have, while providing me a more valuable service. FTW!