culture tech

Tribal malfunction (rooting for tech companies is silly)

Humans are instinctively tribal. Our fierce, hard-wired clan loyalty has its advantages; in the prehistoric age of hunter-gatherers, tribal commitment could make the difference between surviving together or dying alone.

That same tribal instinct drives our social behavior today, too. We’re driven by irrational devotion to sports franchises, political parties, and, yes, multinational technology companies.

In the last case, we’re bound to our “team” not by geography, ideology, or genetics, but by past purchases. Once we decide to invest thousands of dollars in one platform over another, we feel tremendous pressure to see that decision justified, to see “our side” come out on top. Hence, we see Apple hordes descending upon tech sites that don’t give Cupertino the credit it deserves.

Such brand affinity is a malfunction of our tribal programming, and it works against our own best interests. Google and Amazon will never return my allegiance, and their success is largely irrelevant to my own happiness. So why should I bother defending them, or deriding their competitors?

If anything, we should root against any one company—even our “favorite”—from dominating the market. Apple customers should celebrate the successes of Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon at least as enthusiastically as Apple’s own victories. We need viable ecosystems and trend-setting products outside of iOS; competition is good for the industry, good for consumers, and good for Apple.

So, when Google debuts a phone like the Pixel 2, the logical response from Apple fans should be “That camera is incredible!”, not “Neener, neener! Apple was right about the headphone jack!” When Apple announces another record-shattering quarter of profits, Android afficianados should cheer, instead of prattling on about “sheeple” buying whatever Jony says is good.

Let’s leave the tech cheerleading to those on these companies’ payrolls. Let’s step back from the arena and let the tech giants duke it out themselves. And let’s look forward to the innovation ahead, no matter whether it comes from Mountain View, Cupertino, Seattle, or Redmond. ■

  1. Foam finger artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.

Life Uncategorized

Package design 101

I love cereal. Breakfast cereal nears culinary perfection–appropriate for any meal, snack, or dessert. But certain situations do require certain cereals. Sometimes you need Froot Loops’ frivolity, austere moods demand bran flakes, and so on. The secret to eternal happiness may well lie in one’s ability to discern the right Cheerio for any given moment.

Imagine my frustration, then, with this pantry travesty:


Hannaford, my local supermarket, uses one fixed template for their entire off-brand cereal line. And, whether by design or diabolical plan, my favorite varieties share this purply-blue hue. Every time I go to pour a bowl, I have to re-read the box labels–or risk substituting granola for raisin bran.

If your customers only recognize your packaging after a close inspection, something’s gone wrong. Make your product lines iconic, differentiated, unmistakable. Make them like this:

Ever grabbed Sprite when you meant to grab Coke? Yeah, me neither.

Ever grabbed Sprite when you meant to grab Coke? Yeah, me neither. Courtesy teachernz.

sports Uncategorized

Phoenix’s “Los Suns” jerseys: multi-lingual / multi-laughable

In last night’s Western Conference Semifinal game versus San Antonio, the Phoenix Suns donned an altered version of their orange jerseys. The shirts drop the team’s usual airport-code abbreviation (PHX) and instead read ‘Los Suns.’ Phoenix’s management explained that this change expresses the team’s solidarity with Arizona’s Latino population.


The jersey swap was timely. Yes, yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, the yearly celebration of Mexican heritage. But the team also intended the name change as a protest against Arizona’s much-derided new anti-immigration law. It’s an interesting political statement in a largely apolitical sports world. (Of course, it could simply represent the team’s attempt to sell a few more jerseys. But let’s give Phoenix the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re genuinely interested in supporting an oppressed minority.) Still, we can ask, how well-executed was the gesture?


The ‘regular’ alternate jersey for Phoenix. Note the matching fonts.

First problem: font selection. Before the dialect change, both the airport-code emblem and the player numbers were printed in the same blocky, serif font. The jersey looked bold and unified.

But Phoenix’s updated version strips out the font-matched “PHX” and substitutes “Los Suns” in an oddly retro typeface. It seems out of place, with its missing serifs, rounded corners, and black-scored letters. Mismatches abound; it is playful, while the numbers are stern. It is illegible, while the numbers are clear. Apparently, “Los Suns” need to go back to Typography 101. First rule of design? Use consistent, matching fonts. Adding a third, unrelated typeface to an otherwise unified design? For shame!

Leave aside the graphical mis-match, though. There’s a more fundamental problem to address: why “Los Suns”? We’re led to believe that this moniker is somehow more inviting to Spanish-speaking NBA fans.

In actuality, the team’s jerseys already are already language-neutral. After all, PHX could be English, Spanish, or Slovakian, for all we know; it’s a proper abbreviation. Similarly, the players’ names and numbers would look the same, regardless of where the team played. In fact, there’s no actual English on the regular jerseys at all.

Thus, the team faced a dilemma. How could they visibly express their support for Latino fans, if their jerseys were already perfectly accessible to Spanish speakers? The most obvious solution would be to translate the team’s nickname itself into Spanish: “Phoenix Suns” becomes “Phoenix Soles.” But this hardly seems ideal. Sí, Spanish-speaking fans would immediately recognize the word. But English speakers would furrow their brows. “Soles? I’m cheering for the Phoenix Shoe-bottoms?”

Re-branding entirely en Español raises more questions than it answers, so Phoenix went for the next best thing: Spanglish. Does it make sense to pair the Spanish definite article (“Los”) with the English plural (“Suns”)? No, of course not. Is it logical to include the definite article on there at all? Nope. After all, New York’s classic pinstripes don’t read “THE YANKEES.”

But the odd combination does appeal to fanbases of varying ethnicity. After all, Latinos and Anglos alike can join hands, look to the court, and make fun of Phoenix’s lingual faux pas.

marketing Uncategorized

Urinal logos: flushing your brand down the drain

Conventional wisdom says that you want to get your brand out there, no matter what. Sloan Valves, manufacturer of my school’s waterless urinals, has apparently taken that to heart.


The drain canister on a Sloan waterless urinal. Photo credit: TSOMPITM.

Any press is good press, right? After all, by printing their company name here, Sloan enjoys near-constant exposure to potential clients. People will stare at their brand for 10–20 seconds, non-stop, multiple times per day. That’s a blessed eternity in the marketing world. And these customers-to-be wouldn’t dare look away, or they risk a mortifyingly public stain. Guaranteed brand exposure for Sloan!

But did anyone at the company stop to think this through? Yes, your potential clients know your company’s name… but at what cost? Might the eyeballs advantage be offset by the fact that people are literally peeing all over your brand? Every time I empty my bladder, I fortify unfortunate subconscious associations. Through sheer repetition, I’ve established a Pavlovian response: when I see the Sloan logo, I’m hit with this overwhelming urge to give it a golden shower.

In addition, consider the unpleasant sense experiences to which Sloan binds itself:

That sickly unmistakable, ammonial stench.


“Yeah, let’s sink our brand right into that mess! Great idea, Jenkins! Photo credit: What grinds my gears.

Another disagreeable association: like any plumbing fixture, Sloan’s waterless urinals get backed up. When they do, a pool of pure, undiluted urine collects in the bowl. Eventually, it “mellows” and develops that golden-brown hue that marks well-ripened waste. Sloan sinks its logo right into the middle of that unhappy puddle.

One last unsavory connotation: the urinal session is one marked by territoriality and self-consciousness for many men. We space ourselves out carefully at the urinal wall, determined not to unwittingly ‘show our hand’ to our fellow evacuees. We concentrate on maintaining a stolid poker face–one that says, “Ha. I’m completely comfortable with whipping out my equipment here.” With all that anxiety floating through our heads, is this really the time you want to burn your brand into our brains? You risk tying your product to every experience of male inadequacy.

In the end, though, Sloan took that risk. And who can blame them? When your business is building toilet parts, maybe you want customers to associate you with human waste. Along these lines, look out for Sloan’s newest campaign slogan: “Sloan Valves. Making shit happen since 1906.”