Category Archives: Around Calgary

News, better design and technology tips for living a more interesting life in Calgary are posted in “Around Calgary”.

The Dragon’s Den

For those unfamiliar with the Canadian television series, The Dragon’s Den, it can perhaps best be described as American Inventor meets Reign of Fire. This CBC reality style program pits five rich investors against a variety of entrepenuers attempting to successfully solicit financial infusion for fame and fortune. Typically, as you might expect to see on a show such as this, the majority of pitches are ridiculed mercilessly and laughed off stage.

On the latest episode, which ran on November 5th, 2007, the Dragons made short work of a dog buiscuit baker, the inventor of a magnetic badminton fishing game, and a lady who somehow invested $40,000 of her own money into a small granite stone used to combat hot flashes. At this point, you may be wondering what this television show has to do with graphic design, and so you should.

Normally there is very little design-related content on the Dragons Den, save for a few token web 2.0 entries such as, which was severely trashed on the show but actually seems fairly hip as far as social networking goes. Another design note is that one of the Dragons is Arlene Dickinson, the principal of Venture Communications in Calgary and owner of the cryptic website for Venture: This site is as difficult to understand as it is to navigate and could have very well been a prime target for our Around Calgary section if it wasn’t for Arlene’s agreeable personality and obvious level of professional experience. We will trust her on this one.

True North Mortgage

This week was notable for one main reason. Dan Eisner from True North Mortgage was on the show. True North Mortgage is a Calgary based mortgage brokerage and also a client of ours. The poster displayed during the pitch was designed by your friends at Elbowroom Design! We were excited to see our work on TV as this is the closest we’ve come to our fifteen minutes of fame. First and foremost though, we were excited to see Dan have all of his hard work pay-off in the form of an investment offer from the Dragons.

For an update on what happened after the show, make sure you check out the True North Mortage blog, one of Canada’s top Mortgage Broker blogs.

Lifestyles Condoms rides the bus

Situated inconspicuously amongst fellow advertising panels, near the ceiling of a transit bus, this ad for Lifestyles condoms was trying very hard to get noticed. Through the help of its garishly-dressed model, the ad manages to grab your eye, but it’s unlikely that Lifestyles will be grabbing any new customers.

What’s going on this ad? We see two big problems.

1. The wrong visuals were chosen to support the concept.

Let’s say you and a friend are gossiping about other friends that annoy you. You might say something like, “Too bad you can’t put people on your ‘blocked list’ in real life.” You’ve just referred to a function that exists digitally (in Instant Messaging), but not in real life. A relatively clever metaphor that might garner a few chuckles.

This ad is trying to do a similar thing by referring to an undo button. In the context of the ad, however, the visual expression of the “big blue undo button” doesn’t work…because big blue undo buttons don’t exist, even in computer land. Here is what the average computer user would expect an undo button to look like:

Undo buttons of the world, unite!

Okay, so maybe those images above aren’t exactly “iconic” looking. But we’re thinking that there’s got to be a smarter way to represent an “undo” function besides slapping a big ol’ blue button on top of a blank white background.

2. The photograph communicates the wrong message.

The man in this ad has been cast as “The Fool.” He is the joker, the guy making the bad decision to not wear a condom, and we, the audience, are meant to avoid being like him. The message is a clear enough, but there’s a small problem: the fellow pictured here is so blatantly out-to-lunch that any self-respecting viewer immediately knows he or she is in absolutely no danger of becoming like him, whether by accident or aspiration.

“I’ll never come close to making the same kind of mistakes as this dolt,” the viewer thinks. “He wears floral shirts, tacky blazers, has awful facial hair, makes devil-horn signs with his hands, and for some reason, thinks there’s such a thing as a big blue undo button.”

This type of extreme is very alienating: since the character seems so shady, tacky and unpredictable, the audience does not even want to entertain the idea that they might be alike. Because of this, the viewer has no reason to see what the character was supposed to have done right in the first place: buy Lifestyles condoms.

If you aspire to work in the design profession, make sure that in every piece you touch, you do everything in your power to choose the right visuals. Sometimes, the wrong photograph or illustrative element can ruin what might have been a great idea.

McDonald’s job ad

It’s not as if McDonald’s is the pinnacle of great commercial art, or even that we’re encouraging you to visit the establishment. It’s just that every time we drop by, we find something noteworthy to bring to Elbowruminations. This time, it’s a job ad that never should have made it out of the archway and onto that backlit fluorescent sign.

It’s hard to count the number of things that have gone wrong with this poster, but it’ll help if we number them:

1. Senseless equations. Let’s remove the line breaks, and write this ad copy as the pure equation it’s trying to be. Apparently, “Flexible schedules = freedom + free uniforms = $$$$$ + 50% off meals = $$$$$ + working with your friends = priceless = the perfect job.” Contrary to the title at the top, this mathematical tomfoolery does not add up.

2. Stolen catchphrases. There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s borrowing slogans from Mastercard.

3. Chaotic layout. For a company that has demonstrated that it is quite capable of producing clean, easy-to-follow and easy-to-like design pieces, this ad is definitely not up to the task. Text seems to be splashed onto the page with little regard for placement or purpose. The photo in the top right is not very well integrated into the ad, and seems out of place as a result. The yellow border (which is not quite a square) makes the poster unnecessarily claustrophobic.

4. Inconsistent case usage: Good design is all about detail. If the phrase i’m lovin’ it appears in all lowercase (at the bottom), then the text that is playfully referring to that slogan, Addin’ it up (at the top), should follow the same format. The same problem occurs with “Your Employment Package,” which features this ad’s only occurrence of Title Case. This would have been fine if “Addin’ it up” had used a lowercase a, or capitalized the U.

This McDonald’s ad seems as if it were a quick, in-house, rush job, that didn’t receive the full attention of the creative team or the company’s design specialists. Judging by the new employment ads that have been appearing around town (cutesy personal notes to supposed Mickey D’s staff members, accompanied by the message “We take care of our employees”), it seems the McDonald’s brand strategists have finally taken the time to plan this campaign a little more carefully. We can only hope that this particular ad, spotted above a cashier’s heads in a Calgary area store several weeks ago, has since been replaced.