MRG Foundation rebranding and website launched

MRG Foundation home pageHere at Blue Mouse Monkey we were continually inspired by our client the MRG Foundation during the thorough rebranding and website redesign process that wrapped up with the website launch last week.

Our work with MRG began in the spring with discovery: surveys, focus groups, personas, and analysis of the foundation’s position among its audiences of social-change activists, grantees, donors, and foundation peers. A visual redesign followed, (although unfortunately the new logo was delayed until next year) generating new fonts and color palette and a modernized look-and feel. Additionally, we collaborated with MRG to create a new tagline and new boilerplate descriptive text. All this on top of our traditional web strategy work encompassing information architecture, user experience design, user interface design, and WordPress development.

A special feature of the site is the Grants Archive, a searchable database of the last five years of MRG grantees, sortable by date, region, amount, issue area, and leadership, and fully integrated with MRG’s internal CiviCRM grants database.

The new brand strategy and website will serve as a solid foundation and help raise visibility for the MRG  Foundation as it moves forward with its plans for growth and even greater impact on social change in Oregon.

Changing the language of climate change

Climate March photo

From http://peoplesclimate.org, Photo by Heather Craig

A fascinating article in New York Magazine suggests that through careful management of language it will be possible to bridge the nearly 40% divide between progressives and conservatives on climate change. Psychologists Are Learning How to Convince Conservatives to Take Climate Change Seriously, by Jesse Singal, begins with a critique of September’s 400,000-strong People’s Climate March: it won’t change American politics, despite the slogan “to change everything, we need everyone” – because it didn’t include everyone. Conservative thinkers were excluded.

Singal’s article notes that, “Although climate scientists update, appropriately, their models after ten years of evidence, climate-science communicators haven’t,” according to Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale who studies how people respond to information challenging their beliefs.

Convincing conservatives that climate change is a threat to civilization might just work, though, if the climate activist community comes to grips with the way conservatives see the world, and change their messaging to fit the conservative framework.

Singal goes on the describe two theories currently being examined by social psychologists: moral foundations theory, and system justification.

Moral Foundations Theory holds that people with different political beliefs arrive at those beliefs because they have different moral values. Liberals tend to be more moved by the idea of innocent people being harmed, for example, while conservatives are more likely to react to notions of disgust.

In their paper The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes, social psychologists Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer describe testing liberals and conservatives by asking them to read op-ed-like blocks of text designed to stoke either “care/harm” (innocents suffering) or “purity/sanctity” (disgust) concerns. One excerpt “described the harm and destruction humans are causing to their environment and emphasized how important it is for people to care about and protect the environment,” while the other touched on “how polluted and contaminated the environment has become and how important it is for people to clean and purify the environment.” Post-test attitudes of the “disgust” group showed no statistical difference between liberals and conservatives, and the gap in the belief in global warming was significantly diminished.

Researchers are also exploring the concept of system justification. We humans have a deep need to feel that the broad systems we are a part of are functioning correctly. As Singal says, “It doesn’t feel good to know you attend a broken school or inhabit a deeply corrupt country — or that your planet’s entire ecology may be on the brink of collapse.” People respond to threats to the system either by attempting to neutralize the threat, or finding ways to justify the system’s legitimacy by denying problems within it.

Irina Feygina, a social psychologist at New York University, finds strong evidence that conservatives tend to have greater confidence in the system, and are much more likely to justify it – leading to a strong correlation between system justification and denial of environmental problems.

“What you need to do is put the system first,” says Feygina. “Instead of saying, ‘Let’s deal with climate change, let’s be pro-environmental, let’s protect the oceans,’ you need to say, ‘If we want to preserve our system, if we want to be patriotic, if we want our children to have the life that we have, then we have to take these actions that allow us to maintain those things that we care about.’” Remove references to catastrophe, and climate change becomes a patriotic challenge and an “opportunity to profit, to save money, to compete with China.”

Singal concludes, “If climate activists are serious about doing anything other than preaching to the choir, they’re going to have to understand that messages that feel righteous and work on liberals may not have universal appeal. To a liberal, the system isn’t working and innocent people will suffer as a result — these are blazingly obvious points. But conservatives have blazingly obvious points of their own: The system works and we need to protect it, and it’s important not to let pure things be defiled.”

Singal’s article reminds me of this nation’s most successful anti-littering campaign, Don’t Mess With Texas. It launched in 1986 with a TV spot featuring blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan sitting in front of a huge Texas flag, playing a soulful rendition of “The Eyes of Texas.” The campaign continues to this day, and celebrities such as Willie Nelson, George Foreman, LeAnn Rimes, Erykah Badu, and Owen Wilson have contributed their time and image for the anti-littering ads. The original spot’s voiceover says, “Messing with Texas isn’t just an insult to the Lone Start state, it’s a crime.” Stevie Ray Vaughn ends the spot with the spoken admonition, “Don’t mess with Texas.”

The campaign was so successful that even when factoring 25 years of in increases in population and roads, the Texas DOT spending on litter cleanup has dropped from $2.33 per person to $1.90. In bypassing the typical liberal rhetoric about littering, the campaign successfully appeals to Texans’ strong sense of preservation, pride, and loyalty.

Of course littering is not the same as climate change, but both issues relate to “the environment” and how we feel about the systems we live within. It’s time for environmental organizations and activists to rethink how they frame discussion around this issue that has profound implications for everyone on the planet. Because to change everything, we really do need everyone.

The power of a symbol

altered accessibility signA year ago I wrote a post, Guerrilla Art is Changing Perceptions of Agency for the Disabled, about two New York artists, Brian Glenney and Sara Hendren, who started a culture-jamming project of modifying public ‘disabled accessible’ signs. Their aim was to make the person-in-a-wheelchair symbol more energetic by changing the angle of movement, and adding a sense of agency to the figure. They wanted to counter the message of passivity embedded in the traditional accessibility symbol.

Their work caught the attention of New York city officials, and the new symbol soon became recognized in New York city.

 

updated disabled symbolFast-forward a year, and Governor Cuomo recently signed an updated accessibility icon into New York state law. (See press release.) The new official symbol of accessibility for New York state features a much more active and engaged image, and it very closely follows the original guerrilla art design. After the artists placed the symbol in the public domain, it was turned into official signage by Conrad Lumm and Katrina Otuonye for SmartSign, and is being distributed by MyParkingSign on a mostly donation or discount basis to encourage implementation of this important revision as fast as possible. (See MyParkingSign’s accessibility campaign.)

As Conrad Lumm says, “Ambient messaging about people with disabilities has the potential to stifle job prospects and quality of life, so the Accessible Icon designed by Hendren and Glenney is an important corrective. We look forward to rolling out (and donating) indoor wayfinding signage that includes the Accessible Icon, too. It makes us unspeakably proud that New York state is making this switch, and we hope more states follow.”

What I love about this story is not just that disabled people in New York have a better public symbol, but that the movement towards this change came from the grassroots. Culture-jamming and guerrilla art can be defined as the people talking back to a culture whose messages and images are largely corporate- or institutionally-driven. That two artists took it upon themselves to say, “Here is a better way to symbolize this particular sector of our society,” and that their idea was seen and acted upon by those with the power and resources to move the change into law, and distribute it statewide, is truly inspiring.

Now it’s time for Oregon to update its disabled signage!

 

 

Elders in Action Website Launched

Elders in Action Website Home PageBlue Mouse Monkey is very happy to announce the launch of the new website for Portland non-profit Elders in Action. Elders in Action is an independent non-profit organization that advocates for older adults and provides meaningful volunteer opportunities.

EIA trains personal advocates to provide one-on-one problem solving assistance to elders at no charge. Volunteers assist in the areas of housing, healthcare, crime, and elder abuse.

Elders in Action also runs a citizens advisory group, and coordinates speakers and events. EIA is a powerful voice of older adults in the greater Portland area. The wisdom and talent of its volunteers works to build an age-friendly community. 

We designed the site to be elder-friendly, with intuitive navigation, larger font size, and prominent calls-to-action.

Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies website launched

Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies websiteBlue Mouse Monkey is excited to announce the launch of a new logo design and new website for IEGC, the Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies. This project is from the big-data folks behind YourEconomy.org (another Blue Mouse Monkey project) now at the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

We’re thrilled to help this cutting-edge group of researchers make their data and insights accessible to economists, governments, and businesses. IEGC is the national leader in business growth research, and they provide data about the US economy that has the scope and power to help us see our complex financial world in new ways.

Spirit of the Salmon website launched

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission sub basin plan map

Home page for the Spirit of the Salmon Plan Volume 2: Subbasin Plans, with interactive map of the Columbia River Subbasins

In Blue Mouse Monkey’s second major project for CRITFC, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, we are proud to announce the launch of the brand new Spirit of the Salmon website. The Spirit of the Salmon Plan, also known as Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit, was written in 1995 to provide a roadmap for restoring declining salmon populations in the Columbia river basin. This website presents the entire original plan documents alongside 18 years of data and restoration success stories, and helps make visible CRITFC’s position as a thought-leader in ecosystem stewardship.

The website is really three sites in one, each representing a hefty volume in the Spirit of the Salmon Plan. The top navigation strip leads to the home pages of the three sites, and the lower strip serves as navigation within each of the sites. The first site is the 2013 update to the Spirit of the Salmon Plan, the second site is the original plan from 1995, and the third site is a subbasin-by-subbasin analysis.

CRITFC’s goal was to make the Spirit of the Salmon Plan documents available online in an approachable, interactive format, to make the information relevant and accessible to the general public. As the quote below demonstrates, salmon are the icon of the Northwest as they shape many of our policies, even for those people who may not actually eat them. We are all Salmon People, or Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum, and it’s important to understand the importance of salmon in our lives.

As CRITFC says,

In Sahaptin, the word for salmon used in sacred ceremonies is “wy-kan-ush.” Also in Sahaptin, the word “pum” means “people.” The tribal cultures in the Columbia River Basin could rightly be called Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum or “Salmon People” for how completely these sacred fish shaped their culture, diets, societies, and religions…Salmon have shaped the culture of the newcomers to this region just as they shaped tribal cultures before them. Salmon are the icon of this place. They are valued as food, as a resource, and as a representation of the wildness and wilderness for which the Pacific Northwest is known. They shape our land use policies and power grid. Whether they realize it or not, every single person in the Northwest is a Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum. We are all Salmon People. Let us all work together to protect and restore salmon—this fish that unites us.

Kathy Eldon on learning to forgive

drawing by Dan Eldon

Kathy Eldon is a powerful changemaker.

Her memoir, In the Heart of Life, is about losing her son, Reuter’s news agency photographer Dan Eldon, who was stoned to death by an angry mob in Mogadishu. It’s also a meditation on the “cosmic pull of forgiveness” that enabled her to finally let go of her anger over her son’s murder.

In an interview with Brandon Jones (Good Magazine, Issue 031, Winter 2013) She recounts the day she learned to forgive:

My daughter Amy and I were on our way to the premier of the Dying to Tell the Story documentary at the United Nations. As we ducked into our taxi, I quickly realized our driver was Somali. Out of all the taxi drivers in New York, mine had to be Somali? So, what the hell do I do? I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to tell him what happened, and I don’t care what he thinks. I’m just going to tell him.’ I told him how my son was trying to do good. I told him about what the Somalis had done to him. I told him how very sad I was. I told him everything. He continued to drive, quiet all the while. When we arrived at the United nations, he turned and said, “I know everything about what happened to your sone. Many of us Somalis were affected. In Mogadishu, people loved your son. They knew your son, and they knew he was just trying to help.” I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. This is amazing. This is impossible.’ But, I still wasn’t totally receptive. Then he looked at me, and he said, “Mrs. Eldon, on behalf of all Somalis, I ask your forgiveness.” I was completely shocked. There was a long pause. In that moment, I realized that the world needs redemption. I said, “I understand what the Somalis did, and I have forgiven them.” And with those words, I felt a great sense of relief come over me.

Kathy Eldon is the founder and chairman of the Creative Visions Foundation, a “hub where creative activists turn ideas into action & a community becomes a force for change…providing tools, resources, mentorship and community to help everyone use the power of media and arts to build social movements and impact the world.”

Gray Family Foundation website launched

Blue Mouse Monkey is super-proud to announce the launch of a new website for the Gray Family Foundation. Founded by Oregon philanthropists John and Betty Gray, the Gray Family Foundation’s mission is to support outdoor and environmental education for children, in order to encourage a strong local land ethic, sustainable communities and stewardship of the natural environment. The effect is to build in young citizens a sense of place and responsibility toward Oregon.

This young organization wanted a website that would raise the bar for foundation websites.

Storytelling is built in to the structure, with sidebar modules that present changing statistics about the foundation’s giving history, student narratives about their outdoor education experiences, and a home page that gives the visitor an “at-a-glance” impression of the Foundation and its impact. Additionally, a structure has been laid for future dynamic functionality, such as an interactive map demonstrating the Foundation’s impact across the state of Oregon, due to be rolled out in 2014.

The new site is built in WordPress, and is easy for Gray Foundation staff to keep updated during their grant cycles. It’s also easy for the Foundation’s board members to log in to a private Board area to review current grant applications, view board meeting schedules and minutes, and get updates from the Foundation’s director. Additionally, the responsive design allows users to access data from mobile devices.

With stunning photographs of Oregon’s landscape by World as Light Photography, the design works hand in hand with the Gray Family’s mission to foster a love of the land.

Stay tuned for Phase 2 of the Gray Family Foundation website project: an interactive map section to be launched in 2014!

A look at Design Thinking – and how it’s not a milk cow

Vitruvian ManThe phrase “Design Thinking” is getting bounced around a lot, and for a while I found it a bit puzzling. I didn’t understand how it differed from regular thinking. Then today I read Rick Wise’s succinct (if perhaps oversimplified) definition in the FastCompany blog and realized the reason the phrase puzzled me was because is regular thinking. At least for me.

“At heart … it is about fusing the creative and open-ended with the analytical and operational, combining very different ways of thinking and acting. This is, of course, easier in theory than in practice. How do you get children’s book authors and chemical engineers to click into something greater than the sum of the parts–rather than devolve into warring camps?”

Like Rick Wise says, “Everyone’s a bit of everything.” Few people are all creative or all analytical. But I have been lucky enough to build my skills in both realms to a point where they are balanced and integrated.

Mostly from being in the right place at the right time, I’ve been blessed with abundant opportunities for education. My first degree was in visual art, a BFA from the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington , D.C. It was a marvelous experience that I still treasure years later. But after that first degree, I was too curious to call it quits on tertiary education. Next up I studied philosophy and linguistics at the University of Auckland, and received rigorous training in analytical reasoning. It was sometimes difficult and dry, but I knew I needed the skills. Then after that experience, I went back to art, and did an MFA at Portland State University.

Now, as a business-owner and strategist/designer, the combination of inspired+creative  and rational+analytical is an enormous asset. I am able to help clients strategize their brand and website to fit their organization’s goals, I’m able to meticulously plan timelines and budgets, and I’m able to maintain big-picture perspective during a project. In this analytical realm, decisions get made based on looking at premises, and following them to their conclusion. This is what we have now. Over there is the outcome we want. This is what will happen if we change what we have by doing X. Will that give us the outcome we want? No? Return to the premises and start over. Maybe? Tweak the variables until an acceptable level of probability is achieved.

But during the project, I will switch gears and be the designer. It’s a new set of decisions to make, but they mostly happen on the visceral level. Color palette? Hmmm. Uh. Er. Oooh…. Ah!

Choosing photos? Too gloomy. Too cute. Too green. Almost, but too wide. Will it crop well? No. But this one will…nice.

Creative decisions are made split-second fast, and it’s later that I go back and find reasons for them — which I need to do when presenting design decisions to clients.

Client: Of the three color palettes you’ve shown us, which do you think is the best for our organization, and why?


Me: Option three is the best. The intensity of the palette visually supports the vibrancy of your organization. You fund organizations that educate children in energy-intensive ways. However, your website audience is adults, not children, so while the colors are bright, it’s a sophisticated adult palette, not a play-school or candy-bright palette.


Client: “I see what you mean, yeah…” 

The FastCompany post focuses on how Design Thinking is done at a particular firm, Lippincott, which is much larger than Blue Mouse Monkey, with eight offices worldwide. Design Thinking impacts not just client strategy, but how their whole company is structured and how staff are coached, and how they are paid. I can only say as a creative and as a business-owner, am inspired by Lippincott’s priorities and strategies.

However, Design Thinking has its critics. When taken as not simply a vague label to describe the ability to blend “left-brain” and “right-brain” problem-solving (over-simplified terms in themselves) and is used instead to mean a specific methodology or process to “get more value” from staff, then it can become a mere trick, applied externally to people situations to provoke them to be different from how they are. A type of provocation that can easily fail. Bruce Nussbaum, also in a FastCompany blog post, outlines his criticisms of Design Thinking, and calls for a new conceptual framework he calls the “Creative Quotient.” His recent book is Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire.

I have not read the book so can’t comment. But all this talk of finding the right way to “harness” creativity makes me a just a tiny bit queasy.

As Thomas Frank says in his article, TED talks are lying to you, “The creative class has never been more screwed. Books about creativity have never been more popular. What gives?”

He goes on: “Those who urge us to “think different” … almost never do so themselves. Year after year, new installments in this unchanging genre are produced and consumed. Creativity, they all tell us, is too important to be left to the creative. Our prosperity depends on it. And by dint of careful study and the hardest science — by, say, sliding a jazz pianist’s head into an MRI machine — we can crack the code of creativity and unleash its moneymaking power.”

Creative minds, says Frank, are treated like they can be “harnessed” and then are supposed to “do their nonlinear thing” and out of that flows “epiphanies and solutions” that make corporations rich.

Thing is, creativity doesn’t work that way.

Not to say that corporations haven’t gotten rich from epiphanies and solutions arrived at by creative people. As Frank says, “Spend a few moments on Google and you will find that the tale of how Procter & Gamble developed the Swiffer is a staple of marketing literature.”

But it can’t happen by applying a formula. What the writers on creativity fail to mention is the role of intuition. And that intuition can’t be forced. Sure, it can be encouraged and developed, but it can’t be imposed. It simply doesn’t work that way.

The corporations that get rich from some creative insight are lucky. They had the right people at the right time. Other corporations might have the right people at the right time, or they might not. When it works, it’s not because of the application of a formula, it’s because of a serendipitous set of circumstances. As much as corporations want to control variables, and “harness” intangibles, there is no way to reduce the creative process to a repeatable formula. You might invent the Swiffer, or you might not.

Keep trying, sure. Don’t give up. But don’t expect to corral the ethereal, evanescent, weightless nature of creative inspiration like you might a cow that you expect to give milk at will.

I always knew there was a damn good reason to read good books!

 

An article in the November 2, 2013 issue of Science News. It’s so short I am copying the whole thing.

Reading high-brow literature may aid in reading minds

Immersion in fiction boosts social insights

By Bruce Bower

Think of it as the bookworm’s bonus: People who read first-rate fiction become more socially literate, at least briefly, a new study suggests.

Researchers randomly assigned nearly 700 volunteers to read excerpts of “literary” novels by recent National Book Award finalists and other celebrated authors, to read parts of fiction best sellers or popular nonfiction books, or to not read anything. Those who read literary works then scored highest on several tests of the ability to decipher others’ motives and emotions, say David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

One test asked volunteers to describe the thoughts or feelings of one or two individuals shown surrounded by various items in a series of images, based on written and visual clues. In another test, participants tried to match emotion words to facial expressions shown for two seconds on a computer screen.

By prompting readers to ponder characters’ motives and emotions, literary fiction recruits mind-reading skills used in daily encounters, Kidd and Castano propose October 3 in Science. The researchers don’t know whether regularly reading literary fiction yields lasting mind-reading upgrades.