“Wide Right Turn”Collection Covered in AIGA

Here’s a great article on the AIGA blog– “Keep on Truckin’, With Caution” that covers the design of wide right turn signs. The author covers my collection and my email convo with Mark Bender pretty extensively:

Others have taken an interest in these truck decals, too. Not long ago I came across a web site and collection created by an author and software developer named Dan O’Neil, who is also fascinated with the “Wide Right Turn” signs and assembled a Flickr set and a web site.O’Neil says he has “a primary and lasting” obsession with the signs. He appears to be interested in them for reasons similar to mine: their variety. Like me, he sees a wider pattern in these mundane messages. He loves “annotated compilations and manic compendiums,” which he says demonstrate “the role of variation in a capitalist society” and his compendium of signs is one of these.The signs belong to the category of what O’Neil terms “Derivative Works.” They are part of an American “love affair with differentiation [that] extends to everything we choose—cars (big, small, real big, super big), houses (great room in front, great room in back, vinyl windows, center staircase), toothbrushes, credit cards, everything.”In 2006, O’Neil received an email from a man who claims to have designed the first, or at least one of the first, signs. The man, Mark Bender, lives in Scotland, but was born in Texas. He believes he drafted the first wide-right-turn sign 30 years ago for a truck company in San Antonio now called R&L Carriers; the firm also planned to sell the signs to other companies. Bender said he was paid a fee of $500. He moved to Scotland, and more than fifteen years later, he returned to the United States to find his signs and many like them on highways everywhere.

More right-turn signs, using  red X's and starbursts.More right-turn signs, using red X’s and starbursts.

In his email Bender told O’Neil about his background in drafting—he was the son of an architect and inherited his love of perspective, which may account for the exaggerated perspective of the sign. He is proud of adding an image to the words, Bender wrote: “At the time, the idea of putting an image that ‘showed you’ the problem was unheard of.”The part of the design of which Bender was proudest is also the one I find most delightful: the little red graphic representing a crash. He calls it a “starburst.”“My favorite bit is the crazy explosion bit where the car and the truck collide!” he noted. “I always loved the POW! and WAM! from Batman, the television show.” I knew from my time on the road just what Bender meant.Bender’s claim sounds legitimate, but how many others could have been working similarly on signs, with slightly different design approaches? It would be easy to read the variety of signs as a parable of competition against government standardization in design—except that the winner would be clear. The effectiveness of the competing private creations is that they do get your attention without being pretty, elegant or “well designed.” They are charming and human. They are like signs an amateur like me would devise. But there is a small flash of creativity to each one of these, a little firecracker of an idea.Call it the starburst effect.

MSNBC.com Purchase of EveryBlock

Here’s a snip from some of the news coverage of the sale of EveryBlock that focuses on the public data work that I spearheaded:

MSNBC.com Buys EveryBlock as Interest in Local Content Grows | Kara Swisher | BoomTown | AllThingsD.

EveryBlock takes a slightly different approach, scouring a mass of publicly available data in a variety of U.S. cities from a variety of public records–such as crime stats, building permits and restaurant inspections–and reassembling them into more comprehensible and geographically relevant news feeds, depending on what a user asks for.


WRITING: “Chicago’s First Attempt At TIF Sunshine Falls Short”on Progress Illinois

Today Progress Illinois published an article that I co-wrote with Max Brooks: Chicago’s First Attempt At TIF Sunshine Falls Short. Here’s a snip:

The Projects section typically has a project name with supporting documents linked beneath. Document types include:

Redevelopment Agreements

These are often simply copies of the relevant pages from the City Council Journal of Proceedings on the day the agreements were approved. They can be very repetitive, sometimes containing three complete copies of the document in each PDF. The key bits in these documents are the budgets, project descriptions, and sources of financing. Again, they lack useful detail. Example: Schedule C of the CNA Financial Corporation Redevelopment Agreement notes $24,204,899 in “TIF-FUNDED IMPROVEMENTS” to cover “costs for rehabilitation, reconstruction, or repair or remodeling of existing public or private buildings.” That’s a lot of money for so little specificity.

Community Development Commission Staff Report

These are pretty beefy documents with tons of research about a particular issue. For instance, this one covers the problem of excess leasing space in the CNA building. Apparently CNA had threatened to relocate out of town, and this document lays out the case for giving CNA money to redevelop and lease the property. Again, some plain-language summary would be appropriate here. Instead of just posting these documents and letting people guess what happened after the money was spent, it would be nice to pull the story together. For instance, the Chicago Housing Authority ended up being a major tenant of this building, but you have to go somewhere else to figure that out.

Economic Disclosure Statement

These are some Holy Grail documents right here — they lay out the roles and relationships of key people associated with a TIF redevelopment agreement. They also happen to be the most difficult documents to feed into an OCR scanner in the hopes of getting usable text. The documents are images of photocopies of form documents with the answers (names, companies, relationships, etc.) hand-typed with typewriters. (If anyone is interested in doing a reverse-Facebook on these people, mapping relationships, that might be worthwhile.)

Certificate of Completion

These are documents — not very useful ones — certifying that the project is “complete” from a legal point of view. In the future, it might be worthwhile to ask certain questions of the CDC (what goal did the project achieve, who got paid how much for what, etc.) once a document like this hits the site.