Google’s April Fools’ prank brings back the glorious 8-bit graphic

8-bit graphic has been an integrated part of the gaming childhood of many of us, especially those who grew up playing with SEGA or Nintendo. We couldn’t really avoid to mention this.

Everything actually started last friday, when Google posted a video introducing a new type of cartridge (with the adventure videogame GoogleMaps) for the NES system. This was purposely made as funny teaser for the April Fools’ prank Google was preparing for the users: a “Quest mode” in its Maps service, an entire world developed in 8-bit graphic with famous landmarks to explore and -no joking- monsters to discover all around the world.

And there’s quite a lot to discover. Here’s a map of the City of London, with some of its famous landmarks (the ‘A’ pin is the location of our office in High Holborn): Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben, Trafalgar Square with the Nelson statue, etc.

London map in 8 bit

But 8 bit graphics isn’t limited to maps: in Street View mode it makes buildings more ‘cartoonish’, like the Eiffel tower in Paris you can see here:

Eiffel Tower in 8 bit graphic

This 8-bit world is literally full of surprises, as well as UFOs and dragons..

It’s not the first time Google is putting such a big effort in April Fools’ pranks: last year they introduced Gmail Motion, a way to compose emails using ‘simple’ gestures, with a pretty semi-serious video. This time, however, they went for a more visual, but still funny, approach which went immediately über-popular once it eventually appeared on Reddit.

It’s not said whether this quest map will stay or will be removed in the next days. Many users are already claming to keep it as their default maps browser, since the landmarks and the monsters to discover are many. If you are lazy, you can check here the list of the most interesting objects.. otherwise, good luck hunting, Dragon Warrior!


Does each brand need a story to be social?

There was much of a hype around the announcement of Facebook’s new brand pages at the end of the last month. The introduction of the Timeline layout required companies to start a new, more visually inviting, approach towards their Facebook audience, with the offer of ‘a richer creative canvas for brands’.

Potentially, every brand can recreate with images its own story. One of the most visually inspiring is doubtlessly the official Fan Page of the United States Navy, with its collection of paintings and photographies which retrace the navy history in the past 2 centuries.

US Navy timeline

Fanta is instead brilliantly using its timeline with a different visual approach: instead of showing the brand history, the news feeds are used to make photo mosaics, giving a nearly spectacular composite effect (much more enjoyable if you have bigger screens).

Fanta timeline

With this new layout, it has been experienced a huge drop in traffic towards tabs and apps besides the brand’s wall (the Timeline), which before were used as the real instrument for the users retention: now they’re highlighted on a strip below the cover photo, making them harder to find and less inviting than the previous sidebar menu. Introducing the Timeline, Facebook went for a deep cleanse of the brand page from blatant marketing and promotions, forcing a more social experience from brands through policy and retention. Carefully looking in the Brand Page’s FAQ, about the Cover Photo, appear more strict guidelines:

Cover images must be at least 399 pixels wide and may not contain:

  • Price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it at our website”
  • Contact information, such as web address, email, mailing address or other information intended for your Page’s About section
  • References to user interface elements such as Like or Share, or any other Facebook site features
  • Calls to action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends”

Translated, it means that you cannot use this area of the page to promote your products, invite people to Like or Share, tell people how to find you offline or online or otherwise contact you. So, no more default Welcome Tabs and no more ‘Like our page to get a 2% discount offer!’ claims.

Design and creativity now became the real drivers for communications. In particular, smaller companies and poorly known brands, whose history can’t evenly compete with estabilished brands or organizations such as Coca Cola or the U.S. Navy, can now focus on a more catching visual impact to leverage their relation with fans: a page with an effective and catching Cover Photo is more likely to intrigue and allure users; if the visual experience continues towards all the timeline (see the examples above), users are more willing to spend time reading and checking the page – therefore increasing the chances that marketing messages and ongoing promo initiatives will be perceived. But that might be not enough to keep users on the page.

Beside the pros, some contros still require a bit more of attention by the companies. A question: who will actually “read” the story published onto the Timeline? The Cover Photo, together with the possibility to pin a post on top of the others, pushes down the rest of the content, moving the posts down faster – quite a bad situation if fans are willing, or asked, to post on the page Wall. There might also be the risk of an ‘engagement loss’, in which interactions by the user slide away from the other users’ reach.

Exactly because of this, Joshua Teixeira and Victor Piñeiro, in their article on Co.Create, pointed out that ‘without a strong value-add and pull strategy from the brand, fans are less likely willing to venture into the brand page’. No matter how creative and nice your Cover Photo will be, only adding also authentic value to the fan base through social posts is possible to engage users and enhance their participation into the page.

Keep it in mind, Brands 😉

The internet is a serious business.

PRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIL (a.k.a. how internet became so real)

For those of you who never heard of this case history: in May 2011, the German company Henkel launched a design competition on Facebook, asking the fans to respond with their own redesign of the label of the historical Pril bottle. The winning design would have been commercialized in a limited edition for the German market only.

However, this initiative, who conceptually had the chances to run very well, backfired and proved once again that such competitions, so strongly linked to pro-active online communities, lie on a fine line between the great success and the bitter defeat. The response was anyway huge – the participants let their creativity run wild and submitted more than 50,000 new Pril labels. Anyone could draw their own design using the tools on the website, and anyone could vote for their favorite design.

Pril finalist

The official winners of the competitions are these two designs (click on “Die Gewinner”, if the page doesn’t open). Originally, Pril wanted to let the online community choose the design by voting on their website, but after they saw what was happening, they decided to use a jury to choose the winners (a screencap of the final standings can be found here).


Changing the rules and introducing a formal jury at the end of the competition has been a very unpopular decision, and unleashed a roaring storm on the company’s Facebook page, because in fact it was the PRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIL design which got the most votes from the community. The actual “winners” picked by the jury were on places 9 & 10.


The company feared it would damage their image if they didn’t print the design, because it actually had the most votes of all. So, they made a Limited Edition of 700 bottles with the PRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIL design, and officially sold them on eBay for 2€ per bottle. All the bottles where sold incredibly fast. A few days later you could even buy one of these bottles (re-selled by the ebuyers) for about 25€ on eBay.



But that’s not the end of the story. Henkel decided to sell the bottles on eBay so that nobody would see them in stores. However, some German guys decided to give more visibility to the real winner of the competition, so they printed out the design and went to the nearby stores and modified some of the Pril bottles…


The moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of the internet (and its users).

Chinese Corpo-rate Identity in Milan


I have to compliment the Chinese businessmen of Milan for developing one of the most powerful retail identity systems I’ve seen in a long time: instantly recognizable, differentiating, memorable and coherent.

But above all, successful.

I’m talking, of course, about the “Wellness Centres” (massage parlours).

Success? They are popping up like mushrooms. Consider that in 2007 there were 10 in all of Milan. Two years later they over 130. Today, who knows.

And the competition? We’ll honestly I haven’t done much field research into the topic but it seems to me that if you’re trying to open or run a “wellness centre” in Milan and it doesn’t have a bright pink store-front with a certain oriental style, you’re not going to be very successful.

Basically they’ve cornered the market.

And how did they do it? A colour. Pink. It’s that simple.
(Well no, to be fair I guess they must be pretty good at the “Brand Experience” thing as well)

But the real issue for me is that they did it all without the help of a Brand Identity Consultancy.

No research, no strategy, no guidelines. Damn.

Kind of turns things on its head for us experts.

Design rip-off or coincidence?

About 5 years ago Lumen did a big restyling project on Kellogg’s Coco Pops cereal:


I’ve just seen the new pack design that replaces it. Done by another agency.

Strange, the new identity… I think I’ve seen it before. It looks an awful lot like an alternate design route we proposed to Kellogg’s during that restyling years ago.



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