May 312013

You’ve heard it said hundreds of times; “a picture is worth a 1000 words.”  This is no surprise as more than 50% of our brains are devoted to visual process, taking in our surroundings real time, and responding to visual stimuli.  Most of us find watching a movie or looking at photographs to be cognitive candy compared to reading a book or a long report.  Knowing what our audiences prefer, why do we spend so much time finely crafting written copy and long prose, and so little time developing visual messages?

It is time to step away from your keyboard, let go of that mouse, and get back to basics with a pen and a piece of paper, and start sketching…



“I can’t draw,” I hear you say, and neither can I.  However, we can all draw lines, arrows, rectangles, circles, and stick figure people.  These are the only skills you need to operate a pen and work out some ideas for your next communication piece.  Start your new project with a sketch. You’ll be surprised how using both hemispheres of your brain will invigorate your thinking. Use sketching to develop visual components for your storytelling. Here are some examples:

sketch 2 - types of sketches


So here’s my prescription for you as you start a new communications project:



  1. Think visually – what images come to mind, how can you explain things more simply with a picture, what message do you want your audience members to read and retain?
  2. Start with a sketch – brainstorm, play with ideas, pick a sketch type that works well for your project
  3. Communicate pictorially – use your favorite computer tools to create professional images of your sketches to tell your story
  4. Increase cognition and retention – it is easier for our brains to read, and retain information that is provided visually.  Use images to be more memorable and as a way to convey complex ideas.

Have fun! Less is more when you sketch.

May 222013


I wasn’t always like this. I was a prudent spender—“Ha!” says my wife, peering over my shoulder—until the day I was seduced (now she’s holding her breath) by a new iPhone app. The irony? The app is an expense tracker… but its interface is so drop-dead gorgeous (luckily my wife has returned to her book) that I can’t resist buying something just to have an excuse to interact with it.

Here is what I like about the app, called Next:

  1. It only costs $1.99 (already entered that expense!).
  2. The design is devilishly simple—just an array of icons.
    Click on the one that resembles your expense—a cup of coffee
    (my Achilles’ heel)—and enter the amount spent.
  3. The analytics are also simple. One swipe to the right reveals your total expense by category for the week, month or year. One swipe to the left reveals the details of each expense by day.

next-app3That’s it. Dead simple. And, wow, so effective.

In fact, I have begun to quiz my wife and kids every night about their
day-to-day expenses, just so I can return time and time again to this app.
I think they may be calling me names behind my back:
“Meet my dad, Mr. Scrooge.”

Sigh, the power of good design.

Now to apply the same design thinking to the main university website… ah, now there’s a worthy challenge!

May 162013

guykAre the people you like the ones you see all the time? Maybe there’s something else going on. Maybe the fact that you see them often is the reason you’ve come to like them.

Close proximity and frequent contact mean you interact with them more, and your relationship can more easily progress from acquaintance to friend because of casual and spontaneous encounters. In other words, presence makes the heart grow fonder.

Unfortunately, large companies, virtual organizations, and digital communication work against physical proximity. Electronic/virtual/digital interaction is good for maintaining relationships, but pressing flesh is better for creating relationships. This is the main reason to get out of your chair and jump into the analog world.

Companies like Zappos, the online shoe company, have figured out ways to fight isolation. For example, Zappos employees work in an open, few-walls environment that they personalize to the hilt. Zappos also turned the employee entrances and exits at its Las Vegas building into emergency-only exits, so people bump into each other at the main entrance.

Zappos even digitized closeness for its far-flung workforce. After Zappos employees enter their name and password in the computer system, the software presents them with a picture of a randomly selected colleague. Employees then take a multiple-choice test to name the person. After they make a selection, the system displays the person’s profile and bio.

The Brafman brothers, in their book Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, sum up the principle this way: the single most important factor in determining whether or not you connect with another person is neither personality nor mutual interests—it is simple proximity. So get up and EBWA (enchant by wandering around).

Excerpted from my book, Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions

May 092013
Czech Republic

Little town in the Czech Republic

Everyone should tilt-shift at least once. It’s easy. You see people doing it on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter—and, of course, Instagram, where it’s practically de rigueur for selfies. But don’t be scared off by the weird name; tilt-shift is not another impossible contortion conjured up by your Lululemon-wearing, Ashtanga Yoga instructor. No “Namaste” required here. Rather, it’s a really cool photo technique that will make your already great photos shine, and has the potential to re-make your somewhat lame photos into something memorable.

Simply put, tilt-shift is a post-production technique that defines an area of focus within your photo, while applying blur to other areas of the image. This sort of selective focusing produces interesting—and sometimes surprising—results. In the extreme, it gives photos a miniaturizing effect. This works best if you shoot down at your subject, from high to low. You can see an example of this in the photo I took from an archer’s turret in the castle ramparts above a little town in the Czech Republic. Boosting the saturation, as I did here, adds to the deception.

But you don’t have to shoot from extreme heights to make use of this tool. For images shot on a plane, more or less, level with your subject, tilt-shift adds a dreamy, atmospheric feel to images. In the iPhone shot of my kids running through a sprinkler, I love the way the band of focus that runs through their faces and on the water spray contrasts with the blurry band at the edges of the photo. It was an incredibly hot day, but that didn’t really come through in the original photo. Adding blur caused the trees and fence to shimmer and glow the way things do on a scorching summer day. For me, this gave the shot an idyllic, “endless summer” kind of quality that you wouldn’t get without tilt-shift.

kids and sprinkler

My kids running through a sprinkler

Tilt-shift can also be used to focus directly on a specific person or element within your photo. Applying a circle of focus around a subject in a busy shot, with lots of competing elements, directs attention to the portion you want to highlight. In the shot of the boy in the swim cap (below, also an iPhone shot), the swimmers in the foreground and background are blurred, but the boy is in sharp focus. The image is now about the anticipation he’s experiencing while waiting to be called for his race. It becomes a powerful moment caught in time.

Boy swimmer

Photo of young swimmer by Max Berkowitz

But tilt-shift is not all fun and games. It can add solemnity to an event or location. The shot I snapped at the Vietnam War Memorial in DC of the sky and trees reflected in the wall (see below) was decent but didn’t capture the emotion of being there in person. With the tilt-shift technique applied, the focus is now on a small sampling of names in the center of the wall, which helps to personalize the experience. The wall blurs into the background, as if it goes on forever. So many names… which is precisely how you feel standing at the wall.

So how do you do it? The good news is that this is all ridiculously easy to do. I use the tilt-shift tool in the free Photoshop Express app for iPhone. There are also versions for Android, and for desktop computers (see list below). Some are free; some are .99 cents, or a bit more. Instagram recently added a tilt-shift tool. They all work more or less the same way. Here’s the basic workflow: open your tilt-shift app, select a photo, use a slider or your finger to adjust the degree of blur, maybe increase the saturation, and hit save. That’s it. The better apps let you move and expand the band of focus and the degree of blurriness.

Vietnam War Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial

Full disclosure: I know there will be some photo geeks—I’m one of them—out there who are saying, “That’s not real tilt-shift.” And that’s true. This is fake tilt-shift. Real tilt-shift can only be accomplished by using an expensive tilt-shift lens. Unless you’re a purist, the fake tilt-shift will do.

Lastly, a word of caution: like any photo technique, overusing tilt-shift will quickly cast it and your photos into cliché status. Avoid that: use it sparingly and only when you want to achieve a specific result. Do that, and I think you’ll find that tilt-shift is a brilliantly easy-to-use tool that can add value to your shots.

Apps for iPhone:
Photoshop Express 
TiltShift Generator
Tilt Shift Focus

Apps for Android:
Photoshop Express 
Awesome Miniature

Apps for Desktop:
Photoshop CS6
Tilt Shift Focus App for Mac Desktop

May 012013
Brand Training Workshop

Claire Holmes, Ram Kapoor, Hulda Nelson from the Office of Communications & Public Affairs leading 25 brand training workshops, each one with inspired participants!

A year ago, we began to talk about creating a communications platform for UC Berkeley that would be all encompassing, authentic, relevant, forward thinking, and inspirational.

We talked with hundreds of people across the campus to get their thougths and ideas.  Slightly overwhelmed but with a firm resolve, we preserved and steadily worked to find a way through the myriad of opinions and ideas to uncover a simple concept that encapsulated the essence of Berkeley.

At times it seemed elusive, impossible, overwhelming, and unattainable.  Yet the idea that we could find a way to align our communications in a creative and inspiring way kept calling us.  The challenge of taking something as complex as UC Berkeley and orienting a messaging strategy and platform to something simple was the challenge of our careers.

And then, with the help of a creative team of people who were just as persistent as we were, we thought we found it.  Still, you don’t know if something really works until it rolls out and the community responds….

We have heard from at least 140 of the participants of our brand workshops and come June 13, we hope to hear from the rest of you too. What’s working? What’s not? Where do you feel supported? Let down? No need to spare our feelings. We’ve got titanium-coated skin in all the brand colors. Feel free to add your comments to this post.

“Positioning and platform, you guys nailed it!”

“I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I’ve often thought I need tools, or classes, or a degree in journalism – or something. This workshop gave me a lot of the tools that I know I’ve needed. Thanks!”

“A toolkit – a strategic direction to increase synergy across the campus.”

“ is wealth of resources!”

“I may not embrace every element, but I’m excited to get started!”

“The group exercises with the Creative Brief were useful.”

“I liked the interactive and experiential aspects of the session.”

“The story of the process – from perception study to today.”

“As you move forward, possibly have more examples of integration with other departments.”

“Applicable, small session, individual attention”

“Provided practical tools and lots of background for usage in my organization based on strong ideas”

“Liked the visual communication examples of how to apply the guidelines.”

“Practical and useful. Informative. Knowledgeable speakers.”

“Great presentation – variety (video, PowerPoint, exercises)”

“Liked the Q&A, and just talking through ideas.”

“I think that it will be helpful in the future to have more examples open for critique; and to hear about the challenges overcome by departments as they transition.”

“Public Affairs & the University have given me so many resources to use immediately and they are so well thought out. The planning was incredible – so impressive! Thank you! The book and websites are so exciting!”

“I was inspired by the possibilities of refocusing our messaging.”

“Relatively low key. No hard sell or big hype.”

“Concrete tools like the gallery, colors, font family.”

“Best training presentation I have attended in my five years at Cal. Thanks!”

“Nice to have a small group – also nice to know we have a resource in Public Affairs.”

“Liked the interactive way of rolling out the guidelines (as opposed to just sending out the guidelines.)”

“Very welcoming and earnest in desire to help.”

“The platform made sense to me. I understand better how to use reach further.”

“Engagement, exercises, optimistic!”

“I’ve seen this many times but it was still worth it!”

“Applicable to all departments on campus, including those that are non-academic.”

“Compelling, clear, inspiring.”

“Interactive exercises at the end, videos, Cal Day website and other examples of the brand in action.”

“More workshops! How about once a month? Sharing designs, how-to’s for photo shoots and short videos.”

Bouquets? Brickbats? Feel free to comment and continue the conversation.