Bound 4 (Blogpost 7)

While not Kanye West himself is not a company, he is most certainly a brand. He has his music, his fashion and an overall image that he attempts to maintain each day. In November of 2013, West released a music video to “Bound 2”, one of the popular singles from his recently released album, Yeezus. This video, which can be seen below, received immediate attention for obvious reasons. It depicts West and a shirtless, then fiancé, Kim Kardashian provocatively riding a motorcycle through scenic backdrops. The video blew up, by anyone’s standards it was a viral hit, and today has over 62.5 million views on YouTube alone.

This assignment asks for us to examine a video that was “strategically placed by a company as part of a viral marketing campaign.” Some may not agree that a music video qualifies, but I strongly believe that this video is just that. Whether you like it or not, we live in a world where almost anything that Kanye West or Kim Kardashian say or do becomes newsworthy. Combine the two in a risqué music video promoting a Kanye West single and you have created the perfect viral video. There is not a doubt in my mind that West, and everyone on his team, knew exactly what would happen to the video.

The initial response to the video was not very clear. As with anything West creates, those who love him loved the video and those who hate him hated it. However, even those who loved it did not really understand it. Spin, an American music magazine, said of the video “a pretty bad idea seen through so completely that it stops being a bad idea.” Even today, in the YouTube comments, fans and haters argue with each other over their opinions.

One of the most interesting aspects of the video is its spreadability. Spreadability refers to the additional value created by the ability for others to remix and repurpose material and is more descriptive and specific than classifying something as viral. While West may have known his video would become incredibly popular, my guess is that he did not anticipate just how spreadable it was. Just less than a week after West released his music video, comedians James Franco and Seth Rogen released a parody video titled “Bound 3.”

“Bound 3” has over 9 million views on YouTube and became a “viral video” in its own right. What amazes me is that this parody video became so well established and accepted that other people began naming their parody videos “Bound 4,” further legitimizing number 3 (A screen shot of a YouTube search for ‘Bound 4” can be seen below). But the parody videos did not stop there. Saturday Night Live aired a short holiday-themed parody in December of that year (link – starts at 3 minutes), and South Park created their own interpretation as well (link).

Despite the millions of views and the breadth of parody videos online (also with millions of views), I think the true testament to the original music video’s spreadability is the ease with which an average person can replicate it. Take me and my friend Justin for example. During our travels this past semester, Justin created somewhat of a mini Instagram project. Whenever we found something we could both straddle together, we took a picture and he posted it with the hashtag “bound #.” It all started with a statue of a donkey in Maastricht. We took the picture, he turned to me with a smile on his face and said: “Yo. Bound 4.” I knew exactly what he was talking about, which further illustrates the power of this video and its spreadability. In total, he posted 6 pictures, numbers four through nine (ok, we started off pretty strong and then kind of forgot about it, but a few examples can be seen below).

 

The music video for “Bound 2” was released to promote West and his music, not necessarily to go viral in the sense that a company might try with their own video. While I think it would have been a bit presumptuous of West to think he is so influential that two guys would mimic his video while studying abroad, I stand by the notion that he knew what he was creating. In the world of today in which a single person can be just as much a brand as any company, anyone can make their video go viral, but it takes something special to be spreadable.

This Guy Fuchen Hates Participatory Culture (Blogpost 8)

Participatory culture describes the act of creation on the behalf of fans and consumers, resulting in free content and publicity for companies, both positive and negative. Because it allows anyone to create, participatory culture pushes society in a more democratic direction as creators are able to help shape culture, rather than having culture impressed upon them. This is very much in contrast to old school mass media in which companies were the senders of media and consumers the receivers, with very little exception. Many people are in full support of the shift in the way content is created because of how it increases democracy, but also because it has created a new economy in which everyone plays a role. However, not everyone views participatory culture in this light. One such critic is Christian Fuchs.

One of Fuchs’ main criticisms is that describing participatory culture as more democratic is a form of reductionism, meaning that the entire concept is defined by one narrow characteristic. While it is technically true that allowing anyone to contribute to culture is more democratic, part of the process is being overlooked. While it is true that the creator of content has said over what they are expressing, that is where their ownership ends. Once content is created, companies have all of the power. They decide what to share and how content is to be used. Furthermore, they control the actions of their company. Even though a consumer is participating in this new culture and their content is being used, they have no say over the entity using it, which in reality is not very democratic at all.

Fuchs also criticizes the exchange of participation and creation for the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with the use of different platforms as he sees it as unfair. The reason being that companies not only receive free content in the exchange, but they are then able to monetize this content for their own profit. He argues that just because the participation does not feel like work does not mean the users are being any less exploited.

The problems Fuchs has with participatory culture can be seen when a company, like Pepsi, runs a campaign asking fans to design a special can for them (seen below). Their intention is not to increase the democracy in out culture or to give the people a say in how they run their company. Their motives are purely capitalistic, driven solely by profit. Not only do they forgo the cost of paying an agency to design the new can, but they also received publicity and sold more cans of soda.

In an earlier paper, Van Dijck and Nieborg also presented criticisms of participatory culture, however they sought issue with different aspects. The underlying problem they see with participatory culture is that it is not fair. They state that not all users are equally creative. This is to say that some users are naturally better than others at creating YouTube videos or contributing to Wikipedia articles. This is not a problem until considering their second point, that some users have more motivation to participate than others. On many participatory platforms, it is common to see a small group of elite creators whose content is consumed by a much larger group of people. I for one have never posted on video to YouTube myself, but have of course watched many of those produced by others.

In my day to day life, I experience many forms of participatory culture, both good and bad. One such example of a good use of participatory culture is Study Drive. This platform allows for students to post class notes in a central online location so that others can benefit from additional resources. Another example of using participatory culture in a good way is posting and or sharing on Facebook to find missing people and items. This is the modern day equivalent of posting missing children’s’ pictures on milk cartons. Some posts are shared hundreds of thousands of times and can be successful in locating what was lost.

One of the many ways I see participatory culture being exploited in a harmful way can also be seen on Facebook. During the 2016 US election, millions of people took to social media to share not only their opinions but also articles. The only issue was that not all of the articles being shared were from reputable sources, meaning that inaccurate information was spread at an alarming rate. However, just skimming an inaccurate but eye-catching headline is enough to sway people’s minds, and ultimately their votes. This has actually caused Facebook to consider implementations that signify if an article is verified or not.

Prisons and Hospitals and Schools, Oh My! (Blogpost 4)

While Discourse Analysis I deals with images and text, this chapter discussed Discourse Analysis II, which focuses more on the institutions and practices responsible for the production of said images and texts. This form of analysis also examines how these institutions influence their subjects. Common topics for this form of analysis include prisons, hospitals and schools. One thing that all of these institutions have in common is a large disparity in power; guard to inmate, doctor to patient and teacher to student. These kinds of relationships are often products of the rules and structures in place around them.

As Foucault says, institutions are made up of two things: apparatuses and technologies. An institutional apparatus is the larger form of power and or knowledge upon which the institution is built. While often physical, like architecture, they can also be more abstract like laws or morals. Institutional technologies are the smaller more technical practices and objects that enable the power and or knowledge. An example of this can be the tinted windows in a prison watch tower that let guards see out, but do not let prisoners see inside. Besides the physical components of institutions, like the building that make them up, Discourse Analysis II does allow for other sources to be studied. As far as primary sources go, one could analyze anything from blueprints to documents such as rules and regulations.

I will be using the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as the subject of my analysis. This is a museum that I have visited on two separate occasions during my exchange here, and I have noticed the presence of many of the ideas brought up in the text. The institutional apparatus is the physical museum itself, including its layout, architecture and location. Its layout is responsible for guiding visitors through in an intuitive manner. However, the building’s architecture and location go further and demonstrate the importance of the museum. The exterior’s intricate design, which can be seen in the image below, shows guests a precursor to what they will see inside. And the central location, in the middle of the city’s arch of canals as well as the end of a grand park, almost naturally leads people to it. In addition to that, it is also the home of the IAmsterdam sign (which can barely be seen in the picture below). This is one of the most well-known photo ops in the entire city and adds to the museum’s centrality.

The Rijksmuseum is also home to many institutional technologies that inform guests on how to make their way through the museum. The most obvious examples of this are both the guided tour and the information sheets available in many rooms. The tour comes in the form of an application you can download on your phone, or an iPod you can borrow from the museum. It guides you through the museum room by room, explaining the history and significance of one or two paintings per room. The information sheets are available in many of the larger rooms and give readers more information on one painting, highlighting very minute details that could otherwise be easily missed. What these two technologies have in common is that it takes the decision of which paintings to look at out of the hands of the guest, as the Rijksmuseum is essentially telling everyone what they see as the most important pieces to look at.

One of my favorite things about the Rijksmuseum is the library. I have never opened a single book from it, nor do I know how to gain access to them. However, it is simply memorizing (pictured below). What is almost as amazing as the extensive collection is the silence you experience upon entering the library, as you would expect when walking into any library in the world. All that separates the library viewing area from the exhibition room right before it is a glass door. This barrier, despite being transparent, along with the knowledge that one is entering a library, is enough to silence every guest that enters. The constant buzz heard throughout the rest of the museum is gone, and it is silent, like every other library I have ever been to. While technically an institutional technology, it is much more subtle here. This is because the rules of a library are much more universal than most other types of institutions.

Persuasion: Everything is not What it Seems (Blogpost 6)

Rhetoric is the art or study of persuasion. However, to fully understand that, we must first understand exactly what persuasion is. In its simplest sense, persuasion is, as stated by Aristotle, “an instrument for giving effectiveness to truth.” It is a form of communication intended to influence the decision making of others. According to Simons, there are three important aspects of persuasion that set it apart from other types of influence:

  1. An intent to persuade
  2. Communication
  3. The subject is ultimately invited to make their own choice

These three “rules of persuasion” really just mean that effective persuasion is conducted purposefully, and in a way that does not force someone’s hand, rather convinces them to make what they think is a decision in their best interest. These rules are important because they set persuasion apart from deception. While persuasion is based in truth, deception is not. Deception is passing off lies as fact in an attempt to influence a decision maker to choose against their best interest.

Pushing this distinction further, this means that that persuasion is not coercion, nor material incentives, and especially does not include the pressure to conform to a group. The previous characteristics do not ultimately allow for individuals to make their own conclusions, a distinguishing factor of persuasion. This is important in advertising as persuasion is a useful tool in acquiring new customers. However, there is a line between persuasion and deception in advertising that is not always as clear as one would think. There are rules in place to account for this, but they are not always effective.

Sonesson studies how a tool like persuasion is used in advertising and how both parties, the influencer and the influencee, effect the outcome. He does so by analyzing two different brands, Absolut and IKEA, a Vodka and furniture company, respectively. While both are Swedish brands, one uses persuasion to hide this, while the other uses it to embrace it.

In the “European City” campaign, Absolut uses imagery associated with different European cities, and therefore different discourses, to suggest similarity and connection in culture. Absolut successfully sheds any associations with Russia and Vodka, as well as with Sweden, and instead persuades viewers to associate the product and brand with their own heritage. An example of the “Absolut Rome” bottle can be seen below. The shape of the Vesa scooter, a symbol almost synonymous with Rome, is the same shape as the Absolut bottle, another very iconic symbol. In this picture, with no mentions of Sweden, Absolut is able to take on the culture of Rome.

The Swedish furniture brand IKEA was found to have done the exact opposite with their advertising campaign. Rather than hide their Swedish identity, they embrace it, kind of… While they find additional value in their Swedish roots, the image that they are conveying is not exactly accurate. They project a view of Sweden that most of the world holds to be true, but in reality and to all Swedes, is inaccurate. However, playing off of the idea that most people have of Sweden in their minds, IKEA emphasizes that their furniture is made in Sweden, unlike most other companies in the world can claim.

While these forms of advertising not representing something accurately, they can still be classified as persuasion because they are rooted in truths. Weather the truths come from a completely different geographic location or the minds of unaware people, they are still based in truth. Additionally, they are not concocted to try and get people to act against their best interests. Like it or not, this is still a very common theme in advertising today.

A recent example of persuasive advertising that is not represented in a totally accurate way is Blue Moon. This is a beer brewed by Blue Moon Brewing Co, a subsidiary of MillerCoors, a massive multinational brewing company. Blue Moon’s advertising tries to portray the beer as a craft beer when in reality, it is mass produced. This is an attempt to capitalize on the craft beer frenzy currently occurring in the United States. Someone actually attempted to sue them for this, however, a judge dismissed the case. An example of their persuasive advertising can be found in the video below.

Coffee with a Splash of Misogyny (Blogpost 5)

I will be analyzing a 1960’s Folger’s Coffee ad, which can be seen below (it is the first of the two ads in the video). This ad is very representative of advertising in the 50’s and 60’s, shifting the focus away from the product itself and towards the consumer. It is ripe with influence and devices that lend themselves to a semiotic analysis.

Folger’s Coffee – Misogyny and Bad Brews

This advertisement is not simply urging consumers to buy Folger’s. It shows a story by giving a glimpse into the daily life of an average American household. It shows the horrors of what could happen if you don’t buy Instant Folger’s. It tells the narrative that the best way to keep your husband happy and marriage intact is to give him what he wants, good coffee. And the only way to do that is with Instant Folger’s. It does so by exaggerating the importance of a good cup of coffee. When asked what he wanted for his birthday, the husband responded with “just a decent cup of coffee.” This is not a typical birthday request but is somewhat of a metaphor present throughout. When talking with her friend after her husband leaves for work, the main character says she will use Instant Folger’s to surprise him later that night.
This narrative is accomplished by playing on the gender roles of the time. In the United States, it was not until the 1970’s that women really left the house and began working. At the time of this ad, men worked and provided for their families, while women were expected to stay home and keep the house in order and their husbands happy. The wife in this ad is unable to live up to this expectation as she cannot even brew her husband a decent cup of coffee. The gender roles are further exemplified by the wife’s lack of a name. The husband is called Harvey on multiple occasions, while the wife is only referred to as “honey.” This effectively gives the wife even less agency.

As if being unable to satisfy her husband’s coffee needs was not enough, the ad goes even further to add to this woman’s troubles. It does so when her husband tells her that even “the girls down at the office” can make a better cup of coffee than her, and on a hotplate nonetheless. This is a form of non-representation. These girls are mentioned but never shown. They represent an invisible and mysterious threat to all housewives of the time. All of this is done to belabor the point that women should be buying Folger’s Coffee in order to keep their husbands happy.

Positioning is another tool used to create an effective advertisement. The gaze in this ad tells us that we are not supposed to engage with the subjects. This accomplished with both the level of interaction, as well as the distance of the scene. We view the scene unfold from roughly eye-level and only a few feet away from the subjects. It is as if we are present in the room with them but they do not know it, and we are unable to speak. These very deliberate choices really make the viewer feel what is going on, from the disappointment in the beginning to the intimacy at the end. For any housewife at the time who viewed this ad, it would likely compel them to reconsider what brand of coffee to buy.

While speaking of distance, it is also worth analyzing the distance between the two subjects of the ad. To start, the husband and wife are seated further apart as he is served his “undrinkable” coffee. This creates a more hostile environment, and as the wife later notes, Harvey does not even kiss her goodbye before he leaves. However, once she switches to Instant Folger’s and her coffee has improved, this all changes. The distance between the two has decreased, they are seated much closer together. The ad even ends with a very suggestive exchange as Harvey blows out a candle, pulls his wife closer and kisses her on the cheek, illustrating the exaggerated effects of what a good cup of coffee can do.

This ad reminded me a lot of a 1950’s Ford commercial, which can be seen below. The ad aims to show housewives how much more freedom they can have if their husbands purchase the new and affordable Ford. While there are plenty of differences, both ads utilize the gender norms of the time to target the same audience and show them how much better their lives can be with the product in question. Both are prime examples of the shift towards consumers’ needs and emotions and away from the specifics of the products themselves.

 

Knowledge and Power… And Coffee (Blogpost 3)

While I am still not totally sure that I understand exactly what discourse is, I will attempt to define it anyway. Discourse is a set of words, images, or anything really that influences the way in which something is thought about, and how we act based on that. It is essentially the context behind something that makes us think about it in the way that we do. One example of discourse given in the text by Rose is the discourse of nineteenth-century art. There were certain structures, knowledge, and institutions that made people naturally accept something as art or not.

Rose also describes a methodology that has come from Foucault’s work that she has named “discourse analysis I.” This methodology looks to study a discourse and how it constructs ideas, through the analysis of images and texts. Even thought the subject of the analysis is constructed by an individual, it still contains discourse, and discourse is created by society. As an example, let’s consider a painting. A single individual may be responsible for said painting, but society is still responsible for the meaning and discourse behind it. If the artist represented gender roles, it may reflect their own views, but its discourse is still that of the society it lives in. That being said, the meaning of the can also change with time as the context it was created in is no longer relevant.

I find discourse interesting because of its application to branding, which is the area in which I am looking for internships. I have been writing cover letters and answering interview questions for the past two years telling people why I am passionate about branding, yet I myself failed to really understand why. I talked about “building bridges between companies and their customers” and about making customers “feel something when they thought about a certain company.” What I know now is that what interests me about branding are the discourses that brands build in order to get people to buy in and become not only customers but fans of the brand.

Having a better understanding of discourse and how it relates to branding is also something that scares me a little bit. As Rose mentioned multiple times, knowledge and power go hand in hand, and discourse has a lot of power. If discourse has power, and this should come as no surprise, that means that brands do as well. While many brands use their power for good, which I certainly hope to do once I am a professional, not all do. By creating a successful discourse, a brand is capable of convincing customers to act outside of their best interest and not think twice about it.

This brings me to Elliott’s analysis of Starbucks. She engaged in discourse analysis I by studying the discourse that Starbucks has created that has effectively transformed the meaning behind drinking coffee as we know it. Much of their discourse can be classified as Orientalism, using geographic locations and descriptors rooted in stereotype to describe their coffee and the experience of drinking it. However, their discourse goes further, including the physical space they have built. Starbucks has taken great measures to make their locations feel like a “third” place, neither home or public, but somewhere comfortably in between.

Elliot then goes further to analyze how this new meaning affects our decision making. (This is a departure from Rose’s discourse analysis I, and gets further into what she describes in a later chapter as discourse analysis II).  All parts of this discourse combine to contribute to a coffee-culture unlike anything the world has ever seen. People spend hours upon hours in Starbucks and cafes alike, working on their computers and catching up with friends. Many customers have their own increasingly specific and complicated orders (don’t even get me started on pumpkin spiced lattes (PSL) and the new Unicorn Frappuccino). However, this discourse has influenced culture beyond Starbucks locations. I have seen t-shirts and laptop stickers that say things like “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee,” and I even know someone refills her disposable Starbucks cup with water throughout the day so that she can still be seen carrying that white cup with the green logo.

Consistency: The Key to an Icon (Blogpost 2)

When machine production started pumping out mass quantities of identical products, the world saw a marketing catastrophe. Companies who once marketed their goods based on the distinct benefit they provided now needed to find a way to differentiate themselves. The result was the creation of the brand. A brand is more than just a product, it tells a story, and the consumer helps to tell it. Brands are successful in making a single product stand out in a sea of identical products. The most successful brands are those considered cultural icons, and they have cultural branding to thank.

As Holt said in his book, the key behind successful cultural branding is performing identity myths. He defines identity myths as “a simple story that resolves cultural contradictions.” The identity myths of a nation change over time. What is unique about iconic brands is that they are fit to the times in which they become iconic. This is not to say iconic brands die when their myth dies. There are plenty of iconic brands present today that have gone through numerous pivots in their brand’s myth. Those are the best of the best, the most iconic. What it means is that what might have worked in one decade might not be iconic if it had started in the next decade.

The economic advantages behind cultural branding are obvious, they allow companies to make infinitely more money. If every company is selling identical products, there is no way to differentiate and gain larger market share. However, creating a brand around a product presents a new opportunity to appeal to consumers. Products are replicable, a strong brand is not. If you are buying into a brand rather than simply buying a product, there is much more at stake. You may be looking at two very similar t-shirts, but they both express different things about you when you wear them out in public. It is the leveraging of this expressionism that has allowed consumer goods companies to remain profitable.

One thing I really disagree with Holt on is his views on the importance of consistency. He titled on section header: “Iconic Brands Rely on Breakthrough Performances, Rather Than Consistent Communications.” I actually could not disagree more with this statement. While it is true that the famous Coke “Hilltop” advertisement will be remembered forever, this breakthrough performance was not responsible for building Coke into the iconic brand that it is today. With so many different types of media to reach consumers, it is more important than ever that brands have consistent messaging. Consistency not only in messaging but also in look, feel, voice, tone, and everything in between. This has become increasingly difficult as many companies outsource different campaigns and projects to different advertising agencies.

Red Bull is a great example of an iconic brand to study. I argue that Red Bull maintains its title as an icon due to the brand’s consistency (it certainly isn’t because their energy drink is that much better than every other drink on the market). Red Bull does not just sell their drink; they sell a lifestyle. Everyone knows the slogan “Red Bull give you wings,” and whether you see it in a print ad or on TV, their message remains consistent. They find fun and extreme ways to tell viewers that Red Bull gives you the energy to do your thing, whatever that is. But Red Bull does not stop there, they create an incredible amount of content surrounding extreme sports, that goes further to make it a lifestyle brand. They put on races, they have people jump from the edge of space, and they organize their famous Flugtag. They produce so much content that people don’t just “like” their Facebook page because they like the taste of their drink, they like it because of the lifestyle it represents and the lifestyle portrayed through their content.

In the presence of social media, consistency is even more important. Many brands elect to run their social media presence in-house, rather than paying their advertising partners to control it. This presents a problem with consistency, as both groups are not always on the same page, which results in an online presence that is not consistent with the image put out in advertising campaigns. A famous example of this becoming a problem is with Nestle, who only a few years ago faced a social media crisis. A Nestle employee responsible for running their Facebook page started engaging in petty arguments on public posts, even threatening to remove people’s comments, and block them from their page. Nestle is obviously in their right to run their page that way, however, it contrasted starkly with the image they were portraying through their other advertising. An example of the Facebook interactions can be seen in the photo below.

In her book, Klein presents a few concerns with this shift towards cultural branding and even branded content. As companies continue to sponsor events and content, as well as produce their own, she questions what will happen to the quality of this content. The reason for her concern is that the brands behind the money are likely most concerned about their image, and not the actual content. She fears this will result in the lower quality content, be it fitness advice or a concert. I understand her concerns but do not share them. I think that the larger shift towards branded content, while not a formal regulator, will be a large enough natural source of pressure to ensure that the content offered is of high quality.

Semiotics: All of These Words Meant the Same Thing to me Before This (Blogpost 1)

In the simplest of terms, Semiotics is the science of signs. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but most can agree that it studies the relationship between signs and their meanings, and how they came to be. However, this is not so simple, because a sign can be many different things.

First, a sign can be a symbol. A symbol has a meaning which does not come inherent, which therefore means it has to be learned. An example of this can be seen in the picture of the “Vleeswaren” sign. To Dutch people, this sign shows were to purchase meat in a grocery store. However, I do not speak the language, so it holds no meaning without the context of the surrounding meats.

Another type of sign is an icon. An icon is a sign that holds meaning because it resembles what it represents. This can be seen in the picture of the bike stoplight. It looks just like a regular stoplight, however, both bikers and drivers understand who it applies to because of the bike icon within it. In this case, the simplicity of the design increases its effectiveness as a more detailed bike could have lost clarity.

An interesting combination of symbols and icons is the illustration below. It depicts a family; two parents and their daughter. To most people, that is where the meaning ends, however, I am not most people. I know that from right to left, that is Rietje, Minnie and Sam. This illustration depicts my cousin and his family, which is why they are identifiable to me and anyone else who knows them because they really look remarkably like them. I would personally consider this to be an icon because without being told who these three people are, I can tell immediately. However, that is not the case for those who have not met them. Because of this, it is also somewhat of a symbol, as the meaning has to be learned.

The last type of sign is an index. An index is a sign that’s meaning is derived from a causal relationship. The common example given in literature is that smoke is the index of fire. A different example of this can be seen in the picture of the railroad crossing. Because the lights are on and the arms are going down, one could reasonably assume that a train is approaching. Because we have experienced this many times before, we know that this relationship holds true. However, someone from a country without railroads likely would not understand this relationship.

We read work by both Berger as well as Branston and Stafford. The two had somewhat different ideas as to how semiotics could be used as a research method. Berger would be most interested in exploring the history of the meaning of signs and how those meaning came to be. Alternatively, Branston and Stafford would be most interested in semiotics in how it pertains to the media and culture we are exposed to in our daily lives, and specifically how we interpret it.

One of my favorite signs is one that I have discovered since beginning my exchange in Maastricht. While visiting a friend and exploring Amsterdam for the day, I found myself on one of the cities many trams. I noticed that some of the seats stood out from the rest, in that the design of their fabric was different. Upon closer inspection, I realized these were the seats reserved for the less mobile. There was no sign that read “This seat is reserved for those who would have a hard time standing,” but I still knew. I knew because the signs on the fabric that made up its design depicted pregnant women, elderly men and women holding small children. The designers responsible chose icons to make their statement. These icons are universally understood no matter what language the viewer speaks. Amsterdam is a very international city, attracting travelers from all over the world. Seeing as many tourists do not speak Dutch or English, using words with arbitrary correlations to meanings, or symbols, would not have been as effective. The use of icons leaves no doubt who that seat is for, and is an example of great design.