#TurnOffToActivate is a typographic project intended to convince people to turn off their screens for a few minutes a day and allow their brains to have some downtime. I chose this topic because I have noticed myself struggling to be present when I’m eating dinner with my family or playing legos with my daughter.
Neil Gaiman, a popular author, announced that he was taking a break from social media because it wasn’t allowing him to be bored and this got in the way of his creative process.1
My smart phone is constantly in my hand and I don’t even use the bathroom or fall asleep without using it. I was aware of neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to adapt,2 and wondered what I might be losing. In other words, neurons that fire together, wire together. We are all constantly training our brains.
As I studied the topic I came across some studies that draw a correlation from boredom to creativity. It is very difficult to be bored these days and I think that our society is suffering because of this. Studies have shown that our creativity, self-identity, moral compass, code of ethics and memory are strengthened during mental downtime.3 Something called the “Default Mode Network” is one of 5 mental resting states and it has a dramatic effect on those things.
We can only get into DMN during wakeful restfulness.4 So I set out to get tech savvy adults from the age of 20 to 35 to realize the benefits of being bored for a few minutes each day. From a design standpoint, the simplest way to communicate this message was to visually juxtapose the downsides of constant busyness and stimuli with the benefits of the Default Mode Network. In addition to that, I chose a physically manipulated mechanism and completely avoided any digital media.
My idea was to “wow” people with paper. There is something about this generation where they are not impressed with apps, CGI, special effects, etc. If I had done a video motion graphic, it would have impressed baby boomers, but not landed with this target. In fact, in my focus groups, they were amazed at the flipping brain. Simple paper folding techniques used in pop-up books for years got the message across well: creativity is analog, not digital.
The hashtag #TurnOffToActivate became the title of the piece and the call to action. The users have to lower, or put down, the phone to activate the flipping action of the busy brain to the restful brain, as they do this, the words on the screen of the phone slide away and the phone is “off.” This correlation is very evident in the piece, the busy brain shows while the phone is on and the restful brain shows while the phone is off.
Then I needed to sell the message. I was hoping by this point that I’d have their attention, but I still wanted to engage them physically while they read the short descriptions of the benefits of downtime.
This led me to the imagery of downtime as the key that unlocks all of these benefits. So, the user has to physically use the key to unlock the “mental lock” before they can open the panel and learn about creativity, empathy, memory and neuroplasticity. The titles of each of these pages are fairly descriptive, in case some of the users just skim instead of reading
boredom increases creativity
downtime improves memory
replay strengthens empathy
resting wakefulness and neuroplasticity
I used Filmotype Honey for each of the key benefits in the title. The Filmotype library has a beautiful retro feel due to the hand lettering. This is a nice throwback to a simpler time when people didn’t have tiny computers in their pockets.
For the rest of the text on the page, I used various weights of Le Havre and Le Havre Rough, a clean sans serif to pair with the script in the title. I also used Le Havre on the lock and key.
The busy brain has some chaotic, overlapping, blended typefaces including BAQRounded, Mothman, Smashing and UncleTypewriter Box.
While I was going for chaos, I made sure to choose fonts of different weights and moods to compliment each other while I used the colors and placement to conflict and compete.
The background text is the closing paragraphs of Moby Dick where Ahab’s obsession and hatred destroy the Pequod and everyone on it, a rather stressful and busy scene. The typeface is Ultra Condensed Line with the leading crunched down and an envelope warp applied to amp up the stress.
I made the restful brain out of hand drawn bubble letters that I sketched and then recreated in vector. The colors on this brain are the same as the chaotic brain, but the layout is simple and calm with lots of negative space. None of the letters touch each other and everything has room to breath. There is no background texture or sharp edges.
The type on the phone, arguably the most important part of the piece, is carefully chosen.
This is seen while the phone is “on” and the brain is multitasking chaos, but I wanted it to have the promise of calm. “Turn Off” written in plump and round BAQRounded pairs the elegant lighter weighted strokes of Filmotype Honey’s “to Activate” and then finish off with the sans serif no nonsense command of “PUT THE PHONE DOWN” written in Le Havre Thin.
I tried to have this combination of typefaces bridge the gap of the chaotic busyness with a promise of the calm restfulness.
1 Lea, Richard. “Neil Gaiman Prepares for Social Media ‘sabbatical’” The Guardian. June 14, 2013. Accessed February 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/ books/2013/jun/14/neil-gaimansocial-media-sabbatical.
2 Cherry, Kendra. “Brain Plasticity: How Experience Changes the rain.” Accessed February 9, 2015. http://psychology. about.com/od/biopsychology/f/brain-plasticity.htm.
3 Jabr, Ferris. “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.” Scientific American Global RSS. October 15, 2013. Accessed February 9, 2015. http://www. scientificamerican.com/article/mentaldowntime/.
4 Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen, Joanna A. Christodoulou, and Vanessa Singh. “Rest Is Not Idleness.” Rest Is Not Idleness Accessed February 9, 2015. http://pps.sagepub.com/content/7/4/352.