On the NMAI
I've been looking foward to the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian for years now (50 days and counting!). I fully expect it to rival my beloved National Portrait Museum as my favorite museum in Washington.
When I was working in New York, I used to stop by their tiny off-shoot satellite museum housed in the Old Custom House down in the financial district at lunch time or on weekends. Even in that tiny space, the Museum was distinctive in that you could feel the institutional respect for the subjects. The evidence of life - in its many forms - was vibrant and vibrating. The supporting materials were simple and straightforward, letting the art, artifacts, and tribes speak for themselves (sometimes literally).
The Native American wasn't another butterfly pinned to the wall prettily and annotated with dry dismissive text; the cultures weren't some quaint rituals pinned together from extinct creatures who vaguely resembled people as we knew them. In that museum, the cultures were alive and breathing. The richness and diversity were celebrated.
When I read articles like today's Washington Post article about the differences between (the storage centers of) the NMAI and the Smithsonian Natural History museum (which also has a large collection of Native American artifacts), it's very hard for me to be sympathetic to the National History museum. For me, the National History Museum's Native American exhibits are a long hall of panoramic diaramas featuring prematurely wizened hunters, hunched in the weeds killing animals. (I do realize I've combined the New York and DC Natural History Museums in my head.)
This is an image of my youth, of course, clouded by time and adult snobbery; Nonetheless, I remember the exhibits being dull and certainly, vaguely, somehow wrong. The eight year old couldn't understand why terms like primitive bothered me, but it knew the dessicated text was dull dull dull. I didn't think them to question it, or why not one person depicted looked happy or confident or strong.
The Smithsonian as a whole treated the Egyptians better. The Romans were practically deified. Even the Chinese and Japanese (Asians have gotten significantly better coverage in the past two decades), whose depiction was also simplified into stereotype were given more respect and credit than the Native Americans, who were a dingy black and white photograph, underexposed, in comparison.
It did not escape my notice then that the Indians were represented (almost) only there in a building that was known to kids all over as the bug and plant and rock and dead thing museum. It leant itself to assumptions and fit right into cultural prejudices. For a child (and many adults), the connection of anthropology and archaeology in the museum of sciences blurred this line more, conveying messages like "Native Americans are extinct" or "You study them like you study toads or pyrite." It wasn't until I was in middle school and beginning to be interested in archaeology that I started understanding where the problem was.
I know that things have changed a lot in 20 years, and furthermore that change is difficult and protracted in museums and in Washington and especially in Washington museums, but the Natural History Museum is hamstrung by the actions and decisions of its predecessors, and the lingering stench of disrespect and patronizing superiority it embraced for so long. Now, the NHM has to play catchup and cleanup and retrofit everything for a modern age and understanding, while NMAI can design up and out.
I've made progress since I last grumped about the subject in this area: I've come up with an overarching theme, broadly outlined the information architecture, and am testing out 3 different Content Management Systems. Well, I will be once my sitehost returns from his vacation to remind what my SQLadmin password is. (How embarassing! When he tells me, I'm going to feel stupid!)
The new metaphor is a shift but a logical one at that; it will meet several of my goals for the new version of the site:
- Simplify and strip down the UI
- Return to the good old days of arcane and ambiguous navigation. The site is simply too easy to bounce around right now.
- Effortlessly support and incorporate different types of information flows
- Interweave the content
- Be more substantial in content; I've gotten too bloggy and meaningless. I'd rather be useful.
Since my last major site revamp took me a year in my so-called spare time to produce, I'm estimating that I'll have something up by the turn of the year. It's not that I have less work (in fact, my workload is even heavier now than when I was billing at 240% utilization at E&Y), it's just that I've got a small, insistant bee in my very attractively constructed bonnet.
Art Directing Road Signs
Signposts are planted just a mile past the county line; one faces east, one faces west. There are two yellow diamond-shaped signs on each pole, one for the fire station, one for the fire trucks. I think they're there to warn you that fast-moving vehicles may be emerging from that side road at any day or night (as opposed to a general informational statement that hey, over there, no, over there -- that's where the fire and squad houses are).
The odd thing about these signs (aside from being placed on the one spot on that road where you don't come to a screeching commuter-clogged halt) is that one is pictoral, and one is textual. The top sign is a picture of a fire engine - the horizontal truck, the ladders, the ratio of horizontal lines: it's all there in a interestingly detailed silhouette. The sign immediately below says "Rescue Squad" in big black sans serif letters. This dichotomy is endlessly fascinating to me. According to the results of my not-particularly scientific poll, there is a common icon/shape/symbol (I'll leave the arguments over the correct term to the folks on SIGIA-L) they'd all recognize as standing for Rescue Squad.
Each of them - when challenged - drew or described a box truck with a perfectly symmetric boxed cross on the side. A few added cadeuses, one included an R.S abbreviation, and another included the full county rescue squad abbreviation. I did not hint, suggest, or prompt this answer, although a few people took a few minutes to come up with this solution.
I think I understandy why VDOT/Fairfax County was loath to create such an icon sign; the fire engine is an unmistakable image, but if you try you could willfully misunderstand the other sign "It's a panel truck with a pretty design!" or "It's a panel truck on a mission from God!" or "Look, Ma, that outhouse has wheels!" Normally, I'd argue that a governmental institution being conservative in its iconographical selections is generally a good thing, but pairing the two signs together on the same pole just makes them look silly - and in this state, the squads generally are co-located.
Free Advice for DVD Producers
It can be hard thinking up special features. As much as I appreciate the ability to click on somebody's surgically enhanced breast to said person declaiming about their art of making crappy movies, I'd like to suggest some ways to truly enhance the DVD experience.
1). Make threaded pre-canned searches. For instance, if you are providing the DVD for a single season of a television series, create indices that lets people focus on the relationships between assorted sets of people (or on individuals themselves). In addition to making fangirls happy, it makes it that much easier for people of reasonable intellect and taste to completely ignore ignoble additions to the cat.
2). Don't skimp on overdubbing quality - it just makes your skimping on dvd media all the more apparent.
3). Instead of a preening, lingering "featurette" about the idiot who barely manages to not screw up the movie, provide thumbnail discographies for all of the Hey! It's That Guy!s in your movie.
4). Make all of your extras available from the DVD Player. Has anyone ever in the history of time walked their DVD over to the computer to view the very special extra bits? I'm doubtful.
5). If you are going to provide a commentary over the track, tweak it so the idiot star doesn't talk exclusively over the dialogue, leaving long-gaping periods of time where his character is navel-gazing and apparently so is the star. Consider a 10 second off-set, or even better, an off-switch.
Type Design (Press Down)
I decided to finalize one of the half million fonts I have in development before I launched alphagraphy.net and abecedaria.org, and settled on Press Down, a handwriting typeface designed to resemble text that you've written over two or three times (for emphasis, because your pen is running out ink, or out of boredom).
I have a problem.
I hate the lower-case g.
I really hate that g. I consider the lower-case g a hallmark of a font, and pay disporportionate attention to its design when I evaluate a new typeface, or compare typefaces for a project. The lower-case g offers a vast array of possibility and form, and often epitomizes the success or failure of a typeface as a whole.
Press Down is a deliberately self-conscious font, and as such, it uses casual versions of formal forms: the a has craning neck and curve above the curving belly; the f has an archaic curve; the u has the final downstroke. The g, which is based on the older form of two rounded ovals with a joining bar, suffers from coyness. The letter practically simpers. That just will not do.
There are other problems with the font: the lower-case i, j, and l are not kerned correctly and so there's weird (and distinctive) gapping around those letters, and the space between letters is about 2 pixels too narrow. The font gets less distinct at 10pt and below, and looks more like dying whiteboard pen marks at 60pt and above than letters written and traced and traced again.
I am thinking about making a blackface and a thinface version of the font, and - if I get really ambitious - an "italic version" which would be a light semi-cursive. That typeface would need an extended face of alternative forms, however.
I got an email today from a gentleman trying to trace the origins of amazoodling, the term for where disinterested parties provide reviews of books, music, and the like (usually on Amazon) that are designed to be funny rather than useful, sarcastic rather than sincere, and witty rather than wise.
He found a mention on The Language Log, which pointed him here, but the time of my original post has long since passed.
I'm pretty sure I came up with the term, but there's always that small doubt that pickets the back of my head indicating that I may have picked it up from someplace else. If you can help prove me a liar and a word-credit-thief, drop me some feedback.
More on Movable Type
Six Apart - the company the makes Movable Type - has clarified it's licensing structure. Apparently when they say "weblog" they don't the "weblogs" as created in their software but all "weblogs" associated with a single domain. That's a big linguistic hole of confusion right there. It's easy to see why the MT users freaked out while Six Apart thought they weren't doing anything to cause the MT userbase to go into full-fledged freakout.
(I'm still on the search for a fully-fledged CMS package though. This whole incident has made me think that it's time to use a more flexible CMS to do what I really want to do, instead of hacking a tool to do something sort of like what I want it to do.)
CMS Questions and Answers
One of my more normal readers writes in to ask...
So what does this whole licensing thing mean, anyway. I mean if you can keep doing what you are doing, what's the big deal
The nice thing about change is the human ability to swan around, drama queen-style in (over)reaction. Seriously though... The way I currently maintain the site is just annoying enough to annoy me regularly but isn't annoying enough that I don't just suck it up and just do it. (Does that even parse? I got up way too early). One of the reasons I was willing to put up with the annoyance now was that I felt long term benefit would be there - that at some point MT would have the features that I needed at a reasonable price point. The intermittant price point (with none of the features I needed) is steep.
It'd be less daunting if I wasn't pushing myself into the higher echelons by working around the limitations of the software. The biggest problem is that I don't know when they're going to add or update the features I need. The upgraded plug-in framework (the technology that allows other people to write functions I can attach to the software) is just a framework as of now. I'd need someone with the right skills and motivation to write several large features for me; my skills are not good enough in that area for me to be able to do it for myself. I'm not holding my breath.
The fault is largely mine: I'm trying to use the software as something it is not (yet) - Expecting it to be a flexible content management system is unfair. The announced price points in conjunction with the developer release of the software just kick-started notions that were lying around the attic of my brain.
So what does it mean if you change software?
It depends on the software. The most likely candidate right now is pMachine's Expression Engine which matches one of the MT median price points ($150), but offers a lot of built-in flexibility and customizations, and doesn't put limits on the number of blogs and authors. I wouldn't have to thread content streams through a one-size-fits-all nozzle, could customize the admin interface, keep multiple versions of templates, and utilize multiple categorization to vastly reduce the number of separate content streams I run.
The biggest drawback with this software right now is that I'm not sure if I'm going to be tied into .php. I don't mind creating and displaying new stuff in .php, but most of the destination addresses here are .html files, and the idea of breaking those links is only slightly less appealing than creating hundreds of symbolic links to redirect the browser.
If you change software, will you go back to posting SnarkyGirl stories?
Maaaaaaybeeeee! Heh. Seriously, I think SnarkyGirl was pretty much a thing of 2000. I tried to revive her last year, but it just wasn't happening. Not enough energy, I think.
If I change software, however, I would take the opportunity to redesign the site's IA (which has been sadly influenced by the technical limitations), which would mean I probably'd end up changing the design. It's a pretty significant and far-reaching change, which tempts me to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head instead of going to work.
The Movable Type Bruhaha
Everyone* and their roommate is up in arms over the licensing fee news from Six Apart, and like many of the livid folks currently infesting their trackbacks, I can't afford to upgrade. I'm not livid, just frustrated.
The structure of (just) this chunk of web is of 9 different (active) content feeds (some manage posts, some manage links, some manage lists), plus quite a few more additional side blogs - with multiple authors on some of those blogs. Those facts alone would require me to pay hundreds of dollars for a license that I don't have to have with the soon-to-be-archaic (but widely used) version of the software. (As far as I can tell, 3.0 doesn't have any major new features, anyway.) As thrilling as my pronouncements on typefaces, overblown novels, and the daily minutiae of my commute are, even I wouldn't pay 600 bucks to make it easier for me to make them on this one site. I oversee 5 domains, and a CMS-cum-blogging tool is useful for maintaining them.
(Technically, I guess, I'd only have to fork out $150 for this domain, but MT has never acknowledged the money I sent them way back when, so I'm guessing that discount doesn't apply to me since I no longer have proof I sent them moolah...)
It's their perogative to charge for their product, even without a preliminary whisper. They can charge however much they want for the best personal publishing tool on the market - and it is that. They're running a business, and not a charity. I'm running a vanity-fueled personal site and not a business. The two don't seem to match-up when it comes to the next version.
Sure. I could install 3.0 and use it illegally, but I'm not particularly interested in going out of my way to be unethical and dishonest. I'm also not interested in debating what their responsiblity to the weblog community is, so don't even start with me.
My problem is that the 2.5x/2.6x MT apps don't quite fit my needs. I have to hack and trick and limit and twist and jerry-rig everything to get something approaching what I want my site to be. Since my site was already 7 years old when MT came into being, I also needed to seemlessly blend it into those 7 years of web history... A lot of my older content is mothballed because I don't have time to hack it into place.
I've been hoping for a leap forward in feature and functionality. I'll probably keep using them (since I am compliant with them and I have sent them money in the past) until I find something better, but I feel more motivation now to find something better suited for my needs. As the software evolves, fewer plugins and add-ons will be developed for the 2.x software, and I'll continue being grumpy with the fact that my site isn't as I would like it to be.
I do think this pricing model, however, shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how their most fanatical evangelistic users use the software. The popularity of the Global plugins combined with the categorization limitations point to the fact that the software limitations have inspired those users to have more than 3 blogs (and 1 user) spelled out in their MTFree plan in order to do what they want to do.
On the other hand - kudos to Ben and Mena for not editing the onslought of negative responses out of the TrackBack queue.
*And by everyone, I hyperbolically mean our insular little community of developers and designers. My neighbors have more important things to be peeved about.
edited to add: They've already upgraded their pricing plan this evening (still doesn't meet my needs, but it is much better), and Fred has kindly pointed out that even though I don't care about the improved anti-comment-spam measures, the changes they've made to the plug-in architecture offer the possibility that someone will write plug-ins that will make my life easier. Small sliver of hope granted, Fred. They'd have to be some mighty plugins for me to drop the amount of money I'd need to drop to support 5-6 installations and dozens of content streams and authors, but it could happen.
The Daily Decision Redesign
I've been redesigning The Daily Decision in bits and spurts for weeks now. Big thanks to Robin and Heather for being my guinea pigs/voice of the user. Robin helped steer me away from initial starkness, and Heather encouraged me to embrace the Red (in my early revamps, I kept splashes of the yellow as part of the continuing design motif of the site). As exactly half of the known devoted readership of the Daily Decision, they'd have to live with the ultimate decision for at least the next 3 years (if history is any judge).
The retro posing woman and yellow were the two common motifs that have been a design hallmark of the Daily Decision since it's debut in web-form. The red, which originally started out as link colors in my redesign and took over the design before abating back to the splash of color in the navigation and the decision itself.
It was curiously hard reducing the yellow to the color of the new brand (in the typeface Punch Label from FoundryFive, which Heather specially mentioned among a mass of other type options in various configurations. It has that nice low-tech feel that I so like). At one point, I had the yellow and red switched on this design, but the impact was crisper and warmer with the red having dominance.
The retro woman - whom I have been referring to as Vanna, for obvious reasons - has been blown up, scaled down, nearly transparent, cut in half, flipped around, cast a longer shadow than a groundhog, and finally glowed. In order to get the interwoven effect (notice, there's no glow on top of the branding and navigational boxes), I had to use absolute positioning and two images: one, a jpg with nicely aliased edges and the glow effect (with a shadowy hint) is beneath the boxes; the other, a transparent-edged .gif with no nice aliasing and no glow is overlaid on top of the boxes.
I ended up cutting off half of the hands of the .gif image; the left one was done to balance and provide depth. I chopped off the bottom half of the right one partially to add more perceptual depth (but mostly because in translating the image from image to image to palette to palette over time, the hands were beginning to look mis-shapen against dark backgrounds.
I wasn't so impressed with Karen Schriver's redesign of the 1040 tax form in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. I think too much primacy is given to the Presidential Campaign Fund section, and I dislike her presentation of the SSN entry area (I find it contextually indistinct and less obvious for a field that ranks among the most important on the screen). I didn't think she did enough to make the Dependents section grokable.
Her font choice comes off as being less friendly than Helvetica (which she thinks "signals bad vibes". I think she intended the serifs and rounded letters to appear a little informal, a little bouncy, and positive, but Serifa reminds me of arcane accounting in this context. The letters invoke to my mind someone carefully typing something up on a typewriter, going back and back again to make something fit: I sense frustratration when I look at the way those letters are squeezed into the page.
Helvetica is a universal, familiar, common face that is almost culturally neutral in our country. It lends itself far better to intermixing different weights and styles to handle a page dense with labels and text that must be squeezed in than Serifa.
I agree with much of what Adam Greenfield had to say. Her copy edits are great. The tone of the instructional column is engaging and friendly without being superior. I approve of the linearity of the Filing Status section (all opions arranged cleanly and clearly in one place. The taxpayer doesn't "miss" half the options.)
And since I've been trying to be less of a critic and more of a doer lately, I set about seeing if I could do any better in my oh-so-copious spare time. I should point out that while my spare time was frittering away, Senor Greenfield offered up his version. (There's also point out Joachim Muller-Lance's proposed revamp from 1992). It's interesting to me what we have in common, where we varied in style, and where we completely parted ways.
I started out pretty cocky, but soon felt myself mired down. When I found myself looking up tax law to determine what the legal requirements for what was placed where, I knew I was in trouble. I had vowed not to renovate the form by renovating the tax law, but it was tempting.
I should be treating this much more lightly, I know, but the small font size on the forms already sets my teeth on edge. 7 pt text? Ye gads! After a few hours poking around the IRS site and some fruitless google searches, I decided that I should ignore any potential laws prescribing page position of individual elements and get to the redesigning. I also decided to ignore any budgetary issues (i.e. cost of ink).
This is part of what I came up with.
The first thing I did was to move the Presidential Fund section to the bottom of the form, on the second page (I paired it with the tax preparer's section). It was getting lost in its current placement, and the confusion of that layout made the whole importance of the Social Security Numbers get lost, too. It also makes sense to put it where you are learning your financial fate.
The next thing I did was heighten the contrast. Keeping in mind the dozens of forms an IRS worker must process regularly, I highlighted the form name (by placing white text on a black background), and set off the SSN entry point with black boxes and white text emphasizing their importance. I left them in roughly the same place as on the current form to retain that contextual reinforcement. I also labeled each section with white text on a black box, and borrowed a leaf from Schriver by making the sectional labels friendlier.
I then focused on the directions in each label area, providing enough room that several words could fit on a line for each instruction set. I also separated visually the page number in the instructions that the taxpayer could consult for more information; that hugged the bottom of each section.
I stuck with Helvetica, although (if I were the Grand Poohbah of the IRS) I'd strongly consider hiring a good typographer to make the IRS a proprietary multi-weighted font readable at small sizes that would be more flexible for our needs. I chose bold, black, normal, and light faces of Helvetica to provide contrast and set off options and other page elements. Although I could spend hours improving the use of typography in my version, I've decided to hold onto my sanity, instead.
I chose to make my entry elements look like boxes with light grey borders instead of a grid or bottom line because I think it is the quickest way a person can see where they are supposed to enter their information - it's a bound area that the user can quickly look at and know that it goes with the label above it.
I wanted the page to be a linear experience, broken up into easily managable steps. I set the Filing Status section options to appear in one column, and then focused on the Exemptions section. This section was the most difficult section to improve - the government needs to know several things about each dependent in addition to helping you calculate your exemptions, and for two such inter-related needs, they are awkwardly coupled in the current 1040.
I turned it into a cumulative decision and organized the panel in terms of adding the exemptions up, since that process was the natural precursor to following sections. The following sections were laid out in what I think of as accounting style - a gridlike structure pre-formatted for dollars and cents - and I decided to keep that layout style because we were dealing with money (credits and debits) now, and I thought maintaining that style would lend the right air of financial officialdom.
I did however, change the numbering system. I started numbering lines with the first line in the Income section; The current 1040 starts with the Filing Status section, and that has always felt awkward for me.
Last year, you could go on USPS.com and find out which post offices were open late for the procrastinators, taxed out, and the curious. This year, there was no sign of that information on USPS.com - and there was no information on how to get that information. I found the 1-800 number in the newspaper, and I had to call multiple times to enter multiple zip codes to investigate which post offices in a 15 mile radius were open late. Why the reversal in ease of use?
I don't know who does the information design for the on-line versions of the IRS documentation, but I wish they'd be more straight-forward in laying out the information in a logical, direct, clean manner. I screwed up the ludicrously easy Tax Return Extension form twice because key information was buried at the end of paragraphs that didn't seem to apply to my questions and situation at the onset.
What A Designer Dreams Of...
Working for a startup software company is an exercise in adaptability. In the past year, in addition to portraying an entire user interface design team, I've worn the hats of a product manager, testing coordinator/manager/analyst, marketing guru, customer engagement minion, training specialist, requirements specialist, designer for the sales team, and that old standby, Morale Girl (wherein I try and build connections between people throughout the company, arranging events that will let people take their nose off the grindstone and look around them, and generally taking the temperature of my coworkers).
Testing is dominating my life right now, and in my role as the Testing Whatever these days, I get to make a series of tough decisions about what bugs should and should not be queued for immediate fixes. I keep my beedy little eyes focused on the blockers and criticals that must be fixed before our next deliverable, and I read through the buglist everyday. Inevitably I have to table those bugs that are merely unfortunate mismatches between my ui specification and the implementation; there are functional, key usability, and embarassing bugs ahead of them in line. I know I'm making the right decision, but my tiny inner designer ego screams out in pain sometimes.
I'm lucky in that our chief product manager (who used to be the other designer on my team) understands my pain and tolerates my frequent visits to rant and rave and preach to the choir. Having an outlet helps.
Last night, I dreamt of the code - not the current over-commented, old-style tagged (on top of css) awkward sludge of a series of hacks code, but new, crisp, gleaming code that is supple and elegant and immensely adaptable. The beautifully indented sections gleamed like the white palace in fairy tales; our original templates were preserved in all their gleaming flexibility.
In my dream, my entire world was a Homesite window, tabbed pages at the bottom, server tags lined up like sentries, and urls gleaming on the page like windows overlooking a lake. I tabbed over to the css file, neatly organized and pared down, smartly constructed, and change the site's UI to whatever my whim required within 8 or 9 small changes.
Even on my best days, my code isn't that beautiful or clean. I tend to design in the text, so I'm moving things around, reorganizing, toggling between code and display. Things fall out of line, and if I'm composing the text there, my fingers move far faster than my brain can plot out formatting of text. That mismatch with my own reality added that odd dreamy haze of make-believe around the whole thing.
I think I need a day off.
On the Honda Element
If you've spent any time with me in a car, you'll know by now my opinion of the Honda Element (once "Ugliest vehicle on the road", now "Second ugliest vehicle on the road"). The combination of two tone colors and the unabated boxiness of the vehicle offends my aesthetic sensibilities, despite the grooviness of internal configurations as depicted on Honda's website. Naturally, when our sysadmin told us on Friday he was thinking of getting one, I had to point out the sheer ugliness of the vehicle, a feature he actually... appreciated and welcomed.
Today, he offered to drive us to lunch, and there it was: a gleaming, green, two-toned Element. The green is the least ugly of the color combinations, I should say, and the pictures on Honda's site don't do the interior justice. It's got lots of headroom, comfortable configuration, good storage spaces fore and aft, and the back seats are nice and high (his daughter loves it, as she can see everything out of every window). There's a lot of carrying room, and it's easy to get in and out of the backseat - and it's still 8 inches shorter than my civic hatchback. It rides much higher, however, and is a smooth ride.
If it weren't for the lousy exterior aesthetic (this is the peril of being a designer: form can matter tremendously to me. I've been known to pay a little extra for better packaging in the grocery store, even though I know the quality isn't any better.), it'd be a great car and fairly high on my list of options for the next car I'm going to get. I love my current car - which can look a little like an exhausted purple turtle - for its carrying room and safety record (official and personal), and the Element trumps the Civic in both.
(Honda's not making old-style classic hatchbacks, anymore, and they're not particularly interested in making their hybrids into real hatchbacks instead of the loopy excuse for hatchbacks they've currently got going. I would really like my next car to be a hybrid, but I don't want to give up the carrying room I currently use and enjoy).
The Element doesn't have to look that ugly by default: Painting the composite siding the same color as the rest of the car is expensive, but it does make a positive aesthetic difference (even though it begins to look Hummeresque), but the car still looks like a giant box on wheels. And it turns out Honda makes the car in black - with (a different) black composite siding. Why haven't more people selected that option?
One final note: I think it's hilarious that the vast majority of Element buyers aren't the young hipsters off to snowboard or surf for the weekend; it tends, instead, to be busy parents (and grandparents!) and the suburban homeowners who buy the Element.