A lot of unsung tasks go on behind the sensational headlines. While the entertainment media was gleefully milking the brouhaha surrounding the departure of Conan O’Brien from The Tonight Show and the return of Jay Leno, NBC was working hastily to design a new set and unveil a new logo that would signal the change. For the logo part, NBC brought in Douglas Oliver Design, who had just months earlier created the graphic identity for The Jay Leno Show, and asked the Bell Canyon firm to have a new The Tonight Show identity ready to launch in just two weeks.
The stylish-looking Inked magazine is a sign of just how far tattooing has evolved from the days it was thought of as the mark of hardened criminals serving 20 to life and sailors who spent too much time in exotic ports. Tattooing has gone mainstream. It has moved from being a symbol of outlaw rebellion to a fashion statement. It is now the sixth fastest growing retail business in the U.S., with the fastest demographic growth among middle-class suburban women.
Just as tattoo parlors have moved from dank back alley places into upscale salons on main street, so has the way they are depicted in magazines. Inked more closely resembles GQ than a “babes-on-bikes” kind of soft-porn rag. Film, music and sports celebrities often grace the pages of Inked, and stories range from fashion to people profiles. This is a trend-conscious lifestyle magazine featuring a diverse range of subject involving personalities that happen to be tattooed.
Actually before creative director Todd Weinberger was brought in to relaunch Inked in 2007, he had been the creative director for both Philadelphia Style and DC Style. That high-end sensibility is evident in the quality of the fashion photography and sophisticated use of typography.
From the ever-inventive designer Stefan Sagmeister comes this TV commercial for Standard Chartered Bank. Sagmeister’s approach to typography continues to shock and delight. Who can forget his 1999 poster for an AIGA lecture that displayed the words actually carved into his skin? Sagmeister has also turned typography into an environmental art form by constructing words in — and out of — nature. You can’t help but read and reflect on the message.
The advertising commercial for Standard Chartered Bank aptly represents the multinational scope of the company’s business, which was formed in 1969 through a merger of the Standard Bank of British South Africa, founded in 1863, and the Chartered Bank of Australia, India and China, founded in 1853. International and exotic, steeped in cultural traditions and totally modern, the TV spot makes the bank’s philosophy feel sustainably organic and mindful of the global markets it serves.
This week the U.S. Treasury unveiled new $100 currency redesigned to discourage counterfeiting. If counterfeiters are deterred by ugliness, this should do the trick.
Okay, we understand the need to incorporate high-tech security features, but was it really necessary to make statesman Ben Franklin look like comedian Jack Benny? Who’s idea was it to stick the Liberty Bell in an orange inkwell and feature the back side of Independence Hall instead of the front? And why was Franklin dressed in a lavender jacket and shoved off-center so an offensive blue 3-D security ribbon could run down the middle? It seems like our most revered American symbols are being mocked.
Still… if anyone offered to give us a suitcase filled with ugly new $100s if we’d stop complaining about the bad design, we’d gladly accept.
Editor’s note:Here’s more thoughtful advice excerpted from branding expert Marty Neumeier’s book, The Brand Gap. Marty is the director of transformation at Liquid Agency.
Why are there so many sound-alike names? The short answer is this: Most of the good names are taken. Between a rising tide of startups on one hand, and a flood of URLs on the other, companies are continually forced to dive deeper for workable names. The latest trend is to push the boundaries of dignity with names like Yahoo!, Google, FatSplash and Jamcracker. Where will it end?
It won’t. The need for good brand names originates with customers and customers will always want convenient ways of identifying, remembering, discussing, and comparing brands. The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance. The wrong name can cost millions, even billions, in workarounds and lost income over the lifetime of the brand. George Bernard Shaw’s advice applies to brands as well as people: “Take care to get born well.”
Hong Kong recently unveiled its newly revamped brand identity – a stylized version of its previous fiery dragon logo, which had been in use since 2001. The new dragon appears friendlier and has a colorful kite-like tail and boasts the tagline “Asia’s World City.” It looks less exotic than the old logo, but more welcoming.
That got us to wondering what other national tourism brands were out there, and what we found told us a lot about how countries try to appeal to foreign travelers. When we lined up 50 or more national logos, similar visual themes emerged. This said more about what some nations thought tourists wanted to see than about what made them distinct as a destination. On the whole, there was an inordinate use of breezy brushstroke lettering, bright tropical colors, “sunny” O’s and dotted I’s, and hearts and flowers. Some felt appropriate to the flavor, personality and tempo of the place. Others like the logos of former Soviet bloc countries felt generic and not reflective of a region that many associate with rich earthy colors, mysterious architecture and temperature extremes. A beach culture it’s not.
Puma calls their new shoe container their “clever little bag.” Twenty-one months in the making, Puma and Yves Behar’s fuseproject collaborated to design more earth-friendly shoeboxes. They experimented with new folding, shipping and waste reduction techniques, but the improvements were more incremental than monumental. Finally they decided to get rid of traditional shoeboxes (the source of 21 tons of waste a year) altogether and look for an entirely new design solution.
The result is a “clever little bag” that uses 65% less cardboard than the standard shoe box, has no laminated printing, no tissue paper, takes up less space and weighs less in shipping, and replaces the plastic retail bag. The bag is also “stitched” with heat, instead of woven, thus reducing labor and waste. It fits compactly into a suitcase for travel, and afterwards can be recycled.
Puma also claims that the millions of shoes packaged in their bags will reduce water, energy and diesel consumption by more than 60% per year on the manufacturing side alone. Switching to bags will cut paper usage by about 8,500 tons; electricity by 20 million Megajoules; fuel oil by 1 million liters, and water consumption by 1 million liters. On the transportation side, Puma expects to save 500,000 liters of diesel oil. Also by replacing traditional shopping bags, the difference in weight will save almost 275 tons of plastic. Very clever, indeed.
Sometimes the medium is very much a part of the message. This public service display to warn people about the dangers of unsafe drinking water was created for Worldwide Day of Water by BDDP Unlimited in partnership with NGO Solidarities International. Essentially, BDDP constructed a “liquid poster” in the heart of Paris, using AquaScript technology. Developed by German artist Julius Popp in 2008, AquaScript’s proprietary computer and software system can be programmed to synchronize hundreds of magnetic valves to expel drops of water on command, forming any number of words and images out of pure liquid. Words literally rain down from spouts. Lately AquaScript displays have been appearing all over the world at trade shows, new product unveilings, casinos and nightclubs, and even as the centerpiece of posh parties in Abu Dhabi. It is still a novelty that causes people to pause in wonder, but when the technology is used strategically, as in this clean water campaign, it can add strength to the message and be more than the latest fascinating gimmick.
The goals of designing for a nonprofit are not much different than designing for a for-profit business. Nonprofits need to raise money, albeit for an altruistic cause. They need to build strong graphic identities, market their programs and convince the public that their good intentions will produce effective results. Yet many nonprofits approach marketing their organization half-heartedly, ending up with a look that is generic at best and sometimes sadly amateurish. Yes, they are hampered by low budgets and minimal staffing, but also at times by the misguided belief that if their materials look “too professionally done,” donors will think that they are squandering their money rather than applying it to the cause they care about.
The UK Space Agency, which was just launched on April 1, hasn’t even gotten off the ground, but its logo is already mired in controversy. Designed by Folio Creative, the mark features a stylized Union Jack with a red arrow soaring toward the heavens. Some have charged that it bears a striking similarity to one claimed by the Space Rocket Group in the BBC-TV sci-fi show “Doctor Who.” The response from Folio Creative was to insist that “There is barely a passing resemblance…. It is inevitable if you combine the Union Flag with a space theme.”
Although we certainly see how that comparison can be made, we also know how designers brainstorm ways to turn a name into visual shorthand. We can just picture the initial concept development discussions starting with designers jotting down every British icon that comes to mind – the British beefeater, John Bull, the Queen, Tower of London, Big Ben…to, I got it!, the British flag! Moving onto “space agency,” the images that come to mind are the planets, stars, galaxy, astronauts…or how about a space rocket! Combine the two and what you get is a succinct link between UK and space travel. The UKSA logo, however, is much more elegant than the “Doctor Who” logo, so we think the linkage is just a coincidence, not a ripoff.
Editor’s note:This is an excerpt from “Design Is the Problem,” the latest book by Nathan Shedroff, chair of the MBA in Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Contrary to the book’s title, Shedroff presents practical, specific and executable solutions to designing for sustainability, covering topics from biomimicry and life cycle analysis to dematerialization.
Recycling is an important tenant of sustainability, but in order to be effective, products need to be easily disassembled into component parts and separated by material. If this is difficult, these products simply end up in the landfill instead.
The worst parts, in terms of recycling, are those made from two different materials bonded together, because they can’t be easily separated. The Cradle to Cradle framework designates these as “monstrous hybrids.” A good example of this type of hybrid would be milk and juice cartons that come with circular pour spouts and caps built into the side. The plastic cap and spout can’t be recycled with the waxed cardboard, and yet there are no easy ways for recyclers to separate these quickly. While this design is particularly convenient for some users, it makes recycling nearly impossible (a good example of opposing goals). The only way to recycle these is for users to cut the plastic spout from the rest of the container before placing them both in a recycling bin.
When Boys and Girls, a new Irish ad agency, acquired space in a Georgian office building in Dublin, it wanted to dispel the look of a stuffy law firm, but didn’t want the décor to appear juvenile either. A Dublin-based architectural firm called abgc took up the challenge by painting everything white, and then building a 4 foot x 9 foot rectangular boardroom table out of 22,742 pieces of Lego bricks, covered with glass, and surrounded by clear acrylic chairs. The effect is sophisticated yet playful, and completely reusable. If the ad agency gets bored with how the table looks, they can always pull the blocks apart and build something else.
Given the fact that so many people emailed us articles about the Museum of Modern Art in New York “acquiring” the @ symbol for its architecture and design collection, we believe that others made the connection to us as well.
Actually, the origin of the @ symbol is rather murky. One theory is that it was invented by scribes around the sixth or seventh century as an abbreviation of “ad,” the Latin word for “at” or “toward.” Then @ resurfaced on the keyboard of the first typewriter, the American Underwood, in 1885, as a shorthand way of stating “at the rate of” on accounting documents. With the exception of bookkeepers, few people used the @ key, which apparently was the reason why an American programmer named Raymond Tomlinson decided to appropriate it in 1971 when devising a system to state the first email address. Tomlinson concluded that a succinct way to let email senders identify themselves was by separating the user name from the host computer from which it was sent with the @ sign. That made perfect sense and quickly became the language of the global email realm.
In 1994, when we were trying to come up with a name for our new business and design journal, the @ symbol seemed like a clever way of implying that we were at the cutting-edge of contemporary issues. Little did we realize that in 2009 when we launched ourselves as a magablog, we couldn’t register “@Issue” as our url and had to go with the annoyingly awkward “atissuejournal” if we wanted to keep some semblance of our name. But, in our heart, we will always be @Issue. Now, we are proud that half of our logo has been inducted into the MoMA collection – we’d be even prouder if MoMA would take the other half of our logo too.
Over the past century, dogs and a few cats have been a favorite image to appear on postage stamps. Worldwide, there are now more than 4,000 stamps featuring dogs. Perhaps coincidentally, both the UK and the U.S. are issuing commemorative stamps showing rescued animals. The British Royal Mail has just issued a set to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. All of the pets on the stamps were abandoned by owners and “rehomed” by the charity.
An ongoing complaint from both design and business professionals is the “other side’s” tunnel vision approach to addressing market problems. Yet it has become increasingly accepted that all roads to innovation lead through design, and that design strategy factors into every step along the path, from engineering and finance to product placement and the customer experience. Design-centered businesses are no longer an anomaly. It takes design thinking to solve business problems and vice versa – and to do it fast, because competition is no longer regional or national, it’s global.
So, it is reassuring to note that the California College of the Arts in San Francisco is awarding its first MBA in Design Strategy degrees this spring. The full-time, two-year MBA program is the only one of its kind in the United States.
There’s an art to combining typefaces. When it is done well, the entire layout comes alive. Words become more legible, information feels organized and easier to understand, and the typography itself reflects a mood that is consistent with the message being conveyed. When it is done badly, it’s a jarring hodge-podge.
That’s why when we ran across this lesson on Hoefler & Frere Jones’s website, we had to bring it to you. (H&FJ, as most of you know, is one of the world’s foremost digital typehouses.) H&FJ’s overriding advice is: Keep one thing consistent, and let one thing vary.
1. Use typefaces with complementary moods to evoke an upbeat, energetic air.