Friday, December 23, 2011

Love For The iPhone 4S

I really don't understand the disappointment being thrown at the iPhone 4s. I love the design. No other company on Earth has yet to match its quality, beauty, and overall impact. While I suspected the release of an iPhone 5, I wished for one more iteration of the 4's design.

The problem with the 4 was that Apple made a conscious decision to put form before function, which they have done before with their computers, but never to the true deficit of the final product. They may have chosen lesser internals, or made that annoying "puck" mouse for the old iMac, but the antenna issue was the equivalent of them having had chosen a keyboard that didn't work if you rested your palms on it while typing, and then integrated it into the monitor. It was bad.

But they have completely transcended that issue with the newest phone. All of the beauty, none of the problems. If I didn't hate Apple so much, I would be making sweet, sweet love to that phone. But I hate Apple.

To me, it embodies the nature of great product design insofar as it is aesthetic. Good design is practical concerns combined with aesthetics. Practically, all design must come down to interaction, and there are two ways to measure this: the time it takes to achieve a set goal, and the amount of a set interaction that takes place over a period of time. For example, how quickly can someone activate a switch? The faster, the better. Or for the second type, how many photos are taken with a camera over a two hour time frame? The more, the better.

The first process is that of the engineer as designer. There is a goal that must be met and a time that mustn't be exceeded. The second one is more like a psychologist as designer. There is a set, quantifiable goal, but a nearly limitless number of ways to achieve that goal. The product can be made easier to use; it can be made of a particular material to foster physical contact; it can be designed to communicate a concept, like "industrial," "artistic," or "exclusive"; it can be made to piggyback with other products and foster interaction via their qualities (e.g. iPhone accessories); or it can be designed to integrate in with the extant aesthetic of a customer's house or clothing.

It is in that way that aesthetics can be quantifiable. By designing a "pretty" product, people are driven to interact with it. They want to use it. That is one of the biggest things that Apple achieved starting way back with the iMac. People wanted to use their products, so even if they weren't necessarily better, it didn't matter. Customers used the products more, they felt more in tune with the products, and as such the products became more integrated in with the customers' lives. Eventually, the products became part of personal identities.

Steve Jobs may not have been explicitly aware of this principle (I once thought he was, but after his biography came out, I no longer think so) but he did understand the concept of beauty. For him, he didn't want to make products that he thought would merely sell, he wanted to make products that were beautiful. He was shrewd in business and marketing, but for him, those determinations were easy. The difficult part was deciding whether the product that would sell could be made in an elegant and beautiful way. If not, don't bother making it. Concentrate on things that can be made beautifully.

Jobs obviously wanted to make a tablet for a long time, but only when technology reached the point where it could be made elegantly did he decide to make it. That elegance elicits interaction, which makes people want the product, which makes people integrate the brand in with their life, which makes them want more of that brand.

Apple, and its dedication to beauty, is the very definition of the Paul Randian concept of brand: customers build a connection between experiences with the company that provides goods and services and a unified personality that is created with marketing, thus producing a brand. This brand then becomes part of the experience, resulting in a feedback loop that, as long as the products and services remain strong, continually reinforces the brand. This is the key to Apple's success. This is the reason why I want to have sex with the iPhone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

HP's Got A Brand New Bag... Brand. (UPDATED)

Moving Brands has released its complete rebrand of HP. And it is amazing. The sheer scope of the branding effort is awe-inspiring. There is the usual compliment of ridiculous "associations" between some principle and some end choice, such as logo positioning and whatnot. Branding firms love to make it seem like they are operating on some fundamental concepts as opposed to "gee, that looks good." The brand presentation for Pepsi's new logo became almost legendary for this foolishness.

I can understand why HP wanted to rebrand itself. Public perception of the company is very low, and while everyone knows them, no one cares. The issue that I see is at the core of branding: a brand is not just a public presentation, it is a synergy of company, product, and image. HP's image has always been good. Their logo is perfectly iconic at this point, their advertising is high-quality, and they haven't commoditized their brand into a pile of shit like Dell.

That said, their products are cheap, their design is questionable, and their customer service is awful; truly, all of the things to which people attach brand significance are below par. For example, in customer service, HP usually places at or near the bottom in every survey that I can find. Likewise, anecdotally, my worst experiences with technology have all been HP products.

The recent kerfuffles with in-and-out CEO's, WebOS, and the first-we-don't-now-we-do PC division drives home that HP is not a company that will be capable of producing the quality of product and experience that will be worthy of this excellent re-brand. They are, in fact, incompetent and are succeeding simply because the massive machine that is HP will naturally keep churning until a major market shift happens.

But that is neither here nor there. What we are here to discuss is the rebrand.

UPDATE: The below video has been reactivated by MB. I hope to see the rest of the site come up, soon.

UPDATE 2: Moving Brands has reactivated some of their HP work on Vimeo. Many of the videos have been re-cut to exclude the unused logo. The original video is still on YouTube, though.

HP Particle from Moving Brands on Vimeo.

The sheer amount of work that has gone into this project is impressive. Even more impressive is the cohesive nature of the work. HP is a company with multiple personalities, and this goes much of the way to at least giving it a single personality. Moving Brand has posted a detailed work-up of the entire, three-year process and if it doesn't earn them significant kudos from you, I don't know what will. (UPDATE: MB has taken down presentation, apparently at the request of HP, which doesn't surprise me. HP's resistance to using this new branding only serves to make them look more incompetent.)

The thirteen degree angle used as an identifier is good and provides energy and a sense of motion to everything to which it is applied.

I assume that the eventual evolution of the logo to a single slash is more-or-less illustrative of the overarching concept and not intended to be taken seriously. If it is intended to be taken seriously, it is silly. There is bold simplicity and then there is nonsensically abstract. The single slash definitely skews toward the latter.

I do have what I think is a fundamental concern. The loss of the container shape, the circle, reduces the depth of the image. There is one-fewer vectors for communication. Its identifiability is thus reduced. This is certainly not an insurmountable issue; HP has more than enough marketing muscle to ingrain the image quickly into the public eye. This is still a problem that should be ideally avoided. Similar logos is an unavoidable consequence when a logo jettisons one of the primary identification carriers, the circle, and relies on basic shapes in a basic arrangement.

I think the biggest philosophical issue that I see is that this logo is very modern. In fact, I think that it is modern to a fault. They argue that one of their goals was timelessness, but the fact that the above logos show how incredibly trendy this look is, and the fact that nothing like this existed forty years ago, confirms that it is not timeless, it is modern.  The original logo has a genuinely timeless, organic quality to it. It is obviously just two letters and a container. That is fundamentally timeless. Applying a modern gloss to an old logo is fine. UPS did it. ABC did it. Apple did it. It works.

And speaking of apple, does anyone else find it funny that nearly every computer being used by the branding team is a Mac?

In deference to those who constructed this, I'm sure that they spent a lot of time with representatives from HP and made the conscious decision to go this modern, even if they don't want to admit it. No element of this is an accident. I still think that it is a mistake. If it was any other company, I likely wouldn't feel this way, but HP's logo is, essentially, perfect. Polish it. Manipulate it. Attach to it. But leave the core alone.

Since the full rebrand will not be implemented, we have some placeholder steps, including this custom typeface and an integration of the thirteen degree slant into videos, presentations, and print. It is a nice, energetic addition to HP's existing brand.

HP Journey from Moving Brands on Vimeo.

HP Identity and Design System from Moving Brands on Vimeo.

The overall implementation is excellent. HP is taking a brand personality that few other companies have. Their look is glowy, ravey, polished, and electronic. It looks high-tech, modern, and positively hip. It is here where I am totally fine with this look. Apple has refined beauty. Lenovo has rigid professionalism. Dell has shit. And all of the Taiwanese brands have desperate Apple copies. I think that the only aesthetic not being used that could be is an appliance-like aesthetic.

Again, though, the excellent implementation only highlights that HP itself is not polished, modern, and positively hip. They are a giant, soulless company run by fools. People will buy HP products and expect a certain experience and not get it. If anything, it's better to be faceless, because then people don't expect anything.

People go into an Apple Store expecting Apple. People go into a Best Buy and see an HP product, they like the package, or design, or marketing material around it, or maybe even the screen saver that's playing, but their experience with the brand exists in that moment. If that moment is good, for whatever reason, a sale may take place. People's experience with Apple exists in much more than simply the moment of product consideration.

That can be a very profitable place to be, though! Anonymity has value just as a strong brand does. Look at Acer, Asus, Toshiba, HTC: these are nearly faceless companies, yet they sell billions in product. In fact, a brand can be a burden in that a company is then forced to live up to whatever image that brand makes. HP should avoid that burden.

This brand is better than HP's current brand. But HP is still HP, and that is what they need to fix.

UPDATE: All of the videos and content has been removed from MB's website at the request of HP. I will leave the videos posted here, just in case HP decides to stop being stupid.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: An HP representative has sent a letter to Under Consideration's Brand New website about the new logo.

"HP is one of the world’s most valuable brands and has no plans to adopt the new logo proposed by Moving Brands. HP did implement some of the other design elements shown in the case study."

I laugh in their face. HP has one of the least valuable major brands. People attach little to the name aside from recognition and omnipresence. It is like ABC or CBS. Those brands have almost no value aside from their ubiquitousness. HP needs to stop kidding itself.

EVEN MORE UPDATES: HP CEO Meg Whitman has, after announcing poor finances, made statements about HP "rebuilding credibility." What was that about the brand being valuable?

Furthermore, an article has popped up on Business Insider discussing how HP appears headed for catastrophe.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Minimalism As Philosophy

I have read a number of posts on minimalism. I assume that it is becoming trendy as a sort of reaction to the explosion of crap that happened as broadband penetration in the United States really took off after 2006, thus allowing websites that were positively overflowing with images, sound, and interactive twiddly bits.

One general theme that annoys me is the assertion that minimalism should never be an aesthetic choice; it should be a functional choice. I think that this is total hogwash. An aesthetic choice is communicating something about you or whoever for whom the design is happening. If I am designing a website for a clothing company who sells all of their clothes in stark, warehouse-like settings, I choose minimalism for no other reason than it looks right when compared to the company's retail outlet.

A good designer uses any concept for any reason. It is the very definition of flexible construction.

That said, any concept works best when applied over all elements of the design. For example, a website may use a minimalist aesthetic, and that's great. The website is best, though, when that minimalism extends to the structure of the website as well. Anything else is unbalanced and at odds.

This is because any sort of design philosophy can naturally spring from ideals. If I want a website to be functionally as simple as possible, a minimalist aesthetic will naturally arise from that endeavor. It must. Any aesthetic gew-gaws will impact usability because the people visiting the website will be forced to process, interpret, and interact with those ancillary elements.

I mention websites only as an example, but this can apply to anything. Imagine a product package. Instead of just making "a pretty box," we approach the box by inquiring what is necessary of the package. First and foremost, we want people to know what is in the box from a great distance. We want the box to stand out from other boxes. And we want the box to be appealing. Those are the only things required.
To exemplify this I look to the recent redesign of Ivory Soap, which perfectly illustrates minimalism in practice. Their old logo, in the grand scheme of things, was not overly intense. In the mad crush of gradients, colors, and pictures on other brands, its simple blue background, faintly hinting of bubbles, and black "Ivory," was positively spartan.

Their redesign, though, is a masterpiece of minimalism. People can see the box from a great distance. It tells them everything about what's inside. And the overall package design is light, airy, modern, and attractive. It runs the risk of appearing like store brands, but the Ivory name is so well-known that I think that it overcomes this deficit.

Look at the various details removed. The logo is a simple, solid white. The shadow is removed. The background image, when after being compared to this version is revealed to be pointless, is gone. The various font colors have been removed, with only font weight left to add complexity and dynamism to the package. Truly, the red "simple" on the old package made no sense. The only further detail would have been moving the number of bars and the weight details to the side of the package. Thus reducing the front of the package to the absolute fundamentals.

This bold simplicity, where the, as Leo Burnett put it, inherent drama of the product is put front and center, extends to the advertising with this simple-yet-colorful advertising campaign.

Each image essentially has one color. When the images gel together as people are exposed to them all over the course of a campaign, it becomes a vibrant variety, giving life and complexity to the product even while the fundamentals of any given ad are simple. The most important element of the design that is illustrated by these ads is that they weren't just using minimalism for functional reasons; they did it for aesthetic reasons as well. They wanted to communicate "simplicity" through the very structure of the package and ads, and not just the poster content, but it's also just pretty. The colors are bold and memorable, but they are nothing more than attractive colors.

Minimalism is at the core of everything that I do, but I recognize that much of it simply "speaks" to me. Yes, I can intellectualize it. I can philosophize about it. I can build up some conceptual framework from which the design direction might spring. But, in the end, it looks good to me. That is fundamentally aesthetic.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Brand Association

Paul Rand was famous for saying that a brand itself has no value. It only has value in its connection to the company and the behavior of the company. Thus, the IBM logo appears technological not because of the logo, but because it became associated with IBM.

I think that that is partially correct. It was certainly more correct in the past, but as the market has evolved, some of that truth has faded. As the market has become more crowded, the number of logos and brand constructions to which people are exposed has increased exponentially. This means that any brand that is created is already being interpreted through the lens of other brands.

As such, how a brand works and looks in comparison helps to determine initial interpretations. This is, of course, not a rule to be followed or a restriction of some sort. Instead, it is simply a state of the world that can be exploited as is, or specifically resisted to better stand out from the crowd. But still, it means that a logo and brand will have meaning and significance attached to it from the very beginning. It's why some logos look "professional" while others look "amateurish."

How is that determination made? By appeal to other brands.

I don't think that this is specifically positive or negative. In one sense, it means that a company has certain rules that need to be followed to allow for quick acceptance of a brand by the public. But it also means that a company can use these extant public perceptions to build an impression of being "corporate," "professional," and "big" without actually being that way. Basically, because of the huge history of brands, a company can fake being big.

This reality also makes skill in brand and logo design all the more important. A brand must follow conventions only insofar as it aids acceptance by consumers. The brand must then attempt to do everything else as differently as possible or risk being lost in the din of marketing. I think that this is why brand designs are so frequently as bland as oatmeal. Most designers do not have the skills necessary -- not for any fundamental reason, but just because they do not foster them -- and marketers believe that it is better to have a boring brand that follows all of the "rules," than a brand that strives to be something great but fails.

Rand's wisdom still holds up well after the brand has been introduced. Even though significant customer interpretation of your brand will happen before any interaction actually takes place, these interpretations can be easily changed by the actions of the company. What a company needs to be keenly aware of, though, is that the market has become such a loud goulash of other brands, that their presence has a large effect on any branding effort.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New USA Branding

The USA has "rebranded" itself with a fancy new logo in an attempt to boost tourism. I don't really like it. I can say, positively, that it avoids cliche. There are no images of apple pie, or flags, or a giant eagle breathing freedom, or whatever else people seem to think America represents. Instead, its network of dots represent population numbers and the diversity of the American people. Nice sentiment. My only issue is how overused the dot matrix is, especially recently. Sometimes the dots are square, other times they are circular, but it's always dots. I think that the first company to do this was way back in 1972, when Banque Nationale de Paris rebranded itself with a logo that they stupidly stopped using after a 1999 merger.

This allows me to talk briefly about something very important. While I don't like the logo, it's still a good logo. There is nothing glaringly wrong with it. A logo acquires meaning and significance when it is paired with what it represents. Separate from that thing, a good logo can manage some representation of personality, which is ideal, but it doesn't specifically need to.

For example, What does the IBM logo say about IBM? Nothing. Or Target? Nothing. They are simply bold and identifiable. This logo is bold and, while generic and unidentifiable, is being covered by every magazine on the planet, meaning that it will be very quickly associated with the United States and all of the great things therein (ya'know, forclosures, unemployment, and the such).

If I was going to create a logo along that same theme (if I had been designing the brand, I would have almost certainly gone in another direction), I think that I would have done a patchwork design. It's a tad overdone, but not as much as the dots. I've also viewed America as less a scattered group of different people and more a patchwork; many disparate elements of different colors and textures, tied together under the banner of "America." In fact, I get a little teary-eyed just writing that sentence.

I was also going to make the logo much more geometric, but as I was working on it, I thought that the broken, prototype version of the logo looked great. Again, looking slapdash, but still complete. I see this as, again, more like the US than the actual logo, where we are thrown together, having grown organically and with little rhyme or reason. and sometimes we don't appear to be a coherent "thing," but somehow, we are.

I added bulges to all four sides, giving the logo a three dimensional appearance while also furthering the general theme or a country literally bursting at the seams with diversity and energy.

 My logo retains a greater degree of uniqueness when cast in a single color, but still, the actual logo looks fine.

 I designed various color schemes, including the basic, which looks like a quilt. Two others are quasi-impressionist takes on a city and the countryside.
Both logos do very well when downsized to extreme levels. My logo retains greater identifiability at smaller sizes, with the actual logo gelling into simply a faint impression of the letters USA.

Is my logo much better? No. It needs a lot of refinement to be production-ready. My philosophy is better though. There are very few logos out there that are as wild as this one, which makes it exciting, friendly, and identifiable.

Finally, I've uploaded the original direction I was going to take, with rigidly defines lines and geometric letters. It illustrates why I was immediately bored with the idea when I saw the excitement available from broken lines and an energetic, haphazard appearance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aaron Martin-Colby Brand

I wanted to create an umbrella brand for all of the sites that I publish. It will help strengthen "me" as an entity separate from the various brands of the blogs, while also hopefully bringing increased attention from my more popular sites to the less popular ones. I am also hoping to generate business since I have a rather severe meth addiction that requires a great deal of money.

Importantly, I wanted it to communicate my design ideal of bold simplicity. Since I am a youthful, tech-oriented sorta' guy, I also wanted my logo to communicate a modern aesthetic (I tried to make it communicate how damned sexy I am, as well, but this was impossible). While a logo need not have anything to do with the title, I've always found that logos that are in some way associated with the word or subject to be the most memorable. Paul Rand is my philosophical foundation for this, who almost always had the logo and text intertwined.

I have always loved the symbol for infinity. It is simple, but carries an enormous amount of meaning and significance. I decide that it is a good starting point because the three letters of my name fit into the structure of the symbol very well. It is a bit overused in design these days, but as long as one moves far enough away from the starting point, there's not too much to worry about.

I experiment with the placing of letters a bit to find my footing and very much like the third one that moves away from the more literal placing of the first two by reversing the direction of the C. This brings me closer to the original infinity symbol, of which I need to be careful.

I lay out the logo and create the linked symbol. All three letters are represented in some part, but now I'm very close to the original symbol. This is problematic since I want the logo to only hint at the symbol for infinity, otherwise I am combating the public recognition of the symbol as it is, and not as it is associated with me.

I know that I want to keep the A explicit. It is the first letter of my first name and it appears four times in my whole name, Aaron Donald Martin-Colby. The logo pruning also makes the image seem to naturally fall into an A-like shape.

To complete the image, I choose a semi-generic futurey font that, when combined with the logo, gels into a unique whole.

Both text and logo are highly flexible, admitting of different colors and printing.

An initially well-designed logo frequently results in serendipitous benefits. Here, I did not intend it, but the logo works well as an element to a pattern, allowing me to subtly repeat the image throughout a page or document in a non-offensive way.

With such strong connection on one side, the logo can stand alone on the other side. I also allow myself a small touch of mirth with the silly, homonymous "bizzness."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Me, Myself, And Post Modernism

Paul Rand is one of my favorite graphic artists. His rigid perfectionism resulted in a greater legacy than any graphic artist, living or dead. He wasn't, and isn't, perfect, though. He had a violent hatred of post-modernism which was, while understandable, not fully founded.

Considering the verve with which he consumed philosophical works on art and art theory, I am not surprised that he developed the opinions that he did. I will talk about that in a bit. Most importantly, though, is that Rand would not accept mediocrity, and post-modernism provides great cover to mediocrity. It was a formula for conflict.

Any philosophy that specifically eschews rules, concepts, and rigidity will obviously allow in many people who don't harbor any strong philsophical beliefs; they simply don't want to bother learning the tools and skills required to be good. It is laziness, and when what is apparently laziness gets defended as high art, the sanctuary has been built.

As I discussed in my earlier post on philosophy, art is fundamentally a qualitative endeavor. Things just "work." And no matter how much we intellectualize it, quantify it, or try to encapsulate it with rules, it will never escape that reality. The rules are an illusion that inevitably get cast aside by the greatest artists.

But as I said in that same post, that doesn't negate the importance of the rules and quantifications to better communicate and understand the underlying principles. The rules might be illusions, but they are illusions which provide rough guidance into an ineffable world of visual communication. Rand, I think, believed that art could be fully quantified, which isn't surprising. He read more works on the philosophy of art and aesthetics than almost anyone alive, and if art cannot be quantified, why bother talking about it? In the work of artistic philosophers is the, frequently implied, assumption that art is somehow based on empirical quanta that can be accurately described with words.

I think that post-modernism is the explicit rejection of artistic quanta. Yes, what they say is that it rejects "narratives," but what they are rejecting are the rules, the quanta, that are birthed from these narratives. Art cannot be accurately described with words or narratives and thus cannot be explained logically.

There are problems with each perspective, though. Rand should not have been so quick to reject post-modernism, and post-modernism is absurd in believing that rules do not serve an important purpose. Art is more than merely expressing and seeing what happens. It is a language that communicates, and that language must be understood.

One element of post-modernism that I think fully explains Rand's dislike is, as Wikipedia's entry on it says, its attempts to blur the distinction between high art and pop art. I think that the distinction existed, and continues to exist in some circles, because high art has skill with the tools of art as a salient element of the construction. It is obvious that Leonardo is a great painter because everyone knows that he painted was really fucking difficult. Or take a more modern artist such as Tamara De Lempicka (who, on a side note, is one of my favorite painters). Very modern, very stylized, but obviously highly skilled.

By rejecting the rules that defined previous artistic movements, post-modernism provided fertile ground for those with skill to gleefully reject what previous artists had preached as gospel, but likewise provided that haven for mediocrity. Just as abstract poetry can be quite good, I could easily write out random words in another language and call it abstract. But since I do not understand the language, there is no content. There is no artistic message. It is a hollow construct. This reminds me of the documentary My Kid Could Paint That, where a five-year-old girl's paintings are hailed by art critics, because when art has no content, there is no way to critique it. It is nothing.

The same problem exists for art that is nothing more than a blue dot on canvas. Or the gazillion Jackson Pollack imitators. The first ones were usually classically-trained and, boldly for the time, rejected that training. Nowadays, artists have a tendency to have little training at all. They dream of grand recognition not for skills, but for some poorly-defined, nebulous "spirit" to their work.

That is where Rand was absolutely correct. It does not matter how artistic one is, how grand her vision, or how bold her spirit; she must have a strong, explicit understanding of the underlying principles. Without that, the message will be nonsense, and without a message, it is not art. It may very well be pretty. It might be arresting, or colorful, or look excellent above your sofa, but it is not true art.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Design Is Communication

Alexander Graham Bell and the first long
distance telephone call.
I come from a philosophy background; it's one of my degrees. Consequently, communication is highly important to me (as is being arrogant and self-important). Not just how to communicate, but what communication is. What are we doing when we say we are communicating? How do we communicate? What is communicated? I think that you can see where I'm going with this.

It wasn't just communication, mind you, it was the whole of philosophy. Theories on beauty, aesthetics, language, perception: they all had significant impacts on my conception of art and design. Truly, I think that philosophy more so than any other aspect of my education has fundamentally altered my ideas about art and expression.

One of my favorite philosophers is Ludwig Wittgenstein... for his ideas, not for him. In life he was an asshole, socially incompetent, closeted homosexual. In writing, though, he was a fantastically innovative thinker. In Wittgenstein's later writing, he argued that words do not mean things insofar as they represent something. They have meaning only in how they are used.

To exemplify this, he challenged the reader to define the word "game." I won't go into it here, but he shows that it is impossible to define "game" in such a way as to include all applications of the word in general use. Basically, words cannot be defined. They can only be used in a way that is functional in a social group. What we teach when we "teach" language in a quantitative way, such as in a classroom, are underlying principles that define the boundaries of use. We teach the principles that once learned can be easily disregarded in favor of more robust, flexible, and fluid uses of language. For example, text-speak and most slang completely violates all grammatical and syntactical rules, but it is effectively used as communication.

As you likely guessed long before that paragraph had finished showing off how darned smart I am, this is the essence of design as well. Wittgenstein applies perfectly well to art and imagery as he does to poetry and words. Just as there is no definition for "game" that works, there is no strict rule set that defines good communication via a graphical medium. There is no definitive ruleset for a "portrait." I could do an actually portrait, striving to be as realistic as possible. Or I could do a cubist painting, or I could draw an inanimate object that somehow represents the character of the subject. They are all "portraits."

If you have inferred this, I do not mean to disparage those who took classes and have degrees in graphics and art. They learned tools in a rigid, well-regulated environment that fosters absolute mastery of those tools. What I mean to say is that what the education is should not be misunderstood. It does not teach you how to be an artist. It does not teach you the language. You learn the language through use, because art is an ineffable construct.

This means that good design is not something that can be taught, just as good writing cannot be taught. Writing is communication, and just so long as your words are effectively communicating what you want to communicate, you have succeeded. Just as abstract poetry cannot be explained, it can only be shown, actual design comes after learning the rules of design. You have used these gross rules to understand the underlying concepts that cannot be explained logically or verbally.

My ultimate point is that in design, just as in language, there are no rules, only applications that work or don't work. What we call rules are more like statements that roughly describe ineffable underlying principles that can be ascertained more quickly with an initial appeal to these statements than by trial and error.

You can use these rules to critique creations, but only insofar as they are linguistic constructs. We use the rules because we need words to describe underlying, ineffable artistic principles. And while the words are not perfect, they are better than nothing. Again, without them, we would be left in a silent void grasping wildly at any and all expressions, desperately trying to determine what works, and left with nothing to say when something doesn't work.

At the root of it all, though, is that void. Philosophers and artists try their best to intellectualize art, but no matter how quantitative we try to make it, it is fundamentally qualitative. It is the child of a speechless, Platonic nether.

It is not just art that suffers this limitation. That ineffable void is at the root of all life. To develop the most finely-tuned, accurate communication to best combat the inherent nebulousness of that void is the purpose of philosophy. I see design as the philosophy of the visual world. Good design communicates concepts visually in as direct and accurate a manner as possible. Good design, necessarily, is good communication.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Difference Between a Logo and a LOGO.

I design logos.

I do layout, web design, and many other elements of business presentation. In essence, I craft brands.

I thought it important to post as to why a logo and brand designed by me, with interaction and input from you, is vastly superior to anything from a logo farm. Basically, I am explaining why I am worth a few thousand when you can simply buy a logo for a few hundred.

The first element is time. I am selling time where we will discuss what your business is, what it does, and what personality you want to project. These discussions will affect everything from the font used on your business cards to the layout of advertisements and even the layout of your physical location. You do not get time from online farms. You get a digital file and nothing more.

I am selling support. Once a logo is designed, once a website goes live, that is only half of the equation. The rest of the relationship is ongoing work in the form of seasonal ads, images, colors, and help in the perpetual evolution of your brand to keep it current and competitive. When you hire me, I become a pillar in your business, and I will work hard to make it as strong as possible, because that benefits me.

I am selling talent. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I consider my skills rare enough to hang out the proverbial shingle as a shop selling this particular product. I perform a service that cannot be easily found, hired, or simply pulled from extant human resources. Yes, you can buy a logo, and even letterhead and business cards, for a few hundred dollars. But then you are left alone, with no help in integrating this new material into a cohesive whole.

I am, finally, selling my exquisite taste in coffee and coffee preparation. I prepare one of the meanest espressos this side of Seattle. You will not be disappointed. My design is pretty good, too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dart Logo Design Process

A couple of days ago, I posted my version of the logo for Google's DART programming language. Even though it only took an hour of work, it exemplifies my principles quite well. I wanted to explicate the process.

This was the first stage. I knew that I wanted bold, so that meant a solid color. And while a logo doesn't necessarily have to have anything to do with the name, I thought that the word "dart" was well-suited to a literal logo. It's a decent start, but still way too bland.

I added a circle representing the dart board. I like this because it adds a center/core/heart to the logo. The circle becomes the focal point for the logo's construction and gives you a strong foundation for alignment with other elements in the total logo and on letterhead, web pages, and business cards.

But now, the logo is poorly balanced. The top of the logo is complex and heavy, while the bottom is loaded with whitespace. Good weight to a logo is critical. Not only for aesthetic reasons that are hard to quantify, but for layout with other elements like the aforementioned letterhead and business cards. So I added more circles to really hammer home that this is supposed to be a dart board.

I should have been aware of this before this point, but I don't like where the logo is going at all. I didn't follow my own principles at that last step and added things to find balance when I should have been subtracting. The logo is now a busy mess. I still like the basic principle, so I fall back on another principle of logo construction: synechdoche. Basically, I can refer to a totality of something by only rendering a single element of it. Google's original Dart logo did this by rendering the fletching of a dart. Hard literalism in a logo can frequently lead to an extremely boring logo, as it has done here.

I really like the circle, I know that I want to keep it, so I lop off the top of the dart and retain the identifying elements of the point and the ribbed grip. I add downward-pointing curves to add motion and life to the logo, while also adding a subtle perception of depth, as though we are looking down the shaft of the dart, toward the board.

The bottom still appears a bit heavy, and I worry that the dot in the middle is unnecessary, so I remove it. The logo still works, that means that the dot was pointless. It's dead. I am now in full-on minimalist mode, and I delete things until I reach a point where the simple concept of "dart" is maintained with the fewest elements.

I try deleting the grips and I'm left with this torch-like-looking thing. It does not immediately look like a dart. And if I delete the inner circle, the whole logo looks too much like the computer "power" symbol that is so popular. As such, I return the grips. I'm left with something that is looking pretty good, but now I'm going to try to delete the last bit, the inner circle.

Yes! It still works. It is abstract, but easily recognizable. It may be not as explicit as the version with two circles, but it still works and has one-fewer elements. Perfection is when you can't take anything else away. This logo, insofar as it is what it is, is perfect.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Various Blog Top Images

I had fun with my brand by creating a wild selection of header images for my blog. It really shows off how a simple, well-constructed brand is very robust and maintains its identity even when stretched beyond the initial parameters.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Google Dart Logo

Google has released their new programming language with eyes on combating Javascript's dominance of the internet. Whether that will come to fruition or not remains to be seen, but they have released along with it a new logo, which can be analyzed now.

I don't like it that much. I think that the image itself doesn't translate well into black-&-white. I hate the little angled slash on the T. And most critically, I don't think that the logo is iconic enough. It is not an image that I would immediately associate with the language. C++ doesn't have this problem since the language name itself is iconic. Java is a bit more iconic, but not as much, and not surprising, it has a logo. A logo which isn't great, but it has been around for long enough where it doesn't matter.

So I have created my own version of the logo. I wanted it to be bold, strong, iconic, and super-simple. This makes the logo robust and identifiable. The image can be used in any color, and scales well. Google's logo scales down to Favicon-size very well and retains perfect recognizability, but also remains entirely un-iconic. It is simply a smear of colors. I want a logo to be without a doubt associated with a single thing. That means simple and bold.

I kept the dart image oriented upwards. It further communicates uprightness, rigidity, and even being a little bit boring. I could have tilted the logo to the left slightly, which would have added some energy and movement to the logo, but that reduced the impression rigid professionalism.

I used a font with serifs since they present an impression of stability, strength, tradition, and integrity as opposed to the modern air presented by fonts with a san-serif. Truly, the font choice seems a little 1990's computer world. This might seem counter-intuitive for a futuristic technology company, but that very reality I think presents the opportunity to use a brand personality counter to the parent company, relying on the strength of both brands to walk hand-in-hand.

Google is modern, futuristic, playful, and tech-savvy, but as Dart shows, they know when integrity, foundation, and respectability matter. Sometimes, being boring is precisely what's needed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Giant Robot Logo Design

The logo was designed to be super-bold, friendly, and very youthful. Notice the coffee cup hidden in the jaw form.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Skyrocket Brand Design

Skyrocket was an electronics shop specializing in highly mobile, personal electronics that a consumer integrated into their life. Laptops, tablets, cell phones, music players, and electronically-enhanced clothing were sold in a boutique atmosphere with a focus on an urban environment.

Along with the brand, initial advertisements and phrases were developed to bring focus on the synergy of technology and daily activities.

Skyrocket was to have three types of stores: the primary stores with large selections of cell phones, computers, and clothing; Satellite was smaller with fewer laptops and no clothing; and Moonwalk was designed as a mall booth, selling primarily cell phones, music players, and tablets.

The initial marketing campaign was dubbed DigitalLife. The use of a single word further stressed Skyrocket's unity of technology and daily activities that don't necessarily require technology, but are made better with it.

Multiple ads were created for small, single-column advertisements in newspapers.

Full-scale fliers were also designed with newspapers and direct-mailings in mind.