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.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Green House Brand Design

Green House is a company that strives to integrate green technologies into affordable, easy-to-buy packages for suburban homes. The logo captures the synthesis of technology and environment by wrapping waves of color representing earth and sky inside of a polished metal and glass ball.

Green House was the first company to allow a theme that I enjoy: seasonal variants on a brand and logo. Since Green House is environment-oriented, it makes perfect sense to integrate into the brand the vicissitudes of that very environment.

The palette choice further communicates the fusion of technology and nature, with blue and green representing nature, and details colored in grey, representing technology.

KOVO Brand Design

For my own brand, I wanted the logo to communicate rigid, modern, professionalism. I avoided organic shapes because I wanted the brand to be flexible, indicating that I can do things that are very colorful and playful, while also being capable of prim, proper, corporate material.

The name KOVO comes from combining the word "kinetic" with the latin words for eye, "oculus," and voice, "vox." It represents not only energetic sight and sound, but the human element necessarily involved with art and design.

I communicated brand consistency through shape, texture, and layout. This freed me to use color wildly while maintaining a consistent identity. Thus, I am able to illustrate rigid professionalism while simultaneously communicating playful artistry through the use of neon or pastel colors.

As would be expected with flexible colors, the brand color isn't a critical component of the overall brand structure. The choice of reds as a default color again communicates a professional sense while also evincing passion and fire.

The contrasting color and usage of all capital letters allows brand to be communicated easily in basic text, in any font, and in non-standard layouts. This is especially useful for all-text online documents that rely on a user's font library, with Arial matching the look and feel of the logo very well.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Adina Pedroso Business Card And Letterhead

The goal of the logo was to communicate the deep, caring passion that the client feels for animals, and do so in a very organic, human way.