Home Grown Advertising

I was driving down the highway the other day, right behind a semi that I thought was a local mover. Turns out this is indeed a “local” company, based in White Plains, NY and doing business throughout Westchester County. But since I live in Florida, someone hired this “local” concern to move them here.

I hadn’t seen Al’s Moving before. And I had a hard time reading the logo on the back of that truck. You see it above, with “Al’s” tucked behind three-dimensional letterforms—spelling out “MOVING”—being carried by small figures. How quaint.

Seems Al’s has been in business since 1948 (I get that) and has been a good trusted mover according to their reviews. And that’s a good thing, because they need that kind of reputation. Because the logo doesn’t do them any justice. This kind of imagery can only be conceived by either a family member or friend of the owner, done probably back in good ol’ 1948. Obviously before the world knew the difference between designing a logo and fleshing out a semi-cartoon to promote a serious business. What I like to call “home grown advertising”.

By contrast, there’s also a moving company known as Two Men and a Truck, another well-respected mover. But their logo (not shown) is a simple stick-figure-based drawing done tongue-in-cheek to make the company look primitive and small-time. But that’s part of their charm. Here, Al’s Moving is still trying too hard with those terribly spaced letterforms, which are too difficult to read anyway.

Why do companies do this? Certainly someone must’ve told Al or maybe Al’s son (and probably Al’s grandson—it is a family-owned business) that times change, that the comic-strip-like image is at least no longer relevant. Could they hire a designer to make a much better logo? Sure. But would they ruin it? I mean, they probably toast this ugly image in a local bar.

So much for bad logos (this week, anyway). Now we’ll jump on My Pillow, everyone’s TV favorite. We’re not going to bash his logo—it’s actually not terrible. The font chosen for this has forms that are somewhat folksy, with thick and thin puffy contours, not totally unlike Mike Lindell’s pillow. So this logo is OK for the informal nature of this product.

No, what I’m keying in on is the tune sung by a trio of women at the end of his commercial (for copyright reasons, I couldn’t attach a link in this column). If you haven’t heard it, you will sometime soon, I’m sure. And when you do, you’ll probably cringe and wince a lot. Because it actually sounds like the recording was made back in good ol’ 1948. How quaint.

Gee, Mike, is that Mom singing with her neighbors? I’m certain Mike Lindell has made enough money by now that he can drop the radio-days song—which must’ve cost $50—and slip his TV ad into the 21st century.

It’s OK—I guess—to do your own TV ad. But that’s what car dealers do. They have to, because their margins are thin. But Mr. Lindell is trying too hard, with his hard-sell approach. I get it, it is after all his pillow.

All companies started local and were small once. Most learned to get current over time, the larger and more successful they became, and let go of that homey image. But obviously some just can’t.

Is it tradition or is it just stubbornness?

 

 

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Design Awareness and Visual Conflict

I write this column to make readers—both designers and non-designers—see design, both good and bad. I know the title I chose for this article sounds maybe a little goofy. I mean it isn’t like “autism awareness” or anything along the lines of life defining circumstances. Design for most people doesn’t mean much.

Unless of course it involves things that impact movements and functions that people encounter during the course of their day. And for them, that means ergonomics and features of things they use. Things like electric shavers, cell phones, coffee makers, or an automobile. If the comfort level of that usage to them is low, then they perceive the design of those items is bad. And they’re right.

Non-designers might say something like, “This doesn’t feel right.” But to a designer, tactile sensations are just one facet of design. Visually, they can sense right away if something is wrong. Because designers can feel something just with their eyes.

It’s a matter of the overall design they see, usually in the mix of elements. Each element by itself may be sound, but joined with other elements—even if each is sound on its own—can easily set up a visual conflict. This can easily be seen in interior design, which I’ll get to in an upcoming article, but certainly in any ordinary plain design, be it on the web or in print.

Above are two examples that illustrate this: logos of furniture stores near where I live. Both places sell high quality furniture. And both designs use a script font and at least one other roman font. But one of the logos has the bad mix I just mentioned, not to state the obvious. The thing is, they don’t see it.

What makes things like this possible is the availability of graphic design software to anyone with a computer, and that means that some who have the opportunity to make their own designs will try to do so without understanding what makes a design successful. Either that, or someone in a company might envision a design in their mind, then instruct a designer to make what that someone imagined.

It doesn’t matter. The end result is what counts, and what counts here is readability. The thicks and thins of the Baer’s script B, overlaid with the ultra fine lines of the other fonts, set up a visual mess.

Unlike some designs, a company’s logo has properties that should promote the name and focus of that company. This is the face of the company, their best foot forward. Although Baer’s logo has a flowery appearance that may reflect their beautiful store interior, the fact that you can’t read it shouldn’t reflect the store’s focus. Nor should it detract from the store’s accessibility.

Bacon’s design has similar elements of the other logo, but here the designer (or non-designer?) knew when to stop short of visual conflict.

 

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Those Disaster Graphics

First let me say that this particular edition is not a critique. It’s an observation.

I can’t say with any certainty just which year in my memory saw the most disasters, either natural or man-made. But 2017 would have to rank as one of the front runners in either category.

The major news outlets are still commanding our attention with the latest developments on any of these stories. Apparently the hurricane season has wrapped and tornadoes are probably waning, but with climate change, you never know. Wildfires made big headlines recently. And then we’ve had the mass shootings several times this year.

It seems just a few weeks separate each of the above, but sometimes the disasters overlap. You almost cringe every time you turn on the news, expecting a tragedy somewhere. This country has had its share this year for sure.

So you turn on the news, and accompanying the disaster lead-in you see something like one of the visuals above.

Like I said, I’m not going to criticize any of these. These are graphics thrown together quickly at news organizations like CNN, Fox News, The Weather Channel, and sometimes at local affiliate stations across the country. They have to be done literally within hours of first hearing about the impending catastrophe.

And more than likely it’s one person on the news staff putting the graphic together (in this age of teams, which I’ll get to in another article). And it’s literally a thankless job.

The job is merely what you see—assembling a jarring type-driven message, with an accompanying background “atmosphere”: maybe a map cross-faded over a generic photo of a tornado; maybe a rifle scope’s crosshairs over a blurred image of an emergency vehicle; or maybe a shot of firefighters blended with the orange cast of an immense inferno.

I’m more than certain each news agency keeps a huge digital library of stock photos to draw from. They have to. Of course these images are necessary, meant to pull you into the story.

And these graphics all accomplish the task. There’s no subtlety here. They speak to dread.

I dare say the graphic artists who are called upon to make these signposts have no real pride in doing them. These visuals, given their emotional effect, are not what you’d put in your portfolio.

Why would you?

 

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A Logo Redesign

Usually I don’t do instruction. But occasionally I like to show how the things I preach in this blog can be used to improve an existing design. If we can critique a design, we should be able to tear it down and rebuild it to make it work better, right?

This week we’re going to get into a logo I had cited months ago that certainly needed help. And seeing it on TV over this past weekend reminded me that this would be a good time to get into it. The designer chose a good font to start with, and that helps us as designers but also helps in understanding a few things in this lesson, one of which relates to type design, something that’s a pet subject of mine.

With a sans-serif font such as this one (Avant Garde), it’s much easier to see the letterform relationships: just how one shape of one letterform interacts with another by its close placement (proximity) to another. The elongated rectangular shapes make that much easier to see.

So let’s follow along, class, and see what’s going on. The top left visual shows the existing logo of the State of the Union show, emceed by the reporter Jake Tapper. The first thing we’re going to do is look at the way this was put together.

First, let me say that this logo has too many wacky things going on. Mixing uppercase and lowercase can work, but not so much with the major elements in play, here being the two large words, “State” and “UNION”. Not sure why the designer chose to mix them that way, because there is no interplay between them. Then we have two lines running between those two elements, having some unknown purpose. Notice the small space between the cap S and the cap U, which is not carried through to the two lines above it.

So with the top right visual, we can begin to look at just where those aforementioned relationships should occur. If you recall, one of the main tenets of good design is organization. And with organization, you have flow from one element to another. Good type design follows that tenet, because good type design recognizes letterforms as shapes.

I’ve taken the logo down to the main portions of it to illustrate a some of those wacky things apart from the uppercase and lowercase problem. And using a few dotted lines, we can see the things that are not lining up, consistently. The “t”s have almost exactly the same offset from the vertical elements below. The “a” misses the same opportunity with the “N” below it. And then those lines have a strange feature: they not only end at a place that has no relation to anything else in this design, they’re offset from each other where they end as well as each one being cut off on a diagonal. Not sure what the intention was with that—they play off no other diagonal. Maybe they tried to balance the overhang with the S on the other side, but that doesn’t work, either.

In the lower left visual, I’ve reset the design in a different alignment altogether, for a few different reasons. I couldn’t see the reason for the enlarged S and U, for one. I chose all caps because with just two main elements, it’s easier to line up vertical elements when you have stacked designs such as this. Here, the Ts go hand-in-hand with the U and I below, and notice how the A centers over the N right below it. Then I fattened up the type by choosing a bolder version of Avant Garde. There are a few things that still bug me, but we can bring it all together in a further step.

In the last visual, I’ve butted the word UNION up with STATE and kerned (tightened up horizontally) all the type. I like tight type arrangements. Also I’ve taken apart the U and widened it so the initial stem of the U is centered under the S, which also makes for a more unified type width across the word UNION. Then I set the small element “of the” in lowercase letters to fill the void at right.

It’s easily seen in the original design where the designer intended to use the United States flag colors. I would guess that maybe the two lines are supposed to reflect the flag’s stripes, but the stripes on the flag are red and white, while the stars are white. So…

Putting the star (now white) in the A where it lives in the blue ground like the flag (also as a shape more akin to the A itself) makes much more sense. Then I took the flag stripes and made them wave as a flag would do, but in the shape of the O. Finally, I added the words “with Jake Tapper” in a small area where you still pick them up visually.

Jake Tapper may not always be the host of the show (Lord knows, Meet the Press has had a few), and let’s face it, the words “State of the Union” are the important elements here.

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Evolution of a Logo

Readers: let me say that Hurricane Irma impacted us to a great deal down here in Florida. We were without power for almost a full week. Therefore, this is the first column after the hurricane.

———

A logo, being the face of a company on paper, TV, and the Internet, would normally be something that should stand for a long time. But because times change, and the way some companies do business changes with the times, a company’s logo can and probably should change along with that new model.

Few companies can say they still do business the way they always did. Coca-Cola is one of the few whose core business did not change in over 100 years. They became diversified in their product line to be sure. But then of course the familiar logo had already become ensconced in the mind of millions before any of that tree grew new branches.

RadioShack (now without a space between the two words) has been around for 96 years and its logo has changed 14 times since its inception. (It was always called “Radio Shack” except for a few short years in the early ’70s when it was called “Allied Radio Shack”, a result of an acquisition.) In fact, it changed logo designs ten times since 1963.

Of course, RadioShack has been trying desperately to stay what it used to be back in the ’60s. Long a retail store where one could go to buy all things radio (who does that anymore?), they sold everything from TV antennas to small gadgets that only radio people or audiophiles could identify. They sold parts to make crystal radios and kits to make your own TV set.

But in always searching for new clientele—and never wanting to lose their older customers—they felt the need to ever look fresh by updating their logo time and again. But regardless, they’ve filed for bankruptcy more than once, also this year. And they’re still here along with their 15th logo.

I never did understand that off-center “R” inside the circle, their design from 1995. Perhaps they wanted to distinguish it from a ®, the standard registration mark. I don’t know. But this time around they kept it, using a Gotham font. It has a bland look, somewhat corporate in feel, and the colors they’ve chosen—that washed-out red and seal brown—have come under some criticism from all over. One critique I read referred to the brown choice as “shit” brown. Whatever. To me the color scheme looks like a committee compromise somewhere between Gap-ish and Pottery Barn. And that’s kind, coming from me.

The other logo highlighted this week is Spotify’s design, an update from it’s original incarnation. This music and video streaming service is only eight years old (eleven on paper) and it’s changed already.

Spotify was founded in Sweden and is still headquartered in Stockholm. The logo designers stated that the “sound waves” signify streaming, and that first design has a funky look to it with a bouncing “o” to accentuate the streaming action.

The new design keeps the streaming waves, but puts them in a separate space, a circle, and that allows an adaptation of it to be used as a logo for an app. I had always wondered just why the those waves appeared to be off-angle. But in looking at the original design, the angle is there, the waves looking as though they’re being transmitted to a satellite, which works very well in essence. So Spotify has cleaned up their design to look more contemporary.

RadioShack, on the other hand, hasn’t pulled it together yet after 96 years. And the off-center “R” still makes no sense to me.

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A Package Design That Remains True

      

As package designs go, few in the marketplace stay true to form as much as Frito-Lay’s. That Dallas firm has recognized their customer better than most.

Sure, there are others such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, those long standing brands from way back (more than 100 years). As history records it, Coca Cola has been around since 1886. Likewise, Pepsi Cola emerged from a local drink—originally “Brad’s Drink” from a pharmacist in North Carolina—in 1898.

The Frito Company was born in 1932. Charles Doolin bought a recipe from a local corn chip manufacturer in San Antonio for $100, and along with a manual potato ricer and an oven, started making his own snack. I had a tough time running down the history of the name, but he called them “Fritos”—I would imagine meaning “fried” or “fritter”.

A year later he’d moved upstate to Dallas and by 1945 granted a license to H. W. Lay & Company (Lay’s Potato Chips) to make and distribute Fritos in the southeast. By 1961, the two merged into Frito-Lay. Then in 1965, Pepsi and Frito-Lay merged, and things were sunny for both companies after that. A year later, Doritos was born.

The name Doritos was derived from the Spanish “doradito”, meaning golden brown.

The thing about Doritos, as in all the Frito-Lay brands, is that it’s maintained the same design flavor, meaning it’s kept its brand design equity in two distinct areas: color and style. The red-orange-yellow color palette tells the consumer that the taste is bold and spicy, and the design style of the type and graphics tells us it’s festive.

Experience just one taste of Nacho Doritos and you won’t forget it. Just seeing the package on the store shelf reminds your taste buds of the spicy flavor.

Looking at the history of the package from left to right reinforces all this. From the 70s’ color blocks through the freeform scribble designs of the 90s reflect the zapping taste inside the bag. And lately the lightning-esque triangle shape of the chips reminds us of what’s inside, that true-to-form snack that remains true to itself.

How many brands across the spectrum can you honestly say remain true to form such as this? Relatively not many.

 

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Letterspacing With Initialed Names

  

It’s probably one of those things you rarely look at. And even if you do, do you really see it?

Graphic design has many facets, many parts. One of the most overlooked areas is typesetting. Back in the day, before the personal computer came to the fore and applications made possible what became “desktop publishing”, we relied on professional typesetting companies to format our text into conventional norms of appearance, flow, proper punctuation and letterspacing.

And now that those typesetters are gone, it’s up to us—the designers—to set our own type according to those time-honored conventions. We still follow things like paragraph conventions (flush left, justified), single-spaced sentences, etc. Why not proper letterspacing with initialed names?

In the visual at the top, which is the correct way to typeset the name? I combed the Internet, that bastion of reference material that holds tons of information, and the reference guides that held sway were these:

• The Penn State Visual & Editorial Standards

• The Modern Language Association Formatting and Style Guide

• The American Psychological Association

• The Chicago Manual of Style

And in all those widely accepted references, it was found that the across-the-board standard is the first example. In other words, spaces after each period. The only exceptions are U.S., abbreviating United States, and P.O., abbreviating post office. But those of course are not proper names.

Funny, because when going to the Internet’s foremost search engine and typing in P. G. Wodehouse, you subsequently get the visual at the bottom. Note the differences in the way the author’s name is listed, all on the same page in Google (the color highlights are mine).

I even found one listing with no punctuation at all.

Either we have two schools of thought on this subject or we have half of all people being largely ignorant of just how to type a name such as this correctly.

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Not the Best Western

      

Close to where I live, there’s a Best Western Hotel. And on the side of the building is their new logo.

Plain and simple. But mostly just plain.

I couldn’t believe it. It’s been almost two years since they changed their logo, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw the new monogram. After seeing it, I immediately thought of my childhood when my parents took us traveling during summer vacations and we often stayed at a Best Western. The hotels weren’t the best, but they were good and they fit my parents’ budget.

The logo was similar in feel to the first one pictured above, although this particular one is the most recent before the change.

So back in 2015, they changed the logo. Something about bringing it into the 21st century or some such malarkey. The official wording had to do with making the new logo reflective of all the “brands” offered by the hotel chain.

What got me was the way they worded the change. Apparently it took them two years to do it. Ouch. That’s one. The word “contemporizing” was mentioned. Really?

They actually said this: “Best Western used today’s graphic design and digital printing capabilities to create an array of logos that use special effects to be distinctive and striking to consumers.” I am not making this up. The italics, however, are mine. Read on…

“The design…uses hand-drawn lettering, which is familiar and personable and pulls through the company’s updated blue color. The centerpiece globe comes to life through the use of special effects such as gradient, highlighting and a 3-D treatment. These effects will be distinctive within the hotel industry which traditionally uses two-dimensional logos.” All that is two. Once again, the italics are mine.

These last two paragraphs. Seriously? Couldn’t possibly have been written by a designer. Designers don’t call a circle a “globe” and they don’t refer to gradients, highlighting and a 3-D “treatment” as special effects. Garbage. Imagine a corporation putting out a message like that. OMG.

All that points to two things: one, if that logo took two years in the making, then there were too many meetings with too many people in the decision making; and two, the above explanation was written by either a marketing person or somebody’s wife or partner who thought writing might be possible career. Any designer who’s read that explanation probably sent a text to another designer saying, “LMAO.”

But enough about the goofy explanation. The logos are too generic. Anyone can slap together two letterforms and call them a logo. Criticisms have appeared on the Internet saying it’s too much of a departure from the traditional “crowned” version. There’s a lot to be said for keeping the feel of a decades-old logo going forward.

In this case, even though Best Western was never a premium hotel chain, the new logo cheapens it. Now it feels like Motel 6.

 

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Sometimes It’s Meat and Potatoes

All packaging becomes functional at the store shelf. Before that stage, however, it’s merely a product of a designer’s vision on putting what’s inside that package on a solid footing toward a sale.

Packaging is one particular area of design I’ve always loved: as a designer, you can encompass all the necessary things you need and put them on display in one neat enclosure. A photo of the product, type design, copy to give the product a thorough description, whatever necessary legal and boilerplate copy, and all that on top of a background you want to achieve impact and tie it all together.

Some packaging is more fun than others. Food packaging, because the entire family is consuming the food, is more descriptive in several ways. It’s more colorful in all directions, has bombastic and sometimes wacky type designs, can and does employ digitally enhanced photography and/or illustration, and often uses cartoon characters when aimed at children or adults who never grew up.

But that’s what makes designing food packaging so much fun. It has boundless possibilities.

Other packaging is just plain functional. Take auto parts packaging, whose examples are shown above. With usually just one person in a household buying auto parts, the focus for a designer is toward the utilitarian. Most auto parts—once purchased and installed on the vehicle—are no longer seen. They’re not exactly something to behold.

Plus it helps if you have a little technical knowledge of the auto part. What its use is, how to describe that use, and how best to depict it on the box: what angle(s) to photograph it to show the best detail. Other than some retouching to pretty it up, not a whole lot else.

Not difficult to put all this together, having all the aforementioned pieces. In looking at the above examples, notice a few things, though.

The predominant colors chosen for backgrounds are red, blue, black, and yellow. Pretty much a primary color selection. There’s no pink, mauve, taupe, lavender, or lilac. Those colors do not reflect a mostly masculine sense of being, of one who might own a Ford F-150 or a tricked-out Honda Prelude.

That bunch of consumers are more meat and potatoes, similar to buyers of tools at Home Depot.

Also notice that the typography on these packages is also plain and simple. No fancy script fonts here. Lesson—know your consumer.

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