OK. Here we go. I told myself I wasn’t going to go after any more dry logos. But here it is. I have to say something.

About twenty years ago, I caught a small freelance assignment to do a logo for a chiropractor. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he also knew what he did not want: anything depicting a spine or even anything anatomical in appearance.

I remember part of his practice had to do with holistic approaches to his clients’ health—treating the whole person. Therefore, after a couple of meetings, it was decided I was to do a generic logo, a depiction of an awakening, a sort of “celebration of life”, a person “realizing his potential”. No faces, no profiles, no real “silhouettes”. Just a “feeling”.

Wow. How the…

This kind of thinking, this all-inclusive, worldly, enlightened conscience bearing is practically a non-goal for one to design a symbol.

I eventually came up with a design he liked: a rather calligraphic representation of a figure leaping through a cloud-like atmosphere with arms raised in joy. The Neulasta logo above is vaguely similar in feel.

What do these logos have? What do they do? How effective are they? None of those is considered a factor here. This collection you see above, there is no practicality to them. Unlike a couple of the law logos from my last column (the scales of justice or stable architecture form), there is no mortar and pestle. Nothing that banal. Thank you for that.

No, this is the most introverted bunch of logos going. They’re so introverted, they’re afraid to say anything. They’re all alike in their anonymity. Nothing in their designs that’s close to concrete. No personality. No flavor. Nothing to remotely offend.

I could say things like, “That contrived letterform made into a key in Keytruda is a bad design.” Or that the extended crossbar in the letter “A” in Tresiba does nothing to distinguish the word as a design. Or that the triangular configuration of symbols in the Cosentyx logo looks like it’s trying to be something, but misses. Or that the sun-like green symbol in the Trulicity design has no anchor—why is it located right there?—and why is it green?

I’ll venture a guess at each of the above: the designers were handcuffed in their assignments to come up with these solutions, similar to my experience.

I will say one final thing. The consumer names for these prescription drugs are a blessing, because nobody can pronounce the real names.

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Logos—Law Firms

Generally, I love logos. Wait a second—let me correct that: I love looking at logos. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

Lately, because lawyers and medical firms and hospitals are promoting themselves so often on TV, it’s easy to see their logos in 1080p resolution.

And for the most part, their logos are not very good. There’s a big difference among what I’d refer to as corporate logos, brand names, and personal “monograms”. Sometime in the near future, I’ll do a column on the history of logos and what a “logo” is. But for today, we’ll just deal with law firm logos. I’ve collected a handful for examination and comparison.

The thing about this collection—any bunch of law firm logos—is that they’re dry. They’re unimaginative. They all have a very clean look, but they’re all sterile, too. And maybe that’s the thing about law firms: the practice is such a straight-laced, dignified, 1-2-3 profession. I’ll bet it’s twice as sterile as what Hollywood portrays it to be.

And being that, designers are probably handcuffed trying to make the firms look like just the happening place to take your lawsuit. Because these are lawyers, they’re very careful about their appearance. Buttoned up, as they say. But as designers, we’re always looking for ways to make our clients look their best while possibly making another design good enough for our portfolio.

The top row in this collection shows two examples of trite law firm design. I put them here to show what not to do. Forget you saw them, going forward. Classic architecture and scales of justice. Really?

Row 2 has two very different approaches of using the initials of the partners on the door.  They’re design examples of a ligature—a joining of letterforms—practically a “brand”. The “GR” is not bad—at least it’s a little different. The Hopgood-Ganim is OK (I can almost see the “hg” burned into a calf’s hide), but it’s a decent try at a logo, especially because it uses a font below that ligature that’s very similar in its design feel.

The 3rd row has two examples of poor design. The “ALF” is a weak attempt at a “monogram”. It isn’t a logo at all—it’s just three letterforms floating in a rectangle. It does nothing. To the right of that, also not so hot. The “G” in a box with a bar above the name—boring.

Then the bottom row. Here’s two examples using typographical brackets to “help” the designs. Not sure why either needs them. The Brown logo has this lacy filigree behind to make it look more dignified, I guess. Notice the off-center ampersand placement in the Morgan & Morgan design, a definite mistake.

Sometimes designing for a straight-laced client is just that. Low key and routine. But as designers, we try to be inventive, different, and somewhat showy. All we can do in an arena such as this is to try to have the client see themselves in a different light than the rest.

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Image Intensity and Anxiety


Design is all about organization. Priority in that organization is paramount, because the designer needs to set about where the attention lies in an orderly fashion. Almost like the way a movie unfolds before your eyes, that order is necessary to reveal which comes first in the story.

But in the case of some areas in our daily lives, we come across cacophony. Noise. And that noise can be seen quite readily at what they used to call the newsstand, or today, at the cash register of any retail food store. The magazines on sale here are like a carnival, where the barkers are all yelling for your attention to get into the ring toss and win your partner a stuffed animal.

The Us Magazine at left is typical of fan magazines’ throwing everything at you right on the front cover. Hurry, buy it now to get the lowdown on your favorite stars’ latest anguish. Or wedding. Or life lesson. But you have to buy it now. That’s what the publishers will hope you do.

For me, this poses a slight uptick in my blood pressure. From a design standpoint, this frantic assemblage of information can barely squeeze onto the 8″ x 10.5″ confines. It’s all yelling at you in yellow and pink headlines to convey the things you just have to have in your mental library, immediately. The casual observer will glance at it and not know what to make of all the fuss.

Back in 1974, People Magazine came out, a new kind of fan magazine. With Mia Farrow on its first issue, it was designed with one simple image relating to the featured article inside. All the other articles in the issue were listed on the cover, but without photos. The designers felt that simplicity was enough to carry the attention of the buyer. And they were right. Those designers could still see the art involved in making news.

People Magazine no longer looks as elegant as this. It looks more like Us Magazine.

And then we have the example at right. It’s not a fan magazine, but you get my drift. This is a relatively recent issue of Golf Digest, which of course feels like a comparative breath of fresh air.

With the explosion of the Internet, Facebook and Instagram, you wonder how these fan magazines can keep up with the constant barrage of attention-seeking news blasts on the ‘Net and television. Well, this is how they at least try.

The difference is that—with TV—you can turn it off. At the checkout line, it’s in your face.

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Tenets of Good Design, Part 4


Design is harmony. In this article, my final lesson in the design tenets series, I’m using food packaging for the examples.

Food packaging is ideal for his exercise because food packaging, across the board, offers up the best parameters for the use of design elements in almost every category: a photograph of the product (as the consumer will use it), the brand name of who made it (or is distributing it), and the shape of the package itself.

In the print industry, what you see is pretty much what you get. All the elements on the page or, in this case, package, is static. There are no moving parts to navigate to like on the web. Easy to design to and with.

It should be easy, this assemblage of parts. All the designer has to do is tie it all up into a neat design, something easy to read (good type design), easy to see what the product is (image large enough for appetite appeal), and easy on the eyes (having harmony among the elements). But it’s important, in the grocery aisle, to have the product readability—the type explaining what it is—apparent enough that the consumer knows what he/she is buying.

Nothing to it, right? I mean, you have a designer with good design skills, so why is it that there’s so much bad design out there?

Let’s take a look at some examples. We really don’t have to look far among the six I’ve chosen to find the ones with the harmony we’re looking for. But let’s go ahead and have fun picking ’em apart anyway.

The Birds Eye Steamfresh package isn’t the worst in this bunch, but it’s close. This is a bad design because the consumer cannot see what he/she is buying. Oh sure, there’s a big plate of food there, but everything telling us what actually is there on the plate is scrunched into that small green block on the right. Here, the marketing people feel their product line, Steamfresh, is way more important than what’s in the package. Grade: D.

Next is the Push Pops. Still not the worst, but it’s still terrible. What’s in the box? The Push Pops brand name is too large and imposing, literally pushing all the other elements to the sides of the package front. The product is large enough to see, okay (and why do we have a goat at right?), but look at the flavor panel, a tiny orange thing at center bottom: with the type being white, you can hardly read it. Grade: D–.

Now we have two really bad examples. I’ve never been a fan of Healthy Choice’s design. The older designs have this exclamation point as a design element, badly chosen because the size of the parts inhibits the usage and readability of anything you put inside. Another example of the marketing people being so in love with the product line that the readability of what’s inside the box suffers. The newer designs aren’t much better (“Orange Zest Chicken”). This design is so crowded, reading the box is a chore. Grade on both: F.

Now we come to the winners. The McCain package is a classic example of simplicity and harmony: logo on top and not too large; “Sweet Potato Wedges” large and easy to read (although not certain just why “Wedges” is slightly smaller); and finally, a good clean photo of the food. Grade: A.

In the Stahlbush package, the blue ribbon (it doesn’t have a photo of the food and doesn’t really need it). A refreshing design here: logo at top left (and not too large), followed by a unitary element that encompasses an image of the food inside with an explanation of what it is and all its attributes. A photo isn’t needed because everyone knows what blueberries look like. But even if the marketers decided to use a photo instead, the design would still be as good. This design has a lot going for it. It has readability in all its parts and it has good harmony. Nothing overpowers anything else. It’s easy on the eyes and still informative for the consumer. Grade: exceptional.

Design fundamentals say that there should be a dominant portion in any good design, followed by the subordinate partners in that design, to have a good working flow of attention and overall design feel. But in the real world of practical design—where readability and product recognition are paramount, you can’t have the consumer search the package for what he/she is actually buying. You can’t stuff that information into a small panel with thin or non-contrasting type explaining what it is.

It’s a matter of balance. Show everything you need to show, just don’t have any parts shout their importance while crowding out everything else. Try to look at it with consumer’s eyes. After all, you are one.


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My Two Favorite Nits on Type


Most people (non-designers) have no real appreciation for good type design. And it’s not their fault. After all, unless someone (a good designer) points it out to them, they wouldn’t know the difference.

Like, for example, my son enjoys fishing. I’m a novice at best when it comes to fishing, and I didn’t know how to cast with a certain type of reel until he showed me how. Now I know. The same can be said of type design, and the following two things are no exception. So for non-designers, this is a definite learning experience.

Typography is a first-year course in the design school I went to. And in that class, I learned about letter-spacing. The course also teaches the basics of font design, its stems and kerns, ascenders and descenders, counters, serifs, etc.

Wow. Getting complex. But I’m not going to teach you about all that today. Today I’m going to say something about letter-spacing and one other thing. Because as a designer, it kills me to see these two things misused.

The visual at left is from a TV show I watch on the DIY network. The letter-spacing you see in the visual is bad because there’s too much space between the W and the a and the t in the name Waterman. A good designer would not allow this to happen. The thing is (like the following instance) you see this kind of mistake everywhere. It’s on signs, on the back of trucks, in store windows, even on the Internet and—holy cow, on TV.

I know, I know. Some of you (designers) are saying something like, “Well, that’s the font. That particular font has letter-spacing like that.” Too bad. Correct it. I come across a ton of fonts that have bad letter-spacing. Usually they’re fonts found on many of the free download websites. The problem here is that these font designers don’t pay enough attention to the way some letterforms interact with one another. In this particular case, however, it looks as though the designer intended this letter-spacing. Wow. Ouch. Or he’s blind.

Also, some type designers try to emulate old fonts. And of course, there’s a trend right now toward retro design—‘20s and ‘30s styles— using old fonts. This does not make for good design. That’s right: retro design is seldom good design, if ever. Some advertisers will sacrifice good design for retro styles, anyway, trying to be in.

That’s one nit. Now for the other. The visual at right is a classic example of misuse of quotation marks. People that do this kind of thing probably did not make it past the ninth grade or maybe schools don’t teach English and punctuation anymore.

You see this common mistake in the same areas cited above. The person who did this was trying to place emphasis on that particular word.

Good designers know there are variables in type design that are used for proper emphasis of a word or phrase. Italics and boldface are two of them. Color is another. But not quotation marks.


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First Impressions Mean More

Design is all about perception.

It all starts with a germ of an idea. A concept. But once a designer puts that idea to paper, sketching out his/her idea, it’s already changed. It’s evolved from a smidgeon of thought to a graphic entity. And that’s a translation the designer has now to grapple with.

But once that idea gets fleshed out, the designer has to make that idea have the kind of perception that denotes quality.

How do we perceive? By our senses, of course: seeing, hearing, feeling. We judge the value—the projected worth—of something by its appearance. We’ve often heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But that no longer carries much weight.

Reason? Actually, here’s a few: 1) in the marketplace, we tend to associate worth with brand; Consumer Reports aside, brands carry a lot of equity with the buying public; 2) we live in a society where commercial reaction has been reduced to soundbites; regardless of the 15-second TV spot, repetition of an ad becomes rote; 3) Internet sales have eliminated the tactile sensation of handling an item before purchasing it: the silk tie, the wool sweater, the grip and feel of that new golf club.

Why do we buy item A instead of item B? In food packaging, marketers have come to appreciate the value of appetite appeal on the box, knowing that mom will be swayed more easily with a great photograph of that food.Other buyers may be tempted to try that boutique package instead, with hand-drawn type and a white, “pure’” background, thinking the item in that package is more organic or specialized.

But one thing is clear. Packaging a product is all about perceived value. Marketers will use terms like “upscale” to denote that the item has an affluent-based value.

When Steve Jobs was putting together his Apple Computer Company back some 35 years ago, one of his partners taught him the value of perceived quality. Mike Markkula instilled in Jobs that the total package was important, but essentially taught him that the package itself was at least as intrinsic to the perception of it as anything else. He never forgot it.

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Logo Designs That Don’t Work

I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why there are so many bad logos out there, but one or more of the following has to be true of any badly designed logo:

1. It was conceived by the marketing department

2. It was designed by “committee”, meaning a consensus of several corporate members

3. It was designed by the CEO

4. It was designed by a non-pro, possibly a relative of the CEO

In my career, I’ve worked at or closely with over a dozen ad agencies and several design firms. In all cases, I’ve seen concepts dreamed up by people at corporations and small businesses alike. I’ve sat in conference rooms where these concepts were discussed, presented, and revamped countless times.

In all cases, the client had the last word. And that’s completely understandable, given that it’s their money spent on the design. And in almost all cases, the client felt they had the first—and best—word. Not understandable.

I have many stories about dealing with clients’ logos and other designs. One of my first experiences had the client insisting his logo be green because it was his wife’s favorite color. All professional designers have war stories like this.

99.999% of clients are not designers. People who have an ability to design go to design school to become good designers, learning what works in a good design and what does not work in a bad one. One is inventive, the other hokey. One makes you think, the other tries too hard to explain.

A good logo is a simple design. It says what needs to be said eloquently, without the frills added to explain it to a second-grader.

In the example above left, the design is playful. I get that, but it isn’t elite. And if that’s supposed to be a bow and arrow (ref. Cupid), the arrow is pointing the wrong way. It’s cute at best. The example at right has an image of a glove in it that’s completely unnecessary. Somebody thought it was cute.

The amount of money spent on logo design is not the issue. I’ve seen thousands of dollars thrown at already bad designs only to have them look worse. The latitude given to professional designers and design studios to conceive first and foremost is the issue.

I’ll have more installments about logo design in the near future.

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Doesn’t That Design Look Familiar?

What makes a design yours? How about a logo? A symbol, an emblem…a trademark? Not sure here, but last time I looked, a trademark (if it has a “®” accompanying it) is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If the design or logo is not registered with that office, it can be accompanied by a “TM” (meaning trademark) or an “SM” (meaning service mark.) It’s confusing.

The deal is this: “TM” and “SM” have no legal standing. They merely suffice to make the public think that a particular logo looks legally legit. Only the “®” signifies a legally registered trademarked logo.

One thing keeps coming to my attention: what is intellectual property [IP]? Can it be infringed upon? And does anyone care? There are many facets of “design” that can be considered IP. Any design, or aspect of it, can be considered IP. A logo, certainly, but also trade dress, a term meaning the visual appearance of an entire image or package, such as a publication or edifice. That is also considered IP.

Further, if a design is registered (“®”), it’s protected as intellectual property and can be defended as such by law. Ever heard of copyright infringement? Then again, I read somewhere that an idea cannot be copyrighted; only an expression of an idea can be. And that’s sometimes for the courts to decide.

But I wonder if anyone really cares about designs being protected. It’s no secret that companies copy each other’s designs. Automotive manufacturers, packaging companies, even golfball manufacturers, all reflect each others’ editions. That’s one reason—the chief reason—we have design trends.

But it sometimes shows up in the oddest of circumstances, as in the above images. I’m not saying these are direct copies of each other, but in doing design for the marketplace, shouldn’t companies and their design firms be more aware of who they might unintentionally be copying?

What do you think?

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