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.

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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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The Latest Trend in Asian Automobiles

       

I’ve written before about Lexus’ designs and how their front-end grille contours are not reflected in the lines of the rest of the body styling. With the possible exception of the LC500, this remains so into the coming 2018 model year. And regarding Lexus in particular, their fleet of vehicles does exhibit the front grille motif throughout, the SUV looking the most ridiculous.

I’ve collected a few pics here. Although Lexus’ designers have augmented the grille’s contours and have added an attractive texture to the grille itself, the lines around the headlamp area make for an even more aggressive, squinted look (see my previous article entitled “Let’s Talk Visual Sensitivities” from April 7 of this year).

What I find strange is that this design trend is getting traction elsewhere. Toyota, the parent of Lexus, is getting its grille enlarged in a similar fashion, its contour like that of Lexus with that modified hourglass shape.

Having mentioned Toyota and Lexus, Mitsubishi (lower left photo above) has also adopted the look, although to a slightly less obvious degree.

Moving to South Korea, although the Hyundai Veloster Turbo has had this open-mouthed look for a while, the Sonata is about to show it (lower right photo) in the coming year.

Notice that none of these automobiles has a grille that is light in overall tone or color. They’re all dark if not black. The designers have all decided, as if they’d arranged a meeting and reached a consensus, that black equals a macho, no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me look. Add that to the deep-throated contour that goes all the way to the bottom extremities of the front-end and you have the appearance that these cars can eat highway.

I wonder just how the design world will regard this goofy trend ten years from now.

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Those Pharmaceutical Commercials

    

In the last few years, we’ve seen numerous pharma ads on TV, and they seem to multiply like rabbits in April. Seems like you’ve seen them all only to encounter another one with a pharmaceutical name someone must’ve made up on the way to a board meeting. Names like “Myrbetriq” and “Entyvio”. The names themselves don’t mean anything, because none of them sound like what they’re prescribed for. And the ads are long, some longer than a minute—which on TV, while you’re waiting to see if the new MacGyver will save the day—is like a minor eternity.

But this column today isn’t about the names of some of those medications or about the length of the ads. It’s about the ads themselves and the models they use. I’m not certain just why they bother me. But they do. I look at the perception and the storyline of the ad, but mostly the perception.

My issue is that the model walks through her day as though she’s on Xanax instead of the advertiser’s product. I look at these models and the dopey expression on their faces tells me they might not be allowed to drive a car after shooting the ad.

Of course the models themselves aren’t to blame here. It’s the directors who staged these stupidly idyllic ads. Plus the ad agency probably stepped in somewhere between the concept stage and the storyboards and added their two cents. More committee decisions.

In the Stelara ad, the brunette can’t quite stop smiling throughout the commercial. She’s easily the dopiest I’ve seen in all the pharma ads going. Stelara is prescribed for plaque psoriasis, a skin condition that can be embarrassing in the company of strangers or among people of minimal acquaintance. So this girl is walking along various rural tracks with her beau during the sunlit day and also sits with him among others at night around a campfire.

So the depiction is that she’s enjoying life and not worried about her skin condition because she’s taking Stelara. But the perception is that she’s just too happy. And it ain’t the Stelara.

In the Botox ad, this girl is cruising on something else. Not sure, but the perception is maybe…Vicodin? She’s in dreamland, this girl. Botox is prescribed for migraine headaches. I think she’s using more than is prescribed.

In the Lyrica ad, this model appears confident, alert and very conscious of who and where she is. This is normal behavior, advertisers. Lyrica is prescribed for fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder affecting joints and muscles. So the perception here, because the model comes off as managing her condition with a sound mind, is that there’s no apparent side effect of Lyrica displayed by heavy eyelids and a dopey smile.

I can see a patient going to her doctor and asking if the pills he’s prescribing are going to cause her to look as clueless as some of these models. Advertisers need to be aware that perception is everything. Not just to them, but also to the viewer.

 

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Owls for Now

    

Mascots. They’ve been with us almost as long as slogans have (see article from June 16). Whereas slogans probably came from a remark that someone made offhandedly about a product or service, mascots came about in an entirely different way.

Advertisers began introducing characters to represent their products, knowing two things would happen: one, it would distinguish their product from the rest, and two, it would also make it more memorable. Around World War I, we had the girl on the Morton Salt container (1914), Planter’s Mr. Peanut (1916), and Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo on the Cracker Jack package (1918).

In the advertising world, mascots are important for endearing products to the buying public. So like my old design school roommate would tell it, it’s a gimmick. Call it what you will, but it worked back in the day and it still does. Otherwise, advertisers would’ve abandoned it long ago. Advertisers have to be timely and current.

After World War II, animals came to the fore in the ad world. Cartoons came of age in the ’40s, and ad agencies began to see a way to incorporate lovable characters into ad campaigns. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes started using Tony the Tiger in 1951. Bucky Beaver was the spokesperson for Ipana Toothpaste in 1957. There were other characters besides animals just as cuddly: “Speedy” for Alka Seltzer (1952), Pillsbury’s Poppin’ Fresh doughboy (1965), and Keebler’s elves (1968), for example.

Right now we have owls. One for America’s Best eyewear; one for Xyzal, an allergy OTC pill; and a third for Trip Advisor, a vacation helper on the Internet. Two of them are well-animated, the third not so much.

America’s Best is the best owl by far. He looks real—within most parameters—and he’s articulated very well. Plus he’s wearing glasses, which is of course a necessary tie-in with what he’s hawking (sorry). The fact that he appears out of nowhere—on a roof or park bench—is of no real consequence. And there’s no segue into his sales pitch, telling the unsuspecting and bewildered person that she’s paying too much for eyeglasses.

You’d ignore or turn away from a stranger doing the same direct confrontation. But this is an owl, and you listen to him because owls don’t speak and also, because he’s an owl, he’s wise. That’s the shtick.

Xyzal’s owl is much more stylized, but he’s just as wise. Even professorial. He’s not accosting people in the park—he’s in a library, wearing a monocle, a bow tie and a smoking jacket. Plus, he’s got a British accent, which we’ve noted before implies intelligence.

Then we have a third owl, the Trip Advisor mascot. He’s not as qualitative and not nearly as articulated. He’s more a stuffed owl in an oversized white robe. But the implication of you making wise choices for your vacation or business trip can be associated from dialing up Trip Advisor on the Internet.

Note that none of these owls has a name. But then neither does the Geico Gecko (1999), the Aflac duck (2000) or the garden gnome for Travelocity (2003).

Do you think it’s necessary that these characters have a name?

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Tenets of Good Design, Part 1

  

Note: Dan Blanchette is taking the week off. The following is a reprint.

Design is organization. And without organization, we have no plan. We have noise, a cacophony. Let’s cite some examples.

Let’s pick music, for one. When you listen to a tune you like, it’s pleasant to your ears. The blending of instruments and the sounds they make produce something you find easy to listen to. Ever think of music as design? Well, it is. It’s organization of the notes on the sheet of music and the instruments to play that music—musicians call it “orchestration”. But it’s still design.

How about automobiles? There are cars people think of as great looking, others not so much. Why is that? A Chevrolet Corvette is a car most people would agree is a pretty sharp piece of work. A Pontiac Aztec, not so much. This is not comparing apples and oranges here: it’s merely an example of good v. bad design. One is pleasing to the eye, the other not.

How about this one: Let’s say we have a neighbor named Doris who has a bunch of framed pictures on her living room wall that have no purposeful arrangement. There are various gaps among the items, and upon asking Doris how she arranged them on the wall, she might’ve said,”Oh I just put them up in no apparent way. I just hung them wherever.” This is not design. Now we have our neighbor Gina, who has a similar arrangement in her living room. But this arrangement has maybe a close-quarter arrangement or grid pattern to it that makes it a much more pleasing thing to look at. She has a design.

One of the first things you learn in design school is how to compose an arrangement. There are terms like “dominant” and “subordinate” pertaining to shapes in that arrangement; but for the purposes of this article, let’s say you have a bedroom in which to arrange the furniture. You naturally place the bed first (because it’s the largest piece), then the dressers and nightstands follow. That’s pretty much how you design any arrangement. The placement of the most dominant first: that theme that flows throughout the music, the curving contours of that car, etc.

These are examples of cohesion. Good design has cohesion. Cohesive design is something you see, something you hear, even something you feel.

Most people (non-designers) can sense where and when they experience good design. But most people don’t know why they know it. But they feel it.

My cousin is a home builder. He has a good design sense, but he can’t define it. He just knows what “feels” right. And he’ll explain that in his homes that one thing “flows” from another or that the proximity—nearness—of one room or item to the next makes things easier for the prospective owner. To him, this feels like an organized plan. And he’s right. He’s a planner, an organizer.

Design is intentional.

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Lexus Doesn’t Get It, Unless It Goes All-Out

LC-500 Front LC-500 Rear

Lexus. A name that’s been around since the early 80s, at least in Eiji Toyoda’s mind, the head of Toyota. He wanted to build the world’s best car. And not long afterward, Japan’s competition came out with theirs: Acura from Honda and the Infiniti from Nissan.

Lexus, like most of the marques from that period, played it safe with its outward appearance, instead making its mark with fine interior appointments, smooth finishing and materials, and close-fitting body panels. In short, they didn’t push the styling envelope. Sales were crisp enough from sound advertising, promoting quality over flash.

The focus remained on that conservative approach, keeping in line with its European counterparts, that of Mercedes, Audi, and BMW. And in that club, Lexus remains the fourth best-selling luxury brand. But in 2012, the models offered by Lexus began to change when the automotive stylists made a template which eventually led to a more aggressive look.

A trend had developed among designers at Ford, Mazda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Audi showing a deep-throated open-faced grille, with some contours taking the grille all the way down the front of the vehicle. Lexus was to echo that trend, first to a limited extent, then in a more exaggerated way. Lexus recently took it to its extreme hourglass shape in all its cars this current model year. But all the manufacturers did not take that design motif past the A-pillar, meaning the contours stop at practically the windshield, with some cars reflecting the design lines along the hood. And if you look at Lexus, its modified hourglass grille—that kind of angularity—is not echoed on the rest of their vehicles’ body lines. That grille makes a bold statement on the front of the vehicle, however loud it looks, but the back of that Lexus is any manufacturer’s car in comparison to that bold message.

But now Lexus recently showed a concept car at the Detroit Auto Show, the LF-Lc, that took the design to a great uniformity. True, Lexus’ designs of late have been more angular, making the offerings more aggressive looking. But this concept vehicle takes that angularity to a new level, scoring Lexus a near touchdown in its complete provocative styling.

Hopefully, Lexus will not short-change itself going forward. How much it moves that design thinking to its other cars remains to be seen. The concept car will never be built (concept cars never are), but the LC-500 comes really close.

It has just one small caveat. The stretched hourglass contours of that grille may not be regarded high on the design scales of history. It has elements of ultra-comic book styling with alien skin thinking from futuristic movies. And that’s alright, but it may not be timeless.

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Are Sports Cars Dead?

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I remember in 1974 seeing a brand new Toyota Celica. It was yellow and belonged to a guy I was working with at an ad agency in Cincinnati. It caught the eye of almost everyone who worked there. That was then, and now more than 40 years later, Toyota makes no Celicas. Hasn’t for over nine years now. Supposedly because of the shrinking sports coupe market brought on by a 1997 Asian financial crisis and a Japanese price bubble collapse. The Celica (and Supra, following, along with the MR2) were the sportiest offerings from Toyota, at least to the general public.

In fact, other cars were discontinued like that. The Honda Prelude was a victim of the same circumstance. And that was also the sportiest Honda, aside from the S2000. Both, however, died a death attributed to economies on either Asian or global stages, the latter because of the 2008–2009 recession.

This is not to ignore the European sports roadsters of the 60s, such as the Fiat Spyders and the British two-seaters such as the Austin Healeys and the Triumphs, but many of the cars of that era were not durable. But they could’ve been made better into the 80s.

Then there’s the Mazda RX-8. This car failed to meet increasingly stringent emission regulations in Europe in 2010, one of its better markets. So Mazda yanked the model altogether, citing it could not justify the production on a smaller scale. But at least Mazda is coming out with a model known as “ND”, which will replace the Miata, a car that may hit the skids next summer.

VW is of course a German automaker, not beset by the same issues as the Asian automakers. The thing about VW, though, is that it never came out with a sports car. If the GTI is what VW calls its sports model, it does not fit into the same mold as the two above. The same can be said of the Subaru WRX. If a rally car is what some manufacturers call a sports car, then the category needs to be redefined.

VW has what I would call just a plain old-fashioned design stodginess going for it (apart from the MPG snafu), but Honda and now Toyota are suffering from the same disease.

It seems the sportiness of automotive design has left the stage, excepting of course the Corvette (Ford’s Mustang and Chevy’s Camaro are not sports cars but muscle cars). What is going on?

The price of a gallon of gasoline is now close to $2 nationwide with OPEC telling us it has no plans to cut production, even in the face of ramped up domestic turnout. SUVs are known for using more gasoline than the average family car/minivan, and the oil glut keeping gas prices down will encourage more sales of that beast.

But the sports/roadster makes for much more fun driving.

Think things will ever rebound for the sports car market?

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The Nissan Murano

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Design encompasses many things, not all of them visual. Most ergonomics are felt, a product of the experience of using an object or handling it. Sometimes ergonomics can be discerned only by comparison with another of similar use and construction.

But most design is seen, and being that kind of experience, all things visual come into play.

In the case of the Nissan Murano, the premier SUV from Japan, a coherent display was formed in its first incarnation. The overall shape was good, the flow from panel to panel was nice, and the elements inside those panels matched that flow.

It looked like one person had designed it.

The initial Murano, coded “Z50”, was drawn in 2002 for the 2003 model year. As an SUV it was a medium-size vehicle, and it felt like a well-balanced model of design and engineering. It sat well on the road. Looking at the vehicle, it feels—visually—aerodynamic. Nothing sticks out from the contour. That unified design is a hallmark of initial offerings from many manufacturers. But as with many succeeding offerings along a model’s course, this particular manufacturer’s design of its best SUV lost its way and became ordinary.

And that’s unfortunate, given the clean lines it started out with. If I had to guess, I’d say Nissan literally disposed of the original designer or his/her authority or integrity, or someone at Nissan decided that design by committee was a better strategy.

Let’s see:

From the front, the Z50s grill follows the contours well and is generally uncomplicated. It has the built-in design geometry that echoes the lines of the hood and quarter panels. And the back is pure design: the lines of the hatchback determine the overall lines of the elements that follow, the taillights being held inside the quarter panels and following the lines of the curve. These things make for a unified design. Nothing feels forced, which adds to the elegance.

Along the way, Nissan added a few things and changed others in minor ways through the 2007 model year. Nothing overboard here, but they kept fiddling with it. This is what a lot of vehicle manufacturer’s design studios do (and in fact many other design studios who do other packaged designs): once a sound design is reached, it deteriorates through a compelled need to mess with it.

In this particular case, with the introduction of the Z51 in the 2009 model year, the Murano no longer had its classic lines and contours. The design become somewhat muscular and had taken on elements from its brother, the Rogue. Whether this was for economic reasons or not, the Murano now looks like many other SUVs, undistinguished and as bland as the next.

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