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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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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