Fox News is obviously terrible. I don’t even mean ideologically – I can handle people I disagree with, and it’s okay by me that they have their own network. What I don’t understand is the capacity my conservative friends have for being yelled at by assholes. Even if they’re assholes you agree with, they’re still assholes, and I don’t get why you’d invite those giant yelling heads into your living room.
But, red or blue, one thing we can all agree on is how shitty this type salad of election results is:
Even the type here speaks of a kind of assholish disregard for the audience. Fox is a giant, profitable company, disseminating information to millions of people. You’d think they’d at least consider the look and feel, but I suspect they leave it to some junior designer who knows how to work the software, or something. I can’t believe any thought went into any of this.
Six typefaces, approximately 9 jillion fades and bevels and whatnot, the whole thing is the visual equivalent of Bobby Brady playing drums:
I know I’m usually complaining here (am I? it seems like I am), but here’s something great, about which I will be doing the opposite of complaining: the Bryson Apartments sign in Los Angeles.
The lettering here is not simply one of the most perfect pieces of lettering* I’ve seen in a long time, but it gets more intriguingly, inventively perfect the closer you look at it.
Okay, so here’s a drawing I created of the lettering, based on a (more or less) straight on photo of the sign.
And here’s some trenchant** analysis: First, it just feels right. That is hard enough to achieve on its own, and so I was then wondering if there’s a way to discover why it hangs together so elegantly. I have an answer, if not exactly the answer. But in digging into it, I just ended up with more and more respect for the inventiveness of the work, of the experience of the letterer, and just how much subtlety you can insert into what is, on its face, just a simple sans-serif logotype. But there is a lot more going on here than just a simple sans serif.
Off center centers:
I know that if I was doing it, I’d probably line up the centers of the B, R, Y, and S (in other words, making the S symmetrical). And that would be okay, but this is way better because f you lowered the crotch of the Y to match the intersection of the two bowls of the B, then arms of the Y end up being way too wide compared to the N, B, R, and S. Of course, you could then make the N wider (which would make sense in that it would closely match the width of the O). But if you did that, you’d want to make the B and R wider, and at that point you’d lose the overall character (this was a luxury hotel, and big fat letters wouldn’t have communicated the kind of elegance that was all over everything else).
The point of the above is that, especially when you’re doing a single word of lettering, everything affects everything else. You can’t change one letter at a time, because the letters don’t exist as discrete elements: they are parts of an integrated whole (this is what makes lettering such an intriguing puzzle to type dorks like me).
So, it’s not just the center lines (although, one last point about that – to my eye, the lower center line on the B, now slightly higher on the R, and higher still on the Y and S adds a very subtle lyrical element that is then finished by the diagonal of the N. This may or may not be intentional, but that’s the way I see it).
Harmony without uniformity:
The above image shows how the proportions of the double-decker round letters relate. A: by themselves; B: overlapping; C: with the B and R flipped to show that the proportions all relate.
This is a kind of harmony that helps pull the overall piece together – each letter contains the same proportions, though deployed in different ways (in service to the requirements of keeping the within consistent widths, as we talked about before with the Y thing). What I’ve learned from considering this aspect of the letters is that harmony can be achieved without uniformity. Bryson here shows that you can make the viewer’s eye read a consistency that is created by a much more complicated relationships than simple things like aligning the centers or making the bowls the same size†.
An O that is pure genius:
In the above illustration, the blue is the width of the letters, the green is the width of the letter spacing, and the dark green is the counter space of the O (these are not, and are not meant to be, perfectly aligned with any part of a letter, since they are meant to indicate how things are seen, not how they aremeasured, because lettering is experienced via looking at it, not measuring it).
So anyway, we’ve settled on the widths of the letters BRSN owing to the constraints of the Y. But now we’ve got that O to deal with. Basically, you’ve got two options here – make it an oblong shape the same width as the other letters, or forget about all the complicated harmonies and just make a donut†† and hope for the best. But our designer did something way better – first, the O isn’t a donut, which helps it relate better with the B, R, and S, which aren’t geometric either. But here’s the genius: he created an O with a counter space that roughly equals the letter spacing of the other letters†. He’s showing us that the negative space, the counters, can be just as useful as the positive strokes of the lettering (something we all learn in Design 101, but that few of us use so masterfully) in creating the overall harmony of the word. So in other words, this is definitely something I’m going to steal in the future.
One more comparison:
You can see here how the BR and S relate, how the non-geometric O works with the BRS, and how the Y and N hang together. And you can also see how lettering a word is not the same as creating a typeface. Jumbled like this, and without their correct letter spacing, the letters look weird and wrong. But when you put it all together, you get a masterpiece.
* even more impressive when you consider it’s been rendered in steel by a sign company, most of which are notorious for ignoring the subtleties of letterforms.
** trenchant, I say!
† it may not seem like it, but this kind of thing totally blew my mind.
†† donut = geometric circle shaped O.
If you’ve ever wondered just exactly how nerdly I sound in person, now you can find out. Yesterday I was interviewed by a very cool young woman for a very cool radio show in Kansas City. And was just tremendously honored to share the airwaves with Mr. Sull, too. Check it out on the KCUR site here. And here’s the direct link to the audio mp3.
Yes. It’s shit. Dogshit, if you will. But it’s more distressing than the usual dogshit because it, to me, is a harbinger of a burgeoning movement that could possibly eradicate notions of any non-dogshit design from the design conversation entirely.
What’s the concept? It’s possibly a result of academic notions of post-structuralism, deconstructionism, and semiotics*. Possibly it’s a winking (and, to my mind, snide) appropriation of unschooled design (it’s also a failure at that, since it looks like nothing more than a Yale MFA attempting raw design). Possibly it’s a publicity stunt mocking/copying the fallout from the Gap.
So, to recap, at best, it is:
- High Concept
- A Crappy Joke
- A Crappy Stunt
What it is not:
This post is not about it being a shitty logo, or shittily executed. It’s obviously both of those, and I think that’s the intent**. It’s about, in some sense, the future of design. I mentioned Yale on purpose, not just they’ve got their heads so far up their asses, aesthetically and conceptually, but because they’re such a prominent design program, that I think we’re seeing the fallout of the ass-headedness, starting with Urban Outfitters. That UO is a bad logo is kind of whatever; that it’s the first shot in a school of anti-design is more worrying.
(A side note on the snideness: theres something off-putting about a joke at the expense of “bad” designers that’s so inside that only a small clique would truly get it. This is maybe apropos for an indie band or fashion house, but it feels weirdly cruel and inappropriate for something like Urban Outfitters).
“There are too many [graphic designers], the [graphic design is] terrible, and it’s because you have been taught to have self-esteem.” – My Hero.
The Yale website is a case in point. There’s so much that’s so wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to begin. Bear in mind that this the public face of an MFA program that costs $50 grand a year. I think the primary problem is that it’s a wiki: anyone can edit it. Conceptually, that’s fine. It’s an idea. I get it. Practically, what you end up with is design-by-committee, which is never good. Good work comes from dedicated designers working with thoughtful decision-makers. When everyone has a voice (to protect their self-esteem and the idea of inclusion (versus the tyranny of ability or dedication)), you wind up with stuff that looks like this:
My problem is not necessarily with the idea. The idea could work for some clients, unschooled design can work, especially for fashion, where twee or obscure aesthetic choices can communicate subtler shit than a flyer for a used car auction. All of that is cool. And I also support school as a period of experimentation where you’re free from commercial pressures.
What’s disturbing to me is that, what if you wanted to learn how to actually design something? You go to Yale, you plunk down your dough, and you basically spend your time being encouraged to codify what you already think (not much – cats parachuting! How delightfully outré) into academic theory. Then your book is filled with ugly, stupid theory and nothing else. Because you never learned anything else.
More and more (and because of stuff like the above), I’m preferring to think of myself as a commercial artist. There are things, as a commercial artist, that I must do: speak in the client’s voice; maintain a level of professional craftsmanship; constantly improve; be self-critical. When I look at Yale’s homepage or their MFA shows† I don’t see design as I know it to be – as commercial art, as visual communication, as part of a tradition of craft. I see privilege combined with fear.
Privilege in that you’d have to be fully sponsored by your parents and therefore unconcerned with ever having to earn a living to believe that this kind of navel-gazing means something outside your Yale MFA class (and no, “green” doesn’t count††). It’s the kind of privilege that’s been so privileged, and so drenched in self-esteem, for so long that it has no idea that it’s even privileged. This may seem to be out of left field, but the kids organizing a giant pillow fight in NYC is much the same. Cute? Twee? Sure, fine. But we’re in the middle of two wars and a recession. Yet this is what we organize? This is what we communicate? Our own cuteness? Isn’t there something more substantial that we could put our minds and our efforts into? In short: Yale design is the flash mob pillow fight of graphic design.
And fear because it seems to me that these kids want to be conceptual or abstract fine artists but are afraid they can’t hack the art world. Yale MFA design seems to be a back door to that world. Which is fine as far as it goes. But it ain’t design.
And so we’ve got Urban Outfitters, as junky as a license plate, but rather than low-grade bureaucratic shit, it’s now got a conceptual imprimatur as the house style of an expensive elite institution of higher learning. We’re gaining shit design from both ends of the spectrum (high and low design), and we’re losing craft, ability, and beauty in the bargain. Welcome to shitsville, everybody.
* For a quick tour of all this junk, read some Roger Scruton. You’ll disagree with his conclusions but you’ll be enlightened by his alacrity.
** Conceptually, there’s something to that “screw the rules” idea; something to the idea of ugliness and subversion. But “I’m gonna compress the letters and apply a stupid Illustrator warp” doesn’t come up to the standard of knowing and obliterating the rules, mostly because the end result looks more like self-satisfaction than any kind of thought process.
† Take a look at these theses. I’m all for exploration, but I can’t tell what any of these projects are supposed to be without reading the explanations. Purposefully obtuse work is okay, but it just is not graphic design.
†† Green is the Medici of the new millennium – a quasi-religious aesthetic based on notions of purity and good and ideology rather than beauty (so sue me).
Most people have got to go out of their way to find truly bad examples of their particular industries. But bad graphic design is everywhere. It’s a constant and inescapable assault of horribleness, as though a nuclear bomb filled not with nuclear junk but Microsoft Word clip art exploded and now everything is covered with radioactively shitty graphics.
License Plate Design is Total Bullshit
Case in point: License plates. This collage of specialty plate graphics will make your eyes vomit, then the vomit coming out of your eyes will itself cry tears of rage. Seriously.
The kids come in for special abuse. For some reason, the only possible way to represent childhood or resilience or the future or anything relating to children is with bad computery crayon drawings done by adults that aren’t fooling anybody into thinking kids drew any of it. I’ve seen kid drawings and they don’t suck that bad.
Also handprints for some reason.
Or, of course, with a photo of a white baby. Choose life for the white babies.
But wait. There’s more. Unfortunately.
The worst offender, state-wise, however, has got to be Florida. Congratulations, Florida – you’re the worst at yet another thing. Look at that shitty lighthouse. Look at that shitty cyclist. Try not to think too hard about what the blue frowny-face means on the anti-abortion license plate (no good can come of such ruminations, trust me). And just marvel at the abyss that is that fucking NASCAR car.
The point is not just to make fun of this stuff.
The question for me is not just why we don’t hire designers and illustrators to do design and illustration work at the state level (though that is a gigantic-ass question); it’s also, why we not just put up with, but embrace, this shit. And I say shit, not because it’s cheesy or representative or kitschy (although it is all of those). But shit because it’s so badly done. We had awesomely cheesy and kitschy and figurative illustrations in the ’50′s, and they’re treasured now. This junk is just junk and will never be anything but junk.
The irony of this last image is just too rich for me. “The Arts?” Do we even know what that is anymore, when a receptionist at the DMV with some time on her hands and the Microsoft Clip Art palette open can cobble together something acceptable enough to get through whatever committees approve these clip art abominations? I’m guessing we don’t.
A better question to ask is why the professional organizations aren’t doing more to get good designers into these jobs. One can only hope that no one was paid for this shit, but even if that’s the case, we’re not getting our money’s worth. This is just visual pollution. And it’s worse than nothing at all because of its cumulative effect. Our environment is, largely, designed stuff (billboards, license plates, cars, architecture). When our environment is one of clip art junk, we’re living in junk.
How about this crazy suggestion: hire some graphic designers – because contrary to the rumors of our Champagne-soaked lifestyles of ease, some of us were hit pretty hard by the recession that hit every single other person in the country pretty hard. Designers could use the jobs, and everyone could use a break from this clip art onslaught.
Yeesh. This isn’t calligraphy, it isn’t typography, it isn’t even legible* – it’s just a jumble of vaguely letterish-formed computer shapes.
That’s in the first place. In the second place, why? What does this look have to do with the 00′s, with obituaries, with anything? I totally appreciate the Times’ dedication to innovative lettering, but come on. Just, yuck.
*Look, we live in the modern world of the Internet (or as I like to call it, the “cyber” age). It might look good big on your own screen, or printed out, but if it’s this pixellated at the published size (and these are the actual published sizes), it’s just wrong.
No, it isn’t. It’s not that bad, really. Smack dab in the middle of the road, sure. Boring, even? Yes. But this isn’t about the boring, middle-of-the-road choices that were made, or whether it’s better than Paula Scher’s previous logo. This is about how they screwed up the execution.
The r-t letterspacing is, however, total dogshit.
I don’t know why, but everyone seems afraid to properly letterspace the r-t connection. It’s as though there’s a force field keeping them from ever touching. It’s tricky, I’ll admit, but there are at least two strategies for letterspacing a word with a lower case r-t. This dogshit is now a teachable moment. And we’ll all pause to vomit at the term “teachable moment.”
One option is to keep the force field in place. It’s a bad option, but if you are the sort of a person who, like a chaperone at the junior prom, just is not gonna ever have no letters touching, then go with it. All it means is that the overall tracking will be a little wider.
You should treat letterspacing as negative space, not linear spacing between the letterforms themselves. So, if we’re keeping the r-t space (the black line above), we realize how that affects the space between the outer edges of the r and t (the green rectangles above). It’s a difficult area to translate to the other negative spaces in your word, and there’s lots of room for individual interpretation. But it will help pull your mark together into a cohesive design. Unlike the original, which looks like a gap-toothed hillbilly.
Above, a comparison, with the r-t space used as a guide for the rest of the tracking in the mark. The yellow is mine, the pink, original.
Option 2 – a.k.a. the better option:
This one connects the r and t, and allows for a tighter tracking across the mark.
It requires a little drawing and a little finesse, but it works much better. Nontrivially better. Because I do think the tighter tracking in the original is the better way to go. So, don’t be afraid to have the r and the t touch. Even though, if you compared the r in Art with the one in Director, they’d look different, they are similar enough that the difference disappears. The thing about tricks like this is that, generally, people don’t notice the little cheats. They notice that everything works together better, perhaps in ways they can’t articulate, but better.
But not to be a total curmudgeon, there is some nice craftsmanship. I’m not sure if they used a different digitization of Franklin than mine, or if it was custom made, but it’s a nice version. I especially like the rounded joins (rather than the angled join shown in the blue circle below) and overall character. Frequently, in a logotype, I’ll sand those edges off, too, because it’s just nicer and adds a little craft to what could otherwise look like just another typed-in word. So, they get some points for the subtleties.
BTW, I redrew everything in like, nine seconds (because I’m not getting paid to do it), so, yes, it’s not perfect. (Man oh man, the trolls have made me preëmptively defensive. Thanks, trolls). Anyway.
This isn’t great. Good, but not great. I’m including it because it’s a nice variation on a script. The w especially is noteworthy. But other than that, let’s face it – who gives a shit about New Zealand? Though it would’ve been kind of fun to address a letter to “New Zealand Government” – the whole government – asking about pony treks and hotel amenities.
I do like the lettering, and love the noir look. But the dawn of the ID Bracelet Age seems a forerunner of some kind of nebulous post-war American arrogance. Which makes little to no sense. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is definitely some triangulation of the rise of identity bracelets and the decline of Western civilization.
No doubt in my mind.
Here’s the full ad. And I will say that at least Hadley was an innovator. I’m not sure what the deal was with Speidel Idents (remember that shit?).
Interestingly (somewhat) is how ’50′s this looks. We’re only at 1938, but the esthetic boundaries are definitely blurred.