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).
Watching the Series, I was struck by the resurgence of what I’d thought were Dookie ropes*, inexplicably now brightly colored and popular for some reason with baseball players.
But no. These aren’t just garish Dookies (and it’s pretty hard to garish up a Dookie**). They’re pseudoscientific claptrap, too.
From the product page:
This necklace features Phiten’s Phild processed Aqua-Titanium, which has the ability to regulate the body’s natural electric currents through cell ionization
Promotes muscle relaxation, pain and stress relief, fatigue reduction, blood circulation improvement thus helping prevent injury.
And we know this because they told us.
There’s otherwise zero scientific research to support it. Wired has a good article on it, but come on – Wired? The sports blogs I admittedly didn’t delve too deeply into seem to take it at face value, which is a bummer. Even worse is the Washington Post taking no stance whatsoever, doing no research, and generally skipping the whole journalism thing.***
It’s not just that they’re selling a nickel’s worth of whatever for 50 bucks. These things are flacked all over MLB.com, and after all the steroid outcry we immediately get this stupid shit. We’re practically begging kids to believe snake oil pitches, or at least accept them uncritically in the name of fashion. I know there’s a limit to what we can expect sports to do, especially when it comes to kids, but they do emulate the guys in the bigs, even if they don’t canonize them like they used to. But does MLB have to promote bad science? I wish they’d just have taken the claptrap off of the product descriptions. If kids want to wear ugly necklaces, fine. Ugly necklaces that actively promote stupidity is kind of enraging.
* If I were a different person, in a different life, I would wear a Dookie rope, and wear it unironically.
** Why yes, I do love saying Dookie. Dookie dookie dookie!
*** If newspapers are dying it’s because they’ve stopped doing their jobs. Seriously, if this is the Washington Post, would it matter if it was gone?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, aka brain degeneration from repeated concussions. All that and it’s boring too!
“Most CTE sufferers die from either suicides or accidental overdoses,” he says. “CTE is responsible for most, if not all, of the absurd behavior these players show.”
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.
When our poor, helpless billion-dollar media conglomerates such as Viacom are made to cower under the jackboots of a completely unknown fringe extremist person or two or three wielding the ultimate power of having a website, a keyboard, and fingers enough to type up empty threats on that keyboard, it’s up to the stronger among us Americans to come to the aid of our weaker fellow citizens.
If a poorly drawn U-Haul is now considered too outrageously offensive* for I don’t even know who because this is still America isn’t it, we can only wonder what might be considered safe. I’ve been a proud infidel my whole life, so I will happily step into the breach. I’d like to propose “World Draw Mohammed Day”. And to get the ball rolling, here’s my first entry:
Matt and Trey I ain’t, but what’re you gonna do.
* Leaving aside the ontological weirdness involved in considering that a poorly drawn image of a rental truck somehow “contains” an un-drawn “image” of a religious leader and therefore is somehow considered a “representation” of said religious leader, because that whole can of worms just makes my head spin. There aren’t irony quotes enough in the whole Internet for me to even begin making sense of all that shit.
I’ve always suspected as much, but research shows (and this time it’s actual journalistic research, although Cracked beat ’em to the conclusions in a satirical way) that the average football game has just 11 minutes of action. The rest is people standing around.
The knock on baseball, from people who like to make pointless dualities like baseball vs. football, is that it’s a whole lot of guys just standing around. Which is true, apart from the pitcher-batter duel, which is what makes baseball interesting to many baseball fans. But it turns out the football is just as boring.
Judged by the metric of continuous battle and physical play, the best sport would have to be cycling. It’s best viewed on television (it’s tremendously exciting first hand, but you can’t really get the overall feel of the race), and it combines team and individual competition. Kind of surprising that it’s not more popular here. After all, cycling practically invented the steroid scandal, there are plenty of colorful logos on the uniforms (just like NASCAR!), and it can be quite dangerous. What’s not to like?
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.
Dang, I’ve been busy. But I’d like to pick this back up (Although there’ve been over a hundred posts in just over a year; one every three days ain’t so bad, really). It might have less of a single-ish focus on the Fortune (though there are plenty of pages left to scan, so it’ll still show up) and will include random blatherings, plus some examples of my work. Because I like to blather about work.
Integrity is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Also dignity. And my thought is that these are things that have gone the way of the mimeograph.
Writing the words up there, they even sound quaint, if not stupid and ridiculous in the way that kvetching about the modern world makes you feel like a grumpy, out-of-touch old man (and old people are no good at everything).
There are several threads involved in this (which is how my brain works for better or worse) including:
- that the bar for celebrity has now been lowered to a point that we can be famous for… well I was going to say willingness to embarrass ourselves on camera, but I’m not even sure what this person has done;
- sub rosa shilling for companies via personal essays (now regulated by the FCC and who even remembers that once, product placement in a novel was grounds for much sturm und drang?);
- that we never apologize for anything (“sorry if someone was offended,” and “lapses in judgement” are not apologies);
- and, to get back on topic, Shepard Fairey. But I should keep this simpler and just go with the Fairey thing.
My point with the other things was that integrity seems to boil down to saying “no” to money; to there being some one thing at least that is, at bottom, not for sale. Or some one instance where you will forgo money that you could’ve taken, just because it’s the honorable (another dusty word) or at least fair thing to do. Which all seems like anachronism these days. It’s money and money is good!
Why would anyone ever say no to money? Which is why I’m wondering if dignity and integrity have any place at all in a country that has seemingly eliminated the last vestiges of “society” and now operates purely in an “economy.” But anyway.
So Fairey lied in his court documents and destroyed evidence and his lawyers have now abandoned the case. Which is something I did not expect to happen. He was (imo) hiding behind a mendacious concept of fair use to defend his image theft and the resulting badly-rendered (also popular) poster, although that was to’ve been a matter for the courts.
That he’s a cheesy copycat* is one thing. That he’d go so far to manipulate the case this badly is another thing entirely, and something I never saw coming.
The point about integrity might be something like this: if he had just paid the photographer – forgoing, really, a miniscule percentage of whatever money he’s gotten from the poster (he says none, but he’s said a lot of things that aren’t accurate) none of this would’ve happened and he could continue blithely LiveTracing photos for Nike** and whatnot (why is he called a “street artist” again?). So that’s your economic argument for doing the right thing. Hooray! We still live in an economy.
Here’s a link to the AP’s story (and bear in mind that it’s the AP reporting on a lawsuit against the AP, so, you know).
* Do click that link. Glaser rocks.
** Ugh, that’s so horrible. And it’s in my neighborhood.