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Mayflies

In the ‘Claude Garamond Promotes his Old Style Faces’ topic, Armin said Carson’s work defined the 90s but it’s already obvious that it did not stand the test of time.

Is it?

Is it important that the work we do should stand the test of time? Why? How would we know? How long does it take before we can be sure that work has ‘stood the test of time’?

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ARCHIVE ID 1774 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Jan.20.2004 BY graham
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Armin’s comment is:

Graham,

I see how my comment would seem strange. It seems strange to me too. My point was, specifically to the Garamond/Carson issue, that the typefaces Garamond has created are still being used today… which of the typefaces done by (or under the direction of) Carson are still in use today? And his were done a decade ago, while Garamond's were done centuries ago. I acknowledge that it's like comparing apples to bananas.

But to the more important question: Is it important that the work we do should stand the test of time?

Depends, I guess. I am a strong believer that a logo for a large corporation need stand the test of time. But design is constantly a representation of the times so it would be unrealistic to expect all work to be time-proof. And it would surely create a very boring body of work.

As I said, it depends, there is work that should definitely aim for timelesness (i.e. GE logo) whereas there is other work that shouldn't be worried about it, like CD covers.

It's all part of the discussions we've been having lately about design being so ephemeral and so passing.

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:12 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

I think I know what Armin means, actually. Carson's work often looks a little...out of place, but, it also still looks cool. And that's really what its all about, right? ;-)

But aside from that, of the many things that fascinate and perplex me, its the folks who point to especially aggressive work (like some of the older Tomato stuff, for Adidas or what not), highy stylized in one way or another, and say "well, I can look at that piece ten years later and say exactly when it was designed." This typically comes with a lecture about how the 1980s were so so sooooo much better, and how there was no "style" then, it was all "timeless."

Oh really. Horsey type, gaudy colors, cheesy images, and airbrushing were all timeless? (I work with a guy right now who thinks those things ARE timeless...aaaaaagggghhh!)

Look at any of the annual reports Paul Rand designed for IBM. When do you think those were done? They rock, but...seriously.

And what is it with all these ads from the 80s with Futura Extra Bold Condensed tracked in by like, a third of an em, tightly leaded, sitting above a big image, with Garamond condensed body copy?

Or early 1990s annuals that certainly weren't grunge, but still had...well...you know what I mean. The super open leading, the open tracking, text running in circles.

What about everything from the Bauhaus?

What, pray tell, IS timeless design? And if something is timeless...who gives a goddamn? Capture the moment...emotions and feelings don't go out of date, and sometimes what you're feeling is specific to a certain time or situation.

I remember working on something for a large client aimed at people no older than 18--part of the creative direction was to make it feel really young and youth-culture-ish, but also to...make it timeless. What? Well, anyway, we tried. But the end result looked pretty dated before it was even done because it was a ludicrous combination to grasp. Like...why.

There are very few things to me that are timeless...here's a start.

1. That one CBOT annual that VSA did. You know the one I'm talking about, black red big type, b&w photos.

2. logos by Saul Bass, like AT&T or Minolta. IBM's by Rand.

3. A Charles Schwab AR that Cahan did. Actually...a lot of Cahan's stuff. But not all of it.

Okay that's all I can think of and I have to get back to work. But pretty much everything, I think "dates" itself, but that doesn't make it...bad.

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:27 AM
graham’s comment is:

there are two threads to this that might be worth exploring:

the pragmatic-how does one practically approach (for example) a logo for a large corporation that the client believes needs to stand the test of time? how does one respond if that is a particularity of the brief?

the emotional (for want of a better word): why is the notion of work not standing the test of time a bad thing?

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:32 AM
ryin’s comment is:

..like a sprint versus a marathon...instant litter as opposed to a chermayeff & geismar identity...so standing the test of time to me is only important if it stands it's own intended length of communicative intent...

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:37 AM
ryin’s comment is:

not standing the test of time is negative when the designs core message stops communicating it's original intent and becomes conspicuous unto itself...or something like that.

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:41 AM
KM’s comment is:

Is it important that the work we do should stand the test of time?

Like you said, Graham, it's hard to tell if something has stood the test of time. A lot of what we do is somewhat a visual reflection of the present and our culture. I don't think designers a few centuries ago, or a century for that matter, were too occupied on discovering personal visual vocabularies. That's why I think it's nice to see something designed a long time ago still have relevance today. Even though the work of Carson or perhaps Oliver may appear dated, it still is excellent design and represents the culture of that time.

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:46 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Just for the record. I never intended to say that non-timeless design is bad. It's bad when, like ryin said, the work stops communicating and is still being used.

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:56 AM
david e.’s comment is:

when you say that david carson's work doesn't stand the test of time, do you mean that the work he did 10 years ago that looked good to you then, now looks like it was poorly done? or does it look like well executed work from another era? do you think that his current work looks dated?

"timeless design" to me would mean a style, or way of doing things that's endured. signage for the new york subway system needs to endure. art direction for a cutting edge surf magazine can change as often as that culture does.

with logo design, it's often the success or failure of the company it was designed for that determines whether or not the logo endures. is coke's logo timeless? it's obvious what era it was designed in, yet it's lasted for so long it's considered timeless. at the time of it's design, i'm sure it was just meant to look contemporary.

i think there's a place for permanence, and a place for exploration and new ideas.

On Jan.20.2004 at 12:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> when you say that david carson's work doesn't stand the test of time, do you mean that the work he did 10 years ago that looked good to you then, now looks like it was poorly done? or does it look like well executed work from another era? do you think that his current work looks dated?

I don't mean that it was poorly executed. It was poorly/greatly executed then, it still is the same now. In specific, Carson's work is dated, maybe not by time but by style — as he is still doing the same stuff. When you see Carson's work, even today, you associate with the early 90s stuff not with today's cleaner-than-thou [insert descriptive]ism. So, personally I think his work today (at least the print work, his motion work is less Carsonesque) does look dated, because I will always associate it with his early work. But this is a purely personal conclusion.

Also for the record. I love Carson's work. I don't think it's the best work but I find it appealing, interesting and motivating.

On Jan.20.2004 at 12:19 PM
graham’s comment is:

david carson's work may be a good examplar for this little chat, but more interesting to me are the points i raised earlier:

how do you go about making 'timeless' work if it is (even by implication) an initial requirement of a job,

and

why do you think it is that the idea of work not standing the test of time (and all that implies) is used so often as a critical baseball bat?

On Jan.20.2004 at 12:29 PM
eric’s comment is:

to throw gas on the fire, or maybe to restate Graham's question... should "design" stand the test of time? why should it be immutable and fixed? if design is about use-value then why also shouldn't it continually adapt to contemporary need and vocabulary?

isn't it that we enjoy outdated logos and packaging because of the nostalgia?

On Jan.20.2004 at 12:37 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

It depends.

On Jan.20.2004 at 12:53 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Depends? Is this even about nostalgia?

graham, having work stand the test of time is...well, it's so modernist. And the people who perpetuated those time-tested beliefs are modernist design critics, educators, mentors, and/or practitioners.

Rand's UPS logo reminds me of this all the time, I would get into arguments about why a logo or any design only succeeds if it stands the test of time, but I've come to see that as a flawed requirement. Instead, making something that meets a communication objective is far more important. Don't you agree? Appearance and surface hold up momentarily, and today's design annual is tomorrow's collection of trends, but meeting substantive requirements carries much more value.

There's a book out there that tackles this topic, so often debated amongst designers.

On Jan.20.2004 at 12:58 PM
graham’s comment is:

darrel 'It depends.'

what depends on what?

jason 'graham, having work stand the test of time is...well, it's so modernist. And the people who perpetuated those time-tested beliefs are modernist design critics, educators, mentors, and/or practitioners.'

why do you think these beliefs are perpetuated? to what ends? what other beliefs do you think might be being perpetuated?

jason; 'Instead, making something that meets a communication objective is far more important.'

what do you think this is far more important than? why?

and

how would one make something that didn't meet a communication objective, and how would one know? really?

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:11 PM
ryin’s comment is:

in my opinion, said modernist principles have been perpetuated due in part to their success in communicative problem solving...

we're don't seem to be answering much just rewording the original queries...instead of it being an either/or of timeless v. timely, it comes down to the projects communicative requirement or 'shelf life' if you will.

when approaching an idenity project with timelessness as a requirement at the outset, that tells me i need to (unfortunately) mute emotion and flatten out the highs and lows...sand off the 'edge' as it were and design towards a lower common denominator, because timelessness to me also implies a maximum audience inclusion through recognizable visuals - because ultimately the larger the audience you're able to speak to the longer your window of effective communication and potential for longevity...in my opinion of course.

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:30 PM
graham’s comment is:

ryin; so-as a hypothetical situation-if a client was to demand that a piece of work possess the quality of 'timelessness' (or however they would phrase it) you would never suggest to them that this might be impossible, or impractical?

what would you do to guarantee the client 'timelessness'?

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:37 PM
Jason’s comment is:

graham, I applaud you for pushing this discussion aggressively. we're talking about so many issues here. but in response to some of your challenges, let me take things point by point:

-modernist beliefs are perpetuated by modernist designers and people they've educated or mentored will continue such ideals

-making something that meets a communication objective is far more important than if its design stands the test of time because graphic design is about visual communication : message to receiver

I'm much more curious, should visual style be the test of time?

And to : how would one make something that didn't meet a communication objective, and how would one know? really?

Designers should know their communication objectives. But in truth, once it leaves their desk, it's up to the audience. Perhaps we need more focus groups, the way advertising uses them. Looking through design annuals, books, biographies, and autobiographies, do we get the backstory about such processes? Do we see what the communication objectives are or were? In those annuals -- where designers often look for successful design -- we don't always have creative briefs, clients, messages, or audiences explained as detailed as who designed it, who it was for, and what the media was.

A timeless logo seems as impossible as a perpetual motion machine.

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:42 PM
brook’s comment is:

isn't it that we enjoy outdated logos and packaging because of the nostalgia?

isn't nostalgia ultimately the only way we associate anything with a time?

why are we fond of old design/ephemera? do we like it because it WAS good? or because it IS interesting?

do we have enough history to even know what's timeless?

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:43 PM
david e.’s comment is:

graham said, "how do you go about making 'timeless' work if it is (even by implication) an initial requirement of a job,"

if a client asked for timeless design, most likely what they'd be wanting was a style that conformed to what was already considered timeless for that industry (unfortunately). as far as most clients ive worked with go, timeless equals conservative.

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:48 PM
ryin’s comment is:

i'd certainly make sure that their 'demand' had some practical basis through the prep & researching stages of their needs and communicative goals, but before that i'd be sure to secure what their definition of 'timeless' was.

so sure, in a given the situation it may be inappropriate and/or impractical but i wouldn't say something is ever impossible...

but you're right, as a designer you can only do so much — you raise the child and throw them into the water hoping they can swim i guess...there are no guarantees in anything, especially design.

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:48 PM
griff’s comment is:

Griff's Law: Good design is timeless. Great design is trendy.

I think this is proven in the clothing industry. Think of clothing that is timeless and unaffected by fashion. A simple white Ralph Lauren Polo shirt always looks good but never knocks your socks off. Think of a clothing that is trendy. Hip hugger jeans look ultra-chic now, but I gaurantee people will regret it when looking back at photos fifteen years from now.

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:01 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

The interesting and challenging thing about making something timeless, especially in the case of a logo, is the need to walk the line of neutrality. The mark needs to communicate something and be attractive to its audience, but it also needs to withstand stylistic uses and trendy applications. IBM is a really good example. While Rand's confetti-like use of the mark is dated nowadays, the mark still has value and can look great amidst strong black and white photography and a little Bodoni.

To me, the best way to aim for a timeless identity is to avoid as many stylistic trappings of the day as possible. Of course, how does one know something is going to become a trend? Maybe the first designer to do a swoosh mark thought they were creating something timeless and simple. I don't think you can simply create something and deem it timeless. You can only create with intent and hope it lasts.

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:11 PM
brook’s comment is:

so something that lasts fifty years in fashion is timeless? what's the limit? will we regret in 15 years that it is currently acceptable for woman to wear pants?

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:12 PM
brook’s comment is:

the above is referring to griff's comment, btw

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:13 PM
brook’s comment is:

what about a logo like apple, where the same basic-in my opinion good-design has elements that are allowed to evolve stylistically? is it still a timeless design? or is it not because it has been updated? (btw...there is a good program on the history of macs on NPR right now)

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:19 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

I think the Apple symbol is pretty timeless. Yes, they've tinkered with some of it's trappings — the stripes, for example — and the accompanying typography, but the form is the same as it has always been.

Even the GE mark has been updated several times. Landor did a redrawing in the 80s and GE's ad agency did some 3D'ing of it lately. I think the 3D bit is stylistic and trendy and not timeless.

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:24 PM
griff’s comment is:

brook, good point. I guess I used the clothing industry example because it is not realtime, it's excellerated, like a dogs life. 50 years in clothes fashion is like 500 years in architecture.

The apple example is interesting, originally I did not like the shift from rainbow to all white, but now I think the rainbow would look really dated. An all white logo fits with the "think different". What is really cool to me about apple product design is that each new product seems radically different than the previous when revealed, but if you step back and look at the evolutionary product design, it seems like the logical next step.

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:36 PM
graham’s comment is:

so, is it the case that a logo (for example) is considered timeless because it has been in use for a long . . . time?

On Jan.20.2004 at 02:46 PM
marian’s comment is:

I'm not sure you can set out to create "timeless" design. I think it's something that just happens. The CocaCola logo is a good example. It works today because we're used to it. Through relatively consistent use over decades it has become timeless. But if CocaCola was a startup company today and that was their logo, we'd probably all be up in arms about its trendiness.

Then there's Cooper Black -- perhaps the most oft-mentioned typeface on Speak Up. It had its heyday and then for a while it was considered hopelessly gauche. Everything set in Cooper Black looked of an era, or of a T-shirt. But Cooper black is back, it's entering its golden age, and perhaps some of the things set in Cooper Black that 10 years ago we would have decried as "dated" we might now consider "timeless."

A while ago I received a letter from Pentagram. As I set it on its little altar and prepared my offerings of goat meat and marigold petals, I was struck by the design: Timeless, or dated? A little of both, but probably on the cusp. A younger designer than I would definately have considered it dated, but really, another 10 years and I think it will be considered officially timeless. Unless they change it, in which case it will be dated.

So timelessness comes from perseverence on the part of the owner, sometimes in the face of adversity. If it's a good design to begin with, it can weather all storms. I think it's pretty much guaranteed that any design will go through a period of being dated (and probably most markedly about 10 years after), after that, only time will tell.

On Jan.20.2004 at 03:09 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

so, is it the case that a logo (for example) is considered timeless because it has been in use for a long . . . time?

Not at all. Simply being in use for a long time doesn't imply timelessness. Simplicity of form might be part of the equation, because there's less chance for it to be subject to trendiness. But that's not the total answer either. Is it as obscure as "we know it when we see it" ? I think I'm copping out.

Graham, you've been awfully determined to play the counterpoint. Do you have a general definition that you operate with? I recall you've made the point before that you don't consider timelessness to be an issue at all. In most design, I'd say you are correct. There's no reason a CD cover, or a magazine need appeal to anyone beyond a week or a few months, really. And corporate objectives can change more frequently than once a decade, necessitating a logo to be updated and changed. But when something must communicate essentially the same message over a protracted period of time — several years, decades — then attention must be paid so that the qualities inherent in the design do not firmly ground it and leave it in the time of its creation.

If we really had to define timelessness in a design, we might say that it could be created in any time period — now, 30 years ago, 30 years from now — and it would end up looking exactly the same. But this just isn't possible. The IBM mark would never be created (or approved) nowadays. But its continued relevance (ooh, relevance?) to IBM and its customers allows it to stand that test of time.

On Jan.20.2004 at 03:11 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Maybe the viable question isn't timelessness but shelf life extension. Putting it as the converse, what can you do to have your design look dated as quickly as possible? I'd say that making currency (as in now-ness rather than cash money) the subject rather than making the ostensible subject the subject. There may be products, events, or themes that are all about this minute's zeitgeist and it's appropriate to reflect that but the pathetic obsession with staying on the cutting edge is what makes work look sad when the edge has passed.

On Jan.20.2004 at 07:52 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Marian-

A while ago I received a letter from Pentagram. As I set it on its little altar and prepared my offerings of goat meat and marigold petals...

LOL!

Graham-

Addressing your mid-thread questions first:

how do you go about making 'timeless' work if it is (even by implication) an initial requirement of a job

To echo the statements of others, I would develop visual strategies that would be "classical," "traditional," or "conservative" in nature; and neutral with respect to current trends, with an affinity to Modernism. Although, on an impish whim, I might try to sneak in some "stealth" hipness in certain ways; ya know, just some little aspects. As long as it "works." But in relation to form, one of my teachers from waaaay back in very early 80's told me that it was important to use symmetric forms for the major components. This gives balance and proportion.

why do you think it is that the idea of work not standing the test of time (and all that implies) is used so often as a critical baseball bat?

Well, timelessness is a myth of Modernism's need to be ubiquitous and universal over all. Timelessness is also a recurring theme within our Western culture, which has long viewed history and artifacts of the Greco-Romans as timeless. Being "timeless" also gives people a sense of security, and perhaps a false sense of immortality, knowing that continuity and tradition are upheld. So, all of these notions act against something which is imbued with the zeitgeist of the day.

But now, in referring to your original question, is it important that our design "stand the test of time?"

For certain things we do, I think it is. For others, I think it's much more important to be current and engaged with the current spirit. On a purely selfish note, I'm more interested in riding the currents and tides of the "now" than in trying to constantly fortify a construct of universalism. It's just more fun, to be honest. But if you're creating a logo for a financial institution, or something like that, I think that it needs to be more timeless, so that the logo gives the institution a feeling of being stable and solid.

In relation to being trendy, as someone who has been doing kinda trendy design for 20 years (some stuff not shown in my official portfolio), I have to say that I don't really have a problem with seeing the work age over the years. It feels appropriate to that time. It was hip then, it's charmingly quaint now. And some of the more conservative jobs I did back in the 80s still sorta feel okay now; sort of, mind you. So I say, jump headlong into the seductively cool of today, as much as you can.

On Jan.20.2004 at 11:54 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

What's the graphic design equivalent of a leisure suit? Becaues I want it in canary yellow.

Yeeaaah! Hot stuff.

I think LinkKesselsKramer in Amsterdam is pretty good about using campy stuff from waaaaay back when and making it...function. Or work to their advantage. It gets old after awhile, but still.

On Jan.21.2004 at 12:02 AM
Steven’s comment is:

Gunnar

...but the pathetic obsession with staying on the cutting edge is what makes work look sad when the edge has passed.

Okay, but conversely, not even addressing the cutting edge could make work seem out-of-touch to the current condition, and therefore irrelevant. I think it's all about the context of the project. Some work just functions by fulfilling a current need, and then it's tossed away like a used facial tissue.

On Jan.21.2004 at 12:20 AM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

So I say, jump headlong into the seductively cool of today, as much as you can.

Everyone see the problem with systems theories now? :)

On Jan.21.2004 at 12:36 AM
nancy mazzei’s comment is:

"david carson's work may be a good example for this little chat, but more interesting to me are the points i raised earlier"

yeah exactly, anytime DC’s work is put in this context it seems to me a cheap shot.

Anyway, good questions Graham I'll be getting my ass kicked most of today but I hope to take a crack at them later. Hope I don’t miss my chance.

Happy new year everyone.

On Jan.21.2004 at 10:28 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

what depends on what?

Whether a piece of graphic design must stand up to the test of time depends on the goals of that particular piece of graphic design.

I'm late clarifying that, and I think Ryin did it much better with the 'shelf life' comment.

I think a big part in attempting to make something timeless is to make sure you're not just making it trendy.

On Jan.21.2004 at 11:00 AM
Sarah B’s comment is:

I do believe that it depends on the goal of a particular peice as well.. and also, what type of design it is.

Will the lotion bottle or cracker box or chocolate tin design stand the test of time? I see it more as the question of company identity/longevity that will determine that.

Only time will really tell which companys will still be around, and remembered. "how long does it take" shouldn't be at question here - it is like asking how long before the coca-cola/ibm/att&t logo(s) were remembered and recognized... I do not think that there was a set time. and what does it matter - something clicked.. and worked.. and it remains.

Is it important that the work we do should stand the test of time? Why?

I think that all depends on what it is, who is designing it, and whom for.

For example, I am looking at my Bath & Body works lotion here on my desk, and I KNOW that the packaging has changed within the last few years, a few times, for the same product. Is that bottle, label design going to stand the "test of time" - I would guess - no. Do they really want it to? - I would guess no there as well.

Sure, the Bath & Body Works logo really hasnt changed - but that remains with the logo/corporate identity - and I am guessing the goal was for recognition.

Yes, that was a long drawn out example.. but I really think it all adds up to what the goal of the design is....

and how to make something stand the test of time.. I wouldnt know - but I will just keep at it.

On Jan.21.2004 at 12:07 PM
graham’s comment is:

jonsel: 'There's no reason a CD cover, or a magazine need appeal to anyone beyond a week or a few months, really. And corporate objectives can change more frequently than once a decade, necessitating a logo to be updated and changed.'

given this, why then does the supposed achievement of 'timelessness' seem to be used as an acceptable measure of quality, of rightness, (of manners?) in graphic design?

darrel: 'Whether a piece of graphic design must stand up to the test of time depends on the goals of that particular piece of graphic design.'

so-the deliberate intention to achieve 'timelessness' with a piece of graphic design should be considered as a valid part of the process of making work?

i.e. the designer sits and thinks, 'righty-ho, i'm gonna make something that will last forever. just watch me . . .'

does anything about that seem questionable to anyone?

On Jan.21.2004 at 12:20 PM
Chris Keegan’s comment is:

darrel: 'Whether a piece of graphic design must stand up to the test of time depends on the goals of that particular piece of graphic design.'

True. It is our job to make sure that our design decisions reflect the intent of the client, product or service. If not, we are just imposing our own stylistic ideas - whether they be "trendy", "classic", etc...

I remember thinking that Communication Arts looked dated during the visual chaos of the 90's. Now that things are swinging back to the clean aesthetic, it seems like a smart approach. I would imagine that their goal has been to allow the content to "be the hero" and let let design of the magazine itself take a subservient role. I think it works. Try picking up a copy of Step (previously Step-By Step Graphics) before the redesign a few years ago - ugh!

Back to Carson: (since he was such an icon of design during the 90's and I think a good example) I personally never was able to "do" the grunge approach on projects during the 90's although I saw a lot of other co-workers and associates try to pull it off (with mixed results).

On Jan.21.2004 at 12:55 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

does anything about that seem questionable to anyone?

Are you arguing that the project requirement that a piece of graphic design be made 'timeless' is impossible? If so, then I completely agree.

IMHO, in terms of project requests, 'timeless' simply means the opposite of 'uber-trendy'.

I'm not really sure what 'uber' means, but it's a fun prefix to stick on words.

So, if a client asks for something 'timeless' I consider them asking for something that won't be too dated too quickly. The surest way to date something quickly is to grab the nearest hot style trend.

On Jan.21.2004 at 01:02 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Everything in life is ephemeral, why should design or a designer try to do otherwise? What value does a timeless attribute have beyond status or historic value. In fact, instead of timeless, what about historic value? If a design has historic value, won't it be looked at and talked about generation after generation. I assure you that in 3004, they'll still be talking about Plato, but JK Rowling will be long gone.

On Jan.21.2004 at 01:17 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

given this, why then does the supposed achievement of 'timelessness' seem to be used as an acceptable measure of quality, of rightness, (of manners?) in graphic design?

I think this is because if something fits this arbitrary state of timelessness, then it has enduring appeal, visually. It 'worked' when created and it continues to 'work' in the current day. It's a way of saying to your client that they are looking at something deemed acceptable by others over a time period (years and years, generally) and, therefore, is acceptable now and should be acceptable to them. Sales tactics. My best frame of reference for this is identity work, since that's my niche. ID clients generally don't want something that will date their company (unless, of course, trendiness is an important objective). Also, they are spending considerable sums of cash on these projects. They don't want to do it again in 5 years.

I take a little issue with the broadness of the question, though. Timelessness has no relevance to rightness of all graphic design work, only in the instances when it is something desired by the client.

On Jan.21.2004 at 01:19 PM
marian’s comment is:

something clicked.. and worked.. and it remains

It remains only by the will of the company that owns it. Thousands of successful identities have gone by the wayside because they hit that 10-year mark and someone said, "it looks dated." I meant what I said about Pentagram. If they were to change it, what they have now will look dated; if they stick with it, it will become timeless. That's not to say that any PoS will become timeless through longevity, but given a combination of a good design with commitment to that design, it likely will. The first we can control, the second we can't.

The brown delivery company which shall remain nameless is a prefect case in point. That logo was timeless and could have served them into the next millenium. But in a few years, once people accept the change, it will probably look dated.

On Jan.21.2004 at 02:11 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Steven:

Okay, but conversely, not even addressing the cutting edge could make work seem out-of-touch to the current condition, and therefore irrelevant. I think it's all about the context of the project. Some work just functions by fulfilling a current need, and then it's tossed away like a used facial tissue.

Yes. There is much design and advertising that is about stuff that will, in five minutes, be so five minutes ago. Designing with that in mind seems like the reasonable approach. There's nothing specifically wrong with that but I'm always amazed when people are shocked to see their deliberately dated today work seem dated later.

Others don't every figure out that their stuff looks dated. I went to a CalArts retrospective show a year or two ago and the new stuff looked like slightly slicker versions of the ten-year-old stuff. Keedy had the sense so seem slightly embarrassed about some of his old work but most of the others didn't seem to notice that it was all the Emperor's New Clothes but he'd been wearing them long enough that the old guy had a nasty sunburn. (Then several of them went on to write various articles about how it just ain't the good ol' days no more. Jesus; at least Paul Rand had the good sense to wait to become an old kvetcher until he was actually old.)

Chris:

I remember thinking that Communication Arts looked dated during the visual chaos of the 90's. Now that things are swinging back to the clean aesthetic, it seems like a smart approach. I would imagine that their goal has been to allow the content to "be the hero" and let let design of the magazine itself take a subservient role. I think it works. Try picking up a copy of Step (previously Step-By Step Graphics) before the redesign a few years ago - ugh!

I find the current Step design so self-conscious that it might piss me off even if I didn't find it so difficult to read. I kept trying to like it but finally had to give up.

Marian:

The brown delivery company which shall remain nameless is a prefect case in point. That logo was timeless and could have served them into the next millenium. But in a few years, once people accept the change, it will probably look dated.

Paul Rand said the good thing about his UPS logo was it was all about getting a package. Since UPS is trying to reposition itself as more than a package delivery company, that argues for a redesign. It doesn't argue for that particular redesign, however.

I'm not sure whether you're saying that the new trademark will eventually make Rand's mark look dated or that the new one will eventually look dated. I think the current one already looks dated. It looks like someone who just found out that some bad piece of clothing was in style about two years too late, well after it hit the cut out bins. (I could be wrong. Maybe just plain bad is timeless.)

On Jan.21.2004 at 03:15 PM
graham’s comment is:

jonsel; 'I think this is because if something fits this arbitrary state of timelessness, then it has enduring appeal, visually. It 'worked' when created and it continues to 'work' in the current day.'

but you could say that of, for example, arcadia's (arcadia were the duran offshoot band consisting of lebon, rhodes and one of the taylors, circa 1985) 'so red the rose' album cover; it 'worked' when it was created because it summed up what they were then, and it still 'works' now for the same reasons. one could also argue that it has enduring appeal precisely because it so 'of it's time'.

all of this is really to do with wondering at the implicit putdown that resides in something 'not standing the test of time'. what use does considering things in this way really serve? all things must pass, as george harrison once sung.

On Jan.21.2004 at 03:16 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

it 'worked' when it was created because it summed up what they were then, and it still 'works' now for the same reasons. one could also argue that it has enduring appeal precisely because it so 'of it's time'.

There should probably be a distinction drawn between true timeless design —�having very little footing in a particular era — and designs whose appeal outlasts their particular design language. I'd throw the Arcadia cover and anything nostalgic in that last bin. We love it still and it continues to resonate visually but it dates itself instantly. Our whipping boy, David Carson, also could fit under this. I continue to appreciate a lot of his 90s work, but I wouldn't dare try it today.

On Jan.21.2004 at 03:34 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Marian-

The brown delivery company which shall remain nameless is a prefect case in point. That logo was timeless and could have served them into the next millenium. But in a few years, once people accept the change, it will probably look dated.

I think the new logo already looks dated, with the cheesy 3D effect and the little swoosh detail. It's just tawdry shell of it's former self. I think it'll be interesting to see where they go from here. Will they go further down the road of additive obfuscation or will they have a revolt back to the original structure? Time will tell.

Tom G-

Me: So I say, jump headlong into the seductively cool of today, as much as you can.

Tom: Everyone see the problem with systems theories now? :)

Well, I'm not so eager to catagorize my design theory as a systems theory, necessarily. But I'm not going to get into that here. We can get into that via e-mail, mon ami.

My point was simply to promote creative growth through involvement in current conditions. Being "timeless" isn't necessarily a big concern with me. And, I wouldn't necessarily characterize seeing older trendy work as being "sad" as Gunnar mentions. From my point of view, if the work was executed well "back in the day," then it will retain a certain nostalgic charm. Designs should simply be created to live within their designated lifespan.

Jason-

Everything in life is ephemeral, why should design or a designer try to do otherwise? What value does a timeless attribute have beyond status or historic value. In fact, instead of timeless, what about historic value? If a design has historic value, won't it be looked at and talked about generation after generation.

I so agree with this statement. The Coca-Cola logo is a prime example of this. (Interestingly, compare the timelessness of the aformentined logo with the newer Coke logo.)

On Jan.21.2004 at 04:29 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Gunnar-

...I'm always amazed when people are shocked to see their deliberately dated today work seem dated later.

Others don't every figure out that their stuff looks dated.

Yes, that's a little pathetic or sad. I'm always very conscious of being trendy and I know that some things will look dated over time. Life always moves forward. A lot of those earlier "rebels" are having to confront the awkward condition of being "old-school" and are being forced to re-evaluate their life's work to the conditions of the modern times. Some will adapt; others will sadly be stuck in their time. (And yes, what IS that with lamenting the good ol' days?!? Hell, I have probably 5 to 10 years more "water under the bridge" than they, but I'm not whining about past glory days. I hope my best days are still yet to come. I think they're just upset that they're not in the hipster spotlight anymore.)

On Jan.21.2004 at 05:02 PM
Jason’s comment is:

What are we driving at here? Suddenly, I feel like we've moved from timeless design to celebrity. Perhaps making your mark and having it stick around beyond your days is what's important for some designers with stars in their eyes. "HEY! Look at me. Look at me forever and ever and ever!!!"

On Jan.21.2004 at 08:39 PM
Linda’s comment is:

I'm jumping back a few comments here, but I think it's possible that the act of making a logo or piece timeless is based completely on feeling or familiarity.

If I make a logo right now and my client is both thrilled and thinks it is representative of "timeless", then I have done my job. If the client goes back to his or her company and they have similiar reactions, then there's a second degree of timelessness. Essentially, if the client or audience or whomever is comfortable about the work, they may inherently promote it as well. Hence, a "feeling" relationship.

As for familiarity, I don't think anyone goes out to make anything timeless; it is based on outside circumstances alone. Could something be timeless if the message transcends age, sex, and race barriers? And if so, isn't there a chance that the work would continue to do so? If the designer digs deep and finds a common denominator, aren't they obviously exploiting an item that people are familiar with; they can relate to regardless because of its essential function to the human experience?

For example (and I apologize if I am opening another can of worms here), Paul Rand's UPS logo: designers can argue all day of its usefulness and longevity, but when it comes down to it, isn't the exciting part the little bow-tied package? What's in it, is it for me? Hasn't everyone experienced the joy of opening a present or receiving a long-awaited shipment?

I know, I'm rambling here. I'll stop now.

On Jan.21.2004 at 10:49 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

you know... I never really thought about the UPS logo before I was a designer. I never saw it as a package, because I've never got a package that looks like that. I just saw it as part of a shield... I imagine a lot of people never really got it, either. Not that the new one is better; no, the old one was nice, the new one is asinine.

On Jan.21.2004 at 11:00 PM
Linda’s comment is:

That's true... maybe I'm weird, but I always did see the little package; and yeah, being a designer tends to skew your take on the visual landscape.

On Jan.21.2004 at 11:06 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Tom:

I never really thought about the UPS logo before I was a designer. I never saw it as a package, because I've never got a package that looks like that.

Even before UPS decided they wanted to broaden their brand beyond the delivery of packages they spent many years refusing to take packages tied up in string.

On Jan.22.2004 at 10:50 AM
nancy mazzei’s comment is:

If design were judged by it’s “longevity” we’d all be bad off. I doubt Paul Rand sat down and said “right now I’m going to design something timeless” I hear what everyone is saying but it’s seems a petty way to go about design criticism. I mean I’m not saying there aren’t designs that have stuck around and yes “stand the test of time” but I don’t see that as the driving force as to if something is “good” or not or if the designer was “successful” in their execution/concept or not. As for the celebrity thing, Paul Rand is/was a celebrity so I don’t understand why DC gets the side swipe on that. If you want to get down to it both Paul and David designed stuff that “made” time not put it in some weird “pause” moment. Also, I feel you cant even have this discussion based on “what was” the computer has radically changed design in a way that comparing DC and Paul Rand just makes no sense to me. As for “Timeless” I don’t judge design by that criteria I feel if I did it would restrict how much of it I could love at any given moment for a billion different reasons. These are “very American” comments, that’s not bad just interesting.

On Jan.22.2004 at 11:50 AM