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Does Evil Empire Equal Poor Design?
Is New Automatically Bad?
Are we Making Sense?

It seems that when discussing any big brand in Speak Up we talk negative about it. We hate how they run their businesses and we hate whatever design solutions they come up with. And we do so with a passion. Especially if they stands for: WalMart, McDonalds, Disney and Co, the list could go on.

Generalization notwithstanding, there is certain history in this forum that proves the theory correct.

Disney, for example, gets people all fired up for a variety of reasons and we throw a lot of shit in their direction. But then, were they to offer a freelance project to any of us, most would probably take it and state it proudly on our resumés and client lists. But until we do land that project, it’s just much easier to talk (shit) about them without having much more than “hear-say” to go by.

Similarly, any redesign of a corporate or brand identity that was previously designed by a Paul Rand, or a Saul Bass will be shredded to pieces no matter what. Pair that with their long-standing tradition and the fact that they will inevitably be big brands (think UPS, of course) and there is no talking sense into designers.

Lastly, branding campaigns and methods of customer research that are designed to make money for the companies conducting them, are doomed and shunned in this forum, yet they might be crucial parts for many of us to make our living.

Is our criticism making any sense? Are we just as bad as our worst nightmare clients — the ones that don’t accept any change, just because it takes some effort to look at something new with an open mind? And — because sticking to the status quo is just easier — are we, when looking at something new, taking the easy way by generally finding the bad, but overlooking the good? Are we turned off by the “new and different” that is unknown to us, unless we’re the creators of it?

On the other hand, are we afraid to recognize the “ugly” in a design by a “master”? And finally do the personalities of giant corporations and their — what we consider “evil” — personas , influence the way we judge their design efforts?

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PUBLISHED ON May.12.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
Micah’s comment is:

I agree that as designers we trash anything and everything that is "not what it once was", but we are also quick to notice things that are new and cool like the Chip Kidd's book jackets or the Pin-up Art by Krysztof Nemeth.

Most designers are quick to negatively judge that which they most envy more than they are to praise it. Praise is reserved for the masters that have done their time and proven that they can create master pieces time after time. Anyone that may have gotten lucky once, will probably not gain any respect from the community at large because it was after all, just dumb luck.

On May.13.2004 at 01:24 AM
Sam Sherwood’s comment is:

I don't think this is necessarily a fair assessment. Speak Up operates in such a fashion that its readers are responding to authors, much like I'm responding now. In general, responses relate to the topic at hand, and authors want to put up interesting/engaging topics. Criticism just happens to make for good reading... it doesn't mean there aren't any decent brands (or re-brands) out there.

Also, your argument couples the dislike of business practices with the dislike of branding campaigns, which can really cater to two widely different opinions. For instance, I can appreciate WalMart campaigns that genuinely make people think they're helping the average Joe; however, I can still disdain their cheapening of labor, etc. More recently, the new KFC ads on TV are strokes of genius, as well -- but I don't buy into the whole kitchen fresh thing.

I do see where the opinion of a company could influence a critique, but I can honestly say, most of the design efforts we've labeled as 'borked' deserve said title.

Maybe we treat brands like art? A strong brand is one of those things that can grant a designer immortality. However, we hear about old works of art much more often than old company marks -- once a logo / brand is replaced, it's the nature of the beast to cover it up (previous Oldsmobile logos are a neat example).

On May.13.2004 at 02:39 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

We humans, in general, tend to be adverse to change and hypocritical in our opinions vs. actions (do as I say, not as I do...). That's nothing new. ;o)

On May.13.2004 at 09:08 AM
marian’s comment is:

Well, as anyone who has ever flamed knows, it's actually more fun, and in some ways safer, to rip something to shreds than it is to admire it. For myself, this may be a character flaw but it's when i see something i hate that i get riled up enough about it to write about it. I'd have to really, really love a logo to go out on a limb in the design community (here) and say "Wow, look at this," in an original post (defending something in comments is easier).

so my theory is

a) Authors tend to see things they hate, explode, and post about them

b) these tend to be large, ubiquitous brands because they come more easily to our attention, and they're widely considered

c) Participants smell blood and pile on

d) pack mentality evolves

e) it's a brave knight who wades in to defend

That's not to say that any of this is good.

I would welcome some positive critique on a major corp's identity. I would be delighted if someone came along and said "Wow, look how much better this is than Paul Rand's POS, and here's why." And I would love to agree with them.

Even better, I'd love to do it myself, but I tend to be way behind when it comes to spotting such things.

NOTE: if any other SU authors want to alert me the next time an interesting major brand identity is unfurled I'd be happy to author or co-author a post.

On May.13.2004 at 09:43 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Loaded Question, Peter:

For the most part. Speak Up Forum comments in reference to Branding are Matter of Fact, Sincere and Succinct.

Speak Up's audience is made up of Designers from various backgrounds with diverse interest at

varying levels in their career.

As explained to me by noted author on SU and Branding Expert David Weinberger.

Not everyone contributing to SU will understand

the dynamics behind a Brand Revitalization.

At the same time, SU is about Designer interaction

and the exchange of ideas.

Regardless how erroneous some comments seem.

I'm proud of SU for not sugar coating and white washing it's linen in public.

SU is MATTER OF FACT and in your FACE!!!!!!!

The Consciousness and Pulse of the Design and

Brand Revitalization Community.

Where else can you go online to have such Witty


Surely not Brand Channel.

Speak Up has given Birth to a plethora of online Design Blogs and should be commended for it.

And not Denigrated.

Speak Up is how we speak among ourselves in Private.

Why not bring that element of our personal lives online???

Candor is need. Not whitewashing and sugarcoating.

My expertise is Corporate Identity and Branding. Often times, I don't agree with some of the comments on SU.

However, people have the right to say how they feel within this forum.

There is no right and wrong. Only a learning process and exchange of ideology.

Most important, I am reminded in the 1960s. When

Chemayeff & Geismar Designed the Identity for

Chase Mahattan Bank.


except SAUL BASS whom shared equal BILLING.

Asked the teller of Chase Mahattan Bank. "What does the new Identity look like to you".

The teller responded. I don't know.

PAUL RAND very snidely said. "Doesn't it look like

a nut".

The teller responded. "Now that you mention it". "The Chase Logo does look like a nut".

Point of story. Was my Design and Identity God's comments succint? Was PAUL RAND poking fun at two

of his former students work?

Was PAUL RAND mad because he did not get the commission.?

Moral, this is what we do to get people to think.

And elicit comments from the community at large.

A lot of comments on SU are misinterpreted for the wrong reasons.

As I illustrated with the exercise with PAUL RAND. A True Story!!!!!

PAUL RAND was eliciting his own Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis and Focus Group

Research Testing.

The same as ARMIN VIT, TAN LE, GRAHAM WOOD, DEBBIE MILLMAN, SAM, PK and other noted Speak Up authors.

On May.13.2004 at 10:28 AM
graham’s comment is:

broadly speaking, the biggest companies tend to look similar . that's if an identity is not just a logo but an approach, an ethos, a state of being. obviously, business practices override any design efforts, even if cosmetically you're a little different.

On May.13.2004 at 10:34 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

To Marian

Although, not an Author!!!!

I've got one. Major, Major. Only my Big Brother

Michael Bierut knows who it is.

Michael B. you're sworn to secrecy!!!!!!!

Armin has already given me the Green Light!!!!!

I'm waiting to hear from the Communications Director.

Everyone on SU will enjoy this. As we have not

critiqued any Brand Revitalization of this GOD's.


I'll write it. Of course, let you make sure my eyes are dotted and tees crossed.

Due to personal time constriants. More than likely let you moderate the post.

I ask my Brethren on SU to be GENTILE.

I can see TAN, ARMIN, and PK salvating for a Search and Destroy Mission.

Fresh kill anyone!!!!!

Ohhhhh, I love the smell of blood!!!!!!!!

Paraphrasing Tan Le.

Michael B. mums the word!!!!!!!!!

On May.13.2004 at 11:01 AM
Sam’s comment is:

I ask my Brethren on SU to be GENTILE.

Oy vey.

On May.13.2004 at 11:27 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Oy Vey, indeed.

> Armin has already given me the Green Light!

I did, I just don't know on what exactly… that's OK, I'll take it as a surprise.

As far as this specific thread goes, the question or matter for discussion isn't about Speak Up, its authors or how we approach discussions. The focus should be on the bigger picture (and question): how much do business practices of big corporations affect our opinion of their design initiatives?

I would like to offer an opposite example: Apple. Designers love Apple, whatever they do we will initially praise it and love it, because of their track record and obviously because of their aura. Apple has retouched their logo (with the help of a little company called Pixar) in a 3d manner that only UPS can match and nobody has complained as much — must be noted too that the original rainbow apple logo wasn't done by anyone "famous" otherwise we would have all bitched and moaned about it for sure. So I think we definitely let corporations' personalities influence our decisions — which is only natural. But for matters of critique can prove to be not very objective.

On May.13.2004 at 11:56 AM
Jason Sonderman’s comment is:

This question of looking cynically at brand has so many parallels.

We are a society of media-influenced thinkers, which means finding an objective view of a company's brand (logo+message) has become so very hard due to the massive nature of information that is emitted.

Fortunately, I tend to miss the credit line of what designer did which logo until the Branding annual comes out, which frees me up (a tiny bit) to form an opinion based on the merits of the brand instead of the pedigree of the designer.

I agree with an earlier post in this thread that it takes a lot of courage in this age to stand up and admire something before public opinion is galvanized. I don't do it very often, many times laying low with my opinion until the consesus speaks, then offering an accord or debate. I suppose this comes from one too many poorly handled critiques in art school.

Essentially, if one is critical of everything, we deem that person a cynic, and lately that has turned into a positive term. Someone who agrees and admires is looked at as untainted, and thusly naive, when the design majority offers a different opinion.

This is what weighs on me when I give my opinion, and while it should be a little detail, being tagged one way or the other will affect how the design community views your future work.

On May.13.2004 at 12:20 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I think designers often get too full of themselves, and become hypocrits. I think this is what Peter is hinting at.

We make commerce with culture, but then protest in disgust when the bandwagon comes around.

There's good and bad practices in any corporation. Some are more aggressive then others, some are more ethical. Sure, I judge design initiatives based on my perception of that particular company. I have my biases, but I try to balance it between my design beliefs, my consumer habits, and my need to make a living.

Consider this: suppose Walmart called you up tomorrow and offered you a million dollars to rebrand them. You're lying if you claim that you'd immediately decline out of principle.

On May.13.2004 at 12:34 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

suppose Walmart called you up tomorrow and offered you a million dollars to rebrand them

That wouldn't change the fact that Wal-Mart isn't a very good corporate citizen. It may mean the designer is hypocritical, but not necessarily that they are wrong. ;o)

On May.13.2004 at 12:43 PM
Sam Sherwood’s comment is:

WalMart wouldn't need to offer me that much, even. As a whole, I think we tend to want to present a positive image, no matter what company we happen to be helping. There's obviously a breaking point -- for instance, I wouldn't produce a campaign for the Infant and Puppy Shaking Association (... maybe). However, I wonder if any of the companies working for these evil conglomerates actually believe in the mantras they present?

On May.13.2004 at 12:55 PM
marian’s comment is:

Well, Peter did ask six questions and only the last dealt with how our opinion of the corporate practices affect our critique of their design(s).

Sorry, Armin, but the post does seem to be pretty clearly about how designers react to design, with a focus on the big names (both brands and designers), and whether we're fair in our judgement.

Anyway, to answer that last question, for myself I pretty much separate my opinion of design from my opinion of corporate practices. If a company I hate got a really brilliant new branding I would feel disgruntled at their undeservedness, but that wouldn't take away from what I saw as either brilliant strategy and/or execution. However, if a company I loved got an awful new identity, I would be much more upset about it and would pull no punches on this forum just because they're a great company.

On May.13.2004 at 01:47 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>the Infant and Puppy Shaking Association

Hahahaha....that's just awful.

>I wonder if any of the companies working for these evil conglomerates actually believe in the mantras they present?

I can speak to that here. Microsoft is currently Landor Seattle's biggest client. To many, MSFT is evil incarnate — and before coming to Landor, I couldn't agree more.

But you know, eventhough MSFT's business practices are predatory, its employees really do believe in the "We help you realize your potential" brand statement. Or at least they want to believe in it. I've seen nothing evil or dishonest about their marketing approaches, product development, or brand positioning. Everyone I've worked with so far seems to eat, sleep, and breathe their corporate mission with pride. It's actually admirable and damn impressive.

And to my knowledge, I haven't been implanted with a microchip that makes me think this way. Though there was that time I couldn't account for an hour of my meeting day there....hmm...

On May.13.2004 at 01:49 PM
Peter Scherrer (ps)’s comment is:

Well, Peter did ask six questions and only the last dealt with how our opinion of the corporate practices affect our critique of their design(s).

(shit i just lost my response....)


i was considering breaking the post up into several posts, but then decided it should be all in one. it seems to be a checklist we go through before stating our opinion about a design.

On May.13.2004 at 01:56 PM
Scott d’s comment is:

I've seen nothing evil or dishonest about their marketing approaches, product development, or brand positioning.

Tan, this isn't evil, but it certainly isn't honest.

On May.13.2004 at 02:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Oooh. Right.

Ok, blame their ad agency, McCann-Erickson, for that little bit of evilness.

Look, who among us have clients that are 100% truthful? What marketing team doesn't bend the truth, shine a more-than-favorable light, etc on things now and then?

Not to excuse it, but it's different than saying that McDonald's is evil, and their quest is to kill people by making them fat.

On May.13.2004 at 02:36 PM
David Weinberger’s comment is:

blame their ad agency, McCann-Erickson

Hey now, it clearly states "Microsoft said the posting, made by Microsoft's software marketing group, was a mistake in judgment."

On May.13.2004 at 02:41 PM
graham’s comment is:

oh snap.

On May.13.2004 at 04:05 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Sorry, Armin, but the post does seem to be pretty clearly about how designers react to design, with a focus on the big names (both brands and designers), and whether we're fair in our judgement.

Yeah, I totally agree, what I meant to say — and I agree that the way I originally put it would narrow the discussion — is that the first few posts started out to be about the Speak Up factor rather than the intended topic.

On May.13.2004 at 04:16 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Ok, blame their ad agency, McCann-Erickson, for that little bit of evilness."

It's now been proven that Marketing people are evil. ;o)

A University of Texas professor interviewed many marketing executives and found them to be largely amoral and reluctant to even talk about moral implications their work may involve. More than 50 ad execs were interviewed at 29 agencies. The professor found that most suffered from both a "moral myopia," declining to see moral issues and a "moral muteness," opting not to talk about any that they did see. "They don't see the ethical issues unless they are tied to their own self-interests," said Professor Meme Drumwright. "Such as when they think someone is stealing their idea."

On May.13.2004 at 05:15 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

It seems that when discussing any big brand in Speak Up we talk negative about it.

Similarly, any redesign of a corporate or brand identity that was previously designed by a Paul Rand, or a Saul Bass will be shredded to pieces no matter what.

In defense of my earlier post. The above referenced comments is what caught my eye. And what I chose to write about.

No secret SU has been under attack by some contributor(s) that are indifferent to opinions

shared in this forum.

Certainly, I tried to defend the Free Speech of this forum. Which doesn't need defending. To say the least.

In reference to Bass and Rand. Most redesign(s)

Don't campare to the originals. Regardless who the Designer or Consultancy Retained.

Today, there is less emphasis on Identity Design

Originality and/or individuality.

More emphasis on Marketing and Communication.

Which are the Brand Drivers.

Twenty to thirty years ago. When Rand and Bass Identities were Designed. Emphasis was on Development, Concept and Design.

Certainly, Design was central to the process. As well an major driver of the Corporate Identity


Marketing and Communication played a minor role.

If any at all within the Design Process.

Again, today the roles are reversed.

FYI, The only EVIL EMPIRE. I'm aware of is operated by John Stagliano and Rocco Siffredi.

Yes, The Corporation is named EVIL EMPIRE.


I'm not sharing any new information with you and

anyone on Speak Up that's well read.

Rob Janoff, wasn't famous when he Designed the

Apple Logo.

However, Design of the Apple Logo, certainly did make Rob Janoff Famous.

Rob Janoff link below.


On May.13.2004 at 10:14 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>The only EVIL EMPIRE. I'm aware of is operated by John Stagliano and Rocco Siffredi.

Hahaha...Ok, admit it — you're really a porn star, aren't you Maven?

(kids, don't google those names)

On May.14.2004 at 10:05 AM
kev’s comment is:

Of coruse advertisers are unethical. That's why I want to design government information pamhplets for a living.

On May.14.2004 at 12:09 PM
kevinhopp’s comment is:

yah, the government....some sharp ethics there kev....

NOW, you're (not) using your head.

On May.14.2004 at 01:11 PM
Kevin Steele’s comment is:

The more you work with bigger companies, the more you see how many of them (but not all) are run in ways that make excellent design an accident. Representatives of clients are often poorly qualified to work with agencies or studios -- they have no clear understanding of their role in the process and enjoy the opportunity to push suppliers around. And then the executives are actually too loosely connected to the real business of the company and happily throw wrenches into the works at the last minute based on amateurish notions and the last smart idea they read. And when a CEO gets behind a weak idea it's exactly The Emperor's New Clothes.

Our cynicism about the work bought and paid for by the superbrands comes about because we have seen a tremendous amount of corporate idiocy from the inside.

That said, big brands don't guarantee bad work, but good work in the service of a message against our own interests is also hard to like. I do try to recognize good work when I see it, but I am sure I am often predisposed to dislike some efforts because of negative brand association.

I thought the FedEx/Kinkos brand fusion was actually a terrific piece of work, but I gagged reading the line of bull that goes along with selling the brand to employees, customers and investors. It would have been so much better, for me at least, if they said; "look at our new logo! Isn't it cool!" And i wonder if the company needed that crap sales to buy the logo because they don't know good work when they see it.

On May.15.2004 at 11:13 AM
hass’s comment is:

Graham, your examples were spot-on. Funny though how something that is different quickly becomes just the same.

On May.16.2004 at 01:13 AM