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Armin Vit’s Recliner of Rage

While certainly not the last person to complain about recent logo redesigns; I do have a certain bemusement about all the piss and vinegar in the ensuing discussions. They come a bit too close to the arguments I had in adolescence: with or without Yoko; Santana with or without Sri Chinmoy; ELP after Works Vol. 1; Tibor or Duffy; French or Californian.

After a while, the vitriol begins to resemble a recurring skit on Conan O’Brien, “Pierre Bernard’s Recliner of Rage”, where the show’s graphic designer Pierre Bernard airs the slights and insults of his existence (Stargate SG-1 characters, discontinued markers, collectable train sets, etc.) from the comfort of a tacky recliner.

As companies are busy designing or re-designing marks, there is one truth conveniently forgotten. Logos don’t exist in a vacuum. They go out into the world and bump into other logos. And no matter how well designed, this random accumulation ends up diminishing all marks involved.

For example: in my personal experience, I dodge logo shrapnel once a year; when it’s time to work on the materials for Central Park SummerStage. Back in the more perfect days of better arts funding, free arts festivals like SummerStage were mainly supported by local, state and federal sources. But after the culture wars (Mapplethorpe, the Moral Majority, the rise of American Conservatism) public funding began to dry up and arts programming turned to corporate funding. Given recent economic events, even this is harder to come by. Thus the era of co-sponsorships.

This year we have to accommodate 34 logos. Each has certain size, color and placement requirements (similar to billing blocks at the bottom of movie advertisements) based on how much money or ad space is given; or what is being sponsored. I have loosely arranged them according to this year’s agreements.


Some are bad, some are good, and some are not appropriate for this use. But that’s neither here nor there. Each one of these organizations has gone through the process of realizing they need a logo, arranging for someone to design it, deciding which suits their needs best, and sending it out into the world; sometimes with an attached PDF file describing proper uses and colors. As long as each logo sits by itself on a presentation board before the client, all is harmonious. But on the back of a “Run For the Cure” commemorative T-shirt, I doubt even a Saul Bass special would still look good in context.

After several years of All Branding, All The Time! logo fatigue is setting in. I am beginning to feel that designers are creating a Branding house of cards, a Branding Bubble, about to collapse under its own weight. When everything is branded, nothing is branded; and amid this leveling effect, here we are in our recliners, getting worked up over a gradation in a logo.

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PUBLISHED ON May.23.2004 BY m. kingsley
sosa’s comment is:

I've been thinking about this from some time long. Logos are starting to look all the same, branding is becoming visual contamination. Sometimes i feel myself guilty for being a designer.

On May.23.2004 at 09:40 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

One of my favorite passages from Naomi Klein's "No Logo":

Openings of every sort—in schedules, in urban space, on clothes, in events, on objects, in sightlines, in democracy, in philanthropy, in cultures, on bodies—are all inscribes with an impression of the market. Things once thought free from this—even opposed to it—the museum, public space—find it ever more difficult to retain autonomy in the face of corporate culture and its sponsorships, educational initiatives, and so-called civic gestures. But we have become sensitized to it as well. Because at the very same time, smaller and smaller temporal and physical crevices are being packed with the message of this market. Print ads in front of urinals and video ads in elevators occupy moments once assumed free from the engineered capture of attention. Downtime, or free time from economy, is an endangered species. And, to make things even complicated—entirely new domains are being invented for eventual inscription. The internet is a surface of limitless dimension in a high-stakes race to capture eyeballs, or page views, as we now say. In this context, nature—or what remains of it—is perhaps all we have left that is free from the hostile takeover of space by the logo, by the predatory regime of inscription.

But, somehow, for reasons I could not ever begin to articulately explain, I am still, as you so aptly put it, "getting worked up over a gradation in a logo."


On May.23.2004 at 10:21 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

I am still, as you so aptly put it, "getting worked up over a gradation in a logo."

Obviously, there's a bigger universe that exists beyond graphic design. Like anything created — a logo, a musical, a potato chip — it is going to exist in places and situations it was never intended. So how can we honestly worry about this? Isn't this another "Yoko" moment? I do hope that at some point, the population at large will say "Enough!" to the constant intrusion of sales messages into every nook and cranny of our visual periphery. Until that happens, though, I find that it really is my job to worry about that stupid gradation. My influence on society is, well, close to nil. All I can do is practice my craft to the highest level possible and hope for the best.

(And props for the Conan analogy. Watching that guy work his one line on SG-1 was hilarious.)

On May.23.2004 at 10:46 PM
Sam’s comment is:

All I can say is, it's about time El Diario got equal billing with the Observer!

To speak to Jon's comment, though, I wonder where the point is that a designer stops feeling like a designer (ie, the part where it is your job to worry about gradations, kerning etc--which is to say, it's your job to be concerned with your client's interests first) and starts feeling like a victim of the larger mass consumer culture. Victim, target, beneficiary, citizen, innocent bystander, burnout, consumed consumer--man, I have had a lot of champagne tonight. Luckily, thankfully, there's lot more to design than logos and their applications.

All hail the age of kingsley!

On May.23.2004 at 10:57 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

JonSel layeth his heart on the table and sprach:

So how can we honestly worry about this? ... snip ... I find that it really is my job to worry about that stupid gradation. My influence on society is, well, close to nil. All I can do is practice my craft to the highest level possible and hope for the best.

Maybe, just… maybe that is exactly the problem.

Many talented designers; working in teams; dedicating their efforts to improving the fortunes of their clients; and ending up with what? Identity systems. Like I wrote in my original post, this constancy of professionalism has a leveling effect where the sum of all these logos is less than the parts.

I'm also thinking of the end of Peter Handke's The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick where the protagonist's language breaks down to the point where he sits on {a picture of a chair} and rides {a picture of a train}. Handke actually draws the pictures in place of the words.

Perhaps modern corporate language has so degraded that only a symbol can represent a company. What exactly does Unilever do? Dammed if I know... how 'bout a logo?

The impractical dreamer in me would love to see the Jimi Hendrix of Branding. This person would convince companies to forego mere identity systems for more subtle, more haptic, or more aural methods of 'branding'. Such a client would do something crazy like make all their products weigh the same, use a tounge-click in the name of their services, anything… anything except come up with a logo 'lockup'. Ugh.

On May.24.2004 at 12:29 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

M Kingsley:

I'd go GWANGAS fooling with all those logos

I did't Design.

Realistically, the same conversation(s) exist amongst athletes, musicians, entertainers. (others)

Wanna stir up a HORNETS NEST. Tell your WIFE or Girl Friend you prefer FREDRICKS OF HOLLYWOOD to Victoria Secret.

Bass and Rand redesigns. No comparison!!!!!!!!

On May.24.2004 at 01:04 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Because it's fun.

I have noticed that Speak Up has taken up a large residency in my brain, which is really interesting. I notice myself, whilst in the throes of weekend domesticity, thinking: "Does Armin cut his own grass?", "Has Tan ever had to caulk his bathtub?"

We are humans... who happen to design things.

The couple of thoughts that stick in my mind the most since coming in here are:

"...why graphic designers don't just enjoy what they do and just ride the potential for loucheness that all the designerly arts offer..." from a friend of graham's in the somewhat derided tortilla flats episode.


"... I think a little more 'blue collar' approach / thinking and less hyper-theory in this field would do it alot more good..." from Carsella in the Own Worst Client's thread.

I doubt, or at least hope, no one is getting really, truly worked up or enraged over a gradation. It's just not that important.

But this particular recliner of rage is a fun, interesting, name-dropping, eye-popping extravaganza.

And I learned what haptic means.

I just did a thing for an art gallery, and the guy says to me, "What about the gift shop, we're thinking of calling it such-and-such?"

I looked him square in the eye and said (not able to hide my indignation much), "You want another identity?"


There. Somebody say "stop."

On May.24.2004 at 08:44 AM
Gahlord Dewald’s comment is:

Isn't this really confusing "make a logo" with "branding?"

Good branding is a bit more than making a logo and usually extends further into the operations of a company that a "mere" graphic designer's reach.

If we're just polishing our craft and making pretty logos then we're not branding; we're providing a good, well-crafted product. JonSel, of course, knows this too. This aspect of the discussion is near the heart of the service/product, craft/art, do-it-for-money/do-something-for-the-universe conversations.

The problem (if there is a problem) is with the constant barrage of messages in any format. Our clients have been listening to us these past years and now they put their damn logo on everything. Furthermore they leverage their capital to put it in places where they might not have before (like on the arts programs etc that started this post). The lunatics have taken over the asylum, perhaps.

And the problem (again, if there is one... I wouldn't mind doing more logo work because the money is pretty decent) will only get worse. Add the following to logophilia (or logotype-rhia): the trend to assimilate "street" culture or any form of popular expression.

This is to the point of becoming a feedback loop (corporate "street teams" and blogs come to mind); where the funded-projects of corporations can co-opt the vitality of a given form. Sometimes adding/harnessing efficiencies (the increase in stencil-use in graffitti, for example).

Anyway I need to get some work done... but it's an interesting topic that's far far deeper than initially presented. You can be certain that some company will find a way to differentiate itself from the logo-type parade. Probably by escalating the cultural interference (beyond the already ever-present practice of product placement). And then within a few years we'll have even more products and messages pushed in our faces. Yeah for us! More work! ...


On May.24.2004 at 09:02 AM
John Koon’s comment is:

(And props for the Conan analogy. Watching that guy work his one line on SG-1 was hilarious.)

Going off topic: I found the video of Pierre on Conan (http://www.sg-online.net/vb/showthread.php?p=12285), which is the funniest thing I have seen in a good while. "Brace yourself!", what a hilarious moment in time =)

On topic: Designers getting worked up over that gradient of Bass's seems about right to me. Afterall, why shouldn't every aspect of a logo be scruitinized to acheieve the best possible version? In any other field of occupation, getting worked up over the small details could spell disaster, but in the realm of design, its all about the larger picture AND the details - highly consider both.

On May.24.2004 at 11:20 AM
Rick’s comment is:

I think a few comments have been made that dance around what's really next.

Branding has been very much on the radar of the business community for the last couple-four-odd years. Need to spike up the numbers? Branding! What we do has been positioned as the panacea for lousy sales.

TIME, Businessweek, Forbes... I read these stupid magazines and that's all they can talk about. Whether it's Newsweek drooling over IDEO or Time going gaga over the New Beetle and the iMac, design and branding have been the flavor of the moment for a while now.

But I think that's going to change. Good design is important - obviously we all think that. Good design is a vital part of the bottom line. But the super-brand-everything hype will fade someday. One set of suits will feel stupid for creating that proverbial house of brands, and others will pick up and keep moving, on to whatever is the next way to squeeze a couple bucks out of the consumer.

I know I'm being oblique.

On May.24.2004 at 01:31 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Does Armin cut his own grass?

I rent, so I don't have to. But my landlord cuts the grass maybe twice a year. It's a jungle out there.

> Going off topic: I found the video of Pierre on Conan

Thanks for the link John! Funny.

This is an interesting topic certainly. And I agree that in the grand scheme of things (do aliens exist?) the gradation of a logo is inconsequential, but I second JonSel's comments… and contradictingly, I'd second the Jimi Hendrix of Branding's actions.

This notion of over-branding is hard to face and to accept, because it is what most designers preach, it would be like throwing away everything we have worked for in the past 10-20 years. Not everybody of course. But a constant cry of designers ("brand designers" more specifically) is that everything must be branded for differentiation in the marketplace. And while looking at Mark's logo shrapnel I react to (or notice) the logos with the strongest branding emphasis: Heineken, JP Morgan, Time Out, Time Warner and AOL.

So even when everything is branded, somethings are "better" branded than others. By "better", in this case, I mean getting in front of people's faces and making a distinction for their product. As long as this works (and it still does), I doubt we will see any type of slowdown on the branding onslaught.

Oh, and, awesome title Mark…

On May.24.2004 at 03:35 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

Wow. That's a lot of logos. What ever happened to a good old-fashioned list?

On May.24.2004 at 03:41 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

Oh, and regarding Armin's last point, it seems like a restatement of the problem Kingsley is describing in his original post (and Naomi Klein in the excerpt above): that every company wants their brand to be the one that people notice, which is beginning to turn the world into an escalating cacophony of branding messages. I think he's asking us to consider the possibility that playing the game is part of the problem.

On May.24.2004 at 04:09 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Armin Vit�

Synchronizing Design Discourse�

On May.24.2004 at 05:22 PM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

I think a large part LogoFatigue is emitted from BranDisgust. Somewhere when the money started pouring in around 1999 someone flipped the switch and designers began swapping the visual for the verbal.

Theres nothing depressing about Logo saturation until monotony ensues. Look at teh bright side- we've traded the swoosh for the gradient. Its the hyped sequel in effect, yo.

On May.24.2004 at 05:58 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Speaking of brand-to-the-extreme, I just came across this essay by Rick Poynor at eyemagazine.com. It's about Saatchi & Saatchi's Lovemarks, which we covered back in December of 2003.

On May.24.2004 at 06:20 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Lovemarks site to this day still baffles me. On one hand I can't believe that anyone would actually spend time declaring their love for a product at an advertising site. Yet I'm guilty for explaining the visceral qualities of the ipod packaging here at SU. What gives? I'll admit that I'm a closet fan of brand process that the big branding consultancies play - however lovemarks seems more like a gimmick. It feels like S&S have taken away the effort of actual research and is packaging those submitters info into their briefs to clients.

On May.24.2004 at 07:10 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

The only thing the Lovemark concept really does is point out how difficult it is to move beyond the notion of branding. To me, branding simply makes sense because it defines ways to connect a company, its products, and its customers. The fault may partially lie in the fact that many say "branding" but mean "logo" and fail to understand the necessary scope of this type of undertaking.

We can't simply stop "playing the game" (as Rebecca puts it), so what do we do? I like Mark's thoughts on Hendrix: push beyond the conventional (logo, brochure, website) to find other ways to brand something and connect it back to the company. What are some other practical ideas that will help us push our branding models forward? If you don't use "branding", what do you use? How can we continue to strive for unique results while avoiding contributing to visual chaos?

On May.24.2004 at 08:59 PM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

Logophobia/BranDisgust is a temporary thing.

Soon, when marketers have implemented panoptic feedback, everyone will see the kind of logo they prefer.

Media will "sense" who the observer is (as in Minority Report), and present a styling option of the logo to suit the viewer's predelictions.

Graphic designers will never have to look at another swoosh or gradient (unless they're designing it for the masses).

On May.25.2004 at 11:13 AM
Ian’s comment is:

I've been lucky enough to be designing on a college campus for the past four years (not anymore, though - anyone looking for a self-educated entry-level kinda guy?) and the lack of a need for branding in a small community was like waking up to a shower of daisies every morning. seriously. if you have a captive audience that care a lot more about whether your improv comedy troupe is funny or if there will be 40s at the show, you can just write "improv" on a flyer and be done.

it doesn't mean bad design, and it doesn't mean good design.

but it means flexibility, the stability that some posters were wary about in the "own worst clients" thread.

where am i going with this? well - i am wary of target marketing - i don't like making assumptions about what my ads' or posters' audience will be. i don't like branding, because quality of product or event makes more sense to me than the much more ephemeral quality of the company or organization (understanding of course that the quality of the products is as much a part of the brand as anything else). But, it seems like taking targeting to its most extreme point would mean something a lot like Minority Report, individual targeting, and would maybe (?) signal the end of All Branding, All the Time!. It's got to be cheaper in the long run to run one ad to someone that will definitely respond to it than thousands of ads to millions of people that could give a damn. And with targeting like that, would branding still be necessary?

On May.26.2004 at 08:20 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

Can someone tell me what's going on with the Union 76 logo? Seems like they are nixing the orange in favor of red (after 100+ years of being identified with orange). Is it a Conoco merger thing? Is it a Pax-Americana thing? What gives? One by one I've been noticing 76 stations getting the red makeover. Pfffft!

On May.27.2004 at 02:38 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:


Isn't this really confusing "make a logo" with "branding?"

then Rebecca:

...consider the possibility that playing the game is part of the problem.

and JonSel:

How can we continue to strive for unique results while avoiding contributing to visual chaos?

While I'm not confusing logos with 'branding', there are many who do. After we shine our little turds, there are teams of folks out there who watch over, distribute and police these turds with great ferocity — whether they be logos, book covers or proprietary color gradations. A company may be able to control the branding experience within the scope of their own metier, but once it enters into a co-sponsorship agreement all sense of propriety is discarded.

At that point the Brand Management team (usually in-house) demands that their color scheme be taken into consideration or their logo be bigger than someone elses. Because that's all they can do; they haven't given enough money to fully control the graphic program. This leaves slobs like me juggling the needs of more than one master; and usually results in the diminishment of all elements involved.

Hopefully some remember when Mobil Oil sponsored Mystery! on PBS. The promotion ran for years and featured a bold, dynamic Paul Davis (the American, not the Brit) illustration. It was a wonderful and classy series that obviously worked. Twenty years later, I still remember http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/mystery/history.html" target="_blank"> Mobil as the sole sponsor — long after they no longer support it.

But that was then.

The economic and media climate has changed and corporate attention spans are shorter too. Who sponsored the last Rolling Stones tour? Was is Budweiser or Miller Lite? Didn't Michelob sponsor a couple tours recently? Who can list the sponsors of the Charlie Rose Show? The efforts of branders are being watered down with the capricious scattering of such agreements.

Methinks such spreading of logos doesn't have a Johnny Appleseed effect.

On May.28.2004 at 04:06 PM
Joy’s comment is:

Can somebody tell me what the "culture wars" are (in the full scope; I've found the issue regrading Mapplethorpe)... that is, the "Moral Majority", new American conservatives that Armin talked about.

I've read references to it in the book The Middlemind (by Curtis White), but aside from agreeing on the symptom (the degradation of things that is happening in popular culture), I don't really know the cause he (and Armin) is referring to..

On Jun.03.2004 at 09:01 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Joy, I think you are confusing my comments with Kingsley's, the author of the article. I rarely use those terms, much less know exactly what they mean.

I'm just sitting in my recliner. Of rage.

On Jun.04.2004 at 01:01 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Joy —

The Culture Wars is an idiomatic way to quickly describe the tug between various extremes of recent American society — roughly, since the mid-'80s. More notable players and events were the uproar over Karen Finley's Yams Up My Granny's Ass, Andre Serrano's Piss Christ, the canceled Robert Mappelthorpe exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, the 'NEA Four', and the Moral Majority. Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Air America and the gay marriage issue are recent manifestations.

Both sides of the 'debate' use the term — often for their own purposes — so Google between the lines.

On Jun.04.2004 at 05:30 PM