I’m scrambling to meet multiple deadlines, so today’s post is short and a bit of a cheat. It’s a follow-up to last month’s post about the furor over the new University of California monogram (“The New UC Logo: Let There Be Haters”). I refer you to a thoughtful and important essay by Christopher Simmons, a graphic designer and principal at the San Francisco design office MINE, that was published yesterday on the AIGA website. The subtitle reveals the thesis: “How 54,000 People, the Mainstream Press, and Virtually Every Designer Got It Wrong.”
Fifty-four thousand is the number of signatures on a Change.org petition to “stop the new UC logo.”
The university caved to the pressure, and that, writes Simmons, is “disheartening”:
Design as a discipline is challenged by this notion of democracy, particularly in a viral age. We have become a culture mistrustful of expertise—in particular creative expertise. I share [UC creative director Vanessa] Correa’s fear that this cultural position stifles design, as designers increasingly lose ownership of the discourse. “If deep knowledge in these fields is weighed against the ‘likes’ and ‘tastes’ of the populace at large,” she warns, “we will create a climate that does not encourage visual or aesthetic exploration, play or inventiveness, since the new is often soundly refused.”
My own area of branding – the development of names and taglines – is similarly vulnerable to the dubious wisdom of crowds. I see it in the misplaced notion that names and taglines will somehow be strengthened by the opinions of focus groups, and in the trend toward crowdsourcing – soliciting names and taglines from well-meaning but underqualified amateurs.
I sometimes put it this way: Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but only a few are entitled to a veto.
One more quote from Simmons:
In the case of the UC rebrand, almost everyone engaged in the “critique” of the new identity—designers included—did so based on very little information. What was the brief? What challenges is the UC system facing? What is their long-term plan? What are other institutions doing? What is the assessment of the current identity? What audiences are they trying to reach? These are critical considerations that no doubt precipitated and drove the design process. But throughout this controversy, no one wrote about the strategy behind the new identity. In fact, no one wrote about the identity. Instead we fixated on one deliverable of a thoughtfully considered design process: the logo.