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.
Thanks to Patricia Bruning for the link to Simmons’s article.
Intellectually I'm completely on board with you and Simmons. But my gut says it's still a diagram of a flushing toilet.
Posted by: Jessica | January 11, 2013 at 06:30 AM
I absolutley love this line:
"Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but only a few are entitled to a veto."
I think this should be the motto (tagline?) for parenthood.
Enjoying your blog, as always.
Posted by: Mary Loftus | January 11, 2013 at 10:18 AM
I suspect that the folks who designed the Edsel felt that they had a winner, too. But ultimately it was a crowd-sourced focus group known as the public that decided that the Edsel was a dog.
So don't dismiss public opinion just because they didn't graduate from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Posted by: Dave G | January 12, 2013 at 04:36 AM
@Dave G: Apples and oranges. Focus groups can be appropriate and useful for testing product design and user experience, and perhaps pre-market testing would have spared the Edsel from its fate. My argument is against using focus groups for visual and verbal identity, where the "crowd" lacks the information and skill to make an informed judgment.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | January 12, 2013 at 08:16 AM