Friday, July 15, 2011

Do not judge a brand by its logo, do not judge a book by its font

If SBI logo was not circular but squarish instead, not blue but green will you still deposit you money in that bank? My mom said, ‘huh! ofcourse!’ Everybody I knew from a non-design background said, “why not.”
I do not like the new airtel logo. The number of times I see it in the hoarding while passing by the street I twitch my nose in disgust. I do not know if that is the reason ‘sub-consciously’ but I have left using airtel since then. When I talked to other designer friends of mine, they told me similar stories based on their response. Its like you don’t connect with that brand anymore. You don’t feel you belong to something so aesthetically bad.
When I pointed the same to my non-designer friends, it hardly mattered. The irony, my friends, is hence clear.
Who are we designing for? If it is the non-designer clients, they only need a ‘face’, leave aside your colour, composition, balance, sub-conscious connection, philosophy and connotation and your endless debate over 0.1543 point difference to reach your aesthetic perfection.
Its like the random sign chosen to stand for election. One group chooses rose, the other a hen and the other a bicycle or a motor-car. The idea only is to DISTINGUISH one from the other. At the second level, as people became more intelligent they introduced ASSOCIATION. Cow would be better than a hen to symbolize patriotism. Lotus would be better than a rose as it is more Indian.
To the third level comes AESTHETIC ASSOCIATION. A beautifully photographed or drawn lotus would appeal more than an ugly one. Now the question is what is beauty? Is beauty general? What is it that appeals someone? In this limitless ground where does one stop? And at this point, design which is problem-solving climbs its highway of art.
I feel the genuine reason to symbolize a brand or a group or any organization is only upto the first two points ‘distinguishing’ and ‘association’. After it travels a little farther into ‘aesthetic association’ it starts being neutral to the mass. That is when it needs a different group for its appreciation and that is when it becomes art.
After that all the extra brain-cells that go into deciding the ‘look and feel’ according to the target group and the service provided and the provider is spending your money and effort on something which at the end hardly matters or actually should not matter. Even if it matters to you as a designer and fetches you artistic mental satisfaction, it doesn’t matter to the people you want it to matter. And even if it matters to them ‘sub-consciously’ as we would like to force it upon, I would like to bring them back to that old proverb and guide them in the right direction saying, “Don’t judge a book, by its cover.” Because I feel after that point the symbols used to ‘represent’ should start losing importance and the ‘represented’ should now stand for itself to battle with its own genuine qualities.
There is a refrigerator in our house purchased the same year I was born. Then as our need and space grew, we purchased another one from one of the modern brands. My birth-year refrigerator stood proud with its head held high all the way long and the modern one, dandy and cool, went again and again for repair.
Isn’t this a shame for the progressing generation? And I thought technology was getting better and better!
The same money and brain that is invested into deciding how the logo should be… pink or orange, or a blend of turquoise green with a lighter shade of marine blue, tilting slightly left or a little more than left … could have actually been used in modifying the product itself. Resources spent not to decide how ‘life is good’ should be said or presented to have maximum effect on the customer’s ‘sub-conscious mind’ but actually and consciously in making life good for them by reducing the hazards of repair and making the products better. That is when you are a ‘brand of word’ and not only visual. That is when you are definitely distinguished for your better products and not only by your aesthetic appeal that does not take you long.
I was once passing by a book shop. The huge poster outside the shop said “99% discount on every book”! My steps slowed down. 99% discount? Doesn’t that mean almost free? Why would any shop do that?
I went closer to the shop being pulled by curiosity. Then I looked at the poster closely. It said, “1% to 99% discount on every book.” The “1% to” was typed in a font size almost negligible to the naked eye. “99%” was blown up to fill the entire poster. I entered the shop and asked where the section with 99% discount was. The salesman smiled shyly and after searching a lot from the bundle came up with one lean and thin booklet that they were ready to give at almost no cost. Rest all the books in that shop were being sold at 1% to 10% discount. Very few at the maximum went upto 20%.
Now, is this good Graphic Design?
If Graphic Design’s purpose is to convey the right information clearly then it fails miserably with its deliberately being naughty with the font size. If Graphic Design’s purpose is to seduce the viewer by any trick into the shop, even if that means attempting to convey the wrong information, then it definitely is victorious.
But I think the question still remains. Graphic Design may mean manipulation but what is ‘good graphic design’?
After I left the shop I thought to myself, “For ardh-satya or half-truth if Yuddhishthir had to visit the hell, dear Graphic Designer, for your small font size attempting to hide the truth, you too would have to visit one."
Well, so I often do think, where should Graphic Design stop, because when it is allowed to go too far it either becomes evil and misleads rather than leading or becomes useless costing a bundle of effort and money that bothers none.
Avoiding red texts on green background is design. Spacing the text well and placing them correct to increase readability and legibility is design. Associating the appropriate image with that text for better communication is design. But choosing a font which would give more Monsoon-feel on a poster made for Monsoon is art. Placing the texts and images in a way that they give you impression of Monsoon is art and spending hours over which particular CMYK combination is more monsoon-like and which stroke thickness is more like rain is art.
When a very sensitive ‘rain-harvest’ poster is finally created balancing the texts and images it completes its journey as art. When that same poster is able to actually contribute to that cause filling up that missing link on the journey from problem to solution, it is design.
Now, the debate is, am I aiming to be an artist or a designer? If I am an artist I would go on, cross all limits of strokes and colours and create something so close to Monsoon with my highly skilled aesthetic senses that it can be put up in a gallery for applause and pleasure. It is like rendition of raag Malhar, with no earthly purpose but to lead to a joy limitless both to the artist and viewer, with no claim to make sense to the mass.
But if I am a designer, I need to know where to stop. My target group or the mass definitely needs to react. My loop as a designer starts with ‘stimulation’ and ends only with desired ‘reaction’. My limit therefore is sharp and defined. A very beautiful Monsoon poster with beautifully placed message may not be the solution to my rain-harvest movement or say a save-water campaign I am to work on. The stroke thickness decision I took over one hour, or the confusion over two fonts if took my night’s sleep, and doesn’t make any sense to my target group would therefore be counted as ‘wastage’ or ‘failure’. If my poster fitted in the right context, to the right group in the right place, putting the right effort in the right direction saves a life in a dry land or few drops of water, I am a successful designer, else I am either a bad designer or a wonderful artist creating poetry or overdoing things to claim false attention in the wrong profession!
@ designers: Forgive if I sounded over-smart. I am only a fresh graduate with the obvious confusions on my own journey towards solution.
@ non-designers: Forget whatever you have read above. A logo will increase your sale because it ‘sub-consciously’ affects the mind of the viewers. Hence keep visiting us. And make sure you have money, because whether it is ‘art’ or ‘design’ both are enormous hard work!

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