Design based on a concept

Often people have a very literal idea about what they want others to see in their visual(s). It is what has meaning to them in relation to how they themselves see something, not in relation to what their customer sees and will understand. When we talk about a design (or a brand) meaning something or having significance beyond its obvious face value, it is the conceptual meaning we are talking about that is conveyed through the visual.

Assuming a client needs a visual that has meaning to its purpose…. How are designs done based on a concept? They clearly come from allowing the client to reveal the concept. Begin by engaging the client. They will tell you what you need to know if you *LISTEN*.

Mad Men fans will appreciate Roger Sterling’s wisdom when he said, “It’s about listening to people and never saying what’s really on your mind.” Roger is a wise man. I appreciate his wit and wisdom.

Help your client open up by asking questions related to their ideas about the company and specifically the project and its intent. The better you know the client, the easier this is. Make an effort to get to know them and observe how they communicate.

This brings to mind Roger Sterling’s wisdom again, “I don’t know if anyone ever told you that half the time this business comes down to: “I don’t like that guy.””

Listen listen listen. Look for the concept in the descriptive words they use. Find out what the clients own customers say.

Once the concept is clearly distilled, defined or identified, the design solution is not far behind. It is all in interpretation so to be sure you are receiving this idea clearly, repeat it back to the client. “So when you say…. Is this like….. ? Or do you mean….?”

For me it is like a lightning bolt hits me. It comes from the client and it’s exciting when the realization occurs that this is a viable core concept we should build on.

If the project involves a group, it is the same thing, except with more people. If they dont see eye to eye, it is your job to define the commonalities they do agree on and build a concept around them.

You might have a great idea you want to try or you may want to design something to win awards and accolades but this is not necessarily the way to achieve a positive experience for your client.

As we like to say, we see it when you say it.

Fun with color

As a requirement of our bachelors’ degrees in graphic design, we were taught the color course based on Josef Albers’ color interaction theories. (“The Interaction of Color” by Joseph Albers.)

This course conditioned us to recognize visual values, not only in color, but also in other art and design. Quoting Josef Albers:

We worked with special color paper called Color-Aid, which we purchased in 314-sheet packs of 6 x 9 inches. Using Color-Aid as opposed to paints allowed us to focus totally on precise color, hue and intensity. We realized early on that no two people see color exactly the same way. Quoting Josef Albers:

The course helped us develop sensitivity to color and composition, further developing our visual skills.

The color used for the two quotes above illustrates one color interaction theory. Three colors, yellow, blue and green, appear as four. The green appears to be two different colors, when in fact, it is the same color. Color on color can create an optical illusion.

As Josef Albers said:

A Visual Brand Refresh For Starbucks

A great logo example of what you can do once visual brand awareness is built! Starbucks copies a page from well known companies such as Nike Inc. and Apple Inc., who have easily built enough visual brand awareness to successfully drop the words from their logos years ago. The words are no longer needed for us to recognize this visual icon as none other than Starbucks. It can stand alone and speaks for itself. This is achieved by consistent and repetitive use of the visual brand over time. This brand refresh is simple, contemporary, memorable and close enough to the existing logo that it avoids losing any visual brand recognition.

Starbucks has introduced the logo internally and plans to bring it to stores in March which coincides with its 40th anniversary.

In its 40-year history Starbucks has had 4 logos variations. The first update in 1987 took the original brown logo to a green. As shown below, refined again in 1992 and now in 2011.

This refresh, after 9 years, clearly strengthens the Starbucks visual brand.

Logos – Concepts, Not Clones

The Rio 2016 Olympic logo is chosen.

Brazil’s Tatíl Design created the logo, and is to be revered for its good design. It is very Brazilian, with its three interlocking figures joyously dancing. 140 design firms entered the competitive process to design the logo. A team of 15 national and international members of the Rio 2016 organizing committee made the final decision on this chosen design below.

People will always find a similar logo design or something to criticize about a design, even if the design is valid and top knotch. Public criticism sites the Telluride Foundation’s logo as the master for the Rio 2016 design.

There is little reason to find similarity between the two. Both logos depict figures embraced hand-in-hand dancing in a flowing motion with the vibrant use of color. But the similarities end there. Rio has a more unique fluidity of movement as one continuous unit.

It is not surprising that Tatíl Design who created the logo said they had never seen Telluride Foundation’s logo. Designers always strive for a unique design. It just isn’t in a true designers nature to even want to copy an existing design. We can be inspired by an existing design, yes. Understanding the process helps explain how this is not typical.

Design is a cognitive process which comes from the synthesis of defined distilled concepts and parameters. Organizers say the Rio 2016 logo is based on four concepts: contagious energy, harmonious diversity, exuberant nature and the Olympic spirit.

Designers know that the end product could have similarities to things they may never have seen. There are so many visual representations in the universe (although certainly many more yet to be discovered) that one can easily display similarities to others. It is “how far the similarities go” that is important. This certainly does not qualify for copyright infringement. It is not a clone.

Similarities have also been found in the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition. Interestingly enough, the Taipei International Flora Expo’s logo is described as follows: It is based on five simple designed petals. Each petal uses a pattern of moving lines combine in abstract images of dancing people, which represents human activities. Colors of blue, green, red, orange and purple represents the 5 continents around the world. It is the outcome of a 2 months long competition which includes a total of 1669 entries from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Europe, Japan and the U.S designers. The organizing committee finally decided on the logo that best shows the idea of human celebrations and shared values with bright colors displaying cheerful atmosphere to represent the Expo.

Similarities? How far can we take this? Maybe some people just don’t see the fine nuances of art and design.

Find a much more comprehensive conceptual overview at the Creative Review.

A Brand New Logo for Comedy Central, ha ha.

It’s okay if you confuse Comedy Central’s new logo for a copyright symbol! The “hidden irony” in the copyright symbol is apparently intentional.

The network’s Bob Salazar, SVP/creative director, (brand creative for Comedy Central), says it is an ”irreverent wink”. Salazar said that the channel “Wanted a brand image that responds to the variety of multimedia options viewers access our content on,” such as the iPad and other interactive devices. “The Comedy Mark is an amalgam of all the things we’re doing.”

If we immediately “SEE” the copyright symbol, then what statement is their brand mark making?

They say, “Everyone misses the joke?” Ah, sorry! We are not THAT oblique!

Fast company says, “The copyright is the ultimate emblem of the corporate world. Here, Comedy Central is literally turning it on its head. The joke is subtle but clever.” (Read more at Fast Company’s Co.Design blog.)

Whaaaaaat? Subtle … clever? I don’t think so. It’s just not innovative, original, distinctive or a good logo. And lucky for them, the copyright symbol is in the public domain.

View this video on Comedy Central’s new logo by its creator, thelab. The video is certainly not boring and uses the new logo in a very innovative and fun way. But it’s still a copyright symbol no matter which way you look at it!

Visual Unity

Whether it is on the Web, in print or on a trade show floor, you can create a positive experience by engaging your customers visually. Graphics that are simple, colorful and evoke emotion are impactful.

Our goal is to create a sense of unity from the central message and supporting copy, photographs and logos. All three components should fit together to make a coherent whole.

Unity in composition can stop people in their tracks.

Grouping people, objects and text

Grouping elements can give them greater impact than if they were standing alone or apart from one another. When several items are placed in proximity, the eye moves easily from one to the next. The items become one visual unit, providing a single message for the viewer.

If the group is the most prominent part of the graphic, the structure will hold together as an overall composition and draw attention.

Repeating shapes, colors or values

A design element repeated can form a path for the eye, leading to an important message logo or image. Repetition can create consistency

Which square will people look at? This stand-out-from-the-pack repetitive approach is useful for helping viewers focus on the uniqueness of a product, company, or event.

Attract and lead the eye with continuation

Human eyes instinctively want to follow a line to find out where it leads. Aligning edges of items creates an invisible line the eye naturally follows. By aligning the edges—horizontally, vertically or diagonally—the composition becomes unified.

Once again leading the viewers with strong visual cues gets the message across.

The “F” pattern and the “Z” pattern.

When visually communicating, it is known that we create directional flow with visual elements, all with the intention of getting a message across.

Using the “F” pattern

One of Jakob Nielsen’s 2006 eyetracking visualization studies show users read in an “F” pattern on the Web.  Below is a piece we ran in a 2006  Synergist enews.

Using the “Z” pattern

In print, the conventional “Z” pattern of reading (in western cultures) has always been used for the strategic placement of important information. Starting in the upper left corner, working across to the right and then back to the left again, going top to bottom. We placed a “Z” over the ad below so you can see how that works.

The contrast of the “F” and the “Z” and their mediums is something to ponder.

Whether we lead the readers eye with an “F” or a “Z” in mind, the goal of visual communications is to invite readers into the page and have them leave with your message.

Eye-tracking studies support visual communications

As in everything we do when visually communicating, we focus on meeting the users needs.

Eye tracking studies for the web reveal valuable information on how visitors take in a website. Studies path a users visual direction on a web page with software that uses heat mapping.

Shown here, heatmaps from user eyetracking studies. From Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, 4/17/06

The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations.

It is very interesting when you look at this and follow how a visitor scans the page. This gives us valuable research on how to build a user-friendly website.

Other variables such as the type of website and its visitors do make a significant difference — the same rules do not apply to all.

What are visitors coming for? Is it for information or to purchase a product or service they need? Is it business- or consumer-based? Is it a niche audience?

Reading an article referencing the most recent eye-tracking study by Jakob Nielsen brings up some interesting results on images that we can all learn from.

The study shows people photos are good to include, but only if they are of real people. Viewers skip over generic photos if they are not directly relevant to why they are coming to the site. Poor design and cluttered content is a factor that is clearly to be considered vital in making this case. Jakob Nielsen refers to this as “visual bloat”. I love it!

So, if photos are being added to a website without much thought to their relevancy, they are of no value. If an image is not relevant, how can it make the emotional connection to the user?

The example he uses is, on the Amazon website, people “mostly” ignored generic images of televisions because they didn’t offer real information. But on the Pottery Barn website, people engaged with the product photos for extended periods of time. Yes. When we are purchasing a product online we have set criteria that helps us make the purchasing decision and the biggest is, we need to SEE if it fits our needs.

There are also people who need to actually touch the item they are purchasing so they may never actually buy a television online.

If a website is selling products, it is most important to have a photoshoot with a professional photographer so the products can be best showcased for their selling advantage. It is important that users are able to see alternate views and enlarged images.

Tip: Jakob Nielsen says when users click to view a larger version of an item, the one that appears should be at least twice as big, preferably more.

Eye tracking studies are just another way for us to support and improve our efforts of visually communicating effectively.

Your personal brand. It just is.

As in your company’s brand, your personal brand is equally valuable.

If you are not doing anything to build it, it will be done for you, good or bad.

So whether you think you have a brand or not, it is created for you in everything you do. And we all need our brand to reflect who we are positively.

Why do we want to build a personal brand?

It is important for our customers to see us as allies. We need to mold perception and build trust, respect, understanding, insight, rapport, value and memorability so we can serve customers needs best.

How do we do this?

  1. Who are you to your customers?
    Define the attributes you have and want revealed to customers. Are you a trusted partner? Are you a valued resource? What is your value-added? Think like your customer for a moment and list the things you think they most value in you. Or better yet, ask them!
  2. Take these attributes and think of ways you can offer them everyday to the world. Think about the things you say and do that help instill these attributes.
  3. Find ways of distinguishing yourself.
    What are some things you can do to support these characteristics?
  4. Be genuine, never contrived.
    You can only build a personal brand successfully if it is truly who you are.
  5. Keep it simple.
    Simplify complex concepts reducing them to their essence. It will make it easier for you and others to embrace them. Remember, the answers lie within YOU!

Lastly, believe your strong personal brand and live it everyday, in everything you do. Remember, you bring it with you everywhere you go.

Visual Branding Gone Bad

Iconic clothing brand, The Gap, unveiled its new logo October 6th resulting in a frenzy of outraged designers.

Marka Hansen, President of Gap North America explains Gap’s need for a new brand logo: “It is one that we’ve had for more than 20 years and it should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that. We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.”

Louise Callagy, another Gap spokesperson, told Ad Age: “For the last two years we’ve been working on evolving the brand identity for Gap.”

Ms. Callagy said the retailer has been surprised by the response to the new logo, which was received well internally.

Two years to develop? “Received well internally?”

Sounds like this now infamous mark was the result of a logo designed by committee. It was “received well internally?” If only all of their customers were internal!

The Gap has now responded with its plan to ask others to share their own logo designs on their Facebook Page. Details are coming on this crowd sourcing project.

Personally, while I applaud The Gap’s effort from a PR standpoint, I don’t endorse its crowd sourcing from a philosophical one. Asking unpaid consumers to design a logo that will evolve The Gap’s brand, just undermines the necessary hard work that goes into a good logo design, or at least SHOULD go into a good logo design. Over the course of the two years they say was spent coming up with the “evolved” Gap brand, not one person at Gap thought to do consumer testing for the logo that is to potentially lead them through the next 20 years? I really don’t know everything about the process they used for this, but while I’m glad the new logo was “received well internally,” this is the type of self-centered thinking that can compromise the branding process and ultimately give branding a bad name.

I could probably write a whole post about what is wrong with Gap’s new logo, but something tells me you don’t need me to do that to convince you. Everything has been said about the use of the Helvetica font, and I agree that it was a poor choice. Beyond that, all physical space in a logo design should have meaning. When two shapes intersect, such as where the square intersects with the lower case “p”, the result should form a positive-negative space relationship that is strong, intentional and meaningful. It just seems, as if internally, since they all agreed they liked the old square they decided it is easy to keep it. Although they know they needed a brand evolution, they only regurgitated the existing image in a less meaningful form.

They now have to do something after last week’s onslaught of negative commentary. If you had told me two years ago that one poorly designed logo would inspire parody twitter accounts (see http:/ and, parody websites like “Get your own crap logo”, and fervent dialog, all hemorrhaging negativity, all in less than a week’s time, I’d have been shocked. And so its crowd sourcing solution was probably the best response. If consumers were unimpressed with Gap’s effort and wanted more, what better way to rebuild brand loyalty and equity than to give them the power to see something they created become the company’s new visual mark?

Hopefully, Gap and others have learned or at least have been reminded of something from this experience. If you don’t do good solid branding, your customer will do it for you – positive or negative!


Ad Age reports that Gap will not be moving forward with their new logo.

It seems designers en masse not only dislike the new logo but are outspoken in their disdain for being needed to help fix the logo blunder with the proposed crowdsourcing project on Facebook. Gap has posted a message to FB saying the impending project is not related to the logo. Backpedaling?

It goes on….

Is this merely a poorly designed logo or is this poor comprehension of the brand internally? Was this redesign a marketing stunt? New strategies for the new paradigm?

Does this help or hinder Gap’s brand awareness?

If the logo is the result of Gap’s design firm (Laird and Partners) submitting to Gap’s internal team “vision”, how can this not reflect badly on Laird and Partners? Where do we, as designers, draw the line between integrity in what we do and the money we accept to do it. The client (customer) is always right?