Postcards from the Future

Problems can be inspiring. If I can’t work something out in my life, I take it to language. I take it to melody. And sometimes, well, it all can be going to the Met and standing in front of that painting of Joan of Arc. That painting has inspired me. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, you think, and then it turns out that they came from the future. And I call those songs postcards from the future.

Rosanne Cash
Freakonomics, Where Do Good Ideas Come From? (Ep. 368)

So, what did we learn this week?

With all the rationale design thinking being bantered about these days, The lost art of designing for pleasure is totally refreshing. In college I took an intro to business and my mentor thought I was nuts. Why Designers Need to Learn about Business seems to agree with my thought all those years ago. Speaking of ages ago… I started reading CA in 1986. Hard to believe that Communication Arts is turning 60 years old. And one last thought about age: Why late bloomers are happier and more successful. I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic, but Workism Is Making Americans Miserable made me think a little differently. Another interesting thought about the modern offie in How Consensus Kills Innovation. And finally, a story about a favorite subject in The curious story of how transatlantic exchange shaped Italy’s illustrious coffee culture.

There are Only Two Kinds of Design

I discovered a podcast called My Favorite Album that is about music critics, or other smarty pants-types in the industry, talking about albums that had a huge impact on their lives — the records they go back to time and time again. Being a self-proclaimed music snob, I’ve been choosey about which episodes I’ll listen to, but the other day I listened to the episode of Scott Sharrard discussing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

Sharrard played in the Allman Brothers Band, and in his view, Kind of Blue had huge influence on the direction Gregg and Duane took the group.  What?

How do you get that? This southern jam band’s biggest influence is the modal, cool qualities of one of the most signifiant jazz recordings of all time? How is that possible?

Sharrard went on to explain how this cosmic duality is possible with an amazing quote from Duke Ellington. As Duke elegantly put it… There are only two kinds of music — good and bad. Let that soak in for a minute.

When I heard Sharrard relay the quote, a revelation hit me almost immediately. There are only two kinds of Design, good and bad. What’s the difference a print ad, a package, a sign system, an app, a website or anything else that a designer would make? The only differences are the tools used or skills needed to execute the design, but the underlying concepts and principles of greta design are fundamentally identical. For all you specialists out there, let that soak in.

I’ve spoken about this elsewhere in the site, extolled the virtues and praised the benefits of being a generalist. Looks like I have Duke Ellington to back me up on this one.

What did we learn this week?

We learned about redesigning the business of advertising from Cindy Gallop. It’s Nice that taught us that Logos date like clothes and six designers debate what makes an ideal brand identity. Our friends at 99U told us to Check Your Ego to Making Meetings Less Scary for Introverts. Wolff Olins tells us why great strategies and ideas often fail. Adobe wants us to Reconnect with the Idea of “Creating for Tomorrow”. My favorite new site, Fold Magazine, teaches us How to Master the Art of Doing. Bob is on fire lately and The High Cost Of Online Trash is no exception. Alissa Walker reminded us How Design Observer Founder William Drenttel Changed the Conversation. And finally, Fast Co. showed us how Wieden+Kennedy strives to make advertising that transcends branding and drives the pop-culture conversation.

And the best logo of 2018 goes to…

No one.

I look forward to Under Consideration’s Brand New list of the best reviewed logos at the end of every year. What an incredible disappointment 2018 was. Little was interesting, revolutionary, and worse, most of the marks reviewed revealed a disparaging amount of parity.

There are a few marks labelled as brilliant, which I would rate as fine. But nothing that made me think “I wish I had done that”. Which, by the way, is what all Designers should secretly strive to do.

This was the best reviewed logo of the year?

It’s strange. So few logos have concepts, and if they do, they are so abstract or inwardly focused that in reality they actually are quite self-defeating as marks.

And the typography is so bland. Nothing but sans serifs, so many, that even as a trained, practicing designer I am struggling to discern one from the other. Think about how this affects the everyday, uneducated audience. Can they tell one from the other? For all you youngsters out there: Choosing between Gotham and Helvetica is not a concept.

Okay, the 1970s type desperately needed updating, but…


WOW! Hope no one got hurt during the redesign.



Why this is?

One thought is the internet, the source of all good and evil in the world. It is so easy for the design community to look at and share ideas, see work instantly. You used to have to wait 60 days for the next issue of CA to come out to see what was fresh, new and cutting edge. You had time to absorb and think about the work rather than be reactionary.

What worries me is that more designers are simply following trends rather than trying to start them. That’s a seriously dangerous way to design, folks. What’s trendy and cool today is stale and dated tomorrow. And the last thing you want is a logo your client spent $20,000 mounting to the side of building looking dated six months from now.

Another thought is two-fold. One, are clients wanting to follow the herd, to be the same. Be safe. It is much easier to go with the flow rather than forge your own way upstream against the current.

What a sad commentary on the state of branding in the fashion industry.


Along those same lines, are designers doing a good enough job of pitching truly innovative logos. 2018 might have been a banner year for logo designs, only the work never had the opportunity to see the light of day because the designer’s presentation skills are lacking. It’s easy to sell what a client expects — you have to work to sell the new.

Originality is never an easy sell.

Or it is this march towards simplification. Again, a trend. I’m all for minimalism and brevity, but there is a breaking point where the simple becomes simplistic. Minimalism does not mean dumb-down.

Or, are designs over-intellectualized to the point where the designs are deconstructed so deeply that at the essence, there is nothing left of the design.

All of this is disturbing. I thought perhaps that it was just me, that I’ve gotten old and cynical about these things. Too much reverence for the work that has come before me and not enough insight into what is currently being produced. I waited two full weeks to publish this post with the intention of reviewing the work again, looking at it with fresh eyes and making sure it isn’t just me being an old codger. Unfortunately, I think my opinions on the marks of 2018 may have diminished even further.

Lets’s work to make 2019 is a better year for logos.

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