Logos, the good, the bad and the downright obscene

March 26, 2017

Last week I listened to Radiotopia’s magnificent podcast about design 99% Invisible. The particular show featured an interview with award-winning designer Michael Bierut. He is author of How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look good, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world, which came out in 2015. He is a partner at Pentagram in New York City and is the man behind the Obama and Hillary’s logos for the last three presidential elections, as well as designing the sign outside of the New York Times building on 8th avenue and these signs outside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, which elegantly remind dog owners of their responsibilities:

Logo is an abbreviation of logotype. Wanting to identify yourself, your work or your compsny is not new. In the past there were such things as coats of arms, signature seals, watermarks, silver hallmarks and literal brands. The first trademark legislation in England was passed by parliament during the reign of Henry III in 1266 and required all bakers to use a distinctive mark for the bread they sold. Nevertheless, it was the Bass red triangle which would revolutionise international brand marketing. in the 19th century Bass began applying red, blue or green triangles to their casks of Pale Ale depending on which of their three breweries they came from. After 1855 the triangles were all red and on January 1st 1876 the Bass Red Triangle became the first trademark to be registered under the UK’s Trade Mark Registration Act 1875. The rest is history.

Logos come in all shapes sizes and styles. Bierut has identified three types

  1. wordmarks: Google, Disney and Coca-Cola
  2. pictorial logos: Apple, Shell and Mercedes Benz
  3. abstract iconography: Adidas, Chanel and the Nike Swoosh

These are archetypes and a design may have more than one feature. For example, the famous I love NY combines 1 and 2.

The interview on 99% Invisible is called Negative Space Logo Design with Michael Bierut. The concept of negative space is essential for understanding many logo designs. Positive space refers to the areas in a logo that are the subjects, or areas of interest. negative space is area around the subjects. The classic example is the one when you either see two faces or a vase.

If you are seeing a vase, then you are seeing the white area as the positive space. The black areas become the negative space. If you see two faces, then you are seeing the black areas as the positive space and the white area as the negative space.

This allows designers to be very playful in what they do. They can often conceal messages. A famous example is the FedEx logo, which has am arrow between the E and the X:

Many other companies have hidden messagrs in their logos:

Baskin Robbins are famous for their 31 ice cream flavours and you can see the number in the logo:

The first letter in the Pinterest logo resembles a pin:

The Amazon logo has two for the price of one. First, the arrow points from “a” to “z”, suggesting the huge range of goods Amazon offers. And secondly, the entire thing looks like a smiley face:

Logos can be overrated. In the end they derive their meaning and usefulness from the quality of the company or organisation they represent. If a company is second rate the logo will eventually be perceived as a failure. Colour is a key element in logo design and plays an important role in carving out a brand identity. Colours acquire connotations and associations, though these will vary in place ant time. Here is achart I found online which shows how colours are used by companies:

Since the fist appearance of the red Bass triangle in the 19th century logos have conquered the world. but not everyone is happy with this. Sometimes logos can be attacked. One group who have been active for nearly three decades are the Adbusters Media Foundation. The Canadian not-for-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment activists are famous for their campaigns – Buy Nothing Day, TV Turnoff Week and Occupy Wall Street. I do not share their ideology but I do enjoy their spoofing of popular companies and advertisements.

Here are a couple of examples:

Sometimes, though, the damage is self-inflicted. One recent example is the logo for Trump Pence in 2016. Onceyou’ve seenit, it is impossible to unsee it :

When logos go wrong, sex is often the cause. Here are some examples that I found online:

Locum – a Swedish real estate company.

Megaflicks

Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission

I do have my doubts if they are all real.   This has been my brief tour of the fascinating world of logo desgn.


A couple of videos

March 26, 2017

Here are a couple of videos about logos:

Michael Bierut talks about what makes a truly great logo.

22 Hidden Messages In Famous Logos


Hell is other people under a dome

March 19, 2017

I am a big fan of the American writer T.C. Boyle. In fact, I talked about a previous novel of his, When the Killing’s Done in a previous post, A few rabbits can’t do any harm.  The 2011 novel looked at the battle between conservationist, Alma Takesue and animal rights activist Dave LaJoy. The former is on a mission to preserve endangered ecosystems from invasive species, whereas the former disagrees with the notion that humans have the right to choose which animals will live or die. This reflects a couple of common tropes in Boyle’s work. One is the environment and how we interact with it. He is also interested in fanaticism, the dynamics of cults and failed utopian projects. In previous works he has looked into the worlds of John Kellogg, Alfred Kinsey and Frank Lloyd Wright.

In his sixteenth novel, The Terranauts, Boyle transplants us into the ecosphere, an artificial ecosystem located in the Arizona desert. His inspiration for the story came from an experiment from the early 1990s known as Biosphere 2 (Biosphere I is Planet Earth.), in which four men and four women were sealed inside a three-acre glass structure in Oracle, Arizona for two years. The two men behind Space Biosphere Ventures were the wealthy Fort Worth Texas oil heir Edward P. Bass and eccentric ecology guru John Polk Allen. In turn, Allen was inspired by Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic dome. The biosphere was a mixture of high-minded science, New Age bullshit and American hucksterism. Curiously, one of the people involved at one point in the Biosphere 2 project was a certain Steve Brannon, Trump’s Campaign CEO and now White House Chief Strategist. The man behind Breitbart News had very different views on the environment back then:

A lot of the scientists who are studying global change and studying the effects of greenhouse gases, many of them feel that the Earth’s atmosphere in 100 years is what Biosphere 2’s atmosphere is today. We have extraordinarily high CO2, we have very high nitrous oxide, we have high methane. And we have lower oxygen content. So the power of this place is allowing those scientists who are really involved in the study of global change, and which, in the outside world or Biosphere 1, really have to work with just computer simulation, this actually allows them to study and monitor the impact of enhanced CO2 and other greenhouse gases on humans, plants, and animals.

Now owned by the University of Arizona, the Biosphere is still in existence. Here are some facts about it I found online:

 

The research facility

7,200,000 cubic feet under sealed glass; 6,500 windows

91 feet at highest point

sealed from the earth below by a 500-ton welded stainless steel liner

40-acre campus

300,000 sq. ft. of administrative offices, classrooms, labs, conference centre, housing

Elevation is 3,820 feet above sea level

Over 3,000,000 visitors since 199

Over 500,000 K-12 student visitors since 1991

Biomes under Glass

Ocean with coral reef

Mangrove wetlands

Tropical rainforest

Savannah grassland

Fog desert

Biosphere II was a kind of Noah’s Ark for plants, animals, and humans. The crew was accompanied by 3,800 species of plants and animals.  It was the first two-year closure of a projected fifty. Closure was meant to be absolute and the sphere was expected to be self-sustaining, with its own food crops (bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes, beets, peanuts, rice, and wheat etc.) and domestic animals pigs goats. Alas it would not turn out that way. The original crew had to break closure on several occasions and there was a complete collapse of the experiment six months into the second closure. This was when Bannon was on board. The place was overrun by ants and cockroaches. What’s more two of the members of the first team vandalised the project from outside.

This is the setup for Boyle’s exploration into the complexity of maintaining an environment and living in a fishbowl.  Boyle begins the book with two epigraphs. The first is from the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed, thoughtful people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  The second is from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” (Hell is other people.). I think the second one is more germane to what happens in the ecosphere,

The terranauts are constantly being watched both by Mission Control and the tourists who come to gawk at them as they go about their daily lives. I would have thought that this would make a great idea for a TV programme. It’s amazing that no one has ever thought of it.

The story is narrated by three first-person narrators, Dawn Chapman and Ramsay Roothoorp, who are both inside the dome and Linda Ryu, who is working on the support staff, with the promise of being included in Mission Three. What unites them is being unlikable I do use books which use the device o having different narrators and these ones are most definitely unreliable. In the novel the ecosphere remains unbreached. But there are plenty of other problems: power cuts, decreasing oxygen levels and poor crop yields to name but a few. But the real drama is interpersonal with all the conflicts you can imagine with eight people trapped in a confined area for two years. I won’t tell you what happens in the end, but it is safe to assume that there will be lots of friction. It may be a scientific project, but it is being carried out by humans with their egos, jealousies and foibles.


I was reading that Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, will be the producer of a TV version of The Terranauts. I am looking forward to it.


A couple of videos

March 19, 2017

Here are a couple of videos about the real Biosphere:

Inside Biosphere 2: The World’s Largest Earth Science Experiment

Jane Poynter: Life in Biosphere 2


Track-a-holism and other new words

March 5, 2017

Here is another selection of new words I found on the Wordspy website:

iceberg home

A home where what is seen at ground level is only a small part of structure, with the rest being underground.

Norman door

A door with a design that makes it difficult to determine the correct way to open the door.

rug-rat race

Intense pressure put on children to achieve early educational success, particularly as a prerequisite for eventually getting into an elite university.

stealth health

The practice of making a recipe or food product healthier without advertising the change to consumers.

sneakerhead

A person who collects, trades, or is passionate about running shoes.

stealth health

The practice of making a recipe or food product healthier without advertising the change to consumers.

superager

A person over 80 years old who exhibits little cognitive decline.

track-a-holism

A compulsion to monitor one’s health and fitness metrics, particularly those generated by apps and electronic devices

 verbicaine

Soothing words used to calm or distract a patient who is awake during a surgical procedure.