Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Being too literal in logo design

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Cross posted from my other blog:

In one of my lectures, on visual communication, I use a little exercise to illustrate an aspect of semiotics.

I give the students a brief: they are to design a logo for a law firm that specialises in family law, dealing with families who are facing some form of legal entanglement. I tell them they have two minutes to come up with an idea.
Two minutes later I stop them and ask them all to stand up. I then start eliminating them by saying things like “sit down if you drew a police badge”. That usually gets rid of about half. A gavel gets rid of several more, as do jail bars, a law book, a police light and so on.
Before long we’re down to the last few students and I can usually get rid of them too with ‘hands’ or ‘cut out people’. I also eliminate anyone who used just words or initials (words aren’t so bad of course, I’m just being mean, but initials for firms always bemuse me – IBM and a few others aside, of course).

If there’s anyone left standing it’s either because I’ve missed a really obvious one (last year it was a bird, this year it was a court house) or because they’ve done something quite abstract – this year it was a square with four circles around it. Nice one. We have a winner.

(Just remembered, Orlando Weeks now of The Maccabees, “won” this a few years ago when he did a logo of “a unicorn jumping over a rainbow”. Mmm…)

The point I’m trying to make in that exercise, other than it being a bit of a break from them listening to me drone on, is that when faced with a quick challenge like that, students (everyone) tend to to think not in cliches (I happen to think cliches are good things – they’re how we communicate) but in too literal a sense. The last thing, I say, someone who is facing juvenile court on a shoplifting charge wants to see is a logo for a lawyer that screams “you’re going to jail!”.
Look at supermarkets – how many of them have logos that show a basket of shopping? (I seem to be the only one who thinks the Lidl logo looks like someone pushing a trolley)


I came up with this little game (which makes more sense in the context of the lecture than it does here) a few years ago when some graphic design students at a previous job were asked by a local law firm to come up with a logo for a similar brief. The winner was a half open door with light coming through it. The tutor loved it, the clients loved it. I hated it. They thought it said “there is hope”. I thought it said “you’re doomed”. But then, that’s me for you.
It did, however, make me look anew at logos to try to find the overly literal. And while there are a few, they’re pretty rare and almost universally poor. I won’t link to any here – look for yourself you lazy git.

All of which brings me to something that amused me. A couple of years ago, after I’d done this exercise with them, some students came in to my office with something they’d found in the Yellow Pages. An ad for a law firm which fell in to exactly the trap I’d laid for them (click on the image for a larger version). I think this is a pretty amazing/bad piece of advertising – I’ll have to add prison tattoos to my list for next year’s lecture.

Lawyer ad.jpeg

Autumn lecture programme

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Here’s my Autumn semester lecture programme in 3D. Click on the link for a higher definition version. Of course it looks better in the flesh on the big screen 🙂

(The timeline was created in the rather clever program Timeline)

University of Dundee Design History, Theory and Practice lecture series from Jonathan Baldwin on Vimeo.

Designers win medals too

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is something I wrote for the study guide for my Design History, Theory and Practice (DHTP) module which starts next week. The first lecture asks “what’s the point of DHTP?” and I try to head off the usual complaints about having to write and read and go to the library. I’ve found spending the first lecture on making the case for approaching design from an intellectual point of view not only saves time later, it tends to improve attendance and grades!

Plus, I happen to believe in it.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics offered a showcase not just of excellence in sport, but in design as well. Everything from the equipment being used to the garments being worn was designed. Ask the average person what we mean by this and they will undoubtedly talk about what things look like – the ‘style’ of the outfits, the shape of the bikes and so on.

brennan_sydney_main.jpgBut to take a view like that is to miss what we might arguably call the ‘real’ design, the design that’s the product of years (if not decades) of intense research into textiles, alloys, aerodynamics, ergonomics and more. When people talk of the millions of pounds spent on sports in the UK, they may think that all gets spent on training. But it doesn’t. Chris Hoy’s bike, Rebbeca Adlington’s swimming costume, Charlotte Burgess’s bow, and Deborah Brennan’s wheelchair are all the result of investment worldwide in design research.

And then there are the games themselves – everything from the obvious opening and closing ceremonies to the transport networks, the global television feeds, the ticketing systems, the catering, even the queues — all designed.

Design history and theory are no longer simply endless slideshows of the great and the good; pictures of this designer and that piece. Over the next three years you’ll be exposed to, and encouraged to discover, not what’s gone before but what’s possible. DHTP is about the future as much as it’s about the past. It’s also about broadening your view of what design is, from the ‘man on the street’ idea of design as style to something a little more ambitious and all-encompassing. And it’s about encouraging you to pursue a role in the cutting edge through your own research.

If I get the time, I’m going to do a video to go with it too…

New design-related schools diploma – competition or support for product design degrees?

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The Guardian reports that:

The government’s qualifications regulator, Ofqual, has accredited five new diplomas that will be taught from September next year.

The diplomas will be in business, administration and finance, environmental and land-based studies, hospitality, and manufacturing and product design.

Whether this diverts potential design students straight in to industry rather than in to colleges or universities remains to be seen. And of course, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing also remains to be seen. But the immediate(ish) implications are clear: in the next few years product design courses will start to see applications from students with diplomas, not A-levels. That needs some preparation.

Designers asked by UK Government to tackle MRSA

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Design Week is reporting that five UK design consultancies are being sought by the Department of Health and the Design Council to collaboratte with scientists and healthcare professionals. They will be asked to develop “innovative design-led hospital furniture and equipment that could improve cleaning and reduce patients’ exposure to healthcare-acquired infections”.

The programme, called “Design Bugs Out” starts with a briefing on 2 September and will focus on research in three hospitals, identifying key problem areas.

Having identified five key areas, each team will be asked to focus on one and given a £25,000 grant.
After the closing date for submissions on 10 October, final teams will be announced ten days later and given seven weeks to develop prototypes. Winning designs will be exhibited next summer.

Art and design degrees ‘need overhaul’, say academics

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

The Guardian reports that:

A group of 50 academics have called for major changes to be made to the teaching of art and design at UK universities after a review concluded it was not fit for purpose.

The Group for Learning in Art and Design (Glad), a forum of academics who discuss learning in the sector, said teaching needed to better prepare students for work in a fast-paced, changing world.


Students should learn more than the bones of their own subject to reflect ‘the multi-disciplinary nature of the creative industries’, and work with different groups of people during their studies.

Prof Linda Drew, dean of academic development at the University of the Arts London and editor of the study, said: ‘The creative industries have changed dramatically and so must we. Art education is at risk of becoming conservative – it is important that art and design remains at the cutting edge of higher education.’

Teaching staff should also be given extra training to improve the general quality of education, says the report.

The GLAD conference is taking place next week where I’m assuming this report will feature prominently.

This echoes much of what was discussed at New Views 2 in July (see this post, this one and this one).

So we’re all agreed. Let’s get on and do it, shall we?

Kermit on Visual Thinking

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Via Qin Han

What design is versus what design was

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Aaron at Product Behaviour contributes to an age-old discussion:

What is ‘design,’ anyway? Is it the ability to draw stuff? Is it the ability to cobble together a mechanism? Those may be part of it, but they miss the real point. Design is how you decide what to draw, and what to cobble together.


The project teams are made up of smart people with widely varying backgrounds. They’re capable of analyzing the situation in the field, coming up with solutions, building and testing prototypes. What they need help with, in the end, is making decisions: filtering the requirements; rating the criteria for a ‘good’ solution; knowing when to stay within the paradigm of current solutions to a problem and when to develop completely new technology.

Those are the things ‘professional’ designers really do. The technical skills are important, sure, but it’s decision-making that separates an OK solution to a problem from a great solution.

(Via Product Behavior.)

This ties in to previous posts here, and to the thinking at the New Views 2 conference. Design, at university certainly, shouldn’t be focused solely on ‘skills’ as traditionally perceived (life drawing, typography, pattern cutting etc) but on ‘higher skills’ (strategy, decision making, analysis), and the design industry should be employing graduates in roles that use those higher skills.

Unfortunately, look at any issue of Design Week or Creative Review, or look at the D&AD student awards, and you see higher skills almost completely ignored in favour of technique and aesthetics. And this drives what design courses try to achieve, meaning that what design is, as defined above, gets shoved out in favour of what design was.

"It’s a shame that the design industry looks to other places to do the groundwork and expect the finished article to turn up on the doorstep"

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Great comment over atThe Serif where they’re debating comments I made on internships in design companies:

“I graduated in 2006, and am currently working as a team secretary in an office, because I needed to pay my bills and survive basically. There’s two points I’d like to make. […]

I started working at this office as a temp. (Paid well, I might add) I got taken on as an admin assisstant full time and within a couple of months I was being trained to become a team secretary. It’s a shame that the design industry looks to other places to do the groundwork and expect the finished article to turn up on the doorstep (the majority anyway). The main point here is that, yes, taking on a graduate is a gamble for companies, but that is no excuse not to pay someone while you make your minds up. 3 month contracts will do. Then there’s an option at the end, the person gets paid in the meantime.”

work+play: Notes from New Views

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Laura Chessin’s thoughts on the New Views conference:

I was challenged by the view that ‘Graphic Design is in Crisis’. I developed a conviction that graphic design is undergoing an evolution and it is those who operated under previously–accepted assumptions and systems who are in crisis themselves.

I think she’s right here, and this is an important way of looking at it. To amend my earlier post, it’s not graphic design that’s dead, it’s the old way of looking at it that should be put to rest.