I had the opportunity to visit the Met this weekend in New York, though for not nearly long enough as it would take a solid year to give each piece adequate attention. Some of the modern art might be a bit too pretentious for my taste – as I still have trouble grasping the magnitude of a canvas painted solid blue – there was of course a lot of amazing work on display. Perhaps my favorites were the portraits of Chuck Close. I’ve seen his stuff before in books, but his creations really need to be experienced in person. The sheer size of the paintings are impressive and provide a chance to see all the little details – impossible if simply viewing on a page. I watched many a visitor reach Chuck Close’s section and stand in awe, stopping in their tracks. Especially when they came upon the piece called, Mark. (More on that far below.)
A former student of mine, is half the partnership behind a nifty little photo search engine called Compfight. Though not affiliated with flickr, it makes great use of their API, allowing users to search the entire flickr library of photos. You can search tags only or all text (simply by clicking the button next to the search form at the top), you can search for images covered by the Creative Commons license, and a user can enable a safe search feature, which is handy while at work. One particular feature of note is the blue bar which indicates that flickr is holding an original photo and when moused on (and briefly held) the bar displays the pixel dimensions. Compfight is quite handy when trying to find an FPO image for a project or to simply see what’s out there in a more user-friendly format. Check it out.
The handy blue bar feature:
A sample search: stop signs.
Over at TapeDeck.org they have a great gallery of vintage cassette tape designs from recordable audio manufacturers. You'll see some great retro schemes and fantastic tech-writing on these beauties – and all of them are oddly fascinating. I can remember recording mix-tapes on a couple labels in particular. Check them out; the entire collection is graphically gratifying. I pulled a few favorites below.
There have been suggestions to name this little feature of ours, Branding of the week. But, I come from the school of thought that it’s all semantics. Everything that is called branding is also advertising, if you don’t define advertising as narrowly as simply a print or tv spot. I think people feel like advertising is a dirty word and want to separate themselves from it. But it’s also a more honest word – we’re selling something and we’re not trying to hide that fact. Advertising is bad enough, may as well be open about it. But I digress.
The ad of the week, is one of those non-ad, ads. To promote the movie, Horton Hears a Who, Fox has partnered with IHOP (yes, the INTERNATIONAL House of Pancakes) to include a few limited-time offerings on their menu. One is green eggs and ham, seen above, which isn’t exactly for this story, but fits nicely with breakfast food and ties well with anything Dr. Seuss. Nothing ground-breaking here. However, there is another item (among five or six new ones) that is outstanding in it’s disregard for everything culinary and nutritional. May I introduce to you, Who Cakes. According to their press release, “Who-Cakes, named after the "Whos" who live on a speck of dust, are a colorful stack of IHOP's shortcake pancakes in all shapes and sizes covered with real boysenberry and blueberry glaze, rainbow chocolate chips and (get this) a pink lollipop. Adventurous guests can wash it all down with a wiggly jiggly Beezlenut Splash, a thirst-quenching treat of lemon-lime soda with cubes of floating Cherry and Berry Blue Jell-O®.” The pancakes are basically sugar cakes, with melted sugar, and sugar bits throughout topped off with a dessert. I have no idea who would order this, unless done so to make an ironic statement of some kind. But, I will say this: it’s attention-getting and very Seussian. Bonus points to anyone who sends proof that they’ve eaten a platter of these delights.
I can't imagine eating this.
I haven’t written a logo critique in quite some time, as the guys over at Brand New do a great job handling those. But I couldn’t resist writing this one up.
The Atlanta Bread Company is launching a new identity – or more accurately – has been launching a new identity over the last few weeks. Gone will be the old American Typewriter logotype and black and gold fields of wheat, and in its place will be what corporate is calling, The Bread Man. (See below.) The somewhat ambiguous shapes are described on the back of a piece of collateral. (Also seen below.) “You aren’t just looking at a new logo. You’re seeing the heart and soul of Atlanta Bread personified by a few simple brushstrokes. So, please allow us to introduce you to the bread man. He’s part global traveler, part old-school baker, part next-door neighbor...” Though this is a somewhat corny introduction of a mark, it sure beats the usual marketing jargon that most often accompanies an identity redesign. At least they are trying to talk to their customers in a conversational manner, I’ll give them that.
Old logo: (Courtesy of Creative Commons license, photo by Dave Malkoff.)
New logo introduction:
But getting back to the design... I certainly am no fan of their old logo. No love for the old color palette or the typeface. But they had a loyal following and my gut reaction to the new design is that it’s far too close to what everyone else is doing, especially in this category. The hand drawn (but not really) atlanta script combined with the strokes of the BREAD end up feeling too much like one of their main competitors, Panera Bread. (See comparison below.) And although I want to like the bread man, ‘he’ really resembles a few blobs of paint more than a baker holding a loaf of bread. Is the new look more contemporary? Yes. Is it more fitting for a restaurant? Yes. Will it stand out in the category and stand the test of time? Doubtful. It simply looks too much like every other quick-service lunch place. I do think the color palette (an olive green and chili red) is a vast improvement over the old and feels quite appropriate.
I understand how these things go. Designers seldom get to produce their vision in its entirety and it’s quite possible they wanted to render an identity that had more southern heritage, more authenticity and more unique characteristics. All of these things would have made the mark better. I can understand how someone could like this redesign (it’s not as bad as say, the recent Xerox catastrophe,) but I can’t help but feeling like the design team missed a perfect opportunity to do something great. Instead it’s ok, in fact, an upgrade from the old. But that’s never the goal of re-launching a national brand. It could have been so much more than ok. I'm still researching who exactly is responsible for the look, whether an inhouse team at Atlanta Bread or an outside agency or studio. More (hopefully a few in-store shots) as I find it.
Looks like they've updated their website recently too.
The relationship between advertisers and content of major publications is put on display at One Page Magazine. A very simple idea, they’ve overlapped each advertiser’s logo, as they appear on their respective page. My favorite is Vogue (below) which demonstrates how little content the magazine actually contains as well as major fashion companies’ love for large logotypes. Both factors render the top and bottom of the piece as an almost completely black clog. Now, I just wish they’d do one for Men’s Health or GQ – I’m pretty sure it would end up being a field of black. (Seriously, the first 32 pages of GQ are ad spreads for cologne and clothing and whatever else. The table of contents page is on page 50 or something.) One page also does a similar thing with article titles, which is also interesting but somewhat less meaningful. Very cool. (I bookmarked this on friday and forgot the source, so apologies.)
I guess the marketing department and the agency responsible didn’t think that Chinese Living and beautiful shots of rural Chinese textile mills would separate US consumers from their discretionary income. (Go figure.) Now, don’t get me wrong. Free-trade is great. But global marketplace and international trade/political issues aside, this is irresponsible marketing and one reason why, despite being an advertising art director, there are days when I really hate advertising. It’s playing off an emotional nationalism that is a completely fabricated façade. It’s condescending to think that consumers will not see through this. AND it’s cowardly of both the company and the ad agency to not, I don’t know, decide to actually manufacture the clothing line in America (given its name and all.) Then, it could have been an authentic appeal to consumers for well-made, probably a bit more expensive, American goods. Then, the well-crafted advertising and beautifully executed marketing would be more than just another example of what is wrong with advertising. Sometimes ad agencies lie, mislead, and purposely ignore product attributes and communicate falsely in order to move product. Everyone from the company’s big wigs, to the agency’s strategic and creative teams, down to the fashion/apparel designers (Ralph Lauren) should be held responsible for this ridiculous and misplaced patriotic appeal. If nothing else, just don’t call the clothing line, American Living and don’t try to showcase what is good about this country when you really don’t care enough to do something to support it – like opening a new textile plant here in the states, a la American Apparel. JC Penney is a company that I find myself rooting for to make a comeback. I think that’s because when I was a kid it was one of the few stores that was close enough, and from which I could afford school clothes – that were not Goodwill. This campaign is truly shameless. It’s frustrating. It’s deceitful. It’s wrong. Below is a grab from their website. Tractor and grandparents included.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent AdAge article by Natalie Zmuda, published on February 18, 2008: “NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- JC Penney's new brand American Living, created by Polo Ralph Lauren's Global Brand Concepts division, will get a glitzy introduction on the Oscars and is promised to be the biggest marketing initiative in the company's history...” Here’s a link to Penney’s press release. And Penney Chief Executive Myron “Mike” Ullman said American Living products could mark the largest single introduction of a brand in retail history. I guess they couldn’t have spent 1 Billion dollars supporting American Living by supporting an actual American job – that would have been too sincere. Or again, simply base the naming and marketing strategy on something that is true. Here’s “Mike’s” address – I suggest writing him a letter:
Mike Ullman, III
Chief Executive Officer
J.C. Penney, Inc.
6501 Legacy Drive
Plano, TX 54024
OR contact their press folks (which I will do.)
JCPenney Corporate Communications
Investor and Business Inquiries
Rebecca Winter or Kate Parkhouse, 972-431-3400
JCPenney Brand Publicity
Fashion and Home
Merianne Roth, 972-431-2317
In her book Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity, Anne Elizabeth Moore goes into similar issues with American Girl, the company that makes those ridiculously expensive dolls. Though, I’m not a fan of everything she says or how she says it – I think anyone in the communication industry should be sensitive to some of the points she brings up. Integrity in marketing is not just something you try to do – you HAVE to do it. Great brands are also the most honest. Remember ad folks - you're supposed to be using your talents for good.
Take a look at two of these gooshy samples of faux-patriotism and false-nationalism: It's a real shame too, because I would have been proud to have done these myself were they communicating an authentic message instead of a lie.
I've seen these posted a few times in various places, the most recent on HOW. These bears, created by Kent Rogowski are eerily transfixing. Simply by turning an ordinary stuffed animal inside-out, he has created works of art that have a personality far different than the originals. (Some still remain cute, surprisingly.) There is a design/art lesson in here. Taking ordinary things and looking at them in a new way can bring about possibilities that usually lie hidden and unseen. It's nothing novel in concept - but when you see that process applied in a passionate manner, the results are usually amazing. These bears provide an excellent example. My favorites are below.
I’m not one of those crazy Mac geeks, who worships Steve Jobs or still has a Newton; but I really am enjoying my new MacBook Pro and it’s Leopard OS. I could go on and on about a lot of important aspects to the system and performance and whatever. But the best thing – to me - is one of the smallest. The stacks feature in the dock allows you to have quick access to a folder of files – and is a convenient little design no doubt. But when applied to software alias links you can really clean up your dock in a way that is clean and eye pleasing. It allows me to show only the rainbow hued icons of Adobe’s CS suite in the main dock and create a stack of all the other (not-so-nice) icons in a separate folder. Will this lend to more productivity? No. Does it deserve it’s own blog entry? Not really. But for an obsessive compulsive, uber-minimalist, type-A art director-designer personality – it is very pleasing. Almost peaceful. Am I the only one that feels this way?
Ahhhhh. So simple.
And when needed, I can just jump to all those web-2.0, over-designed icons of microsoft and other companies. And then they go away. When you sit on a computer for 60 hours a week - this kind of stuff is important. (Though I probably need help, eh?) Wallpaper via Madolux.