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255. The Difference Between Simple and Easy.

Sometimes words make a big difference. A word carries with it the baggage accumulated throughout history along with the modern context in which it is used. Paula Scher touched on this during a recent TED Conference speech (bottom) where she talked about her best work being serious but not solemn. Meaning: we should be doing something important but we can also have fun while doing it. It’s a great talk and well worth watching. But I’ve noticed two other words that are often used as synonyms but — in terms of communication design — they could not be more different.

Simple. Easy.

Looks these words up in a thesaurus and they’re often the first entry you get for each other. But they’re really not synonyms. Let me clarify.

Putting a ball through a hoop is simple. As in: I understand the task (putting the ball through the hoop) and I understand what I need to do in order to accomplish it (ie: the ball must go up and through the hoop.) However simple putting a ball through a hoop may be – it’s not easy. People are paid lots of money because they are good at something that is anything but easy. And even the best basketball players in the world only ‘put the ball through the hoop’ at a 40 – 45% rate during a game. It’s simple. But it’s not easy.

When mentoring design students I often push them to come to a simple solution. But I have to explain to them what I mean, as simple has come to mean something that is easy in a classroom setting in particular, when oftentimes it requires the most work. Simple may look easy but it’s usually very difficult. I don’t want the students to take the easy way out — to just slap something together. On the contrary, what I want them to find or discover is the most elegant solution. The ‘simple’ solution. This takes a lot of searching, digging, thinking, questioning, and long long days. The way this word simple is used today doesn't help. Everyone has heard the phrase: Keep it simple, stupid and it's used in a way that means, "Okay, let's not try anything crazy here, or ruffle any feathers; let's just stick to the basics." This may work well when obeying is a key responsibility of your job, but not when you are paid to think. And designers, good designers, are paid to think.

I love work that is simple. But I hate work that is easy. The advertisement below illustrates this point clearly. It’s simple. But was not an easy thing to pull off.

A bus made out of 50 cars outside the Stockholm airport was erected by Acne Advertising for Swedish airport bus company Flygbussarn to illustrate the point that a bus can transport 50 cars worth of people while producing only 4 cars worth of pollution. It’s a concise presentation of basic math. But producing this piece was definitively not the easy solution. (The easy solution would have been to put up an ordinary billboard that says, “Taking the bus can save 50 cars worth of carbon pollution.’ Or something like that.) We see many such easy creative solutions everyday driving down the road. Heck, we've all been guilty of producing easy work from time to time because it is soooo... well, easy. Easy is often overlooked. But simple can be downright captivating.

The problem in coming up with simple ideas is that because they often require a different point of view or a lot of elbow grease in getting them done. They usually face a lot of resistance. The challenge for creatives that aspire towards simplicity is to figure out a way to get past the obstacles of the status quo and make stuff happen. Simple stuff. Beautiful stuff. Captivating stuff. Anything but easy stuff.

A few images of the busboard:

Below is a video that explains this simple billboard:

Here's Paula Scher on serious vs solemn:

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention John Maeda in an article about Simplicity. (See his book, The Laws of Simplicity, on the mandatory reads list on the right.)

244. Chipotle's New Brand.

Honestly, it's hard to know for sure if Chipotle has a new logo, as they have always used a few at a time. Going from a bank gothic set design to a Papyrus-like script to an all-cap grunge thing and back again without much reason. They've been all over the place in terms of their identity and packaging - a fragmented approach that stood in contrast to their uber-simple menu. On my last trip (I'm a fan of the burrito at large and Chipotle's in particular), I noticed a new design on a business card and did some searching. Turns out, the new identity is in fact a new identity and was designed by a creative/strategic firm in San Francisco called Sequence. (Their advertising is now being done by Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. You can get a taste of that work below - though admittedly, taken completely out of context.)

The Old Logos:

The new logo features a revised chipotle pepper, it's inner strokes now more pleasing and purposeful. The previous one did feel a bit clip-art-like. There is also a new set of symbols, one for vegetables, beef, pork and chicken that are drawn in the same manner. I think these icons look great. (I took a business card that included the icons on the back and it's handsome to be sure.) The type is now set in all caps, a pleasing sans that reminds me of a rounded nuetraface - though I'm sure I'm missing the obvious here and await a correction. The combination mark comes in two versions, a horizontal bar version and a round seal version, and combined with their Mexican Grill descriptor. The horizontal version features two rounded rectangles that although I don't love - they also don't get in the way too much. The resutling forms do seem to draw too much attention to themselves, especially where the two shapes meet. I wouldn't mind if a few of the corners were of the regular old 90 degree variety. The colors on all the executions are the same you'd find inside the store previously, maybe with a little tweaking. They feel approrpriate.

The New Logos:

It's a very pleasing and modern design. A vast improvement over the somewhat schizophrenic approach heretofore. So as an identity, I really like. What I'm most worried about is the context. When this design is implemented into the actual retail spaces - how does it work. I believe there is a risk that they might lose a little bit of their personality, if they go too simple with the environmental, menu and packaging. We'll wait and see how that goes, but we do have a little peak into that via a case study on Sequence's site.

The New Look Applied:

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there seems to be (already) some pushback on the change affecting the new menu and the very much loved advertising. The Denver egotist has more on that. (If they are in fact changing their menu - it would be a shame. It's simplicity perfected. Think In-And-Out Burger with a touch of class.) I'm withholding judgment based on the quality of shops involved with this work. Time will tell. The old advertising was simple, bold, funny and without pretense. I hope it remains that way too.

The Advertising Direction?

The Old Advertising:

The Card That Made Me Dig:


243. If anyone ever needed a rebrand...

The Detroit Lions are it. After going 0-16 last year, the lowliest NFL franchise is looking for any advantage and unveiled not just a new logo - but a comprehensive new look and even used the term 'brand.' Will the new look be enough to get the team on the path for more wins? "We stand firmly committed to improving the team on the field," team president Tom Lewand said. "That success is always the most determinative factor of any NFL brand." But he also went on to say, “It’s about changing a culture within our organization and within our community that says, ‘We are going to do this the right way and we are going to start from the ground floor and we’re going to build a championship football team that year-in and year-out the people of the City of Detroit can be proud of.’ This is our representation of that.” Definitely not the worst rationale I've heard while unveiling a redesign.

The team colors appear to remian the same, featuring 'Honolulu blue' and silver - it's the lion symbol and typography that gets the most attention. The lion silhouette has more modern curves and points along the perimeter and a bit more detail within the shape providing a more muscular form. The new lion now has eyes and teeth and more defined paws, but still is in the familiar upright - ready to pounce - stance. I really like how the redesign eliminated the awkward negative space around the paw and jaw area. The type on the otherhand is a bit much and not nearly refined. (As is often the case.) The most awkward feature is the '“tail-like” tips applied to the letters and numbers, now comprised of a more italicized font. Also the terminals of all the letters are unresolved, but particularly those of the O, N and S. I could live with the L and I. There are just some weird shapes resulting from the attempt to make the negative space between each letter flow in the same manner, and the counter in the O draws too much attention to itself.

Also when locked together within the combination mark, there is a little inconsisitency with the strokes of the lion and the type. I wonder if the lion wouldn't be better off without the black stroke around it - or if the type needs such an element. This could be explored pretty easily.

Overall, it's an improvement. There is still enough heritage left in the design to satisfy long-time fans of the Lions (poor things) while enough contemporary touches to take the team into the future. A future full of wins. Or heck, just one win. My favorite fan comment on the forums that I've read is this beauty from GrPlayer22 via "Not terrible, at least it looks less like an animal cracker..." Well said.

You can read more about the logo and the rest of the rebranding on the official lions site here as well as ESPN. Oh, and just to prove that this design thing isn't easy, here's a gallery of 70-odd fan submissions. (I did include one at the bottom I thought was interesting. Though maybe a bit too Mayan for a Detroit team.)

Out with the Old:

In with the New:

One Fan Submission of Many:

This leaked out on a fan forum last week:


242. Newark Gateways by Pentagram.

Now this is some cool thinking. Pentagram architects were invited by the City of Newark, NJ (the home of... well, the home of 'just passing through, thanks') to submit a proposal for “This Is Newark,” an initiative to create a series of gateways for the city. Not just content to do signage or simple information graphics, the architects came up with an innovative approach that fits perfectly with the city's identity of a transportation hub. From their site: "With paint and little else, Newark can define itself, celebrate its entry points, and address a global audience, all in one stroke. The painted “events” are visible and engaging on Google Earth, while the real locations would be signed with images from above that explain the colors and patterns on the ground.

On the ground, you'd see huge swaths of paint, similar to what you now see on the street at crosswalks but brighter. And when viewed from above (either from Google Earth, a tall building or an airplane form Newark International) they form a symbol, which would fit into a series of such symbols all across the city - at key entry points. This is an identity project on a huge scale, but has the potential to be a totally unique solution and help bring some personality to Newark. Currently, this is just a proposal and has to go through what I imagine is a thoroughly exhausting process in order to be approved. In the meantime we can get excited about the possibility of it coming to fruition. Read more on Pentagram's site.

On the ground:


From the sky:


The series of symbols:


241. Not a fan of letterpress yet?

You will be now. Check out this fantastic letterpess business card gallery by Dolce Press in central NY. You simply cannot do better even if you embossed, diecut, foil-stamped, and made yours pop-up when open. The bite this process produces combined with sound design is simply beautiful.

Here are a few samlples, but be sure to visit Dolce Press' site.

This card belongs to a fellow (and talented) AdCenter Grad:


240. And for contrast...

A spot doesn't have to be daring and expensive to be good - if you have the right message on your side. Sometimes production value would just get in the way. Compare this to the Honda spot below and the Barclay Card spot previewed awhile back. (I do wonder where the fact - featured in the spot - comes from and am going to try and see how legit it really is.) For more contextual information about the spot, as well as how one can and cannot measure online advertising go to this AdAge article. Enjoy.

Gerber - Really?!?


239. Ad of the Week: Honda Insight.

I truly love daring, ambitious concepts. Concepts that require technical know-how, ingenuity, obsession, large-scale thinking and a lot of guts to pull it off successfully. And that's what I love about this new Honda Insight work from Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam. To launch Honda's first serious foray into the hybrid market, they used the headlights of hundreds(?) of new Insights as a pixel grid making for a dramatic reveal worthy of the vehicle. The resulting animation is a feel-good reflection of humanity - a definitive positive note the concludes with a tagline of "Everyone wants to be good."

The soundtrack choice of the old gospel hymn/children's song This Little Light of Mine makes sure the audience doesn't forget that this is a car that one can be proud to own; a status symbol of one's progressiveness too. I'm not sure there is a better song choice for the spot, but co-opting a traditional religious song for marketing purposes does feel a bit heavy-handed. However, it does not get in the way of enjoying this charming little (actually huge) spot.

Production company, Bouffant, worked with the agency and had this to say about the ambitious approach: "In order to convey the humanity and goodwill element behind the concept director Erik Van Wyk set out to create these scenes in-camera. A challenge that was not for the fainthearted. According to the Director, “I was quite militant about doing it all in-camera using real lights in a gigantic grid. People sense the honesty in the sweat and commitment of other people, not CG.” And I couldn't agree more. It's the scale and honesty behind the spot that makes it work, and that integrity can't help but be passed onto the product at the end of the day. Were it done in CG it would have felt contrived at best. As it is, the commercial is a moving epic with some creative willpower behind it.

More from Bouffant: The process involved mathematical genius, doing an innumerable amount of pre-viz grids and exposure tests before deciding on the height, angle, lenses and exact distances between absolutely everything to create the perspective for this gigantic LED screen. On the ground we used laser sights, GPS and even a land surveyor. The location was crucial in order to accommodate the elevation of the camera and to contribute to the aesthetic of the story.

There's also a nice behind the scenes video, that although feels too much like a sales-pitch is a nice peek behind the production set.


238. Ad of the Week 2: Gary Busey.

I first saw these about a year or so ago and never posted commentary about them. But I was having a conversation yesterday and I found out that not nearly as many people have seen these as I would have thought. So here they are: Gary Busey waxing poetic about nothing in particular as he sometimes remembers he's pitching's services. Too many highlights to list and certainly something that needs to be added to this list. I think if I were responsible for this work, I'd just quit the business the next day and go out on top. Ha. If the applet below isn't working or is too slow, go here instead.

Add Gary Busey on Business - Featured to your page


237. Ad of the Week: Stella Artois.

This is one of the few advertising-related pieces I have seen in awhile that I thought noteworthy - or more accurately - postworthy; Stella Artois' Smooth Original films. First, an intro from the site, "Ah, le cinéma! Remember the days when men were strong and silent, women were chic and sophistiqué, and the action was as smooth as our 4% triple filtered beer? Formidable! At Stella Artois, we have gone back in time to rediscover these films – the originals, before Hollywood did to them what Hollywood, sadly, does. Vive le cinéma triple filter!"

For this online campaign, they've posted trailers and short films of the 'smooth original' versions of three films: Die Hard (Dial Hard), 24 Hours (24 Heures), and a hilarious take on 8 Mile (8 Kilometres). All definitely worth a view. You can download the movie posters and watch the films at This mini-campaign fits into their larger marketing approach that emphasizes their tagline, Smooth Original, while maintaining a film aesthetic. For instance, the Stella Artois main website and a good deal of their advertising conveys a classic French film vibe. What I like about this body of work is that it at once takes itself seriously without taking itself too seriously. (If that even makes sense.) All of their stuff looks great. These three 60's style parodies are no different and are exactly viral in the way that every advertiser wants. In 8 kilometres, 2 poets face off in a battle of rhyme that pokes fun at the 'battles' featured in 8 Mile. Monte Carlo in the house.

Here's the 8 Kilometres' Poster:

Here's the 8 Kilometres' Trailer:

And for giggles the 8 Mile trailer:


236. Jan Van Toorn Q&A: Meaning in Design.

Soooooo goooood. And not just for students. And you can hear more of his interview here at D&AD.

Dutch designer Jan van Toorn describes his route into design.

Dutch designer Jan van Toorn talks about how form relates to technology, with reference to his working model of meaning, form and communication.

Taken from the D&AD President's Lecture, Mermaid Theatre, London, 19 March 2009