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Archive for the ‘Graphic Design’ Category

pepsi

So at this point, anyone who is a fan of Pepsi will have noticed the major overhaul that has been done. The old red white and blue “swash ball” logo with the sans serif block font has been replaced with a new, slimmed-down look with lower case thin lettering and a renovated swash on the ball. This change seemed to come out of nowhere to me, and I was surprised at first, and not really sure what I thought of the new look. 

Now, the more I see it, I’m thinking I agree with a lot of the commenters here. The new typeface is elegant, understated and clean; but the crooked white swash in the icon is really annoying. It’s not a smooth curve and one is left wondering what exactly that shape is meant to invoke. The old shape was a simple, even curve through a ball, but the new shape has a fat part and a thin part, and angles in such a way that one wonders if it’s supposed to be a sail, a ribbon, a road? Some have even compared it to a smirk, which is not a very positive association to make.

I discovered today on Pepsi’s website that the swash ball actually changes from can to can. Now that, to me, seems like a colossal branding mistake. Your icon is your image – why throw off your consumers by making it fluctuate? I think I see what they’re trying to do, by communicating “Pepsi Max” with a fatter swash and the low-cal options with a thinner swash. But the problem here is you probably wouldn’t notice the difference unless you were comparing the cans side-by-side, so they end up looking like they couldn’t decide between logo versions 1-4 during the design process and decided to just use them all. 

What do you think? Some have compared the icon to the Obama campaign logo or even Girl Scouts of America. Do you see any other similarities?

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Some less enthusiastic viewers of our new president’s transition into office have pointed out that “Change” isn’t a very unique platform – that most candidates from the opposing party of an incumbent throughout history have run on a similar platform just because they figure the people are tired of the old. Time will tell how well Obama will uphold the hopeful and uplifting message he’s delivered so far, but one major change has already taken place, and it’s an important one. 

The digital face of the White House got a makeover.

Gone is the texty static site from the Bush era. The new website features a brilliant, clean blue-on-white design with red accents, a classic but modern typeface, up-to-date photography and an inviting interface. There’s a blog, a flash interface with featured information, lots of video and a very nice site map right on the front page.

The new president seems to be emphasizing the point that one of the benefits of being a young president is that he understands digital communication. But I think what he’s also underlining is the importance of carefully planned design in that communication. Clean, beautiful design invites exploration. It draws you into the information which is served up in small bites, brevity is king, media is queen. 

I, for one, see this change in our government as one leading in the right direction.

new_gov

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I’m a huge fan of the Sony Bravia commercials that feature brightly colored randomness in public places (San Francisco bouncy balls, exploding paint barrels on old apartment buildings, claymation bunnies in downtown New York City). I’ve even reported on an apparently local effort for the same effect, colored string on a pyramid. But a good advertiser should know when it’s been “done” and move on to newer things.

Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case. A new TV spot goes back to the big “balls” success, now attempting to wow its audience with streets filled with soap foam. People play in the foam. They photograph the foam. They get hit in the face with foam. And overall, the spot comes across as a dry attempt to cash in on past success. 

It’s quite sad, really, but it’s a reminder to advertisers out there who are tempted to return to the same old ideas that worked before – a new idea only works when it’s new. Creativity doesn’t run out, people just get lazy. The last thing a client wants is an audience rolling its eyes and saying, “Next!”

Found on AdFreak.

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A few months back I discussed how men are being used in advertising as the ultimate fall guys. When comedy is needed and someone needs to look stupid, ultimately it’s the guy in the spot who has to act the part. Fathers and husbands especially are the clueless “Homer Simpson” types who can’t do the simplest task without being correctly by a patient and amused wife, or even the exasperated kids.

It seems that this view is beginning to gain steam in the advertising community, as demonstrated by an article found today on Advertising Age called Men Are Not Idiots. I say it’s about time. I’m all for comedy in advertising, and taking these messages with a grain of salt – but equal-opportunity bashing is called for here. When was the last time an ad was shown where the bumbling, clueless character was the cute-as-a-button little girl in pigtails?

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Dories

Found today on my favorite packaging design blog, a challenge to a student was to create a package for “sweet green mung bean durian cakes” that would appeal to the American consumer. In case you’re not familiar, a durian is an asian fruit that looks like a spiky avacado on the outside, with pods of yellow, pulpy, stringy flesh on the inside that smells strongly like a mixture of dog waste and rancid cream cheese. I’ve never gotten past the smell to actually taste the stuff, but apparently the flavor is quite lovely, like almond custard.

The “cakes” themselves are spirals of green and yellow hard gelatin, a bizarre kind of exotic treat. The original packaging appears to be something in which you’d expect a breast of chicken to be wrapped at the grocery store – styrofoam tray with clear plastic wrap and a sticker. The student designed new packaging for these treats and won a design competition. The result is a lovely, clean sleeve-and-box configuration that looks to me more like something I’d expect to buy at Bath & Body Works with decorative soaps or candles inside. Would it appeal to Americans? Would they buy the pretty packaging and discover this most overlooked exotic fruit?

My opinion, having experienced the fruit as well as the hard, oddly-textured “jello” stuff that the bean cakes are made out of, would be absolutely not. There may be a few brave souls who would give them a nibble or two, but when it comes to our treats, we don’t usually prefer the very unexpected. And I doubt that these “Dories” could have gotten rid of the smell, which brings us back to the very reason durians are still considered quite exotic and very much an acquired taste.

And what’s up with the “sweet green mung bean” thing? Mung is usually a word that means to destroy (Mash Until No Good). Green mung just sounds like something that has gone bad. All in all, a valiant and well-designed effort to dress up a product that won’t be going anywhere very soon.

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In a keynote address at the School of Visual Arts, Milton Glaser discussed propaganda and art. Which is culturally necessary? Which can be identified or defined? His words are important for designers and advertisers, so often the purveyors of propoganda, as well as the people to whom this social artwork is directed. The thing that stands out the most for me is his comment: “Informing us makes us stronger. Persuading us robs us of our ability to observe things for ourselves.”

The ability to question the status quo, to educate oneself and then make decisions accordingly, those are the freedoms that can take us above the influence of propaganda. Propaganda only works if the public has no alternative, no dissenting voice, no method of researching truth. It’s not always the popular path but it can be the right one, if the choices are made for the right reasons.

We are expecting our first child in a couple of months, and we have spent a lot of time educating ourselves about how we’d like to bring this child into the world. Opinions about drugs, hospitals, doctors and tests have come from every direction, often unwanted and unsolicited. However, we have discovered an ugly truth: unless we act like the clueless first-time parents and step onto the obstetrics assembly line, we will be looked down upon and judged for our decisions. There are reams of literature out there that debate the usefulness, and sometimes even the safety, of certain established practices when it comes to having a child. But certain things are done because they’ve always be done that way, or because it makes the hospitals or drug companies more money, or because it allows the hospital to cover their rears legally, and to buck that tradition is to fly in the face of that scariest of authority, the Health Care System. They’ll call us bad parents, they’ll ridicule us for not understanding that this is a precious infant child of all things, and how could we possibly consider making a decision that opposes what is considered typical? We must be endangering our child to not blindly accept what the doctors and nurses push on us.

This kind of social propaganda, which relies on guilt and conformity to manipulate, can be even more dangerous than any other kind. I can choose to snicker at a fear-mongering political ad. I can avoid reading posters or ads that attempt to affect my opinion, or read them and choose to maintain my own beliefs. But when it comes to that face-to-face judgement, one human being to another, especially from a person like a doctor who, culturally, has always been touted as the purest of high authority on What Is Good And True And Right, it becomes a whole lot harder to ignore. The strength to resist this kind of propaganda comes from education, and the freedom to educate oneself must be the finest freedom there is.

“Propaganda is not necessarily a lie, but it affects our neurological system and brain in the same way. It undermines our ability to understand our own reality. It makes us more infantile and dependent. It substitutes an alien authority for our own perception.”

It is our responsibility to recognize the power it can have over us and equip ourselves to recognize it. In advertising, the ability to affect decisions is used freely, and considered to be the goal of any well-motivated designer. But advertise with conscience. 

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In a great article on AIGA recently, Grant McCracken discusses the beauty of the un-designed, the things that just happen that spark a positive reaction. Specifically, he discusses sounds, like the one made by a plastic coke bottle as it works its way through the mysterious tunnels and slides to land – thunk – into the collection slot, ready for your cold drinking pleasure. This is an accidental noise, not one designed to advertise its product but simply the mechanical noise of delivering said product to you once you’ve chosen to buy it. One might debate that the internal workings of a Coke machine have already been harnessed for marketing efforts, as in the recent epic “Coke Side of Life” TV spots.

Are designed sounds effective as well? That’s debatable:

“This isn’t like the car door closing sound that Detroit builds into cars to persuade us that we have bought wisely, that our automobile is a paragon of quality and workmanship.” 

I can’t imagine that the particular sound of a car door closing would make me more likely to buy a particular car, especially since in order to hear that sound, I’d have to be getting into the actual car at the time, which would suggest that I have already decided at least to give it a test drive. However, if the rumbly growly engine noise passing me on the road is what convinces me that I need to have that car, there’s the good advertising. Honda Civic uses the “accidental” noises in a very ingenious way, with an amazing choir reproducing the noises and interspersing clips of the car going about its normal routine to emphasize the audio illusion. In that moment, the advertisers seem to recognize the beauty of the found sound, something that happens with their product that can’t be designed into being but just is, and can be recognized as a pleasurable sound by aligning their product with it in a companionable way.

The author of the article sums up by saying that some of the most important meaning in sound means nothing, except perhaps the meaning that we ourselves attach to it. In recognizing that not everything has to have some kind of deep truth attached to it, perhaps advertisers can step back and let their customers find meaning of their own, which is a whole lot more significant and lasting.

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