Design-related Governmental Waste

InFocus_government

 

 

In another example of bureaucratic lollygagging and waste, one does not have much further to look than to the state of Kansas. In the past year the state has spent an insane amount of money for two high profile design projects that turned out to be flops (in this author’s opinion, of course).

 

The first undertaking was the development of a new slogan and tagline for the state’s tourism office. After spending an estimated $700,000 with the advertising agency Callahan Creek, located in Lawrence, the result was “Kansas: As big as you think.” The new logo is simply a font, Futura, stretched horizontally. A star with a flowing, ribbon like tail completes the new mark. While there were no doubt many committees, focus groups and voices vying for attention during the creation of this piece, I find it difficult to accept that almost three-quarters of a million dollars of taxpayer, yours and mine, went to this effort, and this is what we have to show for it.

 

KU LogoThroughout 2005, the University of Kansas undertook a tremendous effort to unify all of the school’s existing marketing collateral into one identity. LandreyMorrow, a marketing firm from Portland, Oregon, was commissioned by the school to develop the new identity using the letters “K” and “U”. After narrowing the field of concepts to four designs, feedback was gathered from current and prospective students, as well as alumni (including this critic). The result of this $88,900.00 expenditure by the University was four finalist designs, all type-based solutions using the Trajan typeface. None were conceptual in execution.

 

Why the university, which has its own School of Fine Arts with talented design students and staff, didn’t commission its own resources is beyond me. Someone inside and familiar with the university would have been able to develop a more appropriate and unique solution to the problem, and at a far lower cost. What is even more surprising is that one of the finalist designs is the exact same mark as another, smaller college in Pennsylvania, Kutztown University. And what did they pay for their logo with similar scope of work? $20,000. Now that’s an example of money well spent in my book.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, principal | creative director

The Problem with Dimensional Marks

In recent years there has been a growing trend among well-established, large corporations to update their logos or brands. Sometimes this change is justifiable—for example, when merging with another company a changed logo must reflect the qualities of both companies. Most of the time, however, the reasons for an update are asinine.

logo_globes

 

Perhaps a new CEO has been brought on board, and in order to justify both their ego and high salary, their first order of business is to implement a massive, company wide change. Or perhaps it is thought that a new image will bring a failing company or brand back to life. If a company’s core focus of business has changed logo updates are thought to communicate that it is more progressive or cutting edge than before.

 

Shiny new John Deere logoMost companies fail to realize is that just because a logo or brand is changed or updated doesn’t mean that more people will buy their product or service. The quality of the user’s experience with both it and the company’s representatives influence purchasing decisions. If a product or service is bad, then no amount of improvement with the company’s image will help. A good logo or brand design does not a company make.

logo_UPS

 

The current trend in branding and identity has been to add dimensionality, shininess and reflective qualities to a brand mark or logo. Even brands that had remained unchanged for decades feel prey to the lure of updating—first John Deere introduced their new badge, followed by UPS. The latest and most upsetting victim is the new AT & T mark. Like so many other marks, it has become a three dimensional globe with a generic typeface.

 

AT&T old and new logosThe problem with adding dimensionality is more a technical issue than anything else. When shown on a television or computer monitor, these new logos look great—print them on paper in anything less than full color, however, and they lose their effectiveness. The new AT&T logo, when printed in two colors on billing statements, ends up looking unrefined like a first or second year design student’s project. Companies should consider testing the new identity in all forms before implementing them. One simple way to do so is print the logo or mark in black and white and then fax it to another machine within the office. If a mark doesn’t translate well after printing it in black and white or faxing it, then  a redesign should be considered.

 

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

Sprint’s New Brand

Critique_Sprint_old-new

 

In early September, Sprint and Nextel completed a multi-billion dollar merger and launched a new Sprint brand. How does this new brand stack up against other cellular phone companies?

 

United Telecom old logoAt first, this critic was very skeptical of the new Sprint brand. After all, the red diamond mark had been around since the late 1980s, when United Telecom merged with Sprint to form US Sprint (which eventually dropped the “US” part of its moniker in the 90’s). That logo was the perfect marriage of those two companies’ identities, as it incorporated a rotated square, taken from United Telecom’s keypad logo, and the tapered lines of Sprint. The typeface was changed from Helvetica (modernist aesthetic) to a more friendly Serif typeface.

 

Nextel logoThe new Sprint Nextel logo is a logical evolution of the brand as it incorporates a similar sans serif typeface as Nextel (in title case, which is easier to read at small sizes), and is placed on a yellow background. The new Sprint Nextel mark is also a dynamic mixture of Sprint’s former tapered lines and the vertical bar that has become associated with Nextel’s walkie-talkie like capabilities. The new mark resembles both wings (suggestive of flight) as well as a forward pointing arrow. In television the mark is animated to suggest the bounce of a pin, which has been a Sprint signature for years.

 

Other Cellular Company LogosWhile there are several good attributes of the new mark, this is not to say that the new logo is without a need for some improvement. While yellow and black is a color combination that Sprint can “own” in the cellular market category (much like Coca Cola owns red in soft drinks or UPS owns brown in shipping), it may be overbearing and tiresome if too much yellow is used. It will certainly will grab people’s attention, however, and does stand out from other wireless service providers (see example to the right).

 

The typeface used for the logo is perhaps a little generic, as there is nothing to make it distinctive from other sans serif fonts. Additionally, there is too much space between the logotype and the mark itself. One might wonder how much more effective the brand would be if the two parts were more integrated together.

 

The effectiveness of a brand or logo is only as good as the way in which the audience perceives the companies they represent. If the new Sprint lives up to the promises it makes consumers, than the new mark will be associated with positive feelings and emotions about the brand. If it fails to deliver on those promises, however, then the brand may decline; but not for lack of a well designed or appropriate mark. Only time will tell how the new Sprint brand is received by employees and customers of both Sprint and Nextel.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

How Important are Design Awards?

Design firms and agencies will tout the number of design and advertising awards they have received as being indicative of good design and marketing prowess. Because they have received “x” number of awards, or they have appeared in “numerours” design annuals, are they somehow more authoritative when it comes to working on client projects? Not necessarily.

 

Today there are more design and advertising competitions than ever. What this means is that top quality design firms or agencies cannot possibly enter all of them, as the expense in terms of time and money is far too great. With fewer quality competitors, the field of entries may be mediocre work at best. Even mainstream competitions are awarding more and more entries with honors, thus “watering down” the quality of design that makes the cut. “Celebrity” designers and ad executives judge these competitions, meaning the merits of a piece are judged mostly on aesthetic and communicative qualities, instead of being based on overall effectiveness, such as: did the piece connect with the customer, and were the business objectives met?

 

The truth of the matter is that awards shows, particularly design and advertising competitions, mostly exist to stroke a creative firm’s own ego.

 
Usually it is only other designers that care about the results, yet a lot of creative shops will use their recent success in those competitions as a selling tool or to coerce the client into taking risks with the design of a new project—to try something “new” or “experimental”. The problem is that sometimes “cutting edge” design can get dull, or the audience doesn’t respond well to it. Additionally, there is a tendency to make everything look the same, because that is what “will win awards.”

 

This is not to say that winning awards is bad.

 

There are many positive things that come with winning awards for clients. First, it can increase a company’s visibility and can be an effective public relations tool. Second, it is rewarding for design firms and agencies to know that the work they have developed is appreciated, even by a jury of their peers. Most importantly, however, award winning design and advertising acknowledges the fact that the client values design, and the impact it can have on their bottom line. Effective communication, in addition to excellence in design, should be the goal of any design project.

 

At Indicia Design, we don’t set out to win awards. Sure, they are nice to receive and we have won our share, but our philosophy is more about modesty and humility through design—we set out to achieve our client’s goals by making meaningful connections with their target audience. We listen to their needs, and ask questions to make sure that we understand their business. After all, nobody knows that business better than the client.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.

The “new” look of Kansas City?

Critique_KC_logo

 

Earlier this year, Kansas City unveiled a new logo and tagline in order to change the so-called “cowtown” perception of the city. In an attempt to make the city look young, hip and more urban to visitors, Barkley Evergreen & Partners developed a colorful and playful mark for the city, in which a continuous line forming the city skyline appears within three color blocks. The tagline, “New Discoveries Daily” appears below an elegant serif type treatment.

 

Over the past few months the new “brand” has been put into circulation, appearing everywhere from banners on downtown streets to the visitkc.com web site. The question that remains to be asked is: is the new brand effectively communicating the essence of the city, and was there ever a “cowtown” perception associated with it?

 

kc_logo_oldIn addition to being redundant (aren’t discoveries always new?), the new logo and tagline are not nearly as relevant as the old logo designed by EAT Advertising and Design. The old mark, shown here, resonates with two unique aspects of the city: 1) that Kansas City has more fountains than any city in the world except for Florence, Italy, and 2) it IS located in the center, or heart, of the nation. The old logo further reinforces this idea through a mark that can be viewed as both a heart AND a fountain. While conservative in its design, the mark is whimsical and innovative in concept.

 

In comparison, the new Kansas City logo is neither original nor unique. The lop-sided, brightly colored boxes are reminiscent of 50’s and 60’s retro design, and because of that nostalgia, the mark becomes very trendy. The color scheme, while popular today, will more than likely be outdated in the next few years, as color preferences constantly change. Moreover, the skyline graphic, which to locals is representative of Kansas City, is too abstract to most people from other parts of the country, as it could be perceived as the skyline from any city in the nation.

 

Only time will tell if the new look for Kansas City will become identified with the city as its creators hope. In the opinion of this author and critic, however, there was nothing wrong with the old mark or the city’s image. The”City of Fountains, Heart of the Nation” logo is a much more appropriate image for the city.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

On the Web, Less is More

On the Web, Less is More

 

More and more, business is realizing the value of the Internet as a marketing tool, with its tremendous accessibility and exposure to existing and potential customers. It is now easier than ever for companies to design, build and maintain web sites, and as such many are scurrying to create or enhance their online presence. Unlike the dot com boom of the late 1990s, however, this rush to the web is not about making millions in advertising revenue or to be the first to claim a portion of cyberspace and thus consumer recognition. Instead, the renewed vigor to add, enhance and establish sites has been brought about by several factors:

 

But who really cares if your web site has all of the bells and whistles, but doesn’t say anything relevant?

Additionally, if you reveal too much information to the viewer, you don’t give them a reason to call. For example, most web sites are merely the company’s printed brochure, chopped up and regurgitated into a more palpable form. What reason are you giving them to return to your web site, especially if you do not tell them something new or have already sent them that particular piece of marketing collateral?

 

When it comes to web site design and content, less truly is more.

On average, you have about seven seconds to grab your viewers attention and make them want to interact with and enter your web site. People do not want to wait until a splash animation or movie loads, no matter how cool it is. The creative industry is particularly guilty of this offense: in an attempt to prove their capabilities, advertising and design firms have loaded their web sites with special effects, animations, and even short movies. Sometimes over fifty web pages in size, they also contain dozens of images of work as well as philosophical copy about each piece, their design process and other irrelevant information.

 

Really, who has the time to read all of the information that some web sites contain, and will it sway a customer’s decision to use one company’s services over another? It might, but chances are, your potential clients want to know more about how you are going to help them solve their problems instead of reading an ego trip. More importantly, they want to find out this information fast!

 

With the short attention span of today’s savvy consumer, the message that a web site needs to communicate is: who you are, what you do, why and how to contact you for more information. That’s it.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, Creative Director

 

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.

 

Gateway’s Identity Crisis

gateway_feature

What happens when a company’s identity lies in a state of constant change? The answer lies not in stock valuations, top lines or bottom lines. The answer begins and ends with perception: the perception of everyone who interacts with your brand.

 

As a small start up from South Dakota, Gateway 2000 offered made-to-order computers in the late 1980s, much like its rival, Dell Computer. Over time Gateway’s business model shifted (some might say drifted). The growing company opened retail outlets (many of the stores have closed), and even began producing consumer electronics. So why is it that this once high-flying company is now struggling? Why has Dell become the number two manufacturer of computers in the world, while Gateway’s position has slipped? The answer, at its root, is an overall identity crisis.

 

gateway_logo_box

Gateway, in a vain attempt to stay “fresh” in the mind of consumers, has changed its identity four times in the last 5 years.The first re-brand of Gateway occurred in 1999, when the company dropped “2000”, adopted green as its signature color, and used a cow spot pattern box as its mark. This very clever identity communicated the company’s core value of friendliness through a serif type treatment, as well as the uniqueness of its products, which are shipped in cow spot boxes (also a tribute to the company’s farm heritage).

 

gateway_logo_powerWhen Gateway began offering flat panel televisions, the company changed its brand in order to associate the new products with its identity. The cow spot print box mark was dropped in favor of a single cow spot that formed a “power on” button. The green “Gateway” was maintained; however, the type was compressed into a more impersonal, slab serif type treatment. While this new mark may have seemed more “modern”, it lost the friendliness and warmth of the old brand, as well as its uniqueness.

 

Realizing the mistake of such a huge evolution of their brand, Gateway dropped the “power on” button in 2004 but kept the new type treatment. And finally, in 2005 the company reintroduced a streamlined version of their original cow spot box mark. The new mark uses the same, three-dimensional box as the original logo, except this time the box looks more realistic and more refined. A sans serif typeface replaces the more personal serif type treatment in an attempt to be seen as more “modern” in the eyes of customers. And of course the signature green color has been maintained in an effort to “own” that color space among the computers product category.

 

gateway_newWill the new Gateway logo and brand identity stick? Will they be able to convince their customers and share holders that they are the same, friendly company with consistent core values? Or is this constant identity flux indicative of a larger identity crisis, a lack of focus, a drifting business model? Will this thrashing about for a brand that works continue?

 

It seems that Gateway needs to learn that the actual visual form of their brand and logo does not make the company. It is the perceptions of the customer that are most important. And by changing your brand and identity over and over, all you are really communicating is that you are a company that doesn’t know who or what it is, and more importantly, if you will be there for your customers in the future.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, Creative Director

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.