Designer bullshit backfire. (How designers have created a monster)

blog_bullshitbackfire_illustration-01There’s been a lot of umming and aahing about the new Yahoo logo. As you’re no doubt aware, they’ve painstakingly ground-out every minute detail of the type over the course of a weekend and rehashed Optima. But as much as I can’t actually bring the look of it to mind and immediately think “meh” every time I do see it, I can’t argue with the rationale behind the redesign.

The one thing about it I can argue with is there’s no idea, nothing to engage people. And it’s every designer’s fault, whether you worked on the project or not (myself included), that the Yahoo logo is as engaging as a cup of milky tea.

Graphic design as an industry has sold itself short. In having to sell work to clients (which I have absolutely no objection to), we’ve started post-rationalising everything to make sense of things and justify ideas and executions which were often intuitive. Over time, this has taught clients the language of design without revealing the truth behind it; how much of our job is intuition and how valuable that is.

This means clients (like Yahoo) know how the nuts and bolts of design work, and begin to process through the steps we’ve taught them in a really dry way. Resulting in a really dry solution. This is not their fault, and often the solutions are perfectly functional, good-looking and so on. But they’re never engaging. To be engaging they need to have an idea that sums up the organisation and communicates it to the audience in an interesting, unexpected or incredibly beautiful way. They need to have a bit of soul to be engaging.

So to pull a Johnson Banks for a second & do a logo-redo, let’s hypothetically rework Yahoo’s brand. Now, it’s not a huge leap of insight to see that Yahoo’s main competitor is Google. Take the two names. Google is a mathematical-sounding term reminiscent of ‘googol’ (meaning 10 raised to the power of 100, apparently) and Yahoo! is an exclamation of excitement at the start of an adventure. So if Google are all about really accurate search results, Yahoo is about the adventure of surfing the web and not really knowing what you’re going to find. There’s a core idea and a core point of differentiation and a mission statement all in one. (You’re welcome, Yahoo).

From there you get a list of adjectives and you know what the logo has to communicate in a very tangible way: Adventure, Discovery, Excitement etc. THEN you start to design a word marque which could be executed in a million different ways, paying close attention to the curves of every character in the typeface. But not before you know what you’re aiming towards.

Any designer reading this will be saying to themselves “Yes, we know this. We’re designers.” So why do I think that it’s our collective fault the clients don’t think like this?

Bullshit backfire.

Recently SomeOne’s Hudl brand for Tesco had a rationale that was called out as ‘Designer Jargon Bullshit’ on the Creative Review blog. This struck me as entirely unfair and a clear example of bullshit backfire.

The line the commenter took issue with was as follows:

“[The star] is a solar system metaphor that reflects Hudl being at the centre of a digital orbit, and of family life”

…Which might sound a bit overstated and outlandish, sure. But it’s the idea. Of course it’ll sound like bullshit. If you told someone Yahoo! was all about adventure, it’d sound like bullshit too. But it’s just the starting idea. It’s designers talking to other designers about where the idea came from. That’s the bit they leave out when pitching to clients for fear of sounding like a twat. Or leave in to sound incredibly artistic and insightful and blow smoke up the clients’ arses depending on how they operate.

Either way, it’s the patently overblown starting point for a lot of rational decision making later on. If you start off with something really rational, you’re going to end up with a real fucking grind of a project once you’ve re-rationalised everything in a really rational way. Start with something that sounds mental and you’ve a much stronger chance of ending up with something interesting afterwards.

So don’t call it bullshit. I know it certainly sounds like bullshit, but it’s actually much more delicate than that. It’s the concept made to look like bullshit so the client won’t hate it.

Calling it bullshit just makes people have to work harder to justify their ideas – when they shouldn’t really need to have to in the first place. The more designers are shamed into further corporate-style rationalisation (by their peers as much as their clients), the more clients are going to think they can do it themselves like Yahoo. And actually, they can to a point. But while many clients pay for execution wrapped in bullshit, the smart ones are paying for ideas. Great ideas wrapped in bullshit.

1 comment
  1. Richard said:

    I think the commenter was just saying it had been featured on the popular ‘Design Jargon Bullshit’ website.

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