My desk is a mess, strewn with resumes and portfolios. I’ve just completed weeks of interviewing to find a new designer to add to our team. The process resulted in an inbox inundated with cover letters, resumes and digital portfolios, each representing a hopeful person who’s put many hours of hard work into their craft. As this process always does, it got my mind focused on the answer to the question, what makes for great design?
There are a myriad of answers, for sure. Composition, smart type, delightful illustration, good Adobe chops, collaboration, unfettered creativity or a good sense for visual tension—these all matter. But, the only crucial component of great design is a great idea. Without a great idea, you’ve got nothing.
I constantly asked interviewees, “What was your idea behind this piece?” or “Tell me what problem you were trying to solve here?” as we reviewed their work. I wanted to get past the visual design and understand their thinking, the power of their ideas.
As our tag line implies, we’re looking for problem solvers and that demands people who have great ideas. Technical proficiency and creative talent sure make a difference but, really, they’re just cost of entry. What separates the good from the great is the power of their thinking. No matter how hot a design or how slick a presentation, in the end great design depends on great ideas.
We do a lot of branding work for clients. It's not uncommon to be in the midst of market research, branding workshops and corporate identity work at any given time.
But, like anything one does regularly, it's easy to get so familiar with it that you take some aspect or another for granted.
I was reminded just last week that I've fallen prey to this by taking a product's form for granted. We don't get involved in package engineering for products, but I was so moved by this recent experience that I thought I should share it with you.
I'm currently on an extended holiday in the Western Cape region of South Africa with my family. We're busy visiting old friends, reuniting with my wife's family and spending time together with our kids and catching our breath in the southern hemisphere's sun. My wife and I popped into a local grocer to get supplies for our temporary home and I was struck with a feeling of wholesomeness and comfort.
What evoked this feeling? The milk containers in the cooler. We grabbed a couple and I snapped a picture of them when we got home.
Why did simple milk jugs evoke a feeling of happiness and comfort for me?
A few reasons stand out.
1. The form is both intuitive and unexpected at the same time. The milk jugs are reminiscent of glass jugs left at the door in the early morning by the village milkman. And yet, one never sees this form anymore, due to the more functional shapes that inhabit our shelves.
2. The form draws on cultural history. As I've stated above the form reminds of of our past. Even though I'm in a foreign country, its history is based on European agriculture, as is the Untied States. So, the idea of fresh cold milk in a glass container, similar to those pictured above, is powerful.
3. The form is simple. There is something quite elegant about the simplicity and lines of these containers and that's pleasing.
4. The form is human. It's not high tech, and it does not look like it came from a factory, even though these containers most surely do.
Of course, there are whole books written about the power of form in branding. I just wanted to share my experience and challenge you. Take a purposeful look at the products you interact with this week and think about how their form impacts their brand. You may be surprised by what you see.
Graham Beck has a wonderful article on the color palate of the US government. It's called Americhrome and it's published over at The Morning News. It's the most interesting thing I read all weekend.
Here's a snippet:
Born from the seeds of America’s second labor movement and reared in the midst of the Nader revolution, safety orange (F.S. No. 12300) and the rest of its OSHA-approved color family signal a shift away from the marking and branding of an institution and toward colors’ expanding role in the everyday lives of Americans. The orange cones lining a construction zone might not appear that dissimilar to the directional signs nearby, but behind them lies a different logic. That orange—maybe because it’s bright, and maybe because we’re hardwired to watch for it, and maybe because we’ve learned to do so—carries a lesson with it. That color warns. It says that people are working; shouts that equipment is ahead. At the end of a cap gun, it pledges that nothing more than noise will come out. These aren’t mere reminders of an orderly, rule-following American way of life; they are a shorthand for specific human concerns, and they’re applied with the wellbeing and needs of individual citizens in mind.
On Tuesday this week, Mike Nelson and I recorded what will end-up being the first in a series of Bob Wright Creative podcasts. I'm really excited about this and wanted to give our blog readers a heads-up.
Our goal for the series is help our audience with marketing and communication design problems by sharing our experiences.
This was the first time I'd personally taken part in making a recording like this and it was a lot of fun—so much fun that we'll be doing it on a regular basis. Usually I'm helping a client develop this kind of content so it was a special treat to be behind the mic. Mike is an audio pro and made it easy.
So, keep an eye out for the launch. (We still have to edit, etc.) Of course, we'll shout it from the rooftops when episode one goes live.
If you have topic ideas or questions you'd like us to tackle, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Remember the movies Helvetica and Objectified? Producer and director Gary Hustwit presents the third film in his design series: Urbanized. Watch the trailer below.
The film is premiering in a few big cities and will be released on DVD worldwide. I really enjoyed Helvetica and am looking forward to seeing Gary's current effort. You can learn more about the project at the Urbanized site.
We're adding to our design team and are on the look-out for a graphic designer.
The following is some info on the position and the kind of person we're looking for. Also, take a look at our guiding principle to make sure you resonate with why we get out of bed every day.
Bob Wright Creative is in search of a talented designer for an entry-to-mid-level position within our close-knit team. Our collaborative environment offers an excellent atmosphere in which to create and grow.
The ideal candidate is a talented problem solver that is well organized, highly motivated and detail-oriented. Some work experience in the design field is preferred. Talent, drive and work ethic are crucial.
- Concept development and design
- Client interaction
- InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator work for a variety of projects.
- Both thrive in a collaborative environment and work effectively independently
- Can handle multiple projects and deadlines simultaneously
- Proficiency with InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop is required.
- Flash, Powerpoint and web development skills a plus.
- Knowledge and experience in both print and web design is required.
- Ability to conduct research, analyze and problem solve.
- Organized, self-starter
- Illustration skills a plus
Gap's actions over the last week expose some deep problems—problems that even great design can't fix.
The new Gap logo is old news. If you've been following their marketing train wreck you know that after getting tarred and feathered by the online community they backtracked by announcing they would crowdsource their brand in hopes of finding an identity that really gets the job done.
Besides the fact that their agency who created the new logo, Laird+Partners, must feel pretty unhappy and that Gap's management must be under intense shareholder scrutiny, the idea that a crowd is the solution is just wrong.
For the uninitiated, crowdsourcing is a problem-solving and production model that broadcasts a challenge to the public, asking it to put the power of a distributed network to work. It's been a hot topic ever since Wired's Jeff Howe coined the term in 2006.
I'm all about the idea of distributed networks and leveraging the power of thousands to get a job done. In fact, I love open source software, like Drupal's awesome CMS. It's a great example of a type of crowdsourcing as people all over the world work to make Drupal better, fixing problems, collaborating and generally delivering an awesome solution.
But, the people working on Drupal are all programming experts; they’re specialists. There are no good natured retired factory workers with a little spare time hacking code—unless of course they know code! If you're working on Drupal you're a programmer.
Gap's proposed solution is to throw the doors open to anyone with MS Paint. Forget any qualifications, experience or skills. Gap says they think you can fix their brand, and that's troubling on two levels.
First, does Gap disrespect their brand so much that they are willing to let just anyone work on it? Can a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, all based on its brand, actually just throw that brand out to the crowd and think that's responsible brand management? Forget the fact that a huge corporation that makes millions of dollars is asking hundreds of thousands of people to work for free. What makes Gap think the masses can fix their failure? Why don’t they understand that they need the help of experts?
Second, is Gap is really being sincere in asking the crowd for help? If they respect their brand and they know they need the help of experts, then they don't really think the crowd will have the right answer. Crowdsourching is just a PR ploy; manipulation to put a good face on a really stupid move and to get everyone to just shut up. If they don't expect the crowd, their customers, to have the right answer, then why insult them by asking for help? And let’s face it, if they really believed in crowdsourcning they'd put all their clothing designs up for grabs.
Gap does not respect its brand or its customers. They have a problem that runs much deeper than a design or marketing issue. They've got a leadership problem. I don't care how good a design solution is, paid or crowdsourced, great design can't fix a lack of integrity or broken leadership.
What's going on with Gap? Their seemingly new identity looks like it belongs to Initech. New logo or a late April Fool's joke?
It looks like Gap has redesigned its identity, as it showed up on the Gap website without as much as a press release.
What do you think?
Honestly, I don't get it. It's cold and corporate. It reminds me of lifeless putty desk accessories and lunch out of the vending machine under florescent lights. This is supposed to be a consumer fashion brand! Where's the energy and life?
Here's the old logo, which at least had some personality.
It's still not clear who did this work, if it's the new company brand or what's really going on. I'll do some sleuthing and update this post as I learn more. Leave a comment and let us know what you think of the identity.
Update 11:20 PM 10/06/10: There's speculation that this new logo could be a PR stunt to help boost Gap's lagging sales. Gap has not been responding to any media inquiries at this stage. Read this Ad Age article for more info.
Update 8:00 AM 10/07/10: And the people pile on. A new account has opened on Twitter purporting to be the new Gap logo. Follow @gaplogo for a humorous string of comments and arguments in defense of the logo. Its bio reads, "I have feelings too, jerks"!
Still no word if the new logo is a PR stunt or a misguided rebrand.
Update 7 PM 10/07/10: Mashable reports Gap is asking its Facebook fans to design the new logo. Wow. A multimillion dollar brand and you're going to hand it off to the crowd after your effort is greeted with widespread criticism. Who's in charge over there?
Update: 10:00 PM 10/07/10: Gap President North America, Marka Hansen talks! Link to her statement on HuffPo here. Read it and decide for yourself. Sounds like a lil bit 'o BS to me. I think Gap was completely surprised by the hostile response to their new brand and they're scrambling to fix the problem. I predict Marka will be looking for a new job in six months or less.