show

William Drenttel

Silk Road Typography



European Union's 50th anniversary logo, design by Szymon Skrzypczak, 2006

Late at night, after seeing a particularly vapid, unlikely or just plain idiotic television commercial, I'll often turn to my wife and say, "Can you imagine being in the meeting where that idea was presented?"

I've taken part in a few such meetings myself, especially during a ten-year stint working in advertising. Often a bad idea is made worse in such gatherings, as people attempt to improve on a concept by adding their own needs and biases, layer-upon-layer, until everyone is happy. But such committee solutions cannot overcome the fact that if the original idea is weak, the result is merely a weak idea with everyone's name on it.

Occasionally, the same thing happens in design meetings, especially with logos that, for whatever reason, must represent multiple nationalities, disciplines or facets of an organization. How can one single piece of graphic design be expected to accomodate all of these needs?

Last week, the European Union announced the winner of a logo competition for the Union's 50th Anniversary, celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957 that initiated the European integration process.

The winning entry was designed by Szymon Skrzypczak, a 23 year-old Polish student who won 6,000 euros and beat out 1,700 other student entrants. The goal was to create a logo that "encapsulates the idea of European co-operation...and the future of Europe in particular." Skrzypczak's design "gives a graphic interpretation to the voice of all Europeans, especially the new generations."

Fine.

So why do I hate this logo so much?

This is what I call Silk Road design: you let each letter represent a particular entity or aspect of an organization, not unlike the cumulative culture acquired along the Silk Road from China to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. This design model is instantly recognizable because it always looks like what it is — design by committee, design that addresses (too many) multiple interests.


Ransom typography by Darren P. Millar, 2006

It is easy to rationalize this kind of mix-and-match typography against the backdrop of design history. It is in evidence in everything from the hyperbolic drama of 19th-century broadsides to the schizophrenic whimsy of the Futurists "parole in liberta" to David Carson's Raygun, April Grieman post-modernism or any of a number of examples from British Punk graphics. Michael Bierut has referred to such logos as "ransom note typography" (an accurate, if slightly chilling physical description), while younger designers might simply chalk it up to the same sort of "mash-up" mystique that characterizes everything from multiple fonts on a poster to mismatched clothes on a runway. Anything goes, so everything goes. Or does it?


Protest sign for Red Rag by Robert Corr, 2005

Another piece of Silk Road Typography's provenance comes from the raw, unedited aesthetic of the city, as seen in those playful store signs documented so flawlessly by Herbert Spenser's Typographica back in the 1950s and 1960s: here, you get a sense of designer's seeing, for the first time, the richness of "the street." The vernacular, such as it was, owed quite a bit to all those found signs: like children's blocks, they quickly became letters to be pulled apart and reconstructed into something novel, eventually migrating into logos that could cheerfully service a new postwar economy, a new kind of pluralistic culture.


Book cover design by Chermayeff & Geismar, 1961

Finally, the source that most readily comes to mind is the work of Chermayeff & Geismar. Perhaps it started in the 1960s with Ivan Chermayeff's outstanding cover for the book The Art of Assemblage. However, the idea of a word constructed of variegated letters, so integral to the subject of this particular book cover, would appear again and again in Chermayeff & Geismar's work — and not always with the same successful results. There are logos for Brentano's, Truc, Museum of Contemporary Art (and the Temporary Contemporary), First New York International Festival of the Arts and the Downtown Alliance — all of which play with a variety of letterforms to form a single logo.


Banner for New York Public Library centennial, design by Chermayeff & Geismar, 1995


Logo for New York Public Library centennial, design by Chermayeff & Geismar, 1995

The ne plus ultra of this direction, though, came with Chermayeff & Geismar's logo for the 100th anniversary of the New York Public Library in 1995. Here, the subtext might have gone something like this. We've got a letter for each and every constituency. We don't just have old books, we're digital. Our heritage is not only cut in stone, it's pixilated. We're not just William Morris, we're Reuters. And we're online @ NYPL 24/7. While I deeply respect the work of Chermayeff & Geismar, I remember feeling particularly troubled with this logo as the chosen mascot for the centennial of such a venerable New York institution.

As a work of graphic design, it has a cheerful countenance. Yet it takes all that's rich and complicated about this institution's history and offers a quick fix: if logos were food, this would be tapas. This is the Silk Road at its worst: a kind of PC 1990s where each and every interest has to be fairly represented — a letter for every voice. The result is Babel, seven discordant voices singing in the wind. The same is true for the new logo for the European Union's 50th anniversary: it's inclusive, colorful and spirited. There is the playful spray-painted letter to symbolize youth, the ® mark to encompass commerce, and sufficient accents and umlauts to symbolize international cooperation. These are nice strategic goals, but not qualities that can be counted upon to create a great logo, a recognizable — and memorable — mark.


Oboist Jaime Gonzalez and kayagum player Jihyun Kim, Silk Road Project concert. Photograph by Bruno le Hir de Fallois, 2001

Recently, my family was fortunate enough to see Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project at Carnegie Hall, debuting a collection of new works by international composers, (with Chinese, Balinese and Korean inspiration) performed by musicians from as many countries playing both ancient and modern instruments. There's something about music, as an international language, that allows for a natural fusion of cultures into something new and original and modern. Graphic design, in general (and logo design, in particular) faces rather a different problem: how to distill singular voices into an blended, coordinated whole? It seems possible, even likely that multiple-choice letterforms, as static, representative tokens of individual agendas, sing rather a different tune — one that almost defies the kind of symphonic integration we appreciate, at least in an orchestral setting. Just think about it: accents, umlauts and ® signs in a single logo? Can you imagine being in the meeting where that idea was presented?

Posted in: Branding, Design History, Typography

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Comments [66]
I agree.
It's a terrible logo.

In my opinion, the client needs was first rather than the aesthetical and designer approach.

Maybe they were facing the computer close to Szymon telling him what to do.

Saludos!

;P
Pablo
10.26.06
11:05

To me these collaged logos look entirely reactionary to the homogeneity of the standardized scripts used in actual utilitarian efforts in EU countries and other industrialized nations. What is more personally unifying than being able to identify signs for speed, fuel, and restrooms across borders? As William suggests, there is room for impromptu, improper, asynchronous, and sometimes violent contrasting tones within music, partly because of how we associate sound with mood. Musicians like Charlie Parker discovered they could break free of the 'song' as it were in the higher registers, where listeners and musicians alike begin to dissociate sound from melody. On that plane, they were able to attack popular convention.

A logo can be like a song. It can be deconstructed and attacked. However, repositioning and refacing the letters to try and appeal to everyone is tantamount to soloing within the registers and instruments of the melody. The theme of the work is lost. The forms of the letters themselves must stay somewhat constant. This has been recognized to the degree that the international typographic styles have been synonymous with public works across western cultures since the late 1800's.

The silk road music ensemble works because it finds common ground in a unifying form. The EU logo doesn't work, because there is no ground of commonality. Whereas music blends and shifts across cultures, and can be beautifully made to do so, simple typeface cannot. The unifying medium for the EU should've been the blending of languages, not letters. If the decision was to work within the modern lingua franca of English,then the logo should've been constructed as to be approachable by all, not as an extension too all. This hodgepodge of color and figure is more of a patronizing affront to the cultures it is trying to index, than an emphatic embrace to the culture rich populations of the region.
Caleb
10.26.06
11:07

I don't buy the idea that C&G's NYPL "S'ilk" is homogeny at it's "worst". I hear some music in that noise. C&G knows proper type juxtaposition and convey it here in idea that translates the client's offering.

If you want ticket a logo for silk road violations you need look no further.
felix sockwell
10.26.06
12:16

I feel like this is a matter of personal preference, not horror at some greater design law that's been broken.

I'm not a fan of this logo. It lacks any element of surprise; there's very little reason to look at it for more than a second because it's played out before you've even read it completely. But I think that it successfully communicates what I imagine it's supposed to communicate.

It reeks of Olympics, international, unity, good will. It's simple and it's playful too. As much as I don't personally care for it, given those things I think it's appropriate. What value does appropriateness carry?
Andrew Twigg
10.26.06
12:35

I've little to no knowledge on typography, but can understand some of the decisions of the designer for representing integration and unity of the EU. I'm not sure about the R at the end representing commerce - it seems a little odd to use the registered trademark symbol for what should represent free trade agreements.

I'm struggling to see the necessity of the logo, it doesn't hold any visual reference to the EU itself - which is what is being celebrated. I'm sure it's keeping the MEPs happy, but for the general European citizens it could struggle to hit home!
kester
10.26.06
01:19

The biggest problem is that it reads as togethé®, insted of together.

Bad ideas + bad execution = bad design.
Armin
10.26.06
01:35

Germans, historicaly, are quite particular about trademark design. Here is what they had to say about it. You're right on one thing: It definately reeks.

felix sockwell
10.26.06
01:38

It's art. Art is subjective. I don't like the logo (I prefer the second place one myself) but I'm sure there are many who think it's top notch.

I think, rather than looking at the instances of this style over history, there should be a focus on why people think this is a good design. Is this a political thing? A difference of aesthetics thing? A compromise? How do you deal with those situations when dealing with design by committee?

Maybe a bad logo can be good? If it's design by committee and very obvious that's how it came about maybe the idea that people worked together on the design of the logo is where its real value comes from.

Or I could be talking out my backside.
Ruthsarian
10.26.06
01:52

"by adding their own needs and biases, layer-upon-layer, until everyone is happy."
"a kind of PC 1990s where each and every interest has to be fairly represented"

No doubt that the logo is mediocre. However, I find it problematic that the tone implies the loathing of bureaucratic decision-making and loathing of multiple stake-holders being involved in the approval process.

I admit, I too honestly loathe running in circles and trying to please every stake-holder, while watching my ambition (let alone the quality of the work) degrade perpetually; How could you not loathe it as a designer?

But whatever happened to the Dutch "polder-model"? Isn't a sense that every party involved is not supposed to leave the table unhappy (or without compensation) the reason why Dutch design is so good. Isn't that what ultimately improves public (or publicly visible) design and improves our quality of life? If I'm not mistaking, Herr Spiekermann also said that you fight through bureaucracy, not beside it, if the results are to matter.

The real problem, as I see it here, is not that young people eager to make a difference will begin to think that only way to make good design is to work under a benevolent dictator who gives you free reign (think of Paul Rand at IBM). The problem is that such tone coming from authoritative Design Observer voices such as Mrs. Helfand, Mr. Drenttel, and Mr. Bierut really does leave me with such an impression.

What are we, aspiring graduate students in graphic design field, to do then? Run away to the fantasy land of Cranbrook and invent our own worlds, rather than try to make a difference in our existing, bureaucratically-laden ones where too many aprovals are needed? Yes, notable exceptions do give me hope.
Emir
10.26.06
01:53

Armin, I agree with you on your comment that the execution is bad. Don't forget the ö.
Andrew Twigg
10.26.06
02:22

> It's art. Art is subjective.

Yes, art is subjective - it is about questions.

Design is concerned with answers, solutions. Not 100% subjective, it has a substantial objective component. Answers can have wrongness and that wrongness (or rightness, let's be positive) can be measured. Color harmony, technical execution, history, even ethics. Many other aspects for judgement exist.

Saying that design is art and therefore 100% subjective is a great mistake that many make.
LeMel
10.26.06
02:25

For something meant to symbolize unity, it seems to do little more than fragment further apart the more I look at it. I had been seeking a deeper meaning, hoping some uniting element might present itself.
Instead, I'm left with disparate letterforms preparing to do battle with each other.

Maybe I missed the point.
JB
10.26.06
02:38

I think it's fascinating that the "improve by including" tendency is such a natural human inclination. Thinking more broadly, it seems like this pluralism of type is relatively recent cultural side effect of democratization. I wonder if logo and type design tended to be more monolithic in more despotic regimes... Any good resources about design and politics?
Mark Larson
10.26.06
02:44

It's SO 80's Agency. A look still being practiced by Agencies today.
Charlie Trotter
10.26.06
03:02

I wonder how the author feels about Emigre's Dead History font.
h.a.
10.26.06
03:32

The primary function of a designer is to solve problems. When a solution is effective and beautifully crafted, it is a cause to celebrate. When the solution is egregiously lacking in either it can cause such violent shaking of one's head as to cause a nasty case of whiplash. Especially if it seems that all research and conceptual thinking were tossed out the window for nefarious, unknown reasons. Sometimes, it is easy to assume that whoever is responsible is unskilled, uncaring, or simply stupid. However, that may not be the case.

One can usually spot a case where a designer and client worked together on a project versus where the client simply art directed it. This project, which could have been so many wonderful things, seems to have become victim of the dreaded Design by Committee. One can easily point to other more or less offending, dependent on your perspective, design solutions for UPS and ATT&T where, I 'm assuming here, similar discussions took place. Design by Committee, in my experience, is nothing more than a group of non-designers ranting about things they know or care little about in hopes to have their vapid opinions included in the final outcome.

I don't mean to be too harsh, but the proof is in the pudding as they say, and this one's vanilla.
James D. Nesbitt
10.26.06
03:53

Interesting article... In my opinion the logo is unimaginative and badly executed.
Darren P Millar
10.26.06
03:57

Talking about a logo with an identity crisis. Created by yet another 23-year-old with a penchant for illustrated typography.
david stairs
10.26.06
04:04

It's sloppy. The letterspacing is terrible.
dani
10.26.06
04:15

The thing is, though, that graphic design is facing perhaps the biggest challenge in its rather short existence. We are faced with a world of lively difference, but the whole paradigm in which we work, however 'postmodern' we consider ourselves to be, has been shaped by the powerful forces of consistency, conformity and homogeneity that characterised twentieth century modernism.

This was fine when it came to representing the bland, faceless corporations that we grew up with - which aspired to 'one culture, one voice, one brand'. But in the twenty first century organisations not only don't have a single voice - they positively celebrate their diversity of voices. And the European Union is no exception. This isn't some 'melting pot' of races, cultures and languages - it is a kaleidescope of possibilities.

How then does graphic design rise to the challenge of representing this? As we know it, it can't - except through somewhat tired visual cliches like this one. And don't blame the designer, William - this sorry effort is the inevitable consequence of 'Modernism tries to do diversity'. It shows the whole edifice creaking from the top down.

Your musical analogy is an interesting one, though. For some time I've suggested that we need a 'World Design' along the lines of 'World Music' - to throw the focus away from the tired and stale world of Anglo-American graphics and and realise that there are graphic traditions, and bodies of work, equally (if not more) interesting in other parts of the world.

But what makes World Music so interesting as an analogy is not just that it is raising awareness of humanity's rich diversity of musical cultures. It is in the fantastic creative collaborations and novel fusions it has encouraged, as musicians from different traditions explore each other's music and jam together. How sad, then, that the new designers who emerge from our colleges are inspired to do little more than head to London, New York or Berlin to work with the usual suspects. Same old, same old.
James Souttar
10.26.06
05:33

Not only is the winning logo bad, all of the top ten are bad (with second place being the best of a weak bunch). I think the main lesson here is not to let a gang of random strangers design your logo. This is one of the reasons design contests are a bad idea.
Dan Kohan
10.26.06
05:40

The reason I don't like this design is, already mentioned here, bad use of special characters. Living in Austria and using German, I read that logo as 'tögether', which is, well, a really stupid word creation.
Chris
10.26.06
05:54

Actually, I think this logotype still has hope, at least to be saved from the realm of "what were they thinking" with safe passage to sanctuary in "meh." These would my directions for Mr. Skrzypczak:

Step 1:

Decide on a color. Technical reasons for avoiding seven-plate marks aside, the color war going on within that logo can reach an armistice if all the characters can just be painted the same hue.

Step 2:

Relax the angles. When a handful of different characters have their baselines scattered, yet they still remain parallel, it just looks like a halfhearted job. It's chaos with a closet fear of being chaotic.

Step 3:

Bring the letterforms together in touchy-feely brotherhood. Now that they're angled, this won't decrease legibility, helping it, perhaps, by solidifying the "word picture."

Step 4:

As others have said, ditch the ®. If you really feel you've left the business world out in the cold without it, at least make it bigger so it's obvious that this isn't a registered trademark of Tögethé AG.
Clayton
10.26.06
06:29

Dan Cohen gets it right. While designers worldwide can nitpickstyle, letterspacing, and inclusiveness, the basic root problem is the design competition itself. At the outset of the article William mentions sitting in meetings where ideas go to die. In this case as in all competitions there is no structure on which to build an idea. No design brief no matter how well written or well intentioned can substitute for an honest and frank discussion about a project and it's audience. Of course even with the give and take between client and designer a logo can end up as bad as this one as evidenced by the "fine" examples noted.
Mark Kaufman
10.26.06
06:54

Crazy logo, but fun. Whatever. Let the EU have their cake.

What's bugging me? The Ransom Note font. It's not from 2006.

I can't find any info on it. I know I've seen a font called "Ransom Note." I actually typed something with "ransom note" and printed it out. I don't know if it was in 1989 or 1990 when I first saw it though. And of course, it disappeared. It was definitely a Mac font and I CAN'T FIND IT NOW. It's really bugging me.

I'll do some research, but nothing definitive came up on google or yahoo just now.

If anyone knows who first did it... I'll buy you a soda. Or shake. Or (GASP!) an actual beer!

Happy hunting. Viva EU! :-|

VR/
Joe Moran
10.26.06
07:35

Jesus, its a student piece from eastern europe! Judged by committee. Let is go. This post and a few of the latests posts on Design Observer are a bit thin and negative.

Think on this ransom style music video. Stop thinking so much about the graphic design of things.
+ Link: La tour de Pise - Jean-Francois Cohen Dir. Michel Gondry
stealing-beauty
10.26.06
08:43

h.a.: I wonder how the author feels about Emigre's Dead History font.

Please elaborate what a font with internally consistent style has to do with this, where someone mashed together a bunch of unrelated faces, plus a heavy metal umlaut, gratuitous acute, and questionable trademark symbol?

David Stairs: Talking about a logo[Google] with an identity crisis.

Please elaborate what a perfectly well-established and -defined logo, periodically adapted to events has to do with identity crisis. If anything, Google's willingness to mess with the thing exemplifies their confidence in it; the illustrations are now part if the identity.
Su
10.26.06
08:50

"by adding their own needs and biases, layer-upon-layer, until everyone is happy."
"a kind of PC 1990s where each and every interest has to be fairly represented"

No doubt that the logo is mediocre. However, I find it problematic that the tone implies the loathing of bureaucratic decision-making and loathing of multiple stake-holders being involved in the approval process.

I admit, I too honestly loathe running in circles and trying to please every stake-holder, while watching my ambition (let alone the quality of the work) degrade perpetually; How could you not loathe it as a designer?

But whatever happened to the Dutch "polder-model"? Isn't a sense that every party involved is not supposed to leave the table unhappy (or without compensation) the reason why Dutch design is so good. Isn't that what ultimately improves public (or publicly visible) design and improves our quality of life? If I'm not mistaking, Herr Spiekermann also said that you fight through bureaucracy, not beside it, if the results are to matter.

The real problem, as I see it here, is not that young people eager to make a difference will begin to think that only way to make good design is to work under a benevolent dictator who gives you free reign (think of Paul Rand at IBM). The problem is that such tone coming from authoritative Design Observer voices such as Mrs. Helfand, Mr. Drenttel, and Mr. Bierut really does leave me with such an impression.

What are we, aspiring graduate students in graphic design field, to do then? Run away to the fantasy land of Cranbrook and invent our own worlds, rather than try to make a difference in our existing, bureaucratically-laden ones where too many aprovals are needed? Yes, notable exceptions do give me hope.
Emir
10.26.06
11:32

It's not the bureaucracy alone that resulted in this poor design choice -- it's the combination of bureaucracy, lack of experience (student work) and the scattershot approach of a competition.

While maybe a Paul Rand could reign in variety of interests held by the stakeholders, and educate them on the principles of good design -- I wouldn't expect a design student to be able to do so.

I think as an industry we need to be more unified in opposition to design competitions. It devalues our work. They've paid a fraction of what a professional piece of identity work would cost.

This sends a clear message -- why spend money on an expensive agency, when you can pick and choose from a wider range of design directions for a fraction of the cost?

You don't see 'marketing strategy' competitions, or a contest for an accounting student who can create the best financial audit.
Kai
10.27.06
06:11

It's a childish concept but at that its one that translates well to everybody. That said though it leaves me with three questions.

Why choose an English word?
Why put in accents where they don't belong (umlaut on the 'o' and aigu on the 'e')?
Why use registered trademark symbol - is the word 'togethe' registered?

A few more points. In terms of legibility; from a distance the 't' and 'r' will not be visible. One previous post seemed disgusted that the prize went to 'an eastern european student'. Why not? They are the most recent members of the EU and have, especially in the case of Poland, a fantastic history and tradition of great design. Of which I'm not sure this is part.
ronan McDonnell
10.27.06
06:11

You're right. At 1st look it looks like "togethè" with a ® near.
It comes out without so much conscience.
Remind me a sort of early 90's kitch logo all made in front of a monitor.
I don't know so much about the contest but the result is just juvenilia caprice. Maybe not so good jury.
Luca
10.27.06
06:23

"Jesus, its a student piece from eastern europe!"

Does stealing-beauty suggest that a student from Eastern Europe is incapable of designing a good logo? That's a bit patronizing, to say the least.

In my effort to beat a dead horse, which logo should have won? For the "top ten" submissions, look here: http://www.logo-competition.eu/65.0.html

As I mentioned in a post on my blog last week, my vote went to Finland.
theorist
10.27.06
08:35

In response to ronan, English is the language of commerce and more people know English than any other single language within the EU. Regarding the accents, there are a lot of languages spoken throughout the EU (some of which you obviously don't know).
theorist
10.27.06
08:40

to get the ® since 1957?

why has the EU been trying to get the ® for 50 years? i mean, i got it twice in one comment.


® - err. 3 times.
tj b
10.27.06
08:47

Jim Moran :

Ransom Note as a font 'style' first found widespread fame in the hands of Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols disks, though I'm not sure about the origins of a truetype font. Do you remember the San Francisco bitmap font on the old Mac's (before system 7)? That was created by Susan Kare, an interface designer at Apple, and had to be one of the first intentional applications of that style for computers.

Is that close enough for a drink?
Caleb
10.27.06
09:37

At least it's unique and not just another generic logotype set in Gotham Bold, all caps with extra letterspacing.
BlueStreak
10.27.06
11:00

h.a.: I wonder how the author feels about Emigre's Dead History font.

Please elaborate what a font with internally consistent style has to do with this, where someone mashed together a bunch of unrelated faces, plus a heavy metal umlaut, gratuitous acute, and questionable trademark symbol?


I was simply curious about the author's personal feelings toward fonts such as Dead History. Of course, the obvious relationship between the two is that they both mash-up contrasting fonts.
h.a.
10.27.06
11:52

Echoing JB's thoughts above, I sense a tingle of irony in the fact that the symbol for a unified Europe is made up of individual letter-forms that are perfectly useable on their own, but gain nothing from being combined in this manner apart from having their differences emphasised...

Several of the runner-up designs seem stronger both visually and conceptually.
gudmund
10.27.06
11:57

Caleb,

THATS IT! San Francisco -- not Ransom Note. Thanks for the history lesson, too. Next round is on me.

VR/
Joe Moran
10.27.06
12:59

Rosbo, Tore (Denmark) has my vote.
workpath
10.27.06
04:44

I completely agree about the Chermayeff & Geismar NYPL logo. That is definitely the ugly duckling standout of their otherwise phenomenal body of work. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so!

Ryan Nee
10.28.06
02:44

"What's bugging me? The Ransom Note font. It's not from 2006.

I can't find any info on it. I know I've seen a font called "Ransom Note." I actually typed something with "ransom note" and printed it out. I don't know if it was in 1989 or 1990 when I first saw it though. And of course, it disappeared. It was definitely a Mac font and I CAN'T FIND IT NOW. It's really bugging me."

I have a font called Ransom Note but I forget where it came from. I think it was some freeware thing. Identifont has one called Ransom Threat:

http://www.identifont.com/list?2+ransom+1+F4J+0+3X5+0

and a host of others listed if you click on "similar fonts".

I hope the poor student designer can deal with all this stringent criticism; talk about being thrown in at the deep end...
John Coulthart
10.28.06
06:00

I rather like the Chermayeff & Geismar NYPL logo.

Libraries are about letters, history, and now, technology. This solution shows all. I'm OK with that in the context of the NYC melting pot of people, history, money, ideas, technolgy, etc.

But the winning EU design could have been better.

One thing we forget is that the EU is a politically complex environment. I would suspect that this was picked as much for the solution if not more for what it does or does not provide to the greater EU political and politic.
Joseph Coates
10.28.06
11:46

I also worried about the poor design student. It's clear that competitions rarely result in successful logos- if only because feedback and a refining process with the client isn't integral. The ransom form is an interesting topic though. Leaving the student to his well intentioned victory...
ESS
10.28.06
10:50

The EU logo strikes me as the graphic representation of a NYC subway car--disparate entities that would otherwise have no rapport with one another shoved 'together' in uncomfortable proximity.

As for the C&G LIBRARY logo: the superficial (lazy? easy?) reasoning behind the logo is faultless, really. It was just so damn fugly. I worked in the graphics office of the Library around that time and remember that we all disliked it for various reasons. It seemed so 80s and strangely stolid and arthritic for all its purported antic "fun."

Personally I think the Ransom Note approach works only as a looser, graphic sensibility. When each letter isn't Forced. To. Mean. So. Much. Thats why "Never Mind The Bollocks" works for me.
a voulangas
10.29.06
07:39

>

Hey now, James: vanilla is delicious!

While I, along with many others, find this design distasteful, I am concerned about using *student* work to launch this worthwhile but critical discussion.
CMYKatelyn
10.30.06
02:48

A number of observers have commented that they are concerned about commenting on a student's work. As the author of this post, I share their concern — and the post was carefully written to talk about the work so as not be a personal attack on the designer. In the interest of a larger design criticism, however, one needs to look beyond the source of the work. We are talking about a logo for the European Union, after all, and not the outcome of a college logo for pizza on Fridays. It would seem as if the symbol for the 50th anniversary of the Europe is worthy of discussion, student designer or not.
William Drenttel
10.30.06
08:56

In response to 'theorist'. Why insinuate that I don't know these other languages? I live in the EU and have a native tongue (Irish or gaeilge) that is thousands of years old and yet it was only through the democratic progress that it was officially recognised last year. This logo does not reflect that such a thing is possible. It chooses a word and presupposes that all EU citizens will understand this. As visual people should the designers involved not have decided to go with a marque/pictogram/image that allows for no linguistic misinterpretations?
ronan McDonnell
10.31.06
05:35

I'd be interested to see who the judging panel were. It doesn't mention them on competition website.
Adrian
10.31.06
08:23

It's a student logo.

The top ten all look like logos designed by students. If it's a logo of any importance then it shouldn't have been designed by students.
blah blah
10.31.06
08:56

It would be interesting to learn who the judges were and parties responsible. But I have a more vexing question. Why is effective graphic design so often misunderstood?
Rocco Piscatello
10.31.06
09:38

Yeah? I don't like brush logos for "city centennial celebrations". The most banal connotation possible for a public event. I imagine the city counsel says, "Requisition a logo! Bring in the artist." Two burly guys in white lab coats wheel in Bob Ross ala Hannibal Lector. Strapped to the backboard, Ross uses his teeth to hold the paint brush. Swash. Plunk. The committee all claps and praise each other.

Grrr.
xtian
10.31.06
11:02

Looking at the contest site, what bothers me most is this sentence: "For this occasion, the European Union invited art students and young design professionals to take part in the competition and design a logo."

Why "young design professionals"? Was there a cut-off birthdate? Why was the age of the designer important?

This is offensive. Good design happens at all ages. Maybe the result would have been better if some seasoned pros had participated.
janemar
10.31.06
01:27

A number of observers have commented that they are concerned about commenting on a student's work. As the author of this post, I share their concern — and the post was carefully written to talk about the work so as not be a personal attack on the designer. In the interest of a larger design criticism, however, one needs to look beyond the source of the work. We are talking about a logo for the European Union, after all, and not the outcome of a college logo for pizza on Fridays. It would seem as if the symbol for the 50th anniversary of the Europe is worthy of discussion, student designer or not.

Indeed! We are talking about the logo for the 50th anniversary for the EU. And what a poor process and choice was employed for the creation of such a visible graphic.

I recognize that you did not attack the designer, but many observers did: this was an (obviously) inevitable consequence of your article. In a sense, you simply picked up where the EU left off: putting a budding designer in the spotlight before he was ready.

IMHO, students should be nurtured and encouraged. In most cases, students have not graduated into the ranks of those whose work can be called professional, nor the pool of "larger design criticsim": it's part of being a student, that time of learning, of process, and when you get to make mistakes that aren't openly mulled over by professional heavies in the field (you get to make *those* mistakes after your graduate! :)).

blah blah's Got it:

It's a student logo.

The top ten all look like logos designed by students. If it's a logo of any importance then it shouldn't have been designed by students.

That's the answer. Just because the EU made a mistake doesn't mean we have to perpetuate it.



CMYKatelyn
10.31.06
04:12

Mr. McDonnell,

Great point. This may be an example of where an idea would be better served by an icon.

Go raibh maith agat!

VR/

Joe Moran
10.31.06
11:08

As someone who sent an entry to the competition:
The first thing that pop to my head and at the same time got eliminated (for all reasons written above) was this kind of collaged logo.
This was my entry, I'd value your thoughts on it.
Yoni
11.01.06
06:40

Adrian, the competition website does list the decision makers. There was first a panel of eleven from the design and communications fields who chose the top ten. The final selections, however, were made by top EU bureaucrats.

My first thought when I saw this logo was, What will Erik "down with the World Cup logo" Spiekermann have to say about this one?

But now I've seen the names of the panel members and I really have to wonder what went down in that panel meeting.
Leslie
11.01.06
10:50

apart from trying to judge whether the logo is bad or not, i think it is important to take the context into consideration too: do check out the 10 best entries, and one will find that there is not ONE that has effectively created a sense of unity - the goal for the european union (!). the rest of the submitted logos must be pretty much the same too - which clearly dictates that the judges had to chose between what they had - unlike to WIPO who also wrote a competition, and managed to NOT pick a winner since no proposal really reflected what they were looking for - due to unclear ideas on WIPO's side? a bad brief?... it could very well be that the judges had no guts to also declare the competition as unsuccesful - but they did not.

second context: the nature of the graphic work done within the different organizations and offices very often seen as dull, boring, mainly directed at a scientific public. a bit of color and craze quickly gets a lot of hype!

third context: no-one really was personally so much involved that their heart was really beating at the moment all designs were presented. if these were the plans for their new office, would they have gone with this design?

fourth context: it is great and respectable to have given a chance to young designers... this also means that the solutions may not always be very well thought-thru or based on experiences which help think and make execution mature.

there are many more contexts to be given, and i think we all understand that the chosen design needs to be seen in those lights... and also: are we at all able to make something better that would have pleased the jury more? before the last world cup soccer kicked off, the logo was under alot of critic as well, and an alternative logo design "competition" was initiated: i must say that some of the proposals (some by well-known brand design agencies) were really not to be taken serious...

instead of criticizing the winning logo and the designer, why not wish him a lot of success and great improvements for his career - and maybe we, the older farts in the identity design business - can help the younger generations get quicker to the level (we think) we are... this would only be positive and good for our own profession and the service we have committed to deliver to the world.
aesthedes
11.04.06
09:56

It looks like a logo for United Colors of Benetton's anniversary.
bin
11.06.06
01:34

What bothers me the most isn't actually the moronic solution but the fact that ö is being used as an o.

I usually don't care if an american or whatever uses the "o with the dots" as a funny design touch, but in a logotype that is supposed to represent the diversity of EU?

That's just plain ignorant.
Peter Sjöberg
11.06.06
05:20

May be a little off subject, but this discussion reminded me of the horrendous NYC2012 Olympics logo with the collage of the Statue of Liberty and an athlete. I cringed at the thought of the logo infesting the city IF we won the bid (although it did all the same, during the aggressive advertising campaign two summers ago) There are many reasons that I am relieved NY won't be hosting the Olympics any time soon, but this monstrosity tops the list, hands down.
Kanomalta
11.06.06
02:16

Design by committee never works. It produces mediocre work at best. This logo is a perfect example. And it's the biggest downside to technology...makes such work too easily possible.
Ken
12.08.06
02:21

I would also so like to point out that these large governmental bureaucracies like to have design competitions. It is positioned as a way for real people to contribute and therefore fostering community. The requirements always get lost in the mix and it becomes more about the competition and less about the logo objectives. There is no proper brief for the designer. No face to face meetings that would help shape the direction of the logo etc. Just young hungry designers that are fresh out of design school that are looking for that one big break. Veterans designers are quite often shut out.

There was a competition here in Canada for our 2010 Olympics logo two years ago and it turned into a cross country debacle. When the competition was announced our graphic design guild warned all of it's members that they were not allowed to enter design competitions and the negative press began to build. In the end the competition prevailed and we now have one of the ugliest logos ever created for an Olympic event.

The government bureaucracies that hold these commutations have too many conflicting agenda's and requirements that go far beyond the design of the final logo and are destined to fail more often than not.
JP
01.02.07
03:28

I havent read all your comments through, but after looking at half and i havent been able to find a positive remark, i must call for reason.

This Logo supports the necessary communication very well. And because the competition announced the need of a logo, it doesnt necessarily need to be logo afterwards. I take Simons proposal as a fusion between an identity and a marketing campaign, after all the life span of this proposal is merely 6 months, and therefore it doesnt need to have the full qualities of a good logo.

My saying in this, i find rather relevant since i was the one who became second in the competition.

http://www.logo-competition.eu/67.0.html

So everybody: CHEER THE FUCK UP
Tore
01.19.07
06:57

Without these type of logos will cannot appreciate the depth of others...
7vn
07.18.08
03:51

What do you think of this nationalistic logo: www.msanational.org
Joe
10.09.08
09:29



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