Logos are the Esperanto of marketing, luxury and business today.
“If you look at the 1950s collections, the end of the 1950s,” said Lagerfeld, “there are very few chains, there is no CC, and there are no camellias, but in the 1980s, we had to pull out all the stops because otherwise it would just have been a posh, unassuming tweed suit with a little bow. These are the things that I drew out, exaggerated, and which I made people believe had always existed.”
The same idea lies behind his emphasis on the “eternal elements” of Chanel – the quilted 2.55 bag, the braid-edged suit, the two-tone shoes – and the countless variations on these the remarkably imaginative designer continues to invent for one collection after another. He sees them primarily as recognisable symbols that can be understood across barriers of language and geography. “For a company, it is important today, because, much more than in the past, we all sell in parts of the world where they cannot read our writing or understand our languages. They can memorise perhaps the famous CC, but they have difficulties reading the name first. In the past, we sold mostly to people who knew our culture and could read English or French. Now that is only a part of our clientele. Logos are the Esperanto of marketing, luxury and business today.”
Extract from the introduction to Chanel Catwalk: The Complete Karl Lagerfeld Collections, by Adélia Sabatini and Patrick Mauriès
Humbleness and empathy are the two characteristics that differentiate great designers from the merely good ones.
As designers we are first and foremost advocates. We have no power to make decisions. We can put forward our best argument, but the final decision will be the client's. When developing a project we need to listen carefully, learn from the client and try to put ourselves in his place. Only in this way will we be able to build the necessary confidence to truly work together and find the right solution for their enterprise's communication. Humbleness and empathy make the best advisors. No characteristic could be more fundamental for a designer.
Most designers and even their clients underestimate the power of continuity.
Vitsœ's 606 Universal Shelving System was designed by Dieter Rams in 1960 and has been in continuous production ever since. Longevity is at the heart of the Vitsœ offer: it is not a design that will date, change or go out of production.
We started working with Vitsœ in 1994 reviewing the company's identity. Following a series of updates by the likes of Addison and Neville Brody, we felt it was the right approach to go back to the original Wolfgang Schmidt designed identity. Continuity was a key part of the company’s ethos after all.
Today, Vitsœ has showrooms in London, New York, Los Angeles and Munich. The success is testimony to our believe that it is best to make the effort to get an idea right once and then keep adapting it to new circumstances.
Decoration is just make-up for the wrinkles of the idea.
Design is not about engineering layouts it is about communicating ideas
The design journey is an exploration and a discovery, both for designer and client.
“It is no surprise that many of the traditional forms of narration, whether epics or folk tales, are about journeys. Indeed a journey is often the starting point of a story, whether it is Odysseus seeking Penelope or Mr Mole abandoning spring-cleaning! The design process should also be a journey, not a process such as tinning sardines which has temporality but no deeper meaning. The design journey is an exploration and a discovery, both for designer and client. It is not the application of a style, nor the imposition of an inspired idea, but the disciplined understanding of the brief combined with the imaginative input of the designer’s experience. There should be both structure and surprise in the outcome. Shouldn’t all stories have unexpected endings?”
Logic & Intuition
Good design is a spark that flies when logic meets intuition.
In his essay 'The art of thinking by jumping' the writer Peter Mayle asks the question what constitutes good design and, more interestingly, what makes a good designer:
"Above everything else it should be a respect for function. We have all suffered from beautiful jugs that don't pour cleanly, handsome offices that are hell to work in, graphically imposing slabs of text that are almost unreadable. Designers who produce striking ideas that don't work are not good designers. This seems obvious, but it is being ignored every day. Take a look at the current crop of new products and new buildings and you will find, with depressing ease, examples of function coming a poor second, and 'design' coming an even worse first.
It is the ability to do the job in a totally appropriate way that makes a good designer; and that requires an unusual combination of apparently opposing characteristics. The first is logic, which assesses the problem and accepts the rules which have to govern the solution. But you can be as logical as you like and still produce a dreary design. What separates humdrum work from brilliant work is the second characteristic – not normally given much freedom by logical people – and that is intuition.
Intuition, derived from knowledge, experience and God knows what else, is the unpredictable human element that saves us from a world designed by computers. It encourages the mind to jump away from the expected, and helps to produce ideas that are surprises as well as solution."
A logo does not sell, it identifies.
“Should a logo be self-explanatory? It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolises. If a company is second rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second rate. It is foolhardy to believe that a logo will do its job immediately, before an audience has been properly conditioned.”
Rand ranks amongst the heroes of many practicing designers since the 1950s and is widely credited with convincing businesses that design is an effective tool to address the requirements of commerce.
To create a memorable design you need to start with a thought that’s worth remembering.
Conway Lloyd Morgan: "My recollections of meetings with Thomas Manss over the last ten years or more are of much laughter and no less delight. But to suggest that a designer is light-hearted does not imply that he is also light-headed.
Thomas Manss’ office is an uncluttered space: what adds touches of colour are the fragments of designs seen on desks and screens, as well as Thomas Manss’ Ozwald Boateng suits.
Colour and typography are the staples of the graphic designer’s trade: to say that Thomas Manss and his team are masters of these is to state the obvious. There are, however, three other qualities which are more specific to the agency: its international outlook, its use of wit, and, most importantly, the concept of narrative: 'if you want to create a memorable design, you have to start with a thought worth remembering,' Thomas Manss has observed. And often what is most memorable is a story."
Thomas Manss & Company are designers, but they are also - and more importantly - narrators, myth-makers, fabulators and tellers of tales.
“Design, it is often said, is all about the visual. This is true in the sense that visual criteria are most often used to evaluate design, and that design is mainly taken in by the eye (there are those who would argue that the eye is often taken in by design as well). But to emphasise the visual quality of design is to miss another important aspect. Design is not just about the visual, it is also about narrative. Thomas Manss & Company are designers, but they are also – and more importantly – narrators, myth-makers, fabulators, tellers of tales. Why is this so? Because design is a language, is about communication, and any communication is implicitly a narrative.
The more complex the communication, the more complex the narrative. Narrative does not have here only the simple sense of a story, a sequence of related events. It is also used in the sense of connectedness, of a statement only being comprehensible because its context is understood.”
Without order there is no creativity.
The coach of the German national football team describes the delicate balance between discipline and inspiration that is required to make it to the top of the league table. However, this principle is not confined to the football pitch. Every design project needs elements of order for the surprising twists to be able to delight their audience.
So it comes as no surprise that Ordnung, a German sense of order, and a dash of English eccentricity have long been the hallmarks of our designs. While we practice the principle every day, we cannot claim authorship for the wording. We owe this description of the Thomas Manss & Company brand of graphic design to Vitsœ’s Mark Adams who has coined the phrase in his verdict on working with Thomas: “We need a teutonic sense of Ordnung whilst longing for a splash of English eccentricity. Where else can one find such impeccable English-ness in a German who lives and works in London and manages to possess the virtues of both cultures without the vices?”
A good brand delivers the same experience whatever the medium.
The writer and design critic Conway Lloyd Morgan elaborates on the idea: "The original concept of corporate identity was simply an identifying mark: this concept became subsumed into the idea of branding, a much more complex notion involving the expression of a company’s ethos, beliefs and purposes, a statement of its mission. But on the way another concept got lost, that of the corporate character or personality. Not a personality in the sense of a visual cliché, like Michelin’s Bibendum or the Pilsbury dough boy, but a sense of roundedness or completion achieved by the totality of the way the company presents itself to the outside world, whether to customers, stakeholders or the general public.
This is not something that can be created by a single intervention, any more than we can get to know a person fully at a single meeting. It is a process that takes time and co-operation, and works best through a series of different projects rather than a single one, however long drawn-out, as this gives both client and designer the opportunity to look at the subject from a range of different perspectives."
Processes are good for making sausages, but they are no good for producing ideas.
What sounds like a story about lunch, is just that; a story about lunch with one of the great and good of graphic design, the co-founder of Wolff Olins, Michael Wolff.
How many times have we heard some account handler answering a client's concern about the creation of his identity: “Don't worry, we have a process.” This is the one thing big design companies always promise their clients.
I mentioned to Michael, that despite my 25 years of experience, I was still looking for a process that would deliver something like an original result. He said: “I am totally anti-process, processes are good for making sausages, but they are no good for producing ideas.”
Processes don't produce ideas, people do.
If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.
Compared to the hazards a burning oil well presents there is very little danger in graphic design. However, Paul Neal "Red" Adair's notion that it pays to seek professional help equally applies to the design industry.
Red Adair was a fire fighting legend who is best known as an innovator in the highly specialised profession of extinguishing blazing oil wells. Over the course of his career he battled more than 2,000 land and offshore oil and gas well fires. One of his most spectacular battles, fighting the 'Devil's Cigarette Lighter' – a 140m pillar of flame that burned for six months in the Algerian Sahara – even inspired the film 'Hellfighters' starring John Wayne.
Work & Play
As a designer I never work – all the time.
“Whereas most people's lives are divided between time spent earning money, and time spending it, designers generally lead a seamless existence in which work and play are synonymous.”
Fletcher's humorous take on the designer's life work balance should not detract from his sincerity when it comes to tackling a design brief. His oeuvre is testimony to Ferran Adrià's assertion that 'excellence comes only through sincerity' and the head chef of elBulli – voted best restaurant in the world for four years running – should know a thing or two about excellence.
Chefs share the same passion (and long working hours) for cooking that designers have for design. Neither is just a day job, they both are a way of life where intense periods of observation and learning are punctured by stretches of productive activity. To quote another famous creative, Laszlo Moholy Nagy describes this particular occupational hazard: “Designing is not just a profession but an attitude.”
Don't do anything that someone else can do.
One could accuse the American scientist and inventor Edwin Herbert Land of taking the idea of a unique product or service to the extreme. The co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation believed it was not worth undertaking a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible. He suspected that his personal motto might not fit everybody, but was never one to mince his words. When a shareholder once buttonholed Land about the bottom line, he responded, “The bottom line is in heaven.”
Land believed in a singular vision and shared his dislike for market research with Apple founder Steve Jobs. Asked by a reporter how much market research Apple had done before introducing the iPad, Jobs responded: “None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” While Land famously observed that “market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good”.