By James Kape
These days everyone seems to have an opinion about graphic design. Some classify good graphic design as something they can’t create themselves, design that’s aesthetically complex or looks like it was really hard to make. Whilst others think literal visualizations are the most successful—it’s sometimes easier to relate to a mark (or logo) when it’s plainly representative of the product or service the brand provides. So what’s the answer? Does a logo need to be complicated or literal to be accepted by the public eye? And how much should public opinion affect a designer’s final output?
“Graphic Design — Now in Production” is an exhibition currently on show at Governors Island in New York City. An exploration of graphic design over the last fifteen years, the works within the exhibition cover the rise of user-generated content, alternative methods of printing and distribution, the wide dissemination of creative software, and the new opportunities that have emerged as a result.
One of the most interesting parts of the showcase can be found just outside the primary exhibition space. Here, members of the public are invited and encouraged to share their opinions on recently updated corporate identities like the New York Public Library, Nickelodeon and Wolff Olins’ very own fresh take on AOL. Viewers are presented with two logos—one from before and the other from after the company was rebranded. Then, they’re asked to vote on their favorite version.
As a designer myself, and an observer at the exhibit, it was really interesting to see what criteria led to the more popular mark! For example, one spectator spent considerable time deliberating over the new Comedy Central logo, in the end his preference lay with the original rendition. “I like those buildings, the details, it looks tricky to draw… I could have made the new logo with my eyes shut.” It seemed most judged on execution, if it was something they felt they could have done themselves the other mark wins.
At a recent AIGA event about the exhibition, Michael Bierut of Pentagram joked to the audience “I was curious to see how often people voted wrong.” Whilst this may be the case, there’s definitely something bigger at work. The success of this exhibition demonstrates the importance of a mark’s ability to engage with the public at large, and not just the design cognoscenti.
Graphic Design — Now In Production is currently on show until September 3, building 110, Governors Island.
James Kape is a designer at Wolff Olins.