Is the Internet Sabotaging Good Design?

Did you see the new Airbnb logo? What did you think? Did you discuss it with your friends, share it on social media, send your opinions far and wide? How long did you look at it before you did this? Did you digest it, think about the elements that went into it, the lines, the concept, the meaning. Did you take time to consider your thoughts, maybe go back to it in a few days, let it settle and get used to it? Or did you put your initial, and probably negative, reaction out there straight away to try to be among the ‘first’ to comment? Did you compare it to things you’ve seen before, or to general objects, or simply deem it ‘unoriginal’ and ‘done’?

I’m guilty of some of the above. 

The truth is, with so much information and resource at our fingertips it’s easy to dismiss anything as ‘unoriginal’. It doesn’t mean the creator of the work has also seen what you have. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t create something that suited the brand and the piece. It simply means that there is something out there that is similar, and the whole world is in a hurry to point that out, and it seems like the more anger and bile in that response the further it gets. Brands get scared of these reactions. They kill good ideas and designs out of fear because of a vocal minority. 

We live in an instant world, and with that, instant judgement gets lumped in. Instant reactions. There is no time to mull or consider. We need to expel our feelings instantly rather than letting them settle or marinade. The advice goes “don’t say anything in the heat of the moment”. Try not to type it, either.

Think about some of the most iconic designs of the 20th century - the London Underground symbol, McDonalds golden arches, the New York Subway map, Bloomingdale’s Brown Bag. If these designs had been pitched in the current year, they would have been absolutely torn to pieces by commenters. Imagine the responses for each. ‘Red circle with a blue line through it? How is that dynamic? It has nothing to do with transport! It’s boring, it’s too simple, it’s not ‘London’ enough, etc.’ 

Michael Bieruit, protégée of the late, great designer Massimo Vignelli (creator of the New York subway map) made some excellent points on the current culture of instant perfection expected from design: 

"If you came to someone like me and said “Look I have lots of money to spend, I want the best logo in the world.” if I came back to you with a red triangle or a dot with a circle around it and said “I’ve thought about this a long time - here you go” you would say “What? How did I pay for this - my three year old can do that.”

The two logos he is referencing here are of course the ‘first ever’ logo for Bass Ale, and American superbrand Target, whose simple designs have been interpreted and honed over decades into familiar, well loved beacons of the brand. He goes on to outline the idea that logos and designs are merely vessels in which the values and associations that we develop over time fill with meaning. London Underground is an institution, it’s been around forever, it doesn’t need an introduction or a fancy logo because we all know that the pared back simplicity belies its true meaning. That meaning didn’t happen overnight of course, it has grown from small beginnings. 

When you create something, you release it out into the world and you relinquish that control to the masses. You can’t control how someone feels about your design. You can’t control what a company you have made a design for does in the future, or what associations people will develop with it, whether it’s something that fills them with trust or disgust. All you can do is your very best, err on the side of simplicity, and have confidence in your work - then let it go, to fulfil it’s potential. 

Perhaps we should all take a little more time to give design a chance, and not expect the world from these newborns - they haven’t yet had the chance to make their mark. 


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