Phantom Logos

Have you ever had a condition that you were afraid to talk to anyone about? Good, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Some (my wife) might say that I’m a hypochondriac, which I know is a very serious (that’s right I said very serious) condition that will eventually lead to my end. I’m too afraid to even look it and its symptoms up online.

She says this because I once thought I had rabies. I still stand by my thoughts, which seemed to be a perfectly rational conclusion after being bitten by a raccoon. I would say I wish I did have rabies, just to prove it to her, but I don’t want to jinx myself. Did I say I was bitten by a raccoon?!

Back to my current condition, I’ve been thinking I was losing my mind. At times I felt things that were unnatural. I better bring this home before it really gets weird.

I have phantom vibration syndrome. I call it PVS. I have a work phone and a personal phone. Both are very busy. I primarily keep them on vibrate and one in each of my front pockets. There are times I hear one of my phones vibrating. I reach in my pocket, and my phone is elsewhere. I don’t even have to hear it. Sometimes my thigh simply vibrates. (Insert you own joke here.) It happens on a very regular basis, even after my diagnosis. It wasn’t until I heard about this on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and I looked it up online that I felt I could tell someone else about it, including you. Now I feel normal again. Paul, you are on your own.

According to a USA Today article, “Phantom cell phone vibrations can be explained by neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to form new connections in response to changes in the environment. When cell phone users regularly experience sensations, such as vibrating, their brains become wired to those sensations.” I like this because it also proves to my wife that I have a brain. I may have not had rabies, but at least I now have proof that I do have a brain. The sad part is that there are no treatments available at this time for PVS, but I plan on persevering.

The cool part about PVS is that the brain draws connections to something that may be absent. This can come into play in interpretation and design as well. We ask visitors to make their own conclusions and fill in their own blanks all the time. In fact, we encourage it. Storytelling and personal interpretation are great at exercising the brain.

We know graphic design is capable of this. A few logos that I have recently seen do this as well.

A Kolner Zoo in Germany well know for its elephants capitalized on that in there counter-form logo (I would normally say negative space but Paul constantly warns me not to be unnecessarily pessimistic).

Lands originally owned by the royal family for hunting, the Royal Parks have a modern identity that represents the natural and cultural side. They even have a cool winter version of the the logo currently on their website.

My Fonts is a website that we have discussed here on IBD, used ourselves, and shared in many presentations. I love the hidden counter form here. It is so friendly.

This is the second elephantesque logo in this post. I like this one as well. Elefont is software tool that aides in the creation of fonts.

Hold on. I’ve gotta run, my leg just vibrated.

The 76ers New Mascot: You Are Not Reading This

It’s the day after Christmas, so the chances that you are reading this have never been lower, even considering that I once wrote a post about letter spacing. So given that you are off doing meaningful things with your family instead of reading this, I’m going to take this opportunity to write about the new mascot of the Philadelphia 76ers. (That’s a basketball team, in case you were wondering.) (Basketball is the one with the bouncing orange ball, in case you were wondering that, too.)

The 76ers, named for the number of fans they have in attendance during each home game, have never been known for their sophisticated design sensibilities. In the early 1990s, Sixers player Charles Barkley said this about his team’s new uniforms: “They look like my daughter got ahold of some crayons and designed them.”

Recently, the team asked fans to vote on a new mascot to replace their old mascot, Hip Hop. Hip Hop, pictured above, is notable for being unbearably stupid, possibly the worst mascot in all of sports, and that’s saying something because there are a lot of bad sports mascots (all of them but two, by my count). Anyway, the three new choices the 76ers presented were not much better than Hip Hop. According to a story on ESPN, “A poll by the local ABC affiliate found more than half of voters opting for ‘None of the above.'”

The first choice is “Big Ben,” modeled after Philadelphia hero Ben Franklin, if Ben Franklin were played by a drunken Nick Nolte in a sleeveless undershirt.

Choice number two is B. Franklin Dogg (“The extra G is for ‘Gah, what is that thing?'”). B. Dogg is basically what you’d get if McGruff the Crime Dog and Poochy from the Simpsons got together and had a puppy.

The final choice is “Phil E. Moose,” who, if he is selected as the new mascot, will be the first moose within 300 miles of the city.

We talk a lot on this site about the importance of design decisions being meaningful. I’d argue that the three mascot options the Sixers presented failed precisely because they were not meaningful. The moose and the dog(g) really have nothing to do with anything related to basketball or the 76ers. And while Benjamin Franklin is iconic of the city, I don’t think anyone wants to see him belittled in a tank top or a circus costume.

Personally, I think it would be fine with most fans if the 76ers did not have a mascot at all, because, as I mentioned above, most mascots are terrible. The only two who are not unbearably annoying are the Phillie Phanatic (by far the best) and the San Diego Chicken (a distant second). Also, mascots in NBA basketball are a bit superfluous because any break in the action is filled with fans taking half-court shots for a lifetime supply of turtle wax, short guys doing weird acrobatic routines with trampolines and basketballs, and “dance” teams performing routines that make parents shield their children’s eyes

But if the Sixers are determined to have a mascot, I hope they’ll listen the growing legion of fans calling for the return of Muppet-ish guy Big Shot, pictured here, who was retired by the team in 1996. I’m not sure why he appeals to me. Must be that we have the same physique and hair color.

Now get back to your families. Happy holidays!

The NAI 2012 logo: Not literal

It’s been two weeks since the NAI National Workshop in Saint Paul ended, which means one thing: We’re counting down to next year’s workshop in Hampton, Virginia, November 13-17. (Also, we’ve almost gotten the smell of lutefisk out of our hair.)

I lived in Richmond, Virginia, an hour or two down the road from Hampton, for basically the entire 1990s, so I entered into designing the logo for NAI 2012 with a sense of the place. My first thought was that the logo should feature a steady stream of cars hurtling at 70 miles per hour along Interstate 64 and disappearing suddenly and horrifyingly into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. This idea was borne from repeated and horrifying trips that I used to take across and/or through the 3.5-mile-long Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel between Richmond and the beach. (Thanks to the Virginia Department of Transportation for the horrifying photo I’ve used here.)

There’s a lot going on in Hampton that would make great fodder for a logo. The region is rich in Native American heritage, Colonial history, a contemporary military culture, and an abundance of natural beauty. I briefly flirted with the idea of coming up with a cartoon character like a blue crab in a three-cornered hat, but as a designer, I felt my chief responsibility in coming up with a logo for NAI 2012 was to exercise restraint. (I’ve always said that a logo is the face of an identity system, not the entire body.) It would be all too easy in trying to literally represent all of the noteworthy aspects of the Chesapeake Bay area for the logo to degenerate into a cluttered mess—or worse yet, a collage. (There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than a collage masquerading as a logo.)

So I started with this image of the Chesapeake Bay from a site called My Desktop Wallpapers. Of all the photos I found online of the area, I chose this one because it most closely reflected my memories of the sunlit skies over the bay.

I imported the photo into one of my favorite color-palette websites, Kuler, and it generated the palette pictured above. (I wrote a post about Kuler way back in March 2009 here.)

While I was not trying to literally represent natural and cultural features of the area, I certainly wanted to suggest them. Guided by a theme settled on by our Workshop committee, “Chesapeake Reflections,” I used the palette above and typographic composition to mimic a sunrise over water. I chose to juxtapose a handwriting typeface and a bold, architectural-feeling sans serif to represent the diversity of cultural heritage in the area.

Based on feedback on the first draft, I darkened the colors a little (particularly the yellow-orange of “NAI 2012”) and changed the handwriting typeface to one with more of a historical feeling—as though it could be from a 17th-century explorer’s journal.

One note on the type: I felt that the zero character in this typeface (on the left) was too intrusive, so I changed it to a lower-case O (on the right), which I feel works better and is a little more visually interesting.

As the art director for an organization of individuals who interpret an incredible diversity of nature and culture, I try to strike a balance in everything I do. I try to be careful that our magazine, Legacy, does not focus too heavily on either nature or culture. When I go looking for photos or other visual elements for our publications, I try to be sure that for every photo of a stream or a mountain, that there’s an image that represents the cultural heritage that NAI members interpret. (And vice versa.)

In the end, some people liked what we ended up with for the NAI 2012 logo, and some people wanted it to say more. However, in designing the logo, I decided that trying to fairly represent all of the natural and cultural resources in the Hampton area (or even some nature and some culture) would result in a logo that was too cluttered. Ultimately, it was my responsibility to settle on abstractions rather than literal representations.

That said, I still plan to use images of the great natural and cultural heritage we’ll find in Virginia next year—just not as part of the logo. If you go to the Workshop website right now, you’ll find three photos in the banner at the top. These will change throughout the year. Right now, there are two natural features depicted (seagulls and a horseshoe crab) and one cultural (a boat), but if you keep score between now and next November, I bet you’ll find that the final tally will be pretty close to even.

And when we’re actually in Hampton, I can tell you one place I won’t be going: That scary bridge-tunnel.

Truckload of Turkey…logos

I have to say that I was inspired this week. Perhaps you heard the story of rappers Lil Wayne and Birdman coming home to New Orleans, Louisiana to pass out a truckload of turkeys, to those less fortunate. In an MTV online article Wayne was quoted saying, “Now it’s a totally different feeling, because I can actually give you that and say, ‘Here, happy Thanksgiving.’ I can do that, and I can provide that for you. That’s a different feeling in general, and it’s a beautiful feeling overall.” (Paul, that doesn’t require editing, even though it may look like my writing.)

I wanted to have a “beautiful feeling overall,” so I decided to pass out turkeys today. The problem is, this blog has not made me as wealthy as the songs Lolipop or Drop the World, and this is a interpretive design blog. But for the record I’m still so street. Instead of mailing turkeys to the twelve people that read this today, it is my plan to share with you a smorgasbord (yes, that’s gangsta nomenclature, though the word nomenclature is not) of turkey logos. Here they are:

Okay, so maybe that’s less like a smorgasbord and more of an appetizer. There aren’t many turkey logos out there. I did qualify my search by avoiding the easy finds of food companies. As a birder (not to be confused with Birdman), I like the more realistic representations.

If anything this post has done it has made you thankful. Thankful that it is over. Paul and I both wish you a happy Thanksgiving. We are both thankful to have you as an audience.