Incongruity Theory, The Power of the Unexpected, and Why We Love Alyssa Milano

Paul and I try to be funny much more than we actually succeed at it. Since this blog is moderately connected to our professional lives we take caution in some of the jokes we make. You have to be careful when trying to be funny. It is a fine line between keeping someone from asking “What’s the point?” and saying “I’m offended.” (Both are common responses to this blog.) (Okay, maybe some of you didn’t find that funny, though it is not offensive, except to Paul.)

Many comedians follow the incongruity theory. Here at IBD, we write what comes to mind and deal with consequences for several months by seeking apologies delivered in public venues, through various forms of media.

To use incongruity correctly, you must take the reader down a logical path of thinking and then shock them with the unexpected by suddenly taking them a different direction. This is usually done by including something that doesn’t normally go with the logical path, which in turn forms a punch line. The more convincing the lead in, building the anticipation, and how diametrically opposed the punch line is to the build-up, the better the chance you have of getting a laugh. That is without offending or leaving those asking what or why.

Here’s an example of something you wouldn’t expect: Alyssa Milano Tweeted a link to IBD’s new (“awesome”) NFL flowchart yesterday. Turns out she is well-known for her love of sports, writes a blog about baseball, is a vegetarian and a philanthropist (we appreciated her generous donation to our cause), and played Samantha on the ’80s television series Who’s the Boss. She even wrote a book titled Safe at Home: Confessions of a Baseball Fanatic. (Now she has to admit to every celebrity’s most-feared confession: She has read Interpretation By Design.)

Why can’t the theory of incongruity be applied to design? I think this may be the case in the new logo of the Tate Museum in London. It’s not that the logo has a punch line, but the design isn’t what you wouldn’t necessarily expect for a museum or for a professionally designed logo.

According to the Wolff Olins design firm, the concept behind the design was charged with connecting four museum sites through a visual identity “into something new: not traditional institutions, but exciting destinations.”

The website goes on to say:

Wolff Olins created the Tate brand, under the idea “look again, think again”: both an invitation and a challenge to visitors. We designed a range of logos that move in and out of focus, suggesting the dynamic nature of Tate – always changing but always recognizable.

I find the logo interesting and unique. Though it doesn’t conform to the rules that apply to the production of most logos, it does maintain simplicity and versatility, and reflects the modern nature of the collection. I would say that this incongruious approach is effective. Not to mention that since the new identity was implemented, it has since become the most popular modern art gallery in the world.

This can’t all be credited to the logo. The only thing that I can think that could help improve their visitation now is a Tweet by Alyssa Milano.

Get to Know Some Colors! Black and White are Colors

First, let’s dispense with the nonsense: Everyone who saw the headline of this post and said, “But [black or white] is not a color! It’s the absence of all colors!” you are free to go. I suggest that you spend the rest of your day here.

For those of you still here, I’m glad we can agree that black and white are both colors. All of those people who just left would have told you that black is not a color (and white is the presence of all colors) when you think about color as light frequencies, and that white is not a color (and that black is the presence of all colors) when you think about color in terms of physical pigments (like paint or ink). You can see more about this on the Color Matters website.

But let me ask you this: If one of those geeks is wearing a black (or white) T-shirt, and you ask them what color it is, would they tell you it’s not a color?

In terms of cultural associations, black and white are quintessentially opposite, as represented in the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol. In many cultures, black is associated with evil, mourning, power, and Johnny Cash. White is associated with light, purity, innocence, and Madonna (the Christian religious figure, not the musician). Of course, as always, these associations vary across cultures (for instance, white is the color of mourning is China).

Black is the color of famous fictional villains such as Dracula, Darth Vader, and the Oakland Raiders. White is worn by brides, medical professionals, scientists, and me between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In martial arts, the black belt signifies the highest rank, while the white belt represents someone who would run screaming from the person with the black belt.

In design, black and white are considered neutral, but they have starkly different effects. While it’s true that black and white are technically neutral, I have always considered black to be cool and white to be warm. (I wish I had some reference to point you to so that I could back that up, but I don’t.) Part of the reason for this is that black shares traits and associations with cool colors (it’s somber and subdued), while white has a lot in common with warm colors (it’s bright and energetic).

In this Polo Black ad and others like it, the color black (that’s right, geeks, I said it) is mysterious and sophisticated (not to mention dreamy).

Apple has used a white backdrop as a part of its visual identity for years to convey friendliness, openness, and accessibility. The famous Volkswagen Beetle ads from the 1960s and ’70s used white the same way.

In the end, even though most graphic designers use black and white more than any other colors, it’s easy to overlook their importance as design elements (probably because they are so prevalent). Once you accept that black and white are indeed colors, the next step is to carefully consider the substantial impact they have on your communication.

And if anyone tries to tell you that black and white are not colors, ask them what colors a zebra is.