Logo Design Blog

Under the Swooshtika

One might be forgiven for thinking that the recent past was some kind of Golden Age of corporate identity design. What with the dot-coms and other New Economy companies springing up by their techno-optimistic thousands, many a young designer was handed a rich, once-in-a-career opportunity to limn a new company’s graphic identity from Square One.

What many of these companies had in common, of course, was their desire to be seen as futuristic, dynamic, global, connected, fast – you know, kinda swooshy. At least that’s what must have gone into the creative briefs all those designers got handed by the various marketing departments in question, because that’s what they cranked out: swooshes by the Illustrator’d gigabyte, none of which bore up under the weight of their overdetermination.

The banana slug that ate the world

Oh, there’s the iconic original, Carolyn Davidson’s 1971(!) banana-slug-shaped morsel for Nike; in the form of its streamlined update of the mid-1980s, I’d buy that a reasonable cross-section of the global audience actually relates it to the qualities it’s supposed to evoke. But all those others? All those thousands of swooshes, half of which probably belonged to companies that dropkicked their second round of funding and shuddered to ahalt before their first year was out? How precisely were these arcs supposed to differentiate themselves from the competition?

Especially since each one was a sure sign of non-dynamism, of stasis and intellectual sloth, in exactly the same way an executive bragging about his (and it is generally a “he”) ability to think “outside the box” is revealing himself to be incapable of any such thing.

Faced with each new iteration, asked to buy into its assertion of vim and vip and vigor, I begin to feel like a citizen of a malign hegemony – one of the Aeron-chaired masses laboring joylessly under the sign of the swooshtika, muttering imprecations against the flapping of its ubiquitous banners, yet never publicly questioning the happyfaced official doublethink of swooshy dynamism.

Things aren’t that bad, I can hear you saying. They’re just logos, after all. Well: yes and no. Despite the recent turbulence, we live in a triumphalist age for capital. In the late-capitalist world – and not much of this pretty sphere remains off that particular grid – corporate identity is much of the fabric of our daily lives. We’re bombarded with something like 3,000 marketing messages on the average day: logos, yes, and jingles too. Taglines and catchphrases, undigested prejudices and vaguer preferences. This stuff matters.

Defining the terms

So what this will not be is another essay mocking all the myriad swooshes, jumping men, blue-green color combos, or the like – by now, each has been well and truly hammered down by the Web design community. The concern here – since for better or worse we’re not going to leave capitalism behind anytime soon – is simply to beg all you marketing types for a more inspired generation of corporate identity design brief, in the hopes that your designers will have more room to breathe and evolve. And just maybe they’ll throw something your way that’s more inspiring (and makes more of a difference to the bottom line) than yet another swoosh.

Now, I know a little bit about marketing; it [edit: used to be!] my day job, much as I loathe it. I know that all too often the prime imperative is offend no one. Of course, offending nobody also means inspiring nobody. I’d rather win the fanatic loyalty of a small but utterly dedicated user base than the tepid acquiescence of the masses. And that means escaping the neat one-to-ten scales of your focus groups, going beyond anything you were taught in b-school, and diving heartfirst into a way of thinking about identity that is rooted in emotion.

Think about the brands that transcend brand, the products and identities that arouse a neurochemical trickle of glee or delight or desire. For myself, there’s the VW Beetle. Michelin’s M. Bibendum. Victorinox’ Swiss Army Knife (and knife alone, not the wretched heap of me-too products they’ve slapped with the icon in hopes that its aura would rub off.) Apple and its Mac, of course. London Transport. I still remember Pan Am fondly, with yet-unextinguished dreams of its service to the Moon. And for a little while there, at least while they were on top of their game, I’d go all foggy and murmur, “Mmmmm…Prada,” any time I brushed the silversexy surface of one of their garments between thumbtip and index finger.

That’s just my collection of triggers. You may prefer Harley-Davidson or Absolut or, god help us, Polo, but you know what I’m talking about:

People have IBM Thinkpads, but they positively stroke their iBooks. They use Leatherman tools, but they write odes to their Swiss Army knives. They may drive Honda Civics, but they name their Beetles (old or new.) I bet you’ve got a similar story, of a product that reached way, way beyond the mere outlines of utility, all the way into the deep end of emotion.

Love vs. the swoosh

Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts calls brands like these “lovemarks,” and v-2 thinks that’s entirely apropos, even if the phrase sounds a wee bit sado-porn. If there have to be products in the world, and corporations to sell them and lay claim to the contents of our dreams, at least let them be well-crafted, with euphonious names – no more Scient/Aquent/Viant/Agilents! (I’ve got a million-ton beatdown waiting right here for the next consultant that tries that one.)

More, let the identity be executed with feeling, with a viewpoint and a voice, with the will to offend some that it may inspire others. (Can I tell you how wonderful it is to visit Roberts’ Lovemarks website, see phrases like “bullshit detector” and “fuck-you attitude,” and realise that – far from coming off as sophomoric gestures – they’re fresh and astringent as a bleach wash, against the hegemonic tide of focus-grouped dullspeak you expect on a corporate site?)

Yes, this plea is a long, long way from the hurled cobblestones of May 1968, and it’s not exactly Seattle either. Some will doubtless feel that all the above is little more than an exhausted capitulation to global capital. But at the very least, please – let there be no more swooshes.

Adam Greenfield. ©2004 v-2 Organisation

Tags: ,

More ∇

No comments yet.

Leave a Comment

Remember to play nicely folks, nobody likes a troll.