October 11, 2010

Intro to Design Communication: Week 1

I started taking an evening class at California College of the Arts (CCA) last week titled, "Introduction to Design Communication", which will cover various topics in visual communication, as its printed, stamped, illustrated, digitized, screened, or in some other non-verbal way presented to an audience. The first class was introductory and covered some basic concepts, terminology, and the course schedule. It also highlighted something most of us, including myself, take for granted: visual design is everywhere, someone is responsible for making those design decisions, and the final product has a huge impact on how effective we understand and remember its intended message(s). If you try to think of some examples of visual design you encounter in a random day, you'd probably consider web sites, t-shirt graphics, billboards, magazine ads, and book covers. But visual design it also part of every traffic sign, "Lost Cat" flyer (see Missing Missy for a laugh), and packaging label on the snacks in your pantry and toiletries in your bathroom. It's an important part of corporate identity (think logos and other media) and certainly helps shape a consumer's opinion about how a company runs its business and what image a patron adopts. It's used in safety and instruction manuals (cheers to IKEA manuals for their brilliant internationalization), annual tax forms, and while a bad design decision might not cost a life, it could call into question a decision that shapes a nation's future.

Our first assignment was simple: select 2 or 3 examples of visual design that are comment worthy. One of the most striking examples of bad design I've ever come across was on a recent flight in Europe on Niki, the budget companion airline to Air Berlin. Their corporate logo is a busted looking bug. I saw this on the safety manual when aboard the plane and it immediately caught my attention. I could draw something better with my toes! My first thought was this had to be some special anniversary logo contributed by the FlyNiki children's art contest for the artistically challenged. I still think this is the only plausible explanation, but I've never confirmed. I did, however, see this monstrosity on other planes, so it wasn't a single prank. Ignoring the jagged lines and color clashing, why does this bug have a horn coming out of his eye? Or perhaps Niki's goal was to aim for fantasy, which would help explain why it has only 3 legs (no known animal species today has only three legs). This doesn't meet my expectation of professionalism for Fisher-Price, and certainly not an airline. I have a logo montage for Niki here, but it might be safer to just view a single image:

I decided to keep with the airline theme and included two more logo examples that I actually like. The first is for Southwest, another budget airline based in the U.S. Southwest Airlines is famous for its cheap fares, friendly (and often teasing) staff, and good service, being the only remaining US airline that doesn't charge for checked baggage or fees for flight changes. I think the primary colors and basic symbolism in their logo match a friendly and casual company persona (montage here):

And then there is Swiss Airlines, whose logo conjures the same virtues of precision, quality, and simplicity one expects from anything Swiss Made. No frills, no curves, no flashy colors, or distracting animal. Just red, white, and the point of it all in clear text. I love it (more here).

[Update: Nasko just pointed me to this fabulous post about the evolution of the Swiss Air logo. Like the author, I'm partial to the 1950's logo.]

What piece of visual design caught your eye today? What message did it communicate and did it do a good job at it?


Keenan said...

Icon design is a nice problem in this domain, especially since "good design" is almost quantifiable (did the user click on the right icon, and how long did it take them?). There's a nice article on mistakes in icon design here -- localization/universality is particularly interesting to think about:

Asirap said...

Very interesting article! I know of a few anecdotal examples of Google UIs needing design overhauls to fit localized preferences. For example, when I visited our Seoul office, some engineers there told me the plain homepage and more basic UIs for our English web apps typically look unfinished to many Koreans (e.g. Google Korea Homepage redesign).

BTW, I'm enjoying looking at your recent eye candy research. And congrats on the Masters and fellowship!