Aug 26, 2009

Graphic Homicide

Another victim of bad design.

Rarely do I talk about local design issues. But recently an article in a local news paper about a logo design demonstrated a text book case of how design can go so very wrong.

In order for you the blog reader to fully understand the context in which I'll be critiquing this design, I encourage you to go read the short article here. Or if the news paper decides to remove it you can download a PDF of the article here.

Diagraming a graphic homicide.

Design Crime Notes

Overall: This is a bad design period the end. It's not "Kinda OK" or "Not that bad" it's a victim of bad design, a graphic homicide if you will.

There isn't a distinct graphic tone for this design. It's all over the stylistic map in such an incoherent manner that it's no surprise that a board DID facilitate it.

The lack of a distinct hierarchy in the design makes for a very schizophrenic end result as well. Everything is competing for attention, which kind of reflects the board approval process it's gone through as well I suppose. Various factions all playing art director trying to get their element integrated.

I think there is too many visual compenents to begin with, but if it's mandatory to include a mountain, fish, and flowers than spend the time to weave them together in a compelling well crafted manner. What you have here is at best a mishmash design, which again may just be a reflection of the board mentality?

But the blame cannot rest on the board alone. A designer has to play a proactive roll in any creative process, not be intimidated by a client and help steer a board in the right direction. So the problem is two fold IMO. No agency, just in house designers with very little leverage and a swarm of board members who fancy themselves as art directors.

A. Photographic Elements: These glorified web graphics are unnecessary saddle bags full of bad design chops. They've been fused onto an already poorly crafted motif like love handles on a middle aged balding board member. Sure, some might find them cute, but realistically they are just visual fat that impedes the design health.

B. Typography Choice: The choice of the Optima typeface adds to the visual tension since the font itself has been referred to as a centrist font trying to merge characteristics of serif and sans serif typefaces. The fact it's hay day was in the mid 1970's makes the mark look dated from the get go.

C. Clip-Art: Like water and oil this art doesn't swim with the rest of the graphics stylistically, thus repelling each other. The so-called native american inspired graphic looks like something a hack designer would pull from an Art Explosion CD. It feels like clip-art because it's poorly illustrated and executed.

D. Mountain: At first I didn't see a mountain. I saw a green shark getting ready to eat a black fish. The saw tooth graphic is another weak attempt at native american style, and instead it adds unnecessary complexity. The rendering of the mountain is lame as well and the graphic birth mark they inserted on it's interior will just look like a hickey at smaller sizes. Brilliant!

In Closing: It's only taken this board two years to get this design result. If government can't initiate a logo design, why do we think it can run health care? (I digress.) The board needs to stop playing art director, stop using hack designers, and hire a legit agency to produce a professional solution.

The eventual eye sore.

If any board member or local citizen reads this post I challenge you to encourage our local leadership to put out an RFP to local design firms and let us show you how the creative process can produce a well crafted and creative design solution for the water tower. It won't take two years and it'll look professional.

The following is an opinion piece I wrote and submitted to the local paper in response to the water tower logo story. I hope they run it, but I won't hold my breath.

50 Miles From Good Design

What separates good design from bad design? Apparently 50 miles.

One could argue that the Pacific Northwest is a design mecca when it comes to communication arts. Portland of all cities in Oregon understands and values good design. Just drive around the city and it's hard not to see examples of it everywhere you go. Because of this attention to design Portland is globally-renowned for it's design community.

When a graphic logo is needed local Portland leaders and businesses appropriately turn to the local design community and lean on professional agencies to create what they need and the end result is creative, well crafted, and this reflects positively on Portland as a whole.

Public transportation has a nice "TriMet" logo and when Portland developed a new premiere shopping center they turned to a local design firm and produced the "Bridgeport Village" logo.

But for some reason if you travel a mere 50 miles south the attitude towards design changes and you have a city like Keizer producing the antithesis in "Keizer Station." Don't get me wrong the shopping experience is fine, I'm speaking in regard to the aesthetic of their logo, the design is bad and doesn't reflect the quality of the shopping experience.

Like Portland, the Keizer and Salem community have many talented design agencies they could be calling upon to produce well crafted and creative professional solutions for their graphic needs. Instead however Keizer chooses to create a logo design for their latest water tower graphic without tapping any local agency. You can view it here.

If you compare the quality of this water tower logo with that of Portland's "Park Smart" logo, you'll see the difference between good and bad design produced on behalf of an Oregon city. Portland values it and Keizer leadership has no clue.

Why is it that Portland design trumps Keizer design?

Portland values design, there fore they value the designers producing it and depend upon them and their agencies to guide and facilitate the creative process.

Keizer on the other hand, didn't hire any agency and instead has taken two years of board meetings and a fragmented design process to create what they now have which is at best unprofessional and at worse will reflect poorly upon the city when it's plastered on a 200 ft. water tower.

The good news is this can all be easily corrected. Keizer and Salem like Portland can have the same high standards of design appreciation and benefit from it too. It just takes leadership who'll acknowledge their own lack of understanding when it comes to the design process and realize they need to stop playing art director and be wise leaders by hiring a local design agency to give Keizer and it's community what they deserve, good design.


Professional Flirt said...

You should post a link on the Statesman Journal's web site, on the page about the tower:

Jake said...

I know exactly how you feel.

Recently, my hometown put up a billboard advertising our resturants, shops, etc. This is our city's only billboard. It stands right at the off-ramp that goes into our little town and is supposed to draw people in. Instead of hiring a graphic designer (like me), the city council proudly stated in the local newspaper that they would "save money" and do it themselves. Months later, they put up some last-minute nasty crap. It had an ugly illustration, way too many colors, and an ugly font. Everyone I know, artists and non-artists, hate it.

Here's the billboard:
(scroll down just a little)

It was like a 5-car pile up. You don't want to look, but you and the other drivers can't help but rubber-neck it the whole time.

thorens said...

God bless Joe Everyclient, whose nephew does art on the side. (Indeed, another design travesty)

Drew said...

Well said sir. Well said.

kerrie said...

Yikes! I've done some utter garbage* in my day, I'll admit, but yikes! Just wrong on so many levels.

*I was young, inexperienced, I didn't know, I swear!!

My husband used to do signage as a living and one of his last clients ultimately had their coffee-roaster design the sign instead of my husband who had at the time nearly 8 years of signage experience. It was the only coffee shop in our neighborhood but we boycotted it right up until they went out of business. He still juts an angry fist their way every time we pass by.

Vin Thomas said...

Wow. That is pretty bad. I hope it doesn't go through...

The Amazing Cosmo said...

Wow, that is horrible. Great critique though, Von! If the "logo" does make its way onto the water tower, I hope you don't have to see it everyday during a daily commute. That would be enough for me to relocate!

Tyler said...

Well thought out, well articulated article on the perils of poor design. It's just a shame that your message got cheapened at the end by unnecessary political commentary.

Vonster said...


I could care less if someone has a (D) or an (R) next to their name. I just don't want to live in a nanny state being run by folks who can't even coordinate a graphic for a water tower.


jzombiemom said...

Wow, it looks like someone just highjaked a bunch of random images from Google and pasted them together on Photoshop, there is no consistency!

Niki said...

I agree with every part of your article except for the overall assumption that it couldn't have been bad had it been with an agency vs. in-house. There are quite a few extremely talented and vocal in-house designers that would not have let this happen as well.

Beth said...

My god... I really, really feel for the people living there. That's a special kind of awful.

Vonster said...


My main point or as best as I could explain within the news papers limited framework of 500 words for opinion pieces was one of process.

The process is flawed and most agencies have a well established process that knows how to deal with problematic political bureaucrats that love to meddle in areas they shouldn't.

Most in house designers don't, but that's not to say they can't.


Justin Self said...

This article could've been less about "Keizer needs good design" and mroe about *why* good design benefits various entities and ultimately the city -- and "why", beyond it reflecting better on the city. Else it just seems like an industry vet is saying "hey, you need this too" while the city says "why?" but doesn't have the answer. They should know why.

Vonster said...


It's hard to write an exhaustive apologetic when you have 500 words to do so. Sure I'd love to write a four part article about the benefit from good design and dive into the "Why." But this had to address a current issue specifically so I stayed on target with the context.


mj said...

Ah, design by committee. I'd recognize it anywhere. I feel bad for all parties involved. The board that suffers from delusions that they're designers, the designers who were probably beat into submission by the board, and then everyone else who has to look at it.

Elsy Aumann said...

Your are a genius! I woke up thinking success and thought of you... what a great source of inspiration to start the day. Thank you Von!