The Power of the Vox Populi

The Power of the Vox Populi

There is a new trend that many designers dread… "Backlashing". Not that designers are oblivious or disregarding of the "populace" but nowadays the critic is a bit more acidic and it can turn very quickly into a "mob" effect. Because design is subjective and not a science, criticism is fierce. Clients have an opinion on how design should be or should look like, regardless of the concept or thought process behind it.

Last summer, the University of California launched a new identity. A bright gradiented C in a cleverly U shaped book. Behind the new monogram is the work of an in-house design team lead by creative director Vanessa Corrêa. The backlash was immediate with the university's students setting up a petition to remove the new branding. 54,000 signatures were gathered from student and alumni. And more came in through social media too. Various complainants felt that the monogram didn't fit with who the institution, the University Of California, is and they felt it was too corporate-looking and just ugly.

I think the Head of the University probably didn't communicate sufficiently prior to and at the time of the launch on the use of the new identity. Many thought mistakenly that it was replacing the UC seal. The monogram was not created to replace the seal. It was going to be used in marketing and online campaigns, while the seal will remain on all diplomas and all correspondence.

What shocks me here is how quick people are to react harshly when things change. No one likes change. I don't dislike the monogram, I've seen better in terms of branding but I find it dynamic and trendy. The same old idea in people's minds that to look elegant and to convey ‘revered institution’, it needs to use a serif font and look like a seal. A brand is more than just a logo, it's a tone of voice, persona, values… the logo just supports the brand image. What would've happened if people back in the days violently criticised the Nike logo or that of Coca-Cola?

I'm always very careful when criticising a design, making sure I bring constructive comments, not just "It looks ugly", yet again… this is subjective and not constructive. I am saddened by the University’s decision to remove the monogram. It's unsettling to think that these days, so much power is wielded by the crowd, when talking about something (design) they know little about.

Finally, sometimes I wish people/clients would see the designer's work as the plumber's, I wouldn't think about telling a plumber how to do his job because
I don't have the knowledge… But I prefer Vanessa Corrêa's quote when interviewed about the backlash:

"We live in a time when everyone feels that their opinion matters. And the reality is that not all opinions are equal... When it comes to, for example, physics, my voice is not the same as Stephen Hawking's, nor should it be."


29 January 2013

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