Friday, April 17, 2009

Logos Redux

Uncareful readers concluded that the Chowhound logo atop my entry about logo creation was placed there to serve as an example of a logo whipped up according to the suggestion described in that entry - though I made fairly clear that it was not. Many commenters, both below the entry and here, seemed to dismiss my suggestion (that graphic designers are better for polishing ideas than for generating them) mostly on the basis for their dislike of the Chowhound logo. 

Actually, our logo was created by an experienced professional. The torturous (for us and for her) experience of achieving a result that fit our bill was what led me to look for other ways to handle these sorts of collaborations.

It's always amused me to hear contempt expressed for Chowhound's original logo and general design. There's a fallacy involved. As I replied to one commenter (testily, because he'd been particularly harsh):
"The function of graphics for commercial use is not to impress graphics people. Its purpose is to set a tone and demarcate a brand for a given market. Chowhound reached nearly a million people and became a nationally-known brand with a marketing budget of exactly zero. A great many people grew emotionally attached to the brand as soon as they came through our door, and identified with it quite strongly.

All along, graphics pros such as yourself denigrated our design (totally their right, of course!). But I'd say the design was awesome....not to impress the likes of you, but to accomplish our goal: to attract and engage a vast number of eaters of a certain stripe. THAT'S what a (good) graphic designer does. A bad designer designs to please other designers. 
An analogy can be made to music. In composing his chorales, JS Bach invented modern four part harmony. His methods were subsequently analyzed and formulated into a series of rules which have been rigorously followed for centuries. Interestingly, Bach himself broke those "rules" repeatedly! His chorales, judged according to this abstract framework, weren't very "good"! 

Of course, Bach wasn't trying to compose "correct" chorales, he was following his muse to achieve a result that would foster a certain effect. That's an important distinction! Similarly, our logo wasn't crafted as an exercise in logo creation; the intention was to make a certain impression on our audience. And it worked! Many logo professionals deem it a "bad" logo...and thank goodness none of them had whipped us up one of their "good" ones! 

Even artistic types usually learn to do what they do by following dry rules and precepts which, in and of themselves, have nothing to do with the magic of the creation process. Over the course of their training they become thoroughly immersed in these rules and systems, and come to lose touch with the magic that had originally attracted them. A puppet show can no longer be appreciated when only the strings are paid attention to! 

I know expert chefs unable to appreciate the simple goodness of a perfectly boiled potato because there are no skills to gauge - no techniques one can sink one's teeth into. They've lost touch with deliciousness and been caught up with cookery; with stagecraft. That is, alas, how most supposedly creative people wind up.

I'd never want to listen to a four part chorale created to pass the muster of music teachers. And I certainly never wanted a logo designed to wow designers. This is why, per my previous entry, I've learned to launch all collaborations (except those where I'm lucky enough to work with inspired mavericks) with my own creative visions, no matter how crude and sloppy. 

My view that most designers are uncreative is confirmed whenever one of them gauges a logo's success not via its track record in doing what a logo's supposed to do, but via their own disconnected, "inside baseball" criteria.

There's another dynamic to consider. A number of Chowhound elements turned off some people. But Chowhound, unlike most media operations, never aimed for the largest and broadest possible audience. In fact, we actively tried to filter our audience, to preserve the expert nature of our user-generated content, rather than have it dilute into a mass market slurry of Olive Garden testimonials (see this series for much more information). I noticed, over time, that when disdain was expressed for our logo, "mission statement", and overall tone and vibe, it almost invariably came from individuals who didn't fit our target profile of intrepid, iconoclastic food detectives. A critical mass of chowhounds, by contrast, basked in an atmosphere that felt, to them, like home. 

People can be persistent in using their personal aesthetics to judge efforts catering to a very different element. But it's impossible to evaluate a thing without paying heed to its intention (critics are the worst offenders; Miles Davis was derided by some writers for his non-virtuosic trumpet stylings, though he was obviously not aiming to be the type of player they preferred to hear).


Chuck said...

When I read the original article, I headed to Chowhound to see what today's logo looks like. It's a world apart, almost an opposite form this one.

I expect that shift and others will be illuminated in a subsequent issue of bubbles, slogs, and selling out?

Dave said...

To continue my comments from the first post about the logo: I do believe that marketing can be very important, but I'm yet to be convinced that logos are an important part of the marketing mix. I once took part in a consumer panel for Chase, comparing and contrasting logos.

I did have all kinds of opinions about what they showed me. I had preferences, but they were aesthetic. Would any of them entice me to open an account there? Would any of them make me feel better or worse about having my money there if I did have an account? I don't think so.

You indicate that the logo worked well for Chowhound, but how can you or anyone else measure that?

Jim Leff said...

Dave, I've replied via this new entry:

Blog Archive