Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar, But Not if it's Your Logo

There's some funny stuff on display at the "Phallic Logo Awards" ...Really, this needs no explanation.

Courtesy of B3TA , by way of Adjab.



Designers alike can't help but get excited when new candy, paper samples, are available. Fibermark's new Touché is something to experience. It is a peculiar cross between suede and human skin. If you can get your hands on it, you should. Touché


Potpourri part 2

Tim Kehoe spent ten years developing a chemical composition to colour soap bubbles that wouldn’t leave a stain upon bursting. What he ended up with changed the way we think about colour.
via veer

Hauntingly beautiful beach animal sculptures from Theo Jansen
Via design notes

Bruce Nussbaum suggests that if businessmen are uncomfortable with the word design, then they can just call it "banana".

I’m asking Santa for Rockwell this Christmas.
Via typographica

We are a big country, and we have some big ways to express ourselves. I personally enjoyed the processed food section.


Canada Post - Delivering When They Feel Like It

It's Thanksgiving in the States and I am in Canada not enjoying my fifth helping of homemade noodles, so maybe I am a little cranky. Nonetheless, I must rant about the sucky level of service I have received from Canada Post...again.

This is the second time I have used their unaddressed admail service, and this is the second time I have waited well over two weeks for them to deliver my postcards. According to their website, the estimated time of drop is 5-7 business days. I wonder who gets this service? Is there a society of elite that I am not a part of, some secret sect of Canada Post Superstars?

I don't expect great things from the post office - who does - but this is ridiculous.

To make matters worse, their website is useless and completely cryptic. You have to search for days to find the right contact numbers and the online business centre's instructions for setting up delivery leaves lots to be desired.

My CP counter experience was even worse. After a 10 minute castigation about not setting up my order online (as if keying in my order at the counter is just too demanding for their staff), they then tried to tell me that the way I brought my postcard bundles in was wrong. Mind you, this is the way I was told to bring the bundles in and, funny enough, the first time I brought them in that way went by without a word.

Apparently, as a Canada Post employee you can pick and choose the rules and make some up as you go along.

Next time I am going to an outside service provider. Hell, a couple of dogs, a sled, and my postcards thrown over my back would get them delivered faster.

Legos Can be a Part of Typography

This is an ingenius way to include an old classic in the font design process. Definitely a fun way to inject joy into scanning negatives.


AT&T Logo Update?

I have spent a day digesting the new AT&T logo.

I've got only one think to say, er, ask: why?

Does this even qualify as a rebrand? It's kind of a slick-a-fying, poorly executed attempt to project a new and contemporary AT&T. This is particularly touchy project, given the hero worship prevalent in graphic design. Let's face it, I'm not so sure I'd want the assignment of "touching up" a classic design by Saul Bass. It's a no-win. Go different, or go home.

Anyway, those interested in the many things wrong about it can read more in the commentary supplied at Speak Up.


Is it all you expected?

Well, it is here. The new AT&T, or should I say the new at&t, logo has been revealed in all its glory. Personally I don't feel that it is worthy of all the anticipation. The refurbishing as it seems, and the jump to lowercase is hardly a "fresh new look".


Blog Design and the Impact on the Web

I recently read a great article here by Ben Garfinkel of Industrial Brand Creative.

He brings up the point about how blogs are having an effect on how companies have been impacted by consumers. To use his examples, the i-pod nano had some difficulties with cracking screens and susceptibility to scratches, after a blog, and subsequent online offshoots, Apple took notice.

I have personally noticed that blogs have not only been effecting companies marketing strategies and consumer relations, but it seems they are slowly beginning to impact the design of ordinary web pages and content as well. The elimination of tables, the prominence of CSS, and the fluid design, can be said to have become standardized by blogs.

Predominantly, the blog aesthetic consists of the top image bar, a center column of content, which extends down as far as the content requires, and one or two columns on the side containing links (see examples here and here). Though this is rarely adhered to strictly (CSS Zen Garden being one great example with many iterations), we can see elements of this aesthetic in sites like The Guardian, or Veer, both of which have blogs of their own.

As more and more companies add blogs to their sites, the integration of the design will continue to impact the aesthetics of both aspects of their online presence. For this reason, it seems blogs are having an impact not just on marketing or public relations, but on the graphic design community as well.


Barrie Unlimited?

As a followup to my post about the Toronto Unlimited logo, Barrie has decided in all it's wisdom to use the same designer, Liz Gill, for their rebranding campaign.

By all appearances, she is a very competent designer with some pretty big projects under her belt. However, the Toronto Unlimited logo has spawned much debate and has been panned by blogs, articles and designers alike. This begs the question; why are they essentially repeating the scenario which led to a loathed identity by using the same designer and committee process?

Also, I thought that Barrie's big thing was that they want to come out of the shadow of Toronto, and establish themselves in their own right. What is the logic of achieving this by mimicking Toronto in the creation of their brand?


True Canadian Style

Well, the GDC is holding its Graphix '05 contest. They are searching for Canadianess in Graphic Design, for the "Canadian essence". I repeat myself intentionally. This is a Canadian contest for Canadian content.

The judges for this uniquely Canadian contest are Rick Poyner from England, Debbie Millman, from New York, Tan Le, from Seattle, Min Wang from Beijing and, oh yeah, Robert Sarner, from Toronto, (Director of Communications for Roots).

Excuse me but the blurb they put up about wanting an international panel doesn't fly with me (for one thing, four out of five are from western English speaking first world nations, secondly, two Americans?)

In the end, I think the selection of the judges reveals the most Canadian thing about this contest. Typically, a Canadian isn't really successfully until they succeed in another country. By electing a panel that thinly represents international graphic design and Canadian graphic design, we are just being ourselves and seeking validation through how our neighbouring countries view us.

And don't worry, I'm embarrassed enough for all of us.



From a press release dated October 27, 2005:

SBC Communications Inc. today announced it will adopt AT&T, Inc. as its name following completion of its acquisition of AT&T, which is expected in late 2005.

The decision is a milestone in the history of telecommunications, extending the reign of a global icon.
AT&T is inextricably linked to the birth and growth of the communications industry, delivering ground-breaking innovations that enabled modern computers and electronic devices, wireless phones and Voice over IP (VoIP). The brand also has represented quality service, integrity and reliability for more than 120 years.

At close, the new company will unveil a fresh, new logo. After completion of the merger, the transition to the new brand will be heavily promoted with the largest multimedia advertising and marketing campaign in either company's history, as well as through other promotional initiatives.

Although the original 1984 design by renowned Saul Bass is some what dated, something should be said for brand recognition and longevity. The logo can and will be revamped but is it really necessary? Should SBC hold on to tradition and its benefits or completely abandon history and 120 years of customer association? The question is just what will this new look be and how much adjustment will it take on our behalf?


This Stuff is Crazy Fast

Kiwi, the shoe polish company, has come out with a series of animations as part of a new marketing strategy to promote just how fast and easy their shine sponge is. You'll never look at your shoe polish the same way. Enjoy,


Now's your Chance to Rant

I was reading a great post here at Speak Up regarding what experience a design instructor should possess. It started me thinking once again about a persistent subject in our field. Namely, what is currently being taught in graphic design programs in Canada.

Time and again I hear colleagues complain about how prepared this or that young designer is for their position. To find someone with a three year program on their resume, yet who has never even opened Quark, is not as uncommon as we would hope.

My design education was pretty great. I had instructors who encouraged us to think about design in new ways, fellow students who I worked closely with and who taught me more than I could learn in class alone, and while learning specific programs wasn’t the main thrust of the courses, I certainly wouldn’t have gotten very far in my degree if I didn’t know them inside and out.

The one major difference between my course work and my professional work however, was the luxury of time. In school, most projects have an unlimited budget. Also, we never had to worry about our hours. We put in enormous amounts of time on a project without worrying, and we only had a few projects to focus on at once. Professionally, time is precious. No longer do we have a month to work up concepts. And if we do, it’s done in conjunction with a dozen other projects. While good for creating a portfolio, the timeframes given in school did not prepare me as well as they could have for the pace of the real world.

That is my experience. What is yours? What was great about your school? What did your educations lack? Creative directors: what do you want to see more of in university educated applicants? Instructors: how have you, or how are you, striving to improve the education of tomorrow’s graphic designers in Canada? What is the difference between a graphic design education received in Toronto, Alberta, or Halifax?


Powerpoint - It's Coming

Recently I, like many designers, have been faced with the exercise of going through the motions of the very limiting program, Powerpoint. The simple fact that even the most basic of design tasks is just not possible with the software, leaves one wanting more and asking why? Unfortunately, for now this is what is available, as is the increase of presentations and the demand for their design. Although it is a rigorous process, it has to be done, and done well. If designers don't step up and deal with Powerpoint one presentation at a time, who will? Gone are the days that one can afford to say "no, we don't do Powerpoint". If we do not adjust, adapt and keep up with the times, we are not growing as designers. It has been said " if something is not growing, its dead."


De-marginalizing Marginalia

I am a bibliophile. I love the act of reading and there is one aspect of reading a good book which I have a particular fondness for; marginalia.

Many years ago, I purchased a copy of Hermann Hesse's book Siddhartha from a used book store. When I got home and began to read it I realized all the references to water had been underlined in pencil, with notations in the margins alluding to things like spiritual cleansing. This greatly altered my reading of the text. I was caught between my interpretation of Hesse’s words, the anonymous author’s interpretations, and my interpretation of the anonymous author. It was also through this reading that I first discovered the use of metaphor and symbolism in literature, thanks to those penciled comments.

Several years later, while doing my first undergrad, I wrote a paper on Peter Greenaway’s use of water as a metaphor in his films. That first reading altered the way I view creative endeavors forever. Since that time, I seek out and enjoy a these types of books. One establishes a relationship with the notations, much like the relationship one establishes with the book. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder, were they writing a paper? Was it for leisure? Trying to learn English? There are famous cases of it, outcries against it and lovers of it. Beyond simple underlines and side comments, there are cases of marginalia commenting on other marginalia, cross references to other books or pages, and translations of the text.

And, if a spontaneous anonymous commentary which is read in direct conjunction with the text is the marginalia of a book, could graffiti be the marginalia of the street? What is the marginalia of the internet? Blogs, though many refer to themselves as such, don’t fit my personal definition. They aren’t read in conjunction, but instead either prior to, or after, the item on which they are commenting. If blog comments where displayed alongside the blog, rather then accessed through clicking, that would do it.

As designers, we have the ability to incorporate marginalia in new ways. Rather than put a notes page at the end of a booklet, why not use wide margins with line rules to encourage it? Or, if you prefer, reduce your margins to make it impossible. How can you bring it into the internet? Or to other forms of advertising?

Through the print material we produce, we can’t help but create a dialogue with the world, why not encourage it to respond?


The Non-committal Brand

There is a disturbing design trend plaguing the internet. Millions are spent, publicity is rampant, and the results are deadening. The cities of Toronto and Atlanta have been the victims of the poorly designed identities promoting their respective cities pictured above. And your city could be next.

Why is it that such high profile rebrandings are resulting in the types of afterthoughts pictured above? One possibility is the committee. As Charles F. Kettering said: "If you want to kill any idea in the world today, get a committee working on it."

Through the narrowing down process often used by committees, the idea that everyone must provide their input, slowly what may begin as a good idea gets whittled down until the remaining design is as uninteresting and unenlightened as possible. When several people provide their opinions and all of those opinions must be implemented, the poor designer ends up with the instructions to "make it playful, but more corporate and more serious". The result is almost always something that no one in the committee feels very strongly about, either for or against, and the deadening new brand is launched to an unsuspecting public.

Save the brand, pick a single decision maker. Your constituents will thank you.


Just a Follow up

"Ask any writer or filmmaker or painter just how much of a given project truly represents what he/she envisioned it to be. You'll hear twenty percent...ten... five...few will claim more than thirty. The mastery of one's medium is the degree to which that percentage can be increased, the degree to which the artist's ideas survive the journey--or, for some artists, the degree to which the inevitable detours are made useful by the artist."

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics


Ode to the Cliché

How art thou dispised? Let me count the ways...

From the French word meaning printers blocks, the cliché, both visual and textual, are among the most despised in my profession, but many of us gloss over their usefulness.

We as designers need to be aware, and even use, visual clichés from time to time as a way of communicating effectively. If I want a visual metaphor for intelligence, nothing is as immediate as an owl or a pair of glasses. Instantly, an idea is expressed visually and effectively.

Likewise, the blending modes available in photoshop (bevel, emboss, inner glow, etc) are so prevalent they have become stylistic clichés. Yet if I am to design a candy bar wrapper, or a potato chip label, I need to study and make use of the established language. Unless a candy bar looks like a candy bar, it won’t be read as one in the over-stimulated world of the grocery store. So that means the visual clichés need to be considered.

However, proceed with caution. Making a company unique, while using tired old visual language, is an ineffective ploy to say the least.

The most effective and compelling solution would be to seek out and find your own metaphors. Create new clichés. However, as Giulia wrote on our blog last week, beware lest their meaning be lost on your audience