99% Invisible #69 – The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo (Link)
Listening to this podcast brought a smile to my face as I did my daily bike ride through Tilden Park this morning. It was a crisp, beautiful San Francisco spring day and I was feeling good because I just got the first section of my book on why design really matters off for review.
Lots of things matter. The built environment matters. Business matters. Education matters. Universal health coverage matters. Access to my favorite podcasts matters. But the way all these things are embodied in the world so that they are coherent, purposeful, useful, life affirming and have integrity and don’t cancel each other out – matters to me more than anything else. Coherent embodiment of ideas – that’s design.
So the reason the podcast about the design of the new University of California logo brought a smile to my face is because it affirmed this. Its a simple and well told story about the University of California’s attempt to introduce a logo representing the entire UC system – which it never had before. Yet it got caught up in a firestorm of public opinion that eventually resulted in it’s being withdrawn. The Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newson even weighed in on making sure of that. You may say that a logo is a relatively trivial piece of the world, yet the passion with which people – proponents and detractors bring to it, is what makes me smile.
The possibility of having a public dialog that is directed at making each part of the world we make a little better is what makes me smile as I ride my bike. The possibility of raising our cultural awareness and engagement in design, and to improve the quality of this process of designing is what gets me up every morning.
You’ll need to listen to the whole story yourself (I highly recommend it – link here). In it producer Roland Mars interviews UC Creative Director Vanessa Correa and branding expert Christopher Simmons. Here are a few quotes that particularly made me smile – some because I wholeheartedly agree. Some because they affirm truths that are hard to say out loud. And some because I disagree. Mostly, because they are having a conversation about design as if it really matters.
“The seal for all the good things it does represent can’t carry all that symbolic weight…its interacting in a rhetorical space that’s institutional…the seal is fantastic because when we need to have the full weight and gravitas of the university behind a budget or proclamation by the president that seal gives us that gravitas. But we don’t always want the gravitas. It has a place. It’s like having a tuxedo and being forced to wear it every single day.” Vanessa Correa
“You need the ecosystem to build the meaning into the object…a logo doesn’t come fully formed with the meaning baked in. The meaning is accrued over time…” Vanessa Correa
“You don’t have to like design to recognize that it’s good design. I don’t like Led Zeppelin…but I understand what they’ve done and why…they are good…but you need to understand what it’s trying to do and go from there”. Vanessa Correa
“The role of an expert, and an expert is someone who is trained in a particular field and has some deep experience in the practice of that field is to see the world through a different lens…when a designer tells me this would work best I defer to that opinion. When a mechanic tells me that this thing needs to be fixed on my car I trust that he is accurate with that. When I go to my doctor…When it comes to design we don’t have culturally that same trust.” Christopher Simmons
“We live in a time when everyone feels their opinion matters, but the reality is that all opinions are not equal. When it comes to physics, my voice is not the same as Stephen Hawkins, nor should it be. Aesthetics is a very easy target. No one understands how aesthetics works and they feel that subjective opinion is the rule of the day “I don’t like it therefore it must not be good.” Vanessa Correa
“Institutions like the UC which tend to be change averse anyway will be more gun shy about pushing new designs and new ideas forward. There will be a chilling effect. If that comes to pass, that would be a real shame.” Christopher Simmons
“The fact that design is even being discuss signals that it’s important. It’s important to people, its important to culture, its important to business and that’s a win for everyone”. Christopher Simmons