07 October 2005

Do you belong to a secret?

"In 2000, Bradford Lawton and his group designed a logo for a swimming pool client. Since then, the logo has won numerous awards and has appeared again and again in magazines, books, and shows. It has been roundly praised by peers and often shows up in classrooms as an example of a truly elegant, conceptual design solution.

"Due to a simple fear of change, the client, Gary Pools, has never agreed to use the logo."

I was reading about Bradford Lawton and something similar has happened to me recently, so it got me thinking about communication issues that arise between designers and clients. Lawton went on to mention something I found very intriguing:
"I want people to see things differently. I want the viewer to 'get it' and then also wonder why he or she never thought of the solution before," Lawton says. "As a designer, when we speak in a visual language, we can't use a language that others don't understand. The viewer has to be an active participant. The Federal Express logo works well that way. You feel like you are in a secret society once you discover the arrow-an extremely hackneyed device that somebody made wonderful."

Designers violate this precept frequently, Lawton says. They create logos that are so abstract or conceptually oblique that they are more like private jokes: Only other designers will sometimes understand them. Any logo that has to be explained (and explained and explained) is not effective, he adds.

"The Coca-Cola logo is like that, in a way. It is an aesthetically pleasing and effective logo. But hidden inside of the white swash is the negative shape of two bottles laid end to end. A lot of people will never see that. I didn't, until I read about it somewhere. What's different, though, is that Coke has a zillion dollars to lay that image in front of you over and over again, whether you get it or not. Most clients don't have that kind of budget," he says.

Designers need to, first and foremost, communicate with the user. However, as context is a powerful tool, it got me thinking about all the paranoia about a so-called Illuminati or secret society still pulling the international strings. I'm not denying that the progenies borne of the Skull & Bones aren't in powerful positions… but they're also so totally removed from the rest of the world perceptually that they can't possibly hold power for very much longer.

After noticing myself the arrow in the FedEx logomark, I can't look at it and not see it. Which is odd, because I never "saw" it before. This reminds me of the alchemical nature of the Hero's Journey presented by Joseph Campbell, that we should all be familiar with, and is a wonderful practical example of someone prior to initiation, and the sense that comes with post-initiation. You just know; it's the difference between procedural knowledge (wisdom) and propositional knowledge (book smarts). It doesn't make it true per se, it just makes it true to you. We all now know there's an arrow in the FedEx logo, and what makes it powerful is that it's in context of FedEx's brand. This is what empowers it.

Secret societies are "secret societies" not because everyone knows about them, but because they know something about everyone. In this revelation, they bind and work together for a common cause that is, really, alien to the average person not initiated into working within their gestalt, into seeing their point of view. One may be able to infiltrate, but like Campbell put forth in the mythic Journey, we generally exist in one paradigm so to be able to co-exist in two takes either a spiritual or psychological disposition which I could only describe as shamanic in nature (or that of a mystic or chaos magician).

And besides, what if there is some secret society? Perhaps they're involvement is no different than Lawton's lauded logomark design? Understood by the élite esoteric few, and feared by the masses due to their inability to embrace change?

If this is the case, one way or another, it's safer for most with unique perspectives to often keep quiet. The Great Sacrifice might actually be similar to the Christ mythos: dissemination of a new context, really forcing it into the social tapestry so the meme can take off, and in so doing you, the host, may be persecuted for the destruction of the current order of things.

This precept paints a very powerful position for the designer. Too bad most are stuck in their own wee worlds of perception. However, for those that truly shine I must think that they differ only slightly from the Illuminati of paranoia myth in that there is a common desire to help and make better within the design community.

Why would the supposed Elders of yore be any different, especially if it's true and power really is an illusion? Archons are stupid, bumbling archetypal entities which the fearful empower simply by succumbing to them, such as dualism, élitism, concepts of worth, et cetera.

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