Professional Class As Daycare
July 3, 2019 9:28 AM   Subscribe

“Here, the truth is made plain: the childlike nature of corporate branding isn’t a random trend, but part of the mindset that consumers ought to be treated like children. Details are the sinister machinations of faceless authority figures; friendly colors and geometric letters like those on a toddler’s building blocks are comforting by contrast. That each brand looks more or less like the next is only for the better: the world is a little smaller that way, less likely to confuse or frighten. As Jesse Barron wrote for Real Life magazine in 2016, “We’re in the middle of a decade of post-dignity design, whose dogma is cuteness.” Cuteness, employed as these companies do, talks down to you without words.” The Corporate Logo Singularity (Baffler)
posted by The Whelk (13 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This is precisely what I hate about the current trend in app UI design.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:48 AM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think this is a great piece with a great point, but it's worth pointing out that a lot of people feel alienated by the speed with which big tech companies--yeah, like Amazon and the others mentioned--have made complicated, confusing technology a necessary part of everyday life. Given that, I can't imagine design going in the other direction (i.e. hiding complication less).
posted by The Baffled King at 9:54 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

But the central aesthetic function of the minimalist-kindergarten-utopia style is to euphemistically downplay the increasingly terrifying amount of power that multinational corporations and tech companies wield over us.

[...] the eventual goal of many companies employing it is to serve so many functions for so many people that trying to opt out of their platforms entirely would be prohibitively difficult.

A key point from the article is that these simple logo/wordmark designs are being used to purposefully obscure the pervasive and complex power of the companies they symbolise.
posted by smokysunday at 10:21 AM on July 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

The mention of hip, young brands turning back to serifs would be more compelling if the author named some names.

I dunno, the spirit of the piece is fine but I posit you can always look at a prevailing coherent design aesthetic and see something bad in the uniformity.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:44 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

Branding has alway served to put the best/most innocent face on corporate ills; here (in the "childlike nature of corporate branding") I think we also see a transformation from branding and design intended for print reproduction (ink on paper), with it's residual quirks, to branding intended for screen reproduction (light coming from a screen). The differences between looking at reflected light (as when you look at ink on paper) and looking at transmitted light (as when you look at an lcd screen) influence color and contrast choices - the screen offers colors & brightnesses no inks could ever produce. Typography in general has shifted from the constraints of size-dependent features like serifs and ink-traps to features that favor scaling and automated transformations - I guess what I'm thinking is that since we are interacting with this stuff on tiny bright screens rather than in magazines and on posters, it's no wonder that it trends toward bright, simplified design.
posted by niicholas at 11:06 AM on July 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

I wonder how many toddlers are fluent in corporate mediaglyphs and will keep that as their main form of literacy. I always thought that part of The Diamond Age was very compelling, and each passing year it seems more likely that it’s already happening.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jesus, I've read this same article like 6 times in the 20 years I've been in the business.

Next "shocking" thing we're going to told is that whatever music or clothes are popular at even given point in time are similar to each other.

A key point from the article is that these simple logo/wordmark designs are being used to purposefully obscure the pervasive and complex power of the companies they symbolise.

"Your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman" was used a half century ago because that way of branding was already a cliche by that point.
posted by sideshow at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Cute? Infantilizing? The logos cited in the article are street thugs compared to brand design in Japan, where mascots are ubiquitous. Many cited at that Twitter account are prefecture mascots, but many also represent political parties, government departments (including the Supreme Court), and various industrial concerns that do not even sell to consumers.
posted by ardgedee at 1:06 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

It’s all about legible wordmarks on tiny screens, right? As long as we can stay away from “Word one in first box, word two in contrasting box” for a while I’ll take anything. Also stop making up names that sound like grownup qualities we did know we had. and get off my lawn.
posted by drowsy at 5:43 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ew, the new thing about humanity that the corporations are reflecting back to us is a creepy one again. Look away!
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 1:02 AM on July 4, 2019

As many here surely know, when you first turn on a new Windows PC you are treated to a spritely and quite loud young woman’s voice that announces to the world,
Hi there!! I’m Cortana, and I’m here to help. A little sign-in here, a touch of wi-fi there, and we’ll have your PC ready for everything you plan to do! It goes on. I know because I prep something like 25 new PCs a week. The infantilization is real.
posted by churl at 3:14 PM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I regularly think back to a history of the tabloid weeklies in San Francisco that I once read. It started with a couple hippies getting together in the 60s and saying “But like, what if we had a newspaper that was covered in rainbows‽”

Back then, the dry black-and-white market statistics of the WSJ was The Enemy, and to frame yourself as The Opposition you needed colour and youthful vigour. It was a clear way of signalling to readers who you were and what sort of message you were trying to get out. It was a product of its time, but some folks seemed to miss that.

Socialist pop art was a hip 1920s style that had a similar effect. The minimalism made easy reproduction, and suggested a simple honesty. We've come to be cynical about that style, and use it these days to indicate a vast tyrannical state apparatus that churns out propaganda. We use it ironically to suggest that the message is condescending or untrustworthy.

Any new format or layout we land on to resist the establishment will be coöpted, and we're always running one step ahead. This confuses people with a strong generational memory and a slow uptake of new symbols. Hell, the Nazis' coöption of the word "socialist" is still being used as a sledgehammer against actual social services even after the memory of the Warsaw Pact states' abuse of the term has started to fade. And neo-nazis of the past decade have taken advantage of this to hide behind a dizzying treadmill of unrelated images of frog-faces, glasses of milk, crude sketches of bald heads, and other bizarre memes.

And yeah this stuff goes in cycles. The Cyclist's Touring Club in the United Kingdom renamed itself "Cycling UK" a few years ago and moved from this logo to this logotype. By contrast, the "League of American Wheelmen" (an equivalent group in the US) renamed themselves the "League of American Bicyclists" but found that the younger members found the 1880s logo appealing and voted to keep it. I suspect the membership of Cycling UK is slightly older than the LAB, and this could switch back in a decade if the topic comes back up.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:52 AM on July 6, 2019

I can recall (as a witness on cycling mailing lists) the controversies at the time changing "Wheelmen" to "Bicyclists"; a lot of phreds asserting that "wheelmen" was not a sexist term, and quitting in protest over the name change. This is despite the organization's official name not actually changing ("L. of Am. Bicyclists" is purely their Doing-Business-As title). For once, literal bikeshedding.

Anyway I wouldn't be surprised if this exit of crusty old men led to a demographic shift to a younger, more liberal membership that found the retro style of the logo appealing. Being the same generation fond of steel frames, waxed canvas bags, hub gears and fixed gears.
posted by ardgedee at 6:47 AM on July 6, 2019

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