Flat Design Sucks

22nd Apr 2014 Posted under: General

Before we begin, lets be clear that Flat Design has done great things for layout. I am all for moving away from techy skeuomorphism and over-complicated glossy interfaces that detract from the user experience. This post is simply looking at the dreadful effect this mere trend has had on Branding and Identity. Iconic, memorable brands left desolate and in ruin thanks to ill-considered shortcomings.

This overdue trend has finally brought some brands into the 21st century so lets start with a more positive example of what Flat Design has done to a franchise. There's plenty of fantastic and actually good examples. The one I like the most amongst a bad bunch is the updated American Airlines logo. A lot of people don't really get it when they see it on-screen but when you see it in context, on an aircraft, it has much more impact. Still not perfect but there's connotations of an eagle in there and Americans love that kind of gimmicky rubbish. I may also be a tad biased as I was there for the rather impressive launch site which had a really cool countdown. With that in mind, should a logo need a fancy website to explain itself?

American Airlines New Wing-style Logo

No. A logo should hold its own, be memorable for the right reasons and not rely on context to imply its purpose or meaning. It also shouldn't be limited to a specific campaign. Which I feel the next logo is all about. It might have looked great being pitched in a design document for one campaign but I feel this truly restricts any future usage or lifespan of this identity. When you rebrand your company you need to think about much more than just the short term. Future changes can alienate your current user base and confuse them. If Meo stick with this direction, it will be nice to see where they can take this logo in future but that will be defying the very point of creating it in the first place; having to rely on rebuilding it.

Meo Logo revamp

From there, it's all downhill. DIY tools company Black & Decker ditched their iconic hexagon, which they'd carried for almost a century, in favour of something to appeal to housewives. Something approachable, which feels like a childs toy. Also the physical new products look suspiciously like Chinese knock offs of certain other power tools. Living up to their cheap and cheerful plastic reputation? Perhaps this one was deliberate once Black & Decker realised they could never play with the big boys. Such a shame they didn't keep that hexagon in some way as it had a certain DIY aesthetic, which felt like a bolt and had some relevance. Now this company is just going to get lost among a sea of other domestic products. Twenty years from now they will be producing nothing more than bath toys and air fresheners.

Black & Decker Logo-Nogo

To follow, a logo which stirred up controversy and resulted in many articles on the web solely about this. I don't really need to expand on this as you can find a plethora of articles that will say it better. Featured here as it's testament to what happens when you throw too much money at a project and leave the wrong person in charge of overseeing that project. The saddest part was that they trialed thirty other designs; nearly all of which were a better option than the one they settled on. It is a shame as this brand seemed so lively and full of promise when I first saw them circa 1995.

Yahoo! Or not

Another giant leap backwards, if we refer to what I said about full colour displays and high density screens. Perhaps I'm just stuck in yesterday but I liked logos from the 90s which had a colourful, purposeful boldness about them. They dared to be in your face and took advantage of what we'd learnt from past generations and eras. So I don't know why TODAY has merged all it's colours together and chose a Wi-fi signal icon as their main identity. The typography is a nice refresh though.

Todays Logo, Yesterdays Treatment

Next up is just painful. I see almost no reason to change in the first place. The typeface needed work but why change to something so dull and lifeless. Getting rid of those beautiful passionate colours and any remote form of character, all to make way for something that feels like a research laboratory or dental lab signage? Ridiculous from the offset. They could have at least kept the energy of that wonderful symbol and maybe just simplified it somehow. To make matters worse, further images from the released campaign and videos were riddled with spelling mistakes. I feel this was another campaign-dependant project, sold by a clever marketing company.

Opera Australia Identity null and void of any personality

Whilst in the process of writing this article I had this little gem revealed to me. Netflix has been using this on their youtube channel recently. It's okay. As a logo, it's alright. As a Netflix logo though, it is not a great solution. The super thin lettering has been ditched for what feels like word art. I liked the old one; super condensed lettering that reminds me of movie reels for some reason. The shadows and contrast all capture what Netflix is about for me. Sure, we can still apply the shadows and colouring as before but the simple fact is: they are not doing this. They are using solid red text and a normal blurred drop shadow. The old effects would look strange on that wider text too. I'm just not very keen on this at all. What really bugs me is the textured the background; this flat trend is supposed to be moving away from skeuomorphic and faux realism, so why are we still relying on "just put in a nice texture". A nice texture to detract from a weak subject and bad design. The only difference now is that the textures are high resolution. Even just ditching the boring shadow and texture would make this a better logo. Hopefully they wont be switching their whole brand over to this new logo.

New Netflix Logo

Are they even trying? There was a short window where it was cool and beneficial to break out from skeuomorphic, over-thought out designs. When your striking sign or packaging would stand out amongst the rest. Now though, you just get lost among a sea of other geometric shapes and strong solid colour. So for two companies with this much money and design knowledge between them... Makes me question whether they just let a family member or close friend make it for them because he needed something for his portfolio. This is truly pathetic. The letters don't even share a common baseline. The least graceful and most unharmonious attempt at a logo I've seen. Shame on these two companies.

Fiat Chrysler Auto Logo, assumably produced by a 12 year old

Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope. Finally, we have the most sensible concept. A popular UK book store changed their logo, to bring it "up to date" in 2010. Thankfully they realised how awful it looked and went back to the old one, simply removing the apostrophe. A sign of the times, appealing to the digital audience they were trying include with the initial rebrand. I'd like to say common sense prevailed but I imagine it was due to complaints and confusion more than anything. I remember seeing it and wondering whether it was the same Waterstone's. It was around the time lots of companies were being bought out and I honestly assumed that's what had happened.

Waterstones logo sensibility

Put simply: This is what happens when you let web designers take care of your identity. They fuck it up. Give you something that will inevitably need replacing and minor tweaks as the years progress because that is exactly how the web design industry operates. Bad practice for your identity and proof that Brand specialists exist for a reason. You might think you're saving money in the short term, getting an all-in-one website, logo and stationary singing dancing combo package but are you really saving money if you have to redesign and tweak it 3 times a decade? If you're creating something that has no relevance to your product? Something that is probably a rip-off of an existing logo, or re-used and overdone? Worse still, if you're an existing brand ditching everything memorable about your identity? Alienating your current market because your new logo is "optimised for screen display"? Is your cheap redesign worth voiding your identity of any personality whatsoever? If a web design company refuses to use your logo for some reason, are they really the best choice in the first place? Just think about it and take your next design quote seriously.

Being Ahead of the Curve

2nd Apr 2014 Posted under: My work

Recently I noticed something, an advert that made me chuckle. The advert is for a news app. It made me chuckle because it's not far from a news app I designed four years ago (keep up!). The main differences and advancements coming from hardware progression or maturity within the app market. After all, iPads were almost brand new four years ago and I was pushing a whole new concept that hadn't been tried at that point. The basic functionality was the same – a digital newspaper. New editions every week; including interactive content such as videos, crosswords and puzzles. In fact, the only drastic difference being that content for the app I designed was pulled from a blog, so there needed to be added focus on sharing and user activity. Also we made better use of the multi-touch functionality.

News app appearance and functionality

Flat Design has been batted around a terrible amount over the past few years. People acting as if it's something new, trying to contribute and add awful things to what is essentially a digital realisation of an old movement. People seem to think Flat, or Metro, design has strong links with Minimalism. That couldn't be further from the truth. To understand that, you need to understand exactly what Minimalism is. Lets look at a dictionary definition:

"Deliberate lack of decoration or adornment in style or design"

Therefore keylines, big photos and content flying around are exactly not what this is referring to. Flat design is indeed minimal – reduced down to basics – but it is in no way Minimalism; reduced down past the point of functionality. To call iOS7 or Windows 8 Minimalism represents sheer ignorance and arrogance to the entire Minimalist movement. They have been reduced a lot compared to what we were used to but my phone still has four additional tactile buttons, still has a lock screen, a notification centre, a home screen, text labels, cameras. Anyone who has studied design beyond the web will know this is not Minimalism. Anyone with experience working in Print will know this as well. That's because Flat Design is a digital realisation of Print techniques. Thanks to high density (retina) displays and full colour across all devices we can achieve the same effects as with a high DPI Print. Super sharp edges, refined typography and clever use of screen real-estate. This is far more a nod toward Swiss International style or Modernism.

Category and Article Overview

It's a tremendous relief that companies are finally focusing on content delivery, rather than trying to impress and amaze users with glitzy graphics that detract from the reading experience. It frustrates me when people try and pocket this as a trend like 'metro' or 'flat' design. It wasn't a trend when I was doing it in 2010 and it isn't a trend now. Anyone who has worked in print or understands design will know that all great design is simple and favours function over form. It's what words like utilitarian and practical were invented for. If anything this 'trend' is a realisation and appreciation for the German Bauhaus movement, now around a century old. When you start cluttering it with pointless longshadows or using wire icons for the sake of it, is when it becomes a trend.

My inspiration for the news app was quite straightforward. I chose a printed news magazine, took what I liked about it, then recreated it for the purposes of an app. If I were to design a similar app again, I would probably do the same thing – only with the added knowledge of how modern apps can function; with columned navigation features, like the app from the advert. Generally take advantage of retina display and peoples' familiarity with digital content. The design did come with landscape but it wasn't so different from the portrait view.

Yes, there was even a night mode!

To conclude; all I'm trying to enforce is an outside-the-box way of thinking. Everyone says it but few people actually do it. People might judge you for following a 'trend' that is dead or doesn't exist but you'll never know if you don't try. Don't be afraid to recreate something that's been done elsewhere but always look at what you can do differently and the advantages of your medium. What senses you can engage and how far you can push this to create something iconic and unique. Therefore, staying ahead of the curve is as simple as ignoring trends and fads. Stick to tried and tested methods of what you know – focusing the delivery of content and how it engages users, rather than how it looks or adding bulk interface. Your work wont look dated after a few years if you stick to this method.

Goodbye 2013

31st Dec 2013 Posted under: General

2013 has been one wild ride of a year. Lots of awesome things have happened but also some very confusing things which have left me wondering exactly which era of time we are in. As it draws to a close, I've decided to pick out the most confusing, for me.

1. 2013: The Year of Surveillance

This couldn't go without a mention. Finally it was revealed to the public that Big Brother did indeed happen and has been among us for some time now. No, I'm not just talking about CCTV and rise of the digital video. Of course, those of use who are wise to the web have expected this for a long time coming. With the rise in popularity of the internet, some people feel the need to police it. Societies elitism and fascism has now found its way onto the web, a hierarchy of the worlds most technologically clueless government officials are going to try and take control of this once beautiful creation. I just hope that Anonymous has the numbers and power they need to overthrow this stupidity. If hacktivism is our only solution, lets hope it exposes the truths our governments are trying to hide from their own people.

Here in the UK we have seen a stupid restrictive anti-extremist filter placed on the entirety of our countries internet "for our own safety". Similar to what they have in China. Ironically, this filter can be removed with a simple phonecall and ultimately, I feel it creates more problems than it will solve. Thankfully, it also had a very amusing outcome for the campaigner who came up with this "really good idea". Then there's the leaks that earned whistleblower Edward Snowden many accolades and nominations; the NSA (National Security Agency) are officially ruled to have access to 6.7 billion non-US citizens information and digital footprint. If they were the International Secuirty Agency I would be a little more understanding but they are not and I feel this is a massive violation of human rights on a global scale. You don't sign a contract agreeing to any of this when connecting to the internet. To conclude... It seems we have time warped 30 years into the past, about to enter 1984?

2. A Proper British Summer Time.

The last summer this good was definitely during my teens. In fact, officially it was the hottest since 2006. For the first time in years the cold winter was breached early by an actual Spring, bursting out into basically full summer by April! Compared with recent years of nothing but snow and showers, this was a very warm, welcome relief. The best part of summer was not having to debate whether Shorts and T-shirt were a good idea. I was going to say Thank you Global Warming! but surprisingly it seems that the hole in the ozone is actually getting smaller and will be gone by 2070.

3. Long Awaited Games Finally Arrive!

A sequel to my favourite ever Zelda game!? For real! I could not believe this. I have dreamed of it for so many years and always hoped it would happen but never thought it really would. I'm very thankful that the great people at Nintendo love this part of the series as much as myself. Since the dawn of the N64 and 3D games, I have dreamed and dreamed of this game. Simply can't wait to play it, hope it is worth the wait. Unfortunately, I do not currently own a 3DS so this and the new Pokémon I will be picking up at some point later in 2014.

Yes, another classic game, going just as far back into the 90's all the way to Total Annihilation. TA was an all-time favourite and still is. Not just that, this seems to be the only recent RTS game trying anything new and really pushing modern hardware on more than just visual effects. Planetarry Annihilation is a game produced by most of the original Cavedog team, now operating under the alias of Über Entertainment. I have followed the progress on this game since day 1 of the Kickstarter and have been very excited the whole time. The Beta was pretty limited so, I am eager to play through the finished thing as I've craved a decent successor to TA for decades.

Behold another gem found on Kickstarter. Old-school "points-for-pedestrians" classic racing game... Carmageddon: Reincarnation! A truly great game which I played during the later half of my childhood. The original is available on iOS and arguably one of the best driving games I've played on mobile. Just don't buy the in-app "splat pack" – if you want the true Carma experience. I just know that any follow-up to this game will be an instant treasure. I can't wait to explore the avenues revealed by todays hardware and even software capabilities. I'm so glad they smashed their funding goal.

4. Eminem Releases MMLP2.

The album was pretty good. I like some of the songs, as a whole the album voices his struggles well and has plenty of stuff that everyone can relate to. It is strange that Eminem can be wholesome even with his cocky, aggressive attitude. All in all, it is worthy of being called a proper Marshall Mathers album. It's got stuff I love but stuff I just outright skip when not feeling it. Much like the original MMLP. He's a great dude; far more modest and interesting than Kanye West or other popular rappers. Perhaps being white, from a single parent background, I can relate to his struggles more than more privileged people or those truly part of hip hop culture. This album also lead to some great parodies.

5. I Have my Own Web Presence Again

On the grand scale of things it's pretty insignificant but for me it is a good 8 years overdue. I was last managing websites before web 2.0 or the mobile market even came around! Crazy but finally I have found a system which agrees with me and even learnt an all new library of code in the process. Needless to say, this is just the beginning. I'm still working on this site but by the end of next year, hopefully I'll have a couple of others on the go as well.

Good job the world didn't end in 2012 huh? Hope 2014 is a good one for all of you!

Finally, My New Site is Launched!

11th Nov 2013 Posted under: Announcement

This may or may not be worthy of a fanfare; I am pleased to announce my new Portfolio and Blog website is now up and running! I've labelled it with a pretentious term like Journal, but really it's just a blog. So, what can we expect to see on this site? Everything I create from now onwards and everything (decent) that I have created previously! The site itself is still under construction, running off about a million stylesheets right now, so I'll be tidying it up and smoothing out all the bugs for a while too. Also some stuff doesn't quite work as I have fully intended but the site itself is in a good enough state to release.

I've just spent many days/weeks coding, getting this all to look and work exactly how I want it to. This is not what I usually do so I am eager to get back to some drawing and have plans to finish up some unfinished pieces. Most of all, I plan to finally turn some of my old sketches into the full colour versions as imagined during drafting. I'm very excited about that as I've been putting it off for a long time.

As for this journal, this is probably one of the most formal posts it will contain. I can't imagine there will be many site announcements so you can expect this to turn into more of a thoughts outlet and a place where I write notes for myself. I will even try and write some proper articles about stuff from time to time. Mainly: animation, illustration, design, gaming and film related stuff. To finish up, I have to test out my image uploading utility, so enjoy the silly picture.

That's all for now!