Germany is know for great design. Some of the best designed automobiles in the world, for example, are from Germany. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche are not only wonderfully designed cars, their very names today represent some of the strongest brands on the planet (see Interbrand's 2005 rankings). Along with the world class engineering enjoyed by these firms, of course, are intelligently designed brand identity and communication visuals. Their respective simple yet powerful logos, for example, are identifiable everywhere in the world and serve as a kind of "crown jewel" and an instantly identifiable evocative symbol for each brand. Beyond precision in engineering and industrial design, Germany also has a rich tradition of graphic design, and typography...and, of course, let us not forget where Johann Gutenberg comes from. Germany gets graphic design. According to Jeremy Anynsley, author of "Graphic Design in Germany (1890-1945)":
"German graphic and typographic design in the first half of the 20th century represents an extraordinarily rich and diverse aspect of the history of visual culture."
— Jeremy Anynsley
Germany's Erik Spiekermann "embarrassed" by World Cup design
Given Germany's history and love of great design, including graphic design, you would think the design for the 2006 World Cup would be remarkable. But is it? At least one German design expert, Erik Spiekermann, thinks otherwise. Spiekermann is one of Germany's most famous designers and typographers and is the founder of MetaDesign, a firm whose clients include such notable brands as Apple, Audi, VW, and Nike. In this interview with Deutche World, Spiekerman says that the whole design concept for the 06 World Cup — including the Mascot and the logo — look to be the result of too many cooks in the design kitchen, a mediocrity resulting from "design by committee."
Design is functional *and* emotional
"Design has a functional role, but it also creates a mood" says Spiekermann. "It has both important functional and psychological roles." Spiekermann thinks that that the overall design of the World Cup suffers from several problems: (1) Too many committees trying to get their ideas in. (2) Design teams aiming to please everyone and offend no one. And (3) too many messages resulting in having no real clear message at all. When all involved try to play nice and no one takes responsibility, says, Spiekerman, you get this sort of bland result as people are afraid to take a risk.
Afraid to polarize? Afraid to take a risk?
There is a saying by many designers that if something is truly remarkable, it is going to be hated by some. Truly mediocre designs rarely evoke such visceral response. This fear of polarizing people often leads to designs that are "safe" and unobjectionable, hated by no one...and loved by no one either. No one has a visceral reaction either way. Sometimes this is desirable and intended. But usually it is an accidental consequence of "playing it safe" or seeking approval of this committee or that focus group, etc.
Good advice: Present naked (but wear pants)
Commenting on Goleo, the official lion-like mascot of the World Cup in Germany (who curiously wears a shirt but enjoys parading around sans trousers) Spiekerman says, "This artificial lion is neither cute nor ugly nor relevant; it's just embarrassing." Now, I'm all for presenting naked, and for the naked truth and all that. But in public presentations, wearing pants is still highly recommended. Goleo appears to be a flop; no body loves him and the company which licensed the European rights to the pantsless mascot filed for insolvency. Read more about "Mr. No-Pants" here on the DW-World site.
Next, I'd like to look briefly at logo design and see if we can relate principles there to presentation-visual design.
What's in a logo?
What do you think of the World Cup 06 logo? Spiekerman hates it. "Too many messages...You can look at this and count the elements and it just flies in the face of effective communication" he says. Logos are a funny thing. In and of themselves we can not really say they necessarily succeed or fail, even if we do not care for the design. It is over time, depending on the performance of the organization/product that the logo represents that associations, good or bad, will be formed. No logo, no matter how elegantly simple or beautiful, for example, will come to signify "The Ultimate Driving Machine" if the product is indeed mediocre. Nonetheless, from a messaging and aesthetic point of view, there are some good guidelines to keep in mind when designing or critiquing a logo. According to Paul Rand (1914-1996), the effectiveness of a logo depends on several elements including;
A logo must also be attractive and reducible to very small sizes and to one color. How would you rate the World Cup 06 logo with these items in mind? Look at the examples of the Apple logo below. The first logo (left), which did not last long at all, is far more complex and intricate that the simple familiar "forbidden fruit" Apple of today. The first Apple logo concept could pass hardly any items on the checklist above. The best logos are simple. (Go here to see past World Cup logos; see the more Apple logos and history here.)
From logo design to presentation visuals
The principles and ingredients that contribute to great logo design can, more or less, be applied to other forms of visual communication as well. Paul Rand said as much in this 1991 article:
"Bad design is frequently the consequence of mindless dabbling, and the difficulty is not confined merely to the design of logos. This lack of understanding pervades all visual design."
— Paul Rand
To most working professional — the "non-creatives" — logo design and other visual communication such as slide design for business presentations, etc. may seem superfluous. However, as Paul Rand suggests, graphic design is a vehicle of memory. It matters if you want people to understand you and remember you. "Good design adds value of some kind and, incidentally, could be sheer pleasure; it respects the viewer — his sensibilities — and rewards the entrepreneur. It is easier to remember a well designed image than one that is muddled." This is true for logos and it is true for presentation visuals.
Regardless of what you may think, your visuals go beyond serving as mere ephemeral "visual aids" just as a logo goes beyond a mere marker or identifier. Said Rand, "A well designed logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and services. It is good public relations — a harbinger of good will. It says 'We care.'" Substitute "logo" with "presentation" and the sentence rings just as true.
Good presentation visuals support your message, they are functional and emotional...and they are a reflection of you — and on you — and your organization.