Branding is a process of meaning manufacture that begins with the biggest, boldest gestures of the corporation (see last entry for a treatment of Google’s Gmail) and works its way down to the tiniest gestures.
This is one of the reasons that design matters. The look and the feel, the fit and the finish, the beautiful, the sensual, the tactile, design is an essential medium of the brand message. Good design captures, commandeers, takes control of every interface and interaction between the consumer and the brand, right down to the little sound that packages make when we close them. Click. This is a brand message. (For a wonderful treatment of this topic, see Virginia Postrel’s The substance of style: how the rise of aesthetic value is remaking commerce, culture, and consciousness from HarperCollins.)
This brings us to one of the mysteries of Metropolis Magazine. (Thanks to Steve Portigal for the heads up on the May issue.) This is a dandy magazine. The May issue has a wonderful story about the origins of the yellow color of the New York taxi, the shape of the Bell logo, and the person who designed the Greek “we are happy to serve you” coffee cup (Leslie Buck, 1963, Sherri Cup Company). There is also a spectacular article on built form and light.
Metropolis is a design magazine and it is beautiful thing to hold and wander through. Images and text are exquisitely chosen. These people have laid out on lay out. The magazine is a thing of pleasure.
But as I work my way through the magazine, something is fighting me. It’s something caught in the pages. It’s a “blow in,” those 4 x 5 pieces of paper that are subscription offers. Actually there are several of them. Four to be exact. As I make my way through this magazine, I find that these offers force it open in some places and shut in others. And then some of the little pieces of paper actually land on the floor so that I am now obliged to stoop down, pick them up and through them away. My passage through the magazine is resisted and interrupted.
So let’s review. Metropolis turns out a magnificent piece of art direction. They come from a world that understands that everything in the design mandate counts, that everything sends a message.
Then they give us a magazine that resists our passage. They use their design efforts to interrupt and provoke us at the very moment they are suggesting we might wish to subscribe.
Every little gesture sends a message and this one couldn’t be more clear.