The dirty little secret us designers don’t like to admit…

Eli Schiff is a design critic that popped up on my radar around a year ago.

His latest target (back on May 18th) is Instagram’s new logo and he dismantles it in a three-part series.

This is from Part 1:

The team considered 300 icons in all–that’s one hundred more than Uber did in their meandering logo design process. According to Ian Spalter, Instagram’s Head of Design, the rejected icon drafts shown in Instagram’s launch materials were only a “small sample.” One wonders, why were hundreds of options even necessary?

I like Schiff. I don’t always agree with him, but I respect the time he takes to construct his analyses and critiques (trust me, they take time). If you’re lazy and you just don’t give a shit, you just post a flippant comment on another person’s website or you tweet about how bad a logo sucks. On the other hand, if you’re a curious, thorough professional, you sit with your thoughts and write a meaningful piece on your subject matter.

Here’s bit more:

Ellison continued discussing the critical response,

reminder: a lot of people don’t care about making things better. They care about showing how clever they are. Approaching things meaningfully and critically is about genuinely wanting things to be better.

Here, Ellison is unintentionally on to something. Instagram’s appeal to cleverness in over the top video introduction was indeed used as misdirection with regard to the icon. Instead of the nine-month process being seen as evidence of the designers’ disorganization and lack of agency, it was transmuted into a virtuous example of prolific creativity.

The dirty little secret us designers don’t like to admit to non-designers is what ends up getting printed or posted online is many times based on the whims of someone much higher up than us in our company or our client’s. It’s not based on design thinking or logic or design process. Some VP or CEO said the wordmark has to be ALL CAPS and bright red, so the designers make ALL CAPS and bright red.

This is why I always tell junior designers to always keep the good stuff for their portfolio—whether or not it made the cut. It’s important for designers to showcase the work they’re proud, the stuff that was integrated and not only looked great, but had great ideas behind it, before some asshole derailed the project.

When you read a company blog post about their new logo and it sounds like bullshit, this usually means the logo was designed by a committee and the solution they arrived at was arbitrary so the team had to actually work backwards to construct a phony story on the “process” behind the logo.

I’m not saying this to shame any designers, this is just reality. It’s a hard pill I’ve had to swallow on occasion in my own career.




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Uber’s New Identity

Eli Schiff on Uber’s new identiy:

The iconic U icon is not something trivial to be discarded on a whim. When used as a sticker on the outside of an Uber vehicle, it needs to be totally visible in all lighting conditions. Unlike a marked taxi cab where there is a sense of safety, getting into a stranger’s car requires users to have some sort of overtly legible marking that indicates security. This oversight is a massive failure that affects Uber’s customers. But it also affects the drivers. If a passenger cannot find the car, that is lost gas, money and time for the driver.

For Amin, none of this mattered. When asked why the Uber U on the icon was abstracted, he made the following argument:

This should be a wake up call to all international companies: ignore that English is the lingua franca of the world. Accordingly, banish all references to the Roman alphabet in your branding.

The problems with the logo for The Metropolitan Museum of Art pale in comparison to the problems with Uber’s logo.

I love how Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got involved. This reminds me of when Marisa Mayer helped fuck up Yahoo’s iconic logo.






Eli Schiff has an interesting multi-part series on the “Fall of the Designer”.

Here’s a bit from Part 3, Conformist Responsive Design and the shift away from shiny, roundy, textural UI elements and towards ‘flat’ design:

Similar to web design, application design is becoming homogenized. Where before, apps like Tapbots’ Tweetbot were worlds unto themselves, with robotic sounds and futuristic cartoon aesthetics, today the only remnant of that past is robotic sound effects, devoid of any rationale as to why they sound the way they do.

Paul Haddad of Tapbots seemed to laud the shift, explaining in 2013 that he and his team “talked about making the Mac version a little bit more…plain” too. This hesitation might have invited our skepticism about their approval of flat design. But in the following years, Tapbots announced proudly their newly flattened Tweetbot 2.0 for OS X.

Tapbots is not alone in castrating Calcbot and their Twitter client Tweetbot. The Iconfactory’s Twitteriffic and Twitter’s proprietary iOS app in earlier days all attracted dedicated followings based on expressive designs which each exposed unique feature sets. But with their new flat interfaces, they struggle to differentiate their brands. Even with custom glyphs, animation and functionality, at a 10 foot view, it is difficult to tell one of these flat UIs from the next.

Did these developers suddenly have an epiphany and conclude that their former designs were ugly and overwrought? Or was it instead an imposed, though convenient, ideological shift by operating system designers?

I respect the time and thought Schiff has put into this series on design, and I think the answer to this last question is simple: fashion. UI design, like clothing, goes through different different phases and trends. Thats’ really it.

If you’re afraid skeuomorphism is gone forever, fret not. All you need to do is look at the achievement badges in the new Apple Watch exercise app:

There are gaudy ways of using depth and shading in UI design and there are tasteful ways of using depth and shading just like there tasteful and gaudy ways of using chrome and paint on a car.

I think what we’re seeing, as Schiff has pointed out is not so much flat design as lazy, flat design.