If you've ever spent time with me out-and-about at a restaurant, store, or in the city, you know I'm attentive to graphic design. I make comments on typography, color, layout, hierarchy, and stuff you had no idea was a thing in design. Much of what I say are residual habits from art school critiques, which means I don't sugarcoat anything and I offer high praise where it's due. However, I think most of my comments come off as negative. My friends and family say to me, "Emily, do you like ANY graphic design??"
Alas, some people think I dislike all logos with the power of 1000 suns. Not true! And here's evidence to prove it.
Here are 3 examples of design that give me goose bumps, make me want to dance, but most of all, give me the motivation to give praise in a blog post.
Gander Outdoors Logo
Gander Mountain recently rebranded to Gander Outdoors in 2018, probably in hopes to boost sales (bankruptcy stuff, you know). You might recall their original logo to be a game bird with a little mountain (on the right). For the new logo, they stripped the imagery away and replaced it with a simple cropped "G" tilted on its side to look like a mountain. The first time I saw this logo I was in a car with a few friends and yelled, "Oh my gosh!! Gander Mountain redid their branding! Wow! Look at that logo!! LOOK AT IT." With a few moments of awkward silence, I realized my friends clearly did not appreciate what I was seeing.
Let me explain.
This logo is a good example of the "Less is More" principal in logo design. Think about it. A logo is going to be everywhere on all types of collateral. It's going to be sized from giant storefront signs to tiny on pens or flash drives. A good logo will be legible at all sizes. This logo is the incarnation of that.
However, the primary reason I love this logo is how much meaning they pack into it with such a high level of simplicity. It's a "G" but also a mountain! I guess you have to design a logo yourself to appreciate the brainpower that goes into these marks. Good designers will spend hours researching, gathering mood-boards, and finally, sketching, to create logos. The best designers know how to create meaningful marks with simple shapes quickly.
Lastly, simpler logos are easier to interpret than more complex. You'd be surprised, but sometimes that makes all the difference when it comes to communicating efficiently about a brand. Time is money.
University of Northwestern Website
Okay, I'll be honest. I don't envy anyone who gets the privilege of designing and developing a school website, especially a college. Not because design is hard, but the sheer scale of content. Academics, athletics, student life, on-campus living, maps, parking, admissions, on-campus employment, meal plans... However, the people who designed University of Northwester's website did it right. I may or may not have cried when I explored it.
You're not crying too? Let me explain...
It looks like UNW-Sp did a brand refresh with the release of this website. Every inch of design is distinctly UNW-Sp. I LOVE their font selection, the unique shape of the buttons, photography treatment, use of graphics, and chevron section dividers.
This website also has phenomenal UX design, specifically their navigation. Trust me, I've seen a few navigation bars that are clunky, illegible, or just don't make sense. Colleges are especially notorious for bloated navigation bars since they have so much different content (any UW-Stout alums remember the old website??), but UNW-Sp tackles this issue in an elegant way. Instead of a mile long drop down when you hover on an item, a strip the entire length of the screen drops down. This allows for much more horizontal room for links and even a few photos. While I see a few issues with hierarchy and visual flow, overall, I think this is a successful solution.
Think about it. When a user goes to the navigation, they're searching for the next piece of information or task they need. The current page doesn't matter anymore, so who cares if it gets covered up? UNW-Sp's navigation takes full advantage of this. Genius!
I encourage you to take a few moments to explore the website!
Thrivent Financial Rebranding
Many companies are leaning toward this trend of "plain" design. You can see it in the comical similarities of Best Buy and Bud Light. This is different than what I was explaining with Gander Outdoors. I thought of these trends when I saw Thrivent's new logo (2020). I wasn't disappointed. It's a solid logo, but I also wasn't terribly impressed. "It looks fine, but doesn't get me excited about graphic design." Then I saw more of their rebrand roll-out and I changed my mind. I saw the above commercial when I was working out and I stopped everything to watch it properly.
Let me explain.
At face value, Thrivent's logo looks somewhat plain, but take another look. The new logo harkens back to their history in the "t". Their former logo was a heart and cross. If you look closely at the new logo, you'll see there's a heart on its side in the last "t". This is further emphasized at the end of their beautiful new motion graphic commercial.
Suffice it to say, I've changed my opinion from, "This logo is plain," to, "This logo is timeless."
A new logo is generally followed by new graphics, and Thrivent did a great job. Human illustration with loose proportions has become popular too (Mailchimp, anyone?). This style communicates "friendliness" and "approachability." Pair this with a serious, sophisticated color scheme (black, grey, gold, touches of blue) and you get branding that is pleasant, yet professional. Friendly, yet expert. I don't know about you, but I want my financial advisor to be friendly, but I also want him or her to know what they're doing! I need to be able to trust them with something as important as my money. Their branding does a good job of communicating this.
I hope I've proven there is design out there I love and that my explanations help you understand why I appreciate them. One of the best ways to get better at something is to examine what others are doing, both the good and the not so good. I am affirmed I am in the right industry whenever I nerd out about graphic design and when I am able to explain to a regular consumer why I feel a design is good or bad.
What are your thoughts? Think of any other good designs? Leave me a comment below!