Sometime in my late teens, I was forced to think critically for the first time about something I’ve seen every day of my life — typefaces. It happened when I showed up to my graphic design class in college and my professor showed us the brilliant film Helvetica. I distinctly remember looking around the classroom about 20 minutes after it had started, expecting to see numerous faces concentrating on the screen and beaming with intellectual passion. Instead, I mainly saw heads lying face down against desks, with only a few ambitious students finding some time to get ahead on some of their other assignments. I didn’t understand why they weren’t as enthused.
“Graphic Design is the communication framework through which these messages about what the world is now, and what we should aspire to — it’s the way they reach us. The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people, you know, putting their wires into our heads.”
Rick Poynor, designer and author, Helvetica.
I’m not kidding. Typeface is the most important aspect of design, if for no other reason than because we are totally surrounded by it. But just because we take it for granted like the air we breathe doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect on our opinions and choices.
Steve Jobs once said, “…focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Keep that quote from Jobs in mind as we look at a case study of the famous “Cola War” between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Pepsi has never been able to outsell Coke. Granted, Coke has at least one considerable advantage in that it was already selling a million gallons per year by the time Pepsi appeared on the market. But let’s examine what those companies looked like, literally, when Pepsi appeared in 1898.
Now think about Jobs’s quote again. Coca-Cola came up with a clear and simple design early on, and moved mountains with it. Pepsi’s logo, on the other hand, looks like it was designed by Tim Burton, and they’ve spent more than a century and nearly a dozen more logo designs trying to catch up.
Graphic design, and specifically the typography used therein, was a fundamental aspect in Coke’s stranglehold of the cola market. This is a lesson for any company out there, no matter its type or size. And don’t think it’s just down to logos either. Just about all communications a company has, either internal or external, can either reinforce or conflict with its brand.
What do you think? Share your insights and ideas with Joe: [email protected]