Or at least have an expiration date after which they delete from your hard drive and fade from wherever they were used (on posters, signs, business cards…). We’re all guilty of jumping on the this-face-is-so-hot-right-now train or the I-chose-this-face-because-it’s-alphabetically-within-the-first-600-fonts-in-my-library bandwagon. But some typefaces should go away…and stay there.
I’m not saying that font fads don’t have their place or that we all don’t get caught using our favorite “it” typeface. In fact, I’m just getting over my torrid love affair with DIN. While writing this, I pulled out my college yearbook (which I edited) and was completely shocked to find that I was a huge fan of Laser. But wait, it get’s worse, I used the other version of it…Laser Chrome. Of course we had to set the type by burnishing down the Letraset dry transfer lettering…yikes! I recall another story from college, when my friend Lisa and I were introduced to two partners of a design firm who were colleagues of her father. We met over lunch and discussed the industry and our post-graduation plans. We got talking about type fads and I remember saying “ugh…If I have to see another brochure or logo made with Lithos I’m going to shoot myself in the head.” You can imagine my chagrin when we visited their offices after lunch only to discover Lithos being used in 70% of their portfolio.
This past weekend, while driving in Brooklyn, I was assaulted by the ugly stare of the typeface Paisley as I passed a local shop. Set in purple on a hot pink background, it’s curly,swirly letters just screeched mid-nineties. At least I hope it was mid-nineties. If not, then my second biggest gripe is also true: people should be licensed to use typefaces much like you’re licensed to carry a handgun. To some of us, they are equally as dangerous. Do you see me putting on scrubs, grabbing a scalpel and performing bypass surgery? No, you don’t. But it seems anybody with a Mac and Word can claim the title “designer.” You know them, they’re the ones that take a perfectly respectable face, like Garamond, and then spruce it up with an outline and a drop shadow or maybe a strike-thru. Or, they’ll use the dreaded TypeStyler where they can twist it and stretch it or rape it in other new and inventive ways. (Listen closely, somewhere in Paris the faint grinding of Claude Garamond’s skeleton twisting over in his grave can be heard.)
I’m not saying that you have to go to school to be a great designer (though I certainly encourage it). There are some incredibly talented self-taught folks out there. But you should have a respect for the craft and be full of passion for it (I used to tell people that I’m a designer because I believe that there IS a difference between 1/32nd and 1/64th of an inch!). You should always have your eyes open and look for incredible design everywhere. And your iPhone should be full of pics of great typefaces you’ve seen on street posters or book jackets and of cool color combinations found on a delivery truck or in a window display. And, most importantly, you should be able to understand when to stop. It’s an old adage but a great one nonetheless: Less is more. Which reminds me of the follow-up warning: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
And if “everything old is new again” then we can all look forward to seeing Laser Chrome splattered on the pages of the next Comm Arts design annual (and then listen carefully and you’ll hear the muffled shot of my gun).
Yesterday I was enthralled, as most of my geek brethren were, by the subtle announcement of the new iPod shuffle by Apple. At first, when I was watching the demo on the Apple site, I thought it was a joke. It’s ridiculously small. Like stick of Trident gum small. And I thought when I bought the very first shuffle, and it was the size of a PACK of gum, that it was astoundingly small. And even though I only used my shuffle 1.0 for a short while (I convinced myself that my first and second gen iPods were just too darn bulky to wear on my albeit short subway rides to the office), I abandoned her when her tiny offspring was born, the shuffle 2.0. The shuffle 2.0 was cute as a button when she emerged from the womb in Cupertino. You could go to any Apple Store and see crowds of men, women and children all cooing over her like new parents in a maternity ward with their faces pressed against the glass.
And she had a clip. A clip! No more lanyard that I never used. Okay, I used it a couple of times, but even that was a bit too dorky, for even me. This baby clipped right on to what you were wearing. And it came in colors. Colors! And I had to have one. I was convinced that it would make my life oh-so-unincumbered at the gym. Plus I was fed up of strapping my iPhone 1.0 to my arm band and having it slide down while running on the treadmill all the while sweat pooling up against he neoprene case. And let’s face it, everyone had stopped staring at my iPhone once more and more people started buying them. I had to have a shuffle 2.0. And as if to sweeten the deal, they had a product (RED) one. Now I HAD to have one. And so I did. And it did change my gym life—for those times when I actually went. And now it sits on my desk staring back at me just bursting with music, begging to be played. (I swear I’m going to start back at the gym any day now).
And I think that if I just had this NEW shuffle I would DEFINITELY start back at the gym. Because this one talks to you. Talks! Even if you have to go through a ridiculous pantomime of clicks and holds of the half-Chicklet-sized set of buttons on the ear buds. It’s like learning morse code. And then, this beautiful voice from 1985 says the name of your song. But wait, if you hold it down longer, it will tell you your playlist. All the while leaving you guessing if it was actually speaking English. Hell, it’s worth buying it to just hear it try to pronounce the names of your artists. I’d buy it just to hear it say “Hoobestank.” And I’m sure you’d see me flying off the back of the treadmill as I tried to remember if it’s seven clicks and then two long holds or four clicks, a short hold, and then three more longish clicks before it would tell me which song I was thinking about buying when I got home.
And like ALL Apple products, if it didn’t hook me instantly, by the time I woke up the next morning I would know I had to have it. And why is that? I’ll give you two words: Brand Allegiance. And where Apple is concerned, everyone else can just move the hell out of the way, because nobody has brand allegiance like Apple. It’s an allegiance so strong that one feels compelled to buy not only the products that you “need” but even those that you don’t!
Apple symbolizes all things cool and definitely all things visionary. And it appeals to ALL age groups, from a child getting her first shuffle to my father’s 87-year-old Godfather who bought the newest iMac and carries it in, CARRIES IT IN, to the Apple store weekly for One-on-One lessons with a genius. Now that’s genius.
Apple Newton MessagePad 110
Apple is synonymous with innovation. And innovation is being able to tell people what they need before they realize they need it. It’s not about keeping up with trends or technology, it’s about blazing the trails of tech and setting the trends that keep your competition chasing after you with their “me too!” products. Take the Newton for example. “Newton?” you say? Yes, Newton: Apple’s Cro-Magnon PDA (weighing in at about a pound without the batteries). It seems silly now but that technology is what spawned the Palm Pilot and Palm OS and the boom of PDA technology. And talk about trends, remember when the iMac came out in five delicious colors and then everyone’s products, electronic or not, were coming out in translucent grape, lime, or orange? It’s not that long ago. Heck, I think I still have a bondi blue USB floppy drive somewhere in my apartment.
And still, Apple can do no wrong in the minds of its more zealous followers. I’ll give you an example of one such follower…my G5 tower passed away recently and it was like a death in the family. And she died a horrible death. She actually bled. That’s right, bled. When I took her to the Apple ER, there was actually day-glo green “blood” dripping out the back. Engine coolant. You see, the G5 chips ran so fast and so hot that Apple introduced a liquid cooling system, much like a car’s, to lower the temperature inside. And all the while I’m reeling from the shock of this horrific, tragic death, I’m thinking “How FREAKIN’ COOL is it that my computer had a freakin’ liquid cooling system inside?!?!!” It’s just so…Apple. Form plus function. They didn’t have to use an LCS (liquid cooling system as EVERYONE in the know calls it) 😉 They could have easily used several large fans that would have kept the costs down and the noise up. But that’s not Apple. That’s not smart. That’s not visionary.
So if anyone wants to come over and see my new shuffle 3.0, just wait a couple weeks for me to stop going to the gym again and you’ll find it on my desk cuddled with my red shuffle 2.0 keeping her company.
So today I came across a banner ad on buy.com that was introducing “The Black Card” by Visa. “The world’s most prestigious and versatile credit card” boasts a limited membership, 24-hour concierge service (whatever that means), an exclusive rewards program, luxury gifts and, wait for it, a Patent Pending Carbon Card…all for the low annual fee of $495. $495? Seriously?
Is it just me or is this the absolute worst time to launch a card like this? This is Visa’s contender to Platinum Card® from American Express as they carry about the same features, benefits and price tag. Visa would typically have called this a “Platinum” card if they hadn’t totally devalued the word by saturating the market with it on every card they offer, which is what they did to the word “gold” years before that.
Although the “experience” is like the AMEX Platinum Card, what Visa is alluding to is the elusive American Express Centurion Card aka the Black Card–a card so special that they don’t even advertise it. In fact, there’s no mention of it at all on americanexpress.com. It’s the Sasquatch of credit cards; the Loch Ness of luxury. Many have only heard rumors of such a card and only a few actually claim to have touched one (no doubt while working at a swanky boutique somewhere in New York’s meatpacking district). Those rumored few who hold the American Express Black Card use it to buy islands or Learjets not groceries at Sam’s Club or tires at Costco. And with a $5000 initiation fee and a $2500 annual renewal, you can see why. All of that aside, it’s the mystery that makes the American Express Centurion card so desirable. The fact that they don’t have to advertise at all, or even acknowledge its existence, is marketing genius. And the result: scores and scores of people applying for an AMEX Platinum card and spending their little hearts (and wallets) out in hopes that someday, they’ll get that exclusive invitation. That’s creating desire. And to this, Visa appears to be, well, colorblind.
Marketing aside, you have to ask yourself this: Do we really need cards like these in today’s economy? I don’t think so. I think what we need are cards that don’t keep hiking up interest rates for those in trouble. I think we need cards that offer you cash back when you pay your card in full every month – now that’s a reward. I think we need more cards that give a percentage of your purchases to charities. I think we need cards that identify those with spending problems and rather than keep increasing their credit limits, they offer them a low-interest rate to pay them down while also lowering their credit limit until it gets to something they can manage. Or cards that identify those same people and offer to close their accounts while transferring their balance to a low interest, or even no interest, loan to pay it off without screwing up their credit report. We need cards that help you out not help you get into trouble and prey on you when you do. If you really must have a card with color, go to the UK and get an American Express RED card, part of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign. That’s a color worth having.
We’re living in a world where thousands of people are being laid off from work every day and even more are going hungry or homeless. And yet the Visa Black Card offers this tagline: The World Awaits. Clearly we’re not living in the same world.