Alice Rawthorn uses Instagram to highlight design debacles

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Alice Rawsthorn

This is one of my favourite Instagram accounts. Alice Rawsthorn writes about design in the International New York Times and is the author of Hello World: Where Design Meets Life. On Instagram, Rawsthorn on occasion turns her critical gaze to what she calls design debacles, which I assume will one day become a book. Here she is on the UPS rebrand (you can see their new brand here).

Design Debacles – 4. So many foolish corporate design decisions seem to be made on the “change for change’s sake” principle. Take UPS’s otherwise incomprehensible decision to ditch this beautiful “present” symbol designed by the great US graphic designer Paul Rand in 1961 with a depressingly bland logo, designed by the FutureBrand group in 2003. (I’m not its only detractor. The designer Michael Bierut described it on Design Observer as a “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger Photoshop Fantasy”.) Rand’s symbol added a parcel with string tied in a bow above UPS’s traditional shield motif to soften the militaristic symbolism and as a reference to the company’s business as a courier service. To test it, he asked his eight year-old daughter Catherine, what it was. “She said: ‘That’s a present, Daddy,’ which was perfect,” recalled Rand. Whereas FutureBrand resorted to corporate gobbledygook when describing the objective of its identity on its website as being to “reposition UPS as the critical nerve centre for global commerce.” Yikes. #design #graphicdesign #corporateidentity #visualidentity #paulrand @ups @bierutmichael @designobserver

A photo posted by Alice Rawsthorn (@alice.rawsthorn) on

And here on Arne Jacobsen’s decision to sell their iconic Egg Chair to McDonalds:

Design Debacles – 2. Money can come at too high a price, as the Danish furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen may have discovered when it accepted an order from McDonalds to buy the Egg and Series 7 chairs, designed in the 1950s by the architect Arne Jacobsen. McDonalds’ research suggested that it needed to spruce up its fast food outlets, particularly in Europe, where its customers were becoming more discerning. The Eggs and Series 7s, both of which conveyed a tastefully modern air, seemed perfect for the task. The risk for Fritz Hansen was whether its products would lose that very air once people started to associate them with Big Macs and McMuffins. Though that threat was soon trumped by McDonalds’ decision to buy cheap copies of the chairs in countries like Britain where Jacobsen’s designs were out of copyright, and then to commission new chairs “inspired” by the originals, but, predictably, looking more like parodies of them. Accepting that order imperilled the design credibility that the Eggs and Series 7s had amassed over the years, and had prompted McDonalds to buy them. #design #arnejacobsen #eggchair #series7chair #designdebacles

A photo posted by Alice Rawsthorn (@alice.rawsthorn) on

And on the PlayPump debacle:

Design Debacles – 5. Even the best intentioned design projects can flop. An example is PlayPump, which had the admirable objective of supplying clean water to areas of Africa where it was perilously scarce. Water was extracted the ground by a borehole pump driven by a children’s roundabout. When the roundabout rotated, water was pumped up into an elevated tank, whose walls doubled as advertising billboards to fund the system’s running costs. PlayPump succeeded brilliantly in one respect, as the fundraising images of happy children helping their families and neighbours by playing secured millions of dollars in donations. But the designers overestimated the length of time that kids would be able – or willing – to play on the roundabouts, which seldom produced enough water to meet the local community’s needs. They also overestimated the amount of income that the billboards would generate, and underestimated the running costs. As the financial pressure mounted, PlayPump’s founding charity closed. Not only was PlayPump itself impeded by its design flaws, its problems may have made it more difficult for more intelligently and sensitively designed humanitarian projects to secure the necessary funding and political support to realise their goals. #design #waterpolitics #PlayPump #humanitariandesign #designdebacles Delete Comment

A photo posted by Alice Rawsthorn (@alice.rawsthorn) on

You can follow Alice Rawsthorn on Twitter here, and on Instagram here.

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