There is as quality in graphics that makes certain concepts and references explicit. These factors usually establish an integral relationship with the subject being stylised. The process is known as creating a logo. A logo is a graphic device that establishes the identity of what it is marking and adds something more. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. It is this characteristic of images that makes logos so important. A good logo can transform an entity and make it a household name - immediately recognizable in all of its subtle references that should ideally collude to reinforce the unique characteristics of the primary subject. There is a rich transparency and immediacy in good graphics. It is all more than just a stylistic game. The danger with these images is that a bad graphic carries the same authority in a negative manner. The creator has no control over how an image will be read, in spite of any specific defined or theoretical intent.
The pure new wool logo is one of the great logos - simple, recognizable, memorable, unique: beautiful, compact. The new Woolworths logo does much the same but with less panache and a bit more 'noise.' It reads as an apple peel 'W,' leaving one with ambiguous interpretations - fresh fruit or leftovers? It is very pretty, but maybe it places too much emphasis on fruit when Woolworths stands for so much more? Yet it does work. It is a recognizable image that has an intrigue in its cleverness that interests one. Hence it is memorable - well, it becomes familiar. We live in a cloud of logos. Everywhere we look we are confronted with a logo or specially designed graphic styled to prompt the particular message and feeling. Our world seems to never exhaust the possibilities for creating new identities. What are these images doing to us? Traditionally logos were more than markers or signs. They were symbols holding power; rarely something arbitrary or merely pretty.
Today it seems everyone and every group needs a logo as a decorative marker of 'me.' It is a little like keeping up with the Jones's. Cigarettes need them (look at the plain packaging protest); noodles; television stations; corporations; transport providers; even governments have to have them. It seems that everyone, yes, even firms of architects, has to have a smart graphic as a part of being there. So it is not a surprise to see that the Board of Architects of Queensland now has one. Well, I think it has. On opening the annual renewal of registration correspondence, a series of marks were revealed in the top right hand corner of the first page. This looks to be a logo location. There were four shapes in different greys that seemed to sit in a random relationship, almost forming a square - well, what one assumed to be square-ish. But what was this hieroglyphic assemblage. What was the message? What was the sense of these markings? Was this a logo? It held nothing architecturally obvious or any sense of alluding to a formal statutory body. The words below - BOARD OF ARCHITECTS OF QUEENSLAND - suggested that there was a relationship between the marks and the words. Looking more closely at the shapes, one could guess that the top left shape looked rather like a letter B, but incomplete. What on earth were the other shapes?
The eye wandered down along the darker tones of grey and rested on an angular image that looked like the letter V turned upside down. This was a puzzle. The mark opposite this inverted letter had an odd shape in paler grey. It looked a little like a pair of calipers as it had a pointy end with two curving 'arms' extending from this lower corner. In the same grey tone above this strange shape beside the B, there was what appeared to be a portion of a numeral - zero. It looked like part of a naught and reminded one of ink-ribbon type from a worn ribbon and dirty keys. But what was this grouping? It started to look like a flower - four petals of something - but not a very good flower. Petals are always more and better organized.
Starting again with the first hypothesis that proposed that one shape was supposed to be the letter B, the guessing game was extended with the assumption that B stood for BOARD in the name below. So where was the A? The O? The Q? No match was immediately obvious. It was confusing to see a set of four shapes all of equal presence in two tones when one was trying to match BoAQ to the graphic design. Gosh, perhaps the V is the A; and the part zero is the 'o,' but shown as O. Where was the Q? There was only one choice left - the calipers must be the Q. Well, it took a while, but one could postulate that the pointy end was the tail of the Q and the remainder of the shape was a portion of the O form in upper case. Even with this logic, it was difficult to convince the eye to see this lower right mark as the letter Q. The shape kept on looking like part of a lower case 'a,' following the example of other incomplete letters. The mind was constantly trying to see 'architects' in this mark, leaving the V stranded, without any role in the theory being tested. The shape was reading as an insert marker for the letter B above, a connection reinforced by the darker tones, rather than as an A. Where was the B to be inserted? Maybe the adjacent bracket image - } - created by the matching grey shapes on the right of the 'insert B' message had something to do with this? Or are these twin mystery shapes in pale grey a 'g' for grandma's glasses?
In spite of this quandry, the idea that these shapes referred to initial letters of the text below seemed to be the best guess. Flowers and approximated squares appeared to have no necessary relationship with this body, and there was no other obvious identity that one could fathom as being relevant. So perhaps these shapes display an attempt to make something meaningful out of the initials of four words? If so, one has to ask: why do it in this fashion? It is all very confusing. There is no immediate identity or recognition that grasps the eye or mind in this assemblage. Why two greys? Why treat the 'o' of 'of' as being equal to the B, A and Q? It confused. Ordinary speech and text places a lesser indentity on the 'of.' Referring to the title in this manner makes it appear - after much thought, reassesment and training - as 'board OF architects queensland.' Hey, there is another 'of' in the words below! Surely not? Why graphically refer to one particular 'O' of one 'of' in such a significant way and not the other? The letters really are: BOAOQ. The graphic has only four shapes!
What on earth is going on? This anomoly makes the image far more baffling. If one is referencing letters, then they must all be referenced if things are to be clear: surely? - especially given that it is the insignificant 'of' that is being discriminated against. Why acknowledge only one of the two in the text? Why not ignore both? Maybe the hypothesis is incorrect and the graphic / logo has another meaning? Who knows? The really surprising thing is that this is purportedly the graphic for a Board of Architects. Surely someone could have reviewed this before it was finalised? Were architects involved? This is a design profession. What is happening here? There has been much discussion and criticism about the 2012 Olympic Games graphic, but this London logo has more certainty, clarity and identity than the BO^a image. What has gone wrong? One might have hoped for a stunning logo to represent an office related to a professional design body - especially the authority that controls the right to practice. The current logo - if it is one - only seems to confirm the cliche: don't use architects, they leave you in a mess and cost you a lot of money.
Graphics need to be better that is. They are never just pretty patterns. They require rigour and effort - a struggle to seek out an essence that can be grasped in a marking in a moment. The task holds some of the qualities of letter design. The current graphic is toying with this - poorly - and misses the sense of identity that an iconic image can shape. Is this a reflection of where the Board is? - the profession?
The sense of the making of an image can be clearly experienced in the puppets made for the stage play 'War Horse.' Here pieces of cane and fabric are operated by three people. While all of these factual and functional details are clear for all to see, one reads the whole assembly as a horse. The illusion is so powerful that the team took one puppet to the Sandown racecourse in Britain. The image and its identity can be best appreciated on YouTube - see 'War Horse Puppet at Sandown Park, Esher.' There are other related YouTube sites too. The puppet is simply astonishing. It is this sense of identity and authority that good graphics display. One is also able to see such transformations in traditional design where, with an equal presence and without compromise to the image or the function, a bird can become a jug or a paperweight. We seem to struggle with such remarkable parallels today, preferring - well, anything but this transforming, transfiguring delight.
Flicking over to the second page in this correspondence from the Board of Architects of Queensland, the eye was again presented with the same corner image, but this time it was crowded with bold text nearby that read as a command - a demand: 'Return completed application form with payment of $155.70 by 31 May 2012.' Hum! The Board does need some advice on graphics. This juxtapositioning was just crude. It also begged the question that related to the registration itself: why does it cost the same to be registered as what the Board calls a 'Non-Practising architect' - 'I declare that I will not practise as an architect in Queensland' (go to New South Wales?) - as it does for one who practises, complete with the appropriate 'FITNESS TO PRACTISE' ticks? Why pay to not practice? Surely one just goes and does this, as Christopher Robin explained to Winnie the Pooh when Pooh asked how one did nothing? Do we need a new category: 'ex-architect'? 'Exceptional'! What is being controlled here? The word 'architect' is bandied around by all and sundry these days in a miriad of differing contexts and no one cares. One wonders why the effort is being made to control the word when its current usage seems to be so out of control. Perhaps the new graphic logo, (if it is indeed this), is an appropriate indication of the state of the Board today?
Weeks after publishing this article, when searching for more information of CPD, the graphic appeared on the computer screen in full colour. It was a surprise. Instead of making things clearer, it only raised more questions. The appearance of colour made one recall the importance of having a graphic that can be as expressive in black and white as it is in any hue. This graphic seemed to be searching for an identity in choices that appeared random.
Assuming the four shapes in the block are references to letters: the B was dark grey; the O was olive green; the A was red ochre; and the Q was tan. The text below these markings, in block lettering, was pale grey. But there was more. This graphic was now located on the upper left side of the page, with a red ochre line below it and another line of text to the right reading 'Board of Architects of Queensland' yet again; this time in upper and lower case, red ochre letters in a different typeface. Why are things getting so complicated; so varied; so ad hoc? Below this underlning of the logo and the additional text are two dot points: 'protecting the public'; and 'advancing education in architecture'. This line of letters is in the same font and colour as the additional title, in lower case. Is this a mission statement or is it what the Board thinks it is doing? One might like to know more about both of these activities and how the Board thinks it is achieving good outcomes for everyone. That the Board is apparently happy with its' new graphic identity only raises more and more quesitons about its' role in the profession.
28 January 2015
See also: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/graphics-from-grapevine.html