The Humanity of Loose Systems

One of our graphic designers returned from Paris the other day with the most extraordinary set of photographs.

Her and I had had a long talk before she went about how the concept of “brand” was overrated in visual design, frequently doing more harm than good. We both agreed our website could tolerate considerably more visual diversity than it currently has.

She came back from Paris with a set of photos to prove that:


Hold on, you say, these Metro signs look different! There’s no BRAND!

Yes, I say. Isn’t it great? That’s why when you say “Paris” people think of love, and when you say “America” people think of Big Macs.

But, wait, you say, what if someone needs to find the Metro quickly? Won’t they get confused?

I don’t think so. My guess is that they’ll just read signs to next flights of stairs that dissappear under the street.

At least, that’s how I’d do it.

Visual diversity is refreshing, and most systems can tolerate quite a bit of it. Yet somehow we still take visual uniformity as the given. We’re forced to make arguments for why things should be allowed to look or act differently.

The Cult of Brand and the Church of the Great Beige Website is very much with us. Modernity died years ago, but its effects linger on.

People may ask: Shouldn’t the Recycling Center page look like the Arts Center page? Shouldn’t these student pages look the same as the college pages?

I really believe the answer is no, unless it can be proved otherwise in the specific instance.

Variety doesn’t make you look slipshod, it makes you look human. And if it can be accomplished while keeping the system visually appealing and “usable”, it’s something to be admired, not avoided.