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Comments (21) Posted 09.13.04 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Jessica Helfand

Magazine Without a Name, Brand Without a Promise




The New York Times Business Section today reports a new elite magazine aimed at the exclusive holders of the American Express Centurion Card. The magazine itself consists of five articles, four ads, and no name or indeed, nameplate — which is to say no logo — thus achieving the editor's goal of being "mysterious and beautiful."


Centurion cardholders are distinguished by their spending (more than 150K annually) which gives them exclusive access to this magazine that offers "value, not clutter." (Where this leaves Time and Newsweek, I'm not so sure.) In today's Times piece, the editor is mentioned, and a spokesperson at Amex is mentioned, but no designer is cited —an omission, or a reality check to which we should summon our attention? (The black-on-black pattern is credited to Tomas Maier, the creative director of Bottega Veneta — but the logo-less magazine itself is, in fact, credited to no one.)

Elsewhere
in today's Business section, an article on the new Xerox logo looks at the dicey positioning of its erstwhile tagline. "'The Document Company' is an intellectual idea," notes a spokesperson from Young & Rubicam, Xerox's longtime agency, "but the brand is an emotional promise."

What is it, exactly, that's bothering me here? Is it the language? The posturing? The economics driving the promotion of an elite publication with questionable editorial substance? Maybe. But more vexing, still, than any of this is the notion of the Business of Design being represented by (a) a brandless brand and (b) the idea that intellect and emotion are mutually exclusive.

I'm over-reacting, of course, but it seems that such reportage has more to do with equivocation than articulation. Being mysterious is all about equivocation. As for being beautiful — I'm not so sure.
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Comments (21)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

"The magazine, which includes articles about a giant, single-mast sailboat and a luxury lodge in Namibia, is lush, but not expansive." - NYT article.

Whats going to be in the next issue?

Playing Elephant Polo in Thailand and sipping Fresh Coconut Juice???

They say the do not want clutter. Shame on them, this is clutter of the worst kind,

This "magazine" seems nothing more that another ego boost and furthers the social gap between those who can afford it and those who actually have to worry about paying their monthly credit card bill.

If they wanted to provide value, the magazine would be truly mysterious the public would never know about it and the articles would have provided something more than an advert for a luxury boat.

This seems ripe material for VH1's The Fab Life of ........Whatever.
Aashim Tyagi
09.13.04 at 09:48

I say bully for AmEx for trying something different (both the designer for his design ideas and the client for actually taking a slight risk). Of course, if the idea of a logoless logo catches on we'll lose jobs, yet I'm guessing that won't become the norm--how do you differentiate one brandless brand from another brandless brand?
Seth
09.14.04 at 03:20

it's really applying the idea of the sexy black dress or a strach white shirt to design isnt it? The idea is how expensive does it look (unless it is indeed Gucci, in that case do let us know if the mag is any good?)

its' the silly notion that we are elevating our lives and becoming more pure, simple and mysterious to the general public.

i actually like the idea of having brandless brands, growing up i always wanted to own something by the ACME corporation but then again we do not wish to live in a bland world do we?

It's the hiearchy of power maintained through inclusivity of those who can afford.

rest of us are happy to be driven by desire.
Aashim Tyagi
09.14.04 at 03:52

A vague strategy statement is nothing without a vague tagline:

"So today, Xerox is bidding "The Document Company" and the broken-armed X a grateful goodbye. In their place will be a new, cleaner-looking logo, featuring the Xerox name over the signature "Technology/Document Management/Consulting Services."

What's even more sad is that this comment is followed by the claim that "industry experts applaud the change." Please tell me how any industry expert think that "Technology/Document Management/Consulting Services" isn't a jumble?

But I tell you all that I'm still upset by what those twits did to Rand's UPS logo - it qualifies as an act of vandalism...



Michael Pinto
09.14.04 at 05:06

Shame on them, this is clutter of the worst kind

Clutter is, of course, best defined as something someone else is interested in. BTW, what's the second worst kind? (Since I don't gross $150K, let alone charge that much on one card, I'm reasonably certain that AmEx doesn't care if I'm interested in the articles in their new rag.)
Gunnar Swanson
09.14.04 at 11:08

I find the idea of a brandless brand incredibly appealing. It's the height of minimalism. If less is more then this is everything. It's the exact opposite of the old clichéd client response "Make the logo bigger". Here, there isn't one. And when you get right down to it, it's nothing more than another company's internal newsletter to their clients. Just because their client's are rich, doesn't make it wrong.

As for Xerox's new tagline, I'm going to go with "no".
Iain Thomas
09.14.04 at 11:18

My former company once received a 30 page blank fax from The Document Company. That amused us. It's good for them to be rid of that ridiculous promise. For me, the Xerox brand line might as well be "We invented the future. Now we just live in it."

The revised brand is an understandable change.

Someone incorrectly parsed the new statement by misinterpreting the graphics. It's NOT "Technology/Document Management/Consulting Services". In advertising and marketing venues, the XEROX logo also now will be accompanied by a capabilities line: "Technology. Document Management. Consulting Services."

Whether or not that inspires you, it's hardly worthy of ridicule.

--

As for the Amexclusive magazine, brand and logo are not the same thing. If your brand is strong enough you don't even have to show your logo.
Kevin Steele
09.14.04 at 11:41

check mujiLink
...that amex mag just sounds like using "brandless-ness" as a gimmick to heighten its exclusivity and mystery...not a bad idea...just bad because its done by a money-money corporation for the elite...
joe
09.14.04 at 12:00

As for the Amexclusive magazine, brand and logo are not the same thing. If your brand is strong enough you don't even have to show your logo.

Good point on the difference between brand and logo. In fact, in this instance removing the logo to create something more "mysterious and beautiful," may actually better represent the Centurion brand.

As for Xerox, I think their earlier slogan was better. This one says too much/too little to be memorable. I liked their old logo better too.
Seth
09.14.04 at 03:04

I second the muji suggestion, if for different reasons. By now, Muji's brand and aesthetic--and it's designed store name (what would otherwise be called a logo) is universally recognized, at least in Japan. Meaning will accrete to design decisions, even seemingly self-negating ones.

The Bottega Veneta connection is telling, though; for the last few years all Gucci's customer mailings, invites, and catalogues have been wrapped in featureless (or lizard/croc-embossed) black. BV is owned by Gucci.
greg.org
09.14.04 at 03:14

I don't see how this magazine can be seen as "brandless." It's like Sartre for designers - the lack thereof any "brand" is the "brand." It's not extremely heady or revolutionary. If 20 different magazines started using this brand identity then we would have issues but it's the only one therefore it distinguishes itself from the rest - creating "brand." I don't have any problems with the concept, my only issue is with the presumed elitism of the brand. This concept would go over much better if it was marketed to YUPPIES, I would think... would appeal to anybody who's tired of being a walking billboard.
Billy
09.14.04 at 07:08

This is one of those ideas that has already been pioneered by others to better effect.

The European paper business called M-Real has very generously been giving us interesting and intriguing 'nameless' magazines since Spring 2000. They are available here.

M-Real contracted with John Brown, a London-based contract publisher, and they commissioned Jeremy Leslie to art direct. They also invited some very intelligent people from the international design community for articles and interviews, and rightly enough achieved better content than boring the rest of us rigid with luxury lodges or big boats.

The design was pretty edgy, too.

It's not suprising that the big money in NY has finally caught on, but disappointing that their 'creative suppliers' are content with recycling other people's ideas about the mystique of something nameless. One of the more depressing things about being involved with graphic design in our time and culture, is the relentless way in which the commercial mainstream simply absorbs, cannibalises & recommodifies those really meaningful, cutting-edge projects, and then proceeds to churn out similar-looking or similarly-named [or, in this case, un-named] tat as yet more expensive window dressing for the bourgeousie.

Vampire-like, I call it.
ben archer
09.14.04 at 09:24

Another Marketing Ploy.

The publication survives because of a predetermined mailing list. Clearly, it has no competition. Thus, doesn't need to differentiate itself.

The benefit is acknowledging you did it; to create a Buzz.

On the shelf, how much different would the publication be from Robb Report and the now defunct Connoisseur Magazine.

Without some form of Semantic or Semiotic as an Identifier. The elite publication can't compete in mass market. Albeit, advertising revenue.

I remember reading and Collecting Robb Report twenty years ago. I wasn't in their tax bracket.
Still not today.

More important, I suspect I'll be able to spend
$ 150.000.00 dollar credit line. Before, I'm on the mailing list to receive the monthly Pirelli Calender. Such Is Life.
DesignMaven
09.14.04 at 09:39

Blank cover, black-on-black... anyone else thinking Spinal Tap?
Andrew Chaikin
09.14.04 at 10:00

Haha Andrew... but can it go up to 11?

Aashim Tyagi
09.15.04 at 01:21

The change in the Xerox tagline reminds me of a blog I wrote about naming blog entries. Basically, what it states is that in the era of print design, writers were often trying to come up with clever names, to make them memorable. Now, with search engines fishing out relevant content, it's important for your titles to be relevant. Were you hoping that Xerox would develop another trite tagline such as "Document Solutions?"

I don't have any evidence, in this case, to point to this specifically being Xerox's motive, but perhaps they wanted a good reason to put "h1" tags around some keywords that they would like internet searchers to come to their site through, and picked those as their taglines. This, of course, would help their search rankings for those keywords.

Xerox's move to actually indicate what they do in their tagline says to me that rather than trying to get me to associate an intangible emotion or value system with their products, they actually have products that provide something tangible.
kadavy
09.15.04 at 08:07

American Express's magazine is not one bit nameless or brandless. It exists to be discussed, so we must call it something, like "Amexlusive Magazine," or "that magazine with no name." And its brand is the lack of brand, which is very different than brandless. It's like saying Prince really did become an inaudible symbol. Sure he changed his name; to "The artist formerly known as Prince." In all nothing can be nameless or brandless, just lacking in brand and, well, we call everything something.
Jennifer
09.15.04 at 12:29

Imagine giving our potential clients beautiful business cards without text, logo or phone number—but a nicely designed card to provoke the senses. (rolling eyes)
Dino
09.16.04 at 10:59

Whats going to be in the next issue?
Playing Elephant Polo in Thailand and sipping Fresh Coconut Juice???


The sad thing about projects like this is that the glass is rarely as good as the wine. I think there's a quote in David Hall's Cultures of Print where a "Book Beautiful" expert from the turn of the last century advises collectors that the content of a book is irrelevant. The that beautifully art-directed magazine with insubstantial articles typifies both the industry, and its view of the customer. And I suppose this shouldn't come as a huge surprise: after all, these people are being selected on no other basis than that they're rich.

Brian
09.17.04 at 08:21

It seems like this elite (or should we classify: financially elite) audience that receives this Amexclusive Magazine (or should we call: American Express Centurion Card Magazine) is receiving the sort of editorial content that makes perfect sense for them. Without actually validating the existence of extravagances in the lives of this market, is it not understandable that these cardholders, who receive their charge cards hand delivered by white gloved service people, would have a publication associated with their membership - targeting what the product's core use is: spending money. That there be some regular and courteous contact with their customers should be expected, as the Centurion card is more about it's servicing features than its unlimited credit line (which you can get from other cards). In a call for 'appropriate content' for an audience, it sounds like this is on the mark.

I can't find the moral problem with writing articles (and then designing them) for this _very_ specific audience about high priced adventures and money-spending opportunities. These people are not being persuaded to spend a lot of money - they have proven that they already do, it's an existing situation. Plus, I don't think that a publication such as this is really going to effect or perpetuate high figure spending, nor truly discourage anyone looking to, say, start giving all of their money to charity.

Regarding design:
The all black card that holds/represents the Centurion 'club's' power is still the same shape as any other charge card and works in the same way - yet reveals its exclusivity through a simple and unique design - something that represents, amongst other things a minimum 150,000 annual charge card spending. Through this design, the card is highly recognized and from what I understand, holds a certain authority when in use - which I suppose is a quality the cardholders would like to have in the act of business. Sounds like successfully card design and brand circulation. That the cover of it's accompanying publication matches this aesthetic makes sense to me as a design solution. To judge it's entire design without reference to the inside seems unfair.

Plus, I could not find the claim of the Xerox brand's intellectual and emotional substance to be exclusive. The taglines were noted as 'AN intellectual idea' - 'AN emotional promise,' implying their co-existence with many others.

Perhaps a brandless brand also represents an intellectual idea, or even just a market segment. Are we just up-in-arms about this segment because of an implied wastefulness in their expenses? That seems a hard thing to judge outright, and much more political in nature than about 'design & culture.'

That said, I write believing that one 'over-reaction' deserves another, for various reasons, so simply consider this it.

Adam Berninger
09.20.04 at 11:26

Johny
02.20.05 at 09:47


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer and a former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Communications Arts and Eye magazines. A member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director's Hall of Fame, Helfand received her B.A. and her M.F.A. from Yale University where she has taught since 1994.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Jessica Helfand

Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture
Winterhouse Editions, 2001

Scrapbooks: An American History
Yale University Press, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel
Winterhouse Editions, 2002

Paul Rand: American Modernist
winterhouse Editions, 1998

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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