Scathe We Wright*

December 13th, 2012 by Mat Dolphin

Weight Watchers recently unveiled a new identity, designed by Pentagram’s Paula Scher. There are a few things we wanted to mention about the identity, which lead on to a slightly bigger, more complex point.

Online, the general consensus we saw regarding the new logo and identity wasn’t particularly great. The angry mob weren’t baying for blood as they have a tendency to do at times, but the feeling was that a gradient applied to a chunky typeface was a missed opportunity to do something more interesting and original. We tend to agree, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the rebrand**, but there certainly isn’t anything to get too excited about either. It seems that every other identity uses a gradient these days and removing the gradient from this design leaves very little in the way of concept. In summary, we arrived at the conclusion that as a redesign it is too safe and simply a bit boring.

At this point in the studio discussion, a familiar response came up – ‘Well, it was probably a case of the client just going for the safest option’. This is a fair point and one that is hard to argue with. We’ve said before that without knowing the ins and outs of the brief and what happens during the client presentations, it’s impossible to comment the process the designer and client went through to get to the final outcome. Design by its nature is a compromise and having to adapt to the needs of both the client and the target audience it what makes it design. Not always, but often, there will be an element of meeting in the middle for both parties – it’s a collaboration and all that.

But does this defence let designers off the hook too lightly? ‘It’s not great, but the client probably chose the weakest option’. Why was there a weakest option in the first place? Should anything you put in front of the client be something you’d regret them choosing? Is blaming the client for choosing the wrong idea a decent excuse? Is sub-standard work more acceptable if the client was a nightmare at every stage of the design process? No, no and no.

If the final design you produce is poor, you’re to blame. Managing client feedback to avoid your work becoming diluted and only ever presenting work you’re proud to stand by is the only option. Which can, unfortunately, be really difficult. Which is why we expected more from Paula Scher and Pentagram – they have a proven track record of producing excellent, innovative work for huge, risk-averse clients. The projects they take on are never going to be easy, but their reputation leads one to expect an extremely high standard of work. Which makes it especially disappointing when the results are underwhelming.

Now, none of the above is intended to imply that either Paula Scher or Weight Watchers are unhappy with the identity. For all we know, it might’ve been the only option put forward and both parties may be thrilled to bits with the outcome. Neither is this post supposed to be a scathing critique of the brilliant Ms. Scher. Her work for Pentagram is (usually) brilliant and inspirational. But for us, this latest work just doesn’t cut it. And the client isn’t the one to blame.

-But what do you think?
-Do we need to give the work a chance?
-Or should this work never have been put forward in the first place?

Let’s get a debate going.

Thanks for reading,

Phil and Tom

*Scathe We Wright — Spot the anagram?
**Obviously apart from the blindingly obvious word ‘twat’ in the middle of the logo that, once noticed can’t be un-seen.


7 comments on “Scathe We Wright*

  1. Jamie Mac on said:

    Excellent post, and while I hate the final outcome of this, there is a lot to be said for client feedback overriding the expertise of the creatives. It’s easy to say we should only put work we feel proud of in front of clients, but even then, it can sometimes reach the point of ‘doing what’s right’ vs ‘doing what they want’. You can put great options to the client, but it doesn’t mean they won’t butcher the concepts with their feedback/input to the point of being barely recognisable from the initial creative.

  2. Mat Dolphin on said:

    Hi Jamie, thanks for your comment.

    Completely agree that only putting your best work in front of clients is much easier said than done. As mentioned in the post, it’s actually incredibly difficult. The majority of designers will have been in the position where it would make life a hell of a lot easier to simply do what the client is asking for.

    However, producing brilliant design work for a huge client is never going to be easy. ‘Ease’ shouldn’t come into it.

    Coming up with great ideas is a hugely important part of designing. Protecting the integrity of those ideas is equally important.

  3. Kerr Vernon on said:

    Much like low-fat food the new look is a tad bland. It looks like something any common garden designer would of produced. Expectations are always high with the likes of Pentagram and I guess this must weigh (pardon the pun here) them down sometimes.

    A similar idea with gradiated type was produced recently for Alzheimer Nederland

    For me, this is far more engaging and also brilliantly executed.

    If I worked at Pentagram I would of slipped this project out under the radar.
    Profiling it to the design community is asking for trouble on this one I reckon.

    Weigh TWAT chers!!!

  4. Jamie Mac on said:

    True – I totally agree it shouldn’t be ‘easy’, though definitely the toughest part of the process can be protecting the integrity of the work. Though as a service, surely we are obliged to deliver what the client wants, despite trying to deliver what they need.

  5. Sam Knott on said:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments in the article. I have been in the position myself in the past where I would supply a “safe” option which inevitably would become chosen. This was always having a negative impact on my work and self-esteem and I was always quick to blame the client. Which was wrong. I find a lot more value and reward in establishing what it is the client needs through their input and research and by rationalising every single detail into a single strong concept. I’ve been having a personal battle with myself along the notion that ‘designers provide what the clients want’ but that very suggestion implies that ‘the client’ takes the creative initiative when in fact designers are trained to create visual solutions to solve clients’ problems (visual messages) not push elements around a page or screen until the client is satisfied.

  6. Kristine Putt on said:

    “The majority of designers will have been in the position where it would make life a hell of a lot easier to simply do what the client is asking for.” Assuming that’s what happened here, Paula Sher designed what the client insisted on. Frankly, I don’t care how famous she is for her designs. She just sold her own soul by agreeing to pump out something that will destroy her client and damage her own credibility. When you are a true professional, you recognize the point at which to walk away from a project that will result in failure for your client, as well as your personal and professional association with a failed brand. If the client insists on something that is not healthy for the business, I have no hesitation to suggest they look elsewhere. There are plenty of people who can “draw” what the clients wants. There aren’t that many who will give the client the design of a brand that will support the integrity of their business for many years to come.

  7. James Curran on said:

    Not every song that the Beatles wrote was a classic. That said, when you’re at the peak of your profession with a wide community of followers waiting to be inspired by your brilliance, you have to take it when your work falls below your own high standards. Maybe if Paula had used a solid colour it wouldn’t seem quite so bad. I find it hard to believe that Paula has been railroaded into this as she has spoken so much about the client / designer relationship. Plus her status as one of the world’s most celebrated designers must surely give her added weight in the design process.

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