From the Guttenberg Bible to modern moveable type and beyond, production tools and methods shape identity artifacts. Each generation of designers can and should look to new production options for inspiration, but be careful not to be to be too driven by them.
Design for Production
Graphic identity design has its roots in offset lithography, and the constraints of printing technology have always influenced the form and character of logos. Simple, easy-to-reproduce shapes have been the standard for logos since the 1960s. As printing technology has advanced, however, the constraints have loosened.
Digital imaging technology has opened many doors, allowing for color logo application on a variety of substrates and materials, loosening typically conservative application standards. While it remains prudent to consider the worst-case-scenario application when developing a graphic identity, the worst-case-scenario production method often isn’t so bad anymore.
While some designers debate the merits of new methods over traditional techniques, others have taken advantage of these changes by creating graphic identities with characteristics previously avoided: multiple colors, complex shapes, gradients, and fine lines.
"Image" as a Verb
New imaging and production techniques have thrown the doors wide open for identity programs. From wrapped buildings and vehicles to backlit projections and temporary tattoos, opportunities for creative surface treatments for identities abound.
Graphic identity design has advanced along with technology, inspiring some designers to create graphically complex marks, some of which blur the line between illustrative logos and illustrations.
Remember not to jettison clarity and legibility to make way for creative complexity. Often, a more intricate mark requires a simpler application, while a more straightforward mark can lend itself to busier applications.
Even though there are new production techniques, basic design principles remain constant. The goal remains to evolve a distinctive identity into an effective program. Identity programs have constraints based on audience appropriateness and strategic alignment with brand objectives.
New Sources of Meaning
At the highest level, design is the creation or assembly of elements into a cohesive, meaningful order. The emergence of new elements creates opportunities for new meaning—and that’s what innovation is all about.
The production landscape inevitably shapes brands as innovative firms and designers leverage new techniques—often to solve old problems in new and different ways. Midcentury design icons Charles and Ray Eames capitalized on the then emerging technique of plywood molding in their furniture designs for Herman Miller. While molded plywood wasn’t the core problem, it presented an opportunity that led the Herman Miller brand into the modern furniture landscape—and left it forever changed.
New production techniques influence brands in small ways all the time. You have to design with end production methods in mind, and keep an eye out for advances in order to take full advantage of them.