Design Matters: How a man became a logo

Not long ago, we wrote about how a man can become a brand (Dave Nichol.)More recently, we demonstrated how a brand can become a mantra (Walt Disney.)For today's topic, we would like to explore a new phenomenon: how a man can...

Not long ago, we wrote about how a man can become a brand (Dave Nichol.)

More recently, we demonstrated how a brand can become a mantra (Walt Disney.)

For today’s topic, we would like to explore a new phenomenon: how a man can become a logo (Prince.)

About a year ago, he (Prince) decided to change his name to a symbol, or what he calls a ‘glyph.’

The symbol, pictured below, is clearly non-linguistic. It is not only impossible to typeset, but has no sound associated with it, which also renders it unutterable.

It is ,therefore, a form of pure visual communication, which makes it something most designers can only dream about.

Aside from its rather demonic, astrological form, which tends to conjure up associations with the occult, it is quite impossible to interpret this puzzling icon.

And, of course, it presents all kinds of problems associated with the practicalities of marketing and retailing, not to mention simple conversation.

Writing about the ‘glyph’ in VM & SD (Visual Marketing and Store Design) Magazine, Stacey Witt Toevs notes there is no accommodation for glyphs in the traditional cataloguing methods of record retailers, just as there is no glyph place card in the pop sections of their stores.

Toevs also notes stores are still filing the former Prince’s works under ‘P’ on the shelf.

For fans of the man who would be king, it must be difficult to talk about their idol.

Even the ancient Israelites managed to get around the problem of worshipping a deity whose name was unmentionable by calling him ‘Yahweh’ – which, of course, means ‘He who cannot be named.’

Maybe we could call the former Prince ‘Nohweh,’ or, ‘He who cannot be symbolized.’

Whatever name you wish to attach to this newly self-appointed deity, his decision to adopt a label that resides outside all modes of linguistic communication illustrates an important point: there is no such thing as pure visual communication.

In the beginning was the word, which begat language, which begat the structures by which we shape and apprehend reality.

No matter how powerful visual communication may be, it is always accompanied by, interpreted through, or associated with verbal language.

Now that we have talked about how a man cannot become a logo, maybe we should discuss the reasons why a logo should not become a man.

Pictured below is a curiously anthropomorphic concoction that recently appeared in an ad for a symposium on document design.

Less than six months since Xerox decided to subdue the power of its unusual name in favor of the letter ‘X,’ the company’s new visual identity is already wearing new clothes.

The new symbol, which has been partially bitmapped to indicate that Xerox has entered the digital age, suffers from at least one of the same limitations that prevent Prince’s glyph from entering the flow of human communication: it is unutterable.

What are we supposed to call Xerox now? Corporation ‘X’? Why would the originator of photocopying technology want to become Brand ‘X’ in a market of its own creation?

That would be like Kleenex deciding to label itself Tissue ‘K,’ or, Coke opting for ‘CC.’

Can you imagine a world in which product names are substituted by single initials? ‘Pass me a K, honey, I just spilt CC all over my X!’

In the immortal words of Cool Hand Luke’s jailers, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

The word ‘Xerox’ is so unique, so authoritative, so authentically original that nothing else needs to be said. But so barren is the ‘X,’ so incapable is it of standing on its own two feet that someone has decided to give it shoes, a hat and gloves as well.

As sacrilegious as it may seem to add such corny decoration to a corporate symbol, it demonstrates a basic human need: to communicate in a language that is meaningful.

Both Prince and Xerox should take note: if meaning is not intended by the communicator, it will be attached by the receiver anyway, for communication abhors a vacuum.