“The truth is that design is rarely a place where people think wit or charm can work, (which is why it’s so refreshing to see it). Annoyingly, “Design” (with a capital “D”) is meant to be a serious and reductive process built to last, not a surface-mounted gag that tires after the third viewing — and they’d be right, but that’s the delicate balance required to achieve charm.
It’s not about a tasteless gag, nor about a designer nudge-nudge-giggle surrounding silly serifs or comic sans (no one else finds that stuff funny, or even witty, as it’s practically invisible to those outside of the typographic sensitivities celebrated on the pages of design magazines.)
It’s wit – it’s very hard to create and even harder to get a multitude of stakeholders to buy. For me something visually witty should work as well for a seven-year-old as a room of 70 CEOs. So surely the best brand example is IBM’s beauty – an oldie but an example of wit that isn’t annoying. Everyone gets the joke, it’s gorgeously crafted and styled perfectly for the brand: annoyingly good.”
“Ideas and wit in a design are two things that I always hope for. For many, this is old hat – that is, until they try to achieve it.
I have two favourite examples. First, Bob Gill’s charming 1965 counter display for Pirelli slippers, which shows a rugged drawing of a seated dog with a slipper clamped in its mouth, the corner being cleverly die-cut to take a real slipper.
The second is Phillip Thompson’s 1972 all-purpose label with the word “Boring”. Designed like an urgent sticker, you can slap it on anything that you find, well…boring. And there’s plenty of examples of those around.”
“I have not long been back in the UK after a five-year stint living and working in New York and it’s been a welcome return to the land of witty banter, sarcasm and the most unlikely discussions descending into innuendo.
One of my favourite examples of wit is pun-based eatery signage, The Codfather, Jason Donervan and Wok This Way being just a few that have caught my eye. Sometimes you don’t need a naming workshop or a brand platform. These humble shop owners know their business, they know their customers and they never fail to bring a little smile to my mind.”
“A Smile in the Mind has been an inspiration throughout my career, so it’s great to see it reworked. But I do have a nagging worry that its publication might usher in another era of smug, clever cleverness.
In the nineties, that approach was praised above all others: the self-initiated, puntastic party invite would clear up at the awards; that logo with a hidden twist would dominate the column inches; student folios were full solutions that felt like IQ tests. We were obsessed with showing how clever we were rather than how well we communicated.
Let’s learn from how far we’ve come, let’s revel in the witty but also praise the effective, the clear, the functional and the beautifully crafted.”
“There are so many inspiring examples that it’s hard to choose just one. A particularly memorable piece of truly witty design for me was the Wieden + Kennedy Christmas pudding bin bag concept from 2006.
It was a humorous way to capture the season of excess and a brilliant way to tear up the brief to design the company Christmas card. Some design challenges are so familiar that you have to admire a response that breaks the mould. It was one of those ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ moments.”