I’ve been writing about design seriously for about five years. One of the pitfalls of doing this, while continuing to earn a living as a designer, is that I’m constrained in what I can say about the bad design I see around me.
Why? Surely as long as my comments are fair and reasonable, I’m free to say what I want? Well, yes and no.
Two things conspire against me. The first is that if I write scathingly about another designer’s work I’m laying myself open to accusations of professional jealously, or worse, a desire to damage a rival’s business. The second is a personal inhibition. I often see work that is palpably dreadful, but I’m reluctant to say so in print because I know how difficult it is to do good work in the current climate, and besides, I have my own drawer of shame – work that I’d be loathe to have critiqued in public.
I deal with these restraints by refraining from slagging off other designers. This is fairly easy to do: design is a rich subject with more than enough good stuff to avoid rooting about in the box marked ‘crap’.
Anyway, the few times I’ve been mildly critical of a fellow designer I’ve ended up sitting next to them at an awards ceremony or on a design jury. So, call me a coward, but I refrain from being openly critical about the stuff we all feel free to moan about whenever designers gather.
Until, that is, today. Today I want to make an exception. I want to slag off a piece of work that has irritated me like a wasp sting. I’ve no idea who the designers are – I’ve deliberately avoided finding out – and I wish them no ill. As I said, we’ve all got our drawer of shame.
What am I talking about? The new Virgin Media brand identity, of course. One of the reasons I feel at liberty to comment on this monstrosity is that I am – for the time being at least – a customer of the new Virgin Media conglomerate.
I’ve been a Telewest customer for a number of years, pretty much without complaint, and with the merger of Virgin, NTL and Telewest, I became a Virgin Media customer.
At the same time as this happened, a big swathe of Murdoch-owned channels vanished from my screen. I can’t say I minded – thank God I’ve still got Bid Up TV – but I did mind not being offered financial compensation for this loss of content.
Like countless others, I complained, and was offered a placatory upgrade on my broadband connection and a £10 monthly price reduction. All fairly good, except when the bill arrived they’d increased my standing order by £10, and as if this wasn’t bad enough, my broadband connection started to malfunction requiring two visits from engineers.
But – all this was nothing compared to the horror of the new Virgin Media logo. Who decided that this was an acceptable piece of visual communication in 2007? It’s more suited to a K-Tel hits compilation from 1978. And while we’re on the subject – who decided that a TV commercial featuring a muttering Uma Thurman was an effective way to launch the new company? It’s yet another example of an ad agency creating advertising that has no connection whatsoever with a branding and ‘below-the-line’ campaign. The Virgin Media launch must rate as one of the most disjointed ever. It works on one level though: every time I see it I’m reminded to change my cable provider.