I’ve read articles about the classic FedEx logo before, but this interview with the design team about the power of negative whitespace is worth a look.
The key to success was subtlety. When you’ve got a genuine bit of magic in your hands, don’t push it at people. Let it happen.
FedEx’s PR firm immediately wanted to supersize it. They wanted to make it obvious, fill it in with another color. They wanted to feature the arrow in other brand communications. They didn’t get it. It wasn’t about the arrow. An arrow isn’t even interesting to look at. It’s only because of the subtlety that it’s intriguing.
This article makes the rather spiky point that ‘remembering your first computer is for old people’. i.e. that for the generation growing up now, there’s nothing revolutionary about how thin the MacBook Air is, or how amazing wireless syncing is. Digital photos aren’t better (or not) than film, they just are. It’s just weird that not to have had a mobile growing up.
Seen this way, relative improvement doesn’t matter for brands and businesses. The task is to be relevant now, not merely better than you used to be.
It reminded me of one of my favourite jokes from the ever-prescient, sorely-missed Douglas Adams:
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
– The Salmon of Doubt (p.95)