Florence logo

Earlier this month, Milton Glaser was interviewed by Italian journalist Diana Di Nuzzo about the new logo for the city of Florence.

In reference to the similarity with the Prague logo, Milton said, “Not only is [the Florence design] inadequate and doesn’t serve its purpose, but it is also stolen. How embarrassing can you get?”

He went on to comment about Florence’s decision to use a design contest to produce the result. “When you had a thousand submissions there was no possibility that the best could be selected. You can’t select the best from a thousand anything.”

You know how I feel about spec work.

For more on the Florence project, read Steven Heller’s thoughts on The Atlantic: Florence’s New Logo: Crowdsourced Design That’s Bad for Design.

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March 21, 2014

Comments

Firenze is not the only “shame” for Italian cities and government institutions.

Roma and Regione Lazio (copied from Regione Puglia’s logo) are just other examples.

Lately, here in Italy, asking for spec work seems to be a trend. In a country where creative work is too often not recognized as a job (we have not yet an effective protection by unions, trade associations or specific laws), what happened was predictable.

This is not an isolated case and, in fact, happens too many times. It is very common when principally governmental institutions, but not only, need some work of this kind. It’s cheap and easy, but these kinds of contests are also like fuel igniting the spec work machine.

I’m not a fan of ‘logo-bashing’. There are too many unqualified, anonymous commentators criticising identities without understanding the context of the work. My opinion is that if you can’t offer something constructive, then don’t bother. In this instance I feel differently. It’s Milton Glaser! The designer of probably the most iconic identity for a city, ever. He’s more than qualified to offer criticism.

The point that stands out for me is that the identity is for Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and a city that has arguably done more for modern civilisation and the creative arts than any other. Its heritage is undeniable and it’s an absolute travesty that they would crowdsource a logo in the first place, regardless of the outcome. Especially when you consider the city’s artistic legacy was built on patronage and investment in the arts. The great masters the city has produced will be turning in their graves.

Stealing a logo is unprofessional. Crowdsourcing a logo is unforgivable. These acts are the mark of poor business practices. But the city of Florence? I don’t know where to begin. Florence is one of the crown jewels of the world’s art history. Florence should feature a mark that is original.

A few years ago, my city hired an out of state designer to create a new logo. The logo cost $70,000. That price is not high considering the market. But that a local designer wasn’t used to create the new logo was unjust. Businesses preach about ethics, but where are the ethics when hiring a designer? Sad.

Hi Jesse, I’ve no problem at all with out-of-country (or out-of-state) designers creating work for cities. I think it’s more important to hire the right designer.

David, I completely agree. Except in this case the city in question is populated by some amazing designers. Fact is, cities are likely required to get three bids and then go with the lowest bid by law.

That’s a point. There’s bound to be a ton of restrictions for Government/council design procurement.

Dan, I couldn’t agree more about anonymity and a lack of context. Even without the anonymity there’s a lot of overly-harsh criticism of design work.

Earlier in my career, I recall being very critical of work I didn’t like.

But the more I worked with clients, the more I realized that wasn’t fair. I’ve seen work by fantastic designers that I thought looked bad. However, we all know that the best work happens with the best clients. A client with no sense of style and who is unwilling to let his designer do his job can ruin a project.

When I look at the work I’m most proud of, it’s often the result of a collaboration with a client that was daring and intelligent.

Interesting topic, for sure. I’ve caught myself being very harsh about some design work in the past. It just seems that you have to know the backstory before we’re able to make informed critiques.

I work with Bob Johnson, a famous artist specializing in wine labels. Anyway, he once did a pen and ink illustration for a major winery’s upcoming release. Despite this winery’s enormous wealth, their “art director” was the president’s administrative assistant. Her critique was, “I hate it.” He said something like, “Uhh, what do you hate about it? Can you elaborate?”

I learned two things from that anecdote: 1) creative professionals have feelings, and it’s prudent to take that into consideration before you eviscerate their work, and 2) if your client isn’t excited and positive about collaboration, it can drain the electricity right out of the project.

Forgive this soapbox moment:

When someone hires a lawyer, they don’t presume to tell the lawyer how to draft a writ of habeas corpus. When someone hires a brain surgeon, they don’t tell the doctor how to mend the frontal lobe.

But everyone has an opinion about art. A friend and I once got into an argument about this, and he contended that every opinion is valid – especially regarding art. I do not agree. If you tell me that you don’t like Chopin, that’s a valid opinion. I cannot tell you what you should like. However, if you tell me that Chopin is terrible, that’s what we like to call an invalid opinion. The consensus of the world’s critics agree that Chopin does not suck at all.

Finally, the most dreary words you can hear are, “My kid could paint that.” Well, that could be true. But YOU couldn’t. Picasso is credited with saying, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” More to the point, art is expression. And good design cannot be sullied by an uninformed opinion.

/rant

I’m going to pick up the previous comment about clients that have no sense of style and end up ruining the project. Unfortunately I’ve seen too many of those. We can all criticize crowd sourcing design contests but one good think about them is that as a designer, when you realize that the client is one of those, you can walk away with no consequence.

I totally agree with Mr. Glaser and I also believe that ethics and professionalism went down the drain a long long time ago here in Italy, replaced by shallowness and superficiality. It’s a waste of time bringing up once again that it’s a shame that such horrible work was done, since the word “shame” is becoming so popular in Italy.

A red square with an awful font and a scrabble solution, is that it? Is that the logo? Beside the fact that was “inspired” by the Prague logo, I definitely have a hard time understanding what is behind this logo. The sad part is, they are probably going to stick with it, since they probably paid an outrageous amount of money for that thing.

Jesse, you are 50% right. That could indeed happen on contests that are not guaranteed. On the other hand, guaranteed contests are not refundable, so the client really has no other choice than to pick and pay someone.

But I’m not here to debate spec work, which I know comes with many damaging consequences for the design community: exploitation, risks, wrong insight about the monetary value of the work, wrong insight about reasonable timeframes, you name it. However, I am not a fundamentalist and will never bash a fellow designer who is still struggling to find his spot in the sun and has to do spec work just so that he/she can pay the bills. Let’s not forget that those who allow themselves to be exploited don’t do it because they think it’s fun. Sometimes life is just too tough for instant success and you don’t want a bailiff coming into your house to take all your furniture.

I agree with much of that, Ana. It takes a lot of work to make a living from design. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, and I’m sure I’ll make plenty more. On your point about guaranteed contests, I’ve seen cases where the profiles of the winning “designers” showed one contest entered, one design uploaded, and one contest win. Profiles created by contest holders to avoid paying for anything but the listings.

Hi David. I’m aware of that. It’s possible. But it is just as likely as being hit by a drunk driver. We take informed risks all the time in order to function, malfunction or merely survive. We make informed choices. The best ones only produce results from which we can only benefit in the far future. In the meanwhile, we do whatever it takes, such as getting out in a car while knowing we can get hit by a drunk driver. Such as doing spek work when there’s nothing else within immediate reach. I bought and read both your books, and trust me, I’m doing everything I can to open new avenues of opportunities, so that I can finally say by by to spek work. But I’m not there yet. Speck work is not where I want to be but it’s where I am, it has helped me gain experience and paid a lit of my bills. But designers who made it should be careful about how they talk about speck work. I think we all can agree that no one walks up to the guy who picks up our garbage to tell him about how miserable of a job he has. We assume he already knows that and will quit the moment he gets a better chance. We assume that reminding him if his situation is not really helpful unless we know of someone who can offer him a better job.

While there is no doubt the two marks are similar, and it is even possible the designer of the Florence logo was aware of the Prague logo, to say it is a copy is, in my view, totally unfair. Does the designer of the Prague logo have a copyright on using 4 different versions of a city name in a logo? To me, to call this logo a copy of the Prague logo is to insult the Prague logo. That logo has clear layers of meaning, set out in a way that is clever and layered.

However, I do agree that the Florence logo is awful. It’s busy, it’s unintelligible, it’s nondescript, it’s all of the negatives Mr. Glaser points out.

I just think that, considering that both are simply multiple versions of a city name in a box, that alone doesn’t make it plagiarized. There are so many logos out there that could be considered copies if that was the standard we are using. If someone’s logo is just the words of their company name, does that mean nobody else after that can use words of their company name as a logo? That argument, in this instance to me, is ridiculous.

Intentionally plagiarized or not, I personally believe that as a designer, if you crafted a city logo that REMINDS people of another city logo, you have failed miserably in your mission. The logo WILL be remembered and people will talk about it, but for all the wrong reasons. And the nightmare of all nightmares is if your logo ends up on Logothief.com. Not the kind of publicity you want for yourself. Unfortunately, other than browsing for hours and hours, the perfect tool for spotting unwanted similarities between your design and any other one out there in the universe, is yet to be invented. TinEye doesn’t really work.

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