Autumn 2004

Editorial Eye 53

Every now and then I run into an old acquaintance from my musical past – a washed-up pop artist or born-again jazz musician – and they ask me what I’m up to. The conversation goes something like this:

Washed-up pop artist: Hey John, what you doing these days?

Me: I edit Eye.

W-UPA (impressed): You mean Eye, the international review of graphic design?

Me: That’s the one.

W-UPA (warmly): Dude, that’s a great magazine!

Me: It’s not just a great magazine – it’s a great brand!

Of course I conduct such conversations in my customary English manner, natural enthusiasm tempered by studied detachment. If I’m tempted to brag, I make sure that I do it in Proforma small caps. But do you know what? It’s true. Eye is a brand, and we don’t want to you to forget it, even when we’re putting together an issue with the theme of brand madness, and the air is heavy with critical writing.

Yet for all this emphasis on the brand; the look and feel; the smell of paper and ink; the steadily expanding website; the cool curves of our twenty-first century logo; we never forget the core of Eye’s brand. Writing. Critical writing. That’s why our slogan is: ‘Love critical writing! Love Eye!’ Extensive research has shown how much our readers love Eye’s stimulating mix of studio profiles, interviews, overviews, polemic, critique, reviews and visually led explorations of graphic design and visual culture.

So with this issue, under the aegis of the Eye brand, we take a cool look at the issue of branding. Because if a brand is a promise and the promise is critical writing, it’s essential that we make good that promise – even if it means being critical of branding itself. Take the identity projects for Sealand and Liechtenstein. They may look similar, but only one is an actual commission. Can you guess which is which?

In the first of four special ‘Brand madness’ pieces, Eye’s creative director Nick Bell questions the monolithic encroachment of evangelical ‘brand thinking’ on institutions concerned with art and culture. Rob Camper explains that most designers misunderstand and mis-use the ‘B’ word. David Thompson explores the language of branding, and enters ‘A waking dream’. And Terry Eagleton reviews Wally Olins’s ‘impeccably Marxist study’ On Brand.

And we meet designers for whom the ‘B’ word is an irrelevance. The work of Romek Marber, Cal Schenkel and Scott Stowell’s Open spans a time – from the early 1960s to the present day – during which time all three have made fine work (for big, commercial clients), working alone, or with small teams. Making graphic design that’s inspired and driven by its content. Design that says ‘it is what it is’, to quote Stowell.

Personally I hope never to use the ‘B’ word again. In the course of editing this issue, I have literally typed it out more times than I have had hot dinners – and that can’t be good. But if I have learned one thing from the gurus, it’s that when you write about ‘branding’ it is best to start off with a self-serving personal anecdote, followed swiftly by an dollop of uncritical brand worship – reproducing the logo as big as you can get away with. It’s madness. Brand madness. And that’s what we promise. JLW