OPINION2 March 2011

There’s no accounting for taste


The London 2012 Olympics logo has attracted plenty of criticism; Iran’s claim that it is imbued with a ‘racist spirit’ merely the latest. No design can ever please everyone, says Philip Graves, so why bother pouring money into researching it?

Perhaps Iran’s leaders are simply looking to deflect attention from the injustices they are perpetrating closer to home. Or is there anything to learn here for organisations developing new logos?

The Olympic logo was reported to have cost £400,000, with much of this being described as “research and development”. Presumably, in the extensive (and expensive) research, people reacted differently from the seemingly universal public condemnation that it received when it was released.

This isn’t a big surprise, since neither research nor the internet debates the design prompted are capable of providing a balanced view of a logo. The former is almost always interrogating the wrong part of the brain. The latter works like a large focus group: in internet debates people get a buzz from finding others who feel like they do. Their opinions, which might initially be moderate, become more extreme as they realise there is broader support for them. As ever, research users should consider the information they’re presented with mindful of the psychological context in which it was created, rather than suppose it exists as a widely applicable fact that can be withdrawn from a person’s mind like a ten-pound note from a cash machine.

Talking to people isn’t entirely futile. It can help identify if you’ve missed something obvious to others because of your proximity to the intention of the design. It can also help ensure that you don’t inadvertently do something that appears negative to another culture. Would this have identified the Iranian’s Zion issue? I doubt it. Does any culture read from top to bottom and left to right (the only way you can spell out Zion) and even if there are languages that do, would the people who read them read English letters this way? Wouldn’t they see that it says ‘Zoin’? Or ‘Zoiz’, if you’re consistent in letting a ‘2’ be a ‘Z’.

The key issue for brand owners considering new logo designs is that, because evaluating them is not about numbers or consensus views, there’s no point spending a lot of money on it. For a global logo, find one or two people in each relevant country and ask them for their reaction; if they focus on the shade of pink, who cares? If they say it conveys death to their people, it’s probably worth a rethink.

For reference, the Nike ‘swoosh’ logo cost $35. I believe that figure includes research and design. Apparently, Nike co-founder Phil Knight said: “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”

Philip Graves is a consumer behaviour consultant and author of Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumer Behaviour and the Psychology of Shopping.