Posts tagged ‘retail’


A tribute to Massimo Vignelli

29.05.2014

The below ran in Lucire today, though it is equally suited to the readers of this blog.


RIT

Massimo Vignelli, who passed away on May 27, was a hero of mine. When receiving the news shortly before it hit the media in a big way, from our mutual friend Stanley Moss, this title’s travel editor and CEO of the Medinge Group, I posted immediately on Facebook: ‘It is a sad duty to note the passing of Massimo Vignelli, one of my heroes in graphic design. When I was starting out in the business, Massimo was one of the greats: a proponent of modernism and simple, sharp typography. His influence is apparent in a lot of the work done by our brand consultancy and in our magazines, even in my 2013 mayoral campaign graphics. A lot of his work from half a century ago has stood the test of time. There was only one degree of separation between us, and I regret that we never connected during his lifetime. The passing of a legend.’
   This Facebook status only scratches the surface of my admiration for Vignelli. There have been more comprehensive obits already (Fast Company Design rightly called him ‘one of the greatest 20th century designers’), detailing his work notably for the New York subway map, and—curiously to me—glossing over the effect he had on corporate design, especially in the US.
   Vignelli, and his wife Lella, a designer in her own right and a qualified architect, set up the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milano in 1960, which had clients including Pirelli and Olivetti. In 1965, they moved to New York and Vignelli co-founded Unimark International (with Ralph Eckerstrom, James Fogelman, Wally Gutches, Larry Klein, and Bob Noorda), where he was design director. It was the world’s largest design and marketing firm till its closure in 1977.
   The 1960s were a great time for Vignelli and his corporate identities. He worked on American Airlines, Ford, Knoll, and J. C. Penney, and the work was strictly modernist, often employing Helvetica as the typeface family. Vignelli was known to have stuck with six families for most his work—Bodoni was another, a type family based around geometry that, on the surface, tied in to his modernist, logical approach. However, there were underlying reasons, including his belief that Helvetica had an ideal ratio between upper- and lowercase letters, with short ascenders and descenders, lending itself to what he considered classic proportions. The 1989 WTC Our Bodoni, created under Vignelli’s direction by Tom Carnase and commissioned by Bert di Pamphilis, adheres to the same proportions.
   Although my own typeface design background means that I could not adhere to six, there is something to be said for employing a logical approach to design. American corporate design went through a “cleaning up” in the 1960s, with a brighter, bolder sensibility. Detractors might accuse it of being stark, the Helveticization of American design making things too standard. Yet through the 1970s the influence remained, and to my young eyes that decade, this was how professional design should look, contrary to the low-budget work plaguing newspapers and books that I saw as I arrived in the occident.
   When the Vignellis left Unimark to set up Vignelli Associates in 1971 (and later Vignelli Designs in 1978), their stamp remained. The MTA launched Vignelli’s subway map the following year, and like the London Underground map by Harry Beck in 1931, it ignored what was above ground in favour of a logical diagram with the stops. Beck was a technical draftsman and the approach must have found favour with Vignelli, just as it did with those creating maps for the Paris Métropolitain and the Berlin U-bahn.
   New Yorkers didn’t take to the Vignelli map as well as Londoners and Parisians, and it was replaced in 1979 with one that was more geographically accurate to what was above ground.
   In 1973, Vignelli worked on the identity for Bloomingdale’s, and his work endures: the Big Brown Bag is his work, and it continues to be used by the chain today. Cinzano, Lancia and others continue with Vignelli’s designs.
   Ironically, despite a rejection of fashion in favour of timelessness, some of the work is identified with the 1960s and 1970s, notably thanks to the original cut of Helvetica, which has only recently been revived (a more modern cut is commonplace), and which is slightly less popular today. Others, benefiting from more modern layout programs and photography, look current to 2010s eyes, such as Vignelli Associates’ work for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
   The approach taken by Lucire in its print editions has a sense of modernism that has a direct Vignelli influence, including the use of related typeface families since we went to retail print editions in 2004. Our logotype itself, dating from 1997, has the sort of simplicity that I believe Vignelli would have approved of.
   Vignelli was, fortunately, fêted during his lifetime. He received the Compasso d’Oro from ADI twice (1964 and 1998), the AIGA Gold Medal (1983), the Presidential Design Award (1985), the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award from the Royal Society of Arts (1996), the National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper–Hewitt National Museum of Design (2003), among many. He holds honorary doctorates from seven institutions, including the Rochester Institute of Technology (2002). Rochester has a Vignelli Center for Design Studies, whose website adheres to his design principles and where educational programmes espouse his modernist approach. It also houses the Vignellis’ professional archive.
   He is survived by his wife, Lella, who continues to work as CEO of Vignelli Associates and president of Vignelli Designs; their son, Luca, their daughter, Valentina Vignelli Zimmer, and three grandchildren.

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Posted in branding, business, design, marketing, typography, USA | No Comments »


No surprises from Ford Australia, but it sends the wrong message for manufacturing

23.05.2013

Ford’s announcement today that it will end car production in Australia is no surprise, with the closures of Broadmeadows and Geelong. It was always a case of when, not if.
   The official excuse is that no one is buying big cars any more, and the Australian dollar being too strong.
   However, the real reasons are more to do with Ford’s own share price, globalization, and consolidation, a process that began years ago.
   My comments, as well as those from Australian members at the AROnline Facebook group, have constantly targeted Ford for intentionally under-marketing its Falcon sedan, and I made the bolder step of saying it was a plan to shut the plant.
   There is a nugget of truth in the Ford claim. Falcon sales have been trending downwards. But whereas Falcon was once a very extensive range, the current one consists of sedan and ute body styles. The economies of scale are not there, while rival Holden is able to keep the Commodore in the top 10 of passenger car sales in Australia with plenty of models off the same platform.
   Upgrades to Broadmeadows would have cost a huge amount for Ford, and even now, there are aspects of preparing the bodyshells that are outsourced abroad that have proved uncompetitive.
   The Falcon is not a big car by modern standards. It’s smaller in most dimensions (excepting overall length) than the Mondeo. It’s no surprise that there isn’t room for a car with a large engine to fit in between Focus and Mondeo. Big car sales aren’t exactly down—because people are lapping up offerings from Japanese brands (like the Mazda Atenza, or 6) that have the sort of space Falcon has. And having a single two-litre Ecoboost Falcon, with an engine half the usual size for fuel economy reasons, was a half-hearted response (where’s the marketing for that?).
   The changes in leadership at Ford were also a sign that things weren’t going well.
   And have you visited a Ford dealer … lately? I’ve been taking photos over the last year at Capital City Ford on what is on their forecourt, to prove my point. Last week was the first time I had seen a Falcon in the main new-car lot in that time (top photo). True, there were always Territorys, but a visitor would have got the impression that Ford is the Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo company. If you don’t push the cars in marketing, and at point of sale, then naturally the numbers will go down.
   Why did I have confidence in taking my position? Simple: Ford’s very predictable. The same technique of under-marketing was used to kill the Contour and Mystique in the US, a car which buyer trends would have told you would sell really well. Ford is very political and head office has suffered from NIH (not invented here). Things have improved under Alan Mulally, but Falcon never fitted in with those long-term plans. We’ll likely see an LWB Fusion as a Falcon replacement—there’s life in the CD platform yet—but the impact on the Australian economy is going to be pretty huge.
   It might slow the brain drain here given the multiplier effect in the Australian economy, but overall, news this big doesn’t send a good signal to the public about manufacturing Down Under—when in fact the statistics, even here in Wellington, show that manufacturing remains a viable industry, if it can be done smartly.
   Holden has managed to do reasonably well with its export programme, so the idea is that one should work more smartly. However, I doubt the Australian motoring and business media are going to focus much on the positives today.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, leadership, marketing, media | No Comments »


Technology is improving

23.08.2012

Further to my post yesterday, things weren’t working ship-shape, as I recounted in my postscript. But for now, I think I have the LevelOne wifi adapter working. It led me to remark on how much more quickly tech issues now get fixed.

• Fixing a TelstraClear internet connection that only goes down on a windy day (2002): 2 years
• Being able to use the TelstraClear support pages without a corrupted profile (2011): 1 year
Getting IE9 working (2012): 11 months
Getting Blogger to reinstate a wrongly deleted blog (2010): 6 months
Hooking up my first D-Link router and network (2004): 1½ days
Setting up a wireless network (2011): 26-hour period from beginning to end
• Getting a LevelOne wireless adapter to work (2012): 7 hours over two days

   Of course, they’re still a far cry from the claims that these things take minutes or days, rather than months and years. I admit fully I am taking the extreme cases: there are hundreds of situations where software installation is faultness, and dozens where hardware installation is faultless. I realize there are so many types of computers out there, all with different settings, but to me, it’s still ridiculous that there are quite a few exceptions.
   What is actually remarkable, after 16 years of buying online, is how mainstream online shopping has become. Dealing with Ascent was trouble-free, just as dealing with Amazon was. That’s something I am really grateful for—especially as it helps my work.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »


Trade not supplied

17.02.2011

In November 1993, while my mother was dying of cancer, I went and bought 12 cans of Wattie’s baked beans from Woolworth’s in Kilbirnie. She said it would be an easy breakfast to prepare for her, so I should go and get some. There was a limit of six, but there was a misunderstanding about which type the limit applied to, and a disagreement at the counter.
   That’s not much of a problem, but it was very rudely done, and I complained to Richard Olliver, the duty manager, about the attitude I got.
   He defended his colleague, saying that he did not approve of my tactics because the policy was that trade was not supplied.
   I am not sure since when typeface design or publishing was considered ‘trade’ as far as Woolworth’s went, but his reasoning was clear enough: I am Chinese, all Chinese are greengrocers, convenience store operators or restaurateurs, and, therefore, all Chinese are trade.
   I, as a member of this supposed trade, was not welcome at Woolworth’s Kilbirnie, and that I should consider myself warned.
   Since 1993, I have not set foot in there or any branch of Woolworth’s as a customer (I visited Countdown a few times in the 1990s till I learned it was the same group, I visited Woolworth’s in Newmarket with a friend in 2002 as she had to do her shopping, and I made a delivery to Woolworth’s in 2006). I have heeded Mr Olliver’s warning.
   This was one case that angered me that when my father applied for a One Card in 2003, I called Woolworth’s. I never drag others into my bans but I was upset they had our family home details.
   I asked that his application be taken out of the pile, and the staff member at Woolworth’s Kilbirnie said she would oblige.
   Two weeks later, his One Card arrived. So much for the word of a Woolworth’s employee. I proceeded to cut it into pieces and sent it back to the company, explaining what had happened a decade before. I said that if they were willing to apologize for the 1993 incident, I was prepared to listen. I also demanded that our details be removed from the database. And I wanted the apology in writing.
   I never received it.
   I received a phone call within the week but there was still no apology. The closest Woolworth’s got on this occasion was, ‘I hope you will change your mind about Woolworth’s some day.’ Those were the last words from their representative.
   Not bloody likely.
   Three incidents in a decade, all negative. The brand is tarnished, at least for my lifetime, to the point where I associate Woolworth’s with racism—helpfully cemented by its own staff only eight years ago. It’s hard to undo when each encounter reinforces the last negative one.
   As we approach the 20th anniversary of my Woolworth’s ban, of a company seemingly still wishing to stand by prejudice, I hear of another incident from my friend Andy in Auckland.
   He experienced the same, at Pak ’n’ Save, Albany.
   Like a lot of young guys, Andy decided to throw a party. And he was questioned at the check-out: ‘Are you going to resell these goods?’
   Andy is an Indian New Zealander.
   For goodness’ sake, as unlikely as it was in 1993 for a suited New Zealander of Chinese descent—yes, I remember what I was wearing that day—to be running this mythical grocery store in the Kilbirnie region, I find it equally unlikely that this mythical Asian reseller of beer and chips exists in Albany.
   Your booze prices aren’t that good, Pak ’n’ Save. Not till the expiry date nears.
   Of course this reselling exists. I’m not naïve. But I also know it is confined to certain individuals (and who gives a toss about what ethnicity they are), who are usually known to the supermarkets.
   I believe this is what is called ‘racial profiling’ and it’s this sort of behaviour that gets dickheads like Paul Henry questioning whether an Auckland-accented Governor-General ‘sounds like a New Zealander’.
   I thought my case was confined as an anomaly of the 1990s, which is why I have not waged the sort of anti-Woolworth’s campaign that I have against, say, Google. It happened to me, it was personal, and I trot the story out occasionally.
   But to hear it happens in the 2010s makes me wonder whether we have taken two steps forward—then two steps back.
   This nation’s history is one of migrants, regardless of what race we are. Just that some of us got here first, and then another mob came, and supposedly these two have joint sovereignty.
   We all came from somewhere, and just as I was appalled at the treatment when it was metered out to me, I’m appalled that someone else experienced it. It would not have mattered if Andy was Caucasian, or Native American, or whatever: he should not have been asked. Andy is Andy—and I’ve asked that he write to Pak ’n’ Save and see if they are capable of apologizing.
   Woolworth’s isn’t.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, New Zealand, Wellington | 4 Comments »


Taranaki food shop must be a front for international finance

02.02.2011

In the Fairfax Press today, this story: ‘Food shop protest “racist”’.
   From what I can make out from this story, New Plymouth District Councillor Sherril George (her address, telephone number and email are here) has been urging people to boycott a Waitara food outlet run by some folks of Cambodian ethnicity.
   This business, Town & Country Foods, says it has employed New Zealanders to get it up and running, some neighbouring businesses say it has brought extra custom to the street (though the Hot Bread Shop has seen its sales dip 50 per cent), yet Councillor George claims that it does not support ‘the local community’.
   Most Taranaki residents support the business, which is heartening. One person in the article says Councillor George has a personal vendetta and it’s to do with the extra competition her own food business faces.
   My concern is this quote which she provided to John Anthony:

This is nothing to do with my shop. This is to do with the health of our town and the economy. I’m trying to make other small communities aware of what happens when these people move in. There are 14 food stores here in Waitara and one comes in here and kills it for everyone else.

   Now, I’m sure she knows that the owner is a gentleman called Hoyt Khuon, so what’s with that third sentence?
   Who are ‘these people’?
   Would the Councillor care to elaborate? She is, after all, getting called out and being labelled a racist by one person in the article, and I’m sure she’d like to deny that charge.
   From what I read in the article, Mr Khuon employed locals to set up his business and is employing locals to work in the business. I only know the story second-hand, but how is this ‘bleeding the town dry’ when it’s a local business, owned locally, and paying taxes locally? It’s not as though the profits are all being siphoned offshore.
   If that’s her problem, there are plenty of other businesses she needs to stand outside. Will she monitor the fruit juice aisles at New World and demand that no one buys Just Juice because it is Japanese-owned? Will she stop deliveries of Wattie’s products to Waitara because of its ownership by H. J. Heinz of Pennsylvania? Will she stop giving quotes to the Fairfax Press because it is Australian-owned? There are bigger businesses she needs to take on if she is truly concerned about the health of her ‘town and the economy’.
   For years, I’ve been voting with my dollar on how I spend, so the argument about supporting New Zealand businesses resonates with me—and Town & Country appears to be a legitimate New Zealand-registered, tax-paying business.
   Unless she provides the Taranaki and, now, the New Zealand public with how Mr Khuon’s business is a front for international financial traffic, her arguments appear deeply unconvincing—and only lend weight to the charge of racism that one resident has levelled at her.

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Posted in business, culture, media, New Zealand, politics | 4 Comments »


Wellington needs a new brand for a new decade

21.10.2010

A very good Vista Group luncheon (Jim, Natalie, self), where we discussed: the Gap rebrand; The Hobbit, unions and the BNZ Centre boilermakers’ strike; and my mayoral campaign.
   On the first topic, we concluded that it was down to a simple cock-up. None of us could see any reason for the Gap to rebrand (was there a change of strategy, management, or trend?) though we did see a reason for Wellington to do so.
   ‘Absolutely, positively Wellington’ has been with us for 20 years. I remember when it was first released, all set in Perpetua Bold, adorning the new office of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce after its shift from Church Street. As Jim pointed out, it was a contrast to the negativity that Wellingtonians had about our city’s own image, as typified by TV shows such as Gliding on: drab, grey, and full of civil servants.
   The one event that might have given us a bit of a boost was Sesqui. And what a disaster that turned out to be: an event that never began.
   I said as much when we discussed the arts and cultural side to Wellington during the campaign. The brand, Mayor Prendergast mentioned, was revamped when she took office. Nine years on, I think we need to move on again: that Wellington’s brand does not reflect our city’s passions.
   Every brand must be inclusive. It must also differentiate. There are many people in the ICT sector, who are an important part of Wellington, who need to be included. We have fashion designers and event producers, who thrive on the notion that Wellington is the most creative city to be in. When the former mayor said that we were now also the culinary capital, I said that we had to define that by way of our city’s creative manna: not just the culinary capital, but the culinary arts’ capital. Everything we do seems to be underpinned by this idea of putting in that extra zing, whether it’s my oft-quoted example of Silverstripe or the quality behind Mojo Coffee.
   There is work to be done, and I’d love to engage with Wellingtonians on getting some kind of framework down for a 2010s city brand. The campaign may be over, but it’s only highlighted the things that need to be done. Let’s start with the strategic ideas and work our way to the operational.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »