Let’s talk branding. Our beloved city is due for a makeover apparently and the fine people over at Future SSM have come forward with a staggering $100,000 dollar branding suite proposal. First of all let’s give Future SSM a “reality check”, not only did they pay what is tantamount to highway robbery, but they took a job away from the city.
For a company whose supposed purpose is the future of Sault Ste. Marie, that’s a pretty interesting strategy. Now I’m no rocket scientist but for a project like this wouldn’t it make more sense to say, open it up to the public? We are home to many talented artists and what better way to celebrate that then giving someone local an opportunity. Or here’s another one just off the top of my head, give the project to Sault College who has a Graphic Design program. An aspiring student could have been given a chance to be a part of their city in a big way, walk away with one hell of a portfolio piece and maybe some cash to pay off those student loans. Or, now stay with me here, hire a local firm?
Now let’s get into money a bit, Future SSM paid $100,000 for what is essentially a $5000 job all things considered. How you ask? Well hold on I’m getting there. Industry standard for design work from a firm (in this case Trajectory) is $75 per hour, so lets do the math for $5000 that’s roughly 67 hours of work. 67 hours for what is essentially a first year designer’s class project. So why the $100,000 you ask? Where’d all our money go? Well that 100K covered 500 consultants over 40 workshops, 461 survey responses, and 15 one-on-one sessions where I can only assume Scott Thornley and who ever commissioned this project sat in a dark room giggling at each others farts.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that when you pay someone for design work you are not paying for the few hours it took to complete the project, but the years of training it took to get to that point. My issue is with the ham-fisted, cookie cutter, buzz word filled mess we spent ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars on. This proposal reads like someone explaining the Sault to their friends after visiting for the weekend. “Oh there’s some water and a bridge, some trees and in the fall the colors are pretty and there’s the Native American heritage too and did I mention the bridge?”
Now as a Graphic Designer myself, and a proud citizen of Sault Ste. Marie, I have to wonder why I didn’t see any of these surveys or workshops or one-on-one tickling sessions. It’s because again as far as I can tell all of this was carried out in Toronto with people who have no concept of what it really means to live here, to exist between the lakes. So was it really worth it? Why does the administration constantly turn to Toronto for answers? What they propose is cold, callous and insulting because again as far as I can tell a big city firm just took advantage of a small towns naivety in thinking if Toronto does it, it must be cool. All one need do is take a look at our foyer with a hospital attached to it to know these Toronto based companies are not a good match for us.
So speaking design-wise there are a lot of elements at play here and I can assure you that in this case more is not better. The going trend in design is minimalism, you need only do a quick Googling to see that many large corporations are taking a “less is more approach”. Now this doesn’t meant that having 20 little colored shapes is edgy and new, unless you can justify it. This is where we get into some messy territory, art is subjective and can mean many things to many people but this isn’t a 3rd year fine arts project, this is corporate branding for a city. This branding on the surface fails to exemplify what Sault Ste. Marie is without having to explain it. This on a basic level is a failure, as this logomark is less Sault Ste. Marie and more abstract interpretationism of some bridges and water and stuff.
The inclusion of the International Bridge and Medicine Wheel which are extremely convoluted in their presentation, 7 colors, 14 icon versions, 12 banners, 4 utility box covers, 8 textures, a mosaic pattern, merch for some reason and 3 “catch phrases” akin to Live. Laugh. Love. Only one, “Biindigen”, actually attempting to celebrate our diversity. Most of these numbers are acceptable as any brand is comprised of what is known as “artifacts”, these artifacts are your banners and coffee mugs, envelopes and what ever else you want to throw a logo onto.
Now, the scope of this proposal with a VERY generous estimate is a weeks worth of work to create the logo variations, assemble the mock-ups, and other artifacts we’ve seen in the proposal documentation, not including initial logo design which from the looks of it took 2 hours messing around on Illustrator. From personal experience this process has become fairly streamlined and mock-ups are actually a lot of fun to make.
What concerns me is the 7 color variations. Ink costs money and with so many color options all of which are Pantones (for all you non-designers out there that means $$$), this is concerning for a small town who by all accounts shouldn’t be throwing tax payers money into printing fancy colors for our new edgy logo. Believe me, these costs add up from shirts to documentation, banners, busses and billboards that’s a lot of money in ink for a brand we’ve already sunk 100k into. By the way, the average cost of playground equipment is between $8,000 and $50,000. Again we find ourselves living beyond our means like big Toronto, unless the city plans to have their artifacts printed outside of the Sault for a cost break which again, taking jobs out of the city.
Now I hear you saying, well that’s why there are options! Well, why? How many color options does the Apple logo have? A successful design is not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Ask yourself does this branding do that? Do more colors mean more branding? Are shapes branding? Potholes cost on average $200 to $500 each to repair.
The designers’ rule is Good, Fast, Cheap, you get to pick two. This new design was not cheap, and I think its fair to assume the general populous along with myself feels it’s just not good, and $100K at $75 per is 1,333 hours so it wasn’t fast. My question is… what is it? What does it mean to exist between the Lakes?