Visual design: Goldman Sachs’ 10K

When a corporate reputation is under scrutiny, could slick communication save the day? Goldman Sachs is hoping with their annual report design.

Goldman Sachs 2010 Annual ReportThe intended message
With all the accusations, Goldman’s messaging strategy is crucial. To sum it up: “We performed for our clients in 2010 and we’re hell-bent on continuing that. Also, we’re looking into where we might have gone wrong.”

To support this, the words harmonize with visuals: a steady dose of well-dressed people in well-dressed offices; global imagery exhibiting power; and some balanced touches of community outreach.

Their interactive version feels like it’s built for tablets, with spacious navigation and features designed to slide along a touch screen. If the medium is the message, then this is just one bit of proof that Goldman still cares about the details.

Is it working?
To put it crudely, Goldman’s visual message is one of stubbornness. They acknowledge a need for oversight and transparency with their words, but most of their content is geared to profit-driven clients and investors. They aim to be seen as unbreakable, unwavering, able to weather the storm without flinching. Concerns of the “general community” are addressed, but that isn’t their main point.

The question is, has it helped? The current media environment is none too flattering, so on the surface it doesn’t feel that way.

On the other hand, if you’re a client or investor, it could be comforting stuff.


The Goldman Sachs 2010 Annual Report


MW News: My seminar on communication design

Thursday night was nerve-wracking but worth it, as I was given a great opportunity to present to 20 or so eager grad students at Baruch College, my recent Alma Mater. The hour-long lecture covered graphic design in the communication context, and attempted to pin down as many concepts as possible in the time allotted. Lots of great Q&A at the end, so hopefully they got a lot out of it. I know I did.

The lecture was organized by the Baruch Corporate Communications Graduate Student Association, or the BCCGSA.

Want to see more? Download the slides here.

Just for Fun: Mathisworks infographic

Designing for Social Media: 2011

Is it really about icon sets and wallpaper? A mod here, a video there?

As social media continue to mature, it feels like a good time to reassess how design fits in, and where things are headed.

First, the challenges.
With social media, traditional web designers find themselves ceding some of the most basic design decisions. YouTube and Facebook grids are more or less off-limits, leaving designers to supply the window dressing.

The speed of content poses challenges too. Design a theme in WordPress, and you’ll likely be handing it over to someone else to populate. Menus and pages need to be specific enough to shine, but general enough to withstand the judgment of whoever is sticking in the content.

But there’s also some opportunity.
Just as web 1.0 posed similar challenges, this revolution also has its rewards. As bandwidth improves and social channels become ever more vital, more opportunities will emerge for designers and artists. (Note how social sites have gotten more design-friendly with newer versions.)

Those who are able to think holistically, embrace the elements that can be changed, and accept their limitations, will be the ones who come out ahead. Just check out what some creative people have done with the new Facebook profile page. Imagine what this kind of thinking can do for your designs?


More on the future of Web Design, by Jacob Gube

Subway map design and who it’s for

Recently I saw a family of tourists on the subway, looking a little worn from walking through a strange (and humid) city. The father didn’t want to admit it, but he had no idea how long the train ride would be. He knew where he was going; at the moment the only thing he needed was the number of stops between here and there.

It was the perfect time to reflect on the new NYC Subway map. They’ve started installing it in trains and stations, and there is a rare opportunity to compare the old with the new in the map’s functional environment.

What changed
To the designers’ credit, distractions have been toned down. Lists have been trimmed, trainless Staten Island has shrunk, and distracting green parks have been muted (an improvement despite a browning effect). Manhattan is also wider to provide more breathing room.

The streamlining dilemma
Designers are quick to celebrate minimalist subway maps like Massimo Vignelli’s. MTA decision makers likely had a different approach, each one bringing a different argument to the table.

That tug-of-war seems evident here, and while the map has evolved in the right direction, the end product still attempts to satisfy many different uses simultaneously.

It leaves me to wonder if a stronger vision could have simplified the map even more, or even made multiple versions of the map for different environments.

In the end, of course, the designers and the department heads don’t matter. It’s all about that tourist, and getting him the info he needs at the right moment. For him, the MTA has at least taken steps in the right direction.


A detailed comparison from the NYT
Who is Harry Beck
Flickr photo link

Pfizer: annual report connections

Pfizer’s new Annual Review document is out, and it’s time for shareholders to pay close attention. Some will focus on governance, others on amortization. I’m focused on the cover.

Pfizer Annual Report CoverThe design
Two red-magenta spores, connected by a strand, explode visually over a dark background. We won’t know they’re cancer cells until we open and read. For now, they’re abstract objects representing science, art and fascination. Ditto for the typeface; the white dots on black evoke a movie marquis, or points of light in a dark, unknowing sky.

Intended meanings
LogoLounge talks about the spore shape as a major design trend of 2010, its multiple arms “reaching out to convey a sense of connectivity and of serving multitudes.” That seems in line with Pfizer’s general message of science serving people. It could also be about product differentiation, to emphasize Pfizer’s point that “it is unwise to rely on one or two blockbuster drugs” (p17).

The connecting tendril may be the link between life and science. It could be a reassurance to people affected by the Pfizer-Wyeth merger. Or a battle cry of pharmaceutical researchers, like the ones pictured inside the book, who are challenged to connect the dots.

The general point is this: Pfizer based their cover design on this semi-abstract image, knowing that it would be seen by investors for at least the next year. It stands to reason that they would try and leverage the powers of emotion and ambiguity. Choices like these are rarely made by accident.

Of course, the rational fact that these are cancer cells should be compelling enough on its own. Here is a foe worthy of your investment dollars, no artsy interpretation needed.


Pfizer Annual Review
LogoLounge 2010 Logo Trends
Critical review of the Pfizer Logo Redesign

Print ad analysis: finance and art direction

Back in 2008, I noticed something about financial print ads. In almost every case, the ad design included a strong upwards movement: the way a photo was cropped, or the angle of a background. In one case an office building had been photoshopped into a giant up arrow.

It made sense. After all, if you’re reaching investors, why not link your brand with the concept of “upness”?

We all know what happened next in the economy. Suddenly all that optimism seemed misplaced. Now that the post-recession ads have been out for a while, I thought I’d assess their use of directional design.

Most in-your-face is the “Turn Here” campaign from Fidelity. The green arrow is the beacon, a navigation system built into your retirement plan. Few executions show the arrow going straight up or straight ahead; there are bends in the road. But surely if we stay on the line, we can all be saved.

Fidelity 2010

Ally turning things around

Then there’s Ally Bank, a brand introduced in 2009—and GMAC’s way of moving on from difficult times. Take a look. A giant logo visually turns things around. After that, everything will be “Straightforward,” as promised by the multifaceted tagline.

Barclays Capital (below) mentions the road to success in its headline, as we’re faced with the ups and downs of suspension bridge cables. Still, the road points straight up on the page, leading to some tree-covered hills.

Credit Suisse

And finally, Credit Suisse has at least three executions, all in love with whitespace, and all using models who have the audacity to look up.


A great article from 2009 talks some more about financial campaigns at large: