Archive | June 2014

The Core Beliefs of the Delightfully Successful

 
 
 
 
 
 
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Founder and CTO at HubSpot

The Core Beliefs of the Delightfully Successful

Last year I listed some simple daily habits of the delightfully successful. Revisiting that article made me think. Success is based on action, but actions are the result of beliefs – so what do the delightfully successful people I know almost all believe?

1. They believe they don’t have to wait to be “selected.” They can simply select themselves.

Once upon a time most people had to wait: to be accepted, to get funded, to be promoted – to somehow be “discovered.”

Not anymore. Access is nearly unlimited; social media allows you to reach out to almost anyone. (Whether or not you actually connect is up to you and how you craft your approach.) Anyone can publish their own work, distribute their own music, create their own products, and attract their own customers.

You can do almost anything you have the desire and skills and drive to do; you don’t need to wait for someone else to discover your talents. You get to discover yourself.

The only thing holding you back is your willingness to take the leap and try.

2. They believe being the first matters less than being the best.

Success is often the result of perseverance. When the first person to the game stops trying, stops striving, or starts compromising their principles and values, the person who relentlessly seeks perfection is the person who wins.

Other people may be smarter, better connected, more talented, or better funded. But they can’t win if they stop trying.

Don’t worry about being the first one in. Focus on being the best onestill in the game.

3. They believe success seems predictable only in hindsight.

Read all the stories of successful entrepreneurs and it’s easy to think those people have some intangible entrepreneurial something: some talent, or skill, or idea, or level of creativity that you don’t have. (Or maybe they were just born lucky?)

They don’t. Success is never inevitable. It’s easy to look back on an entrepreneurial path to greatness and assume that every vision was clear, every plan was perfect, every step was executed flawlessly, and tremendous success was a foregone conclusion.

Incredible success only seems inevitable once incredible success has been achieved.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.” ~Steve Jobs

Success is never assured. Success is never predestined. If you’re willing to work hard and persevere, who you are is sufficient – because when you work hard and persevere, who you become is definitely more than enough to do something significant.

4. They believe personal success comes from service, not selfishness.

I don’t know anyone who has accomplished something amazing on his or her own. Great leaders focus on providing the tools and training to help their team do their jobs and achieve their goals. Great consultants put their clients’ needs first. Great businesses go out of their way to help and serve their customers by solving for the customer.

And by so doing they also reap the rewards.

Your odds of success are proportional to the number of people thatwant you to succeed.

When you’re in it only for yourself, initial success is always finite — and fleeting. When you’re in it for others, they succeed – and so do you.

5. They believe in doing a few things no one else is willing to do.

Only do what the crowd does and your career success will be no greater than the average of the crowd.

Every time you do something, think of a few extra things you can do that others aren’t willing to do. A little more research. Another look at something others have ignored. Another shot at salvaging a failed customer relationship. One more call, one more email, one more attempt to connect and build a relationship.

“There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.” ~Zig Ziglar

The best opportunities often lie waiting in fields other people can’t be bothered to cultivate. Find those fields and start cultivating.

6. They believe that the depth of their network is more important than the breadth

The downside of the ease of social media is that building a network can become a numbers game.

Few people need numbers. Every person needs real connections: people they can help, people they can trust, people whom they care about and who care about them.

Forget amassing a huge network. Reach out to the people whom you really want to be part of your professional life for a long time.

7. They believe ideas are important… but execution is everything.

Ideas are not a product. There are notebooks, binders and computer files filled with ideas and high level plans that were never implemented.

Have an idea? Great. Craft a strategy. Set up a basic plan to implement it. Then execute, adapt, execute, adapt, and build something useful that wort of works.

Success doesn’t come from ideas. Success comes from executing ideas.

8. They believe leadership is earned, not given.

Leaders don’t just bring in venture capital or negotiate a big customer contract

While certainly examples of leadership, those actions typically indicate a kind of leadership that is situational and short-lived.

Real leadership involves people. Real leaders consistently inspire, motivate, and make their employees feel capable and skilled and respected. Real leaders are the kind of people their employees follow not because they have to but because they want to.

How? They make people feel they aren’t following – they’re on a journey together.

And that means their team has given them the permission to lead, a permission they’ve earned over time.

9. They believe in paying it forward.

Ever heard a colleague say, “I would be willing to work harder if I got a raise”? Or, “We would do a better job if the customer paid us more”? Or, “I would be willing to make a bigger sacrifice if I knew it would pay off”?

Successful people don’t wait to get a raise; they work hard to earn a raise. Successful businesses don’t wait for higher prices to deliver greater value; they deliver greater value to earn higher prices. Successful entrepreneurs don’t wait for a payoff to give their all to a startup; they give their all so they can earn a decent payoff.

It is common for people expect to be compensated more before they will consider doing more. Successful people see compensation as a reward for exceptional effort, not the driver.

10. They believe they will make their own history.

Few people summit the Mount Everest of career success. Few people become household names.

But think about the past 20 years. Technologies, industries, and ways of doing business that were once science fiction are now commonplace.

The next 10 to 20 years will be no different. We can all be a part of whatever the next waves might be. We can all make a change in our industries. We can all make a change in our professions.

We can all stand at the forefront of a minor or major change, even if only in our niches or communities. When we’re willing to try something new, someday we will look back with pride on the part we played in history. Someday we will look back in pride on the part we played in making life a little better for others.

And isn’t that the best kind of success? The delightful kind?

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Find the Best Connected Individual in Your Social Network

The study of networks has exploded in recent years. Network scientists have measured, simulated, kicked and prodded almost every social network under the sun.

And in doing so, they’ve discovered all kinds of fascinating properties of these networks, properties that allow them to better understand the spread information and the role that people play in this process. In particular, theorists have long known that better connected individuals play more important roles in a network because they allow information to spread more efficiently. These individuals are of particular interest when it comes to the spread of gossip and even the spread of disease.

It’s easy to imagine that mere humans have always been largely ignorant of these networks, given the complexity of these webs and the complicated measures needed to calculate the connectedness of each node within in them. Which is why theorists have spent significant time and effort in working out ways to find these best connected people. This usually involves mapping the entire network, measuring the connectedness of each individual and then ranking them accordingly, an approach that is time-consuming and expensive, particularly for large networks.

Now Abhijit Banerjee at MIT and a few pals say there is a better way that is faster and cheaper. These guys have discovered that if you ask people to name the individuals in their social network best able to spread gossip, they are remarkably good at identifying them. That’s extraordinary because people have no way of knowing the overall structure of their social network.

Banerjee and co made their discovery by studying the network of links between individuals in 75 rural villages in southwest India. They measured these networks by asking people who they visited, who visited them, who they were related to, who they borrowed money from, who they lent money to, and so on.

They then asked people in 35 villages the following question: “If we want to spread information about a new loan product to everyone in your village, to whom do you suggest we speak?”

The results provide a fascinating insight into the knowledge humans build up about their social networks. When people answered this question (and substantial numbers didn’t), they unerringly identified central individuals within their village.

One possibility is that these people simply named the village chief or the person who lived at the center of the village. But because Banerjee and co already had detailed knowledge of the network, they were able to rule this out.

In fact, the respondents tended to mention people who were more central in the network than either the village chief or the geographically most central person. “This suggests that individuals may use simple protocols to learn valuable things about the complex systems within which they are embedded,” say Banerjee and co.

So how can people know the most central individuals in their network without having any knowledge of the broader network structure? Banerjee and co think they know.

These guys simulated the social network and imagined how an individual within it might work out who was best connected. Network theorists usually approach this problem by adding information to the network at a certain node and then watching how it spreads over time. The node from which it spreads furthest is then the most connected, the best spreader of gossip.

But instead of looking at how information is sent around the network, Banerjee and co simulated how a single node within it might receive information. They then allowed information to percolate through the network and watched what happened.

One crucial factor is that they ensured that the information was like real gossip–that it referred to the specific individual from which it came. For example, “Chad has a new car” or “Fred won the lottery” and so on.

An individual in the network then receives this gossip depending on how well it spreads. Because of this, people can get a good estimate of the connectedness of another individual by simply counting the number of times they hear gossip about them.

The more gossiped about, the more connected that person must be. “This suggests that individuals can rank others according to their centrality in the networks even without knowing the network,” say Banerjee and co.

That’s an important result. Until now, the only way of determining the best connected individuals was by comprehensively measuring the structure of the network and then simulating it to find out how information flowed through it.

The new work suggests a much simpler and cheaper way of getting the same data—simply by asking people. “Eliciting network centrality of others simply by asking individuals may be an inexpensive research and policy tool,” say Banerjee and co.

In some ways, it’s not surprising that humans can come to a detailed understanding of certain properties of their social network without knowing the detailed structure. After all, we’ve lived and evolved in these networks for time immemorial.

Banerjee and co have worked out how and raise the prospect that there might be other simple shortcuts for evaluating networks. Now it’ll be up to the policy makers, the epidemiologist and the marketers to find ways of exploiting this discovery.

So expect to be asked about most gossiped-about person in your network in a survey in the not too distant future.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1406.2293 : Gossip: Identifying Central Individuals In A Social Network

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Choose the Right Words in an Argument

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Choose the Right Words in an Argument

So, when things start to heat up with a colleague — you don’t see eye-to-eye on a project or you aren’t happy with the way you were treated in a meeting, for example ­— how can you choose your words carefully? To help answer this question, I talked with Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative. She is also the co-author of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation and Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader.

Hill explained that the words we use in confrontations can get us into trouble for three reasons:

First, the stakes are usually high when emotions are. “With conflict, there are typically negative emotions involved, and most of us aren’t comfortable with those kinds of feelings,” she says. Our discomfort can make us fumble over our words or say things we don’t mean.

The second reason that we often say the wrong thing is because our first instincts are usually off. In fact, it’s often the words we lead with that get us into so much trouble. “That’s because too often we end up framing the issue as who’s right or who’s wrong,” she says. Instead of trying to understand what’s really happening in a disagreement, we advocate for our position. Hill admits that it’s normal to be defensive and even to blame the other person, but saying “You’re wrong” or “Let me tell you how I’m right” will make matters worse. “We’re often building a case for why we’re right. Let that go and focus on trying to resolve the conflict,” she says.

Third, there’s often misalignment between what we mean when we say something and what the other person hears. “It doesn’t matter if your intent is honorable if your impact is not,” Hill says. Most people are very aware of what they meant to say but are less tuned into what the other person heard or how they interpreted it.

So how do you avoid these traps? Hill says it’s not always easy but by following a few rules of thumb, you’ll have a better chance of resolving the conflict instead of inciting it:

Say nothing. “If the emotional level is high, your first task is to take some of the emotion out,” she says. “Often that means sitting back and letting someone vent.”

The trouble is, Hill says, that we often stop people before they’ve gotten enough of the emotion out. “Hold back and let them say their piece. You don’t have to agree with it, but listen,” she says. While you’re doing this, you might be completely quiet or you might indicate you’re listening by using phrases like, “I get that” or “I understand.” Avoid saying anything that assigns feeling or blame, like “Calm down” or “What you need to understand is.” If you can do this effectively, without judging, you’ll soon be able to have a productive conversation.

Ask questions. Hill says that it’s better to ask questions than make statements. Instead of thinking about what you want to say, consider what you want to learn. This will help you get to the root cause of the conflict and set you up to resolve it. You can ask questions like, “Why did that upset you?” or “How are you seeing this situation?” Use phrases that make you appear more receptive to a genuine dialogue. Once you’ve heard the other person’s perspective, Hill suggests you paraphrase and ask, “I think you said X, did I get that right?”

Own your part. Don’t act like there is only one view of the problem at hand. “You need to own your perception. Start sentences with ‘I’ not ‘you,’” Hill says. This will help the other person see your perspective and understand that you’re not trying to blame them for the problem. Instead of saying “You must be uncomfortable”, try “I’m feeling pretty uncomfortable.” Don’t attribute emotions to other people. That just makes them mad.

So, how do you choose the right words to use in a conflict? Of course, every situation is different and what you say will depend on the content of what you’re discussing, your relationship with the other person, and the culture of your organization, but these suggestions may help you get started:

Scenario #1: You have a criticism or dissent to offer. Perhaps you disagree with the popular perspective or perhaps you’re talking to someone more powerful than you.

Hill suggests you get to the underlying reason for the initiative, policy, or approach that you’re disagreeing with. Figure out why the person thinks this is a reasonable proposal. You can say something like, “Sam, I want to understand what we’re trying to accomplish with this initiative. Can you go back and explain the reasoning behind it?” or “What are we trying to get done here?” Get Sam to talk more about what he’s up to and why. Then you can present a few options for how to accomplish the same goal using a different approach: “If I understand you correctly, you’re trying to accomplish x, y, and z. I’m wondering if there’s a different way to approach this. Perhaps we can…”

In a situation like this, you also want to consider the venue. “You may be able to have a more candid discussion with someone if it’s one-on-one meeting rather than in front of a group,” she says.

Scenario #2: You have bad news to deliver to your boss or another coworker. You missed a deadline, made a mistake, or otherwise screwed up.

Hills says the best approach here is to get to the point: “I have some news to share that I’m not proud of. I should’ve told you sooner, but here’s where we are.” Then describe the situation. If you have a few solutions, offer them up: “These are my ideas about how we might address this. What are your thoughts?” It’s important to own up that you made a mistake and not try to point out all the reasons you did what you did.

Scenario #3: You approach a coworker about something he or she messed up.

Here you don’t want to launch in right away, Hill says, but ask permission to speak to the person about what happened: “Mary, can I have a moment to talk to you about something?” Then describe what happened. You can say: “I’m a little confused about what occurred and why it occurred. I want to discuss it with you to see how we can move this forward.” Use phrases like “I understand that X happened…” so that if Mary sees the situation differently, she can disagree with your perspective. But don’t harp too long on what happened. Focus on figuring out a solution by engaging her with something like: “What can we do about this?”

Scenario #4: You approach a colleague about feeling mistreated or you’re upset about something he or she said.

Hill points out that this is a good place to talk about the difference in intent versus impact. After all, you don’t know what your coworker’s intent was; you only know that you’re upset. You can start off with something like: “Carl, It’s a little bit awkward for me to approach you about this, but I heard that you said X. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. Regardless, I thought I should come to you because I’m pretty upset and I thought we should talk about it.” The focus shouldn’t be on blaming the person but airing your feelings and trying to get to a resolution: “I want to understand what happened so that we can have a conversation about it.”

If Carl gets defensive, you can point out that you aren’t questioning his intent. “I’m not talking about what you intended. I thought it was better to clear the air, rather than stewing about it. Would you agree?”

Scenario #5: A colleague yells at you because of something you said or did.

This is where you might stay quiet at first and let them vent. People usually run out of steam pretty quickly if you don’t reciprocate. Keep in mind though, Hill says, that you never deserve to be yelled at. You might say: “I realize that I’ve done something to upset you. I don’t respond well to being yelled at. Can we sit down when I can be better prepared to have a conversation about this?”

Scenario #6: You’re managing someone who engages in conflict regularly and is annoying or upsetting the other people on your team.

Sometimes you have a hothead on your team — someone who seems to even enjoy conflict. Of course disagreements aren’t always a bad thing, but you need to help the person explore how he might be damaging his reputation and relationships. You can try something like: “I like having you around because from where I sit, you raise important issues and feel strongly about them. I also know you’re well-intentioned. I’d like to talk you about whether you’re having the impact you want to have.” Get him to think through the consequences of his regular battles.

 

Of course, even if you follow this advice, sometimes there just aren’t the right words and it’s not possible to have a constructive discussion. “Occasionally, you need to let it go and come back to it another time when you can both have the conversation,” says Hill. It’s OK to walk away and return to the discussion later, when you’re ready to make a smart and thoughtful choice about the words you want to use.

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Logo design

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Logo design: 60 pro tips

Logo design is all around us. To the general public, logos serve as an instant reminder of a company or a product; to the client they’re the point of recognition on which their branding hangs; and to us designers they represent the challenge of incorporating our clients’ ideologies into one single graphic.

No wonder, then, that logo design features so prominently in our lives. In an age where everyone must have a website to support their product, service or the company behind it, the demand for a top-class logo has never been higher.

More examples of logo design are out there than ever before, and with that comes the challenge of being different. How do you create something original that stands out in a sea of identities? And how do we create something quickly while retaining quality?

In this article, we’ll first look at the basic principles of creating a logo design and share some pro tips for finessing your process…

 

BEFORE YOU START

01. Learn logo 101

 Apple, London Underground, CBS, WWF, Woolmark, I love NY
Effective logo designs: I Love NY, Apple, London Underground, CBS, WWF, Woolmark

An effective logo is distinctive, appropriate, practical, graphic, simple in form and conveys an intended message. In its simplest form, a logo is there to identify but to do this effectively it must follow the basic principles of logo design:

  • A logo must be simple. A simple logo design allows for easy recognition and allows the logo to be versatile and memorable. Effective logos feature something unexpected or unique without being overdrawn.
  • A logo must be memorable. Following closely behind the principle of simplicity is that of memorability. An effective logo design should be memorable and this is achieved by having a simple yet appropriate logo.
  • A logo must be enduring. An effective logo should endure the test of time. The logo should be ‘future proof’, meaning that it should still be effective in 10, 20, 50+ years time.
  • A logo must be versatile. An effective logo should be able to work across a variety of mediums and applications.
  • A logo must be appropriate. How you position the logo should be appropriate for its intended purpose. For a more detailed explanation see: What makes a good logo?

02. Establish your own design process

The brand identity design process
The brand identity design process

Every designer has his or her own process, and it is rarely linear, but in general this is how the branding process is completed, which can be used as a guide to establish your own.

  • Design brief. Conduct a questionnaire or interview with the client to get the design brief.
  • Research. Conduct research focused on the industry itself, its history, and its competitors.
  • Reference. Conduct research into logo designs that have been successful and current styles and trends that are related to the design brief.
  • Sketching and conceptualising. Develop the logo design concepts around the brief and research.
  • Reflection. Take breaks throughout the design process. This allows your ideas to mature and lets you get renewed enthusiasm. Receive feedback.
  • Presentation. Choose to present only a select few logos to the client or a whole collection. Get feedback and repeat until completed.

03. Price your work accordingly

“How much?” is the single most frequently asked question and it cannot be easily answered because every company has different needs and expectations. You have to take a number of factors into consideration when designing a logo/brand identity, such as how many concepts need to be presented, how many revisions will be needed, how much research is required, how big the business is and so on.

The best approach is to draw up a customised quote for each client and to do this you should learn how to price your designs, which is another topic in itself.

Jeff Fisher, a notable designer and author, had this great point in his article How Much Should I Charge: “The major point I wish to convey here is that all designers need to work smarter in independently determining what their talent, skill and expertise are worth and charge the client accordingly without question or apology. Being smart in determining what you should charge for your work will hopefully allow you to ‘work less, charge more’ in the future.”

04. Learn from others

the nike swoosh

By knowing what other brands have succeeded in and why they have succeeded gives you great insight and you can apply that attained knowledge to your own work.

For example, let’s look at the classic Nike Swoosh (above). This logo was created by Caroline Davidson in 1971 and it’s a great example of a strong, memorable logo, being effective without colour and easily scalable.

Not only is it simple, fluid and fast but it also has related symbolism; it represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, which is a perfect figure for a sporting apparel business. Nike is just one of many great logos, but think about other famous brands that you know and check out their logos – what makes them successful?

 Shell, Volkswagen, NBC, ABC, Chanel, Rolling Stones
Effective logos: Shell, Volkswagen, NBC, ABC, Chanel, Rolling Stones

For more quality logos, check out Logo Of The Day or go to your local library/book store and check out some branding books. Also be sure to check out some of these logo design process case studies.

05. Avoid the clichés

 Federal Express, IBM, Coca-Cola, CNN, Disney, NASA
Examples of effective logotypes: Federal Express, IBM, Coca-Cola, CNN, Disney, NASA

Light bulbs for ‘ideas’, speech bubbles for ‘discussion’, globes for ‘international’, etc. These ideas are often the first things to pop into one’s head when brainstorming, and for the same reason should be the first ideas discarded. How is your design going to be unique when so many other logos feature the same idea? Stay clear of these visual clichés and come up with an original idea and design.

With this said, please do not steal, copy or ‘borrow’ other designs. Although, this shouldn’t have to be said, it happens too often. A designer sees an idea that he likes, does a quick mirror, colour swap or word change, and then calls the idea his own. Not only is this unethical, illegal and downright stupid but you’re also going to get caught sooner or later. Do not use stock or clip art either — the point of a logo is to be unique and original.

 

PREPARATION

06. Research your audience

Good logo design doesn’t just create something that looks nice – it has to communicate a brand message

Creating a logo design isn’t just about creating a pretty visual. What you’re doing, or taking part in, is developing a brand and communicating a position. It makes sense, then, that the first step in creating a logo design should be to research these concepts.

Involving the client at this early stage is advised, as your interpretation of their brand may be different from theirs, and it’s essential that the message is clear before any actual designing takes place.

07. Immerse yourself in the brand

Hark back to the past, urges Martin Christie of Logo Design London

Before even beginning to sketch out ideas for a logo design, spend some time compiling the equivalent of an M15 dossier on your client’s brand: who they are, what they do and what their demographic is.

Look at previous iterations of their logo design and ask yourself what doesn’t represent the brand on these. Then compile a ‘dos and don’ts’ checklist before your creative work starts.

“Check out all the various logos your client has employed since their company was founded,” advises Martin Christie of Logo Design London. “This can be particularly interesting if they go back for many decades. You may be able to hark back to the past, if they would like to position themselves as a heritage brand, or you might be able to radically overhaul their original logo into something fresh and futuristic. This has the advantage of built-in continuity even as you present a new image.”

08. Keep all your sketches

Old sketches can be a source of new inspiration, suggests Martin Christie

“It’s probably a fair guess that for every logo you design you probably come up with a couple of dozen sketches before you decide which one to develop further,” adds Martin Christie. “Never throw away these early ideas; they form a valuable resource.

“Just because one of your early sketches didn’t work for another client, it doesn’t mean it won’t work at all. Go back through what you’ve done and you may find the seed that, with a bit of nurturing, could grow to become the logo you’re looking for.

09. Do your online research

Logo design tips 19
Logo Moose is a great research resource for logo design

Two great starting points for online logo design research areLogo Moose and Logo Gala. One thing to be mindful of is knowing when to stop your logo design research. It’s best to look at what did and didn’t work out of 10 relevant logo designs than swamp yourself with 50 extraneous ones.

If you’re struggling for ideas, try looking up key words in a dictionary or thesaurus or searching Google images for inspiration. If you keep a sketch book then look at previous drawings – you’re bound to have unused ideas from previous projects, so you may already be sitting on the perfect solution.

10. Fight the temptation to imitate

We all have our design heroes and sometimes we love them so much we want to imitate their styles. Well, they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in the real world it’s just a lazy way to solve a creative problem.

Ask yourself whether the style you’re using is appropriate for the client’s needs. Do they really want a logo design that has the same typeface Saul Bass used for Quaker Oats in the ’70s?

11. Don’t let clients dictate

Point 2 does not equate to doing what the client tells you. Look through the brief from your client and begin to ask questions about any vagueness or lazy brief writing you might find there. ‘The logo should be iconic’ and ‘The logo should be memorable’ are two extremely clichéd phrases you need to pull your client up about.

A man kicking a chicken dressed as Father Christmas is memorable but for the wrong reasons. So, as with all commissioned design work, you need to manage your client’s expectations, set realistic goals and find out what exactly your work needs to convey. Logo designs become iconic and memorable: they’re not created that way.

12. Create a board and rip it up

You could research logo designs all day as there are books and websites by the score containing examples of them. Only makemood boards out of ones that share similar values. Look at your mood board and analyse what isn’t successful about these logo designs. Then rip those boards up and use these rules as a guide for your own unique creation.

 

INITIAL DESIGN WORK

13. Sketch it out

Logo design tips 13
Get the pencil and pad out before switching on your computer. Picture credit: Ben Powell at www.gogetcreative.co.uk

With a solid understanding of what needs to be communicated, it’s on to the first sketches: more often than not, these should be the pen and paper kind. This enables you to be experimental and not get caught up in the finer details.

It’s tempting to move straight onto the computer first, but Ben Powell advises you resist the urge. “What did you learn to do first, use a computer or a pencil and paper?” he asks rhetorically. “Sketching is a much faster way to produce initial ideas before you even touch Photoshop CC. It doesn’t matter if it’s complete chicken-scratch sketching as long as it conveys your ideas correctly and you understand it.”

14. Create vectors

Logo design tips 15
Vectors are a good ‘in-between’ stage of logo design. Picture credit: Ben Powell at www.gogetcreative.co.uk

After starting with a sketch, some designers then progress to more technical sketches on graph paper. But the best way to save any pain and frustration with later iterations of your logo design is to produce it using vectors. Here Illustrator CC is your friend as you’ll be able to rescale your creation without losing any quality.

15. Use smart objects

You can copy and paste your logo design into Photoshop as a ‘smart object’ (again with no loss of scalable quality), if you need to combine it with other elements.

If you’re creating a logo design for screenbased media, be particularly careful of thin lines or very light typefaces. Also consider that different monitors can make text and graphics appear pixelated or rough.

 

NAILING THE TYPOGRAPHY

16. Choose your typeface carefully

Logo design tips
Microsoft’s new logo design represents a trend towards clear and functional typography

Typography is obviously central to good logo design. You have two main routes to choose from: creating your own custom typeface or adapting an existing one.

If you create a custom typeface, try not to make it too fashionable because it could date quickly. Keep it simple and legible.  Consider the words that you’re depicting – if they’re unusual then a simple typeface might work best; if they’re common words then you can usually be more creative as they’re easier to recognise.

17. Adapt an existing typeface

There’s no rule to say you have to create your own typeface, though: consider adapting an existing one.

Removing, extending or joining parts of letters may be enough to make your design unique. It’s amazing how little you need to see of some letters for you to still be able to recognise them.

18. Avoid gimmicky fonts

Don’t be tempted to make your logo design stand out by using gimmicky fonts. They’re the equivalent of typographic chintz and there’s a reason why most of them are free. For sheer professionalism’s sake you should avoid them at all costs.

Most gimmicky fonts are too fancy, too weak, and are most likely being used (badly) on a hundred different cheap business cards right now. When it comes to logo design, keep your font choices classic and simple and avoid over-garnishing.

19. Make the type match the brand

Fonts come in all shapes and sizes that resonate differently with strength (slab type fonts, big and powerful); class and style (fonts with elegant scripts or serifs); movement and forward thinking (type that is slanted). It’s not about just looking pretty: matching the qualities of the font – be it bespoke or off-the-shelf – to the qualities of the brand is what’s important here.

20. Consider a type-only approach

Jiyoung Lee created the logotype for this industrial building firm

You may want to produce a simple execution of a logo design for your client that uses the strength of the typography alone.

Bone up on your typography knowledge by reading this primerand check out the inspired logos designers around the globe have created using type alone here.

 

USE OF SPACE

21. Think about the space around your logo design

Logo design tips
The British Council has an exclusion zone based on the discs that make up part of its design

Most brand books will specify an exclusion zone. This is an area around the logo design that can’t be occupied by other content, to protect the integrity of the logo (and brand by extension).

When you’re creating a logo design, you need to consider how it should be used. If, for example, your design is intended to be viewed over the top of a photographic image, make sure you present it to the client in that way, and specify that it should be reproduced in this manner each time it’s used.

22. Use negative space effectively

Logo design tips
The FedEx identity is a well-cited example of effective use of negative space in logo design

Some of the best logo designs have hidden meaning in their negative space. A classic example is the Fed Ex logo, which uses the combination of the letters E and x to form an arrow in the negative space. There are many other great examples where a logo design looks ordinary at first glance, but reveals interesting and well-thought-out details on further examination.

23. Don’t overdo it

Try to use these principle to add value to your logo design, but as always, don’t add shapes and pictorial elements in negative space just because you can! Remember that you are not trying to appeal to other designers on Dribbble – you’re trying to solve a commercial problem and boost a brand amongst its audience.

 

GRAPHIC DESIGN

24. Make your design active, not passive

Logo design tips
Twitter’s logo design has morphed from a static bird into one in flight over the years, suggesting motion and movement

If you’re using a device within your logo design that facilitates it, consider adding a sense of movement to your design. This doesn’t mean you need to add cartoon-like motion lines, but rather think about the size, position and rotation of elements within your design.

A fish will look in motion if it’s mid-jump or swim, but will look static if drawn side on as if it’s been mounted on a wall. You also need to take into account the direction of the implied motion.

25. Cultural differences

In the west, motion towards the left of the stage suggests backwards, regressive movement, while motion towards the right feels progressive and forward-thinking. This culture-based understanding is formed because we read from left to right. Things are different in the far East, so make sure you understand where your principal market is.

26. Consider tones as well as colours

Logo designs need to work in black and white as well as colour. If your logo design uses colour to convey meaning, think about how you can reflect that meaning when the colour is removed. Sometimes this may mean changing the contrast relationship between different elements of your design so that they still convey meaning when reproduced in monotones.

27. Be experimental

Logo design tips 16a
Cut & Splice’s logo design is ever-morphing and never the same twice

Don’t feel you have to be constricted by formal notions of what a logo design is or does. For example, designer Luke Prowse came up with a highly original use of logo and brand identity for music event Cut & Splice, celebrating experimental composer’s Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Aus dem Seben Tagen.

Playing with the experimental composer’s lifetime obsession with ‘controlled chance’, Luke created a logo design that is never the same twice, both online and digitally printed. In online form the logo design continually morphs and pulsates like an ever-evolving compositional soundscape.

Logo design tips 16b
Another incarnation of the experimental Cut & Splice logo design

 

KEEP IT CLEAN AND MODERN

28. Don’t use more than two fonts

Obviously, there are always going to be exceptions to this rule. But as a general principle, restricting yourself to just one or two typefaces is a good idea if you want your logo design to be clear and uncluttered.

29. Ensure it works on dark backgrounds

YouTube’s logo works well against any background, light or dark

The client may be happy seeing your logo design against a white background, but be wary of him coming back a year later saying that the company is producing new marketing material and demand it will work against a dark background too. Sorting that out in advance is never a bad thing. (The same goes for using the logo in monochrome.)

30. Keep abreast of trends

Pay attention to current logo design trends doesn’t mean slavishly following them. But in the same way that you need to break the rules, to buck the trend (or start a new one) you need to know what you’re up again.

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31. Subtract as much as possible

Logo design tips 9
A simple but evocative logo design produced by Luke Prowse for Tempestra Underwear

Subtraction is a great technique for removing redundancy in any creative endeavour. It means continually asking yourself questions that begin with, “Does this logo need…”, “Does this make sense?”, “Does this match the brief” and “Is this self-indulgent?”.

Logo design tips
Over time, most logo designs get simplified – Wendy’s recent redesign is a prime example

32. If in doubt, leave it out

If you can’t rationalise an element that’s part of your logo design, the chances are you need to remove it from the overall piece. When your logo design is at its simplest, it’s probably at its strongest.

33. Don’t try to do too much

Don’t try to make the logo design do too much: it doesn’t have to reflect every aspect of the company’s history or demonstrate what the product or service is. A computer company’s logo design doesn’t have to show a computer (Apple’s doesn’t). A restaurant logo design doesn’t have show food (McDonald’s) doesn’t. Keep it simple.

34. Create a lock up version

Logo design tips 8
The logo design and the slogan have to work in harmony as well as individually

A logo design often comes with a tagline (or strapline) that conveys a brand message. Nike, for example, has its swoosh device with ‘Just Do It’ usually seen underneath. Both elements can work separately but when they exist together this is referred to as a ‘lock up’. It’s when both elements have a sense of cohesion between them.

As these elements can be seen separately the rule to remember is not to rely on the tagline to make sense of the logo design or vice versa. Your logo design doesn’t necessarily have to be a visual representation of the tagline but the two should be equally ‘on-brand’.

35. Make your logo design responsive

The demands of responsive web design apply to logos as much as any other web graphics

If your logo design is going to be primarily used on websites and apps, consider how to make it responsive. Simply reducing or enlarging a logo according to its context isn’t always the best solution. As the content area and device capabilities increase, you may need to add extra details to the logo graphic itself. Check out this demo by Anthony Calzadilla to learn more.

 

FUNCTIONALITY

36. Create different size versions

Logo design tips 6
Logo designs have to be consistent for all manner of different applications. Picture credit: Ben Powell at www.gogetcreative.co.uk

Your logo design is amazing, beautiful, and stunning… but only on your 24in full HD monitor. Shrink that baby down to 100 pixels and what have you got? A little undecipherable splodge.

Experiment with your designs at different sizes. If you’ve already got
them on your computer, zoom in and out to see if they work as tiny icons or when they’re full screen.

37. Make it legible

Most clients need a vector version of the logo design in order to be able to scale it up, cut it out and colour separate it. Equally, you need something that will be legible in lowest denominator media such as newsprint, and work online and on mobile devices.

Once you have something, print it out. Print variations in type weight and style, as well as inverted versions of your logotype and mark. Print large versions and paste them to the wall or lay them out on the floor. Look at them for as much time as it takes to really let things sink in.

38. Create non-print variants

As well as print you need to come up with variants that show how it can work on computer screens, mobile devices and other “real world” uses, whether on a uniform or a billboard at Old Trafford.

Show all these variations to your clients to indicate how you’ve thought things through how (if needed) their logo design could be used or teeny-tiny on a business franked letter.

Think about creating an insignia version of the logo design for when it occupies small spaces, and perhaps a clear and a greyscale version. This will go a long way to proving to your client they’re getting value for money and a logo design that can be used everywhere.

Logo design tips
Your logo design may need to be altered to work on different media, such as being reproduced in cotton embroidery

It’s quite common to have a slightly different version of a logo design for reproduction on clothing. The best way to get this right is to talk to an embroiderer, shoe-manufacturer, etc, as appropriate.

39. Make it future-proof

Logo design tips 4
Redesign and re-invigoration of the Times Newspaper supplement times2 created by Luke Prowse alongside art director Neville Brody and their in-house editorial team

Most logo designs are used for years, so be careful not to use ‘of the moment’ typefaces or styles that may date quickly. Don’t to be too literal either: a company selling records today might be flying people to space in 25 years.

Most identities such as Shell and Kellogg’s have changed over time but have kept timeless brand elements whilst subtly ‘refreshing’ or modernising their typography. There should be elements to the logo design that are enduring but be mindful that other aspects of it may need to be adapted in the future for as-yet-unknown visual formats.

 

BUSINESS CONSIDERATIONS

40. Don’t confuse ‘logo’ with ‘brand’

Logo design tips 1
Part of the ‘bigger picture’ for the use of the Wolff Olins 2012 Olympic Games logo design

‘A logo isn’t just the brand’ is the most common tip to remember when creating a company’s identity.

The 2012 Olympic Games logo design by Wolff Olins was universally mocked when released in 2007. Mostly this was due to media restrictions which meant they couldn’t explain or show how this logo design was going to be used as part of the successful London 2012 games brand and not necessarily in isolation.

If you’re presenting a logo design which is mostly going to be seen ‘locked up’ with a strapline or connected to another visual device then show examples of this in your initial presentation.

41. Get the tone right

Logo design tips 2
An example of three type treatments by Luke Prowse – authoritative, friendly and fun

Imagine you were looking online for an accountant and come across a firm called Harewood’s Accounting Services which had a logo design made up of a weedy serif font and an image of a hare sat on a plank of wood. You’d doubt whether this crowd were worth taking seriously. This fictitious company could well have multiple awards and reams of happy solvent customers, but such a logo design wouldn’t inspire any trust or admiration for the services they offer.

A logo design represents a business’s professionalism and poor visual jokes don’t work. Use fonts which sum up the ‘brand mood’. 

 

FEEDBACK

42. Show your logo design around

Logo design tips 11
Kudawara’s logo design was memorable for the wrong reasons

Quite a few of us will remember the Japanese pharmacy a few years ago whose logo design received worldwide recognition for being unintentionally rather saucy. You of course could argue that the logo is fine and there are a lot of people in the world with dirty minds. But let’s get real: how this got through final client approval is anyone’s guess.

After you’ve completed your logo design, send it round to your mates and family for a bit of feedback. Look at it sideways, look at it upside down and reverse it. Look at it every which way you can. Then send it to the client. You wouldn’t want another Kudawara on your hands would you?

43. Stick to your convictions

Logo design tips 12
Regular client feedback is crucial to avoid wasting everyone’s time. Picture credit: Ben Powell at www.gogetcreative.co.uk

Sheffield-based graphic and UI designer Ben Powell suggests: “It’s so important to get regular feedback from your client, but equally important that you make it clear you are the designer and that’s why you’ve been employed.

“As soon as a client begins suggesting things like, ‘Let’s make that text a bit bigger, and try this typeface’, your mark becomes diluted. It’s your job as the designer to make this clear from the start.”

44. Ask the client specific questions

When your logo design is finished, try not to ask vague questions to your client such as, “Do you like it?”, or, “What do you think?”. You may as well ask if they like apples or oranges.

Questions you should ask include: “Does it meet the brief?” amd “Does this represent your core brand values?”. If they avoid the question and just say they don’t like it, ask for specifics. After all it’s their brand and they should know. 

45. Test it internationally

If you can, show it to as many different nationalities as possible, especially for a logo that is going to be used globally. You never know whether something that looks completely innocent in one culture may look unintentionally rude, offensive, or both in another. For example, in 1998, the Nike Air Bakin made national headlines when Arab-American groups thought the way “Air” was written on the shoe looked too similar to “Allah” written in Arabic.

46. Check for hidden words

 WeightWatchers logo
Some people spotted a rude word when the WeightWatchers logo went all-lowercase

Often when a logo is stylised in a certain way – such as all the letters being the same case – it can spell out words that were not intended to be read.

47. Expect your logo redesign to be panned

At Creative Bloq, we regularly report on new logo designs for well known brands, and one thing that’s surprised us is that immediate feedback is normally at least 80 per cent negative. People don’t like change and react strongly to it. But don’t worry – it’s not a bad reflection on your work, it’s just innate conservatism. Sooner or later they’ll get used to, and then grow to like, your logo. And when it eventually gets redesigned again, they’ll react just as strongly against that!

 

STYLE GUIDES

48. Create a logo style guide

Logo design tips
The Channel 4 style guide explains in detail how its logo design can and can’t be used

Style guides determine the way a logo design can be used and usually include colour options, size restraints, positioning, typefaces and how the logo design works on different backgrounds. Check out any of these design style guides for a great example of the sort of guide you should be aiming to set up.

49. Dictate colour options

A style guide should illustrate all possible colour options for a logo design. It should include any Pantone colours used with a breakdown for CMYK and RGB. Other options to include are: colour and mono logo designs on white, colour and mono on black and colour and mono on an image background.

50. Specify sizes

Some logo designs only work down to a certain size. This might be because they become illegible or simply lose their impact. Specify the minimum size for your logo design and bear in mind how it looks on screen as this may differ from a printed version. Offer an alternative in pixels.

51. Advise on positioning

The positioning of your logo design may not be required in a style guide, but depending on the style and shape of your design there may be a position that you think works best. For example, text that’s ranged right might look best on the right-hand side of the page.

52. Advise on spacing

Give consideration to the amount of space around a logo design and try to explain this without using units of measurement. For example, the space below the logo design should be a quarter of its width. This ensures that whatever size the logo design is used at, the correct space can be calculated easily.

53. Define no-nos

If there are any ways that your logo design should not be used then make sure you specify them. The main reason for a style guide is to ensure the appearance of your logo design remains consistent, so explain how the logo should not be misinterpreted and illustrate your points with examples.

 

EXTRA TIPS

54. Download the logo design flowchart

Logo design tips
Download the flow chart to improve your logo design process

Still not sure where to begin with logo design? No problem. Deliver winning logo designs every time by following the step-by-step processes in Johnson Banks‘ foolproof flowchart.

Right click this link to download the logo design flowchart(PDF)

55. Why you should avoid plagiarism

If you rip off others, Logo Thief will find you out!

There are obvious ethical reasons not to plagiarise other people’s designs, not to mention the potential threat to your reputation if you’re discovered. And if you think nobody will notice, then think again. There are a number of people who’ve made it their hobby to seek out logo rip-off merchants, and some of the worst offenders can be found out on Logo Thief – find out more about this fascinating website here.

56. Free template for social media

This template will help you design for social media platforms

Sometimes, fitting your logo into the square format that most social media platforms use can cause your design to be altered, cut or otherwise not turn out as planned. So Wickie Media have come up with this free Photoshop template to ease your logo design woes.

The template enables you to preview what your logo will look like on a variety of social media platforms. It’s a Photoshop CC document, and with the Image assets generator you can live-export all the needed files to upload your avatar and cover art for all your social media websites to create a consistent look.

57. The psychology of logo shapes

The logo shapes used by big brands aren’t chosen by chance. Whether your design is based on circles, triangles or other shapes can benefit from a keen understanding on the psychology of shapes. There’s a great primer here from Martin Christie of Logo Design London.

58. The psychology of logo colours

Understanding the psychology of colours is also vital to designing an effective logo. The use of colour can bring multiple layers of meaning, from primitive responses based on millions of years of evolved instinct to the complex associations we make based on learned assumptions. Learn how these principles can be applied to logo design in this article.

59. Be inspired by the best

See the evolution of some of the world’s greatest marks in this top book

The 50 Best Logos Ever is a definitive guide to the greatest identity work ever created. Even if you only have a passing interest in graphic design, it’s fascinating to see what the BP logo looked like in 1930, or to chat about how the Coca-Cola identity has evolved (or not) over the past 125 years.

Ever wondered how the Penguin logo started its life? Or what Shell’s logo looked like in 1901? Then this is the book for you. Over 180 premium pages, the book dissects the world’s greatest examples of logo design, showing their origins, their evolutions and interviewing the designers behind them – including Rob Janoff (Apple) and Lindon Leader (FedEx). It all adds up to a fascinating reference book on the best known marks ever created.

This is an updated and extended version of an article previously published on Creative Bloq. Have you had success creating a logo design? Share your work and experiences in the comments below!

ContributorsPaul WyattJacob Cass, and Aaron Kitney

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The Power of Positivity

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Influencer

Author of “All In” a NY Times Best-Seller

The Power of Positivity

When Sean Covey was playing quarterback at BYU, his father Stephen R. Covey rushed back from a work assignment overseas to watch his boy play one Saturday.

“I played terrible,” said Sean. “After the game, he waited for me outside of the locker room and I came out and he hugged me and said, ‘Sean you were marvelous out there today.’ I said, ‘No, Dad, that was the worst game I ever had.’ He said, ‘No. You were getting beat up and you kept getting up. I’ve never been so proud of you.’

“It made me feel so good. You talk to any one of us kids and the first thing we would say about our dad is that he affirmed the individual, always. He believed in you and was so positive and that’s how he was with everyone.”

What a wonderful tribute to a father. But also something we should be saying about leaders in business.

One of the fastest-growing fields of study today is “positive psychology,” with research being conducted on what creates well-being and what contributes to us humans “flourishing.” It’s a lesson that too many managers fail to learn. Criticism rarely motivates, praise and appreciation do.

We’ve all seen this in our personal lives—maybe coaches berating their little players: “Do you think you could throw the ball away just one more time?” one asks sarcastically, or “That other kid can do it, and you are bigger than him.”

Actually worse are coaches who don’t understand their role in motivating players, believing they should be stoic Tom Landry type: “I may not praise a lot, but when I say ‘good job’ my players know I mean it.”

Research supporting the effectiveness of positive, frequent praise goes back almost a century to 1925 when Dr. Elizabeth Hurlock measured the impact of types of feedback on fourth- and sixth-grade students in a math class.

In the test, one control group was praised, another was criticized and the third was ignored. The number of math problems solved by each group was measured on days two through five. As early as day two, students in the “praised” group were performing at a dramatically higher level than the “criticized” or “ignored” students, increasing the number of solved math problems by 71 percent during the study. In contrast, the “criticized” group increased by 19 percent and the “ignored” group by just 5 percent.

The bottom line: Praise works better than criticism, and way better than ignoring. Praise empowers people, criticism intimidates, ignoring confuses.

With that said, of course false flattery and praise don’t do much good—just like giving every kid on every team a trophy because they showed up or telling them they are all great ballplayers. But genuine praise—even if it is just for trying hard or getting up when you get knocked down—can go a long way.

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Free to Choose

 

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Free to Choose?

 

An aisle in a virtual reality Tesco supermarket

 We are lousy at making up our minds. Advertisers may goad us with slogans like “The choice is clear” and “There is only one good choice,” and the economists who champion rational-choice theory may still evoke a generic, utility-maximizing consumer who sizes up every situation in terms of his or her personal advantage. But after several decades of research—most famously that of Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky—it has become widely accepted, save among some skeptical social scientists, that the ability of any one of us to choose what’s in our best interest is severely limited.

It seems that we routinely overestimate what we know. We fail to predict what we will want in the future. We are inconsistent about our preferences. We value the objects we possess over the ones we lack in ways that don’t make any objective sense. And having better or more extensive information does not necessarily improve matters. That’s because when making choices, we also tend to ignore facts that do not jibe with the outcome we desire; we focus on information that is irrelevant, or see patterns where they do not exist, or get distracted by our fleeting emotions. Then, if the possibilities are presented differently, our choices will shift accordingly, suggesting that on top of it all, we are easily manipulated by those in the business of manufacturing situations bloated with options. By and large, when it comes time to choose, the impulsive, unreflective parts of the brain dominate the analytic parts. Or to put it differently, adults are a lot more like children than we might care to admit.

It’s a verdict around which a lucrative genre of business and self-help books has developed. On the heels of bestsellers like Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and SlowHow We Decide, by the discredited former New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer; and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, all of which successfully popularized scholarly findings on our mental fallibility, have come a slew of instruction manuals promising businesspeople, consumers and even the lovelorn the key to beating the decision-making odds. Airport bookstores are well stocked with offerings like Make Up Your Mind: A Decision Making Guide to Thinking Clearly and Choosing Wisely (2012); Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life or Work (2013); Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World (2013); and The Happiness Choice: The Five Decisions That Will Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (2013)—not to mention specialized guides focused on careers, marriage, health and nutrition, consumer goods, and personal finance, all of them crammed with lessons about choice. Last year, even the Harvard Business Review weighed in with “10 Must Reads on Making Smart Decisions.” The message? If we understand our foibles and learn to choose more self-consciously, each of us will do a lot better making up our minds in the future.

But what if such how-to manuals, with their emphasis on enlarging the scope of personal responsibility to include choosing to monitor one’s own decision-making psychology, are better seen as symptoms of what ails us? What if the real problem is the imperative of making all those choices in all those different realms, from sex to software, in the first place? This is the view of a small number of philosophers, legal theorists and culturally aware psychologists, including Barry Schwartz and, more recently, Sheena Iyengar, Sigal Ben-Porath, Kent Greenfield and Renata Salecl. They insist that we have become overwhelmed and even “tyrannized” by our culture’s overinvestment in choice.

* * *

In this telling, the problem stretches from the supermarket, with its average of 42,686 different items from which to prepare tonight’s dinner and care for the home, to the halls of Congress, where both sides of the aisle take the expansion of choice to be an unqualified good, even as they disagree about what needs choosing. As Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told an Energy Department official in exasperation at a 2011 Senate committee hearing, “You favor a woman’s right to an abortion, but you don’t favor a woman or a man’s right to choose what kind of lightbulb.” Choice may be a bedrock value in terms of capitalism and democracy, a prerogative that stands for freedom and control over one’s own image and destiny. But, argue Salecl, Greenfield and others, an ill-considered collective investment in picking from a proliferating and often phony array of options is having adverse effects on mental health and social and political life alike.

On the one hand, the constant obligation to choose leaves people perpetually anxious and, at times, incapable of making up their minds at all. It doesn’t matter if the choice concerns shampoos (where the differences among options appear large but are actually negligible) or healthcare (where the differences can be difficult to discern but matter greatly). We dither and refuse to commit, because to make a choice is to enter a realm of uncertainty and missed opportunities. On the other hand, given the dominance of the view that choice-making stands for independence and personal responsibility (remember Milton and Rose Friedman’s famed PBS series Free to Choose), we can’t help feeling guilty when, once we have made up our minds, things go awry. We are conditioned to conclude not that luck, fate, God or some other force has let us down, but that the choices we have made must have been less than optimal—which only aggravates the stress of the next “preference determination.” This is, in Iyengar’s terms, the “mental and emotional tax” that too much freedom of choice exacts. We—meaning everyone who lives in countries dominated by the ideology of consumerism, democracy and individualism—feel habitually worn out by all the effort.

Plus, according to Greenfield and others, there are secondary effects of choice overload that we have hardly recognized, much less rectified. Many of our choices turn out, upon reflection, to be largely meaningless (think of those scarcely distinguishable shampoos); we are all a lot less free than we generally suppose. But most of us also fail to notice how a consumer-oriented focus on the value of exercising our options leaves out and, indeed, punishes others, especially the poor. Adults without the economic means to enter the market never face the same range of possibilities, yet their (and their children’s) failure to flourish is routinely ascribed to their not having “taken responsibility” and made the “right choices,” whether in school, on the street or around the dinner table. This diagnosis airbrushes structural inequality out of the picture. What’s more, Salecl notes in the most thoroughgoing of these social critiques, our collective obsession with individual choice distracts us from pursuing collective solutions to these dilemmas. It seems we are always on the way home to ponder (and worry about) all the incredible possibilities before us on Match.com or the 700-channel desert of cable TV.

Technology, however, is but one of the culprits—and not the most significant one—in these cautionary tales. Their subject matter is essentially modern life, considered as the hazily defined and largely unanticipated consequence of some blend of Enlightenment notions of the self and freedom, the explosion of consumer culture, the live-and-let-live ethos of the 1960s and, as icing on the cake, the technological revolution associated with the home computer that has multiplied the offerings in every domain from the hundreds or thousands to the millions or billions. Domestic and international political developments play a smaller explanatory role in each of these accounts than they should. But all of these authors (with the partial exception of Iyengar) take for granted that while an obsession with choice is the peculiar invention of the West, and especially of the United States, it is becoming a global norm.

* * *

The bulk of these books is given over to laying bare the problem, often with a focus on consumer behavior, rather than considering what could be done to remedy the situation. A repeated touchstone is Iyengar and her colleague Mark Lepper’s taste-testing experiment in which shoppers in an upscale food market in California were presented with, on one occasion, samples of three flavors of jam and, on another occasion, twenty-four flavors. After trying a bite or two, those in the first group proved many times more likely to walk out of the store with a purchase. Those in the second group found themselves flummoxed by all the possibilities and consequently paralyzed by indecision when it came to deciding what to buy. This now-famous finding (Iyengar jokes about having to talk about it with strangers on planes) has been widely taken to illustrate the pitfalls of endlessly expanding “choice sets.” Advertisers are urged to pay attention: people yearn—despite their protestations to the contrary—for guidance in how to limit their choices. And in keeping with this marketing orientation, the prescriptions for consumers proffered by these books remain, by and large, frustratingly small, personal and individualized in nature.

One constant refrain is the importance of developing expertise in the domain in which one needs to make a choice, but even more in the psychology of decision-making. Practical knowledge of the brain’s workings gets repackaged as empowerment, a tool that will supposedly allow people not only to work successfully against their biases, but also to prioritize in the realm of choice and, in some cases, to opt out of choosing at all. Barry Schwartz, in his 2003 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, cleverly insisted that choosing not to choose was on its way to becoming the new mark of autonomy. Iyengar’s catch-phrase is that we must be “choosy about choosing.” There is also an odd infatuation on the part of many of these authors with voluntary restraints and “precommitments”: marriage contracts, self-imposed retirement savings plans, and websites like StickK.com that commit a user to making donations to unacceptable charities as a punishment for violating a contract—say, to quit smoking or lose twenty pounds—made with oneself. It is hard not to see such responses as signs of resignation in the face of an unalterable status quo. If the overabundance of choice is inescapable, maybe the best one can do is to try occasionally to turn one’s back on it, often with the purchase of yet another consumer good or app.

This is certainly Iyengar’s emphasis. Her pathbreaking research on decision-making was originally made famous by Malcolm Gladwell. In The Art of Choosing, she popularizes her own findings very much in the chatty Gladwellian vein, easily moving from stories drawn from her own life to self-administered “tests” for the reader and accounts of quirky academic studies conducted in business schools and psychology departments—many of which, ironically, involve deceiving participants about their aims and, in essence, depriving them of the chance to make an informed choice. Before an oddly compelling personal account of her own experience, as a blind woman, picking a nail polish color, Iyengar makes a cloying appeal to her readers turned pals: “We’ve been together in this book for several chapters now, and you’ve been a good sport, so I’m going to share a secret: Sometimes I like to turn my choice into someone else’s problem.” It comes as no surprise, then, that her “solutions,” including boldface takeaways offered in an epilogue, generally amount to no more than platitudes aimed at you individually, dear reader, about not sweating the small stuff, knowing thyself and thy goals, respecting difference, relinquishing control to someone else (a “choice provider”) when the time is right, and not beating oneself up for making errors (“maybe we all need to focus a little less on perfection and more on the joys of simply spending time with the people we love”). She hardly expects us to stop shopping around.

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But deep in chapter two, Iyengar makes a proposal that saves The Art of Choosing from being a simple Gladwellian knockoff. In her exceedingly cautious way, she sketches the outlines of a political position. According to this view, individual willpower constitutes only half the story; “freedom from,” or acting without restraint or interference from other people, is insufficient without “freedom to,” or possessing resources that enable one to act. Iyengar thus quietly makes the case for that most unfashionable of ideas—active government—at the middle point between capitalism and socialism. And she does so, she says, as a means to facilitate a natural predilection, evident even in well-tended but depressed zoo animals, for what she calls “true choice.” As she explains it, “true choice requires that a person have the ability to choose an option and not be prevented from choosing it by any external force, meaning that a system tending too far toward either extreme”—capitalism or socialism—“will limit people’s opportunities.” This is the same cause that, in different ways, rallies both Ben-Porath and Greenfield and suggests that a critique of the proliferation of choice can also allow for a serious reframing of liberalism and the market model.

In Tough Choices, Ben-Porath is blunter about assigning government a positive role in shaping the “landscape of choice,” even as she too charts a middle course. Nothing is more wrongheaded, the political theorist notes, than the idea that we all choose as free and equal members of society as long as government stays out of the way. On the contrary, new findings about how badly we perform in the business of decision-making—but also about how limited the choices are for some, and how aggravating an abundance of choice is for others—are cause for reassessing our attachment to liberal paradigms that unthinkingly take choice to be a virtue in and of itself. The problem, argues Ben-Porath, is that liberals still have not relinquished the discredited idea of the rational individual, left to his or her own devices, as an inherently effective and contented master of his or her own domain. If we took seriously the empirical research of psychologists like Kahneman, Tversky and Dan Ariely and accepted that “simply providing more choice does not necessarily improve individuals’ opportunities to make choices that are good for them,” we would discover that we could all do a better job of determining our preferences if we had some help.

Tough Choices is not, however, simply a brief for “libertarian paternalism,” or a fashionable defense of small-scale government programs aimed at encouraging people to want what they should want and decide what they should decide—such as whether to take an apple or a doughnut on the cafeteria line. Ben-Porath is after something bigger than merely prompting good choices by moving the apples closer to the cash register. The state is already heavily invested in the business of shaping how we choose, she explains, and minor forms of manipulation (“nudges,” in the parlance of libertarian paternalists Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler) do little to alleviate the inequality of choice conditions. A disciple of University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann and an expert in schooling, Ben-Porath argues instead for what she calls “structured paternalism,” or more extensive manipulation of the “choice architecture,” designed to put adults as well as children in a position where they can make “informed” and “meaningful” choices. What guidelines the state should follow in establishing this choice architecture remain persistently vague; Ben-Porath pushes the promotion of civic equality (equal participation in the democratic process) as well as the creation of opportunity equality (an equal chance at self-betterment)—while also insisting on safeguarding the “diverse preferences” rooted in the culture or personality of those doing the choosing. This seems a rather conflicted set of goals on which to build policy. But in the most basic of terms, Ben-Porath wants to convince us that sometimes it is a very good idea for the state to regulate or even to restrict the menu of options, as in marriage or banking, precisely so as to “allow individuals to better pursue their preferences and aspirations” or make sounder choices. This is an important formulation in and of itself.

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Greenfield offers a different, if not antithetical, response. Most of The Myth of Choice reads as a cheerfully contrarian, verging-on-cute account of the wide variety of unrecognized constraints on free choice that already shape our lives. For the first three-quarters of the book, we are back in the territory of Gladwell and Iyengar, once again being regaled with the Great Jam Experiment alongside juicy court cases, familiar news stories (Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina) and advertising references (“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” “Have it your way”), and a lot of breezily told anecdotes about a coal-mining grandfather who got paid in scrip, the hazards of middle-class American child-rearing, and the joys and frustrations of shopping at Best Buy and Whole Foods. Our problematic brains trick us at every turn, we learn once again. Cultural norms keep us on the straight and narrow, circumscribing our range of options and stifling dissent. Why else, with all those choices available, do we generally seek to wear almost the same clothes as everyone else? Rules and authority figures do more of the same (and here we also get the famous Milgram experiment of the 1960s, in which participants proved willing to administer electric shocks to fellow volunteers rather than resist a professor’s orders). Finally, Greenfield insists that the market itself restricts our choices as much as it enables them, leaving all of us feeling overwhelmed, our collective moral and social dilemmas unsatisfactorily resolved, and the poor essentially powerless. As he notes in one of many clever asides, the one choice not really available to us is the choice to limit the spread of the market and its values.

What is more surprising about Greenfield’s book is where this overly long rehearsal of the “myth” of choice ends up. Rather than simply urge limited disengagement from consumer society as a principled response to a world of hollow choices, as one might expect, Greenfield, a law professor, argues for the cultivation of two old-fashioned virtues: “empathy,” or compassion toward others, and “humility” about oneself. Empathy, of course, is the very word that sent Republicans into a tailspin when President Obama called it an important quality in a Supreme Court justice on the eve of Sandra Sotomayor’s appointment. But Greenfield hopes that if we move away from the destructive tendency to see an idealized world of “free choice” as the ground on which we all operate, and if we make more of an effort to acknowledge the various constraints that produced our own (or others’) bad choices, we will come to a political conclusion. If we were really serious about promoting choice and personal responsibility across the board, we would need substantially more help from the government, especially the law. Not for Greenfield either is the small-bore paternalism of nudges, in which the tools of advertisers and marketers are turned toward socially constructive ends. Greenfield unabashedly advocates an interventionist state that prevents economic need from becoming a source of coercion and also promotes (as opposed to tolerates) diversity and dissent. He has, in this book, simply found a new way to endorse these progressive goals: by advocating public measures to make our choices more “genuine” and “real.”

Greenfield, like Ben-Porath and Iyengar, still returns in the end to an imagined realm of authentic choice that, for all of these authors, equals authentic freedom. It remains unclear in each case if unhampered choice constitutes the human condition in some earlier period or natural state (in which case, we are reminded of Rousseau’s insistence that people in developed societies must now be “forced to be free”), or if genuine choice exists only in some utopia yet to be achieved. It is hard to know in part because so much of the writing on this subject is dedicated to explaining, à la Greenfield, that the constraints on our ability to choose are more extensive than we imagine. Nevertheless, the common thread in these accounts is that “real” or “true” or “genuine” or “meaningful” choice—the foundation of the liberal imagination—will indeed prevail if, and only if, we learn to pay attention to the ways it is hampered at present and then use our collective energies to enable its flourishing. In a sense, all three authors propose to employ the dominant ideology of consumer society (Greenfield’s “rhetoric of the powerful”) to limit the dominance of the market and to justify an activist state.

Salecl offers a strong rejoinder to this view. The Slovenian philosopher, who has no practical suggestions to make and mixes her observations about Internet dating and plastic surgery with largely unhelpful passages of dense Lacanian analysis and a dollop of Marxism, comes close to saying that belief in genuine (unfettered, rational, individual) choice is the greatest myth of all. For not only does this faith require us to ignore our own psychology, in which it is not neurological hardwiring but unconscious impulses and desires that rule; it can also prevent us from acknowledging that today, as the language of choice maximization permeates even the intimate realms of sex and reproduction, we must throw off its chains in order to envision something new. Indeed, Salecl warns us rather ominously that we are never more caught up in the ideology of choice than when we think we have escaped it by embracing simplicity and personally opting out!

Iyengar actually makes a similar case—and in more accessible terms. Her position between two cultures (that of India, where she was born and has strong ties, and that of the United States, where she lives and works) allows her some fine observations about choice as ultimately one set of narrative conventions among several possibilities, and one that works less well for her Indian relatives, not to mention postcommunist Eastern Europeans or the Japanese, than for her Columbia Business School colleagues. The Art of Choosing opens with the story of her own family’s arrival in North America told from three perspectives—that of fate, accident and choice—precisely to show that there is nothing natural about imposing choice and self-determination as the main rubrics for making sense of the raw data of our lives, from birth to marriage(s) to death. Yet in the end, Iyengar refuses to adjudicate and simply tells her readers of the importance of recognizing cultural differences (or “metaphorical multilingualism,” as she calls it) when it comes to business values such as risk and choice. She herself risks nothing more incendiary than that.

Salecl alone uses a discussion of free-choice ideology to offer a robust critique of a global culture of individual acquisition and self-betterment that, she argues, has resulted neither in greater happiness nor greater justice. She never denies that making choices is an “essential human capacity,” one that renders change possible. But she also wants to remind us that choice and coercion are closely related (for her, the consumer is the new slave), and that the more our menu of options grows in size or significance, the more we will seek, consciously or not, to bind ourselves in other ways in compensation, whether through psychological mechanisms or the legal arm of the state. For Salecl, even the enduring appeal of the idea of a higher power is but another way to deal with the uncertainty and anxiety brought on by having to make so many decisions by and for oneself in the first place. The Tyranny of Choice thus belongs to the very dialectical history it is charting; this brief book is itself a powerful demand for collective restraint in light of the burden of proliferating choice. The question we are left with is whether the way forward lies in turning the neoliberal language of choice against the market model, or in imagining the world in entirely different terms.

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“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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