Clues to timeless visual symbols

“We are definitively against any fashion of design and any design fashion. We despise the culture of obsolescence, the culture of waste, the cult of the ephemeral. We detest the demand of temporary solutions, the waste of energies and capital for the sake of novelty.”

Massimo Vignelli, the Vignelli Canon

We want our creations to last long. Timelessness proves that we have created something fundamental, something which deeply touches humans.

I don’t know the rules for creating something like this, but I see some hints – primary shapes and colors.

For example, consider this ‘painting’:

This seems basic. When was it made? Hard to tell if you are seeing for the first time. It uses primary shapes – squares and rectangles. And primary colors – red, blue and yellow. And of course black and white.

This might come from 2020. But it actually comes from 1930. From the Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan.

Similarly, here is a rabbit which features in children’s books:

It’s round-ish, uses mostly primary colors, and thick black outline. Very hard to say which time or place this is from. Could be from 2020. Could be from anywhere on the earth.

But this was created in the Netherlands in 1953 by Dick Bruna. (Fun fact, this rabbit was the inspiration for ‘Hello Kitty’).

Then we have Superman, arguably one of the most popular cultural icons of all time. He too attracts us with primary colors. The logo on the chest is pretty timeless and universal – red, blue, yellow. This symbol is also at least 70 years old.

This can again be seen in the Original Mac 1984 packaging – you really can’t tell when that package was designed (you might only get a clue from the typeface used). Again – red, blue and yellow come forth, with black for outlines and white for background.

The famous designer Massimo Vignelli stressed the same idea, and this is expressed in his design of the American Airlines logo from the 1960s, which still looks modern and fresh. And you see red and blue together again.

We like the use of primary shapes and primary colors because their formal values are timeless.

Massimo Vignelli, the Vignelli Canon

Among the ‘newer’ designs, the Google logo is based on primary colors. But even this, is now more than 30 years old. And while the typeface has changed, the colors, the personality, is still the same.

Google seems to be taking this to the extreme with their new logo roundup. Can’t say how long these will last, but primary colors seem here to stay on Google products.

Source

Another timeless sign, the London Underground sign again uses the primary colors of red and blue. The sign comes from 1908, and still looks like it was designed possibly 5-10 years ago, if not yesterday.

And finally, the powerful primary colors come together in the American Flag:

It was designed in… 1777. That’s more than 240 years ago. Timeless indeed.

Of course, no design can be timeless in the strict sense. The use of simple colors, simple shapes, in a creative way, can help you create symbols and brands that last longer.

PostScript:

Yes, I am, for some reason, worried about the US election results. The world is in a strange place today. Hope this blog post finds you well and you find strength in what you do.

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