Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ontario's new logo for the 150th bash - wow ... just ... wow

ontario150 logo for Canada's birthday baskOk, I tried to like this logo. I really, really tried. I went over it trying to find something positive about Ontario's contribution to Ontario's and Canada's big 150 birthday bash but ... wow. Oh wow.... I .... sigh.

I'm not being critical for the sake of being critical. I have some serious issues with the basics in this design. First and foremost is it's legibility to older eyes. The Ont. gov said it was looking for a design to appeal to millenials. Fine. Cool. But they seem to have forgotten the millions of us here that aren't under 20 who simply can't read the logo without a struggle. The logo completely ignores an entire demographic for an event aimed at all of us. And, this seriously pisses me off.

You're likely saying "come on, it's not that hard to read". It is. When I first looked at it, I had to think for a minute about what it actually says. When your market struggles to understand your logo, you've already lost.

Here's an list of what is wrong with the design:

1 - the 150 is not clear. It merges into the design so you see 50 but not the 1 before it. This creates a moment of "what".

2 - the claustrophopic design creates an optical illusion to my eyes where the words and numbers do a bit of vibrating, making it a even harder to read.

3 - it's unreadable from a distance.

4 - it looks dreadful shrunk down on a small screen, making it more difficult to read.

5 - the spacing and size of each character is erratic (the nicest description I could come up with). The differences seem to have no purpose other than to squeeze the design into an alloted space.

6 - the type is jagged looking. It has the appearance of being hand drawn with a thick black marker. Sorry, but this makes it look amateurish and sloppy. Not an image Ontario really wants to convey.

7 - OMG that zero! Words fail me.

8 - there is NO ENERGY, which, when I look back at my rundown, is the single biggest fail.

Come on,  where's the excitement about the celebration? Where's the vibrancy? The colour? Where's the sense of space and breath-taking beauty? Ontario is 1.076 sq kilometres (514,600 miles for my American friends) of cities, towns, villages, farms and wilderness, wild and wonderful woodlands, the Canadian shield, carpets of trilliums in the spring, red maple leafs in the fall, maple syrup, BBQs in the sunshine, strolls along the Sandbanks, paddling along a quiet shore in Algonquin Park, listening to loons cry at dusk,  thousands of lakes, snow, heat, cold, rain, ice fishing, rushing to catch a subway, the sounds of a streetcar grinding on the tracks, street festivals, Shakespeare & Shaw, sitting at Timmies with friends, espresso, microbreweries, wineries, food ... oh the food, lining up for Dim Sum, film festivals, a trip to the local amateur playhouse, bush parties, bhangra lessons in city chambers, Pow Wows, May 24 weekend & cottage country, cultures merging from every corner of the earth, history spanning back thousands of years to the first peoples and the Ontario goverment gives us ... our parents' basement.

So .. no. I don't like it.




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Another trip to penisland – without the snickering

This morning, I began to ponder a response I rec’d via Twitter to my penisisland article yesterday. It presented an interesting design and marketing thought process:

A tweet from Pen Island Brewing Co that says "We know we have an unfortunate name, but we'll grow on you"Pen Island Brewing … which to my UTTER DISAPPOINTMENT offers nary a pint – embraced a potentially embarrassing url and ran with it. Their address is Someone obviously got the humour, spotted a market and built a brand around the it:

Logo for Pen Island Brewing

Their logo plays with the Pen Island / Penis Land pun, as do all the products they sell.

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Read more: Another trip to penisland – without the snickering

Starbucks red cup designs - has everyone settled down yet?

Has everyone settle down over the faux outrage over the red cup yet? Why yes, I am feeling snarky about the entire non issue. Talk about much ado. It became embarassing listening to the prattling. Even after being told it wasn't a Christmas cup, some still insisted there was some great conspiracy afoot. Cue eye rolling. What they missed was the artwork on the green cup. The more I looked at it, the more I enjoyed it. Too bad it was only in the US ... not that I would have saved a paper cup. But you get my point.

So the new cups rolled out last week, right on schedule. And some of the designs are ... well ... delightful. This year Starbucks tapped people from around the world and used their work. An unofficial poll in my neigbourhood tips the Christmas Sweater design as the best. Designed by Alisa in St. Petersburg, Russia, the sweater cup invokes a sense of cosiness and comfort: starbucks red cup 10 snowflake sweater

I'm  leaning to the cup designed by a hometown woman, Anna from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The art has that same feel of being enveloped by the design, as the sweater cup.  It's busy and I see different things each time I look. Anna is originally from the Soviet Union. Her abbreviated bio doesn't really offer a lot of details except to say she trained in traditional Ukrainian folk art called petrykivka. Instead of dissecting the cup, just enjoy it. And if you're Anna, drop me a note. I'd love to see more of your art. starbucks red cup 07 love joy

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For want of a hyphen - design counts

A sometimes overlooked part of design is how a web address will look. It's a quirky thing ... web addresses. What sounds good in a meeting may, in reality, come off as a slightly risque internet meme. Or a punch line in a coffee conversation. I was sitting having my usual latte when I overheard a couple of suit and ties having a laugh at the end of the table. The final line was "or we could order from penis land". That brought my head up ... Turns out it's a pen company (and from the conversation a pretty fine one):

 Web address for pen company that spells out penisland

Here's where a simple hyphen would have made all the difference. Doubtful anyone would have stopped and though of the half dozen jokes I heard whip around regarding the unfortunate web address.

Here's what their logo looks like:

 logo for pen Island

It's interesting the designer carefully inserted uppercase and bolding to clearly define the company name. It borders on tragic, no one took a moment to look at the way the url looks in print. One simple hyphen would have created clarity - rather than the snicker inducing I encountered this issue many years ago ... ok about 2 decades ago ... when I set up my first personal website. I though cool, I'll use my first initial and my last name. The combination turned out to be incredibly embarassing. Lesson learned and now I look at addresses when I sit down to design anything. That includes email addresses. About a year ago, I was helping a customer set up her business emails and I pointed out the name picked would quickly become embarassing. She looked at me like I had just sprouted horns. I drew a small mockup business card and wrote in the address she wanted. After the red blush faded she decided that wouldn't do and came up with something that looked more professional.

Like I said, tricky things, urls and email addresses. The way they look in print should be considered when designing your site. Otherwise, you may end up living on penis land.

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Starbucks tempest in a coffee cup – the green cup design

I sauntered over to the Starbucks website to check out the latest overblown conspiracy regarding their mission to destroy Christmas, one disposable cup at a time.  Their new green cup – which has nothing to do with Christmas by the way, so save your breath – has an interesting appeal, if you are willing to ignore the hysteria. People obsessed with the mythical plot are missing the amazing art on the humble little cup. Artist Shogo Ota’s design is intriguing and hard to pull off without making a hell of a mess.

Starbucks Green Cup Artist Shogo Ota image courtesy StarbucksStarbucks Green Cup - image courtesy Starbucks

The cup showcases a celebration of humanity titled "Stronger Together". In their press release, Starbucks explains their purpose in commissioning the artwork "During a divisive time in our country, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other”.  The line art interconnects 180 unique faces, “Just drawing everybody together in one line, … People together. That sounds pretty peaceful to me"1. I’ve tried to do something like this and let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Check out the artist's work on his website2, especially the Starbucks artwork. Don't forget to take a look at the flattened out view of the cup on Ota's website3 and enjoy the individuality of each person. I have to confess, I searched around for a single loose thread in the image but couldn't find one.

So why a green cup? Simple: the line drawing wouldn’t stand out on a standard white cup. The green marks it out as different, with the white circle immediately drawing your attention to the artwork.  It’s quite stunning and surprisingly complex. I tend to gravitate towards this style of art so I'd be happy to get this with a cup of coffee, which, alas, is available only in the US.

FYI: Nowhere in Starbucks' press release is the cup called their Christmas cup.  In the past Starbucks’ Christmas cup arrives around the 10th of Nov. 


1. Starbucks press release

2. Check out Shogo Ota's website here

3. To see the cup artwork start here

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"To make my meal in a box taste better, I decided to tweak the logo, rather than the ingredients."

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I've left some content in their old categories. Instead of having readers hit the dreaded 404 Not Found error, I'd rather leave the pages where they lay. Here are the pages:
- Poster Design 2 - breaking out of a rut
- Something a little different - a poster for the site
- Slide show confusion - another candidate for Ring of Hell
- First Ring of Web Hell - the never ending slide show

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