2014 was an interesting year for graphic design. Often, when looking back on a year in the design world, there’s an obvious theme. 2012 was the year of  hand-drawn elements, and 2013 gave us many major logo redesigns. 2014 was a bit trickier to define because the big events were sort of all over the place. We had everything from children’s book cover controversies to bizarre design terminology.

That being said, I won’t even try wrapping up such a wacky year in a neat little package. Let’s just go over some of the most notable events in all their strange glory.


Hairy Arms:

I learned about this from NPR. Apparently the term has existed for ages, but just came to light for many people in 2014. According to the story, “hairy arms” is used to describe a technique many designers are all too familiar with, which is adding something a little “off” into a design. The purpose of this is to get the viewer to focus on that element instead of the rest of the design.

The term got its name from ad designers in the 1930s and 40s, who would literally add hair to people’s arms in their ads, because they knew the art directors would be unhappy with the hair, and request it be removed. Focusing on that change would allow the designer to get away with more in the rest of the ad.

Another variation, when giving clients options for say a logo design, is to make the stronger options look more polished, and then leaving the other variations somewhat rough. This trick comes in handy when a client insists on seeing a version of a logo you know is going to look terrible. Sure it’s a tad manipulative, but it’s also a good way to steer clients toward better taste. Who could possibly be mad at that?



Air BNB:

One of my favorite “what were they thinking?” logo redesigns of all time, this logo ended up garnering some really NSFW memes and comments. As usual the Internet took the new icon, which Air BNB referred to as a “belo” and turned it into whatever comical things they could come up with. In this case, a variety of different body parts.

In the Internet’s defense, there’s no way to un-see the body parts once you know they’re there. Then Air BNB created a “make your own belo” page, which just gave us an easier way to meme-ify this logo. Seriously, in a matter of minutes, anyone with access to the Internet could change the size, color and for lack of better terms, “accessories” of the already suspicious looking icon.

I’m sure Air BNB didn’t anticipate the reactions, but they really did bring out the twelve year old in all of us.



Dear Massimo:

Graphic design legend, Massimo Vignelli passed away in 2014. He worked with many high profile design clients, such as IBM and Bloomingdales, but he was most famous for his iconic NYC Subway maps. Vignelli was a modernist, and always focused on making everything as simple as possible. He was also dedicated to sharing his knowledge and experiences with future generations of designers, and was largely successful in doing so. In 2009 he released a free ebook called The Vignelli Canon, which covers virtually every design topic, from scale to typography.

When Massimo became very ill at the very end of his life, his son Lucas sent out a request for designers, artists and anyone whose lives were touched by Mr. Vignelli to write to him. As the word spread, thousands of letters poured in, and the #dearMassimo tag was all over social media. The responses were creative, touching and often humorous. It was a unique and fitting way to pay tribute to a man who inspired so many designers around the world.



NFL Logos as __________:

You could virtually put anything in that space, and odds are the Internet has already taken care of it. There’s little chance you avoided seeing a NFL logo mashup this year. NFL logos became hipsters, Disney characters, Star Wars characters, a couple NSFW things and much more. This is definitely more of a trend than an event, and we saw similar themes with Legos last year.

If you’re not convinced the NFL logo thing was explored to the fullest extent, check out my favorite, “NFL Logos Re-imagined as NFL Logos.”  (Sorry, Redskins.)



Sagmeister vs. Walsh: Adobe Remix:

For anyone not familiar with this NYC based design firm, Jessica Walsh was one half of 2013’s 40 Days of Dating experiment.  Sagmeister and Walsh regularly produce off the wall work, so it was no surprise Adobe paired up with them for their five part game show series.

The idea was to rethink the Adobe logo, using nontraditional materials and methods, in the style of an 80s game show. The results ended up being pretty hilarious, especially if you’re familiar with the work and personalities of the designers and the guest judges.

Stephan Sagmeister probably summed up the silliness best when he was quoted saying “My favorite thing about this gameshow is that it has absolutely no purpose, and that it reveals very little about our creative process. Or maybe a lot.”



Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Redesign:

I’ve written about this before, so there’s no need to bore you with the story. This was one of the more controversial design stories of the year. Penguin Classics released an edition of Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the cover was extremely divisive. Many people saw the heavily made up, pageant child as “overly sexualized,” while others felt the cover addressed the dark elements of the story which were overlooked by previous versions.

People who praised the cover were also quick to point out the intended audience wasn’t children, but adults who perhaps wouldn’t be inclined to pick up the books with earlier, more cartoon-like covers. Regardless, this version certainly garnered a lot of attention, which is never a bad thing for a book from 1964.

Overall, it was a year like no other. There was a lot of good design, a few questionable choices, a lot of controversy and some things we’ve never seen before. What was your favorite design story of the year?