On Meaning



Written by Russell Shaw

Published on March 27, 2014

Last Edited on August 28, 2014



Design assumes value over time because of the value we assign to the content it represents. It becomes more beautiful when it's meaningful.


Good design cannot fix bad content. Even if the design of a logo is excellent, if the company proves to be of poor quality or terrible service, over time, we will come to observe the brand's mark as being representative of something negative.

As Michael Rock of 2x4 wrote, "... [W]ithout deep content, design is reduced to pure style, a bag of dubious tricks."

The converse is also true and easily observable. The Apple "byte" logo is a clever idea and a great design. But we have grown to assign a value to the mark because of our affinity for the products and culture of the company. It's a good logo – but it's become greater because of our perception of the brand as a whole.

Because of the value of the message behind the design, the design is enhanced as the promise of the content is shown to be true. No logo can be "iconic" on the day that the company opens its doors. It becomes "iconic" as the company proves itself to is customers; the logo becomes the face of that proof.

(Update: July 28, 2014) In a recent interview with The Creative Influence, Pentagram's Michael Bierut put it so well: “What people don't understand – what a lot of designers don't understand, to a certain degree... designers only make a vessel to hold things that have to be filled in over time." (Watch the full interview here).

The message should match the design. The design should match the message. The design should not promise something that the content does not deliver. Work with honesty. Over time the design will inevitably borrow meaning from what's behind it.



“Good design cannot fix bad content.”