Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Medici, Part II: And a little pink dog shall lead them

Jay Ward and Rocky & Bullwinkle might have inspired this bit of nonsense.
Microscopically speaking, Greg Archer has been to me what the Medici family was to Michelangelo, a great patron making his art possible.

Microscopic in scale, not in passion. Michelangelo had tour bus-sized blocks of Carrara marble; I had 4 1/2- by 6-inch glossy cardstock.

{Maybe a better analogy — though still grossly out of scale — would be Walter Paepcke and the Container Corporation of America, and the Westvaco paper company (now Mead Westvaco), and the role those companies played in advancing American graphic design in the middle of the 20th Century.} 

Greg Archer,
wearing the
cyclists' cap I
got to design.
Greg's role as patron was the same as those giants: "Here is your design playground. Have fun!"

One difference: "Oh, and take the dog with you."

Greg needed a regular flow of printed marketing materials to alert bicycle enthusiasts to his shop, The Rest Stop, on a shady street near downtown Sacramento. And he wanted to amass a collection of useful textiles tying The Rest Stop to customers' daily lives. Sacramento is a bicyclists' city with its own amazing playground, a paved trail that snakes more than 30 miles from the Sacramento River up along the banks of the American River toward Folsom Lake and beyond.

The penny-farthing and the controversial image of an early bicycle design, attributed
to Leonardo da Vinci student Gian Giacomo Caprotti (or a complete hoax), make
appearances as secondary characters.
From the beginning, Greg gave me wide flexibility in designing his promotions. The one constant: each had to include a pink dog, the mascot Greg inherited when he bought the shop from Larry and Yvonne Robinson.

I don't know if the dog has a name or who created it (if you have information, you'd feature prominently in a future blog post!) It's bright pink, and its bug eyes remind me of the logo for the Mooneyes speed-performance car parts company I knew from childhood (as the world's worst builder of Revell model hot rods, even of the SnapTite® kind).

Though likely created in the early 1980s, the dog has an earlier feel, as if a stray from underground comics or psychedelic rock posters. I love that it has nothing to do with bicycles or bicycle parts, and would love to know its genesis.

Tiny and unassuming, the dog was nonetheless the 800-pound gorilla of every design, innocently but relentlessly imposing itself. Rather than grouse about it, I had to decide early how to incorporate it creatively. So I rebuilt it digitally in order to dismember and manipulate it.

A cardinal tenet of graphic design is that a business logotype is — usually — sacrosanct, with strict rules about its use, size, placement, color, typeface, and association with other logos should they appear together in the same promotional material. All for good reason: Brand identity is the most powerful and succinct public face of an entity, and deviations can send off or conflicting messages.

One of my favorites, inspired by owning a real dog
(not pink) and bearing witness to her desires
and capabilities.
My son, with many design opportunities already, notes that the design dictates BMW automobiles imposes on its logo use and placement offers no flexibility for alternative designs for a dealership campaign he worked on. Choose any BMW website and you'll see the same gray banner and precise placement of the circular checkered blue-and-white car medallion. 

Greg liked breaking that tenet. Though the dog's presence was paramount, no fences were built around where it was and what it did. Even the carefully drafted typographic treatment for The Rest Stop could be manipulated.

As a result, the dog became hero and jester in promotions, a silent Teller (and customers were Penn Jillette), for no reason more important than sending the message: This is a business for and about fun; come on in, visit.

Sacramento opens the city to an arts celebration
the second Saturday of the month. Though off
the usual circuit, The Rest Stop did its part
with bicycle-related artwork — and this
Lichtensteiny thing.
Market forces, including Internet sales, compelled Greg to close The Rest Stop. He re-emerged with Archer Bicycle Repair, for which I was fortunate to design logos.

Though our business relationship grew to include design for a jujitsu program Greg helped teach, and by extension his business partner's jujitsu camp, The Rest Stop's closure spelled the end of design laboratory, to experiment for public scrutiny. And Greg had more ideas than market forces allowed; but that's another blog post to come.

Here are some of the many promotions I got to help with:
Another favorite: When I felt confident that
The Rest Stop's customers would need only to see
the dog to know for whom the bicycle bell tolls.

Dog, just hanging out, atop the bicycle that da Vinci's student may have invented
but probably didn't. Don't let facts get in the way of a picture opportunity.
To know art is to mock it gently …
All good things having to come to an end, it seemed fitting that the last things customers would see were the searing, earnest eyes of the faithful, put-upon pink dog.

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