Corporate design in motion
According to Aristotelian Physics, the natural state of bodies, when no force is acting on them, is the state of rest. This hypothesis was never really tested until, after almost 2000 years, Aristotle was finally proven wrong by Galileo. As a consequence our understanding of physics changed dramatically. Nevertheless, when it comes to people and companies, Aristotle might turn out to have been right after all.
Will you look at those hipsters: Aristotle and Galileo Galilei.
Companies at rest
Many medium-sized companies are standing still when it comes to how they present themselves to the world. Like Aristotle’s bodies, they are at rest. Most of their corporate design manuals reflect this state of rest quite literally: they don’t have any moving elements – they have missed the boat on video and motion graphics.
This is an interesting state of affairs, considering that many of those companies produce quite a lot of video material. The usual thinking seems to be that it’s enough to just slap on the logo at the end of your film. TV stations (naturally) and a growing number of larger corporations (recently) know better though. They use animated logos, jingles, lower thirds¹, music and other visual and acoustic elements throughout to reinforce their brand when they produce any type of video or film.
Uster Technologies is one of those aforementioned companies of medium size. They describe themselves as “… the leading high-technology instrument manufacturer of products for quality measurement and certification for the textile industry.”
In other words, they produce machines for testing and certifying fiber and yarn so that their customers can produce high quality textiles. Uster Technologies is based in Switzerland but they also maintain technology centers in the United States, China and Japan.
The Uster Technologies logo.
They approached me with the request to professionalise the appearance of their movies. The company produces quite a lot of them, ranging from technical product descriptions to public relations and news. What they needed was an extension of their existing corporate design to include motion graphics.
A typical page from the design manual of Uster Technologies.
This meant that my first step would have to be to analyse what they already have. So I looked at their design manual and talked to my contacts at Uster Technologies. I was able to take along a couple of design elements that were already there. Among these were the logo, the colours, the typography and a visual element that Uster Technologies calls “the hatching”, a group of vertical lines that, according to their design manual, “… represent the idea of precision and accuracy.” Nevertheless, it became apparent very soon, that I would also have to come up with a couple of additional elements unique to the motion graphics.
The hatching. I see threads of yarn. Do you?
In addition to all this, I also prepared a list of words that I associate with their company. Those would help me later on to develop a storyline. After talking to my client and looking through their material, I came up with the following:
With the list of design elements and my list of words ready, I could start to build something.
I mentioned developing a storyline. This might seem a bit much for “just” motion graphics but you’ll see just how helpful this is. If you get the chance to tell a little story, you should always take it. Motion graphics that do this have a much more coherent look about them. Leave the storyline out and you end up with just a bunch of things that blink and move.
In the case of Uster Technologies, I went for the idea that chaos becomes order, dirty becomes immaculate, obscure becomes plain and simple. If you boil it down to the essentials, this is, after all, what their machines do: you put in raw cotton at one end and out the other comes yarn of pristine quality³.
A teaser for the new visual concept, inspired by the look of raw cotton.
What to build first
There is a whole lot of elements you need to build in order to make a complete motion graphics package. I mentioned some of them (like the lower thirds) above. The first thing you want to create though is an intro sequence. This will ideally encompass all the different visual and acoustic building blocks of the design language and thus set the tone for all the other elements which are going to be build after that. The intro sequence is also important because it’s the one thing that’s going to be at the start of every movie.
The building blocks I ended up creating all had to convey what I outlined in my storyline. They needed to get the message across that Uster Technologies will get you from chaos to order.
The building blocks, clockwise from the top left: a) Raw cotton particles, b) Physics acting on typography, c) The microscopic world⁴, d) The hatching in dissaray
Fun with physics
Designing all of the visual building blocks was great fun. Especially working with a plug-in called Newton⁵. It’s a 2D physics simulator which allows for realistic looking effects but with which you can also build rather abstract things. While the raw version below might seem simple enough, it can be quite a pain to get Newton to deliver what you were really looking for. I knew early on that I wanted the logotype and claim to fly around, with the letters touching each other while in the air, creating a kind of zero gravity look. Building a rig that actually works and adjusting the parameters just right is something you can easily lose yourself in.
The hatching was another important element to integrate. What better way to visualise moving from chaos to order than to start with the hatching’s threads in disarray and then straighten them out!
A raw version of the physical typography. Futura seems almost made for something like this. Creating it was great fun – finding all the bugs not so much.
What should it sound like?
I worked with composer Christian Riesen on the music. He got visual prototypes from me to work with and in return I got very good feedback from him during the whole process. It’s always interesting for me to see what a musician’s point of view is when it comes to these things. The work on the visuals and music is very different work indeed. It’s therefore all the more exciting when the two sides come together to form a coherent product. Christian understood very well what I was going for visually and delivered accordingly. You can’t ask for more than that.
What about taste?
This is a question that came up early when I talked to my client. Especially in regards to the music. They asked me what I propose to do about people having different tastes. I told them what I tell all my clients: that I’m a designer and not an artist. My products are made to serve a purpose and not to cater to everyone’s taste – which is both impossible and undesirable anyway. So instead of thinking about the jingle in terms of taste, think of it in terms of recognisability: how about the Intel jingle for example? You don’t have to like the composition but you heard it in your head when you read about it just now didn’t you?
And here it is: the new opener for all Uster Technologies movies.
All good things…
After I showed Uster Technologies the opener and explained to them my line of thinking, they gave me the good to go for all the other elements. They are quite happy with the product they got and so am I.
- See here for an explanation of what lower thirds are. ↑
- Precision and quality must be two of the most overused buzzwords of all time. Still, consider for a moment that my client is manufacturing machines which are being used for quality assurance and testing. Sometimes, there’s some things you just can’t get around. ↑
- This is not how it works at all of course but bear with me for simplicity’s sake. ↑
- Inspired by the look of scanning electron microscope images. ↑
- Take a look here if you’re interested in the software. Also, I somehow managed to mention Aristotle, Galileo and Newton in the same blog post. I must say I’m rather proud of that. ↑