S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: Hello. And welcome to the wood pulp based media episode of Slate Money, your guide to the Business and Finance News of the Week. I’m Felix Salmon of Axios. I’m here with Emily Peck. Hi. Hello. And oh my God, I am so excited about this episode because we have Michael Beirut on the show. Michael, welcome. Hello. The legendary designer from Pentagram, you’ve designed everything we’ve ever seen. True story. Later on in this show, I happened to mention unperson. Oh, yeah. That thing with the MasterCard logo. Oh, yeah, I did that sort of.
S1: Yeah, exactly. Thank you, though.
S2: And also you have to plug your podcast because your podcast is so good. What is your podcast.
S1: Oh, plug two things are plug my podcast, which is called Zion Observer. I’ve been doing it for years with my colleague Jessica Helfant. I’ve been stepping back a little bit lately just to let some other people kind of be her guests. But it’s been a very long running way of exhaustively overthinking the world of design as it relates to the real world. Now for about, you know, a good ten years in one form or another. And then I’ve got the second revised and expanded edition of my book. How to Use Graphic Design to do a bunch of Different Things is going to be out from Thames and Hudson in June and then in the fall from HarperCollins. And so I’m really excited about that as well.
S2: The Brits get it first,
S1: the Brits get it first, and then Harper design an imprint of Harper Collins will be coming out with it shortly thereafter.
S2: So is it the same cover with a different go?
S1: It’s a thrillingly so. The original cover was big black Helvetica ish type on a white background with a little touch of red. And I put a I sort of thought I could go white background with a little touch of red and I sort of thought I could go three different ways. We could kind of carry on with that for the second edition. We could turn it upside down and do it white on black with a touch of red. Or we could do it white on red with a touch of black. So these are the kinds of decisions that inform our world. I put all three of those choices on Instagram and everyone voted for white on black, including the publishers and including my family. And then only afterwards, afterwards literally printed in my hands and I realized how much it looked like the New York subway signage. You know, that’s my opinion that my mentor, Massimo Vignelli, with whom I worked for ten years designed and that I haven’t actually seen in real life now for over a year and yearned for as other people do. So look for the book that looks like a subway sign, people, and that’s the one to trust.
S2: Michael is here to talk us through a whole bunch of stuff that is in the news this week, all of which weirdly has the theme of trust. We’re going to talk about the vaccine, passports and how we have trust in those. We’re going to talk about Bernie Madoff and the lack of trust. We’re going to talk about Coinbase and whether we trust them with our money. We’re going to talk about woodpile based media and magazines and print and why we seem to trust that more than digital, we have a whole Slate plus segment on logos. It’s a really fun episode.
S3: I would just add that people should sign up for Slate plus based on the Slate plus segment with Michael Bay Area, because it was really good. I think it’s one of my top favorite ones we’ve ever had. I feel like I learned so much and I’m armed for like if I ever get to go to a cocktail party again, I have so many things to say.
S1: And if you if you and if you desire solitude at these parties, I can almost guarantee I’ve given you everything you need to achieve that goal.
S3: Thank you.
S2: So let’s start with Coinbase, which went public this week at a gazillion dollar valuation, made lots of billionaires and has as I wrote in my newsletter this week, really brought Bitcoin onto the stock market for the first time. And it means that you can buy a company that is basically a proxy for the Bitcoin economy and. It struck me this week that Bernie Madoff died, that it was all his fault, and that somehow if it wasn’t for him, maybe we wouldn’t be here with this mistrust of fiat money and Wall Street and the idea that we need to create a whole new set of trading companies and platforms and currencies to replace the old one, because Madoff, in the wake of the financial crisis, just was revealed to be a flawed not just to be a fraud himself, but to be a fraud that was enabled by much of the rest of Wall Street, including JP Morgan. And I feel like that really kind of set the groundwork for people to be very receptive to Satoshi Nakamoto and Bitcoin and like, can we please have an alternative to all this? Does that ring true to you or my stretching here?
S3: I think it partially rings true, but it probably gives Bernie Madoff too much credit for sowing distrust in the financial system. I think that distrust was sown by the financial crisis. And Madoff was I mean, he was a despicable villain in all this, but he wasn’t responsible for why we had a financial crisis. But he easily absorbed a lot of the blame because of the timing, you know.
S2: Yeah, he the financial crisis wasn’t his fault. To be clear, I don’t think anyone really thinks that the financial crisis was his fault. But there were two things that happened in the financial crisis. One was people wanted to point fingers and say, whose fault was the financial crisis? Who created these CDOs? Who created these mortgage backed securities? And can we blame them? And the other thing was more generally like there was a whole system that was happily rolling along, doing. Dumb, crazy, risky, stupid, illegal things, and no one knew until it all blew up and Madoff was certainly part of that system, his Ponzi went on for decades, like at least back to like 1992 before it blew up. And it was doing obviously fraudulent and the legal shit. And no one noticed and no one really cared. It seemed everyone was just like, oh, great, so long as my Madoff balance is going up, I’m fine. And that level, if I can just trust the banks to make sure that he’s doing the right thing and I can trust him to make you know, he’s the former chairman of Nasdaq, I can trust him not to be a fraud. And that level of trust that you need in the financial system for it to work. I think that was the thing that disappeared and that set the groundwork for the trust lessness. That is the underpinnings of Bitcoin.
S1: Yeah, but it seems to me that Madoff actually, although he used you know, he invented certain things that enabled him to do what he did and enabled him to do, even though more or less legal things that he did. The basic proposition with him was very old fashioned. It was, give me some money now and I’ll give it back to you with interest later. And that’s every con man is saying, you know, why don’t you lend me your wallet and then later we’ll make this big score. And it’s sort of like the prospect of the big score has been, you know, animating that sort of quote unquote, the willing credulity or trust or whatever you want to call it since time immemorial. So I think in a way he did as a byproduct of what he was doing, kind of create a lot of the conditions for what we have now. But it’s it always seemed like the sense of betrayal people felt was just very personal. I always thought I could trust Bernie and everyone seemed to trust Bernie. Then certainly Bernie let us all down. You know, it was all a lie. And that’s just seems like, you know, your spouse coming to you and saying they’re having an affair or your mom coming to you and saying you were adopted. It just sort of like this, you know, that it’s all I think is sort of so fundamental. I think it sort of is just this foundational thing. And in a way, people’s lack of faith in the financial system had to do with the bizarre unknowability of things like, you know, default credit swaps and things such as normal people. They were just surpass their imagination, whereas everyone sort of can understand what happened with Bernie Madoff, this guy. They trusted this guy with money and he stole it from them, basically.
S2: So I think that’s absolutely right. Although I would clarify a couple of things. Like No. One is he never promised a big school. Like one of the interesting things about Bernie Madoff was he just put up like 10 percent a year. And in fact, when the stock market was going up by 20 percent a year, he was going up by 10 percent a year. And that was curiously reassuring to people. And at the same time, he did do that sort of smoke and mirrors thing of talking a lot about what was it like, options, arbitrage or something. He had some fancy name for what he was doing to explain where this profits was coming from. And everyone’s like, oh, yes, that sounds terribly complicated and clever. You a very clever person. I’m sure you know what you’re doing and just trusted that there was a bunch of that kind of high tech obfuscation going on. Weirdly, I think that Coinbase is much more like promising a big score. Right. Like the other weird thing about Coinbase is that although it’s the sort of avatar of cryptocurrency and the face of it in the public mind, in many ways, if you want to own Bitcoin, very few people own Bitcoin directly. Most people own Bitcoin indirectly by a wallet on something like Coinbase. But that kind of defeats the whole purpose of I get to own my own cryptocurrency. Now, if I just happen to have an account with Coinbase and if Coinbase turns out to be a fraud and you know, they don’t actually own any Bitcoin, but they just telling me that I own Bitcoin, you know, Bernie Madoff, again, like I need to trust they’re basically kosher.
S3: But I think the line between Madoff and Bitcoin has to do with sort of what you guys already touched on, which is Madoff. The returns were steady, 10 percent. People just want something that people just want to make money. They want to invest their money and they want to get a good rate of return. And with Bernie Madoff, it was like, oh, this guy, every year he gets ten percent. That’s all I want. I want my money in a safe place where it makes more money. I don’t want to do something super risky like the stock market where it could go up or down. I want steady returns today. You can put your money in the bank and make money off of it anymore. I think my interest rate is down to zero point seven percent on my savings account or something. People want to make money on their money. Bitcoin makes lots of money on their money crypto. The returns are really good. People feel like if you want to make money on your money, you got to put it somewhere where you can get a steady return, or at least the line keeps going up. So they’re going to check. They’re taking this chance now and trusting in Bitcoin just like a trust in Madoff. It’s just. It’s investing, you think there’s less risk, you’re afraid, you want something steady, you want your money to make money, like I don’t know if anything is that different.
S2: People really think that there’s no risk in Bitcoin. I mean, is that a thing that people believe? Because it just seems to me like the crazy riskiest thing you could possibly invest in, because it has no underlying cash flows. It has no underlying value. Right. That we had a whole Slate money series on this thing called swag. Like anything that isn’t a claim on some cash flow is ultimately just it’s worth what the next person is willing to pay. It’s the greater fool theory. And how can people think that anything based on the greater fool theory is actually a steady, reliable, trustworthy place to invest?
S3: I read these things about Bitcoin and people say I just read something where the argument was look like back in 2007, Blockbuster Stock was really high and Netflix was looked at as a very risky investment. And people said, well, it was like, but that’s like the people who believe in Bitcoin, just like you can look at the market and all these other companies that everyone said was worth nothing and now they’re worth something. So therefore it makes sense and it’s not risky. I think people can talk themselves into valuing cryptocurrency. Just maybe Michael can talk more about this. You start to believe in the brands. Yeah.
S1: And isn’t it like sort of partaking of a trust economy sort of idea? I mean, sort of the if you think about the difference between Airbnb and Hilton or between Uber and the the New York City taxi authority, whatever it is, you know, there was a time that you would think, well, I mean, if I need to stay in a room in some city I’ve never been to before, there are these places that I’m familiar with because they’re well-established brands like Hilton and Marriott and places like that. And I know I’ll have a clean room and I know no one will try to mess with me. I sort of can kind of do it on autopilot. And then someone comes along and says, here’s a whole new idea. You can go anywhere, stay anywhere, and you’re kind of just staying in someone’s place and it’s all decentralized. And there is no real controlling thing except this brand that starts to emerge from the ether called Airbnb or Uber or whatever you want to call them. And I think I think people in some ways must be thinking, well, there was this thing called the Federal Reserve that printed money and we all trusted that. Except, you know, in some way, money is just another one of those asset classes. You assume that, you know, you’re holding this currency and someone’s going to say, yeah, it’s worth what we all agree. We say it is right. I mean, I’m no economist, but I think that’s how money works. This is like that, except crossed with that kind of quote unquote, the trust economy. Cross with a little bit of what Emily is referring to in, you know, in sort of there is an element of kind of Ponzi scheme delirium happening with it to a little bit, which, oddly enough, as much as people kept calling Madoff’s thing a Ponzi scheme, it was the most mild Ponzi scheme of all. Like you say, Felix, it sort of was it wasn’t like people who got in early on. These tulips are on Ponzi stamp arbitrage, kind of got these stupendous returns and that everyone piled in and finally everyone was left holding the bag. You know, in Madoff’s case, he you know, it could have gone on in theory for a long while. It did go on forever just because he was so patient with the way he ran it. You know, whereas I think as Emily saying, in the case of cryptocurrency and in this case particularly, there is this sense of, you know, what if this is Netflix and, you know, I’ve been to a blockbuster or everyone I know goes to Blockbuster, seems, you know, like a working model that everyone can agree on. Then there’s this new thing that no one’s ever heard of before. How can it possibly work? And then it ends up being the smart investment, whereas the other one goes bankrupt. And I think people look at this and they think is the same model.
S2: So but that’s two different things, right? I feel like there’s a big difference between this sort of out of consensus view. Let you look at Netflix. What is this strange new thing that seems very risky. And you’re right, it is very risky, like some random Internet based video, something something back in the era of Blockbuster, you know, one of them worked, which is Netflix. All of the other ones didn’t. And you get paid for your risk, like you take a risk by buying Netflix back then. And then you make a big return because you take a risk and it pays off. There is a lot of upside potential in that kind of thing. Bitcoin was exactly the same ten years ago. You know, you could buy Bitcoin and it was highly risky and then the risk paid off and you made lots of money. Congratulations. But that’s my point, is that those things are risky and the risk pays off. It seems difficult to hold that in your head at the same time is thinking this is a safe way to make money like it is either risky or safe. It can be both at the same time. But I do think that you’re right that something has happened to. The. I don’t know what you would call it, like these brands, right? There’s like a Coinbase brand, there’s a Bitcoin brand, there’s a Netflix brand, there’s an Airbnb brand, and that they start off being strange and new and full of potential. And then eventually they just become increasingly normal. And I guess it is the case that as they become increasingly normal, the amount of risk involved in them goes down. And so maybe at this point. Bitcoin feels so normal that it’s low risk, I just
S1: I’m just not sure about that. I’m not sure if it feels low risk to everyone. I think it’s enthusiasts sort of are calculating the risks in the way that Emily described. And I think that for most people, it’s sort of tied up with this completely baffling thing called the block chain that no one, no normal people that I know sort of would purport to understand. And it’s also kind of, as you say, transitioning into a world that kind of is going to start building this whole structure of trust and belief around it, which in a way is what every brand is seeking one way or the other.
S2: It does have a good brand, right? It’s like trust in math, trust in cryptography. If you’re if you’re in in Silicon Valley, that’s like the most incredible sort of, you know, value proposition
S1: in the whole world is sort of set up to kind of mitigate our worries about those risks, isn’t it? You know, I mean, everything and particularly around money. You know, the classical design of banks was kind of purposely designed to mimic kind of the classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans because of the solidity of it. You know, and that was meant to just say, don’t worry, it’s going to be OK. Look at these Corinthian columns. Your money surely is safe here, if not where you know, and and we don’t have those things today, but we have, you know, the digital kind of equivalents of them in one way or another.
S3: What are the digital signifiers?
S2: Yeah, what is the equivalent what is the digital signifier of this is a safe place for you to entrust your money.
S1: If you’re talking about brand, something that I know about, something people come to me asking for, you know, guidance on all the time. And I think that that’s sort of is there those were the equivalents of sort of the bricks and mortar trustworthiness of the old world. Now is, you know, if I you know, if I open this up on my phone, does it reliably show up the same way? If I you know, if it’s an app, the app button does it when I press it, does it load? And then the sequence that happens thereafter is, you know, just think about all the things that happen with Uber that they’ve done in this really calculated way where they show you the map and they find the cars that are nearby and they show those cars moving around. Then one is selected to move ever closer to you. All of it is there. You know, and if you think about it, like in the old days, you’d stand on a corner waving your hand around as if you were like some cave man or something, you know? I mean, now, of course, you going to go and this seems so superior that it’s all being controlled by, you know, math and algorithms and machines. Right. And so how can that ever fail us? How will that ever let us down? Right. And then, of course, you end up trusting a lot of things as a follow on about that, which is kind of unknowingly renegotiating the cost of the same ride, depending on how much demand there is or what time of day it is, and things that you wouldn’t put up with if your cabbie was just yelling at you about it from the front seat,
S2: the Uber algorithm, we now trust enough to just tell us how much the ride is going to cost. There’s no, like, meta calculation anymore. They used to be a meta calculation as many hours as many miles. And do they would add up. Now it’s just like it’s going to cost you thirteen point fifty and that’s how much you pay. And they can get away with that. Now, just an only because they reached a certain level of trust. And I think what you’re saying is really fascinating. It really does explain the rise of Robin Hood that a lot of the big old legacy brokerages, their apps just weren’t as simple and trustworthy in terms of being able to use them. There were too many hoops to jump through. It was a bit of a pain in the ass. And maybe that’s the modern equivalent. It’s just ease of use creates trust. And because Robin Hood is easy to use, people trust. And that explains the growth.
S3: That’s what Coinbase is. It’s the easiest way to buy and sell crypto. From what I understand, there are other exchanges that charge far lower fees or no fees, but they’re confusing. You might lose your Bitcoin or whatever, but Coinbase is like the easy way to do it. The app looks nice. People understand what they’re doing. They’re simple, and that’s why it gets to go public and make all this money.
S1: And the thing that’s weird, I think, is that, you know, this ease of use promise effectively replaces sort of the claims to authority that institutions used to have, where, in fact, this is too complicated for you to handle on your own the fact that you don’t really understand the fact there are so many steps, the fact that you have to kind of qualify and requalify in so many complicated ways is proof that you need, you know, experts, remote experts who will understand this in your behalf. And you have to trust us because only we understand this actually turns that whole thing on its head. What’s ingenious about it is that the institutions that are doing it still remain in control, still make all the money. And in fact, to a certain degree, they have you do all the work. That’s sort of that’s like the giant inside of Facebook. Everyone else is trying to figure out how to. Is an online experience that’s really compelling and addictive, and at Facebook, they decided you don’t have to do that at all just to come up with any content at all. You just let the people themselves come up with all the content they load on everything they create. The network expands just by the network effect. And everyone just sort of I trust that this is a platform we can all interact on. And in fact, it’s you know, again, it’s all happening. Hands off. There’s nothing we’re not making any claims, at least in the early days. The theory was we’re not making any claims about what’s happening on this network. It’s all just being built by the users themselves.
S2: Basically, I do think that at the heart of it, Facebook is a product, you know, in the tech term, which is very trustworthy, like it does what you expect it to do. Instagram is the same, Coinbase is the same, and this is actually the perfect Segway to vaccine passports. This is the thing which is nothing but trust, right? Yeah. Is that almost everyone I know who is vaccinated, which is most of the people I know now since I’m an American. America is doing relatively well on this front. The people who I know who are vaccinated, they all feel or most of them feel that they really want to be able to prove that there are circumstances where they want to be able to say, I am vexed and be able to actually show that they’re back rather than just force people to trust them because anyone can say it. But it might not be true. But if you have an app on your phone, which you can, you can show a little green tech and says, yes, I’m back, then that feels empowering. And it feels like you’ve closed the loop on a really terrible time and all of our lives. And that psychological need to do that and to be able to prove I’m vexed is strong. And yet and yet we have both Texas and Florida coming out and saying we’re going to make that illegal. We’re not going to allow people to do that. Michael, do you understand this impetus? Do you understand why Texas and Florida and quite a lot of a surprisingly large number of other people are so opposed to this idea of people being able to prove that they’ve been vaccinated?
S1: I think it appears to. Well, there’s a lot of things that are all commingling here. I think one of them is just the great divide that seems to be happening where there’s part of the population that’s mostly supposedly fully half of all Republicans who have no intention of getting vaccinated. And then I think underlying all of it is this kind of very American suspicion of any national requirement to do anything. And I can’t help but think, you know, as a European, the way that we if just the way that we vote, the way that we administer driver’s license, the way we do everything, is just so balkanized where it really is. Every state and in some cases every municipality kind of invents their own way to do these things. And anything that sort of smacks of the federal government wants you to get this uniform way to do this. One thing seems to just scare the wits out of certain people.
S2: It really does, except for the irony here is that the federal government isn’t doing it. The federal government has been has been explicit about we are not going to have a vaccine passport if you guys want to create one and we understand why you’d want to create one, we’re not going to stand in your way. I think that’s probably the right move. The people are a little bit concerned about the federal government doing this. So the federal government is fine. We don’t need to do it. But the idea that you would pass a law at the state level saying no one can do it, I do think one of the things that’s happening is that there’s a confusion between or there’s maybe not. I mean, let me be a little bit more generous here. People are saying that once the vaccine passport exists, then there will be people who will say you have to prove that you’ve been vaccinated to be able to do A, B or C, like for instance, like if I an employer, I could implement a mandate saying that all of my employees need to prove that they’ve been back before they can come to work. And the if you ask lawyers about this, they will say this is 100 percent legal. And in fact, a Florida employer could probably take Florida to court and say your own law banning vaccine powersports is unconstitutional because I have the right to be able to do this. So there is it does seem and I think it’s a reasonable thing to say that once you have the ability to prove you’ve been vaccinated, there will be circumstances where you have the obligation to prove that you’ve been vaccinated and people don’t want that is that Emily is something that it is reasonable to be afraid of.
S3: Yeah, so I went down kind of a long rabbit hole with this because at first my knee jerk liberal reaction was vaccine. Passports seemed great. It’s really important to get vaccinated. Maybe this will encourage people to get vaccinated, get us to open up faster. But I read some of the pieces uson Felix. There’s one in Scientific American that makes a distinction that I think is important between vaccine records and vaccine passports. Like you’re going to need a record of vaccination to do certain things in congregate settings, go back to college or school or something like that. You need to show it in those specific circumstances that you’ve been vaccinated. But I don’t think we want to say that’s
S2: what I mean. That’s what I’m talking about. Well, OK, so what’s the I
S3: agree with you, but I don’t think we I think there’s also like this Israeli model where you’re going to show your vaccine passport to go to a restaurant or the movies or the theater. Like, I don’t think we want to go down that road. I think the point of vaccination is it’s not just an individual conference of privilege. The point of vaccination is to get everyone vaccinated, to get to herd immunity. It’s not about an individual with a passport. It’s about a whole country getting to a certain point where people are vaccinated.
S2: Can you just explain this distinction? Because I’m not sure I understand it. You’re saying like on the one hand, it’s reasonable to expect people to show that they’ve been vaccinated in some settings like going to universities, but it’s not reasonable to expect them to show that in other settings like going to restaurants. Is that what you’re saying?
S3: I’m saying that Felix.
S2: Yeah. You’re saying that the word passport kind of implies the latter implies like you needing to show it to get into a restaurant, whereas what was the other one you said record was the format in terms of something like university. This is this is this
S3: is how it is now. Right? I mean, to send my kids to school, they need to be vaccinated. That’s how it is in America to go to camp, to go to school.
S2: But that’s not that’s not
S3: to go to a restaurant. Yeah, that’s not covid. Look, covid is already already reinforces inequality. Right? I mean, the people who got it were more likely to be poor, more likely to be people of color. We’re seeing it now with vaccinations and people getting vaccinated globally. It’s people and countries like America or the UK and then within the country, again, there’s the privilege. You’re getting vaccinated faster. If you then layer that on top of that, a passport that lets them go to restaurants, movies, theatre, like it? No, it’s too much. It reinforces privilege. And I don’t think it solves the problem of we have a pandemic that is an airborne virus, you know what I mean? Like, it’s not about just a few privileged individuals running around with their passports feeling fancy.
S2: I’m going to push back on that because I agree that it doesn’t solve the public health problem. But I would aver that it isn’t designed to solve the public health problem, that this is not a reason to oppose it. You know, lots of things don’t solve the public health problem. The public health problem is not enough. People are getting vaccinated and we need to vaccinate more people like that’s that problem than anything which gets more people vaccinated is a good thing. I don’t think the vaccine passports will get less people vaccinated. But by the same token, put aside the whole question, will it or will it not help the public health crisis? It probably won’t. That were much smaller things like, for instance, you know, there are a bunch of people out there who would be happy to eat indoors at a restaurant only if they knew that everyone else in that restaurant had been vaccinated. And then they can do this like club and say, hey, this is a place where I can go safely just because I know that everyone here has been vaccinated and maybe at the margin that might encourage people to get vaccinated so they could eat at that restaurant. But like, put that to one side, people have the freedom to be able to want to act that way. Why would you bother that? Why would you prevent people from being able to say, I want to eat? You know, why would you buy a restaurant from being able to say, we want to create a safe space where everyone is vaccinated?
S1: Felix So we’ve already been running like a year long sort of pilot, you know, a kind of analogue, very simple pilot sort of experiment to sort of see what happens if businesses require people to do a certain thing in order to use the business. And that’s masks and just go online and look at all the video of people who sort of are just kind of like creating chaos in grocery stores or, you know, or Walmart’s or anything because they’re being asked to wear a mask. I mean, underlying all this is this thing that I just have trouble getting my mind around, which is that people that don’t like that don’t want to wear masks, that don’t want to get the vaccine. They they’re usually, you know, they might be ideologues, but at the root of it, they just sort of feel like, well, that’s your opinion. You know, your opinion is that you need to get vaccinated. Your opinion is that you need to wear a mask. And in my opinion, this I don’t need to get vaccinated. My opinion is every need to wear a mask. And I don’t want to be excluded from Wal-Mart just because I have a different opinion than you. Isn’t this like the land of the free where people can agree to disagree? And I agree. And like I know about the. We’re talking about the common good, which is all this is about, but Americans are suckered kind of making that calculation. They really are. And when it comes to private businesses, there’s a reason why the Supreme Court is filled with cases about like bakers decorating cakes, because that’s the private businesses. What can I make a business to do? Because I want to be a customer? What can they make me do if I want to be their customer? You know, is sort of
S2: in the jurisprudence on this does seem to be pretty clear. I mean, that all the lawyers I’ve seen talk about this pretty clearly. You cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or race, but you absolutely can discriminate on the basis of vaccination status. That is a perfectly legal thing to do. If Wal-Mart wanted to say you can only come in here if you’ve been vaccinated, they could say that now. They wouldn’t say that because it would alienate a large number of their customers. And that’s fine. They don’t no one’s forcing them to say that. But conversely, there are other organizations, including smaller employers or, as I say, restaurants, who might want to say that. And don’t they, Emily? Don’t they have the freedom to say that? I mean, they’re certainly legally allowed to
S3: maybe they have the freedom to say that I’m hesitant to confer a new kind of discrimination into the world. And I think like the bar to putting on a mask is pretty low. It’s easy to put on a mask. The business can provide one to you, but the bar for getting the vaccine is higher. I’m not anti vaccination. I’m anti-discrimination. And I don’t think look, I’m sorry that, you know, people can’t go to restaurants as quickly as they want to and they’re not sure yet, even if they’re vaccinated, that they’re ready for that step. But like, too bad we have to get everyone vaccinated. It’s not time to create, like, a dual class structure of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. And so, yes, I suppose restaurants could, you know, set up some kind of screening and require proof of vaccination for you to eat there. I just don’t think I don’t think it should be something to focus on right now. I think we just need to get to a certain level of herd immunity and we shouldn’t want to reinforce vaccine privilege. It’s already reinforced. You know, it’s already happening. Right.
S2: I’m very sympathetic to that argument. And obviously, the number one thing that everyone should be concentrating on is just getting as many jobs and arms as we possibly can. By the same token, however, I think in terms of like passport, passports or international travel, there are millions of Americans with parents, with children in foreign countries that they are finding it often impossible to visit. And the idea that like a vaccine, like if you if you have relations in, I don’t know, Hong Kong or New Zealand or Taiwan or Vietnam or one of those places where there’s basically no covid, you really want to be able to prove that you were vaccinated so that you can go and see them. And that’s just like a deeply human thing. And to buy that just seems inhumane.
S3: Yeah, I would worry about the reverse though. Ah, does that mean you would what about the people in the other countries that want to come see their relatives in the U.S. who haven’t been vaccinated because there’s no vaccine available in their country? Do we buy those people from traveling for now, like conferring the privilege of international travel to some people and barring other people for them?
S2: The question is going back right? For them, the question is, if I go and visit, you know, my relations in the United States, how do I get back into my own country? Because I don’t want to run the risk of bringing it back into my own country. I do think that if you live in Vietnam or New Zealand or something and you can get the vaccine, the vaccine is becoming more available very quickly around the world, then. Yeah, that’s exactly what you want. Precisely. So that you can go out and see your family and then return home again without feeling that you’re endangering your entire country and without and without feeling that you need the your entire country to be vaccinated before you can do that. Right. One person in New Zealand can get vaccinated, can leave the country and then can come back in. They don’t like asking that one person to wait until all of New Zealand has been vaccinated before they can start travelling internationally. Seems a little bit excessive, right?
S3: I guess I’m just worried about conferring privilege on to one group and then the other group falls behind, is discriminated against, et cetera, et cetera. That’s the risk we run.
S1: Can I throw in one more thing on this? And that has to do with players. That has to do it. Actually, we’re talking about, again, a vaccine passport, which seems to imply there’s some actual thing that you would produce to gain entrance to restaurants or wherever they’d require you to show this thing. That actually alone seems like a kind of elusive goal. What would that thing be? What would it look like? How would it actually might?
S2: Michael, have you had are you fully vexed yet in the I
S1: am fully backs, then I have that delightful handwritten card that they give you, which I think is very chai’s
S2: as a resident of New York State, Michael, I can tell you you can go along to New York State and download something called the Excelsior.
S1: Which describe what that looks like, it’s very surprising, actually, it wasn’t at all what I expected, actually.
S2: So you have your eggs in your Apple wallet?
S1: No, I don’t have it, but I’ve seen what they look like and they don’t look anything like I expect. What does
S2: it look? So it’s basically it basically is basically a little virtual blue card with your name and your date of birth and a QR code. And then the idea is that if you are a sports venue or even immigration, that New Zealand or whoever wants to be able to set up for this, they can scan the QR code. And it will basically it won’t give any information except for they will say the person with this QR code has been vaccinated or in the case of the Excelsior Pass, they also have an option to show that you have tested negative. So it’s yeah, it’s just it’s just your name. And then what the idea is that you hand over some other form of I.D., like a driver’s license or something to prove that you are the person whose name it says on the screen and then being the Killgore QR code is scanned and then being, yes, you’ve been vaccinated. The people behind Clear have signed up with a company called Common Pass, which is trying to do this internationally. There’s a lot of different private companies and individual states who are all doing it, that it exists in different countries as well. It is a bit of a kind of distributed mess right now. There’s no like one single passport that everyone has, but I think that’s OK. And underneath it all is probably unifying technology that these things are going to be surprisingly interoperable.
S1: I think Felix is just so, so utopian in your salvarsan. I don’t know what I was picturing, but I wasn’t picturing it coming down to a QR code, basically, which then sort of requires that, you know, the QR code is communicating with a system that has been loaded by, you know, wherever you got your vaccine, they sort of have to upload the information confirming that you’re the person that got that vaccine. You have to secondarily produce a driver’s licence. I mean, I’m not sure what I was picturing, but it wasn’t sort of it wasn’t a QR code. So that’s all I would say. And I think the thing that’s actually interesting and this goes a little bit to Emily’s view, which I sense is much more, you know, this is going to be developing and developing and it’s not going to be it’s not going to reach a kind of place of status. It’s just always going to be changing as more people get vaccinated, as people’s expectations and their assessment of risk keeps changing. I read somewhere that, you know, by the time they got all this worked out, everyone would be vaccinated anyway. But, you know, and so by the time sort of feel like, you know, all the technology came to talk to everyone else, all the technology came to kind of be fully integrated, that would be the same point that it would all not be as necessary. And also there just I swear, there’s just something about that handwritten card that people to a surprising into an actually dangerous degree keep displaying on their Instagram feeds. You know, I got vaccinated. They hold up with all the data. In fact, it would take to kind of counterfeit the QR. And from the information that loads into the QR code, the idea that it’s just kind of been written by hand by the person at the pharmacy or the person of the vaccine administration station, that that seemed very cosy. It was like the library card I got from my local library in Ohio. And then when I applied for a library card in Tarrytown, New York decades later, and they gave me a plastic card that would be swiped and scanned, I was like, oh, really? I want a library card.
S3: Yeah, it gets like worn away at the edges.
S1: Yeah, exactly. The Emily’s got it. Yeah. Yeah.
S2: I think I might have changed my mind on this. Like back when those that famous flight from Russia to China where where everyone showed to say the exact same negative covid test and they had to ban the flight because they realised everyone’s trying to game the system. It’s like people are going to game those cards. And there’s no doubt that there was a market in fake CDC cards and some people are going to forge them. But I think I’m slowly coming around to the idea that the scale of the problem of fake CDC cards is low enough to be able to live with. And if someone really wants to, like, enter a restaurant by waving a forged CDC, then, OK, fine, if the rest of us are vaccinated, we’re not going to get that sick anyway. Veiga. Let’s talk about media, Michael, since you’re here. You’re a creature of print, would you be upset if I called you?
S1: Absolutely, yeah. I would describe myself as that.
S2: I am, too. I just picked up a copy of The Face, which has now been relaunched and spend a glorious hour just leafing through it and enjoying it and loving it and thinking to myself, oh, my God, there’s something amazing about print magazines when they’re done well and I love them. But just like we had exactly the same question about how do you replicate trust in a digital form? You know, what’s the digital analogue of the Corinthian columns in front of a bank? Just as we had the question of like, how do you generate trust in the digital form for just being able to show that you’ve been vaccinated? And the answer seems to be like, put a selfie on Instagram with the CDC. The question is also, how do you generate that form of media consumption in a digital form or is there a case to be made? And I kind of hope you’re going to say that there is something uniquely special about things that reflect light rather than things that emit light and that like paper and even billboards have this will live on for decades and centuries to come because there’s something incredibly special and wonderful about them and not everything can be digitized.
S1: Yeah, I think the main thing with you know what, Paul based media, if you want to call it that, magazines and include physical books in this thing, too. The thing that I see is kind of fascinated me as a designer about these things is the degree to which reading them is only one of many ways you can feel your experience saying, you know, that piece of media. And conversely, I think when you’re in the digital realm, it’s sort of the only thing you can sort of really do if you’re subscribing to someone’s substract newsletter or if you’re kind of going to a website that’s aggregating a bunch of content. The only thing you can really do there is read that content. There’s no other way to kind of have that piece of media in your life, I would argue. So if you think about magazines, I’d say if you think about something like The New Yorker, if you subscribe to The New Yorker, you get a once a week. There must be some completists out there who make it their mission to read it from cover to cover every week. I’ve never been that person, and I bet neither of you are either. And I bet there actually few and far between and maybe quite crazy if they are online, say, of course, work for The New Yorker, as, you know, fact checkers or proofreaders or something. But that’s not what that’s not the only thing the New Yorkers for. I think it’s this promise that you’ll get it every week and you’ll kind of flip through the pages and you’ll discover, oh, there was that one article about that writer I like, or this is a subject I’m really interested in. You read it right away. You shove it in a bag, you put it on your nightstand, you read it later. I think the idea that each of these kind of media platforms has taught us how to operate it in a way, you know, if you’re designing a magazine, it’s actually really an interesting experience if you’re being challenged to do something really different because you really realize that there’s a certain kind of habituation that a printed magazine or any printed piece of media kind of has built into it, that we’ve all commonly agreed, or that conventions by which we’ll use to operate these things, you know, the table contents, the feature well in the middle, some quote unquote front of the book things, some back of the book things. And every magazine tends to kind of come up with a point of view about those things. Now, of course, you guys know this is all enabling actually a whole other aspect of the ecosystem, which has to do with advertising. Sales are once really had to do with advertising sales. So the front of the book in the back of the book were meant to be places that were actually designed with short, choppy stuff that you could combine with a lot of different ads, full page ads, partial page ads, fractional page ads, and it would still look OK. And then you got on the feature. Well, and you said, oh, there be some big pictures here, some big stories. We’re really in a stretch out. There’ll be fewer ads here and no ads here at all. But then we’ll resume with the ads when we get to the back and the reviews and in the back matter is right. So a lot of that had to do with stage managing advertising so that the readership of the magazine could be delivered faithfully to the advertisers to whom they were being promised right
S2: on the jump in here and actually say the it’s almost the other way around the if you pick up a copy of Vogue and start leafing through it and you look at the real world way that people will read something like Vogue, they will start us at the beginning. A lot of people, myself included, will start at the beginning and we’ll start leafing through the ads and then there will probably be a lot of them. And then eventually they’ll get to the table of contents, but they won’t read it and they’ll keep on looking at more ads and they’ll see all of these beautiful ads around the front of the book. And then they’ll eventually get tired and they might make it. Well, if they’re lucky, but the ads are really the product in a lot of the way and the pleasure of reading it is the pleasure of consuming the advertising that is just something that does not exist online with the possible exception of Instagram. Instagram.
S3: Yeah, I thought we’re going to have a conversation. I don’t think a magazine exists if it’s not a print magazine. I think you take away the print component and it’s just something it’s something different. I mean, I think in the case of Vogue, you flip through it and you look at ads. In the case of The New Yorker, there’s always been two ways to read it, while three ways. One, you get it and you never read it. And then the other way is you get it, you flip, you look at the cartoons and you’re like, oh, that’s funny. They make a note of something you might want to read later. You still never read it. Or finally, the third way is there’s something you definitely want to read in The New Yorker. So you actually do read something in The New Yorker, but that’s just not how you interact with print media online. It’s a whole different ballgame as as we all know. I mean, I just came off nine years at Huff Post. I know what people are reading online. It’s insane. And you go down a rabbit hole, you you click on the most grabby thing that gets your attention. You read a magazine, you flip through it, you read something you never would read online. Like I was just flipping through my New Yorker and wound up reading about, I think, Lauren Collins piece about French tacos, which I really recommend it was. It’s a really crazy a French tacos. It’s not what you think it is, but you should read it. But I would never read that online. I think without the print component, there’s no such thing as an online magazine. There’s only a magazine in print. There’s only an album. If it’s an album, some things just don’t make the transfer.
S2: But this brings us to the whole question of substract. Right. Which is that the the one thing that people did do with The New Yorker and still do with New York is they have little weekly rituals around, like I’m going to read the talk of the town section. I’m going to read the financial page. I’m going to do the crossword. There’s a little thing that arrives on a regular cadence. And they’re like they may or may not be a big thing that I read, but there’s this little dopamine sort of like, oh, this is something I, I’m familiar with. And it’s going to be new and familiar at the same time. And I like that. And then I’m going to consume it. And I think that’s what the promise of substance is. Right. It’s a thing that arrives in your inbox. You I know this this is this email that it’s always roughly the same from the same person. It’s roughly the same length. It looks the same, but it’s different every time. And it doesn’t take a huge amount of my time to consume it. And so I’m just going to sit for a minute and I’m going to read that and it’s going to make my life a little bit better and then I’ll move on with my life. And I think that is one way in which sub stack and the way that things come to you on the cadence or, you know, axios newsletter’s, for that matter, to replicate something from magazines. The websites really found difficult.
S1: Yeah, and I think, again, to talk about branding, I think that not to be too Navel-gazing, but like I Axios has done a really good job at, you know, if you open up the newsletter in the morning, it really presents itself in a way. You really know how to work it. You know, that’ll be 10 things you sort of know. And like the little grace notes of those illustrations, which I admire so much, which are just some of the best illustrators in the world, just keep kind of improvising ways to visualize the same topics over and over again.
S2: Shout out to Sarah Grillo, queen of Axios Illustrations.
S1: Every girl always is like a brilliant illustrator and designer and who I take her a lot of pleasure and see. I do know this. I like that. So I can really go into the New York for the cartoons I go to axios for the cerebral illustrations. But I think you sort of do get what that cadence is and you learn it and you sort of understand exactly, you know, before you start it, you know what your commitment is. And I think if, you know, if you get Matt Levine or you get Anne Helen Petersen, you learn to anticipate sort of, oh, he’s going to go off on a tangent. I can scan this or I’m just going to skip to the part at the end where she kind of lists her link round up because that’s always great, just as it is, as Emily described learning how to how to work The New Yorker, you sort of learn how to work those things and they’ve created a certain they’re there. And what’s interesting, I sort of would disagree a little with Emily where I think I mean, obviously a digital experience is inherently going to be different from an analogue one. But I think if you look at everything from Axios to some of the New York magazine verticals like BALSHAW or the court, they sort of our simulating a magazine like experience in a fairly convincing way. I mean, obviously, the way you interact will always be different. And I agree with Felix, the I can’t think of in the history of the Internet, anyone who’s ever really come up with a way to introduce advertising in a way that has the same kind of possibility of engagement as the September issue of Vogue has. But I do think you’re right, Emily, where Instagram is something where as you’re scanning through it, you will be coming to sponsor things to outright advertising, to people who are paid influencers. And I think people don’t resent it. And they even kind of find it interesting and kind of fun. And some people throw themselves into it and kind of as constitutes their entire belief system. So they may have solved it there, but it needed a whole different kind of platform that just ended up being sympathetic to it.
S3: Yeah, Instagram answers so compelling.
S2: It’s become this incredible ad platform, it’s become a shop, basically.
S3: Yeah, yeah. I feel like every day I see a tweet or a social media post about from some woman friend of mine that’s like I bought the Instagram bathing suit and it was terrible. And this is the third time I’ve done it. Like, it’s very relatable, you know.
S2: So, Michael, I just want to finish here by asking you about that. Instagram has obviously proved itself to be incredibly powerful at selling goods to women in particular, and the number of bathing suits and bras and leggings everyday or even like everything is makeup. Kylie Jenner is very good at selling stuff. To what degree is it good at higher up in the final general brand advertising? Is that just something that really hasn’t made its way over to the Internet yet?
S1: I think I mean, I’m not one of those people who, quote unquote follows a lot of brands on Instagram. I mean, I don’t follow a lot of brands on Twitter or anywhere else in terms of that. But but I think there are some that are like finding a voice where you sort of see that they’re using the platform in a way that seemed kind of active and knowing, I think, Twitter, you get kind of crazy, snarky things from company day comes. They come from. Exactly. I assume they exist in the real world and then you can buy things from them that you actually are state things you can consume. But I only know them as a sassy Twitter at or so. What’s interesting about any platform like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the ones we’re talking about, is that the platform itself is so structured and overwhelming. You know, people made a decision a long time ago that the fully customizable digital experience was going to take a backseat to platforms that kind of had very reliable operating processes that you situate yourself to. And so, you know, if you’re trying to kind of come up with a distinctive brand presence on Instagram, you have that square shape. You have a finite number of swipes. You can do you have the means to do stories of the means to introduce white animation and things. You have people who can write clever things to go in the captions, but it’s all happening within a very confined space. I guess you could argue that, you know, an eight and a half by 11 Saddle’s hunk of paper is a very confined space in the same way. But I think the habituation you have to a piece of print is much more forgiving and open ended, I think.
S2: And she she has square footage matters. Right. There are very few iconic CD covers compared to iconic LP covers.
S1: No, absolutely not. You’re exactly right. And I think and I thought when we were talking earlier, I thought that one of the things that you were going to mention was the fact that and that, yeah, the collapse of advertising and print has actually had some interesting side effects, not so much in magazines. But, you know, this last year of The New York Times, if you get it as a print subscriber, they have had the most astonishing virtue. Also, the demonstrations of the design of journalism, of information, graphics of photography, you know, deliriously liberated by I can sort of sense someone saying what we’ve got literally thirty two pages to fill in arts and leisure, and we have two pages of for your consideration ads. And one House ad will run about as Reclines podcast, you know, and then otherwise knock yourselves out. You know, those things that used to be we can only you know, we’ve got a bunch of great pictures. Let’s put them online. We’ll do this as a little sidebar, another shout out.
S2: I need to do this. Another shout out to Lázaro Gammie, who they poached from Axios to do all of that information design. And they’ve he’s been absolutely crushing it at the Times.
S1: Yeah, no, it’s amazing.
S3: There is one in particular I’m thinking of when jobless claims first went up on the front page and there was a chart with the line, the last line on the right was just going straight up the whole front page of the newspaper.
S1: Yeah, that was then that went up it like literally went up through words where it read The New York Times. Yes, I say that I took a picture of it. I put it on Twitter. No. And Emily, thing about what’s happening there is that’s only startling because of one hundred years of expectations about what the front page of The New York Times looks like. Then they say, look, jobless claims have kind of gone up so astronomically, they can’t be contained by this structure that we’ve been faithfully kind of delivering to your front stoop every morning for the last century. You know, suddenly it has to burst through the very top. And what’s and what’s funny is that there’s no way it’s very difficult to replicate that degree of of shock value. It’s impossible.
S2: I mean, it’s actually impossible.
S1: You need the foil of our familiarity with the print publication to kind of. Or turn that kind of expectation?
S3: That’s what I was thinking, tangentially related, like going from albums to Spotify, you lose like the boring bits, like the thing with albums was you would get the album and there would be like two good songs, but you would wind up listening to all the songs and the radical change with Spotify and even before with Napster was like, you’re just getting the frosting all the time. You never have to like do the work of listening to the boring bits and like maybe starting to like them. And I feel the same way about magazines versus online. It’s like online. Everything is the front page, everything is the non boring bits. But you lose something because sometimes the boring bits are more challenging or they level your expectations like with the charts so that you can break out of those expectations. It’s just a whole different thing.
S2: And you lose the branding. Right. So there are songs which I love and I like and I listen to all the time on Spotify. I’m like, I love this song. This is awesome. I have no idea who it’s boss.
S3: Yeah, that’s true. You do lose the branding.
S1: Yeah. And and print that not only afforded but to a certain degree demanded that people make conscious decisions about those things. So you would have Roger Dean would design every cover for a yes or a Pedro Bell would design every cover for Parliament Funkadelic and somehow they became unofficial members of the band. If you were followers of those band because you would put on a fragile you put on Parliament Funkadelic Mothership Connection and somehow you were partaking of that visual sensibility at the same time. And that, it seems like, would be so, you know, I guess music videos was an attempt to translate that to a non print medium. But again, Spotify, like these other platforms, kind of has its own control mechanism. That’s all predicated on the efficiency of the algorithm and that those branding elements interfere with that. To a certain degree. They’re just.
S2: Yeah, and plus there’s a competing brand, right? There was never there was never a brand of like when you listen to an album, you thought of yourself as consuming the brand of turntable you using. But like when you now you know, you’re listening to that moment in the front and center brand is Spotify. It’s those like three little green, you know, semicircles. That’s what you’re listening to. Anyway, I think we should have a numbers round. Emily, do you have a number?
S3: I have a number. My number is twenty nine thousand dollars. That is the median pay of an Amazon worker. Amazon just put out that number this week. It came out at the same time. Jeff Bezos wrote this big letter that some people online were saying was like, brilliant. Anyway, in the letter, he says he makes a point of saying because, you know, there’s just this big union battle that Amazon won. He makes a point of saying, you know, Amazon treats its workers really well. And he says if they need to go to the bathroom, they absolutely can. And it doesn’t. We don’t judge them for it. We don’t take them on productivity. And it’s just like, oh, my man. So, yeah. Twenty nine thousand dollars. The median pay you that. You can’t buy a house with that. That’s not a living wage. And meanwhile, the one last fact, the chief executive of the cloud computing service, he makes thirty five million dollars a year. So just for comparison
S1: sake and goes to the bathroom whenever he wants, whenever
S3: he wants, he may go to the bathroom and it does not he doesn’t lose a million dollars every time or anything. He is that freedom.
S2: Are we just assuming that he’s a he? I think we are.
S3: It is indeed. Andrew Jaffey I think his name
S2: suggests he is the incoming CEO, right? Yeah. Isn’t isn’t he the CEO as of like next week or something.
S3: So his pick, they just that was thirty five million dollars. Yeah.
S2: Well he’s going to be the CEO man. Big company to run. My number is one hundred and seven percent, which is the amount of free covid domestic plane capacity that Qantas is going to be running at in the July to September like third quarter period. Plus they have a low cost called Jetstar and that’s going to be running at 120 percent of pre covid capacity. Australia is now like in the least in terms of domestic plane flights and Australia is so big. If you want to get from anywhere to anywhere, you need to take a plane. Australia is now well above its pre covid amount of plane travel is about to be. That’s kind of an amazing rebound, although again, apropos the question, the discussion we had about vaccine passports, a lot of it is driven by the fact that Australians can’t leave the country. So they’re being forced to travel domestically instead.
S3: Interesting. But it seems like people really want to get back to traveling. I mean, in the US, people just kept doing it the whole time anyway. So it doesn’t seem that shocking.
S2: But that was again, that was almost entirely domestic. You know, I know a lot of people can’t wait to start travelling internationally again. Michael, before you give us your number, quick. Yes. No question, do you miss jet lag?
S1: Yes, I just I it’s so funny and odd that you ask that question, because I was actually thinking about this flight I used to regularly take to London where Pentagram was founded. My firm was founded there, so I would go there a lot. And I remember sort of arriving at Heathrow with certain flights and the way you’d feel sort of in the morning in this breakfast I would take at the hotel while I tried to kind of recalibrate things. And I at the time, it never seemed pleasant at all. And now it just seems, you know, I mean, it’s like the scent of madeleines or something. So if only I could experience that odd combination of itchiness and kind of sweatiness and biliary ness, you know, I don’t know. I’m really it’s so weird you said that feel like it’s just reading where I literally this week thought that I was looking at the potential to make a trip and I was thinking, oh, I could take that flight and then there would be that difference. Yes.
S2: Jet lag. Anyway, what’s your what’s your number?
S1: My number is twenty five thousand two hundred one dollars. That is the aggregate amount of money that the three participants in final jeopardy lost on March 31st. Twenty twenty one. How do I know this. I know you. One of those that was not one of them. However, it was announced the category for final Jeopardy would be Logo’s. So I got very excited. Wow. Then they go to commercial and so then they put up the the clue and I will read you the clue. You tell me if you know the answer. OK, the final hand over the final jeopardy.
S2: OK, it’s going to be this.
S1: After 9/11, designer Milton Glaser modified this iconic Lovas is adding a bruise to the words more than and the words more than ever.
S2: And they all got it wrong. It’s I love New York. It’s the I the family.
S1: Felix, how did they all get it? You know, saw my wife, who is not a graphic designer but who has been married to one now for forty years, is like watching me with exasperation. I’m literally vibrating out of my skin and saying it’s about Logo’s and you just deliver the biggest, fattest, most boring softball pitch straight, straight over the plate. What about one more obscure logo like one of one of my logos would be? Right. Let’s put that aside. And so all three of them got it wrong. All three of them got that wrong. Emily was one of the contestants, the
S3: trail of my name.
S1: She wrote down, what is FedEx,
S1: Kevin wrote down, what is the peace sign Bryce worked out? What is Johnson and Johnson? And so there has been much consternation in my professional circles about what this represents, about the failure of our discipline to kind of penetrate the popular imagination. I think there’s an easy out to it, which is that people actually don’t consider I heart New York as a logo per say, you know. So I think they were thinking a logo. What’s the logo say, Emily? Contestant Emily is thinking, well, at FedEx, etc. when it that’s a logo on it. And then Kevin peace sign. But then Brice Johnson and Johnson obviously is thinking covid. And so what was funny was, of course, you know, in wagering in the aggregate twenty five thousand two hundred one dollars, they had expended, you know, twenty one thousand two hundred one more dollars. And Milton Glaser was actually paid for doing that logo, which he did pro bono. People think it’s for. New York City was actually commissioned by the state of New York to promote New York state tourism. I think it sort of has transcended logo ness and now exists on some higher plane that deserves perhaps another category altogether. So, yeah, I think that’s right.
S3: I think that’s totally right. It’s not a it doesn’t seem like a logo. Like if someone asked me what it is, I wouldn’t say necessarily logo. Yeah. So maybe we can give that other Emily the benefit of the doubt.
S2: Let’s do a Slate plus segment on logos.
S1: OK, good. Go. That’ll be fun.
S2: Michael, thank you so much for coming on. We will treasure this one and we will have you back for the second season as late money goes to the movies. Because I know you have a movie that you want to talk about.
S1: I cannot wait and I will.
S2: It’s a true classic from before. I think any of us were born, right?
S1: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure.
S2: Many thanks to to Justman Molly for producing. Many thanks to all of you guys for listening and to sending in your emails on Slate, many at Slate Dotcom. And we will be back next week on Slate Money. OK, so Michael Logo’s, I feel like it’s hard to compete with Milton Blaze’s, I hate New York. It’s so iconic. I was thinking, as you were talking about that, like what can compete with it? What rises to that level of of Mehmed? And the only other thing I could think of was the Robert, Indiana love.
S1: What’s funny is that, of course, you look at I heart New York now and it seems inevitable and how could it not be? But of course, you know, at the time, the first people that saw it were unsure whether the rebus was really immediately decipherable. Would people understand that meant I love New York? And then also there was something about, wouldn’t it be better? All on one line. And I believe Glazer actually invoked the ROBERTE Indiana LLB on, you know, in a two by two configuration to say, no, this will work better as a square. It’ll be more versatile and everything. But what was what’s funny about it is it actually is they wouldn’t have called it that then. But it’s it really is more of a meme than a logo. It doesn’t really have to be done in that particular typeface. ITC American typewriter. It doesn’t have to be locked up exactly that way. And in fact, there are tons and tons of variations of it like you can find everywhere you go.
S2: Go to my phone, you’ll see a little bumper stickers saying I square DJed.
S1: Yeah, exactly. So I think, you know, but that sort of is that gets invoked a lot by people commissioning logos. They want things that have that level of permanence. And I guess, again, they would have called it that then, but by reality to a certain degree. The other thing people want is the way that the Nike swoosh seems to be so perfectly suited to represent what it represents. And again, they are underestimating the degree of investment that Nike or any company makes in training us to associate, you know, a simple shape with first their company name and then this larger, quote unquote, brand promise that they are trying to deliver through that mechanism. It’s a tough business sometimes. You know, what’s funny is that the glazer got paid zero. Carolyn Davidson, the woman who designed the original Nike swoosh, got paid like several hundred dollars. I recall they made it up to her. Later there was a ceremony where she was given some sort of undisclosed but very interesting amount of Nike stock and a check that I actually made it good for her. But I mean, what’s funny is that people who, unlike a lot of other things that I’m asked to design logos and symbols really are investments. If you do them well, they’re worth a lot more in a year and five years and ten years. And they are on day one. And you could argue on day one they’re nearly worthless because they have no associations at all. Whereas if you’re talking about book covers or posters that are actually making you or, you know, packaging on a shelf, it’s making you do something immediately. And if you don’t do that immediate thing, it’s failing. A logo is sort of more insidious than that.
S2: So this is interesting to me. If you design a logo, are you saying that the success of the logo is. Mostly not the function of the logo itself, that it’s not so much that, you know, it’s going to be good or this is a great one. You can see someone else’s. And that’s a fantastic logo. It’s a living thing. And it’s really up to the company and the brand managers to to create the logo much more than the design.
S1: Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think that’s the metaphor that people throw around a lot, is that it’s really a vessel that holds the meaning and you can make a well shaped vessel that is not porous and holds meaning well. And it can be shaped to hold a specific meaning you want to pour into it, but it’s still as empty until you start to make it come true. And I think every once while you are dentists’, you know, want a logo and you say, what’s your name? And he’ll say, My name is Harvey Tooth. And you think, Oh, I’ve got an idea, you know,
S3: but like
S1: usually it’s like, you know, you’re not. Again, the things the stars aren’t aligning quite as clearly. And I mean, you think about things that are revered nowadays, target that seems like a good logo. Right. Or Apple seems like a good logo. And at the time they just were these weird, arbitrary choices. You would never name anything target. You would never name a retail chain target now and then actually have the logo be a target because someone would say something about, you know, mass shooting in retail stores. And that would be the end of that conversation. And you wouldn’t even get out of the first preliminary meeting. It probably you get shown to the client at this point. Right. And then but then sometimes someone like Steve Jobs comes along and says, I’ve decided to call it Apple. And you say you’re the boss. I like it. And people have sort of further said it’s the tree of knowledge. It’s the thing you give the teacher. If you’re a teacher’s pet, it has to do with, like learning and other things.
S2: Like, I have a question for you. Is the logo expert, which do you prefer, the monochrome Apple logo or the stripy coloured one?
S1: I mean, I’m productiveness, I think at heart. And so I kind of like the monochrome one. But again, you know, like other things we get sentimental about from our past, you sort of see that a stripy one. And it does make you it makes one happy in a way. And I think another thing that’s happened is people have when I started in this business back in the day, it was all about kind of companies trying to use this sort of thing as a way to make visible the amount of kind of top down control they had out of all their operations, you know, big fat printed manuals describing exactly the right and wrong ways that the logo could be approved. People would be hired to do nothing but kind of police the logos and its use and to stop people from using it wrong. And now it’s you know, a sports team will have you know, you go in their shop and they’ll have throwback versions of their logos where it’s, you know, here’s that one that we have from back in the day. Here’s the one that we just redesigned out of. And I think people are much more forgiving about, just like human beings will go through different phases in their lives and have different kinds of modes of presentation, depending on what situation they’re in. I think there’s a lot of people who are trying to take that same definition of integrity and personality and figure out what does it mean if a company has that. And I think there’s kind of more relaxed thing where Apple could indeed have multiple iterations of its logo, partly because the simplicity of that Apple form and the fact that it actually is a picture of the name that it’s standing for kind of enables a lot of variations that a more complex one would not.
S3: I had never thought about that. But of course, like first you have to train people to recognise the logo and then you can pull back and just make it more simple looking. You first you have the Nike and the swoosh always together, and then you can get rid of the Nike and just have the swoosh. And it’s like a it’s like an indoctrination kind of process. I just hadn’t thought of it.
S2: Well, MasterCard just did that, right. They took the MasterCard of the logo. Now it’s just those two circles.
S1: Yeah. And I was party to that decision. And one of the reasons when we redesigned the latest iteration of the MasterCard logo to Emily’s point, they had this symbol representing in some form to overlapping circles, one more or less red, one more or less kind of gold or yellow going all the way to the 60s, like literally for fifty years. And it had around recognition in the upper 80s or even into the low 90s. You just show people two overlapping circles in those colours and they would say MasterCard. Right. Which is something that if I went to a client said, here’s my idea to common shapes into primary colors and they overlap, show it to people and find out if they associated with your company. Of course they won’t. Why would you need fifty years and a lot of investment to make that happen? But luckily, because MasterCard had that, they had done a whole lot of things over the years, including the superimposition of this very long ten letter word, MasterCard on top of the two circles. And one of the things we did with the last redesign is sort of separate the circles from the name, with the idea being that ultimately you could then just let the circles go out there without the name. And it just would be a more concise way, particularly in a world where you’re given very little real. Say sometimes, you know, an app on a phone, a little icon next to one of a list of various payment options, you know, you want something that can perform in a really finite number of pixels and complicated things do not. Simple things do. But that simplicity is what enables all that to happen. But you can’t get there on day one. You sort of have to invest in building up to it, as you said.
S2: But I mean, very prescient of whoever came up with these circles in 1960 to know that it could be a great Famicom in the 80s.
S1: And what’s so weird, of course, is that for as much meaning as these things are meant to import, no one seems to know exactly why it is two circles. What is really, really. Yeah, it’s not like there’s some someone threw it on a napkin and said, here’s my plan. This Venn diagram is, you know, here’s people and here’s money. And we’re going to be at this part in the middle, which I think if I didn’t like that, I like that explanation. That evidently was not the explanation. The closest thing I heard was that it was based on a certain kind of projection of the globe that would juxtapose the eastern and Western hemispheres somewhere. So it was meant to be sort of like a world wide sort of product. But even that, you know, I don’t think anyone would look at that and say, yeah, that’s what that means. At the end of the day, they got exactly the nirvana of symbol design, which is that it does represent something. It only represents one thing of what it represents as MasterCard,
S3: like Pan Am. Isn’t Pan Am like a global thing?
S2: Yeah, the thing that isn’t the thing that people think it is, the Chase logo, the octagon. There’s this urban myth that it represents the cross section of the wooden water pipes that would bring water around Manhattan back when Alexander Hamilton created the Manhattan Bank. And it was part of a is it’s a long story and this is all completely untrue. If you talk to the designers who actually still alive and they’re like, yeah, no, we had nothing to do with. What about the people adding narratives to logos?
S1: Yeah. Tom Geismar was a designer, that logo, and he says that I guess his client would have been David Rockefeller, I think
S2: probably who
S1: was quite worldly and had spent a lot of time in China and Japan and became really interested in the in time of the use of symbols in the way that dynastic families and big companies used to represent themselves there and was susceptible to that line of argument. And this was in a world where, speaking of how you generate trust, where most banks had a picture of their headquarters, Corinthian columns and all with maybe, you know, some heraldic figure or some woman wearing a gown holding a symbol of prosperity, on one hand the symbol of security in the other with a rainbow above her head and then, you know, whatever. And a nice engraving of that, which sort of simulated the kind of filigree you find on stock certificates and paper money, then comes along Chermayeff and Geismar with this idea. What if we just reduce it to this, like, octagonal shape, which if you want to think it means wooden pipes, fine. But it actually Mr. Right. Doesn’t mean wooden pipes at all. And there was so much resistance to it when it first launched. There were executives who just refuse to have cards printed with that thing on it and just insisted on having the old card. But Geismar, the designer, tells the story that he was charged with trying to persuade one of these resistent executives to kind of go along with the decision. And this person said, no, I insist on having my own cards printed with the old logo. And then he encountered the person, you know, 18 months later and he was wearing a lapel pin with the new symbol on it. I see you’re wearing this logo, right, that you didn’t like it. He says at the end of the day, I’m a chase man and this is Chase. And it’s exactly what we said. It comes to stand for the thing. And then then you’re not against the logo. You’re not against a symbol. You’re against Chase Manhattan Bank. If you don’t like that thing and if you work for Chase Manhattan Bank, you can’t be against Chase Manhattan Bank. So.