Design: A branding faux pas

Yesterday I received a copy of Outreach at the office, as I do once or twice a year in their attempt to persuade me to put a ad in their publication. I paged through the unsolicited magazine — which occasionally contains halfway interesting articles — and noticed an ad that was, well, peculiar.

I noticed the ad because of its significant use of white space. It’s a good ad, good design and witty writing. And it certainly stood out among the rest of the content in the magazine.

But the company’s identity is all wrong.

I thought this was an ad for a prescription drug. The name, Generis, could certainly be drug-like. The logo is worse yet. It immediately reminds me of a pharmaceutical company. And their website design only further gives me the impression that this company is peddling the latest pills:


I asked my boss to look at the ad and, without reading any of the content, tell me what he thought it was selling. He thought the same thing I did.

I don’t mean to come down too hard on this well-intentioned business, which actually has nothing to do with drugs. The design is actually sound. It is clean and professional. The problem is context. Certain imagery brings to mind certain products. Certain visual elements in a logo denote a certain industry, such as a reflection in a Web 2.0 design. Something about the Generis identity clearly reminds me of a prescription drug company.

The Generis logo fails to consider the myriad of images already pummeled into people’s brain by the insane amount of advertising Americans are subjected to on a daily basis. It does a poor job of representing to the public the nature of the organization. Designers need to always bear in mind the context of the viewer. Creating something that looks good and professional — as the Generis brand does — is only part of the design equation.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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