Fade in. The lecture hall brims with classmates. Teacher’s Assistants pass out leaflets of paper. You realize that you have not studied for the written exam, and your pulse quickens as the test snakes through each row of students. Tearing open the test, you realize that the essay prompt is indecipherable— unreadable to the point the letters fall off the page.
Then of course, you wake up. While for most this is a quaint nightmare that passes easily, the unsuspecting designer often finds themselves saddled with a brief as confusing as a fever dream. At least, that is how it appeared when designing badges for the Dedman Distinguished Scholars.
You might be familiar with my background as an Eagle Scout and think to yourself, “What the heck is your problem, Eric? You have dealt with hundreds of badges; this is in your wheelhouse, stop whining!” A fair assessment, until you consider the list of subjects requested:
- Valor (?)
- Honor (?)
- Conviction (??)
- Humility (??)
- Sacrifice (???)
- Integrity (???)
This is a textbook problem of semiotics or the study and science of symbols. How on earth do you convey a symbol of “Humility” that is recognizable within seconds? Even if you have a killer symbol for “Sacrifice,” is it appropriate in the context of the Dedman academic scholarship?
After trial and error, blood, sweat, tears, vectors(?), I pulled it off. The only ineffective symbol in the bunch was Integrity— after several iterations including gavels, building tools, survey equipment, and finally this square and plumb bob, the client dropped the concept. I will take eight for nine gladly!
The Dedman badges were not all that they appeared to be. A project pitched as straightforward revealed itself to be complex, then revealed itself to be rewarding. The joy of design is solving problems, and because this problem was so pronounced, the solution was that much sweeter.