I read a short story by James Joyce, where, in the opening paragraphs, he describes a table setting. He doesn’t stray from describing plates, dinnerware, napkins, but, through his exquisite arrangement of words, we understand the people attending the dinner—their hopes,
conflicts, and emotions. Joyce didn’t have to explain the relationships: while he focuses on the place settings, the qualities of the relationships emerge. (More below . . . )
This aesthetic is intriguing: We discipline ourselves to a coherent expression at one level and allow qualities at other levels to emerge. This aesthetic honors the notion that we comprehend the world at multiple levels, adding to the incoming signals by an active, participating nervous system.
We can apply this aesthetic when communicating any expression—even a logo design for a company. While tight on a coherent expression, like Joyce’s table setting, we can allow intangible qualities of the company to emerge, like the emotional ties of Joyce’s dinner guests. Such a design, communicating at multiple levels, can set the table for a company’s stakeholders, helping grace the communications that follow.
Celumbra presents quite a challenge for such a logo design. At its core competency, the company offers a seemingly simple, yet complex and compelling premise that involves the nervous system and human perception. To get a general understanding, we need to consider a few background ideas.
Neuroscientists, looking at MRIs, can verify what we already know intuitively: some incoming messages light up the mind, while others dissipate into oblivion. What is the difference that makes the difference? When spending hundreds of millions of dollars in an ad campaign, a conglomerate would find an answer to this question invaluable. Celumbra’s premise provides a compelling and useful answer.
Neuroscientists know, too, that the nervous system skews incoming messages, distorting them. But how? And does the nervous system skew the signals along universal biases? Celumbra identifies six universal biases, suggesting that we can tailor messages for the nervous system, skewing them so that they ride the rails of perception, stimulating the receiving person with richer, more compelling subjective experiences. In its thesis, Celumbra shows why branding—our most sophisticated process of tailoring messages until now—succeeds, as it utilizes two of these universals.
Along with this idea, Celumbra shows how it can create a wide range of assets—from television commercials to dances, press releases to ticket stubs, buildings to retail stores—to serve as messages that all work together inside a person’s nervous system when received, combining to create even deeper connections to the conglomerate.
Celumbra’s premise is also rooted in cultural messages from our human history, dating back to 75,000 BC, where we see the earliest known human creations. Taking these enduring expressions as artifacts of the nervous system, Celumbra can follow the messages that have lit up the mind through the centuries, revealing the clues to universal biases in the nervous system.
Besides identifying several of these biases, Celumbra also describes how to automatically create and deliver the tailored messages for the world stage, marrying the digital, interconnected world with wisdom about the nervous system.
When I began designing the Celumbra logo, I wondered how I would express these complex ideas—especially the notion of tailoring messages for the nervous system, a central tenet of the company.
Given that the company focuses on the language of the mind to produce its work, I began with the earliest symbols of language, hieroglyphics, suggesting them in the design. Then I turned to current symbols of the mind—the expressions of our computer age, where computing extends our minds profoundly—and laid out abstractions reminiscent of a semiconductor’s design.
At the same time, I wanted to incorporate parts of zeriosantalios, Celumbra’s philosophy of beauty, grace, and communication that describes how to tailor messages for the nervous system—especially the notion of repetition with variation and elaboration. We see the hieroglyphic-like symbols repeat and vary, in color and rotation. We see the pattern of lines repeat and vary. We see repetitions of threes in the dots, lines, and angles. There is a sense that the parts, though different, contribute to the whole as a single unit, much like the assets Celumbra would produce for a company, with thousands of disparate messages communicating together as a single unit from all different parts of the globe.
Because Celumbra targets the whole nervous system, I wanted to engage more than the visual system and include the aural system, maximizing what is possible over the web. And because a campaign from Celumbra would deliver messages through a stochastic process, I wanted the logo to also come through a stochastic process—a form congruence, a form that is itself an example of what it is conveying.
For this, I first needed to design the filter portion of the stochastic process, the portion that selects from random possibilities in the design. For the visual filter, I laid out the hieroglyphic-semiconductor abstraction, and for the aural filter, I composed a sketch of music.
Next, I needed to design the random portion of the stochastic process, the random possibilities from which the filters would select. For this, I wrote a computer program that would create random parts of the design. I liked the idea of a logo with a dynamic dimension intelligently created by a computer program, given that Celumbra also proposes software that dynamically generates unique and meaningful messages.
Inside the software, I programmed objects that I call the Artist and Musician, two creators that come to life when the program starts. In keeping with the theme of lighting up the mind, the Artist creates glows that light up different parts of the design, reminiscent of neurons firing off in different parts of the brain. The Artist begins by picking a time—anywhere from 250 to 1500 milliseconds from now—and calls over to the Musician, “I am ready to create a glow.” Then, through an algorithm for random selection, he targets a part on the background design—a line, a dot, a hieroglyphic—and then chooses a duration, color set, brightness level, and other features to create his random glow. Meanwhile, the Musician runs off to read the background music, checking the harmonies and dynamic levels. Then, through his own algorithm for random selection, he picks a random pitch, dynamic level, duration, and timbre to go along with the current harmonies in the background music and the glow duration. Then, when both are ready, the Artist and Musician come together and play their tone-glow simultaneously. They do this moment by moment, playing random tones and glows, but within the background visual and aural structures—a perfect stochastic process.
Since the nervous system processes incoming signals by breaking them up and then recomposing them, I wanted the music to begin with fluid qualities—in keeping with the fluidity of mind—yet wanted its beginnings to hold something of a coherent structure. However, I wanted the music to lose more and more of its structure, eventually tapering down to a single tone at the end, a single tone resembling what Wallace Stevens might call the palm at the end of the mind. Such a tone would be the last of the presenting structure, the conscious portion of order, while the random tones, played by the computer, continue beyond, infinitely, as if past the mind, past understanding. The final tone sits on the dominant tone, wanting to resolve the harmony, but doesn’t do so itself, and allows the resolution to occur in the random, unstructured tones afterward. It is an expression, perhaps, of a series of incoming messages finding their way to infinity, perhaps like life itself.