Oscars 2018 Review: Logo Design Fail

Each year, Hollywood’s big night of glitz and glamour provides fodder for a tsunami of criticism and analysis flowing across news and internet channels the following day. Here at Block Club, we’d be remiss if we let Oscar Monday pass without joining in the fun. However, since we’re not in the business of comedy, stage productions or selecting formalwear, I’ll keep our critique squarely within our wheelhouse: branding.

In this designer’s opinion, the 2018 Oscars brought us one of the most astonishing graphic design fails in recent memory via the unfortunate visual portmanteau of “90” and “Oscars,” both sharing the same circular character for the zero and capital O. I can fully empathize with the whomever created this mark, as one of the first things that any designer would do when approaching a logo project is examine the unique qualities of the characters in the word or words, to see if there are any opportunities for a clever play or combination. Often just writing out the words in the logo by hand repeatedly to see how the specific letters combine with each other is a good first step in unlocking an idiosyncrasy that can be exploited to create a memorable wordmark. If I was tasked with creating a lockup of the number “90” and the word “Oscars,” I too would probably explore opportunities to combine or intersect elements just as this designer has done.

However, just because an opportunity exists doesn’t mean that it will be the most successful solution for the project. The designer’s charge is to find the best possible solution; to consider all possible design strategies (of which there are always an infinite number) and select the strongest one, taking aesthetics and functionality into account. It’s often a heartbreaking scenario in which you end up with two or more concepts of nearly equal merit, yet there can only one best solution so designers are forced to watch their near-brilliant concepts face the chopping block time and time again.

In the case of the 2018 Oscars logo, the letters that follow the multi-purposed circle just so happen to make up the word “scars”, which—being a standalone English word of its own—has an irrepressible psychological effect in the viewer of instant recognition, jumping out and stealing focus from the intended effect. At the same time, the first three characters could also be misread as “90s”, as in the 1990s. These major detractors to an otherwise elegant looking solution should’ve been substantial enough to steer the design team away from this concept as a whole, seeing as there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing out “90th Oscars” as it had been done presumably 89 times prior without complaint. This visual combination is as unnecessary as it is unsuccessful, which, for me, inspired more head-scratching than other of the other questionable design choices on display during last night’s show.

In execution, the designer made a decent attempt at reinforcing their intent by bisecting the circle and applying two weights, but the all-caps treatment of the Oscars logotype didn’t do them any favors here. Had a lower-case “scars” followed the circle, perhaps this would read better and lead the eye to see the words correctly, but with that not being an option for the established Oscars brand, this was an ill-advised decision. I don’t think PricewaterhouseCoopers presents the show’s producers with the Oscars branding concepts, but it seems someone picked the wrong winner once again.