Everybody's going swoosh

But the world is already yawning at the ubiquitous graphic device.

November 14, 1999|By Greg Morago | Greg Morago,Hartford Courant

They look like crafty celestial streaks, heavenly halos and bolts from the blue. Like Saturn's rings, racing clouds or brilliant beams of light, they orbit in and around our lives with alarming regularity.

And everywhere you look, you find them: from your sneakers to your coffee cup to your phone book to your daily Internet surfing. They are the pre-millennial graphic equivalent of "have a nice day": omnipresent smiley faces of a logo-obsessed, icon-driven world.

Meet the swoosh.

Swoosh? For lack of a better name, we'll call them swooshes. Or swashes. Or swishes, if that rolls off your tongue better. Why the ambivalence? Because these graphic elements don't really have a formal name. Think of them as a comet's tail, a planetary brushstroke, a winking curlicue or an uptown amoeba.

But be warned -- once you become aware of them, you'll begin seeing them in nearly every facet of your daily existence. And like a bad song caught in your head, you might regret ever acknowledging their existence.

Go ask Alice Matsumoto.

The 23-year-old quality-assurance analyst for a Vancouver Internet company got caught up in a strong gust of swoosh after complaining on her Web site that she began noticing the graphic streaks in the logos of many Internet companies.

"One day, I happened to mention on my site that if I saw anoth-er swoosh logo, I'd scream. I just started noticing them everywhere, and the lack of originality was driving me insane," Matsumoto says. "A few days later, I started collecting them just for fun. I was immediately deluged with dozens of e-mails from people submitting their own swooshy logo sightings."

Matsumoto's Web site ("Swoosh No More" at www. gradfinder.com/50cups/rings/ rings.html) features logos from such swash-buckling companies as biztravel.com, broadway.com, bigstar.com, amazon.com, reel. com, desktop.com and earthlink. com.

Corporate logos for Boeing, Intel, Nortel, Dow Jones, Visa and others all feature swooshy strokes that suggest planetary rings, comets and atoms.

"This whole swoosh rage is just another 'dingbat' being used," says Robin Hall, referring to the typographical and decorative symbols used in publishing called dingbats.

"It's a conscientious attempt to make something look current or avant-garde," adds Hall, senior art director at O'Neal & Prelle, a Hartford, Conn., advertising agency. "The overall message is contemporary; it's hip. That's the message implied when you use the swoosh today."

Nike, which has branded its swoosh into our collective consciousness, was a forerunner in this logo equivalent of Tribbles. Suddenly, that wing, boomerang or satellite swirl has become hot, morphing into other shapes that suggest speed, universal wonder and millennial enlightenment. It's the Jetsons all over again.

"It goes in cycles," Ed Hogan, program coordinator for graphic design and multimedia studies at Manchester (Conn.) Community College, says of the swoosh's popularity in today's logos and graphic design.

"Remember boomerang shapes from the '50s? Now they're being used tongue-in-cheek. In the '70s, it was burnt orange. In the early '80s, everyone was doing gray and Burgundy as a color scheme. Sooner or later it's going to get outdated. Eventually you tire of them."

It happened much faster for Matsumoto.

She got tired playing with her swooshes after about a week.

"I still have a bunch of logos sitting in my in box that haven't been posted," she says.

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