Nov, 2011

“The curve is more powerful than the sword.” - Mae West

It’s dawn in University Place, Washington. On a clear day you can seen Mt Rainier to the east and the Olympic mountains to the west. If you are up high enough, you can see the Puget Sound.

Bus Stop sign

On this day, I could see none of the above, as I was walking down Grandview, which is not far from where we live. Grandview is the grand boulevard of University Place. It is about 5 miles long, lined with trees and homes, with a world class golf course at the southern terminus. It’s a nice road with bike lanes and sidewalks, and many of my fellow locals take advantage of those amenities. The trees and houses along Grandview generally block the views of the mountains and sound.

On this day, I am taking advantage of the sidewalk, and I come across the bus stop. I’m not taking the bus, but I am quite taken with the sign marking the designated place where passengers get on and off the bus. Take a look at the picture of the bus stop sign.

What do you notice about it? Ok, this isn’t a quiz, so I’ll give you the answer: The outer edge of the sign, the edge facing the street is curved.

Pierce Transit changed all of their signs a couple of years ago from white rectangular signs to this style with the curved edge. They also changed the livery on their buses in a similar way.

Pierce Transit Bus

They used to be all white with a thin green and yellow racing stripe down the sides. Now they have curves painted on the buses, rather than the stark racing stripe. They look much better in my opinion. It was obviously part of a comprehensive branding change because I see “the curve” on several places on their website and signage.

Transit Center Sign

But, the curve is not just a Pierce Transit phenomenon. It turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Take the case of the paper cutter. The traditional paper cutter is rectangular in shape. Imagine my surprise when I saw one with a curve on the outer edge, much like the new Pierce Transit branding.

Old style paper cutter on left, new curved on on right

It didn’t stop there though. A notebook I happen to have is rectangular like most notebooks, except the outer edge of the cover has “the curve”, as shown in this picture.

Notebook with curve on right edge of cover

Notice that the curve on the Pierce Transit branding, the paper cutter, and the notebook are about the same curvature. I’m not going to try to quantify the curvature of those curves. I know there are some fancy terms out there like radius, chord, angle of arc, and depth of bend. I don’t know what any of those terms really mean, but my eye tells me those 3 things have about the same degree of curvature. Why is that particular degree of curvature so appealing? It is simple thing, but adds value to the object/brand. Why?

Salma Hayak influencing the product design and branding world

My husband offers this theory. He referred me to the movie “Fools Rush In”, starring Salma Hayak and Matthew Perry. In particular he referred me to a scene where the character played by Salma Hayak is floating on a innertube in a river, wearing a very flattering white shirt and a sarong. Well, I couldn’t find any pictures of that scene, but here’s a picture of Ms. Hayak that illustrates his point. Her curves are the same as the Pierce Transit brand, the paper cutter, and the notebook. Clearly, the inspiration for a lot of design in the last decade was Salma Hayak. That’s my husband’s conclusion anyway.

I think it’s a silly theory myself, but it makes him feel smart.