Unplaying Identity

As I intuited, through the design process, I would discover an identity for Unplay and a model for conflict resolution or healthy communications that nationwide criminal justice, self-proclaimed domestic violence experts, and global branding and communications teams have been unable to visualize despite billions of dollars invested in their projects:

unplay identity

Identity design, Unplay, 2014.

Current market models work out great if the goal is to sell more product or increase profits for the prison industrial complex where the state might lodge perpetrators of domestic violence crimes, but how well are those models working for teaching and learning conflict resolution and healthy behavior?

For that matter, aren’t all crimes or public abusive behaviors really crimes of “domestic” violence, where unhealthy communication and behaviors are first modeled in early childhood development?

Just one more page of sketchbook notes, after years of research, study, and experience, thinking about my Venn diagrams and the structure of communications that must be identical to my visual communications of the solution, before I realized, oh, as usual, with my earlier drafts I was trying too hard to get every detail right, slapping a solution on top of a problem:

unplay sketchbook notes

Unplay identity design process.

More on that struggle later.

One more cup of tea, then I returned, looked down at my notes, and – lightbulb moment – ohh, this is already a graphic identity of flexible geometric shapes. What is important is the relationship between them, the gestalt connection of disparate dots. Math is beautiful. Don’t mess with it:


Identity without text, suitable for reducing to the scale of a favicon or organizing visual communication about Unplay for print or screen.

In abusive relationships, the more dominant partner is situated above the more submissive partner, who is not the complement “good” to the abusive partner’s “bad,” but sort of a washed-out version, red for stop tinted with white:


Victim-abuser hierarchy in power-over relationships.

At the heart of Unplay’s identity and all relationships is the communication that happens between, ever changing, ever shifting, not stagnant or stationary:


Communication is dynamic.

Passive aggressive communication is toxic:


The health of any relationship might be measured by how successfully the players resolve conflict:


Currently available market models remove the abuser from the relationship. But where does s/he go? To prison? To the next victim? To publicly elected office? Some folks think the solution is to colonize other planets. Or maybe we could further explore ways to “stop being jerks” to each other before spreading the virus of abusive communication farther into our solar system?

Instead of alienating or exacerbating communications to war, genocide, or intergalactic apocalypse, all that needs to happen is a shift in the relationship between any two dots. From power-over to power-with:


Unplay shifts positions of power-over to power-with.

Communications between egalitarian partners are every bit as complex, exciting, and powerful:


But now instead of negotiating difference by following a structure of deny, avoid, blame, with either party rationalizing abusive behavior from the martyr position, conflict is resolved by performing the opposite behavior at each of those four stations:


Transforming the passive aggressive volvelle into the healing circle of healthy communication begins with listening:

unplay healing circle

Unplay healthy communication or conflict resolution.

To recap, stop:


Green means functional systems go:


Of course my visual solution is relational rather than color-dependent so the colorblind and cost-effective b/w print jobs may also benefit:


Compare before (in progress), where I shoved the integral communication to the outside, surrounding the product name, and after. Primary and secondary color choices are art school textbook answers but do not visually communicate the solution to the problem:


Unplay identity design process (l) before, and (r) after.

That initial struggle to get it “right” I attribute to early childhood passive aggressive communication models from parents who did their very best to teach their children right from wrong. Carried forward into my design process in college, where I wrestled with one assignment for weeks, trying to answer the problem with a product solution far beyond my youthful learning curve. I will never forget that final crit, where my design professor very compassionately explained, “You’re trying to do too much. The assignment is just to create a structure out of one piece of paper that will stand on its own without cutting or gluing. Simplify.” The best ‘D’ I ever earned in college.

Compare to a painting professor’s profound wisdom scribbled on the back of one of my early drawings, “Sacrifice accuracy for confidence.”

Another lightbulb moment: 1) a strong composition (or healthy relationship) isn’t about being right, and 2) confidence is a choice anyone can make.

Well, here, the 30-second version for motion visual rather than read/write learners:


4 thoughts on “Unplaying Identity

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