Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Do you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?

Recently "60 Minutes" did a piece on a Harvard professor who teaches a class on observation. This prof argues that we value highly the ability to process words and math, but not the old fashioned ability to look about us in everyday life and observe obscure, but potentially important, things. He takes his students on walks through Cambridge and has them observe the vintage of the manhole covers.

One example he gives is the arrow in the FedEx logo. Take a look at the logo on this FedEx truck... Do you see an arrow?

So: do you see an arrow? If not, look very closely between the "e" and the "x". Hint: it points to the right.

Another hint: the arrow is white.

Ahh, now you see it. Would you admit that you never did before?

I sure didn't. And it turns out if you Google for "FedEx logo arrow" you'll find lots of other folks never saw it, either. I was glad to see that a well-known photographer, Jay Maisel, missed the arrow as well: Seen the arrow in the FedEx logo? Not many have. FedEx claims the logo design incorporates the arrow deliberately. Even if you don't consciously see it, subconsciously it's supposed to convey motion.

We all have so many things to pay attention to. Sometimes it's hard to notice little details and important background cues, when it's all so obvious later.

Like the FedEx driver this particular day. When you looked at the photo of the truck, did you observe that it's stuck in the mud? The front wheels are thoroughly embedded in muck. The driver chose to back into the driveway of her next delivery address. Makes sense; unload from the back of the truck close to the house, right?

Unfortunately, the truck had two wheels times two on the rear axle; the front axle only had two wheels. This meant that when she backed up, the rear axle didn't sink -- but the front sure did. You see, it was an unusually warm afternoon on Christmas Eve 2002, and the unpaved strip between road and paved driveway wasn't frozen. Easy to observe -- after the truck is stuck. The arrow is pointing the right way, but until the tow truck comes, that truck -- still full of Christmas deliveries -- isn't moving.