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Text & Image: Brand Identity

November 4, 2009
Faced with the prospect of only a little more than a month now to write my first VCT essay, with still no decision made on the subject, I’ve decided to narrow my search to the field of logo design and corporate branding. It would be reductive to say that branding involves the production of a single image, in most cases the logo sums up the project and can be used as a staring point for discussion. Ideal for, say, a 1,500 word essay. Here are a few examples I’ve looked at this week, and first a bit about what got me started on this line of enquiry…

Sean Perkins of London-based studio North gave a lecture one evening last week, in which he not only discussed examples of his company’s work, but also showed a couple of “pitch” films, of the kind they use to convince clients their clients to say yes and hand over the money.

Their rebranding of the RAC (shown above, next to the old version) stood out for me as a particularly impressive achievement, given the amount of work involved (including livery for vehicles and uniforms). Sean explained the problem was that for a company which, when it started out over 100 years ago, was at the cutting edge of technology (“it was like they were servicing spaceships”), the RAC’s image had grown stale and antiquated, the preserve of old men with life time memberships purchased in pre-war. The bright orange and custom type of the new logo certainly look more like they belong on the side of a spaceship than a Morris Minor, and membership shot through the roof as a result.

Rebranding the Tate Gallery in 1999, Wolff Olins applied an amorphous treatment to a custom font, and dropped the prefix “The” from the name, successfully creating a more contemporary feel to an institution founded over 100 years ago. The result is a coherent and flexible solution that could be applied across a range of media and according to the needs of each gallery.

Like the RAC and the Tate, mental health charity Mind found themselves with too many disparate elements, and an out-dated and inappropriate identity. The dove motif of their old logo was deemed too Christian for a modern organisation with a pan-cultural audience, and has been eradicated so thoroughly that I’ve not been able to find an example of it online. The solution presented by Glazer in 2004 is friendly and accessible*, and employs an effective visual metaphor – the scribble communicates the confusion, frustration, and perhaps creativity of mental ill-health, from which comes the organisation’s name in hand-drawn script. Glazer describe the logo as “reflecting the organisation’s mission to help its users create answers and solutions to complex problems”. As with the RAC, the success of the rebrand was dramatic, with annual donations increasing from £8 to £17 million.
*According to Wikipedia (yeah okay, okay..), the name was changed from upper to lowercase in the mid-90s, presumably to project a friendlier and less austere image.
Produced around the same time as Mind’s new logo, homeless and housing-equality charity Shelter received a revamp courtesy of Johnson Banks. The simple insertion of the instantly and universally recognisable peaked roof shape into the letter “h” sign-posts a whole series of connotations, and also makes a personal connection to the viewer by allowing them viewer to make associations with their own idea of “home”.
Worth noting is that the Johnson Banks website actually contains quite a good blog, including this post on logo design and Michael Evamy’s useful and aptly-named guide Logo.

Of course the logo that has swallowed up the greatest number of column inches in recent years would be another by Wolff Olins’, this time for the 2012 London Olympics. Commissioned at a cost of £400,000, and met with public outrage upon its release in 2007, it may be that this is the most sensible subject for the essay, simply because so much discussion already exists, and there are so many questions to be asked about it, staring with: WHY?

There’s not enough space to go into any real discussion about the logo here, but my first impressions are of it as a kind of bad-on-purpose-in-a-funky-urban-dad sort of thing. Horribly awkward, and self-consciously zany, just awful really. But it does stick in the mind, and everyone recognises it.
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