The monthly musings of our Head of Branding at Studio Conran…
From a handful of illuminated pixels, to fizzing, spluttering neon, to stadium-sized improbable tattoos, logos are increasingly prevalent, varied and fluent in our lives. These simple graphic symbols have profound effect.
I was recently sent a link by a colleague to a blog comparing Tokyo ward logos with their London borough cousins. Our metropolis has adopted a prevalent theme of the well-worn Brushstroke Approach® to convey ‘warmth’ and ‘humanity’ (NB it doesn’t). Tokyo meanwhile uses the elegant and exquisitely crafted symbols akin to their family crests. I have a whole, precious book of them at home. Ours look particularly ugly when stood face-to-face with the graphic masterclass from Japan. Nevertheless I fundamentally disagree that London would be a much better place if only the borough logos looked more like these Japanese vignettes. Whilst I don’t contend their visual poise they are also steeped in a specific cultural and historical context. They have a synergy with the community architecture of Tokyo. To transpose the serene, pared-back Japanese aesthetic into our entrepreneurial, individual-celebrating society would risk them becoming irrelevant and insignificant. Unfortunately, our current borough logo suite shows no sign of any real commitment, creativity or craft in capturing the glint in the eye, the spirit, the promise of the idea.
Logos are potent symbols that provoke endless opinion and debate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a designer, a plumber or a king, we all have a visceral response – positive or negative – to a logo that comes into your life, particularly if it is something you care (or pay) for. Just think back to the Olympic London 2012 logo launch which became a gruesome mob lynching. Or the recent Brand for London bun-fight. There’s nothing new here, every decade has a handful of these logo-tastrophies – remember Consignia? BP – pre-helios – when it went ‘italic’ in the late 80s? In 2007 the italian Premier Romano Prodi was hit by the full force of a media backlash caused by the ‘Italia’ logo launch (a project he’d publicly supported) and his troubled tenure soon came to an end. Global fame for such a humble craft. These launches go so disastrously wrong because their claim for the new reality – the signature of which is the logo – is either inauthentic, far-fetched or completely lacks connection and hope.
Italian tourism logo
80 years of BP logos up to 2000
2001 – 2002 Consignia was the new name and logo for the Post Office
I’m intrigued about how, once embedded, successful logos can have much more perceived value and relevance than their authors could have ever prescribed. For example, take football club crests: the visual iconography more often refers to a local tale and provenance. But for its followers it takes on a far deeper emotional meaning and becomes imbued with future hope. By contrast are the evil corporates enticing us with their Piped Piper black magic.
The movie here, Logorama, http://vimeo.com/10149605 made by the fabulous French postproduction house h5, is a short animation poking fun at this commercialism and the impact of corporate logos. It won the Oscar this year for best animated short film. But, in fact, I don’t subscribe to this conspiracy theory and the re-branding attempts of large companies – both failed and success – are borne out of genuine desire for companies to engage with their audiences. Logos do inspire an altruistic act probably more than any other business strategy.
What do logos really mean? They can be a great introduction, a flag, a signpost, but the crux is really what you do with it. Like prettiness in people it can get you noticed but unless genuine personality matches up, our eyes soon start to wander. Logos can be flirts but we ultimately seek real, lasting connections.
What do you think?