Opinionalmost 13 years ago

The Logo is dead?

When you look at brands like O2, you’ll discover its success lies in the richness and depth of its ‘brand world’, which features bubbles, colour, photography and typography. This forms a flexible branded platform that is instantly recognisable — you could remove the logo and still know the brand. The logo in itself is not the hero here.

I know, I know — it’s an emotive subject, and one that has got the Design industry up in arms — but increasingly I think we are flogging a dead horse when it comes to just creating yet another witty symbol for yet another company, product or service.

Yes, logos have been around for forever and, yes, I, too, like the story of hieroglyphics. Sure, the Nike swoosh has, through hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, established itself as an elegant shorthand for sportswear. But who has that kind of budget now? What company knows it is not going to be bought/sold/merged/bankrupt in three years? The truth is that logos are now a red herring. The ones that survive are the exception, not the rule.

Just so we are all clear when I say logo, I mean the squiggles, animals, lines and swishy bits designers like to revel in. For example, take the MSN butterfly – really, exactly what is going on in the odd picture below?

Logos are a hangover from another time. They need to be shaken off, moved away from, de-focused. Here are four reasons why:

First, public desire. No member of the public thinks that spending £70 000 on a new logo is a good idea. In fact, they think companies that spend more than £500 on one are fools. Everyone thinks they are a designer now – after all, they have all chosen their curtains, their shoe colour, their haircut – and how hard can it be to design a logo, anyway? Companies are making people redundant, then coughing up for pricey doodles. It doesn’t make sense. Newspapers hate new logos – when was the last time you saw a broadsheet or tabloid sing the praises of a new logo? Logos are seen as a waste of money.

Second, public need. A million people have never marched in support of ’more branding’. Pubs used to rely on logos, on pictures to ensure the illiterate could find the right boozer. Illiteracy is not really a major factor now, and so the logo isn’t as necessary or as useful as it once was. New logos are not useful, they are confusing. Why does the Argos brand think that a ’smile’ added to its name will make it more relevant? The smile doesn’t help the public – the store isn’t better, and the goods are not cheaper because of it. Nothing has changed, yet Argos has a new logo. Why? What’s going on? Logos are just seen as decoration.

Third, commercial need. A new logo for any company scares its staff. They ask, ’What’s wrong? Why the change? New management? Is my job safe?’ It’s not good. Sure, brands and their branding exist where competition arises. They aim to create a monopoly, to eliminate their rivals. Yet brands need to connect with people – emotionally, culturally, economically and clearly. But a logo alone fails nearly every time, because it needs an explanation. I’m an MSN customer, not a lepidopterist, so why is a butterfly relevant to me? You’re a tour operator called Thomson, with a wink as a logo – a wink, as in ’We’re dodgy’? That can’t be good. So new logos confuse staff and their customers, too.

Fourth, new digital needs. Nothing but the simplest shapes work at the new, digitally prescribed sizes. Twibbons, favicons, mobile screens, PDAs – small screen-based branding is a nightmare for anything more complex than a heart or a cross. Digital is the new fax, the acid test of visual branding.

When you look at brands like O2, you’ll discover its success lies in the richness and depth of its ’brand world’, which features bubbles, colour, photography and typography. This forms a flexible branded platform that is instantly recognisable – you could remove the logo and still know the brand. The logo in itself is not the ’hero’ here. So while we acknowledge that the logo is not about to disappear – and that it is still an important part of any brand toolkit – there is a case for applying more emphasis on brand worlds (see below).

New thinking

Word marks work – type it out, give it a colour and a good typeface. Perfect. Perfect because we are increasingly search-led consumers. Perfect because it works internationally – no matter what the multilingual barriers are, retailers will always accept Visa to pay for Sony products

Brand worlds are where the smart money is going – they add depth to the brand name. They are the Adidas stripes down the side of the shoe or the leg of the tracksuit, at the entrance to the store and on the endframe of the TV ad. They are the O2 bubbles rising from the press ad, the decor inside the stadium, the animation on the mobile phone

Brand worlds are coherent – they’re coherent (not just consistent) universal branding systems. They cannot be missed in the clutter of 20 million (and growing) cheap logos. They distinguish a product or service more completely, more deeply than any one-dimensional clip-art could ever hope to do. They are varied, rechargeable, developing tools for brands.

Patrick Burgoyne writes some of the best design critique out there for Creative Review. Here he discusses the Logo gig. Even mentions SomeOne’s Simon Manchipp the lovely chap.

The MTV logo has had a ‘refresh’ – designer code for a change not big enough to warrant the label ‘redesign’ but big enough, usually, to warrant a large bill and a jargon-packed press release. For MTV this is something of an event as it is the first time that the logo has been changed since Manhattan Design created the original in 1981.

The words ‘Music Television’, perhaps as a reflection of the changed nature of the network’s content, have been dropped. More importantly, the new logo is the perfect shape to act as a reservoir for widescreen TV images. MTV has joined the ranks of the logo-as-receptacle-for-imagery trend.

Blame Wolff Olins
It’s a trend that appears to be gaining more and more traction with identity designers and their clients but possibly the earliest incarnation was in a system developed for Belgian supermarket chain, Priba, by Allied International Designers way back in 1973. Images of the products available in-store filled out the logo’s letters. More recently, Wolff Olins has led the way, with identity projects for the London Olympics, New York’s tourism and marketing body, NYC & Company and AOL (sorry, Aol.) all involving outline marks waiting to be filled with imagery – although, in Aol’s case, the mark sits on top. But we have also seen it used by Pentagram for the Museum of Art and Design in New York and given a graphic, rather than photographic, application by Landor Sydney for the City of Melbourne.

The marriage of a logo with a bank of ‘corporate’ imagery has been a weapon in the identity designer’s armoury for many years – I remember a Newell and Sorrell presentation for Barclays in the late 90s in which a group of photojournalists had been commissioned to shoot a suite of images to be used in literature and bank interiors, for example. But with receptacle logos the link is much more explicit. The method achieves the flexibility that has become a fashionable prerequisite while retaining control. It is endlessly adaptable and ‘campaignable’.

But for some designers, the receptacle logo is a form of cheating. A logo, they maintain, should be an inviolable synthesis of everything an organisation is about. It must stand alone, an island in a sea of communications noise held at bay by the non-negotiable ‘exclusion zones’ that are a fixture in brand guide lines books. If your logo relies on imagery to make it work, the argument goes, it’s not a very good logo.

Others take a more extreme and contrary view. Someone’s Simon Manchipp was recently quoted on the D&AD blog claiming that “logos are dead”. It’s hard to claim that any logo can ever properly explain what a company has to offer, he argues. “There is no desire for them from the public anymore,” he says, claiming they are an old-fashioned approach to differentiating products and services. Instead, he suggests we look at what Brandia Central has done for the 2012 UEFA European football championships, using an array of patterns and images based on a form of papercutting popular in the host nations of Poland and Ukraine. There is a logo but, Manchipp says, “These illustrations are so interesting, culturally relevant and wildly original that if they were a little braver, they could do away with the ‘logo bit’ altogether and be left with a brilliant, exciting, ownable and authentic visual identity.” In this way, he says, designers can create richer, more interesting ‘brand worlds’ which “excite and offer flexibility. They are a campaign; useful and engaging,” he claims. “They are everything a logo is not. Which is why, the logo is dead.”

Fur, ice, blood and paint
MTV, however, can claim to have championed the whole ‘flexible identity’ thing long ago, creating a ‘brand world’ of its own in the process. Manhattan Design’s original mark came with no corporate colour guidelines. Instead (as one of the designers Frank Olinsky explains on his site, frankolinsky.com) both the colour and the materials in which the logo was rendered would be changed with each application, making it as eclectic as the music played on the channel.

As a result, the MTV logo appeared in a myriad of forms – everything from fur to ice, dripping paint to dripping blood. In addition, MTV invited young animators to have fun with it. Under the creative directorship of Peter Doherty in London this resulted in an array of witty and irreverent stings for the channel, clearly articulating its challenger status and creating, yes, a ‘brand world’.

The difference today, reflecting the new realities of the channel, is that the space in the new logo will be used more to push its programming and its endless procession of reality TV micro-celebrities than as a canvas for artists and animators as it once was. I may not be the target audience, but MTV’s brand world is not one I would wish to spend much time in.

From here.