A bit like smells around the home and headaches, the internet is one of those things that advertisers have seemed at a loss to depict convincingly.
In the 1990s, when the ‘information superhighway’ was young, ads and imagery featured wide-eyed computer users united by torrents of glowing binary code.
Later, computer users were energised, their lives transformed by lightspeed swooshes through their domestic quarters. And recently we had BT Infinity reviving the genre; its mini meteor shower of benign, divine digital presences plopping underwhelmingly onto the lawns and worktops of Kris Marshall and co.
A good opportunity to draw a veil, one would think. But then along comes EE (formerly Everything Everywhere), the 4G mobile brand and owner of Orange and T-Mobile, and its branding agency Wolff Olins with a visualisation of networked data that is non-threatening, endearing even, and which provides the basis for an entire identity system.
At its heart is actually a fairly bonkers idea. EE’s expression of its network in its ads and branding videos is the ‘Smart Layer’, a three-dimensional grid (not really a layer at all) of smart ‘particles’ – tiny white ephemeral bubbles that spin, dissolve and coalesce into icons and words in a jaunty and stardusty manner, responding to the live action of people emailing, texting and browsing. Bonkers, but beautifully animated, the allegory will find a receptive audience among people like me, who will never get their heads around how data can fly through space and make websites on your mobile phone.
It’s these particles that give us the EE logo, too – perhaps the last piece of the brand jigsaw to be considered after the strategy, visual system and font had been developed. Type designer Miles Newlyn, involved in the creation of several marks for Wolff Olins including those for Tate and Macmillan, received the call “to make new fonts from dots”. He used his Rubrik font as a skeleton on which to place the circles. “Most of the typographic development involved planning the type’s three weights to achieve consistency in the proportions across cap and x-height, character widths and letterforms,” he says. This involved designing an unusual system of optical adjustments. The font was christened EE Nobblee; Rubrik became EE’s text font. Finally came the logo. Newlyn proposed two joined circles, vertically aligned – the minimal form of EE Nobblee. “I had been experimenting with conjoined spheres, or double bubbles, as logos previous to the EE job,” Newlyn says, “so it was fortuitous that this exploration concluded with the design of the EE logo.”
The logo works perfectly in animation, reacting to its live action environment and becoming part of the general effervescence. Static, especially at small sizes where the letterforms’ bubbly nature is lost, its character changes into something less friendly and more akin to a faceless supercorp – a personality switch that’s not ameliorated by the brand’s chosen moniker, which couldn’t be more anonymous or devoid of character if you put John Major’s face on it.
EE will do well to maintain the goodwill and loyalty won by a brand as strong as Orange. As it challenges for domination of our phone and broadband networks, it will need all the personality and warm feelings its Smart Layer and logo can muster.
Michael Evamy is the author of Logotype (Laurence King). evamy.co.uk