New COP26 identity aims to show “climate change has no borders”

Ahead of the UN’s pivotal climate change conference in Glasgow this year, Johnson Banks has designed a fluid, colourful identity that makes climate change everyone’s problem

New COP26 identity by Johnson Banks

This November, the UN will descend on Glasgow for COP26, the climate change conference founded in 1995. It marks a pivotal point in discussion – and action – relating to climate change, with global momentum around the topic having surged due to strikes and protests led by the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, and of course the recent disasters that struck everywhere from Australia to the Amazon rainforest.

Many of these environmental catastrophes reveal a regrettably prevalent mindset that, unless a crisis falls on our doorstep, then it’s no longer our problem. Branding agency Johnson Banks tapped into this when designing the newly unveiled visual identity for COP26, which aims to show that “the climate has no borders”.

The identity is centred around the earth – a simple icon, but not without its differences. Deep blues and greens are traded for a purple, white and lime palette, while borders are all but effaced by a beautiful marbling effect evocative of swirled paint. The image of the earth is also used as part of an eye which, for some, may bring to mind Monsters, Inc, but does neatly bolster the claim that “the world is watching”.

“The swirling coloured globe illustrates that the climate has no borders, alludes to currents and weather systems – and is intentionally beautiful,” reads a statement on the project. “It deliberately avoids directly using recognisable country shapes and is designed to fascinate people, wake them up and compel them to take urgent action to save our precious planet.”

The adapted colour scheme was chosen to complement the more “metaphorical” approach. “Just using traditional blues and green seemed a bit obvious, so by using brighter, more RGB colours we can show that this is a new take on traditional ‘world’ imagery,” explains founder and creative director Michael Johnson.

The identity feels familiar enough that it easily translates to the UN’s international reach, but with a strong enough message that neither over-complicates nor comes off as a guilt trip for any lingering sceptics. It’s a testament to the changing attitudes towards designing for environmental causes, where many organisations are replacing harrowing imagery with more aesthetically pleasing visuals. The approach seems to boil down to the hope that, if our planet is shown as beautiful, then maybe people will act in order to preserve it.

“We looked at a range of design approaches, from ‘neutral’ to ‘agit’ and it quickly became clear that for the Cabinet Office (our client) something that was hectoring or ‘angry’ might prove counter-productive,” Johnson told us. “As we developed three routes, the swirling globe became a clear favourite because we could use quite strident language with it, whilst we could all imagine it slowly turning throughout a three-day conference without driving anyone crazy!

“The aim of the project is to provide hope, with a sense of urgency,” he continues. “We realised that something that was poetic and intentionally beautiful would draw people in and make them really consider that our world is in flux,” he added. “By doing something metaphorical that was ‘world-like’ without being truly representative and literal it means we can use the design in a very bold way without highlighting or calling out any one country.”

The main design for the COP26 identity by Johnson Banks COP26 identity by Johnson Banks