Oh, London

The Mayor of London, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that the city needs re-branding. In just seven weeks. And there’s no pitch fee…

569london_ads_roundel_0.jpg - Oh, London - 1735

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a stone for the last few weeks, you’ll have struggled to ignore the fact that Our Great City of London (or the Greater London Authority and its Mayor, to be precise) have decided the time is ripe for a re-brand. It’s been holding a highly controversial public tender – with the Olympics looming, it seems there’s a desire for a unified visual approach for the city.

The whole ‘brand’ for London issue was probably kicked off by the various ‘ON’ variants introduced by previous Mayor Ken Livingston. Which was then confused further by Visit London’s own variant on the theme (they’re the tourist ‘bit’, in case you’re wondering).

In the early noughties there was meant to be an overarching ‘brand idea’ (courtesy of Interbrand) which became known as ‘London Unlimited’ and involved some fairly standard stock shots and slightly dodgy kaleidoscope graphics that no-one wanted to use. So no-one did.

In the meantime, Film London was done, Visit London was done by Wolff Olins

…and we at johnson banks and Circus did the inward investment arm which was re-named Think London.

Put all the elements together, and yes they were disparate. And a bit confusing. So another attempt was made in 2006/7, this time by Wolff Olins, to bring the ‘essence’ of London together, and a thought based on ‘London: Planet City’ was presented, but never adopted.

In the meantime, Visit London (courtesy of Saffron) adopted some nicely centred Akzidenz (as you do), and apparently tried and failed to persuade the other players to adopt the same livery. Maybe they were asking ‘why Akzidenz?’, who knows.

Step back from London (and typography) for a minute and you can understand why one of the world’s greatest cities would want a coherent, strong, central brand. After all, look what Amsterdam did – they removed 55 separate department logos and replaced it all with the three crosses of the city flag.

Very nicely done. A round of applause for our orange friends, and their designers, Thonik. (Although it was almost immediately confused by this I Amsterdam work, but that’s besides the point).

Just as ‘I love New York’ will continually complicate any attempt by New York to rebrand (ie there’s a famous symbol there that isn’t going away), any attempt by ‘London’ to change its spots faces an immovable, immutable object with a century old back-story – the London Transport Roundel. No-one with any brains is going to change that. It sums up ‘Transport in London’, yes, but it currently sums up ‘London’ as well.

Add to that the furore concerning the London Olympic logo, and any attempt to draw those nice, neat, clean up slides that brand consultants like to do is immediately buggered.

You can propose all manner of smart symbolic devices to draw together parts of the equation, but some significant parts aren’t going to re-brand. Cue messy diagram.

Anyway, back to the pitch. The bit that’s got everyone talking is that the GLA, in their own sweet way wanted people to wade through a massive tender questionnaire, write some pithy words on the issues, and oh, yes, chuck a few scribbles in while you’re at it.

The legal, ISO-thirty-three-thousand-and-thirty-one tender stuff in current UK tenders is tricky enough. Add in the ‘how multi-racial is your workforce’ questions, then the  ‘please tell us the sexual preferences of your designers’ stuff and tempers start to fray and evenings lengthen. But apart from assessing exactly what sexual habits have to do with logo-design, anyone left with an ounce of self-esteem is left with a very ethical conundrum – ‘yes I want to have a shot at London’s logo, but do I really want to be giving ideas away for free?’

At johnson banks, our route through these tricky waters was to write the obligatory pithy document, but rather than show any designs per se, we showed a few brief diagrams then concluded that actually, perhaps they should consider this?

(Yes, of course, we’re being biased, but we’re always being told it would make a great logo for the city so we thought we’d propose it).

Unsurprisingly this, er, single-minded approach has gone down like a proverbial lead balloon, and no we haven’t been asked to go any further. No surprise there then. Several notable figures such as Martin Lambie-Nairn have already denounced the whole thing, and many people have rightly queried whether chucking a few hasty scribbles in a document is really the right way to go about this, or indeed even remotely professional.

One brave/reckless/misguided/inspired (choose your own adjective) approach came from Moving Brands who set up a public website for this public tender. They’ve also been shown the door, which, considering the amount of work they did, was probably quite gutting.

The issue here isn’t so much who will be selected (the pain of the process means only the larger groups have the firepower to get through the tender requirements), the issue is what will be chosen. We know that the London Olympic bid logo free pitch was a fatally flawed process: remember, from 1100 applicants that included this… 

…they could only choose this.

The ‘real’ 2012 involved proper presentations from proper companies, but there seems to be a feeling at the GLA that someone somewhere got bounced into the final Olympics logo, and the hoo-hah that came with its launch was perhaps undesirable.There’s a view that this time around, real Londoners should be involved, or at least have a say.

How the ‘public engagement’ part of this project will manifest itself is yet to be seen. Any attempt at further ‘free’ or ‘public’ designs will only result in more mockery and/or accusations of crowd-sourcing on the grandest of scales. Only the briefest of skims through the entries so far to Moving Brands self-initiated competition reveals just how scary design can get when placed in the hands of the public.

What can we conclude from this? That buying big design projects in this country continues to be completely inept? Maybe. That the chances of London getting a decent logo are pretty slim? Perhaps. That London already has its unofficial logo, and that’s the famous roundel? Probably.

Maybe we’ll get a logo straight out of ‘brushstroke central’, the universally accepted design approach for tourist brands.

But here’s the best bit. When is the logo needed for?

The first of November.

So that’s 7 weeks to consult, engage the public, design and implement a highly controversial brand that will have to co-exist with the TfL roundel and the Olympic mark, whilst gluing together all the other, disparate organisations? Oh, London, what have you done…


MIchael Johnson is design director of johnson banks. This article was first published on the johnson banks blog, Thought for the Week. More here

  • Just the words “re-brand London” fill me with dread, and give me nightmares of a spiral of brand-y bullshittery from which there is no escape.

    This is clearly the way to get the best creative thinking on the job – oh no, my mistake – it’s an absolute piss-take.

  • Wolff Olins should be receive a red card and a 3 match ban for their attempts.

  • “7 weeks to consult, engage the public, design and implement a highly controversial brand”

    Shouldn’t be any problem from the GLA’s perspective – they seem to have drawn their conclusions about the first round of applications and options in the space of a weekend. Or, more accurately, a Friday, since I doubt anyone at the GLA invested their weekend in the process.

  • Ed Risbey

    Ironically, you could argue that the profusion of London-related logos displayed above expresses the diversity of the organizations, events and peoples of London in a way which no unified brand system ever could.

  • Maybe it should be outsourced to another city like Sydney mayhaps, just as rival city, Melbourne’s bungling Lord Mayor did recently — http://level11.tumblr.com/post/177820498/city-of-melbourne-identity

  • Yeah, the undergroundel says “London” a lot more than any of those other designs (although the bus/A-Z things is rather pretty), they should just go for that.

    And as for Planetcity? Seriously?

  • I just got back from London (from Florida), and loved it over there. Though I will say that some of the designs seem rather plain.

  • bahahaha! “Planetcity”! Lord, lord, the dreadfulness of that amuses me.

    Of course, I think most of these are pretty wretched. The iconic Underground one is easily the strongest of the lot.

  • ….here we go again.

  • Aly

    This was on the feed a few weeks back and there’s a whole discussion on it here http://abrandforlondon.wordpress.com/about/

    Like I said before…
    I dont see how its an identity crisis. NYC has a different logo for its tube:

    for its tourism http://www.nycgo.com/

    for its transportation authority http://secondavenuesagas.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/mta-logo.jpg etc.

    Different brands for different things. just like many other cities. Trying to reduce a city as huge and diverse as London to a single brand identity is an accident waiting to happen and in 7 weeks. I dread to think of the outcome. Agree with you that the tube roundel is timeless.


  • I like the green London roundel. With the word LONDON in there, it looks a bit like a smiley face (‘O’s as eyes). At the very least it avoids any awful Lond-on nonsense gimmicks.

  • Neil

    Stop being so negative you bunch of miserable c*nts.

    It’s always the same voices making the same boring comments as well. Life’s shit. Advertising’s dead. Heathrow Airport isn’t grey enough.

    Do something about it then. Or better still, move to Liverpool.

    Especially Vic! Why don’t you actually sell sell something instead of shitting on everything else in life?!

  • I think anyone would love to be involved in such a project as “re-branding” London, although the deadline is very tight for such a responsibility. However, I don’t really see a need to unify the logos, are they not for different things? Are we going to call everyone living in London, Mary and John, just because they leave there?

  • You seem nice Neil.

  • Agreed. Neil sounds like a very likable chap.

  • Pah. That’s fish and chips that is. It’s about time too ‘London is SO grey and depressing’….
    I could do it in 3 weeks if they were to ask me (and pay for it).

  • Your “Mayor of London” design is very complimentary to old Boris. I can think of many more… telling forms it could take… 😀

  • josef

    Do people don’t know what London is ? Did they not learn from the NYC “rebranding” idea? Does someone close to London’s mayor own a design firm and used pull to get a nice fat account?

    It’s freaking LONDON! What more branding do you need?

  • I like what Neil says, apart from the Liverpool part, isn’t it a bit of a cliche for us British to be so cynical even before the results have been seen?

    Maybe an amazing logo will come from this. The whole of London will be unified in an edgy, architectural logo that can show images of London life through its structure. London will then be timeless and unlike any city in the world.

    But hey, come on, whoever is entering this, lets do something good. I wish I was, do they except student submissions?

    P.S. The Film London logo is by ASHA, and a good logo.

  • Ryan Young

    I agree with Josef.

    But if we must have an over reaching brand we should take a cue from New York State, which has the best logo for a city. ‘I heart NY’ by Milton Glaser, and there wasn’t a branding consultancy in sight of it.
    It was a graphic designer doing what graphic designers do best.

    So if the GLA & its Mayor insist that London is really in dire need of a ‘unified visual approach’ they should scrap the ridiculous tender, pick some of London’s finest designers & studios then commission them to create a great piece of design for London.

  • Well they could always use the old Thames TV ident… but then we THINK LONDON has already used it…. :)


  • I quite like Neil’s suggestion for a slogan…

    “Welcome to London: Stop being so negative you bunch of miserable c*nts.”

    … which should be accompanied by a picture of Boris hugging a punk and a beefeater. Job done.

  • The question is – how to brand the rip-off capital of the world?

    How about: “£ondon, simply more expensive than the rest of €urope)”

  • boy i cant wait to see the final result – what a brief!!!!

  • Chris

    Daniel that’s inspired.

    “Welcome to London: Stop being so negative you bunch of miserable c*nts.”

    You get the job. Well done! Here’s a million pounds for your efforts. Or not. Lots of love, Boris.X

    Oh and here’s a pound for Neil for providing the inspiration.

  • Why isn’t it a solitary case of One logo, One City, and everything else falls under this unbranded?

    Just create a single uniflying logo named London. And sit EVERY division, variant and sub brand as text with it? so
    [logo] Think London
    [logo] Visit London
    [logo] Film London
    [logo] Mayer of London

    I don’t understand the raft of logos available for this.

    Surely then the public will see a solitary, value for money, accessible and easy to understand solution?

    This isn’t a chance for agencies to flex muscle, it’s a chance to create a simple globally understood logo.

    I feel Johnson Banks have got the closest, and I also doubt the Committees will have any idea what to do.

    Come on London, keep it simple stupid.

  • jenno

    True brilliance – I haven’t laughed this much at my desk all week. I hate to think what they will end up with!

  • yamanda

    Peter Saville would do it…he should be Creative Director of all british cities

  • Mark

    Maybe it’ll be good (the new ‘logo’)? We may (hopefully) be surprised. Anything in the public domain/eye like this doesn’t stand a chance to be liked, really.

  • Mike

    a tender like this, with 1 stage only, and free creative. They might have well put it on Blue Peter and asked the viewers to give answers on a postcard. Along with the fact that the shortlist (out of supposed 100’s of free creative entries from the world and his branding wife) would be announced 1 week later, means that it’s going to be a complete lottery (much like the competefor site), and a bit of a mess.
    Bitter, yes, but that just comes from years of having to deal with public sector procurement depts. Good luck London.

  • Great to hear that even London can make a balls-up of the pitching process.

  • Dan Glover

    They should whittle it down to four designs and then let the British public vote on it – like they did with the fourth plinth.

  • A very interesting post by Michael. It is such a shame that free pitching still exists and is just so complicated. Smaller firms can not compete on this as it’s not a question of talent but strength in numbers.

    When will large organisation learn and wake up to fast moving pace of the digital world. Google stays fresh and innovative, why can’t other large firms do the same?

    Michael Murdoch

  • Great Post.

    I love the green roundel thingy, its fresh, clear and simple.

    What’s next?

  • This really sums up what we, as an industry, have become. There is no value placed in the skill of the designer, we are all guilty of dragging ourselves down. Hands-up who hasn’t done some work for free. If ‘London’ think we can do some ‘sketches’ for free, what does it say about us lot. They and every other organisation out there don’t value what we do and we’re all prepared to let them get away with it.

    And let’s ban Branding Agencies. What a load of B******s. The most famous ‘brand’ out there for a city created by a good old fashioned Graphic Designer. Probably took a day, wasn’t supported by a 200 page document and probably nobody ‘engaged’ or a focus group in site.

    As for someone panicking because it’s needed by the beginning of November – absolute tosh. I’ll do it over the weekend and charge them the cost of a beer – at London prices of course.

  • Lon Don :)

  • get the design work over to a reputable and innovative design agency with a track record of awesome design. 7 weeks, is a piss take though.

  • I find the idea of trying to brand a city ridiculous – surely what is so great about the society that we live in is that there is the freedom to express oneself and this in turn leads to different designs and branding? I’m disappointed by the way design is being lead – into a world where uniform, monotonous and regular design is becoming fashionable. Surely what was so great about early designs was how every design was a bit different, and this lead to interest and excitement when seeing new design?

    But in this case, by designing everything created by the London council and other groups, everything looks the same, and this in turn limits the amount of work available to design agencies, and more importantly limits the design that will exist within London.

    You can look upon London as a canvas. Wouldn’t it be boring if the whole canvas was painted the same colour, with the same pattern everywhere? Surely one wants some variation, something to capture the interest of the passer by? And surely by introducing this ‘London Brand’, we are turning away from the excitement of design and to the regularity and monotonous approach of large corporate companies?

  • DM

    7 weeks is an awfully long time for a deadline, why, did Johnson Banks crank out a T-Mobile and BT logo during biccie breaks?

  • Roger Mann

    Apart from the pundit who has the expression of a 14 year old from a council estate (you know who you are) the comments here seem to represent the usual suspects. One thing he said which did ring true though – why not use a non London-based design house? As I assume that the the London rebranding is aimed primarily at non-Londoners an objective view of the capital would surely be more relevant.

    Silly me, pigs might fly.

  • I’d just like to point out that the foul mouthed Neil above is not me! You have brought shame on us all!

  • Yeah, not me either, Neil.

  • Ian


    We love it. Here is our offering (devised at lunchtime when rebranding our D.O.P’s lunch):


    Job done.

    (courtesy of all at Seamless Media)

  • jan

    Here is very funny example is identitiy of Czech Republic, we called “bubles”
    (before Czech Rep. had EU presidency)

    studio, who winn a big – heavy – competition was Side2

    i like id of melbourne, manchester & austin (usa) too.

  • Why not learn from the Dutch, again, when it comes to good, well thought through design.
    http://rijkshuisstijl.communicatieplein.nl/ (sorry dutch website)

    Basically they have just changed all government services into one identity. Meaning changing 289 separate service companies into one (1) brand. And look, they pulled it off.
    The Amsterdam example is a very good one as well.

    Now I’m from Belgium and we seem to cock things up all the time when it comes to identity design.
    This is the new logo for the city of Ghent: http://communicatie.vlaanderen.be/nlapps/data/docattachments/gent.jpg
    Now remember, Ghent is number 3 on the National Geographic list of most authentic historical cities in the world … not a new hip radio station or yoghurt. Oh well long live the branding boys.

  • I really hope they don’t rush this.

  • My five year old is very good at design and has never been to London – so I guess we’ll be submitting then and probably in with a good chance. It is wrong and really pathetic that people in positions of power continue to work in this way, throwing money and time at branding – when they should be looking at the ‘actual’ image of the city – when people step off that plane, train, coach, bus etc. WHAT WILL THEY SEE ! I live in a City that proclaims itself to be a medieval city but is surrounded at every entry point by industrial estates and shopping *estates* what a let down for visitors. Why not plant trees,enhance green spaces, import more Art and artists and focus on making London a great place to be in/visit/return to, instead of branding?

  • R Slade

    So has anyone heard anymore about this fiasco?

  • Matt

    What is all this fuss about a logo? Will London’s appeal to the world be changed by a new logo, or ‘brand’ as most designers seem to call a logo these days? In fact London already has a strong brand and seems to communicate this fantastically without the need for an expensive logo. What brings people to London? It’s history, museums, theatres, arts and culture. That is the ‘brand’.