Logos: where next?

Affection and respect build over time, so it is inevitable that our Top 20 should consist mostly of logos that were created many years, if not decades ago. While the list stands as a fantastic tribute to the designer’s art, we also have to recognise that it represents a certain moment in time when logos had, by themselves, enormous power and importance. Perhaps that moment has passed.

As our final discussion session ended, and Mark Sinclair, myself and our outside experts Angus Hyland, Marina Willer and John Bateson looked at our final choices, there was a definite sense that, as Bateson said, “the dust has settled on these”. They are great logos, each of which have represented something new or important at the time, but will we see their like again?

Last April in a piece for Design Week Someone’s Simon Manchipp went the whole hog and argued that the logo was dead. “Logos are a hangover from another time,” Manchipp claimed. The logo, he was suggesting, now needs to be seen in the context of a wider ‘brand world’. “[With a] brand like O2, its success lies in the richness and depth of its ‘brand world’, which features bubbles, colour, photography and typography … you could remove the logo and still know the brand,” he argued.

We must also acknowledge the new world of mutating systems such as E Roon Kang and The Green Eyl’s algorithym-driven MIT Media Lab identity or Sagmeister’s for Casa da Música where variations for each department are based on the institute’s idiosyncratic architecture. As Hyland said, “In a multiplatform world, a lot of [our choices] may appear static, black and white and geometric.” Which, with its many variations of form and colour, is one of the reasons that we chose the Tate logo.

As Willer said, our choices “reflect an era when logos really mattered. But I don’t think they matter as much now. A mark on its own does very little for an organisation now, there are so many other areas that are important.” As an example, she cited the controversial Aol work that Wolff Olins had unveiled last year. “It’s an invisible logo – you only see it when there is content. It’s a system which you see through the things that are around it. We are going to see more things that are systems and languages and logos need to belong to that world. What we are doing here is slightly celebratory of a time when logos in themselves did most of the job.”

Willer also cited Google as an example of a brand that has been built without having a strong logo. “What people say about you matters more than what you look like,” she claimed.

Representational to reputational
So are we moving from a world where the key components of branding are not representational but reputational? Hyland wasn’t so sure. “Apple is the leading tech brand in the world and it is represented by that mark,” he argued, gesturing toward an A3 print-out with the mono version of the famous bitten fruit. “You still need that mark, that stamp of authority – the rest is about context.”

Perhaps the examples cited by both are instructional. Despite the important role that software plays in its business, Apple is still a product manufacturer. One of the reasons that Rob Janoff’s rainbow stripes were dropped was that Apple wanted to use its logo larger on its products and felt that the stripes would be too intrusive. Aol on the other hand, has no real-world ‘product’ – it’s a service, something to be experienced.

But I don’t think that our chosen 20 are quite so anachronistic as they may appear in the pure, mono form which our panel was viewing them in. If you want a ‘brand world’ what about Michelin with Bibendum at its centre? Or the way in which Stankowski’s initial proposals to Deutsche Bank envisaged his oblique line moving from two to three dimensions in a comprehensive modernist visual environment? Troika’s recent reimagination of the V&A logo as a palindromic kinetic sign or the way that Apple makes its logo the centrepoint of its stores show that these are logos that are still working hard. They are powerful, beautiful, quirky, even loveable examples of communications design that have a rich past but also a bright future, even if they are no longer doing all the work on their own.

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