Nearly no logo

Bespoke fonts and type systems are increasingly doing the job that logos used to do – in some cases replacing them altogether. By Michael Evamy

Sorry. This month’s column is about exactly what this column isn’t about. It’s not about logos that are new and good. It’s about logos that are old and bad, and logos that don’t even exist. In fact, it’s not really about logos at all, but the absence of logos.

Because it’s about the latest developments in the continuing trend for brands to place their faith in fonts, typographic systems and text (and, by extension, writing) to do the work that logos conventionally do, of being the prime trigger of recognition in the consumer.

First, there was the introduction by Domino’s Pizza of an uncharacteristically classy custom type family and typographic system with which franchises everywhere can effortlessly “add flexibility, variety and excitement to Domino’s brand voice” in ads, packaging, websites, POS and apps. Created by US agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky and designed by Monotype Studio it’s based on good old Americana-style Trade Gothic. Pizza Press offers six weights of stackable fonts, plus extra toppings in the form of ornaments that can be added with single clicks on the keyboard. The labour, time and costs of achieving consistent branding the world over have just diminished dramatically. Everything sings louder than the logo, which hasn’t been touched.

It just sits somewhere inconspicuously, nothing more than a full stop, the last thing you notice.

The same is even more true of the new system for USPS, the US Postal Service. An American institution with a noble history but 30,000 stores that, much like the UK’s own Post Offices, purvey little more than disappointment and misery to their customers, the USPS is planning to transform its in-store experience by the application of an extensive, hard-working typographic hierarchy to all its signboards, boxes and a huge variety of collateral. New York’s GrandArmy designed a system, grounded in Gotham and two condensed styles of Knockout, that puts clarity – and thereby, the customer – first. Like Domino’s, it evokes a golden American era gone by. And, as in the Domino’s system, the logo is virtually invisible. 23 Every design studio has had to deal with the client that wants to “rebrand” without touching the logo, either because they think the rollout cost would break the bank and/or because they’re in a hurry and don’t have time for the standard research and development phases of a full-on identity programme, logo ‘n’ all. While grumbling about not getting their hands on the prized asset, designers may also admit to the pleasures and sense of liberation of not having to worry about “that thing in the corner” as one studio founder puts it, and just being able to “focus on the type”.

The growth in bespoke fonts, commissioned from type studios and designers, and the licensing freedom they bring, has encouraged more organisations to push the logo down the pecking order. There’s also the challenge of the mobile device and the small screen, says Monotype type director, Dan Rhatigan: “When a brand experience is stripped down to basics of type and colour and organisation of information in those toughest environments, distinctive typography becomes an even more important part of the experience.”

Of course, strong typographic systems have always been part and parcel of durable corporate identity schemes. And there are many instances where a font has generated the brand’s visual identity; Rhatigan mentions The Times, London Underground/TfL, Waitrose and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis as prime examples. One could add First Direct and Orange and others to that list.

But all of these also benefit from a strong corporate mark of some kind. As the Domino’s and USPS projects demonstrate, it no longer matters to many clients whether there’s a strong logo in place or not. On rare occasions, clients dispense with a logo altogether.

In 2013, Zak Group created identities for two large European arts events, in Lisbon and Berlin, that were purely text-based. Logos, says Zak Kyes, could have potentially fixed the identities of the two projects “too early in the exhibition-making process”.

It’s worth bearing in mind that such systems still need a strong, binding notion at their heart. They also place more of an emphasis on the text’s content, language and tone, colour, layout and narrative over time. But, says Kyes, “We think the benefits of this approach allow for greater experimentation, innovation, dynamism and flexibility. In large, permanent cultural institutions, there is a desire to reinforce brand identity much like a corporation. Text-based identities are a potential alternative.”

I may be doing myself out of a job here, but the logo-less identity could be on the rise.

Michael Evamy is the author of LOGO and Logotype. See evamy.co.uk, @michaelevamy.

USPS/GrandArmy creative direction: Teddy Brown, Illustrations: Steven Noble; Pizza Press/CP+B design director: John Kieselhorst, Senior designer: Melissa Rhyner, Type designer: Terrance Weinzierl (Monotype). Berlin Biennale (© 2014 Zak Group) and Lisbon Architecture Triennale (© 2013 Zak Group) photography by Brotherton-Lock

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