“The logo does exactly what a logo should do,” is Vicki Young’s verdict on the NHS symbol. “It’s got to be really clear, used with quite a sense of rigour, and for that global standard to be protected and not allow people to add things onto it – which I think has helped it carve its way,” adds the Nalla Design founder.
According to Young, the logo – which has been part of a single NHS identity since 1999 – isn’t just an icon here in the UK. The power of the brand has spread well beyond its home country and overseas, where Young says the lozenge, as it’s known, has achieved international respect. “I think us Brits aren’t really aware of how much this brand is well-known globally,” she adds.
There’s no denying the recognisability of the NHS symbol, which appears throughout the complex machinery of the UK’s public healthcare system. It’s there in adverts, on hospital signage, in apps, and at the top of patient letters. And during the height of the Covid pandemic, it became more than a logo – it was an emblem of what the public relied on, and what they needed to protect.
“It is an icon and a symbol,” says Richard Denney, executive creative director at St Luke’s advertising agency, which flipped the logo backwards for its #StayHomeNow lockdown campaign. “Just like the ‘swoosh’ of Nike – you see that tick, and know it’s Nike. You see those three letters, and you know it’s ours.”
What makes the NHS logo a success? It could be the supremely legible Frutiger which, arguably, lends gravitas to the symbol. It could be the simplicity of form – after all, as Denney points out, no-one wants anything too clever or “tricksy” when it comes to health branding. It’s probably also the calming presence of Pantone 300, or NHS blue – described by him as “quite bold and confident” and a notable break away from the red crosses that were historically associated with health.