The power of speech

The increasing use of speech bubbles in identity systems reflects brands’ desire to be more conversational

Tell us. Talk to us. Tweet us. Drop us a line. It’s hard to escape the clamour from brands for our part in their ‘conversations’. Thanks to social media, we can let everyone, from Richard Branson to the pizza place around the corner, know exactly what we think, all the time. Major brands that aren’t falling over themselves to constantly engage with us resemble sufferers from some sort of personality disorder.

Brands have got their hands on conversation. Everyone wants one, including the increasing number of brands that rely on talk, chatter and the honest exchange of views for their trade. For their calling cards, these PR firms, talk radio stations, helplines and mobile phone networks have turned to the symbols of speech and human interaction. Quote marks and speech bubbles are proliferating.

But ‘conversation’ can occur on many levels; what one brand calls communication or dialogue is sometimes very different from the next. The Palestinian Museum, which opens in 2014 in Birzeit, outside Ramallah in the West Bank after 15 years of planning, is undertaking a conversation that seeks to unite a scattered people.

Its original focus was to commemorate what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948 – the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians by the creation of Israel. Its purpose has since been redirected to one of ‘bringing together Palestinians from all over the world’ via a global network of partner institutions: offering a physical and virtual space for the exploration of Palestinians’ shared past, present and future.

As such, the museum is intended to provide tangible confirmation for Palestinians of Palestinian statehood. Its visual identity, devised by Venturethree – better known for their work for Sky, Little Chef and XL – is built around a speech bubble, or ‘Speech Marque’, to represent the voice of the museum and its work, of Palestinian culture, and of Palestinian people, both in the Middle East and around the world.

“We wanted a symbol that would feel international and be easy for people to recognise and understand,” says V3 creative director, Grant Dickson. “At the same time,
it consciously plays against traditional or clichéd notions of Middle Eastern culture – we resisted the urge to use mosaic or floral motifs and instead created something that feels fresh and surprising in this context.”

The mark’s geometric form references the museum’s sharp, terraced architecture (by Dublin’s Heneghan Peng), as well as the rectangles and triangle of the Palestinian flag. In application, it provides a container for rarely-seen images, and can be reversed to accommodate English-language text or Arabic. A lowercase sans-serif and a modern cut of the Arabic font, Shilia (developed with Linotype’s Nadine Chahine), help retain a consistent brand ‘feel’ in each language.

Predictably, given the narrative function of museums, it’s not the first one to employ speech bubbles. The National Museum of Australia’s identity by Generation Alliance uses them to position the Canberra institution as a teller of “stories of ordinary and extraordinary Australians”. And take a look at the Comic and Animation Museum in Hangzhou, China, whose architecture (by MRVDV) takes the form of several huge 3D speech bubbles.

Israeli restrictions on move-ment in the West Bank mean most visitors to the Palestinian Museum will be online. It’s the first time a museum has sought to integrate
and empower a people in flight through the online sharing and discussion of culture and intangible heritage. It could be the noble purpose that speech bubbles have been waiting for.

Michael Evamy is the author of Logotype (Laurence King). See


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