Trends of 2019: Branding and logos

This year saw the release of some major rebrands and new logos, plus real innovation in sectors – from death to the law – that have previously proved resistant to modern branding techniques. We examine the highs and lows of 2019 here

Probably the biggest new logo release of 2019 was for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Always a major event and talking point, the latest Olympics logo proved no different, with opinions coming in thick and fast across social media. CR discovered an interesting back story that lay behind the logo, which is rooted in sustainability.

“I don’t think any brand today can credibly claim to be 100% eco-friendly, but we are making the utmost effort to be sustainable throughout the Games,” Julie Matikhine, Paris 2024 Brand Director told writer Jean Grogan for CR. “The last time Paris hosted the Olympic Games was 1924, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us. We really want to mark this moment in history.”

Matikhine and her team chose the small Parisian agency Royalties Eco-Branding to create the identity after holding an open competition for ideas from freelancers, small independent and large agencies alike. As its name suggests, Royalties Eco-Branding is focused on creating a system of design that is environmentally friendly, which effects everything from the fonts to the use of digital dark mode.

The logo featured references to Art Deco as well as the central figure of Marianne, the official symbol of the French Republic, and the Olympic flame. “Paris is the City of Light. Our society is undergoing dramatic transformation throughout the globe. Marianne is the symbolic representation of revolutionising society. In 1900, female athletes were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time. In 2024, we hope to have as many female competitors as male,” says Matikhine.

Of the criticism the logo provoked, Royalties Eco-Branding CEO Sylvain Boyer admitted it was tough going. “I’m not on Instagram or Twitter – luckily,” he says. “I only read the opinion of design forums I respect. We’ve been working intensely on this identity for several months with the Paris 2024 committee. The reaction has been as if it was designed on Monday morning and released to the public in the afternoon. Michael Bierut has approved it. I’m perfectly happy with that.”

A CHANGING WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT AND MEDIA

This year saw a number of major brands from across the worlds of entertainment and media take on a big rebrand, reflecting the rapid ways in which these industries are changing in the face of new forms of competition and a maturing audience base.

Yahoo launched a grown up new identity, possibly in a last-ditch bid to remain relevant. According to its designer, Pentagram’s Michael Bierut, its intention was to mark wider changes at the brand. “Nothing is more futile than trying to solve a business problem with a new logo,” Bierut says. “The Yahoo team wanted a new identity for all the right reasons: to mark a radical makeover of their products and across-the-board improvements to their user experience standards. These have begun rolling out already, and will continue as the brand reinvents itself.”

New Yahoo branding in action

Facebook also launched a new company brand, a little confusingly with the aim of differentiating Facebook the company from Facebook the app. Its intention was to bring more transparency and clarity, but the jury remains out about whether that can be achieved by a rebrand.

Writing on the role of branding for social media channels for CR, Koto’s James Greenfield observed that wider communication, rather than just a new logo, was required. “Beyond some of the ethical, product decisions he’s made, Zuckerberg has failed to ever really communicate to the outside world,” he wrote. “Most social media brands don’t undertake traditional marketing and so spend little money on brand building. But buying media space to tell your brand’s story will help many companies build a positive global image and support them in times of hardship.”

Facebook’s new company branding

The impact of the streaming giants on more traditional film and TV companies continues, and – after rebrands from Channel 4 and BBC2 last year – we saw more channels refresh their look in order to remain relevant.

The results were mixed. Warner Bros’ revamp by Pentagram’s Emily Oberman (part of a wider refresh of the company’s offerings proved popular, while Fox’s updated logo by Trollbäck+Company caused some confusion, particularly in its chunkier version, where it was unclear whether we were looking at a mark for Fox, Vox or even maybe Pox.

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WIDER TRENDS

Certain other trends endured from recent years into 2019. Some brands continued to find mileage in revisiting their branding heritage, while we saw the trend for nostalgia hit digital design, particularly in a movie site for Captain Marvel, which was built using bygone HTML editor FrontPage.

Of the draw to this clunky digital look, designer Cameron Askin told CR: “I think to many people the internet is becoming a bit of a broken dream, as evidenced by recent news regarding misuse of data, digital monopolies, fake news etc. I think some people like to look back on the good old days of the internet as a means of escape. I also think that enough time has passed now that when we are looking back on some of those early web pages they feel so foreign and fascinating on so many levels, including aesthetics.”

We also saw an influx of cutesy brand design with brands from language-learning app Duolingo to healthcare apps adopting sweet characters and a playful tone of voice.

According to Michael Johnson, founder of Johnson Banks, the company behind Duolingo’s new look, this is in part a reaction to the uniformity of tech design. “Post-iOS 9, when Jonny Ive took all the skeuomorphic design off the buttons and made everything flat, the world has scrambled to be flat and featureless,” he says. “And that has had an impact on quite a lot of things, including people wanting character and fluffiness.”

Duolingo’s branding and typeface by Johnson Banks

NEW HORIZONS

Some of the most interesting developments in branding in 2019 came from unexpected sectors, as we saw modern branding grace areas that have largely ignored it in the past.

Last year saw a number of brands introducing innovative designs for the ‘death market’. This continued into 2019, most prominently with Exit Here, a new funeral brand created by restauranteur Oliver Peyton and London design studio Transit.

Front of Exit Here funeral parlour

The brand has overhauled everything from the funeral parlour to coffins with a fresh, modern take, and was prompted by Peyton’s frustrating experiences arranging his father’s funeral. “The whole concept is about creating an end-to-end service,” he told CR. “Many funeral directors are just in the business of burying people – it’s quite a narrow job description they have – whereas we’ve tried to bring much more to it.”

Peyton hopes people will also be prompted to begin planning their own funerals with Exit Here. “One of the distressing things about my father’s death – he died of a heart attack – was that we kept on thinking, ‘is this what we would have wanted?’,” he says. “Funerals aren’t just about you, they’re about the people you leave behind, and I think once everyone gets their head around that, they’ll want to plan it and make it as decent an experience [for friends and family] as they can.”

Elsewhere we saw even more branding developments in the growing healthcare sector, as well as the wellness app market. And another surprise came from law firm Simmons & Simmons, which looked to tech company branding for its new look, created by SomeOne.

Simon Manchipp, founder of SomeOne, believes this is the beginning of wider changes in branding for law firms. “Law and lawyers are lagging well behind the rest of the world when it comes to branding, marketing and things like that,” he told CR. “They’ve always relied on really big brains attracting other big brains, but I think they’ve woken up and started to understand that brand is not just a logo, typeface and colour. It’s reputation, and the visual identity helps manage that reputation.”

Law firm Simmonds & Simmonds branding

Finally, we saw one company that is truly future-facing release its wider look this year. Virgin Galactic believes that we are on the cusp of commercial space travel and 2019 saw the release of how this might look, in branding terms. Talking to CR, creative director Tom Westray explained what had inspired the company’s elegant style, which draws on sci-fi while attempting to remain part of the Virgin brand family (even if there’s no red in sight).

“Ultimately the Virgin brand is enthusiastic, exuberant and fun,” he says. “But we’re doing some really serious stuff at the moment – Virgin Group is doing Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Virgin Hyperloop and we’ve been in the aviation industry for many years. So it’s serious stuff and should be treated so, and trying to get that little twist of Virgin culture is a challenge. When you think about tone of voice, for example, if you look at government agency aerospace company culture, and pair that with your typical old school Virgin culture … they seem to be at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Getting them to meet somewhere in the middle and work in harmony has definitely been a huge challenge.”

VSS Unity touches down. Image courtesy Virgin Galactic

And if you think all this stuff is still decades away, Westray insists it’s not. “We make a lot of comparisons to the early days of aviation,” he says. “If you look at how commercial aviation accelerated from something which was for the rich and famous, to something for everybody, that cycle was 30 years. If even that. If you think of someone in their 20s now, by the age of 50 going into space might seem kind of mundane…. I think people will be absolutely staggered by what the commercial space industry looks like 10 years from now.”

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