Set in Bodoni, it brings the three letters of the museum’s nickname, V&A, together as a unified symbol, achieved by Fletcher’s decision to remove half of the letter ‘A’ and then use the ampersand to reinstate the missing crossbar. The resulting mark is distinctive but elegant.
Fletcher, who was working at Pentagram when he designed the mark, was initially commissioned by the museum to create a wayfinding system, rather than a logo. “Alan and I were doing a sign scheme for the V&A,” remembers designer Quentin Newark, Fletcher’s assistant at the time. “It was a way of getting around the museum, which is a very complicated building. Alan had this idea of a colour representing the direction you were facing, so red was north and blue was south etc. He had decided that the typeface would be as though it was something from the collection.” The Italian publisher FMR had recently published a facsimile edition of the original Bodoni typefaces, and Fletcher settled on using this for the project. “I had to redraw that font for the banners,” continues Newark. “Then while we were working on that, the design manager at the V&A, Joe Earle, was looking to try and tidy up the V&A’s identity and brand. There were a number of versions of logos.
“We looked at all the things that it could be, and Alan said we should try and use this Bodoni because we’re starting to implement that on the banners and it’s crazy to have lots of different sorts of typefaces. So we spent a week or two weeks cutting and trying to fit and organise the letters in a beautiful way. It seems obvious now the way that the logo’s done, but I can’t remember how many versions I did where we were rescaling them and changing the weights and redrawing the ampersand…”
The solution for the logo eventually came to Fletcher the morning of the day they were presenting the ideas to the museum. “He literally did run in fresh from the shower at home and said ‘I’ve suddenly realised the way we should do it’,” says Newark, “and simply removed that leg of the A. The moment we did it we could see that that bit of the ampersand really forms the crossbar of the A, and it’s all very tight and tidy.”
Newark points out that due to being drawn from the original version of Bodoni, the V&A logo has bracketed serifs not normally associated with the font, which more commonly has spindly slab serifs. “The V&A is more authentic than pretty much all the Bodonis you see kicking around,” he says. “It’s a detail that’s never been picked up.”
The logo was implemented by the museum, replacing the jumble of alternative marks that had been used previously. It has remained in use over the last two decades, and if anything has become a more prominent emblem for the museum in recent times, since a reinvigoration of the brand by Wolff Olins in 2002. Last year, the logo was also at the centre of a kinetic sign, the V&A Palindrome, created by Troika, which now hangs by the subway entrance to the museum at South Kensington tube station.
“Inspired by the rich collection of the V&A, our aim was to create an object that would integrate theatricality and magic into the space,” says Troika’s Conny Freyer. “Very quickly we decided to work with Alan Fletcher’s genius V&A monogram, which lends itself to a simple yet effective typographic play whereby the letters can be twisted to deconstruct and reconnect, just like a palindrome.
“When Eva had a closer look at it, she realised that the left stroke of the V and the right stroke of the A were two parallels, which led onto the idea that each letter could be turned around its own axis and that the logo could be easily mirrored,” continues Freyer. “So we loved how our kinetic sign then physically exposed this logic and reinforced the magical element of seeing something for the first time.”
“Alan would have loved that,” says Newark of the kinetic sign. “Like any designer, he was torn between identities or logos that have a rigidity and a sameness, but also wanting it to constantly renew itself and be fresh and evolve. And the way that they’re doing that, it seems to me, is just perfect.”
Fletcher’s V&A logo achieves the knack of appearing simultaneously classical yet modern, and thus continues to be an excellent ambassador for the museum. It is also, according to Pentagram designer John Rushworth, “a beautiful piece of observation”, and it is this, for him, that has led to its enduring appeal. “Doing identities or creating marks is one of the things that most designers find very difficult I think,” says Rushworth, “because you have to have this simplicity that in most other aspects of design you don’t need… It’s really a special piece of observation that Alan saw in the connection of the ampersand to the two letters. It takes a special mind to have seen that and to have honed it to that degree.”
More on our Top 20 logos here.