One of the biggest dilemmas facing any designer working on a rebrand is whether to look to the past or to start afresh. In tech and fashion, major brands have been replacing idiosyncratic logos and founding identities with cleaner, digital-first designs (see Google, Airbnb, Spotify and most recently, luxury fashion brands). But alongside this, we’ve seen a growing number of brands going back to their roots, reviving historic logos, monograms and graphic patterns from the archives. Co-Op, John Lewis and children’s shoe-maker Start-Rite are just some of the brands that have taken inspiration from their past, creating new identities that are rooted in historic designs.
For heritage brands, a historic design can be a powerful asset – particularly when faced with competition from newer rivals. “In a world where we’re surrounded by new brands that are ‘disrupting’ their sectors, it [provides] a point of difference, and a way of competing with those brands,” explains Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music. “Brands that use or evolve their visual identity over time can leverage years of brand equity – something that the likes of banking brand Monzo or Airbnb can only work towards.”
Drawing on the past can also be a way for brands to re-connect with consumers. When design studio North started working with Co-op, the brand had gone through the worst period in its history. As well as dealing with financial losses, Co-op Bank suffered a PR nightmare at the hand of former chairman, Paul Flowers (a.k.a. the Crystal Methodist). For a mutual society – one built on giving consumers a stake in the business – it was a disaster that undermined everything the brand stood for.
Reviving Co-op’s clover leaf logo from 1968, and creating a new identity based around the mark, signalled a fresh start for the brand and a return to its original values. Co-op has since set about investing in new-look stores, community initiatives and apprenticeships, and the results have been positive so far, with the brand reporting increased profits, membership and revenues.