Is Logo Design Dead?

08.02.19

A social media post made a splash when designer Mirko Ilic posted an image featuring the vintage logotypes of several famous fashion brands alongside their new logos. His caption simply read, “Interesting logos are being replaced with boring ones. This are the people why are destroying respect for graphic design.”

The post immediately caught fire and was soon being debated across the internet and mentioned in industry leading podcasts such as The Observatory. Reactions tend to fall into two camps:

1 The redesigns are legible, in the tradition of Modernism, and that’s dandy.
2 Graphic design is dead.

We’d like to propose a third option:

3 Brands used to set themselves apart with a logo, but now they’re now differentiating themselves in new and interesting ways.

First, a look at the two initial camps. With its roots in Bauhaus universalism, capital-M Modernism—not to be confused with its generalized cousin ‘contemporary’—stresses legibility. In typography, this tends to express itself in simple, geometric sans-serif typefaces. With Modernism, creativity is thrown in the trash in favor of simplicity and straightforward communication. It’s all KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple), a tagline thrown around so much you don’t need to look far to see it in the comments for this debate:

Modernism has its place in design history, but it’s important to remember that it was a specific movement in the arts and advertising. While there are Modernist principles that will live forever, practicing Modernism like it’s 1960 has become an aesthetic; a statement in and of itself. Many of us are just suckers for its legacy, look, and feel. Some days I’m one of them.

But we have this other camp to contend with: graphic design is DEAD. Burn your black turtleneck and dig your grave.

For many designers, what makes them relevant is their creativity. They’re just as much artists as they are communicators, and graphic design is their opportunity to make a mark on the world. To apply that unique artistry to a brand, and set them apart from their competitors, is the best thing you can do for said brand. Postmodern design took the rigid rules of Modernism and burned them, and in their eyes, for good reason.

Sadly, in these designers’ eyes, brands are embracing cheap Modernist tricks, and buying easy sans serif logos for five bucks. Lazy designers are selling them boring crap, and killing the industry with ‘blanding’.

There’s your two camps.

At O Street we straddle a line between these two theories of practice. Sometimes, you’ve just got to communicate something so nobody shoots their eye out. Break out the Modernism. At other times, we’re itching to dig into our messy art supplies or crazy 3D digital skills, and it’s also the right thing for the client. So, we ride the line between chaos and order. Let’s call it the Design Tao.

What’s most important for us Design Taoists® is asking: “why?”. No matter the brief, the best solution starts with this simple question.

And there’s a big “why” with this logo debate. Something is driving brands to embrace these simple redesigns, so what gives? This brings us to our theory, or third camp: as brand touch-points get more interesting, logos simply hold less weight.

During the age of Modernism, all brands pretty much had the same ways of reaching their audiences. It was the quintessential ‘brand’:

– Business cards
– Letterhead
– Print advertising, and later television advertising
– Interior design

Today, it’s probably more like:

– Handheld video content
– Personal social media engagement
– Five second Youtube ads before someone hits ‘skip’
– Spacial design, specific to events and ‘happenings’ for maximum impact

Now, obviously people and brands still hand out business cards now and then, and it’s wise to have a card that’s considered and well made (call us if you want one!). But the landscape has changed, and the terrain where most engagement happens is totally foreign to the design world of decades past.

Brands have realized that logos are no longer the key identifier of their brand: interactions, digital and personal, now reign supreme. For a modern day brand operating on the world stage, a static and stable—that is, boring—logo may be necessary so that crazy things can happen on the periphery where the engagement is at. For every designer who’s sad they’re not being paid to make crazy logos, there’s a very happy designer out there making crazy motion graphics and video content.

An example from the post that set off this debate is Burberry. Their old logo was elegant and iconic. Their new one? Boring as heck; the unveiling even included incredibly self-aware email screenshots about how quickly it was made.

What’s not boring as heck is the accompanying pattern, arguably ugly but certainly not stale. The ways that it will be applied are dynamic, exciting, and interesting. The logo itself? An afterthought.

So there’s our third camp argument: logos are just being swept aside for more interesting audience interactions. Of course, we could be wrong. Maybe brands are just skimping on quality design so they can use up their budgets on celebrity Instagram posts.

We’d rather not be wrong, but if we are, you can bet we’ll ask: “why?”

Why have just one logo?

17.01.19

Logos can be boring. Being stuck with one can be especially yawn-inducing. Don’t you wish we could have lots of logos to play with—get some variation in there to keep things interesting?

Most logos these days do have variations: different colour combinations; screen/print versions; animated versions; even responsive adaptations for different screen sizes. There’s also the more old-school approach of having both a logo and a logotype (think Nike, sometimes with the word and sometimes just the swoosh). This is all fine and dandy, but I’d classify all these options as variations of one logo.

Even our fluid typographic logo for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery would likely count as one logo if you had to choose. Why do we limit ourselves? Consistency. Yeah, I get it, and I agree in most cases. With limited budgets and a saturated market, brands need elements that make them easily memorable (what marketers often call ‘strong brand recall’).

Did you need to see that old scripted logo to fill in the blank? No? That’s brand recall.

As illustrated above, we reinforce brand recall with more than logos. We establish tone of voice, colour palettes and image strategies to establish recognition even when the logo is hidden. If we have a wider colour palette, then we often lean more on the other assets for consistency. You still with me? For example, if the colours keep changing in your ads, we’d probably need to make sure the logo or type was prominent and more consistent.

If we accept that principle, then surely if everything else was pretty strong in your applications, why not mix up the logos a bit? Sound crazy? Would it ever work? …well yes, actually, it already does: look at Major League Baseball teams.

Baseball teams aren’t happy with just having one logo, and they’ve proved it with their garb for over 100 years. America’s past-time and oldest sport has a rich visual branding history. The Home team will most often just have their logo on their shirts (a blackletter ‘D’ for Detroit), but when they play away from home they’ll change that to their city name. They’ll even change the font.

They will have a cap with their initials on it when playing Away (Cleveland Indians) but roll out their cheeky (and controversial, but that’s another discussion) face marque when playing at Home. It’s obvious, really—when playing in Cleveland they don’t need to remind the fans what city they are in—why not have a bit of fun instead of using the same old logo?

Could this approach work for corporate brands? For example, do long-time employees really need the name of the company emblazoned on every page on their door entry card? How about simply their name in the brand’s typeface, or better yet, their own personal version of the corporate logo? Some brands already do this a bit in the public sphere; Google famously mix up their homepage, changing the logo to celebrate certain dates.

Packaging of course is another example, where instead of one monolith logo, we often see a range of visual identifiers, arguably, different logos. Another client O Street have worked with is Dewars, who have a logotype for Dewars and one for John Dewar & Sons Ltd; they also have a signature and even a Celtic knot.

Our recent branding for McHenry Brewing Co has a bunch of different logos. It may be dangerous for a new brand, but in the context of beer we felt we had the scope to be playful. Okay, we’d been watching a lot of baseball, but with tight control of the core brand red-orange colour we felt we were in safe territory to maintain consistency, too.

I guess this comes back to a common theme in our work at O Street: questioning established norms. Do we really need to do it that way because everyone else does it that way, or should we focus on what that particular brand needs to achieve first and come up with a new way of delivering that? Also, do we need to be that precious with the brands we make? Can a bit of variation actually help add personality without damaging the brand?

We’re looking to find out. Are you?

O Street’s Favourite Albums of 2018, Illustrated

18.12.18

Last year we treated you to tracks, and this year it’s albums. Being designers and music geeks, we felt a good way to recap our year would be to each pick a favourite album of 2018 and illustrate a cover for it. Have a listen to the top songs from each album on this neat playlist we made here.

boygenius, boygenius

I could listen to these three extraordinary artists together on repeat all day, and the studio will testify I do often try to do so. Lucy Dacas, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers blend their individual dreamy melodies and mournful songwriting in this disarming self-titled first album. They each bring a bit of themselves to the EP—you can get a feel for the driver behind each song as you listen—but their collaborative voices and styles work so well together to create something new. Something that is truly beautiful to listen to.
–Tessa

Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!

Man, I really like Parquet Courts.
–Anna

Incredibles 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Michael Giacchino

I have a confession to make: I don’t really listen to albums as albums anymore. Especially not current releases. Not through any hip effort, it’s just that I kneel before the Almighty Algorithm when it comes to discovering music these days. However, I am more intentionally selective in watching films, and the Incredibles 2 was such a big deal for me that it has straddled multiple genres for being my biggest release of the year. That said, the music is a huge part of what makes it so nostalgic. It’s like if James Bond knew how to have fun, and also played alto sax. P.S. I condemn any & all acapella covers that may be hanging about at the bottom of the album.
– Jonny

Modern Leisure , Super Sad Rom-Com

Some of my favourite music is more than just good tunes, but a trigger that reminds me of a time or a place. This one reminds me of a great few weeks I had in Denver at the end of the summer in 2018. Especially consuming sour beers and chicken wings with my very good friend Hercules Campbell, while discovering this band playing at the bar. (Bonus points for the band having the album on audio cassette on their merch table)
– David

Peter Perrett , How The West Was Won

I’ve always loved the Only Ones, even when everybody said they weren’t cool and they weren’t punk and they weren’t blah, blah, this or that. To me, they were off-beat contrary and catchy as hell and that was good enough. Frontman Peter Perrett just had something going, like he was on his own louche South London planet rock. And he was funny with nice hair too. Thus I noted the Only Ones untimely demise and his subsequent demon struggle of a solo career with some sadness. So listening to 6Music, his deadpan raucous toe-tapping gem of a comeback after all this time was kinda special. It’s the record I thought I’d never hear… and I’m not the only one.
– Neil

Jon Hopkins, Singularity

Do you remember the first time you put on Jon Hopkins’ Singularity really loud, laid down on your IKEA rug of choice and experienced a head-exploding-body-melting-into-the-floor union with the whole cosmos? No? What are you waiting for?
– Josh

Spelling Your Own Name Wrong: When Will We Trust Ai to Write Our Emails?

28.11.18

In O Street’s early days we won a big job with a gallery in Glasgow. In my haste and excitement when writing my first email to the client, I signed off as ‘Davis’ instead of ‘David’. I was too embarrassed to correct my mistake, so for the following three years I became Davis: the client addressed me as Davis in person, introduced me to colleagues as Davis and even captioned our work as Davis. In the studio, the notorious nickname has stuck (proof of that from our Slack channel below).

However, these days such typographic mistakes are becoming harder to make. Auto-Spell on most applications highlights mistakes as you make them. What’s more, AI is even beginning to write your messages for you. I had a whole twenty message conversation with one friend last week in LinkedIn by each of us just clicking the suggested auto response.

Gmail recently took this one stage further by offering to auto compose my emails. When the tool was first highlighted to me I thought ‘hell no, I’ll never use that!’, but already these last few days I’ve hit the tab button quite a few times to complete my thoughts, much more eloquently than I could have on my own. I realise that for quite a while now I had actually been letting my grammar slip on email, shortening sentences unnecessarily and not making my points as clear as they could be. My bad.

This kind of support will make life so much easier for dyslexic (why did they make that word so hard to spell!!?) designers like myself. But is this right? Are we letting the robots take control? Or are they just propping us up?

The Davis story is funny; it was a happy accident that still gets laughs in the pub and there are a bunch more stories just like it. Will the advance of AI kill these quirks off, or will they introduce a whole lot of even funnier ones?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

*This blog was written wholly by me, with no AI assistance whatsoever.

How to Brew a Brand

07.11.18

Beer. Our studio has an undying love for the craft. We’ve been known to swing by Fyne Ales for a brewery tour and a wee keg or two of ale. Our team has been caught up first-hand in the wonder of the scenery, the care of their community and the craft of their beer.

The question is, how do you communicate that wonder to someone deciding what to drink at the pub or shop? That’s exactly what Fyne Ales asked us to do when they needed a rebrand. Through their own extensive consumer and market research, they’d realised that their beer owned a ‘safe’ supermarket perception.

We set out to change that.

Beginning our design process by taking a brewery residency on the farm itself, we spent time with the Fyne Ales family. What became clear was that their brand didn’t fully reflect the story and ethos that we found on the farm. And it’s not only us that saw it that way—much of the team felt like the brand wasn’t bold enough, it was inconsistent, and that the traditional style really didn’t match the exciting things going on in the mash tuns.

What we found was a family company rooted in their place in the world, with a growing community and two eyes on the future of craft brewing. Immersing ourselves in the brewery meant we had firsthand research to draw on when it came time to leave the wellies at the door and take things to the studio desk for a design-led workshop.

The emerging theme was clear: be yourselves.

Not to oversimplify, but we really believe that’s it. Fyne Ales is in the heart of Scotland. They are a family. They make real craft beer with care and integrity. In this era, the key to success is to wholly be themselves. As the poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder wrote: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in and take responsibility from there.” The trick for us—and this brand—was to represent that visually.

With research and values in place, we could get to the the fun bit: the creative. We played around with rebuilding the FA logo in seemingly endless different ways. Before long, there was a favourite—a confident ‘FA’ drawn from planks of wood. Fyne Ales is a brewery on a working farm: a Farm Brewery. We made it a cornerstone of the identity.

Putting this creative concept to work, we built a full brand identity that started at the barn door and evolved to include textures and patterns from the substance of the brewery—from keg pallets to cowpats. This library of patterns is one that can continue to be built upon as long as there’s interesting objects to be found on the farm (which there will be, until the end of time).

The resulting brand system was borne by crafting and testing designs—from choosing brand typography that works for long or short beer names, to balancing the hierarchy of a bold brand presence alongside a clear beer name, and a rich background of textures.

Building a brand is more than creating something that looks cool. It’s delivering a comprehensive suite of assets that conveys story, setting and dedication of the craft to every person that touches it.

As for the finished packaging? Well, you can see that in all its glory here.

Label O’ Love

01.11.18

One sunny day, we at O Street had something wonderful plopped into our laps: a big box filled with labels. Why’s that wonderful? Well, these labels are a glimpse into design’s industrious beauty of decades past: a commercial printer’s life work.

Now we’re going to share them with you. Why? They’re too good not too. It’s a labour—ahem, label—of love.

To stay in the know as we post hundreds of these dandies, follow Label O’ Love on Instagram, and keep your eyes peeled for limited edition prints and tees.