What happened to identity?
Guest blogger graphic designer Patrick Argent looks at three ‘truly outstanding’ identities and wonders why they were ever replaced.
Considering the various recent branding debates, one notable aspect in recent years is the seemingly incomprehensible abandonment of truly outstanding logos which are then superseded by what can only be described as monumentally dull, utilitarian sticks of type.
What is behind this bizarre affection for the boring, the banal and the sterile?
Prime examples of this have been:
The Royal Armouries Museum Leeds identity by Minale Tattersfield.
How was the museum persuaded to ditch the Henry VIII horned helmet marque? Minale’s design not only had power, exuberance, instant memorability, and immediate relevance to the museum’s superlative collection, but it also formed the basis of a highly distinctive signage programme which gave the institution a unique and robust visual presence.
Sadly, the logo has been reduced to something of a casual marketing afterthought (represented now in a rather disparaging way only as a silhouette), leaving the museum’s graphics and signage a visual confusion for the visitor.
The National Grid logo by John McConnell (Pentagram)
John McConnell’s timeless solution possessed all the hallmarks of powerful identity design. It concisely and sharply expressed the very nature of the organisation in a serious, authoritative yet visually dynamic way. It’s contemporary counterpart is only remarkable by its bleak drabness offering little or no level of recognition.
London Transport Museum identity by Minale Tattersfield.
The former LTM logo was an exceptionally brilliant execution of design thinking. Simple, economic yet loaded with real content and meaning. It succinctly communicated the museum’s very raison d’etre, the telling of the story of the history of transport, in a highly original, engaging and powerful way.
As with the Royal Armouries, the logo was the foundation of a singular and expressive signage system which had a idiosyncratic visual character perfectly in tune with the development timeline of the museum’s collection. The current ’branding solution’ is nothing more than an anonymous offshoot of the LT roundel.
All of these identities had exactly that - identity.
Is this move towards a bland and standardised uniformity, a reflection of insecurity by the clients or marketing managers? Is it that their previous logo, no matter how compelling, became a helpless victim of the expediency of a transient vogue in design?
Why would any client abandon as an irrelevance its existing world-class logo, then pay for the development of a replacement that is meaningless and wholly inferior, then additionally have to pay for the costs of the implementation of that inferior substitute. It is a self-defeating triple negative.
What so often actually replaces these great logos, possesses virtually no aesthetic, intellectual or expressive ambition, it is a form of deadening, functionalist graphic design produced in a vacuum. The sheer dreariness and mediocrity of many of these branding solutions reflects an approach of how to design in a comprehensively unimaginative and vacuous way. Even a non-designer could achieve that.
It seems that in graphics, new variations of the emperor’s new clothes never seem to go out of fashion.