A capital debacle

No winner has yet emerged in the Mayor’s controversial A Brand for London competition. Emily Pacey investigates what’s going on

London is supposed to be about two weeks into an outraged critique of its leaked new logo, which was scheduled for delivery on 1 November. But the final competition winner is still undecided and the Greater London Authority is rumoured to be disappointed by the proposed marques.

Last week, Michael Johnson, of Johnson Banks, blogged an account of the final design presentation to London Mayor Boris Johnson that, if true, could sound the death knell for A Brand for London. According to the blog, his sources – allegedly including a ‘deep throat’ informant – revealed that ‘the final presentation of the…design options went…so badly that the steering group collectively asked, “why are we doing this?” to the marketing project leader, at which point the flaxen-haired one also asked, “why are we doing this?”.’

Studio Conran is believed to have presented its idea – said to be based on quotation marks, although Studio Conran did not confirm this – at this meeting. The GLA told the consultancy that it would inform it of its success or failure on 17 September, in line with the timeframe set out in the tender document. That date came and went and two months later, Studio Conran still doesn’t know when it can expect to hear from the GLA. The other group in the running is reported to be Dragon Rouge, which declines to confirm its involvement.

‘If the GLA and the Mayor haven’t made a decision by now, it is because they don’t like any of the solutions,’ says Jim Prior, chief executive of The Partners, one of the final few groups which competed on the Brand for London tender.

‘The mistake now would be to forge ahead regardless,’ believes Prior, advising Johnson to ‘ditch the bride at the altar, turn the car around and go back to the hotel’.
‘It is better to risk disapproval now than to make the wrong decision and end up divorced three years later,’ says Prior. ‘Let the industry moan – designers moan about everything anyway. The issue is not whether we feel aggrieved, but whether we get the right outcome.’

Lambie-Nairn publicly boycotted the entire competition, partly on the grounds that it asked for free creative work. It has also objected to the brief, which demanded that entrants should, among other things, ‘lead stakeholders around a shared brand’ and ‘develop international promotion into a powerful policy mechanism’.

The consultancy’s chief executive, Christian Schroeder, warns the GLA, saying, ‘don’t assume that by being overly inclusive and democratic you are going to get anything that resembles a good result.’ He admits that he would feel personally vindicated if the process failed.

Schroeder says, ‘It was an ill-conceived and badly thought-out project in the first place and it is going to come back and bite the GLA. If it fails, I will laugh, and I would love to know how many thousands of pounds have been spent on something that is not going to happen’.

He believes that if the project is abandoned, the GLA and the Mayor ‘will lose all credibility’ with the design community, who would ‘probably shy away from working with them again’.

Prior suggests just one scenario in which London designers ought to be willing to work on a branding exercise with Johnson. He describes the appointment of Milton Glaser to brand New York State in the mid-1970s. Glaser worked pro bono to an open brief, according to Prior.

‘It bugs me that you have a team of people sitting in the GLA judging whether London’s finest design talent has come up with something good or not. I mean, just trust us,’ he says.

Moving Brands, which publicised the details of its tender application on a blog, and submitted branding ideas sent in by members of the public (which were rejected), believes that designers need to ‘stand up in front of the GLA and tell them that their tender process and brief is archaic’.

Moving Brands executive creative director James Bull says, ‘It was way too old-school and we need to wise up as an industry to the fact that our processes won’t last forever.’

Schroeder and Prior concur that Johnson and the GLA can only blame themselves and their brief if they find the resulting work disappointing.

‘Either the collective design industry of London is incapable of designing a London logo, or the criteria against which they are measuring good design is based on a subjective beauty parade of rubbish,’ says Schroeder.

Meanwhile, the GLA claims that the branding project is working to schedule and that there is no need for concern about its future. ‘We are still working to the original launch date of February. This is a long-term project and we are not going to rush it at the outset. It is being taken very seriously and is a testament to creative London,’ says a GLA spokeswoman.

The story so far:
Summer 2009
– the Mayor’s Office and the Greater London Authority launch an open competition to find a new visual identity for London. Designers criticise the tender for requesting creative work in the first round. Moving Brands publishes logo ideas from designers and the public on its blog, submitting them to the GLA as part of its application
3 September – the deadline for entries passes and six groups are shortlisted, including Studio Conran and The Partners
10 September – the GLA and Mayor of London Boris Johnson allegedly ask ‘why are we doing this?’ after seeing the final design proposals
Mid-September – the GLA’s self-imposed deadline for selecting a winner passes
1 November – design work due to be ‘completed predominantly’
February 2010 – London’s identity to launch, says the GLA

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Roger Chasteauneuf November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I find the whole idea of rebranding a city like London impossible. It has so many iconic visuals already. Also the fact that this was originally not paid is publicly disrespectful to the design industry. Anyway I have wrote my response here.

  • tanya telford November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    is this competition really about re branding London or more about finding/coming up with a visual which is representative of the city……..

  • Martin Underwood November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think it’s a fantastic idea. To brand a city, our city!! To attach good creative skills to a city that lives and breaths concept design… Look at Soho, the epicentre of all things great with creative flair not just in London but potentially the world. Why wouldnt you want to see through the red tape of you can’t do this or that. Let the city live and evolve with an open mind!! I think the guys who produced ‘The city of Melbourne’ did a great job in branding it. http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au and although there is massive debate over this I think it works without doubt

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