What is your favourite example of a flexible identity system?

Nike, USA Today, Devil Horns… What is your favourite flexible identity?

Greg Quinton

‘All identities need to be flexible, it’s just a question of how much flexibility is appropriate. It would be inappropriate for most high street brands, banks, airlines, charities and FMCG brands to flex too often and too far – consider the impact on cost, trust and customer confusion. But it’s totally appropriate for digital-based brands to constantly change because they have the means, the content and even the pressure to maintain relevance. Google has seconds and a few pixels to engage, so it entertains with what it has, an endlessly flexible logo. The Nickelodeon and Channel 4 identities are often more engaging than the content.  In skilled hands flexibility can work beautifully even when common sense might suggest a simpler or more cost effective solution: Johnson Banks’ work for Anthony Nolan Trust; Hat-Trick’s Horniman Museum and Gallery; Phillipe Stark/GBH’s work for Mama Shelter Hotels are all great examples. But in unskilled hands identities that are inappropriately flexed will confuse and irritate. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’

Greg Quinton, executive creative director, The Partners

Darren Bowles

‘To me, “flexibility” is more than a design aesthetic. Flexibility comes from having a strong sense of character. If the brand knows what it stands for, then it can adapt and flex to its environment and its audience – in the same way a socially-aware person knows how to behave at work, at a formal dinner or doing the school-run. A strong character also provides the business with an attitude and posture in which to develop new offers, products and services. It then becomes a matter of what is fixed, or constant, and where to create for flexibility. Some brands balance fixed and flexible remarkably well. Nike has a powerful character that doesn’t waver, which allows it more flexibility in the way it communicates and visualises its identity. Google and Amazon are able to constantly extend their core businesses to include new products and services. Their identity systems are not rigid, but their character – or what they stand for – is so clearly established that customers confidently move with them into new areas.’ 

Darren Bowles, executive creative director, Moving Brands

Lydia Thornley

‘It depends what we mean by flexible. London’s transport identity has to take everything that new trains and buses, lines and media can throw at it while being simple enough for a stranger to navigate. But for a dynamic verbal identity constantly evolved by its users, youth speak is hard to beat. We all think we know what it is – and yet each group of users designs it to be impenetrable to other groups. Though it’s been nowhere near an agency it’s very precise, very efficient communication.’   

Lydia Thornley, founder, Lydia Thornley Design

James Backhurst

‘We live in a time where news is consumed through a vast array of channels on constantly evolving platforms, the rebrand of USA Today’s 30 year old identity by Wolff Olins has really captured this dynamic world and the original challenger brand spirit of the newspaper. As Wolff Olins highlights on its website, its aim was to create an identity that’s “as dynamic as the news itself”. For me Wolff Olins nailed it. Its confidence and iconic simplicity are instantly recognisable, its adaptability makes it relevant to the audience no matter how the media landscape changes and there are endless creative opportunities to keep USA Today’s portfolio of news products compelling and exciting through visual storytelling. The results speak for themselves – USA Todays’s mobile site traffic increased by 79 per cent and first quarter profits after the rebrand were up 53 per cent. For some, the masterbrand logo may verge on the wrong side of simplicity, for me this is another great Wolff Olins project that illustrates you should never judge an identity by simply looking at the logo in isolation – it never tells the whole story.’

James Backhurst, creative Partner, The Allotment

Chris Harrison

‘My all-time favourite flexible identity can be used by everyone. It doesn’t come with an expensive brand manual, and it’s really, really cheap and easy to use. Devil horns… supposedly popularised by Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath in 1979. Seen everywhere from rock concerts and sports arenas to playgrounds all over the world. Gracing hundreds of thousands of albums, bumper stickers and t-shirts. A unique gesture of defiance and unity. You can even use it in a text… m/  Hell yeah!’

Chris Harrison, creative director, Harrison

Liz Dunning

Don’t Cook Just Eat! It is a simple idea – a rebellion against home cooking! It is a movement against the world of foodologists and celebrity chefs that has a bold manifesto for a better world and an army of anti-cooking activists. What gives the brand its attitude, irreverence and humour is its chefs. Among other things they demonstrate the dangers of home cooking, what to do with over complicated cookbooks (shred them!) and the rightful place of celebrity endorsed gadgets. It is well done and very funny.’

Liz Dunning, partner, Dunning Penney Jones

Paul Bailey

‘Although possibly more of a generative identity system rather than flexible, I would look back to 2007 and to the work of Universal Everything for the LoveBytes 2007 festival. A fantastic example of designing by setting parameters and allowing for the multitude of possibilities to be generated by algorithms within them. Although encouraging difference the identity system created a clear and powerful visual identity, while also reflecting a key brief requirement of creating an “empathy with technology”! Seven years on and this is still a striking, yet simple, flexible identity system!’

Paul Bailey, Partner, 1977 Design

Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • Samuel Harris November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Interesting article, but looks like some of the photos are not where they should be…

  • C G November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Darren Bowles comments are spot on!

    Disagree with Greg Quinton’s shortlist however (the Antony Nolan Trust is a scrappy concept at best which doesn’t actually deliver very well).

    It’s interesting how some perceive ‘flexibility’ as different versions within a set – as opposed to how it its utilised in its environment – which is where the real winners are formed.

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