Everybody calm the hell down! I know it’s preposterous; an absolute scandal and emotions are running high. Your blood is up. You want someone to pay for this treachery and deceit, and you're damn well going to rally the world to your cause, flush the culprits out and make them publicly suffer for what they’ve done!
What am I talking about? Is it a reaction to some seedy crime, an outrageous display of moral ineptitude, or a perversion of high office?
I’m talking about a rebrand!
I know, I know. I’m over egging it a touch for dramatic effect, but seriously, things are getting out of hand!
Whenever there is a high-profile rework of a visual identity it seems the world’s brand ‘experts’ come out of the woodwork and it becomes open-season on the designer. The last few months have been a prime example with the launch of new work for John Lewis/Waitrose by Pentagram, Uber by Wolff Olins and Burberry by Peter Saville. And with a new set of Channel 4 logos launched by ManvsMachine this week, I’m bracing myself for the fallout! I hate to say it but it’s become so predictable; an easy story that serves up the sacrificial lamb, placing it on the altar of public opinion, beckoning the onslaught of derisive opinion. At times even questioning the motivation, judgement or even morality of both the client and agency in what they have done. The furore around SomeOne’s recent rework of the UK Parliament identity springs to mind, questioning whether the public money spent on the project was wise at all. The sad thing is, agencies have come to expect it.
Let’s get a grip here!
I know it can all get a bit emotional, especially when the brand in question is seen as iconic, as is the case for Burberry. But we must try and get some perspective. As far as I’m concerned (and yes, you are entitled to say ‘who the hell are you?’, but I think the DBA for one would agree with me in this assumption), the UK design industry is the finest in the world. We should be celebrating and supporting it. Yet these knee-jerk reactions risk damaging not only the reputation of our industry, or the fantastic agencies that lead our creative sector, and more seriously the very concept of branding.
Can we just stop for a moment and take stock. For the uninitiated, there might be the impression that these solutions are conjured up on a whim. Some misinformed image of a flouncy designer whimsically freehand sketching lines on a layout pad in the attempt to conjure up a logo from thin air. But we all know better.
An agency of real calibre tries a little harder than that.
They start with research - getting under the skin of the challenge at hand. That means not just meeting the brief, but going beyond to understand what drove the brief in the first place. Gaining clarity around the clients’ pain points, who the audience is, the state of the industry in question, competitors, stakeholders, the product or service, a glimpse of the future etc. etc. They buy into the task as if it were their own with the same level of care and commitment.
Then there’s the work put in by the agency strategists, working alongside the client to organise, define and streamline the brand. To get to the route of what drives it, what makes it different, why customers buy into it, why it’s relevant. They put the building blocks in place to ensure the brand is speaking with one voice, one intent, one purpose, both internally and externally. Enlightening and inspiring.
And it hasn’t even made it to the designer yet.
The creative process is not a flippant one. It’s not performed by ‘lovies’, full of their own self-importance and artistic superiority, firing out hair-brained ideas to satisfy their own egos. Well not all of them anyway! Believe it or not the real gratification for a designer is not just about creating something beautiful, but more about conceiving something effective.
That takes a bunch of people with humility, enthusiasm, flair but also a healthy dose of common sense! They use analytical thinking to assess all the information that has been collected, all the valuable research and the beautifully crafted brand strategy to funnel their thinking towards a solution that delivers clarity, precision, opportunity, flexibility and cohesiveness. They construct a visual identity that is relevant for both the marketplace and the customer as well as the employee.
It is carefully considered, carefully planned, carefully constructed with passion and care. Every application is tested to ensure it is fit for purpose. It is not the output of a deluded mind, drunk with the opportunity of ‘making a splash’ by producing a controversial piece of work.
There’s another key concept that we really need to grasp before we dive into criticism – context. A brand is not just a logo. A visual identity is not just a logo. However, we are often served up images of the offending logo in isolation, maybe (if we’re very lucky) applied to a couple of formats. It’s enough to formulate a poorly informed opinion of the agencies intentions but no more. Before assassinating the work we should really give them the benefit of the doubt until we have gained the full picture, seen how the identity manifests itself throughout the business and understand the motivations behind the work.
Burberry, for instance, will have had good reason for discarding its original serif logotype and knight motif, and they won’t have done it lightly. The world is changing, as is the consumer. The retail sector is tough and shopping habits are in flux with ‘digital’ seemingly laying waste to the high street. Burberry, just like everyone else, need to stay relevant to hold on to their brand fans but more importantly enrol a new generation. Did the old logo perform well online? Did it test well with millennials or did they detect/foresee a worrying drop off in the brands’ appeal? Whatever it was, it wasn’t done on a whim, and we should really interrogate that information before we tear the solution apart.
Much thought, passion, care, craft and experience is poured into these projects. I think we owe it to the designer to hear the whole story before we cast the first stone!
I’m not saying anyone is above criticism, or that anyone who operates without due care, attention, morality or professionalism shouldn’t be held accountable. And I’m certainly not saying that bad craftsmanship should be above question. But I don’t think any of the examples I’ve highlighted qualify.
So before jumping to any conclusions about a visual identity, look a little deeper, and consider this quote from an unlikely source; “standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world”, Lauren Bacall.