Five minutes with John Clark
John Clark, co-founder and creative director of strategic design studio Team, speaks to Transform magazine about the agencie's Pfizer rebrand, and the significance of creating a new logo and visual identity during one of the most important moments in the company’s history, as it worked on the development of its vaccine at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is the significance of creating a new logo and visual identity during what can be called one of the most important moments of the company’s history?
At the time of the rebrand, Pfizer was at the culmination of a multi-year journey to reshape the company into an innovation powerhouse. They had spent the last ten years building upon their heritage as a scientific leader to further enhance their research and development engine. More recently, by uniting transformational technology and cutting-edge science, Pfizer is pioneering biopharmaceutical innovations to do more than just treat difficult diseases — they’re curing them.
While the branding effort was underway before the pandemic, we introduced the new identity as Pfizer’s achievements in developing the breakthrough Covid-19 vaccine with BioNTech were being widely celebrated. Pfizer leadership felt it was important, when making such a significant visual change, to do so from a position of strength. The timing was strategic.
What challenges did you encounter creating this new branding during such a crucial time? Did you feel under pressure?
It was a very aggressive timeline for a rebrand of this magnitude. But I feel strongly that a corporate rebrand shouldn't take years, regardless of the size of an organization.
We temporarily paused the rebranding efforts in 2020 while Pfizer focused on corporate marketing and communications around the pandemic and their work to manufacture and distribute a vaccine. Then in November, as the vaccine neared regulatory approval, we worked at pace through the holidays to complete and reveal the identity in early January. It was an intense couple of months but the result was worth it. The launch of the new identity was the ideal proof point of Pfizer’s new purpose statement, that they want to be about prevention and more than treatment.
The other challenge, of course, was that our most concentrated and expedited period of work kicked into gear just as we were entering a global pandemic. We were challenged with doing the most important creative work of our careers, while trying to collaborate virtually, for the first time. Our small team — accustomed to collaborating in person in our Dumbo, Brooklyn studio — was now attempting to design together from New York City, San Diego, Taipei, Cairo, and Istanbul. Coordinating time zones was difficult enough; redesigning a global biopharma over Zoom was a veritable challenge.
How did Team bring a more emotional element to the brand?
On an emotional level, we want the public to connect with the new identity in an immediate way. A pivotal line from the brief was that the logo itself must evoke “science at a glance”, embody the gravitas of a 170-year-old institution, and speak to the patients they are serving. We were careful to articulate this all in the brand expression, but how does one show “science at a glance” with a logo? To signal the shift, we designed a new emblem that unlocked the pill form of the past seven decades to reveal a double helix, spiralling upward.
Apart from external perception of the brand, individual ownership and emotional adoption by Pfizer colleagues was essential. With the ribbon helix, the design intent was to introduce a standalone symbol that could become an emblem of Pfizer’s purpose — a visual shorthand that colleagues and scientists could wear with pride.
What does the new narrative and purpose represent? How is it reflected in the visual identity as a whole?
A company’s purpose defines its role in the world, and companies that stay true to their purpose generally outperform those that do not. Pfizer has focused its business where it believes it can have the greatest impact on patients and society – pursuing the most innovative biopharmaceutical therapies and vaccines for all.
I believe that within a successful logo is a company’s DNA — its legacy, its future. The challenge was balancing Pfizer’s storied history with their new narrative focus on science and technology. One tangible example of this is how we apply color through the new identity. We’ve created a vibrant, digital-first palette that prioritizes the screen and accessibility. But rather than move away from blue in an industry awash in that color, we doubled down. A choice that champions Pfizer’s history as the pioneer who paved the way for their peers.
What has the new identity achieved?
After more than 170 years, Pfizer has arrived at a new era. A time of extraordinary focus on science and dedication to patients. With a new CEO and more focused business model, the legacy company has evolved into a science and innovation powerhouse with a new narrative and purpose. Collective awareness of Pfizer, especially in the US, has skyrocketed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the company’s vaccine development. With this in mind, and a logo that had been left fundamentally unchanged for over 70 years, it was crucial that Pfizer’s new identity reflected both the company’s storied history and its bright future.
Our solution for the new identity reflects the dignity of Pfizer’s history and captures the innovative spirit and scientific focus alive in the company today. As Pfizer moves into the future, amplifying the power of science and technology, they will continue to evolve and inspire a new revolutionary view on what is possible. This new identity is an emblem of that purpose: Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.