• Transform magazine
  • February 25, 2024

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Marques out of ten

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Angus Hyland is partner and creative director at global design consultancy Pentagram. He underlines the importance of logos to brands which, in recent times, may have been forgotten.

"Brand is much more than a name or a logo. Brand is everything and everything is brand."
- Dan Pallotta

It’s become quite fashionable to push the narrative that a logo should no longer be the focus of a brand identity, and what’s really important is the elusive and all-encompassing ‘brand experience’.

As someone who spends most of their time creating brand identities, you might expect me to agree with this. But downplaying the importance of the logotype or marque would be missing the point. This is because when it comes to brand identity, logos, while not literally being everything, are the cherry on top of the cake. And we can subvert that metaphor because the logo is essentially the container which holds the brand equity. It’s a bit like mixing the perfect negroni. While it might be beautifully designed, the empty cocktail glass is redundant until you fill it with booze.

Equally, your delicious negroni will not taste so good out of a paper bag (and you’ll probably spill most of it). The logo is a key part of the identity, it’s the embodiment of the brand and the ultimate signifier.

The real magic happens when you put the two together. You have something that’s just right and the logo becomes the brand. Deutsche Bank is a great example. Designed by Anton Stankowski and introduced in 1974, the bank dropped the words ‘Deutsche Bank’ from its logo in 2010 in favour of the standalone symbol. Simple and striking, its ‘slash’ stands for consistent growth and dynamic development. It sits within a square-shaped frame which represents security and a controlled environment — both characteristics that you want from an international bank. While the logo is brilliantly designed, it takes a brand with the history and gravitas of Deutsche Bank to pull it off.

That’s not to say all logos need to be reductive to have an impact. The World Wildlife Fund (now the World Wide Fund for Nature) is over 60 years old. Its distinctive panda symbol was based on a sketch by environmentalist and artist Gerald Watterson and refined by one of the WWF’s founders, Sir Peter Scott. Scott chose the panda because it represented ‘an animal that is beautiful, is endangered and one loved by many people in the world’. The most recent version by Landor removed the panda’s eyes, giving the facial proportions of a human baby and creating a logo that works on a very instinctive and emotional level.

Some of the best logos work because they have a narrative embedded within them. A classic example of this is the British Rail ‘Double Arrow’ symbol. Designed by Gerry Barney (and recently updated by Nick Job), it’s formed of two interlocked arrows across two parallel lines, symbolising a double-track railway, and an outward journey and a return. As well as being a memorable logo, it contains a visual trick that makes the viewer smile when they ‘get’ it.

It can be tempting for organisations to change logos with every new CEO, but the logos that become truly iconic are those that have been carefully updated and cleverly refined while keeping true to the original design. Having the confidence to stick with a logo even when it reaches peak unfashionability can pay off, but only if the brand itself has staying power. A great example of this is the much-loved V&A logo. The original logo was designed by Pentagram’s Alan Fletcher in 1989 and has just been installed at the new V&A East in London’s new East Bank quarter. It’s a great example of a logo becoming shorthand for a brand – it’s been so successful that the museum is rarely referred to by its full name anymore.