• Transform magazine
  • April 16, 2024

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Angus’ A-Z of logos: Hello Kitty

Angus Monthly Article H

In his latest monthly Transform column on the A-Z of logo design, Pentagram partner and creative director Angus Hyland tells us about his thoughts on the odd brand design phenomenon that is Hello Kitty.

Is Hello Kitty a logo? Not exactly…

The famous feline occupies a strange grey area between logo, symbol and mascot – three entities which are all slightly different but which serve similar functions. 

Put simply, a logo can be described as a visual representation of a brand’s identity. Logos are usually closely aligned to the master brand and mostly include the name of what’s being represented. Wordmarks work in the same way but are purely typographic. Symbols (such as Penguin Books’ penguin) are standalone pictorial representations of the brand and vary from clever graphic devices to completely abstract designs. Mascots (such as Michelin’s Bibendum) tend to take a supporting role, usually adding an element of fun to the proceedings. They’re often based on some sort of life form such as animal, vegetable or alien (and sometimes a freakish mix of all four).

Though technically a mascot, Hello Kitty eclipses the role, serving as the de facto logo for her parent company Sanrio. While the Sanrio logo is perfectly inoffensive, since ‘the white kitten with no name’ was designed by Yuko Shimizu in 1974, the instantly-recognisable features of Hello Kitty have never really gone away. Deeply rooted in the Japanese kawaii (cute) culture, Hello Kitty is the embodiment of innocence, and charm.

While other characters such as Miffy the rabbit (designed by Dick Bruna) are equally cute, they haven’t quite taken off commercially in the way that Hello Kitty has. What is it about the little feline with the yellow nose and red bow in her hair that makes her so special?

The thing that really sets Hello Kitty apart from other cute characters is what she’s missing – a mouth. The lack of expression means that you can project any emotion you wish onto her, as she’s a completely blank canvas. This beautiful blankness means that Hello Kitty can add an element of cute to pretty much any product. 

As a result, Hello Kitty is the undisputed collab queen, teaming up with thousands of fashion and lifestyle brands across the globe. Some of the more unusual partnerships include collaborations with rock bands Guns N’ Roses and KISS, video game Streetfighter and adult-entertainment brand Playboy.

In fact, the thing that’s most closely related to Hello Kitty is probably the smiley. Both are universally loved, exude positive vibes and have the ability to enhance the appeal of virtually any inanimate object.

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Angus' favourite 'G' logo can be found here.