Category Archives: Brand Identity

Book Review: Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen


I discovered this book at a weekend design seminar in San Diego last year. The moment I picked it up I knew I had struck gold. Any creative working on branding of any kind should have this valuable resource at their side.
Steeped in the psychological theories of Carl Jung, Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen uses a highly participatory approach to brand development, and combines a companion deck of sixty original archetype cards, in a kit that gives you the tools you need to:

• Reveal your brand’s motivations, how it moves in the world, what its trigger points are and why it attracts certain customers
• Forge relationships with the myriad stakeholders that affect your business
• Empower your team to access their creativity and innovate with integrity

Applying archetypes helps bridge the gap between the cognitive and intuitive sides of the brain and between internal and external business objectives. Archetypes in Branding takes you through a fascinating exploration of the important role archetypes have played in mythology and psychology—and now in business—to resolve brand inconsistencies and enhance trust with all stakeholders.

Author John Howard-Spink defines an archetype as “A universally familiar character or situation that transcends time, place, culture, gender and age. It represents an eternal truth.” This is why George Lucas, when writing the original Star Wars trilogy, consulted with Joseph Campbell, author of the classic work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to understand the archetypal characters found in mythic stories. So how does this apply to a brand, say, a household cleaner? You may want to position your product as the hero fighting against dirt and germs, the innocent promising a return to the simple life, or the caregiver nurturing and protecting your family. Each archetype resonates with the customer who identifies with the emotions they elicit.

Unlike many pop psych/marketing books on archetypes, this book provides more comprehensive analyses. It goes beyond the commonly used 12 archetypes to detail dozens of sub-archetypes, which opens up new possibilities for creativity. The book itself is beautifully designed and a pleasure to read. For anyone looking for a way to think about their brand as a story, this book offers great insight and practical application.

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Filed under Book Recommendations, Brand Identity, Creativity

Why Do Some Logo Re-designs Succeed While Others Fail?

starbucks1I commented to some friends recently, “Remember when Starbucks changed their logo a few years ago.” They changed their logo? No one noticed, but yes, it no longer says Starbucks Coffee. It no longer has to. The iconic logo is so ubiquitous and recognizable that the company name is superfluous. Similar moves have also been made at Target, Nike, and Shell, all of whom have dropped their company names from their logos.TergetNikeShell copy

Several other companies have also tweaked their logos to varying degrees of notice or fanfare, notably, eBay and Microsoft. I think both solutions lost some of the memorable qualities that made each logo distinctive. They are both now more generic and less unique.ebayMicrosoftlogo

None of these changes qualify as what I would call a full-fledged redesign as I’m using the term for the purposes of this article. What I’m talking about is a radical design departure from the original identity. You might ask why companies would spend millions of dollars and risk damaging their brand identity by embarking on a logo redesign. Many factors can contribute to this decision.

deltaUnited1. Company mergers. When two companies merge, it’s often a debate which logo to use for the new conglomerate. In the case of the Delta and Northwest Airlines merger, big boy Delta simply ‘refreshed’ their logo and dropped any pretense to a combo solution, its thinking being that the Delta brand had a more powerful consumer recognition. In the case of the United and Continental Airlines merger, the new logo is a corporate-inspired mashup — I use the term derisively — of the two. This new logo looks like it was designed in a boardroom. Gone are the days of engaging the services of such graphic design legends as Saul Bass, who designed both the original United and Continental logos, or Paul Rand, who designed the ABC, UPS, and IMB logos.

ups-logo2. The company grows beyond its original identity. In the case of UPS, the original logo, designed by Paul Rand, gestured to the company’s roots of package delivery. The new logo emphasizes its expanded worldwide business operations but deftly nods to UPS’s heritage by preserving the shield, keeping its lighthearted lowercase letters, and leveraging the color brown. Referencing elements of the old design is often the most successful approach to logo redesign.

jcp-logo3. Company revitalization. Sometimes a brand, like JCPenney, needs a desperate rebranding overhaul, which includes a logo redesign. Penney’s new CEO says they are “fundamentally re-imagining every aspect of the Company’s business,” which includes their new logo. Whether they will be successful is a question to be answered in the future. A too radical departure from well-known imagery often ends up confusing consumers, and losing the brand familiarity they’re trying to preserve.

8946000-large-300x159Which brings me to the focus of this article, which is why some logo redesigns fail. A significant blunder was the 2010 GAP logo redesign debacle. Going against received wisdom that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, the GAP inexplicably decided to change their logo to a generic and insipid who-knows-what. After an avalanche of public outcry, not only from consumers, but also from the design community — who also objected to the company’s use of crowdsourcing the logo, a term that means work that is completed without any promise of compensation — the new logo was scrapped in less than a week. Probably its most withering criticism being that it “looked like someone did it in Microsoft Word in 5 minutes.” Apart from being a bad design, the new logo served no corporate purpose as outlined above. There was no merger, identity problem, new company direction or outdated look. Without any clear purpose, it failed.

UC logoPerhaps less well know but more timely was the announcement that the University of California had changed its 144-year-old logo in an effort to remake its image to reflect the “innovation and character of California, and to portray a more modern, user-friendly look.” Here we go again. However, the university did have a greater purpose in mind: the original logo, with its intricate detail, did not reproduce well when used in small scale or on websites, smartphones, or tablets. This is an example where technological changes drive design considerations.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the university received over 50,000 signatures from an online petition to scrap the new logo design, saying that the monogram looked cheap, corporate and unworthy of a prestigious institution of higher learning. The story even earned a spot on NPR’s All Things Considered on Dec. 13, 2012. As of this writing, the logo was scrapped for a new version. This is another example of too radical a departure from the original and not referencing elements of the old design.

So what DOES and DOES NOT make for a good logo design? There are 5 Principles of Effective Logo Design. Compare all the above redesigned logos and see if they meet these criteria.

nikesmall1. Simple. Keeping in mind the idea that less is more, or K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid), simplicity makes a logo easily recognizable, versatile and memorable. Remember, a logo needs to be recognized on a freeway at 70 MPH, on a package on a crowded store shelf, on a vehicle or on a business card. Simple carries the day. Example: Nike.

mcdonaldslogodesign2. Memorable. Related to Simple, Memorable means unique and distinctive, something that looks like nothing else. Resist the urge to copy an existing idea. Example: McDonald’s.

UndergroundLogo3. Timeless. Trends come and go. Leave fashion to the runway. There is no faster way for a logo to look outdated than to follow a hip new trend.  Think how the design will look in 10-20 years. Timeless: London Underground. Already dated: AAA and Capital One.

apple_logo_evolution4. Versatile. An effective logo works across a variety of mediums and applications, both large and small, in color and black and white. Billboards to business cards to boxes, websites to newspapers to advertising. Example: Apple.

toysrus5. Appropriate. A logo has to be appropriate for its intended audience. A law firm logo would look very different from a toy company logo. But keep in mind that the subject matter of the logo need not bear any logical association to the product, and in many ways should not. Starbucks logo is not a coffee cup, McDonald’s logo is not a burger, Nike’s logo is not a shoe. Example: Toys R Us.

For more on this subject, read my articles How To Design A Logo and A Logo, Redesigned.

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Filed under Brand Identity, Graphic Design

What’s With All The Fake Authenticity?

There is something oddly ironic about taking a picture with an 8-megapixel smartphone and then using software to make it look like it was taken 40 years ago with my dad’s Kodak Instamatic 100 camera. These faux-vintage photos are all the rage at the moment and part of a larger trend of what might be called Inauthentic Authenticity.

What’s doubly ironic about these photos, created with Hipstamatic or Instagram apps, is they appear to be actual analog photos, faded, contrasty, scratched, and worn around the edges; they look like physical photos but don’t actually exist in the physical world. They’re still digital photos being viewed in a digital space.

And if you’ll indulge me in a triple irony: these nostalgic-inducing, faux-vintage photos are most popular with a generation of young people who have never even known photos that look like this so it isn’t even their own nostalgia they’re inducing. Now I’m dripping in irony.

Stores like J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, et al., sell fake antiques that seem strangely anachronistic in the 21st century. Following their advice on how to decorate your apartment would make it look more like a movie set than a place to live. Products include rusted, pre-dented toolboxes and new-but-old-looking children’s record players ($170). There are even library card catalog drawers for sale. Again with the irony, marketed to young people who have never even seen an actual card catalog, let alone ever used one. What’s next, the hoop skirt?

I was in the mall the other day and wandered into Buckle, the “on-trend fashion clothing” store. It looked like a second-hand thrift store. Pre-scuffed boots and faded, torn, and otherwise destructed clothes made to look like they were within a thread of disintegrating. These new, patched, pre-torn jeans have the look that says, “Oh these? Yeah, I wore them out while backpacking through Europe last summer,” but were really bought last Tuesday at the mall. One no longer has to be authentic as long as one looks authentic. It’s like buying your own street cred.

In the interest of full disclosure: I bought this retro-looking telephone at Crate & Barrel a few years ago. Yes, it was so charmingly nostalgic. And I confess that I have pre-washed jeans. But this current clothing aesthetic, the affectation of dressing from head to toe in carefully crafted pre-worn rags, begs the comparison to what we in the 80s called “poseurs.” They were the wannabes who copied the look and dress of punkers and heavy metal fans in order to gain acceptance but who didn’t share the philosophy of those groups. Today’s pejorative term would be “hipsters.” To quote Douglas Haddow on the blog Adbusters, “(these are) a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class.”

My thesis of this article is that this fake authenticity trend contributes nothing to furthering new design aesthetics. Two good examples of borrowing designs from the past but updating those designs for the present are the MINI Cooper and the FIAT 500. Both cars took their inspiration from the original designs, keeping their spirit, but reinterpreted them with a modern sensibility. They didn’t just manufacture new-but-old-looking MINI Coopers and FIATS, which might have had a certain charm but would never have caught on in popularity like a modern take on the original. These new cars seem fresh and vibrant, not cartoonish copies of the past.

Fake old photos, fake antiques, fake old clothing. This fake authenticity is nothing new. I remember learning in an architectural history class in college about Victorian “follies,” or what was known as the cult of ruins. In the 19th century it became fashionable for wealthy landowners, inspired by their grand tours of Europe, to build ruins of ancient Greek temples or Gothic abbeys on their property. These moss-covered faux-ruined structures were considered objects of reflection meant to elicit deep emotions. They symbolized their owners’ sophistication and knowledge of other cultures.

Many cultural movements throughout history have been reactions to larger cultural shifts that propel societies ahead faster than many wish them to go. Romanticism grew out of a rejection of The Enlightenment; the Arts & Crafts Movement a revolt against the Industrial Revolution; the Beat Generation and Hippie counterculture a protest of post-war societal conformity. I wouldn’t call fake authenticity a new cultural movement — it might be symptomatic of  Post Post-Modernism, which itself is a reaction to a previous movement — but it may be a reaction to the precipitous changes brought about by the rise of new technology (personal computer/smartphone/internet).  Or it may not. Those more qualified than I will eventually decide.

Meanwhile, I’m off to Starbucks for an inauthentically authentic European espresso bar experience.

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Filed under Architecture, Brand Identity, Creativity