Branding London

While famous for so many things, London [still] lacks a unifying, cohesive graphic brand identity under which all sectors can co-exist. The Mayor, and other officials, sought to bring together the previously branded elements of transport, tourism, government, the Olympics, and other public programmes with the creation of a new branding effort.

Back in September, I wrote about London auditioning design firms in an effort to create an all-seeing, all-knowing identity to define the city. To recap, the whole thing has become a fiasco, with design industry folks sniping about the process, the fees, the secrecy, the whole notion of free pitching, and the dubious need for such a project in the first place.

One of the main criticisms for the whole effort to was the fact that only a handful of design firms were allowed to bid in the first place. You could almost name them before the competition started. City officials determined a minimum standard of size, billings, compliance, insurance, health & safety, and other criteria which immediately ruled out so many of the very-talented 3-person agencies in the UK. (For example, how many design firms have a policy of community outreach for LGBT people, or have calculated their carbon footprint accurately?) Two firms were rumoured to be finalists, but that proved to be just a rumour, and the true winners has emerged in a recent article in Design Week.

Saffron, the international branding and design agency headed by [British] brand identity guru Wally Olins, has been chosen as the agency to tackle the challenge. As of yet, no actual design work has emerged, leaving us all in suspense. And while design geeks in London and worldwide are awaiting the shiny new brand identity, we’re also wondering if the project will ever happen. The whole thing was supposed to be wrapped by November.

But a number of folks have taken it upon themselves to produce their own solution for how they feel a branding and design scheme for London might go down. A quick visit to A Brand For London will reveal a number of genuinely viable options, many with redone typography and logos. Here are a few that immediately caught my eye:

Combining elements
Combining established icons of London/Britain is the most obvious route

Simple Circle
I like the simple circle. London is, after all, a circular, concentric metropolis

Circle with LDN
Another simple marque that is expanded across a “system”

Circle
This is clever because it speaks to me as “overground” and “underground”. There is room to expand this too, and to use the shapes as graphic elements (for example, to create a pattern)

Circle
Sartorialist images create a series of posters illustrating the interplay between upper, middle, and working class culture in London. A city for everyone.

These are sharp, but the whole reason for this post, today, is that I too created a brand for London. I’d been working on it for a while — at a less-than-tireless pace — and have finally achieved with this self-initiated effort a level of believability I think now warrants public consumption. I’ve already put it up on my portfolio page.

My effort takes advantage of London’s graphic DNA, consisting of bright colours, simple shapes, clean typography, whitespace, and the general notion that you can combine anything. My motivation, as I imagined others felt, was to create something expandable from the start, something that creates a system, rather than one beautiful symbol crowbarred into every application.

London identity logo

“A Rectangle?” you’re probably saying. Yes, you’re right. But like many large-scale branding schemes, the strength of the logo itself only goes so far. The logo is part of a greater system, and expands to fit the particular needs.

London identity logo

Logos will be created for various departments and services. Those entities with legacy logos will retain the iconic marque, but will largely be associated with colours. Additional departments and offerings can be extended with either new colour categories, or within an existing framework

London identity typography

The identity is hinged on an updated version of the classic British typeface Gill Sans. This new version, which I’m temporarily calling “Giww” has simplified some of the characters, especially those with curves. It exists now only as an upper-case font, but may be expanded as needs emerge.

The comparison to Gill is seen here, with new forms in Blue, and old ones in Red. Clearly, some characters have been retooled more than others.

Johnston or Johnson

I wasn’t the first to suggest using Gill and Johnston, on which it is based. Having become the unofficial and official typeface of Britain, it seems obvious. But does a typeface from the 1930s best reflect a 21st century city? And London, no less? (That’s perhaps a debate for another time. Obviously, I decided it does … sort of.)

I also created a few poster designs demonstrating the overall visual style — large photography with overlaid text. A white base offers the logo and allows the viewer to associate the appropriate colour and sector. This will become a recurring graphic device that can identify communications.

London identity posters

London identity posters

London identity posters

London identity posters

London identity posters

example of livery design, in this case, for Transport. More associations with colour.

London identity posters

London loves to ruin classical architecture with posters and ads

London identity posters

London identity posters

examples of fashion week ads, using street photography rather than posed studio shots. (photos via The Sartorialist.)

London identity posters

Olympics branding on banners, buses, etc.

London identity posters

London identity posters

London identity posters

examples of ads aimed at locals, promoting Parks & Museums

London identity posters

above posters how they might look in the Tube.

London identity posters

examples of stationery, obviously using colour to separate departments and identity programmes

***

So there we have it, my proposal for London’s new brand. It’s an option, of course, and since I’m not working at Saffron, it’s probably going to be radically different from the actual design that will debut soon. I did it by myself, but received a bit of feedback along the way.

Now the big questions: what do you think? Could it work in practice? What would critics — who love to criticise — have to say about it? Following the backlash of London 2012 Olympics Logo, are the British welcoming for such a design scheme? Is it recognisable, unique, ownable enough for your tastes? Leave your comments, I welcome them!

Oh, and Saffron, I’m available, so call me.