It was late Summer 2009 when a minor scandal hit the Internet. The Mayor of London put out the call that London needs a new logo. Not just a new logo, but one logo to rule them all. A single graphic identity to unify all the official branches of London life, concerning tourism, transport, the arts, sport, government, etc. etc. Following the success of Wolff Olins’s NYC efforts — creating a single identity for all things New York — London sought to take a similar approach and bring order to the chaos. It was a noble plan, because once illustrated, the need was indeed apparent.
The many logos of London. Can we have some unity please? Image via Brand New
The scandal, if we can call it that, was in how the design firms were selected for a chance at the £400,000 fee associated with the project. In short, a huge list of criteria were included in the brief/tender, thus eliminating all those three-person firms that are doing really great work. Requirements concerning fire insurance, community outreach and charity donations, carbon footprints, and even something to do with LGBT policies tainted the whole project with a stink of public-sector red tape and corporate pandering. A deadly combination. A few notable firms were shortlisted, but the project was shelved, and no creative work ever emerged from said agencies.
Examples of NYC’s logo, used throughout the City’s agencies
However, we of the Internet took the project upon ourselves. Accepting that our ideas — no matter their merit — would never be considered, many concepts quickly appeared as to how London might create an identity for itself. Using the traditions of graphic design in Britain, designers showcased their work on the website A Brand for London. This writer even got in on the action creating his own approach to London, the brand.
Concepts for London. Not chosen, of course.
But recently there was some stirring and a logo was unveiled for the newly-created agency called London & Partners to handle all promotional activities, merging the existing Think London and Visit London. From a post on Creative Review:
At a press conference [1 April 2011], London Mayor Boris Johnson announced the launch of London & Partners, a new agency “to showcase London as the best city to visit, invest and study in”.
This was no April Fool’s joke, though. And further details emerged, along with visuals. Apparently the logo was an evolution of a concept submitted by Saffron, one of the shortlisted agencies. Their work was essentially the same, but without the river-in-an-O identifier which now appears.
The ‘River’ symbol of the new London & Partners logo. It’s the Thames, of course.
So what does this all mean? Well, first it illustrates how difficult it can be to create a brand for something as big as a city. Not only must there be the involvement of government(s) local, state, and national, but all the agencies involved are opening themselves up to public scrutiny. Any fees are likely to be public funds, so the work that emerges will be subject to taxpayer approval via opinions or something nearer to a riot. (Ahem, London 2012).
From a creative point of view, it’s no easy task. The team must tie in centuries of history, a multitude of cultural touchpoints, a directed tone and personality, and coordinate this all with stated business objectives. The branding of a city is a challenge indeed. And I would say that with a city as vast and diverse as London, there is no single image to encapsulate everything accurately and appropriately — someone is going to feel left out or misrepresented.
So if you are thinking “we need a brand identity for our city”, maybe you should think twice. Go for the small victory and make sure the trains are running on time.