When they say “timeless design”, they really mean it!
There has been a growing trend among brands to redesign, reinvent and reinvigorate their logos based on previous work. Call it lazy, or call it insightful, but big brands (and the agencies behind them) are showing us time and again that the striking logos of the past are just as relevant today as they were many decades ago.
Some of the world’s most recognisable brands, and some closer to home, announced as recently as last year that their logos would receive updates in the form of retro-inspired designs. While some of these logos don’t seem to have evolved as much as others, there’s no doubt that a serious amount of consideration for what previous design did for brands has been undertaken by agencies.
Is forming a new logo steeped in history and nostalgia a genuine way of celebrating a brand’s past? Or, perhaps more cynically, is this just a convenient way of sidestepping negative moods and atmospheres which are entangled in the modern day. There has to be a fundamental reason why, all within the same 12 month period, so many brands are reverting to past designs.
The introduction of NatWest’s latest logo last year is perhaps the most obvious example of recycling old branding to create something new. Now, the legitimacy of the current NatWest logo being “new” depends on your definition of the word, as very little other than the colouring appears to have been altered from the original 1968 version, at least to the average untrained eye.
NatWest’s original greyscale icon of three-dimensional, interlocking cubes was brought forward from the bank’s brand guidelines and studied by London design consultants FutureBrand. The group, who are self-confessed future proofing specialists, made the decision to delve into the archived history of NatWest to bring the icon out of retirement.
Having an icon demonstrate the cohesion of three distinct aspects was very important when NatWest first formed. It was the combination of National Provincial Bank, Westminster Bank and District Bank that required suitably fused together branding.
According to the executive creative director at FutureBrand, Dan Witchell, the company “used [NatWest’s brand history] as a jumping-off point, using the cubes as a storytelling device to create illustrations and build stories. It was a gentle evolution of the brand rather than a reinvention.”
It’s clear there’s absolutely no reinvention going on here, but why look back to the past so directly?
2016 was a tumultuous year for the world, which is potentially a massive understatement, but it represented the start of colossal social uncertainty on a scale many didn’t believe could be reached. Banks were originally at the tip of the spear of our nosedive into troubled waters, so it makes sense for NatWest to consider harkening back to classic times in an effort to encourage consumers to think about long-standing reliability, rather than recessions.
The story of NatWest’s icon is very similar to that of Kodak’s new logo, which was resurrected in the same heritage-inspired fashion.
In 2006, Kodak opted to ditch the bold and brash yellow from the late 80s in favour of a red sans-serif typeface of the company’s name. A subtle yellow lining was the only thing left of the previously dominant shade. But now, New York studio Work-Order has given new life to the 1987 logo (itself a minor update from the 1971 version) and made it applicable to the modern day.
The one major difference between the two is the positioning of the Kodak name, which has been moved to the right to mimic the sprocket holes on film strips.
It’s a cute alteration, but one that doesn’t require much devotion to the cause. Respecting the strong history of a brand is often the motivation behind minimal interference with classic logo design.
The desire for a more traditional logo apparently came from Kodak directly. Danielle Atkins, vice president of global brand and creative, said the company embarked upon a bit of brand recognition research. They found that that 58% of people they asked about the brand recognised it from the outline of the old logo.
So, the decision seemed simple: Kodak founder George Eastman’s original design for the company brand would come back, signalling a desire for more rose-tinted conversations about one of the oldest and most respected imaging companies around. The black and white reasoning behind the change remains unclear, as the brand narrative machine will only spit out empty words like “heritage”, “vision” and “legacy”.
Steve Overman, who is chief marketing officer at Kodak, commented: “I don’t think of what we’re doing as ‘bringing back’ the iconic identity of Kodak, because, in people’s hearts and minds, I don’t think it really went away. It’s simply logical to keep one of the world’s most famous brand marks at the forefront of the company’s image and identity.”
If the changes seen so far between old and new logos seem relatively modest, Co-op takes the biscuit. The local convenience store, which has expanded over the years to offer services like banking, insurance, and funerals, already had a stab at reclaiming and reinventing its original logo back in 1993.
For the most part, you can clearly see a genuine process of learning from the previous icon and designing something to build on what came before it. While the 1993 version is decidedly 90s in its use of a darker shade of blue and a sharp, angular accent underscoring the softer edges, it’s arguably a successful evolution of the 1968 logo as it does actually show initiative.
But what does that 1968 logo look like? Well, if you don’t already know, just find your local Co-op store and take a peek at their signage.
In 2016, Co-op made the executive decision to go back to its roots and transfer the old 60s icon to the 21st century. From what we can tell, the icon has been moved wholesale with little to no tinkering undertaken by design studio North. Everything about the original icon has remained the same, and the company has been lightning fast in updating all instances of their logotype across their stores and online material.
According to Co-op, this was triggered a couple of years ago with the restructuring of its membership scheme and the dropping of the full ‘Co-operative’ title.
It is possible that the company wanted an icon that many people who use services like insurance and banking would be impressed with. Potentially, this demonstrates the idea that they’re still the same company that did good by you all those years ago.
Ben Terrett, Co-op group design director, worked with North to copy and paste the old logo into 2016. This in-house team of designers, lead by Terrett, wants to build a “world-class design capability” under the Co-op brand.
“With the new membership offer, our own brand products become more important than ever and this new look brings a simplicity and helps them stand out more.”
Again, the legitimacy of statements like this one depends on your definition of the word “new”. There is nothing inherently new about using the exact same icon from the late 60s, however back then it wasn’t used in the way it is today on packaging and membership cards.
Ultimately, retro inspired design is something that has seen a great deal of attention from brands and their design consultants. One by one, we’ve seen brands adopt design philosophies from decades gone by, with a central focus on reigniting core values.
Most explanations from these brands stop short of offering a concrete reason for the need to capture the spirit of the past, but it can’t be a coincidence that brand after brand is reflecting on what worked in the past in order to paint a better light in the future. What, if anything, does this mean for original design?
Written by RealEdge staff.