The Responsive Brand: Uniformity and Flexibility in Logo Design

A talk presented to the Theorising Visual Art and Design (TVAD) research group, University of Hertfordshire, by Dr Nicolas P. Maffei (Norwich University of the Arts) Wednesday May 10th 2017 and to the Pattern and Chaos research group, NUA. Monday May 15th 2017.

From the uniformity of modernism to the embrace of difference, this talk explores the historical shift from static to dynamic logos, from universal international brand identities to more flexible and responsive corporate personalities. This transformation occurred over a period extending from the nineteenth century to the present, and includes the roots of branding, the ideals of modernism, the emergence of the critical consumer, the development of the responsive corporation, and the co-creation of brands in online landscapes. From Peter Behrens’ designs for the German Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), in 1907, considered the first corporate identity, to Paul Rand’s flexible and humanizing identity developed for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) after WWII, this talk reviews the rise of the unchanging logo and, in turn, the multivalent brand-mark.

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In addition, the design responses of corporations to the vocal and ethically informed consumer are surveyed via the anti-branding movement, which has targeted Starbucks and McDonalds among other corporations.

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Nike is examined through local reinterpretations of the global brand. Gap’s failed logo of 2010 shows the power of the online consumer and the need for companies to listen and respond.

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Finally, brand reactions to the responsive consumer – characterized by chameleon-like logo transformation and an emphasis on user interaction and co-production of meaning, are investigated through the designs for telecommunications company Ollo (Bibliothèque, 2012), the identity for the Tate museums (Wolff Olins, 1999), and Experimental Jetset’s Responsive ‘W’ for The Whitney Museum (2011).

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All images above are used for the purposes of education, comment, critique and are non-profit.



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