Good Trends in 21st Century Identity Design

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

Losing a Weak Logo
In recent times some companies have omitted logos from their identities. In fairness, most of those logos were weak, violating one of the Seven deadly Sins of Logo Design. But, as mentioned in Chapter 14, an identity of a signature alone usually only works for consumer brand products like Gillette, Alka-Seltzer and Hertz Rent-a-Car, etc. Only a few of the samples here are such businesses. For most of them, a better approach would have been to redesign their logos. Plain signatures are inherently weaker than a good logo with a signature or a wordmark.

In spite of these examples, losing the logo is not a trend in 21st century identity design. Instead, as we have seen in the preceding several chapters, companies and their designers are feeling their way toward the principles that are the foundation of this blog.

That ought to tell you something.

1.-3. Charter Communications, Cognizant, First Data all got rid of their problematic logos which were, admittedly, weak. But the end result in each case is less personality in their identities. 4. SanDisk threw away their logo, which was somewhat uninspired and had very thin positive and negative lines. They also switched to a slab serif font to give the wordmark more mass. All in all, a good move for them. 5. Fuji Film finally got rid of its horrible logo and replaced its signature with a wordmark. Another change for the better. 6. ScotiaBank dumped its sub-standard logo and went with a slightly improved siganture. 7. Losing a logo isn’t always a bad idea. Dunkin’ Donuts shortened its name and its identity to just “Dunkin.’” Removing the logo was no big loss as it wasn’t very memorable. They kept the very appropriate font and the net result was quite positive. 8. Halliburton’s identity was ill proportioned; the logo was too big in relation to the signature and the H was too small in relation to the circle. But otherwise, it was a decent logo. The worst part of the identity was the use of an extended font for an already long signature. Unbelievably, that is the only part they kept. Throw away the better part and keep the weaker part. What were they thinking? 9. Black & Decker’s decision to change its identity is baffling. The logo was solid. The signature font had fairly small counters that might fill in at small sizes, so it could have been replaced with another sturdy font with counters that were a bit more open. The ampersand did not fit the rest of the type and also needed to be replaced, but overall it wasn’t a bad identity. It had a feeling of strength that could have served them well with some adjustments. When they changed to the new identity, they lost the sturdy look and added shallow containment for what can only be described as a much weaker identity.

A Move Away From Serif Fonts
When talking about thin shapes, we have concentrated on logos, but the same principles apply to the fonts used for the signatures or wordmarks in identity design.

Serifs are, in most fonts, smaller and thinner than the strokes that make up their letterforms. Many companies have found these problematic in their identities. This is why so many companies are moving away from serifs in their signatures and wordmarks. If you go back through the previous several posts, you will see how many font changes have gone from serif to sans serif. The one part of the serif world that still is useful are the slab serifs, because the serifs tend to be sturdier.

1. AIG left behind their serifs with their new sans serif identity. 2. Stockholms Stad (the municipality of Stockholm, Sweden) replaced its wraparound serif type with straight sans serif that has a bit more weight. They also simplified their coat of arms to be one color. 3. HSBC increased the size of their logo relative to their signature and compensated by using a clearer sans serif font with heavier weight. 4. Reader’s Digest joins the host of other companies abandoning their former serif wordmark with a clean sans serif. 5. Travelers shortened their name as well as going to a sans serif font with a single color umbrella logo. 6. Nvidia traded its two-color logo as well as its lower-uppercase mix and its regular and italic mix for a single color logo and with a sturdy sans serif signature.

Didone is Dead
A subset of serif fonts that are even more problematic are the Didone Family. They are represented by fonts such as Bodoni, Modern, Didot, etc. Because of their thick and thin strokes, especially in their serifs, they have long been avoided by identity designers with good reason. Those thin strokes fill in too often to be viable for branding design. For those few time where they have been used, the lifespan of those designs has been short, having been replaced by fonts that do not have such thick-thin properties. While fine for other uses, they are not suitable for identity design.

Members of the Didone family of fonts may be perfectly suitable for many uses, but corporate identity is not one of them. Why? Because they have such thin serifs and other thin strokes. Those tend to fill in when reversed or when seen at a distance. Many designers have tried to ignore this fact over the years and use them anyway, but none have succeeded.
(Are you listening, GAP?)

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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