The Importance of Soul: Addressing Branding’s Own Size 0

by Diane Lindquist on 09/09/2013 | 6 Minute Read

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We all know what happened with the new Yahoo! logo. And earlier today it was reported, then unreported, that a new unannounced Google logo was found in an Android SDK. It immediatly drew comparisons to Yahoo's rebrand, some deeming the simplified Google logo more successful. 

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With the recent trend of brand simplification, Hamish Campbell, Creative Director of Pearlfisher New York, shares his opinion on how important is for brands to keep their soul. He discusses several recent redesigns of popular brands who have all stripped down and simplified their identities. Some, better than others.

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Our current generation is increasingly creative and expressive; we are disciples of a digital and technological age that allows us to exercise visual and intellectual freedom. Yet amongst all of this creative liberation we’re noticing a distinct lack of creativity within the realm of brand design. Typography is losing its soul and needs to reclaim its identity.

Hedi Slimane’s rebrand of Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent was the instance that really got me thinking. To me, this redesign was the beginning of the end – this was the first of many like-minded redesigns that happened around the same time, all lacking in soul and personality. A skill that is all about craft, intricacy, personality and heart, creating a brand is becoming increasingly little more than a brand mark typed out in solid Sans font.

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Wallpaper magazine deemed YSL the best rebrand of 2012. The logo is both retro and stylized; attributes that befit the eponymous and iconic brand, but the new logo is lacking in a whole lot of soul and collective history. Sure, the redesign is well executed and the new logo hails back to the brand’s roots, but it also serves to alienate the millions of consumers who have come to adore YSL since its formative years. YSL and the luxury sector in general, perhaps more so than any other sector, needs to charm, create desire, exude personality and substance. Yet the new SL logo speaks volumes to stark status and little else, losing the very craft and elegance that set YSL and its products apart.

YSL was not the only brand to undergo such a redesign. Brands like Weight Watchers, Microsoft, and eBay were also pared down and stripped back by the end of 2013. Some may see these redesigns as streamlined evolution, but at what cost? These brands now look so much like one another when they had the potential momentum to become even more iconic and unique. While the contemporary approach of stripping back and straight-talking will be the future for some, it will be the downfall of others. And it is this volatility we are seeing when it comes to identity and logo design. Have these solid Sans logos become the size zero of branding; a uniform look devoid of personality, character and soul?

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There are of course times when less is more. We have seen a paring back in the world of branding - a new focus on simplicity and single-minded seduction. A brand’s core visual equities are what differentiate it so there is nothing wrong with trimming the fat in order to lay bare the truth at the heart of a brand. That said, it’s vitally important not to lose a brand’s heritage and connection to the consumer along the way. I love design that is simple and clear but every brand needs heart too.

The rebrand of USA Today is a great example of a brand that revitalized itself without losing its soul. The new design is bold and dynamic and reflects the brand’s concise and visual approach to delivering news across multi-platforms. Furthermore, the new design is recognizable and flexible, allowing the brand to evolve as our world continues to expand. And this is the crux. For brand recognition, reach and visibility today, brands need to succeed in multi-channels.

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As consumers engage with a growing number of retail and media platforms, many brands and businesses are still designing their products as if little has changed. But brands must learn to adapt; the growing diversity of brand behavior creates an even stronger argument for identity centric brand design. Design is the common denominator when it comes to brand innovation, pick up and success. As even more channels appear and vie for our attention, the need to address design becomes increasingly prescient as brand recognition for - and connection with – the consumer will become even more important.

As part of our Pearlfisher Futures Program we have identified a new macro shift in design - inspired by our Body and its future shape - which celebrates individuality and a breaking free from conformity and restriction. This shift is infiltrating everything from fashion to food. As designers we should be embracing and helping to steer this change; size zero is old news. We want to celebrate beautiful curves and personal style statements and this is as true for typography and brand design as it is for fashion brands.

From this awareness we need to create a new and amazing lexicon of logos that celebrate rather than replicate. Brands like Maldon Salt, Little Bird for Mothercare, Jamie Oliver’s Jme or Mother & Child do just this, celebrating the heart of their brand through creative, craft driven design, showing that at the root of their product lies soul and a commitment to connection with their consumers.

To have any sort of real and personal connection with brands we need to fully experience the key expression and soul of the brand from the outset. We need to bring back shape, craft and mastery into logo design and brands need to realize the opportunity before it is too late.

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About Hamish Campbell


Hamish is Creative Director of our New York studio, leading and inspiring the design team by setting the creative standard – continually encouraging our designers to demonstrate brilliant conceptual thinking and strong design craftsmanship. He brings his excitingly diverse international experience across branding, packaging, retail and print design to the studio. Prior to moving Stateside, he worked with some of London’s leading design consultancies, fast developing a strong track record for innovative design, including award-winning work for iconic brands such as Johnnie Walker, Bacardi, Ferrero and Nike.  In all aspects of his life, Hamish believes in pushing boundaries and discovering the unexpected, while relishing the simple and the everyday; and it’s this dynamic yet down-to-earth stance that makes him the perfect fit for Pearlfisher New York. 

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