When it’s time for change: Recycling and Redesigning Logos

Branding is about articulating the clearest, truest expression of who you are. For most brands, that expression is summed up in the logo identity.

If you’re a new company, a new logo is a chance to introduce yourself to the world and make a good first impression. But when your logo and brand are already in the marketplace, it presents a different challenge. What do you want your brand to say about you? And is that the message your logo is sending your audience today?

The fantastic book “Recycling & Redesigning Logos” by Michael Hodgson is all about redefinition–when your logo no longer represents who you are or who you want to be. Hodgson is the principal and creative director of Ph.D, a design firm in Santa Monica, Calif.

The book offers some compelling examples of organizations that redesigned their logos and redefined their visual brands. It takes you through not only well-chosen examples of identity redesigns, but the process it took to get there.

A redesign is not an easy decision. You have to consider what elements of the existing brand you want to keep and help bring to the forefront, and what you want to change. How you navigate these decisions is very important, otherwise you run the risk wasting the investment that’s already been made in the brand and alienating existing customers along the way. Perhaps I’ll just mention Gap and move on.

While the logo may be the most representative expression of a company brand, it’s only the beginning. Brands are not built on logos alone. Especially today, the logo is only a part of a larger context in which people experience brands. But when you want to show that something has changed about your company and who you are or want to be no longer matches who you were–it may be time for change. Hodgson writes:

“What many call ‘visual identity’ or ‘the brand,’ I call visual personality.’ It is easier to think of it as a person. We share memories with them, fond ones mostly, but sometimes the person you loved changes. He or she is no longer the person you knew. You hardly recognize them. Or, conversely, you’ve changed but they have not. You no longer find them useful or meaningful.”

I couldn’t agree more with the concept of visual personality. To me this is a more holistic, accurate, and useful view of branding. People now experience brands in so many diverse ways. It’s far less about broadcasting the brand and more about representing interactions across communities. Of course the logo still matters, but the full meaning lies in the expression in total. Articulating the brand as a personality also helps guide not only designers and writers whose job it is to articulate the brand in communications, but inspires everyone in the community that surrounds the brand to share their stories.

We have long-described the Red Hat brand voice using the language of personality. As we say in our own brand book, we express this personality in our voice. In defining our written brand voice, I describe it as writing for a character. It’s a voice we step into when we’re speaking on behalf of Shadowman, the character represented in the Red Hat logo. He’s only a two-dimensional logo, after all–we have to speak for him.

Perhaps Red Hat has an advantage in that the logo already includes a character that can be personified, but I believe every company gives voice to their visual personality in everything they do and say.

That’s one of the reasons why I really appreciated the book. It’s about redesigning logos and presents many as before-and-after successes, but it also recognizes that the end product doesn’t always tell the full story. Sometimes the best answer isn’t redesigning the logo, but the visual language around it.

Such was the case of Motorola, whose story was told in the book’s best practices section. Motorola decided that rather than overhauling the iconic “M” mark, they updated the visual context of the identity surrounding it. As a result, they kept a classic mid-century mark, retained its value, and still made it feel modern and fresh again.

The structure of the book is well organized and useful. You’ll learn about the organizations and processes designers had to consider–audiences, existing brand attributes, how the redesigns achieve corporate goals. The writing is warm and clever, and the interviews are full of wisdom from some of the most respected names in design.

It is especially useful for any company considering a brand update, but it’s also relevant for anyone interested in design or branding and want to see the thoughtful process that inspires the creation–or in this case, re-creation–of a world-class logo identity.


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