No one moving into their first home today expects to still be living there when they retire. No one starting their first job today expects to stay there for life. And just like homes and jobs, a logo isn’t made for life anymore. It’s made for now.
There are a few historic brands that still use their original logo today – or at least a slightly updated version of it. Twinings’s logo dates back to 1787 and since then, very little about it has changed. The same goes for Coca-Cola (1887) and Ford (1909) – classic brands whose logos have outlived generations and generations of consumers.
But in that time, our attitudes to ownership, property and longevity have changed. Homes, jobs and many more parts of life are temporary or shared, our idea of belonging is much more fluid – and this influences brands both new and old. One of the first to adapt to the new world was BP, which scrapped an almost century-old logo for a new, more environmentally conscious one.
Rather than aiming to withstand the test of time, unchanging, brands now prefer more flexible identity systems that can adapt to the ever-changing needs of the market. When we embark on a brand development exercise, we expect to create something with a shelf-life of around five years (at least for the visual identity component – the company’s purpose and values ought to last longer). That’s shocking when you think of the hundred-year-old logos that still exist today.
Rather than aiming to withstand the test of time, brands now prefer flexible identity systems that can adapt
But it’s not just the longevity of the visual identity that’s changed; it’s also the idea of what a logo should be. When the Tate Gallery rebranded in the early 2000s, instead of a traditional logo, it started using a whole suite of different logotypes, signifying the dynamic and constantly evolving world of art. A few years later, the city of Melbourne rebranded itself with a capital M that could take almost any colour and contain a plethora of different patterns.
Even more recently, a new trend towards simplicity has spread from the world of tech and startups. Google, Uber, Airbnb and most recently BT have chosen simplicity over character. Clean, sans serif type, flat colours, effortless graphics and friendly photography characterise a trend that brings together rather than separates brands.
The trend is now appearing in sectors like fashion (Burberry), finance (Mastercard) and the public sector (PSR).
These trends towards flexibility and simplicity lend themselves to a more relaxed, conversational personality that today’s consumers respond well to. Brands don’t want to present strength and power any more (for example, we rarely see capital letters in logos now). Instead, they want to be partners, or even to take a secondary/supportive role, with the client or customer as the hero of the story.
The world of strict (and strictly policed) brand guidelines is on the way out. This is a more creative and agile environment where a brand is a flexible, plastic thing, and the logo is only a small part of the overall visual identity and brand strategy. A brand for now is one that responds to the needs and attitudes of the audience – and can change as they do in the future.