The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) recently redesigned its logo to much criticism in the press. Pratt Institute’s Communications Design faculty member Graham Hanson, president and chief creative director at GHD, discusses the rationale behind these types of rebranding efforts and the risks involved.
What are the factors that drive companies/organizations to create a new logo or visual identity?
Much of what fuels this need for change is the fatigued internal self-image that organizations can have after having lived intimately with a brand over a long period of time. In other words, the organization's vision with regard to brand platform is inward looking. However, it’s the view of the consumer or market that is most important, and more often than not, there is very little brand fatigue from the consumer perspective. More than ever, a more holistic approach that takes into account the overall brand platform is more critical for an organization than focusing solely on the logo itself, which is one element of that platform. For this reason, it’s somewhat unfair to focus criticism on the logo redesign specifically.
Why is there controversy regarding The Met's newly introduced logo, and what can future designers learn from this?
There is controversy over every logo design, from the Whitney Museum to Google to the Gap to Verizon to Airbnb. The reason is that there is a vibrant online design community with a diverse range of opinions on what is really a very subjective matter. Logos don't sell anything. In many respects they are very much antiquated—a surviving relic from a less interactive, less technological era. Our brand allegiances and perceptions are now shaped by so many other factors. Nevertheless, the logo remains an individual isolated piece of design that attracts easy scrutiny and opinion. It’s much more difficult to make a substantive critique of an overall brand strategy, of which the logo is only a very minor part.
What are some examples of a successful logo redesign—and why are they successful?
You can't expect much from a logo conceptually (ever stop to think what the red “o” in Mobil means?). A logo is never seen in a vacuum (except for online critique forums!). Therefore, one of the biggest considerations in any logo design is context. And today, that context is invariably the web, which does provide some restrictive real estate for the logo specifically. Both the recent Google and Verizon redesign efforts very much had this in mind. A “do no harm” approach goes a long way with logo design. With the new “The Met” logo, like the recent Whitney Museum logo, there is a visible degree of overdesign that will invite criticism. Overdesigned logos are overly graphically complex, in contrast to the Verizon and Google logos, for example. The complexity is oftentimes a result of a misguided attempt to be overly conceptual.