We asked friend of Moving Brands, Bruno Maag to give us his opinion about type in London. Bruno is the founder of London-based type foundry Dalton Maag, and has worked with Moving Brands on a number of projects over the years.
Moving Brands: Should we carry on using Johnston / Gill Sans, or have they had their day?
Bruno Maag: I think we need to be clear what Johnston stands for – London Transport. It’s interesting to see how much London as a place identifies itself with the ubiquitous London Transport logo. Or maybe it just evolved that way. However, they are two different things and it’s time for London (place) to move forward and create its own identity. Using Johnston is clearly not going to do that, and neither is Gill being a relative, albeit distant.
Of course Gill Sans is a classic and will stick around for the time being. It has a strong personality that can be very imposing and hence has to be carefully employed.
I think neither typeface will answer the call for a strong independent London identity.
MB: Can a new typeface, developed for use on screen, in print and on signage, be developed referencing Johnston, but also looking to the future? Or should we start from scratch for the 21st century?
BM: Why reference Johnston at all. That is not necessary, for the reasons given above. Also, a new typeface needs to be designed to cater for the different types of media, and a much more diverse audience than was the case in 1917 when Johnston was introduced.
A new London identity needs to look into the future. This is not some consumer brand that will refresh in five to ten year’s time but an identity of people that will grow and establish itself. By the time it has really settled into place I am going to be retired! Hence, this identity needs to be developed with today’s teenagers in mind, or even with their teenage kids in mind. That instantly focusses us on researching and predicting how future generations will read, and what letterforms they will read.
MB: As a type designer living and working in London, how does the city affect your work?
BM: There is so much visual input it is quite difficult to absorb it all. I am keeping my eyes open and I am trying to absorb it all. Interestingly enough, it is the poor quality typography that sticks in my mind the longest. But it is often from this that we draw inspiration. We are also privileged to live in London for our non-Latin work. There are communities whose primary script is not Latin. This I find hugely fascinating.
MB: Are there any typefaces you’ve developed which are inherently ‘London’?
BM: I guess the closest we come to that are our King’s Caslon and Effra, both based on designs by the Caslon foundry. But I wouldn’t call them inherently ‘London’. They were designed with a broad user base in mind, and are of course of their time – King’s Calson a transitional serif, with Effra being a 19th Cent. sans. But yes, there is something English about them, I guess. They could never be Swiss, never.
MB: Does London need a bespoke typeface, or can an existing typeface do the job?
BM: Of course, an existing typeface would do the job, probably quite well, too, for the immediate future, anyway. But that’s not the point, is it? London is the creative center of the world and as such we have an opportunity, maybe even a responsibility, to push forward, to evolve new visual and typographical languages. As designers our ideas always move along the same established design practises, largely because clients are too afraid of change, and are too afraid of sicking their necks out. Mabye designers need to collaborate with artists who are less influenced by commercial concerns than we are as designers. Such collaborations potentially yield synergies that we would not have explored if we were on our own.
These are exciting times we are in. The way people communicate is changing dramatically. Paper and print based media, although still prominent, is becoming less important. Technology is becoming more adept at having the spontaneous functionality of paper and pen; increasingly the legal system is catching up with technology and societal changes. Eventually, the vast majority of communication will be done via technical devices and reading habits will have changed.
Not only ought we work with artists but I would also like to involve behavioural scientists, neurologists, technologists etc. I would love to see London brave enough to open this new identity up to a new way of thinking rather than just making it pretty. That will inform what London looks like, how it reads, how it feels. I can’t guarantee, however, that it will be better than what we have now. I would rather regret something I have done than something I haven’t done.
We’ve had some super comments from some of our friends.
London is without a doubt the best city in the world and I have travelled to most of the ones that claim otherwise. Londoners love their city and there is a feeling of a pride and collective ownership by those who belong here. Although we must look forward, we must also look back at its rich history and of course the icons that have contributed to its heart and soul – the Routemaster bus, red phone boxes, black cabs, to name a few, but now being relegated to a distant memory by overzealous Health & Safety officials or a short sited government. Our slogan should simply be “London. Don’t Mess With It”. With this in mind, we should mix nostalgia with modernity and create a brand which is both new and uniquely ‘London’. We must also not forget that “London is – Simply the Best”
Patrick Grant. Proprietor of Norton & Sons gave his thoughts…
“I loved the R.A.F meets London underground one, and don’t give a toss if it seems too military, but I can’t believe you have missed the opportunity to replace the dot with a dash (or maybe just a square).”
Patrick Uden, Executive Producer on The Apprentice and The Restaurant gave this view…
“To me London’s greatness is in its ‘cantonised’ structure allowing the rough to rub shoulders with the smooth.”
Charles Davies, EU Marketing Communications Director of Yahoo! said this…
“My simple vote – use the London Underground roundel for London, making the ‘London Roundel’ – it would be new, yet be drenched in heritage, that speaks volumes about the London streets”
And Ivo Baldi, Brand Manager for Swisscom pointed out that our…
“brilliant online campaign for creating the new London Identity finds attention in a very popular [Swiss] newsletter – http://www.ronorp.net/.
So, after a weeks worth of work I get home late on a Friday night to find my girlfriend standing in front of me proudly wearing a hoody she bought in a souvenir shop on Oxford Street… she then presents me with a London pencil case in the shape of a Giant Pencil adored with more London-type cliches then I care to shake a stick at (Big Ben, black cab’s, phoneboxes…), and aside from the obviously (and grwatly appreciated) support she was showing – I thought to myself, maybe just maybe the more cliched a brand for London the better? Should we fight cliche or embrace it? What do you guys think?
Founder of Moving Brands, Ben Wolstenholme, and Simon Browning have been discussing the Brand for London project. Simon was a founder of North design studio in London where Moving Brands collaborated with him on identities such as Telewest, Carat and Land Registry. Later he left for Japan to start his own studio Hester Fell who are doing great work. Simon is our good friend and neighbour in our Tokyo studio.
On involving the community:
SB: Unsure as to why any designer/group would wish to overly engage the general public. However, I understand you are ‘demonstrating’ a new methodology to a brief that is ‘theoretically’ about society/community – so as long as the community component is used to ‘inform’ the design process rather than be ‘shaped’ by it then your approach works.
SB: Regarding design don’t confuse ‘simplicity’ for ‘singularity’ – I believe what is required is the latter – finding a method to ‘retire’ the other GLA identities and substitute them for a common image would in itself help communicate the notion of a single body backing a single goal and at the same time provide effective focus for a PR story.
BW: Great idea, step one reduce to one identifier, clean the system out – be confident – do we need a logo, we know what London is.
SB: Not sure buses/taxis/underground symbols/buildings are a good template to move forward from – they are only iconic because of time and context – the reason designers and more specifically ‘design directors’ start from ‘familiarity bases’ is because they want to win the project – if MB develop an approach of not winning I guarantee an increase in creativity – I respect the London Olympic identity for it being non referential – that doesn’t mean to say I like it.
BW: With you again. Also have high regard for the Olympic departure from both city aspects and previous Olympic marks – sporty figures prancing around etc – and the interest in this is thanks to how contentious the 2012 logo is.
However I was thinking about the big difference between a logo on a sign and what people want to wear as London tourists buying merchandise e.g. I love NY is great for t-shirts, hence my sketch this morning, ‘Love’ …v cliche and potentially meaningless (bar The Beatles) but could be a cool t-shirt.
SB: Had the same thoughts – ‘where would people actually engage with this’ – a logo, a campaign, or just a mechanism to unify – I guess that’s where I Love NY works – suspects it also works as fashion kitch cool – a visitor to the city buys the t shirt and takes a way an authentic little piece of NY as a memory – very difficult to replicate ‘authenticity’
SB: With enough exposure you can communicate anything – I touched on this with Aki (Creative Director of MB Japan) – with enough media coverage (such as Obama Campaign) its a lot easier to improve awareness of the identity – the unconventional design of Britain’s Olympic logo was perhaps its strength since its public awareness increased hugely
SB: I think you shouldn’t overlook some of your great work – you created this with strong creative teams, working to briefs and I don’t feel you really need ‘public engagement’ to do what you do best – for me MB should just do what MB do best – imagine you have a client and you like them, and they trust you and they want something not seen before – try that
BW: Thanks, we could rock through this one given a remit and some trust 🙂
SB: For me this is it in a nutshell – your absolutely right, and it would be great too – LOOK TO YOURSELVES!
“London is…a dreamland for me”.
Just one example of the responses we’ve been getting from the people of London.
Here’s an extended vox-pops…some interesting views around multicultural London.
London is a real melting-pot in all regards. Found objects are an amazing way of communicating the truth effortlessly. Maybe Richard Wentworth’s interest is the juxtaposition of found objects could be good a good direction in trying to communicate a more realistic London.
Here’s another video that give a contemporary view of London…
We’ve looked at some of the London icons (and clichés). Maybe now it’s a good time to look at what modern London looks like.
This campaign from The Evening Standard seems to get a well-balanced reflective vibe of London across. Cockney-Poetry?
Our exploration work so far has been gravitating towards the London Underground roundel and the associated visual language. As we’ve been discussing, the LU roundel is the closest thing that London already has to a universally recognisable symbol for the city, in the same vein as I ♥ NY.
When we started discussing it, we realised that a lot of the attributes of the LU / TfL visual language (colours, fonts, shapes etc) pop up a lot around London.
We’ve had a quick go at defining London’s design DNA. The things that we see everyday around London that share common design attributes.
This palette gives us a good set of basic elements for designing a new symbol that can be unique whilst still bearing a resemblance to the other things it’s going to share a visual landscape with.
We believe London really is all about it’s people and so we decided to go out and get some opinions on what people really think London is.
We asked people if they were to complete the sentence “London is….” what would they say. We had some really interesting responses and the overriding feeling was that London is a multicultural city with plenty of opportunity to be whoever you want to be.
Here is a short edit of the responses:
Here are a couple of other British city logos. Both Cardiff and Belfast unveiled new logos last year. Cardiff’s supposedly “progressive” logo received a pretty cold reception whereas Belfast’s heart-shaped logo got a very mixed response.
It strikes me that we already have a symbol that is globally recognised as being London. The London Underground roundel. Could it be that the solution to the apparent problem is staring us in the face?
Could we simply elevate The London Underground roundel to become The London roundel?
Image from Brand New
Back in 2007, Saatchi and Saatchi were asked to elevate the meaning of the I ♥ NY to represent the state of NY rather than solely the city of NY. Their solution didn’t really work for me – but the idea that it is possible to elevate an icon and to change it’s meaning is an interesting thought… don’t you think?
Which typeface is relevant for London?
Johnston (Image from Wikipedia)
Designed by Edward Johnson in 1913 it has been used continuously on the London Underground with a number of updates over the years. It’s still going strong today and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere quickly.
Heavily influenced by Johnston, Eric Gill completed Gill Sans in 1926. It’s become visual shorthand for Britishness because of its use by institutions like British Railways, Penguin and the BBC.
Even older than Johnston and Gill Sans, Clarendon has been around since 1845 and hails from the Clerkenwell area of London.
Designed by Berthold Wolpe between 1932 – 1940, partly when he was living in London. It’s the typeface of choice for the Corporation of London, and is still used heavily around the City and Barbican areas.
FS Clerkenwell (Image from Font Smith)
A modern take on the same part of the city that gave us Clarendon. Designed by London-based Fontsmith, it’s got a Victorian feel to it but with modern sensibilities.
Designed by Dalton Maag, a foundry hailing from South East London, Effra is a contemporary typeface which is designed to work as well on screen as it does in print or signage.
Are there any London typefaces we’re missing? And should the typeface for London be iconic / historical, or should it be a typeface designed to work as well on a mobile phone as it does on wayfinding?
Ex-Creative Director of Apple Japan and Moving Brands’ new Creative Director in Tokyo, Aki Shelton, sent us her thoughts following a chat with a friend.
“Great to see that many conversations regarding the branding for London has started. My friend said this…
The interesting thing about the two examples you show (Obama and I love NY) is that they are both connected to an individual. So real the challenge is to find that individual.
Obama stood for change
I Love NY is a refection of how proud NYer’s where of the achievements of their state, now its a tourist gimmick.
Lennon stood for Peace
What does London stand for?
- Or all of the above?
Interesting that he pointed out about connection to “individual”.
Looking at the brief, they want to be best of everything but it’s better to stick with one thing like “Creativity” for London to stand for… single message is always much stronger”.
Any designer creating a new logo for London has to think about all the existing London icons (like Black Cabs, Big Ben and the London Eye) and if / how they can be used. The trouble is that they come with loads of baggage and most border on cliché.
What’s great about the I ♥ NY logo is that that Milton Glaser (designing the logo for the New York tourist board in 1975) didn’t start with an existing New York icon and base a logo around it. He invented a new icon which became synonymous with New York.
One of quirks of I ♥ NY is that it has become inseparable from New York City, when it was actually designed for New York State.
I ♥ NY didn’t start iconic, it became iconic and took on new meaning.
London can learn from this. Rather than referencing existing icons, like Big Ben and the London Eye, create something so bold, simple and infectious that it becomes a new icon for the city, given meaning by the people of the city.
Even NYC can get it wrong? Click here for the opinions on Brand New.
London already has a whole load of iconic things.
Black Cabs, image from o.ivanchenko
London buses, image from norma penner
Big Ben, image from Rex Maximilian
Phone boxs, image from greenwood100
Policeman’s helmets, image from George Eastman House
Guards, image from MatAnt
The Gerkin, image from .martin.
The London Eye, image from night86mare
St Pauls, image from BombDog
The London Underground roundel, image © Transport for London
Johnston, image from Wikipedia
Tube map, image © Transport for London
A symbol for London could work well as a sign-off for existing GLA logos.
This schematic shows how a symbol could have consistent and recognisable positioning with existing logos as well as becoming a powerful icon in it’s own right.
There are existing logos across the GLA that have different amounts of success and recognition – it strikes us that some of or all of these brands should or could stay in place… but if this is the case, the last thing we need is yet another logo using a clever (designed) way of writing the word ‘London’. What is needed is a credible and powerful symbol that can unite and be used by these existing GLA organisations. An Icon for a city.