Making their mark

In today’s competitive marketplace, firms are fighting to be the first name we think of when choosing a service. But what do their logos tell us about the company and its attitude? Asks Jim Davies

You might expect it of the tabloids, but the broadsheets are just as bad. Whenever a high-profile corporate identity revamp makes the news, they’ll simply slap an old logo next to new one, caption it “before” and “after” and inform a bemused public that this simple exercise cost shareholders region £10m – and oh, we were quite fond the old logo anyhow.

It’s an incredibly superficial take on corporate identity, and design for that matter, reducing it to little more an arbitrary exercise in mark-making – as if a cool £10m buys you a pretty designer doodle.

In fact, the logo is only a small part of the service offered by specialist consultancies such as Wolff Olins, Landor Associates, Bamber Forsythe, Coley Porter Bell and Henrion, Ludlow & Schmidt. The real business of corporate identity lies in effectively communicating the ethos and spirit of the company, and this process can take literally months of research to determine perceptions of the company both internally and externally. Only then can the tricky business of shifting and improving these perceptions begin.

In the introduction to his book Corporate Identity: Making Business Strategy Visible Through Design, corporate identity guru Wally Olins states that, “The identity of a corporation must be so clear that it becomes the yardstick against which its products, behaviour and actions are measured. This means that the identity cannot simply become a slogan, a collection of phrases: it must be visible, tangible and all-embracing.” Like the letters running through a stick of seaside rock, in other words.

Olins also makes reference to the origins of corporate identity, which can be traced back to regimental flags and insignia. These emblems served a two-fold purpose, firstly to strike fear into the enemy by letting them know exactly who was coming after them, secondly, to give the troops a sense of belonging, a symbolic badge which they could be proud enough to fight for.

Similarly, how staff perceive and feel about their company is a crucial aspect of corporate identity. It determines how they project the corporate image to outsiders, and whether they feel comfortable working with the company culture. Which is of course a two-way street; treatment of staff, and relationships with management directly affect morale, atmosphere and, therefore, collective personality. After all, if you’re happy in your job, chances are that you have good things to say about your employer – but the opposite also holds true. The following case studies consider whether particular corporate identities accurately reflect human resources policies.

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