Do you remember corporate identity? I mean when there was this thing called corporate identity that was totally separate from a design firm, an ad agency, a pr firm? And there wasn’t such a thing as a “branding agency”?
There was foundational and epic work by Paul Rand, and others who followed behind–Lippincott & Margulies, Landor. These designers envisioned logos that would live for generations, cast in concrete, metal, adorning glossy brochures. They took as much time as they needed to explore alternative designs; after all, these logos were going to live for 20, 30 years or more. And just as advertising was still the purview of the CEO, so was corporate identity. These were the days before Wall Street absorbed the CEO’s full attention.
And then there were the systems. Beautiful three-ring binders filled with stories about the company and how the logo evolved. And cryptic guidelines that were written for those rare individuals who understood pica, font, CMYK. This knowledge was closely guarded, usually by the head of corporate communications. (These were the days before CMO’s) The binder was distributed on a need to know basis.
Stationery was important then, and forms, because they were produced in quantity and lasted a long time. Corporations with a strong corporate identity were distinctive. They stood out from the crowd with a certain elegance superior to companies with mismatched marketing material.
In a world that was dominated by the command and control management style, and at a time when advertising told consumers what they should want and why they should buy (no questions asked) the whole corporate identity thing worked very well.
Enough reminiscing. It’s a whole new world today. And I think the old world is still colliding with the new one, in an unhealthy way. Companies don’t have 10 year strategic plans anymore, but they often have identity systems that are 10 years old. If print was the dominant medium when your corporate identity was created, then it’s probably outdated. Visual systems today need the potential for movement, animation, deconstruction. Logos must work as tiny bugs next to a URL more often than they are seen on stationery.
And today, employees and consumers have a personal stake in how a brand (including the logo) lives and communicates in the world. This is not easy to reconcile. Some companies maintain an “enforcer” approach, others throw up their hands and completely let go. I think there is a better way. More about this later.