The UK Space Agency, which was just launched on April 1, hasn’t even gotten off the ground, but its logo is already mired in controversy. Designed by Folio Creative, the mark features a stylized Union Jack with a red arrow soaring toward the heavens. Some have charged that it bears a striking similarity to one claimed by the Space Rocket Group in the BBC-TV sci-fi show “Doctor Who.” The response from Folio Creative was to insist that “There is barely a passing resemblance…. It is inevitable if you combine the Union Flag with a space theme.”
Although we certainly see how that comparison can be made, we also know how designers brainstorm ways to turn a name into visual shorthand. We can just picture the initial concept development discussions starting with designers jotting down every British icon that comes to mind – the British beefeater, John Bull, the Queen, Tower of London, Big Ben…to, I got it!, the British flag! Moving onto “space agency,” the images that come to mind are the planets, stars, galaxy, astronauts…or how about a space rocket! Combine the two and what you get is a succinct link between UK and space travel. The UKSA logo, however, is much more elegant than the “Doctor Who” logo, so we think the linkage is just a coincidence, not a ripoff.
Given the fact that so many people emailed us articles about the Museum of Modern Art in New York “acquiring” the @ symbol for its architecture and design collection, we believe that others made the connection to us as well.
Actually, the origin of the @ symbol is rather murky. One theory is that it was invented by scribes around the sixth or seventh century as an abbreviation of “ad,” the Latin word for “at” or “toward.” Then @ resurfaced on the keyboard of the first typewriter, the American Underwood, in 1885, as a shorthand way of stating “at the rate of” on accounting documents. With the exception of bookkeepers, few people used the @ key, which apparently was the reason why an American programmer named Raymond Tomlinson decided to appropriate it in 1971 when devising a system to state the first email address. Tomlinson concluded that a succinct way to let email senders identify themselves was by separating the user name from the host computer from which it was sent with the @ sign. That made perfect sense and quickly became the language of the global email realm.
In 1994, when we were trying to come up with a name for our new business and design journal, the @ symbol seemed like a clever way of implying that we were at the cutting-edge of contemporary issues. Little did we realize that in 2009 when we launched ourselves as a magablog, we couldn’t register “@Issue” as our url and had to go with the annoyingly awkward “atissuejournal” if we wanted to keep some semblance of our name. But, in our heart, we will always be @Issue. Now, we are proud that half of our logo has been inducted into the MoMA collection – we’d be even prouder if MoMA would take the other half of our logo too.
“Logorama,” which won this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, is a movie made up entirely of logos. Remarkable in itself, this award is testament to the fact that logos have risen beyond tools for brand marketing and have become the most recognizable images of pop culture around the world. Written and directed by H5’s Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain, “Logorama” is a 16-minute animated crime story that takes place in Los Angeles (where else?). Brand logos not only comprise the landscape, they are the heroes and villains of the film. The plot, which has shades of Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” gone seriously awry, revolves around a curvaceous Esso girl, a sinister Ronald McDonald, Michelin men cops and a dapper Mr. Pringles, with cameo appearances by more than 2,500 logos and corporate brands. At a time when brand advertisers pay huge sums of money to sneak their product into the scene of a feature film, even for a few seconds, “Logorama” turns the concept of brand placement on its ear.
Historically house brand packaging has been sad to look at. It’s as if shoppers were being told, “You want it cheaper than the national name brands, then don’t expect us to spend any money on pretty wrappers.” Increasingly, stores are concluding that packaging that looks inferior to national brands present a missed marketing opportunity. Instead of communicating value, it gives bargain-hunting shoppers the impression that the merchandise inside is just as shoddily produced.
Like Martha Stewart, Charles Schwab and Ralph Lauren, renowned chef Wolfgang Puck is a brand unto himself. His name evokes a promise of culinary quality, fine dining, and contemporary style. Little wonder that his enterprises have expanded from celebrated restaurants like Spago in Beverly Hills to a line of quick-serve Wolfgang Puck Express and contemporary casual Wolfgang Puck Bistro dining establishments to the retail sales of a broad array of licensed branded products, ranging from coffee and soups, frozen appetizers and pizzas, to pots and pans.
About 12 years ago, we presented a quiz titled “Alphabet Soup,” (Vol. 3, No. 2) to see if our readers could identify a company simply by the first logotype letter in its name. Since then, new companies, and whole new industries, have risen to the forefront. Some of the brands featured in that quiz don’t exist anymore. So, we have created a new alphabet quiz out of logotypes from some of today’s best-known companies. Keep in mind that the most recognizable letter is sometimes in the middle of the name. If you’re stumped, take a peek at the answers.