Dynamic Logosby Cornelius Blank on 04/04/2012
From letterhead to TV to website to smartphone – brands are having to appear in an ever increasing array of channels and mediums. Along with companies that always seem to be creating new and slightly evolving versions of their products and themselves, current models unchanged for decades are proving inadequate – one logo, one brand colour, one typeface, one grid. The time of such monolithic, static systems has passed. The answer may lie in dynamic logos that change over time from setting to setting, offering much needed flexibility and versatility for brands.
Dynamic logos are popping up everywhere – sometimes wonderfully, often unnecessarily. Multimedia and technology sectors especially, have proven a rich breeding ground for experimentation. At a danger of self destructing due to over or misuse it’s worth stepping back and assessing them afresh. On closer inspection one will find a multitude of species each with their own behaviour and attributes. Some move and animate, some simply change their skin while others are in constant flux, evolving and reacting to their environment.
This is the most primal species and has been around for decades. Broadcasting is of course its natural habitat but it has seen a revival in recent years with the greater flexibility provided by digital media. From the swirling swoosh of the Internet Explorer logo to the subtle wave of the new Current logo where, one could argue the animation itself is the brand image.
Popular to the point of becoming cliché, the chameleon is very much a conventional logo but allows itself some flexibility by changing its exterior colour or texture; often assimilating to its environment and sometimes changing in style to appeal to a diverse crowd. Certainly not the first but one of the best known examples is MTV, it’s core shape remaining unchanged but constantly altering it’s wardrobe. More recent examples are the excellent Melbourne rebrand and closer to home the A of Brand Auckland.
An emergent logo, the most recent and advanced species, is where things really get interesting.
It is a logo that once released takes on a life of it’s own, ever changing and evolving. Designed to accept change from its surroundings, it adapts to new conditions and responds as people engaging with it.
Rather than taking a single idea and pushing it out in every direction imaginable, you define a playing field with rules and let the idea execute itself. This is just what did for MIT Media Lab have done with their new logo.
The logo has three intersecting spotlights that can be organized in any of 40,000 shapes and 12 color combinations using a custom algorithm. It produces a unique logo for each person, for faculty, staff and students who can claim and own an individual shape and use it on their business card or personal website. While every execution is different, each version feels the same.
Another, more experimental approach was undertaken by Michael Schmitz on a logo for the Max Planck Institute. Rather than using an algorithm, the software (based on Conway’s Game of Life) is linked to live company data such as number of employees or corporate activity. Different logos are being ‘bred’ and picked by fitness or voted for by employees. Thus every time the logo is displayed it reflects the current state of the company, good or bad.
A more real world example and taking a similar approach is the logo design for the Nordkyn peninsula in Norway. The design studio NEUE created a living logo hat changes along with wind direction and temperature, updated every 5 minutes from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
But where does all this leave us as designer?
If in the future logos are generating themselves are we designing ourselves into obsolescence – or do we still need a designer to define rules and conventions to ensure a coherence and recognisable visual identity? Perhaps the challenge will be in curating rather than dictating and designing functional ecosystems rather than closed, ironclad systems.