Extreme makeovers

Redesigning a logo can reinvigorate and modernise a fading brand. Dean Evans discovers the secret to a successful logo redesign, and how it can radically affect the way your target market thinks about a brand

Appearance is everything, and a strong logo is a powerful way to make a brand stand out from the crowd. Consider the red, white and blue of the Pepsi emblem, the BBC's solemn multi-platform typography or the classic Mercedes-Benz badge. Yet even these global brands have needed to freshen up their image to stay in touch with their target markets. Only a few logos, such as Nike's iconic 'swoosh' and McDonald's 'golden arches', have stood the test of time and resisted change.

A logo redesign can reinvigorate a tired or fading brand. This could involve simply tweaking the logo or updating the typeface. For example, when Xerox rebranded in January 2008, it kept faith with its recognisable red palette, but updated its 40-year-old logo by changing the font (to FS Albert) and adding a red sphere (to convey the idea of a global company). The result is a softer, round-edged wordmark and a new brand icon that is more relevant and less formal.

Logos are a key factor in our bond with an individual brand. So it's hardly surprising that some companies don't want to risk a well-developed identity with a wholesale logo redesign. There's something in the old "if it ain't broke..." mantra. Instead, they opt for smaller, more subtle changes to their logos.

You can see this sort of logo-modding going on everywhere. For example, MSNBC swapped its austere upper-case type for a lower-case sans serif font, while US airline Delta revamped its iconic pyramid (now red, instead of blue/ red) and chose a more sophisticated upper-case font. Pepsi is also tweaking its brand image, updating its iconic Pepsi emblem to feature a series of so-called 'smiles'. Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max will also use a minimalist lower-case font.

MapQuest is another company that has made small changes to its brand identity, redrawing its logo to reflect visual improvements to its mapping products. "We explored countless logo options," says senior designer Gavin Graham. "They ranged from just the removal of the (in)famous 'sparks', to a complete brand reinvention," he explains. "Because you've come to know and recognise our brand... the colours are sharper, the layout is cleaner, and the logo is more vibrant and proud. The new logo was redrawn from scratch, to make it fresh while staying familiar and instantly recognisable."

Design agency Turner Duckworth steered Dolby through a similar brand refresh in 2008. With over four decades of history, the Dolby logo represents a strong, global brand. You'll find it on everything from hi-fi equipment and headphones to televisions and DVD players. The changes are minimal but striking nonetheless - the box around 'Dolby' has been removed, the font is more refined, while the double-D icon has been glued together into a unified logo mark.

"Dolby's technology breakthroughs continue to refine entertainment experiences," explain the team at Turner Duckworth, "but its ageing brand reinforced outdated perceptions of Dolby as merely an 'audio' company. We simplified and updated its familiar logo to give it a more contemporary and sophisticated look."

The key to this brand makeover is legibility. A small version of the Dolby logo is often stamped on consumer electronics products. The new design not only works better in smaller sizes, but also allows Dolby's various technologies (Digital, Digital EX, Pro Logic II, Virtual Speaker) to be stacked neatly underneath the main logo.

"It is important to note that this was a refresh and not a redesign," adds Rhonda Walker, senior director of branding at Dolby. "The modifications to the logo are designed to signal change, while continuing to build on our heritage. To achieve that, we preserved those signature elements in which we had built equity, gave the logo a more contemporary aesthetic and streamlined the overall composition to improve impact and clarity. With the new brand identity, we didn't attempt to follow a particular style, but we did seek to bring the brand in step with today's entertainment consumer."

Sometimes a more dramatic overhaul is required, often including a complete logo redesign, a new strap line or a different colour palette. The team at Coley Porter Bell were the willing cosmetic surgeons behind the new Museum of London logo , while the brief for BBC Three was to reposition the channel as a multi-platform entertainment hub for the young. Red Bee Media threw out the old monolithic blue font, replacing it with a vibrant pink, lower-case typeface designed to appeal to a Generation- MySpace demographic.

The rebranding of TV channel Animal Planet also qualifies as a 'dramatic overhaul'. In fact, that might be an understatement. London-based agency Dunning Eley Jones worked to a brief that requested a daring, multi-platform identity - something "instinctive, immersive, playful, emotional and entertaining". In short, Animal Planet wanted a revamp that would challenge people's perceptions about the brand. The result? A logo that immediately provokes a response, whether you love it or hate it.

"We dropped the old 'elephant and globe' logo," explains Brian Eley, creative director at Dunning Eley Jones, "and created a new Animal Planet logo with an animalistic boldness".

Graphically, the Animal Planet logo embodies the brand - bold, robust and animal-centric. According to the team at Dunning Eley Jones, the sideways 'M' is the "animal heart of the logo. It is instinctive, gut-driven; it 'feels before it thinks'. Like any other wild animal or pet, it lies where it pleases - on its side."

Animal Planet wasn't the only TV channel to undergo a significant rebrand in 2008. Viewpoint Creative in Boston successfully refreshed the Discovery Channel logo with new typography and a contemporary colour palette. And after the success of repositioning its UKTV G2 channel as 'Dave' in 2007 (because "everyone knows a bloke called Dave"), UKTV also gave UKTV Gold and UKTV Drama similar makeovers, relaunching them as 'Gold' and 'Alibi' - reflecting the channel's crime fiction focus - respectively.

Simon Dixon, founder and director of DixonBaxi, recently worked on the rebranding of Channel Five, now known simply as 'Five'. "Most of our rebrand projects stem from a well-established client wanting to increase awareness, understanding, or gain a better relationship with their customers or viewers," he says. "In some cases the actual logo remains the same. But how it is used, how the company speaks and the way the brand is delivered changes. We try to build a look that will be cohesive, but also flexible to grow and change.

"With Five it was a more comprehensive proposition," Dixon adds. "Five were looking to reposition and strengthen the understanding of their brand and its programming. So we created a new logo mark and developed it all the way through to execution on all platforms. We wanted a bolder, more expressive identity that tapped into the entertainment of the channel. It is built on a strong logo that stamps into its environment. From there it comes alive in the execution; the colours, animation, audio and graphics all play a part in letting the channel have more personality."

So what's the secret to a successful logo redesign? The first step is to consider how sweeping your changes should be. Do a brand 'health check' and ask questions, specifically: what is the goal of the redesign? Are you just refreshing the logo mark, or thinking about a more ambitious rebranding exercise? Is there anything from the original brand identity that you want to keep? Most importantly, always remember your audience. A refreshed logo must still connect and resonate with your target market. What design styles will they accept? What won't they accept?

"You've got to look beyond the logo and the design," suggests Dixon. "How will the logo be used? How will the tone of voice feel? Where will the logo be seen most? Taking time to create an environment for the identity to operate is as important as the logo itself. You should think about how the identity represents the company. The design of the logo and its applications can radically affect how people think about a brand, but only if it's relevant, if it makes sense, and if it fits the company, its products and the aims of the brand," he explains.

In this multi-platform, multimedia age, the versatility of a logo is also vital. Think legibility. Does it work when used big and small? Is it as effective on a website as it is when used on a poster? "Your logo has to mean something," says Stephen Bell, creative director at Coley Porter Bell. "It has to come from a truth, from a big idea, and not just be purely decorative. If anything, a logo should be the shorthand for whatever a brand is. It's literally the one thing that you'll see that should quickly sum up the essence of that experience. It's very hard to create a future-proof logo. In fact, it's pretty impossible."

And if proof were needed, consider Qantas. The Antipodean airline minutely adjusted the shape of its logo back in 2007, not purely for rebranding/marketing reasons, but apparently to suit the different tail-fin shape of its new A380 super jumbos. We bet nobody saw that coming.