Two articles during the past week demonstrated the challenges associated with designing city logos. The Atlantic revealed the results of a year-long competition by Florence, Italy for a new city logo.
Whether it is referred to as a competition or the contemporary term, crowdsourcing, when it comes to logo design the approach usually fails spectacularly. Can we agree that logo design, and specifically logo design for cities, should be left to the professionals who are skilled in that discipline. In recent years, I have noticed logo design competitions for Auckland, New Zealand and Cleveland OH that ended with less than stellar results.
These designs are very tricky because they involve a complex mix of creative design, market needs, competition, politics, self-interest, a desire for inclusion, and the personal preferences of committee members judging them. This frequently brings disappointing results. The case of Florence is particularly disappointing because this is one of the most culturally stunning cities in the world. The city is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and gave us Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and more, yet the logo emerging from the competition and committees is a series of boxes that provide no hint of the strengths, character or personality of this greatest of cities. How did this happen?
Well, it appears as though the former mayor of Florence wanted a new logo to rival that of the iconic, “I Love NY”. Hmmm ……. a case of logo envy! So a worldwide competition was initiated that attracted over 5,000 entries. They even asked Milton Glaser, the famed designer of the “I Love NY” logo, to enter the competition. He wisely declined. I don’t believe that the selected design with its stacks of letters is even functional in everyday use. Too often logos are selected in isolation from any underlying brand strategy or strategic objective. This one truly has me scratching my head. All I can think is, “what would Leonardo think?”
Balancing The Atlantic article with examples of good designs, the Interactive Design Institute has identified what it considers to be some of the world’s leading city logos. While I may not agree with all of their choices, they have recognized the challenges and complexity associated with this form of design.
But I think that Milton Glaser summed it up best when declining the opportunity to participate in the competition initiated by Florence. The Atlantic reports that “he declined, strongly objecting to the idea of a competition as a means to pay discount fees, and predicting its unsatisfactory outcome.” He was bang on the mark. But sadly, despite the terrible outcomes, cities will continue to take these ill-informed shortcuts.