Finding Your True Identity

There's been a lot of conversation in the design community recently about the importance a logo plays in a world in which marketing seems to be heavily focused on social media and all things digital. While some argue that logos have diminished importance in this environment, I find myself squarely in the camp that logos may in fact be more important and vital than ever.

First off, consumers are inundated with thousands of marketing messages a day, which makes having an effective shorthand for your brand critically important. A well-done, highly recognizable logo should instantly communicate your brand by serving as a symbol of your voice and image in the marketplace.

But all logos are not created equal. Just look at the new logo that's been created from the merger of United and Continental. United's logo was long hailed as a classic of design with a wonderfully recognized "U" shaped icon and bold typography. Unfortunately, the newly created United Airlines logo eschews all its familiar and defining elements and has morphed into a United version of the old Continental logo complete with its non-descript typeface and spinning globe. So what message does this mash-up send to consumers? Is this really a "new" airline or simply the old Continental being renamed United? Any semblance of the "Friendly Skies" seems lost, as was the opportunity to create something that truly repositions the brand as being fresh and modern.




More successful is the high-speed train operator Eurostar, which used a time of change within the company as an opportunity to reinvent its graphic identity. The new logo -- whether you love the design or not -- is now a visual symbol that embodies Eurostar's total commitment to upgrade the product and guest experience. As the head of the design firm involved in the project put it, "We wanted it to be a symbol of change, not a changed symbol."


It's also interesting to see brands return to their past, as they explore and extend the equity that is often inherent in their logos. A perfect example is Japan Airlines, which had reduced its brand to JAL and probably had a whole generation of travelers who knew little to nothing about what the initials stood for. Now the airline has returned to a bold-type treatment that fully spells out the airline's name and it is once again using the red-crowned crane symbol that was introduced in 1959.


As you look to develop or reexamine your own brand logo and iconography, it's important that you take a fresh and modern perspective that acknowledges its need to work across a multitude of environments and media that were not even imagined when your logo was born. Ironically, this exploration can often mean returning to your roots as a business and exploring those attributes, values and assets that define who you are. Some things to ask yourself:

  • What does this symbol communicate and say about my brand?
  • Is it dated or is it still relevant, timely and meaningful to your audience?
  • Does it communicate the brand experience and does it speak in a voice that is consistent with the voice you've adopted across all your consumer touch points?
  • Does it work effectively in the small, square environment that it will occupy within so many of the social media communities or does it need to be rescaled or redesigned?
  • Have you avoided pale, light colors which don't translate well online and simplified things so that consumers can quickly identify and absorb your brand?

All great brands need to regularly look at how they represent themselves and continually explore how they can build upon the existing equity of their logo while strengthening its ability to serve as a shorthand to communicate their story.

Your brand may be forever, but the way you represent and symbolize it to your target audience shouldn't be.

1 comment about "Finding Your True Identity ".
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  1. David Trahan from Mr Youth, August 1, 2011 at 11:49 a.m.

    Great thoughts. I find it interesting to see how many within our industry don't think the new United/Continental branding is good.

    Firstly,you've got the wrong United branding on here. They're not "United Airlines" to consumers, they're just "UNITED" in all caps, also with an updated logo. See here (

    Second, I agree that did not hold on to enough of United's brand heritage, especially with their classic logo, but in order for the airline to truly be United and Continental, which was their goal, they had to get rid of it. United wanted to make sure that employees from both airlines felt represented in the new airline that came out of the merger. If United gets the name, Continental gets the look. That way everyone still feels at home. Continental also had stronger more definitive branding on its planes, and a more positive reputation with consumers.

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