Designing For The Human Era

By Brendán Murphy, Senior Partner of Design, Lippincott, has worked on logos including Starbucks and PBS. Brendán predicts more and more brands will look to refresh their logos in an effort to connect with customers in-the-moment.

A logo redesign may be prompted by any number of internal and external forces including merger, change in strategy, focus and audience, or the natural maturation from start-up to grown up. And with a change comes the opportunity not only to set a new direction, but also to perhaps shed some baggage, or bring forward goodwill and equity. The creative opportunities for the new logo can lay in the organization’s purpose, storied history, the industry, and in the new name.

But a key influencer, both for name, logo and broader brand expression, is also the shifting societal and technological landscape. While direct-to-consumer brands have given us a slew of both personal and personable names, the shift from the institutional to the human era has also given rise to much more human and approachable brand logos and brand expressions.

Both subtle and significant logo changes can result in big success for brands

Just look at the Starbucks Siren, freed from its surrounding black ring of type, modified with an asymmetrical human smile and took center stage on signage and packaging. Similarly, DuPont shedding its outer ring was a signal of a more open, collaborative, and innovative culture. And while the recent shift in the Aer Lingus hue was significant, so was its use of the color, moving from a more military-style green painted livery to a friendlier and dynamic color placement, more indicative of its Irish culture. The modifications to the PBS head were subtle but significant, adding a slight smile and forward looking optimism, the enhancements measured more in pixels than inches.

Humans themselves act as a key source of inspiration

The relationship we have with brands today is very different than yesteryear. Our access to information and social channels, and our expectation of shared values, service and transparency, has increased. And as brands seek to create connection with customers and also prospective talent, they dress and sound more like us. Both in name (think Oscar, Casper, Siri, Alexa) and design, we see companies assert their human side. Southwest with its colorful heart, PBS moving from the more mechanical to humanist type font, and the new UKG with its people-centered smile all reflect the desire to connect in a more personal way.

Whether it be designing for a new identity, or evolving a historic brand, we’re constantly faced with the trend dilemma. Clients, like designers, are not immune to the style magnet of the moment. Whether it be swoosh, gradation, dimension, flat, sometimes the trend is in the ether, sometimes already visible. An audit of logos of any particular era will reveal a sea of globes and swooshes, or more recently Airbnb bolo-like logos. Leading brands set the tone, and there is a constant desire to be the next Nike, Apple or Google.

Don’t just be a brand. Be human.

But the shift to the human era is less a trend than a movement. Looking beyond the logos of recent rebrands, we see a societal shift to a more human expression throughout brand identities (spanning visual and verbal characteristics). The refined Southwest heart, and its underlying mantra of “without a heart it’s just a machine,” reflects this broader understanding and definition of brand. Similarly, PBS and UKG are examples of brands that go beyond generic “human” attributes with their visual and verbal identities, evoking more dimensional personalities. As consumers’ relationships with brands continue to evolve, personality-driven design will be critical for driving connection.