In this blog series, Sagi Haviv discusses principles of identity design as they manifest in trademarks created by his firm, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.
Bringing together two entities under a single banner—whether a corporate merger or a partnership—calls for a level of sensitivity and understanding of each part. A designer needs to commit to coming up with a solution that will be equally appropriate to both. There are many ways to achieve this balance and equal respect for two sides, but the most important final consideration should be that the resulting design can stand independently.
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The partnership between Hollywood director Brett Ratner and Australian casino mogul James Packer—RatPac—won a much-publicized slate deal with Warner Bros. to co-finance 75 films between 2013 and 2017. Since, according to Director’s Guild rules, a director’s name must be the first personal name to appear in a film, it was essential to create a symbol for RatPac that would remain distinctive and could act as a visual shorthand even alone.
As the brand name was created from the first syllables of Ratner and Packer, an “R” and a “P” fused together it seemed like an appropriate way to represent the partnership. Combining initials is certainly not a novel idea, but it is often an effective way of establishing a connection to a new identity for both sides. But the combination in this case was unusual: while the “R” and the “P” are of equal size and weight, the hybrid doesn’t give equal emphasis to both, but rather reads primarily as an “R.” Our notion is that in the long run, the brand will be perceived as a single unit, Ratpac, and people may eventually not even remember the two parts that came together to create it. Still, the animated onscreen signature plays on the idea of the mark’s being formed by the coming together of two shapes.
Motion graphics by Grand Jeté.
But initials aren’t always the way to go. Often, in bringing together two entities, inspiration for the new identity can be found in their legacy marks. This was the case with Harper Collins.
In 1987, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation acquired Harper & Row, a New York publishing firm that had roots in the early 19th century. Three years later, News Corporation acquired William Collins, a famous U.K. publisher founded in the 1820s, with plans to consolidate the two publishing houses.
The newly combined company, HarperCollins Publishers, needed a new identity that would retain as much as possible of both the Harper and the Collins identities, each of which had built enormous reputational equity over the centuries. Harper & Row’s symbol depicted a torch—a classical allusion to the dissemination of knowledge. William Collins was represented by an intricate symbol of a fountain, an allusion to the classical ideal of wisdom.
When one is faced with the challenge of bringing together two independent and visually complicated icons, it may be a good idea to lean on one of the basic tenets of Modernism: reduction. This could apply to concept or form, or to both.
So, in this case, in place of the literal torch and fountain, the essential element of each symbol was extracted: the fountain became water and the torch simply fire. The reduction yields a broader, more applicable idea. The second step was formal reduction: rendering the two elements as simple forms with a graphic commonality. The resulting combined symbol presents a visual partnership of two equal, yet distinct, entities.
Although the impetus for the new mark came from visual histories of the two publishers, the HarperCollins logo has endured because it works conceptually and formally on its own. The synthesis of the two reduced legacy elements was designed in a bold and somewhat odd arrangement, as though the fire is burning on top of the water, resulting in an overall unusual and therefore memorable form. There is nothing like it in the publishing arena. It is ultimately these design qualities of the mark that help explain its success.