Handle With Care

Posted inBranding & Identity Design
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Haviv_Ax Magirus axe for blog

In this blog series, Sagi Haviv discusses principles of identity design as they manifest in trademarks created by his firm, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

A key parameter for an identity design assignment may be to stay close to the existing image. This requirement can be due to significant audience recognition for the current trademark, or great affection for the traditional identity within the company or organization. In these cases, continuity with the legacy identity and a sense of tradition are often critical.

When faced with such a client, it is important to consider carefully whether a narrow, incremental change is indeed what the brand requires. Many of these projects end up with only a subtle evolution of the mark that will often be unnoticeable to the audience, as seemed appropriate for the updated identities we designed for Armani Exchange and National Geographic. However, that will not always be the case.


Here are three recent cases in which the client showed an often unexpected willingness — and even enthusiasm — to take a significant leap away from an established visual tradition.

Harvard University Press came to us in 2012 for an updated identity that could work in every platform and specifically in digital formats like e-reader devices, online, and in mobile applications. The press had been using an oval mark that held a shield encasing the traditional Harvard University motto of VERITAS (truth) within three books. The name “Harvard University Press” was written inside the oval, around the shield. Some version of these elements has been used to identify the press for many decades.


Ivan, Tom and I debated whether it would be irresponsible even to present a radical departure from this visual tradition. We wanted to ensure that our designs measured up to the institution’s reputation and heritage, and veering away from or abandoning the venerable image of the shield and the “Truth in Books” was possibly a step too far. On the other hand, the people we talked to at the Press had emphasized to us that while their work grew out of an established tradition, they wanted to signal that they also published ground-breaking work. This could be an opportunity to establish a strong mark that would be appropriate for this dual mission.

After much internal deliberation, we presented three design solutions that looked quite traditional and incorporated elements of the existing identity: books, shields, and “veritas.” We also included one wild card: a re-imagined H formed by six rectangles, suggesting books on a shelf, with an overall shape of a modern-day tablet. The overall image also evoked a paned window.

We were surprised when the most important decision-makers immediately seized upon the most modern mark and became its staunchest advocates within the Press.


We almost hadn’t included this mark in our presentation, as it represented such a break with the visual tradition of the Press. We were happy we did. The new visual identity was launched in the begining of 2013.

While in the case of Harvard University Press, it was our own strategic concerns that constrained us as designers, more often the restrictions and requirements to stay close to an existing identity come from the client.

This was the case with Magirus. Founded in Ulm, Germany in 1864, Magirus manufactures and outfits firefighting equipment and trucks. A trusted manufacturer and leader in innovation, Magirus invented and patented the first turntable ladder. For most of the 20th century, the brand had been owned by parent companies — first by Deutz, a German engine manufacturer, and since 1975, by Iveco, a truck brand owned by Fiat. In 2012, with the permission of its holding company, Magirus decided to re-launch as an independent brand to solidify its market position as one of the finest-quality firefighting equipment manufacturers in the world.


Given this reputation and recognition in the global market, Magirus requested that we explore evolutionary concepts growing out of two traditional images from the company’s history: 1.) a seal featuring the Ulm cathedral, the tallest church in Europe, and 2.) the M + church spire symbol for Deutz that had been used for the Magirus brand for much of the 20th century. While we explored and presented designs inspired by these traditional images, we made a strong case for a more modern design: a stylized “M” evoking the image of an articulated ladder. The client quickly gravitated toward this forward-looking solution, which also plays on the traditional strength of the brand as a global innovator in ladders. The final Magirus visual identity featured the chosen symbol with a strong type treatment for the historic name in bold gray lettering.


One of the most recent identities we redesigned was for another brand with a well-known name in its industry. Just this past August, the office product company Avery came to us with a challenge — and a famous legacy trademark that was designed by Saul Bass in 1975.< /p>

In mid-2013, the parent company, Avery Dennison Corporation, sold their Office & Consumer Products division, including the Avery brand, to CCL Industries. Historically, Avery Dennison has used (and continues to use) the Saul Bass “paperclip” symbol as it was originally designed, while for the past 16 years, the Avery products division had been using the Bass symbol enclosed within a blue square on a 10-degree angle. CCL wanted to distinguish Avery from its former parent company.

Since the Avery visual identity is seen by millions around the world and has built brand recognition over the decades, the client asked us to stay close to the historic mark, as Magirus had. We agreed to explore degrees of change. But as in the case of Harvard University Press, there was an added, self-imposed barrier: dare we veer very far from Bass’ famous mark?


Ultimately, the answer was found in a clear and rational strategy: while again we explored and presented viable symbol designs that grew out of the existing identity, we came to prefer — as the client also did — forgoing a symbol altogether. It seemed to us that if we could focus on and emphasize the short, well-known Avery name, we would be maximizing the brand’s recognition. A tilted red square was a way to make the wordmark distinctive and was also a nod to the way that Avery had been using the historic Bass paperclip.


In these three cases we had to grapple with forces — internal or external — that demanded respect for the legacy of the brands and their visual traditions. The clients embraced solutions that diverged more sharply from the expected, incremental revisions. We think that one reason that the clients felt comfortable making these breaks was that in all three instances, we showed another path to honoring the brands’ legacies.

In each of these instances, while our solutions represented a greater-than-expected departure from the brands’ visual traditions, the new identities also gave greater prominence to the well-known names. The Harvard University Press name went from the full name buried within the oval seal to a large, clear “Harvard” next to the symbol. The Magirus name moved out of subordination to the “Iveco” name and instead takes full preeminence next to its new symbol. In the case of Avery, there had been two visual elements—the symbol and the name—and the Avery name is now the star on its own.


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