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Strong Is Beautiful

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

In 2010, I was asked to give a comment for an article titled: “Lady logos: why are they all alike?” The article’s premise was that logos for women’s products or organizations all have the same idea and personality — variations of a dancing women’s figure, rendered with gestural curves, often with loopy brushstrokes — and that somehow we have come to expect this sameness.

I felt this idea went against a fundamental principle of our practice, which is to differentiate our clients from their peers. We should try to find the most appropriate representation, which would draw on a company or organization’s unique offering, mission and character. Just as important, this homogeneity would offend any designer who strives for originality.

Since then, we had the opportunity to design identities for three major global organizations, all of which have women as their focus. None of the new trademarks looks like the other two because each solves a different, unique design problem.

In 2010, the Women’s Tennis Association came to us with its first opportunity to establish its own identity separate from a name sponsor.

The most obvious conceptual direction for this identity was to create a mark that communicated women plus tennis. However, as we quickly discovered, an image of a female tennis player would necessarily be complicated and difficult to read in small sizes. The most significant argument that arose against the use of a figure in the mark was a strategic one: there was no need for it. The most frequent and important uses of the WTA identity are in the context of tennis.

For these reasons, we ended up recommending a distinctive typographic mark that puts the emphasis squarely on the three-letter abbreviation. The yellow-circle crossbar of the A is a subtle but clear reference to tennis, as is the ellipse shape, which suggests a tennis racket and also the ball mark shown in the Hawk-Eye replays. The oval shape adds boldness and visual impact — an appropriate characteristic for these extraordinary athletes — and “protects” the mark by ensuring color consistency and legibility on various backgrounds.

The new mark was launched with an advertising campaign under the slogan: Strong is Beautiful.

A second women-focused organization — Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide — came to us in 2011. Inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book of the same name, this initiative brings together video, websites, games, blogs and other educational tools not only to raise awareness of women’s oppression around the world, but also to provide concrete steps to fight these problems and empower women. The name of the multi-platform movement comes from a Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.”

We were asked to create an identity for the new movement, and came up with a visual representation of the adage: two halves of a bright sky image, which together create an equal sign. We thought there was room for another equal sign trademark out there, as long as the sky image and the proportions clearly differentiated it from the others. The bold form has strong presence, appropriate for the mission to empower women. It also holds up well in every platform such as television, online, mobile devices, and Facebook games.

And just last year, Women’s World Banking came to us to study their visual identity. This global non-profit works with a network of financial institutions to develop tools and services for low-income women. Ever since it was founded in 1976, the organization had as its logo the acronym WWB within an image of a sunrise.

We fairly quickly came to think that the meaningful full name, Women’s World Banking, should be emphasized instead of the acronym. WWB not only doesn’t mean much, but it is also longer to pronounce (7 syllables rather than 5). One important criterion was that the organization’s identity would often appear next to the bold trademarks of its network members, which are major global financial institutions. We realized therefore that the identity must have visual strength and impact, in addition to being appropriate in character.

The symbol we designed — simple geometric shapes arranged together to suggest an opening flower, a coin entering a purse, or a winged figure — conveys the strength and authority of the organization. While the identity does not appear commercial, it can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the financial institutions it partners with.

Each of these three clients presented us with a different design problem. And because an organization’s focus on women is not in itself a determining factor of any design problem, these solutions are different from one another and from the stereotype. Each for its own reasons had to be bold, with substantial visual impact. In fact these three trademarks are some of the strongest we have created.

Looking to Dive Behind-The-Scenes of Additional Identities? Sagi Haviv, Tom Geismar and Ivan Chermayeff share authoritative information in regards to identity design, gleaned from their work on iconic trandemarks. Add Identify: Basic Principles of Identity Design in the Iconic Trademarks of Chermayeff & Geismar to your reading list.

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