My erstwhile home, Hartford, is rebranding itself and soliciting feedback on three logo choices designed by Cundari. As a designer who has done client work, I’m a fan of the Paul Rand model, where a mark is meticulously researched, designed and refined by the designer. The presentation goes something like:
“This is your new mark. You’re welcome.”
The success of that model requires a great designer, but it also requires the audience to be receptive to something new, something bold and perhaps something not immediately accessible. I wonder if this climate exists anymore, one in which people are generally open to ideas that don’t immediately align with their preferences. The internet has ushered in an era of personalization; companies have discovered that they can make more money giving each person what he or she wants, whether it’s a particular combination of cream and sugar in a cup of coffee or news with a certain political angle. I think that the more we’re served ideas that we already agree with, the less likely we are to entertain alternate points of view and the less analytical and self-critical we become. This is scary.
It’s probably unsurprising that I prefer the visionary design of an individual, where ideas are gathered and synthesized in the research phase of a project rather than throughout. I just think that crowdsourcing, while at least seeming to be more democratic and utilitarian, ends up literally compromising a vision. To me, great design doesn’t compromise.
All of this won’t stop me from providing my critiques on each of the three proposed designs, especially since they’re asking for feedback. It’s an exciting project and I envy those who were charged with encapsulating the wonderful city of Hartford in a mark. The logos were taking from the Metro Hartford Alliance presentation.
First, let’s talk about color. There are six here, including the text at the bottom. That’s too many. It’s entirely possible to make an effective design using the entire spectrum of color, but I’m worried that in this case, it’s a lazy shorthand for diversity, vibrancy, etc. that every city wants to be. I think a logo should be specific rather than general, and the colors are entirely forgettable. The strangest choice for me is the odd pumice color of the “Hartford”.
I’m including a grayscale version (that wasn’t included in the presentation), because it’s important to consider every potential usage and there are many instances where full color is not viable. It also makes it easier to focus on the shapes. The star is clear regardless of the color, and if Hartford plans on persisting with its “New England’s Rising Star” slogan, I think it’s a good choice. It’s also the only one of the three marks that uses a symbol that has meaning, rather than the letter “H” as the centerpiece of its design. As others have pointed out, it looks quite similar to the recent Hartford Hospital rebranding.
The lowercase type, in Safran Bold, is another interesting difference from the other logos. It’s less formal, more open, more relaxed and fun. Again, the suitability of this depends on the rest of the marketing campaign, but I think it’s a reasonable choice for this mark, particularly since part of the goal is to make the city attractive for tourism.
Apparently designed for fans of Tetris, there are even more colors in this second mark, which translates very poorly into grayscale. The vibe of this logo seems to be one of sophistication, conveyed by pixels and the rounded type of Platelet Regular. I don’t particularly like the type, which I imagine is meant to balance the hard edges of the mark. I’d rather there be some consistency, with the “H” in “Hartford” be the same shape as those used in the mark.
The arrangement is also curious. Beyond locking together four H’s, the shape doesn’t symbolize anything, nor does the negative space contribute any meaning. Again, it’s somewhat forgettable. I’d love to see a map, or some other symbol of the city rather than something that’s just diagonally symmetrical. Also, I find myself continually hoping one of these will appear.
Logo 3: Leaning Tower
I’ll give Cundari the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t influenced by my Hartford Metro Map logo (a cousin) or Matt Stevens’ April Fools Day rebranding of Home Depot (almost exactly the same thing). There are lots of designs that use the negative space in the “H” as arrow stems, that I’m sure they came up with the idea rather than stealing it. However, the fact that so many people have come up with the same idea and used it means that it’s not new or unique, both of which are important for a mark like this.
The colors are, once again, too numerous, and the type (Trade Gothic?) is uninspired. The stoplight colors (plus blue) also don’t associate well with the arrows. I like compasses and I like the idea that there are many places to go and see in the city, but don’t think this is the answer. And ultimately, the sheer ubiquity of this concept should preempt its usage.
In summary, I think these marks are generally OK, but not good and certainly not great. Though I have no evidence for this, I suspect that the multiple colors were a direct request (demand?) from the client. Each of these would benefit from a more limited color palette, which would in turn require more thinking about how to make the shapes of a potential mark more interesting. Of course, it’s easy to criticize and hard to come up with something better, but I had a lot of fun trying to come up with an alternative logo for the CT Whale, and if I can find the time, I’d love to try to come up with a few ideas for Hartford.