London’s burning

The GLA’s rather pompous idea that someone is going to design a logo and therein create a brand for London is unrealistic, to say the least. London already has a brand. It has had one for 2000 years.

There are some wide-reaching goals in the GLA’s brief, and some expectations that beggar belief. Come on guys, get real: the reasons why people will choose to visit London, do business in London, study in London, live in London, or invest in London will not be because of a logo. It will be because their lifetime of personal experience tells them that it offers something rationally and emotionally unique.

A logo is not a brand. The opinion people hold of what it represents is the brand. A logo is just a convenient shorthand that calls that opinion to mind. At best, a logo is a worthy experience itself. But, in the case of a 2000 year-old city, with 10 million inhabitants, at the centre of attention of the world, it will only ever be a tiny percentage of the
totality of experiences that people have. 

Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for an identity for London. But, in contrast to the GLA’s brief, I’m not interested in one that follows the well-worn path of a traditional corporate identity solution. Nor do I care about the bureaucratic need for it to form a coherent ‘brand architecture’ (how I hate those words) with the plethora of other London identities that already, pointlessly exist. I’m uninspired by the prospect of yet another dull, didactic wordmark that tries to tell me what I’m supposed to think. 

Instead, as a Londoner, I want something altogether simpler and more inspired. Something that makes me smile and that provides a personal invitation to think. I want an iconic piece of design of which I, and all London, can be proud. If London is the greatest city on Earth, then it deserves an identity that follows suit. Where the GLA aims too broad, I want to go narrow and deep.

But by setting their expectations too broadly I suspect that the GLA is denying the opportunity for such a solution to exist. Committees will squeeze out any genius that emerges as they test it against their irrelevant criteria. Conservative forces (I don’t mean Boris) will water down the possibilities as they seek to stretch it out too thin. 

Against a brief that asks for everything, they will end up delivering nothing of value at all.

First published on The Crossed Cow, 11 September 2009, in response to a design competition launched by the Mayor of London's office to create a 'brand' for London.