What next for flexible brand identities?

Google’s new logo has been causing a stir among design and branding writers. Instead of analysing the aesthetics, we ask, what does Google’s new look mean for the future of flexible brand identity?

Branding | 3.5 minutes read | Gary McIlwaine

What next for flexible brand identities?
What next for flexible brand identities?

Google first started playing with its logo back in 1998, when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created the first Google Doodle as an out–of–office indication that they’d gone to Burning Man festival. More Doodles followed, marking historic events, and Google became one of the catalysts for a new wave of flexible brand identity design.

Fixed or flexible?

A flexible visual identity can be adapted to suit different situations. Guiding principles still apply, but designers have more freedom to experiment with imagery, colour, size, shape and positioning.

Developing the trend, global companies began to adopt flexible identities. AOL‘s simple word mark is revealed by different backgrounds.


Flexible Identities


Ontario College of Art and Design shows how a flexible identity can engage a brand’s audience; using a basic framework, graduating students design a new logo for the college each year.

MTV launched what it calls an ‘open source identity’ with a 3D logo, 300 backgrounds and a unique set of emojis. The logo changes based on trending social media topics.

The appeal of a flexible identity is its versatility. The ability to change and stay relevant seems valuable in our fast–paced, multi–screened world.


NYC notice


But flexibility doesn’t always work well in practice. New York City‘s multi–coloured, multi–dimensional logo was designed to reflect the city’s diverse character and to work across platforms, from billboards to taxis.

It was a great concept, but it seems NYC tourism and all of the city departments and partners using the logo struggled to sustain momentum long–term. On a recent trip to Manhattan, I saw only single colour versions of the logo, discretely placed onto advertisements, taxis and posters similar to fixed logos.

Consistency over flex

Flexible identities require more control than their fixed counterparts. Without concerted creative effort, sustained over time, the whole thing collapses. Perhaps this was one factor in Google’s decision to opt for a fixed identity with a classic set of principles.

The Google Doodle may or may not stay, but for their main identity, consistency is key. We tend to find comfort in familiarity, especially in brands we interact with multiple times a day. Where the MTV logo seeks to entertain, the Google logo must be clear and unobtrusive, for the best user experience.

The end of flexible identities?

Time will tell if the flexible identity is on its way out. In our visually–busy world, perhaps a simple fixed logo is now the best way to stand out.

Our advice is, focus on building a robust graphic identity, that fits with your product or service and captivates your audience. Flexible identities need substantial planning, specialist training and comprehensive guidelines to last. Don’t underestimate the resources needed to maintain that level of graphic intensity beyond the creative pitch.

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