What makes a city stand out? Think of a city and you will often find yourself considering it in terms of a deliberately constructed identity. City branding is now the norm for presenting an up and coming city to a global stage, reversing the fortunes of a city in decline or maintaining a city’s reputation. With over 3, 000 cities globally, however, the market is extremely competitive and city authorities spend a lot of effort (and money) to ensure their branding is effective. Graphic designers play an extremely important role in the process.
Creating an image that sums up a city is undeniably tricky as, unlike a corporate logo, a city logo must take into account a whole range of social and economic factors. The modern city is almost defined by diversity and problems will inevitably arise when anyone attempts to combine this into a single idea that will be judged by the hundreds of thousands of people that live and work there. The design must universally evoke the city and make it seem an attractive place to visit and invest in. With this in mind, here are a few examples that we think are successes.
In 2009 Melbourne decided it was time to rebrand and this was done almost entirely through the use of a logo. The idea was to create an icon for the city that represented its excellence, innovation and modernity to replace the previous weak and incoherent design. The result has become the benchmark for modern city logo design and branding with a strong, unifying and immediately recognisable design. A bold “M” appears throughout the city in various colours and patterns representing the city’s diversity and bringing it together as a recognisable single image. The success was due to the amount of work the designers put into researching public opinion and gauging the various identities that needed representing.
2) New York
“Within the mind of every New Yorker resides a different version of New York City… There is no one symbol, no one logo or brand that means New York City to everyone.”
This statement from branding firm, Wolff Olins, is an admission of just how difficult it is to capture a city in a logo. Anyone trying to re-brand the Big Apple will inevitably encounter problems overcoming the one dimensional and over familiar ‘I Love New York’ design. With this project, the designers chose to encapsulate the vibrancy of the city within not just one logo, but a series of vibrant, modern designs utilising the inherently cool abbreviation of NYC.
3) Hong Kong
This image was created to make Hong Kong more attractive to the global business community alongside the tagline ‘Asia’s world city’. The image of the flying dragon has been integral to the city’s image of power and ancient myth and the bright colours and sharp design link the historic attributes with energetic modernity. Importantly, the logo is adaptable and has undergone many changes since its inception at the start of the millennium. However, its core message remains the same.
Rome’s history has always been the main asset of its global image. This latest design is the result of a controversial competition that was open to anyone who wanted to apply. Some professional graphic designers felt something as important as this should be left up to them. In the end, it was professional design company, Mediapeople, who came out on top. The competition required the designer to use the traditional wolf symbol, from the ancient tale of Romulus and Remus, which has been a requirement for any symbol for the city since it was founded.
Paris always features highly on lists of successful city brands. Taking advantage of the city’s unique landmark, the Eiffel tower, this image borrows ideas of Paris that the famous structure conjures. The hand-painted, free-flowing feel and use of the colours of the French flag reinforce the positive notions of the city of love with notions of culture, art, good food and romance.
Saffron Consultants were commissioned to promote a global image of London in 2010. They were tasked with raising the city’s profile in a flexible way so it could be attached to a number of different sectors such as tourism, culture and education. Their approach was to embrace the quirky side of the city in an, “understated, confident, self-deprecating style that anyone who knows London will recognise.” Though overshadowed by the 2012 Olympic branding, Saffron’s designs are a good example of using an existing perceived ‘character’ of a city.
Taking a cue from the success of Melbourne, Canberra chose to celebrate its recent centenary with a complete rebranding. The use of the abbreviation ‘CBR’ was intended to engrain the tagline “Confident. Bold. Ready.” into people’s minds. While Canberra has never been viewed as Australia’s most exciting city, the new brand, with vibrant yellow background and striking black lines, expresses the city’s pride and willingness to show the new version of itself off to the world. Unlike Melbourne and New York, the simple design is repeated in an unchanging form to give solid consistency to the message.
The tagline for this campaign, ‘Definitely Dubai’, speaks volumes about the importance of a city brand for firmly placing a destination in people’s minds as much as on the map. The brand confidently confirms the image of Dubai that it wants people to imagine with no hesitation. Unlike Rome, Dubai is an emerging city and its effort to establish itself is evident here. The simple use of Arabian calligraphy positively reflects the city’s cultural roots and proves its compatibility with modernity.
The 2004 “I amsterdam” campaign works in creating a motto for both Amsterdam’s citizens and in branding the city as a vibrant hub for its many visitors. The logo was intentionally placed next to famous landmarks with the expectation of popping up in tourist’s holiday snaps. This explains why you might have seen this before on Instagram or Flickr. A clever way to make your brand go viral.
Glasgow’s new brand also uses the character of its people to imply the character of the city. The slogan, “People make Glasgow great,” is intended to bring a sense of pride to the city’s inhabitants and create a bold, friendly and confident image. However, the typeface is just as important. A strong geometric design draws on the city’s shipbuilding heritage and employs the style (and colour palette) of the city’s foremost designer, Charles Rennie Macintosh, to create a cultural context for the campaign.