Horse racing fans were on pins-and-needles watching the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs last Saturday, but brand naming experts were probably rolling their eyes and guffawing every time the announcer called out the contenders’ names. The Derby’s naming protocol violates the most basic rules of name development. As anyone in the branding business will tell you, successful names have to be unique, memorable, pronounceable, simple, easy to spell, evocative, and trademark-able. In other words, just the opposite of Triple Crown thoroughbred names.
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On the national branding front, the big news is that the Czech Republic has just adopted the shorter, friendlier name Czechia for all but formal occasions. The name change has been under discussion since the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Czechia is not the first nation to limit the use of “Republic” in its name. The Slovak Republic goes by Slovakia, the Federal Republic of Germany goes by just Germany. “Cesko” is what many Czechs call their country, but it didn’t make the cut because people like former Czech president Vaclav Havel said the name made his “flesh creep.” So, Czechia it is. Now it is up to Czech designers to promote the national brand on T-shirts, coffee mugs, soccer jerseys, and all kinds of tcotchke.
Moscow-based designer Anna Kulachek has been designing show identities for the Prague School of Design since 2012. Over that time, she has taken her original typographic styling and evolved it into a modular vocabulary of lines and curves that she has morphed into new forms. The breaks in the letterforms suggest that the pieces can be split apart and reassembled into different letters as well as purely decorative lines, half circles and squiggles that look like they are made up of letterform leftovers. The result is a graphic system that retains a consistent look that identifies it with the Prague School of Design, yet changes in surprising and playful ways.
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Danish creative digital agency, inetdesign, made this brilliant one-minute video to demonstrate how successful brands don’t even have to be named to be recognized. We could identify them immediately by their colors, shape and typography. I don’t know who wrote the text for this video (bravo, whoever you are), but it succinctly explained what branding is all about. The text is short, so it is quoted below:
“Allen Alexander Mills, an English author once said, ‘The things that make me different are the things that make me.’ Could this be a perfect definition of branding? What is the magic thing that great brands are made of? Is it design?, Typography?, Vision? Imagination? Or a big dose of foresight? We believe it is the Golden Ratio of all those things that help brands grow and stand out. Branding is not like sprinting; it’s more like a marathon. A unique promise kept over time. It’s a story well told. A story that will resonate in the hearts and minds of your customers far into the future. Let us use your passion, experience, and creativity to make your brand’s voice loud and clear.”
In the U.S., most sports teams and many consumer products adopt mascots to give their brand a friendly, animate identity, but as far as we are aware, only Japan has mascots to represent prefectures, towns and public offices. Called Yuru-chara, which translates as “loose character,” the mascots generate millions of dollars in merchandise sales (keychains, mugs, t-shirts and plates, etc.) and the costumed characters make special appearances at promotional events and festivals. Without exception, the yuru-chara are cute (a la Hello Kitty), unsophisticated in design, and exhibit childlike manners. Yuru-chara proliferate throughout Japan, so much so that some prefectural governments worry that the number of little towns that have come up with their own yuru-chara are diluting the impact of the big city mascots and cutting into merchandise sales.
The best-known mascot in Japan is Kumamon (seen here) introduced by Kumamoto Prefecture in 2010 to draw tourists to the region’s Kyushu Shinkasen train line. Kumamon instantly shot to fame, and won the 2011 Yuru-chara Grand Prix, drawing more than 280,000 votes in a nationwide survey and crushing other yuru-chara competitors. The next year Kumamon single-handedly earned the prefecture more than $120 million in product sales and was even featured in a popular video game. As with most other yuru-chara, Kumamon doesn’t speak,has only one facial expression, and is of unknown gender and species. It merely dances around and makes spectators happy.
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Tokyo, the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, unveiled its logos for the games recently. Designed by Tokyo-based Kenjiro Sano, founder of Mr. Design Inc., the logos are not merely pleasing graphics; according to the Olympics press release, they were intended to convey a deeper meaning. The Olympic mark has a large black and gold “T”, which we are told represent “Tokyo, Tomorrow and Team.” The red circle, which looks like the red sun on the Japanese national flag, is described instead as a symbol of “inclusiveness and the power of a beating heart.” The same graphic elements are used for the Paralympic games, but the gold and silver shapes are placed within parallel bars to form the universal symbol of equality. The “beating red heart” is placed within one of the bars. The meaning attributed to the graphic elements is poetic, but not immediately apparent to anyone seeing the logos for the first time. The fact that the symbolism has to be explained to be understood makes it seem contrived by a public relations committee, trying to read more into a nice-looking logo than is actually there. That’s totally unnecessary. The logos are graphically compelling on their own.
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More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face.
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The Moscow Metro is getting a wayfinding facelift, with a new custom font, pictograms, and maps. Created exclusively for the Moscow Department of Transport, the overall program was developed and directed by UK/US-based City ID, with the typeface and pictograms designed by Henrik Kubel and Scott Williams of the London-based studio, A2/SW/HK, with UK designer Margaret Calvert as type and pictogram consultant. The Cyrillic script was designed in collaboration with Ilya Ruderman.
Replacing a hodgepodge of fonts and styles implemented over the decades, the new signage is standardized around a custom font called Moscow Sans, which has letterforms for both the English and Russian Cyrillic alphabets. Accompanying Moscow Sans is a full set of universally recognizable pictograms.
Simple and modern, the new signage brings uniformity and clarity to the wayfinding system. Equally important, the signage doesn’t clash with the amazing interior architecture of stations built in the 1930s by some of the USSR’s leading architects and artists. Referred to as “Stalin’s people’s palaces,” the early subway stations are worthy of being museums, with art that includes bas-reliefs, friezes, bronze and marble statues, stained glass windows and lots of mosaics. The styles of the stations range from Baroque to Classicism to Art Deco. The new signage fits right in. The program is being implemented in all Moscow stations during 2015.
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Sweden has joined the ranks of a tiny handful of countries that have adopted their own national typeface. Called Sweden Sans, the font is very Scandinavian in its modern, functional, minimalist look. Created by type designer Stefan Hattanbach in collaboration with design agency, Soderhavat, the font is meant to communicate in a single Swedish voice and in a style evocative of the nation’s design taste.
Hattanbach describes the branded font as “very geometric and modern” and inspired by old Swedish signs that were popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. In an interview heard on PRI The World, Hattanbach said he was particularly pleased with the outcome of the letter “S,” which he explained is a “hard letter to make because it can really fall off and look unbalanced.” He thought that the straight down tail on the letter “Q” looked “pretty cool” too. Overall, Hattanbach felt that Sweden Sans could be described as “lagom,” a Swedish expression meaning “not too much and not too little.”
Sweden Sans does look versatile, but it is still unclear how broadly this national font will be applied. Will it appear on Swedish currency? On official government documents? On government office signage? If regular Swedish citizens decide to use it, will they be violating any legal restrictions. Or if they do adopt Sweden Sans as their default font, will it be viewed as a sign of national pride? The concept of a national font is intriguing, so stay tuned to see how it is used.
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Project K, a Korean Film Festival, has turned into a popular annual event at the Bockenheim campus at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Dubbed “Four Days in Seoul,” the festival is co-hosted by the Korean consul general of Frankfurt; KGN, an organization of second-generation Korean Germans, and the University’s Korean Studies Department. In addition to screening Korean box-office hits and experimental, shorts, animations and indie Korean films, the festival features activities that give students a chance to learn about Korean pop culture and traditions.
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When it came to designing a graphic identity for the city of Porto in Portugal, one visual symbol wasn’t enough. Porto-based design firm, White Studio, brainstormed what made Porto memorable and unique, and asked people on the street how they viewed the city. No two answers were alike. White Studio concluded, “We felt we needed to give each citizen their own Porto. We needed to show all of the cities that exist in this one territory….It became clear to us that Porto needed to be much more than a single icon, much more than a single logo. It needed complexity. It needed life. It needed stories. It needed personality.”
The designers also needed a way to create a single unified look that would serve as Porto’s one graphic identity. The answer came in the decorative blue ceramic tiles seen throughout the city for centuries. The line drawings and illustrations on the tiles depicted visual stories about Porto’s history, landmarks, and natural surroundings. That inspired White Studio to create 70 pictograms that represented Porto and its people. The pictograms were designed to fit on a grid that could be combined into a network of images or used individually. The logotype itself is a simple blue sans serif against a white background within a blue boxed border. The beauty of this visual system is that it allows elements to be changed out frequently and still be recognizable as Porto’s graphic identity. It works.
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How familiar are you with brand and generic names? Probably less than you realize. Some revolutionary trademarked products have achieved such market dominance that their name has become synonymous with an entire category of product or service. Particularly for breakthrough products, consumers spontaneously use the pioneer brand name generically, even when referring to later entrants in the field. Occasionally companies lose their proprietary rights to a trademark if they let competitors use the name as a common “descriptor” of a category of products and not linked to any one brand. At that point, the word can no longer be registered, a phenomenon known as “genericide.” In other instances, the trademark owner decides not to renew registration and simply lets the trade name expire.
This quiz challenges you to identify whether the name is: 1) trademarked (registered to a specific company), 2) generic (never trademarked), 3) genericized (once trademarked but now a common noun) or 4) former TM (trademark allowed to expire). Answers after the jump.
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Now in its second year, the Tusk Conservation Awards single out individuals who have done outstanding environmental conservation work throughout Africa, with particular focus on protecting endangered species and their threatened habitat. The prestigious honor includes a monetary contribution of £30,000 and £15,000 to support the goals of the winning projects. What the fledgling award didn’t have, however, was its own graphic identity. For that, London-based The Partners stepped up and provided their creative talent pro bono.
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Lasso Tyres, based in Turkey, chose a novel way to urge customers to be prepared for winter weather by linking their treads with threads. Designed by Happy People Projects creative agency in Istanbul, these print and outdoor advertisements invite the viewer to make the connection between deeply grooved tires that will hug the road even in the worst weather and very pronounced knit sweater stitches. Very clever and memorable.
What’s black-and-white and impossible to ignore? The graphic identity of 52 North, a hip restaurant and bar in London. UK-based design studio I Love Dust and interior architects 44th Hill used scale and contrast to make us aware of the geometric beauty of typography. The huge letterforms become another shape in a collage of stripes, dots, stars and diamond angles. In 52 North’s restaurant and bar, warm wood furnishings soften the starkness of the letterpress-style mural, but the mural itself becomes like a “menu” of decorative shapes that can be mixed and matched on packaging and printed materials, making each piece look slightly different yet part of the overall brand. It’s a complete identity program with room to grow.
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Naming is a discipline that strikes many as part voodoo, part marketing strategy, and totally mysterious. We suspect it was easier a century or so ago when founders named the brand after themselves — e.g., Ford (Henry Ford) and Wells Fargo (Henry Wells and William Fargo) – or simply described what they made – e.g., International Business Machines (IBM). Now, it is not so easy, and companies usually turn to professional naming firms to come up with effective memorable brand names that will resonate with consumers. On top of that, they have to make sure the name can be trademarked, pronounced easily, have positive connotations around the globe, and stand out on a retail shelf, on a website and on its own. Here are some tips from David Placek, founder and president of Lexicon Branding, the firm that developed the familiar names you see below.
1. A Brief for the Development of a Name Is Different
Than a Brief for an Advertising Campaign.
(1) A naming brief makes sure that distinctiveness is a primary goal and that risk will be rewarded.
(2) A naming brief answers this fundamental question: How can the name help this new brand to become a winner?
(3) A naming brief defines a specific role for the name rather than the product itself, messaging or design.
(4) A naming brief tells the story of the brand so that the brand name becomes an essential part of the story — better yet, the title.
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