August 02, 2013

Horse 1522 - What's a Logo?

As the picture above shows, the old City Rail logos are being replaced across Sydney's trains with this er... bouncy thing. If the official name "The Hop" is anything to go by, then I suppose that it's trying to convey the impression that one can... hop? Um, what? Okay, I'll admit that unless I'd been told that explicity, I'd have no idea whatsoever what the logo is trying to convey and therein lies the problem.

A logo should be an instantly recognisable statement about the organisation. It should be distinctive enough that it doesn't need any embellishments and because logos will appear on every single piece of stationery and corporate propaganda they also need to be readily reproducible; though that job has been made far easier with the advent of computers (jpgs, vector graphics etc).
Logos don't necessarily need the name of the company, they don't even really need to convey the concept of the thing they represent either, though some amount of literal visual representation is often advisable: think of Shell, Apple or Target.

The thing is that Transport for NSW (which sounds suspiciously like Transport for London) already has a perfectly acceptable logo:
I've seen this logo on the fronts of buses and it looks quite smart. The waratah which is already the traditional flower of NSW would work well across all Sydney trains, buses and ferries. Even so, it still had its critics - at the time of introduction in 2009, the then opposition leader Andrew Stoner said:
"Nathan Rees is so incompetent that he can't even get a new logo for the state right. Only Nathan Rees could confuse the NSW waratah with the Indian lotus" 
- Andrew Stoner, via the Daily Telegraph, 15th July 2009

This is to miss the point entirely. The stylised flower on the flag of the Northern Territory does not look remotely like Sturt's Desert Rose, Vodafone's logo doesn't look remotely like a telephone and to be honest, I still think that the Commonwealth Bank's logo looks like someone's dipped an Arnott's SAO in Vegemite, even though they say that it's supposed to look like the Southern Cross (I still think that a big grinning elephant looks better).

Just so long as the logo is distinctive enough, then there's no reason to tinker with it very much. The Coca-Cola logo pretty well much dates from 1896, Ford's signature has been adorning cars since 1909 but the blue oval dates from about 1927, General Electric's logo is largely unchanged from the 1900 version and the London Underground logo which now finds its way onto buses, trams, ferries and of course tube trains, has been in use since 1908.
In the words of the Mortein advert from at least before 1942: "When you're on a good thing, stick to it" and to be totally frank, I really didn't see what was wrong with the old "L7" logo.

I really really don't understand why Sydney trains just don't use the waratah. As a thing, I think that it works well. It's weird because the sentiments coming out of the Minister's own statements, seem to agree with the need for unified branding:
“Unlike other global cities like London and Paris, we have never had one integrated and recognisable brand for transport.
When you go to London and see the round symbol you know there is public transport nearby, whether it is the underground or a bus or other mode – it’s an integrated system that works well.”
- Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian, via Transport For NSW, 18th Apr 2013

It's kind of strange to consider that the bouncy hop logo is so terrible, when you consider that concurrently the same organisation has produced a logo for the new Opal Card system which is quite brilliant.
As a thing it looks quite pretty and official. As a device which appears on ticket barriers at train stations, ferry wharves and soon to be inside buses, it's obvious that that's where the Opal Card is supposed to go. This is a wonderful example of logo as device and I honestly hope that no-one decides to muck about with this for a very very long time.
I even like the name too. An Opal is a colourful thing which is sort of visually represented in the logo. I hope that it is better received than Melbourne's Myki or London's Oyster cards.

As for "The Hop"? Well, I think that the only reason that the logo was changed at all, is because Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian intends to privatise the rail network and she needs the branding space to do it in. She's already half done it with the ferries by "franchising" them to Transdev Australasia and Transfield Services.

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