The brand is an airport
When your mind wanders it tends to land on concrete images; names, ideas and symbols fall into place linked to detailed and purpose filled concepts. Brands are how we recall products or services; we relate places to city brands that attempt to capture the identity, promise and dynamics of a place and its people through graphic representation. City brands are created to generate trust, support and action. Closely linked to this concept – which sometimes causes confusion – are government brands, that influence the way we perceive them, for better or worse.
The government of Mexico City is currently (September 2018) looking for a new form of visual representation but, unfortunately, the process has caused much confusion. People confuse the project, criticizing its short and limited life, with that of the brand “CDMX” (short for Ciudad de México, or Mexico City). There are others who demand to know why “their” money is being used to repaint taxis, change signs on buildings, reprint materials yet again. And there are of course indignant professional designers who roll their eyes in exasperation. The opportunity to clarify all this and cause a good first impression by the new government has been tragically wasted. Before even being created the new brand represents populism and ignorance. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve what it deserves, a relevant and impactful brand.
From a professional point of view, the creation of a brand should not be touted through an open competition, and certainly not when based on typically simplistic terms common to these kinds of competitions. An open invitation is a way of involving the electorate but it is at the same time a way of excluding professional, serious and creative graphic designers. In general, designers who dedicate their lives to upholding quality design will shun this type of competition since they are the ones who should automatically be consulted for such a complex project.
In order to reach its full potential, a brand development program must be treated with the same level of seriousness as any infrastructure development project. I’m taking advantage of the confusion caused by this situation and would like to suggest an analogy that may help us to understand the point: a program developed to create a city brand (just like that of a government brand) is comparable to the current new airport project in Mexico City. The multiple impacts created by either are equally important and delicate. As experienced architects, geologists, engineers, environmentalists and sociologists must ratify the feasibility of the one; designers, semioticians, historians, psychologists and communicators must participate in the other to ensure its permanence, quality and integrity.
Suffice to say that the brand will achieve top of mind in the people who live in or visit the city; they will see it many more times than when, say, they get on a plane. The messages received and the symbolism linked to the brand must contemplate the history, reputation and identity of the city just as much as the geography, meteorology and the community impact in the case of an airport. Winds, storms or mountains are to the aviation industry what incongruity, saturation and indifference are to communication. Our inner “control tower” influences our perception giving priority only to the messages we understand; we need clarity to really get them. The public will find themselves travelling through a sea of emotions, pausing now and then to look for credibility and empathy. Loyalty might be lost, pride and affection risked, if content is unclear.
To invite anyone to design a logo is the equivalent of inviting the same person to design an airport. Anyone can draw a runway, control tower or a building, and even make it look attractive. But to build it is another question altogether, and without the due process would result in excessive costs and dangerous structures. Justifying an open competition as a way to save money is an example of a false economy. The cost of contracting an architect is miniscule compared with the cost of construction; equally, the cost of hiring an expert designer is tiny in relation to the implementation of a brand. The adequate maintenance of a complex system of communications depends on the efficient and intelligent management of graphic resources, such as colours, typefaces, photographic styles, icons, grids and formats that should all express meanings and messages aligned with reality and vision as well as people and their feelings.
Mistakenly, logos are seen as some sort of destination, rather than the route that a specialist always takes. It is the experts – operators, pilots and controllers on the one hand and designers and communicators on the other – who really know how to take the public to the right place. It is uncertain if open competitions will continue to be touted but it’s definitely time to study past experiences and learn, just like opening a black box to find out more about an aviation accident.
At this stage of the game we should know what to expect, and we certainly should take the correct route to get there.