If you read this blog closely enough, you would realize that I am an avid follower of Brand New, a site that critiques new brand identities from a design perspective.
The new University of the Arts London (UAL) identity caused a furore on the blog for its use of Helvetica. Pretty strong views there about what can arguably be the most common and well-loved font in the world. That might actually be a problem in itself.
Good brand identity
A good brand identity should be able to tell you more about what the organization does, or hint at what their values are. For example, the clean Apple logo and grey application hints at the simple and clean design of Apple products. Using an identity that is purely text-based would mean that the demands on the expressiveness of the chosen typography increases. The typeface should be able to tell your stakeholders what your brand is about at one glance. Using Helvetica is all fine and good for Metro signs, but applying it to a corporate identity would not give the necessary character or information. What can you possibly read from this font that will tell you more about UAL?
Helvetica has been a pet favourite amongst designers because of its clean sans-serif look and its balanced design. The font was built such that it does not draw attention to itself. This makes the font excellent for most communication materials because it does what text is supposed to do: Convey a message.
When you apply the same principle to a corporate identity, the actual message being written becomes all the more important.
What does “UAL:” tell you?
If I were to hazard a guess, the usage of Helvetica references the University’s focus on design. We have already mentioned Helvetica’s special place in visual communications.
The usage of a text-only approach for the branding also means that the identity can be applied to a myriad of collaterals by the individual colleges without clashing with the actual content of any given art, fashion or design. The identity then cedes attention to the piece of work being showcased. This comes at the price of these works being what the University is known for rather than its own brand.
The unfortunate thing is that the execution of the collaterals did not capitalise on this advantage, but was instead left largely blank, leaving Helvetica to do the talking. The identity then becomes a missed opportunity to tell the world what UAL is all about.