Brand by lottery

  • Design
  • March 8, 2010
  • Andy Jaquet
Brand by lottery

What is Auckland Super City thinking? As we in the design world have always thought, everyone is a designer, so why not throw a competition out to all New Zealanders and get them to design a random logo for the country’s commercial centre. That’ll give us international credibility. Yeah right!

You can hear the discussions in the corridors of power: “Alright guys, we need to get a new logo for the Super City. Bear in mind, however, that whatever we come up with is going to be blasted by every newspaper and media outlet, as well as every Auckland ratepayer."

Why so? Firstly, because nobody will like it (remember the furore around ‘Auckland A!’) and secondly because it will be seen as costing too much. As Bill Ralston has said, whoever gets the job has a hospital pass anyway, so why not dodge the issue entirely. Pretty clever.

Maybe it’s because as designers we feel slighted. But isn’t this sending out the wrong message to New Zealand businesses? As the rest of the world embraces the design generation, what message is New Zealand sending out? This is what Bob Harvey, Waitakere Mayor and head judge had to say: “Anyone who can draw, print, scribble with crayon, pencil, pen or computer can go for this.”

And he went on: “Somewhere out there is someone who can do that. Maybe a 10-year-old, maybe an eight-year-old, maybe a man or woman that simply scribbles something on a piece of paper at work." How sweet.

It was interesting to see arts doyen and logo judge Hamish Keith rolled out on Breakfast TV to explain this position. In my opinion, he looked very uncomfortable, as I’m not sure it felt in line with his beliefs at all. It will be interesting to know if the judges are being paid for their professional contribution.

But surely Bob Harvey and his friends are missing the point. A brand or logo is only as good as the underpinning brand story and brief that it comes from. The research, understanding and complexities of a stunning mark cannot be made from a 10-year-old on his PC. It’s the story behind the brand that gives it value. Why would Coca Cola, Disney, Apple, Vodafone and others spend so much time and energy defending the integrity of their simple logos?

In their discussions the judges mentioned how good the Melbourne City logo is. This logo cost $91,000 for the initial research, with the design costing a further $148,000. It was designed by Landor (not a 10-year-old), one of the top design agencies in the world, and the cost, while high, was not excessive for a brand identity of this size, especially considering it underpins all of the marketing collateral.

Youtube Video

My concern is that this goes far beyond a council not being brave enough to do the right thing and getting professionals involved for fear of bad publicity. It is about diminishing the value of design in New Zealand.

If we are to become a great export nation, close the income gap with Australia and compete on the world stage, design has a fundamental role to play. We create government institutions like Better by Design to heighten the value of the design, only to rubbish its value by asking anyone in New Zealand able to “scribble something on a piece of paper” to come up with our commercial capital’s identity.

Maybe it was because the judges discovered that no design company in New Zealand wants to play in the sand pit of broken glass that is the Super City logo design, coupled with the negative response they would receive by giving it to an Aussie company, that led to this ‘peoples competition’.

Who knows? However, the fall-out is a bad reflection on how we value design in New Zealand.

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