The SALT logo.

The letters form a dispersed “logo" and articulate the idea that SALT itself is a work in progress, undergoing constant design.

In the future, designers will be invited to rework the basic system. Here’s two possibilities for what that might look like.

The Guggenheim Lab’s logo displays answers to questions posed by the curators, asking participants for ideas about pressing urban-planning problems.

Bruce Mau’s OCAD logo, which provides an empty frame to be filled with student work.

Bruce Mau’s OCAD logo, which provides an empty frame to be filled with student work.


These Brands Allow Users To Design Them. How'd They Pull It Off?

Two bold new logo and branding experiments allow users to redesign the mark. So how are designers approaching the launch of a community, rather than just a design?

Branding continues to evolve at a gallop, spurred this time by advancing technology and the rise of social media. "The internet has challenged the conventions of branding,? says Simon Browning, a brand specialist at Tokyo creative agency EAT. "We believe that smart companies will shift focus from logos and CI's to actively demonstrate what they are capable of and establish innovative policies that people can align with." Today, logos aren't just a symbol, static or dynamic, of the business, but a tool for, and the site of, the brand's community-building efforts.

Logos, to be sure, are inching towards interactivity and mutability: There's Bruce Mau's frame logo for an art school, which is filled with student works like a gallery wall; the MIT Media Lab's morphing logo; and Google's web signage, which was recently made into a pluckable guitar. But two recent identities—for Istanbul's newest cultural institution, SALT and the nascent, internationally mobile urban planning platform, the BMW Guggenheim Lab—don't just change. The patrons of the brand change them.

These logos don't just change; the patrons of the brand change them.

SALT debuted in Istanbul this summer with an identity by New York graphics studio, Project Projects. It calls itself a "designing institution," not a "design institution," commissioning new work and building an international creative community, rather than just collecting, archiving and showcasing it. SALT's is a non-logo made in a typeface that will be remade every four months by a rotating cast of designers. The letters form a dispersed "logo" and articulate the idea that SALT itself is a work in progress, undergoing constant design. 'The SALT system is not just an open-source or collaborative model, but a uniquely curatorial approach,' says Project Projects partner, Prem Krishnamurthy. ?Each new typeface version functions as a site-specific commissioned work, presented within the venue of the identity." Which, over time, knits together a community of creatives.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab will tour the world starting in New York this August, encouraging an exchange of ideas about urban improvement by eliciting public feedback. Sulki & Min of Seoul designed a colorful interactive mark that changes when visitors to the website or to keyboards in the temporary Lab buildings respond to a curatorial question about how to better city life. Suggestions are added to the moving phrases that form the constantly morphing letters L-A-B. The logo represents the public effort to address the issues but also acts as a site where the effort takes place while gathering data crucial to execute good ideas later. "It's like a thermometer that takes the temperature of what people are thinking about cities," says Lab co-curator, Maria Nicanor. "People are letting us know how they would change their cities, and to us, this information is priceless." But what makes these experiments work? Here's three keys:

Provoke participation

Sulki & Min co-opted conventional methods for encouraging online participation—comments gathering and the Q+A—but incorporated them, unconventionally, into a dynamic logo system: "A logo is an institutional device that the public can't usually have any affect on: There are logos that change over time and place, but you can't change them for yourself," Min points out. "For us, it was important that it be the ?logo" that does this.? By changing the curatorial questions over the six-year run of the project and commissioning different designers for cycles 2 and 3, the LAB logo will change, eliciting renewed feedback.

Make the system bigger than you

Project Projects won't alter the typeface of the four letters; they'll select a rotating series of graphic designers to do it and then showcase the work. "We considered the identity system not as a finished work, but rather as something open-ended — a system that has fixed rules, but which also accepts a large degree of change, participation and outside input," says Krishnamurthy. "Once we made that mental leap — to let go of ?owning" the system?the rest seemed relatively straightforward.?

Create, share, distribute

SALT will let the public copy and use each version of the typeface, found in the source code of any SALT web page. This strategy simply accepts that exclusive typefaces are impossible if the design is good. Instead, it uses would-be thieves to get the word out. "We asked ourselves," Krishnamurthy explains, "how can the institution extend its reach beyond its physical structures into unexpected contexts?"

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  • WhyMeLord

    is but one point of view with regard to logo design.

    Real world the DIY logo process have some serious and expensive outcomes as  "I didn't know" is no defense to some seriously expensive legal action under copyright and trademark.

  • stefano

    good effort and some good ideas shown, however, 'design by committee' (or whatever you choose to call it here), equals to 'death of design'.

    if we simply allow anyone to throw their 2 cents in, we will end up with a useless hodge podge that has NO point of view and NO direction.

    creativity has nothing to do with throwing everything on the wall and seeing what sticks. it is about offering clear, innovative, ans yes, sometimes shocking, solutions to design challenges.
    it is the outcome that matters, the process is how you get there. in these examples, they never move past the process.

  • Tim Ball

    "Salt explores critical and timely issues in visual and material culture, and cultivates innovative programs for research and experimental thinking."

    WHAT UTTER WAFFLE! I've read that statement several times and still don't understand it. This is so typical of an agency that doesn't have any real direction other than saying "Hey, we're really creative". The main issue here is that agencies with this approach are positioning themselves in a very niche market, where only extremely brave organisations would be prepared to put their budgets on the line to be wasted on potentially ineffective design for the sake of allowing someone to be creative.

  • Jason

    Something that's worth pointing out here is that this article in general is not very well researched. Neither Project Projects nor Sulki Min speak of these projects as "branding"; not in this article and not on either of their own websites. They refer to them simply as identity systems. In both cases I think they are attempting work that is both unique to these institutions and engaging to both the public and collaborators. These are social identities. The aesthetics are almost secondary to their human interaction potential. Nice.

  • Michael Barron

    Amazed at how dismissive the commenters have been so far. Yes, flexible identities have been around for many years. However they have come to the fore in the past decade as technology and media have made them more feasible (not that Moreno actually suggests it's an entirely new idea in the article, anyway). Those that suggest it's simply a gimmick or PR stunt are cynical and stale – notice how in each case the treatment of the logo/identity is tied into an IDEA? ie: the core of design business and practice? In the case of the Guggenheim Lab, it's a barometer and forum for thinking on urban planning. Salt's brand identity reflects it's status as a continually evolving 'designing institution.' Also note that each system employs a controlled system that doesn't simply throw the brand out there for bastardisation/design by committee.
    Certainly this approach is not appropriate for every client or business, but there is no doubt it's fertile ground for innovating in the realm of branding.

  • Per Lind

    What a bunch of poppycock! The profiles (recognizable edges) of the logos remain intact, so the "logo" does not change at all, other than in texture (colour and font). While a novel approach to put message within the logo, it is nothing more that this! I agree with Ken and George: this is NOT branding, but simple PR, like how you caught the story and wrote about it. Real democratization happen in the instance of Lego, where the customer gets to make their own designs and then buy it.

  • George Shewchuk

    Agree with Ken C.: This article is cool and the ideas appear novel. But it's not really new. I would add: It may sound noble and courageous, but I'd be real careful with inviting the "community" to participate in creative endeavors just because they can. The democratization of everything can lead to nothing: When you add up all the opposing opinions, similar positions and various ideas of individuals in a community it becomes a homogenizing force and can produce some very boring results. True co-creation takes a lot more effort than a simple invitation to participate and needs to be curated by those that have a vision.

  • Michael Brown

    "The democratization of everything can lead to nothing:"

    I couldn't agree more.

    Case in point - why do you think the Toyota Camry and Honda Civic sedans are SO BORING from a purely aesthetic sense?  Because they dare not offend even the slightest segment of population that might otherwise be turned off by anything fun looking, creative or exciting.

    This is why the new Hyundai sedans are kicking everyone else's tail in their segment right now.  They are passionate, expressive design statements they feed directly into the pinned-up psyche of just about every econobox driver on the road today.  Furthermore, Hyundai designers (and management) ignored the normal process of getting 'everyone's' input on the final design and simply built the cars the way they were originally conceived.

    Everything cannot and should not be democratic.

  • stefano oldrati

    I agree about democratization and no results, specially when you quote the Toyota and Honda examples.

    Design has to take sides. And when design choose a side it will make some people mad and some indifferent but that's the trick. Make some specific people go mad about you it is a lot better, even in industrial and ecological terms, than to have a lot of people to averagely like you and spread everywhere.

    Talking about Innovation this concept is easily blended with competence (small tiny innovation for the very short term) and novelties (innovations that source from other markets standards to appeal to market where these are not the standards yet or the innovation levels are still low). Pure innovation should stand for breaking the rules for the very long term and "not-for-everyone" but just for fans, at least at the beginning design wise.

    Talking about co-creation, it is very difficult to calibrate it to avoid boring and obsolete outputs.
    It is not about democratization but more about a very special crowd, team and the skills on how to select people that can boost one another being specialists and yet being in touch for the first time, or being on the subject for the first time.
    This needs a lot of good planning and high skills on how to create a team.

  • Brian Trevaskiss

    I love the line "Make the system bigger than you", that's what we are trying to do in our new project MoreFrom.Me our branding is removed and our customers take control.

  • Ken Carbone

    Nice post. I really like the examples you cited. Fun, experimental and newsworthy but I'd hardly call this branding. The Suki & Min example will make a great billboard but it applications are truly limited. I like the idea of online community participation in the creative process but the best brands are those that are built to last years. These ideas are novel and attractive to the public who will soon move on to the next "new" thing. Perhaps, these concepts are best used for short term campaigns as a call to action. As for the "flexi" logo approach, is this really new? Haven't brands like MTV, Nickelodeon and Target been doing this for decades?