What Is In A Logo?

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When was the last time a logo created so much talk? Generated so much scope for people from all walks of life to use as a platform to express their feelings on design, their understanding of aesthetics, their views of how wrong or how right those who decide can be. There is no accounting for taste. You can pay good money and still have a badly designed or decorated house. In this case, you pay good money for a short and a long rectangle. I am of course talking about the logo of the National Gallery Singapore. Launched last week. No public relations company could have planned for such an avalanche of discussion, debate and fiercely divided opinions. Mr Brown has weighed in, along with almost everyone else. “Really?” “This is the logo?” “My eyes have not stopped rolling.” “What a lazy logo.” “Unbelievable.”

“Wow. How did they get it approved?” my designer friend asked. “It has been a while since I have seen such a pure design. From the translation of a vision to an identity. Direct. Bold. And powerful.” Evidently, the professionals, or at least those in the world of design and branding, seem to like this logo. It sets me thinking about design. A design is not seen in isolation. It is seen through its applications. The new logo for the National Gallery Singapore will not just be a logo. In varied ways, it will be used to convey the history of art, the present and future of art. Art is ongoing and evolving. The two blocks will be, as I see them, the building blocks of what art can be in a space that is the National Gallery Singapore.

I was told the design of this logo took about three months. The entire process from design to approval took about a year. Asylum, the design house, came up with over a hundred design options. They were narrowed down to about fifty. Then to six. Each of these six designs was then worked on with twenty to thirty variations. When the final three designs were shortlisted, again, each of them was further expanded with another twenty to thirty ideas. There were four to five designers from Asylum working on this assignment, headed by Chris Lee, the founder and creative director of the company. Chris has been conferred the President’s Design Award twice, in 2009 and 2010 for two disciplines, arguably the highest honour accorded to designers here. He is actually quite happy that there is “a conversation on this logo. It speaks of a maturing scene for design. At least it is not ignored. Or accepted as just a typical logo design.”

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Asylum, a 15-year-old design company with a staff of 16, has been behind some of the boldest designs in recent years. In his own words, Chris “will put his career on this one logo”. The interesting fact is that through the whole approval process, all the variations notwithstanding, this chosen one was always there. It was shortlisted all the way. There were of course detractors, but when the board decided on this one logo, Chris said, “if they had criticised the other designs, I would have looked down. But if they had criticised this one, I would have stood behind it. All the way.” Why? “Because, like any good design, there is discomfort, an edge, an entity that pushes the boundaries, one that will create noise, one that people will indeed bat an eyelid.” What is the most derogatory remark? “It is a disgrace to the design community.” What is the most positive remark? “It is world-class. A logo Singapore can be proud of.”

What is the rationale behind it? Not that we want art or design to be explicitly explained. But now that it is so controversial, what is it about? Well, it is about two iconic and important buildings. The City Hall and the former Supreme Court. The National Gallery Singapore will house some of the most influential South East Asian art and host blockbuster exhibitions. Its vision for art is timeless. Its logo needs to be timeless as well, to appeal to both the young and the old. Most importantly, it needs to be a logo that sets itself bravely apart. MoMA, the museum of modern art in New York, took over two decades to proudly and openly apply their logo. Now it is a logo talked about. The London Olympics logo was not well received. Now people are asking, “Was it so bad after all?”

So, was is in a logo? I asked around. It seems to boil down to an interesting Singaporean trait. The unfailing need to assess value. “You pay millions for such a logo? My child can do it.” “If we spent so much money, it better be worth it.” Which brings me to my point. There is maturing interest in creativity. Which is why we talk about it. We discuss it. Social media help propel this talk. Ironically, it will take maturity to see the beauty in simplicity. And its value. I am not saying I have good taste. Or that I know better. But I love this logo. Purely for its simplicity. I can see how it will serve the National Gallery Singapore in years to come. It is clean and timelessly simple. For an organisation to decide on this logo takes some courage. And a maturing taste in design. For this and this alone, I am very happy with this logo and all the talk it is creating. Congratulations, National Gallery Singapore! I hope in years to come, more will see the beauty in this simple design.

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