We here at +one try to bring you positive examples of great Australian design and sustainability, but every once in a while something turns up that's just so bad we have to call it out and address the issue.
In the last 2 weeks you may have seen a new logo to promote Australia, but mistakenly thought it was a gold version of the Coronavirus with AU at the centre. It's attracted a huge amount of press, almost all of it negative. Partly this was a result of its clumsy launch that led many to believe, quite wrongly, that it was a replacement for the ‘Australian Made’ branding.
That logo, instantly recognizable with a gold kangaroo bouncing against a green background has been in use for 34 years and is indeed undergoing a slight make-over: the yellow becoming more gold, the green becoming darker; but it's not being replaced.
Rather, it's being supplemented by an additional logo developed by the National Brand Advisory Council (NBAC - we’ve never heard of them either). It's business leaders, including mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, Cooper's brewery’s Glenn Cooper and Australian Post CEO Christine Holgate. The branding is intended for use by government agencies and industry bodies at trade shows and conferences.
The federal government saw it as a way of unifying the differing presentations by the states at these events and paid $10 million over two years to Clemenger BDO to develop the logo. The official line is that it is a representation of Australia's golden wattle, but the story of its background was poorly explained, and just about everything about the actual logo is bad.
The design is too abstract for an international audience (who wouldn’t know Wattle from WTF) and it lacks immediate impact. The AU font is ugly and overly forceful, ‘AU’ is not derived from the web, in which case it would be the lower case ‘au’; nor is it the international call sign in which case it would be ‘AUS’. It's too delicate for effective printing on many media and gold is a very expensive colour to reproduce.
The timing of the launch was impeccably bad: in the middle of a Coronavirus pandemic it struck many as a gilded version of the symbol of the disease. It could have waited 6 or 12 months, it's not as if there's a thousand trade shows that we’re heading off to here or overseas.
And then, some of us can’t get Monty Python’s ditty from the skit about the Philosophy Department of the University of Woolloomooloo out of our heads: “This here's the wattle, the symbol of our land. You can stick it in a bottle or hold it in your hand”.
But as bad as this is, it's nowhere near the worst graphics by a government in the last few years. That gong would go to Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) for the recently introduced logos identifying public transport systems. It clearly takes the prize for peak stupid.
Admittedly the former graphics, partly improved for the 2000 Olympics, were still shambolic across the four main forms of transport: trains, buses, ferries and the newly arrived trams styled as “light rail”. When the LNP took over NSW in 2011 it did what all governments do: rebrand everything to show that there are new kids in town.
Firstly, the Department of Transport is renamed TfNSW, and in 2013 it releases new concepts for wayfinding and branding developed in conjunction with the London based firm Maynard. Their advice included continuing to use the original pictograms to identify the mode of transport but TfNSW knew better and went with letters instead: B for bus, T for train, F for ferry, and L for light rail (T for Train was taken).
In one of the world’s most multicultural cites, with over 150 different languages spoken, lots of them in non-Roman alphabets, such as Arabic, Mandarin/Cantonese, Thai or Japanese, these letters would mean nothing. Pictograms, used almost universally (with some exceptions like M for the Paris Metro), would have been far, far better.
Almost every professional and expert told the government at the time that they were wrong to use letters not pictograms, in colours that made them difficult to read for the visually impaired. The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) wrote to the minister saying that it was “vehemently opposed to the new designs”; The Association of Consultants in Access Australia said the signs were problematic for people with disabilities and that pictograms were far to be preferred; Ecotransit (a transport lobby) said the signs were a waste of money, the Transport and Tourist Forum raised concerns on several occasions and industrial designer, John Holt, wrote a stinging opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Did the newly appointed NSW minister for transport, Andrew Constance, take any notice? No, he showed the same tin ear and stubborn recalcitrance that the Gladys Berejiklian government is renowned for: demolishing sports stadiums without having a replacement, refusing to listen to experts about pill testing, selling off social housing like the Sirius building and only recently realising that moving The Powerhouse Museum was an election loser.
Now, more than 100,000 signs have been installed on bus stops, train stations, ferry wharves, and light rail stops at a cost $50 million. But only in public spaces. Elsewhere, in private buildings and airports, on maps and Google, pictograms are used and recognized. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) uses a picture of a steam train to indicate a level crossing. Everywhere else in Australia, and the world, you'll see pictograms.
Is this the stupidest decision about graphics in the last 50 years. We think so. The NSW government loves to talk of Sydney as a ‘world class city’, but this childish adherence to English capitals makes it seem more like a juvenile white man’s wannabe pretender.
Updating branding doesn’t have to be this way: you can keep it rolling for many years. Take the kangaroo on the tail of Qantas. First introduced in 1944, it's undergone a series of revamps over the last three quarters of a century, the last introduced in 2016 in time for 2020, the centenary year. The design consultant, Mark Newson, took the original flying kangaroo and streamlined it further and changed the font used for ‘Qantas’ to something slimmer to keep a good branding idea alive.
There will be no such luck for the terminally idiotic T,L,F,B signs which will remain until a change of government, when we will have the possible return to an updated version of the far more sensible pictograms, at a far from sensible expense.
plus 1 / plus one / +one is a collective of designers and artists promoting sustainability and Australian design. You can contact +one at [email protected].