16 October 2008


An interesting article on the idea of branding the boroughs of London for marketing, tourism, civic pride, and what have you.

The article is interesting because it compares the logos being proposed by the various boroughs of London with the cities and wards that form Tokyo.

The difference between the two is very striking.

The British logos are all very corporate, like the designers mistook the word "borough" for "hotel", or "bank" or "insurance firm". Certainly professional looking, but very much not warm and inviting. All in all, far too corporate for civic pride.

The Tokyo logos are much simpler, much more iconic. Each is primal shapes that may be abstract or may be historically significant done in bold, primary colors.

So, why this difference?

At first glance I think it is that Japan is simply more in touch with, and more comfortable with its feudal past. Combine this with a written language that is ideographic and the simple crests make sense. Certainly, on the battle fields of days gone by, when you saw a troop of soldiers rushing your position, you wanted to be able to tell at a glance whether they were friend or foe. So the Japanese infantry troops would have a sizable number of soldiers with banners identifying their allegiances.

The Tokyo city icons share the same easy to spot nature and, in fact, look very much like a Dover-edition book detailing of Japanese historical crests in my library. They are, admittedly, a bit more modernist, but the sentiment is there.

So why do we not see something similar with London? After all, Europe in general, during it's feudal period made heavy use of coats of arms. More complicated than the Japanese crests, but still distinctive. Is it perhaps the historical baggage that comes with coats of arms that prevents people from a.) wanting to co-opt them, and b.) wanting to re-invent them? I am not in a position to say. Though I can say that the Tokyo city logos work much better than the proposed London corporate city logos.

The use of crests in Japan extends way beyond the limits of Tokyo. In many regions, the iconic crests of towns and municipalities are posted on thruway exit signs, so you navigate by icon rather than reading the sign. Mind you, the drive between Kitakyushu and Fukuoka City has, if I remember, four different jolly fisherman and a multitude of herons to be dealt with.

When I was in Fukuoka City a few years ago, I found ward icons to be stamped on all the subway stations, including on the fare board. It made life very easy to know that I was traveling from the end of the line to the stop with the bird with its wings outstretched and sweeping forward to form a blue oval. It took far less time to recognize than to describe, and it meant I didn't have to try to resolve the kanji into a meaningful ward name.

Check out the map (English version):

The Japanese, simply put have the West beat on iconography. A good place to learn from them in making way-finding systems in the urban setting more friendly, as well as effective local branding.

No comments: