jcpenney (now all lowercase!) is in the news again.
In February, the retail giant rolled out a new brand identity. Visually speaking the new identity is fine, if not a little boring.
What isn’t fine is the way jcpenney went about creating a new logo – they held a contest. jcpenney invited employees, design agencies and two art schools to submit designs for a logo. The winning design by Luke Langhus, a third-year graphic design student at the University of Cincinnati, was chosen from more than 200 submissions.
The problem? A brand redesign should not be a beauty contest. The danger of design contests is that they end up solving a visual challenge rather than creating a solution that addresses business goals, competitive advantage and a brand’s core attributes.
There are also limits to what can be achieved by collaborating with a crowd rather than engaging a dedicated design firm. One of the roles of a designer is to help a client think through their problem and outline their objectives. Without this critical step at the onset, project goals are blurred and communication solutions lack direction.
While Luke Langhus may be a great designer, there is more to brand identity than a logo. A brand is a personification of an organization or its products and services – it stands for what a company is, what it does and what audiences experience. Any changes made to a brand’s identity require a strategic solution tied to a company’s goals and aspirations. Starbucks is evolving their visual brand because their offering is evolving. The Gap changed their logo for the sake of change – and encountered a huge backlash.
Without the support of research, strategic direction or methodology a visual design has no depth. Maybe jcpenney supplied each designer with ample information. Maybe not.
One thing is sure – if you ask for surface level design, you tend to get surface level meaning. An evolution of a logo represents an evolution of a brand. But I doubt that most consumers will realize that the jcpenney logo changed. Can no perceived change represent change?