The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 12th

Q&A with design professor Lisa Villamil on NC's new logo

North Carolina has a new logo, thanks to the state’s rebranding efforts. UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School was involved in the ideation and input stage of the rebranding campaign, but the design work was handled by an independent agency and approved by N.C. Commerce and the Office of the Governor.

The logo, which cost $1.5 million to design and market, has received a lot of buzz over the past couple of weeks.

Staff writer Emily Perry spoke with design professor and Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity research editor Lisa Villamil to hear her weigh in on the conversation.

The Daily Tar Heel: What would you say is the purpose of a good logo?

Lisa Villamil: Generally speaking, among the experts in the field across the world, most people would agree that the logo is the mark of an entire brand. Some people refer to it as a signature. A logo is really, really important because it’s what we tend to see visibly and repeatedly, from a company or an institution or a person. So how you decide to do a logo is so much about, “What are you trying to say?”

DTH: I’d love to hear your initial thoughts about the new North Carolina logo.

LV: Well, I try to kind of stay open-minded. Honestly, I saw the design at the same time I heard about the design — how the design process was done. To me, it sounded like a very complicated process.

If the logo is a distillation of an idea. It’s really boiling it down to the essence. It’s like writing a poem as opposed to a novel. So a complicated process with a lot of cooks in the kitchen, it would be very difficult to get the distillation of a great logo design. The logo has a lot of ideas.

DTH: What do you think the new North Carolina logo does well, and what do you think could be improved about it?

LV: Well, again I think in this particular project, I don’t think we can separate from the end product, which is unfortunate because at the end it’s really only going to be the product. Anyone driving through North Carolina, anyone thinking about where to go on vacation, to move their business and so forth are only going to experience the end product.

But I think that one thing that was good with this particular endeavor was it was obvious that they were reaching out into the community or to participation, so I would think that’s actually good for the process, but that part of the process is really constructive when it’s at the very beginning of the project — trying to identify what the objective is and generate general ideas and feelings.

It looks like the teams of people working on it remained as large as they were at the beginning. I think the main issue with the design is it’s just a lot. When there’s so many different things going on, you don’t see one. Your eye is not going to a single piece. It’s not that any of these ideas are not good, but there are a lot of ideas. And what I suspect, being an old design teacher and creative director, there were a lot of people in the room.

DTH: How would you improve or redesign the logo?

LV: The bottom line is, as Amadeus would say, too many notes, in that famous movie. If you looked at this in comparison to some, I can name a couple, one FedEx did it, the negative image and not seeing it right away. We see the tree, but we don’t see the base, so that’s a very powerful thing when it’s done in isolation such as the arrow embedded in the FedEx.

Another is the “Virginia is for lovers” campaign. It’s considered one of the top iconic campaigns in the United States over all advertising. It was designed by the Martin Agency, which is a top advertising agency in Richmond. It was only one ad agency that was involved, so again minimizing how many people were in designing. They originally were looking at the idea of playing on Virginia is for history lovers, Virginia is for mountain lovers, beach lovers, so forth, and then they kept distilling it to just “Virginia is for lovers.” It’s so powerful because it’s so simple. It was tested through use, and people just fell in love with it. And the end result — I think they said that it was 1968 — there was $800 million in tourism. It went up to $14 billion by 2004.

“I Love New York” is famous, and was modeled after Virginia is for lovers.

DTH: Maybe you know that the state paid $1.5 million on this rebranding effort. What do you think are the pros and cons of the state investing that kind of money on rebranding?

LV: Again, hopefully there are objectives — marketing objectives looking at development within the state and obviously hoping to elevate the economy and to do all these things that I believe the taxpayers would definitely want. So an excellent rebranding is just — there’s nothing like it.

I think with USA Today, they really positioned an entire idea of a paper newspaper into something different, into a much larger brand experience and all different products.

With Virginia, the Martin Agency in Richmond is not cheap, but I think it has paid for itself a thousand times over. So I think it depends on who’s doing it.

If you go to people who are really brand experts with a track record, it can be some of the best money you ever spent, but it again I think the process looks very convoluted. So unfortunately, maybe the money was not used as effectively as it could have been.

To me, we had excellent people participating, but the excellence wasn’t allowed to do its job because the process was just more complicated than it needed to be.

DTH: Thank you for your thoughts. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

LV: I would just say one other thing. That logo has to show up on everything. Will it work if it’s a half an inch big? Will it work if it’s on the side of a truck?

That’s another, I think, issue with this particular logo is you’ll even see when you go to the N.C. website that they have to start breaking it apart because it’s just simply too much to feasibly use. And in black and white, if they don’t have that gradient color, well that’s got to be transferred into black and white, and will that work? They’re really important questions, but they’re not really exciting to think about when you’re designing it.


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