September 22, 2009

Requiem for the Nickelodeon Logo

Nickelodeon Logo Before and After

After 25 years, Nickelodeon has redesigned the famous “splat” logo. When I first heard the news – and saw the new logo – the first question that came to mind was, “Why?” What possible reason could there be for redesigning one of the most recognizable and beloved trademarks in the world?

In an interview about the change in Variety, “According to Cyma Zarghami, prexy of Nick and MTV Networks’ Kids and Family Group, the decision to streamline the network identities came after they started putting all of the channels’ logos on the same business card – and decided that it looked like a mess. ‘We wanted to clean it up and allow Nick to be the stamp on all of these channels… In asking ourselves if everything could live under the splat, we decided that the splat was dated. It just couldn’t be done in a streamlined way.’”

So I guess this is the answer. The design of the business card is driving the expression of the brand. And the brand that is known for being on the side of kids is telling us that the fun is over. It’s time to clean up our room.

It’s difficult to be objective about this change. The original orange shape logo was designed in 1983 by my former partners, the late Tom Corey and Scott Nash. They worked on the visual identity with Fred Seibert and Alan Goodman, the team that created the MTV logo. (For an excellent account of this collaboration, check out Fred Seibert’s blog.) I joined Corey & Company (soon to be renamed Corey McPherson Nash) in 1987 and collaborated with Tom and Scott on key branding and design projects for Nickelodeon during the 1980s and 1990s. Our studio (and our sister studio Big Blue Dot) also was behind the launches of several Nickelodeon sub-brands, including Nick, Jr., Nickelodeon Games and Sports (GAS), Noggin, Nick at Nite and TV Land. I was creative director for two branding/graphic standards projects, “How to Nickelodeon” and the more comprehensive, “How to Nickelodeon: Rules and Tools.” We had the pleasure of working directly with the founding visionaries of the Nickelodeon brand – Gerry Laybourne, Bob Pittman, Linda Schupack, and Herb Scannell, Scott Webb, and many more – so we were very invested in the success of the brand.

Given the transformation of Nickelodeon from a scrappy cable channel to one of the leading global entertainment brands, I should probably be amazed that such a protean visual identity system lasted as long as it did. For one thing, the so-called “splat” logo was never supposed to be just a splat shape. The whole spirit of the identity program was to create a visual mark that could assume thousands of shapes – a cloud, a bone, a rocket, a dirigible, a dinosaur – and maybe even a splat. It was supposed to be squirmy, changing, imaginative, and silly. Nick fans were encouraged to create and submit their own logo shapes, and they did. The only constants were the bright orange color and the distinctive logotype (based on Balloon). And unlike the version that is used above to represent the “splat” logo, the logotype was never to bleed off the edges of the orange field and circular shapes were discouraged because they didn’t accommodate such a long word. (The circular splat version should be in the “Don’t” section of the graphic standards.)

Yes, this creative concept was challenging to execute, especially compared with most corporate logotypes. That was the idea. The essence of the brand was to encourage imagination, invention, diversity and fun, and the logo was a key element in that mix. If the new logo is as core to the brand as the old one was, I’m afraid it’s Nickelodeon, R.I.P.

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