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Logowatch: DC Comics

2012 January 22
by Matt

Some comments on the recent logo redesign announcement from comics publisher and IP-licensing company DC:

New DC Comics logo color options

In an assortment of delicious fruit flavors!

First of all, if it feels like we were just here not all that long ago, well, we were. After decades of the “DC Bullet” design, the company introduced a swoosh-y design back in mid-2005. My own comments at the time, on a now-lost blog, were “DC Comics boldly leaps (in a single bound) into the mid-90s” and “It’s like the ‘Electric Blue Superman’ aesthetic applied to logo design.” I didn’t think it was bad, really, just kind of corporate-slick and trendy. (To say nothing of the official announcement with its ridiculous fluff-statements like “There was a level of concern that we weren’t fully utilizing the power of DC.”)

I suspect that many people, like myself, had finally found the design growing on them a little bit these last few years, which points to what might be my biggest criticism of this redesign: it just seems like flailing. I’ll get to other criticisms of the design itself in a moment, but on the whole this just looks like unnecessary churn. I don’t think either of the previous two designs were really either awesome or awful. I don’t think this one is a total abomination but I don’t think it’s a great leap forward either. I do think it’s the second redesign in the space of seven years, however, with nothing in the way of real objective improvement to show for it.

One could, admittedly, make a semi-serious comment about how needless, change-for-change’s sake revamps at decreasingly-long intervals are, taken as a whole, actually a perfect visual identity for DC Comics. And I suppose that I just did. Personally, though, that just seems a little too post-modern for DC Comics, and I think they would still be better off with some good old consistency. As I’ve said about other organizations, swapping one mediocre logo out for another, repeatedly, arguably leaves you worse off than before; at least a long-standing mediocre logo has familiarity and credibility, which improve with age, whereas the novelty of a redesign wears off quickly. Bottom line, when it comes to logo designs, I think that  more often than not the best advice is “don’t pick at it, you’ll only make it worse.”

As for the new “secret identity” logo (“peeling flap” logo might be a more realistic description, but anyway), it’s definitely an odd beast. The good and bad thing about the swoosh logo was that it was really easy to see where it was coming from; it was almost a parody of trendy logo designs from the mid-90s to 2005.

Whereas with this thing, my initial reaction upon reading that it was the work of Landor was “no surprise there,” but upon reflection it actually seems a little odd, after all. This is not like the redesigned UPS logo, or the DC swoosh for that matter. It’s not exactly safe, corporate conservative design.

Frankly, it almost looks like a good student project, in some ways.

I mean, the whole thing just seems so much like the kind of simple, almost “Swiss” (at least in form), just a bit clumsy while waving its “concept” around for all it’s worth design that I recall seeing (and trying to produce) so often back at dear auld ISU. You read the announcement comments and it just sounds so much like an over-eager design student bursting with pride at how much brilliance he or she has packed into the design.

“…the new logo communicates this idea of dual identity: There’s more than meets the eye. You have to take a closer look to understand the richness of our characters and stories.” And it’s a typographic trick, too: “…the D is strategically placed over the C with the upper right-hand portion of the D peeling back to unveil the hidden C…” Zowie!!

And I just think, “wow, that’s awfully neat, there, youngster. A very creative effort. Although when you get around to designing real work for real clients, you might want to keep in mind that simplicity can be a good thing in both graphic and conceptual terms; not every logo needs to be or even should be an all-singing all-dancing showcase of your own cleverness.”

Of course, in evaluating this logo there’s the additional factor of its chameleon-like (presumably no infringement intended) shifting between not only different colors but different, well, “accessories” perhaps:

DC Comics logo plays dress-up

Wasn't there an old story where Batman wore a different color costume each night?

Maybe I’m a little old-school in my thinking, having started out in an era when a few professionals were still creating logos with technical pens and Bristol board, and simple shapes that could work in black-and-white were still almost obligatory, certainly for a real, “serious” corporate-grade logo design. I realize that things have changed since 1996. (Grumble, grumble.) And I’m not sure there isn’t something actually rather appropriate in the lavish 3D color effects, here, at least; looking at the typical cover of one of DC’s publications the outgoing “swoosh” logo with its relatively old-school flat shapes and solid colors kind of looks a bit out of place amidst the zillion-color palette of modern comics coloring. They’ve been trying to dress it up with gradients and textures, but it’s basically still made of flat, solid forms, whereas this new thing actually seem “native” to a computer-colored world.

That said, I’m still not really sold on any of this. Least of all the “dress up in costumes” variants, seen above. I don’t know whether they’re trying to be Google, here, or what; it just reminds me of the all-over-the-board mess which was ISU’s previous logo “system.” Again, it’s a logo. This is just working too hard to do too much, while arguably failing at the basic task of being a ready visual identifier for the organization it represents. (Especially in context of a second redesign in seven years.) Just having the letters “D” and “C” in a clear, straightforward fashion would probably be better than this sneaky conceptual showing-off. FedEx has a “sneaky” hidden component, but it’s a “bonus” element; the name “FedEx” is still right there without any fuss. There are conceptual elements to Apple’s logo, if you really want some, but first and foremost it’s just a direct (non-verbal) representation of the company’s name also. I don’t particularly care for DC-rival Marvel’s almost insultingly minimalist white capital letters on a red rectangle logo, but even it’s a better practical design in a lot of ways.

Whereas this, well, basically: sheeeesh. Give us a break, here, DC. Figuratively, as well as literally; give us a break from the redesigns, and the embarrassing chase for relevancy through whizzy design. You guys trade on the endlessly-rehashed adventures of a handful of superheroes mostly created before World War II. You can dress this up with all the rubber and texture-effects and Photoshop glows you want but your real “brand” is still “Zap! POW! Superman and Batman topple the dastardly scheme of the hyper-evolved primate villain Ape-X!”

You’re not convincing anyone otherwise, whatever your logo.

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