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Opinion: Amid comment-board critics, are retro rebrands taking the easy way out?

Posted by James Cartwright,

This week assistant editor James Cartwright takes on the thorny issue of rebrands, and asks whether in the current climate of online criticism, some designers are choosing to play it safe by going back to the future. Remember you can add your views below!

By now you’re probably aware of Scandinavian studio BVD’s comprehensive redesign of high street cheap-eats stalwarts 7-Eleven. The European branch of the brand has embraced a look and feel that stays true to its roots, maintaining three strong brand colours and a logo that’s barely changed since the chain’s inception. With it, BVD have incorporated an aesthetic that’s as much middle America as it is central Europe, relying on bold colours and even bolder type to communicate to their customers. It’s a good-looking piece of branding, sure, but is it the best we’ve ever seen?

The article sat at the top of our homepage throughout yesterday and received an enormous amount of traffic. Responses through our social media channels were nothing but positive. Which is all well and good, but it makes me feel uneasy that there’s been no opportunity for critique.

Brand redesigns tend to raise the blood pressure within and without the design community. They’re expensive, time-consuming and often critics fail to understand the value of spending hard-earned cash on aesthetic changes that seem to make no quantifiable difference to companies’ sales or public image. Read Creative Review’s blog on any given day of the week and you can guarantee there’ll be at least one rebrand article in which commentators are tearing the work limb from limb, like wild cats around a fresh kill.

Take ITV’s latest redesign for example – people took to comments sections in their droves, criticising the new designs for their modernity, their lack of modernity, the childishness of their appearance or the lack of personality. Some critiqued with vast essays, others with quick, cutting comments; “No. Not a fan. Try again please.”

Inevitably these kinds of large-scale overhauls will divide opinion, that’s the nature of the beast, but there seem to be certain types of brands embracing certain types of aesthetics that upset the people of the internet in particular. There’s no doubt that the ITV brand looks more at home now online, but people seem very uncomfortable with this kind of web-safe aesthetic.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this is nostalgia. 7-Eleven’s redesign taps into a very specific version of the past. It references the vernacular of Hollywood, of cinematic late-night coffees shared under the harsh glow of fluorescent lighting; that even though we might not have experienced in reality, we’ve lived countless times through movies. But does that evocation of nostalgic emotions really constitute good design, or do we just like it because it feels retro?

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Jc

Posted by James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our two editors. He oversees Printed Pages magazine and content wise has a special interest in graphic design and illustration. He also runs our online shop Company of Parrots and is a regular on our Studio Audience podcast.