Behind Pentagram’s graphic identity for DC’s Harley Quinn film, Birds of Prey
Emily Oberman points out the hidden weapons in the logo and how the unhinged protagonist is channeled through typography.
DC’s most maniacal female antihero Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, leads the first Suicide Squad spin-off movie, out tomorrow and titled: Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. As for its graphic identity, Pentagram’s Emily Oberman and her team have designed a logo, custom typeface and visual language that channels the character’s traits, plays to the style of the film, and is visibly packed with easter eggs for fans to lap up.
Though the project began too early for the design team to watch the film for inspiration, they read the script and watched a short film by director Cathy Yan, made to convey her vision. “It was thrilling and powerful and funny. We were all in as soon as we saw it – not that we weren’t already,” Oberman tells It’s Nice That.
Harley’s overall graphic language is designed to convey the character herself: “silly, optimistic, strong, confident, funny, sassy, and more than a little crazy,” says Oberman. Some aspects of this come through the Birds of Prey logo, which uses a bold, blocky type (an altered version of Smart Sans) with weapons hidden amidst the letters. These represent the other members of the Birds of Prey and their personalities – Huntress, Black Canary, Cassandra and Officer Montoya.
“The weapons kind of presented themselves in a few of the letterforms and when we saw how great they could be, Laura (Berglund of Pentagram) did an amazing job of finding more and more ways to sneak things in,” she continues. “Of course they had to relate to each character. My favourites are the brass knuckle E and the dagger hidden in the S.” The neon colours were inspired by the “copious and detailed mood boards” that Cathy Yan created for the whole film.
Then, for the film’s lengthy subtitle, Oberman and her team wanted to show other aspects of the film’s protagonist, as well as the film’s style. “She breaks the fourth wall quite a bit,” she explains, “so the idea for the subtitle was about her taking over and inserting herself into the brand.” This appears in a frenetic scrawl that irreverently crosses out the DC logo but adds personalised touches in various ways, in the scribblings of a school girl and hearts over the “i”s for example. This is a bespoke typeface Pentagram has coined Hysteria Hand.
Because there may be future character films, Oberman says they wanted the main logo to be something “that could live on and evolve but still feel like a powerful franchise.” Hence, Harley’s typeface “had to feel different, intrusive, human and manic. We wanted the main logo to have the strength to stand up to it.”
“The typeface is meant to be Harley, that’s the idea,” she continues. “We heard her voice and tried to have her come through it. It’s meant to seem hurried, scrawled, off-kilter (yet optimistic) like handwriting that fell into a vat of Gotham’s most toxic acid. The icons are just Harley’s doodles. They spring from her giddy, crazy head. Some are plot points, some are just things she likes.”
The project was a collaboration between Oberman, her team (in this case Laura Berglund, Mira Khandpur and Timothy Cohan), and John Stanford, Blair Rich, and Sue Kroll of the Warner Bros. marketing team.
Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is out tomorrow (7 February) from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures.
GalleryPentagram / Emily Oberman: Birds of Prey visual identity
Pentagram / Emily Oberman: Birds of Prey visual identity