Sydney is a city of 4.5 million people in Australia, it has a beautiful harbour in the middle, mountains to the west and dozens of beautiful beaches on its eastern coast. Unfortunately a common critique of the city is that these beautiful surroundings mean it spends too much time on leisurely pursuits at the expense of deep thinking, artistic or cultural tendencies. Indeed, leveraging the attractive scenery can only get you so far, and just like the Federal Government’s recent effort at creating Brand Australia, there is now a shiny new “Brand Sydney” to help communicate all that is good and great about this fair city for tourism, investment and major events.
For 30,000 years the indigenous Cadigal people called Sydney their own and for the most part, they were pretty happy with the above mentioned surroundings. Since British colonisation in 1788, Sydney has been drawing a steady stream of visitors who often end up staying for a very long time (although the first few batches of British arrivals didn’t have much say in the matter). Like any major “international” city, Sydney has its fair share of issues, but overall it’s a brilliant place to live. The great, transformative pieces of city rebranding like the Bilbao Guggenheim (yes building things also counts as branding) or I♥NY logo, responded to real needs for change or renewal, whereas the Brand Sydney endeavour reminds me of a great line from The Simpsons when Waylon Smithers brands Lisa "Springfield’s answer to a question nobody asked".
In trying to source materials for this review from the identity’s designers, Moon, I was referred to the owner of Brand Sydney, the Greater Sydney Partnership. Initial enquiries were promptly replied to, and I was told I needed to first speak in person with the Chairman of Greater Sydney Partnership, Peter Holmes a Court. Despite protesting “it’s but a humble design blog” the condition was not relented, and on a rainy afternoon I ventured across town to speak with him. What followed was 45 minutes of deflection and evasion of straightforward questions. My optimism that perhaps speaking with the client side of a major branding project might yield some interesting insights, quickly faded.
During this conversation I grew to suspect it’s simply an interim logo while Greater Sydney Partnership embarks on a year-long research process, what they called a "conversation with Sydney, about Sydney." But since then, however, I have seen the logo popping up in a number of places, the homecoming of Jessica Watson’s round the world solo sailing adventure, various tourism and events websites, and this mass exposure is giving it an air of permanence, which is a shame. The mark does not represent Sydney’s humanity or energy in the way I♥NY does, rather it seems to mimic various characteristics of Sydney in a rationalised, almost logical, graphic formula.
The mark, made up of radiating arcs, forms a central focal point that seems inspired by Sydney’s annual New Years Eve fireworks display. This is a great piece of footage that gets beamed around the world into every news broadcasts round up of the global new year’s eve celebrations, and something Sydney has become famous for. The multicolored arcs are also evocative of our beautiful natural surroundings of beaches, forests, mountains and urban sprawl and the multicultural nature of Sydney, a city where 30% of the population were born overseas. All these layers of meaning are rendered in a very refined, formalistic way — one that has more than a touch of 1960s Swiss modernism about it — and I can’t help but feel the graphic rigour has seen some of the energy of this idea evaporate.
The type is set in what appears to be a customised version of Mr. Darden’s highly regarded Omnes. How someone came to the conclusion that mixing rounded and squared terminals in a typeface was a good idea, is beyond me. Still, the damage inflicted isn’t fatal (though many might disagree), and when combined with a multi layered graphic device, based upon the logo, it is a rather nice toolkit. The identity comes to life in the rollout visuals and particularly on a rather nice website, this time pulsing and spinning with that energy the logo lacks, and Moon have combined these identity elements with very fashion-like portrait photography, presumably of Sydney-siders.
In trying to conclude how I feel about this logo and brand identity, I’m reminded of another quote I read in an old issue of the Sydney based fashion magazine, Oyster: When a Melbourne fashion designer who had relocated to Sydney, was asked; "What’s the worst Sydney look?" her response was as insightful as it was cutting, "Fake tan, fake boobs and fake blonde, it’s the ‘don’t you know who I think I am?’ look". The logo appears to me exactly that; all outward structure and radiating layers of pretense but with nothing at the centre, no substance and no ♥.