Reviewed

Guitar Hero Logo, Before and After

It’s easy to boast when making utopian pronouncements, but I can so guarantee that, if I were playing video games today with the same fanatical fervor as I did in my teenage years (homework and tests be damned), I would be a master at these newfangled games of faking an actual talent — after all, I killed in Madden and NHL without ever catching a football or hitting a puck in real life — and I would be playing the guitar like a Rock God that can press buttons really, really fast. Seriously I would. But, alas, Guitar Hero, or its competitor Rock Band, are two or three generations removed from my free time. Now, instead of being excited about a video game release and getting in line at the crack of dawn, I’m giddy about its logo. Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, designers Joe Marianek and Kai Salmela, along with a cadre of image-makers have revamped Guitar Hero to rockin’ heights.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero 5 packaging.

Disclosure: Yes, I worked for Michael and yes, Joe, Kai and I shared working bays and, yes, there are conflicts of interest at stake so the upcoming praise may be questionable. Whatever. When colleagues and ex-bosses do good work, there is no shame in recognizing it. Plus, we can get some additional images that haven’t popped up anywhere else.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

The family of Hero logos.

If you are unfamiliar with Guitar Hero, the premise is fairly simple: Introduced by Activision in 2005, Guitar Hero gives gamers the opportunity to match songs note-by-note using a kooky guitar with buttons. Over the years, Guitar Hero has grown into a million-copy-selling, billion-dollar enterprise and has spawned versions featuring high profile acts like Metallica and Aerosmith — although neither a coup as big as its competitor’s, Rock Band, partnership with the digitally-averse Beatles. On September 1, Guitar Hero 5 was released and by the end of the year two spin-offs, Band Hero and DJ Hero will hit shelves as well. To help usher in a new era of cross-platform and multiple media applications, Pentagram has introduced a cohesive identity that retains the thrashing attitude of its predecessors.

Guitar Hero

B- and C-list celebrities at the launch of DJ Hero at the Wiltern Theatre on June 1, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

Guitar Hero purists might argue there is nothing wrong with the old logo and, in essence, there isn’t: It’s spiky and it’s spelled correctly. But if you look at the details, the lettering in the old logo was all over the place, with big and fat “G”, “H” and “O”, a diminutive “I” and a range of other weights and widths. The gear-like precision with which the letters came together was interesting, but when scaled down it just became messy.

Guitar Hero

A custom alphabet, Hero, by Kai and some executions with Joe.

The new lettering preserves its spikiness and now has more room to breathe without sacrificing the hardcore feel. The letters are evenly weighed and the interaction between the counterforms of the letters and the words is quite energetic. As a black-and-white work, this is strong enough, but where the solid and smart structure of the logos really shines is in their proficiency to take on a multitude of hard rockin’ effects and Pentagram worked with some of the best in the business — Rick Valicenti, Adam Larson and Steve Wilson — to bring the identity to life and show how it can be implemented in a variety of ways while using the same backbone.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero imagery by Rick Valicenti/3st. Additional explorations by 3st.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

DJ Hero imagery by Steve Wilson (first two) and Rick Valicenti/3st (above).

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

Band Hero imagery by Adam Larson/Adam + Company.

I doubt I’m letting my personal allegiances sway me, because as a has-been gamer and once-mullet-toting heavy metal enthusiast I had an immediate, pleasurable gut reaction to the whole scope of this identity. Now where did I stash my Sega Genesis?

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Reviewed September 3, 200909.03.09 by Armin


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