Many companies dream of an organic, adaptable and changing identity to avoid looking static, stoic and stale. Most companies, too, flail at the thought of managing a constantly fluctuating identity, commonly opting for one logo lockup… two, if they are feeling saucy. MTV has made a living out of changing logo looks faster than Madonna, and VH1 has adopted a similar mentality; Fossil may have one official logo, but its look is as diverse as the retro look can be milked; and companies like GE, Motorola and BASF find comfort in extensive color palettes to render their logo in. These are few and far in between and the exception rather than the rule. Saks Fifth Avenue’s embrace of a changing identity — changeable in 100 googol ways no less — designed by Pentagram (Michael Bierut, to be specific) is a feat all the more impressive considering the stagnant state of retail identity, specially in this category (Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, etc.).
[This may be a good time to read Michael’s comprehensive explanation of the project on the Pentagram Blog]
I have watched this identity develop at the office over the past 20 months, and it had started a good 12 months before I joined Michael Bierut’s team. Early on I was this close to working on the project… I secretly thank fate for not being the one involved, as I just couldn’t comprehend how this could be implemented on a massive scale (40 different packages, anyone?) much less how this could be style-guided. I’m no stranger to guidelines and I pride in my ability to make them air tight, but this just seemed like a lost cause. Specifying how one or two logos are used in an identity system is hard enough, now imagine specifying how 64 logos are used in an identity system.
This identity proposal also survived a good two years of being presented to different stakeholders and interested parties at Saks Fifth Avenue, getting stronger and tighter with each session of scrutiny and questioning. The result is not only a pretty nice identity but one that can reflect the quickly changing world of fashion and morph through the next decade(s) with an endless array of possibilities… note that this first rollout is only black and white, introducing color might just be as mind blowing as dropping LSD.