Dating back to 1778 but established as it’s known today in 1905, Debenhams is one of the largest department store chains in the UK with 182 retail locations (ranging anywhere from 15,000 square feet to over 200,000 square feet for its flagship stores) offering a range of clothing, household items, and furniture, as well as services like cafes, personal shopping assistance, hairdressing and beauty treatments, nail bars and wedding gift services. Last year Debenhams announced it would undergo some significant changes (PDF) and that included ending its eight-year relationship with agency of record, J. Walter Thompson. Coinciding with the launch of a new store this September, Debenhams introduced a new campaign and identity designed by the London, UK, office of Mother Design.
Debenhams came to us for a brand repositioning to echo the changes that are taking place internally and with the aim of bringing joy and excitement back into the shopping experience. We decided that instead of a loud call to action telling shoppers how to behave, what they needed was a friendly invitation to remind people how fun shopping can be.
We created a new identity, brand purpose and visual language where every touchpoint is designed to champion the unapologetic joy of shopping once more.
The old logo was quite nice and it looked very convincing as a high-but-not-super-high-end beacon for a department store. (Disclaimer: I have never been into a Debenhams so that’s what I gathered from my tour on Google Images.) The subtle serifs, uppercase setting, and loose spacing made it look sophisticated and somewhat timeless. The new logo is so heavy-handed not just in the literal sense that it’s heavy in its weight but everything about it is, like, too much: too high a contrast between the thicks and the thins, too tight a spacing, and too dramatic the few serifs that are there. The open “D” is also very confusing and unrelated to anything else anywhere in the identity. There are some nice moments in the wordmark — like the “ebe” relationship or how the slope of the “nh” is aligned — but overall, it feels too dramatic and the opposite of joyful, which seems to be the overarching goal in the identity and corporate strategy. The campaign, as I’ll get to below, achieves this better than the logo.
The custom type family, where the character shapes are less exaggerated than the logo, is pretty nice and manages to capture some of the elegance of the old logo while also adding personality. The new logo typeset in perhaps a middle weight of this font would have done the trick.
Not much in terms of applications. Bags look nice but nothing exciting. Signage looks nice too. I know that that’s not much of an opinion but that’s the extent of my emotions generated by it.
The campaign around the slightly awkward banner of “Do a bit of Debenhams” does manage to infuse this project with some relative joy. The images and concepts can verge on the cheesy but the executions are charming and eye-catching. They also show that the logo is not quite successful as it breaks apart at small sizes and simply looks weird against the much nicer typography above it.
Overall, the logo definitely signals a change that I don’t know how many people will react to positively but at the same time brick-and-mortar retailers are in such a twilight zone era at the moment that I’m not sure anything they do is good or bad for them but, I guess, worth trying. To the identity’s credit, one thing it does well is separate it from the recent John Lewis redesign and helps chart it into a different territory than its competitor.
Thanks to Ivan Filipov for the tip.