Established in 1966 (as Interbank until 1968 and later known as Master Charge until 1979), MasterCard is a technology company in the global payments industry that — contrary to the perception that they issue credit cards — processes the payments between the banks of merchants and the card-issuing banks or credit unions of the purchasers. They operate the world’s fastest payments processing network and are active in more than 210 countries and territories. With today’s announcement of Masterpass, a global digital payment service, Mastercard has introduced a new logo — the first change in 20 years — and identity designed by New York, NY-based Pentagram partner Michael Bierut (and team).
The digitization of commerce processes and increased connectivity of consumers is driving a digital transformation that will provide seamless payment choices. To reflect a readiness and optimism about this transformation, Mastercard is introducing an evolution of its brand identity - simplified, modernized and optimized for an increasingly digital world. The brand identity starts with a new brand mark, and plays out in a holistic design system that will bring a forward-thinking, sophisticated and inclusive brand expression to every touch point around the world.
The evolved brand identity, including the most comprehensive brand design system ever introduced globally within Mastercard, will be rolled out to all Mastercard products, communications, and experiences, starting with Masterpass later this month, and across Mastercard beginning in the fall.
Mastercard press release
Surely, the first reaction most will have is “OMG, no! They changed the old logo!” but let’s look at it and really consider whether that’s a bad thing: The most distinctive element of the old logo was the overlapping circles which were obscured by a less than attractive, barely-fitting condensed sans serif with a flat drop shadow, and, while it satisfies our old school corporate identity yearnings, the interlocking lines of the circles are just not conducive in today’s digital world. (See screenshot of how the logo looks on their home page before the change.) The Saul-Bass-Paul-Rand-et al-admirer in me is sad to see the interlocking lines go as they are 1960s corporate identity 101 but life, and logos, go on.
The new logo keeps the overlapping circles — it would be corporate suicide for MasterCard not to and criminal of Pentagram to have pushed for not keeping them — and does literally what the old circles did figuratively by coloring the overlap orange. The interlocking lines introduced in 1990 solved the issue of representing three colors with only two to save on print production costs but colors on the internet are free so changing that makes sense and more interestingly it circles back to the original 1979 Mastercard logo that was already doing this exact thing, geometric sans serif and all.
The wordmark approach is the least surprising thing you’ll see today and we’ve officially crossed the saturation point of geometric sans logos into an era where anything else is just plain weird. Here, the wide FF Mark obviously echoes the circles of the icon so it’s easy to see how they ended up with this solution. The all lowercase approach is also par for the course for how corporate logos have been behaving. While I think it should be an uppercase “M” for formality purposes I can see how that would break the circular rhythm that the wordmark has going on, instead of introducing a pointy character.
At first, the logo looks almost like a toy version of the original. There is something so un-corporate about it that it’s unsettling. I understand that Mastercard is a consumer brand more than a corporate one but it’s still the conduit for money, lots of money, and it shouldn’t feel like a tech start-up. Or maybe it should. And that’s what this logo does in a way, it shakes off that financial institution drabness while at the same time building as minimally as possible on the equity it has built over nearly 50 years of two overlapping circles. As you scroll through the applications below you can see that in its basic-ness the new logo does exactly what it needs to do which is to signal as quickly as possible, “Mastercard!”.
One last bonus of the new logo is that it forces the “MasterCard Worldwide” logo into retirement. That thing was really bad. (We reviewed or, more like mentioned it, it in the pre-Brand New era of logo blogging.)
These two images are the best example of that last statement: the logo is easily identifiable and stands out from whatever is around it. One of the biggest benefits of taking the name out of the circles is that the two bright circles now epically eclipse the VISA logo and for the the 17 people worldwide that use Discover, well, it’s not a big deal that there is a new orange in the mix.
In application, the circle becomes a key and repeating element — maybe too repeating at times — with a stroked circle serving to highlight and frame images or simply to break the repetition of full-color circles. The brochure covers look particularly good, with the logo nicely sitting at the bottom and a soothing bone-color background. The event material images shows that the logo and identity can be glammed up. The billboard… I hate. That one shows the least engaging variation possible of the identity, looking dated and diluting the strength the two main overlapping circles.
The geometric-based applications would benefit from hiring a design firm specifically to tackle this — someone like Moniker or Manual — who can take that language and explode it beautifully. At this stage, the applications shown are prototypes instead of fully developed products so it would be great for these to be taken one step (or various steps) further to establish a more robust and rich execution.
The digital applications are simple and crisp, nothing to get too excited about other than how nice the horizontal lock-up version sits on the header.
Overall, the system is a great clean break for Mastercard to establish a clear house style that stems from the simplicity and crispness of the new logo. To close on that: I can’t imagine a new Mastercard logo being anything other than what this ended up being. There is no way (or reason) to get away from the two circles, revealing the orange as a solid color leads to better digital impression, and the typography is the equivalent of 1960s Helvetica where it’s the standard-issue approach that’s safe and that nowadays, all these geometric sans serifs, immediately communicate a business-friendly attitude. It’s not a groundbreaking logo, it’s not inspirational, and it’s not even cool but it gets the job done, and done right. It’s the applications around the logo that will need to raise their game beyond this initial stage that show potential but don’t yet reach a “Yeah, that’s awesome!” level that I think they should.