My name is David Jalbert-Gagnier — by day I run Objective Subject, a branding and digital consultancy in Brooklyn, New York. I am passionate about the potential better design and branding offers to public organizations, be they government or non-profit. Delivering high-quality, memorable experiences helps tilt perceptions of institutions we need and can contribute to making better.
Topics I plan on covering include:
U.S. Federal Government
The GPO, or Government Printing Office, has the mission of “authenticating, preserving, and distributing federal information” critically important to American democracy.” It has a staff design team that’s specialized in the use of security features and in effect realize important touch points of “Brand USA”, such as the recent redesign of the U.S. Passport.
The GSA’s ‘Federal Excellence in Design‘ Program that has created beautiful public architecture with some of the best American architects in the country, such as Morphosis’ Thom Mayne or Richard Meier. From Federal courthouses to border crossing station, they help meet practical needs with the added benefit of soft diplomacy, showcasing the best of America.
The Government’s Seal, or roundel and its myriad variations and ideas for greater consistency and systematic use. While being a visual element the American people associate with authority, the seal of the President, of the Vice-President, of the U.S. Senate, of the U.S. Congress, of the various departments, still fall short in clearly explaining the services offered and their organization. And some of the government entities American citizens deal with the most often have their own visual identity, like the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.
Some states in the United States are doing a better job with their visual identity than others. Pennsylvania, for instance, is leveraging its well known Keystone icon and using it both externally in tourism campaigns but also internally to associate services with Harrisburg.
- Proposals for what elements some other states might leverage. Because of their size and often more compact administration, State governments are more manageable examples of how to improve services and perception of government at a local scale.
- City Governments have over the last few decades created strong visual identities. As cities are increasingly competing amongst themselves on a global scale, a strong brand image can help promote their strengths and attract economic activity.
MAYOR OF LONDON, the Greater London Authority’s marque, is the “brand [used] for all policy work delivered by City Hall, and should be used on anything the Mayor is responsible for” (A to Z of London).
The New York City identity is a bold, three-letter mark designed by Wolff Olins in 2007 for NYC & Company, it has certainly delivered on the no-nonsense, brash and gridded nature of the city. Its implementation, in what seems to be a loose and distributed arrangement, is reflective of the city where you can always tell someone to “fuggedaboutit”. It is both a tourism/destination brand and how the city communicates with its citizens.
Brand Hong Kong, initiated in 2001, is at the core of a well-orchestrated communication strategy. Note that this brand is used mostly as a destination and economic development brand, and Hong Kongers do not interact with it when dealing with government entities.
The city of Amsterdam has a dual system. Its ‘I amsterdam’ slogan, and the large letters outside the Rijksmuseum (and now at Schipol airport, as well as a set roaming the region for special events) have become a symbol of the city internationally, and are used in a lot of communication, both for tourism purposes and for citizen-driven ones. The Town of Amsterdam identity, with the three X from the three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses on the coat of arms of the city, can also be used to communicate the government’s work to its citizens.
Featured Visual Identities
National Government around the world have adopted strong, consistant visual identities to communicate with citizens. Often such programs are adopted at critical moments in a Country’s history, such as Germany’s Federal Government which adopted its system (1998, MetaDesign) following reunification, or Canada, which adopted its system in 1975, shortly after opting for its Maple Leaf flag and leaving the British Union Jack. The Netherlands’s identity system (2011, Studio Dumbar) came following over twenty years of individual design programs for each agency. The governments of Mexico and Chile effectively change their visual identities at the election of a new president.
- Regional Governments that have done the same, such as Québec and Ontario in Canada, or to a different degree, and with slightly different intents, governments with an independent streak, such as Scotland.
New York State recently changed its license plate design to be Navy and Gold, as they used to be in the 1970s. As it turns out, those colors have been used throughout the State’s history. Colors are a powerful branding tool.
Symbols as aggregator of national identity
- Federal Eagle in Germany, a symbol used for over a thousand years for different territories more or less related to today’s Federal Republic.
- Wappens, or Coats of Arms, used throughout Europe but especially relevant in German-speaking countries (German & Austrian Lands, Swiss Cantons).
- Also called ‘Destination Brands’, tourism brands seem to have been receiving the most attention as the connection from investment to returns is most obvious, and there is usually a willing tourism industry footing the bill.
- Successful examples, like New York State’s I♥NY (1981, Milton Glaser), have taken a meaning of their own. It could easily be leveraged to signify the State to its citizens (NY♥HEALTH, NY♥DRIVING, NY♥JUSTICE) as has started doing the Governor’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.
- A consistent brand experience need not be limited to the visual realm. Governments across the world are rethinking how they deliver and services and solicit feedback, creating a more engaged citizenry in so doing.
GOV.UK, the award-winning website for all of the British government, is undoubtedly a forerunner in defining the benchmark for government services online. Its design and philosophy of integrating all departments and services into a single portal. It focuses on what services and information users want and not requiring knowledge of political structures delivering them.