Tonangeber branding raises questions over ‘modular’ trend

Published:  June 3, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Over the past few weeks, we have covered a fair few identities and rebranding projects that have utilised a ‘modular’ (or even ‘globular’) approach to allow for an adaptable system, essentially retaining a core with interchangeable elements. Last week we looked at the grid of shifting icons for Public Space, or the identities for Mr Marcel School and Sartoria Musicale, which function along the same lines, with fewer elements, and geared more towards a living, changing logo, than one that might appropriately (it is hoped) adapt to each application.

Today we add another, although a variation to this theme. Where this approach is not labelled as ‘modular’, which suggests a controlled grid, it is often ‘flexible’, like this new work out of the Barcelona studio, TwoPoints, who has designed a flexible identity system for music playlist site Tonangeber.

Founded by two DJs, Ani Antunovic and Beda San, Tonangeber represents their compiled playlists, which they share through the site. Initially hired to redesign the website, TwoPoints ended up installing a custom built graphics generator, a tool for the client to create a suite of covers for the playlists, that could both echo the identity, contain enough freedom to change with every release, but controlled enough to remain within brand. The tool was also used by the designers to generate imagery for packaging, posters and stationery.

“Developing the system has been more complex than expected,” explain the studio. “The visual system had to be flexible enough to express the mood of each playlist, but as well coherent enough to create a recognizable brand. Especially the diversity of colors in elements and backgrounds had to be planned very carefully, so every combination would work.”

The tool allows the user to arrange shapes, in a range of colours and textures, around an circular template, and can be stretched and distorted for hundreds of variations based on the same loose grid.

“The graphics for the playlists are like small collections of rare, but beautiful treasures,” they write. “They should remind you to minerals in a petri dish.”

What sets this project apart from other flexible or modular identities, is it enables the client to continue to develop and use the branding in a much more fluid experience, instead of the traditional barrier placed between the client and their company’s branding. In place of a style guide, TwoPoints have initiated a ‘limited freedom’, where the client can interact and generate creative work, without diluting the style.

This approach has been aligned with Stefan Sagmeister’s identity for Casa da Musica, a Portuguese music centre whose architecture directly formed the logomark, which changes colour, texture and skin with each need. Despite being nearly 10 years old, the identity remains fresh and intriguing, with the variations on the ‘skin’ challenging the very form and expectations on the logo, and the institution itself.

While on a much smaller scale, TwoPoints’ work extends the idea of ‘modular identity’ into the realm of ‘freedom branding’, where, like Casa da Musica, the same system that generated the identity, generates all the visual output. But responses to this sudden influx of modular/flexible identities are mixed.

“What happens to branding and identity when there is no longer the usual logo, wordmark and styleguide?” commented a blogger. “Not saying this is bad, but I think it is trend that may seem cool now, but without a singular mark, might turn out to be a bit wishy-washy over time, which wouldn’t do the client any good. There’s nothing here to really CLING to.”

What are your thoughts?

One Response

  1. Hi Bonnie, first of all thanks a lot for your article. The question you are raising is crucial, for every flexible visual identity, or liquid identity or dynamic identity or however you want to call it. How to define the balance between coherence and diversity? Visual identities need coherence to be identifiable, but also diversity to address the different communicational needs. The answer to this question depends on the needs of each project and the context in which it has to function. So, i am afraid that there is not one answer, and even if i would like to declare the concept of the logo as anachronistic, it might still work in many cases, but, and that’s important to remember, it is not the only element of a visual identity that creates recognizability. Typography, colors, shapes, material, etc. are all valid tools of a designer to create a visual identity.

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