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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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1
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
Logos are charged symbols that embody and radiate the ethos as well as the
aspirations of a company or institution. The intensity of meaning encoded in
this simple iconic mark must not be underestimated, but neither should it be
worshiped as sacred. A corporate logo is not as mystical as, say, J. J. Tolkien’s
famous Ring because it depends on external forces for its power. Even Superman’s
S signifies strength not because the S itself has superhuman powers but
because the one who wears it—in this case a symbolic, fictional character—is a
superman. The Nazi SS rune lightning bolt logo represented an organization of
self-styled supermen, but it became shorthand for its members’ inhumanity and
crimes toward millions of victims. No matter how startling or elegant, beautiful
or ugly, ultimately a logo is only as good or bad as the entity it represents.
One thing is certain: No designer deliberately starts out to make a bland logo.
By its nature, a logo must demonstrate visual strength. A visual identity may be
sophisticated or kitsch; nonetheless, the logo must be a mnemonic, a sign that
lights up with resonance. Logos must be indelible when they are in use and
memorable when they are out of sight. Of course, they may change with
mergers and acquisitions, or simply because a business or organization
chooses to alter its persona—and a logo is the agent of that persona.
In 1998, when Tom Kluepfel and Stephen Doyle of Doyle Partners
redesigned the identity scheme for St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, the
mandate was to unify the attributes of this neighborhood institution under a single
contemporary banner. St. Vincent’s had merged with eight other hospitals into a
citywide healthcare system, so the designers sought an identity that built on its
existing recognition in the community, signaled its newfound reach, and exemplified
its distinct holdings. The basic symbol was rooted in a classic motif. “When the logo
committee includes nuns from the Sisters of Charity, it’s not too long before
crosses show up in the sketches,” says Kluepfel. All the hospitals had a common
Catholic heritage and iconography—the colors, the cross, the shield—that were
expressed through light (“as in the light seen through the stained-glass window of
a hospital chapel”) and science (“implied in the precise way the shapes and colors
intersect”). Kluepfel initially resisted the shield simply because it is such a familiar
motif, but ultimately he accepted its familiarity as comforting. “Yet it somehow
conveys aggressiveness—a nice metaphor for proactive healthcare,” he adds.
Aside from the cross, the shield is the most historically significant of
the design elements here. Familiarity is actually a modest understatement. The
shield dates to pre-Christian history but is common iconography of the
Crusades. Crusaders marched with huge cross-emblazoned shields that, in
addition to protecting themselves from their enemies, announced their territorial
ambitions. Today, shields signify authority—like a police badge, also known as a
shield. In graphic terms, shields frame visual ideas; like an adjective, a shield
describes the fundamental concept, which in this context is the cross
representing the Sisters of Mercy.
The ambulance is the most public expression of the St. Vincent’s identity
program. The bold arrow, a device almost as old as the shield—and arguably
the first graphic symbol, and one that appears in all cultures—suggests
assertive motion in whatever direction it points. It implies thrust, motive, and
outcome. Arrows lead and we follow, right or wrong. This ambulance also
follows conventions recalling early branded commercial vehicles and is an
advertisement for itself. Like a moving billboard, the ambulance graphics must
be bold, clear, and unmistakable; they must announce that this is an emergency
vehicle as well as promote the institution that operates it. This expressive
visual display is no different from that of a UPS truck in that the graphically
dynamic principles of visibility and accessibility are the same. From the fusion
of these graphic principles the ambulance emerges metaphorically as a crusader
in its own right—for emergency healthcare.
St. Vincent Hospital Ambulance
Designer: Doyle Partners
1998 St. Vincent Logo and Ambulance Graphics, identity
ad,d: Tom Kluepfel, Stephen Doyle s: Doyle Partners
St. Vincent’s had merged with eight other hospitals into a citywide healthcare system, so
the designers sought an identity that built on its existing recognition in the community,
signaled its newfound reach, and exemplified its distinct holdings.
Shields—serve and protect
Arrows
Stained-glass effect
Travelling advertising

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