What’s your favourite logo, and why?
At the end of a 10-minute talk I did at some business networking meetings, called “I Am a Logo”, where I attempted to explore the various properties of logos, and things related to branding, in a memorable and humorous way (there’s a ‘serialised’, interview-style version of “I Am a Logo” on Extrablog, here), there was a short Q&A session. At one of the venues an audience member asked me “What’s your favourite logo?” and I confess that for a moment I was completely stumped – embarrassingly, I hadn’t actually anticipated, or prepared for, such an obvious and simple question!
I composed myself and gave the best answer I could, but I later kicked myself as I realised I’d given the wrong answer. Yes, I’d talked about a logo I really liked, one that had come instantly to mind (it was the Napster cool cat with headphones on) and what I liked about it (mainly that it was a cool cat with headphones on), but in the panic of being put on the spot I’d somehow forgotten the top contender. It’s shown below – a rather old-fashioned, copperplate script-style logo known as the Bristol Scroll.
So, why is it my favourite logo? That’s actually rather complicated. Has it inspired me with its design? No, it’s not really the sort of thing I would design. I do love the form of it though – the sinuous, late-19th century style, redolent of the classic Ford and Coca-Cola logos which are still used today, does appeal. But it’s not the logo of a product or service that I use or follow, so I don’t have that kind of brand attachment.
In fact, I don’t believe that most logos are ‘lovable’ or even ‘likable’, nor should they be, necessarily. That’s not really their purpose – they’re there as a recognisable signature, and although they can represent certain general qualities or strengths, they can by no means tell a whole story. That really is too much to ask of any logo! I think the particular appeal of the Bristol Scroll to me lies in the history it represents, both of the city of Bristol (England), where I was born and brought up, and of me personally.
The logo was first drawn up, sometime around 1910, for the Bristol Aeroplane Company, makers of the Brabazon, the Britannia and many other notable aircraft, that later became part of British Aerospace (BAE), makers of Concorde and the Airbus range. It was then co-opted in a redrawn form by Bristol Commercial Vehicles, a sister company of the aircraft operation, and used to badge their bus and truck chassis, including the revolutionary Lodekka (BCV was eventually taken over by British Leyland and, despite it being a well-run company and having a full order book, it was closed in 1983). In the mid-1960s the logo became the fleetname of the Bristol Omnibus Company (that became what is now First Bristol), and one of the most distinctive and memorable fleet logos in the world, perhaps second only to the London Transport roundel.
That’s where the connection started for me. You see, when I was growing up I turned into a bit of a bus fanatic. There, I’ve said it. Look, we lived next door to the huge Lawrence Hill bus depot and repair works, the things were revving-up outside at six in the morning, what do you expect? I had to either love them or hate them. As a result, that Bristol Scroll has become indelibly etched in my mind, and I think that’s why I would put it top of the tree in my league of favourite logos (the Napster cat is still up in that tree, just not at the top!).
So, the Bristol Scroll logo has what people call “a special place in my heart”, and it seems I’m not the only one – although the logo fell into commercial disuse many years ago you can barely turn a corner in the city these days without seeing it. It has taken on a kind of folk heritage use and is now effectively ‘Creative Commons’. Amazingly, the logo was never registered as a trademark.
The scroll is even featured on a larger-than-life ‘Bristol Lodekka’ Gromit statue, created in 2013 for Aardman Animations’ ‘Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal’, which spent ten weeks stationed outside the former Bristol Omnibus headquarters at Lawrence Hill, a stone’s throw from where I grew up. The Bristol Scroll lives on!