“The Prestige”: Creative brand magic in three acts

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Inspired by the 2006 movie directed by Christopher Nolan, adapted from 1995 novel written by Cristopher Priest

Are you reading closely?

“Every great [visual identity] consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge.” The [client] shows you something ordinary: [a dull logo, a word, or a brand]… The second act is called “The Turn.” The [designer] takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary… But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every [visual identity project] has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige.'”

Act I: The Pledge

Let’s face it. Most brands’ visual identities are pretty ordinary-looking, with bland logos and a loose arrangement of graphic elements that serve no clear purpose. Some brands even go so far as to misdirect their audiences with pure flash, perhaps to atone for their vaporous brand strategies. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but hocus-pocus graphics from the past decade no longer hold muster for the discriminating visual vocabulary of today’s audiences. Real creative brand magic isn’t about trends or trickery; it’s about inventive visual systems that re-energize company employees, inspiring them to make their brand promises meaningful for external audiences. To this end, designers need to create fuller brand experiences that transcend expectations and transform perceptions.

Voilá—Pfizer—our volunteer for today’s feat, that we shall call “The Transformed Brand.” Behold its austere, disjointed, semi-serif logotype within a flat, symmetrical oval. Feel free to come onstage and examine its role as a corporate status symbol.

Act II: The Turn

We stand here today upon a large, well-connected stage—the global marketplace. While there may be a target demographic for each project, our audience is everyone, everywhere. Businesses are watching. Designers are watching (just read a Brand New post and you’ll get a glimpse of brand design scrutiny). Now, let’s make this straightforward logo disappear.


And now for a dramatic pause…

Act III:”The Prestige”

Just like magic, the new brand identity emerges. Its logotype—redrawn as a flowing, oblique sans serif—is bolder, more contemporary, more approachable, and more cohesive as a family of letters. The slight tilt of the oval makes the shape asymmetrical and dynamic, less of an object than a form in motion, amplified by a gradient rendered in a fresher blue than the original. The changes may appear small to the untrained eye, but the overall effect expresses more of a personality, an energy, a behavior and a point of view.

But the visual system does not end with the logo. The designer portrays a larger sense of the brand and its role in the pharmaceutical world through a bright, colorful palette and a playful dotted display typeface. If the launch is done well, the new brand identity leaves the audience with a sense of pride and renewed appreciation for the brand.

Now, of course the designer can’t share all of his/her secrets, the series of design decisions and client meetings that go into producing the final reveal. And just as Christian Bale’s character Alfred Borden suggests in “The Prestige,” ultimately, “the secret impresses no one.”

But the visuals that come from it, appearing right before the audience’s eyes, make all the difference.

Closing Credits: The new Pfizer logo was designed by Siegel+Gale designers Young Kim, Johnny Lim, David McCanless and Quae Luong.

Miles Seiden is a designer for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

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