27 October 2007

[logo_design] Checking Out The Old, Checking In The New

1057. Jeff Andrews at his blog, Adventures In Blogging!, today clued us into the immenent redesign rollout for the Holiday Inn hotel constellation. It got my attention, sure enough.

The familiar back-slanted script, with its uniquely recurved majuscule "H", has graced America's highways since the 1950's. It became the standard for the clean, respectable roadside family motel. The days of what they called "The Great Sign" are long past, but the traditional look of the identity has been important enough to the company that it retained every possible reference–the charming backslanted designed script, and the old star at the top of the Great Sign survived to the present day in highly stylized form, most notably in the Holiday Inn Express brand.

Just like other notable redesigns of recent memory we can only spectulate why Holiday Inn decided it was time to ashbin the kit and kaboodle. We don't think it too far out of school, however, to guess that it was felt the old look was a little too dated. The script look of the typography, it must be remembered, has come through history seemingly unchanged since the company's founding (as far as we can determine)–that's nearly sixty years now. In some eyes it has undoubtedly gone from retro Americana to simply quaint and a bit out of place.

As Jeff seems to point out in linking to this article at UnderConsideration's Brand New, there is significant regret at the company's redesign, at least amongst people who care about such things (designers, naturlich). As people who actively think about such things they reflect on a surface level what a lot of people think subliminally, so those observations are important. The nub of the gist is that in disposing of a traditional look you also risk breaking the essential link to certain points in the company's reputation–clean, dependable service, good repute, high standards, and reasonable rates–that have been a company's hallmark and are tied inextricably to it. Many people who are designers today vacationed with thier families in Holiday Inns as children. You can't beat mindshare like that.

Personally speaking, I'm attracted to the redesign, but then, was born an Oregon country boy–it was the 1980s before Silverton had her first Circle K Store (I swear to God). To us, a vacation was to the Oregon Coast to a rented cabin that a friend of a friend of the family was able to let us in on. The design I feel has much to speak for it–the new type is also designed, but with a much more subtle flourish (by this I mean the rounded corner on the lower left hand sides of the glyphs). The green color is appealing and desipite Holiday Inn's image as the motel for the masses, the green gradient in the logo itself speaks to a sort of sophistication. The way the "H" breaks out of the square on the right serves to add a bit of interest to it without going to extremes of excitment–which we think of as apprpriate given what we percieve the target audience to be, a group that wants to be welcomed in with a smile, not fireworks.

Just like recent redesigns, notably the Flag's stations that I've found to be a bit of an obsession, they're rolling it out to a public that must accept it, like it or not. Time will tell whether or not this will be a success but my personal idea is that it has what it takes, despite the fading into history of a beloved American culural detail.

The Great Sign

Earlier in this discourse I touched upon The Great Sign. This is an important part of Holiday Inn corporate culture, or at least was.

I've nicked the photo from Wikipedia's Holiday Inn entry to illustrate ('tis public domain, which be doublegood, yarr). Corporate attitude about identity can run the gamut from indifference to near idolatry, and Holiday Inn's Great Sign seems to have occupied iconic status within the company itself. Salon has a great article on it here, which may be read. So devoted to the look was the company that it's said that Holiday Inn's founder, Kemmons Wilson, experessed verbal displeasure with the ashbinning of the sign after he left the company he founded.

We've also just stumbled on a page on this site called "Birmingham Rewound" which shows an even more elemental version of the Great Sign–with the word "HOTEL" on it. Going for Luxury You Can Afford™, even then.

There was even one in Salem, which was the first time I'd ever been within 500 feet of a HI. Salem refugess (hey, Jeff!) may remember how it sat, the dogleg of Commercial Street SE, just south of the Public Library and just north of the Mission Street light, at the point where the street grid straightens out–Salem's Holiday Inn with its own Great Sign, even scaled down to fit into that little close-packed nabe on Fry's Hill, it still dominated the street.

But I moved into Salem in about 1976–and the Inn upgraded its look in the early '80s. Soon after, the motel quit being a Holiday Inn.

Ah, Great Sign, I scarcely knew ya.

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Kevin Allman said...

Ghastly. That logo belongs on a box of copy paper.

When do you think management will do a 180 and realize that the old sign, with all its retro iconography, was integral to the brand and just needed an update?

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

When do you think management will do a 180 and realize that the old sign, with all its retro iconography, was integral to the brand and just needed an update?

At the rate negative feedback from the creative world is coming back, if they haven't cogitated that yet I'd check for a pulse.

Not to (hopefully) act too big for my britches, but not being part of the "Holiday Inn set" (if you'll forgive me) as an American when I was growing up I feel like I have a certain perspective on it. It doesn't affect me much–I don't have the emotional attachments.

But what's coming out loud and clear is that the "classic" look out of the Holiday Inn Great Sign is perhaps more intrinsic to the overall good will and perception of the brand than Holiday Inn realized.

And even though I still, to this day, have never stayed at a Holiday Inn, even I recognize what's being lost there.

I'm going to stay on record as liking the look, but I must acknowledge that I am in the minority here–and also recognize that the non-fans here have a huge point that the corporation ignores at its peril. The new HI look might work–but they're throwing the baby out with the bath water in a perceived need to change. Kind of their "New Coke" moment.