I recently picked up on something while reading Steven Levy’s interview with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in Wired magazine. In response to a question about how to make Blue Origin (his space travel venture) succeed, Bezos said simply: “Maintain a firm grasp of the obvious at all times.”
Capturing the essence of a brand, a story, or an organization is the ultimate communications design challenge. It’s the proverbial truffle of successful identities: uncovering it usually takes some digging, but the rewards are worth it.
Giving the Harvard i-lab a graphic identity had to start with considering the essential nature of innovation.
What kind of innovation do we want to improve our world? What makes life simple, people happy? What conveys a sense of welcome and warmth? Some of the most successful innovations today are the ones that wrap sophisticated technology in a positive user experience.
In developing identity concepts for the i-lab, the challenge was clear: how do you translate essential educational and institutional ambitions into symbols and words that are memorable and distinct?
As a universally recognized welcoming gesture, ‘Hi’ has an open and honest tone.
Carefully placed within a crimson square, “Hi” conveys a sense of invention and discovery with an oblique reference to the periodic table of elements. Like the ubiquitous blue “P” that identifies parking, the design offers the opportunity for the identity to become a broad invitation for those who pass by. The use of a prominent capital H and a crimson background reinforce the Harvard identity.
From its mention in the University’s video to its adoption by the mainstream media (“Say ‘Hi’ to innovation”), Boston Globe, 11/25/11), the ‘Hi’ has quickly become synonymous with innovation and the essence of the i-lab’s identity – with the agility and speed of a good start-up.
Paul Rand said “Symbols are a duality. They take on meaning from causes and they give meaning to causes.”
At the i-lab’s dedication last fall its identity – the warmth and welcome of the ‘Hi’ sign – defined the first expectations of the space. That said, image and identity are organic, not static. In five years the ‘Hi’ logo will have been interpreted and shaped by the environment that the i-lab will have become, and what it has made possible.
- Dan Vlahos
Dan Vlahos leads branding at Shepley Bulfinch, where he is an Associate and Senior Creative. His environmental graphics and branding work for the firm also includes Duke Link.