Rebranding the city of Melbourne

What goes on behind the scenes of a brand identity program? Here’s the lowdown on the city of Melbourne rebranding project.

Why does a city need a logo?

There is a universal competition for people’s physical and mental time and attention, and cities are not exempt from this. We all have preconceived views of places, often based on limited firsthand experience or word of mouth. The role of a brand identity is to help reinforce or correct those assumptions.

For a city, the identity helps create positive, distinguishing associations for people. When done well, logos, marks, or symbols (whatever you choose to call them) are hard to beat for creating such mental shortcuts. They can provide an immediate visual trigger to a set of emotions or ideas that put a city in the best possible light. They can capture the world’s imagination, instill pride and a sense of place among its people, and spark economic growth through tourism and business investment.

How is the branding of a destination different from branding a product or a company?

When you brand a consumer product, you’re focused on the contents of a box and can target a specific customer, benefit, and sales context. When you develop the identity for a large multinational corporation things become more difficult, but you can still get to the root of a shared mindset, set of offerings, concept of success, and organizational model.

When you brand a destination, the design must be an open system that is constantly changing and is composed of players that don’t necessarily recognize their place in the mix, much less want to give input or take direction. Still, it is possible to find basic truths that a city’s members and groups share: unique stories, habits, promises, smells, and dreams. When these are unearthed and qualified as sustainable, distinguishing, and attractive, then these insights can be consolidated into symbols, signals, and values.

A few key challenges in destination branding include:

  • Finding an accurate view of the city or country’s deepest, truest distinctions
  • Achieving awareness of political, cultural, and educational issues
  • Establishing insights into the needs of global audiences
  • Discovering a big idea that can surprise, inspire, and distinguish it for years to come

How did you come up with the new Melbourne identity? What does it mean?

Melbourne is a progressive city, so representing it visually required a forward-thinking approach. Our client and team wanted something as multifaceted as the city itself.

Previous identity and architecture

The challenge was to reflect the different aspects of the city-from authoritative, restrained, and serious to vibrant, visionary, and passionate. We needed to show off the city of Melbourne’s cool sophistication on the world stage, capture the passion of its people, and provide the city with a unified, flexible, and future-focused image.

The core idea came well before logo work, and there was a constant back and forth between strategy and design. How could we use identity to drive the city’s organizations? Could we influence how governing agencies think about themselves? Could the identity inspire action?

The new identity also needed to overcome political complexities, improve the cost-effectiveness of managing the brand, and unite a disparate range of governing bodies and an ever-growing portfolio of initiatives, programs, services, events, and activities.

The diversity of Melbourne became a sacred concept. We celebrated this in the identity through colour, forms, facets, and structures. We realized that if we got it right it would allow Melbourne to flex, grow, and evolve along with a growing and changing population and connect dynamically with future opportunities.


Besides the logo, what other elements were part of the city of Melbourne’s rebranding project?

The stages involved in the rebrand were multiple:

  1. Investigation through desk research, stakeholder (internal and external) interviews, workshops, and audits (communications, behaviour, brand architecture, and competitors).
  2. Identification and articulation of the core brand idea—what it stands for, what it does, how it does it, and what its vision for the future is. Based on this driving idea, we developed a strategic, integrated branding programme.
  3. The design and creation of the identity is based on the core idea. This included logo design and all aspects of how it should be portrayed across communications, literature, advertising, sponsorships, co-branding partnerships, 3-D environments, and signage.
  4. The final stage was implementation: developing comprehensive guidelines and artwork to help manage the rollout of the new identity. This covers the flexible logo system, colour palette, typography, imagery (photography and illustration), tone of voice, design principles, templates, and applications.

We built a degree of flexibility into the city of Melbourne’s identity system, leaving room for initiative and creative interpretation. The brand system resists the traditional thinking about identity design, instead embracing the idea of modulation and adaptation.


What was the most exciting part of this project?

Every step of this process was unique and full of learning. However, the great partnership and strong collaboration with our client helped us overcome many barriers during the project. By the end, we were all overwhelmingly convinced we had arrived at the right solution.

The most exciting part was when every thought, discussion, and move we made throughout the project came together perfectly, and we could tell that all the stakeholders were inspired to make the identity their own. Now we can just hope the public feels this way, too.


An excerpt of this article appeared in Oryx (December 2009).

© 2010 Landor. All rights reserved.