Why did FVI’s become popular?

Why did FVI’s become popular? 

There has been a fast growing interest in FVI’s in the last ten years, with lots of design studios starting to abandon the idea of the logo as the centerpiece of a VI, instead dedicating their practices to the development of visual systems for FVI’s. A few to mention are Lava, Mind Design and Moving Brands.

Books such as Dynamic Identities in Cultural and Public Contexts by Ulrike Felsing and Dynamic Identities by Irene van Nes started to reflect on this new approach, and projects realized by big agencies for big clients have brought the subject to the attention of a wider audience. The visual identities for Aol., New York City and the Olympic Games London 2012 by Wolff Olins; the City of Melbourne by Landor; and MIT Media Lab, Saks Fifths Avenue and MoMA by Pentagram come to mind, but also Casa da Musica by Sagmeister & Walsh; Nordkyn by Neue; Stedelijk Museum by Mevis en van Deursen; and Whitney Museum by Experimental Jetset have shown that the Flexible Visual Identity is a trend that is here to stay.

Aol., New York City, Wolff Olins
City of Melbourne, Landor

But why now? There are several possible answers to that question and the truth lies probably somewhere in between. There is the technological aspect. When everything had to be printed, the application of a Flexible Visual Identity was more difficult. Producing and displaying a multitude of images required more work from the designer and printer, higher consumption of paper and ink and the necessity to rent more or larger display areas, such as ads or banners, resulting in higher costs for the client. On screen these problems disappeared. 

With the increasing popularity of the cinematic screen, and later the television screen, the original static logo became flexible in order to adapt to the moving media. The logo of mgm comes to mind, which not only represented an evolution from the motionless to the moving logo, but also from the silent to the audible logo. Production processes in television made it even easier to apply movement to logos. One of the best known examples, and probably the most flexible logo in television to date, is the one of MTV. It was designed in 1981 by Manhattan Design, a graphic design collective from New York City formed by Frank Olinsky, Pat Gorman and Patty Rogoff. The only constant aspects of mtv’s logo were the shape and the proportion. Every other aspect was changing constantly. The concept of a flexible logo system is a transition between the static and the flexible vi. It is more flexible than the static vi, which always applies the same logo, but more static than the FVI, which is able to adapt its applications to the format, content and context – “context” referring to the time and space in which the communication takes place and the person that is communicated with. The aspect ratio of a television doesn’t change, so the proportions of the application of the VI do not need to change either. A flexible logo works just fine.

MTV, Manhattan Design

The rise of the Internet and its varying viewports (desktop, smartphone and tablet) challenged the concept of “logo” again. vi’s suddenly had to adapt seamlessly to many different formats. According to a Google/Sterling/Ipsos research from 2012, 90% of media consumers spread their consumption across multiple screens. “Multi-screen behavior”, the simultaneous use of smartphones, tablets, PCs and televisions is, according to Google, becoming the norm. How do we perceive and design coherent Visual Identities in such an environment? 

Daniel Neville, Illustration from his Master’s Thesis “A Relational Design Process”

There are other explanations for the popularity of FVI. Daniel Neville explores in his Master’s Thesis “A Relational Design Process” how “changing scientific paradigms have shaped recent design practice, specifically that of logo and identity systems for cultural and public institutions.” Neville uses John Dewey and Arthur Bentley’s three historical levels of organization and presentation – “Self-Action”, “Interaction” and “Transaction” – among other theories, to explain a new kind of design, called “Relational Design”. “Self-Action” describes the concepts which regarded humans, animals, and things as possessing powers of their own which initiated or caused their actions. The level “Interaction” describes concepts such as the third law of motion by Newton which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The third level is “Transaction”. Neville argues, “This Relational ontology posits that the relations between entities are fundamentally more important than the entities themselves; one must look at the dynamic relationship as a whole. One cannot look at entities first and then the interaction; the transaction must be held at the same time.” The third level leads Neville to the concept of “Relational Design”. He analyzes FVI’s such as Twin Cities (2002) by Letterror; Nordkyn (2007) by Neue; Lovebytes (2007) by Matt Pyke and Karsten Schmidt; and the Casa da Música (2010) by Sagmeister; and highlights their “relational” character. All of these VI’s use external data to influence their visual outcome and therefore are context-related, according to Neville.

Casa da Música (2010) by Sagmeister
Nordkyn (2007) by Neue
Lovebytes (2007) by Matt Pyke and Karsten Schmidt

Are Flexible Visual Identities really a new thing?

“From Static to Flexible Visual Identities” Graphisme en France, Nr. 23, 2017, Dr. Martin Lorenz