We sat around leftover barbequed food, and in the length it took to reach for a beer, our conversation turned into a (tepidly) heated debate. The argument was such that it would have had any eavesdropper feeling nauseous from the fumes of pretention. Yes, we were talking design. The future of design, no less. More specifically – the future of a logo.
“But how can you design something for a future that is so distant? I mean take the Olympics logo, do you think they captured the year 2012?”
“Trends and derivation is all we ever see anyways. One decade recycles another constantly. It’s the way it goes.”
“Well, I see no problem with having a traditional serif font for a contemporary logo. Just look at the V&A…it still works”
“Yes. The answer is timelessness.”
“No…the answer is looking ahead.”
“There isn’t an answer. All we can do is try to create something that signifies what we’re about at this moment.”
That last one had us all silenced, and we quickly returned to our sausages. Yet the conversation continued to resonate in my thoughts even as the smoky aroma disintegrated into the summer air.
The concluding statement had been donated by a Maltese graphic designer who’s final year at UCA Farnham (B.A. Hons Graphic Communication) had seen him grappling with the question on how to create a visual signifier for a city. Before Ed Dingli left the party, he asked if I would come to his end of year show, just off Brick Lane, on the 12th July, in London. Knowing that student shows can, on rare and miraculous occasions, prove to be a gold-mine of innovation, I accepted with contained vigour.
So a week later, I found myself unwittingly immersed back into that hot summer night, and that conversation about a logo. Essentially what was on trial here was the visual representation of a city. The creation of an emblem which would capture the past, the future, the meaning of one place. A place that for a nation embodied its entire cultural identity.
Maybe a tall order for just one student. But Ed’s intention with this project from the get-go began with finding foundation criteria. What was Valletta (the city he sought to represent) inherently about?
Now, like the project’s creator, I know the city in question well. I’ve worked there, walked up the heaving streets in the treacherous heat of day, and down the balmy limestone steps at night. Therefore, being affronted with a proposal for its branding was somewhat taxing to digest. I had to look at the project with the untainted aim to find out what it is stating, without imposing on it my own version of what I felt the city was.
The design spoke for itself. A visual vocabulary that breathed modernity, yet drew its intrinsic meaning from tradition. The brand was created for a city that sees itself as a capital of culture in six years six years time. It was created for a city with a deeply layered past, full of visual diversity and historical design allusions.
The diversity of thought and sheer magnitude of exploration rings clear in Ed’s sketches for the concept. But out of the gothic, over-embellished motifs somehow sprung a fresh, clean design with an intellectual pattern scheme that ties back to the design hallmarks of the city. In the geometric formations, you can make out the old tiles on the floors of Valletta’s houses. In the palette you can see the night-lights of the city. The lines, although bearing relation to the strictness of the city’s bastion walls, are new; allowing the brand to jolt itself into contemporariness.
I remembered what I had heard Ed say before I knew he had been working on a project which would brand the capital city of Malta, Valletta: “All we can do is try to create something that signifies what we’re about at this moment”. I understood that this, perhaps unbeknownst to him, was not just his graphic vision but also his vision of a cultural identity. Of course, there remains room for this vision to incorporate the conversations and critique of others. Perhaps after that process is over, this design will be in itself the answer to our conversation.
Ann Dingli blogs about Art, Design and Architecture at criticalspeak.