Design language – analysing graphic identities

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For this assessment, I’ve chosen two cities I know well, one is Amsterdam where I’m from originally and the other is Barcelona, where I’ve also lived and worked.

As outlined in a number of design websites, as well as in the article On Logophobia (Glickfeld, 2010, p26-32), it can be quite challenging to create a single brand which represents a diverse city, while also communicating a variety of messages to different audiences.  This along with the public’s limited understanding of design and branding – often leads to confusion and controversy.

However as someone who works in destination marketing, I can clearly see the value in developing an overarching brand. The Amsterdam and Barcelona identities work well in providing one voice, but at the same time providing flexibility in how they are applied. Its interesting though that they have both taken a less controversial path, focusing on an established, historical graphical element – but combining it well with a modern typeface. They each use the same core colour palette of red and white (and also black) which I think reflects the progressive, vibrant and bold nature of both cities.

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Amsterdam’s three stacked St Andrew’s crosses are a symbol that dates back to the 16th century, taken from the city’s original coat of arms. Therefore it is a recognised symbol, connected to the place and it’s people. The crosses are literally everywhere in this city, from street poles to bridges – it is THE symbol of Amsterdam.

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The shield of Barcelona is similar, representing the unifying strength and shared identity of the Catalan people. There is St Jordi’s Cross alongside the striped Catalan flag. The stripes symbolise the blood of a fallen hero and to this day – Catalunya’s struggle for independence from Spain.

By choosing these existing, emotive and powerful symbols, both governments have avoided any ridicule on the more subjective part of a logo.

In my opinion the Amsterdam logo may be the stronger of the two. Just that it has moved away from the original shield, to a less fussy and simple design. Plus they have incorporated an illustrated character called Adam (see example). Also from what I’ve read, since the original rebrand was launched it successfully replaced up to 95 different sub brands – which is phenomenal.

I’ve learned from this assessment, after researching numerous cities and realising that every single one has attracted the same negative criticism for their rebranded identities – that maybe its just an unattainable dream. A brief that can’t be met. That everyone has their own interpretation of what makes their home city special, and it would be virtually impossible to incorporate all of this into the one, perfect (magical) logo!


Armin (February, 2014) Long live the line break. Retrieved from

Brotons, G. (October, 2014). Branding Barcelona. Retrieved from

Desktop (December 2013). Canberra receives a rebrand. Retrieved from

Glickfeld, E. (2010). On logophobia. Meanjin, 69 (3), P 26-32. Retrieved from

Steven, R. (February, 2014). Amsterdam’s identity update causes controversy. Retrieved from

The Place Brand Observer (March, 2015). Rebranding Barcelona: City for Business, Talent, Innovation. Retrieved from

Van Dijk, E. (February, 2014). It’s not the logo. Retrieved from


Gemeente Amsterdam brandmarks [Images] (n.d.). Retrieved 5 August 2016 from

Ajuntament de Barcelona brandmarks [Images] (n.d.). Retrieved 5 August 2016 from



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