For the love of logos

A new book details some timeless identity symbols from New Zealand.

By John L. Walters

Hamish Thompson’s Marks of Identity is an impressively researched little book – printed entirely on Fedrigoni papers– that conjures up a much-loved era of Modernist logotypes from the 1960s, 70s and early 80s in New Zealand. Some of the logos have come and gone as companies fold, merge and evolve. But many are still in use and Thompson, a designer and educator whose previous books dealt with New Zealand poster designs and book covers, has organised these visual symbols with great care. 

Each logo is shown in colour on the right of a double-page spread, with a short text about the client and designer on the left-hand side. The book’s dimensions are a pocket-friendly 128 × 130 mm. In the final pages we are treated to all 57 logos in black and white only, emphasising the rules for logo design laid down in a section entitled ‘Visual Index’. Thompson states that a successful logo ‘needs to work at a small size (such as on a pen) and at a large size (such as a billboard).’ When asked whether his ‘visual index’ holds true in the twenty-first century, Thompson replied: ‘The requirements of a modern logo are pretty much the same now as then. These deceptively simple designs carry a great deal of weight – designers put a lot of thought into each angle and curve to make sure the logo is the best representation of the brand possible.’

Cooks New Zealand Wine Company Limited, designed by Rob Chapman, MacHarman Associates, 1972

Thompson’s original research involved building a collection of images with dates and names by going through old annual reports, trade journals, telephone directories and correspondence at Archives New Zealand and the country’s National Library. He also filleted back issues of Designscape magazine, published by the New Zealand Industrial Design Council between 1969 and 1983. ‘In most cases, I was able to locate the designer or a former business employee who could give a description of how each logo came about, which was great to get a first-hand recollection,’ he says. The anecdotes include the fact that Mark Cleverley was too shy to bill architects Warren and Mahoney for a logo that is still used almost six decades later; and that Bret de Thier, who designed logos for Lidgard Rudling Sails and Queen Elizabeth Park II, had competed as a yachtsman at the Munich ’72 Olympics, an event long celebrated for its outstanding graphic programme. 

This was a time of Modernist optimism in modernisation, with cleanly designed identities that replaced archaic marks that were fussy and difficult to reproduce. Temperzone, previously represented by a little man with a thermometer, entered the Modern age with a curvy double arrow designed by Peter Haythornthwaite. Earl Hingston’s 1975 mark for the New Zealand Post Office – whose previous logo boasted wings, crown, transmitting tower, telegraph pole, aeroplane, envelope and kiwi – kept only a stylised envelope and crown. Air New Zealand’s logo, designed by Roundhill Studios in 1972, can still be seen worldwide on the airline’s tail fins.

Christchurch Drainage Board, designed by Charles Bradley, 1971

Thompson traces his interest in such logos back to his education at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland in the 1980s. His stripped-back book design, set throughout in Tobias Frere-Jones’s sans serif Whitney, forms a consistent setting for this collection of exuberant NZ logos. 

Did Thompson ever consider showing the logos in everyday settings? ‘I tried to get as much colour into the book as possible,’ he says. ‘I had prepared a small section with some examples of the logos in use – on covers, letterheads or posters – but I decided against that. It would have taken away from the main intent of the book, which was to focus on the graphic qualities of these marks.’

All logos shown are featured in Hamish Thompson’s book Marks of Identity, printed on Arcoprint at City Print in Wellington, 2020.