The bloodline of a brand

Fedrigoni’s new identity has been forged by Pentagram partner Harry Pearce.

Mark Sinclair reports

When talking to Pentagram partner Harry Pearce about the new identity his team has created for Fedrigoni, the words ‘trust’ and ‘faith’ come up several times. Their frequency reflects that this project, designed and delivered in the middle of a pandemic, was a new experience for all concerned.

Initially approached in February 2020, Pearce submitted a proposal pitch the following month and his team were commissioned to work on the identity a few weeks later. ‘It was about a change in the company’s ambitions,’ Pearce says of the intent behind the rebrand. ‘Fedrigoni was stepping up to be much more of a global player, but the parts weren’t fitting together as a single entity.’ 

Having continued to grow – acquiring companies such as Ritrama in the process – Fedrigoni’s identity appeared fragmented, the designer explains. This had created ‘a forever more layered, complex kind of narrative,’ he says. Pearce saw the end point of his work in terms of creating both a consistent design language and greater clarity. 

For Chiara Medioli Fedrigoni, the company’s chief sustainability and communication officer, the identity reflects the new direction the group has taken since 2018. ‘Its new ownership structure and new management, together with our many existing Fedrigoni experts, put new energy into all the things we do,’ she says. A global redesign was therefore a chance for ‘collective reflection’, an opportunity to take stock and refocus, particularly with the business now based across four continents, employing 4000 people, many of whom, Medioli Fedrigoni says, are new to the group. 

At Pentagram, Pearce and his team of six, which included Pentagram senior designer Richard Clarke and associate / project manager Tiffany Fenner, took their meetings online and, like millions of others around the world, reconsidered how they might work within this new environment.

The small size of Pentagram’s design teams meant that meetings and regular dialogue were still manageable. ‘You don’t need armies of people,’ says Pearce, ‘you just need space for consideration and thought, and quietly working things through. It’s been a completely virtual project. Considering the scale of it – Fedrigoni is made up of so many businesses and nearly all of them changed their identity at the same time – there was a huge amount of trust … as you couldn’t get together and build relationships as you would normally.’ Pearce was unable to visit the paper mills or dig through the company archives; elements of Fedrigoni’s long history were sent digitally, along with a lot of material in the post.

Fedrigoni delivery truck displaying new identity. Photograph by Francesco Brembati, Verona, July 2021.

The origins of the new identity build upon much more recent work: the lauded Paper Box designed by London’s Graphic Thought Facility and launched in October 2020 (see Pulp 19). GTF’s design was structurally ambitious, containing all of Fedrigoni’s papers within a single collection of three books. Across the spines of the books, GTF set the Fedrigoni name in a redrawn uppercase of the Forma typeface originally designed by a team led by Aldo Novarese in 1968 (see pages 20-33).

‘GTF wrote the word “Fedrigoni” big on the side of the box,’ says Pearce. ‘It wasn’t meant to be a Fedrigoni “logo”, but when I got into working on the identity I just thought they’d nailed it. So I rang them up and said, “Do you mind if I take what you’ve done and make it the logo?”’

Pearce saw the potential in using Forma and replacing the Peignot typeface (designed by A. M. Cassandre) which had been in use for several decades, while aligning the well known Fedrigoni Verona ladder symbol and founding date mark with the new logotype. Pearce’s team introduced a custom version of Forma DJR (by David Jonathan Ross) as the company’s principal typeface. For Pearce, Forma DJR’s suitability for the job came down to ‘foundational things – its strength, the beautiful balance of it all and its timeless quality.’

Paper shopping bag

Founded in 1888 in Verona, Fedrigoni has made good use of both the time and place in which it was established in order to convey its roots via a graphic language. The ladder symbol comes from the coat of arms of the province of Verona, Pearce explains, which in turn goes back to the Scala family crest of the Middle Ages. While Pearce says the symbol only needed to be ‘opened up’ slightly for smaller digital applications, it remains largely unchanged – the main difference in its use is that it now no longer needs to be ‘locked up’ next to the company name.

This technique also helps when the identity is used at scale, a must for an international company that will incorporate the new design across everything from social media icons, business cards and print communications through to packaging, building signage and transport livery. One benefit of owning both a wordmark and a distinctive icon is that each element can be used alone or together, as well as alongside the name of a particular company division.

Pearce’s design experience designing for clients with long histories – both at Pentagram and Lippa Pearce, the studio he co-ran with Domenic Lippa (also a Pentagram partner) for sixteen years – made him well suited to Fedrigoni’s own particular aims. ‘I seem to have ended up doing a whole array of quite historical identities,’ he says. ‘With all of them, I think that whatever you imagine, the past is always present. If it’s been around for a few hundred years, it’s just there. 

‘What I’ve learned is not to get overwhelmed by these institutions,’ he continues. ‘The Royal Academy of Arts, The Old Vic theatre, or Berry Bros. & Rudd (see Pulp 18), these are icons of culture and history. You can contemporarise the past without trivialising it, or without trying to be too contemporary.’ 

Move too far from the foundations of a business, Pearce says of the process of identity design, and ‘you snap the lovely, historical bloodline that’s running between all this stuff’. A recent case in point is Pearce’s year-long work on the identities for the John Lewis Partnership from 2018, which referenced a Peter Hatch pattern created for the partnership in the 1960s.

The Pentagram team worked on Fedrigoni’s ‘brand architecture’ with strategist Federico Gaggio, while the implementation of the identity now falls largely to Anna Micossi, head of group communications, and her team. ‘Anna not only cares deeply about consistency, but has a military logistics approach to such a complex project rollout,’ says Medioli Fedrigoni. 

Despite a tumultuous year, having faith in a designer’s abilities and trusting their judgement means Fedrigoni now faces the future with a clear and confident visual identity that is connected to its long heritage. 

‘It’s complex in terms of what’s behind what you see in the foreground,’ says Pearce. ‘But it’s not in terms of what appears. We just made it simple.’