If there's one thing we love more than a success story, it's a comeback. We need to believe in people who fail, pick themselves up and rise again. Why? Maybe it's because rebirth is a natural part of life. Or maybe because we know we're not averse to failure in our own lives. We need to know that somebody can do it: survive failure and be great once again.
The car company most in need of a comeback today is Chrysler. Long the dominion of futuristic technology and seductive design, current day Chrysler is somewhere in between a luxury lineup and an everyday car company without the benefits of either one.
It's painful to watch Chrysler's performance:
Few cars sold per dealership
In March of this year, Chrysler sold less than 20,000 cars across 2332 dealers, or less than nine per dealership. Lexus, which sold about the same number of cars in total, did so with only 228 dealerships. That's ten times as many.
People don't care
When Toyota had to move to incentives in March to bring customers into the showroom, they didn't have to spend much. In fact, research from CNW showed that for every $500 that Toyota spent to achieve a certain level of customer consideration, Chrysler had to spend $3100, or six times as much, to achieve the same levels of consideration.
What's there to do? Chrysler already announced it would rush to bring new models forward (the 300 sedan, once a hit, is now simply average in light of refreshed products from other manufacturers). A few new commercials debuted in late 2009, positioning the company as a Ralph Lauren of the auto world. Around the same time, they debuted a new logo, but didn't have much in the way of news to back it up.
We decided to travel back in time to the point at which the company redesigned that logo and, instead of accepting their new winged, Aston Martin-esque brand identity, open up the discussion to some of our favorite designers. What should a new Chrysler represent? What would it look like?
We contacted three of our favorite design shops and gave them a mission: design a new logo for Chrysler that would be representative of a full rebirth. Their work, seen below (click each to open more images), is fascinating.
I encourage you to view and comment on the fantastic work done on our behalf by Gavin Potenza (Script & Seal), Aaron Draplin (Draplin Design Co.) and Anna Lian Tes and Nate Luzod (GRID, LLC). We're thankful they took the time to think about Chrysler, what it means to them and how it might be great once more.
When I was first approached with this project, I began to look at various watch companies as inspiration, particularly ones out of Germany. I don’t think watches are too different from cars – they are a work of masterful engineering, and both need a logo that is unique enough to show what brand it is at a tiny size. This is how I wanted to approach the rebrand of Chrysler, much like I would for a watch company. I felt that the incredible craftsmanship of these watches and the way this was communicated through the brand, could really inform my perspective. I looked at companies such as Stowa and Hemess, and what I found was that it wasn’t so much about the identity, as it was just showing off their amazing creations. Their logos were all incredibly minimal yet very iconic. They let the work speak for itself.
Gavin Potenza is a twenty-four year old graphic designer working out of Portland, Oregon. He focuses his efforts on rendering ideas into comprehensible and efficient visual solutions. This can translate to anything such as information graphics, illustrations, record covers, or websites.
After a partial education at a particular Pacfic Northwest art school, he got a job as Art Director at the motion design firm, Nervo, where he spent his time working on websites for Mercedes and iPhone applications under the direction of Nando Costa. Then, following a brief stint at Bent Image Lab, another motion firm, he began as a freelance designer & illustrator. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to work with a broad range of clients such as GOOD Magazine, Warp Records, AOL, Men’s Health, and Lexus. Additionally to freelancing full-time, Gavin also co-runs the emerging design studio, Script & Seal.
Looking at the history of the Chrysler brand, they’ve of course been dominated by two very different logos, on one hand we have the Pentastar, and on the other hand we have a generic set of wings. The Pentastar is Chrysler’s most iconic shape, but the problem is that it’s just very dated, bland, and unattractive. The wings feel expensive, heavy and fitting, but where’s the brand differentiation between Chrysler and Bentley, Aston Martin, the Genesis, or Mini? The wings do not consist of a shape that Chrysler can claim ownership of. The Pentastar is that shape that they can own. So my thoughts are that we need to embrace the iconic Pentastar, but let’s simplify it...let’s let the work speak for itself, yet have that shape which people can identify it with.
The goal is to really keep the essence of what Chrysler is, and their history, but to rid the brand of any negative connotations of the past. We want to create something completely new, but yet the viewer can still identify that with Chrysler. Going too new would probably scare people into thinking they’re desperate. We want to show them they’re still a solid brand with the same history, but reassuring them that what they’re buying is the best option.
In my rebrand, I’ve created an abstracted star with an interior structure that communicates craft and precision. I’ve taken the essence of the Pentastar, and completely redesigned it to feel more contemporary, dynamic, bold, and simplified. There are four points in this star standing for each of Chrysler’s current four cars, marking the beginning of a new era in Chrysler’s history. In each of the four corners there are outward pointing arrows each expanding the box, signifying the importance of evolving in new directions. It’s boxy yet still very dynamic much like the design of the cars. And most importantly, it’s that same shining Chrysler star. I see my solution as a framework that can translate to many different visual alternatives. It’s versatile. The corporate logo can be colorful, approachable and friendly, but yet the logo on the car can be the outlined version of that logo, stamped or etched into the chrome grill. Even with all of the variations, it is still the same logo, with the same meaning.
Aaron Draplin | Draplin Design Co.
I work in the little leagues. When the fellas from AOL Autos first contacted me about a rebranding exercise of this proportion, I couldn’t help but feel completely out of my element, on whatever hypothetical level my head was in. Chrysler is big time, and I don’t really know just how I’d approach a whale like that with my little rod-n-reel. In all honesty, it’s a slick logo. Positives include the overall quality of precision and confidence the thing exudes, and the muscular symmetry. However, I do think the type gets a little buried in the overall boldness of the wings. I like when my products communicate who they are with a loud voice. But hey, that’s just me. Say it loud, and say it proud, Chrsyler!
Draplin Design Co. Bio:
Located in the mighty Pacific Northwest, the Draplin Design Co. proudly rolls up its sleeves on a number of projects related to the Print, Identity, Web Development, Illustration and Gocco Muscle categories. We make stuff for Coal Headwear, Union Binding Co., Snowboard Magazine, Richmond Fontaine, Nike, Wired, Timberline, Chunklet, Incase, Giro, Cobra Dogs, Burton Snowboards, Hughes Entertainment, Chuck Prophet, Field Notes and even the Obama Administration, if you can believe that. We pride ourselves on a high level of craftsmanship and quality that keeps us up late into the wet Portland night.
With that said, the first thing that came to mind for a Chrysler logo redesign wasn’t necessarily taking on the logo. It was getting under the skin of those who call the shots, starting all the way at the top of the heap.
That’s why, before I go and redesign what shows up on a hood or trunk, I’m gonna go internal, and remind the good people of Chrysler that when times get tough, you should ask yourself, “What Would Lee Do?”
America needs another Lee Iacocca. We’re tired of fat cat, bloated CEO types with fake smiles and billion dollar bank accounts. We need a hero who can not only rescue a failing car company, but rescue America from itself.
And I’d roll out a whole campaign for the company, starting all the way at the top, down to last guy on the line. Posters would line the halls, locker rooms and cafeterias.
The first pin would go Sergio Marchionne, just to remind him who’s shoes he's filling.
Who’s gonna save Chrysler from itself? Come back Lee. Third time’s a charm?
For the second part of my exploration, I wanted to get back to what the old American Motors logo said to a kid like me, growing up in the ‘70’s and ‘80s. It instantly said “America.” No gloss. No sheen. Patriotic, and to the point.
I’d limit my palette to “stars-n-bars” red, white and blue, with a hit of black. Instead of the logo looking like came from the heavens, I think in these turbulent time, it should look like it came from America.
The current logo’s wings can mean a lot of things: Aspiration, reaching new heights and lofty ideals, right? But man, when I first saw the new logo the wings said one thing to me: Chrysler’s gonna fly away.
So here’s my two cents: Snip those wings and bring back the pentagon / pentastar. It’s clean and to the point, and, reminds me of a time of when making good cars helped save the country.
Or, just make a strong “C” character and own the letter. In America, the letter “C” stands for Chrysler!
Let’s take ownership of America again. We’re so lucky to live here, and there was a time when those stars and stripes could inspire folks to work a little harder and solve the impossible.
Anna Lian Tes & Nate Luzod | GRID, LLC
We took a detailed look at the history of Chrysler logos, and it was difficult to determine whether we should be revolutionary or evolutionary in our approach. One thing we were certain of is that the current mark, the elongated wing with the classic logo compacted into it, wasn’t an idea we wanted to expand upon. It lacks focus and takes us in two opposing directions – distant past and distant future, but absolutely not here and now. It almost leaves us with a sense of confusion.
A new idea was required but at the same time we wanted to show some tie in with the past – not simply for the sake of being retro – but to show some reverence to a better time for Chrysler. To disregard Chrysler’s history is to ignore the fact that it was once a great American company with a reputation for excellent products. With that said, this is a limited history and we had to be selective about what to hearken back to.
After considering the Pentastar, we decided that it would be best to retire it. Just our opinion, but at no point in time was this an attractive logo, and it's unfortunate there was a time when this matched Chrysler’s product perfectly. We felt it would be best not to evoke memories of LeBarons in our efforts.
We considered older script fonts of the 70's models and, though attractive, they seemed inappropriate and irrelevant to Chrysler’s current strategy. We considered the older streamline fonts from the New Yorker but came to the same conclusion.
Lastly, we considered the classic medallion logo and, despite the fact that it’s roughly 80 years old, we found elements that can apply to Chrysler today.
GRID, LLC's Bio:
GRID, LLC is a virtual design shop based out of sunny Los Angeles, California and not-so sunny Detroit, Michigan. Originally conceived as a collaboration between two friends, their goal has always been to stay small, stay happy, to do excellent work for excellent people and to enjoy life in the process.
Anna Lian Tes designs for Grid. A Jersey native and a graduate of the illustrious School of Visual Arts in New York City, she now resides in Los Angeles with a stray cat and her MacBook Pro. She enjoys exploring LA, accordion music, and cheeseburgers.
Nate Luzod handles technology and information design for Grid. When not elbow-deep in lines of code, he spends his time exploring distant lands, taking pictures of things, thinking about Battlestar Galactica or training for his next marathon. Sometimes, all at once. He resides in scenic Detroit with his 24” iMac, his wife, and a Wheaten Terrier named Max.
The wax seal invokes ideas of exclusivity, importance and class. The medallion makes the logo look like an award, giving the product a sense of priority and distinction. All of these are things that Chrysler let slip away and, in its current strategy, is trying to bring back to its lineup.
Though the classic thunderbolts were actually adaptations of the letter ‘Z’ and merely tribute to an engineer in Chrysler’s history, we thought these could be re-purposed and made relevant to Chrysler today – particularly with respect to their ENVI division and a focus on electric/hybrid vehicles.
We had our direction. The next problem, then, was taking 1930 design elements and making them appealing in 2010. We studied the evolution of other automotive brands like BMW, Volkswagen, Ford, and realized an obvious trend in simplification. Perhaps there is relationship with decreased attention spans and the need for the user to understand an identity immediately in the midst of dozens of others – these were all considerations in our composition.
We started with a circle for its perfection and all that it represents, and also because of its contrast to an angular pentagon. Inside the circle, we borrowed the rays from the background of the medallion logo. The pattern and symmetry felt appropriate, nearly luxurious, and reminded us of a rising sun – almost suggesting a brighter day on the horizon.
Incorporating the Z/bolt was a difficult decision and something that took hours of conversation. We were hesitant because of its similarity to Opel’s logo, but in the end we justified using it because it was part of Chrysler’s identity long before Opel incorporated it, and we wanted it. We attempted using a double-bolt as seen in the original medallion logo, but it looked almost cartoon-like and lacked the seriousness we were attempting to convey. We boiled it down to a single bolt and made it the centerpiece of our identity. It has meaning for the future of the automotive industry, and the edges of the Z protruding from the circle’s perimeter give the design a more aggressive feel. Anna noted that it gives it the quality of a villain’s logo, and we think it may serve Chrysler well.
We chose a serif typeface to refresh the older qualities of a more successful Chrysler. None of the fonts used since the middle of the century have delivered this, and many seemed almost too futuristic and inappropriate to match anything in their lineup. We strove for something that would look well on the 300C and the PT Cruiser alike, as well as the great concepts that Chrysler has delivered in recent years. Their current fonts seem incongruous with their more successful body designs, and we wanted to fix that.
What's most uplifting about seeing these designs and hearing the designers talk about Chrysler is that it's clear the brand is in need of both focus and big, expansive thinking in order to get out of its slump. This type of opportunity only comes along every so often.
Of course, brands are more than logos. A logo is merely our brain's shortcut to remember our true feelings about a company or service. Former marketing executive and automotive insider Joe Schulte recently explained to us that there are two words that are critical to the notion of branding: reputation and image.
"Reputation is much more powerful because it is an 'earned' belief," said Schulte. "[Reputation means] something has performed in a certain way that makes its performance predictable, [which is] the sure sign of a powerful brand. Image is more ephemeral [and] not as performance-based as reputation, driven more by subjective qualitative assessments and other's opinions.
"The most successful brands have both a reputation and an image. If you have to only have one or the other, go for the reputation."
Starting today, Chrysler needs both.