Logo Design Love

For graphic designers and all who love logos.

How effective are the Tate logos?

Tate Modern logo

There are certain logo conventions that are taught in class — simplicity, practicality, and a few others. So when I see a logo like that of the Tate (hugely successful UK gallery), I wonder if sometimes conventions are there to be broken.

Tate Modern logo

The Tate logos were designed by Wolff Olins. Not just one logo, but many:

“We designed a range of logos that move in and out of focus, suggesting the dynamic nature of Tate – always changing but always recognisable.”

With a constantly changing mark, you’d wonder what effect this has on brand recognition. Is the design far enough away from the norm to allow for slight variations across the board? Yes.

Tate Modern logo

From the Tate website:

“There are a number of variations of the Tate logo, or mark. They range from a standard logo to a blurred version, a faded version and a halftone version (dots rather than smooth fading). The marks have no fixed size or position and they are not connected with one particular Tate site. The Tate mark helps to build a brand that is fresh and fluid, but has some consistency – one Tate, with constantly changing expressions.”

Tate Modern logo

With some of the logos reliant on blur, they won’t transfer well across all media (whereas a design with sharp edges will), so this isn’t your standard design. Does this make it more distinctive? Absolutely. More effective? I’d love to know what you think.

Tate Modern logo

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39 appreciated comments

  1. I’ve not seen this before, but first impressions are that I like it. There are certain conventions to logo design, that all make a lot of sense, but when you apply the logo to different contexts I think you can bend the conventions – as long as there’s some underlying justification for doing so.

    To me this strikes a lot of similarities with the London 2012 logo (also Wolff Olins), which has taken much criticism mainly because people just saw it as a mark on a screen or a piece of paper. The context that L2012 was applied to was one of multimedia and moving image – therefore the logo can change shape and colour which kind breaks every convention going… but it’s justified, and personally I think works.

    With this Tate image by the photos you’ve shown the context is one of focus. Applied to banners, and windows and other imaginative formats the logo is memorable in that it’s consistently in different focus. I think that works. Also, you have to remember it IS the Tate… It kind of has to be unconventional ;)

  2. I think they are very effective. Personally i like this very much.

    The constant change in form presents the viewer with a modest “challenge of recognition”. This only works of course if the variation between the different logos is limited to the same basic shape determined by the letterforms.

    What i’d like to know is how TATE manages these different logos. Who decides which version goes where?

  3. I think with well known properties, like the Tate, you have a lot more leeway in experimentation. The different variations are similar enough that I don’t think it would confuse the consumer, nor do I see an application in modern media where the halftone one wouldn’t reproduce well.

    So I think it’s as effective as traditional logos, if not more memorable for being unconventional.

  4. Aaron, the Tate Modern is perhaps my favourite gallery, so I’m a bit biased. There’s definitely a consistency, in that all of the variations I’ve seen look blurred. I’m interested to know what (if any) is seen as the ‘standard’ logo. An image search pulls many variations, but all appear blurred or half-tone.

    Dirk, I think Wolff Olins would’ve provided a detailed guidelines document, setting out which design is to be used where. I’d definitely like to have a look.

    John,

    “I think with well known properties, like the Tate, you have a lot more leeway in experimentation.”

    Good point. As for unconventionality, I’ve not come across many blurred logos. One’s on the tip of my tongue, and I meant to include it above, but it’s escaped me.

  5. Thanks for the nice information david.

    This is the first time I came to know about TATE, and I learned that we can achieve great results when we are dare enough to skip the conventional rules of logo design, and experiment in the new frontiers…

  6. Ah I was only at the tate one and a half years ago and I am going to be there again in 4 weeks so now I know what to look out for.

    I think for a museum that is always changing it is a great concept and it will be pulled off in my opinion. Looking forward to seeing it.

  7. I’m assuming that the team that designed this is the same team that is overseeing it’s execution. I would not feel confident designing this and then handing it over to a separate team because the execution is delicate.

  8. I agree with John’s comment “I think with well known properties, like the Tate, you have a lot more leeway in experimentation.”

    I think it is that fact that allows this concept to work, and to be successful.

  9. First impression is that Tate’s logo disturbs me. On other words I guess I don’t actually ‘like’ it.

    But on the other hand, by disturbing me it engages me. That’s probably the point.

  10. Chaitanya,

    You’re very welcome.

    Jacob,

    I hope you have a fantastic time in London. On one of my visits I spent two days looking around the Tate Modern. There’s just too much to take in during one visit. After a few hours you kind of switch-off a little.

    Jason,

    I’m assuming that the team that designed this is the same team that is overseeing it’s execution.

    I can’t answer that, but it’d be interesting to know.

    Brian,

    John made a good point. Certainly. By the way, great to see you receiving more blogger business cards.

    Yael,

    Funny you should mention how the Tate logo disturbs you. It very much reminds me of a horror movie that I can’t quite put my finger on. Off-topic, keep up the great work with The Dieline, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new Miller Creative website.

  11. One of the things you have to take into consideration, along with the reputation of the name, is the simplicity of the name itself. T, A and E are distinctive letters. Even blurred they still come across as a T, as an A and as an E. It would extremely difficult to do this with a longer name or a name that uses letters such as Q, G, M, N, F, P, U, V and W, or letters that can be confused with numbers such as B, Z and S. Lower case, as well, would be very difficult to blur and keep the readability.

    I agree using a blurred logo, in this case, does translate to change in a positive way. It could so easily have translated to age, wear, neglect or rot instead.

    So it’s the combination of reputation, simplicity of the name and the excellent execution/consistency of the faded/blurred logos that makes the campaign a success in my opinion as well.

    I’m a fan. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Trish
    Artist
    http://www.contemporary-native.com

  12. cat

    David,

    I LOVE The Tate Britain and go as often as I can.

    I strongly dislike the Tate Modern … but that’s just me. Hanging a single blinking light bulb from the ceiling (with nothing else in the room), and calling it art just gets my goat.

    The Tate Britain logos work because there is a similarity to the designs. Also, I don’t know of many others like this so they do stand out.

    But mostly what makes it work is the large areas they have to work with. It easily brands it into the our brains.They are huge so can take the blur. Even when on brochures they work as we’ve already got them burned into our memory.

  13. Tate is a very successful brand – I’m familiar with it, and I live in Tasmania which is almost as far away from the Tate galleries as you can possibly get :-) That kind of brand recognition no doubt frees up Tate to really experiment with their logo / identity. I really like the logo (although I wouldn’t want to be looking at it up close for too long – eye strain!). It’s able to be viewed and read at close quarter or from a distance, and looks different depending on how far away you are viewing it, which makes it unusually dynamic.

  14. Dax

    The Tate features art which is breaking the rules, cutting edge, etc; so why not their identity? It’s definitely eye-catching and effective, and the concept of different variations is exciting and (dare I say it)’organic’. However, I don’t necessarily see it sticking around as a long-run identity (anyone agree?).

  15. If conventions are ever to be broken, a modern art gallery is the likely candidate.

  16. Steve O

    DAX – The brand has been in place since 2000 so I think the longevity is definately there! It has been tweaked since, but is essentially the same.

    I love this branding. It’s unconventional, brave and simple. The way they use it is great and it stands out a mile amongst it’s contemporaries. One of my favourites.

  17. Tate logos are fine. At some stage, I quite like it. Maybe the concept of variety in arts is what Tate Gallery itself trying to impose. Who knows.

    I went to Tate Modern last week. The funny thing is that I can hardly see the “Entrance” sign. I know that there’s cafe (from the obvious sign) but not the entrance. When I took few steps down the entrance, now I can see there’s a sign on the door written “Entrance”. Gosh~ They should make the colour of the font distinctive.

  18. The key to the success of any unconventional, flexible identity system is, frankly, money. If the Tate didn’t commit its resources to properly manage the system, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as it is. I think a lot of designers (and I’d include myself in this when I was younger) fall into the trap of trying to sell a variable and cool identity to an organization that is completely incapable of handling it. This stuff requires attention by the creative staff. It’s not a slap-it-on logo.

  19. Trish,

    Great point about the actual characters in the name. They definitely lend themselves better to blurring than some others in the alphabet.

    Cat,

    I’ve not yet had the chance to visit the original Tate, only the Modern. Your description of the single blinking light bulb in the centre of an empty room definitely isn’t my idea of art either, but there’s a lot of modern art that does appeal to me. I enjoyed seeing installations of Dali, Kandinsky, Matisse and some other well-known artists, mainly due to the time spent studying them back on my art and design courses.

    Tracey,

    I didn’t know you lived in Tasmania. Hope all’s going well over there, and I’m looking forward to seeing your new WordPress site.

    Dax, Darrel,

    Your point about the gallery’s installations being cutting edge / convention-breaking (hence the logo too) is spot on in my opinion.

    Steve,

    I also think there’s a longevity in this brand, and thanks for answering Dax’s question.

    Rafie,

    What was your impression of the Tate Modern (besides the missing entrance sign)?

    Jon,

    Thanks for very much for sharing your thoughts. Off-topic, I’m an admirer of your website and portfolio, particularly the some thoughts page. It’s an addition you don’t come across very often at all.

  20. Soon after the entrance, it was amazing. Such a big space and high ceiling area. What I love most (inside the gallery) is the “Hanging Soap Bars”, “Slashed Canvas”, “Chrome network of molecules” and the “Egg (upside down reflection) – Level 1″.

    Personally, a 3 star showcase of artworks from 1900 – onwards. I love the typography inside the building where they show the chronology of arts from 1900 – recent. :) Cheers~
    Quote @ Tate Modern:
    Can one make works which are not works of “art”? – Duchamp 1913

  21. I love the logo, even though it kind of makes me feel like I’m having a stroke.

  22. Rafie,

    I was hoping to see a few more photos on your blog post, but I guess as it’s not allowed I’ll forgive you (at least I don’t think you can take photos).

    Jenny,

    That’s not a good affect! Don’t look at it too long. ;)

  23. Well, no camera is allowed (except in Level 1). Anyway, I love the handwritten typography on the walls. Beauty.

    *The no food sign uses Apple-like logo instead of typical burger. Do realize that? :D

  24. The key thing to remember with the Tate is that they are very conscious of their overall identity. Without the careful monitoring of colour palettes, typography, visual imagery… essentially ‘the big picture’, their logos would be lost. The ‘Tate Media’ team are super proficient in making sure they work with the right designers who can push their identity far enough without degrading it’s core sensibilities. This is more than just ‘logo design’.

    There’s a great issue of Creative Review dedicated to a month in the life of the Tate Media team, talking about the commissioning process. It’s really good.

  25. The TATE logo surely is strong at supporting the gallery’s brand. It works rather well. So why is that?

    It occurred to me that since no one uses ‘blur’ as a design feature in logos, TATE has managed to occupy this space very successfully. Did they do that on purpose?

  26. Rafie,

    It’s not something I remember, about the ‘no-food’ sign. Interesting though.

    Michael,

    That Creative Review sounds great. I’ll have to get my hands on a back issue.

    Miguel,

    The blur definitely helps the Tate to stand out. I agree.

  27. I think that the Tate logo is a great logo also..I must say that it is different / interesting.

    Thank you for sharing this with us it was a great article :)

  28. Grouse

    I think the logo is interesting, but doesn’t attract anyone new to the product. eg. rememberable but not attractive. I think the Tate modern gets most of its publicity from its location, and changing content. (free galleries change every 6 months or so).

    I prefer the quieter galleries, V&A, NPG…etc.

    For anyone who is going to be in London soon, there is a gallery of street art on the ground floor of selfridges (oxford street). They have some Banksy so worth checking out.

  29. Dwayne,

    You’re very welcome.

    Grouse,

    There’s no doubting the strength of the V&A logo. It’s one of my favourites.

  30. I have actually never heard of them till now, and agree with the person above that it is very similar to a horror film occurence. I actually like it, it’s very different and artsy, and I wish more people would or could take a chance like that. If I saw this somewhere, my curiosity would get the better of me, and I would have to go Google it.

  31. HUGE fan of evolving logos and identities that manage to maintain their image even though the actual visual changes.

    Love that a lot.

    Brand Guidelines are kinda my thing and I hate seeing brands suffocated or tamed by their insane and often contradictory strategies/guidelines.

    I’d like to see more examples of this approach.

    Nice work again David!

  32. Al,

    I’m curious, have you created any brand guidelines of your own? You mention how they’re you’re thing, and I’d love to see any examples you have.

  33. Love this logo.

    I think that we create certain rules and specs according to what we do and use day to day, like for example you know that a blurry logo would be very hard to apply to small spaces, given the hard it would become to read.

    But hey! if it works, it works.

    I think that being that TATE is a modern art gallery it can get away with it, they represent innovation, change, and that includes change of rules and parameters, so I think that for the brand the logo represents exactly what they are.

  34. I think given the name of the Tate, it can pull this off. It’s name is well recognised. The concept works for me, it’s refreshing to see something a bit different and challenging the norm.

  35. Reminds me of The New School’s slightly varying identity.

    http://www.newschool.edu/

    I’d agree with it being effective. Although, I am fonder of TNS’s… maybe its because of the stencil vibe and nice warm colors.

  36. I have to say, after meny visits & seeing this logo over & over, I never noticed quite how much variation there is (hangs his geeky designer head in shame). After a few years of this identity being used I think its awesome. The fact it can be, as this article points out, a bit of a rule breaker, it’s still subtle enough to function properly and also free & fluid. Awesome.


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