October 31, 2012

(Re)Brand USA: Project 4 / LucienneRoberts+

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Over the four weeks leading up to the presidential election, four separate designers/design firms have tackled the not-so-small problem of rebranding the United States. More detailed posts on this project series can be read here and here. Three weeks ago was Jeremy Mende/MendeDesign. Two weeks ago, MGMT. design. Last week, Playlab, Inc. This week: LucienneRoberts+.

I came at this brief from an unashamedly outsider perspective. I am a Brit and know only too well that the knee-jerk response to all things American, particularly from my left-leaning pals, can be simplistically negative. Notwithstanding the election of Barack Obama in 2008, U.S. foreign policy coupled with the often quoted “only 10 percent have passports” stat (I gather it’s actually 30 percent) are trotted out as evidence that the USA is insular — and so unaware of the benefits of pluralism that it attempts world domination as much via fast-food as the military.

But, America is a vast land full of contradictions and paradoxes. This struck me most forcibly when I listened to the American political philosopher Michael Sandel on BBC Radio 4’s Public Philosopher programme last Tuesday. In the first of a series of debates in the buildup to the forthcoming American election he posed this question of a Texan audience: “Should undocumented immigrants [to the USA] be deported or offered a path to citizenship?” In a show of hands, the majority voted for the latter. What transpired, of course, was that above all others America is a country of immigrants. So, putting aside the illegality at the heart of the question, the audience was more attuned to the subtleties that surround this subject than might be expected.

With this in mind it struck me that at the heart of the American identity is a lovely play on words. U + S = us. But who is the “us” when it comes to Americans, and if there is an “us,” is there necessarily a “them”? After a quick trawl of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website I found tables showing the country of origin of immigrants who were given permanent resident status from the present right back to 1820. Add native Americans and the first settlers and a population that is diverse like no other on Earth begins to emerge.

So, our “rebrand” of the States is a celebration of difference and inclusivity. It shows that there is no “us and them” but rather an “us is them,” revealed via an animated sequence of interlocking stripes that reference the colours of the American flag alongside those most prevalent in all other world flags. The font used is Graphik, designed of course by an American, Christian Schwartz. I am a child of Jewish Austrian immigrants to Britain myself and hope this salute to American diversity acts as a reminder to all that the notion of “us” is in constant flux, something to be embraced rather than feared.

LucienneRoberts+ is a London-based studio committed to making accessible, engaging graphic design with a socially aware agenda. Projects include exhibition design, book design, and corporate identity for 3-D, print, and screen. Founder Lucienne Roberts and designer John McGill worked on the rebrand USA project. Alongside studio-based work, Lucienne writes, lectures, and publishes on her subject. A signatory of the First Things First 2000 manifesto, her books include The Designer and the Grid (2002, Rotovision) and Good: An Introduction to Ethics in Graphic Design (2006, AVA Academia). Lucienne spoke this month at TYPO London 2012 and will be speaking at the POINT conference next May. Her latest book, Design Diaries: Creative Process in Graphic Design (Laurence King, 2010), was cowritten with design educator and writer Rebecca Wright. With Rebecca, Lucienne is principal founder of GraphicDesign&, a pioneering publishing house dedicated to creating intelligent, vivid books that explore how graphic design connects with all other things, and the value that it brings. Its first book Page 1: Great Expectations was published in April 2012 to rave reviews. Three further titles are currently in development.

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