Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
When it comes to city branding, Madrid’s new mayor has decided simpler is better. This week, Mayor Manuela Carmena’s administration unveiled a new logo for Spain’s capital, albeit one intended to be phased in only gradually on city signs, vehicles and stationery so as to avoid unnecessary extra costs.
Overall the new branding, designed by Estudio Ale Salerno and shown above (new to the right, old to the left), is plain and somewhat conservative—but altogether better than the previous version the city used, introduced in 2007. Just as before, the logo still focuses on Madrid’s coat of arms—a delightful image of a bear reaching up into a strawberry tree that’s been in use in the city since 1222. What’s gone, however, are the two huge exclamation points that used to bracket the city’s name, so large that they look alarmingly like baseball bats poised to beat the living daylights out of it.
Madrid has apparently created a new visual stamp because the last logo fell between two stools. Its suggestion of permanent arousal was probably intended to promote the idea of Madrid as fun—or as former mayor Ana Botella might have put it, “Faaaan!” As the new administration has noted, this meant trying to create a visual image that was "a mix between promotion and institutional needs [but] did not quite work in either case.” In other words, the logo was too wacky to work for official purposes, but too boring to be an eye-catching marker for tourists.
Much like city flags, as my colleague Linda Poon wrote in April, good design can make the difference between people using and enjoying the logo, or ignoring it completely. The new one, which also inverts the white-on-blue coloring of the previous effort, won’t win any prizes for being avant-garde. (According to city officials, the new design is still “in beta phase.”) Still, as the failure of Madrid’s previous, somewhat kookier logo shows, there’s no reason why it should try to be.