Top Five (+1) Brand Identities of 2019

David Nuff RGD, Principal at Nuff, shares his favourite 6 brand identity designs of 2019


Netherlands (Studio Dumbar)

Some logos give you the feeling of witnessing a magic trick. Famously, the FedEx arrow. Less famously, the Apolis logo. Dumbar’s rework of the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions mark gives me that, plus everything else I like in a logo—with an awkward “N”, it must be said.

Somewhat abstract yet symbolic? Check. Clean lines and economy of form? Check. Negative space doing something interesting? Check.

I can’t even complain about the neutral sans-serif (something I do a lot) because this is exactly the appropriate time for it. Not only is Dutch design at the very heart of no-frills modernism, but “Dutch” and “neutral” are practically synonyms, politically speaking.


Canary Goods (Bamff)

On a fundamental level, this identity is simply beautiful. The mix of elegant type and crisp linework, the Insta-friendly photography aesthetic. It’s all lovely. Look beneath the surface and some very clever decisions start to emerge.

The choice of animal—the famously green (and yellow) bird—is inspired for both name and visual. Canaries were originally luxury pets before becoming accessible to all. This cleverly mirrors the desire to shift sustainable retail from indulgence to desirable, mainstream option. 

They steer clear of salt-of-the-earth aesthetics and yet make great use of recycled papers and cardboards. A rich olive green says “eco” but also “fancy”. The photography, while incredibly fun, incorporates hard light, making rough edges and materials visible. Everything is presented as “real” without any loss of appeal.

This is definitely one I would have liked in my portfolio.


Duolingo (Johnson Banks)

I’ve loved Duolingo for a while now—as a user but also as a designer looking for solid references. Seeing as they were already doing well, this latest rework by Johnson Banks feels more like evolution than revolution.

Ian Bogost describes a designer’s work as “the stewardship of essence”. By leaning even further into Duolingo’s whimsy, the designers have done exactly that. The wordmark feels more related to the mascot. The tone of voice sits in harmony with the animations. It's Duolingo, but more Duolingy.

I hope the brand will only grow more distinct in time—based on the past, that’s looking likely.


Toronto Public Library (Trajectory et al)

TPL released a 41-page document along with this brand rollout showing the depth of thought that went into this rebrand. A shifted brand promise—to meet and “activate” their audience wherever they are—is at the core of their strategy. Understanding their new strategic direction needs to be reflected in their brand is unusual for an organization of this sort, and a commitment to zero-waste implementation is commendable.

The wordmark itself is fine if unremarkable. The colon, a nod (but not a wink) to the library's commitment to the written word, is a nice touch. The tagline is pretty lame. The executions are actually quite good! I think what really does it is that a library—a really, really brilliant, very much loved library—was willing to take this kind of risk.

It's certainly true that public libraries are much more than buildings full of books. I think this move will help TPL own the spaces they are already occupying in community life.


Maurèle Paper (Allegra Poschmann)

I usually fall for identities mark-first, discovering other elements later. With Maurèle, it’s less about the elements than the overall energy. In an era of bold, brash, “disruptive” upstarts entering the market to move fast and break things, this fine paper goods brand radiates gentle introspection and a return to the slower pace of a handwritten letter.

It doesn’t hurt that the elements are delightful too, from the typography to the photography, to the stacked MA monogram. There's a lightness of touch you would expect from a company in this space, almost like the founders are the sort of people that would write you a three-page letter in fountain pen, wax seal and all.

We could use a lot more of this sort of elegance in the market.


Honourable Mention: Reebok (In-house with Darrin Crescenzi)

To paraphrase Brian Collins, who was probably paraphrasing Rollo May, the opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Amidst a sea of gut-wrenchingly vanilla sans-serif rebrands, Reebok has decided to swim against the tide by reverting to their iconic mark of yesteryear (and touching it up a little). I am so here for it.

Now, this mark may not mean as much to you as it does to me—I used to draw it (and other iconic 90s logos) over and over in my notebooks as a schoolboy. Before I knew what design was, I knew that I liked drawing logos, and in particular, logos like this.

Nostalgia, however, does not get you on my list. I can cede this mark is not all that beautiful, whatever beauty is. It has character in spades though, more character than any stupid Silicon Valley, Air spaced-out, Proxima Nova snoozefest.

Reebok have reached into the attic and pulled out a banger. A pair of classic sneaks they forgot about long enough to have come back into style. For that, they have my utmost respect.