Top 5 Place Brand Identities
By Chris Armstrong RGD, Director of Strategic Design, Operative Brand


Creating a single brand that authentically captures the spirit of something as
complex as a nation or a city can be immensely challenging. A great place brand builds pride in a community and makes that place more attractive for business and tourists. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite examples of great place brand identities.

The Islands of the Bahamas

Duffy & Partners, 2003

This is an oldie but a goodie that changed the way designers look at visual systems. It was one of the first identities I remember that created an entire visual language out of graphic shapes. The Islands of The Bahamas wanted to present their country to the world as the preferred sun and sand vacation destination. The distinct shapes and colours representing the different islands communicated the vibrancy and diversity of the country in a way that was altogether unique at the time.

NYC & Company

Wolff Olins, 2007

This identity system was designed for NYC & Company, New York City’s tourism organization. It is a bold, brash statement reflecting the eclectic nature and diversity of New York City. The system provides a structure and grid that is coherent across materials, but the system is flexible enough to accommodate endless variety. The identity was included by Brand New in their Most relevant Identity Work of the Decade and was described as, “the best thing to (graphically) happen to New York City, since everyone else declared their love for it.” (A reference to the Milton Glaser I heart NY logo, a classic logo, but not an identity system).

I amsterdam

KesselsKramer, 2004

One of the earliest and most enduring examples of city branding, the I amsterdam brand is simplicity at its best. The slogan is a short, clear and powerful statement of inclusion and a celebration of the diverse people of the city. The brand came to life with an iconic sign in front of the Rijksmuseum. Eventually the campaign became too successful for its own good. With thousands of people taking selfies with the sign daily, crowding became so bad that the sign had to be relocated. If you live in a place that has a great big sign in a public space, you can probably thank Amsterdam.


City of Melbourne

Landor, 2009

The visual system for the City of Melbourne is arguably the most influential place brand identity to date. It spawned numerous imitators and is an early example of a “living logo”. The mutable iconic “M” is dynamic and vibrant, while the multi-faceted graphic forms and gradients create depth and a sense of movement. The palette is broad and inclusive. The city was looking for an identity to deliver impact, be flexible and build long-term recognition. The resulting work delivered that and more – it delivered a work recognized around the world as best in class.

Porto City

Studio Eduardo Aires, 2014

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and one of Europe’s oldest centres. Wishing to reflect the city’s unique culture and attitude, a modular design system was created that was rooted in the history of the community. The design system was inspired by the blue tiles that cover the historical buildings of the city. Because the city represents something different for each citizen, icons were created to be combined in various ways to reflect the unique nature of each street and landmark and give people a feeling of ownership and a unique Porto all their own.

Chris Armstrong is a Partner and Director of Strategic Design for Operative Brand Consultants. Prior to the founding of Operative, Chris worked for almost two decades at Interbrand, the world’s largest global branding agency. He has worked with many large national and international clients such as Boston University, Xerox, CPP Investments, Hatch Engineering, RBC, State of Oklahoma and YMCA Canada. Before moving to Toronto, Chris worked as a designer in Calgary and was a sessional instructor at Alberta College of Art + Design (now AUArts). 


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