Under the sign of the rising sun

Under the sign of the rising sun

The Nissan logo

Interview with David Bihanic

Designer and Lecturer
at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

No.1: As a designer-researcher with vast experience in graphic conception and design, please could you tell us what the guiding principles and/or key drivers are that must be followed and applied to create a "good" logo? First of all, can you tell us exactly what a logo is? For it to be "good" or successful, should it be simple, schematic...?

David Bihanic: What should be borne in mind when it comes to a logo, which is just one of the many "elements" in the identity and reference universe of a particular brand, is that it is above all a "strong" sign which, to gain and maintain a certain visual significance over time, calls for ever more "visual-graphic reduction".

A sign, let us say here of a "logo-typical" nature, is at the same time what "seals" or establishes the representation of the key values of a given brand and distinguishes it, differentiates it, "sets it apart", we could say, from its neighbours and/or competitors. Also, in addition to the cultural evolution of the frame of reference in which the visual identity of a brand "bathes" (we will come back to this later, for sure), a logo, to remain this strong sign, must evolve in the direction of simplicity. Achieving this ultimate goal is the guarantee of the brand's real sustainability over time.

A logo is made up of at least 2 elements that may or may not be associated with each other: a "graphic stamp" and "a name or label 'text'" (brand title) - to which a "baseline" or key phrase acting as a "slogan" can be added. Multiple combinations are possible1: the 'text' label can be placed within the graphic stamp or the 'text' label can be surmounted by a graphic stamp, etc. This same "text" label can also just exist on its own, this time with graphic work specifically focused on the lettering (creation or typographical composition - original alphabet).

The same applies to the graphic stamp which does not always require the co-presence of a ‘text' label. It is common for a logo consisting of a stamp and a label when it is created, to evolve through "reduction", by "getting rid" of one of its two components. Let's take, for example (among many others), the Nike and Starbucks logos, which have developed quite remarkably, with the reduction here being "suppressive" in nature.

No.2: You were just talking about the importance or impact of what you call the "frame of reference" of a visual identity. Is this related to the influences and trends specific to an era?

David Bihanic: Indeed, in addition to the reduction I have just mentioned, each logo, insofar as it is a sort of "elementary component" of the identity universe of a brand, is as if it were "stuck" within a frame of cultural and stylistic reference then in keeping with the particular era. Colours, lettering (body strength and font size; choice between "upper case" and "lower case"), textures, thickness of outline traces, etc.; all of these visual-graphic attributes that make up the design of a logo are the result of external influences, which are often specific to the "business" field as well as to current "graphic trends".

Consequently, over the years, a logo will inevitably change, transform, mutate (sometimes radically) in order to match the new "moods" of the present day. These changes sometimes have a fairly significant impact on its graphic form but will not affect or alter (if the brand is "strong" enough) its signum (in Latin), in other words its "imprint", its "seal", or again its "symbol" (so to speak).

Unless you revise its field of values, the way in which the logo will withstand the passage of time defines what is commonly called "the DNA of a brand". This part of the identity must never be seen to give way, or be interrupted when updating a visual identity, except to signal2, for example, a radical change in management or in the direction of the company, thus requiring the repositioning of its very brand. In addition to this type of major "shift", the signum of thelogo must always be strong and withstand the test of time. Therein lies a "guarantee of confidence".

No.3: Based on what you have just pointed out (i.e. the complementarity of "graphic reduction" work in connection with a "cultural, stylistic reference framework"), how do you perceive the developments of the Nissan logo? Do you find it successful and convincing? Or more fundamentally, do you think it is a "strong sign" that has survived the times?

David Bihanic: In this respect, the logo of the Nissan brand is, it seems to me, quite exemplary in that it shows that despite or because of a history made up of many "twists and turns", the sign must be able to evolve, either through reduction (No.1), or updating (No.2) sometimes finding itself "off-set" or "off-centre" from its point of "origin", without being cut off from its native or initial DNA.

2001 - 2020

For example, the 2001 logo is in keeping with the trend of the time, and common to almost all car manufacturers: 3D extrusion or light volume (bas-relief) + metal grey + shadow and reflection effect, etc. The logo thus re-establishes its basic "skeleton" and is then able to move forward serenely in "graphic reduction" terms. This is what happened between 2001 and 2020.

The most recent version of the logo (2020) underlines in "thin" lines the fusion of the "text" cartouche and the disc. The logo is now on a single level. This is the strong sign of a brand which, while bearing witness to its history, is now more fully open to the future than ever before.

  1. e.g., the logos of the Elf and Pepsi brands have constantly varied the "stamp + label" combinations.
  2. in the sign, there again.