Vienna’s New Logo | Cleaning Up the Chaos

Stadt Wien recently spent nearly €600,000 on a new logo design. The opposition denounced it as a scandalous waste of public money, the administration defended it as necessary and cost efficient

We all have a cupboard-of-horrors – that storage space with all the stuff no one needs but can’t bring themselves to throw away.  Large organizations collect logos the same way, each one important in its time, but en masse an optical jungle. So the Stadt Wien: with 57 MA’s (city departments) and a host of other activities, the logos seem endless. Not even the City’s anchor icon, the red and white shield, is a constant.  High time to call in the paramedics from the design studios.

A consortium of three specialist teams lead by Saffron, an international brand consulting group, was given the task of modernizing and – most of all – streamlining the City’s public face. On April 11, Mayor Michael Ludwig and his Grüne coalition partner Birgit Hebein presented the results.

Ludwig’s rationale for the €595,000 seemed reasonable if predictable : “We needed a total package for our new brand profile” he said. “People are the focus of our new branding … the new design provides recognition and easy orientation for our citizens …”  Whatever that means. He was more specific about what we will actually see around us every day: The many department logos will be consolidated into a single strong branding. So the MA10’s individual look becomes a simple: Stadt Wien, Kindergärten. Press pictures suggest a rather lackluster presentation; certainly it failed to convince either the local opposition or Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Their reaction was vitriolic.

The firestorm concentrated on the costs: For the critics, the €600,000 seemed exorbitant for a slight adjustment to the emblematic shield and a cleaning up of the somewhat quirky current typeface. “A shameless destruction of money,” fumed the Vienna ÖVP (although party councilors had earlier signed off on the project).  State broadcaster ORF quoted Kurz (who is also ÖVP, and finds Vienna’s social democrats a constant source of irritation) praising an apparently similar federal re-branding project under his aegis which cost only €70,000.

This is probably a case of apples and oranges.

People in the communications business understand that a major re-branding project is far more complex than first impressions suggest. Martin Wienand, a respected marketing expert close to several city and government ministries, was quick to defend the costs. He compared the total project to a heart transplant: “It’s like looking at the scar after a complex surgical operation and saying: ‘All that money just for this?’ ”

A trawl through Saffron’s online review of the project shows the complexity of consolidating the many facets of Vienna to the outside world and its own citizens.  And of condensing the existing crazy kaleidoscope of different departmental profiles. Councillor Ulli Sima, the photogenic boss of MA45 (parks and ponds) among others, had even managed to get her own face built into her department’s signage. Quirks like this tend to confirm City Hall’s claim that the resulting simplification will reduce costs and amortize itself over time.

Implementation of course always takes a little longer. At press time, the MA53, press and information, was the only city department we could find with the new logo on its site. At least they’re communicating.

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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