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How MullenLowe Designed Its New Identity


Head of design, João Paz, and head of brand and communications, Lu Borges, at MullenLowe U.S. discuss the new global rebranding with LBB’s Ben Conway

How MullenLowe Designed Its New Identity

The creative agency network MullenLowe has refreshed its positioning with a new global identity this week, uniting its offices in 57 markets worldwide. Led by MullenLowe U.S. and its head of design, João Paz - but with input from creative leaders from across the network - MullenLowe’s new look is an evolution of its iconic octopus imagery and an embodiment of its fluid, ever-changing model.

LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with João and Lu Borges, head of brand and communications at MullenLowe U.S., about designing the new identity which includes; a customisable, art world-inspired octopus logo, a tentacle typeface in 3D and 2D, and a serif wordmark that swims against the current.

Lu explains that after Kristen Cavallo’s appointment to global CEO in November 2022, there was an ambition to unite MullenLowe across its 57 markets - something that occurred previously in 2016, in a rebrand that gave rise to the octopus imagery synonymous with the network. After something of a global tour, gaining perspectives from offices all over the world, the CEO decided to align the visual identity and positioning of the agencies with a focus on innovation and reinvention.

“What we've done for our own brand, is what we expect clients to do - to constantly reinvent,” says Lu. “It’s not just a new logo, it's not just a rebrand, it's like flipping the page and saying, ‘This is what we're here to do, this is the promise we're making, this is what we believe in’.” She continues, “MullenLowe has always stood for being a challenger, so it's a fresh take on this. It's no longer ‘challenger’ as a category - it's ‘challenger’ as a mindset… This ethos of ‘I'm not satisfied, because I believe that the best is yet to come’ and ‘what you see today needs to get better tomorrow’.”

There was initially a question mark over whether the octopus would stay or not, but rest assured, the resulting logo - and all its variations - all retain the tentacled features of the animal, albeit in a more abstract way than before. “There was brand equity in the use of the icon, and it's an icon that's done good things for us,” says Lu. “[The octopus] being such a smart, agile and fluid creature, it's all the things that you could want to be tied to, from an advertising perspective.”

Addressing the new modern-art style design of the logo, João says that the team wanted to borrow its influences from the art world, as opposed to the worlds of design and advertising. “We wanted the fluidity of a Matisse with the anger of a Keith Haring. Art speaks at a deeper level, whereas a little mascot doesn't do that job. The art permeates.” 

Lu adds that this art-first approach is less literal and allows for interpretation, especially as the team has built an app that allows MullenLowe employees to personalise their own octopus for use in applications like email signatures. “If you look at it, you could see something other than an octopus. And we want that! The more I looked at it, the more I wanted to print it and put it up on my wall as artwork. That's the type of feeling we wanted to generate - something that won’t leave you indifferent because it's supposed to spark action. Either love it or hate it, but don’t be indifferent!”

With the infinite variations made possible by the app, the logo embodies the philosophy of fluidity and reinvention, which João says was at the centre of the design process. “It’s a little bit more than just a logo that moves. It's a logo that reinvents itself,” he says. “One tentacle becomes the head of the next octopus - it has this fluidity, but it’s purposeful. We wanted to convey the idea that we not only adapt - which is reactive - but that we also enjoy the change. This is our playground! A crazy world that moves and adds new things like AI every day, and puts people in a spin. We wanted to convey that we welcome the discomfort of change.”

The team also decided on a black-and-white colour scheme to allow the colourful work that the network produces to shine when displayed on websites and social feeds alongside the new branding. This is just one of the aspects of the redesign that speaks not just to MullenLowe’s external partners and clients, but also speaks inwardly to its own agency employees.

While building an external reputation is important, Lu reminds us that it’s equally important to retain and look after the agency’s own people, which is where the value of your creative services lies. “You build culture from the inside out. What you sell, preach or believe in internally needs to bleed through the walls - that's when culture is felt, and feels real.”

Explaining how the new logo’s customisation helps with this, she continues, “This design is amazing in that sense. We’re giving our people the authority to draw their own mark. We're onboarding people with the app and they play around with their octopus and put it on their signatures. It builds on the sense of ‘I belong to something’ and ‘what I make here will make a difference’ because they've already been asked to make a difference - to leave a mark, to share their touch and what they think of it.”

In response to this, João says that he’s received “an overwhelmingly positive response” from the minority groups at MullenLowe who feel represented- including representatives from the LGBTQ+ group ‘Plus’, ‘Black@Mullenlowe’, and the network’s Hispanic group. “That’s when I realised we were doing something unique,” he says. “To hear that from our people at that level, it just means the world.”

And while the versatile octopus design - which is being showcased on apparel, art installations and more - might be grabbing the headlines, MullenLowe’s wordmark has also received an equally important update. João explains that it was a challenge to balance the wordmark and the new logo, thanks to the geometric serif treatment of the wordmark and the fluid logo that lacks symmetry. However, by rounding the type’s corners and some subtle letter redesigns that “retained the geometry and stark feel”, the design team created a pair of assets that blend well.

“I tend to play with the idea that the new logo is the emotional side [of MullenLowe] and the wordmark is the rational side,” he says. “The logo welcomes the new, and the wordmark pays its respects to the past and our heritage. They live together in a way that feels modern - bringing something that's kind of on the traditional side, with serif, but redesigned in a way that would pair well with the funky octopus.”

The head of design points out that, for the most part, agencies just rely on their letters and have logo designs that don’t add any additional meaning - “It could be a bunch of law firms!”. 

He concludes, “For other agencies that have a little icon, the treatment of it is very corporate. It’s like a wordmark with a little trinket attached to it. By breaking those two elements apart, the scaling of it is a big part of our design. It's not just the style, but it's the fact that we show up huge on the page - there's no shyness about it. We differentiate ourselves by being less literal, more artistic and a little bit bolder.”

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MullenLowe U.S., Thu, 08 Jun 2023 16:08:00 GMT