Logo in real life – A conversation with Michele Galluzzo


Diving right into the field of piracy and counterfeiting, I can only get in line and borrow the first question straight from the description of @logo_irl: “What happens to logos when they leave corporate identity manuals, and start living in real life?” In other words, if brand manuals are a designer’s “earthly paradise”, what is the original sin of a logo?

Corporate identity manuals often don’t tell us what’s going on behind the scenes. In conducting historical research on graphic design, over the years I managed to meet designers who designed them. More often than not, I would hear the same frustrations from them in seeing these guidebooks remain unused, ignored or, misunderstood, collecting dust on some office shelf. In other words, these manuals that explain the heroic history of national and international graphic design were often seen by company employees in the same way Fantozzi* watched the Battleship Potemkim. (*Ugo Fantozzi is a fictional character, appearing in Italian literature and film).

Common scenarios are usually presented in manuals in a maniacal way. While guidebooks offer the essential code for the creation of the visual identity of a company, an entity or an event; they can also be the quintessence of a fear of losing control. In what you call “earthly paradise”, the role of the forbidden apple can be represented by the “dos / don’ts” pages canonically present in every self-respecting manual. In those sections, manuals explain how a logo should not be used through examples of distortions, incorrect pairings, and inappropriate color codes. In these sections, it’s as if the fears of a corporate board of directors seem to materialize regarding the loss of control in the multiplication of the brand. Therefore, the original sin of a brand can be described as the voluntary or involuntary possibility of a company employee that distorts and deforms the company logo. Quite iconoclastic.

On the other hand, with coordinated image manuals and brand guidelines, companies generally assign and elect a director of its visual identity, along with a graphic designer, a studio, and the agency that implements the corporate identity. In this way, end users of the brand manual are seen as mere executors of a supply chain.

Conservatives or revolutionaries? Are we seeing a shortcut of the creative process? Or a sort of ‘robin hood-esque’ subversive act?

Subversion is inherent in the choice to appropriate a brand and change its meaning. Perhaps one of the most interesting examples historically – specifically from a “robin hood-esque” perspective – is the famous one by Dapper Dan, a Harlem merchant who in the seventies began counterfeiting haute couture garments, not only to make them more affordable to black communities in New York ghettos, but also to support the political struggle of black minorities through the subversion of brands – including Fendi, Gucci and Louis Vuitton – that represent rich, white societies.

Even the distortion of the logos that occupy our daily gaze in the public space is an act of resistance and cultural interference – of “culture jamming” in the expression coined in the mid-eighties by Don Joyce of Negativland. I’m thinking of a leaflet produced by the militants of the Italian extra-parliamentary left in 1968, which suggested possible “corrections” to the coats of arms of fascism on walls, showing how they could be modified. Subvertising, born between the seventies and nineties and which found billboards as its preferred means of communication, gave life to anti-advertising starting with logos: By modifying the corporate logo of Coca-Cola, into “Climate-Change”, it was possible to denounce the company’s negative impact on the environment. The consequences of the junk food distributed by the McDonald’s chain could be highlighted by transforming the logo into “McDiabetes”.

As a professional and researcher in the field of Graphic Design, what place could “counterfeit” logos occupy in the history of visual communication? What do we have to learn from them?

Beyond the individual cases addressed, one of @logo_irl’s objectives is to build an archive accessible to everyone, offering a less designer-centric point of view on graphic design. The history of graphic design has often placed the designer at the center of its narratives, omitting the lives of the works when – after leaving the studio, the laptop, the printing press – they begin to live in the “real world”. Maybe we should talk about “Social history of design” as recently suggested by Aggie Toppins. It’s a road I’m thinking about.

LOGO IN REAL LIFE tries to show how logos – usually considered as the quintessence of the graphic designer as a director and protagonist – can be reused, modified, memeified, and subverted. Talking about these stories too can become useful to understand both historically and in modern times, the relationship between designer and society. Otherwise, if in graphic design courses, stories continue to focus only on virtuous relationships between designers and companies, there is a risk of transferring to students and professionals an obsession with protagonism or set them up to be profoundly frustrated.

Personally, what logo manipulation has left you stunned more than any other?

In recent years, the practice of changing the meaning of logos has been widely adopted by the queer community on an international scale. Queer communities have begun to use rip-offs of famous logos for their identity as a sign of protest in parades, such as merchandising to support local groups. In some cases, de-contextualization of logos carried out by queer groups has taken on an emblematic and anti-patriarchal meaning. Probably one of the most significant logo-bootlegs around is represented by the feminist rip-off of the Volvo logo by the French graphic designer Roxanne Maillet. Originally connected by a circle with an arrow pointing upwards, the brand, easily associated with the symbol of the male gender, was transformed by Maillet into the word ‘Vulva’ written in capital letters and surrounded by the symbol of the female gender: The circle with a cross attached at the bottom. In Maillet’s words: «Lesbians and marginalized people try to find tools to create their own space and their policy inside these “patriarshit “and to push the boundaries of the white hetero rules. For this reason I guess they need to start somewhere. Détournement, mashup, piracy, plagiarism. All of these practices of appropriation have always offered a good place to seek revenge and use by the community since always. » Rereading these statements in light of her work, there seems to be a voluntary overlap between the distortion of brands and the fight against “white hetero rules”.

Lesbians and marginalized people try to find tools to create their own space and their policy inside these “patriarshit” and to push the boundaries of the white hetero rules. For this reason I guess they need to start somewhere. Détournement, mashup, piracy, plagiarism. All these practice of appropriation are a good start for a revenge and use by the community since always.

This thesis is confirmed by the iconic BMW brand modified around 2017 by the London artist, Roxman Gatt. Interested in the “macho” fetishism towards consumer items, Gatt took possession of the circle of the Bavarian car manufacturer by associating it with the slogan “Be My Womxn”. In this way, the BMW logo ended up losing its male aura, instead acquiring a new meaning precisely through this reappropriation.

In 2018, Domino’s Pizza offered a reward of 100 free pizzas per year (forever) to whoever had the famous domino logo tattooed on their body. How can the “tattoo brand” fit into the conversation?

This story confirms the view that the end user is only a passive receiver and multiplier of a logo in line with the rules of a branding strategy. To be truly dystopian – and perhaps more interesting from a social point of view – are the manifestations of “affection” and “sympathy” that happen even without the will of a company. The most extreme example is perhaps that of Jason George, a 28 year old tattoo artist from Mumbai, who over the last seventeen years has covered his body with over 400 famous brands. An unexpected consequence is that over the years, his skin has become a living museum in which it is possible to identify logos that have since undergone restyling or have disappeared completely. But this is only a “lateral” observation.

Your tags include #profiliseriali. What do you mean by “seriality”?

For the LOGO IN REAL LIFE project, seriality is present above all in archiving and publishing; each new post corresponds to a line of investigation that you want to deepen: gender issues, political antagonism, counterfeiting, subcultures, etc.

Going back to the corporate mentality touched on at the beginning, I want to say that logos are made with the purpose of being produced and reproduced in series. However, in contemporary times, where logos are becoming more and more easily elaborated on to be owned and to convey different messages, the concept of seriality can acquire another nuance, the memetic one. @logo_irl deals with the consequences of seriality.

MICHELE GALLUZZO is a graphic designer and researcher based in Milan. After a bachelor in Communication Sciences at the University of Salento and a master’s degree at the ISIA of Urbino, in 2018 he completed his PhD in Design Sciences at the IUAV of Venice. From 2014 to 2017 he is research assistant and designer in the AIAP – Italian association of visual communication design – archive in Milan. Since 2018 he is part of the editorial board of the international graphic design magazine “Progetto Grafico”. Since autumn 2019 he curates the Instagram page @logo_irl.

Logo in real life – A conversation with Michele Galluzzo