The Bright Side of LaQuinta’s New Brand

La Quinta Brand Update


Every so often there comes an updated brand identity that demands attention and immediately engages the viewer—for me, that occurred recently while viewing a commercial for LaQuinta Inns & Suites. The new identity, created by Mullen (a creative agency with four offices nationwide) is such an improvement from the old one that I had to take a second look in order to truly appreciate its subtle nuances—and write this review. LaQuinta is a chain of hotels with approximately 600 locations nationwide. Based in Dallas, Texas, it is not surprising that the majority of their locations are in the southwest United States, a theme that is prominently featured throughout both their brand and the architectural detail of many of their hotels.





The old brand for LaQuinta had been in use since the early 1990’s, and was in desperate need of an update. It had become stale and dated due to its teal, purple and sunshine yellow color scheme (popular in the early 90’s), and its condensed serif typeface, which was a cross between Bodoni (thick character strokes and thin serifs) and Garamond. The arched “window” of the old mark (complete with a purple sky!) was disconcerting in that it had three-dimensional special qualities that the rest of the mark did not possess. While the new mark maintains the same shape as the old, the similarities stop there.



In the opinion of this critic, Mullen did an outstanding job updating the identity for LaQuinta Inns & Suites. The new brand not only retains some of the brand equity that had been established by the old mark, but is also surprisingly refreshing for an industry in which most hotel brands look alike, and in which competition is increasing.


By: Ryan Hembree


Baskin Robbins serves up a scoop of something awful

Baskin Robbins logo


In 2005, as part of its 60th anniversary celebration, Baskin Robbins launched a new brand identity for its stores throughout the country. According to the official Baskin Robbins web site, the new look is “an innovative concept that offers a fun, contemporary experience and a new logo that captures the fun and energy of Baskin-Robbins.” In the opinion of this critic, the new Baskin Robbins identity is a glaring example of the mob mentality that is pervasive in business culture today, which is that in order for brands to compete, they must continue to differentiate themselves through “re”-design. After viewing this new identity, which looks more like something that is “design for design’s sake,” the question must be asked: was the old identity that horrible?


The old Baskin Robbins identity, although somewhat dated through the use of the Garamond Condensed typeface (popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s), still effectively communicated the idea of its trademark “31 flavors” of ice cream: the number “31” appeared within a simple arc, suggestive of a scoop of ice cream, and next to the logotype. In an attempt to be overly clever, the new Baskin Robbins logo tries to integrate both the company’s initials and the number “31” into one mark, which is then wedged in between an overly stylized typeface that seems more appropriate for the Sunday morning comics. Unfortunately, this “fun and energetic” logo, while maybe appropriate for young kids, ultimately sacrifices legibility, readability, and meaning.


There are several ways in which the new Baskin Robbins logo could have been more effective in its execution: for example, on the company’s website, the “iconic” pink tasting spoon is touted as one of the brand’s unique aspects…so why wasn’t this idea incorporated into the mark, especially given how recognizable it is and the affinity customers have toward it? And the “31” mark from the old brand mark wasn’t that bad either. Perhaps all that was needed was an updated typeface to bring the brand into the twenty-first century.


By: Ryan Hembree. principal and creative director

The sun sets on Merriam’s new logo



Within the past year or so, the city of Merriam, Kansas, unveiled a new “brand identity” for the small southwestern suburb of Kansas City. Branding a municipality is not necessarily a new idea or trend; everyone and everything, it seems, has a brand image, from a company’s products or services to athletes and celebrities (think Michael Jordan or Paris Hilton). A brand should be unique, memorable, and immediately convey the core attributes of a product, service, organization or individual. In this manner a brand is much like a calling card, and giving an appropriate first impression is paramount.


The first impression that this critic gets from the Merriam identity is not a good one. While brands should be simply executed for maximum effectiveness, this mark is very childish looking, as if a high school student with a computer and Microsoft® Paint® put it together: a sun (that resembles more of a paint splat) rises above a blocky sans serif typeface. Further reinforcing the juvenile qualities of the brand is a squiggle mark used for rollover links on the city web site, as well as the overly bright colors of each different section.


Crit_OP_logoIf a municipality is to undertake so bold a design challenge as develop a new brand, then something more unique than a rising sun and the tagline “just right” is necessary. The Merriam mark falls far short of communicating the uniqueness of the city—is it sunnier there than anywhere else in the greater Kansas City area? And how, exactly, is Merriam “just right?” Even the logo for Overland Park (another suburb of the KC metro area), although slightly dated, communicates one of the core qualities of the city—that of shady treed neighborhoods.For truly inspirational city brands, one need only look to the work of Milton Glaser, and his identity for the city of New York. His “I Love New York” mark has achieved iconic status—adorning everything from apparel to posters to souvenirs. Berlin, Germany, has a mark that is clearly distinguished by its use of a highly stylized Altes Museum building, a monumental landmark within the city.


Crit_NY_logoMerriam doesn’t have any highly recognizable landmarks to use as part of its identity, but even having one wouldn’t necessarily make it more successful. A case in point is the new Kansas City logo in use by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (see Re:marks Critique, August 2005 issue).



Creating a brand for a city is a very difficult challenge. Granted, there were probably many people involved in the decision making process during the Merriam branding campaign. Chances are that the mark was the result of design by committee. One thing for certain is that if a city is going to undertake such an initiative, it should really try to get more for its money.


By: Ryan Hembree

The intelligence(?) behind the new Intel identity

Intel identity


In early January, Intel introduced a new brand mark and tagline to coincide with the announcement of Intel-based Apple Macintosh computers. According to the press release, the new brand was described as an evolution that “will allow Intel to be better recognized for [its] contributions, establish a stronger emotional connection with [its] audiences, and strengthen [its] overall position in the marketplace.”


Changing a brand mark that is one of the most recognizable in the world seems like faulty logic to this critic. The reason for the update probably seemed like a good idea at the time; after all, Intel has had not just one, but two highly successful brands. The original Intel logo, introduced in 1969, featured a dropped “e,” resembling an electronic circuit. In 1991, the “Intel Inside” identity made its debut, appearing as stickers on the outside of millions of computers. Additionally, an unmistakable three-note tone identified the brand audibly in television and radio commercials.


Intel_side-by-sideThe new Intel identity attempts to solve the problem of having two highly effective brands, which in the case of a monolithic brand is when both become diluted or even over shadowed by the other’s success. Intel’s solution is to merge the two identities together by combining a futuristic-looking, sans serif typeface with a swoosh encircling it. The end result is an identity that could easily represent any technology-oriented company. And the new tagline, “Leap Ahead,” sounds like it is more applicable to the educational toy maker Leap Frog®.


Has Intel achieved its goal of bringing their identity to is next logical evolution? Does the new mark truly say anything about the company and what they do? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no.” It appears as though upper management didn’t have the courage to make a decision between two unique and memorable brands, and in trying to combine the most successful qualities of each, further diluted and weakened their brand image in the mind of consumers.


By: Ryan Hembree

Sprint’s New Brand



In early September, Sprint and Nextel completed a multi-billion dollar merger and launched a new Sprint brand. How does this new brand stack up against other cellular phone companies?


United Telecom old logoAt first, this critic was very skeptical of the new Sprint brand. After all, the red diamond mark had been around since the late 1980s, when United Telecom merged with Sprint to form US Sprint (which eventually dropped the “US” part of its moniker in the 90’s). That logo was the perfect marriage of those two companies’ identities, as it incorporated a rotated square, taken from United Telecom’s keypad logo, and the tapered lines of Sprint. The typeface was changed from Helvetica (modernist aesthetic) to a more friendly Serif typeface.


Nextel logoThe new Sprint Nextel logo is a logical evolution of the brand as it incorporates a similar sans serif typeface as Nextel (in title case, which is easier to read at small sizes), and is placed on a yellow background. The new Sprint Nextel mark is also a dynamic mixture of Sprint’s former tapered lines and the vertical bar that has become associated with Nextel’s walkie-talkie like capabilities. The new mark resembles both wings (suggestive of flight) as well as a forward pointing arrow. In television the mark is animated to suggest the bounce of a pin, which has been a Sprint signature for years.


Other Cellular Company LogosWhile there are several good attributes of the new mark, this is not to say that the new logo is without a need for some improvement. While yellow and black is a color combination that Sprint can “own” in the cellular market category (much like Coca Cola owns red in soft drinks or UPS owns brown in shipping), it may be overbearing and tiresome if too much yellow is used. It will certainly will grab people’s attention, however, and does stand out from other wireless service providers (see example to the right).


The typeface used for the logo is perhaps a little generic, as there is nothing to make it distinctive from other sans serif fonts. Additionally, there is too much space between the logotype and the mark itself. One might wonder how much more effective the brand would be if the two parts were more integrated together.


The effectiveness of a brand or logo is only as good as the way in which the audience perceives the companies they represent. If the new Sprint lives up to the promises it makes consumers, than the new mark will be associated with positive feelings and emotions about the brand. If it fails to deliver on those promises, however, then the brand may decline; but not for lack of a well designed or appropriate mark. Only time will tell how the new Sprint brand is received by employees and customers of both Sprint and Nextel.


By: Ryan Hembree

The “new” look of Kansas City?



Earlier this year, Kansas City unveiled a new logo and tagline in order to change the so-called “cowtown” perception of the city. In an attempt to make the city look young, hip and more urban to visitors, Barkley Evergreen & Partners developed a colorful and playful mark for the city, in which a continuous line forming the city skyline appears within three color blocks. The tagline, “New Discoveries Daily” appears below an elegant serif type treatment.


Over the past few months the new “brand” has been put into circulation, appearing everywhere from banners on downtown streets to the web site. The question that remains to be asked is: is the new brand effectively communicating the essence of the city, and was there ever a “cowtown” perception associated with it?


kc_logo_oldIn addition to being redundant (aren’t discoveries always new?), the new logo and tagline are not nearly as relevant as the old logo designed by EAT Advertising and Design. The old mark, shown here, resonates with two unique aspects of the city: 1) that Kansas City has more fountains than any city in the world except for Florence, Italy, and 2) it IS located in the center, or heart, of the nation. The old logo further reinforces this idea through a mark that can be viewed as both a heart AND a fountain. While conservative in its design, the mark is whimsical and innovative in concept.


In comparison, the new Kansas City logo is neither original nor unique. The lop-sided, brightly colored boxes are reminiscent of 50’s and 60’s retro design, and because of that nostalgia, the mark becomes very trendy. The color scheme, while popular today, will more than likely be outdated in the next few years, as color preferences constantly change. Moreover, the skyline graphic, which to locals is representative of Kansas City, is too abstract to most people from other parts of the country, as it could be perceived as the skyline from any city in the nation.


Only time will tell if the new look for Kansas City will become identified with the city as its creators hope. In the opinion of this author and critic, however, there was nothing wrong with the old mark or the city’s image. The”City of Fountains, Heart of the Nation” logo is a much more appropriate image for the city.


By: Ryan Hembree

Gateway’s Identity Crisis


What happens when a company’s identity lies in a state of constant change? The answer lies not in stock valuations, top lines or bottom lines. The answer begins and ends with perception: the perception of everyone who interacts with your brand.


As a small start up from South Dakota, Gateway 2000 offered made-to-order computers in the late 1980s, much like its rival, Dell Computer. Over time Gateway’s business model shifted (some might say drifted). The growing company opened retail outlets (many of the stores have closed), and even began producing consumer electronics. So why is it that this once high-flying company is now struggling? Why has Dell become the number two manufacturer of computers in the world, while Gateway’s position has slipped? The answer, at its root, is an overall identity crisis.



Gateway, in a vain attempt to stay “fresh” in the mind of consumers, has changed its identity four times in the last 5 years.The first re-brand of Gateway occurred in 1999, when the company dropped “2000”, adopted green as its signature color, and used a cow spot pattern box as its mark. This very clever identity communicated the company’s core value of friendliness through a serif type treatment, as well as the uniqueness of its products, which are shipped in cow spot boxes (also a tribute to the company’s farm heritage).


gateway_logo_powerWhen Gateway began offering flat panel televisions, the company changed its brand in order to associate the new products with its identity. The cow spot print box mark was dropped in favor of a single cow spot that formed a “power on” button. The green “Gateway” was maintained; however, the type was compressed into a more impersonal, slab serif type treatment. While this new mark may have seemed more “modern”, it lost the friendliness and warmth of the old brand, as well as its uniqueness.


Realizing the mistake of such a huge evolution of their brand, Gateway dropped the “power on” button in 2004 but kept the new type treatment. And finally, in 2005 the company reintroduced a streamlined version of their original cow spot box mark. The new mark uses the same, three-dimensional box as the original logo, except this time the box looks more realistic and more refined. A sans serif typeface replaces the more personal serif type treatment in an attempt to be seen as more “modern” in the eyes of customers. And of course the signature green color has been maintained in an effort to “own” that color space among the computers product category.


gateway_newWill the new Gateway logo and brand identity stick? Will they be able to convince their customers and share holders that they are the same, friendly company with consistent core values? Or is this constant identity flux indicative of a larger identity crisis, a lack of focus, a drifting business model? Will this thrashing about for a brand that works continue?


It seems that Gateway needs to learn that the actual visual form of their brand and logo does not make the company. It is the perceptions of the customer that are most important. And by changing your brand and identity over and over, all you are really communicating is that you are a company that doesn’t know who or what it is, and more importantly, if you will be there for your customers in the future.


By: Ryan Hembree, Creative Director

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.