Sign language - Issue 71 - Magazine | Monocle

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Defining the quintessential Italian logo is no mean feat. In a country with such a varied and rich visual and regional history it is hard to talk about nation-based aesthetic principles. There is, however, a boldness and brand coherence that might be recognised as Italian.

There are two main reasons for this, argues Gabriele Oropallo, research fellow in design history at the University of Oslo. “Italy was in that second wave of countries to industrialise and, when it did, it already had a very strong avant-garde design tradition.”

Booming companies had the luxury of having the services of some of the world’s top typographers and graphic designers on their doorstep. People such as Max Huber, Bob Noorda and Massimo Vignelli spent the 1950s and ’60s creating logos and typesets that still dominate today’s bars, piazzas and beyond.

This trendsetting visual language was also based on tradition; the importance of the sign or manifesto is timeless in Italy. From the power of the Roman alphabet to medieval shop signs to the heraldic battles between city states, the Italians have always had flair for the act of demonstration.From flashing neon in Trieste to the packaging of the local pasticceria in Bari, brazen typesets and archetypical logos decorate modern Italy. Here are some of the finest.


Italia ’90

Football in motion

“Italia ’90 is the child of Italy’s economic boom in the 1980s,” says design historian Gabriele Oropallo. This confident, brash identity certainly does evoke the post-industrial, postmodern tastes of that time. The mascot is called “Ciao” and is perhaps unique among its FIFA World Cup peers for not being inspired by the animal world. Ciao is visibly agile and fiercely patriotic, and more than most mascots has endured in the nation’s psyche. His name was chosen by popular vote from a simple multiple-choice poll (on the back of football-pool tickets). “They even made a Ciao soft toy,” reminisces Oropallo, “although it wasn’t particularly cuddly!”

Monocle comment: An enduring symbol that stands out from the usual animal-centric World Cup logos.



Design that sticks

This logo still makes a lot of people feel warm inside: the childhood pleasure of collecting stickers. The little jouster is said to derive from the sticker book empire’s founder Giuseppe Panini’s nickname “The Knight”. The linear format is effective and the design evokes boyish adventure. Luckily Panini has stuck with this classic and continues to sell millions of stickers across the world.

Monocle comment: The charming jouster is the stuff of boyhood dreams.



Order of the day

The omino con i baffi (“the mustachioed little man”) was created by Paul Campani for Italy’s premier moka machine manufacturer in the 1950s. This portly little figure has his finger in the air as if to order another espresso. With his trilby, moustache and comically tired eyes the omino has come to typify a kind of Italian – the smart, coffee-guzzling, bar-propping office worker of yore.

Monocle comment: A fun figure that characterises a certain kind of Italian.



The smart type

Once a shining star of Italian technological and manufacturing prowess, it is only right that Olivetti should have a robust logo. The logo type was created by Swiss graphic designer Walter Ballmer in 1970. Rounded corners on lower case letters are playful and user friendly but also speak of reliability. The logo was recently changed, making more use of the gently squared “O”.

Monocle comment: Sturdy but playful, this logo tells many stories.



Breath of fresh air

One of the most recognisable symbols of Italy, the distinctive Alitalia corporate identity was actually designed by an American. Air livery master Walter Landor won the 1969 international competition that called for branding that spoke of professionalism, modernity and was unmistakably Italian. The typeface is solid and has been a pleasingly reliable factor for this often struggling flag carrier. Heavyset but rounded (and since 2006, sadly italicised), thick lettering exudes friendliness and charm. The tail-shaped A is a simple device and translates easily to company material from check-in to napkin.

Monocle comment: Smart and deceptively simple, this is an excellent brand ambassador for Italy.


Sterzing Vipiteno

Badge of honour

This dairy number from South Tyrol capitalises on the region’s Germanic traditions. This is a simple adaptation of the typically Tyrolean shield of the village of Sterzing (Vipiteno in Italian). A simple visual strategy is often the best bet: think yoghurt, think snow, think mountains, think South Tyrol!

Monocle comment: By playing up the area’s tradition, this spartan crest has become an evocative shorthand for excellence.


Caffé Hausbrandt

Brought to life

Anthropomorphic logos are all too rare nowadays but what’s not to like about a smiling coffee pot drinking itself? Hausbrandt began in late 19th-century Trieste, just as the city became Austria’s port. This little chap is called “Moka” and was designed by Luciano Biban in 1960. The diagonal line was embellished on coffee packaging in the 1980s with a red/gold split.

Monocle comment: A warming, lovable logo.



Simple tastes

Parmalat’s formative logo does what it says on the (milk) bottle. Clean, well-made, controlled and refreshing, just like the milk that this giant dairy sells. Parmalat’s branding strategy was one of maximum visual impact, hence the incongruous sight of a milk brand sponsoring Formula 1 motor racing in the 1970s and ’80s.

Monocle comment: A straightforward, no-frills logo reflecting the best of the brand.


Giochi Preziosi

Play for today

This logo and company is synonymous with the five-note jingle that accompanied TV ads for this toy manufacturer broadcast in Italy, Spain and much of South America. The doll is but a collection of shapes and with the thin-striped badge evokes the graphic language of early computing in the 1980s.

Monocle comment: A few shapes create a pleasing simplicity ideal for the world of children’s toys.



The full service

Agip’s peculiar six-legged dog is a familiar roadside friend in Italy. In use since 1953 the creature represents the services provided to both man (two legs) and car (four wheels) by the parent company of Agip, oil and gas giant Eni. In 1972 Dutch-born, naturalised Italian Bob Noorda at Milan’s Unimark was brought in to modernise brand Eni. Noorda penned the dog into a distinctive yellow square with chamfered corners. Unimark’s typographic confidence (it had redesigned the New York subway wayfinding system some years earlier) is clear. A classic Standard Bold is transformed into a roadworthy font with a white central rule. Buon viaggio!

Monocle comment: A smart use of font kicked this up a gear.

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