Changing Gear

In today's Logoform, Thomas Kronbichler of Studio Mut takes a look at Formula One logos past and present, and considers the essential qualities of great graphic design...

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I have never been interested in sports. When watching football on TV as a kid, the only things that I saw were the logos surrounding the field. I was intrigued by these signs — my mind would wander off, considering what they meant. Man, I really wasn’t into sports.

If there was one thing less bearable for me than watching football, it was watching Formula One. Nobody in my family liked it, so I just came across it when absolutely nothing else was on TV. But not even the crazy number of logos plastered all around the racing tracks and on the uniforms could keep me watching. I loved the Formula One logo, though. The first time I noticed that there was an ‘F’ and a ‘1’ in there, my head exploded. Boom.

The logo in question was designed in 1987 by Carter Wong, and features one of the most recognisable uses of negative space in a logo. That logo has recently been replaced, with the new logo being unveiled a couple of weeks ago; its design was led by the great Richard Turley of Wieden + Kennedy London.

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The redesign prompted a great discussion within our studio about what our role as designers is, and about what you should and shouldn’t redesign. My colleague Martin Kerschbaumer was just as disheartened, and he also recalled the moment when he first discovered the visual joke within the original logo when he was a boy (and he actually is into sports).

When you discover a great piece of graphic design, its genius often comes down to one thing: you see something that is intriguing. At first, you don’t completely understand it. After looking closer, you get it. Boom. Puzzle solved. Happiness. That’s what Carter Wong’s F1 logo miraculously managed to do. Bad graphic design is often missing that final step: You look at it closely, but it doesn’t do anything. There isn’t anything “more” there. Nothing clever, nothing emotional, nothing that would make your mind go further.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the new Formula One logo does: nothing. That wouldn’t be a big problem — after all, almost all logos out there do nothing clever or interesting. But the problem here is that the old logo did. Boom.

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The new Formula 1 logo by Wieden + Kennedy, 2017.