Reading between the lines
New logo and identity for John Holland by Frost* Design
John Holland – established in 1949 and the namesake of its founder – is a leading provider of engineering and construction solutions. Operating across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, its expertise stretches beyond the traditional social infrastructure, civil engineering and building markets, to industry-leading competencies in rail, tunnelling, water and environment, energy, minerals and industrial, civil and buildings, marine, mechanical and process, and electrical and instrumentation. (LinkedIn)
Before I had known anything about the company, I had seen the old logo here and there over the years, and I thought it represented some legal or accountancy firm. So at the very least, it was striking and exuded some white-collar realness. I did find it a bit strange that the words were shifted towards the left-hand side, but, to its credit, the word “John” aligned nicely above the “lland” of “Holland”. The horizontal lines were distracting and unnecessary, but they and the atypical typeface style were, resignedly, what made the logo unique.
The new identity retains a clear link to John Holland’s heritage in terms of retaining the name and the iconic red colouring. At the centre of the logo, made from the lettering itself, is a person.
“Putting a person at the very heart of our brand mark shows our focus on people-centred solutions. Frost Design worked with us to create a shift that injects more meaning into our identity, while still making us easy to recognise,” says CEO Joe Barr.
The new logo sheds the old red box and assumes the colour for itself. In a nod to the typographic past, the two words remain stacked and flush right. While the horizontal lines have disappeared, there is now a single horizontal line between the words which, as you would have seen and read above, serves a very intentional purpose.
The line, along with the letters O above it and A below it, form a primitive “human” icon. As the company says, “People have always been at the heart of John Holland – and now they’re at the heart of our brand”. I’m not sure whether the concept of putting people first was always going to be a part of the logo in some way, but the discovery of the icon was surely serendipitous, only made possible with the words in uppercase and the A stripped of its crossbar. Nevertheless, I appreciate that it’s not so obvious at first glance, but then once you do see it, it is, as Frost* puts it, “unforgettable”.
Frost* Design carried the human element across to other visual elements, including icons and illustrations that are expressive and unexpected along with a rich, warm and authentic photography style. The brand language has also changed to better reflect how John Holland transforms lives.
In applications, Frost* has very much taken the human icon and run with it. Primarily, it is placed over pairs of photographs to communicate the company’s focus on “people-centred solutions”. It’s a simple but effective signature for the brand. Where short copy is involved, the A (or inverted V) is broken out to frame the top and bottom of layouts, and that doesn’t really add anything meaningful in doing so. Regarding typography, the identity uses Sharp Sans, a utilitarian geometric sans with a hint of warmth that complements the style of the logo.
Ironically, where the human icon fails to make an impact is when it becomes too great a focus. For example, the brochure cover and first notebook cover above look bare af – the icon is just far too abstract and simple to look interesting on its own. (On the upside, those brochure layouts look quite nice and engaging.) Don’t even get me started on that third notebook cover… a horribly lazy copy-and-paste job that makes the icon almost indiscernible in a sea of circles, lines and inverted Vs.
Overall, this is an okay update for John Holland. The photography style is indeed rich and warm, and convinces me that this new brand is all about people. The logo proper is absolutely fine, though I would have appreciated a closer link to the old through the use of horizontal lines (either longer or more of them). And the human icon is a meaningful visual cue for the brand, however the overall identity is too dependent on it. While it would benefit from an expanded visual system, this new identity definitely has legs.