Don’t fear democracy: Learn from Vancouver’s logo woes

David Archer

1 March 2017

The City of Vancouver, Canada has been taking heat for its new wordmark design. An open letter signed by over one hundred members of the local design community has derided the “misguided process” that led to the logo’s approval. The letter represents that sector’s passionate viewpoint that the logo does not reflect Vancouver’s unique culture, character, and sense of place. In addition, it calls the wordmark “an insult to the design and creative sector” and even denounces the process as a challenge to “the integrity of our civic democracy.” Ouch, the gloves are off.

Vancouver logos

The new civic logo commissioned for the City of Vancouver (plus a red question mark), shown below the previous logo.


This is the moment that strikes fear into any political body, whether city, nation, or destination marketing organization (DMO). As institutions that represent the public interest using public funds, DMOs are highly conscious of stakeholder management. The voices of residents, industry, and visitors form a complex web of needs and opinions that must be addressed and integrated.

However, this paralyzing challenge can become a destination’s greatest opportunity, if it uses the passionate voices of democracy to its advantage.

Cities and tourism boards are in a unique position to build on the power of democracy.

“You need to harness all aspects of your local community – industry, residents, stakeholders – to really win. That’s how you succeed as a tourism destination,” says Destination Think CEO Rodney Payne.

This is what our Place DNA®process is designed for. At a foundational level, identifying Place DNA®is one way that a destination can convert the passion of the local community, residents, and stakeholders into meaningful change that impacts tourism. When locals have a voice in brand and place identity, decisions around tourism strategies and campaigns follow naturally. The Place DNA®becomes a test for marketing authenticity. Resident and industry buy-in then becomes part of a healthy process.

Eindhoven has the right idea.

Eindhoven, Netherlands, understands the power of the people. The city has built its unique place branding from the bottom up, by emphasizing consultation with residents and local industry. Their crowd-sourcing philosophy impacts many aspects of city marketing, including its branding. In contrast to Vancouver, Eindhoven developed an “open-source visual identity for the city” after seeking input from local architecture, design, and creative agencies.

In the presentation below (beginning at 12:30), Peter Kentie, Managing Director at Eindhoven365, explains the city’s brand building formula and how they involved the design community to activate the local passion and pride of place that helps promote Eindhoven together.

What’s next for Vancouver?

In response to the open letter, Vancouver’s mayor has offered an olive branch by pledging to consult with the design community on the direction and process of the wordmark project.

It’s a good day for democracy.


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