The plethora of privatised new corporations and the much-publicised logo overhauls of such companies as ICI and BP during the late 1980s all encouraged small enterprises to think big when it came to commissioning an identity.
But the corporate look is not right for all corporations, as Framestore, a Soho-based digital post-production facility, recently found. The company works with film makers and advertising agencies, manipulating their images and introducing special effects to create a finished product. Current projects range from the launch advertisement for SmithKline Beecham's heartburn treatment, Tagamet, to the titles for the new James Bond film, Goldeneye.
When Framestore moved to new premises last year, it felt it would be missing a trick if it did not also establish a new identity. "We needed to be seen as more heavyweight and technologically leading-edge, multi- service rather than a specialist provider of effects," says the client services director, Jane White. The company wanted to appear "efficient and serious but with character and a human touch".
The company talked to a number of design consultants.One was Uffindell and West, a small corporate communications specialist. Another was the television graphics firm, Lambie-Nairn and Company, which had employed Framestore to work on its identity for Anglia Television. Framestore's managing director, Sharon Reed, opted for Uffindell and West. She liked the way the consultancy broke the job down into phases that could be halted at any point - an important consideration for a small company taking the plunge with a new identity.
"They helped us through the research stage," says Ms Reed. "They researched perceptions of our company and where our identity should fit in with that." The research showed that potential clients were ignorant of Framestore's technical capabilities and that the company was not doing enough to broadcast its presence in the market.
The research had accurately identified a problem, and Uffindell and West proceeded to design a new identity. But when Ms Reed saw the design, she immediately knew something was wrong. "It fitted the brief, it wasn't a stupid design, but it was soulless, lacking in personality," she says.
"When we saw what 'efficient, serious, heavyweight' actually meant, we saw it wasn't us," Ms White says. "We knew it was on brief, but we also knew in our hearts that it was wrong."
This posed a dilemma. Should Framestore adopt the design that had emerged from the research even though its directors didn't much like it, or should it follow its instincts and start again? Uncertain how to proceed, Ms Reed turned to her friend Martin Lambie-Nairn, the creative spark behind Spitting Image as well as award-winning television identities such as the BBC's "2"s and the Channel 4 logo. He advised her to follow her instincts. Any company has to live with its identity, and senior staff must like it as well as understand the job it does.
Uffindell and West was paid off. Director Erica Uffindell would have liked the chance to respond to Framestore's rethinking of the brief. But Framestore took a different tack. Ms Reed sought out another friend - Javier Mariscal, the Barcelona-based creator of Cobi, the 1992 Olympic mascot, a cartoonist and designer. It had earlier crossed Ms Reed's mind to ask this celebrated designer to create Framestore's new identity, but she had rejected the idea because his work has such a strong personal signature. Mr Lambie-Nairn, however, thought this was a strength. "All he would have to do is to write Framestore in his own handwriting and it would be you," he had said.
Mariscal did just that - and much more. Whereas Uffindell and West's logo had been coolly sophisticated, with "disguised wit", Mariscal's was a riot of colour and fun. Many variants of the basic logo enable reproduction in full colour, but also in a single colour without detriment to the overall appearance - a lesson still to be learned by many larger companies and their identity consultants. This versatility quickly came into its own on a range of promotional accessories: mugs, matchbooks, T-shirts, even umbrellas. A lavish interior design by the architects Harper Mackay, including a bar- restaurant, also drew on elements of Mariscal's design. Uffindell and West produced the company brochure.
All this inventiveness ended up serving Framestore's needs better than a slick conventional logo. Framestore finds it is gaffing more business, especially via agencies, which suddenly see it as a bigger player.