Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Rethinking an existing brand – AOL

Rethinking an existing brand - AOL
So I wouldn’t actually say that the AOL project was typical of a usual Wolff Olins process, meaning that it didn’t really have the upfront strategy, discovery, research phase. It really came about from a bit of a burning platform from AOL. They’d just announced a new CEO, who had a new and very bold vision and needed to make a big splash to market that said, we are a company that’s about to change. So the brief really came from that. His vision was to communicate that fact that AOL is moving from a portal, so somewhere where you just access information through, to actually a creator of new creative, bespoke, brilliant content, original content.
So the journey to the outcome was really, really fast paced. We had two weeks to get to a point where the CEO could choose one of the options. And we made a decision early on to go in there with lots of options. We designed about 10, each to the point just to the point where he’d be able to see enough to make a decision. The chosen route, the one which you’ve seen, is based around the idea of a blank canvas. And on that blank canvas, you can’t see AOL. You can’t see the word. The word mark is only revealed when some form of original content is placed behind it.
Therefore, what we were doing is really starting to visualise the CEO’s vision himself, that AOL is a business that is all about creating original content. The flip of that being that AOL is nothing, unless it creates content. So we wanted to create an identity system that would really bring that to life.
One of the best things about this project was really seeing it come into the world. I remember walking down the street towards the launch party, which is in the New York Stock Exchange, and seeing one of the artworks, the blue monster, draped entirely over the front of the stock exchange. And you would find different logos and art works on the subway, on posters, across screens, in Times Square. They really lived up to the idea of needing to send the world a message.
Beyond that, I think the way that we kept that buzz going, that AOL themselves kept that buzz going, was to really latch onto this idea of it’s not us that create our identity, it’s this community of creators of original content. So their in-house design team moved from being ‘logo police’ into being almost curators of original concepts, to briefing artists, to finding new ways to take this spirit beyond the logo and out into the streets, which led to things like collaborations on the high line with artists, competitions and projects run with artists like Chuck Close, recognising creativity in other industries, working with journalists to find opportunities for them to be able to write the stuff that they want to write.
And this spirit that was really highlighted by the identity was then allowed to really grow and flourish within the business as a whole.

AOL (previously known as America Online) is a multinational media corporation, based in New York City, that develops, grows, and invests in brands and websites. In 2009, Wolff Olins helped AOL rethink itself from an internet portal to a content business.

In this film, designer Neil Cummings shows how the new brand identity was created. How big a visual change is needed to get people to rethink their ideas about an organisation? How well does this identity do that job?

This article is from the free online

The Secret Power of Brands

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now