On redesigning icons, Superman and politics…

09/12/2005

So it’s a rare week that sees me talking about the redesign of two icons – but with both Superman and The Guardian fighting for the little guy in brand new outfits, I couldn’t really not comment. My first reactions to theguardian‘s redesign – now that I’ve seen it in the flesh – are almost uniformly positive. But I think I’ll write about that more thoroughly later in the day when I’ve really had time to get my head around it. In the meantime, I don’t think you’ll find a more detailed or painstaking or (well) longer analysis of the whole thing than Dan Hill’s piece: Assessing the new Guardian, with brief nod to the avant-garde (aka Grazia, Heat and The Sun). Aggravatingly, he’s even thought to place the front cover on Flickr and annotate the bits he thinks are particularly interesting. I wish I’d thought of that. Maybe in a couple of days I will have done.

Anyway, despite the evident interest that everyone has in the Guardian, this post was about that other subject that no one but me appears to care about – the redesign of the Superman “S” logo that I wrote about earlier in the week. I can’t quite figure out why it hasn’t got the design / typographic community frothing in their lattes, but I guess that can’t be helped. I’m still fascinated by the cultural associations and design history of this particular logo. I can’t remember who said that decades alternated between ‘Batman’ decades and ‘Superman’ decades, with the popularity and reclamation of each character following cultural trends and cultural optimism, but it’s hard to deny that it’s true. The world of comic books in the eighties was dark and mercenary, the nineties optimistic and bright, and the most recent decade has seen an enormous swing towards darker stories and a more interventionist Dark Knight politics. What’s interesting to me then is how the evolution of Superman reflects these changes, how our delight in – and suspicion of – the idea of a super-powerful alien is reflected in the way his design is treated.

All of which is a pretext to link officially through to a site dedicated to the evolution of Superman’s “S”. And that link is itself a pretext to reproduce this image from the site, showing an enormous range of logo variation, way beyond the simple changes I indicated in my last post: