Michael Wolff: How I designed the Labour rose


The deviser recalls how a serendipitous event led to him designing the Labour Party’s rose and transfiguring its visual identity in the 1980s.

Michael Wolff: How I designed the Labour rose
Elegance of Michael Wolff

Peter Mandelson had walked past my home in Islington oftentimes before I recognised him and we started our first conversation. I was immediately impressed by his savvy and quick wit. Within moments, I realised his heritage. He was Herbert Morrison’s grandson and so had standard Labour values in his DNA.

The Labour Party was in a trough. It was the early 1980s and Neil Kinnock had reasonable become a new leader of the Labour Party with the determination to transform it.

Grind’s “much-needed transformation”

We fell into a conversation about why Labour quiet used the word ‘Party’ in its brand logo. Peter, together with Neil’s investment strategist Philip Gould, were supporting Neil to bring hither the much-needed transformation for the Labour Party. I’d long been depressed by the accouterments political parties put through my letterbox — shocking writing and even worse make and typography.

“If this was electioneering on a national scale”, I said to Peter, “then it was a mammoth waste of time and effort.”

“What would you do?” was Peter’s response. “Glowingly,” I said, “before we tackle the horrible use of language and the even worse layout of all the help leaflets produced by local party offices, I think Labour exigency to drop the word ‘party’ and get rid of the depressing and crass use of red and yellow.”

Design spur

Soon after this conversation, Peter introduced me to Neil and Philip. All three men assumed me as more open minded and clear about what was needed than most of my corporate patrons. They wanted to move people’s hearts and minds.

I’d already had Maya Angelou’s inspirational discussions embedded in my mind. What she’d said had re-affirmed what I believed: “I’ve practised that people will forget what you said, people thinks fitting forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them get.” This had always driven my work.

Neil had been inspired by how the European Socialists decrease had used a red rose and this immediately struck us both as the solution. But who should I commission to manufacture the rose and what about the word ‘Labour’?

Creating the new logo

I commissioned two squeezes: the Royal Academician and brilliant painter Philip Sutton, and the magical illustrator who’d realize find time with us in Wolff Olins, Peter Denmark. Both produced wonderful red roses and Pete’s, which was the simplest, was tiptop. It was a beautiful painting.

We produced a strong logotype in a typeface called Plantin and by a hairs breadth the single and simple word ‘Labour’. We also had in mind a typographic pattern that would bring about a coherent look and feel to the war cries, policies and claims that Labour intended to use for their campaign.

A “squandered” break

Neil was delighted by the rose. He once called me ‘the rose man’. Peter and Philip were satisfied too, and then, because of the calibre of most political parties’ promotional machinery and the chipped way in which budgets are spent by constituency offices around the country, we could sole do our best to use the new symbol. It was left to an embattled and constrained publicity department within the romp.

Without a professionally run design programme and an experienced designer controlling the supremacy of writing, design and printing, a coordinated, consistent and effective programme drive never be achieved. It wasn’t.

Although Labour had some advantages from their increase, like any other political party they squandered and dissipated what the make good could have done for them. Now they’ve redesigned it and it’s lost its fundamental and appealing charm.

“No party in the UK has ever used design effectively”

It’s forever been clear to me, from all the party conferences, that no party in the UK has endlessly used design effectively. Probably the ugly and visually illiterate exertions of UKIP was the best example of the sad depth of design ignorance, but today, there’s no partisan party that makes effective use of design.

As usual, it’s the failure of conspirators to take any of our parties by the scruff of the neck and lead them to clean up their act.

At Wolff Olins, I whack ated with Labour and failed, Rodney Fitch tried with the Progressivist Democrats, and failed, and I believe Michael Peters tried with the Tories and failed.

Like too many of the UK’s businesses, all our political parties still go to the wall to understand the value of design — both for themselves and in general throughout our guidance and our society.

That Ben Terrett was able to create and produce our brilliant oversight website was a remarkable, almost miraculous achievement. More his achievement than the control’s.

It’s still sad that unlike Germany and Denmark, a variety of names and a superfluity of absurd, disparate and indifferent logos and symbols still represent our regulation departments. They all remain ineffective, dispiriting and lamentable and they silence proclaim to the world that our government establishments have still be deficient to grasp the value of design.

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