21

Background

Passing one of Germany’s largest cargo stations on a daily basis, I noticed that the design of lorries is quite different from most regular design. To be frank, it usually strikes me as rather bad. Recurring features contributing to this impression include:

  • low readability, either due to the chosen typeface or backgrounds;
  • shadow effects;
  • clunky, indistinctive typefaces;
  • excessive use of all caps or small caps;
  • overly tight or wide letter-spacing;
  • a general retro feel (1990s, if I am not mistaken).

There are occasional exceptions from this, but the general trend is striking.

Question

What are the reasons behind these peculiarities of the design of haulage companies? For example:

  • Are there any practical reasons for these choices?

  • Are these designs aimed at a particular kind of customer (of the cargo companies)?

  • Is it a case of intentional cheap design? If yes, why?

  • If it is just (unintentional) cheap design, why is this an economic choice? I would expect that if this is a relevant means of acquiring customers, the design would be better. On the other hand, if it is not, I would expect the design being completely home-made¹ or the space being used for advertisement.

If it makes any difference, I am asking about Central Europe here.

¹ which could explain some cases, but seems unlikely for some of them

Examples

Note that most of the following examples were obtained via a trapezoid transform and may not have an exact aspect ratio.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

Example 6

Example 7

Images adapted from the following sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

  • 7
    A '90s feel, yes, but to me, some of them have an 18 90s feel. – Mark Apr 8 at 20:15
  • 6
    Their design is not changing and permanent - as any identification should be. The question is not "why they don't change their id?". The real question is "why so many other companies are fashion victims and spend millions into basically throwing their hard-earned brand recognition away?" – Agent_L Apr 8 at 20:27
  • Counting from the top, 2-5 actually look pretty decent to me. Not quite the latest trend, but not really an "outdated" feel either. – Vilx- Apr 9 at 13:11
  • I too (in the UK) have noticed the 'retro' style of haulage company logos and I love them – benxyzzy Apr 10 at 10:43
  • 2
    This doesn't answer the specific question but one phenomenon I've noticed here is that certain fields (furniture, construction...) just seem to ignore or not care about their branding. From what I've noticed they often offer very down-to-earth and practical services (so maybe they simply survive because they're necessary, regardless of their awful branding?). Sometimes a company in a field will wake up and rehaul their branding and every one else seems to follow suite. – curious Aug 9 at 15:02
29

Your images contain lorries which belong to companies (or to their long-time subcontractors) which have established their position a long time ago. Wayback Machine showed the same logos and texts in 15 years old webpages. I guess they have no need to run after design trends. The opposite: Stability can be considered as reliability (= We do our job. So there has ever been and ever will be!)

A company (or its subcontractors) have a fleet of lorries on the road and they stay there several years. I cannot see any reason why their graphic designs should be different if the company aims to look out big and stable.

A newspaper can change its design more often because quite few watches yesterday's newspapers.

  • 13
    Also a newspaper is remade every day, they could change the logo daily with no extra penalty. A lorry takes time to re brand, its then out of service and incurs a cost. Transport companies are very cost senitive – joojaa Apr 7 at 18:26
15

Some of these companies are very old family operated, some even tracing back to the second world war or before. Such 'static' companies that are not sold every 5 years to somebody else in the gulf don't need to update their branding every so often and they're not particularly interested in marketing their business. Transport is a long term solid business and they probably get long term contracts which makes marketing not very important to their steady income.

Also, transport business is very open to frequent variation in taxes, fuel price, maintenance and employee demands, so they probably have alot of unpredictable expenses and to keep their profits some may decide to not invest in marketing.

  • 2
    Maybe "the exception proves the rule", but one truck business in the UK markets its brand name to the level of having its own fan club. stobartclubandshop.co.uk The group's decision to give every vehicle in the fleet a personal name makes "Stobart truck spotting" a hobby comparable with train spotting. – alephzero Apr 8 at 9:20
7

Many answers come to my mind, here are some:

1st – The world of trucking is not at the top of trending in design, I suppose there isn't a great effort to develop a revolutionary graphic image.


2nd – In case of promoting the transport service, the graphic may be ephemeral, only announces the transporting company. The product to be transported can provide its own graphic and impose its inclusion in the trailer.

enter image description here


3rd – If they are promoting the product they transport, the graphic varies (and improves) a lot because may come from the product design team. The image of the product and the company is at stake. In touristic and city buses there are excellent graphics when they don't promote the service but a product.

enter image description here


4th – The trucks are usually from independent drivers and they offer their services to different distribution companies, as far as I know there are no fleets of trucks as in the airlines, so the graphic changes quite regularly. They are usually vinyl superimposed on the trailers.


5th – It's an ephemeral advertising, in a route will not be seen, unless you travel in the opposite direction and see a truck passing by at low speed or stopped at a road break. It's not a static billboard or a screen. Except the small delivery trucks that roam the big cities. In this last case they don't usually promote the transport agency but the product they transport, excepting the renting trucks companies.


6th – I don't know if there's any local type of regulation regarding the distraction in the route, particularly once I was about to have an accident following a sunglasses advertisement on the back of a bus.


7th – On the other hand, at commercial level there's a sub-design style used as a claim. Such is the case of empty billboards calling advertising agencies to promote their products in those places using:

  • horror vacui: leaving a lot of blank that perceptively invites to fill that space with an add
  • bad design: indicating that any other design will look much better in this place

That's the case of any image at the question and more directly the examples with telephone number and web site (1 & 6).

Advertise here

  • 5
    "as far as I know there are no fleets of trucks …" There certainly are in the UK. For example Eddie Stobart Logistics runs a fleet of about 2000 trucks and 3500 trailers. They have changed the fleet livery within the last 10 years - see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Stobart_Logistics for "before and after" pictures. – alephzero Apr 8 at 9:12
  • I didn't know that, I'm quite far from uk 😉 – Danielillo Apr 8 at 9:19
  • 2
    You might see one in Barcelona - they certainly operate in Europe, though mostly on routes through the Benelux countries to the Czech republic, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. – alephzero Apr 8 at 9:31
  • Wha tis the effect you used to greek the phone number and other data on that last photo? Looks very good. – Vincent Apr 8 at 11:31
  • 2
    Dust & Scratches – Danielillo Apr 8 at 11:38
4

I would suggest that the question here is more a matter of opinion than anything objective.

To go through the list:

"low readability, either due to the chosen typeface or backgrounds;" With the exception of the first example (text too small) and Waberer's (difficult to read typeface), they all look perfectly readable to be. But note that more than being text, it is a logo. It's more important to be recognisable than readable: the logo needs to stick in people's minds, maybe they can work out what it actually says the next time they see it.

"shadow effects;" There's nothing inherently wrong with this.

"clunky, indistinctive typefaces;" This is basically the same as the first point, but it's also worth mentioning that a typeface being readable is often at odds with it being distinctive.

"excessive use of all caps or small caps;" Modern design has excessive use of all lowercase. I can just as easily give my opinion that all lowercase is bad design. As you can see this is subjective and simply down to what's trendy.

"overly tight or wide letter-spacing;" This is much like the previous point. All the examples look fine on this to me (again perhaps except for the first), perhaps modern design just has a minimal variety on this front.

"a general retro feel (the 1990s, if I am not mistaken)." If it worked well in the '90s, there's no reason it can't work in the 2010s, 2020s or any other decade.

So in conclusion: I entirely agree that it's different - and others have explained why (the designs will have been created a few decades ago) - but there is in general nothing about it that is objectively bad. (Personally, I'm old fashioned and I love these old designs, and modern graphic design drives me up the wall in the same way these old designs appear bad to the OP.)

3

Not only the design, also the material on which it is printed is used as long as possible. In contrast to marketing consumer products, there is not much money left to waste on unnecessary expenses.

2

From the experience of the person working for the company making the tarpaulin (among other things printed on those type of materials):

I was responsible for the graphic of those “other” prints. For the tarpaulin it was the printer who created the graphic. They usually get the project delivered by the client in some form (typically Word or clipart). Because they had limited time, they just put what they have into RIP that also created a preview for the client. If the RIP didn't have any issues, what the client delivered was what they got.

Rarely (about one in twenty cases), they asked for some tweak. Which was minuscule to what “professional graphic designer” would deem as needed for the projects. Also, often, the customers had few of those lorries, and because good tarpaulin is not something that wears pretty quickly, they wanted to have “unified” look. So a project made in early 2000s had to be similar to one made in late 1980s where printing on such large areas was limited to only few fonts and shapes.

  • They usually get the project delivered by the client in some form – Just so I understand this correctly: This means that the entire design was already provided by the client, i.e., the truck company? – Wrzlprmft Apr 24 at 14:33
  • @Wrzlprmft Yes. For example in the case of "Waberer" I would say it was provided by client while "Nina trans" is something made by printer based on what client would like. There is also this thing where very often the client used some sort of font they didn't had license so to RIP replaced it with default for that kind and no one noticed or cared. – SZCZERZO KŁY Apr 24 at 14:37

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