It has been quite some time since the City of Melbourne rebranding project, which has arguably popularized the concept of branding design that is adaptive and modular enough to be used in a variety of physical and digital settings.

Is there an accepted term for this philosophy or style of branding design, which focuses on identity and logo image branding that produces similar types of results? I have seen the term modular logo and rule based design used to create similar concepts, but I don't think it is inclusive of the design style that influences such types of design directions.

If there are some other well-known examples and references to such design styles that would be most helpful.

A similar question on Dynamic Identities was previously asked before that might be of interest.

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    Dynamic identities sounds like a good term to me. Dec 12, 2019 at 1:41
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    ReaIly good topic - thanks for this post, I hope you get lots of interest. I was just looking at an article the other day on the evolution of the MTV branding advertwiki.com/2019/06/07/the-evolution-of-mtv and also the indent branding of BBC2 superunion.com/work/bbc-two
    – Mark Read
    Dec 12, 2019 at 4:02
  • Hi Michael, are you a student or a writer by any chance? this has great legs for a juicy study. If it is can you keep this thread updated with findings, wish I had time myself for this one. Thanks, Mark.
    – Mark Read
    Dec 13, 2019 at 1:10
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    @MarkRead I am just a humble UX designer :D There are plenty of interesting questions I want to ask over at UXSE but some are better for GDSE :) Dec 14, 2019 at 1:29

1 Answer 1


Dynamic identities / flexible logos / flexible visual identities

The increasing ubiquity of screens allowed dynamic identities to really take off. While brands have typically invested to maintain highly coherent looks, logos have long been delivered in different color schemes (B&W, CMYK, Pantone, RGB) and sometimes orientations (landscape, portrait). The way we design logos is adapting to our current reality which involves all sorts of media and platforms.

Irene Van Nes published one of the first books (2012) about these and calls them "dynamic identities", as part of "living brands". However, brands used this strategy as early as the 60's with Priba, a belgium supermarket and later, MTV in 1981.

These dynamic brands do not necessarily consist in moving identities, but instead introduce variability on at least one of the six components Irene Van Nes (2014) has categorized as:

  • logo
  • color
  • typography
  • graphic elements
  • imagery
  • language

Together, these form a

logo system [which] acts as a 'graphical framework' that can shift and change for different situations, allowing brands to start a conversation beyond it's own name, pointing to other ideas and issues that are important to them on any chosen day. (Paget, 2016).

Flexible logos are listed in Dieline's 2020 Trends. This is not really surprising given that logos now need to be able to accomodate all sort of platforms and sizes (responsive web design, social media icons, apps, and more.) And as we often witness with trending ideas, buzz words seem to be multiplicating, making discussions about them more complicated.

Irene Van Nes has categorized various variability introduction methods:

  • container or capsule: where an element can hold variable content (MTV)
  • wallpaper: where the logo is displayed over on a variable background (Aol.)
  • DNA: where a defined set of elements (eg. shapes in various positions) introduces variations (IDtv)
  • Formula: where the overall identity can be modified momentarily but is still is recognizable (Google Doodles)
  • customizer: where variability is not a predetermined input (OCAD)
  • generator: where the identity may vary in real time based on some uncontrolled external input (weather, noise, tweets...) (Nordkyn)

An article by Davis (2015) summarizes these methods very nicely.

One of the challenges of living brands obviously consists in finding a way to ensure recognizability, regardless of their aliveness. Other challenges include patenting and sustainability.

Variable logos

Variable logos were featured in 99design's logo trends for 2019. They build on top of dynamic identities by taking into account user personalization, and use data about the viewer to adapt.

Variable identity is responsive to a user’s behavior and knows how to recognize when it’s the right time to be there and say something and when it’s better to stay out. (Kim, 2019)

As such, variable logos add a layer of complexity by taking into account viewer preferences. They may use any of the previously dynamic identities methods of introducing variability but are not constrained to these. One promising typographic development for variable logos are variable fonts. In essence, variable logos are not so much concerned with recognizability as much as offering a tailored experience to viewers. In fact, each variation may be completely unique.

There is big potential in this approach. Each new release becomes an instant collectible and adds to the brand’s communication environment. (Plau Type & Design, 2019)

It makes sense that this may be one of the next steps in the logo design trade, when we look at how everything we see online is increasingly getting tweaked to fit our preferences.


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