Nation Branding Now is a digital repository of visual assets used to differentiate the state for marketing, civilian recognition, or other purposes various and sundry. It is built in the tradition of two great books and two great websites.
Tremendously instructive in the questions we set out to ask and answer is Ian Campbell’s Identifying Symbols of Canadian Institutions. In the days before digital interconnection, Campbell did the unthinkable and mailed surveys to every municipality in Canada inquiring about their symbology. The resultant work, a 678-page treasure of our few arpents of snow, lovingly details the local identities that make up this nation with hand-drawn sketches and copious notes from all of the respondents. It is a fabulous piece of Canadian visual history, and it is available at any better-than-average library.
There is also the obvious thematic resemblance between NBN and the symbol catalogues of the late 20th century, most notably the heinously expensive example of Yasaburo Kuwayama, but also the dilligent efforts of Gérard Bochud and Ricci and Ferrari. These editors set out to show the reader the world through beautifully curated, minimally annotated collections of symbols and trade-marks. Now long out-of-print, they remain timeless testaments to the care and artistry that goes into logotype design, as well as eye-wateringly priced fetish objects for contemporary designers.
Our most direct web antecedent is Hans Stol’s inimitable and sadly lost A Website about Corporate Identity. As a child, the Editor remembers poring over graphics manuals on this webpage until the sun rose the next morning, marvelling at the immaculately-constructed EPS files offered, and gaining a remarkable self-education on the bodies of work of all the “big name” firms in corporate branding. We hope this site does you proud, Hans.
A contemporary project which encouraged the development of NBN is the Northern Army Preservation Society of Canada, a well-thought-out celebration of all that is right about Canadian Modernist design. Every icon they reproduce is gorgeous and done with incredible care. Please check them out if you are a national or national-at-heart.
But NBN is different. Our focus is government and politics, and our philosophy is generalist. We aim to show you the world through the states that inhabit it.
Each of these works makes compromises, and NBN must make some of its own. Given our scope, NBN cannot, as the great symbol catalogues of the past half-century do, reproduce logotypes in stark, arresting black-and-white. Many of the marks in our catalogue rely on colour for their effect or are otherwise poorly-suited for this style of presentation. Instead, NBN opts for full-colour, in the most authoritative palettes that can be sourced. We privilege standardization and comprehensiveness over pure appreciation of form.
Yet, as a preservation-minded catalogue of marks intended to be of some use to designers, we do require that marks catalogued be at their most useful, beautiful, and future-proof. A downfall of Campbell’s book which limits its use among graphic artists is the heavy reliance on sketches and low-fidelity reproductions. One will not find raster files offered in the graphics packages on NBN. This includes those of governing bodies which, quixotically, use low-quality and occasionally altered raster files exclusively or near-exclusively in their branded communications. We try to get as “close to the source” (i.e. as close to the creative agency’s original intentions) as possible, even if that means disregarding the handiwork of any hapless civil servants which happen to follow.
We also have a bit of a scholarly bent over here at NBN, and that means we will try to couch our findings in as much context and primary source documentation as available. If a reader wishes to write about something they saw here, we intend to provide them as much material oomph as we can muster – and make it all as painless to reference as possible, of course. We sacrifice the brevity of symbol catalogues for a more comprehensive overview of the why (in addition to the what) that lies behind every visual communications strategy. That is okay! This is the internet, where one can write on and on forever, unencumbed by the limitations of a bound book! And besides, our metadata is a love note to the future, anyways.
We utilize all of the strengths that the web has to offer. We will never go out-of-print, we will never cost hundreds of dollars per volume on the secondary market, we will show you the world – all of it – with a level of granularity and completeness that past efforts could only dream of reaching. …and if you like this idea, we welcome contributions.
Nation Branding Now is edited by Andrew Papenheim. He, understandably, has great passion for politics, state communication, and graphics. He, less understandably, can never turn down a croissant aux amandes or having dep wine with a new friend. When not editing NBN, he is likely crashing an open house. He lives in Montréal, Québec and wears the requisite rosette on his lapel.
Page instantiated: 18 February 2019.
Date of last revision: 19 February 2019.