In its 96 years of existence, Warner Bros. has had a lot of different looks. But the one that movie watchers and TV fanatics are most familiar with is, of course, that shiny blue and gold shield–the one that adorns the water tower overlooking the studio’s lot in Burbank, Calif. (and, as ’90s kids will recall, becomes a door for the Animaniacs to bound through at the beginning of their show).
When Warner Bros. first started working with indie design studio Pentagram, Emily Oberman and her team had their work cut out for them: The logo hadn’t been updated since 1993.
That shield has seen the company through a lot, but it had also become difficult to use and felt outdated. Streaming has revolutionized the way media companies present their content, and the logo didn’t translate well to small screens. The company needed something that reflects its contemporary existence.
“They have been at the forefront of technology changes and wanted to feel like who they are moving forward,” Oberman said.
Her team has done a lot of work with Warner Bros. in the past, developing the DC logo and typography for several movie titles like the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Ready Player One. As Warner Bros. approached its centennial, the leadership “wanted something to unify the company, a rallying cry or north star about who they are, a symbol to take them into the future,” she said.
Keeping in mind the heritage of the company and the challenges of a new era in TV and film, Oberman’s team rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Through 140 interviews with employees at every level of Warner Bros., they asked the same kinds of questions: How do you feel about the brand? How do you think it holds up to newcomers like Netflix or Hulu? Where do you think the heart of the brand lies?
The answer they heard over and over again, said Oberman, was that staffers “care passionately about storytelling.” They were also pretty attached to the shield.
“The shield was so important to everyone; everyone felt so much love and pride in that shield,” said Oberman. But there was also the sense that employees were feeling: “Does it have to be this shield?”
Using the golden ratio of classical mathematics, Oberman’s team settled on a sleeker, cleaner form for the shield that keeps close enough to the original logo to retain a strong sense of brand recognition, while also conveying a modern feel.
The redesign also includes a new typeface based on the shield logo, and will be easily adaptable for the way that Warner Bros. has traditionally created themed logos for various promotional materials. That, and working with such a large team of people to ensure each voice was heard, were some of the main challenges, according to Oberman. Creating a simpler logo was “finding that sort of balance between clean and boring,” she said. “Hopefully we hit it, because we were trying to keep the history of the brands in our minds.”
“Boring” was one of the many criticisms launched at the new Facebook logo after the company’s corporate rebrand was unveiled last week. Not every review was bad, but many observers noted that the current controversy surrounding the company’s data privacy issues and political advertising policy is hard to divorce from a review of its rebrand. Reebok’s rebrand, also announced last week, is more similar to Warner Bros., going back to a classic but modernized rendition of its iconic Vector logo.
The redesign comes as WarnerMedia, owner of the Warner Bros. brand, has a lot of projects on deck. Under parent company AT&T, its premium cable channel HBO will be launching a new streaming service, HBO Max, in May. WarnerMedia aims to have 90 million HBO Max subscribers by 2025.
Warner Bros. had a leadership shakeup earlier this year when CEO Kevin Tsujihara stepped down following a casting scandal. Ann Sarhoff took the reins in late June, becoming the first woman to serve as the company’s CEO.
Sarhoff announced the rebrand in front of the Warner Bros. water tower, which was sporting a wrap to show what the new paint job will look like when it’s finished, four to six weeks from now.
“At Warner Bros., we have been telling stories and entertaining audiences for almost 100 years. But we don’t do it alone,” said Sarnoff in a press release about the new logo. “From the beginning, we’ve worked with the world’s best storytellers and helped them bring their visions to life. It’s their unique genius that connects and inspires us, introduces us to new ideas, takes us to new places, and reshapes the way we see the world. They are the heart of everything we do.”
“The Pentagram team did a great job helping us strategically evaluate our brand position and visual identity,” said Dee Dee Myers, executive vice president of communications at Warner Bros, in a statement to Adweek. “The result of the work is a brand position that uniquely reflects our culture and a refreshed logo that is an evolution of our beloved logo, modernized to represent both our storied legacy and our brilliant future.”