September 28th, 2009

Meiji Redesigns, Replaces Legendary Wordmark

Does Meiji’s milk bottle inspired new logo deliver?

Mmm, re-branded yogurt. . .

Sharp-eyed sugar addicts living in Japan may have noticed by now that Meiji Seika Kaisha, Ltd, one of Japan’s biggest confectionery manufacturers, and Meiji Dairies Corporation, a major dairy manufacturer, have shed their previous identities to share a single new brand mark, reflecting the establishment of Meiji Group in April of this year.

Design no Tobira reminds us that Meiji Seika’s previous logo was the work of design legend Yusaku Kamekura (1915-1997). Best known for his poster work for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and his logos for Nikon, NTT and many other Japanese brands, Kamekura was largely responsible for the establishment of graphic design, as a profession in Japan in the early 1950s.

Kamekura’s 1971 design was actually a tune up of a similar wordmark that had adorned Meiji milk bottles since 1964. Ikko Tanaka, another graphic design giant known for his powerful posters and co-development the Muji concept, provided Kamekura with color direction, perhaps taking inspiration from the orange ink on the original bottles.
Photo by Gen Kanai

Kamekura’s wordmark is most strongly associated with the beloved Meiji Milk Chocolate wrapper design, combined with a mismatched script and ornamental linework in an expression of elegance typical of Showa-era rōmaji typography.

Meiji Dairies previous wordmark was designed in 1986 by Takenobu Igarashi, a sculptor, product designer and graphic designer.
Top Left: Old logo for Meiji Dairies Corporation; Bottom Left: Old logo for Meiji Seika Kaisha Ltd; Right: New logo for Meiji Group

Designed by the Tokyo office of Landor Associates, the new wordmark continues several trends from the last few five years of corporate ID, with its switch from serif to sans, casual lowercase m, child-safe rounded edges and chubby strokes. Perhaps the most memorable element is the soft curve of the m leading towards the left-most stem, a pleasing shape that, as noted on Wikipedia, resembles a dollop of whipped cream.

From the press release:

“Through the use of a soft, voluptuous font and congenial lowercase letters, This brandmark expresses the gaiety of our “food and health” focused group, as well as the warm connection of each of our individual customers. The shape of the “iji” also recalls the shape of people snuggled together and supporting each other.

Our brand color is red. It is the first color people recognize after birth, a color which evokes dynamism and life itself. We hope this mark lives alongside and continues to be loved by every generation, from infants to the elderly.”

Mid-sixties Meiji milk bottle. Image courtesy of 漂流乳業

To twist this pretzel even further, the new letterforms bear a strong resemblance to those used on milk bottles just before the introduction of the high-contrast serifed italics which Kamekura later refined. In logo design, it is both common and often fruitful to look back to previous solutions first, before striking ahead with a completely new idea. But rarely does this require stepping over work so deeply ingrained in a national psyche by several designers of the highest pedigree. Only the yet-unnamed designer at Landor knows whether this new Meiji was a defiant attempt to correct a 45-year mistake, or a respectful close to a 45 year loop.

This writing was enthusiastically, but hastily researched over a weekend in an attempt at timeliness. Please send us any corrections and we’ll post ‘em here. Now go drink your milk.

Chris PalmieriAfter studying graphic design and Japanese language and aesthetics, Chris moved to Tokyo in 2001 to begin his design practice.
He co-founded AQ in 2004 to bring design basics to cultural organizations with bilingual websites. In his current role as managing director, Chris works with clients to clarify their ideas, oversees the creative process and designs.Read more posts by Chris Palmieri


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