Peeling Back the DC Condom Wrapper

A server upgrade ate two of my posts yesterday that cover the same subject so I apologize to all the RSS subscribers if this sounds like much of the same thing. But hopefully, I will bring an added level of unreasonable vitriol that shall entertain you for the brief moment you skim over this screed. So here goes.

Back in 2005, DC Comics decided their brand needed a refresh. They came out with a new logo which I refer to as the Swoosh Star. It fell very much in line with the web 2.0 aesthetic with its clever swoosh, it’s perky star, and that subtle gradient that came to define an era of questionable design. Throw in an “edgy” type face with sharp corners and aggressive curves and you’ve got a logo that looks terribly dated, as if it jumped from the screen of a design student in the 90’s. I hated it and made fun of it back when AZM was a webcomic:

Angry Logo

With the entire reboot of the DC Universe, I was wondering whether or not we’d get a new brand identity. Sure enough, DC has been working on a new logo for the past year and this week, they unveiled it in all it’s multi-colored glory:

You can see more treatments of this thing at DC’s blog, the Source.

So what’s the deal? Why the peeling? Why the different treatments? Why does it look like a condom wrapper? From the blog:

DC Entertainment worked with Landor Associates, one of the world’s leading brand consulting and design firms, to develop an identity that creates a visual connection among the company, its three brands DC Comics, Vertigo and MAD and its vast array of properties as well as celebrates the power of the company’s stories and characters. The design of the new DC Entertainment identity uses a “peel” effect – the D is strategically placed over the C with the upper right-hand portion of the D peeling back to unveil the hidden C – symbolizing the duality of the iconic characters that are present within DC Entertainment’s portfolio.

Duality of the wibbly wobbly what the fuck?

It looks like a condom wrapper and will now be referred to as such. So, does the DC Condom Wrapper work as a logo?

Typography Fail

The type face of the “DC Comics” component is Hoefler & Frere-Jones Gotham. See what they did there? It’s super clever because it’s Gotham and Batman and ha ha it’s so NO.


The type looks like an afterthought, as if some executive said, “Well, shit, no one’s going to know what company this Condom Wrapper represents. Why don’t you tack on ‘DC Comics’ just to be sure.” The fact that the letter forms of the C in the icon and the C in the type don’t match further alienates the words from the mark. The type makes an awful “L” shape bellow the mark that throws off the balance. The placement is no better on the cover trade dress next to the mark. Below, beside, above, around, it’s clunky and doesn’t work.

Mark Fail

A strong mark evokes an idea or emotion that embodies a brand. Marks that are representational forms can easily convey figurative concepts. Nike’s swoosh is the strongest mark in sports branding. It evokes movement, speed, action, qualities that are embodied by Nike.

Marks that are literal draw focus away from the brand. DC Condom Wrapper looks like a condom wrapper. It evokes no emotions or ideas or anything remotely related to the concepts that are central to DC’s brand. In fact, it has to be dressed up in fancy colors or kitschy accessories before it starts to say anything.

When I look at the Nike swoosh, I see myself running. When I look at the DC Condom Wrapper, I see a condom wrapper.

Squint Test Fail

A successful logo is instantly recognizable from miles away. If you can’t get up and walk miles away from your computer monitor, the squint test is the next best thing. Strong logos have distinct silhouettes that don’t rely on color or glitz or any fancy dressing. They look good blurred, big, small, black and white.

When I look at the first set of colored logos, except for the yellow and orange ones, I completely lose the peel. It looks like a chopped up C. The squint test also reveals the horrible balance of the type. Together, it looks like a weird C monster with a unusually long foot.

The logos with the illustrations are even worse. I can’t even see any of the dark ones, and the ones with the bright colors loose the C shape. They look more like lopsided D’s.

Do the Logo Motion

Executive Creative Director Nicolas Aparicio of branding consultant Landor says that this logo is for the digital age:

It was our goal to capture DC Entertainment in a dynamic and provocative identity. Our solution is a living expression which changes and adapts to the characters, story lines and the ways fans are consuming content. The new identity is built for the digital age, and can easily be animated and customized to take full advantage of the interactivity offered across all media platforms.

That may very well be. I have yet to see it animate. Who knows, it might look like hot sex. I could see having a lot of fun peeling back the D on some kind of branded iPhone app. As a static logo, as something that will be plastered on trade dress of comic covers, as something that will come to embody DC print comics, it’s just not strong enough.

The Logo as a Platform

I understand the desire to create a form that can be used as sort of branding platform. I like the idea. It’s like a blank Munny platform toy. You can customize it all you want, but you still recognize that it’s a Munny.

But for a platform to work, it must be strong enough to stand on its own. DC’s Condom Wrapper isn’t strong enough of a form to stand alone. The initial black and white concept is quite dreadful and amplifies all the problems previously discussed.


Who Cares?

It’s an interesting design argument, but in the end, does it really matter? No one makes comic purchasing decisions based on logos. The trade dress matters very little to what’s on the inside and that’s what readers or potential readers really care about.

It’s fun to rag on their new shiny toy, ultimately, it won’t make much of a difference. DC has far worse problems than a questionable rebrand.


Bottom line, I hate it. I’ve had my long winded say. What do you think of the new Condom Wrapper?

  • torsoboy

    I may be the only one that saw it, but when I looked at that pile of comic books, I asked myself “Who the hell is ATMAN?”

    • Jamie Noguchi

      ATMAN, when his parents were killed by social media, he donned a blue bird suit and twitters out evil!

  • Alon Rand

    Nicely written. I think its a better post than the beta, 2-post original. Heartily agree, this is a serious logo-fail.

  • Lord Awesome

    This is bad. Real bad. DC should get their money back.

    Did they like hire a kid out of school who stole a bunch of work to do this logo? All the basics of logo design and type were thrown out the window on this one.

    Honestly they should release what didn’t make the cut, maybe there’s something better inside.

    I sort of get the D being an alter ego for the C, but still, need better execution than this.

  • koren

    I don’t think its a totally bad idea, they just made the placement all wrong,they should have the D & C together then peel a little bit from the top to reveal a more engergic type D & C.

  • Jason G.L. Chu

    Insightful thoughts from someone who thinks a lot about visualization and branding.

    What would I really love? To see you do your own redesign, post it on the blog, and let us know the thinking that went behind it =]

    • Jamie Noguchi

      In truth, it’s far easier to tear something down than to create something. I’m not a logo designer by profession. I’ve made a few logos in my day, but to really get at the heart of an identity that will stand the test of time, man, I just don’t know enough.

      To create something that would really represent the embodiment of DC Comics would mean first trying to figure out their underlying message. Unfortunately, I don’t even think they know what the fuck that is.

  • Vortigar

    It really boils down to one thing for me. They felt the need to put DC next to a logo made of those exact same two letters… Only Comics should be necessary next to (or better yet underneath) a logo like that.

    This is a really tough thing to crack though. Their direct competition simply puts their name in a box and calls it a day. How many times do they actually strike gold with this kinda thing? Nike, Puma, Atari, Adidas perhaps, that’s all I can think of really. (Atari’s /| is awesome if you ask me. Its downright gorgeous in motion. “Expanding your mind” I always find myself thinking.)

    I liked DC’s previous logo well enough, it kinda evokes the shield heraldry that’s commonly used by sports clubs (and DC themselves before in fact).

    Maybe that’s where they started and then someone came up with the idea of turning the pages of a comic book. I imagine that struck a lot of people as a good idea. But after a bazillion attempts it still wasn’t really there, and then a decision was made to just pick one instead of going back to square one.

    Good idea, poorly executed, wasted opportunity.

  • VanguardSupreme

    DC Comics? That’s the official name of the company now? At least “DC Entertainment” makes sense. Now it’s like PIN Number or NIC Card or ATM Machine. There’s what people say and then there’s the correct name of a thing. I know that “DC” hasn’t really stood for anything for some time, but placing a “DC Comics” moniker there just calls attention to that anomaly.

    Aside from that little gripe, why does it seem to me like DC is always suffering from an identity crisis the past ten years or so? This isn’t a strong logo at all. Take away its fancy Photoshop effects and what are you left with? It’s a logo that decidedly does not say “we are an established comics company.” In fact, it doesn’t say anything except, “Look, u guise, we’re cool too!!!!111! We’re in the now! Multi-flavoured candy for everybody!!!11!LOL!”

    A comics company logo shouldn’t demand all that much. It should be bold, and it should in some way convey dynamism. This logo, whatever one’s opinion of it, has neither of those qualities.

    I will give it this though, it conveys perfectly the essence of the new DC and their relaunch effort, much like the flagship title “Justice League” has been doing.