How do you capture the subversive genius of a beloved children’s author in a rebrand? Not like this.
Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach, is loved by children and adults alike for his morbid imagination, his anarchic worlds, his acerbic wit, and his horrible-wonderful characters. But the rebrand of the Roald Dahl Literary Estate, created by East London design agency Sunshine and aiming to unite all the appendages of the estate under a single design umbrella for the first time, doesn’t really capture any of that. Featuring the author’s name in a series of rainbow letters that look like they came from a magnetic ABC set alongside a yellow paper airplane, the Roald Dahl rebrand is as safe and conventional as you can get: a design less about capturing the tone of Dahl’s work in a logomark than about reassuring parents that Dahl is “safe” for their children to read.
Armin Vit, design critic behind the Under Consideration network of blogs, agrees, writing in an email that the new rebrand fails to really capture what made Dahl unique:
This is a fairly impossible project to solve in a way that will please the majority of people, as everyone has a different Roald Dahl favorite or a specific book they associate him with. Going with a somewhat generic wordmark that looks like jumbled children’s letters is a safe route but it could apply to any number of children’s books authors. The plane, which requires an explanation, is the only distinctive element particular to Dahl but I don’t think it’s enough. Execution-wise, it’s well done and it has a bouncy playfulness to it. It looks particularly good on the covers when used big. It will take a lot of new book sales with the new logo to establish a connection between it and the author but at least it’s going in the right direction.
Raul Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Tiny Bop, a Brooklyn-based company aimed at making apps for kids every bit as beautifully designed as Golden Age picture books, says that while the new rebrand is discordant with the tone and spirit of Dahl’s work, it ultimately doesn’t matter much:
I have no idea what motivated the new change, but it seems to be trying to do a lot. The multicolored font suggests a forced playfulness to me. It reads young. Most 10-year-olds want to be 11- or 12-year-olds, and the multicolored treatment reads to me like something for a 5-year-old. The paper airplane reads to me as forced whimsy and its realism is is at odds with Quentin’s Blake’s illustrations.
While the logo might work a bit better as a single color, the 3-D airplane seems like an imposition and almost an affront to Blake who in my mind is inextricably linked with Dahl. All this said, I like the simplification of the covers and the use of solid fields of color that put the artwork front and center and remove clutter. Interestingly the title is even further de-emphasized in the mocked-up book treatments to the point where one could mistake ‘Roald Dahl’ as the title of each book.
Ultimately at least for me, whatever the specific Dahl logo, the treatment is almost irrelevant. I’d buy Dahl’s books even if the covers were typed on white paper.
I suspect Vit and Gutierrez are right. Yes, the logo has issues, but there’s just no pleasing anyone trying to rebrand as complicated and unique a literary figure as Roald Dahl. And ultimately, no matter what you slap on the cover, children reading their first Dahl book can’t possibly be prepared for what they’re about to experience by design alone. That’s what made him such a treasure.