February 24, 2011

Notes on design: Barnes and Noble rebrands


Not content to rest on its heels following Borders‘ bankruptcy, Barnes and Noble is embarking on a new branding effort. AdAge reports the retailer has dumped their previous creative agency, SoHo’s Merkley and Partners, and will now tap Boston-based Mullen, whose client roster includes JetBlue, Zappos, and Ask.com, for an expanded marketing campaign, a “new look for stores,” and an overall brand refresh. The investment is worth an estimated $40 million—this after a quarter when profits fell 25% to $60 million (overall sales are up, however).

While Mullen and B&N have declined to comment on the matter, it seems likely the company’s marketing efforts will seek to further emphasize its digital offerings as it continues to invest heavily in the Nook e-reader and tries to win a larger share of the e-book market from Amazon. What will this mean for the company’s design? The current logo (seen above), in a mix of sturdy all-caps fonts, sells B&N as a dependable brick-and-mortar institution, with an elegant ampersand conveying a sense of history—“Est. 1873,” it seems to say. The Nook, on the other hand, is all lowercase, with playful geometric letters which desperately aim to make our electronic future look fun. As Barnes and Noble works to turn its stores into places where customers shop for both printed books and e-books, expect to see a visual reflection of the shift from the retailer’s past to its digital future.

Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.