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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Cities don’t just make a visual impression through their architecture and infrastructure, but through the cumulative impact had by examples of graphic design on display – things like fonts and logos, both of official city organisations and individual businesses.

For example, look at how closely London’s identity is tied to the graphic identity of its public transport, with its famous roundel and unique typeface.

Or New York’s traditional shopfronts – fast disappearing, but their signage much in fashion at the moment and their style copied by seemingly every new craft beer and burger joint in the land.


And has anywhere nailed a logo as effectively as Spain, who roped in famous Spanish artist Joan Miro to design their tourism logo in 1983 and have used it ever since, because it is so perfectly ‘Spain’?

Is this something that people notice and consider important? How does Birmingham perform in this regard, compared to other places? Not just its Council logo and the logos of things like Visit Birmingham and Centro/Network West Midlands, but its independent shops, cafes and bars? Is Birmingham a city that ‘gets’ design? And should we care, either way?
 

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The promised land
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It's definitely not a city that understands branding. There is a disjointed approach with no integration or unity. Nothing that can really be associated to Birmingham in the same way as you say, the roundel is for London.

Should we care? well I did a marketing degree and think the success of anything is highly dependant on creating it's brand and the translation of the brand to the masses. Without this, a great product may flop only to be reinvented later by another company who understands how to brand and market it. Headphones are a good example of how a brand (Beats in this case) can create a new identity for a produce which years before was seen as old fashioned and out of date.
 

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lime-hating shrublet
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In the 60s there was branding in a lot of Birmingham's tower blocks. They were of the same unique design whether in north, central or south Birmingham.

But I think you're looking for something a bit more epic than that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Yes, but not only that.

Looking at the Independent Birmingham website (and if you haven't, you should - it's an excellent scheme), and indeed looking around the city in general, it seems clear that not enough businesses have a handle on good design.

I can think of some that do: places like Faculty Coffee in Piccadilly Arcade, Provide in the Custard Factory and Loki in the Great Western Arcade, amongst others. I could name some bad examples, but I'll spare their blushes.

On a city-wide level, the graphic identity of Visit Birmingham and Network West Midlands is - in my view - not up to the standard of some of Birmingham's competitors. The CBSO's logo... hmmm. And the City Council logo could scarcely be more ripe for a revamp, having served for over thirty years. (I doubt the Council could justify the expenditure on such a thing at this time, though.)

What I'm interested in is, does any of it matter? Or maybe it's just me, being a font snob. But there are more and more design-literate font snobs around and they - we - think that this is just a valid way for a city to transmit its identity as any other. Perhaps I shouldn't judge a place by such things but, at least just a little bit, I do. Can't help it.

And if Birmingham wants to excel in all regards, and is not excelling in this regard, maybe it's worth thinking about how to improve this...
 

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I lived in London for the first 30 or so years of my life, and have spent the last 30 or so in Birmingham (now Solihull).

So I have a reasonable view of how the city is seen from the outside and the inside.

And while most "Brummies" wont like to hear it, the city has a terrible reputation around the country.

I worked in London for a huge worldwide IT company, and 30 or so years ago, when they opened up new offices in Birmingham (on the Hagley Road) I offered to move up here (for all sorts of personal reasons).

But my London colleagues thought I was mad and they tried to talk me out of it, but I went ahead anyway.

And I must say when I came the city was dying. Factories closing, Handsworth riots, British Leyland a laughing stock, piss filled underpasses, canals full of cars and dead dogs, a "concrete city".

It gradually improved itself during the 1980s with the ICC, NIA, Brindley Place, and various other improvements, but then it seemed to stall.

Since then we have had the BullRing, Eastside, the new library, New St station, removal of some ring roads, less underpasses, but there is still a long way to go.

Just the other night on Mock the Week they were talking about the "Trojan Horse" takeovers in Muslim schools and Andy Parsons said.

"It is no surprise some people in Birmingham want to blow things up, I am sure anyone who has lived in Birmingham all their life probably wants to blow Birmingham up" (or similar words).

So it is very hard for fonts and logos to change that sort of image.

I have said on these forums many times that it will take decades to change Birmingham's image (if it ever can), and it needs a major effort from many city organizations.

New York does seem to have improved its image, so Birmingham could if it worked hard at it.

But having said all that, I get sick to death of hearing bad news about Birmingham on Midlands Today and if I had the chance I would move out of the area.

And as long as that "bad news" keeps getting on the national and local news then it will be a hell of a job to change Birmingham's image.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
You are quite right in what you say about Birmingham's reputation. I live in London and even now, despite the fact that Birmingham has improved considerably from its nadir in the early 1980s, the city is really not on London's radar at all. London seems congenitally averse to Birmingham, like it has a bit of an allergy to it, and as such has developed a firewall that is extremely effective at keeping Birmingham out.

It’s as if there’s a list of other UK cities to which London is inclined to give the time of the day, and Birmingham is not only not on it, but isn’t even in the queue. It’s a pretty short list anyway: Edinburgh’s always been on it; then Brighton and Bristol; and the most recent addition is Manchester. And that’s about it.

Sadly, Birmingham is a city about which most Londoners know little and care less. The main approach to dealing with Birmingham appears to have been to ignore it and hope it’ll go away. Even to those with no strong feelings against Birmingham, it remains Britain’s most inscrutable city. It doesn’t look good ‘passing through’ and conceals many of its assets from the view of those in transit.

I agree that it will take more than a strong graphic identity in Birmingham to change that, although I wonder whether the poor graphic identity that currently exists doesn't merely serve to reinforce the widespread perception that here lies ugliness in all its forms.
 

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Guilbert's right, although I really think Birmingham will 'get over' it's image problem. Because that's all it is, imagination, not reality. Yeah, there are lots of areas needing serious improvement, there are in any big city.

With the Chinese now all but on-board with HS2 one area of blight, Eastside, will complete it's makeover. With that surrounding areas will pick up, like Dale End and Digbeth. The last two remaining large areas in the city centre are currently being worked on, Paradise Circus and Arena Central. The Jewellery Quarter is a 'gem' that will really thrive. Any all this will be linked by the metro extension.

So I think the future is bright. After the transformation those digs and jokes will only make people look silly rather than laugh. The only reason it might bother me were if it was true, so because it's not it's not a problem.

We should also look at Manchester's success in turning around it's poor image and learn to unify, promote and be proud of what Birmingham is, and although the previous generation felt almost embarrassed to be from the city the current and next generations will feel the opposite.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The funny thing is, Birmingham almost did get over its image problem, not so long ago.

With all the 1990s nostalgia around at the moment, it's worth remembering that Birmingham's reputation took a huge leap forward at that time, especially the early 1990s.

Birmingham was in the news for the right reasons. The ICC and NIA had just opened – the IOC even had their 1991 session in the city (hard to imagine now, alas). The NIA was on the nation’s TV screens at peak-time every Saturday night for Gladiators.

The newly refurbished Centenary and Victoria Squares were gaining plaudits for their bold and imaginative urban design, a revelation given Brum’s traditional weakness in this regard. Brindleyplace was taking shape and considered a pioneering bit of urban reinvention. It was the decade the Custard Factory first opened and showed what could be.

The Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet had just moved from London to Birmingham to become the BRB. British Airways had its own terminal at Birmingham Airport and its aircraft even carried the city’s name.

There was an unmistakeable air of successful reinvention, of an upward trajectory, of momentum. Newspapers published fawning articles. "Could this really be Birmingham?" asked an astonished Independent with a photo of freshly scrubbed-up canalside. The high point was the hosting of the Eurovision song contest and the G8 summit within weeks of each other in 1998.

And the seal upon it all? A smart new logo and an effective motto as ‘Europe’s meeting place’. As a branding exercise, it was hugely effective. I wish I could find it online, but I can't, although it may still feature on a few 'Welcome to Birmingham' signs around the city (one on Hagley Road, I believe). It was replaced in 2001 or 2002, I think, by a markedly inferior effort, long forgotten.
 

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I think it's also worth considering Birmingham's international reputation which isn't nearly as derided as nationally.

Nationally it has been seared particularly on the London conscious as Austen said 'nothing ever good came out of Birmingham' despite a lot of things Made in UK were more than likely Made in Birmingham. It's easy to look down on the grotty industrial areas despite those areas producing the goods that brought in wealth.

Our greatest task is getting people here and seeing the city that has transformed and has hidden gems. Perhaps that in itself is a difficulty. Winterbourne for example is an amazing hidden gem but one that helps showcase the city but in showcasing it and bringing in visitors it then undermines it's 'hidden gem' quality.

Media and representations even through drama and film can have a pervasive impact on perceptions.

I think especially with a young population that won't want to be sadled with the bad reputation of Brum and a city that holds it's own for shopping leisure and tourism amongst many things in time (and i guess time is both good but a frustrating reality in the length of time it might take) it'll be hard to miss how good Birmingham is.

Certainly recent media reports has seen the city receive attention. The task is to garner more than a look up and then back down to carry on with whatever was being looked at but a look of 'wow' i want to visit that, why haven't i visited there, I must visit there.

Just a few, wine helped, thoughts there.
 

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You are quite right in what you say about Birmingham's reputation. I live in London and even now, despite the fact that Birmingham has improved considerably from its nadir in the early 1980s, the city is really not on London's radar at all.
When I lived in London most of the people I knew would have never considered a visit to Birmingham.

In fact the only time I ever saw Birmingham was when I was driving to the Lake District for a holiday, and I went through the city on the M6.

And sadly Birmingham does not look good from the M6.

And many people's only view of Birmingham is from the M6.

However lots of people do now come to the city for events at the ICC, the Symphony Hall and the NIA.

Many also come to the NEC and LG Arena (though may never actually go into Birmingham city centre).

And it does seem to be getting a reputation for stag and hen do's, though I am not sure if that is a good thing or not.

But reputations do take a long time to change.
 

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I think the average Brummie doesn't really care about how we are seen - many get a kick out of being looked down upon; because from that standpoint the unknowing and ignorant visitor shown around our lovely green suburbs and civic squares will be disappointed that they would have to accept they were wrong. The worst thing for a city to do is to brag and brag then get a kick in the teeth for not coming up with the goods.
 

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When I lived in London most of the people I knew would have never considered a visit to Birmingham.

In fact the only time I ever saw Birmingham was when I was driving to the Lake District for a holiday, and I went through the city on the M6.

And sadly Birmingham does not look good from the M6.

And many people's only view of Birmingham is from the M6.
Its worth pointing out just how bad London looks on the approach in either by car or rail. Mile after mile of urban decay mixed with regeneration.

Its all part and parcel of being a major urban environment. London looks grim in huge areas of the city, but its still a world class city is every way.

Brum will always have areas of Urban Decay, but at the same time we now have a city centre worth shouting about, World class facilities & Culture on a scale worthy of a capital city, yet alone a provincial city.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I recently read that Birmingham was going to start heavily advertising its tech cluster, concentrating in the 'Silicon Roundabout' area of London - Old Street and Shoreditch. Lo and behold, I spotted this earlier.

http://1drv.ms/1yBJPtX

I think it's quite good, but the real revelation is the website it directs you to. Yes, the Marketing Birmingham logo is weak, but credit where credit's due, the website itself is excellent - not just the tech pages but all the pages promoting Birmingham as a business destination. Clearly a lot of thought and hard work has gone into the task of attracting inward investment in this way, and it looks like there's plenty of ongoing support and back-up from Marketing Birmingham to any business who expresses an interest.
 

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I recently read that Birmingham was going to start heavily advertising its tech cluster....
Having worked in computers and technology all my life (IBM for 30 years) I have always felt that any decent sized city should encourage as much technical / IT business as it can as this is much of the future.

But do we have an area in and around Birmingham that is aimed at the tech / digital cluster business?

I know there is some around Aston University, and some perhaps at the Birmingham business park near Birmingham airport, but I am not aware of anywhere else (I am not saying they don't exist I am just not aware of it).

My company, IBM, moved to Hagley Road offices about 30 or so years ago but then much of it moved to Warwick in a nice "green field" site where I think most employees were happier to work.

Unless Birmingham creates a huge new high-tech purpose built complex (like Manchester has done with Media City) then they are not going to get the companies to come here.

As I said earlier, many of the people who I worked with in London did not want to move to Birmingham when given the chance due to its negative image and I think that would still be the case for high tech employees today.

But also does Birmingham have the skill base? The history of Birmingham's small "metal bashing" companies does not build a huge base of people who could just go straight into the high tech business.

It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. The high tech companies wont come here without the high tech employees already here, and the high tech employees wont come here without the work (and the negative view of Birmingham).

I think getting any high tech company to move to Birmingham is a big "ask" of them and one they probably wont do.
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The promised land
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But also does Birmingham have the skill base? The history of Birmingham's small "metal bashing" companies does not build a huge base of people who could just go straight into the high tech business.

It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. The high tech companies wont come here without the high tech employees already here, and the high tech employees wont come here without the work (and the negative view of Birmingham).

I think getting any high tech company to move to Birmingham is a big "ask" of them and one they probably wont do.
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This is a very old histroy... We have 3 universities within the city which offer quite extensive IT and computing based degrees. It is more likely that the people with the skills move to London to seek work that is not in the city.

The one thing i don't get is the way Birmingham is competing for industries where the ship in most cases has already sailed.
 

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but at the same time we now have a city centre worth shouting about, World class facilities & Culture on a scale worthy of a capital city, yet alone a provincial city.
Culture on a scale worthy of a capital city? Don't get carried away.

Do you realise how many major theatres London has?

And how many has Birmingham got - half a dozen at most (Hippodrome, Alex, Rep, Old Rep, Crescent.....)

Also, on Trip Advisor the other day a person (from outside Birmingham) said they were coming to Cadbury World and were thinking of coming into the city centre as well but could not decide if they should stay the night or not.

The consensus (and this is from people who give lots of help and advice about visiting Birmingham) that an extra day would be nice if you wanted to really explore but one day would probably be enough.

Can you imagine anyone saying the same about London or Paris.

Birmingham is nowhere near worthy of being placed in the same bracket as a capital city.

p.s. I am not being negative about Birmingham, just realistic. I give loads of advice on Trip Advisor to people who want to visit Birmingham (in fact there is only about 3 of us who give regular advice on Trip Advisor about visiting Birmingham and the West Midlands).

Here is the "one day" question on Trip Advisor (neither answer is from me)

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTo...in_1day-Birmingham_West_Midlands_England.html

And below is a link to ALL the West Midlands questions.

Note there have been 24 questions for West Midlands in the whole of June (Manchester has had 53).

London has had FORTY TWO questions, and that is just today.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowForum-g186401-i385-West_Midlands_England.html
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