The new City of Cape Town logo: How we see it

There has been much controversy surrounding the announcement of the new City of Cape Town logo. Having been involved previously in the development of new corporate logos on the brand management side, we aren’t entirely surprised. Logos inspire a huge amount of debate and emotion. We all have our personal preferences and opinions on them and when it’s a logo that we have a personal connection to – like the logo of the city that we live in, it’s understandable that there are going to be heated exchanges on any redesign.

So what’s the purpose of a Cape Town logo?

In marketing terms, a logo is a visual representation of a company / organisation / group and amongst other things it symbolises the strategic intent of the group it represents. It should be unique, have some kind of meaning and should be easily identifiable.

Why would you change / update a logo?

If the strategic intent of the group changes significantly enough and the old meaning of the existing logo doesn’t apply any more – then it’s a good idea to update it.

When South Africa became a democracy, the old South African flag was irrelevant as a symbol for the country because clearly the country itself has changed irreversibly. A new flag was very important to show that radical change and rally a new nation behind it.

The old City of Cape Town logo:


The previous City of Cape Town logo was designed in 2003 by Ogilvy Cape Town (a well-respected, multi-award winning, through-the-line advertising agency) with the main aim of graphically representing the brand of the City of Cape Town as a reactive service provider for the citizens of the city. Taking over the reins from the previous administration it was crucial to get services up and running and the pay-off line This City Works For You was appropriate at that early stage.

As a logo, it’s basic and conveys a simple message of a stylised Table Mountain and the ‘rainbow nation’ that the city serves. There really isn’t anything too deep to be read here. It answered the brief at the time and worked well. Graphic design experts will most definitely tell you a lot more about the kerning and balance of it, but for us, on this day in 2014, it looks dated and tired.

In recent years the city has clearly progressed from one that just serves the citizens of the community to one that sees huge benefit in public / private partnerships. The future is therefore not reactionary, but a proactive collaboration between the administrative arm of the city, the citizens and business. This city belongs to everyone who lives in it and the solutions to its problems aren’t a result of a municipality just providing services to the people any more, but everyone working together for the collective good for all.

In addition due to various city departments taking it upon themselves to reproduce variations on the old theme it was decided [according to Mayor Patricia de Lille] that it would be best to consolidate and update the whole thing so that it could be better used and ultimately save the city money (due to centralised economies of scale when negotiating and purchasing city branded items). Eleven years, a shift in focus, mismanagement and wastage of the old corporate identity – it seemed like a good time for a fresh coat of paint.

The new City of Cape Town logo:

Many good logos and symbols have a symbolic meaning. For example the South Africa flag isn’t just a random collection of pretty colours, it has meaning and that meaning needs to be explained, otherwise you could just as well make up your own meaning. The new City of Cape Town logo clearly also has some meaning behind it that might not be apparent on face value, but you definitely get a sense that some thought went into it.


 The Shape:

Commentary in newspaper reports seem to indicate that people are upset that the image of Table Mountain has been done away with. But if you look carefully the patterned rings of the new logo consist of repeating images of Table Mountain joined together. It might not be overly apparent, but the mountain is there. Instead of just one mountain image – it repeats itself in patterned, colour rings. Maybe you can see a Protea, the cogs of local industry, the cluster of a road bike riding the Argus Cycle Tour or the spirit of our famous world heritage site being reflected repeatedly in each of us?

The ringed pattern can also be seen as a kind of kaleidoscope image. As an idea for a logo representing a city filled with such dynamic diversity, shifting, turning – a kaleidoscope is a fantastic mental chew toy.

It’s open to interpretation, but this version is much more detailed and meaningful than the previous one.

The colours:

The colours are typically Cape Town. No other city in the world has the colourful painted houses of the Bo Kaap, the vibrant minstrel uniforms you see at New Year, the Christmas lights of Adderley Street, the blue waters of Clifton, the array of fynbos and the kaleidoscope of characters that we do. The colours are unique, just like the colours of the Cape.

Stare at a ripening bunch of Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Steenberg Vineyards in Tokai and you’ll see that green immediately. We do things a little differently down here and should be proud of that.

What about the money?

There is no doubt that as a city, Cape Town has challenges. Too many communities in our city live with violence, drug abuse, poverty and fear.You could argue that the money that is being spent to design and implement this new logo could rather have gone to helping those communities in need. Yes the money could have been added to the budget already allocated to these areas, but our sense is that the city is looking holistically at this re-branding exercise. Under the banner of Making progress possible. Together the city is perhaps investing in an initiative to encourage everybody to work together to solve our challenges. Administrators can throw money at a problem until they are blue in the face and get nowhere in return – or perhaps they can attempt to try something new. They can maybe try inspire and invite those that have the means to help – to do just that.

With a progressive strategy a modern city can attract new businesses to set up shop here creating more jobs and opportunities. With the right focus the city can accelerate tourism, attract more world-class events and conferences and together with business can start to do more than just provide municipal services alone.

It sounds a bit touchy feely and way too much focus has been put on the logo, which is really just the cherry on the cake. But if something as simple as a shift in strategic focus can have a dramatic affect on the economic, environmental and social improvement on the city, then the expense of its logo design and implementation are surely negligible compared to the potential benefits?

A criticism we would have of the city is that not nearly enough has been done to communicate this shift in mindset . Before you launch a new logo and get everyone riled up because it just seems that this is change for change’s sake (plus it’s just months before a very important election and this kind of thing can be seen as some kind of electioneering with public money), it’s critical to have communicated your intent way in advance. Although there was obviously a public tender process for this work, the city could have done way better to include more people in the process and give feedback along the way. It really is a pity that this wasn’t done because we’re sure that the administration conducted the work with good intentions. But you know what they say about the road to hell?

In conclusion, we like the new logo and the direction that the city is proposing, but some damage control needs to be done here and some clear direction as to what the plan is, needs to be shared with the public. It’s never going to be an easy job and you’re not going to please everybody, but communicate, communicate, communicate.

In months and years to come we will have all forgotten the uproar around this thing and life in the City of Cape Town will carry on as usual.. or maybe it’s a test, and this debate around the new identity is a sign that Capetonians care a lot about our city and are ready to roll up our sleeves to get stuck into making everything about it (including the logo) better.

  • Steve from Beep Bank

    “Taking over the reigns” *reins.
    Otherwise, all of what you said. Yes.

  • Jon


  • andre

    Still prefer the old logo

  • joostus

    Hmm, don’t like the new logo. It’s dated and lacks simplicity. Also, typographically it’s not very good. Word spacing and kerning in general is poor. Pity.

  • joostus

    Oh, now I’m reading the strapline too: ‘Making progress possible. Together.’ Terrible. How clumsy and cliched. Cape Town deserves something more inspiring.

  • thanks for this perspective – “A criticism we would have of the city is that not nearly enough has been done to communicate this shift in mindset “. Allow me to underline, when a logo/slogan or brand is being changed, it is not only about communicating it, it is much more about taking people associated with it, WITH you – to use it as symbol of the greater story, the broader picture and strategy shift. This definitely has not happened in the process of GETTING to the design. Nor in communicating the strategy and NEED to have a new logo in the first place.

    As much as I respect and appreciate the professional agency’s work and believe in ‘leaving it to the experts’, there has been the great oversight of not communicating the “collaborative” and “together” intention via the very design process during WDC2014. I am not a graphic designer or in the creative industry, so have no interest in this appeal. The fact of a new logo came as surprise to me, and many other citizens – and it should not have. It should have been part of a larger conversation about a city in change. I totally agree with you.

    There is no denial: this is a massive opportunity to gain current SOCIAL CAPITAL (as opposed to future financial capital). A missed opportunity in my opinion! and sends a message of a ‘nanny state’ that knows the best for us – and they will tell us when the time is ready, instead of communicating and using democratic process. Experts such as yourself, and the professional design community could have brought many insights to the table. We may have ended with something different, something the same or just more buy-in. The Process itself is my main criticism of the City’s approach (along with an argument around funds spend). The tender should have been MUCH more visible in the media, the opportunity to participate should have been MUCH more inviting, and should have – in its terms and conditions – included that the winning agency must have a collaborative, participatory approach that allow for input from the broader design community and citizens… now THAT inspires me – a logo design process that respects its own ethos and own slogan…

  • Callie

    I really don’t like it, it lacks that something. Looks like a bumpy wheel within a bumpy wheel , going nowhere. Table mountain does not lend itself to that kind of design. Franky looks like it was done by a bored 10 year old on a computer.The old one was much, much better.

  • Paul Reich

    Brands evolve and therefore a identity revamps are commonplace, and even necessary. I don’t think its a visually unappealing logo, but I feel that if you have to explain a new logo/CI to [nearly] everyone, it hasn’t really worked. From that perspective I reckon its a miss.

    • Emmett Green

      I totally agree

  • iBearo

    Blah blah blah the reality it that it already looks dated and the payoff-line is just so clumsy. And 6 spot colours? With spot application this logo is going to be so expensive to reproduce. I don’t like it. It is not well executed. The concept is weak. It now has a “typical” state department feel to it, and I doubt that I will ever get use to it or accept it.

  • I love it

    Great, I love the new logo. I love it, I love it.

  • DiscordianKitty

    I’ve actually noticed the old logo before, and have thought to myself, “Wow, Table Mountain on a rainbow. That’s really great. It suits Cape Town perfectly.” So no. Do not agree. The new logo could be a logo for anything from oil companies to an insurance company. The old logo was very definitely Cape Town. The old logo wins.

  • Mike Golby

    The old logo does look “tired and dated”. It should have been updated a long time ago and at frequent intervals; in such a way that Capetonians would barely notice the updates.

    In the Internet age (not that all our citizens have access to it), the old font is drop-dead boring, the colours are dull and the logo as a whole needs streamlining. But to write it and its tagline off and change it altogether after 10 years, goes against the notion of a logo being the long-term, instantly recognisable representation of a city and its people.

    Any “vision” the new logo supposedly represents is myopic and relevant only to the city’s elites and its visitors. Most Capetonians cannot afford to visit the winelands, participate in the Argus Cycle Tour, spend a day at the top of the mountain or down at Cape Point or Kirstenbosch. Many are unable to enjoy our beaches at all.

    These activities and images are as over-sold and illusory as the sanitised, demographically inaccurate stock photos used in the explanatory video. In one sense, the new logo can be interpreted as accurate. Black Capetonians, like the colour in the logo, have been allocated an arbitrary and discordant space between two other colours. It might also be said that, at its heart, Cape Town, like its new logo, remains a white city.

    I’m not playing any race card here – I’m merely looking at our “representation” and am trying to interpret it. Whatever it represents, it is not attractive. The “line for design” at the bottom, perhaps representing an upward trend, looks as though it found its way in from a pretty dismal sales graph in an Excel spreadsheet. And, should our local industry still depend on cogs rather than circuit boards, it seems that upward trend isn’t going to steepen for a long time to come.

    As for the old tag line; whether local government works for me or not is beside the point – the city (in all its f*****-up glory) still works for me. Why has the presumably intentional ambiguity of that phrase not been mentioned in debate around the logo now being foisted on us? Even should its intent (a reminder of our city’s beauty and diversity) be lost on most, it’s becoming quite apparent that our local government – lost to a ‘dependence’ and ‘passivity’ of its own making – no longer cares to work for us.

    Making progress possible. Together. It rings as hollow as Working together we can do more; A better life for all, or the ‘promise’ of six million job opportunities over the next five years.

  • @funkudu

    Jonathan, I have to agree with you regarding the graphic. The mountain is there for sure. The visual device says a lot more than the previous one, which was a bit naive and cliche. I think it is simple enough as well. But I agree with criticism of the slogan.
    It reads clumsily. “Together progress is possible”, would have been much better – it then reads better and becomes a powerful and prophetic testimony rather than a mission statement.

  • Eric Martinsich

    Explaining something from a Graphic design oint etc. is al good and well. the general public, myself included want something that is appealling to the eye. that cog is definitely not

  • it’s obscure and as Paul Reich says, it shouldn’t have to be explained

  • Janice Ashby

    As a rebranding of the city this logo will do Cape Town a great dis-service.To me it looks like a random uneven circular repeat pattern. I did not realize, until someone pointed it out, that the jagged edges around the machinery-cog-like graphic is a repeat of a supposed silhouette of Table Mountain. So imagine what it will mean (or not mean) to a potential tourist. And is the center a sun? Or a flower? Or a cup cake? The entire logo is just a meaningless abstract graphic. I really feel that a more tourism sensitive alternative should be considered when it comes to re-branding Cape Town. Our city is a tourism magnet and the logo should at least tell a simple recognizable visual story about CapeTown. The old one did that adequately but needs updating. Trying to improve service delivery to the poor through a logo redesign is not practical. Actions can only improve that, not a new logo. The old one should remain until an improved new and appropriate version is created.
    Some might say that if one looks closely one will see various appropriate nuances. But a logo must immediately visually say something meaningful. There will be no time to search for nuances. One glance and you’ve lost them, or engaged them.
    Why not throw it out to designers to come up with options and make it a competition, and have a team of experts narrow it down with the general public being the final arbiter from a short list.

  • Albert Combrink

    It’s horrid. And if you need to read an article to get the point, you’ve missed the boat. Try again. I won’t put that logo on any of my promotiona materials.

  • Cassandra Grobbelaar

    I have to agree. I think the logo is great. Recently moved to Bloemfontein and am already missing Cape Town. Proud to say it’s the mother city and it’s my mother city! But I don’t like the slogan. English is a great language. We should use it correctly.

  • Hilary Mowatt

    If the man in the street must have the symbolism explained in great detail, then you have lost the whole plot. He will not be able to identify with the new logo. Try as you may it does not say “Cape Town”. What will the international tourists see when they look at this new logo ? Definitely not immediately recognise it as depicting Cape Town. It was apparant that the overwhelming majority who have commented are not not happy with the change of design. I thought that for once a democratic view would prevail. However it seems we were all wrong and you were right.