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.