Wally Olins 1930-2014
The pioneer of corporate 'brand architecture' and champion of intuition dies after a short illness
Wally Olins, the British-born pioneer of corporate branding, who died yesterday after a short illness aged 83, was one of the most recognisable people within the creative industries. Yet the communications consultant, known for his distinctive glasses and bow ties, never saw his public image as professionally contrived.
“I have not consciously branded myself at all,” he once said. “It is true that I wear a bow tie and funny spectacles but it is not conscious branding. I am what I am. I am outspoken and abrasive. I can be difficult. It is what I am like. I do not try to cultivate it but I do not hide it either.” It was this abrasion that set his work apart in a business where a certain financial timidity begets uninspired creations.
Born in London, Olins studied history at St Peters College Oxford before going onto to work at the Mumbai office of Ogilvy and Mather. He founded his own agency, Wolff Olins in 1965, and soon gained a reputation for creating recognisable graphic personas for otherwise anonymous companies.
“Initially what we started doing was designing identities for corporations that needed help projecting themselves to the outside world,” he told Design Boom earlier this year. “We then came across bigger companies that had multiple subsidiaries, each of which had its own identity and behaviour and the relationships between these companies and the mother company was not clear at all – so we became involved with what has subsequently become known as ‘brand architecture.’”
Under Olins’ watch, British Telecom became BT, Vueling Airlines, the Orange phone network, and El Banco Deuno became recognisable names, while 3i, Renault and Volkswagen all benefitted from his insight. In 2001 he founded a new agency, Saffron, where he continued to work until quite recently.
In his later years, Olins described the struggle between the inspired,creative communications he was famous for and the duller, more quantitate, metric-driven campaiging.
“What about flair and intuition in the creation and sustainability of brands? Will this disappear and be replaced by bland work created entirely out of ‘rigorous’ analysis? Put another way, will there be yet another face-off between rational and emotional; rigour and intuition; head and heart?” he wrote recently, with clear-minded insight. “I am writing about it all now, because I won’t be here to see it and listen to people telling me how wrong I was.”
On this final point, as with many earlier ones, Olins was, of course, correct. To find out more about his life and work, go here; for greater insight the kind of work Olins created, take a look at our Marks of Excellence book; for more on the creative environment he helped engender, read the great Problem Solved by former Wolf Olins star, Michael Johnson; and for greater insight into two dimensional design and communication from the Gutenberg press onwards, take a look at our peerless Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design.