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Designers Head-to-Head: Mastercard

For this week’s post, we’re trying something a little different. Jesse & I, two designers at Cassel Bear, recorded a recent conversation we had about the new Mastercard branding, designed by Pentagram. Edited for clarity and length. 

Matt: So the new Mastercard identity came out a few weeks ago, and it’s been making the rounds on some design blogs. It seems like everyone’s had a chance to weigh in on it and I thought it might be fun for us to do the same. We talked about it when it first came out and we had some differing opinions, but agreed on some things as well.

Jesse: Agreed.

Source: http://www.pentagram.com.© Mastercard. License: All Rights Reserved.


Matt: So overall, I think it’s really successful. The previous logo felt pretty dated to me. It was designed in 1996 and was showing some age.

Jesse: Yeah. The new logo is moving forward, but I like how it’s also harkening back to the 1968 design.

Matt: Truth. It calls back to that quite well. It’s actually really interesting to see how different the brand was in the 90s. It almost feels out of place in the grand scheme of things. They went from the overlapped look to the stripped look, and now they’re back to that overlapping circle.

Source: http://www.pentagram.com.© Mastercard. License: All Rights Reserved.

Jesse: Yeah it wasn’t so much of an overlay; it was more of a mingling of the two circles.

Matt: Going back to the overlay makes a lot of sense. Mastercard even talks about this in their announcement: so much of the application of the logo is digital now that having that overlayed look isn’t as much of an issue as it would be if absolutely everything had to be printed.

Jesse: It calls to mind Google’s Material Design, that flat aesthetic.

Matt: That’s true. It definitely fits that modern, flat, colorful look that a lot of software is using now – smartphone apps, that kind of look. The new logo looks really modern in that way.

Moving on a bit, and I think this is where we’re going to disagree a bit, let’s talk about the type choice for the actual word “Mastercard.” When we first saw this a few weeks ago, I know you weren’t thrilled with it. But regardless of your feelings about FF Mark in particular, the typeface used here, I think you have to admit that it’s an improvement over what they had: that white text in the circles, with the stroke, and it was slanted a little bit. This just feels so much cleaner.

Source: http://www.pentagram.com.© Mastercard. License: All Rights Reserved.

Jesse: I’d agree it’s an improvement, a step in the right direction. But like you said, my issue is with the use of FF Mark. I understand why they picked it. The geometric letterforms definitely compliment the circles, but as far as geometric sans serifs go, I don’t think this is the most successful choice. I would’ve liked to see something like Lineto’s Circular.

Matt: I think that Circular would’ve been too… circular. FF Mark has some variance that I think keeps this from feeling too rigid.

Jesse: That’s true, and I’m coming around on the use of FF Mark in the logo, but I’m not sold on its use for text. I think that’s where it starts to fall apart. It’s wide, for one thing. It works well for headlines, and the logo, but beyond that I’m curious to see how it works in text use since there really isn’t anything more to look at right now other than prototypes.

Matt: The only place the new brand is really in effect is on their website, and they haven’t even rolled it out fully there. Looking at some of the prototypes, especially some of the advertising, I think it’s less successful in other iterations than the logo.

Jesse: I agree with you there. They’re not that interesting; they’re a little dull. That billboard mockup…mastercard_billboard

Source: http://www.pentagram.com.© Mastercard. License: All Rights Reserved.

Matt: It doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t think they’re taking the overlapping circle motif as far as they could. It doesn’t feel like they own that idea yet. I think where it’s more successful is the conference mockups they have. Playing with the stroke weight, color, the positive and negative, and letting the color of the logo be the standout.

Jesse: I think that looks classier and a little more high end. It starts reminding me of Polaroid a bit.

Source: http://www.pentagram.com.© Mastercard. License: All Rights Reserved.

Matt: I wasn’t getting that at all, but you’re probably more familiar with that than I am.

Jesse: I am old. Back to the logo: how do you feel about the name being all lowercase? It feels a little casual, and I’m afraid it’s going to look dated quickly.

Matt: It does feel casual, but if you look at the payments space, companies like Square, or Venmo, or what Apple and Google are doing with payments, it feels like transactions in general are getting a little more casual, more seamless. We’re not taking out our checkbooks and signing an official document for everything anymore. I can buy coffee with my watch, you know? So making it casual, it seems easy, more personal.

Jesse: Do you think they’re trying to appeal to a younger, millennial crowd?

Matt: Sure, probably. My generation’s spending power is growing and we’re more fluent in digital, so trying to capture more of that audience makes sense.



Source: http://www.pentagram.com.© Mastercard. License: All Rights Reserved.

One last thing I think they did that really works is the store window sticker. The overlapping circle mark works so well in this application. It’s so visible, and compared to the rest of the credit card logos, it just jumps out. They’re relying on those two huge, colorful circles instead of the name, which I think is smart. It’s really eye-catching compared to the other ones. With Visa especially, it’s just hard to read from a distance. I think it’s really smart how Mastercard is leaning so heavily on those two circles of color.

Jesse: Right. So overall, I think the new branding is largely successful. I think they missed some opportunities, but knowing the way these things play out, it’s probably still a work in progress. I’m looking forward to refinements that might be in the pipeline.

Matt: I totally agree. It’s going to be interesting to watch that process. Pentagram did the branding, but they’re not necessarily going to be the ones doing every ad, every billboard, every application of it. So as it rolls out over time and Mastercard kind of grows into the brand, I think there could be some really nice things that come out of it.

Jesse: Agreed.